VIRGINIA BEACH, VIRGINIA
“You couldn’t have planned this little get-together last summer?” the blonde-haired man good-naturedly grumbled. He stared from the balcony at the angry grey waves that pounded the nearly-deserted beach below them.
“During season? You must be joking.” The raven-haired man in the chair wryly shook his head. “We have a lot more privacy this time of year.”
The third man nervously brushed back his auburn hair. “The scenery’s nicer during season, Ares.”
The blonde laughed. “You just enjoy watching the girls in those oh-so-skimpy bathing suits, Kevin.”
“And you don’t, Ban?” Kevin shot back with a questioning look.
Ares stared down at the patio even as he smiled at the laughter from his companions. “Our guests are getting restless,” he judged.
“I’m surprised they came at all,” Kevin snorted as he stared down at the two women and four men who stood or sat staring out at the rolling ocean. He noticed none of them were talking with each other but instead seemed lost in their own thoughts. The horizon was dark with threatening clouds promising a drenching downpour.
“How much did it cost?” Ban asked with a grin.
“Surprisingly, money wasn’t involved with all of them,” Ares answered.
“No surprise there,” Kevin shrugged.
“Ban, escort our guests to the dining room,” Ares ordered.
“Ban.” The blonde-haired man grumbled as he turned to leave. “I hate that name. You sure were in a funky mood when you chose it.”
Kevin laughed as the other man slammed the door.
Ares smiled even as he stiffly moved his left shoulder.
“Is it bad today?” Kevin expertly removed the brake and spun the wheelchair around to enter the bedroom behind them. He thankfully shut the French-style doors leading onto the deck. “It’s too cold out today to leave them open.”
“I like them open. I like the fresh air.” Ares ran his hair through his raven curls. “No. It’s no worse today than on any other day.” He wrathfully glared at his limp legs. “I suppose I’m more nervous than anything else.”
Kevin hesitated. “Ban and I have worked out a contingency plan. Just in case things don’t go as expected.”
“Is that a fact? Thanks for the support,” Ares snorted.
“It’s not that. But you have to admit...this could easily go the wrong way.” Kevin leaned against the doors to the hallway and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “So...if necessary, just do what Ban and I tell you. For once. Is that too much to ask?”
“You’ve learned emotional blackmail.” The dark-haired man grinned. “I’m impressed.”
Kevin rolled his eyes and waited.
“Yes, I’ll do as you and Ban suggest,” Ares finally agreed. “But you do nothing unless I tell you.”
“Deal.” Kevin opened the doors to the hallway. “Ready?”
The dark-haired man took a deep breath and straightened his shoulders. “As I’ll ever be, I suppose.”
The two were silent as the wheelchair was pushed down the long ramp to the lower level of the house. A sudden gust of wind rattled the windows.
“Storm’s moving in,” Kevin finally commented.
The dark-haired man shrugged. “Appropriate for the occasion, I suppose.”
Kevin worriedly eyed the man in the wheelchair. Part of him wanted to delay what was coming...or avoid it completely. But that wasn’t possible. Not anymore.
They paused for a moment at the entrance to the dining room. Flickering candles around the room contrasted with the sparkling lights of the two chandeliers having over the long mahogany dining table. Outside, the approaching storm darkened the already grey sky.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Ban softly spoke. “Your host, Aristotle Godson.”
Kevin noted the surprised looks from Ares’ guests as they noticed the wheelchair. He quickly glanced at Ban who barely nodded in return.
Ares inwardly smiled as he found himself at the end of the table next to the door and not his usual spot at the far end of the table. ‘A quick get-away, hmmm?’ He smiled at his guests. “Thank you for accepting my invitation. Please. Sit down.” He felt a comforting touch on his back as Kevin joined Ban in pouring a golden-colored wine in their glasses.
