She hated scrolls, especially dusty old
scrolls being waved about by her idiotic nephew. Discord suppressed a sneeze and went back to looking through the pile she'd
brought to the table. Histories, how boring. Still, fragments of hidden treasures of all kinds could be found amid the ink
"Ooooh, look at this, Discord. 'The Scroll of Souls!" Strife brandished a small, water-stained, rolled parchment
in her direction. Pulling the bit of ribbon off that held it shut, he unrolled it and stared at its contents.
"If it doesn't mention the Chronos Stone,
I'm not interested." Discord turned back to her pile and muttered under her breath, "Idiot."
"I heard that..." Strife
sat down on the edge of the table, crushing several scrolls in the process. "It's in ancient Babylonian. Fortunately, I read
Babylonian. When I was young, mom went on this education kick. She insisted I learn another language besides Greek. I picked
Babylonian figuring no one would know it and I'd get out of it. As it happened, Athena knew it."
"That snob knows every
language," muttered Discord as she tossed another scroll in the discard pile.
"Babylonian is one of my many hidden
talents." Not that he'd used it since then.
"Well, keep it hidden. Either help or-" The goddess was interrupted by
the appearance of Athena herself.
"Get off those scrolls!" The patroness of scholars glared at the two, causing Strife
to hastily scramble off the table, knocking smashed and not-so-smashed parchment everywhere. Discord rolled her eyes and went
back to perusing the scroll she'd just unrolled.
"What are you two doing in here?"
"Why, sister, dear, we're
trying to better ourselves," Discord purred.
"Yeah---yeah, what she said," Strife smirked.
"That would take
an act of Zeus." Athena waved a hand and the scrolls on the floor were once again neatly arranged on the table. "What are
you up to? Ares put you up to something, didn't he?"
"Don't get your toga in a knot. We're done here." Discord rose,
leaving the scrolls on the table. Let the old prude put them away. They weren't going to find anything of use in here for
Neither Discord, nor Athena saw the slight of hand, but one scroll went missing as the two minor gods
"I just borrowed it,
lifted it, nicked it, pulled a Houdini-" A different facial expression punctuated each phrase as they rolled off Strife's
"Houdini what? Are you sure you're related?"
With a smirk, the god produce a small scroll with a flourish.
"Presto chango, Aunt. She didn't even suspect a thing!"
"What are you talking about?" Discord was still smarting from
the dressing down that Ares had given them for not finding anything of use. He acted like it was their fault no one had bothered
to mention the stupid stone in their mindless ramblings.
"The Scroll of Souls. I have it right here."
want a gold medal for stealing it?"
"So...this little bit of writing tells how to separate
a soul from the physical body. Pretty neat, don't you think?"
"Give me that!" She snatched it from his hand and tore
the ribbon off. "I can't read this!"
"I know," he smirked. It wasn't often he had the advantage over his aunt.
read this?" She knew from first hand experience he didn't have a brain to fly with at the best of times. He could be talking
fast and loose to impress her. It wouldn't be the first time.
"It's been a while, but I was able to decipher it. It's
like a spell. There are certain ingredients we need to crush into a powder-"
"What ingredients?" He had her full attention
now. This had possibilities
"Thistle, mandrake, wolfsbane. The usual odd things that go into spells. Anyway, you crush
this stuff up, then you sprinkle it on the person when they're asleep, say the magic words, and ta da! Bye-bye, soul!"
happens to the body?"
"It dies." He shrugged.
"And the soul?"
"Left adrift, sailing the waves of nothingness,
hasta la vista, baby!"
Ares was right. Strife needed to learn to speak Greek so he could be understood. At least she'd
gotten the important parts. Re-rolling the scroll, she slipped it down the front of her outfit, a wicked light in her eyes
matching the smile on her lips.
"Hey! I stole that!" Strife made as if to grab for it and ended up nearly strangling
as Discord grabbed him by the front of his shirt and twisted it. Pulled down to face level, he found himself nose-to-nose
with the dark goddess.
"Get the ingredients. We're going to try it out."
"On what unlucky mortal?" She was nearly
as scary as Ares when she got that look, Strife thought.
"My half-brother's little sidekick: Blondie."
took a few days for Strife to track down all the ingredients and then grind them up into a fine powder. That done, he carefully
emptied the powder into a small bag and then spent another day deciphering the words that needed to be spoken for the spell
to take affect. The scroll was faded at the part where the words of power were written. He could barely make out some of them.
He struggled with it and finally wrote down what they appeared to be on another scrap of parchment so he wouldn't make a mistake
when the time came.
The problem with being
a hero was that said hero was in constant demand. There was never any time to rest between rescuing people here, there, and
everywhere. So it was that when Iolaus finally put his foot down and insisted that they needed a break, Hercules had agreed.
After a short discussion, a little argument, and a great deal of compromise, they'd settled on a week off for some fishing
They picked up some supplies in Thessalonika and then headed south upon the recommendation of the tavern
keeper. He'd given them directions to what he described as the best fishing hole between there and Mount Olympus. He was right.
They'd been pulling in fish right and left. Hercules had even caved in and fished Iolaus' way. To be fair, Iolaus had tried
to fish using Hercules' method. He didn't catch anything, but he did win a water fight with his much taller friend.
was on the third night of their little fishing trip that their camp was visited by two gods
up to no good. Strife had the
bag of powder and the scrap of parchment. He'd argued that
he should get to do the honors since he'd been the one to discover
the scroll. Discord
had finally settled for being the audience. After all, if it failed, she could blame him for
moved away from Strife as he pulled out the bag. In case there was any fallout,
she didn't want to be near him as he cast
the spell. The two victims lay sleeping on
the ground, their fire burned down to red coals. It was a pity they had to be
She'd love to see the look on that obnoxious mortal's face as his soul skipped town.
