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Between Love And Lust

How well do we know Aphrodite? She, who was prophesied to become the ultimate Goddess of Love. Save for her love affairs, very little, I'd say. As a matter of fact, it's rather scrouded in mystery how she came to Olympos and how she felt about those men who kept on moving in and out of her life. I've given this story a try, including a more reasonable view of her 'birth'. So welcome and follow the tale of Aphrodite, a goddess who became recruited to the magnificent Olympos and there became torn between the fierce love of Ares the war god and the ingenious and gentle Hephaestos.

A word of warning to sensitive souls – this story will feature a lot of sex. It IS about Aphrodite after all...…

Wonderful people:
:iconluddox: :iconhera-of-stockholm: :iconalienette::iconlostlook: :iconcherishedmemories: :iconjeanskitty: :iconthaloanthe: :iconspiderdroid: :iconomicronia: :iconsilverexpress: :iconsinavril: :iconkirasaintclair: :iconjqleen: :iconrathunta::iconlouly: :iconchromic7sky: :iconblingblingbabe: :icondeorse: :iconmorianrhod: :iconoragamipaperguy: :iconfalldew: :iconxixdeviant: :icondarkcloud013: :iconedj3babygurl7: :iconthedutchesse::iconluckylilith: :iconpacific-time: 

Other stories based upon the Greek Myths

* A first time for Everything…
I realized recently that this story has never really been told. The one about Zeus' very first love experience. The event to start all other events for the probably biggest womanizer in the myths. So I wrote it myself! 

* Daughter of War…
Achilles killed the Amazon Penthesileia on the battlefield outside Troy. Or did he? This is the story of two heroes of Homer's Illiad, taking them on a bit of a different yourney than the one Homer told. It also ties together with my one-shot Achilles' choise - see below for that one! 

* Love has its harsh ways…
This is the story about Hebe and Herakles. We all know Herakles' labours and how he ascended to Olympos after his heroic life on Earth. There he met and fell in love with Hebe - his old arch enemy Hera's daughter. But how did that happen and what reactions did it trigger among the gods?

* Achilles' Choise…
Achilles lies dying on the plains outside the seiged Troy with a poisonous arrow in his heel. This is when he has to make the hardest choise in his life.

* Army Postal Service -…
When the Greek Army swept like wild fire trough the city all she could do was run. Run with her son in her arms, trying to save them from the Greeks and most of all from the terrible Ares himself...

* What Friends Are For…
When Io betrays her best friend Hera with Hera's husband Zeus an iron rod is poled into the heart of their friendship. Can Hera ever forgive Io and will Io ever feel comfortable around Hera again. Can true friendship win over a dire mistake?

* Olympos for Beginners…
This is the story about Ariadne, who leaves her home island Crete to follow her beloved Theseus to Athens, after helping him defeat the dreaded Minotaur - but nothing turns out the way she expected.

* Summer Loving…
Leda, queen of Sparta goes down to the lake and watches the swans swim and do other things. And then suddenly a very special "swan" appears.

* The golden stranger…
About Zeus and Danae - the parents of the hero Perseus

* Twin mother - the story of Leto…
She was the goddess who had a short relation with Zeus and became the mother of the twins Apollo and Artemis. Told with her own words about her love for Zeus, her insecurity and her fear of Hera, the goddess who became Zeus' next beloved 

* Hide and Seek…
Poseidon, the mighty god of the sea, wants Amphitrite, the beautiful and agile Neried. She declares "not interested" and runs into hiding. But Poseidon is not the kind of god who takes "no" for an answer. He's going to get Amphitrite one way or another. So it's hide and seek time, let the game begin! 

* Guardian of the chosen one - Amalthea's tale…
This is a story for all lovers of greek mythology - the story of how it all started. Once, way back when the world was ruled by cruel Titans. It is the story of Amalthea, a goat heardess who got the most important mission in the world - to guard the chose one, the new king of the gods to be

* Riding the Bull - About Zeus and Europa…
  • Mood: Joy


Zeus. Ruler of Olympos, king of all the gods. Aphrodite had probably expected him to come with an entourage of lower deities and nymphs, hangers-ons, worshippers, clerks and errant-runners – all of them there to enhance his glory. But no, Zeus came alone, as if his business here on Cyprus was nobody's but his own. That surprised Aphrodite a bit. She was so used to men and gods alike who always wanted to show off their importance, often with a large train of staffers. So when the very King of the Gods came on his own, she didn't know what to make out of it.

Inhaling deeply, Aphrodite tried to calm her nerves. Suddenly she found herself totally sober, the drunken glee from earlier gone. Zeus was here and he sure took her breath away with his mere appearance. It felt like the whole world had stopped and all eyes were upon her. Her and this stunning man who now stood from his place where he had been sitting – for how long, she wondered. Had he heard their silly jokes and slandering about Kronos and Ouranos? She hoped not, she wondered if it was true that the Titan ruler who Zeus defeated had in fact been his father. No, now was not the time for thinking about such rumours.

Zeus was coming over to her, and when Aphrodite crossed the sand to meet him half way she noted that he was taller than she had first thought him to be. A tall, muscular and imposing man, still there was nothing frightening about him. He looked benevolent enough when he stopped, just outside her personal sphere. Politely as close as a stranger would go. Still, his arresting aura almost had her backing off a bit, but she forced herself to stand her ground and to face the King of the Gods without displaying any discomfort.
"Lord Zeus," she curtsied, while not taking her eyes off him.

"Aphrodite," Zeus said, with a slight stress on every vowel as if he was memorizing her name, although she was certain he had known it for a long time. He held out his hands and took hers. "Pleased to meet you finally, milady. I've heard so much about you from so many people."
"Oh..." she replied, tried not to sound taken aback. "So what have you heard, Great Zeus? I hope it has not been to my detriment."
"Indubitably not," His deep base had a unique, calming melody to it, unlike anything else she had ever heard. "If I should go by my own standards the things told about you are certainly to be held as your advantages, milady. I saw you ascend from the sea this morning, it sure was one of the most impressive and wonderful sights I have seen in a long time. It will definitely be remembered and retold for centuries. Especially if you are interested in the position I am about to offer you."

"You… I…" the young goddess didn't know what to say, when realizing that Zeus had seen her initiation almost from the very beginning. "If you were here, milord, then why were you not invited for our meal? I feel terrible…"
"No, there's no need for that, Aphrodite. I watched you in my sight pool before arriving. I've just been around for about a tenth of an hour. I had breakfast long before sunrise as my days tend to get quite long. Now, milady, how about you and I go sit down and I'll tell you what I have in proposition for you!"

Speechless Aphrodite was only able to nod, and Zeus held out his hand in the direction from where Aphrodite had come.
"After you, milady!"

Turning around, Aphrodite noted to her surprise that the two of them were all alone on the beach now. Only a light red blanket in the sand witnessed that others had been there earlier. Gone were also the torches and the rests of the bonfire. Not to mention the breakfast leftovers. Although Aphrodite felt it considerate of the rest to have given her and Zeus privacy, she also feel a bit abandoned, left to her own wits to deal with this man who was so much more than anyone she had ever met before. Even Neophoros with his amazing charisma paled notably in comparison.

Not sure of what to do Aphrodite retrieved the red blanket and seated herself on it and Zeus followed suit, posing himself opposite of her and opened the conversation anew.
"Aphrodite," he said. "A man in my position does not have the luxury of roundabout ways and seldom of small talk. So I will go right down to business and hope that is fine with you."
"Yes – yes I guess so," she nodded her head.
"You might be acquainted with our Olympian need of a true Deity of Love. Someone who's empathic and understanding, sensual and inspiring. A matchmaker not just among gods but also among mortals. Someone who can think outside the box and look with able eyes at a relation to be or a relation in crisis and see what needs to be done. Someone who understands what is necessary to make men and women feel appreciated loved and supported and who can guide an erring part down the right track. Not to mention someone to identify a hopeless case and break it apart before even more harm may be caused."

"Lord Zeus," Aphrodite almost staggered. "I am far from sure I can live up to all that. I'm just a youth among immortals, having lived most of my life in the mortal realm. I've learned to understand life's perspectives from what mortals have and what they can do and become. The world of the gods is still a strange place to me, although I've learned a little bit more when I spent time here on Cyprus. Here I've lived with other gods and goddesses for the first time in many years."
"Your mortal experiences aren't news to me," Zeus nodded his head. "I regard that as a strong advantage of yours since we want to work a lot with and through the mortals. The world I and my fellow Olympians aim to better is not limited to the deities around the planet, it involves very much the mortal majority. It's their world I wish to improve as King of the Gods. That is the mandate I sought and was given. An Olympian deity of love must not feel strange to or above working with mortals. To deal with all levels of their society from peasants to kings."

"I think I understand what you mean, milord," Aphrodite whispered, a humble feeling painting her cheeks slightly red. The wind had picked up slightly the way it always did this time of day, when the air over the land was warming up and elevating and new sea air streamed in to replace it. When a few golden strands of her hair blew in her face, Aphrodite noted that she was sitting on her hands, and the gesture to just sweep the hair aside became awkward and forced. She felt obdurate as she changed position, still not taking her eyes off the captivating man in front of her.
"Relax, dear!" Zeus smiled, suddenly sounding so much more private than just a few heartbeats ago. "I hold all confidence in you, since you have got the best of recommendations. Let me tell you a bit more," Zeus was also changing position, stretching a bit before he resumed.