Trust had been a hard-learned lesson, Ares silently admitted. Harder than any lesson he’d ever learned as the God of War so long ago. Yet he had no qualms now about trusting his safety to his two companions...his two friends. “May I present my two associates?” He indicated the right side of the table. “This is Ban Arris.” Then he indicated the left side of the table. “And this is Kevin Coren.”
Ares was struck in silent amusement at the seating arrangements. His guests had chosen their own seats but he could have predicted their choices. To his right sat a tall beautiful raven-haired woman. At her side was a shorter blonde-haired woman. Next to the blonde woman was a slender dark-haired man with warm brown eyes.
At Ares’ left was a tall broad-shouldered man with honey-colored hair. To his left sat a blonde-haired man with cold blue eyes. Ares silently conceded this was the biggest change of all. Next to the blonde-haired man was an older dark-haired man with a tired expression on his face. ‘Or is that boredom and resignation I see?’ Ares silently wondered.
When the wine had been poured, Ares sat back in his wheelchair. He’d noted the surprise on almost everyone’s face when they’d seen him sitting in it. “I much prefer to get our discussions out of the way before dining. It makes for an easier digestion. And Ban’s Peking Duck is to be savored.” He threw his younger friend a wicked teasing look. Ban returned it with a silent promise of revenge.
“Of course, we’re all curious about your invitation,” the blonde-haired woman acknowledged. “I know I’ve never met you before, Mr. Godson.”
‘Of course, she’d be the one to start this.’ Ares gallantly nodded his head. “As a matter of fact, none of you have met the others, have you?” Watching everyone but the blonde-haired man shake their heads, he refrained from looking at his friends. He knew they had hoped bringing them together would spark memories. ‘Nothing’s ever easy,’ Ares silently remembered.
“Then allow me to introduce you,” Ares smiled. His eyes settled on the dark-haired young man at the far end of the table. “All six of you have much in common. More than you might think.”
“James Olson Xavier. Known to his millions and millions of fans as Jox. The Pied Piper of the, I believe it’s called hip-hop, music craze?” Ares smiled. “I confess I find that sort of music...not quite to my liking.”
“No apology necessary,” Jox quietly answered. “It’s not for everyone’s taste.” He frowned. “What did you mean that we have a lot in common?”
“First of all, you’re all orphans. Raised in various orphanages. Left on their doorsteps in a rather unimaginative...but effective...fashion within one or two weeks of your birth.” Ares watched their reactions as he sipped the wine.
“It sounds like you’ve done some research on us.” The coolness of the voice of the woman sitting next to him was comforting in its familiarity.
Ares silently nodded. “James Olsen Xavier...Jox. Born December 22, 1976. You were raised at St. George’s Orphanage in St. Paul, Minnesota. You were told your parents and two older brothers were killed in an auto accident. You discovered a love of music early in life. In fact, some of the religious music you wrote at a young age is still used by the monks at St. George’s Church. You wanted to become an opera singer but didn’t have the range for it. You use a great deal of your personal fortune, however, to fund various operatic organizations and have established a foundation to fund scholarships for students to further their musical education.” He smiled. “All anonymously, of course.”
“How did you...?” Jox half-whispered in astonishment. “Only my accountant and I know that.”
“Then I suggest you get a new accountant,” the dark-haired woman coldly advised.
“I assure you, Jox. Your accountant is completely trustworthy. I have other...means of obtaining my information,” Ares assured him. He turned his attention to the blonde-haired woman.
“Dr. Grace Ellen Porter. You were born September 11, 1974. You were raised at the Seattle City Orphanage in Seattle, Washington. You were told your parents and older sister were killed in a boating accident. You ran away from the Orphanage when you were 16 and lived in Idaho at the compound of the Seekers of Faith religious sect. You ran from them at the age of 18 and returned to Seattle. There you learned of a small inheritance which allowed you to attend the University of Washington.” Ares genially smiled. “Deciding to use your intense curiosity about why people do what they do, you majored in Psychology. You have authored several books about...the darker side of the psyche and are considered one of the leading authorities on deviant behavior.” He noted the startled look on the face of the man to his left.