Chortling to himself,
Strife opened the leather bag and dipped his hand into it, withdrawing
a hefty amount. He began softly chanting the words,
the ancient tongue tumbling off his lips with
only a few mispronunciations. He flung the powder over the sleeping mortal
with a liberal
pass of his hand. The night breeze caught some of it and scattered it across the fire and over
Discord smiled as her nephew's voice rose in the final phrase of the incantation. Her smile froze
errant gust of wind flung some of the drifting powder into her face. The air suddenly felt
heavy as Strife's voice faded
away. Then the night exploded in a bright light.
Iolaus was awakened when the end of the world came.
At least, that's what he thought it was at first. It was followed closely by the conviction they were in the middle of an
earthquake. Coughing, he struggled up to find that their camp was in total disarray. There were trees down and boulders moved
from where they'd been when they'd fallen asleep. Somehow he'd been tossed to the edge of the clearing. He set a hand on a
convenient tree trunk to get leverage so he could stand. There was something terribly wrong with that hand.
Tartarus-" He stopped speaking, cleared his voice, and tried again. Something wasn't right. His voice sounded funny. Iolaus'
eyes tracked his arm up to his shoulder. He wasn't wearing his vest. He didn't feel the weight of his amulet either.
he could look down, there was a groan and he saw the large dusty lump across the clearing stir before Hercules' head poked
out. "Strife, you idiot, I'm going to...to...what's wrong with my voice?!"
Iolaus spotted the cringing god on the edge
of the clearing, huddled over a leather bag and blinking owlishly at Hercules. As the demigod struggled out of the tangle
of blankets, Iolaus made for his bedroll and sword. He didn't know what was going on, but if Strife was involved, it couldn't
Hercules looked in the direction of the movement, and Iolaus watched his mouth drop open and a
forth. He'd never heard Hercules scream before, not like that. It was unnerving.
There was sudden movement to Iolaus'
right and he saw---himself?---struggle up in answer to the scream. That couldn't be right. He was here, not there. He watched
in fascination as his own mouth opened and he---or the guy who looked like him---yelled, "Discord!"
Iolaus jumped and executed a perfect one-eighty to face in the opposite direction, his body crouched, hands up to defend himself.
There was no one there. He turned back around to find the doppleganger up on his feet and stalking towards him in a fury.
"Very funny, Discord. What have you done with Iolaus?"
"I _am_ Iolaus. Who are you?" His own temper rose to
the occasion. Placing his hands on his hips, he realized he _had_ hips. Looking down, Iolaus saw---cleavage?! He blinked.
It was pretty impressive cleavage from this angle.
"Oops!" This came from Strife's corner. All eyes honed in on him.
Giving a weak giggle, the god disappeared in a shower of black sparks.
"Strife! Get back here! You idiot! What have
you done?" This came from Hercules. Or, in this case, from Discord in Hercules' body. "If you don't get back here now, I'll-"
This wasn't finished as she became aware of two pair of eyes staring at her, one in astonishment, and the other in dawning
"Oh, Gods...oh no...don't tell me...you
aren't Hercules..." Iolaus pointed at his best friend, and then looked at the apparition of himself. It was a pretty solid
apparition that left footprints, had leaves in its hair, and dirt smudges on its cheek and nose. It might look like him, sound
like him, but one look in his eyes, and Iolaus knew. "Hercules?"
Iolaus watched as his twin's face faded from anger
to wonder, and then recognition. "Iolaus?"
"Herc, somehow you're...me..." What in Tartarus was going on?
impossible." Hercules looked down at himself to find a familiar purple vest over an otherwise bare chest. Iolaus' amulet swung
off center from his neck. "Uh-oh." His attention was drawn to the third member of their party, the one who looked like him.
"If I'm me, and you're Discord, who's that?"
"My guess is Discord." Iolaus rubbed his chin, absently noting the lack
"I was afraid of that. Great, this is just great." Hercules-as-Iolaus stomped across the clearing to get
into Discord-as-Hercules' face, which was rather difficult to do considering the size difference; he managed it anyway.
us back now, Discord."
"I can't." Iolaus tried not to giggle as Hercules' face got a rather petulant look to it that
reminded him strongly of Discord's pout. Of course, this was probably because it was actually Discord, and they did share
the same blood line.
"And why not?" Hands planted on hips, Hercules glared at the goddess.
"Believe me, I would
if I could, but I don't know how. It was all Strife's doing."
"Yeah, right," Iolaus crossed his arms across his--her--bosom.
"You just happened to be in the neighborhood at the same time."
"Something like that."
get him back," Hercules demanded.
"Yeah, and what were you trying to do in the first place?" Iolaus cautiously approached
the goddess. She might wear his friend's face, but she was still dangerous.
"Strife's not answering, the weasel. Probably
hiding in Ares' temple." She didn't seem inclined to answer Iolaus' question. The two partners exchanged glances. There was
no doubt in their mind that it had probably been something intended to be fatal. They'd been lucky the two had bumbled it
"Y'know, Herc, I think we should forego future vacations. They end up worse than when we fight monsters."
can't argue with you there." Hercules hastily added, "Not that I mind being in your body. It's just...." he hesitated, then
finished with, " it's not mine."
"Tell me about it. Look what I'm stuck with." Iolaus gestured at his chest.
I'm not chopped liver. That's a goddess' body, you dimwit!" Discord made a move toward him and Hercules stepped between, forgetting
he stood a head shorter than he had when he went to sleep. It wasn't the only thing he'd forgotten either.
don't-" The warning came too late as Hercules found himself knocked off his feet by one blow from Discord. A nasty smile lit
her face as she realized that while she couldn't teleport herself after Strife, she still had the strength of the demigod.
This certainly had possibilities.
She began to advance on the downed man. Iolaus couldn't allow that to happen. He
reached out toward her, intending to warn her off. To his astonishment, lightning shot from his hand and slammed into Discord.
He watched in surprise as the goddess-cum-demigod was thrown across the clearing into a tree.
