Trio for Trouble
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The following is an episode of the Young Hercules Fan Fiction Seasons, a non-profit virtual season project; written for fans by fans this is done to help keep the legacy of the short-lived television series Young Hercules alive on the Internet. The overall direction of the story that takes place in this virtual season may not be exactly what took place if an actual televised season had been produced.
(Angry Dog chases Hercules and Iolaus)
(Dog jumps over Herc, Iolaus, and Jasons heads)
Hercules: "Whats next, a wild boar?"
AND OTHER THINGS WILL GET DOWNRIGHT SILLY
(Frogs jump around Jasons' throne room)
(Goddess Mirth kisses Fatuus on the cheek)
Mirth: "My bad."
(Strife and Fatuus try to comfort a upset Mirth)
Strife: "Tsk tsk tsk."
BUT OTHER THINGS JUST GET DOWNRIGHT DIRTY
(Strife wears a maniacal grin; he holds a knife)
(Hercules moves back, as Strife jabs a knife at him)
Iolaus, shrugging: "Maybe they weren't serious?"
THESE THINGS, AND MORE ON YOUNG HERCULES
"It sure was nice of Jason to let us stay with him for the rest of our vacation," Iolaus commented, examining the illustrations on one of the many decorative banners adorning the palace halls.
"Yeah," Hercules nodded, "and it only took a term's worth of whining on your part."
"I didn't-!" he lowered voice upon getting a dirty look from one of the guards that was stationed at the throne room's doors. "I didn't whine, I wheedled."
"You exaggerated how miserable things were at the Academy were until Jason felt guilty."
"Exactly," Iolaus beamed.
Just then the doors opened and the guards waved them through.
"Finally," Iolaus grumbled. "We've been waiting out here forever."
"Well you know Jason's people and their cases come first. Being a King can't be all fun and games."
"Yes but it's *never* fun and games."
"Well then why did you spend all that time whining?" Hercules teased.
"I told you I didn't-!" he stopped mid-exasperated exclamation as a robed figure, slight in stature, passed them on their way in.
The two boys smiled innocently and waved so she wouldn't think they were complete psychos.
She passed by with barely a sidelong glance and only the merest hint of an acknowledging smile.
"Yet another satisfied petitioner. Wow Jason, you really know how to make friends and influence people," Iolaus snorted.
"Not everybody can like every ruling I make," Jason rubbed his temple, trying to alleviate a building headache. "And everybody around here seems to be liking my rulings less and less." He looked up hopefully. "I don't suppose Kora's still got an opening for a dishwasher?"
"You know you're doing a perfectly fine job," Hercules said pointedly.
"Yeah I guess, but sometimes it just gets so boring!"
"Yeah sucks to be King- hey speaking of girls," Iolaus broke in, "who was that one that just left your throne room?"
"You know, white dress, sort of short and scruffy."
"With the exception of the dress, you could be describing yourself," Hercules snickered.
"Oh her," Jason nodded, even as Iolaus stuck his tongue out at Herc.
"Yeah, I bet with a bath and some new clothes, she'd clean up real nice."
"Iolaus she's a Hestian."
Hercules sighed; trying to stop the two from arguing was like trying to stop a brook from babbling.
"Lets just say, they aren't exactly known for their tolerance of the male of the species."
"Like the Amazons?"
"*Not* like the Amazons."
"Well then, Mr. Smarty Prince, what is she doing here?"
"Now, now, Iolaus," Hercules tsked. "It's a proven fact that no girl is immune to Jason's bounteous charms and roguish good looks."
"You dreamy beefcake casserole, you," Iolaus gushed.
"All right guys, very funny," Jason rolled his eyes. "She's here petitioning on behalf of her fellow priestesses. There's a Hestian temple on the outskirts of Corinth, and they want guaranteed protection if they ever come under attack."
"Oh, so what you really mean is that they don't like men until they need something."
"They don't like men period, Iolaus."
"So what'd you decide?" Hercules broke in; knowing if he didn't say something this could go on forever.
"I told her yes, of course. They're pacifists by nature and I doubt they'd know how to defend themselves even if they did decide to fight back."
"Hey!" Iolaus said brightly. "Maybe we should invite some of them back to the Academy, y'know teach 'em a few things, give Lilith someone to talk girl talk with."
"You've got a one chariot-track mind, you know that?"
"Now Jason, lets be fair," Hercules grinned. "Iolaus has got a two chariot-track mind: one for girls and one for food."
"Ooh! Speaking of which..."
"Don't worry Iolaus, you think I'd really invite my two best buddies to stay without throwing a feast to celebrate? I'll have one of the guards escort you to your rooms, I still have four more disputes to settle and I doubt you'd find it fun to sit there and listen."
"Oh I don't know, what case is up next?"
"Um," Jason unrolled a scroll and examined it. "This woman's rooster laid a couple of eggs in her neighbor's yard, and now he's trying claim to them."