"Almost 500 years have now passed since the Olympos pantheon was founded by me and my fellow combatants in the Titan Wars. We had this dream of a strong and just pantheon to rule over other gods and the mortal world in the best way possible. Since then we have done our best to make it happen. We've tried to make the Olympos as versatile and all-compassing as possible. To define the areas requiring divine government and to man them with suitable gods and goddesses. On purpose have we created several overlaps in areas of responsibility, because we do believe in support and in fallback solutions in special situations. Very few gods or goddesses will stand alone in her or his position when hard times occur.

These days we have our weather gods, our nature and growth goddesses, we have Poseidon supervising a handful of gods and goddesses mastering the aquatic life and I have appointed two of my own children as war gods – just to mention a few areas. But what we have failed to find for so long have been gods and goddesses who excel in human relations. Especially love and pairing. When that is absent, we're not getting happy and enduring marriages. Nor among the gods neither among the mortals. Very few Olympians are wed, and those of us who are – we are struggling with our marriages, often wondering what we have gotten into. One of my sons is a divorcé, the other three have yet to marry. For so many years have I wished to bless my dear Demeter or Poseidon together with a mate, but none of them are having any luck in that area. Not to mention my little sister Hestia. If we gods cannot bring it together – then how may we help the mortals?"

"At least we are the gods," Aphrodite interjected when Zeus paused. "When I've been helping the mortals I've always felt this rush of too few years and too narrow selection. They cannot go to the places we go, they cannot sit around and wait for Mrs. or Mr. Right. For them it's often now or never, so they grab what's around, even if that seldom is an ideal choice. Yes, I see your point, Lord Zeus. Without love the world is bland. Bleak and insipid. I really hope I can help gods as well as mortals."
"I know you can," Zeus said with a solemn look upon his face, even if there was a faint glitter now in those radiating sapphire eyes. "So many have tried but never had what it took. My wife Hera, she founded marriage but it's like she has given up on its realization. There was this goddess Pleione… and Eos – she is better at weather after all. Then young Hekate thought it all could be helped with a love potion. That was when I realized we had to look a bit further away from our mountain top."

"A love potion can be of aid sometimes," Aphrodite replied shyly. "A hormone burst. It can't acquire miracles, if it's a bad match nothing helps. But a potion can push a doubting part on his or her way. Or just be used for some sex. I believe that sometimes that's the little thing we need just like the big all-encompassing love."
"I see we share the same outlook in this as well," Zeus said and now he was smiling again.
"Yes, sex does have its benefits. Even if it's just for fun sometimes. It can be a boost for the self-confidence and the feel of wellness."
"And well-spoken are you too!" the King of the Gods exclaimed. "So do I have your agreement?"
"You do!" Aphrodite replied, what else could she say? And in her heart she was laughing and dancing around.

The sealed their agreement with a hand shake. More was not needed, Zeus was known for a man true to his words. As the midmorning sun become hotter they both stood and began walking together up to the mansion where Aphrodite's living quarters had been for the last two years. That was coming to an end now and this goddess was moving on with her life. It made her feel happy but also a bit nervous. Knowing she was privileged, she also understood she'd have to work a lot harder now than ever before. Yet never before had she felt so deeply that this was the right direction to go. This was what she really wanted to do with her life. Aphrodite wanted to call out to the whole world, shouting 'I Am Going To Olympos'.

So Aphrodite went to Olympos. Ignoring the words of warning from her mother she said fare well to Ishtar and her other friends and followed Lord Zeus and Eumonia to the illustrious mountaintop. There she was allotted a pretty little place to live in the middle of the lovely garden town surrounding the Palace of Zeus and Hera. This Olympian town looked like nothing she had seen on her travels in the mortal world. There were no narrow alleys, no dirt or wear and tear, instead the streets were broad and covered with gilded paving bricks, laid in intricate patterns. The houses lining them were all beautiful, each in its own way and surrounded by well-kept gardens tended by a plethora of nymphs of all kinds. Here and there she spotted larger parks and sometimes the streets turned into elegant bridges and crossed tiny canals. The town was surrounded by meadows, small lakes and woods and if she walked far enough the land started to slope down until she reached the end of the mountaintop. Here several large waterfalls were streaming from ledge to ledge down the mountainside and disappearing somewhere far below in a mist of rainbows and droplets.

In the night thousands of thousands of multi coloured lanterns of divine lights burned, illuminating the houses, the statues and the greenery. Yes, there were even lanterns burning under water in the canals, the ponds and the fountains, colouring it in turquoise, indigo and navy hues. It looked almost as if the water was emitting light by itself, creating magic together with the wisps of mist which undulated trough lake surfaces and fields during the dark hours. Up at Zeus' palace it was almost as bright as daytime during the evenings. Undeniably was it a stimulating environment, and Aphrodite believed she would be able to do a great job here.

No matter that she felt shy and wanted to keep a low profile, Aphrodite found herself being the talk of the town as soon as she arrived. It wasn't just that her mentor became Mnemosyne, mother of the renowned Muses, the newly arrival also discovered that she was attracting quite an interest among the male Olympian population. That felt more than flattering, since they were the most high profiled gods of the entire world. Not to mention that they really were a handful worth looking at.

Poseidon sure had a body to admire and when he was giving her those looks Aphrodite felt like she wanted to rip off what little he wore and discern if he could live up to his innuendos. Helios was a Force of Nature and Apollo was intelligent and noble, although a bit arrogant. Aiolos was intelligent and laid back, a far cry from his more pushy colleagues. But the one Aphrodite felt most attracted to was Hermes, who was just about 30 years older than her and a lot of fun. He was flirtatious and facetious and he had a way of always getting between her and for instance Poseidon, which made the other god quite irritated. Aphrodite couldn't help laughing at the sea god's frustrated looks when Hermes somehow managed to widen the gap between her and Poseidon before he conjured up a chair there and sat down with his back firmly turned towards the God of the Seas.

After being offended like that enough times, Poseidon was brutally pointing out that he did not approve of the behaviour. He grabbed the younger god by his arm and forced him off the chair.
"You brat!" Poseidon was growling, sculptured brows narrowing as his handsome face contorted in ire. "You think you are so clever and so astute, but I've had quite enough of your lowbred manners. I was socializing with this young lady; I don't appreciate your interruption."
"Oh, you don't?" Hermes snided with a grin and put his thumbs inside the golden belt encircling his cyan-blue chiton. "And what exactly are you going to do about it?"
"If you were Ares I'd punch your nose in, but since you're only Zeus' little bigmouthed jackanapes, I'm just going to carry you away and dispose of you where I can make sure you're not getting in the way. Like the kitchen dump."

Ares? Aphrodite thought. That was a new name. She had heard Mnemosyne mention him earlier, without really paying attention, thinking him only being another minor god, like Kratos, Kotos or Nereus. Thus she had forgotten about him in an instance. But the way Poseidon talked about him and the face Hermes was making at the comparison told Aphrodite that this absent Ares was a lot more than that. The sea god mentioned him as a worthy opponent in a fight and Hermes looked like he didn't appreciate being belittled by the namedropping. So while the messenger god made another rapid oral riposte, Aphrodite sneaked away, hoping the men were too occupied by their testosterone rush to forget what had actually triggered it.

While Poseidon and Hermes raised their voices Aphrodite made her way across the large, partly roofless hybrid between hall and courtyard and over to the alcove where the goddesses Demeter, Eurynome, Clio and Calliope were sitting in a sofa with plushy cushions. Calliope was explaining something connected to music, and Aphrodite waited her turn, something she had learned that 'you did' here. She couldn't just launch herself into a conversation and turn it into another direction, she picked that up the hard way one of the first evenings, when she cut into Thalia's tirade and received a snapping rebuke from Artemis.

Sliding down in an empty coach, she smiled politely at the older goddesses and as a response Clio had handed her a cup filled with wine conjured up from somewhere. The wine was excellent and Aphrodite gladly sipped from it until Calliope stopped and Eurynome turned to her.
"So you tired of the boys, Aphrodite?" the older goddess asked.
"Yes, I did," Aphrodite admitted as she took her eyes off Hera and Athena across the room – oh she sure admired the looks of those goddesses, each in her own way. "I tired of them when they began fighting."
"Not over you, eh?" Clio grinned and rested her chin in her cupped hand.
"Guess I was just the excuse," Aphrodite said as Poseidon's loud voice could be heard from behind. "Hermes doing one of his stunts again, sneaking in between me and the god of the sea."

"Oh, Hermes!" Demeter rolled her eyes. "He's such a tiddler. Spoilt like I don't know what. Then again he is Maya's son, and those girls of Atlas haven't exactly been known for taking care of their offspring in a sensible manner."
"It's not Maya's fault," Eurynome disagreed. "It's mostly Zeus's. He's giving his kids too much of a leeway. I'm seeing it in my own daughters. Always when I tell them 'no can do' they run off to Zeus and wouldn't you know it but he's letting them do or have whatever their hearts desire. He's a great leader but he's not the father figure a woman would wish for her children. But I guess done is done and I regret nothing of it. I love my daughters to the bits, even if Zeus is spoiling them rotten."
"Zeus has too much to do to be an active father," Demeter replied. "He's constantly so busy but I guess he does what he can."
"Not good enough," Eurynome returned. "The mother has to be present or the kid'll be intolerable. Just look how Apollo turned out. And now Hermes is going down the same road."