"Whoa! Did you see that?"
was trying to scramble up when Iolaus reached his side. "Careful, Herc. I'm mortal. Um, I mean-"
"I know what you mean."
Hercules was angry. Iolaus knew the demigod had forgotten for a moment that he, while a good warrior, was only mortal.
He watched Hercules roll his shoulder and then rub the offending muscle.
"Yeah, hurts, doesn't it. Remember to roll
with the punches in the future. Uh, not that I want you to get me hit again...just in case..."
They watched as Discord staggered upright.
Once they were certain she wasn’t going to try swatting them around again, they grilled her on what had happened. It
took a great deal of coercion to get some of the story out of her. She was rather vague and less than forthcoming, but it
was obvious that before anything could be done to resolve this dilemma, they were going to have to have Strife in custody.
Thus it was that they decided to go with plan Alpha: get Strife to switch them back. How to get him was another matter, but
it beat plan Beta, which was to live the rest of their lives in their new bodies.
Discord was less than happy about
the situation. Stuck in Hercules’ body, she couldn’t just teleport back to Olympus and ring Strife’s neck.
She might be strong, but that was it. There was also the question of Zeus’ rules. She couldn’t kill Hercules,
but while he was inside of Iolaus’ body, she wasn’t sure she’d get away with murdering the little bastard.
Then there was the small matter of Iolaus himself; residing in her body---how disgusting was that?---more than ready to defend
Hercules with her powers. Now she was going to be forced to work with her enemies. Strife had certainly outdone himself
in screw ups.
The trio soon found themselves with another problem. Strife wouldn’t come to their call, and neither
would any of the other gods. Unless they found Strife first, Athena might be their only hope at this point. She’d
initially had the scroll that Discord claimed contained their solution. If she wouldn’t come to them, then they’d
have to go to her and Mount Olympus.
Since Iolaus appeared to have access to Discord’s powers, as well as her
body, the goddess suggested he teleport to Olympus and bring Athena or Strife back. However, their attempt to have Iolaus
teleport to the Olympian Library didn’t work. He could pop out and reappear wherever he’d been before, but not
to places he hadn’t seen. After nearly an hour of attempts, Hercules called it quits. On the last attempt, Iolaus was
babbling away before he’d fully re-materialized, about how cool it was to just instantly be somewhere else in the blink
of an eye.
“-and did you know that no one can see me if I don’t want them to?”
at him in alarm. “You didn’t! You did...Iolaus, this isn’t a game!”
“I know. I just wanted
to see how far I could go. How was I supposed to know the Hestial Virgins were taking a bath this early in the morning? It’s
still dark out.”
“Pervert!” Discord scowled at the mortal in her body. “Don’t touch
any part of me or I swear I’ll tear you apart as soon as I get my body back.”
He didn’t mention he’d already had a peek down her bodice—several times. “Say, how do you fight with
these things? They seem to get in the way...” Seeing Hercules shake his head, he backed off. “Never mind. I guess
we hoof it there.”
After a hasty breakfast of berries and leftover fish from the night before, the three set
off for Mount Olympus, a two day journey to the south.
They learned a lot more than they’d bargained
for on their trip to fix the damage Strife had done. For one, Discord wasn’t familiar with a mortal body’s needs.
She got the hunger/thirst issue down. It was the other things, like the call of nature, that nearly did her in.
not surprised you feel funny. After all the water you drank, it’s only natural for you to need to go visit the bushes.”
Iolaus couldn’t help but smile as he watched Hercules trying to help Discord deal with the little inconveniences of
“I am not touching it! That is just too gross.” She did a good imitation of Hercules
in stubborn mode. It wasn’t that she was against nudity and such. She was just against the whole concept of ‘it’
being used for that particular function, like some lowly animal.
“You want me to help?” Iolaus
“Don’t you dare touch me! Or my body. Just stand there and keep your hands where I can see them.”
my body, so I guess I can help,” Hercules tried to reason with her.
“You aren’t touching me. Not
with that pervert’s hands.”
“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with my hands. And it’s Hercules
in there, remember?”
“Look, Discord,” Hercules pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to ignore
the aches and pains of having been thrown earlier, and the headache this whole fiasco had caused, “you can’t hold
it. It doesn’t work like that. Just go into the bushes and take care of it. If you need help, we’ll be here.”
hate being you!” She stomped off into the brush and the two sat down to wait. Iolaus picked a fallen tree and Hercules
jumped up onto a boulder. Not being a lady, Iolaus sat as he always did, legs spread, forearms resting on his thighs. Hercules
hastily looked away.
“How are you holding up?” Hercules asked, to distract his mind and body from the vision of too much
“Oh, I’m fine except for trying to get around these things.” He gestured at his chest.
“I wonder how Xena does it. She’s better endowed.”
“You can ask her next time you see her,”
was the dry comment.
Iolaus laughed. “I’ll pass. So, you think Athena can help if we can’t find Strife?”
don’t know. Discord was rather vague about the whole thing, but she did say the library was where Strife found the spell.
I just hope there’s a way to put us back.”
“Y’know, Herc, it’s really odd seeing me there.
It’s not like it was with Orestes. Sure, we looked alike, but I was me and he was the king. Does that make sense?”
“Yeah. It was never your body to start with.” Hercules rolled his shoulder. “I never realized how much
energy you expend just keeping up with me.” In truth, with the pace that the other two were setting, he’d begun
to appreciate how much of Iolaus’ ability to keep up with him had to do with sheer will power. He’d been ready
to sit and rest an hour ago.
“Oh, this is nothing. Try running full out with a demigod. Gives new meaning to
the word pain.” Iolaus waited a heartbeat and then grinned. “Just kidding, Herc. I’m used to it. Don’t
give it a thought. You just have a constitution like an ox. This is a new experience for you.” He changed the subject
before the demigod decided to blame himself for all of Iolaus’ aches and pains. “You think she deserted us? It
doesn’t take this long.”