Grace forced herself to remain calm. “Not many people know about my life with the Seekers of Faith,” she commented. “I would be most interested in knowing how you learned about that.”
Ares wolfishly grinned. “I’m sure you would,” he nodded. He turned to the dark-haired woman next to him almost with relish. “Maria Francesca Prince. You were born February 17, 1970. You were raised at the Jimmy Walker Foundling Home in New York City. You were told your parents and older brother were killed in an auto accident.” He took a sip of the wine and caught Maria’s blue eyes with his own dark ones. “As your father was a homicide detective with the New York City Police Department, you’ve always felt the auto accident was no accident. Several of the homicides he was working on at the time of his death remain unsolved to this day.” He hesitated then continued. “You were right about the accident.”
Ares wasn’t the only one who marveled at Maria’s self control. ‘She hasn’t changed a bit,’ he though. “You joined the New York City Police Department at the age of 19. You worked your way up through the ranks to become a homicide detective. However, you’ve always had a problem with...authority figures. You resigned and opened your own private investigative agency two years ago. Since then, you’ve had more than one problem with your former colleagues at the NYPD.”
“And you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?” Maria’s voice almost purred.
Ares chuckled. “Perhaps. But not in the way you think.” He turned his attention to the older dark-haired man at the far end of the table. “Jason Matthew King. You were born October 23, 1960. You were raised at the Sam Houston Orphanage in Austin, Texas. You were told your mother died in childbirth and your father committed suicide the day of her funeral. You joined the US Army at the age of 18 and served 6 years in various parts of the United States,” Ares continued. “After your service with the military, you settled outside Las Vegas, Nevada and made your living as a professional gambler.”
“Cool,” Jox grinned across the table.
Jason half-smiled in response.
“Ten years ago you won a small casino in a high-stakes poker game,” Ares smoothly continued. “You turned it into a rather profitable enterprise. Then you were approached by some gentlemen from Chicago...”
“And I sold it to them,” Jason interrupted with a wave of his hand. “All very public knowledge.”
“What isn’t public knowledge is that you turned over some vital information to the US Treasury Department about the new owners of your business.” Ares smiled at the look of surprise on Jason’s face. “You refused to enter the Witness Protection Program...for your own reasons. Since then you’ve led a rather nomadic existence..until the last five months.”
“A man gets tired of constantly moving around,” Jason replied in an almost weary voice.
Surprisingly, Ares turned his attention to the man on his left. “Dr. David Howard Cleese. You were born July 21, 1967. You were raised at the United Methodist Children’s Orphanage in Boulder City, Colorado. You were told your parents were killed in a fire that completely destroyed your parents’ house. You were a good student and a gifted athlete. You used your athletic ability to obtain a football scholarship to the University of Colorado. You could have had a successful career as a professional football player. However, you have always been convinced there is a reason for everything...every event...every occurrence. And believe that reason is more often than not one hidden from our normal vision and understanding. You studied parapsychology and obtained your doctorate from the University of Barcelona in Spain.” He grinned. “In fact, you and Dr. Porter have...crossed swords, shall we say?...professionally more than once.”
“Ghosts and things that go bump in the night,” Grace muttered with a dismissive wave of her hand.
“There are more things in heaven and earth,” David easily replied although his eyes narrowed.
“If you can’t prove something by established scientific methods...” Grace began.
“For those who believe, no evidence is necessary. For those who do not believe, no evidence will ever be enough,” David coldly interrupted.
“Wow, you two are sure smart,” Jox said in admiration as the two continued to glare at each other.
Ares chuckled under his breath. He saw his two companions grinning at the younger man.
“You are convinced, Dr. Cleese, there are forces affecting human nature about which we know very little, if anything,” Ares smoothly continued. He stared at the man next to him. “Generally speaking, you are somewhat correct.”