While Clio and Calliope started to defend Apollo with all their hearts Demeter was pointing out that being 114 Hermes wasn't exactly a child anymore.
"I know about Hermes," Aphrodite said, not bothering if she was cutting in anymore. "He's not exactly the one I'm thinking of now."
"Then who's on your mind?" Demeter turned to the new love goddess.
"I heard the name Ares. Who's he?"
"Ares!" Calliope huffed and rolled her eyes and Clio made a similar expression.
"Yeah, Ares," Aphrodite insisted.
"Oh, that's another spoiled kid," Eurynome sighed but Demeter provided with a bit more fleshed out information.

"He's Zeus and Hera's oldest son and the God of War. Sharing that position with Athena. He's not around at the moment though; he's away trying to find the lost centaur Cheiron together with Nike and Cadmilos."    
"Hmmm… A God of War," Aphrodite thought it over. It felt revolting and oddly appealing at the same time. Dangerous! Somehow this absent god had managed to catch her interest.
"Yes but far from Athena's level," Clio smirked. "His big sister beats him almost every time. No matter how many men he manages to deploy or how many bows or horses or whatever – trust Athena to trick him one way or the other and arrive home with the laurel of the victor."

Aphrodite glanced at Athena; she was still talking with Hera.
"Why is that?" She felt somewhat envious of the daughter of Zeus, no matter that her choice of trade was so diametrally opposite of Aphrodite's. "Doesn't Ares learn from his mistakes?"
"Oh, he sure does," Eurynome huffed. "Only that Athena always keeps coming up with new ways to fool him."
"And Zeus, who cannot get over his warrior self, he sure has taken Athena to his heart, made her his favourite," Demeter added with more or less of a sour face. "Something Hera cannot get over, since Athena is not hers."
"I don't think the warring part is the real reason," Eurynome replied. "I believe it has to do with her mother. You know, Aphrodite, Athena's mother was Metis. Zeus' first love."

Immediately grasping the phenomena, Aphrodite nodded her head.
"I know. Especially men have hard to get over their first loves. So what happened? Why did these two break apart?"
"Zeus betrayed Metis," Calliope almost whispered while leaning closer to Aphrodite. Yet what she shared was hardly a secret, if one should go by the looks of the other goddesses. "And he keeps on doing that shit, even if he knows what it'll result in."
"So he went to Hera..." Aphrodite asked.
"No, this was way before Hera," Clio said, glancing at the striking Queen. "Zeus fell for a much older goddess named Themis. A goddess of justice, what an irony! After tiring of her he had a short flirt with a lass named Leto which resulted in the twins Apollo and Artemis. It was first when that fling was over, he laid his eyes upon Hera for real. Although I cannot understand why she took him, knowing what kind of man he was. I mean, she must have known! Zeus' affairs were hardly a secret even at that time."

"Oh, she was in love of course!" Aphrodite replied as if it was the most obvious thing in the world – which it might well have been – Zeus seemed like a man easy to love and hard to be mad at for a lengthier period of time. Aphrodite knew that if she had fallen for such a charming man, she might as well keep on forgiving him everything – and regretting it the very same moment she did. Such was the hazard of charming men – they could get away with almost everything. An advantage they soon learned to use. Zeus was far from an exception to that rule.

"Hera had just received the position of First Chancellor after Prometheus when Zeus started to court her," Clio went on. "Now that's a name you might come across later, Aphrodite. The handsome trouble-maker. Prometheus loves to take credit for having invented the 'modern man' even though he messed it up so completely that even Zeus lost his patience with him. Not just his temper, which Zeus loses twice a day, mind you. Prometheus wanted to be the mortals' champion, the good guy who let them have it all. And when Zeus saw the hazards and said 'no' Prometheus begun to paint Zeus out as the bad and mean god. Naturally that didn't go down well with the Allfather, but he restrained himself, trying to reason with his Chancellor. But it was undoable, Prometheus had gone too far down the lane of popularity, his reputation among the mortals had become a kind of drug to him, a high he couldn't be without. So he was not ready to back down when Zeus told him to."

"It came to a brutal end," Clio continued after having taken a mouthful of wine. "Prometheus got the weird idea to teach the mortals how to handle divine fire. A matter they cannot use, simply because they don't have the control over magic. But Prometheus didn't care. He gave divine flames to the mortals in spite, and for a short moment they were all overjoyed. The fire that shone in a million of colours and shapes, the fire that never went out! Just imagine! But it soon began going wrong and before we knew it, we had three burned down cities and hundreds of dead. Zeus was outraged of course seeing no other solution than laying off Prometheus. Instead Hera stepped into the position as First Chancellor and ended right in the middle of Zeus's line of focus. And Zeus was Zeus and naturally he began flirting this goddess down. I know many people who think he did this just to regain Leto's attention, however I believe Zeus had forgotten everything about the twins' mother at that time. Instead he was fully intent on getting Hera into his bed chamber."

"So what happened," Aphrodite asked. "Or perhaps I should ask how did it happen?" She found herself completely mesmerized by the story of Clio. Now, this was a lady who sure knew how to spin a tale. No wonder, since she was one of the Muses.
"Nobody knows for sure," Clio went on. "But after having regarded Zeus with nothing but cold and professional interest, Hera suddenly changed her mind one early spring day some 300 years ago. After that it didn't take long until she hadn't just moved in and bunked up with him the way people did back then, but she insisted that they should become officially married with all that came with it. Within less than a decade they had had two sons, Ares being one of them."

"And the other one?" Aphrodite prompted. Another god she had yet to encounter.
"That should be Hephaestos," Calliope got an almost bored look upon her pretty face.
"The workaholic," Calliope replied. "Oh, you might've met him but you might not remember him. If he hasn't given you anything of course."
"A gift?" Aphrodite tried to recall anything like that. "Of what kind?"
"Ah, some bling bling. Or some handy little gadget or funny gizmo or whatever. That's his way of flirting."
"Unusual," Aphrodite replied, almost regretting that she hadn't asked these ladies earlier if there were any more interesting men hiding away around the mountaintop. Men she had missed to notice just because others, like Poseidon, had been too high profiled and persistent in their flirting.
"Yes," Clio nodded her head. "He's kinda weird but at the same time he's very loveable. And he is a genius! Most ingenious inventions you've seen around here are his deeds. Like the underwater lanterns and the hourglasses and whistling kettles and the flutes and the xylophones and the tambourines…"

"Knock it off, Cli!" Calliope returned. "I'm certain that Aphrodite isn't the slightest interested in musical instruments."
"Don't be so sure of that," Demeter said. "Do you play any instruments, Aphrodite?"
"I've used to play the lyre a bit earlier in my former life," the love goddess shrugged her shoulders. "But standing next to Apollo I wouldn't even dare touching an instrument."
"Ah, but perhaps he can teach you," Demeter suggested.
"I bet he wants to teach you," Eurynome thought. "And I bet you don't even have to ask him nicely."
"I bet I have to do something else instead," Aphrodite huffed, and suddenly the conversation wasn't that funny anymore.

It wasn't that she minded sex, especially not with someone like Apollo, but what she minded was that everyone seemed to take for granted that she should deliver without really caring less. Was that because of her profession, since no one seemed to expect that of people like Athena or Demeter? Aphrodite put down her now emptied wine cup and excused herself.

While she walked across the large room, headed for the exit and her own home and warm bed, her mind was revolving around two names. Ares and Hephaestos, the sons of Hera and Zeus. The War God and the Genius. She had to find out more about them that was for sure. The chatterbox Hermes would have to wait a while.


"So how did you sneak in here?" Ciresia regarded Aphrodite with the same distaste as Aphrodite remembered from all those years back. Count on the immortals to hold grudges, she thought to herself.  
"I was recruited," Aphrodite said uncomittedly.
"By whom?" Ciresia smirked and put down her quill. "Epimetheus?"

The Goddess of Kitchen Commodities was posed behind her desk in the office of Hestia, trying to look important and stare Aphrodite down. (A bit hard when she was sitting down and hadn't asked of Aphrodite to do the same.) The pun about poor Epimetheus was uncalled for, Aphrodite felt. Everyone knew that Prometheus younger brother was slightly daft and hardly known to be trusted with complicated decisions. He was mostly known for acting first and thinking later (if all) therefore he was often on the receiving end of bad jokes. If there was something Aphrodite hated so was it when someone joked on another one's expenses in such a mean way.

"That's none of your business. I was actually here to see Hestia about a…"
"She's not available," Ciresia snapped her off.
"Strange since she asked me herself to come over to discuss a few things."
"And what, if I may ask, does the goddess of sleaziness have to discuss with the Virgin of the Holy Fire?" Ciresia scorned as she rested her chin upon her folded hands.

Aphrodite had to unclutched her fists and count to ten to avoid losing her temper. Instead she glanced around in the classy office landscape where Ciresia was sitting together with half a dozen other gods and goddesses, doing divine work related to homes and households. That Ciresia should've ended up in this place was quite surprising, Aphrodite thought as she regarded the sun shining in and gleaming on the marble floor and shining off gilded ornaments, most of them formed like abstract representations of fire. Then again, that girl was a go-getter and a chance for her to get to Olympos was probably something she took without even thinking, even if it was quite far from her original line of work as a ward over given oaths.