“It does if you’re squeamish.”
Iolaus nodded and was
silent for a moment. “What about you? Everything okay in there?”
“Well, I keep trying to look down
at you and find myself looking at, well, you know....” He gestured vaguely.
“I know what?” Iolaus
looked down at himself and the black leather outfit Discord favored. For the most part, all he saw was breasts. “Oh.
These. Don’t think anything of it, big guy.” He added, “After all, they belong to your sister.” He
smiled as Hercules wrinkled his nose like he’d smelled something rotten. “Seriously, though, you’re just
used to being the tallest guy around. You look down on everything. Now you’re getting a taste of what the rest of us
“Like looking up at me?”
“Exactly, except it’s Discord now. At least
we’re not saddled with Strife. I’d have killed him hours ago.”
They finally heard the sounds of the
brush being broken as Discord stalked back to join them, disgust evident on her face. “I’ll kill Strife for this,
“Yeah, well not until after we’re switched back,” Iolaus reminded her. “I’ll
even hold him still for you.”
They camped by a stream that night, Iolaus taking his bow and hunting
for their meal while Hercules set up camp. Discord simply sat there as if she expected to be waited on. Maybe she did, being
a goddess and all, but neither men had any intention of putting up with it. Hercules made her help gather some larger logs
to lay before the fire so they had a place to sit other than the cold ground.
“Why do I have to drag
these things here?” Discord complained.
“Because you’re bigger than me and stronger,” Hercules
explained. H was glad the nearby trees had branches low enough for him to snap off since there wasn’t a lot of windfall
about for the fire.
He muttered to himself, “And your whining is annoying me.” Being short wasn’t much fun. Sure, he
could weave his way between the trees easier than he could have in his own body, and the energy level Iolaus had was amazing,
as long as he kept himself fueled, but so much more was out of reach. He’d never realized how it might be for Iolaus,
probably because he never saw the man as small. Iolaus had such a big heart, his eyes had been blind to the obvious. Well,
he was never too old to learn.
Hercules spent the remainder of the time, while they waited for dinner to arrive, trying
to get more information out of a petulant Discord. Even his patience ran thin after being rebuffed repeatedly. If it wasn’t
for the fact that she had his body, he’d have been happy to steal off into the forest, find Iolaus, and just leave her
there to sulk. He could only wish.
Iolaus brought in two rabbits. He wasn’t
particularly hungry, which he put down to godhood, but he knew Hercules would be famished. If he was in his rightful body,
he’d have been gnawing on anything halfway edible by now.
The night grew quiet as each fell into their own thoughts
while the rabbits dripped their juices into the fire. Discord looked like she wanted any excuse to kill someone or something.
Hercules had gotten his brooding look that said he was sure he was somehow to blame for this if he could just figure out how.
Iolaus kept a semi-amused smile on his face to reassure Hercules and annoy Discord.
After they’d eaten and taken
care of nature---Hercules and Discord, that is; yet another advantage of godhood—Iolaus headed for the stream, shucking
his boots in camp. He, for one, could use a bath, even if it was in a cold, shallow stream. He wanted to get the rabbit grease
out from under his fingernails.
“What do you think you’re doing?!” Iolaus turned back to see that
Discord had risen and was looking at him suspiciously.
“Um, I was just going to wash up.” He was annoyed
at himself for feeling he owed her an explanation.
“Not in my body, you aren’t!”
for-! Look, it’s not like you have anything I haven’t seen before.” This earned a choked sound from Hercules’
place by the fire. “And even if you do, I promise not to look. I’m dusty, and I smell of rabbit grease. It’s
under these godsawful long nails of yours.”
“You can’t. Hercules, tell him he can’t wash me.”
Discord seemed to be under the impression Iolaus would automatically do whatever her half-brother commanded.
didn’t offer to wash you, but if you’re so concerned, you can come along and give me a bath.” Hercules’
coughs sounded suspiciously like smothered laughter.
“As if I would!”
“Well, then it’s
settled. You sit there, and I’ll go wash up.”
“Iolaus,” Hercules warned as Discord took several
steps towards his partner, “why don’t you just wash your face and arms and feet. That way you’ll feel better,
and Discord won’t be offended.” Ever the compromiser, he offered them a simple solution.
no fun, Herc.” Iolaus gave him a small smile, recognizing the demigod’s efforts to get them through this without
them all coming to blows. “Fine by me. Discord?”
“Fine. But I’ll be watching you.”
I’m all aflutter!”
As he walked off, Discord muttered, “I hate that man.”
they settled down to sleep, Iolaus bedded down by his partner. Normally they slept across from each other, the fire between.
However, it was cooler as they’d ascended the gradual rise toward the mountain, and he knew the thin blankets they had
wouldn’t be sufficient to keep his body as warm as he normally liked; and frankly, he didn’t want to be asleep
Sometime during the night, he felt an arm go around his waist. Hercules always seemed to use him as a
stuffed animal when they slept within arms’ reach. Apparently it was no different no matter what body he was in. Iolaus
wouldn’t have thought anything of it, but Hercules’ hand rested on a rather sensitive body part. So that’s
what it felt like for a woman to be touched there....
“Herc?” he whispered softly,
afraid he’d wake Discord and set her off. The last thing he needed was to be trampled as the goddess tried to get at
his partner for supposed advances. There was a soft snore, interrupted by a mumble, and then he was pulled tightly against
his own body. “That’s just great.” From the feel of things, his body wasn’t discriminating when it
came to being shoved up against a woman, not even when that woman was Discord. He elbowed the demigod. “Let go, Hercules.”
was a snort, a muffled ‘what?’ and then dead silence. Not a word was said as the hand was hastily snatched away
from his breast.
