Chapter 1: The Sizzling Science Teacher
Tina watched the houses pass by through the bus window, trying to will her headache away. The chatter on the bus was loud, and it was driving her crazy. Her fingers itched to bang some heads together, but she had to learn to manage her anger. She had already been kicked out of a number of school systems, and her mother said this was her last chance before she was shipped off to reform school.
Olympus High was actually a rather exclusive school even though she wasn't the first member of the family to attend. As a matter of fact, she would have probably been the only family member not to attend, but they had all been surprised when she got invitation despite her school history.
"Mind if I sat down beside you?" came a bubbly voice.
She looked up. A short, cheery-looking blonde was waiting for an answer.
Tina shrugged and went back to looking out the window.
It might as well have been a warm invitation as far as the blonde was concerned. "Hi, I'm Abby." When Tina didn't respond with her own name, she continued. "I'm so excited about my first day of school at Olympus High. They're supposed to have a phenomenal drama department. I'm a ninth grader, are you?" Tina responded with a small nod of her head, but she wasn't making eye contact. "Oh, so we'll have classes together. I can't wait. I've heard a lot of stories about Olympus High, but I'm positive that they had to be making some of it up. Do you want to hear one? Well, in the eighties when my mom attended school here, she—"
"Do you ever shut up?" Tina finally said, turning around.
Before Abby could reply, the bus stopped. Tina took a good look at the school. It had a very old-fashioned Grecian look to it with its columns and symmetry as if it should have been a bank instead of a school.
Tina looked at her schedule when she entered the school halls. Science was first on the list, so she made her way to Room 107 and found a seat in the back corner.
On the chalkboard was written in swirling pink chalk 'Ms. Aphrodite' with a heart in place of the usual dot for the i. There were sniggers at the name.
The late teacher entered the room, and it was immediately clear that she preferred pink in more then just chalk. She was dressed in a pink business suit, but it was a weak attempt at professionalism. The skirt, if it could be called that, barely covered her behind. The sleeves of her jacket were a normal length, but her sheer, white blouse underneath made it laughable as her midriff was clearly exposed. Her blonde hair was swept up in an untidy, seductive sort of bun. "Hi, kiddos," she said, sounding like she could have stepped out of the Clueless movie.
There were wolf whistles from some of the more immature classmates, which was pretty much every ninth grade boy in the room.
"Oh, you guys are totally sweet, but we have to get down to business. I got in some major trouble for not sticking to science talk last year. Our first topic of study is light. There are like all kinds of light. There's the light that comes from candles. You know candlelight really enhances the mood, and it can hide any imperfections, so it's a plus, but the most rad form of light is sunlight. When two people go at it under the sun with the sunlight glistening on their skin and sweat rolling off their bodies—"
Most of the class had been rendered speechless, but one timid-looking girl raised her hand, and Ms. Aphrodite reluctantly stopped her lecture to call on her. The girl said very quietly and unsurely, "Is this science?"
"Duh," she said. Then she started her lecture up where she had left off. The rest of the class period only went downhill from there and became even raunchier.
When the bell rang, Ms. Aphrodite had to remind the stunned students that it was time to go to the next class.
A couple of girls walking in front of her were fanning themselves. "I never knew science was so interesting. I've never learned so much in one sitting in all my life," said one of them. "Tell me about it," said the other. "I feel like I could go for a cold shower."
Tina could only shake her head in disbelief at the whole experience. What kind of crackpot school was this?
Chapter 2: The World's Strongest P.E. Teacher
The next period was P.E. Tina had just finished changing into her P.E. uniform, a white t-shirt with the school's mascot (a centaur) and a pair of navy blue shorts, when some redheaded girl bumped into her. "Watch it, Paula Bunyan," the girl said nastily. "Try not to crush us little people."
Tina pushed the mouthy girl over the wooden bench in front of her, causing her to fall firmly on her butt. The redhead's face turned to the color of her hair in anger and just as it was about to get ugly, Abby ran in between them. "Please, Tina. You don't want to get in trouble on the first day."
Tina's tightened fists said otherwise. She would have loved to plant one right in the middle of the redhead's face, but then she remembered what her mom had said about reform school.
Tina turned away, and Abby followed her into the gym. When everyone had come out of the locker rooms, they all followed the P.E. teacher outside to the track.
"I'm your P.E. teacher, Mr. Sorbo. I'm going to lead you in some stretches first and then we're going to run three laps around the track. I've put up some hurdles to jump over, so you'll need to be careful as you're running. Now do what I do."
Almost all of the girls were giggling, especially during the stretching, in much the same way as the boys had previously made fools of themselves with Ms. Aphrodite. Unlike Ms. Aphrodite, Mr. Sorbo didn't seem to be enjoying it. Tina had to admit the man was attractive. He was the first P.E. teacher/coach she had seen that didn't have a gut and looked as if he actually exercised.
After a few toe touches and body twists, they lined up on the white lines.
"I come from a long line of athletes," the skinny kid next to her was boasting. "I'll be finished in no time at all, but maybe I'll take pity on some of you guys and not beat you too badly."
"Ready, go!" the teacher called.
Some of the guys tried to go too fast and ended up not quite making it over some of the hurdles. She jumped over every hurdle and didn't even come close to brushing up against them. She could feel a lot of jealous glares on her, but she paid it no mind. She was used to the jealousy when it came to her physical abilities. With a final burst of speed, she finished first.
"You're quite the athlete," Mr. Sorbo said, flashing her a pleasant smile.
She shrugged, not interested in the flattery.
"Would you be interested in joining the track team?"
"I don't think so," she said and then went over to sit on the grass. She had had the weirdest sense of déjà vu when he was talking to her. She had never had so much déjà vu in one day of her life before. It had to be the stories her mom and older brother had told her about the school. There was no other reasonable explanation.
Abby plopped down beside Tina a couple minutes later, breathing heavily. She wasn't quite the last one. There was still some geek kid out there tripping over the hurdles, the same one who had been bragging about his skills before the start.
"You have got to give me some pointers," Abby said.
When everyone was finished, Mr. Sorbo told them to head into the gym. Tina was the last one through the door, but she looked back to see if the teacher was coming. He had put all the hurdles back into the storage building. Then he looked at the bleachers momentarily and must have decided they weren't quite where they were supposed to be because he picked it up with one hand and moved it over a couple of inches.
She shook her head, trying to clear her vision. There was no way in the world she had just seen him do that. Nobody was that strong, were they?
Chapter 3: The Cookie War
"I'm Ms. Hestia, your home economics teacher. We're going to start off today with an easy recipe. We're going to make chocolate chip cookies. I've already set up the work stations. You're also going to be working with partners. When your cookies are on the baking sheet, bring them to me, and I'll put them in the oven. Even the most inexperienced cooks among you should be able to handle this." It could have been Tina's imagination, but it seemed she directed that last part straight to her.
Tina was partnered with Abby. The ingredients and the necessary tools were already laid out on the table, along with the paper that had the directions on it. Abby read off the ingredients, "1 package of yellow cake mix, 1/2 cup of butter, 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, 2 cups of semisweet chocolate chips. This should be a walk in the park."
"If you say so. I'm not much of a cook, so I'll let you tell me what you want me to do."
"Okay," she said, scanning the table. "Why don't you go ahead and put the eggs in the bowl and beat them, and I'll start measuring out the rest of the ingredients."
Tina smashed the first egg against the side of the bowl like she was cracking someone's head open and bits of eggshell fell into the bowl and part of the egg white fell onto the table.
Abby looked astounded. "Cracking an egg open is a delicate operation. There's a reason it's not called smashing an egg open. You have to gently break them apart and then look for bits of shells in the bowl."
"So there are a few eggshells. Does it really matter?" Tina asked in a bored voice.
"It matters a great deal," Abby said, taking the bowl from her and fishing out the bits of eggshell herself. "Unless you like eating eggshells. Why don't you measure out the ingredients instead? I was just about to do the vanilla extract."
Tina picked up the bottle of vanilla extract and the red teaspoon. She screwed the lid off and started pouring. She poured too fast and some of the dark brown contents went splashing out onto the table.
Abby looked at her, a little wild-eyed now. "What are you doing?" she asked. "You know what, maybe you should wait for me to finish with the eggs."
Tina rolled her eyes and sighed from the impending boredom. Abby was taking cooking far too seriously. Then a devilish smile formed on her face as she picked up a handful of cake mix. The distracted Abby wasn't paying attention as she blew the powder in her hand toward her. The mix went flying and most of it landed in Abby's hair.
She tensed. "Did you just put cake mix in my hair?"
"What if I did?" Tina asked unabashedly.
"Then you asked for it," she said as she picked up some of the cake mix and threw it in Tina's direction.
Tina smiled. Maybe cooking had its high points after all as she scooped up some more and threw it back. Soon a great cloud of yellow dust was flying around them, and they were covered in the mix. Tina had gotten in a couple of good yellow handprints onto the back of Abby's shirt.
It stopped when Ms. Hestia came up to the table. "I've been dreading this day for years," the haggard-looking woman said. "I know you did a lot for my virgins, but—" she broke off, realizing she had said too much already. "Look, would just clean up this mess, please?" She walked off muttering something about Tina not being fit for hearth, home, or family harmony.
"A lot for her virgins?" Tina repeated to Abby. "Is there some kind of gas leak in the teacher's lounge?"
"She's a little strange, I admit, but she seems to know a lot about her subject. I think we'll learn a lot in this class. I'm looking forward to it."
Chapter 4: The Three History Teachers
History was next and the last class before lunch. Tina was rather surprised to see that there were three teachers. It was a little unusual for that many teachers to be teaching in the same classroom. One of them looked too young to be a teacher, one looked to be about the right age, and the other looked as if she should have retired years ago.
"I'm Ms. Clotho."
"I'm Ms. Lacheris."
"I'm Ms. Atropus."
They picked up a thread off the teacher's desk, apparently intending to use it to illustrate a point, and stretched it out between the three of them.
"It is only natural that we begin with creation when looking at the history of the world," said the young one.
"We must begin at the beginning to get to the middle," said the middle-aged one.
"And we must begin to get to the ending," said the oldest one.
"In the beginning, there was only chaos. Then out of the void came Erebus, which is the unknowable place where death dwells, and Night. All else was empty, silent, endless darkness. Not even we know how Love was born, perhaps it was always there in some secret place, but Love brought a start of order and from Love came Light and Day. Once there was Light and Day, Gaea came, who is the very earth," said Ms. Clotho.
"Then Erebus slept with Night, who gave birth to Ether, the heavenly light, and to Day, the earthly light. Then Night produced Doom, Fate, Death, Sleep, Dreams, Nemesis, and others that come to man out of the darkness," said Ms. Lachesis.
"Gaea was also having children. She alone gave birth to Uranus, the heavens. Uranus became Gaea's mate and covered her on all sides. Together they parented the three Cyclopes, the three Hectoncheires, and the twelve Titans," said Ms. Atropus.
"Excuse me," said the timid girl who had spoken during science. She had been holding her hand up for awhile, but she hadn't been called on. "What in the world are we talking about, not history surely."
"Were you there when they were born, Amber Loris?" asked Ms. Clotho.
"Did you weave their immortal thread?" Ms. Lachesis asked.
"Did you cut their so-called immortal thread?" asked Ms. Atropus.
"Um, no," said the girl more confused then ever. She hadn't been expecting her question to be answered with more questions, especially outrageous ones. "But what are Cyclopes, Hectoncheires, and Titans anyway?"
"Every school-aged child knows that," Tina said, taking the initiative. "A Cyclops is a big one-eyed creature that resembles a man except for the eye and hugeness. The best way to take them out is to blind them. Hectoncheires have a hundred heads and about the only way to get rid of them would be to throw them into Tartarus. And finally, you have the Titans, which look like giant people, and they aren't generally known for their kindness. Most, but not all, are currently spending out eternity as stone figures, but they can be woken or put back to sleep by a virgin reciting special Greek chants." Tina surprised herself by the knowledge. It had come from somewhere deep inside herself, and it was almost startling.
The three teachers nodded simultaneously to show that they agreed with her explanation.
"Wait a minute though; isn't this some ancient creation story from the Greeks? This isn't historical fact; it's myth, entertaining though it may be," Abby said.
"You foolish mortal, who could have brought an end to all life, have no right to speak to us in such a manner," said Ms. Clotho.
"Despite your disruption, fate and individual choice is still alive and well, working together as it always has, though we no longer attend a loom. Our loom could have illustrated history so much better than this woolen thread from a mortal lamb," added Ms. Lacheris, pointing to the discarded thread on the desk.
"In the future, Abby Barding, you will speak only when spoken to and will keep your distance from our personal property," said Ms. Atropus.
Abby's eyes were wide at the strange reprimand, but she was silent for once. It was clear that Abby was not going to be the teacher's pet in this class.
The youngest teacher picked up where the story had left off, "However, Uranus was not a good father or a husband. He hated the Hecatoncheires with a passion. He trapped them by pushing them into the hidden places on the earth, Gaea's own womb. This rightly angered Gaea, and so, she plotted against Uranus. She made a flint sickle and tried to get the rest of her children to attack Uranus. They were too afraid of their father. All but the youngest Titan that is, Cronus. Leaders, good and bad, inevitably rise up to take the power from the current ruler, and Cronus was such a leader."
"Gaea and Cronus set up an ambush for Uranus as he lay with Gaea that night. Cronus grabbed his father and castrated him with the stone sickle. He threw the severed genitals into the ocean, and Uranus died, but not before he promised that Cronus and the Titans would be punished for their deed. From his spilt blood came the Giants, the Ash Tree Nymphs, and the Errinyes," said Ms. Lachesis.
The oldest teacher continued without pause, "Cronus became the next ruler naturally. He imprisoned the Cyclopes and the Hecatoncheires in Tartarus. He married Rhea, and under his rule the Titans had many children. He ruled for many an age. However, Gaea and Uranus had both had prophesied that he would be overthrown by his own son. To try and avoid this, Cronus swallowed each of his children as they were born. He hadn't learned yet the fierceness with which a mother will protect her children, a mistake that has frequently been repeated throughout the various ages. Rhea plotted against Cronus and when it came time to give birth to her sixth child, Rhea hid. She left the baby boy to be raised by the very nymphs created from the blood of Uranus. To keep from being discovered, she wrapped a stone in blankets and passed it off as the baby to Cronus, who swallowed it without discovering the truth."
"This child was Zeus. He grew into a handsome young man in Crete, and wanting the power for himself and bitter at his father, he consulted Metis, one of the Titans, on how to defeat Cronus. She prepared a drink for Cronus that would make him vomit up his sisters and brothers. Rhea had managed to convince Cronus to accept his son, and Zeus was allowed to return to Mount Olympus as Cronus' cupbearer. This gave Zeus the chance to slip Cronus the specially prepared drink. It worked as planned and the other children were vomited up. Being the gods they were, of course, they were unharmed. They were so thankful to Zeus, they made him the king of the gods," Ms. Clotho said.
"Cronus hadn't been defeated yet though. He and the other Titans, except for the good Prometheus, Epimetheus, and Oceanus, fought to keep their power. Atlas became their leader in the battle, and they thought that they would win against the young gods. However, Zeus was more cunning than them. He went down to Tartarus, freeing the Cyclopes and the Hectoncheires. Prometheus joined Zeus as well. He returned to battle with new allies, and the Cyclopes gave Zeus his famous lighting bolts for weapons. The Hectoncheires waited in ambush armed with boulders. When the time was right, Zeus retreated and drew the Titans into the Hectoncheires' ambush. The Hectoncheires sent down hundreds of boulders with such a passion that the Titans thought the very mountains were falling down on them, giving Zeus the victory," Ms. Lachesis said.
"Zeus punished all the Titans by imprisoning them. Atlas, however, was given the very special punishment of holding the world on his shoulders, but Zeus was not safe. Gaea was angry that her children had been imprisoned and so she gave birth to one last child, Typhoeus. Typhoeus was so terrible that most of the gods fled in fear, but Zeus faced the monster with his trusty lighting bolts and was able to kill it. Zeus married Hera, and they, along with their siblings, started the age of the gods with their children, which we will continue with tomorrow," finished Ms. Atropus.
Tina had to give them credit. It was the finest example of coteaching she had ever seen. She had never seen three people work in such harmony with what they wanted to say; it was like they were really one, and it was a little on the eerie side. She began filing out with the other students, but the teachers stopped her.
"Beware, young Tina," warned Ms. Clotho.
"You are about to be tempted to the ways of darkness again," said Ms. Lachesis.
"He has tried and failed many times before, but he has a good chance of succeeding during this lifetime."
Tina nodded. She wasn't sure who this "he" was or what they were even talking about for that matter, but humoring the crazy ladies, who seemed to think they held fate in their hands, seemed like the best idea.
Chapter 5: An Attempt at a Solitary Lunch
Tina looked down at the tray of food. The food appeared to have a Greek theme and looked pretty good. She might actually enjoy a school lunch for once. She scanned the cafeteria for a place to sat down and found an empty table.
Tina hadn't taken more than two bites of her chicken when Abby sat down across from her with her tray. "I prefer to eat alone," Tina told her in no uncertain terms.
"Why is that?" Abby asked curiously, taking a bite of her own chicken and making no moves towards getting up.
"I just do. Look, it's time you understood something. I'm not a nice girl. As you saw earlier, I get into fights a lot, and I enjoy them, and that's not the half of it. I'm just a hairbreadth away from reform school. Trust me when I say I'm not the type of friend you'd want or your mother would want you to have."
"I think that could be…exciting as long as you don't get into fights for the wrong reason. Besides, I'm in high school now. I think I can pick my friends without my parents' approval. And have you ever thought that I might even be handy during a fight?"
"Have you ever been in a fight in your life?" Tina asked with a look and tone that said she already knew the answer.
"Well, no," Abby answered honestly. "Unless you count verbal fights, which I generally win by the way."
She smirked before finishing off her milk and crushing the carton. "I have no doubt about that."
"So why can't we be friends?"
"I've never been a model student. I've always gotten into trouble. Last year was the worst year for me. I lead a group of students against some bullies, and we weren't always ethical about it."
"So you were in a gang of sorts?"
"Not officially no, but for all intents and purposes, I guess you could say I was. I couldn't stand the injustice. They were really tormenting some of the students, 6th graders even, and the school didn't seem to be doing anything about it, so I gathered some like-minded classmates, and we returned fire for fire."
"It was rather noble then, wasn't it?"
"It may have started out that way, but as the year went on, our pranks got nastier, and it wasn't enough just to mess with the bullies. We were destroying school property, roughing up any student who said the least little thing against us. Pretty soon the whole student population was under my thumb. I told myself that I was making things safer for the school, but the truth was, I got a taste of power, and I relished it. I'm not naïve enough to think that I can just turn over a new leaf because this is a new school, but I'm going to try. Nonetheless, you should stay out of my way because I do tend to attract trouble, and you don't want to be dragged into it."
"Hey, I'm tougher than I look, and I can't explain it, but I'm just drawn to you. We both need each other; I can feel it."
Tina responded by rolling her eyes and going to dump her tray. She started walking to her locker to get ready for the next class. She whipped around suddenly, almost making Abby crash into her. "Why are you still following me?" she demanded in a tone that would have probably sent a lesser person back a few steps at the very least.
Abby smiled. "You'll get used to it."
A frustrated Tina could still hear the sound of the girl's feet behind her when she went back to walking. She had a feeling her days of solitude were over.
Chapter 6: Scenes from the Disturbed Ancient Greeks
"I'm Mr. Momus, your English teacher. I like to start off the first day with a little drama. I find it serves as a nice icebreaker for you and your classmates. I want you all to find a scene in a Sophocles play that speaks to you and give a dramatic reading with your group. The interesting thing you'll notice about Greek plays are the chorus, a group of performers who mostly commented on the dramatic action in the play, so if there aren't a lot of characters in a scene you like, more than one person can be the chorus."
He passed out a small book of Sophocles' plays to each group. Tina was put in a group with Abby again, along with two boys.
Since Abby seemed to be the only one excited about the assignment in their group, they put her in charge. She read through the table of contents. "There are six plays here. We have Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone, Ajax, The Women of Trachis, and Electra."
"What are they about?" Caleb asked.
Abby shrugged, "I've heard of him, I think, but I've never read any of his plays." She read over the short synopsizes. "Okay, so in Oedipus the King, it is prophesied that he will kill his father and marry his mother. The parents try to keep it from coming true, but he fulfills the prophesy anyway because he doesn't know who his parents are. When the truth is revealed, he blinds himself and his mother commits suicide. In Oedipus at Colonus, Oedipus dies. His daughters are banished, and his sons are fighting each other. In Antigone, Oedipus' daughter wants her brother's body to be buried even though it has been forbidden by the king. She buries him and is sentenced to death. The king has a change of heart, but she has committed suicide, and her suicide causes the suicide of two others in the king's family. In Ajax, a hero of the Trojan War is driven to treachery and suicide. In The Women of Trachis, Deianeira accidentally kills Hercules and then commits suicide. In Electra, Electra and Orestes avenge their father's murder. What sounds good to you guys?"