"Ciresia," Aphrodite began, having cooled her temper to an extent that she now spoke with icicles falling from her lips. "Now get your fat ass off that plushy chair and show me into your boss's office and I'll forget about your bad taste joke about Epimetheus and that you tried to stall my visit as well."
"How dare you even try to order me around?" now it was Ciresia's time to poison her tongue.
"Oh, I dare all right," Aphrodite replied. "Because if you don't dare in life, then you don't get anywhere, and you might become stuck by a desk your whole immortal life."
"Better that than in a bed," Ciresia returned, but just as Aphrodite was going to lash back with another round of insults, the door to Hestia's office opened up, and there was the Goddess of Fire and the Hearth herself, looking slightly demanding.

"Oh, there you are, Aphrodite," she said. "I was just wondering what kept you."
"A friend," the love goddess replied, with a slightly sarcastic stress on the last word.
"So you know Ciresia," Hestia said noncommittally, although Aphrodite could tell by her slight tick around the brows that she had understood what Aphrodite was insinuating. "Come on in now, so we might begin!"

While Aphrodite entered the office of Hestia, she cast a look over her shoulder, regarding Ciresia who had turned her back towards the duo, her whole appearance radiating hostility. She had scored in the last word, but it was only because of the appearance of Hestia. While Aphrodite hadn't exactly made her first enemy at Olympos, this still felt so unnecessary. She hoped her day would improve from here.
A/N – this chapter is of course inspired by Sandro Botichelli's famous painting.

Kliethe was hurled with full force over the edge of the ledge. With a terrifying scream the fifty-something woman fell down in the abyss.
"Kliethe!" Aphrodite threw herself forward in a vain try at reaching her comrade. But too late, Kliethe's scream disappeared in an abysmal echo which reverberated in the chasm until it faded and died out.

Aphrodite woke up with her friend's name on her lips - petrified, for what night in the order she did not know, oddly dry and cold rivulets of sweat travelling down her spine like the cold fingers of ghosts. The Kytheran goddess had actually believed her younger friend had died down there for a while, although she should've known better. Gods didn't perish by falling down chasms. But Aphrodite guessed it was the many years spent with mortals which made her misinterpreting the situation. That paired with the general anxiety of being discovered doing something not really appropriate together with Neophoros. Or at least not appropriate in the context.

Eiraton had been a bit more accurate in his reaction; he leaned over the crevasse and called out for Kliethe.
"Are you okay?" he had bellowed and Aphrodite almost thought she heard a small squeal down there.
"Kliethe?" Neophoros' deeper voice. Now the reply became a bit louder.
"You okay?" Eiraton repeated himself and Kliethe was silent for a while before she responded.
"No... I guess.... there are creepy things down here. And I don't know how to get out."
"Levitate of course!" Eiraton called back.
"We're... not allowed."
"But how the..."
"Creepy things?" Aphrodite cut in. "What kind of creepy things?"

Kliethe didn't reply and Eiraton urged her once again to return by levitating.
"She's in a state of shock," Neophoros said and glanced over at Eiraton.
"What do you mean, chock?"
"She fell down there all of a sudden and now she's too scared of breaking any frigging rule to return the normal way. She has to climb up. And we'll have to help her."
"Help her?" Eiraton scorned. "And just how are we supposed to do that? By jumping down ourselves? Now, get real, Argive! By the way what were the two of you actually doing when we came here?"
"If you have trouble figuring such an obvious thing out," Aphrodite snapped, "I suggest you shut the big beak up and let me and Neophoros figure out how to help poor Kliethe!"

"Aphrodite, don't be such a..."
"Shut up, Eiraton," Neophoros said and then he leaned over the chasm once more:
"Kliethe, what does it look like down there, save for being filled with 'creepy things'? Can you scale the walls, you think?"
"Come on, dear, you can do it! Go over to one of the walls and feel it with your hand! Feel how rugged it is; try to find hand- and footholds!"

While Aphrodite and Eiraton were mostly looking on, Neophoros encouraged Kliethe to begin climbing up the cave wall and heartened her to keep going until he was able to reach down, grab her under her armpits and haul her up the last 1½ meters.
"Ah..." she called out when she was back on terra firma again. Now, Eiraton was all over her, wanting to hold her and comfort her, but she was not letting go of Neophoros. Feeling at lost Aphrodite turned to the latter, telling him:
"Give her time! She doesn't feel that well now, and just letting go of Neophoros does probably seem as hard as climbing that wall yet another time."
"For fate's sake, it was just a wall!" Eiraton grumbled but Aphrodite laid her hand on his shoulder, pulled him to the side and hushing him:
"Don't tell her that! Don't play down her effort! Instead, when we get out of here, get some food and go up to her place and cook for her! I know you're good at it and that's the way to her heart. You just have to be patient."
"I... what if HE's there?"

Aphrodite didn't have to ask who HE was. She just stared right into the brown eyes of Eiraton telling him to simply make sure Neophoros wasn't.
"You have to trust a bit in your own abilities, Eiraton" she continued. "Most of the time the greatest obstacles in love is the boulders we lay in our own paths. We have to stop hindering ourselves, only then can we go for it for real. Hang back for the moment, and later, when you know she's alone, make sure to be there for her in earnest. Then she'll appreciate it. Now she's just holding on to whatever there is. Which happens to be Neophoros. But it means little. Or nothing at all."

"You think so?" Eiraton asked and sniffed.
"I am quite certain of that."
"And how can you be that?"
"I've seen it before. Plenty of times."
"But wasn't that – mortals?"
"Eiraton, they're just like us when it comes to love. Not that big a difference."

After that Aphrodite turned to Neophoros and Kliethe.
"Let's get out of here," she urged. "Time's running out."
"But we didn't really..." Neophoros began.
"Do any tests, I know," Aphrodite answered him. Then she sighed. She was more or less sick of this now. "I guess we failed this anyway."
"How do we get out?" Eiraton asked.
"Same way as we got in, I presume," Aphrodite shrugged.
"But I don't remember which way I came," Neophoros said. "Do you? Eiraton? Kliethe?"

Both of the other gods just shook their heads, looking a bit at loss. Therefore Aphrodite squeezed her eyes shut, tried to recall the route she had walked to reach this damned place and then turn that way around backwards. After figuring that out, she led the other three through the tunnels. They took the wrong turn twice but in the end they found their way back to the round room with all the doors. It was empty at the time and when they exited the cave system the sun was high in the sky and burned unusually hot for the season.

Sitting on a boulder Eumonia was waiting for them with an inscrutable look on her face. Waiting for any of them to say her or his first word.


Aphrodite turned in her bed, slammed her fist in the pillow and cursed. She was so certain she had blown that cave test. Whatever it had really been about. Hidden riddles no doubt. Things they expected her to find and to solve. She had done nothing of that kind; instead she had made love with Neophoros. She felt like such a loser!

Eumonia had told her to go take a swim in the ocean and then to go up in her room, she would come visit her later in the afternoon. Nothing more, nothing less and with a perplexed mind Aphrodite did as told. She swam out to the black seastack some three miles away from the shore and then she rounded it without stopping for the usual rest, instead she returned right back home. Not until she closed the door to her rooms had it hit her. She had met no other in the water or on the paths to and from the beach and not a single soul had been around in the dorms. Where was everybody? As she flung herself on the bed Aphrodite noted how silent it was. Not a sound of her friends. No talk, no laughter, not the usual bumps and thuds and slamming of doors telling that there were others out and about. It was as if everyone else had left to go somewhere else. She really wondered where.

Later in the evening Eumonia came into Aphrodite's room and informed her that she was still in the group but that five of her comrades had been told to leave. The Kytheran had been asked to come down and dine with the remaining young gods.

The group sure was diminished. When Aphrodite arrived in the refectory for the meal, she noted that Eiraton was gone. And so were Gephion and Sudema. Neophoros was still around though, as were Kliethe, Ishtar and Anaxar. Quiet Anaxar, Aphrodite couldn't help wonder at his presence. Why was he still around, and not for instance Suderna who had been so alert and clever all the time? Suderna, the star pupil, the invincible, why was she gone? There were several similar questions sent Eumonia's way that evening, but their teacher had refused to answer any of those. Whatever had happened to their comrades, wherever they had gone, Eumonia was not going to tell anything. Hence the reduced group had dined more or less in silence, all of them with her or his head spinning with thoughts.  

The coming few days were spent in this kind of after-shock, although Aphrodite and Kliethe discussed what happened in the caves. Kliethe was convinced that she should have been asked to leave after her debacle with the fall.
"When I found myself still around I couldn't help wondering if some mistake had been made somewhere. Then it hit me that perhaps we are the goners."
"What do you mean, we're still here?" Aphrodite asked puzzled.
"Perhaps those who made it are the ones who went somewhere else. Perhaps they went with Alpheus deeper in the caves to continue the education while we, who flunked it, were the ones who got out. And now we are just waiting for the rest to return. Or something."

Aphrodite regarded the short, flaxen-haired and amber skinned goddess. Maybe Kliethe was right. Maybe it was those sitting here who flunked the test. After all Eumonia had just handed them some reading tasks and then she seemed to busy herself with other, more important things. In lack of anything else to say Aphrodite returned to safe shores and asked Kliethe about Eiraton, what he meant to her. Kliethe had surprised Aphrodite with three guileless words:
"I hate him."
"He didn't care. I wanted him to see ME, not just the mirror of himself in me."
"So he was like that, eh?"
"Yeah, you might say that. I had hard to reach him. And in the cave we ran into each other and for some reason we started to talk about it. Or I started to talk about it but he wasn't keen on listening. In the end he ran away with me after and thus we ran into the two of you. You were making it out, right?"