The next morning brought them yet another
lesson. They’d been on the road for an hour, pushing to make the base of Mount Olympus by nightfall, when they were
accosted by bandits. They were in a gully bordered by sparse trees on one side, and thick brush on the other. The near dozen
men who appeared from behind trees and ahead of them were dressed in mismatched armor, what they had of it, and carried rusty
and nicked swords and knives; all in all, a ragtag excuse for bandits. The two heroes could have finished with them in under
a minute, but that was with their own bodies.
Discord made the mistake of trying to heave balls of fire or lightning
at them and only ended up getting punched in the nose for her efforts. “Ow! You hit me!”
duh!” The nearly toothless bandit smiled and moved in for the kill.
“That does it! I can’t kill
Hercules and his little pet, but I’m making mincemeat out of you!” She let fly with a right uppercut that sent
the hapless man into the next province.
Hercules forgot momentarily that he didn’t have the
strength of ten men, simply that of one small, albeit strong, mortal man. His straight arm hit only bumped the bandit he faced
back a few paces and nearly dislocated his shoulder in the process.
“Use your whole body on those, Herc!”
Iolaus danced out of the way of his opponent, trying to get the feel of the body he now wore. Its center of gravity was lower,
so he knew that he’d have to adjust for that. He just wasn’t sure adjusting in the middle of a pitched battle
was the best place to learn. At least his reaction time hadn’t suffered too much. He bumped up against Hercules’
back, automatically seeking his partner while in battle.
Hercules felt someone
come up against him. It didn’t feel like Iolaus, so he assumed it was one of the bandits trying to get a drop on him.
Determined to protect his friend’s body, he whirled and dropped to sweep the legs out from under his attacker.
Iolaus had glanced back over his shoulder and saw the demigod’s move. He tried to jump over the leg sweep, but was too
late. One leg avoided it, but the other was hit. Arms flailing a moment to get his balance back, he finally went down, landing
on his astonished partner.
Hercules grunted as Iolaus landed with
an elbow placed into his midriff. This was just great. They were their own worst enemy. They scrambled to get upright. The
bandits might be poorly armed, but they weren’t total fools. They were taking advantage and moving in on the two warriors.
Iolaus decided enough was enough. If he could shoot Discord, he could surely give them breathing room to recoup. He just hoped
his aim was right for the type of weapon he was about to use. He didn’t want to kill them, just drive them off.
outspread, he called up that same sense of need he’d had when he’d accidently struck Discord the previous day.
Balls of energy appeared in both hands and shot out to strike the ground before the advancing men. With curses and several
cries of fear, they backed up. Hercules got to his feet. “Good idea.”
“Yeah. Watch this.” Iolaus
did it again and had the great satisfaction of watching their adversaries not only scramble out of the way, but hightail it
back the way they’d come. “Yes! I can almost get to like this god gig.”
get used to it, Shorty.” Discord brushed off her hands, having sent two other men flying after their companions. “That’s
my body and I want it back.”
“Who are you calling ‘Shorty’?” Iolaus started toward the
goddess, only to have Hercules grab his arm.
“Wait. Remember whose body that is.” Hercules placed a calming
hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“Oh, yeah. Point taken. You got lucky this time, Discord.”
from my point of view.” She gave him a sour look before she turned her back on them and resumed their journey.
In retrospect, Discord
was willing to admit that it hadn't been her best plan. Anything involving Strife wasn't a good plan. Strife with items of
power was even worse.
She watched the nasty little mortal expending all her energy as he sang, whistled, and talked
nonstop as they climbed the path to the actual foot of the mountain. How her half-brother could stand the cretin was beyond
her. It finally occurred to Discord that he might simply be doing this to get to her. That was the only thing that kept her
mouth shut. She didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing he’d succeeded. She really hated her life
The only good thing to come out of this-if she could call it good-was that she got to be the tallest one
of the group instead of the shortest. Now she could be the one to see over the hill first, or over the heads of others. The
best part was that everyone had to look up at her. Even Ares would have had to look up. She entertained herself with
visions of herself telling Ares off as she looked down at him.
The land had been rising steadily since noon. They’d
be stopping at dusk to make camp. She’d just as soon keep going, but Iolaus had pointed out that was a good way to end
up falling over rocks or down the mountainside in the dark. She looked back at the other third of their trio. He was a good
twenty paces behind, playing hind scout in case their would-be robbers showed up again.
If there was one thing she’d
learned, it was that she was glad she wasn’t mortal, or even half mortal. The number of inconveniences they had to put
up with on a daily basis were driving her insane. She heartily wished Strife had been the one to be caught in the backlash.
He deserved to be mortal.
“A dinar for your thoughts,” a too-happy voice sounded beside her. Iolaus had
dropped back to join her on the trail. He had his pack and bow strapped on her back and his sword buckled at her waist.
“Touchy!” The grin on ‘her’ face showed that Iolaus hadn’t been offended
at all. With a growl, she forged on ahead. Iolaus dropped back further to walk beside his friend.
push her,” Hercules warned.
“I know I shouldn’t, but she really deserves it, you know?” Iolaus
put a companionable hand on the demigod’s arm. “We wouldn’t be in this mess if it hadn’t been for
her and Strife.”
“I know. Still, we have to deal with her, at least until after we get put back in our
bodies. After that...,” he shrugged.
“After that, I think we should go back to our vacation.” He’d
conveniently forgotten his earlier idea of forgoing vacations altogether. “Only this time, let’s head out to Athens.
We can hit a few taverns, see some dancing girls, maybe see a play, go through the market, see some more dancing girls...”
if we don’t get this resolved, you may have to settle for cithara boys.”
“Oh, ha ha. You should take
your show on the road.” This earned him an affectionate arm-across-the-shoulder hug.
“Get your hands off
my body!” Discord was glaring at them, hands on hips. Hercules hastily drew his arm back.
Iolaus rolled his eyes
and gave his friend a look. “What does she think we were doing? You’re siblings, for gods’ sakes.”
They looked at each other for the blink of an eye, and then as one, muttered, “Ewww!”