"So basically," Kyle said, "we can choose to do a scene about a man who has sex with his mother or one of us can commit suicide."
"If you ask me, all the ancient Greeks were disturbed," Tina said.
"They weren't all disturbed," Abby defended. "It's simple theatrics."
"Ah, so all theatre people in ancient Greece were disturbed. That makes sense too when you look at Hollywood," Caleb chimed in.
"I just mean that if you're going to take a break from humdrum village life, you want to see some blood, some action, something unusual," Abby said. "They weren't necessarily mirrors of life."
"How unusual can these plays be?" Tina questioned. "According to these synopsizes, there's a suicide in every play. I mean I'm all for noble, heroic deaths in theory, but seriously, can't these people work through their problems some other way?"
"They didn't have psychiatrists back then, and these are tragedies after all. We're just going to have to pick one or class will be over before we ever get started." Abby randomly put a finger on the page. "Okay, we'll do this one."
"Anti-gone?" said Caleb, snatching it away to see what she had picked. "That sounds like a bug spray."
Abby snatched the book back and took some deep yoga-like breathes because she was starting to look like she wanted to throttle somebody. "If you'd read the parenthesis, it's pronounced An-tig-one."
"Is there a scene with some action in it that we can do?" Tina asked. "Or better yet is there a scene where I can just stand there as a guard or a servant or something?"
Abby scrolled through the play and marked a passage that had the right amount of parts with her pencil. "Kyle, Caleb, since you apparently love being a peanut gallery so much, you can have the joy of being the chorus. Tina, you can be the choral leader; the choral leader only has one line. I'll be Antigone, so let's read. "
They gathered around the book and began reading.
Tina's line was first. "When I look at her I forget my place. I lose restraint and can't hold back my tears—" Tina sighed heavily at this part to show that she wasn't into this sentimental nonsense. "Antigone going to her bridal room where all are laid to rest in death."
Abby's part was next. "Look at me, my native citizens, as I go on my final journey, as I gaze upon the sunlight one last time, which I'll never see again—for Hades, who brings all people to their final sleep, leads me on, while I'm still living, down to the shores of Acheron. I've not yet had my bridal chant, nor has any wedding song been sung—for my marriage is to Acheron."
Kyle and Caleb made a mess of their lines as they weren't quite reading in time. "Surely you carry fame with you and praise, as you move to the deep home of the dead. You were not stricken by lethal disease or paid your wages with a sword. No. You were in charge of your own fate. So of all living human beings, you alone make your way down to Hades still alive."
A displeased Antigone read, "I've heard about a guest of ours, daughter of Tantalus, from Phrygia—she went to an excruciating death in Sipylus, right on the mountain peak. The stone there, just like clinging ivy, wore her down, and now, so people say, the snow and rain never leave her there, as she laments. Below her weeping eyes her neck is wet with tears. God brings me to a final rest which most resembles hers."
"Did the ancient Greeks even believe in God when Sophocles was alive?" Kyle asked Caleb. "So what kind of line is that?"
"Yeah," Caleb said, agreeing. "Maybe we should change it to Zeus or something. What do you think, Abby?"
"I think," said Abby through gritted teeth. "That you should read your lines."
Kyle and Caleb complied. "But Niobe was a goddess, born divine—and we are human beings, a race which dies. But still, it's a fine thing for a woman, once she's dead, to have it said she shared, in life and death, the fate of demi-gods."
"Oh, you are mocking me!" Abby said, at last her emotions were in tune with Antigone's. "Why me—by our fathers' gods—why do you all, my own city and the richest men of Thebes, insult me now right to my face, without waiting for my death? Well at least I have Dirce's springs, the holy grounds of Thebes, a city full of splendid chariots, to witness how no friends lament for me as I move on—you see the laws which lead me to my rock-bound prison, a tomb made just for me. Alas! In my wretchedness I have no home, not with human beings or corpses, not with the living or the dead."
Caleb and Kyle continued, "You pushed your daring to the limit, my child, and tripped against Justice's high altar—perhaps your agonies are paying back some compensation for your father."
Abby read with great tragic tones, "Now there you touch on my most painful thought—my father's destiny—always on my mind, along with that whole fate which sticks to us, the splendid house of Labdakos—the curse arising from a mother's marriage bed, when she had sex—"
Kyle laughed, interrupting her. "Are we allowed to say that without getting into trouble?"
"—with her own son, my father," Abby continued as if she hadn't heard Kyle, but Antigone sounded a little less tragic and a little more angry. "From what kind of parents was I born, their wretched daughter? I go to them, unmarried and accursed, an outcast. Alas, too, for my brother Polyneices, who made a fatal marriage and then died— and with that death killed me while still alive."
Abby closed the book and sighed a happy sigh. "Sophocles was such a master of human emotion. I mean have you ever read a play that had more emotional depth?"
"I say we should have picked a scene that had some action in it if there is any action in this drivel," Tina said.
"Let's spice the scene up," Caleb suggested. Kyle and Caleb rolled up some loose-leaf notebook papers that was lying on somebody's desk and started beating each other in a mock sword fight.
"I will defend your honor, Antigone," Kyle said, "just because your father is your uncle and your mother is your grandmother is no reason for the gods to kill you."
"No, she has to die," said Caleb. "It's a Sophocles play."
Before Abby could snap, Mr. Momus called everyone back to their seats to watch the scenes.
They watched a number of scenes, but so far no one had picked theirs.
One group had picked a scene from the Hercules play, and somehow Tina had a feeling that Hercules hadn't tripped quite as much, especially before he even got the cloak around him. She didn't know what they were thinking arming the klutzy kid, as some people were calling him now, with someone's long coat for a prop and giving him the starring role, but maybe that was why. The play had become the comedy Sophocles had never meant it to be. They didn't quite get the applause the other groups had as some of the students had had to evacuate their seats to keep from getting fallen on.
Mr. Momus, however, was laughing and clapping hard. "That was beautiful. I only wish that Hercules could have been here to watch this performance. Now there's a half and half with a sense of humor. I suppose you all have never seen Hercules: The Legendary Journeys? No, of course you haven't, too nineties, am I right? That's a guy who can laugh at himself." The bell rang. "The rest of you are saved by the bell. We'll finish the others up tomorrow."
"I still say there was something wrong with those Ancient Greeks or at least with Sophocles," Tina told Abby on the way out.
Chapter 7: The Rescue and the Tall Math Teacher
Tina was on her way to math, the final class of the day, when Abby came running from around the corner and grabbed Tina by the wrist, taking her to another section of lockers.
"What are you doing?" Tina demanded. "We're going to be late to class."
"There's a boy trapped inside there," she said, pointing to locker 357.
"What do you want me to do about it?" Tina asked, trying to make sense of the situation.
"I don't know," Abby said. She wasn't quite sure what Tina could do about it either, but somehow she had a feeling if anyone could help, it was Tina. "Rescue him?"
Tina sighed, but she went up to the locker. "We're going to get you out of there."
Abby smiled. Tina could say what she liked; she knew that Tina was a good person at heart.
"Hello? Is somebody out there? Are you back with help, Abby?" asked the boy.
Tina recognized the voice immediately. It was the klutz. "Why am I not surprised?" she muttered. "Do you know the locker combination?"
"If I had the combination, would I still be in here?" he asked. "I could have gotten myself out."
Tina rolled her eyes. He was not only a klutz and a braggart, he was an idiot.
"We're gong to go get the principal. I'm sure she has the combination," Tina told him.
"That's not an option," he said.
"Why?" Tina asked. "Were you threatened not to tell on the bozos that did this? Give me their names, and I'll make them see reason."
"No, no. Just stand back, girls. Johnny the Mighty can get himself out of here." There were a couple of weak taps. He clearly didn't have the room to move, not that she thought he could have gotten out even if he did. It was amazing they had gotten him in it at all really as small as the lockers were.
Tina looked down at her own soft, flat shoes. Then her eyes turned to Abby's shoes. They had a heel to them. "Give me your shoe."
Abby looked at her flabbergasted. "My shoe?"
"You'll see. I have an idea."
Abby was still confused, but she slipped her shoe off and handed it to Tina. Tina made a quick examination of the surrounding walls and then threw the shoe. It ricocheted off the corner of a locker and a trashcan before hitting the lock in such a way and with such a force that it effectively broke it, and the door swung open; Johnny fell flat on his face.
"How did you do that?" Abby asked with wide eyes as she retrieved her shoe.
"It's just a matter of knowing how much force to use and the angles, which reminds me, we should be getting to math now before somebody catches us in the hallways."
"Right," Abby said. She threw her shoe in the same place Tina had but nothing happened; it just fell flat to the floor. She went over and put her shoe back on. Then she helped Johnny to his feet.
"Gosh, you're pretty," he said, smiling dopily at Abby. "Would you like me to carry your math book for you?"
"No, thanks. I've got it," Abby said.
He tried to take it from her, causing a small struggle. "It's the least I can do for getting me out of that locker," he insisted.
He was so concentrated on trying to take the book from her, he didn't see the trashcan and tripped.
Tina and Abby used the opportunity to pull ahead of him.
"I bet you're starting to wish we'd left him in there," Tina said with a small smile.
"Tell me about it," she muttered.
"You're late," said the math teacher in a big, booming voice.
"Sorry," Abby said. "We had a small problem to take care of. It won't happen again."
"I'm always lenient on the first day, but see that it doesn't happen again. I'm Mr. Prometheus by the way.
Mr. Prometheus was sitting down, but it was still obvious that he was extremely tall like "Guinness World Book of Records" tall. Some of it had to be a trick of the lighting.
"I was just telling everyone that science is a passion with me, so if you need some help in science, I'm the one to come to. Ms. Aphrodite is suited to teach you some parts of biology, I'll grant her that much, but she has trouble with the rest of the material. The chemistry that she will teach you won't help you get into college. Did you know my name was once synonymous with the pursuit of scientific knowledge, but do I get the position, no. She slept with somebody to get that job; I guarantee it."
He seemed to be done with his ranting as he took a deep breath and turned to the chalkboard. "We're going to start with a simple equation."
Chapter 8: A Blood Sport
"I thought we could watch the football tryouts," Abby told Tina when school had let out.
"I can't. I have to get on the bus," she said.
"I'm one step ahead of you. I called my mom, and she said she wouldn't mind giving you a ride home. You just have to call your mom to make sure it's okay."
"You are persistent."
She handed Tina her cell phone. Tina took it and made the call.
"Hey, it's me. I have a friend that wants me to stay for an afterschool activity. Her mom's going to give me a ride…No…No, Mother, I'm telling you the truth…School was fine. I'll see you in an hour." She hung up before her mom could argue anymore.
"You don't have a good relationship with your mother?" Abby asked sympathetically as she took the phone back.
"Does any teenager?" was her avoidant reply.
Abby didn't press the issue, and they headed to the football field. They weren't the only ones who had come just to watch. They took a seat in the bleachers.
"I bet the boy in the gray shirt will make the team," Abby speculated. "He looks like a football player. I mean check out those muscles."
Tina gave a small, noncommittal grunt.
"There's a cute one in the blue shirt," Abby said. "I don't know if he'll make the team, but he sure is nice to look at."
Tina looked. "He's okay," she said in a bored tone.
Abby could see that she wasn't really into it, so she looked over the boys again and found one in black jeans and a black tank. "What about the one in black? You have to admit that he's easy on the eyes."
Chills went up and down her spine as Tina laid eyes on him. He was handsome, but it was something more than that. She felt an inexplicable tug at her heart like there was some sort of invisible bond between them. She had never felt so strongly about someone before at first sight.
"He's not your type?" Abby asked, mistaking the surprise for dislike. "I would have sworn that was your type."
"Why because we're both wearing black?" Tina said, shooting back to reality.
"Well, he does have the goth thing going on, too, but—
"I am not goth," Tina interrupted. "I just like black."
"He looks like he likes to live on the edge, a real bad boy."
"I won't say I'm not at all attracted to that, but it's the last thing I need right now. Anyway, he looks like he could be a popular senior. He probably has a girlfriend."
Abby looked surprised. "I didn't think you'd let something like that stop you."
"I didn't say it could stop me, but like I said, I'm not interested at the moment. I've got to keep my nose clean for a little while. Now let's drop this."
"Okay, not interested, got it."
They watched in silence for a minute or two.
"He's looking at you, "Abby said suddenly.
"I bet," Tina said, but she stole a look. It did appear he had made eye contact with her for a brief moment.
"You like him," Abby said with a knowing smile. "I saw you look."
"I thought we talked about this already."
"We could talk about it more at a sleepover this Friday. I could give you a makeover that would be sure to turn his head, and we could watch romantic movies, and—"
"Stop right there," Tina said, holding out a hand in cautionary gesture. She felt uncomfortable with all this girly talk and behavior. This was why she'd never had a friend that was a girl before. She'd grown up with brothers and hung around with guy friends all her life. "I don't do sleepovers."
"No sleepovers. Message received. See, this is why it's good to talk and get to know each other—"
Abby continued her speech, but Tina was watching the football field now. It was the one in black's turn to demonstrate. Another boy took off running with the football, and he had to tackle him. He not only tackled him, he flattened the boy. She had thought watching the tryouts was going to be dull, but it seemed there was a reason it was called a blood sport.
"Watch it, Aaron," said Mr. Sorbo. "This isn't a battlefield."
"The world's a battlefield," he replied with no remorse.
"Don't make me bench you before the season even starts," Mr. Sorbo said, giving Aaron a dirty look.
There was obviously a bad history between the two of them.
Mr. Sorbo went over to help the boy up and from the looks of his nose and all the blood, he would be extremely lucky if it wasn't seriously broken. A student who had already finished his tryout walked the boy back to the building to get it looked at.
"It looks like I was spot on in saying that he's the bad boy type," Abby said. "Maybe it is a good thing you're not interested in him."
"Here comes, Johnny," Tina told her, spotting him from the corner of her eye.
"I've been looking everywhere for you, girls," he said, sitting down between them.
He turned to Abby. "I'm sorry if it seemed like I came on a little strong there. I must have hit my head pretty hard when I fell out, and I was so happy to see the light of day, I may have been a little overzealous in what I said and did."
"That's perfectly understandable," Abby said. "In the future though, keep your hands off my books."
Abby went back to watching the tryouts, and Johnny's gaze lingered on her a hair too long before he started watching, too. Tina wasn't so sure he didn't have some feelings for her. He was simply trying to save face because he knew, despite his bravado, that the chances of Abby going out with him were slim. She felt a small bit of sympathy for him in that moment.
"I bet you've been asking yourselves why I'm not down there trying out," Johnny said.
"Not really, no," Abby said.
"Well, wonder no more. See it's only my first year, and I want to give the others their chance to shine before I take the spotlight."
They watched the rest of the tryouts in relative silence.
"Some of them weren't too horrible," Johnny said when the tryouts were over, "but they still have a lot to learn. I've got a move so swift and cunning, the other team doesn't even know I have the ball until it's too late. Allow me to demonstrate." He jumped onto the bleacher in front of them. Abby motioned with her head for them to go. Tina had no complaints. Everyone else was leaving anyway.
Johnny was left demonstrating his long and ridiculous move to an invisible audience. "And that's how you do it." He made a motion as if he was dusting his hands off. "Yeah, I could have creamed all those creampuffs. So what are we doing tomorrow?" He looked around and saw that they were already gone. "Guys, guys?"
Chapter 9: Confrontations
Tina's mom ran a bar, and they lived in the rooms above it. They usually rented out a room or two to earn an extra bit of income. The guests were usually on the seedy side, but then they didn't exactly live in the best part of town.
She was hoping to slip past the bar and up to her room, but her mother had obviously been watching for her arrival.
"Wait right there, young lady," her mother called out.
Tina stopped and waited for her to set the mugs of beer down in front of the customers.
She came over with hands on her hips. "Where were you exactly? What was this afterschool activity? It wasn't detention, was it?"
"No, and I told you before that school was fine."
"Huh-huh," she said, watching her daughter with suspicion. "You do remember that the next stop is reform school?"
"Yes," she said, her eyes narrowing.
Her mother shook her head. "I still don't understand why they've let you into that school. It's beyond me. You know Thomas never got into any trouble."
"That's because he's a coward."
"Don't you talk about your brother like that. At least, I didn't have to run down to the school every time I turned around to talk about his behavior."
Tina had had enough of this conversation. She ran up the stairs and slammed the door to her bedroom so hard it sounded as if it would come off its hinges. She took her anger out on the pillow, punching it and wishing for a real fight to release her anger.
There was a knock on the door. She recognized her family's knocks, so she knew it was her younger brother, Liam. Besides, business at the bar was just beginning to pick up at this hour, and she knew her mother wouldn't follow.
"Come in," she called.
"I just wanted to see how you were doing," he said softly.
"It's just the usual. How was school for you?"
He smiled, "The usual, I guess. Why don't we go fishing at the lake this weekend to celebrate making it through our first week of school? We haven't done a lot of fishing lately."
"Yeah," she agreed. "I'm definitely in the mood to kill something right now."
"Listen, you know Mom only cares about you, right? She wouldn't get so mad if she didn't."
She put him in a headlock and teasingly ruffled his hair. "Maybe she does, but I don't think we'll ever see eye to eye."
Tina took gymnastics and karate at the mall on Tuesday and Thursday nights. The gymnastics teacher and karate teacher shared the space and hence had the cheapest rates in town. Being in a mall setting meant shoppers could stop and watch the classes through the clear windows and often did.
Gymnastics were over, and Tina was waiting for karate class to start. She was the only one who took both advanced classes. She enjoyed the free time in between the classes most of all because it allowed her to get creative with the equipment. Right now she was on the balance beam. She performed a series of karate moves on the beam without ever losing her balance. In her mind's eye, she could see her attackers. This was just the kind of release she needed after the argument with her mother and a boring day of school. She would have loved it if her mother could have afforded to pay for classes every night. She really didn't need them anymore, she had outmastered her teachers, but she relished the physical activity.
She felt eyes watching her, and she didn't know how she knew exactly, but she knew that it was Aaron, the football player.
Doing a double full flip, she landed neatly in front of him. "Thinking about taking gymnastics?" she asked in a dark tone.
"I'm just admiring your skills. After all, isn't that what you and your little blonde friend were doing earlier today?"
"I was dragged there. I'm not much into being a spectator normally."
He looked around at the equipment. "Did you know that gymnastics evolved from the ancient Greeks?"
"No, I didn't know. Is there a reason I should care?"
"Gods, I've missed you," he said under his breath.
"So it looks like you take karate, too," he said, changing the subject and referring to her black Gi and black belt.
"Aren't you the observant one,"she said, her voice thick with sarcasm.
"Are you any good?"
A challenging smirk appeared on her face. "I could kick your pigskin-chasing butt any day of the week."
His eyes seemed to darken and glitter with excitement at the same time. "I accept the challenge."
He caught her off guard, and he sent a fist into her gut. The punch sent her flying against the matted wall. It surprised her momentarily. She had been in a lot of fights in her short life and never had she felt such a powerful punch. It was hardly human. She regained her composure and went after him.
She landed a roundhouse kick on his jaw. He rubbed his jaw, but it hadn't seemed to faze him much. They blocked each other's kicks and punches for a little while after that, but at last, she was able to grab his fist, and she pulled him toward her, throwing his balance off briefly. She took his arm and flipped him, but he did his own flipping and landed on his feet directly behind her. That gave him the opportunity to kick her legs out from under her, landing her flat on her back instead. He used some pressure points that rendered her incapable of moving.
"I can teach you some fighting moves that you've only dreamed about in this lifetime," he whispered.
As she lay there glaring up at the victor, she couldn't remember the last time that someone had beaten her in class or in a real fight, and she couldn't remember ever feeling more drawn to anyone.
Chapter 10: Some Things Never Change
"Aaron, what are you doing?" called a female voice.
Tina was irritated at the interruption. Aaron looked just as irritated as he hit some more pressure points, and she regained feeling.
He stood up and stuck out a hand to help her up, but she ignored it and got up on her own. He was very pleased with this reincarnation.
"Aaron, I've been looking everywhere for you. I told you I had to study for that test thing tomorrow. I can't flunk out of college before I even finish my first semester. I have to get back to my dorm now!"
He glared at her and the look promptly shut her up. As much as he enjoyed a girl with a temper, he wasn't in the mood. He had just picked her up for tonight, and she already thought she owned him. She was going to be in for a rude awakening in the morning. A sudden thought came to him. He went over and kissed her fully and passionately on the mouth.
He watched Xena out of the corner of his eye. Although her face showed disinterest, the fire in her eyes proved it affected her. He broke away and said to her in a dismissive tone, "Maybe I'll see you around."
"Don't count on it," she said with a grimace. She turned around and flipped back up to the balance beam.