"Yes," Aphrodite blushed in spite of herself. "Yes, in fact we did."
"Oh... sorry about that..."
"Don't be, we were done when you came."
"Was he... good?"
"Oh, you don't have to answer that of course. Now... you can understand why he was upset, right? Eiraton, I mean."
"In a way. You know, Kliethe?"
"If you see him again - give him one last chance. Perhaps the cave taught him something. If not - forget him!"
"That easy, eh?"
"No, it's hardly ever 'that easy'. But sometimes it's necessary nevertheless."      

They vented the subject bit more where they sat in the shadow on the patio. More than anything it felt to Aphrodite like the younger woman needed to talk it out of her system. In the end she stood and said:
"I'll do as you suggested, Aphrodite. If I ever meet him again. And let me give you one word of advice back?"
"You're sensitive and intelligent, woman. And you know these things. But you have a way of talking to people sometimes, as if they are just extras in the play that is your life. We're very real, Aphrodite. We're flesh and blood and not just Eumonia's homework."
"Do I... sound like that?" Aphrodite had never considered herself particularly sensitive, but when Kliethe voiced her opinion, Aphrodite actually felt tears burn in the back of her eyes. Truth hurt sometimes! She couldn't just shrug it off, she understood it had taken a lot of courage from Kliethe's side to voice her opinion.  

"Yes, sometimes you do. I know you care, but others may not see it that way. And then there are the guys."
"What about them?"
"They're not there just for sex you know."
"I guess you know that as well, but love is more than just..." Kliethe silently mimicked the act with her hips. "I... hope you're not mad at me for saying this, but it was either being honest or being a chicken."
"I... Kliethe... Thanks." It was quite an effort saying that, to confront her own weaknesses in front of someone else. To admit that Kliethe was right when she voiced her criticism. To admit that she, Aphrodite, was far from the perfect being. She guessed that was a weakness everyone had more or less of. The inability to admit their own faults. She also understood that this flaw could be a big obstacle in a relation between two people, so if she could find ways to work around such hindrances without pointing fingers in any direction, there would be a lot to gain.

Kliethe left after these words and Aphrodite became alone with her thoughts, running them over again and again, wondering if Kliethe was right. If they were drop outs while the rest of the students were still in the competition. Somewhere else. In any case, Aphrodite figured, Olympos was most probably out of the discussion by now.
"Whatever," she said to herself, "it was fun as long as it lasted. Now I won't have to worry mother by going somewhere she doesn't want me to go. I can go home to Kythera instead. Take a few months of holiday before I decide what to do next in my life."


Eumonia woke her up before dawn the next day. A silent knock on the door. Aphrodite felt frozen and melancholic, she had been waken up from the most wonderful and exciting dream, which she now recalled only traces from. Traces, which soon disappeared like flutters in the wind and were no more. Sweeping a robe around her slender form she went to answer the door.
"Aphrodite," her teacher greeted her as soon as she peaked through the narrow door opening. "Come with me, it's time for your final evaluation."
"My what?" The Kytheran goddess' voice was naturally perplexed.
"Come with me!"

When Aphrodite made a gesture to close the door and return to her room, Eumonia had taken the door in her right hand, gentle but firm.
"Now! Aphrodite, come with me now!"
"But I need to get dressed."
"What you wear now will do. We are going down to the beach."
"You'll see when we get there. "

Once again, Aphrodite found herself following Eumonia, wearing a puzzled expression upon her face. They walked through a silent house, filled with the vibes of sleep, she could even catch fragments of what people were dreaming around her. In a strange way her senses felt expanded, sharpened. As if her sleep that night had readied her somehow for what to come. Yet she had no idea what it meant. Or what her teacher meant. Why were they going down to the beach? Honestly, she was sick and tired of riddles now, but she didn't know what to do about it.

Upon arrival Aphrodite caught sight of large torches stuck in the sand, torches with burning flames and a folded square of red textile was lying on the ground, magic holding it down in spite of winds chasing across the beach. Eumonia didn't go there though, she walked past it and down to the waterfront, Aphrodite following mystified. Her teacher stopped just before the point where the waves peaked before returning to the ocean again, leaving foam behind like aquatic semen. There she turned to face her.
"Today is your day of initiation, Aphrodite," she said. "You have passed all the tests laid before you and done it with excellency. I am proud of you, your advancement showed me that I was right about you. You have a very special gift for match-making and pairing people and you have showed that more than enough over the last days."

"What do you mean," Aphrodite asked bewildered. "I didn't do anything. Or at least very little. In the cave..."
"You were excellent in the cave. You read Neophoros, Kliethe and Eiraton almost like open books. And what you didn't see you made them tell you about."
"Neophoros wanted the sexual relief, Eiraton wanted to play the part of importance to impress upon Kliethe and finally Kliethe wanted to understand her own feelings and fears. I'll be honest now and tell you the truth about those tests. There weren't any of your friends you encountered in the caves. What you did was falling asleep, drugged by the drink Alpheus gave you. You slept in one of those little rooms and you were receiving dreams evolving around your friends. Dreams in which there were riddles for you to solve. These were the tests you went through. As did all the rest."

"So I never did make love to Neophoros in there then? And Kliethe didn't fall down in the abyss?"
"No," Eumonia confirmed. "To be true there is no abyss in there , there's no caves or tunnels, there's hardly anything more than the round chamber and the small rooms surrounding it."
"It was all in my dreams?"
"Yes it was."
"And the others, did they dream too?"
"They did."
"About me."
"Yes some did. Kliethe for instance."

"How about Neophoros?" Aphrodite shivered in the cold morning air. The thought of...
"Actually he was one of the few who didn't do that. Actually, he's not even a student here. Not this time at least. He passed those tests way earlier. No, he is a dream master. He worked together with us to make these dreams happen."
"Including - me having sex with him?" Now Aphrodite felt embarrassment burn upon her cheeks and could hardly face her teacher.
"Yes he did. That was one of the harder tests. How would you meet a man who was a little bit too hot? Would you follow through or not?"
"And I passed?"
"By making love with him?"

"That was one possible option. Another would have been turning him down without hurting or angering him. Solving that would have given you more points because it's way harder. Then again, we can't master everything at first try. Besides, you did well enough with the other dream parts, including helping your friends to find the way out of the cave."
"And the swim? Was that a dream as well?"
"No that was real. That was to get the last of the drug out of the system and also to stop you from comparing your experience too well with your friends - and thus see through the deception. Which was too early, because a few tests remained. In your case following up the counselling regarding Eiraton and Kliethe. In your dream you told Eiraton how to deal with Kliethe. And yesterday you told Kliethe how to deal with Eiraton. Or so you thought. I admit that was just another dream sent to you. Nothing was happening between the two of them, that was a test given to you. Honestly Kliethe is still struggling with something similar between Eiraton and yourself and Eiraton tries to figure out a triangle of betrayal involving you, Ishtar and Neophoros."  

"Oh - Eugh! Where are they now?"
"Still asleep. This is your morning, Aphrodite."
"So Eiraton wasn't taken out of the education? Where is he now?"
"He's been brought elsewhere, together with Salika and Riaton. In fact the only ones taken out were Gephion and Sudema. Gephion wasn't emphatic enough and Sudema was too preoccupied with her own believed excellency. She kept looking down upon the rest of you and these people will never become good councilors. Now, Aphrodite, you are destined for greatness. I can feel that. This dawn will see you leave the old ways and go forward towards new challenges. This day will see you traverse from apprentice to master. And by tradition we use to mark that transition by a re-birth fitting for each of our students."

"A re-birth?"
"Yes. You belong to the water element, dear. Then there's fire in you as well. And dawn. You will be re-born into the new circle by ascending from the waves and meet your new colleagues on this beach. Now, let me show you...


Aphrodite was swimming under water, just like Eumonia had told her. It was still dark beneath the surface, quiet and slightly chilly, so she kept herself shielded from the cold, green water. She swam out quite a bit before she turned around again. Here she dived down almost to the bottom of the sea, or at least until her hands gently touched the soft sand. Then she felt it. The smooth hardness of a sea-shell, one of those almost round ones. A huge one! Orange patterned. On a whim she picked it up, and with it firmly clasped in her right hand she returned to the shore. Rising out of the water, she faced the beach with the rising sun at her back, colouring her fair hair in a burning orange hue and making her cast an elongated, soft-edged shadow across the water and the sand.

Now she found even more burning torches stuck in the sand and a huge bonfire was crackling a bit away. And Eumonia was not alone anymore. Together with her stood Alpheus, Neophoros, Ishtar and five women Aphrodite didn't recognize. One of them held a cup and an amphora made of shining bronze and another two of them were carrying that large, red textile and a smaller white one. When they saw Aphrodite appear they were all cheering and calling her name, waving to her to come ashore. Ishtar was beaming like a sun, she looked truly happy for her friend's sake. Eumonia had told that the other goddess had passed her test yesterday and was now going east to a pantheon there to begin her work, however she had asked to stay for Aphrodite's initiation.