They spent the rest of the next day climbing the mountain. Iolaus had flashed back to Corinth to get
warmer clothing for Hercules. The higher altitude meant colder temperatures, and while he’d been assured that Olympus
itself was a nice balmy temperature, he didn’t want to get back into his body to find his fingers had fallen off from
frostbite. Unfortunately he didn’t have time to drop in on the Hestial Virgins.
Once he got back to his companions,
he parceled out what he’d ‘picked up’. He tied his hair back for the climb. He liked long hair on women,
but having to care for it himself was another thing, even as a goddess. Now he remembered why he’d finally cut his own
hair years ago.
At the end of their climb, tempers were short, but Iolaus had to admit that Hercules was right about
his description of the home of the Gods. It was perfect. He’d never seen buildings made from whiter stone. The paths
were paved with what appeared to be the same stone, not a blemish on them, not even a pebble or smudge of dirt. The lawns
were a perfect shade of green and the trees looked to be pruned to within an inch of their lives. He wondered if there was
such a thing as too perfect? He knew he was looking around like some farmer on his first trip to a large city, but he couldn’t
help it. “Where’s the library?”
“That way,” Hercules pointed off to the right and started
to step in that direction when there was a flash of flames and Ares stood in his path. “What do you think you’re
doing? Olympus is off- limits to mortals.”
“Since when? Didn’t Zeus bring Ganymede here?”
Iolaus stepped forward, afraid the god would hurt his friend.
“Not before he turned him immortal. You know that,
“I’m not Discord. She is, er, he is.” Iolaus pointed to the body of Hercules.
“You know, little sister, I don’t have any patience for jokes. At least, not at my expense.”
Iolaus found the god practically breathing down his throat. He instinctively backed up. There was such a thing as too much
brotherly affection, and Ares exuded a combination of sensuality and threat that made the hunter uneasy. Especially when the
god put his hand on Iolaus’ shoulder and squeezed it slightly. “You’ve been gone for a while. What have
you been up to? Especially with these two?”
“I told you, I’m not Discord!”
leaned closer. “You look like Discord.” He sniffed at Iolaus’ hair, snapping the bit of leather thong that
held it back. “You smell like Discord.” He hand disappeared from sight. “And you feel like-“
Iolaus shoved Ares away and backed toward his companions. “You’re disgusting! I’m not Discord!”
the truth, Ares.” The real Discord finally stepped forward after enjoying Iolaus’ discomfort. “Thanks to
Strife, we’ve all switched bodies. Where is that poor excuse for a god, anyway?”
him in days. You’re telling the truth? You’re Discord? Then Hercules is-?”
waved his hand at the God of War. “Now, if you’ll just let us pass, we can get this fixed.” Hercules was
almost glad Iolaus was in the goddess’ body. At least that way he stood a chance if Ares became violent.
no can do. You’re mortal now, and you don’t know how much I relish saying that. Care to go a few rounds, baby
“Half-brother, and the answer is no.”
“Ares, we have to get me out of this
body. I don’t care what you do to him,."but I need my body back.”
had never heard Hercules whine before. He hoped he never did again. “Look, we might not be able to reverse the spell
if there aren’t three of us, so you’ll just have to leave us alone and let us pass.”
don’t think so. A mortal in a goddess’ body is still a mortal. And, well, we can’t call Hercules a demigod
now, can we?” Ares was enjoying this.
“Or,” a new voice broke in,
“we can say that a goddess’ body and a demigod’s soul in a mortal body are always welcome here.” Athena
stood on the path to the library, wearing her winged helmet. She’d just returned from preventing a war on the Mycenaen
and Thracean border and was in full battle regalia. Iolaus had to admit it was a great turn on to see her dressed like that;
there was something about a woman in uniform....Too bad he was a woman now.
Hercules nimbly evaded Ares and reached her side. “We need to find Strife and reverse what he’s done.”
haven’t seen him.” The goddess looked put out by having to deal with this. “I also fail to see why I should
care where he is.”
“You should care because Hercules’ is your brother, Discord is your sister, and
I, well, I’ll haunt you everywhere you go if you don’t help us. It’s half your fault anyway.” Iolaus
was only guessing, but if the scroll had been housed here, Athena’s library figured prominently in the whole disaster.
“I’ll even sing off-key when you try to sleep. Um, you do sleep, right?”
Athena looked at him as
if he were some interesting and rare bug she’d come across. “Really. And what will you give me for helping, mortal?
A year of your life?”
“Wait right there,” Hercules stepped in. “Iolaus isn’t giving you
anything. This whole mess seems to have started with your library. If you can find Strife, I’m sure we’ll get
it all worked out to everyone’s satisfaction.”
“I’ll admit that I’m curious as to what
Strife could have possibly done to affect the three of you this way. Fair enough. I’ll bring Strife here and find out
the story behind this switch, then we’ll bargain if I’m to be any further involved. Ares, since you’re so
concerned about the propriety of a mortal in Olympus, why don’t you escort them to the library.” This was more
a command than a request. “ I’ll return with Strife. Then I want some answers.” A shower of silver sparkles
was all that was left of the goddess.
“What am I, your lackey?” Ares grumbled. When no answer was forthcoming,
he scowled at the three and gestured toward the library. “Go ahead. And don’t touch.” The last was said
to Iolaus who’d begun to reach out to sample an apple on one of the overly pruned trees. He snatched his hand back and
followed after the others.
They’d been sitting in the library, listening to Discord whine about all
the inconveniences she’d been put through over the past few days for at least an hour before Athena arrived with Strife
in tow. The god was groveling as he hung from her hand. Depositing him before the others, Athena removed her helmet and barked,
“Enough!” Strife whimpered into silence. “I want to know what is going on and I want to know now.”
This was answered by four people speaking at once. “Silence!”
The goddess sighed and gestured herself
into her normal attire. “Now, one at a time. Hercules, you go first.”