He smiled to himself as he walked away with Ann or Jan or whatever her name was. Although Xena had acted coldly in their parting, he recognized jealousy when he saw it, especially from her. She was already developing a schoolgirl crush on him. He had been right to strike while she was still young. Her girlish figure held no appeal for him right now, but a few years would solve that problem. In the meantime, he thought as he put an arm around the girl next to him, he had a womanly figure to enjoy right next to him.
Prometheus, Hestia, Aphrodite, Momus, and Hercules were taking a break in the teacher's lounge. The room was fit for a king or more specifically a god. Instead of the usual vending machine or coffee pot, there was a table with a feast spread that was grand enough for Mount Olympus. The furniture was comfortable and luxurious.
Aphrodite was spending the time examining herself in the mirror. Momus stood in a corner of the room, imitating her primping but out of her sight. The goddess of love could be quite vengeful when mocked, and if she caught him, he would be thrown out of the room in much the same way as he had often been thrown off Mount Olympus.
"Does my outfit cover up too much?" Aphrodite asked to no one in particular.
"No, it's not short enough," said Prometheus sarcastically.
Aphrodite missing the sarcasm completely said, "You're way right. The sleeves are so not cute, it totally ruins the outfit." She fixed it by turning the long sleeves of her business jacket into short, poufy ones.
Prometheus sighed. "I miss the old days when all I did was guard fire."
"How's football going, Hercules?" Hestia asked, changing the subject for the sake of harmony.
"It's not my favorite sport. I don't see the point of all the useless violence, but if it allows me to keep an eye on that dear half-brother of mine, it's well worth it."
Momus laughed. "The god of war on a high school football team? The other teams won't stand a chance. They'll be lucky if they make it off the field alive."
"That's if he gets to play," Hercules said. "If he pulls another stunt like yesterday, he won't be seeing any game time. And can anyone tell me why Ares was let in as a student in the first place? I thought we set up this school for reincarnated ancient Greeks only, not gods masquerading as students."
Ares suddenly appeared in his regular form. "Gossip in the teacher's lounge? That's a nasty habit to get into, Hercules."
"I was wondering when you were going to show your face in here. In all of the years that this school has been set up, you've never shown the slightest interest in it. I wonder what's changed," Hercules said, knowing full well why Olympus High suddenly intrigued Ares.
"We shouldn't be fighting," Hestia said, interrupting. She knew how things between the two could quickly go south. "What kind of example are we setting for the mortals?"
"Wake up and smell the ambrosia, Hestia. We don't have any worshipers anymore," Momus said. "The mortals could care less about what we do."
"Fine," she said, feeling a little less harmonious, "What kind of example are we setting for the students?"
"I'm warning you now, Ares, that this obsession with Xena is getting old," Hercules said. "She's always been able to resist your 'charms' in all her lives before since switching to the right side in ancient Greece, but going after her while she is still young, that's low even for you. Of course, youth has never stopped you before. I still haven't forgotten your army of boys."
Ares was angry now, and he blasted Hercules back against the wall. "You just keep your little boy scout nose out of my way."
"If you think I'm going to let you take advantage of a ninth grader, you've got another thing coming. I'm going to keep a close eye on you and her. Consider me Xena's watchdog."
Ares responded with another blast, but Hercules was ready this time and rolled to the table, turning it over to use as a shield. The food and drinks fell all over the floor, making a huge mess. Some of the liquid contents landed on Aphrodite and Hestia. A seething Ares disappeared in a light of blue.
"Isn't it wonderful how some things just never change?" Momus said, putting one arm around Aphrodite's shoulders and the other one around Hestia's. A few seconds later, he found himself on his butt out in the hallway, courtesy of two angry goddesses, but he just chuckled. "Nope, some things never do."
Chapter 11: The Football Prank
Abby had talked Tina into coming to the first football game of the season. She hadn't really had that hard of a time with it because Tina was interested in seeing Aaron play. Johnny was there, too.
"I left my math book in my locker, and we have homework tonight," Abby said suddenly while they were waiting for the game to start.
"So go get it," Tina told her.
"Come with me."
"Aw, Abby's afraid of the dark," Johnny said in her ear, pointing and laughing at the same time.
Abby grabbed his pointer finger, "You better put that finger away."
"Let's go before the game starts," Tina said, standing up.
The three went inside the school, and they hadn't made it very far down the hall when they saw something that made all three of them freeze in their tracks.
"What in the world is that?" Abby asked, her eyes as wide as saucers.
The creature had a body of a lion, the head of a man, and the tail of a scorpion.
"It's obviously somebody in a costume," Johnny said with a small laugh that was slightly nervous.
The monster shot out its tail and the pointed spine would have lodged itself right into Johnny's chest if Tina hadn't done a sweeping kick that knocked him flat on the floor.
"Or not," Johnny said as he stared up at the ceiling.
"Into the classroom," Tina shouted, almost pushing the half-paralyzed Johnny and Abby into the science room. She slammed the door behind them and locked it.
The creature began using its tail to tear down the door. The door was already developing a crack.
Tina looked around for a weapon. She spotted the thick metal rod that held the shades over the window. She pulled hard on it, and the metal rod came crashing down and she caught it neatly in her hands. "You two find a place in the classroom to protect yourselves."
"Abby should hide. You and I can teach this monster that he's messing with the wrong people." Johnny gave another of the shades a good tug and sent the rod crashing down onto his head, putting him in a half-conscious state.
"Oh great," said Abby, reaching under his arms to drag him across the floor into one of the corners. "I guess he gets points for bravery or having an inflated ego. I'm not sure which." She flipped and stacked a couple of the science table to shield them.
The monster finally got the door down and came in slowly, moving like a lion getting ready to corner its prey. The creature was swinging its mucous-looking spine back and forth. If it was anything like a real scorpion, the spine was probably poisonous. Unlike most scorpions, Tina had a feeling that a sting from this tail would result in death.
Tina waited for it to come to her, standing with her feet slightly apart but firmly planted. When its tail made a sudden attack, she used the rod to block the tail.
Abby, who was watching from behind the table, shouted, "Over here you ugly thing!" Its man's head gave an angry sort of hiss and started to go toward Abby.
It gave Tina the opportunity to kick it hard in the face, breaking some of its teeth loose. A couple of teeth pinged onto the floor. Unlike a man's teeth, they were sharp and pointy, no doubt meant for tearing into flesh. It became even angrier and forgot about Abby. It turned its attention back to Tina. The attacks with its tail became faster and stronger.
"You and Johnny should get out of here," Tina said. "I can keep it distracted while you make a break for it."
Although there was clear terror in Abby's voice, she said, "We're not leaving you to face this alone."
"What are you going to do? Do you know how to fight?" Tina asked.
"Well, no not really, but—" she broke off midsentence as Tina gave a cry that startled her and the monster, allowing Tina to hit its tail so hard there was the sound of a crack, but the monster wasn't down yet.
Hercules didn't like the cocky look on Ares' face as he sat on the bench, waiting to be put into the game. He was up to something. He looked in the stands to see if he could spot Tina, but she, Abby, and Johnny were all missing. He was sure if he found them, he would find the source of Ares' cockiness.
He started to leave to look for them, but some of the single moms gathered around him asking about how their son or daughter was doing in P.E. He wasn't fooled by their inquiries. "Excuse me, ladies. We can talk about this during parent-teacher conferences. I'm in a bit of hurry." With a few twists through the crowd, he managed to lose them.
A couple of teenagers were standing behind the bleachers smoking cigarettes. They quickly threw them down when they saw Hercules and stomped on them.
"I'm not here to bust you, although we will be talking about this tomorrow. I'm looking for some other students. Have you seen a tall girl with black hair, a short girl with blonde hair, and a skinny guy come by here?"
They both pointed towards the school. Hercules ran to the front doors. The doors to the school were locked. He kicked them in and ran toward the room with the light on.
He found the science classroom in a complete mess, but fortunately, the kids were uninjured. Tina had knocked a manticore cold with a metal rod. Abby and Johnny made their way out from behind the tables.
"What in the heck was it?" Abby asked, looking at it with a mixture of disgust and fascination.
"It was a prank the other team played," Hercules quickly explained. "I found out about it and came as soon as I could. It's an extremely expensive robotic toy. It's not a very funny prank, I admit. You can believe that their school is going to be paying for all the damage that was done."
Abby and Johnny seemed to readily accept the explanation, but Tina looked at him suspiciously, not ready to take what he said at face value.
"Aphrodite," Hercules called under his breath. She appeared in the room, remaining invisible to the three students, and he used his eyes to point toward the monster. "I'm positive it's a robot," he said emphatically, hoping she would catch on. She smiled in understanding and fixed the situation before vanishing again.
He went to move the body and there were a bunch of pink nuts and bolts under it. The pink shouldn't have surprised him, but she had thankfully come through. In a school filled with gods, it wasn't the first time that they had needed a cover story to keep the students from discovering the truth.
"See? You kids go back to the game. I'll clean up this mess."
They complied with his direction. He could hear Johnny tell the girls, "I knew it wasn't real all the time." As soon as they were gone, he started to dispose of the beast, but it suddenly disappeared.
"She's even more perfect than I imagined in this reincarnation. She doesn't even need to have her old memories to have her old fighting skills," said Ares as he materialized in the room. He picked up the metal rod and tossed it into the air and caught it again. "You never know what she'll turn into a weapon."
Hercules wasn't amused. "And if you'd killed her with your little experiment?"
He shrugged. "There's always the next reincarnation, but I knew she would succeed. This proves she's ready to be my conqueror again. This will be an interesting century for sure."
"This proves nothings. All you've proven is that she's ready to be a hero. She won't want to embrace her dark side."
"That is still a work-in-progress." Ares vanished, but his voice could still be heard. "Hold onto your whistle, coach, things are about to get really ugly, and you won't be able to stop me this time."
Hercules threw one of the chairs at the sound of his voice, but all he heard was Ares' mocking laughter.
Chapter 12: The Depressed Counselor
They were now one month into school. Tina, Abby, and Johnny were fairly close since the prank incident. Tina was actually starting to like Abby. Johnny was more of an acquired taste, but it was clear that he was like a fly that you couldn't quite swat away, annoying and persistent. Truth be told though, she was even beginning to develop a soft spot for him.
Tina currently found herself in the guidance counselor's office. They were required to see the counselor once a month.
The room was small, dim, and the items in the room were sparse, not a very cheerful atmosphere.
"Tell me your story," the guidance counselor began.
"I want to know your life history. I want to know all the miserable details, the gloomier they are, the better."
"Are you sure you shouldn't be the one seeing a counselor?" Tina asked pointblank.
He continued as if he hadn't heard her. "Your friend, Abby, is entirely too sunny as if life were a bowl of cherries. She has normal parents, normal siblings, and a normal life. There's not a drop of despair in her life, at least not yet."
"Are you supposed to be telling me about other students?" she asked. There must have been some kind of student-counselor confidentiality.
"Now Johnny. There's a boy who can enrapture you with his depressing life history. He always has had such lovely life histories. It practically makes you want to wring your heart out."
"I though this was supposed to be about me?" Tina said.
"Right," he said. He looked at some papers on his desk. "According to your school records, there's no father in the picture. Tell me, does that fact fill you with misery? How does it make you feel?"
"I don't see how that's any of your business. Counselor or no counselor, you don't have the right to pry into my personal life, so you better drop it if you don't want a fat lip."
"Anger. Such a typical response from you. Why don't you ever respond with some despair?"
"Because there's no point. Anger accomplishes things, wallowing in self-pity doesn't."
"What do you know? You're just a kid, but do you know what awaits you in the very near future?"
"No, I don't," Tina snapped. She was starting to get fed up and was wondering more than ever where they dug the people up that worked at this school.
"I should have known. You have to be the most depressed counselor in the world. I bet you've never even laughed in your entire life."
"No, no," he said with a long look on his face, "I sometimes laugh."
"That's good to know," Tina said slowly with a look on her face that showed she hadn't meant for him to take it so seriously.
"I find the only thing that can even make me crack a grin though is a pie in the face. There's a classic."
"I'd really love to be one of those people who could find humor in the least little thing. I'd love to be carefree, but it's not exactly in the job description, is it? People never have liked me very much, but I can't really help it. I am what I am. Somebody has to do it."
"Right. Is this session over?"
"Oh, go on," he said with a wave of his hand. "I never get any respect anyway. No one cares about poor Mr. Lachrymose."
Tina had no problem complying with that request. She discovered that school had already let out, and she had missed the bus. She hadn't been able to hear the bell in the counselor's room. She looked towards Mr. Lachrymose's door with a disgruntled expression. "That just figures," Tina muttered.
Aaron walked by at that moment with his leather jacket and sunglasses on. "I'll give you a ride home," he offered.
She followed him out to the parking lot. "Why did I know that you would drive a motorcycle?"
"Don't try to tell me the prospect of riding doesn't thrill you. Danger gets your blood pumping. You're only disappointed there's not more danger involved."
"I'm not opposed to the idea," she admitted.
"Surprise, surprise. Here comes the wet blanket."
Tina looked around for an explanation and saw that the P.E. teacher was on his way over.
"Should you really be giving freshman girls rides home on one of those things?" Mr. Sorbo asked with a look on his face that showed it wasn't much of a question.
"Lighten up, coach," Aaron said, getting onto the bike. "I've practically been riding these things since they were invented."
"What will your mother say if you ride home this way?" he asked, turning his attention to Tina. "Let me give you a ride home."
"She won't approve but then she never does approve of my choices," Tina said, climbing onto the back of the motorcycle and taking the helmet that Aaron offered her. "Thanks anyway."
Hercules watched them ride away. He would have socked Ares hard right then if he thought he could get away with it, but he couldn't with Tina watching. To her, Aaron was just another student. He needed an ally to help keep an eye on them. While Aphrodite had her helpful moments, she wouldn't intervene with what she considered one of the classic love stories. Xena/Tina was not Hestia's favorite person from all the cooking disaster stories he had heard her tell. Momus wasn't likely to take it seriously. No, there was only one person in the school he could think of that would help him.
Chapter 13: Strategizing with the Principal
Hercules was sitting in the principal's office. "I really don't understand, Nemesis, why you let him enter the school in the first place."
"He swore to me that there would be no World War 3 for at least another twenty years if I let him have just one year as a student here. I had the promise witnessed in front of the fates this time. Xena hasn't been anywhere near her old self in so long that I thought he would just be wasting his time. I see now I was wrong, but fair is fair. We have an agreement. I must abide by it."
"I respect that, but we have to be proactive with this. She had always been drawn to him whether she admits it or not, and I fear that she will be more impressionable this go-around given her youth. It would be bad news if we had to deal with a destroyer of nations again, and this old world has more dangerous tools to use than ever."
"You're right, but I've noticed that her friends are also quite like their old selves. That's bound to help."
"I'm sure it will, but it wouldn't be a good idea to underestimate Ares. Another thing that we have to be on guard for is that he's been dying to have an heir from Xena for literally thousands of years."
Her eyes burned with barely controlled anger. "I've never forgiven him for trying to take Evander from me. I'll see myself in Tartarus before I let him use a girl the way he used me right under my nose."
"Make no mistake though. It's not just an heir he wants. He may not even be thinking along those lines yet given her age. He wants dark Xena back fighting by his side for power more than anything."
She gave a dry chuckle. "Believe me, I know. I used to think gods were completely incapable of love, but although the power that comes with it can be blinding, I don't believe that anymore. Do you know that in all the world's existence she is the only woman that he has ever loved in a romantic capacity?"
"I wouldn't call it love. It's a sick obsession on his part. She's the one he thought would give him everything, and she could have, but she got away, and he's never given up trying to get her back."
"Call it what you will, but it's love coming from Ares. I don't know how much it's going to help in the long run, but I've already got a couple of ideas. The kids could use a sex ed class."
"That doesn't sound like a bad idea. Who are you going to get to teach it?"
"I don't how great a job Aphrodite could do," Hercules said uncertainly.
"Despite her carefree attitude and being a tad oversexed, I think she cares about the kids, and she does think sex is better with love. Her problem is just that she loves all men. And I'm going to have Hestia help convince them marriage before the carriage is a better way to go when having a family. We can get those baby dolls the kids have to tote around, a perfect extension for Home Ec. I just hope it helps."
"It couldn't hurt," Hercules said. "And I'll keep doing my best to make sure they don't get to that stage in their relationship."
"We're like going to do something different today," Aphrodite announced to the students. "It's going to be a sex ed class."
Groans could be heard all over the classroom.
"This could be major fun," Aphrodite responded in a slight huff. "Now we totally need a demonstration of a teenager asking for sex and the way a teenager should handle it." She looked around the classroom. No one had their hands up. "Sam and Tina."
They both moved to the front of the classroom, Tina less enthusiastically than Sam.
"The guy may be like gag me with a spoon or way rad, but show everyone how a non-adult should respond to an offer of sex," Aphrodite said.
"My parents won't be home this weekend," Sam began. "Let's you and me go over to my place and have a little fun."
Tina was about to respond with some cliché line when he made a move to pinch her rear. He never quite made it there; she punched him in the face instead. He fell flat on the floor.
"That's totally one way to go," Aphrodite said, although it was clear she didn't approve of the response. "You two can go back to your seats. Let's see. Johnny and Abby. Your turn."
"Would you uh like to uh you know—" Johnny said, clearly not enjoying this.
"I'm just not ready for that yet," Abby said, jumping in to the rescue. "I think we should just enjoy getting to know each other."
"Now that's an awesome way to handle it," Aphrodite said with a smile. "I knew you could, Gabby, I mean, Abby. Now let's all talk about what we can do if the hormones get way out of control, and they likely will. Your heart will start to race, your mind will lose focus, your body will—"
Tina rolled her eyes and tuned out the rest of the lecture, not an unusual response in Ms. Aphrodite's class. Ms. Aphrodite was the only one Tina knew of at the moment whose hormones were out of control, an around-the-clock occurrence it seemed.
Chapter 14: Parenting
"I have a surprise for you," Ms. Hestia said. "You all will be assigned a baby doll to take care of for a week. You will have to take the baby with you wherever you go, whether it's to a friend's house, church, practice, out to eat, you name it. You will have to give the baby a name. You will have to feed it with the key you will receive when it cries and hold it the proper way. Sometimes the doll will just cry, and you have to hold it until it stops. When I call your name, I want you to come get a doll and give it a name."
Tina wasn't much interested in what the students were naming the babies, but she was curious about Abby and Johnny's choice. Abby picked Faith, and Johnny picked Johnny Jr., which Tina couldn't help but smile at. She should have expected that last choice.
When it was her turn, she told Ms. Hestia, "Whatever. I don't care."
"Try to summon some motherly feeling, Tina," Ms. Hestia said, "and give the baby a name."
"Fine," she looked around the room quickly trying to summon some inspiration. She saw the candy they'd made in class yesterday sitting on the counter. "Candy," she said unenthusiastically.
"How original," said Ms. Hestia dryly.
That afternoon Tina and Abby's bus was running late. They waited out on the sidewalk for it with their dolls. Johnny was a car rider but was waiting with them. Johnny's baby started crying.
"This kid is always hungry. Little Johnny Jr. is a chip off the old block alright," Johnny said, hunting for the key he couldn't find.
"I worry about you, Johnny," Abby told him. "For more than one reason."
Johnny still hadn't found the key when his ride pulled into the parking lot. "Bye, girls," Johnny said. He stumbled when he was getting his things into the car and the doll went flying headfirst into the car. Johnny's baby would be lucky to survive the night.
"I pity Johnny's future wife," Abby said as they watched the spectacle.
"I pity his future child," Tina retorted.
Abby had her baby doll safely nestled in her arms like it was a real baby. "I need a pencil. I forgot to write down our math homework," she said.
Tina threw her baby up in the air without even disrupting its tightly wrapped blanket. She quickly pulled her bookbag off her shoulder, took out a pencil, and handed it to Abby. She caught the baby without missing a beat.
"You are not supposed to throw babies up in the air," Abby said.
Tina smiled one of her barely-showing smiles that was the equivalent of some people's wide grins. "Why not? As long as you can catch them again."
Abby frowned a little as she took out her notebook. "It was page 37, right?"
"That sounds right."
"Besides," Abby said, as she handed Tina back her pencil, "I think these things have some kind of chip in them that registers abuse to the doll."
"I did not abuse the doll." The doll began to cry very loudly. "Although that could change as the week wears on. How did she say you were supposed to shut this thing up?"
"You haven't fed your baby since you got it?" Abby asked in disbelief. "I thought I hadn't seen you with it since home ec."
"I had it in my locker. We have enough to keep up with in the other classes without worrying about a doll."
"And you wonder why you're failing Home Economics. It can also tell when you ignore the cries. Just put the key in its mouth."
Tina fished out the key from her book and stopped its crying just as the bus pulled up.
Tina rolled her eyes when she walked through the door. She recognized her mother's stance. She might as well get this over with. "What did I do now?" she asked.
"Your home economics teacher called today," she answered. "Report cards go out next week, and she wanted to explain to me why you would be receiving an F."
"So what? I didn't want to take home economics, remember? I wanted to take shop."