The ladies with the textile came running out from the beach when Aphrodite was still knee-deep in the water and before she knew it they had dressed her magically in a white silk peplo which seemed to be floating around her like pre-dawn mist rather than being worn. Next they swathed the red textile around her, draped it as a toga, the fluttering silk resembling burning fire. In that instance Aphrodite found herself completely dry in spite of just having ascended out of the water. Even her hair appeared dry and it fell around her like silk, still pinkish from the rising sun and almost luminescent. Somehow she managed to walk ashore without wetting her crimson toga. She noted that it was decorated with golden leaves and flowers on the hems.

"I'm Maniva," said one of the women who had dressed her, a tall, cocoa-skinned goddess with mirth in her dark, intelligent eyes.
"And I'm Sreta," said the other one, who was short and plum-lipped and almost as fair as Aphrodite herself, her gray eyes sparkling with excitement. They walked on each side of Aphrodite as she came ashore in triumph, still carrying that sea-shell as if it was the greatest of treasures. Which it was in a way. She knew it was giving her luck and it would become her talisman. Now she noted the fifth woman, who stepped out to welcome her. It was Dione, her mother! That made Aphrodite more happy than ever, Dione had finally understood her daughter's strife in life and accepted what she did. Learning that made Aphrodite so moved she almost got teary eyed.

Not surprisingly Dione became the first one to come out and give Aphrodite a big hug.
"I am so proud of you my girl," she was laughing in the hair of her daughter while holding her. "I am so very very proud of you, Aphrodite, that you have gone through these hard teachings and done it with such excellence too. Eumonia told me you're her master class student! She told me what you have acquired and what you can yet become. And I'd really love for you to make that happen. It would be so fantastic for you, dear!"
"What has she actually told?" Aphrodite asked while hugging her mother back.
"That you are emphatic, clever, sensual and understanding. A good listener with a great heart. That you can handle praise as well as criticism. And several other things. I am so proud of you, dear."    

After Dione let go of her daughter, Eumonia herself handed Aphrodite the bronze cup, and from it the re-born goddess drank the sweetest of wine, feeling how it swept through her body and warming her, invigorating her. Meanwhile Ishtar took Dione's and Sreta's hands and Sreta in turn reached out to a fourth woman, a tall brunette who in turn had connected with Alpheus. And finally Neophoros, holding on to Dione had taken the pudgy redhead who held Alpheus in his other hand. They began to sing and dance around Aphrodite and Eumonia while the sun was rising higher in the sky, the clouds turning from indigo to pink to white and the shadows shrinking.

The seagulls had given the beach a try before learning that it was already taken and with disappointed calls they had lifted off again, out over the waters. The goddesses and gods sang a song about love and understanding, about men and women and with quite a few dirty lines. Aphrodite giggled at those, although she wasn't that embarrassed, it was more like she felt relief. Utter relief paired with a tired and pleasant happiness and a joyful desire to kiss and to hug the whole world. Including that annoying god Eiraton, wherever he had gone.

Finally all the dancers slumped down in the sand and now nymphs arrived carrying baskets with breakfast and soft blankets to sit down upon. At that moment, Aphrodite realized she was famished and they all began partying on what was in the baskets, the mood merry and festive and with Aphrodite - reborn from the waves – as the central piece.

She drank more of the honey-sweetened wine and became more or less tipsy, and at one moment she joked with Ishtar:
"I though, when I went down there, that the sea-foam looked like semen."
"Haha who's semen could that be then?" her friend giggled back, where she half lied, trying to make up her mind about finishing her chicken wing or not. Then she burped and giggled even more at that faux pas.
"They say it was somewhere around here Cronos defeated Ouranos," the redhead goddess said. Her name was Mnemosyne, Aphrodite had learned. " They also say that Cronos slized off his…" she finished the sentence by making a cutting gesture down by her crotch and Neophoros made a pained face of empathy.    
"… and his dingdong became shark food," Ishtar smirked and burped yet another time.

"There's no sharks around here," Maniva said where she was sitting cross-legged, and looking oddly sober.
"Nevertheless," Mnemosyne said. "They say his cock fell down in the sea and that it sprouted semen all over Cyprus and that's why this island is blessed with such love. And that some of this semen can still be seen in the waves which kisses the sand."
"Ick! You're disgusting," Maniva huffed and Eumonia laughed and said:
"You have quite some imagination, dear. But do you really think it's proper among these youths?"
"Don't worry about us, we can handle it," Aphrodite assured the older goddesses. "Although I'd hate to picture myself being reborn among Ouranos' semen!"  


About an hour later there wasn't a single crumble left in the breakfast baskets and the gods and goddesses had started to gather themselves and their wits again. Standing up, brushing off and straightening their clothes. Smiling a bit at each other almost embarrassed by their indulgence. While Neophoros helped Aphrodite up, Eumonia turned to them and said:
"He's here now!"
"Who?" Aphrodite asked.
Your employer to be," she nodded to her right. "Zeus."
"Zeus! He came here himself?"
"That he did," her teacher replied, and wasn't there a trace of awe in her voice.

When Aphrodite followed Eumonia's gaze towards the sand hills, she beheld a man sitting on a stone. A tall, fit and tanned man dressed in blue and golden and with hair so blond that it was almost white which curled down over his broad shoulders. But what stroke her mostly was those eyes. Piercing sapphires which were regarding her as if their owner could see right into her and in an instant know every secret she carried.

That was Zeus. Ruler of Olympos, king of all the gods.  
The monstrosity lunged itself at the much smaller being who swiftly jumped to the side, spun around on a heel and lashed out with his sharp sword, slicing up a large portion of the beast's side. In response the beast growled and turned, big clawed paws trying to reach its foe. But he was nowhere near anymore, within moments he had danced to the other side and was attacking again, now using a second blade to inflict an almost identical wound on the beast's right flank. Once more was the beast grabbing for the swordfighter, struggling to predict the next move. Far from easy, this very fighter never performed the same stunt twice, at least not in the same battle. Instead he dived down and with a war-cry he slid close to the beast and stabbed almost vertically with both blades at the same time, wounding the beast in the belly. Wounding it fatally, pulling out bowels as he withdrew his weapons. With a quick move he backed off, both to avoid the beast's swinging fists and the same's stinking intestines. Almost within the same oddly graceful move did he launch himself in the air and lashed out with a leg. A foot clad in a steel-hooded boot hit the beast right in the chest.

As the swordsman somersaulted backwards and landed on the snow-clad ground, the beast fell like a trunk in the storm and crashed against a large pine. The mighty old tree shook quite a bit and let go of a large heap of snow which landed upon the now dead beast.

With a husky laugher, the man shifted so he was now holding both swords in the left hand, walked the three steps up to where the beast had fallen and leant over it with a snarling expression that twisted his handsome face quite a bit. The smell of these things! With a glowed right hand he reached out and tugged at a golden chain encircling the dead beast's thick neck, pulling it off with a snap.
"Minotaurs!" he scoffed as he regarded the charm which hung from the chain, while he held it in the air in front of himself, swinging it slightly. "Who's organizing these beasts?"

Then he turned around, regarding the two dead horse-men lying in the snow. One elderly but still strong, with defined muscles and chestnut fur and slightly darker hair and tail. The other one was black-furred, dark in skin and had been quite a bit younger when he was sent down to queue for Charon's ferry.  
"And what's their vendetta with the Centaurs?" he said with a lot more upset voice.

"Ares! Lord Ares!" the high-pitched voice made him turn around.
"Hippomeda?" Ares faced the female Centaur who came galloping through the forest, a distressed expression in her face and bow and arrows clasped hard in her hands. When Hippomeda reached the clearing her face turned into one of utterly despair.
"Nooooo!" Her yell echoed in the otherwise so silent forest and some screaming jackdaws took into the air, scared away from a nearby tree.  
"'Meda... I'm Sorry." was the only and inadequate thing Ares could say. "Was a Minotaur. Another one."
"But... but... but..." Hippomeda staggered. "I thought them all dead. I thought... Oh no, no, no... Anax... Orikles!"

"Apparently there are more of them out there," Ares' voice was steely. "And they might be coming here. I suggest I'll help you organize a better defense." Then he walked over to the forlorn horsewoman and simply laid his strong arms around her, that was the only consolidation he could think of offering at the moment.


"Yes, father, someone's killing the Centaurs," Ares said with a poignant voice. "Someone is sending Minotaurs to take them out. I cannot believe the beasts are organizing themselves, since they're even more stupid than the bouvines they resemble."

Zeus sighed and balled a fist, resting his squarey cheek upon it, his blond hair shone like gold in the lamplight. The equally fair haired Athena, sitting next to Ares, remembered several jokes about cows, but none of them felt adequate now.
"You think someone's sending those Minotaurs after the Centaurs?" the King of the Gods asked and looked at the trio sitting in front of him in his stately office. Beside Ares and Athena, Cadmilos was in the room, oddly solemn for being him. Then again, Cadmilos was the protector of what was generally referred to as the 'wild' races and he was not looking kindly upon anyone threatening them.

"I definitely do," the War God replied. "Zelos and I hit back the first wave of Minotaurs almost a year ago. But not until they had killed more than 200 Centaurs. It was one awful fight, but when we were done there was nothing hinting at this being more than a random disagreement between the two specimens. We believed the danger to be over and moved on to other things. Until I got this call of distress a few days back. Another Centaur tribe had been hit by Minotaurs. This time the beasts were only 30 but they managed to do a lot of damage. And since Zelos was not around - no other fighter to be true - I had to do the cleanup myself. Even though these Centaurs were a bit better prepared we lost almost a hundred. The race is bleeding, father, something has to be done. We have to find whoever it is going after the Centaurs."