Hercules' brow furrowed. "But...roosters don't lay eggs Jason."
"Well then I only have three more disputes to deal with," he shrugged, tossing the papyrus over his shoulder. The young king turned and motioned for a guard to approach. "Titus will take care of anythi-" Jason was cut off as the guard suddenly let out a yelp of surprise as he went flying backwards and landed hard on the stone floor.
"On second thought...maybe I should take you to your rooms."
Hercules leaned down as something rolled to a stop at his feet. "Looks like he tripped on this," he held up a silver dish.
"A serving platter?" Jason looked confused. "But the kitchen's all the way on the other side of the palace."
"Your cooking staff must be getting clumsy," Iolaus snorted.
"Yeah, I'll have to talk to them about that, but hey why are we all standing around here for? Lets go get you guys settled in."
"Hey Jase," Hercules stopped him. "Look at this." He turned the platter over and on the shiny, written in a sticky red substance of some sort, were the words 'you're next'.
<center>Trio for Trouble
Kirstie O'Sullivan as Mirth
Joel Tobeck as Strife
Phil Grieve as Fatuus
Based on "Young Hercules"
Created by Renaissance Pictures
Tern O'Brien & Medea
Edited by Tracy Viader
Written by Maggie Z
"Maybe they weren't serious," Iolaus commented to his friend as they got settled into one of the guestrooms. "I mean it's not as if there was a big threatening exclamation point at the end."
"There wasn't enough room to fit an exclamation point," Herc pointed out. "Besides, Jason wouldn't be holding a meeting with his advisors and chief of guards right now if he didn't think this was a real threat."
"I suppose," he conceded.
"C'mon," Hercules jerked his head in the direction of the door; "I told Jase we'd meet him in the banquet hall."
"Now see, there's an idea right there," Iolaus said brightly. "Maybe that platter was just the chef's way of being welcoming. Maybe he was trying to say something like, 'you're next- to taste my fine cuisine.'"
"And *maybe* you're really reaching for an explanation here. I don't think the head cook would try to cripple somebody just to advertise his garlic pepper chicken."
"Maybe so, but if it turns out I'm right, and this is just some harmless prank, I am going to have to seriously mock the both of you."
"You'd do that anyway."
"Ah, but now I'd have a reason," Iolaus grinned shamelessly as he shut the bedroom door behind them.
Jason emerged wearily from his council room. It had been an uphill battle, as it usually was whenever his chief advisor and chief of guards were within ten feet of one another. Ophistus was, and always had been; very protective of the crown prince so naturally he took the message on the platter very seriously and wanted Jason monitored around the clock by several guards. Andron, on the other hand, thought the incident had been blown totally out of proportion, he wasn't going to waste perfectly good sentries just to coddle the prince Ophistus still treated like a child.
To placate the both of them, Jason had extra guards stationed around places where someone would most likely try something underhanded, and agreed to use some of the little known passageways built for just such occasions.
A little extra precaution never hurt anybody, but it sure put a damper on his good mood. What was the fun of being royalty if you had to sneak around your own castle?
He quietly emerged from a door concealed behind an ornate tapestry depicting a dragon and a phoenix locked in mortal combat and was just about to duck into the nearby hallway when he heard a noise.
Peeking around the corner he saw the Hestian he'd talked to earlier trying to open the door to one of the sealed rooms.
*Relax Jason,* he told himself. *She's never been here before. She could just be lost. How would she know that's one of the treasure rooms? You're just being paranoid*
He'd almost convinced his body that there was nothing to worry about when the girl made a quick survey of the hall to make sure it was empty, pulled a pin out of her disheveled brown hair, and proceeded to hunker down and work at the lock with it.
As Jason watched in surprise, there was an almost immediate click as the catch gave and the Hestian took another quick look around before pushing the door open and slipping in.
He went to follow her, but then stopped. Was he walking right into a dangerous situation? She could be nothing more then a petty thief trying to get her hands on some easy to sell jewelry, but then there was that threat...
Swallowing the lump in his throat, he moved forward. Anyone heading to the dinner hall would pass right by here, if there was a problem he couldn't handle calling for help would be easy enough.
Once his eyes adjusted to the minimal lighting, he was able to make out the woman skulking about the room; opening boxes, looking inside chests, moving large marble statues out of the way.
"Can I help you find something?" Jason asked coldly.
Startled, the Hestian spun, her hip bumping into a pedestal displaying an expensive-looking urn. She turned to try and catch it, but her knees only further aggravated the situation, sending her, the urn, and the pedestal tumbling forward onto the floor.
"It's okay!" the girl quickly assured him, sitting up and cradling the treasure in her arms. "I got it just in time, see?" she held the urn out for inspection but still got no response. "Not a single scratch on it."