Ares finally focused his attention on the blonde-haired man. “Ian Mark Hunter. You were born December 9, 1965. You were raised at the St. Luke’s Orthodox Church Orphanage in Detroit, Michigan. You were told your father, while in a drunken rage, murdered your mother and then committed suicide.” He studied the cold blue eyes and inwardly sighed. “You were pretty much of a juvenile delinquent. You were finally given the choice of joining the US Marines or going to jail. You chose the Marines.”
Ian sat absolutely motionless...his eyes fixed on the raven-haired man.
“You were selected to participate in covert operations. Those included missions in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.” Ares coldly smiled. “Some say, one mission was into China itself. However, those details are very sketchy...even for my informants.” When Ian didn’t reply, he continued. “A mission in Africa ended your military career in 1992. One of the men with you stepped on a concealed land mine. He and two others were killed. You were severely wounded. When rescued, the medics wanted to amputate your left leg. You refused and nearly strangled the doctor who recommended the procedure.”
“Jeez,” Jox breathed. He shifted in his chair when Ian’s cold blue eyes briefly flickered in his direction. Nervously, he gulped the wine in the glass in front of him.
“You rehabilitated...much to the surprise of the doctors, by the way,” Ares finished. “Out of the military, you established yourself as a designer of weapons. These you offer for sale to certain governments...those not sponsoring terrorists. You also have gained quite a reputation as a mercenary...willing to lead covert missions for certain governmental agencies if the price is right.” Ares paused then continued. “Or if you approve of the reason for the mission even if the price isn’t right.”
“My compliments on your sources of information,” Ian coldly replied.
“There ARE similarities in our respective pasts,” Maria mused. “And you seem to know quite a bit about us, Mr. Godson.” She narrowed her blue eyes. “Why?”
Ares sighed and raised his glass. “A toast. To similarities.” He watched as the others slowly lifted their glasses and drank the wine...all except one who raised the glass to his lips but didn’t drink. He saw, from the expression on Ban’s face, that his younger companion had also noticed.
“I’m afraid the explanation is slightly long and perhaps tedious,” Ares began. “I must ask for not only your indulgence but your silence as well. Once I have completed my explanation, I will answer any questions as much as possible.”
“That seems fair,” Jason nodded.
“Every good explanation should start at the beginning, I suppose,” Ares mused. “However, first I must congratulate both Ms. Prince and Mr. Hunter. Both of you investigated me prior to your acceptance of my invitation. Perhaps you would care to enlighten the others?”
Maria and Ian exchanged a quick look. When Ian remained silent, Maria explained. “Aristotle Godson, allegedly born in June 8, 1940 in Athens Greece. I say, allegedly, because no documentation exists to support that statement.”
“Many records in Greece were destroyed during the Second World War,” Ares half-smiled.
“You look remarkably young to be 60 years old,” Grace commented.
“Thank you, Dr. Porter,” Ares grinned. “I get so few compliments these days.” He threw a mocking smile towards his two companions...both of whom rolled their eyes almost in unison.
“In actual fact, there is little documentation regarding your existence, Mr. Godson,” Maria coolly continued. “The first provable documentation was your entrance to the United States in 1960. The next provable documentation is your inheritance from a distant relative in 1977. You’ve parleyed that inheritance into a respectable-sized fortune.” She coldly smiled. “All very legal. And all very circumspect. But very little of your life is public knowledge or of public record.”
“I’m a very private individual,” Ares grinned.
“Your inheritance came from a distant relative, also named Aristotle Godson,” Ian coldly interrupted. “Very little is known about him except he also inherited wealth from a distant relative...also named Aristotle Godson.”
“A family name,” Ares admitted.
“And your will specifies the bulk of your estate, with the exception of some bequests,” Ian curtly nodded towards the two men standing against the far wall. “Will go to a distant relative...also named Aristotle Godson.”
Ares leaned back in the wheelchair. “I’m impressed,” he admitted. “Perhaps I HAVE gotten too predictable.” He immediately raised a hand towards his two companions. “Not a word. From either of you.”