"Yes, I've red Ares' report," Athena added. "And done some calculation myself. If this genocide does not stop soon, we'll be down to a critical level where the Centaurs become unable to multiply without inbreeding. Especially since they have so hard to overcome their tribal differences and cross-intercourse."
"So what are you going to do?" Cadmilos asked. "Any plan?"
"Can we bring the Centaurs into safety?" Zeus asked.
"There's already some of them living here at Olympos, as guards and security detail." Cadmilos said. "Can't we..."
"There's a bit more than 600 Centaurs in all the area of Hellas. Naturally we cannot bring them all here," Zeus pointed out.
"But some..." Cadmilos began whereupon Zeus shook his head.
"How are we to select those 'some'? And then how do we explain to the 'not some' that they are out and the others are in? No, we have to do better than that. Olympos is our home; it cannot be an asylum for every threatened race in the world. Because then WE would have nowhere to be at peace."

"Would it be possible to assign some of us to keep a closer look upon the Centaurs - at least until we have traced down the threat?" Ares asked.
"Yes, it would," Zeus agreed. "On the other hand I want you and Athena to attack instead of defend. I want you to give your best in finding the one or the ones behind these attacks upon the Centaurs. Who's sending the Minotaurs."
"I guess we can fairly rule out the Minotaurs themselves," Athena thought. "As Ares said, they are not smart enough. And the mortal humans, they have no command over Minotaurs. Or at least I've only met one who had - and he's dead since almost a century."
"Who can command the Minotaurs then?" Cadmilos asked. "I know of no such..."
"Neither do I," Athena replied. "But still it's obvious that somebody does. And we need to find that one."

"That mortal," Zeus enquired. "Who was he?"
"A Cretan named Tyrabos," Athena answered. "When he was in his thirties he managed to capture some of the Minotaurs who were living in the Cretan wilderness. He locked them up and studied them and apparently he learned to communicate with them. Tyrabos was yearning to learn more about them. He believed they were possible to pet and to be put to work, as a bit more intelligent beasts of burden than general oxen. Unfortunately the rest of the people in the municipality Tyrabos lived in did not agree, and after failed attempts to stop him they simply attacked his farm and killed both him and his family and all his captured Minotaurs. Then they burned the place to the ground. Making sure that none of the notes Tyrabos had made about his work with the beasts survived."
"Horrid - but interesting," Zeus said.

"May it be that some of this Tyrabos' notes did subsist?" Ares figured. "And have now ended up in the wrong hands?"
"Very much possible," Athena replied.
"But who could that be?" Cadmilos furrowed his heavy brows and sucked in breath between his teeth. "If it all burned down I mean?"
"It's very much possible that Tyrabos kept copies elsewhere," Athena guessed. "Copies which were later found by someone who has a problem with Centaurs. It's no secret that there are a lot of mortal humans who want to get rid of the horse-men for various reasons. It is after all the humans who have been the biggest threat to the Centaurs over the centuries."

"But there is peace now, isn't it?" Cadmilos insisted.
"Peace is always relative," Ares replied. "There's always people out there who do not accept the various peaces and who want to resume warring as soon as possible. People believing the peace has been forced upon them without them having any say in the matter. People believing the peace being unfair. If they get the chance they tend to take the matter in their own hands. Just look at the Thracians. After almost a decade they are once again arming themselves against the Amazons, who in return are..."

"Ares, we're deriving from the subject here," Zeus cut him off. "What I want you to do, is to keep a vigilant eye on the centaurs. I'll assign Zelos and Bia to your help, you can brief them about this as soon as they come home tonight. Athena, I want you to try to find out if there's some truth to your suspicion about the notes on Minotaurs by this Tyrabos. If they might have come astray, and if this may lead you to the ones after the Centaurs. Or if not, if it's possible to find this foe some other way."
"May the fates be of help?" Cadmilos asked.
"I hardly think so," Zeus sighed. "They seldom keep their eyes on other beings than the humans and their realm. The so-called wild races are nothing they bother with."

"But can't you ask them to make an exception in this case?"
"No, Cadmilos," Zeus replied. "The Fates are exceptional interpreters of the temporal and spatial waves and occurrences. But they are independent ladies who take orders very reluctantly. In this case I know they will protest eagerly, consider it beneath their dignity."
"But Zeus, you are the King of the Gods, they have to obey you."
"This has nothing to do with my status. Being forced they will perform without excellence. It will lead to nothing and only make them hostile and unhelpful. I will not command them to do this."

Zeus had hardly finished when Cadmilos started to argue the wisdom of such a decision and Ares stood and walked over to the window, staring out over the gardens of Olympos with his hands crossed at the back. No matter that it was winter, his mountain home rested in some kind of eternal early summer with verdant greenery and blossoms everywhere, the afternoon sun slanting down over a lush landscape and glittering in ponds and canals, shining off the gilded rooftops of the Olympian palaces and villas. It was all very exquisite and tranquil, still it did nothing to cheer up the war god's bad mood. He felt miserable, and it wasn't only related to the Centaurs. He was troubled with a shortcoming of personal matters as well. Zeus' mentioning of Bia had brought it all up to Ares again. Bia and Zelos and their siblings Kratos and Nike had been among Zeus' loyal enforcers since before Ares was born, from the late years of the Titan war to be true. It was from them Ares had learned most of his fighting skills. Bia had trained him together with her own daughter Euryphaessa and two other youths, named Agon and Anankê. When Agon and Anankê soon became a couple it was only natural that Ares and Euryphaessa teamed up as well.

They became lovers and soul-mates, comrades in arms. Something Ares had taken for granted would always last. He had never questioned his deep connection with Euryphaessa. At least until recently, when Hyperion got in the way. That damn old fart who was the father of Helios, Selene and Eos! Hyperion came between Ares and Euryphaessa and - to cut a long story short - lured her away from war and battles and from Ares. The war god had been quite taken by surprise, he became angered, sad and disappointed. Finding himself facing a battle he didn't know how to fight. How to battle an ally of his father - over a woman?

Ares knew that if he lashed out against Hyperion using violence he would probably defeat the older man. But he wouldn't be victorious in spite, since his deed would hardly give him Euryphaessa back. Most probably such a course of action might push Euryphaessa and Hyperion even tighter. So Ares was at loss for strategy. And Athena was no one to ask, she never thought about love, she hardly ever loved to be true. Ares had never really heard his older sister claim someone to her heart. So as a desperate course of action Ares had sought revenge by bedding Hyperion's two daughters. Eos had been a piece of cake, Selene a bit harder - and as a result Ares had learned that - nobody GAVE A DAMN!

Actually, that was not entirely true. Eos had taken her liking to Ares and now she kept on shadowing him all around and therefore the God of War had found himself playing the most embarrassing cat and mouse game. Now he didn't know what to do. He wanted Euryphaessa back and he sure didn't want Eos sitting outside his door when he came home tonight. Sighing deeply, he returned with half an ear to the conversation behind him.

"...promised to protect them!" Cadmilos persisted.
"Yes, but to protect someone they must foremost want to be protected. And we can't pamper the Centaurs like we ward over nymphs and mortals," Zeus replied. "The Centaurs are a proud race. They do not want human gods watching over every step they take."
"How about their own god?" Athena asked. "Why don't we ask Cheiron?"

Zeus sighed at the mention of his old brother in arms.
"If you can find him, Athena, you're more than welcome to ask him. To plead to his conscience both as a Centaur and as an immortal. Nonetheless he's been missing for more than two centuries now, and I'm not even sure he's still alive. I think it's better if you follow the Tyrabos lead."

Ares turned around, that was the distraction he might need to get over Euryphaessa.
"Let me try to find the Centaur immortal," he offered. "I'm quite sure Bia and Zelos can ward over the Centaurs on their own. While I go looking for Cheiron."
"Let me come with you," Cadmilos volunteered and Ares made a double-take. This wasn't something he had expected. Cadmilos! Ares almost wanted to groin, he had very little patience with the stubborn son of Nyx. But Zeus and Athena seemed to think it was a good idea, they believed Cadmilos would be better than Ares at persuading Cheiron into giving a helping hand against the plaguing Minotaurs. A helping hand as well as someone the Centaurs could trust.
"Father, the Centaurs trust me," Ares protested.
"I know they do," Zeus replied. "I'm very impressed with the work you've done so far with cleaning out the Minotaurs. But if we are to have someone permanently watching over the Centaurs, I believe Cheiron to be the one. He is Centaur himself and understands how they think more than anyone of us do. Besides, you'll be needed at the front in the future, son, because I hold no doubt that other wars will be coming our way."

The war god nodded, he knew his father was right. Still he did not back off entirely.
"If Cadmilos is coming with me I'll need to have another warrior too. Someone to keep an eye on this nature god who is good at doing his thing but cannot hold a sword. Give me Nike! Or at least Kratos."

Zeus seemed to hesitate for a while before he yielded:
"Okay, I'll send Nike with you. She's been dying for some good old action lately anyway. Besides, Cheiron used to like her." With those words Zeus wrapped up the meeting and both Athena and Cadmilos were soon on their way. However Zeus asked Ares to stay. As his son lingered with his hands upon the back of the chair where he had been sitting, Zeus asked:
"Son, what is troubling you? Beside the Centaurs and Cheiron that is?"