Jason simply stared at her, slightly slack-jawed. Rather then confronting a mousy Hestian he found himself looking at a completely different person. Gone was the frumpy brown hair and freckled face and in its place was a healthy glow and poppy red locks so unnaturally bright that they had to have been dyed.
"Look, if this is about the pedestal being dented..." she started, setting the vase down on the floor.
Just then, Iolaus scuttled in, Hercules close behind.
"Jase are you all right? Iolaus and I heard a...crash," Herc's speech slowed as he noticed the girl on the ground.
"What happened your...your...you?" Jason struggled to comprehend what had just happened.
The young woman looked at them quizzically, then her eyes widened as if she'd just thought of something and she grabbed a handful of hair and took a good look at it. Her mouth twitched a few times as she tried to get words to come out. "It's a miracle," she said halfheartedly, then quickly tried to make her tone more believable. "A miracle! Let us bow down and praise Hestia!" she got to her knees and raised her hands skyward in worship.
Iolaus gave Herc a look that clearly conveyed he couldn't believe this girl was for real.
"Nice try," a voice said, right as a double flash indicated the entrance of two deities; one pale and lanky, the other short and pudgy. "But they aren't buying it."
The woman shot a look of disgruntlement over her shoulder and spoke through gritted teeth, "Well they might have if *you* hadn't shown up."
The demigod was the first to regain his composure. "Strife," Hercules narrowed his eyes grimly.
"Aww...idn't dat sweet," the God smirked at his companions. "He remembers me. I could just melt," he faked a sob to which the girl rolled her eyes as she got to her feet.
"I remember you're a gigantic pain in the-"
"Just what do you want here?" Jason cut Iolaus off before he could finish his sentence.
"First things first, Kingy. Don't you know it's rude to bypass introductions?" Strife's mouth quirked. "No I suppose not. You recognize Fatuus don't you?" Upon hearing his name mentioned the God of Prophecy waved dourly.
"Sure, who could forget that winning smile and go-getter attitude?" Iolaus managed to get the barb out just before both Hercules and Jason elbowed him in the ribs.
"Well this feisty flame-haired female to my right is his cousin Mirth. Far removed, obviously," Strife let his voice adopt a hint of wonder and his eyes dart back and forth between the Gods as if to show that even he couldn't believe the two were related. Just as quickly he switched back to his annoyingly bright tone, "Patron goddess of merriment and all things funny. Ain't she cute in her natural state?" He put an arm around the goddess' shoulder and pulled her roughly against him.
A brief look of sour feeling crossed her face but was quickly replaced by a wrinkled nose and a suggestive flick of the tongue across her teeth as she sized up the heroes.
"Oh yeah, just adorable," Jason said
"Now, now," the god tutted, "Flattery won't get you anywhere."
"Well I don't know about you, but with me it could definitely get you places..."
"Mirth," Strife gave her a warning look.
"Because I could really use a complement or two..."
"Mirth," he hissed.
"I mean, I associate with depressed people all day, tell me my boots look nice and I'll let you get away with pretty much anything you want ..."
"Mirth!" he snapped.
"You're really ruining my moment of glory here."
"Oh. Sorry," she tried to look guilty, but a smile kept tugging at the corners of her mouth. "Do continue."
Placated for the time being, Strife went back to his overly dramatic sneering. "She was good enough to remind me of the little deal I made with Fatch a while back and well," he pinched the goddess' cheeks together with a finger and a thumb, "How could I say 'no' to this face?"
"You're all heart," Herc said disgustedly.
"Aren't I though?" he curled his lip. "I'm sure you'd love for us to stay and play getting to know you games, but we really must be moving on."
"Places to go, people to annoy, you know how it is," Mirth grinned, resting her elbow on Fatuus' shoulder.
"Be seeing you," Strife gave a final wave before the three of them burst out in a haze of color, distortion, and light.
"Oh right, like we honestly believe that they're gone for good," Hercules snorted.
"Here's hoping," Iolaus deadpanned.
Jason started closing chests and putting things back in order. "Well at least we know who's responsible for that incident with the tray."
"Just a harmless prank, huh?" the demigod nudged his friend in the knee.
Iolaus grumbled, setting the urn back on top of it's pedestal. "Shut up, Herc."
Fatuus held his hands too firmly to his forehead as he concentrated. "I foresee..."
"What? Foresee what? C'mon Fatch don't hold out on me," Strife pleaded, on the edge of his musty seat.
"I foresee...someone is going to burst a button."
"I'm gonna burst your button," the god mumbled irritably, flopping back in the aging chair and raising a small cloud of dust.
"I'm glad that's over with," Mirth's voice came from behind an ancient changing screen. "This fabric was starting to give me a rash."
The three gods were holed up in a room near one of the palace turrets that looked like it hadn't been inhabited in decades. The decor more then verified that. A mahogany bed with muslin sheets was useless for sleeping because if the mattress so much as shifted, the canopy rained grime, the curtains stank of mildew, and the dust bunnies seemed to breed just as rapidly as their namesakes.