“For now,” Ban muttered.
“Personally, I dislike this...meddling into other people’s private affairs,” Jason irritably commented. “Is it really necessary?”
“I do apologize, Mr. King,” Ares nodded. “But, in this case, yes. It is necessary.”
“Why did you invite us here?” David asked. He pressed one hand against his temple, fighting a sudden headache.
“Ah, yes. The explanation.” Ares took a deep breath as he noted David’s action. “Many centuries ago in what is now called ancient Greece, we...all of us were there. We knew one another.” He grinned at Maria. “Some of us more intimately than others.”
“Reincarnation,” Grace scoffed.
“The vast majority of people in the world subscribe to religious beliefs that include reincarnation,” David angrily snapped. “If you and your precious scientists would get your heads out of your...”
“I believe I asked for silence until my explanation was concluded.” Ares’ voice cut across the argument. His voice held more than a timbre of power and command.
“Get on with it,” Maria coldly ordered.
“We all lived during those times,” Ares calmly continued. “At various intervals in the intervening years, one or some of you have lived again. However, this is the first time since ancient Greece that we have all been alive at the same time.” He took a deep breath. “And, I might add, it wasn’t easy keeping you six from being destroyed as infants.”
“We were deliberately made orphans?” Jason demanded.
“You were all to have died when your families died.” Ares saw David slowly shake his head. ‘Yes, he would be the first one to remember.’ He wondered if Ban and Kevin had a bet going on who would remember what first.
“The truth about many of the Greek legends have been lost, warped, or even deliberately obscured for various reasons,” Ares quietly continued. “One legend that has disappeared is the legend of Dahok.”
“I don’t remember any Greek legend about a Dahok,” Jason frowned.
“It was deliberately obscured,” Ares explained. “But Dahok existed. He is darkness and chaos personified.”
They looked in surprise at David who was staring at his host with a mixture of surprise and suspicion.
Slowly Ares nodded. “Welcome back.”
David shook his head and rubbed his eyes. “I...it...it IS you, isn’t it?”
“Ares?” Jox frowned. “As in...”
“Ares, God of War,” Maria finished with narrowed eyes.
“Hello, Xena,” Ares quietly greeted.
“But that’s impo....Xena?” Grace stared at the woman next to her in startled surprise.
“Gabi?” Jox frowned. He saw someone moving closer and looked over his shoulder. “Cupid?”
“Hey, Joxer,” Ban grinned. “Long time no see.”
“Jason!” David jumped up from his seat and warmly embraced his friend.
“Hercules!” Jason grinned. “By the gods, it’s...” He glanced at Cupid and Ares. “I suppose it IS by the gods, isn’t it?”
Hercules turned towards Ares but stared at the auburn-haired man standing behind the wheelchair. “Iph? Iphicles?”
“Hello, brother,” Iphicles smiled. He found himself engulfed in his brother’s hug.
Suddenly Hercules released his brother and turned to Ian who had casually moved away from the table. “Iolaus.”
“Ian,” the blonde corrected him.
“He didn’t drink,” Cupid quietly commented.
“Do I look like a fool?” Ian questioned.
“But...” Hercules started towards his friend only to stop when Ian backed away.
“Just what was in the wine anyway?” Jason asked.
“Liquid ambrosia,” Ares answered.
“You mean...we’re immortal?” Gabrielle asked.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Ares grinned. “We can discuss it later.” He looked at Ian. “But since Mr. Hunter did not partake, he probably won’t want to be a part of our little group.”
“Reincarnation. Liquid ambrosia. Ancient Greek legends.” Ian shook his head. “You’re supposed to be the God of War. He’s Cupid. He’s Hercules. I guess he’s the Jason of the Golden Fleece story. And I never heard of the rest. Including this Iolaus character.”
“Not even Joxer the Mighty?” Jox frowned.
“Put very simply, Mr. Hunter, you are free to go,” Ares answered.