The demigod had been stewing over
what Athena would demand of them to fix the problem Strife and Discord had initiated. He didn’t want Iolaus owing any
of them anything. He felt helpless and wondered if some of that came from finding himself small and bereft of the strength
he took for granted. He didn’t like feeling that way and hoped this wasn’t how Iolaus felt when they were up against
the gods. “Well, all we really know for sure is that Strife cast a spell of some kind that caused us to switch bodies.
I can only presume Discord was in on it since she got caught up in the switch. We couldn’t get a lot out of her other
than the spell came from a scroll they found here.”
“It was his fault. He took the scroll!” Discord
kicked at the offending god.
“Hey! You said we should try it on Hercules’ little sidekick!”
the two could get into one of their famous squabbles, Athena gestured for silence. “What scroll?” The two looked
at each other and remained silent. “What scroll?”
“You heard the lady,” Ares smiled
at his nephew. He didn’t want his name to be dragged into this fiasco his incompetent relatives had perpetrated. He
had a reputation to maintain as the big, bad God of War. They cramped his style as it was already. He also didn’t want
short and blond running about Olympus and causing trouble.
Strife mumbled something. “Speak up!” Ares nudged
him with a foot.
“Souls. It was the Scroll of Souls.”
“You idiot! You could have killed someone!” She didn’t necessarily dote on mortals, but she’d found
a number who were actually of interest to her. She also didn’t want to see Hercules hurt. They were half-siblings, after
all. And, while Iolaus wasn’t the most brilliant of mortals, he had a canny wit when the need was there. “Where
is the scroll?”
Strife reluctantly dug it out from under his belt and handed the crushed scroll to her. She opened
it and then looked at him. “You remembered Babylonian. Not bad. Tell me how you did the spell.”
hear compliments often and nearly preened at the grudging respect his aunt gave him. “It was easy. Just take a small
mandrake, some thistle, and wolfsbane, grind it all up to powder, sprinkle it on the person, and say the incantation. Except...well,
it didn’t work like it was supposed to.”
“What was it supposed to do?” Iolaus had to know.
the soul from the body. Forever.” Athena re-rolled the scroll and tied it with its ribbon.
“You mean I’d
have gone to the Other Side?!”
“No, you’d have simply faded away; not a ghost, not relegated to the
Elysian Fields, nor Tartarus. Your body would die without the soul to give it life.” Athena solemnly looked at the two
heroes. “Hades wouldn’t have been able to claim your soul since it wouldn’t be a true death.”
that’s just great! Survive several deaths to have losers like Strife and Discord erase me from existence.”
Iolaus.” Hercules reminded them of why they were here. “Can we reverse the spell?”
so. He misread the words. It’s not wolfsbane, it’s wolves’ bones. He probably misread the incantation as
well,” Athena sighed. The words had been badly faded and she wasn’t sure she could have correctly cast the spell
herself. “I need to look at some more scrolls. Ares, why don’t you take Strife out of here before he’s mobbed.
Not that he doesn’t deserve it. The rest of you stay here. We still have the small matter of payment.”
Iolaus found himself wearing a path in the long room as he paced back
and forth. Hercules was his patient self, leaning against the edge of the large table in the center of the room. Discord was
entertaining herself by building pyramids of scrolls on the other end of the table. Athena would have a fit, he was sure.
That was probably the motivating factor for Discord.
“I don’t get it, Herc,” Iolaus admitted. “Why can’t your relatives just
help because it’s a good thing to do? Why does it always have to be a favor for a favor?” He was beginning to
wonder if it was some kind of ingrained rule they couldn’t get around no matter what. The deal had been struck, and
they had Athena’s help in return for a small task that even Iolaus could have a hand in accomplishing. A temple of hers
had been badly damaged in an earthquake a few days ago. They’d simply have to go there and help her priests with the
clean up. Easy, assuming everything went well, they were returned to their bodies, and Athena hadn’t left out something
important, such as guardian monsters gone amuck in the disaster or something of that nature.
The demigod shrugged.
“I think they can’t help it. Discord?” He glanced at the goddess, not that either thought they’d get
any insight from her.
“That’s it?” Iolaus looked astonished. “Just
because?! That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!”
Discord sniffed disdainfully. “I wouldn’t
expect a mortal to understand.”
“I can’t take this anymore!” Iolaus headed for the door. He’d
track Athena down the normal way if he had to, but he couldn’t stay in this room another minute. He found himself confronting
himself just as he reached the door. It seemed Hercules had finally realized how agile and quick his body was.
Athena says to stay here, there’s a reason, Iolaus. There are a number of gods here, Ares included, who’d love
to take advantage of the situation. We’re under her protection here.”
Iolaus grimaced. It was like looking
in a mirror and having your reflection talk back to you. “But, Herc, we-“ Whatever he was going to say was forgotten
as Athena returned. There was another grand entrance and when the smoke cleared, Hades was beside his niece.
“What ‘uh oh’?” Iolaus looked about for danger, but all he saw was the two gods,
neither of whom seemed inclined to cause them grief.
“I always get a bad feeling when I see Hades,” Hercules
“You really need to get over that. I’m alive.”
“I know, I know.”
“Well?” Discord abandoned her scroll and eagerly approached them.
no luck on finding a reverse spell,” Athena began, only to be interrupted by Discord’s wail of anguish.
can’t stay like this! Look at me!”
“What’s wrong with you? Hercules’ is considered quite
handsome,” Iolaus pointed out. “Hercules is the one who’s screwed here. He’s stuck in a mortal body
that will grow old, lose its strength, its vitality, and then when its old and decrepit, die.”
Hercules gave his partner a frown. “I feel better now.”
“Uh, sorry, Herc. You know what I mean.”
panic.” Athena’s cool gaze drifted over each of them in turn. “I’ve conferred with Hades, and we think
we’ve come up with a solution. Each soul has an affinity for its body. Right now, your souls would rather be back in
the proper housing.”