"Mmm," the goddess sighed in relief, struggling for a moment to get her head through the top of her tunic. "It feels so good to be out of that dress."
Mirth was a little thing, really. Her perpetual motion made her appear to take up so much room. Her eyes were never still for more then a few moments; always on the lookout for a useful prop or unsuspecting victim. The tiny silver hoop embedded above her left eye made her eyebrow look like it was always arched, lending to the impression that her demeanor was permanently cocky.
"Yeah, I was bit surprised by your choice in disguise," Strife commented, watching her do the buckles of the forest green leather that surrounded her neck, came down her back and crossed over in pieces and straps to cover many of the small tears of her sunset red undershirt. "You being a Hestian is like Discord masquerading as a June bride," he smirked.
Fatuus managed to bring up a suppressed chuckle at that comment.
"Very funny," she shook her head, smoothing down the alternating green striped fabric of her pants. "Don't worry, next time I'll be sure to go to you when I need an alias, because Nysus Gaius was just such an *inspired* idea."
"Hey," he immediately went on the defensive; "At least mine worked for more then five minutes!"
"At least mine worked more then five minutes," Mirth mocked in a deep voice. "But it still wasn't enough was it? If I remember the stories circulated around Olympus correctly, Hercules kicked your butt at a game *you* suggested."
Strife turned almost as red as the goddess's hair. "That wasn't my fault, I got distracted!"
Mirth was making mimicking gestures, using her hand as a puppet. "Excuses, excuses," she said dryly, flopping down on a worn love seat.
"Look this is not what I signed on for. You said this was going to be fun."
"You trying working your mojo when you've got someone criticizing your every move," she was doing her best to calm the static that was crackling in her hair.
"Well I'm sure I'm sorry."
"Like heck you are. The only reason I'm putting up with you is because this is the only way I can be sure you don't run out on Fatch again," Mirth jerked her thumb in the direction of the chair the Seer quietly waited in.
"*He* ran out on *me*!" Strife's arms seemed to flail of their own volition as he got increasingly upset.
"What do you expect? You were a complete and utter jerk to him. And I don't exactly recall you making much of an effort to find him," she rested her stocking clad feet on an ottoman and sneezed as she was engulfed in dust.
"I looked for two *hours*," he seethed, veins bulging from his neck.
She scooped her shoes off the floor and beat some wandering dust bunnies off them. "Calm down. I don't need you going all apoplectic on me," Mirth tugged a boot on. "No sense in making Fatch's prophecy a self-fulfilling one."
"I don't see why you put so much stake in what your cousin says, the juicy stuff never comes true and the boring predictions are vague at best."
"Because he's my *friend*, and I trust him," she went to work on the buckles, snaps, buttons and straps that all but held the brown leather of her boots together. "You know how it is."
"Yeah," Strife said uncertainly, then squared his shoulders as Mirth glanced up at him. "Yeah, 'course I do," he asserted.
"Well then you know sometimes you have to go with your gut. And my gut tells me to listen to him," she yanked hard on a stubborn belt that refused to tighten and something abruptly popped off her ankle. "Besides," without missing a beat, her hand shot out and caught the object before it could fly into Strife's face. "He hasn't been wrong yet," she smiled warmly and held a silver button up between her fingers.
"My lord, I'm sorry the meal isn't bigger," the head cook apologized as the three young men ate in an almost empty dining hall. "But we're severely understaffed because of the Thracian whooping cough, and more people are leaving all the time because of this curse talk."
"Curse? What curse?" Iolaus asked between mouthfuls of roast boar.
"Some of the servants believe that the palace is inhabited by the ghosts of former royal family members," Jason explained. "Every spell of bad luck is explained away by saying the spirits are angry at someone or something going on in the castle."
Iolaus shrugged and reached for his goblet. "Just you’re typical, haunted dungeon mumbo jumbo, huh?"
"Now what have I told you about mocking other people's beliefs, young man?" Herc said in a matronly tone.
"Sorry mom," Iolaus snickered, flicking some peas at him. "I didn't realize hokum was so important to you."
"Oh it's not hokum," the cook broke in. "A lot of unnatural things have been going on around here in the past week. The cows only give sour milk, the hens aren't laying, we never find anything where we left it, and," he said in a hushed tone, "voices have been heard coming from the abandoned sector of the palace."
"Iolaus," Hercules warned before turning to Jason. "You thinking what I'm thinking?"
"I'm thinking that someone a lot creepier then any dead ancestor is causing all these problems," the prince said grimly. "Call in the remaining servants," he instructed the cook. "I'm going to put a stop to this."
The cook bowed obediently and left.
"So what are you going to tell them?" Iolaus asked. "That a bunch of gods with the combined IQs of a seven year old have been messing with their heads?"