“We could make him drink,” Cupid suggested.
“NO!” Hercules snapped. “Iolaus always made his choices. I never forced him into anything...and I won’t do it now.” He glared at his nephew. “Understand?”
“Sure, Unc,” Cupid smiled. “No harm no foul.”
“Just like that?” Ian suspiciously asked. “I walk out with no problems?”
“Just like that,” Ares assured him. “To be frank, I don’t need you unless you accept what’s going on. The liquid ambrosia would have unlocked those memories.” He shrugged. “Anyway, I don’t think anyone would believe you if you told them what you’ve heard here this afternoon.”
“You’ve got THAT right,” Ian muttered. He glanced at the others. “I’m outta here.” He’d almost made it to the door when he felt a hand on his arm. He whirled around only to be nearly crushed in a tight hug.
“Be safe, my friend,” Hercules murmured. “I’ll miss you. I think I’ve always missed you.”
Ian staggered a bit when released. He saw genuine regret in the other man’s blue eyes as well as a look of anger in Iphicles’ dark eyes. Without a word, he walked out slamming the dining room door behind him.
‘They’re nuts. Absolutely certifiable. God only knows what was in that wine!’ Ian stopped just before opening the door to leave the house. The hug he’d received from the one who believed himself to be Hercules had felt...so damned familiar. But he couldn’t remember the last time anyone had hugged him. He’d always shied away from emotional entanglements and embraces. He snorted. ‘Friendship’s an illusion and sex is just one more physical itch.’
“Alright, Ares. You mentioned Dahok.” Xena’s voice cut through the silence that had reigned since Ian’s departure.
Hercules took a deep breath then sat back down at the table. He regretfully stared at the closed door more than once as Iphicles and Cupid drew up chairs to sit at the dining table. Then he looked at his half-brother. “What happened, Ares?”
“Ares and I found Iphicles in London in 1876,” Cupid explained. “It was the first time in centuries that one of you had managed to survive past childhood. Dahok was very good about finding all of you. With infant and childhood mortality being what it was, the death of one more child in a family caused no alarm.”
“I was in debtor’s prison at the time,” Iphicles sadly smiled. “One day I found my debts had been paid. When I walked out of prison, Cupid was waiting for me. I wasn’t sure what was going on but figured anything was better than a London prison.”
“I gave Iphicles the ambrosia,” Cupid continued. “As he was recovering his memories, Dahok struck.” He hesitated, exchanging a quick look with Iphicles. “Ares held him off while I got Iphicles away.”
“That’s when you...” Gabrielle fell silent unsure of how to say what was evident.
“You were correct in one respect, Hercules,” Ares sardonically commented. “When people stopped believing in the Gods, we lost a great deal of our strength and power. Dahok is more like the elemental gods that shaped the universe itself. He doesn’t need believers to maintain his strength.” He indicated the wheelchair with a dismissive gesture. “This is my reality now.” His dark expression reminded them of the Ares of old.
“I’d think with all the wars and violence around us, you’d have kept more of your powers,” Jason frowned.
“What you see is out-of-control violence, not belief in a God of War,” Ares snapped. “Dahok’s influence...not mine.”
“You brought us to the orphanages,” Jox guessed.
“One of us did,” Ares shrugged. “The other two would try to get Dahok’s attention elsewhere.” He darkly smiled. “He may be very powerful, but sometimes he’s not very smart. And sometimes the smallest victories are the most enjoyable.”
Iphicles and Cupid chuckled as they exchanged a look that silently spoke of shared adventures.
“It’s not easy to manipulate public records,” Xena’s blue eyes narrowed. “To hide us from Dahok, you would have had to put us in orphanages far from where we were actually born.”
Ares nodded. “There are some of the gods left. Hermes has gotten very good at manipulating public records when necessary. In your case, Xena, however, it wasn’t possible. Your father was too well known in too many places to play such games.”