"As if you aren't enough of a tomboy already. Honey, what are you going to do when you have a husband and he wants his dinner?"
"I swear you're from another era. A woman doesn't have to get married these days, and even if she does, she doesn't have to play 1950s housewife. If the man wants his dinner, he can fix it himself."
"Fine then, what are you going to do when you're single and hungry?"
"They have this handy new invention called a microwave, and you can buy a thing called a TV dinner without doing any of the actual cooking yourself."
"I don't appreciate your sarcasm or your attitude, young lady, and you can't live on TV dinners, but we're getting off subject. I want to talk about this F of yours. Why haven't you gone to Ms. Hestia for help?"
"I don't think she'd be that interested in helping me. I think she's already wrote me off as a lost cause."
"Nonsense, when I had her in school—"
"Wait, you had her for home ec. too?"
"Of course, she's a brilliant home economics teacher."
"That's strange. She should be ancient by now, but she still looks fairly young."
"Some people age gracefully. You had better go to her for help before your next report card or come to me if you want. I'm not such a bad cook you know."
"Oh, that would go so well," Tina said, using more of the sarcasm her mother hated.
"I don't care how you improve your grade, but I want to see improvement. Thomas—"
"There you go with Thomas again, the perfect child. Save it, Mother. I have more important things to attend to." She ran upstairs before her mother could respond, slamming her bedroom door shut.
She threw her bookbag and doll onto the floor. It seemed she could never keep her anger in check around her mother. The hair on her neck suddenly stood on end. She sensed a presence. She looked around for an intruder or a peeping tom but saw none. It was completely irrational, but it was as if the presence was having some sort of effect on her. Her blood felt hotter, her heart beat faster, and the anger within her seemed to grow and yet the anger seemed more controlled in a way that gave her a sense of power as if she was capable of anything. It was both invigorating and unsettling.
The baby doll cried for what seemed like the umpteenth time, breaking the silence. She hadn't felt such a burning rage since she had started the new school. The mechanical cries sliced through her head. She picked the doll up and threw it against the wall, but the cries continued to aggravate her headache. She picked up the doll. She turned it over and ripped out the insides, finally silencing it. She ground the parts under her foot.
The presence was gone as suddenly as it had come, and she instantly felt calmer. She bit her lip in concentration as she tried to think up a reasonable explanation for it, but she was drawing a blank.
She picked up what remained of the baby. The doll wasn't going to help her home ec. grade any. Unless Ms. Hestia had just been looking to prove that teenagers didn't make good parents, in which case she had passed with flying colors.
Chapter 15: A Visit from Morpheus
Fire was consuming the surrounding houses. The heat was radiating against her skin and cries of agony filled the smoky air. Tina had a sword poised over a middle-aged man.
"Please have mercy," the man begged. "I have a wife and children who need me." There was absolute terror in his eyes as he groveled on his knees. His hands were clasped, and he held no weapons in them. He was dressed in the manner of the ancient Greeks.
"You should have thought of them before you and your fellow villagers decided you didn't want me taking over your village as if you had a chance in tartarus of defending it. I gave you plenty of time to surrender too. If that wasn't mercy, I don't know what is."
Without another word, she took her sword and plunged it through the man's chest. She twisted it around in the cavity before pulling it out.
She heard a seductive whisper over shoulder. "You showed those villagers that no one refuses my warrior princess and lives to tell about it. Bravo, my dear. And your refusal of mercy was your crowning glory."
Tina smiled a self-satisfied smile as she ran her pointer finger along the sword, picking up some of the crimson liquid, and then she rubbed her finger against her thumb as if glorying in his death. "This is only the beginning."
"I'm counting on it," the voice replied.
Tina suddenly jerked up to discover she was still in her bed. She was covered in a sweaty sheen. She took a deep, gasping breath of the warm air. It was a humid night for October. She looked at her hand as if she expected to see the blood on it, but it was clean. When were these nightmares going to stop? They were becoming more and more frequent.
She knew it was just a dream as she wiped the sweat from her forehead, but it was so vivid. It felt more like a memory as if she had somehow actually lived it, which didn't make any sense at all to her. She didn't know how to even use a sword. She picked up her numchucks, which were lying beside her bed and held it like she had held the sword in her dream. She realized the insanity of it all and threw it back down. She supposed all the Greek history that the history teachers liked to tell in class was getting to her subconscious.
She thought for a moment about the voice in her dream. She knew that voice from somewhere, but she couldn't quite place a finger on it. It was going to drive her crazy.
Her hair prickled as she felt someone watching her. She knew it was the same presence that she had sensed the other times. Whether it was a ghost or a being with more substance she didn't know. "I don't know who you are, but I will find out," she said out loud in a threatening tone.
Ares continued to watch Tina with a wide smile. Even as a schoolgirl, she could sense his presence like no other mortal ever had or would. He couldn't wait for the day when she did find out.
Morpheus had worked his magic again. It never hurt her any to have glimpses of who she was at heart. It never took much to convince Morpheus to help him. Morpheus took a special pleasure in giving people nightmares or dreams that disturbed them, and since Xena had robbed him of his bride, he was only too happy to work against her.
She hadn't taken a life yet in this lifetime, so she naturally wasn't at peace with the dream. He was ready to fix that; it wouldn't be long before she took a life now. His plans in that regard were already at work. He would get the Xena he knew before his interfering brother and the annoying blonde had come along, the Xena who delighted in who he was. "Not long now, my dear. Not long at all," he said before making his exit.
Chapter 16: The Veil
Tina was walking to her locker to get ready for the next class before the mass migration that came when lunch was over. All of a sudden, Aaron was there and had her backed up against a locker. It was almost as if he hadn't been there one minute, but the next minute he was. Rather than startling her, it only served to excite her. Nonetheless, she didn't want him knowing that. She sent a fist flying toward his face, but he caught the fist and used it to manipulate her body around. He shoved her up firmly up against the lockers with his body.
"Now was that anyway to greet a person who just wanted to say hi?"
"Our meetings may have been few, but you obviously want something from me besides a hi."
He laughed. "You're absolutely right. I need a date to the Halloween dance. Are you up for it?"
She managed to free herself from his grasp with a couple of twists and a well placed kick. She scoffed as she looked closely at his face for signs that he was only playing with her. "Why would you want to go out with a freshman? You're a senior and the star of the football team. You drive a motorcycle. The last girlfriend you had was an easy but pretty college girl. Why would you want to out with me when you have plenty of other options?"
"You underestimate yourself. You are easily the most beautiful girl in the school with your haunting blue eyes and raven black hair," he said, emphasizing his point by stroking a strand.
She swatted his hand away and though she still had distrust in her eyes, she said, "I suppose I have to go to the dance with somebody."
"That's the spirit," he said.
She turned away from him to continue to her locker, but she turned back around to ask him if he would be picking her up or if she would be meeting him there. He was already gone.
Abby came around the corner at that moment. "I hate when you slip off without me. It's annoying."
"I like to beat the crowds," she said simply, not stopping her walk.
"I get that, but it wouldn't kill you to wait until I finish eating. I go down to pick up my fallen fork, and when I raise up, you're gone." Abby switched topics with a sigh. "Can you believe no one has asked me to the dance yet?"
"There's still a week to go and what about Johnny? I know he'd be happy to go with you, and I haven't heard him talking about any dates."
"I don't think Johnny counts as a date, but it could come down to that. You know what the problem is? Most of the boys in this school are immature, and the ones who aren't are taken."
"Hmmm," she said uncommittedly as she opened her locker.
"What about you?"
"What about me?" she asked, pulling out her English textbook.
"Don't play coy, Tina. Do you have a date?"
"What if I do?" she asked, shutting the locker back.
"You're going with Aaron," Abby surmised in a tone that showed she didn't altogether approve of the choice.
"What's wrong with Aaron?" Tina demanded . She had a defensive edge in her voice and a hard look in her eyes.
"I don't know. I just get a bad feeling about the guy sometimes."
"He's not a goody-goody-two-shoes, I'll admit, but just because a person is tough on the outside, it doesn't mean you should write the person off. I thought you knew that."
"I didn't mean that. I just hope you know what you're getting yourself into."
"I do," she said firmly, walking off before Abby tried to deliver anymore advice.
It was Halloween night. Ares pulled into the school parking lot with Tina on the back of his motorcycle.
"I don't know why, but I shouldn't have been surprised you chose these leather warrior costumes," Tina said dryly.
"Were you surprised to find a costume in your locker?"
"A little, but I knew it was from you the moment I saw it. I would like you to show me how you got in without a combination one of these days."
"Do you like it?" he wanted to know.
"Yes, or I wouldn't have worn it. I'm not sure about the breast plate though."
"Oh, believe me, it completes the ensemble," he said, eyeing the familiar piece of armor.
"The costumes must have been expensive. This seems like genuine leather."
"It is. I don't go in for the phony stuff. There's nothing quite like the smell of real leather," Ares told her. Unless it's the smell of death and carnage, he added silently to himself.
"I certainly understand the love of leather," she said, tracing the line of his vest with her hand.
He closed his eyes briefly. It was just like the old days: the passion, the violence, the baiting. If she had been older…but she would be in just three more years. He could wait that long. Three years were but a drop of all the years he had been waiting. He was going to make sure that no matter what his half brother and the annoying blonde tried to do, she became his once and for all. A young reincarnation that didn't need the old memories to be her true self for once was the thing that assured him of his success this time. She wouldn't harbor resentment toward him, and despite her tough girl attitude, there was a naivety and innocence that would cause her to cling to him, especially when she began to taste some of life's hardships for the first time in this lifetime, and he was about to make sure she experienced them.
He took both her hands into his before she tempted him beyond his self-control. "Your mother didn't look thrilled that you were going to the dance with me."
"I hardly care what my mother thinks. Are we going inside or not?" she demanded sharply.
He gestured toward the door in an after-you gesture. They went inside the heavily decorated cafeteria. The cafeteria had pumpkins of every color, black and orange balloons and streamers, and pictures of monsters, primarily of Greek origin, lining the walls.
Tina scanned the room for Abby and Johnny. She found them over by the refreshment table. Abby was wearing a blue princess costume, and Johnny was wearing a soldier's costume, spilling punch all over himself as he tried to pour some cups for Abby and himself. Abby had gone with Johnny after all. Tina believed it was partly out of pity for Johnny and partly because the boy she was currently crushing on was unavailable at the moment.
She thought about going over for a quick hello, but when she locked eyes with her friends, Tina could feel the disapproval from both her friends from across the room. She turned to Ares. "Let's dance."
It was a demand, not a suggestion. It brought a smile to his lips, and he led her out onto the dance floor.
He grabbed her possessively by the waist, and she took him firmly by the shoulders. He had a feeling she would have tried to lead if he hadn't beat her to the punch. Her dancing skills nowhere as impeccable as they had been thousands of years ago, but they moved in an effortless, rhythmic sway as if they were one.
Ares spotted Hercules glaring at them, or more specifically him. Ares moved his hands lower. He was enjoying driving his brother crazy. Hercules couldn't openly attack him in front of all these kids and the parent chaperones. He concentrated again on the enchanting girl in front of him until the song suddenly changed to a faster paced song. He spotted Hercules again by the DJ and had no doubt about the reason for the song change.
Ares enjoyed three good dances with her before he was ready to get down to business. He just needed a momentary distraction, so he and Xena could slip away unnoticed from "old eagle eye", who still had his eyes on them. Thinking about eagles gave him the perfect idea. A terrified scream came from the boy's bathroom. Hercules being Hercules had to rush to save the day. His pet birds would keep Hercules occupied for awhile.
He led Xena out of the cafeteria and into the hall before she had time to protest.
"Where are we going?"
"I don't have time to explain, but trust me," he told her.
"I don't, but I'll go anyway," she said half teasingly and half seriously.
He had given his brother the slip for now, but he knew it was only a matter of time before Hercules found them, and he had to have completed what he had in store for her before then.
He pulled her into a closet.
"Is there any particular reason why we had to see the inside of the janitor's closet?" she asked.
"It's All Hallow's Eve. The veil between the underworld and this world is thin. It's easier for spirits to come into the mortal realm and for mortals to enter the underworld."
She cast him an amused glance. "I had no idea you were into the supernatural. So you pulled me away from the dance into this closet to tell me ghosts run around on Halloween? You'll excuse me if I go back to the party." She started to open the door to leave.
He picked up a scroll off the shelf in between the box of toilet paper rolls and bleach and began to read.
It sounded like Ancient Greek, one of the course offerings at this schools. She wasn't taking it, but her grandparents had spoken Greek, and she could recognize some of the similarities, even though she didn't understand what he was saying. She thought she caught the word underworld though. She suddenly felt very light as if she were about to float out of her body.
Ares could tell the exact moment when Alti took over her body. Xena's spirit had been sent to the underworld for the night. It was time for things to start getting interesting.
Chapter 17: The Harpies
"Hmm," Alti/Tina said, wiggling her finger as if testing to see that she was in full control. "This is a nice fit."
"This exchange is temporary," he warned with a fierce glare that would have made a normal woman or man for that matter run for their life. "I learned long ago that another woman in her body, no matter how charming she is, is just not the same somehow. You have two hours in her body, no more and no less. The spell makes certain of that, so don't try any of your tricks."
"Relax, lover boy. You want evil Xena back as much as I do, so let's get busy and see to it that we get what we want this lifetime. I am about to be reborn again, and I want things to be right for my arrival. I suppose finding a warlord to tempt her is out of the question. Xena always did find war such a draw. It's a real shame they're not in vogue in this country anymore."
"Ganglords are almost the same things but more underground. Nothing beats the destruction that comes with flat-out war, not having to be secretive and just destroying and taking whatever's in your path, but they'll do for our purposes at the moment. We'd better hurry and get this done before my brother tries to get in our way."
Alti laughed to find that was Hercules was still a problem for Ares. "Some things just don't change, do they? Lead the way. I have a feeling I'm going to enjoy getting Tina into some real trouble."
"We'll leave through the side door and take my motorcycle."
"Couldn't we just pop over there instantly with your godly magic?
"We could, but it's much better to make the proper impression, and my motorcycle does that."
They hurried to the side door and found Abby and Johnny in the hallway where the side door was.
"We've been looking everywhere for you guys. Where'd you go?" Abby asked.
"We have some business that does concern you," Ares answered, baiting her. He went around them, and Tina/Alti followed.
Johnny stepped out in front of her, blocking her way. "I don't think you should go anywhere alone with this guy."Why don't you come back to the party with me and Abby?"
Tina/Alti's fist connected with Johnny's nose in reply, and they left Abby and Johnny alone in the hall.
"Are you alright?" Abby asked, squatting down next to Johnny and handing him a tissue from her small pocketbook.
Johnny held the tissue up to his nose. "She didn't have to punch me in the nose," he said in a nasally voice, partly from pinching his nose and partly because he was whining.
Hercules had come out of the bathroom with shredded clothing but was obviously the victor. He had searched the cafeteria for Xena and Ares with no luck. He came running down the hall, looking for them and found Abby and Johnny.
"Where's Tina and Aaron?" he asked.
"They left. Johnny and I tried to convince them they should stay, and Tina punched him. I knew Aaron was a jerk, but it's not like Tina," Abby said. "I don't know what got into her."
It was an interesting choice of words. He had a feeling something had gotten into Tina. He just had to go find out what. He checked the parking lot and discovered what he had expected. Ares' motorcycle was gone. He climbed into his convertible. He knew the number one hotspot for troubled teens in this town and figured it was his best bet.
"You can't bring her in there," Hercules warned from behind, having caught them just before they went in. "She's underage."
They both turned around. Ares clicked his tongue. "Really? Sometimes I wonder if you're really still this innocent after all these years or if you play at it. With some fake ids, this bar gladly turns a blind eye to the actual age of their patrons. So if you'll just buzz off."
He grabbed Ares by the back of his vest as he was turning to go back towards the bar. "I don't see any of my students around here, do you?" he asked, expressing his freedom to go at him. He threw Ares against the building. He was about to knock him around some more when he fell crippled from all the sudden pain. It was like he was reliving every little bit of pain that he had ever had and even ones he hadn't experienced yet. It was excruciating. He didn't have to be told who was doing it. If Ares had possessed such a power, he would have used it a long time ago. He could tell he was about to blackout any moment, and he didn't have the strength to even speak.
"I wouldn't worry about whether Tina goes into the bar or not," Ares said smugly, "but I would concern myself with the question, where is Xena right now?"
They walked into the bar, leaving Hercules unconscious from the pain.
Xena/Tina was in a dark, cave-like place, a place she knew the moment she was there. She was in the underworld. All the memories of all her past lives came rushing back to her.
"Ares!" she shouted, knowing he would hear her even if he wouldn't come. "I don't know what your plan is this go around, but I'll see you in Tartarus first before I let you bring me back to the darkness!"
Her voice echoed hauntingly as if it were mocking her. She knew it was a bluff because she wouldn't have any memory of this when she was returned to her body, but she hoped Tina would figure out his game, and she knew that Hercules was helping her. The situation wasn't hopeless. She leaned against the wall, getting comfortable and wishing she had something that would kill a god in her hands.
Ares had already infiltrated into one of the local gangs in preparation for this moment.
"Who's the babe, Aaron?" one of the members asked.
"She wants to become one of us," he answered, draping his arm possessively around her shoulders, signaling to the guys that she was taken.
"If Aaron approves of you, that's good enough for us, but we still have to have an initiation. It's tradition," another member spoke up, the one who was clearly the leader.
"I would be offended if you didn't ask," she said.
"It's simple really. My girl's birthday is coming up, and she would really love some diamond earrings. I want you to break into a jewelry store and steal it for me, and if you have to shoot someone in the process, that's even better."
"Consider it done," Alti/Tina said with a smile on her lips.
Fifteen minutes later found Ares and Alti/Tina in front of the jewelry store along with the gang's leader, Mike. They were in Mike's dark blue BMW.
Alti/Tina started to open the car door with no disguise on, but Ares grabbed her arm.
"Put this on," he whispered harshly, shoving a black ski mask into her hand. "I don't want her in jail. I just want her in the gang."
She smirked as if she was going to resist, and Ares was beginning to wonder if this had been a mistake, but then she pulled the ski mask over her face before getting out.
Mike and Ares stayed in the car and watched the scene transpire through the windows. They saw Alti/Tina wave the gun and even fire a shot at the ceiling to prove to the man that it was loaded. A shade paler than he had started out, the man quickly swept a shelf inside the case into a bag and handed the jewelry over to her. Alti/Tina walked out taking her sweet time. Ares cursed under his breath. He knew she was doing it to get his goat, and it was working. If she wasn't in Tina's body, he'd kill her on the spot. Once she was inside, Mike made a speedy getaway in the BMW.
Back inside the bar, Mike bragged to the others, "She was as cool as a cucumber. You'd think she robbed jewelry stores every day. She walked out of the store like she was taking a stroll through the park." Everyone laughed and expressed praise.
Ares smiled a satisfied smile. Tina was a part of the gang now, and no gang worth its salt would let you leave it, unless it was in a coffin. He could foresee the trouble this was going to cause between her family, and he couldn't wait for it. This would set her on the path she had been intended for all along and send her straight into his arms.
"We have to be going," Ares said. "Her mother's a bit of a prig, and she'll try to tighten Tina's ropes if she comes back late. I'll explain everything she needs to know."
Mike agreed to the plan and shook Alti/Tina's hand. "Welcome to the Harpies."
Alti/Tina nodded in reply with a smug smile on her face and left with Ares.
Out in the parking lot, Alti/Tina crumpled, and Ares knew it signaled the switch. He picked her up and brought them to the school gym before she gained consciousness.
When Tina opened her eyes she found herself sprawled out on a blue gym mat with Aaron looking over her.
She felt very confused and muddled. She couldn't remember anything since being in the janitor's closet. "What happened?" she asked.
"You got a little woozy when we were in the janitor's closet."
"Woosy? I don't get woosy," she scoffed.
"It must have been one of those cleaning agents in the closet. Some of the fumes can be a little overwhelming to some people."
"It must have been that," she said, conceding. "What else could it have been?"
He helped her up off the mat. Her gut told her he was lying about what had caused her lap of consciousness and that he was dangerous, but she didn't think she could fight the strange attraction she felt for him just yet. Besides, it was just as likely that she was a danger to him, but she would, however, start to keep a closer eye on him.
Chapter 18: Torcherous Hobbies
"If you'll excuse me, my presence is required elsewhere." Aaron said. "I suppose you can get one of your little friends to give you a ride home."
"Sure." She didn't mind that he was ditching her, but she couldn't help wonder why. It was like he was a doctor of sorts and he had just been paged to the hospital for work. She started to head toward the dance without another word, but then she turned around to ask where exactly was his presence was required. He was already gone. "Weird. I don't know what it is, but there's definitely something about you that's not quite right."
Before she made it back in the cafeteria, the gym teacher came running down the hall. He looked a little worse for the wear like supervising teenagers had taken its toll, although Tina couldn't imagine how his shirt had gotten into its present condition. She would have chalked it up to a Halloween getup, but it hadn't looked shredded like that at the start of the party. "Are you all right?" he asked immediately.