"I'll think of something," Jason wiped his mouth off.
"You'd better think of it fast," Herc said. "Because I think I hear them coming."
"What? There's no way he could have rounded up all those..." he trailed off as the staff entered.
"All thirty of them," Iolaus said in awe.
"This is it?" the prince asked in shock. "You're all that's left?"
"Yes my lord," one of them bowed. "And even we are reluctant to stay."
"We have wives to think about," someone's voice piped up.
The small crowd rippled with discontent.
"This place is not cursed, so if you'd all just calm down-" Jason didn't get a chance to finish as something fell between him and the palace workers.
Everyone looked down incredulously at what had come from above. The small green frog stared blankly back at them.
Before anyone had a chance to react another frog landed a few feet away from the first. Then another. And another. Soon frogs were raining down on the throne room in a torrent, a 'plop plop plop' sound coming from the stone as they hit, one right after the other.
This was the last straw for the staff; they ran screaming from the room, probably heading to the nearest temple to pray for forgiveness for whatever had obviously offended the gods.
"Wait! I'm sure there's some way to explain this," Jason tried in vain to stop the deserters as the agitated amphibians started hopping around in confusion on the floor.
"Anyone want an umbrella?" Iolaus asked lightly, trying to improve the prince's mood, Hercules jabbed him in the side.
A light giggle came from above. It steadily became louder and harder as the laughter bounced from one wall to the next, filling the room with the sound of someone's obvious merriment.
"Gee I wonder who that could be," Hercules glared darkly up at the rafters. A piercing whistle and a sound of bells guided the boys' eyes over to a small catwalk normally used for hanging flags from the high beams.
Mirth wiggled her fingers and wrinkled her nose at them as a form of greeting. Strife, who was never one for subtlety, held his hands up, pretending to read from a card. "Uh, Special Delivery for Herc the Jerk," he announced obnoxiously.
"Could you sign for this please?" the goddess lisped as she offered an imaginary clipboard from her perch on the railing.
"You two are a regular laugh riot," Iolaus muttered even as Strife and Mirth busied themselves with pats on the back and good natured punches in the arm as they giggled themselves stupid.
"Great," Jason spat. "I've got more toads then followers."
"Don't worry," Hercules reassured him. "They're easy enough o get rid of."
"You better be careful how you get those little fellas out, they're an endangered species you know," Mirth did a quick arch of her eyebrows to punctuate her point.
"Yeah," Strife licked his lips at the half-god nastily. "Just like you."
Herc went to make a sharp retort but the Gods were gone before he could even get out a syllable.
"If you guys have any suggestions, I'm certainly open to them," Jason seethed with gritted teeth.
Hercules thought for a moment, doing his best to ignore the sound of reverberating laughter mingling with the ribbits of the frogs out of his mind. "Well they're here for a reason, that's for sure. If Strife wanted to get rid of me he would have tried to hit Iolaus and I on the road here, there's no sense in him taking on three of us when he could have easily jumped two. It must have something to do with the palace, or even you."
"All right, I'm sure we can figure it out," Jason nodded. "But first we have to dispose of all these frogs."
"Okay well I'll get a mop, Iolaus you get a broom, and Jason you'd better get a bucket or something to put these things in."
Iolaus sighed, "Y'know, just once, I would like to have a normal vacation."
"That's the last of them," Hercules emptied the bucketful of frogs onto the dirt.
"Be free little flytasters!" Iolaus waved them into the woods.
"Bad news guys," Jason said, coming out of the back door of the kitchen. "Not only has Ophistus gone missing, but all the guards have as well."
"That's not like him at all," Herc commented. "Something really stinks about this whole scenario."
"My thoughts exactly. That's why I'm going to send one of you into town to see if anybody's seen them. A mass exodus is pretty hard to miss. Iolaus you're going to have to be the one since Hercules is the only one of us able to see stray gods."
"Are you kidding?!" Iolaus whined. "My feet are killing me, and my back hurts from lugging all these buckets and baskets out."
"I've got a horse you can ride. I'm sure you and Onyx will get along just fine."
"Besides, do you really want to hang around when Strife could pop out at you any minute?"
"And just think of all the work you'll have to do if you stay here," Jason prodded.
"Well, now that's a horse of a different color."
"I'm glad you see it my way Iolaus."
"No," Hercules said slowly, "That is *really* a horse of a different color."
Jason looked to the paddock where Hercules and Iolaus were pointing and turned white, then slowly red, as he fought to keep the string of curse words rapidly building in his mind from exploding from his mouth.
The formerly midnight black stallion was now very blue, and very oblivious to the fact.
"My...horse...is...indigo," Jason spluttered indignantly.
"Indigo? Really? I was thinking more of an aqua or cerulean," Iolaus said.
"No," Herc shook his head, "that's a robin's egg blue,"
"You think so?"