“The good part of that was too many people knew about you,” Cupid explained. “Your father’s friends, for instance. It would have caused too many problems for Dahok to have arranged your death.”
“And since a lot of the diseases that killed children in previous years had been eradicated, there would be more questions about the sudden death of a child,” Gabrielle finished.
“Once all of you had been placed where Dahok couldn’t find you or reach you, he turned his attention elsewhere,” Iphicles explained. He glanced at Ares. “Gathering his power for later.”
“That’s why you brought us together,” Hercules surmised. Once again, he glanced at the closed door. “We’re going up against Dahok again.” ‘Maybe it’s better Iolaus is out of this.’
Ares silently nodded. “This time, there’s no open confrontation. No one would believe us. And we don’t know in what form Dahok has manifested. But we’ll have to move quietly...to try and affect public opinion, such as it is.”
“Your small victories,” Jason grinned.
“Do you have any idea who Dahok is or where he could be?” Xena pressed.
Ares shook his head. “We have some idea of his major followers. The best we can do is try to neutralize or eliminate them.”
“Reverend William Oliver,” Cupid apologetically glanced at Gabrielle. “Leader of the Seekers of Faith.”
“He took over as leader after I left,” Gabrielle paled. “Dahok...was looking for me.” She shivered as Joxer gently squeezed her hand. “If I hadn’t left...”
“Who else?” Xena grimly demanded.
“Mitchell Jefferson. Founder of the Freedom Party.” Iphicles glanced around the table. “I spent some time with them. He’s charismatic...an excellent speaker...one hell of a motivator. He’s a true believer in what he proclaims.”
“Religion and politics,” Jason snorted. “It won’t be easy to change people’s opinions about THAT.”
Ares slowly nodded. “The other follower we’ve identified is Erik Ryan.”
“THE Erik Ryan?” Joxer’s eyes widened. “The inventor?”
Aries smiled. “Yes, THAT Erik Ryan. The man who holds patents on just about every version of computer processors used around the world. The Erik Ryan who sits on the Board of Directors of many of the Fortune 500 companies. The Erik Ryan who holds stock in the rest of the Fortune 500 companies either in his own name or in one of his holding companies.”
Xena frowned. “That’s not common knowledge.”
Ares coldly smiled. “Not yet. He’s to be the first target.” He looked at the others. “Each of you has a special talent or ability. We use that talent...that ability to bring them down one at a time.”
All but Ares and Cupid jumped when the dining room door was slammed open.
“You people are crazy, you know that?!” Ian loudly demanded. “You think you can just take on three of the most powerful people in this country?” He glared at them. “I don’t know if you’re crazy or just plain stupid!”
Iphicles grinned across the table at Cupid. “Told you he’d be back.”
Cupid scowled. “And I told you he wouldn’t drink the ambrosia. So we’re even.”
Hercules slowly smiled. “You came back.”
“Don’t ask me why,” Ian snapped. “I don’t understand it myself.”
“It’s that do-gooder nature of yours,” Ares sardonically explained. “You manage to control it fairly well. But it still comes out every now and then.”
“You’re serious about this, aren’t you?” Ian demanded.
“As serious as it’s possible to be,” Ares assured him. “Now. Are you in? Or out?”
Ian stared into Ares’ dark eyes for several seconds. He was well aware of the eager look in the big man’s blue eyes. “I’m NOT, repeat NOT, drinking any of that stuff you gave the others. Understand?”
“It would make understanding what’s going on a lot easier for you,” Cupid advised.
Ian coldly glared at him. “Maybe you people need someone who DOESN’T automatically buy into all this nonsense,” he suggested.
“He has a point,” Ares nodded. “It’s his choice, Cupid.”
Cupid shrugged with a smile. ‘Mom’ll be here later. She’ll get him to drink.’
Hercules silently pulled out Ian’s chair. He almost held his breath until the blonde silently retook his seat at the table. Then he turned to the man who’d once been his sworn enemy. “Where do we start, Ares?”