Hades took over. “Since I have power over the souls of the dead, we believe that I
should be able to pull your souls from their temporary housing, and they’ll follow their natural inclination from there.
The spell, if it had been done properly, would have blocked the souls from returning to their proper home."
“And if they don’t? We’ll be stuck like this?” Iolaus asked.
Hades wouldn’t meet his eyes. “Not exactly.”
“See?” Hercules nudged his friend. “I
told you I had a bad feeling.”
“You mean we’ll end up in the Elysian Fields,” Discord added.
of you would,” Hades said pointedly, glaring at her.
“The odds are in your favor,” Athena added.
“The choice is ultimately yours.”
“Well, I know what my choice is,” Iolaus said. “I’d
make a lousy god, and this, well, it’d ruin any dates I’d planned for the future.”
Hercules didn’t want his friend to die if he could help it, yet he understood Iolaus’ feelings
on the subject. If it failed, well, they’d be going together to the Other Side. He nodded his assent.
can’t stay like this! I can’t be Hercules!” Discord hugged herself. Tartarus had to be better than
“Then it’s settled,” Hades said.
“Just one thing.” Iolaus shared a look
with his partner. “Just what is your help going to cost us?”
“Funny you should ask...”
It wasn’t as if Hercules begrudged helping his uncle. With all
the times they’d bargained for Iolaus’ life, the two probably had a closer relationship than he had with his father.
It was just that, playing Charon for three days so the creature could deal with some family business at the end of the summer
would be depressing at best. However, spending the rest of his life with a partner who looked like Discord would be worse.
got down to business right after they settled on his payment. He had a desk full of paperwork to process and it wasn’t
like mortals would stop dying so he could deal with this. Once he had them settled, he ordered them to close their eyes and
relax, hands joined as they sat in a circle.
Yeah, like that was going to happen while holding Discord’s hand,
Iolaus thought. He tried to utilize some of the meditation techniques he’d learned in Chin to convince his body to relax.
Maybe that was the problem. It wasn’t his body.
“Iolaus, stop thinking,” Hades interrupted his thoughts.
“Relax as you would just before falling asleep.”
Iolaus listened to the god drone on about relaxing until
he thought he’d die of boredom. He must have nodded off, because he could feel someone shaking him and shouting his
name. It sounded like Hercules. He struggled to open his eyes. His field of vision was filled with the concerned face of his
demigod friend. That meant they were back in their rightful bodies. “I really wish you’d stop doing that, Herc.
You’ll break my neck.”
“Iolaus! I was afraid that, well, you know...”
“Say it with me: I was afraid you had died again, Iolaus. Saaaaay it.”
Hercules’ lips thinned in annoyance and he let his friend drop the short distance back onto the floor.
Iolaus sat up and rubbed the back of his head, ignoring the looks Athena and Hades were giving him.
“I told you
he was fine,” the God of the Underworld pointed out. “Next time listen to me.” With that, he
“Where’s Discord?” Iolaus
looked around but the goddess was nowhere to be seen.
“She said something about giving Strife his just deserts
and took off.” Hercules offered his hand to his partner and helped him rise. “Ares had a war to return to right
after that.” He should have known Iolaus was all right. Ares would have stayed to gloat if he wasn’t.
you better take Iolaus and leave. He’s completely mortal now and Ares might decide to return to make good on his threat.”
Athena ushered them out and watched as they beat a hasty retreat from the library and Olympus. Once they were gone, she took
the scroll that had started all of this and destroyed it. Some knowledge was too dangerous, even for the gods.
Late that night, the two heroes finally reached the base of Mount Olympus. It would have been prudent not to climb
down the mountain in the dark, but they hadn’t discussed the pros and cons, preferring to get the Tartarus away from
the home of the gods as quickly as possible. As they settled down for the rest of the night beside a small campfire, Iolaus
shifted about, trying to get comfortable enough to fall asleep. “Herc? You awake?”
“I am now.”
Hercules counted to ten.
“Herc, you still awake?”
Iolaus.” He smiled into the dark.
“What was it like, being me?” He’d known how it felt to be
a god. He wasn’t sure he could include being a woman in that experience. Discord had the body of a woman, but the disposition
of a harpy. He’d decided he made a better mortal man than a god of any gender. He also wondered why he’d gotten
to be the smallest yet again. Next time, he wanted to be the tall, muscle-bound demigod.
“It...was an eye-opening
“That bad, huh?” It had to have been frustrating for the demigod to lose his strength
and feel every bruise and bump of the journey, not to mention the hunger. He knew how hungry he got when there were no battles
to interrupt the flow of the day. They’d spent the last few days fighting bandits and climbing a mountain. Hercules
hadn’t complained at all.
“No. That good.”
Surprised, Iolaus asked, “How so?”
made me realize and appreciate how much you go through, and suffer, to help people. How much you give to keep up with me and
the danger you face when we come up against the gods. I have the advantage of divine heritage, but you’re mortal in
every sense of the word. Yet here you are, still by my side after all these years.” It humbled him.
“Herc, that’s what friends are for.”
Discord finally ran Strife down. He was
in Ares’ smallest temple, relegated to cleaning the floors with a small brush. It was Ares’ punishment for failing
to successfully destroy Hercules. Life just wasn’t fair. Two minutes later, he found himself cornered by the small goddess
as she waved one of the swords, left as an offering for Ares, under his nose.
“Give me one good reason why I
shouldn’t gut you right now.”
“Uh, because now we have the right ingredients, we can succeed in our
nefarious plot to kill Iolaus?” He cowered away from the point of the sword.
“Athena has the scroll, you
idiot!” Discord shrieked.
“Yes, but I copied the words. See?” He withdrew the scrap of parchment
and waved it hopefully at her.
Ares entered his temple to gloat over his nephew only to find Discord
sitting on Strife’s chest, shoving something down his throat.
“Why can’t I have normal assistants
like everyone else?” He sighed, but didn’t expect an answer. He, of all gods, knew the Fates were cruel.