"I'm fine," she said slowly.
Her confusion must have shown because he continued with, "I didn't see you and Aaron at the dance, and I got a little worried about you."
"I just wasn't feeling the best. Aaron was just taking care of me."
To himself, he said, "I bet." Out loud, he said. "I'm glad you're okay, so I'll let it go this time. Just remember that there's no wandering the halls during a school dance."
"Of course," she said before returning to the cafeteria, thankful to have escaped a punishment. She looked for Abby and Johnny among the crowd. She found them sitting on some chairs against the wall.
"Would one of you guys give me a lift? It better be Johnny. I get the feeling your parents don't like me, Abby."
She was treated with a cold silence.
"Have I missed something? What happened to your nose?" Tina asked, noticing that Johnny was pinching it.
"As if you didn't know," he said indignantly.
It confirmed to Tina that more had taken place than just passing out. "I really don't know what you're talking about."
Abby didn't look as if she were ready to believe her, but she said angrily, "You punched Johnny in the nose when you left the school. Ringing any bells?"
"I really don't remember that. Someone must have slipped me something."
Abby's eyes widened. "You're serious, aren't you?"
"I bet it was that creep Aaron," Johnny said, eyes squinting.
"I doubt it," Tina said. "I've been watching his every move since he picked me up. I'm sorry about what happened just the same. Let me take you guys fishing to make it up to you. I was going fishing with my brother tomorrow before winter starts to set in anyway."
"Sounds like fun," Johnny said enthusiastically.
Abby was less enthusiastic, but she agreed to it.
Abby and Johnny met Tina and Liam near the edge of the woods early the next morning.
"So do you think we'll catch Catfish Bob today," Liam said with a spark of excitement as they started into the woods.
Abby and Johnny both smiled at the name. "Who is Catfish Bob?" Abby asked.
"Oh, he's a beauty," Tina explained. The biggest catfish you ever saw because he's so hard to catch, but Liam and I have sworn that one day we will catch him. He's trapped in that pond, so he won't escape."
Tina had brought along an extra pole for Abby and Johnny already had his own.
They weren't fishing for long before Johnny jumped up. "Nature is calling!" He made a beeline into the woods.
Almost thirty minutes passed as they sat in companionable company with Abby and Liam doing most of the talking.
"Something's wrong," Tina said. "No one's said anything stupid for awhile."
"You're right. He should have been back by now. I bet he got lost," Abby said with an irritated sigh. "I'm sure he knows as much about navigation as he does about football."
Liam chuckled and put his pole down. "I'll go and see if I can find him."
"I like your brother," Abby said once Liam was out of hearing.
Tina's expression didn't change, but her eyes softened. "Yeah, the kid's okay."
Abby could hear the affection in her voice. Her attention suddenly turned to her fishing pole. "I think I feel something." Abby said.
"Reel it in," Tina said simply. She studied Abby for a few seconds and saw that she was in such a titter over it that she was going to lose the fish, so she moved over and showed her how to do it. It was a small fish. Tina unhooked it for her and placed it in her hands.
Abby shuddered as she felt the slimy fish in her hands. "What am I supposed to do with it?"
"Well, you could eat it or mount it and hang it up in your room," Tina said, watching Abby with amusement as she jumped when the fish wriggled. "Or you can just throw it back in."
"I think I'll go with the last option." Acting as if she held a hot potato in her hand instead of a fish, she quickly threw it back into the water. She wiped her hands on her pants. "I think that's enough of the thrill of fishing for me today."
"Liam and I should be getting back anyway. Mother likes us to help on Saturdays."
"I caught a fish, and you didn't," Abby taunted playfully. "Not so bad for my first time fishing."
Tina didn't answer, but she took her shoes off and went into the pond. After standing there for about thirty seconds perfectly still, she suddenly reached into the water and the next thing Abby knew, there was a writhing fish beside her. Two more fish followed it.
"You are such a showoff," Abby muttered.
Tina only smiled as she climbed out of the pond and threw the fish back in. They gathered up their supplies and just as they finished packing, Liam came back with Johnny stumbling behind him.
"Well, it looks like the gang's all here," Tina said. "Time to head out."
"I've decided we're going shopping tomorrow afternoon," Abby announced.
Tina turned her head and raised an eyebrow at Abby, searching for a reason.
"It's time you paid some real penance," Abby joked. "Besides if I had to suffer through your hobby, you have to suffer through mine."
Tina sighed a heavy sigh. She didn't want to, but she supposed she owed it to her friends. "Just don't think this is going to happen on a regular basis."
This definitely confirmed to Tina what she had known for a long time as she stood in a JCPennys with Abby's purse and accumulated shopping bags while Abby tried on yet another dress: she hated shopping. Even Johnny was more into shopping then her. He was over at the racks trying on various jackets. Of course, that might not have been saying much as almost anyone was more into shopping than she was.
Johnny came over in a pilot's jacket and asked for Tina's opinion.
"You look like a million bucks," she said sardonically.
"I thought so too," he said, not catching the sarcasm. He went to the register to pay for it.
"Well, what do you think?" Abby asked as she came out of the dressing room sporting a green dress with just a hint of her midriff showing.
"It's you," Tina said, not mustering much more enthusiasm than she had given Johnny.
"We have one more place to check out," Abby said with a knowing smile, aware of the torture Tina was enduring.
"If it's another clothing store, I must warn you that I can't be held accountable for my actions."
"Don't worry. It's just to get some drinks," Abby said, still smiling.
"Now a drink I can handle," Tina said with obvious relief.
Abby paid for the dress and then the three friends headed to the food court. Abby ordered a lemonade, Johnny ordered a root beer, and Tina ordered a Orange Julius, and they sat down at one of the small tables in the middle of the food court.
Tina felt exhausted as she sat down as if she had spent the day doing heavy work. She suddenly felt a pair of eyes on her. She turned her head ever so slightly to find their source, sipping on her Orange Julius like she didn't have a care in the world. A guy she had never seen before definitely had his eyes on her and not in a lusty or lovesick manner. Something strange was afoot.
Chapter 19: A Fighting Centaur
Tina, Abby, and Johnny were in the stands watching the last football game of the season. Excitement in the crowd was high, especially considering they were about to go on Thanksgiving break. Johnny wore a cap with a Cyclops on it, and Abby showed her support by waving a flag with their school name 'Fighting Centaurs' emblazoned across it. Tina showed no outward sign of support except for her presence at the game.
Whatever suspicions she held about Aaron, she all but forgot them whenever she saw him play football. He was glorious on the football field. He brought a strategy to the game that most high school games never saw. Coach Sorbo grudgingly respected this aspect of his play and from what she could see when they called time outs, Aaron was orchestrating most of the plays. What Coach Sorbo didn't respect, Tina could. He was pure aggression when on the field. Some of the opposing team players seemed to hesitate before tackling him as if he instilled in them just the tiniest bit of fear. The hesitation gave him an edge, and he was virtually unstoppable. He was swifter and more accurate in his throws and kicks than seemed possible. Tina could think of no other word but godlike.
It was the last quarter of the game and the opposing team, the Roosevelt Cougars, was not but a couple of points behind them despite Aaron's brilliancy. She could see the look of cold calculation cross his face even from her place in the stands. He tackled the Cougars' quarterback hard when he didn't even have the ball anymore. She knew it was no accident and so did everybody else.
The game came to a temporary halt as Coach Sorbo called Aaron off the field and substituted him with another player. From the look of utter rage on Coach Sorbo's face, Aaron would be in a lot of trouble. She could see suspension in his future if the coach could arrange it. Aaron however carried a look of satisfaction with not an ounce of regret even though the quarterback had to be carried off the field for medical treatment. He had knocked out the other team's best player and in the eyes of many of their peers and certainly his teammates, it made him a hero because it assured them the victory.
Their eyes locked for a brief moment on his way to the bench. She understood the passion he felt in competition. She understood the anger. She understood him even after their brief acquaintance because he was her mirror image, and it was clear in that moment that he was aware of it all, and it thrilled him in the same way that it thrilled her as he gave her a small smile. She knew they were heading over a cliff with sharp, jagged rocks below. That was the only place two volatile people like they were ever went in a relationship, but at the moment she didn't care. She just wanted to enjoy the fall.
The rest of the game was smooth sailing. It was a joke really. The Fighting Centaurs stomped all over the Roosevelt Cougars.
After the game was over and the celebratory crowd began their dispersion, Tina saw something that startled her. She caught it out of the corner of her eye, a brief glimpse of horseflesh when the zipper on the mascot's costume came undone just a little ways. The mascot quickly reached behind him and zipped it back up. She glanced at Abby and Johnny. They hadn't seemed to notice. In fact, no one had seemed to notice it, but she had already figured out that her eyes were a little sharper than most in that regard. "I'll be back in a minute."
Abby and Johnny paused their arguing over the ethicalness of Aaron's move to look at Tina in surprise, but she had already gotten up and disappeared into the crowd of people.
Tina followed the mascot back towards the school. She watched as he entered the gym storage shed where the track was located. She crept up to the door and peered in through the crack. The shed appeared to double as some sort of house, but the furniture didn't look like it was made for a person with two legs. It looked like it was made for a horse of sorts.
She watched as the mascot unzipped his costume. She had assumed there was something behind him giving the appearance of being a centaur, but as he peeled it back and stepped out of it, she saw that there was no second person or contraption of some sort. Underneath the costume was the sleek, sweaty body of a horse and a man was attached to that horse body. He looked exactly as she expected a real centaur would look.
Was it possible that there were such things as centaurs, and what did that mean about the world as she knew it?
Chapter 20: No Peace on Earth
Tina was walking away from the storage building seemingly lost in thought. Ares slipped up behind her as silent as the grave. "Did you get lost?" he asked in a low voice.
It would have made most girls jump. Instead she only said, "You may not believe this, but I think there's a real, live centaur in that storage building."
Ares only smiled. "Is that so?"
"It's not the first strange occurrence I've noticed either," she said, her eyes looking over him sharply as if she believed him to be a part of the strangeness. "This school is full of full of them."
Ares was surprised, but he was expert at schooling his feature so that it didn't register. He knew he shouldn't have been as many years as he had known her. Not to mention the fact that not every Olympian was strictly interested in having airtight alternate identities. Most of them hadn't even bothered with hiding their names other than to tack a Mr. or Ms. in front of it. He supposed all things considered, it was a miracle more people didn't find it out. "Would it help if I looked at this mythical beast for you? I'm sure it's just our dorky mascot in his costume."
Performing a little godly intervention before he opened the door, he looked and said, "No centaurs here."
She moved past him and looked inside the storage building herself. He was right. There was only gym stuff contained in it now, along with a life-size holographic poster of a centaur.
"I can see why you thought you saw one though. It's a weird poster and it's dark out here."
"I suppose I have been under some stress lately," she said with a sigh of resignation. "It's possible I only imagined it."
He wasn't sure she was fully convinced, but it was enough for now that she was willing to consider it was only an illusion. It was too soon for her to start connecting the pieces. For his plan to work, she had to believe that he was an ordinary teenage boy and that meant he needed to stop being so risky with some of the things he had pulled lately. He was determined to succeed this time, and his pride was not going to stop him by showing his hand too soon. He had too many times of revealing himself as god of war to her in other lives only to have it backfire. There was time to reveal who he was when she was safely entrenched in the darkness. "You are right about one thing. We have some strange teachers around here."
"Tell me about it," she said, seeing that Mr. Sorbo was watching them from a distance, a thing he seemed to do a lot of.
They were two weeks into December, and things had been relatively uneventful to be Olympus High. Tina couldn't shake the feeling that somehow it was the calm before the storm. It was a half day, and Home Economics was their last class. Ms. Hestia was passing back their graded sewing projects. She laid Tina's down in front of her.
Abby reached over and picked it up, marveling at the handkerchief. "That's amazing, Tina. The stitches look almost machine-made."
Ms. Hestia had to agree although it almost seemed painful for her to do so, "I must agree, Tina. Your stitches are very fine. If only you could put a fourth of the effort you put into this into your cooking, you may actually pass this class."
The grimace Tina made showed that she had already written off cooking as within the realm of possibility. She was just happy that it would mean she wouldn't fail this particular semester as the sewing part would bring it up to a C. It wouldn't make her mother ecstatic, but it ought to satisfy her.
The bell rang bringing on a titter of excitement as it signaled the start of the break. Tina, Abby, and Johnny went outside after packing what they would need at their lockers. They exchanged Christmas greetings with Johnny before he made his way over to the car rider's line. He went away singing a carol of his own creation:
"Johnny the Merry Roams through the north pole
He never needs a lump of coal
Spreading around Christmas cheer
Fighting all the scrooges here
Drinking nog and singing songs
Being merry all day long
He's Johnny—he's Johnny the Merry."
Abby and Tina could only shake their heads and smile at his goofiness.
Abby reached into her bookbag and pulled out a present. "I have your Christmas present, Tina."
It was a small box but on the heavy side. Tina unwrapped it to discover a breast dagger.
"I know it's a little different, but I've seen how much you like your weapons and when I saw it in an antique store, I thought of you for some reason."
"Wow. I think I can safely say I've never received a stranger gift, but I like it," she rushed to add. "I'm afraid I haven't gotten you anything yet. I'm a last minute shopper because I hate shopping. I haven't even gotten my family presents, and since I won't be seeing you until after the break, it'll probably have to wait until January before you get yours."
"That's okay, I—" Abby began and suddenly her smile disappeared. "Looks like your boyfriend wants to give you a ride home. I guess that's my cue to disappear."
"You don't have to—" Tina started to say, but Abby had already gotten onto the bus. It seemed that Abby was never going to accept Aaron, and she could see why to a degree. Aaron didn't exactly hide the fact that he wasn't overly fond of her friend either. She was just glad that hereto she hadn't had to choose between them.
"Can I give you a ride home?" he asked as he pulled his leather gloves on.
She put Abby's present into her bag. "Sure."
They rode his motorcycle to her house.
"I guess I should tell you Merry Christmas now," she said, climbing off. "I probably won't see you until after the holidays."
"I wouldn't be too sure about that. And don't wish me a Merry Christmas." He shuddered theatrically. "I hate this time of year. Peace to all men? Turn the other cheek? Give me a break. That's the last thing this world needs is a bunch of spineless weaklings."
"You're not a fan of Christianity then. My Greek Orthodox mother would give you an earful if she heard you say that or more likely she would give me an earful."
"I'm not saying Jesus never had anything interesting to say. I'm particularly fond of His line that goes 'I have come to divide a man against his father and a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.' All the division that Jesus stirs up is lovely. The medieval crusades were some of the grandest wars in history particularly the early ones."
She couldn't help but give him a small smile. "I don't believe the verse was meant to be taken quite that way. I really doubt God glories in bloodshed or even division for that matter."
"Maybe not, but the line is still pure poetry. Nevertheless, I could skip Christmas altogether and usually do. Not every place in this wide world celebrates Christmas you know."
"I'm not too fond of Christmas either thanks to my mother. If I could spend the holidays somewhere else, I would."
"She just doesn't appreciate you like I do. If you need a little help to make it through, you can call me."
"I don't need anyone's help," she said quickly and firmly.
He smiled wide. "I know you don't." He slipped a piece of paper with a number on it in her pocket. "But just in case."
She rolled her eyes in response and moved toward her building. She was hoping that the back door was unlocked since her mother was expecting a delivery, so she could slip up to her room unnoticed and hopefully avoid one of their many arguments. Her thoughts at the moment though were concentrated on her exchange with Aaron rather than her mother.
However, all thoughts of Aaron flew from her head when she turned the corner of the building and saw Liam's broken body in the alleyway.
Chapter 21: Hate is Strong
Tina called 911 and then rushed to alert her mother. She also took the time to call Thomas and tell him to meet them at the hospital. He was in college, but he was only a thirty minute drive away. She didn't tell him much just that Liam was hurt.
Her mother screamed when she saw him, echoing the way Tina felt inside though she was trying her best to remain calm. Liam didn't even stir at the scream, but he was breathing despite all the bruises and broken bones. Her mother repeated Liam's name over and over again in desperation for him to wake and partly like a prayer.
The ambulance's siren could be heard about five minutes later. After the EMT people got him loaded into the ambulance, Tina and her mother got in the car and drove to the hospital.
The nurses didn't have a lot to report about his condition. They told them to have a seat in the waiting room and a doctor would be out to talk to them as soon as he could. They weren't waiting long before Thomas rushed through the waiting room door.
"How's Liam?" he asked immediately.
"We don't know anything yet," her mother told him, standing up. "You should have seen him, Thomas. He took a hard beating. I'm so afraid."
Thomas hugged her. "It'll be okay. I'm sure the doctors will have him back to his old self in no time." Tina could tell though that he was just as worried as they all were. They sat down, and it was back to waiting.
Tina tried to clear her mind to keep from worrying and just listen to the radio station that was piping into the waiting room.
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men
Tina moved away from the taunting sounds of the song by leaving the waiting room and going out into the hall. She couldn't think of a more fitting Christmas song at the moment, but she didn't need any reminders, and she couldn't stand the waiting. Neither Thomas nor her mother tried to stop her. She felt like ramming her fist into the wall. She looked for signs of the doctor and was surprised to see that Mr. Sorbo was coming down the hall.
"I heard what happened to your brother on my police scanner," he told her.
She nodded, giving no comment.
"I just wanted you to know that we're here for you at Olympus High if you need an adult you can talk to," he said with an emphasis on the word adult.
"That's thoughtful of you," she mumbled.
Tina didn't feel like talking. Talking wouldn't make Liam any better. She decided the song must have been off by now, so she told Mr. Sorbo goodbye and went back into the waiting room.
After about forty-five minutes of pure agony, they finally received news.
"Ms. Polis," said the doctor. "Your son is alive, but he's in a coma and we're not picking up any brain activity."
Her mother covered her mouth, trying to keep the sobs from jerking out.
"You can see him now," he told her. The sorrow in his eyes said what his mouth didn't that there was no hope for Liam.
The three followed the doctor to Liam's room, and the doctor left them alone.
Liam looked as white as the hospital sheets, and his unmoving form showed not the least flutter of movement. Only the beeping of the heart monitor assured Tina that he wasn't dead yet.
Tina couldn't stand it more than a minute. It felt like it was some sort of wake for the living from the way that her mother and Thomas were carrying on. She refused to believe there was no hope even though her head said there wasn't. She wasn't going to stand around grieving for a body that still had some life in it. She went out the door to wait until they were through with their premature wake.
Her mother however followed her this time.
"Do you see what your fighting has done to your brother?" Her eyes glittered with both hardness and unshed tears. "Does it make you so uncomfortable that you can't even stand to be in the same room with him?"
"Why do you think this has anything to do with me?" she returned, her voice as hard as her mother's eyes. "Are you trying to say that I did this to my own brother with my own two hands? What kind of monster do you take me for?"
"Don't be stupid. I'm saying you've picked a fight with the wrong person, and they took revenge by taking it out on your family. I should have shipped you off a long time ago."
"I wish you had," she said with a mask of coldness on her face that belied the cracking she felt on the inside. "Nothing would please me more than to be away from this crummy little town and the people in it."
Thomas had come out now and caught the last part. "Haven't you already done enough damage for one day, Tina?"
He ushered their mother back into Liam's room.
Tina took off outside to the parking lot in a cold rage where she was allowed to use her cell phone and called the number that was on the paper in her pocket. "I need to see you," she said when he picked up the phone.
"I'll be there," he responded before hanging up.
He was pulling into the hospital parking lot before even a few minutes were up. She didn't question the quickness. She was only grateful to see him. "Liam's in critical condition. He may never wake up."
"That's terrible. What happened?"
"I don't know, but they're all blaming me for what happened to Liam," she said, her voice breaking though she refused to shed any tears. "And the worse part is that they might be right. I have made a lot of enemies."
He wrapped his arms around her and whispered in her ear. "I'm here for you no matter how it happened. I'll always be here for you."
She allowed the hug for a few moments and then pulled away from him. "I need a place to stay. My family hates me. I think what we need right now is some distance between us."
"My home is your home for as long as you want," he said, drawing her back to him in more ways than one, hiding a self-satisfied smile from her view.
Chapter 22: Breaking Ties
The first rays of light began to stream in through the window and illuminate Xena's sleeping form. She was sleeping in Ares' bed in the one bedroom apartment he had taken possession of for just this set of circumstances. Ares had slept on the couch.
Ares leaned over and caressed her long black hair. It would be so easy to take advantage of a grieving fifteen-year-old girl, but he was getting her back in the way that mattered to him at the moment. It was only a matter of time before the sweet hands that rested on his pillow took their first life and that thought filled him with excitement.