"Yeah, definitely robin's egg."
"Oh that is *it*! It's one thing to mess with my head, and my subjects, and my staff, but when you mess with my horse, that is the end!"
"Jason," Herc tried to calm him down.
"That is the straw that broke the hydra's back!"
"I want to get that demented duo...and their little seer too!"
How did he always end up getting himself into situations like this? Oh right, his best friend was the son of Zeus and the target of every jealous god on Olympus.
Iolaus poked idly through the pots and pans, looking for whatever he thought three bored deities might find interesting.
It had been Hercules' idea. Fan out and see what Strife and Co. were up to. If the god wasn't trying to kill his rival at every free moment it usually meant he was after something else.
*Maybe he's trying to impress his girlfriend,* Iolaus thought with a smirk.
He didn't think Mirth was too bad. Not compared to gods like Apollo and Ares. She didn't run around exploding random objects, she just pranked you until you begged for mercy. As a fellow smartmouth, he could respect that. But why on earth would she want to be hanging out with Strife and Fatuus? he repressed a shudder and moved on to checking the cabinets.
"Hello there," a glint of gold caught his eye and he scooped a bracelet off the floor.
Upon closer inspection it was just a well polished copper band, with a small round brown-black stone embedded in it. It was pretty cheap looking actually.
Iolaus shrugged and tucked it into his vest, "Finders keepers."
Jason was off checking the bedrooms as Hercules was perusing elsewhere on the main floor. They were supposed to meet up after about an hour to compare notes but Iolaus really couldn't think of anything interesting to mention; other then the fact that a colander made a fun hat if things got dull.
He was just about to call it quits and go snooping around in the stables when he heard a noise. What was that? It sounded like bells. That was odd.
*Didn't Mirth wear bells on her sleeves?* He'd better check it out.
He slipped out the kitchen's swinging doors, around the corner, past a menacing portrait of a former king and headed in the direction the sound seemed to be coming from.
The jingling got increasingly louder so he assumed he was on the right track.
He looked down a hallway and saw open door after open door.
*Oh great. She could be anywhere. It's going to take forever to-* A hand suddenly touched his shoulder and he jumped.
"You hear that too?" Hercules asked.
"Geez! Don't do that!" Iolaus said in agitation. "I thought I was being accosted by leatherboy."
"Sorry," he shrugged.
"There it is again," the sound of bells came from the end of the corridor.
"Let's go," Herc crept forward.
They cautiously edged towards the noise, careful not to make much sound of their own.
Rather then coming face to face with a mischievous goddess, however, they found themselves staring down a very large, very irate guard dog, who was doing his best to shake off the collar of bells someone had slipped around his neck.
"Easy boy, easy," Herc put his hands out to show he wasn't a threat.
"Yeah, you wouldn't want to bite a son of Zeus, or his very good-looking friend, would you?"
The dog's snarled and bared his teeth, even as his hackles continued to rise.
"Run?" Iolaus suggested.
"Run," Hercules nodded.
The two of them turned and fled down the hall, yelling for Jason, angry canine in hot pursuit.
Strife was sprawled out in Jason's throne, one leg flung over the arm of the chair as he yawned and idly tapped a scepter on the wooden headrest. "This is the life, eh Fatuus?"
The other God merely nodded glumly in agreement.
"You're a real ball to hang out with, y'know that?" Another yawn, and this time a stretch, punctuated the comment. "The burden of being a King," he shrugged, the crown perched precariously on top of his head slipping down and over one ear.
"It must be pretty light work if you can handle it."
"Ah, good lady Mirth," Strife immediately sat up and adjusted his headpiece, trying to look as regal as someone wearing neck to toe leather could. "How goes our quest?"
"Our quest?" she raised a disbelieving eyebrow and snorted in disgust. "I'd hardly say it was 'ours'. I don't recall you doing much of anything except barricading yourself in here to entertain your immense delusions of grandeur."
"Well I don't recall your cousin doing much of anything except being an insufferable nuisance."
The God of Prophecy looked miserably at his feet.
Mirth narrowed her eyes. "Don't you *dare* pick on him." She put her arm around Fatuus' shoulder. "I think you did great," she leaned over and kissed her relative on the cheek. He managed to give her a weak smile.
Well...of course he did," Strife amended. "I was only teasing." The last thing he wanted to do was tick Mirth off. If she left he'd have to handle this mess all on his own, not to mention deal with her cousin. He didn't mind the other god that much; it was just that Fatuus had no sense of humor and was a pretty lousy conversationalist. "You did fine. You're one mean mother-"
"Would you shut your mouth!"
"But I'm only talking about Fatch!" he protested.
"I suppose I can dig it," Mirth sighed. "Those boys aren't going to stay preoccupied for long," she put her hand out. "Let me have the locator so I can keep looking."
Strife's brow furrowed. "You have it don't you?"