Ares hesitated. He didn't know what to tell about Euryphaessa. How much did his father know? How much did he need to know? The War God knew well that in spite of having Helios, Eos and Selene at his side Zeus and Hyperion weren't really on best friend's term. The other god still considered Zeus a bit too young and rowdy to be leading the immortals of the world, and he had not been entirely pleased when Ares' father had been voted into the position. He knew better than to voice complaints though, and consequently Zeus and Hyperion nurtured some kind of tense armistice. An armistice which Ares suspected might be in jeopardy if his father got involved in the situation with Euryphaessa. Instead Ares decided for a clean slate.
"How can you be sure about a woman?"
"How do you mean?" Zeus raised a brow and leaned forward, elbows resting upon his desk.
"How do you know if they love you or not? I mean, they say they do and they kiss and so, but... how can you be positively sure?"
"In spite of the 'and so' thing you mean?" Zeus grinned slightly.
"Yeah," Ares nodded, remaining solemn.

"Let me tell you something, son. Pay attention to how she sleeps when you share the bed!"
"How she sleeps?" Ares furrowed his brow. "Say again!"
"Look at her when she sleeps, Ares! A woman - and a man - any person can be ever so deceiving when awake. Lying with not only their mouth but with their whole body language, with eyes, fragrances and even their aura if they are skilled enough. But that takes a conscious mind to pull off, in sleep the mind is off on a journey on its own and all deceptions are off. So look at your sleeping friend! Look what she does in bed, a woman in love, she cuddles up. Wants to be close. Look if she's reaches for you in the night or if she rolls away. Looks if she's comfortable resting against your biceps or your torso! And do not despair if she turns her back, that means she's searching for your protection. The back is vulnerable and she want you there to watch over her. It means she wants to spoon up and cuddle that way."

"It does?" Ares smiled. He didn't remember that behaviour from Euryphaessa, in fact he didn't remember any sleeping manner at all from her. He had simply been too tired - or too ignorant - to care at the time.
"Yes it does," Zeus replied and got an aloof smile upon his lips. "Hera..." he begun, before stopping himself, realizing the embarrassment of discussing the mother with his son. But Ares just grinned.
"I'll keep that in mind," he replied. "Can I go talk to Nike now?"
"Do so! Then let me know before you leave! I might have some clues to what could've happened to Cheiron in my old files. I need to look them up before I can say anything for sure."


When his son had left, Zeus picked up a paper from his desk and read it over once again. It was from Eumonia on Cyprus. The education of the young gods there was going really well after a few obstacles in the upstart. The girl called Aphrodite seemed promising. If she has what I think she has, she might very well be the one you're looking for, Great Zeus. I'll keep you informed of her progress. Zeus read it twice, memorizing the young goddess' name. Then he nodded with a slight smile. Some good news for a change.


"Shit!" The war god dodged behind a pillar, not sure if Eos had really seen him or not. The very last thing he needed now was that annoying shadow which seemed impossible to shake. Why had he ever slept with her? Now he kept avoiding her like a stag kept avoiding Artemis. Dodging like that was not Ares' style at all. He had to do something about this, and preferable before he went out looking for Cheiron. Or else Eos could get the silly idea that he might've dumped her for Nike. And while Ares felt positively convinced that he and Nike would take their chances with each other on their common quest, he sure didn't want that experience to be spoiled by some needless accusations from Eos.

"Aaaares! I know you're around. Come forward! Let me see your handsome face."
"Okay better now than never. Sometimes things do work better without a strategy after all," Ares murmured to himself and stepped forward, pretending to have his mind on other things.
"Ares, there you are! Darling we do need to talk!" Eos was by his side in a whiff, taking his arm with both hands and started to blab. Whereupon the war god gave a weary response:
"Eos, 'we talking' - does that mean you saying a lot of things and me listening?"
"Yeah well - sort of. I mean... what I mean is that we must decide something. Before you go out warring again. I heard about the Centaurs. From Athena. Oh, you're suuuuch a hero. But Iiii think that you and I ought to..."
"Eos, I have to go away."
"Right now?" Eos stared poutingly at him. "Why can't..."

"Well not exactly this very moment, but I'm going on a quest to try to find the lost Centaur god Cheiron. He's been..."
"Isn't he dead?"
"Athena and dad are convinced otherwise."
"But why don't THEY go looking for him then? Instead of sending YOU?"  
"Eos, get real! The quest-days for Father Zeus is over since centuries. Or at least since he finally and once and for all accepted the responsibility as King of the Gods. Athena is following another lead, she's trying to trace down the one who sends Minotaurs after the Centaurs."
"Oh... But Ares... When do you go on that quest?"
"As soon as possible. There are some preparations in need to be done and..."
"Can I come with you?"

Ares almost balked at that question.  
"Eos, it's not a vacation. It might be..."
"...dangerous? Don't give me that shit! I can manage, I know it!"
"Can you now? When was the last time you went on a quest?"
"I've never been on a quest before, and you know it."
"And now isn't exactly the time to start. Eos, I am quite convinced that my father wouldn't allow it. So let's not have this discussion."
"But what about us? When you go away?"

That was his cue, Ares put sombre stresses on every word now.
"Eos, there is no 'us'. Not in that sense you seem to believe at least."
"But we had..."
"A one night stand. And then two nights mostly because I was too weak in spirit to back off. Which doesn't mean that I want this to become something serious or permanent... Now, please, Eos, don't cry! I do not want to hurt you but I mean it and I don't intend to lie about this. There is no 'us', I am going away for a while and I don't want you to sit around waiting for me or something because me returning to you is not going to happen. I'm sorry but that's the way it is."
"But why then did you..."
"Because I made a mistake, Eos. I wanted a friend for the night because I was moody. I know I should've made sure from the start that you didn't want anything serious..."

"But I did, Ares!"
"Because then I wouldn't have let anything happen."
"You're such a pig!" Eos' slap echoed in the large gallery and Ares' reflexes might've been fast enough for him to take her hand, but he let her hit him just to get the rage out of her body. On top of that he presumed he somewhat deserved it. When Eos turned on her heels and marched down the gallery the same way as she had come, Ares sighed again and rubbed his hand over his eyes. Why had he let his life become so complicated?


Nike looked at him with a grin plastered all over her tanned, heart-shaped face when Ares finished telling about their quest.
"Cheiron," she said. "It'll be great to see that ole stallion again. If we do find him that is. You've any lead, Ary?"
"No, but dad might. Or if not, we'll have to do this the hard way, return to the place where he was last seen and see if there's any lingering energies. Any trace at all."
"He's been gone for - what's it?" The youngest of the Enforcers counted on her elegant fingers, "180 years give or take a few of 'em. I don't think there's any chance of lingering energies still. Anywhere."
"There are other ways," Ares responded. "We'll scry backwards in time."
"Eh - dunno how to do that."
"But I do, Nike. I learned it a couple of decades back, when there was very little going on warvise and I was bored down to the bones. Mother taught me how and I amused myself with watching the Titan war. Pure entertainment originally, but I learned a few things. Forgotten tricks and such."

"Good. Now, where are you going to start looking for Cheiron?"
"Pelion, that's his last known living place."
"That's not far, we ought to make it before dinner."
"We don't even have to go there, we can see what we need from here," Ares explained and looked around in Nike's airy but rather cluttered living room. "You don't happen to have a large silver bowl handy. A shallow one, something for fruit and similar kinds."
"In fact I do," Nike nodded over to a side board, then she seemed to grasp what Ares wanted, stood and went over to remove the apples, bananas, peaches, pears and grapes, simply putting them down among the other things lying around on the marble table. After that she picked the bowl up and returned to Ares.

"How about water?" she asked.
"Another neat little trick I learned." Ares rubbed his hand and soon water started to run down from them and into the bowl. The first and the second time he filled the bowl he simply swirled the water and then he withdrew the water the same way again, an even more impressive sight which had Nike almost staring her blue eyes out.
"Cool! But why did you do that?"
"Have to clean the bowl first," Ares said when he started to fill it the third time.
"It wasn't particularly dirty," Nike protested and Ares smiled.
"Not what you'd regularly mean by 'dirt', but there had been fruit lying there and their auras tend to stick. Something which may cause disturbances in the sighting. Especially those grapes, potent stuff. I bet there has to be some special magick with grapes, although we have yet to find it. But I digress, look here now!"

Then Ares had taken out one of his daggers from his waist belt. It was a special dagger, made out of shining, blue adamantine, a certain rare metallic matter which could actually maim even an immortal, if deployed the right way.
"What you gonna do with that?" Nike's eyes widened in discomfort bordering on fear upon beholding the perilous metal.
"This water is not enough for going 180 year back in time. 30 the most. So we're going to need a stronger potent."

By those words Ares focused and then, with a quick and skilled move, he slid the dagger across his left under arm, and as he concentrated to keep the wound from healing, Nike regarded how quite a bit of ichor-orange blood poured down in the bowl and mixed with the water. As the ichor connected with the hydrogen in the water a chemical reaction took place, a bizarre osmosis which made the water fizz, boil and smoke without getting warm. Instead those orange swirls turned almost green before they became diluted in the water and it once more became still. Ares let his wound heal, dried off his knife on his chiton as if it didn't bother him at all with some orange stains of divine blood. Which it probably didn't. Finally he turned to Nike:
"Now, let's do this."

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