Soon the taking of life would mean nothing more to her than the rush of adrenaline and power that was meant to be felt. Then she would develop the taste for ultimate power. She would lead a rebellion with like-minded soldiers; they would start small in a tiny Latin American country and grow until they enveloped the whole continent. By then, the world would be too late in stopping them and the next great empire would be born. It had been so long since there had been an empire under a mighty, merciless fist. He could picture it: the whole world under one power. He quivered in anticipation at such an unmatched feat. It would make the Roman Empire look like child's play. The whole glorious future was before his eyes, and it was beautiful.
There was a knock on the door, interrupting his dreams of glory, and Ares didn't have to wonder who it was. There were few people who knew where he lived and even fewer people who would angrily pound on the door if they knew who was behind it. He opened the door.
"I can tell by your smug look that she's here," Hercules said with a look of disgust. "Did you know her mother is worried sick?"
He only smiled, knowing the smile would irritate Hercules. "She should have thought about that before she distanced her daughter emotionally."
"She was hurting. People say things they don't always mean. And she wouldn't be hurting if you hadn't brought that boy to death's door. What do you think Xena would say if she knew that?"
He smirked. "I know better than to ever be the direct cause of her losing a loved one."
"But you don't mind being the indirect cause, do you? I know that gang you joined did it. I've already got a couple of your new minions behind bars for it."
He shrugged. "I'm sure they'll get bail, not that I care one way or the other, but you don't have any real proof. It's a shame what they did, but this is what happens when a new member doesn't show up time after time. I bet she's ready to be a member now though. Tina's hate and rage is beginning to churn like the old days at the loss of her brother, and she will lose him. It's only a matter of time now. I think all this recipe needs is a cup full of betrayal mixed with a pinch of loss, and she's mine again. After all, that's all it took to bring her over the last time. Everyone in her life is as they were originally. It guarantees things will work out perfectly this time."
Hercules' eyes narrowed. "She didn't have her friends at the start either. People don't come anymore loyal than Gabrielle and Joxer do. They would never betray Xena if that's where you're going with this."
"Not on their own maybe, but if you haven't learned by now that circumstances can be manipulated to suit any purpose then you never will."
Hercules' fist slammed into his stomach with enough force to double him over, but Ares only laughed instead of retaliating. Hercules knew then that he had already been manipulated to suit Ares' will as he looked and saw a wide-eyed Tina.
"My humblest apologies, dear brother, but she couldn't feel that she had any adults left to turn to, now could she?" he whispered mockingly before slamming the door in his face.
Hercules was enraged at Ares and himself for falling for that trap. He took a deep, calming breath. Right now he had to go reassure an anxious mother that her daughter was safe, a fact he didn't even believe himself, but if it came down to that, he had brought Evil Xena back from the brink once before, and he was sure that he could do it again if necessary.
Ares watched the door seal shut with satisfaction. "I always knew the coach was a little crazy. Imagine assaulting a student. I would call the police, but they don't do anything. Have they done anything yet about what happened to your family? You have to take justice into your own hands to get things done."
She didn't disagree. "Why was he over here anyway?"
"He didn't say, but he was probably trying to find you and take you back to your mother."
"Well, he wasted a trip." She ran her fingers through her hair in an effort to smooth her bed-ragged hair. "I probably should give her a call though just so she doesn't try to send the police over next."
Ares knew he didn't have to do anything out of the ordinary to cut this tie. Much like her daughter, grief tended to make Cyrene angry and being reborn as Irene Polis hadn't changed that, and he knew this conversation would lead to cutting words and a hardening of hearts on both sides. He sat down to enjoy the show.
She called her mother's cell phone.
"It's me. I just wanted you to know that I won't be coming home."
"Is that so? May I ask where you will be?"
"I'm staying with Aaron."
"Well, that suits me fine. I can wash my hands of you. I've done all I can with you anyway. Your brother isn't going to recover. You know that, don't you?"
She didn't bother to answer; she only hung up the phone. "Can I borrow your keys?"
"Of course." He dug them out of his pocket. He knew she had never ridden a motorcycle on her own, but he also knew she had enough physical prowess to handle it, and he was delighted by her blatant disregard of the law.
Abby's home was a two-story, white house as cheerful looking as the girl herself. Tina knocked on the door and was almost immediately rewarded with her friend answering.
"Tina, hi. What are you doing here?"
"Abby. My—my brother has been beaten into a coma, and he's not going to make it. I want to try and see him in the hospital to talk to him, but you know how my mother can be. I need some moral support when I go. I know that you're leaving to see your grandmother tomorrow, but do you have time to come with me for a short visit?"
A look of horror crossed the girl's face. "You did it to him, didn't you? Like you punched Johnny on Halloween night."
"I thought we were past that. I explained to you what I think really happened."
"And you think I trust anything you tell me?"
"You said you believed me," she said in a tone that made it sound like she was growling.
"I said that because I was afraid of you. Johnny was afraid of you. I knew what you were like at your old school and how you're ready to go postal at the drop of a hat, but now I can see your own family isn't even safe from your rage. I can't believe you thought we were still your friends after what you did."
"Well, I won't fall for it again," she sneered. "You can count on that. I know now there is no such thing as real friendship."
Tina tore away from the door and onto the motorcycle, too enraged to notice the house was far too dark and silent for the residents to be at home, the Bardings having decided to leave early for their trip.
When she was out of sight, Ares laughed maliciously as he turned from the blonde girl back into the form of a teenage boy. Some days it definitely paid to be a god.
Betrayal, loss, hate. Tina had experienced it all now in her young life or so she thought. The world felt like it was crashing down around her, a feeling intensified by her tender years, a time when the least little thing seemed like the end of the world.
She didn't even feel like the same person anymore, although she had a strange feeling this person had always been lurking below the surface.
Chapter 23: Within a Month
It was New Year's Eve, and the vacation from school was almost up.
Ares had on his leather jacket and was starting to head out the door.
"Where are you going?" she asked. He could tell he had piqued her interest by all his comings and goings though she hadn't asked about it up until now.
"I have a group of friends that I hang out with regularly. We throw back a few drinks and have a little harmless fun."
"You're in a gang," she immediately surmised from the words.
"I am," he told her matter of factly. "Does that bother you?" he asked, searching the depths of her blue eyes for signs of concern.
"Not a bit. In fact, I find it interesting. What exactly does this gang of yours do? Do you steal candy from children and knock down old women?" she asked teasingly.
Despite her joke, he answered her seriously. "It's about dealing out justice, but why don't you come with me, and you can see what it's all about."
She seemed pleased with the answer and stood up to join him. "Lead the way."
He took her to the bar and led her to a small booth in the back corner. The waitress set mugs of beer in front of them, not even asking for ID.
He smiled at the question in her eyes. "I'm a regular here. She knows what I like."
She took a small sip from her mug. "Not bad for a dump like this, so when does the meeting start?"
"As soon as our fearless leader gets here. Have you given any thought to whether you plan on going back to Olympus High?" he asked her before taking a drink himself.
"I don't want them to try and get me for truancy; they might force to move back in with my mother. Besides, it might be entertaining to let everyone see the new me. There's some things I've been dying to do, but couldn't, because I was trying to walk the straight and narrow."
Polishing off the rest of the pale brew in his mug, he said, "I understand completely." His head nodded in the direction of the young man who had just walked in the door. "That's Mike now."
They stood and followed him to the private room in the back that they reserved for their meetings.
"I see your girlfriend finally decided to show her face, Aaron. I wonder why?" said Mike, who obviously thought himself a wit, and the other gang members obliged him by laughing. Tina glanced at Ares questioningly, and he only shrugged in reply. "It's time to get down to business. The Hydras are trespassing into our territory."
There were boos and hisses at this piece of news.
"Hydras?" Tina whispered to Ares.
"We're hardly the only gang in town. Now that I think about it I wouldn't be surprised if they had something to do with what happened to your brother. It has their signature mark all over it. They love getting middle schoolers hooked on their drugs, and if they refuse repeatedly, they get a beating and are lucky if they walk away alive."
Tina tuned back into what Mike was saying, anger burning at this gang, "We need to send a couple of people over to show them what happens when they cross into Harpies' territory." He scanned the faces in the room. "Will and Tina, you two are it."
Tina smiled like a cat whose prey was in sight.
Will sidled up next to her, clearly pleased with his partner and obviously misinterpreting her smile. "This will be a fun job, I know. What do you say we celebrate when it's over?"
She didn't even respond to his flirtation; she just cold-cocked him with a punch to the face, sending him to the floor, and Ares supressed a smile.
He came up swearing with a hand over his mouth. "I think you knocked a tooth loose." His fist curled, ready to swing a punch himself, but Mike broke it up by inserting his presence.
"That's enough fooling around, you two." He slipped a gun into her hand. "For the assignment."
"I'm not a fan of guns," she told him, handing it back. "It makes things too easy. I'd rather use my body as a weapon."
She didn't say it, but Ares knew it meant she still wasn't quite ready to take a life like a gun could easily do, but he wasn't discouraged.
Mike shrugged and put the gun away. "I don't care how you take them out as long as you take them out, but I want it taken care of now, tonight."
They wasted no time after that. Tina rode in Will's car to where the Hydras were supposed to be encroaching on their territory.
Two guys with black bandanas tied around their forehead stood at the street corner, waiting to make a drug deal.
Out of the car and on the sidewalk now, Will shot one of the guys, and he fell to the ground in a crumpled heap.
The other one whipped around and pulled out a gun, but with a well-placed roundhouse kick from Tina, the gun was out of his hand and skittered across the pavement.
He tried to pull out a punch in light of being weaponless, but he never had a chance. She grabbed the arm that had thrown the punch and twisted it and him, so that the arm broke. He gave a cry of pain, but she wasn't done yet. She kicked both knee caps, shattering them and leaving him on the ground, but being immobile didn't stop her. She heel-stomped him in the stomach and ribs until blood trickled from the corner of his mouth. She used a move that used pressure points, a move that Aaron had seemed eager to teach her, and blood trickled from his nose next.
"I just cut off the flow of blood to your brain. You'll be dead in sixty seconds." She took a moment to relish the look of fear on his face. "But just in case that shot killed your friend, I'm going to let you live because I want you to tell your boss that the Harpies don't accept wandering into their territory."
She hit the pressure point in his neck again and stood back up. She couldn't deny that it had felt good to tear into somebody again. All of her bottled up anger could be released for a time.
Will was looking at her, and she could see a touch of awe and terror on his face, probably glad he hadn't had a chance to throw that punch he had wanted earlier.
It was well after midnight when they went back to the bar, the dawn of a new year and new life for Tina. She couldn't help but think Aaron almost looked like a proud papa or a teacher whose pupil had soaked in all he had to teach when their eyes met.
After a report of the accomplished mission, the gang broke up, and as they headed for the motorcycle, Aaron asked, "So what did you think of our little meeting?"
"I'll be leading this gang within a month," she declared. "Maybe sooner, and before the school year is up, there's only going to be one gang in this town."
He chuckled. "I don't doubt it in the least, my dear. Not in the least."
Chapter 24: Nervous Teachers
"I'm sure you all are wondering why Nemesis and I called a staff meeting," Hercules said, addressing a group of mostly bored-looking Olympians. "We have a problem on our hands."
"The darkness has returned," said Clotho.
"The warrioress has awakened," said Lacheris.
"Doom looms in the future at the hands of the war god and the warrior princess," said Atropus.
Hercules gave a slight smile. "I knew you ladies weren't wondering, and they're right. Xena is turning to the darkness again even though I think she hasn't reached the point of no return yet."
"The Warrior Babe is evil again," said Aphrodite with a trace of disappointment. "I thought Gabby would keep it from happening."
"I knew she would be bad news, especially with Ares here. The obvious thing to do is kick her out to keep the children safe," Hestia pointed out to the group.
Nemesis shook her head. "We don't have a reason to, and like Hercules, I don't think she is beyond all hope yet. It's a wait and see, but it is our duty to keep the school safe."
"Hmm," grunted Prometheus, deep in thought.
The bell rang, signaling students were ready to start filtering to their first classes.
"Remember to keep an eye on her," Hercules said, issuing one final warning.
"I sense another Greek tragedy for the books," said Momus as they filed out.
Tina had ridden to school with Aaron and so had avoided seeing Abby or Johnny until science class. She didn't make eye contact with either of them as she strode to an empty seat in the back away from her usual place with her friends.
Focusing her attention on the teacher, she saw that Ms. Aphrodite seemed really nervous. She was sitting perched on the corner of her desk, and she crossed her legs one way and then she crossed it the other way. She also noticed that she snuck looks at her and looked for all the world as if she wanted to disappear. Tina couldn't help but wonder if she knew something about her change, but why would she be afraid of a student, and how would she know that she had joined a gang? It was more likely, she thought, that she had heard about her brother and wasn't sure how to handle it.
"As—as you can totally see," the teacher began at last, "you all have volcanoes on your tables. Passion is like a fiery volcano. You don't want to bottle it up too long, but the explosion is great when it comes."
Tina sighed as she studied the supplies on the table; must it always come back to love and sex with this woman?
They had a list of instructions on their table, but Ms. Aphrodite felt the need to read through them anyway in her typical valley girl way and then she left them to their devices.
Her partners were Caleb and Kyle, and they were making usual pests of themselves. They were eager to get to the explosion, not carefully measuring out the baking soda and liquid soap. They poured too much food dye in there. When it erupted, it was going to look more like blood than lava.
"Wouldn't it be awesome if this thing really spewed and hit the ceiling?" Caleb asked.
"Yeah," Kyle agreed with his eyes lighting up at the thought, "or spewed all over the classroom."
"You want to see an explosion, I'll show you an explosion," she said, knowing she would enjoy the distraction of the ensuing chaos it would cause, a distraction that kept her from thinking about unwanted subjects.
She poured the vinegar in and then screwed the lid back on the bottle, and they watched the pressure build with no place to go. Other groups' volcanoes were already erupting, but they soon had their own eruption, one that Tina had backed away from at the appropriate time.
The bottle exploded sending plastic shrapnel flying. One piece lodged into Caleb's arm and another piece lodged into Kyle's leg. The cap hit Ms. Aphrodite in the eye as she turned to look at the sound, but she didn't appear injured. She didn't even look like she was going to get a black eye.
Ms. Aphrodite quickly assigned students to escort the boys to the nurse's office. She looked as if she wanted to say something to Tina, but she let it go and spent the rest of the class lecturing about volcanoes and how it related to passion.
Tina tried to make sense of what she had seen, but she couldn't think of a logical reason that the cap hadn't injured her.
When P.E. rolled around, she still hadn't made sense of it, but she put her attention on the class, glad to see that it would be a game of indoor hockey.
Mr. Sorbo numbered them off into teams, and their team had to wear dingy yellow vests to distinguish between teams.
Tina played better than she ever had, but she was careful not to get too aggressive, so she wouldn't be forced to sit out. About ten minutes into the game though, a girl, who she'd seen trying to flirt with Aaron on numerous occasions, came in direct line of her vision. She easily wrangled the puck away from the opposing team, and she had a clear shot through the cones, but she had no intention of scoring the point. She sent the puck flying straight into the said girl's nose with what some would have considered frightening accuracy as she not only hit her target but had managed to move it through a crowd of other people; she had always been good at figuring out angles and timing.
The girl cried out in pain and immediately put a hand over her nose. Tina couldn't tell if it was broken because of the hand, but she could see the blood gushing down.
"Walk Candace to Ms. Hygenia," he told one of their classmates in a serious tone, and then he cast a suspicious glance toward her, but he had no way of proving it.
The nurse's office was beginning to get crowded, Tina imagined, because Caleb and Kyle hadn't returned from their visit. She could just picture the look on their dour-faced nurse. Although Tina had never needed to seek her out personally, she had a reputation for not being happy with visiting students. Her motto was an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and anyone who came to seek her services got a lecture on how they could have prevented the injury or sickness, but nonetheless, she seemed genuinely capable of providing the cure.
She could feel Mr. Sorbo's eyes on her for the rest of the period, but she was careful not to even put a toe out of line.
She went next to her most dreaded class, feeling more cheerful about it than usual.
This month we're covering a topic of study that is just as important as what we've studied hereto for people such as yourselves: safety in the home.
There were collective groans at what seemed like an uninteresting study, and Ms. Hestia said sharply, "45% of unintentional injuries happen in and around the home, and injury is the leading cause of death in children and young adults. Statistically speaking, nine of you won't make it to full-fledged adulthood, and if you knew what I knew, I'd say the percentage is even higher for most of you. Still think this is going to be a waste of your time?"
That had sobered the class up except for Tina who only seemed amused by the statistics.
Ms. Hestia glared at her but started her lecture, "If you have any guns in your home, you need to make sure that your parents have the guns locked up and the ammunition separated. Do not tell your friends where you keep your weapons." She went through an thorough safety list that seemed mostly centered around stopping violence. "I can get off my soap box for now," she said at last, "but keep these things in mind and implement them as soon as you get home. Now open up your textbooks and turn to chapter thirteen..."
Hestia kept her eyes on Tina the entire time, who was more attentive to the class than usual and as the students filed out, she couldn't help but feel that she had just given Tina ideas, and she shuddered, thinking of all the families Evil Xena had ripped apart, the homes she had destroyed, and her own family that she had killed during the twilight, not that she'd been overly fond of most of them, especially when their goal had been the destruction of a mere baby, family being sacred to her, but she couldn't stand the thought of families being harmed.
In history, Tina sat down and waited to hear another lesson on the history of ancient Greece, a favorite topic for these women. She did admit that it wasn't all uninteresting and sometime she saw flashes of what they spoke of. She didn't know if it was a credit to their storytelling or her own imagination, but there was no Greek history today. It wasn't even current events; they spoke as if they were talking about the future.
"A darkness from the past is alive."
"It has descended upon your very midst."
"Two heroes must rise from among you and vanquish the evil or be vanquished."
There was a heavy silence as the students soaked in what they thought was insanity, wondering if the old ladies had finally dove completely into insanity.
"To understand the future we must visit the past."
"We must consider the present."
"You must save the future."
The real storytelling began. "In a time of ancient gods, warlords and kings, a land in turmoil cried out for a hero."
"She was Xena, a mighty princess forged in the heat of battle."
"The power. The passion. The danger."
Tina could picture this story in her head even more vividly than any of the others they had told, and she was spellbound by it until the bell rang. She shook her head and tried to dispel the strange sense of déjà vu she had.
At lunch, Abby came over to the already seated Tina. "I've been trying to catch up with you all day," she said, sounding exasperated.
Tina didn't answer but only looked up at her darkly
Abby put her lunch tray down and tried to sit down, but Tina kicked her chair away.
Abby starred at her, mouth agape for a moment, and then indignation registered on her face as she said, "I'm starting to get fed up with your mood swings, but I'm going to give you some time to come to your senses."
Johnny came over with his tray, and Abby told him with her head pointing the way to an empty table, "We're not sitting here. We're going over there."
"Why aren't we sitting with Tina?" Johnny asked quizzically, not ready to comply yet.
"Because I said we're not," Abby said, not in the mood to argue. "Now move."
"But why—" Johnny began again.
"I said come on," she reiterated, pulling Johnny by the ear to the designated spot.
Tina felt a sense of satisfaction. If the girl thought she could worm her way back into friendship, she was sadly mistaken, but she felt the tiniest bit of pain that she quickly swept away. What did she need with friends? She had Aaron.
in English, they had just finished reading the Odyssey, and Mr. Momus always liked to have a class discussion after finishing a book.
"So what did you think?" he asked the class, their desks arranged in a circle, so they could see each other as they discussed.
Tina was pleased to start the discussion. "I found it totally unrealistic. This Homer guy couldn't tell a story straight if he tried, way too many metaphors. Who needs all this poetry crap?"
He considered her words. "Plato would have agreed with you. Anyone else have a different opinion?"
"I happen to like Homer," said Abby in as icy a tone as Tina had ever heard from her mouth, as if she had known the man personally. She glared at Tina as she said, "Poetry is beautiful and metaphors are beautiful. They can lead to a greater understanding of truth, but I can see how someone uncouth couldn't apprentice it or someone with a small intellect."
"The only person who could appreciate that drivel is a sap," Tina shot back, "who changes her feelings as often as her clothes."
"Now girls, you can speak your piece in a more lighthearted way," Mr. Momus said. "Let's hear from some other students."
They spent the rest of the class glaring daggers at each other.
During math, Tina spent the time rehashing the events of the day in her mind and making plans for the future.
The school day ended, and she joined Aaron in the parking lot.
"How was your day?" he asked.
"Cathartic," she answered. "Very cathartic."
Chapter 25: Bloodshed
It hadn't taken long for outright fear of Tina to permeate the halls. Clusters of students now parted for her, giving her a wide berth, along with some of the teachers. Hercules and Nemesis watched her and the dark aura that now clung to her.
"I know I can nail her butt to the wall and kick her out of my school on the violence policy alone," Nemesis said.
"No argument there, but is that what's going to be best long term?" he asked, playing devil's advocate.
She cast a scrutinizing eye on Hercules. "Do you think there's hope for her still?"
"There's always hope. You can see that from her first lifetime, and look at you. Ares thought he could bring back Olympus' former glory when he tricked you into eating the golden apple. He tried to manipulate you into taking back your godly title and failed at it."