"No," she shook her head. "I gave it to you while I was belling the dog."
"Well I don't have it," he snorted.
"Oh well that's just great, now not only have I lost her sister's crystal, I've misplaced a piece of Melponme's too! They are going to kick me out of Olympus for sure," Mirth put a hand to her face in frustration. Fatuus patted her sympathetically on the back.
"Relax, if they chucked you out just for screwing up you think I'd still be around?" Strife tried to cheer her up.
"But the muses are Zeus' *kids*, if they want my godhood on a platter he'll give it to them," she ran her hands through her already disheveled hair. "Oh man, I am so dead."
Strife hopped up on the table the goddess was leaning against. "It's not like there's that much more of the castle to search. I'm sure we'll find it."
"Without the locator it's going to be impossible to see where they stashed it. It could be cut up and set in a hundred pieces of jewelry for all I know."
"It's been a hundred years since Thalia's even seen the stupid thing. I don't think she'll be noticing it absence any time soon."
"You don't understand-"
"And it's not like that matters anyway," Strife ignored her. "Because we're gonna find that crystal, come Tartarus or tidal wave," He took off the crown and set it and the scepter on the table. "I can play royal pain any day."
Mirth bit her lower lip and nodded, "Thank you."
"Still, it's too bad, I would've made a great King."
"You'd be bored with it in less then a week. Besides you wouldn't be able to put up with being nice to people all the time."
Strife did his best to feign shock. "And here I was, all set to offer you the position of Queen. We could've made Fatuus court jester, I think it suits his personality, don't you?"
She chuckled amiably as he tousled her hair. "So what do we do now?"
"Now we go back to looking and see if my good buddy Fatuus can foresee anything of use. C'mon," he headed for the doors. "I never got to finish checking all the bedrooms."
*Think Hercules, Think!* the hero's mind raced as he and Iolaus tried to keep one step ahead of the jingling hound. *There's got to be some way to stop that dog without hurting him.*
"Hey, are we getting slower or is he getting faster?"
"This is not the time for jokes Iolaus."
"Who's joking?" Iolaus ventured a glance at the slathering set of jaws gaining ground behind him, "I really hope you're working on a plan."
"No, I'm reviewing my times tables."
"Sarcasm noted," Iolaus panted for breath.
"Turn here," Hercules pointed to a side hall. "I've got an idea."
"Dead end," Iolaus gulped, seeing nothing but a closet door looming ahead of them.
"Keep running," he yelled to Iolaus as he came to a stop.
"Keep running, open that door and get ready to close it when I tell you."
"Oh I get it," he grinned, quickly undoing the door's sliding bolt. "Good plan."
"Here doggie doggie," Herc taunted and whistled. "Are you hungry? I bet you are!"
Iolaus jerked the door open roughly and suddenly found somebody spilling out of the closet. "Jason?!"
The prince quickly got to his feet. "You are never going to believe this."
"Save it for later," he glanced over to see Hercules agitating the dog into a frenzy. "Just prepare to duck."
Hercules sidestepped the charging canine, sending him barreling at breakneck speed towards the two boys.
"Duck!!" he pulled Jason down just as the dog leapt forward. The beast flew over their heads, unable to stop himself, and landed clumsily inside the storage space.
"Now!" Herc yelled.
Scrambling madly, Iolaus managed to slam the door shut and bolt it. The guard dog barked and threw himself against the wood to no avail.
"That was close," Jason wiped the sweat from his forehead.
"How did you get in there?" Hercules asked.
"I was just looking around when I heard this noise."
"Let me guess. Bells?" Iolaus wiped his sweaty palms off on his pants.
"Yeah. So I followed it and it led me here. I went into the closet to see what it was and somebody locked me in."
Herc rotated his sore shoulder. "This is really getting out of hand. Well, frogs are one thing, but when they start siccing rabid animals on us I draw the line. I mean what's next? A wild boar?"
"Well the weapons room is just down this hall," Jason said. "There's some lightweight stuff we can arm ourselves with."
"Iolaus put that down before you take out somebody's eye."
"I know what I'm doing! Give me some credit here," he said disgustedly as he twirled the mace around.
Hercules took a staff off the wall and tested it's weight in his hands. *Not a bad piece of work* he thought. *Easy to use and nonlethal.*
Jason blew the dust off an old box, turning it over in his hands and seeing it wasn't labeled, he flicked the clasp open with his thumb.
There was a yelp and a crash as the mace was released and knocked the helmet off a suit of armor.
Now see? What did I tell you?"
"Something bit me!" Iolaus put a hand to his side.
"What?" Hercules asked.
Reaching into his vest, the blonde pulled out the bracelet he'd found. The stone was glowing and white hot to the touch. "This stupid thing just burned me."
Jason quickly snapped the box shut and got up to see what all the fuss was about.