A scowl crossed her face at the memory. By then they'd realized, Hercules had inherited immortality from his father, barring he didn't get a life-threatening wound, so she'd decided not to seek out mortality despite having grown to like being a mortal.
Not that she and he had gotten together again in a romantic capacity, but having at least one good friend that was ageless made life more bearable.
"And you know the old saying. Keep your friends close but your enemies closer," he also pointed out.
"One of the reasons Ares is still a student here," she agreed. "Well, that and I don't think anybody's really looking forward to a World War 3 except for Ares." She glanced at the clock when the bell signaled that the students should be in their next class. "I've got a take care of a PTA situation. One of the parents thinks they saw our English teacher disappear before her eyes. You are the only staff member that doesn't give me any trouble. I think I'm going to promote you to the position of vice principal."
"From the sound of it, I think I'd rather stick to P.E.," he said with a chuckle.
She smiled wryly before going to handle the situation. With Nemesis gone, he turned his attention back to Tina.
She had been joined by Ares. They were carrying on an intense conversation that was private now with all conscientious students in their respective classrooms. They looked like typical American high school sweethearts even with their rough edges, but their relationship, a relationship that spanned thousands of years, was much more complicated than that.
Ares stroked a piece of her dark hair. "You know most of the members already see your leadership potential. They would follow you in a heartbeat. You just have to do something that warrants it, and that'd be taking out the Hydras' leader."
"By take out you mean kill." It was more of a statement than a question.
"This isn't an elementary playground; we're not playing dodgeball here. It's kill or be killed. How can they respect a leader that won't take a life? They can't."
"I see your point," she acknowledged. "And I've already got a plan in mind."
He pressed a kiss on her forehead. "I thought you might. I can't wait to see it unfold."
He left on that note, and though Hercules hadn't heard the conversation, he could guess what it had been about from all the looks exchanged. With Ares gone, he went over to talk to her.
"I know I shouldn't say this about one of my students, but your friend, Aaron, is evil and dangerous."
"So am I," she said, a look of challenge on her face.
"You're not the same yet. You don't want to kill anyone," Mr. Sorbo said. "There's no going back from that. You can't bring a person you've killed back to life. You serve most if not all of your life behind bars, and when the day comes that you rethink your life, the burden of guilt you'll bear will make life a harder road to walk."
An image of her comatose brother came to mind. "You don't know what I want. You don't know me."
"I know you better than you think."
Tina had shadowed the Hydra's leader for a week, learning his habits, his routines. Her gymnastics had not been a waste of time as it allowed her to keep out of sight, following on rooftops and leaping into trees.
He visited his girlfriend nightly, and it was the only time he didn't have his bodyguards with him; they stayed posted all around the house rather than going in with him. They weren't expecting someone to jump rooftop to rooftop and slip in right through the second story bedroom window.
The couple didn't notice her at first as they were engaged in a kiss. It gave her time to launch a small but heavy statue sitting by the window at the girlfriend, knocking her cold just as she'd opened her mouth to let out a scream. It also allowed her to flip across the room and hold a pocketknife up to his throat.
"It's a little disappointing that it turned out to be this easy to put an end to you, but I suppose slashing your throat might make up for it," she said with a cold expression.
"Go ahead. It's the only way you'll beat me. You don't have the guts to face me in a hand to hand fight," he said mockingly.
"Fine, let's use our hands then," she said with a grin, putting the pocketknife back into her pocket.
The fighting began. The man was built, packing plenty of power, but he wasn't as fast as her. She got in more kicks and punches than he did.
It came to a halt when he smiled, his lip fat and bleeding from where she'd hit him. "You are weak and stupid. You should've finished me off when you had the chance instead of letting me play against your ego."
He had wrestled the pocket knife from her and pulled it out so she could see. It glinted in the lamp light, and he thrust it toward her, intent on slicing whatever part he came in contact with, but she grabbed a hold of his wrist and jerked his arm across her shoulder so that the knife wasn't pointing toward her body. Then she broke his wrist. She used her elbow to the wind out of him, cutting short his cry of pain, and she didn't let up with the hits to his body until he was flat on the floor.
She crouched down next to him. He was too weak, bruised, and bloody to even struggle as her hands came around his neck, squeezing until his skin turned interesting shades of red and purple and blue.
"Mercy," he managed to rasp.
For a second or two after his plea, she continued to squeeze harder. Then loosening her grip slightly, she said, "You want mercy? I'll show you mercy; mercy you didn't show my brother."
His swollen eyes narrowed even further in confusion, but he knew better than to open his mouth. She was too angry to care whether truth or lies came from his lips. Whatever she believed was good enough for him as long as she was sparing his life. She took her hands off his neck and he coughed and wheezed as air returned to his passageway.
"As long as you promise to leave this town and never come back," she stipulated. "Because I swear to you I'll kill you if you do, and I never break a promise."
He had never come across a better fighter, and his eyes showed genuine fear as he nodded. He moved as fast as his injuries allowed him, while she left the way she came, not trusting him to not set his goons on her despite their agreement.
She watched from a distance as the bodyguards surrounded their injured boss. She saw him mouth the word airport likely coming out garbled and hoarse. They seemed to understand well enough though as they opened the car door for him.
She went to the gang meeting that same night with her clothes and hands still stained in blood, his blood mostly.
They all gave her looks, but she said nothing. She took a seat beside Aaron and let the meeting get underway. She kept her silence until they brought up the Hydras and spoke about how the leader kept trying to push into their territories despite the beating they had received.
"He won't be a problem anymore," she told them.
"Oh, really," Mike said disbelievingly. "Got a seeing eye now, do you?"
"Let's just say you won't be seeing him anytime soon," she said darkly. Words that were true enough. It allowed them to think that she had killed him, and she didn't bother to correct their misinterpretation of her words.
"You've led this gang for a year, and Tina's singlehandedly gotten rid of their head when she hasn't even been with us for a month. I say she's better suited to a position of leadership than you are," Aaron said.
The others seemed to be in agreement with that sentiment as they pulled out their weapons. Guns trained on him, Mike had no choice but to agree to step down.
The gang had become hers without bloodshed, and she could tell Aaron knew and was impressed even if he looked a trifle disappointed. "You did it," he whispered to her, a smile on his face.
"Don't you mean we, Ares?" she asked, giving him a predatory smile in return.
Chapter 26: Plotting and Planning
"What did you call me?" he asked.
"You heard me, Ares. I'd have to be a complete idiot not to have figured it out."
Not wanting anyone to overhear the conversation, he waited for the meeting to adjourn before he continued it. He could tell from her expression that there was nothing he could say or do to convince her she was wrong, and he smiled. He knew of her abilities, perhaps better than she did, and still she never failed to surprise him. It would have disappointed him if she hadn't figured it out on her own though. "Very good, my dear. Tell me, how did you find out?"
"For one, the teachers don't try very hard to cover it up."
He acknowledged the statement with a nod. "They still wrestle with their pride," he said with a laugh. "It pains them to have to cover up their true identities."
"Well, you and Hercules worked at it a little harder, but even you two didn't do a total bang up job. Then there was the monster, the superhuman strength, the centaur, the memory lapse, the vivid dreams, and a hundred other things that were impossible to ignore."
He only continued to smile, and she said, "But you were the clincher. I've felt so drawn to you from day one like I had known you forever. And I realized the presence I had felt since I was a child, the one that can make my blood boil, strengthen me, and complete me all at once was you and that I felt that same presence whenever I was with Aaron. You had to be supernatural. I suppose the biggest reason it took me so long to realize it is who expects that ancient gods are not only real but run a high school?"
"The old days are gone, and the way they see it, they can relive some of the glory with reincarnated ancient Greeks in this setting. You know the big fishes in little ponds theory."
"That makes sense."
"But we can relive the glory. You and I can conquer the world like we almost did the last time. Your name will be a household name again and so will mine. There will be order when we have complete power in our grasp. Can't you see it?"
She gave no reply but the gleam in her eyes said she saw the future the way he did, and her finger dragged across his cheek in a manner that would have excited him if she'd been older. "Are you angry with me for keeping it from you?" he asked.
"I know you didn't intend to keep it a secret from me forever. You wanted me to remember who I really am and why I am this way. I've been having dreams of my old life. Is that your doing?"
"I can't interfere in your dreams directly. That's not my domain, but it is Morpheus'. I wanted you to know that you're not some awkward high school girl. You are Xena Warrior Princess, the mortal that was created to rule at my side."
"I have just one more question. Did you cause what happened to my brother?" Her eyes glittered dangerously, hinting that she would never forgive him if he had, whatever she had been created for.
"No, that was the result of the gangs in this town," he answered, honest in its own way. "That's why it is necessary for you to take control of this town, but why should we stop here? Why not clean up the whole world's mess? Should more suffer because of the lack of leadership?"
"You make it sound so simple, so easy, so right," she said, seeming a little torn, the vulnerability in her eyes a reminder of her youth.
He put his hands on her shoulders. "It will be with me to guide and mentor you. You've only begun to taste victory. I've got plans for us."
She reached up to kiss him, but he put a finger on her lips. "You're still a kid. Give it a few years."
"Apparently I'm about 2000 years old," she said dryly.
"Not in body you're not, but rest assured that I don't mind waiting for you," he said, brushing her cheek with his knuckles.
Across town at the mall, Abby and Johnny were having a conversation of their own. She had arranged the meeting with him, not feeling it was safe to have the conversation at school.
"I saw Tina's mother," Abby said. "She said Liam has been in a coma since Christmas, and the doctors say he won't recover, but she can't bear to pull the plug."
A light bulb went off in Johnny's head, and as if he were sharing a revelation with Abby, he said, "That explains Tina's behavior."
"It does," she agreed, too worried to roll her eyes at him or point out that she already knew it. "And she's falling deeper and deeper into…" Abby searched for the right word, "darkness."
Another light bulb went off in his head. "I have a brother in juvie," he said, seemingly out of the blue.
"Older or younger brother?" she asked. Although she didn't see the connection between the two subjects, she couldn't help being curious about this piece of information.
"Neither. The same age. Although he acts as if he's years older."
That was no less a surprise. "You have a twin then?"
"More of a triplet," he admitted, seeming reluctant to share the information.
"Mostly, but I got all the charm, and he got all the evil, and well, the other got all the flamboyance."
"And the flamboyant one. Where's he?"
He rolled his eyes. "He's not in juvie. He attends another school," he said, seeming more than a little embarrassed as if it were a place worse than juvie.
"As interesting as this all is, what does it have to do with Tina's problem?"
"Jeff is the sneakiest guy I know. He can infiltrate her gang and report back her activities. We'd at least know what she was up to."
"And he'd do that for us?"
"Probably. If we bust him out."
"Bust him out of a juvenile detention center? Are you crazy?"
"You got a better idea?"
Unfortunately, she didn't. "I guess it's worth a try."
Chapter 27: Seeing Triple
"This is pretty heavy security. What did your brother do to get in here?" Abby asked nervously. She had been picturing, or at least hoping, it was something minor like shoplifting, but shoplifters didn't go to maximum security.
"He, uh, he killed a man or two."
"We're letting a murderer out?" Abby asked, turning white as a sheet. "You didn't tell me that!"
"He's not as dangerous as he sounds. He doesn't randomly go around killing people. He hires himself out to people with a vendetta."
"Are you insane? I don't think knowing he's an assassin makes it any better. We just have to find another way."
"But this plan could work," Johnny argued. "How else could we infiltrate the gang convincingly? I'm telling you Jed will blend in, and he's not as bad as he sounds."
Johnny took his coat off. He had changed into clothes that looked very like the uniform worn by the inmates. It took a second or third look to discover it wasn't. She had to admit she was impressed by the boldness with which he moved to the gate, or the sheer stupidity.
"You there, freeze!" shouted a snarly guard to Johnny. He ran with his firearm drawn. "Thought you could escape, huh?"
Abby used the opportunity to slip in past the now open gate. He was too distracted with Johnny to notice her slipping past. Besides, how many nuts tried to break into a prison?
She followed secretly behind them where Johnny was thrown into a recreation room with the inmates. The guard didn't even notice that there was another who looked just like him already in there, which although she was grateful for this fact, she didn't find it all that comforting to know the prison system was lax in its security.
Johnny wasted no time in seeking out Jed. Jed caught him in a headlock and gave him a noogie as he asked, "What are you doing here?" as if he'd run into him in the middle of the mall or a park, instead of a maximum security detention center.
"Can we talk about it somewhere where there's less people to overhear?" Johnny said quietly.
The others conveniently ignored them, which again she was grateful for, but it worried her that the other prisoners were obviously afraid of him.
Both Johnny and Abby watched him unlock the door with a homemade but functional key. He gave some sort of signal to his fellow inmates before ducking into the hall. Suddenly a full-blown riot broke out in the recreation room. They hid flat against the wall in the shadows and watched as the guard posted outside used a walkie to signal the others of the riot and then watched as other guards came rushing in response. When Jed deemed it safe, they moved further down the wall.
"So what's up?" Jed asked like nothing had happened.
"We're here because we have this friend who's in a gang. She doesn't belong there though," Abby said firmly. "She's been going through a tough time and somebody took advantage of that. We want to help her before she does something she really regrets."
"Will you help us?" Johnny asked.
"You're busting me out, little brother; of course, I'll help you. Sounds fun and you are my favorite little brother." He reached out and pulled him into another headlock.
Abby looked nervously from side to side. She was sure there were cameras, and how long would it be before someone found this merry little group. This idea was beginning to feel more insane with each passing second. It was only a matter of time before they were busted.
"Can we pal around later and get the heck out of here?" Abby said fretfully.
It appeared to be too late as footsteps sounded in the hall, but instead of a guard, it was a third Johnny. It dazed Abby for a moment until she realized he must be the third brother, but what was he doing here?
He didn't say a word but pushed Jed into the nearby supply closet. He was also dressed in an inmate uniform. There was no time to ask how he'd managed to break in, although it must have been a story in and of itself.
Footsteps again sounded, but they were heavier and quicker this time. "Freeze! What in the name of Hades is going on here?"
"A visit. You can't blame a guy for wanting to visit his brother," Jack said, doing a dead-on impression of Jed.
"I know it wasn't visiting day," Johnny said, playing along, "but I had something I really wanted to ask him right away."
"We're sorry, officer. We know better and it won't happen again," Abby spoke up and then answered the question in the guard's eyes, "I'm a friend of Johnny's."
"I should lock you up for this, but I can understand. I grew up with my father in prison for most of my childhood. You got two minutes to finish up here. You all could cost me my job, you know."
He left, muttering something about kids.
Jed, hearing that it was safe, came out of the closet. Neither Johnny nor Jed looked happy to see Jack.
"Don't look at me that way. I saved your butts and you know it!" Jack exclaimed with his hands on his hips.
They gave relenting sighs, unable to deny it.
"Okay, you saved us. Now go," Johnny said.
"I'm going to pretend to be Jed for awhile. I'm an actor, I can fake it, and as an entertainer, I can charm the pants off the sourest apple. It'll be a great testing of my skills, and I want to help," Jack insisted. "I've overheard everything that's going on. Your plan isn't going to work unless they think they still have Jed. If they have me, they will."
"You wouldn't last five minutes in prison," Jed said with a smirk, while Johnny backed the sentiment with a nod.
"I could if I assume the role, and I will. Johnny'd give it away in a matter of minutes. He was never very good at swapping identities when we were kids. You don't have much time to decide. Our guard friend will be back at the cameras any minute now."
"Won't they see all this on the cameras anyway?" Abby said, wishing more planning had gone into this. When had she decided following Johnny's half-baked scheme was a good idea? It showed the depth of her desperation.
"They won't have a need to look back at the footage if there's no breakout to speak of," Jack said.
"Why not let him do it?" Johnny said to Jed.
"And if he doesn't make it in prison, why either way it takes care of our problem, doesn't it? Okay, Jack. It's a go."
Abby frowned at the cruel humor, but Jack seemed use to it and went to join the prison riot.
Jed pulled out a map. "You sneak out the normal way, since the guard will be expecting one of us to leave. I've figured out a way through the vents. I'll meet you at the pizza place on the corner of Acropolis."
Abby was surprised once again.
"You think I haven't been preparing for a breakout before now?" he said, noting the surprise. "I was just waiting for the perfect opportunity, and this is it. Keep cool heads."
Jed disappeared into a vent.
Why did Abby feel she had just signed up for more trouble than she had bargained for? She had to keep reminding herself that this was all for Tina as she followed Johnny out.
Chapter 28: Double the Trouble
"I haven't had good pizza in an age," Jed said, joining them in the food court. He was so eager to eat it he didn't care that it was still hot and that the cheese and sauce was sliding off into his lap.
"It much was easier getting out than in," Abby commented.
"Wish I could say the same," Jed said, still swiping dust and dirt from the air vent off his clothes but doing nothing about the cheese or sauce.
"Got your clothes," she said, holding up a t-shirt and pair of jeans inside a plastic grocery bag that belonged to Johnny. "I know you're enjoying the pizza, but you might want to change first before someone recognizes your prison uniform."
He flashed a look that said he didn't care, but then he took the clothes and went to the bathroom to change.
The next day found Johnny impersonating Jack at his drama/dance/music school.
"First position," the ballet instructor called out. She was a thin woman with iron gray hair that was pulled back so tight it made her squint, .
Johnny appeared ignorant of the fact that he held his arms aloft in a classic ballerina pose while the rest of the class had their arms down gracefully by their sides.
The instructor called out the instruction, "Plié".
He followed the others' lead and squatted, but the unnatural position set him off balance, and he fell forward into the girl in front of him.
"Watch it! What's gotten into you, Jack?" she whispered harshly under her breath.
The teacher called out second and third positions and grands and relevés and a host of other terms he didn't understand. He tried his best to keep up but failed miserably.
"Okay, warm-ups are over," the instructor said after what seemed like an eternity.
Johnny's mouth dropped. These were just the warm-ups? What kind of torture or hell was this?
"Pair up with a partner and practice supported grand jetés."
Johnny might as well have been taking Greek, but he saw that partners were jumping toward each other to be caught, so he did his best to accomplish what looked like a split in mid aid toward the petite, golden haired girl he had been partnered with, but she stepped back, and his face met the wooden-planked floor. He guessed it was the girl who was supposed to do the leaping.
Everyone now looked at him as if he belonged in the loony bin except the instructor, who was glaring at him fiercer than any prison guard would have.
Somehow he thought he would have had an easier time of it if he'd joined the gang or even the chain gang. Johnny hoped Jed was having an easier time being him than he was having being Jack.
Tina was waiting in the school office to see the principal. She drummed her fingers against the side of the chair impatiently. The only break in the monotony was when someone else came into the office.
The school secretary didn't look happy to see him. "Otto, we've received a number of claims that you've stolen things from people's lockers."
A cheeky smile appeared without a hint of remorse. "Did they see me take anything?
"Well, no, but that's beside the point. You took it." Mr. Hermes was shooting him a very fatherly, chastising look.
He shrugged. "Innocent until proven guilty. Those lockers all had locks, didn't they? I defy anyone to tell me how I did it."
Mr. Hermes didn't look won over. "Sit, Ms. Nemesis will take care of you in a minute."
A buzzer sounded on the phone, and after picking it up and listening for a second, Mr. Hermes said, "You got it." He looked at Tina. "Ms. Nemesis will see you now."
"Don't you ever get tired of passing messages for other people," Tina said with a smirk.
She left him gaping and went into the principal's office. "What's this about?" she asked right away. "Have I done something?"
"Not one thing, no, it's a whole host of things. I've been meaning to have a talk with you for a while," Ms. Nemesis answered from behind her desk.
"Oh?" Tina asked.
"Yes, sit down."
Tina sat down in a disrespectful slouch.
Ms. Nemesis rolled her chair further under the desk. "I don't need to tell you that your general behavior of late has become unacceptable."
"And the sad thing is you don't care."
"Why should I? This school is a joke. Take the history teachers for example." The way she propped her elbow on the wooden arm of the chair said she was gearing up to taunt her.
Nemesis was having none of it. She returned her bold look and didn't so much as twitch with nervousness as she answered, "I assure you no one is more acquainted with the past, or current events for that matter, than those three."
"Or the future? And what about the science teacher?"
"Her methods are a little unorthodox, but she cares about the students."
"And the math teacher. I'd like to know why the man never stands up. Is he too tall for the room?"
"I don't appreciate you making fun of his physical attributes. Haven't you heard of gigantism? He is a good teacher. He might as well have invented math and science." She cut Tina off. "And if you're about to complain about Ms. Hestia, I assure you that she too is well suited to her position, as is Mr. Momus."
"Maybe, but it doesn't keep them from being weird." Tina was enjoying goading her.
A couple seconds ticked by. "What? No complaints about the P. E. teacher? I believe he's the one teacher who hasn't been mentioned."
"So are we through here or are you actually going to do something with me?" Tina asked.
It was a challenge; it was blackmail. Tina's message was more than clear. She knew, whether Ares had told her or she'd figured it out by herself, she knew. How Nemesis wished she could wash her hands of the whole affair, but as Hercules had pointed out, that wouldn't be good for anybody. She could play, too. "No, I've decided you have community service with Mr. Hercules after school."
"What?" The icy exterior was gone for just a moment.
"That's my deal or you're going to be expelled, which I don't need to remind you means your schooling options will be limited."
It meant reform school. Now she was being blackmailed. She stormed out of the office, but she knew she had no choice but to meet with Mr. Hercules. She saw "Johnny" waiting to meet with Ms. Nemesis. It seemed the principal's office was the place to be today. Mr. Hermes and Otto had both stepped out somewhere.
"Johnny, you're in trouble? What have you done? Knocked over too many trashcans?"
"No, I've decided you're right. If you don't take what's rightfully yours, do what needs to be done, no one else will. You've shown me the light."
"You saying you want to be in a gang?"
"That's what I'm saying."
"Okay then. Be at the dive on Pandora Square tomorrow. 9:00 p.m., or is that past your bedtime?" she mocked. The smile she wore said she obviously thought he was going to fail but that she was interested in being amused.
"I'll be there," Jed said.
Chapter 29: Service
Tina met Mr. Sorbo in the park right after school for community service as per the arrangement.
It could have been a nice park, but it was dotted with trash. It was more than that though. Kids were afraid to play in the park because it was a favorite spot for the local gangs to have showdowns. It even made the cops more than a little nervous; they avoided it if they could.
Mr. Sorbo didn't seem nervous though. He looked downright chipper, but then what did the great Hercules have to fear?
"Cleaning litter up in the park," she muttered as she took the proffered pointy stick and bag. "Isn't that cliché?"
"Probably, but it's also a tried and true way to help the community." Even though he had no real reason to, with her being forced to do the work, he had a bag and stick of his own.
She supposed he was trying to give her the feeling that he was a friend and not a jailer. It didn't work though. She saw him for what he was now. He didn't care for her on a personal level. He was afraid of the havoc she could cause if she embraced her dark side, which she had.
They gathered the garbage in silence for about an hour.
"Onto the next task," Mr. Sorbo said. He gave her rubber gloves, a scrub brush, and paint remover.
It was easy to know what he wanted her to do with them. Graffiti was everywhere. The Hydras and the Harpies' artwork covered the picnic shelters, the bathrooms, and even the wooden playground equipment.
"Let's start with the playground," he said to her.
So she spent the next hour scrubbing a giant hydra. As her arms began to ache from all the scouring, she actually began to miss picking up trash.
"It's such a shame when kids don't have a place where they can play, and it's even more of a shame when someone is so angry or so lonely that they feel joining a gang is their only option."
"You think that's what gangs are about? You think you know why I joined?" she said with a smirk. "You don't know anything."
"No, I know what it's about, at least in your case. Maybe more than you do."
"I really doubt that." She checked her watch. It read 5:00. "Well, my time is up. You can't hold me here any longer."
He gave her a sad smile as if he knew where she was headed, and he probably did. "No, I can't. Watch out for yourself."
"That's exactly what I'm doing," she replied.
She met up with her gang in the same park she'd been at only hours before. The purple hydra she'd spent an hour scrubbing off the wall of the children's tower was back bigger and bolder than ever. Mr. Sorbo was going to love that, but maybe he would see the futility of trying to fight the gang activity. Of course, if he hadn't learned the uselessness of fighting evil in over two thousand years, chances were he never would.
"Johnny" was right on time. He went up to Tina for his instructions.
"See over there by the slide? The Harpies' secondhand man is going to be making a drug run there in about fifteen minutes. Your job is to kill him."
If he was surprised by the mission, or felt any kind of emotion about it, he certainly didn't show it. "Do I get a gun?"
"No, that'd make it too easy, wouldn't it?" She handed him a steak knife. "This is your weapon."
Again, he didn't seem phased in the least.
The others hid out and waited for the arrival of the Harpie man. Johnny was in the bush closest to the slide.
"This ought to be entertaining," Tina whispered quietly to Ares. She didn't intend on letting Johnny get killed. A couple of her men had their guns drawn with orders to kill the Harpie when it became clear Johnny couldn't do it.
But it happened in a flash when the man got there. The knife was flung from the bush and ended up lodged in the Harpie guy's chest. Johnny's aim had been deadly and kill him he did.
Tina's mouth fell open. For one split-second, a wave of regret washed over her. It was one thing to corrupt yourself and another to cause someone else's corruption. She'd just made a murderer out of Johnny. But her heart hardened again. She hadn't thrown the knife; she hadn't even been the one to invite him. But he'd passed the test. There was no reason to deny him entry into the gang. Certainly the other members looked impressed.
"I thought you said he was bumbling," Ares sneered with a hint of suspicion. Perhaps he wasn't as much his old self as the war god had thought though Joxer had certainly started off his first lifetime wanting to join Callisto's gang, and he generally seemed to have an inordinate amount of luck, but his skill had definitely been lacking then. It was possible he had a skill that he hadn't had in a previous life, so maybe it added up, but Johnny bore careful watching. Something wasn't right.
Chapter 30: Aphrodite's Day
Aphrodite's classroom looked like one of those lacey, frilly Valentine cards had thrown up all over the place. There were hearts, pink and red gossamer streamers, flowers, and that was just on the teacher's desk. Ares felt like he was going to throw up himself at this froufrou display.
"This is my favorite day of the year," Aphrodite gushed when she saw him. "They should have named it Aphrodite's Day."
"Sorry to interrupt your good mood, sis," he replied, "but I have a question for you. You know Johnny, right?"
"Johnny? Unless they way adore me, which they usually do, or are totally dreamy for a mortal, why would I?"
"Xena and Gabrielle's friend? Joxer?"
"Oh, Joxer. Why didn't you say so in the first place? What about him?"
"Has he seemed strange to you lately?"
"Like when isn't that mortal strange?" She straightened a cupid decoration on the wall. "Doesn't it look just like Cupid when he was a baby?"
Ares was beginning to get irritated with her. "Sure. Whatever. What about Mr. Sorbo?" he asked, using air quotation marks. "Has he said anything to you about Xena?"
"He's been totally concerned about her, but I haven't heard anything out of the ordinary."
"Well, pay more attention, will you? And let me know if you hear anything?"
"I'll try but being a teacher is way hard. I don't have time to be a spy, too."
Ares rolled his eyes. Teaching wasn't hard the way she did it. "Just watch them, Johnny especially, and Abby, too. I've never liked those two, and I like them even less right now."
"You got it, bro, but only because I think after like two thousand years, you and Xena should seriously be together."
"How'd it go?" Abby asked as soon as she saw Jed again.
"Like a dream. I got rid of the guy they asked me to. I gather your friend doesn't kill yet just seriously maims, and you'll be pleased to know she looked a little guilty about having me kill someone. I don't think she thought I'd actually do it."
Abby was horror-stricken. "I didn't break you out to kill more people."
"He was a creep. I knew him before I was locked up. He was getting elementary age kids hooked on drugs. I did this town a favor."
"That doesn't give you a license to kill. Oh, this was a bad idea. A bad idea. I never should've listened to Johnny. What was I thinking?"
"Relax. Everything's going according to plan. I'm on the inside where we can keep a tab on her behavior."
"I guess I'm in too deep to back out now, but don't go killing anymore people just because somebody asks you to. That's what got you in trouble in the first place."
"I'll definitely try," he said with a smile.
"See if you can't convince her just to sit down and talk to me. She won't even give me the time of day. If I can just talk to her, I know it could do some good."
Jed didn't see the power in words that she did, but he agreed.
Tina found a single red rose lay on her desk in homeroom. She picked it up with a smile and sniffed the sweet bloom. She knew exactly who it had come from, and she confronted him with it as soon as they got to the privacy of his apartment after school.
"The god of war handing out roses. Kind of bad for your image, isn't it?"
"People misunderstand war as if war is always about anger and evil. Sometime war is just. Sometimes a war is fought over love. There are many sides to me. Besides what other thing in nature so describes your nature?" he asked, taking the flower from her. "Red for the passion and fire you carry in your soul." He brushed the bloom across her cheek. "So soft, so exquisite, and yet covered in prickly thorns sharp enough to draw blood. Beauty and ferocity rolled into one."
Tina could feel her heart racing at his words, beating with love and desire for him. "When did you become so sentimental?"
"It is the day for sentimentality, isn't it?" he asked, settling onto the couch.
She sat down too and positioned herself so that the back of her head resting against his shoulder. "Did we end up together? In the first life, I mean."
"Not in all the ways I wished. You died too soon." The memories of losing her made him wrap an arm securely around her waist as if she would disappear from his grasp if he weren't careful.
"I wish I could remember then. All of it."
"No, you don't." If she remembered, she would go back to hating him, and he didn't know if he could stand that again, god or not.
Chapter 31: Saving the Gymnast Ninja
Jed hadn't been able to convince Tina to talk with Abby though he'd hinted at it to her, but he did tell Abby when she was planning on exterminating what remained of the Hydras at the park. After her community service there, of course.
So Abby met Jed at the park entrance. Johnny had come along too.
"You're late," Jed said to Abby. "You missed most of the fighting. You should have seen Tina hopping and leaping and striking to get the guns away from the Hydras. She was like some sort of gymnast ninja. She could teach me a thing or two. Lots of injuries on the Hydra's side, but no deaths so far. You got here just in time for the good stuff though. Your friend's going postal on the Hydra's leader. I think there'll be a death here yet."
Abby ran to find Tina and so did Johnny. Jed stayed behind so as not to ruin the identity switch.
It looked more like a battlefield than a park, blood staining the grass and groaning young men. Fortunately, no one looked gravely injured, but Tina was working on crushing a guy's windpipe from the blue tinge of his skin. The mask of rage she wore would've scared a lesser mortal.
"You're going to kill him," Abby cried now by her side. "Do you really want to go to jail for that pile of slime?"
Miraculously, she stopped and slowly released her grip on his neck. It was proof that she wasn't totally gone, that there was a shred of decency still in there somewhere.
Air flowed back into him and he coughed.
"I don't like the Hydras," Tina told him. "I'm tired of removing your artwork, and I'm tired of your murdering ways. I want you out of this town for good. Out of this state. And not just you but the whole lot of you. No more growing heads to replace former leaders. Or next time I won't hesitate to squeeze the life out of you. And my gang won't just maim yours. I will tell them to kill whatever the repercussions. Understand?"
He snarled, but he nodded. Not able to speak, he motioned for his gang to clear out. The able-bodied ones helped those who'd gotten shots to the leg.
Tina waited until they were gone and then she viciously turned to Abby. "You can go to before you feel the brunt of my anger instead."
"Why are you acting like this to me? We used to be such good friends."
"You know. I still remember the way you acted when I told you about my brother."
"What? You didn't tell me about your brother."
"You're a liar, and I have no patience for your lies today."
"I don't know what you think I said or did, but I swear I didn't know. I found out about it on my own. But I can't understand why it would make you join a gang. This is not the answer. Liam wouldn't want you doing this."
"Shut up. You don't know what Liam would have wanted. It was the Hydras that put my brother in a coma that he'll never wake from. They're fortunate I let them live at all."
"And you," Tina said, looking at Johnny. "Don't think I didn't see you run from the heat of battle to meet up with your girlfriend. I knew you didn't really want to be in a gang. You were just being a lapdog for Abby. Well, I want nothing to do with either of you. You both better stay out of my way because jail is a risk I'd be willing to take if it meant never seeing your annoying little faces again."
"Fine. We'll go. I don't know why I bothered," Abby said.
Some distance away, Abby ducked into a bush. Johnny hadn't seen her do it and was going to keep walking, but she grabbed his ankle, knocking him into the bushes.
"Hey, what-" he began.
She covered his mouth with her hand. "Be quiet. I dropped my sister's ring. We have to go back for it when they're gone. She'll kill me if I lose it."
The Harpies cleared out one by one until Tina was alone. Aaron seemingly appeared from nowhere.
"That was beautiful," he said with applause. "Still, I miss the days when there was more blood and challenge to it. You fight with bullets, and it's almost always over before you really start to enjoy it." He looked around. "Still, such a shame to waste all these bullets." Using telekinesis, he gathered all the bullets into his waiting palm.
Tina smiled. She knew he was just being a showoff, but she liked it. She put her hand in his, and they disappeared together.
Abby and Johnny both gasped. There was no earthly way to explain either of those things they'd just witnessed.
"I must be dreaming," Abby said in total shock.
"If you're dreaming then I'm dreaming, too," Johnny said. "Oooh. Do you think that's possible? Maybe our whole lives have just been one big dream. Someone else's dream."
She punched his arm to stop his philosophical rambling. "There. Does that answer your question?"
He rubbed the tender spot. "No, this is definitely real. And oww by the way."
An unexpected voice came from behind them. "I'm sorry you saw that, but I'm also kind of glad because you two may be the last chance we have. The last chance Tina has. You should know what you're up against."
They spun around to find Mr. Sorbo.
"What? What do you mean?" Abby asked.
"All the things you've learned about Greek mythology in history class, it's all true."
"Only Greek mythology?" Abby asked with a trace of sarcasm but with curiosity too.
"That's a little complicated and would take more time to explain than I have. It's the Greek mythology we need to focus on. You remember learning about Xena and her friends and sidekicks, Gabrielle and Joxer?"
They both nodded.
"You're them. Tina's Xena. You're Gabrielle, and you're Joxer. Reincarnated without the memories, but the events of this lifetime have shaped you into the same people you were then if that makes sense and deep in your soul, you haven't really lost the people you were then."
Abby still looked skeptical even after witnessing what they'd witnessed. "And you're part of the mythology, too?"
"I am. The whole school is in some form or fashion either a god, a demigod, or a reincarnated ancient Greek. I'm Hercules."
"Prove it," she said.
He obliged by pulling the nearby stop sign up out of the ground and twisting the pole into a knot. He untwisted it and returned it to its original place. "Get in my car, and I'll explain everything to you."
Abby's mouth was wide open, but she was impressed, too. "Okay then, Hercules."
Johnny wanted to be sure it wasn't a trick but more than that he wanted to test his own strength. As Hercules and Abby took off for the car, he decided to stay back and try it for himself. Despite all his grunting and groaning, he couldn't twist the metal. He couldn't even get it out of the ground again. It was definitely heavier than it looked. He hurried to catch up with Abby and Hercules.
"Who you saw wasn't Aaron," Hercules was explaining. "There's no such person. He's really Ares, and Tina knows this."
"He's the god of war, and she knows it?" Abby asked. "What is she thinking?"
"She's not. She's letting herself be ruled by her darker emotions and her grief. We need to break through the protective wall she's built around herself to the good person she is at heart. And I believe I know how."
Chapter 32: Star-Crossed Lovers
"We have to recreate the past and expose Ares' lies," Hercules explained to Abby and Johnny. "He started her on the dark road again by making her lose her brother to those who've chosen evil, the same thing that happened when she was Xena. It only makes sense that it would take experiencing some of the events that happened later and got her off that road."
"And how do we do that if don't remember our past lives?" Abby asked.
"You two don't remember, but I do."
It had started with a baby bringing out her softer side. Her army betraying her had also helped. Then the love that had grown between them had freed her heart before she set off on her redemptive journey. Gabrielle's friendship had strengthened that new commitment. And he was sure Joxer's friendship, goofy as he was, had also been helpful on her road to goodness.
The question was how to make all that play out in the present. He couldn't exactly romance her because of her age. He hoped that didn't turn out to be a vital piece of the puzzle and that his friendship and mentorship would be just as helpful. He had to get the Harpies to betray her to take away their influence and then he had to show her what mercy looked like somehow.
Maybe a child would help. Not a real child, of course, it was too dangerous a situation for that, but a god who would masquerade as one. A little boy. And he knew just the god to help him, one that cared about mortals and who owed him a favor.
Valhalla High. It was just like Olympus High, but instead of reincarnated Greeks and Greek gods, it was reincarnated Scandinavians and Norse gods. The school bore columns all the way around the building and had a very triangular roof. "Home of the Valiant Valkyries" it read over the doorway.
It was the principal he needed to see. He only had to mention his name, his real name, to get past the secretary.
"Mr. Sorbo, what a surprise. I haven't seen you in sixty years at least."
"Mr. Baldur, it has been a long time."
Baldur smiled. "Good to see you, old friend. We've much catching up to do," he said, clasping hands with him.
"I'll admit my visit isn't purely social. I need your help." He explained the situation to him and the part he wanted him to play. "Will you do it?"
"For you, Hercules? Of course, I will."
The Harpies were meeting to discuss expanding their territory even further.
"I see us becoming more well known than any other gang. I see the Harpies becoming a household word, whose name strikes fear into people's hearts." Words of inspiration to end the meeting, and the gang were eating her words up.
Mike, who still hated for taking over, spoke up. "We need more runners, and I happened upon a young volunteer." He was skinny boy with white blonde hair.
"How old are you?" Tina asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Nine," he said, sticking out his chest as if it were something to be proud of. "Or almost nine."
"You're too young, kid. Beat it," Tina said, pointing to the door.
"That's the beauty of it," Mike said. "He's old enough to take orders but young enough not to attract much suspicion."
"He's eight years old," Tina said with solid steel in her voice. "He can come back when he hits puberty."
"You're soft," accused Mike. "We've still never seen you kill anyone. I ask myself why that is."
"Are you challenging me?"
By now the gang were whispering their own questions. They were turning on her. Ares didn't like where this was leading. It was happening again the same way it had happened last time, eerily so.
"Hercules," he said under his breath. His meddlesome half brother was somehow behind this. He knew it.
Tina beat Mike up for his accusations, but it didn't matter. She didn't kill him and that made Mike right. They threw her out with a warning that they'd kill her if they saw her again. Their one gift to her.
She'd been betrayed. She had taken this town over and they were breaching into new territory every week and this was the thanks she got for their success? Ares had come with her.
"Why didn't you stop them? Why didn't you stand up for me? Some god you are."
"Where would be the fairness if I got involved in your fighting that way? I will teach you everything I know, but you have to accomplish the denomination on your own. Xena would have never-"
She snarled. "Xena, Xena, Xena. That's all you ever talk about. I'm Tina. It's never going to be like the old days. Get that through your thick head." She pushed past him and she felt him depart. "That's it. Disappear like the coward you are."
That's when she saw Hercules, Abby, and Johnny walking towards her. There was something in their step and the way they were all acting buddy, buddy that put her on the alert. She was not in the mood for some kind of intervention, which was obviously what this was.
Abby took the lead, walking up to her with a bow staff in her hand.
"Going on a hike, are you?" Tina asked snarkily.
Tina had her feet knocked out from under her. She couldn't have been more surprised if all the gods had appeared in front of her at that moment. "Where'd you learn to use that?"
"Apparently from you. Mr. Sor-I mean Hercules showed me a few moves, and it was like the skill just came back to me. Like it was buried inside me all along. Weird, huh?"
Tina knocked her flat on her back and broke her staff in two, throwing the broken pieces out of her reach.
Hercules and Johnny moved forward to help her, but Abby shook her head, signaling she wanted to do this alone. She trusted that Tina wouldn't kill her. Make her hurt maybe, but she knew her friend at her core, and she wasn't a cold-blooded killer.
Tina overpowered her until Abby rolled and got the broken staff and used the pieces as a weapon. That evened it up some.
They would both be plenty bruised from the battle when it was over though and for a moment it looked as if neither one would win, but Tina gained the upper hand again at last. She got the broken pieces away from her, knocked Abby to the ground and ensured she wasn't going anywhere by making an x at her neck with her own weapon.
"I promise you that I didn't know about Liam," Abby said calmly. "If I had, I would've been there for you. You're my friend. Think about it. There are gods at this school, and you think it's not possible that one of them pretended to be me? I know they can do that. I saw one of them do it."
"That's ridiculous. Who would go to the trouble of masquerading as you?" But she knew who. The one who had the most to gain. She'd been played with like a marionette with Ares pulling the strings. She discarded the bow staff once more and helped Abby up. "Can you ever forgive me?"
"Come on," Abby said. "Let's go home and go back to being regular teenagers."
Tina hesitated, but then she smiled. "I don't think we'll ever be regular teenagers again."
"No, I think that was out the moment you all stepped foot into Olympus High," Hercules said with a chuckle, having come over with Johnny to join them.
Ares felt the familiar rage building inside his chest as he watched the four of them walk off together.
"Sorry, bro. I guess it's just not meant to be, but if it's any consolation sometimes star-crossed lovers are the best love stories," Aphrodite said with a sigh that said she was a little sad but entranced by the story.
"I don't accept that," he said. "I don't know how, but I will get her back."
"Maybe it's time you tried another approach. A softer approach."
"Softer? What's that supposed to mean?" But Aphrodite was gone. What'd she know about love anyway? He amended his statement when he realized the foolishness of it. Well, what'd she know about the kind of love he and Xena shared. It wasn't the end of this love story, not at all.