Herc gingerly picked up the jewelry and watched the white gradually fade into yellow, then to brown, and finally to black.
"I recognize that," the prince said. "Mirth had it on her arm when she was posing as a Hestian before."
"It stopped getting hot as soon as you shut your box," Hercules mused. "What's in there?"
"Just some ceremonial daggers." Jason shrugged. "Gifts from other kingdoms for special occasions."
"That must be it then. That must be what Strife's after."
"All that trouble over some stupid knives?" Iolaus spat.
"We'd better get these somewhere safe," Jason said. "I don't think hanging out in a room full of swords is the best place to be ambushed.
One of the lesser entertaining rooms fit their purpose. No decorative crests or shields, no crossed axes, and very little furniture.
"Lets see what's so special about these," Hercules picked one of the half dozen knives lined up on the table and looked it over. "No runes. No precious gems." He gripped it firmly in his hand and tried punching air a few times. "And it doesn't give me any super powers."
"Maybe Strife needed something to accessorize his temple."
"Gods nobody likes don't get temples," Jason crossed his arms. "These are all from different rulers. It could be just one in particular that they're after."
"Great," Hercules took the bracelet and tried sweeping it up the line. As he reached the end of the row the bracelets stone went white again and he had to drop it before the hot metal could bite into his skin.
"That one?" Iolaus indicated the blade that was now glowing luminescent green.
"That one," Jason agreed.
"What does it do though?" the demigod held it up to the window and checked for markings with a soft snigger.
"What's wrong with you?" Iolaus asked, as he and Jason exchanged worried looks.
"What do you mean?"
"You *sniggered* for Zeus's sake. You never snigger."
"I did no such thing," he shook his head with a laugh.
"There! You did it again!" Jason insisted.
"Really?" Hercules asked, perplexed.
"I think you'd better put that down," Iolaus pointed nervously at the dagger.
"Me too," he said, quickly letting it hit the table.
"I still don't get it," Jason stroked his chin. "It's hardly useful if you can't even pick it up."
"Ever hear the expression 'bust a gut laughing'?" The three heroes turned to see Mirth smiling darkly at them. "Let's just say it's not all that pleasant when it happens for real."
"Eew, " Iolaus grimaced at the mental picture he got.
The goddess held her hand out. "I'll be taking that now, if you don't mind."
"Yeah right," Herc snorted. "Like we're just going to give it to you."
"Just like that," she nodded. "Y'see I sort of need that if I want to continue living. Funny, huh?"
"Downright hilarious," Jason said grimly.
"Tsk tsk tsk," Strife emerged from the shadows. "If I've told you once, I've told you a hundred times. First you get them where you want them, *then* you reveal the evil plan."
"My bad," Mirth shrugged.
"Nice prediction'," he nodded to Fatuus. "I owe you one."
"You owe me three, not that I ever expect you to hold up on the deal," the other god shook his head.
"Would you lighten up!" he snapped.
The goddess' hands went to her hips. "Either you give that over or, well, I'm going to have to take it from you. And I don't exactly have the best manners."
"We gathered that," Iolaus said brightly.
"Yak yak yak," Strife irritably bobbed his head back and forth. "Just shut up and let me kick their butts."
"See what happens," Mirth gave her knuckles a crack, "you try to be nice and it still ends in violence."
"Ready?" Hercules asked his friends with a conspiratorial grin.
"You bet," Jason grinned.
The three of them suddenly charged the gods, catching the two nearly off guard. Strife immediately zeroed in on Hercules, attacking him with a flurry of punches and kicks. Mirth preferred a more laid back style, sizing up Jason and Iolaus for weaknesses. Fatuus just watched the action from a corner; serving as scorekeeper.
"Oh it is going to be *so* satisfying mopping the floor with you," Strife licked his lips in anticipation.
"Funny, I was just thinking the same thing," Herc smirked, his fist connecting neatly to his opponents chest.
The god growled and redoubled his efforts.
Across the room Mirth pouted prettily. "Aw, don't tell me your afraid of getting your face rearranged by a girl."
"No we were just giving you a chance to back out; don't want you breaking a nail or anything," Iolaus batted his eyelashes.
She narrowed her eyes and lashed out at him with her leg.
"You know, I believe you're the first goddess I've ever seen who wears pants," he continued to bait her.
"Skirts are for sissies," Mirth snorted blocking his punch.
"I'd like to hear you say that to a certain girl I know."
"You can't ride in 'em," she grabbed a chair and swung it at him, which he easily caught and jerked away.
"You can't sit comfortably in 'em," she ducked to avoid a boot in the chest.
"And you can't do *this* in 'em!" she spun and delivered a high hard kick to his chin.
"Sissy?" Jason jumped in, giving Iolaus a moment to regain his senses. "No, sissy is what you did to my horse."
"Didn't you like his new paint job? I thought he looked festive," the goddess took a few quick steps forward and put a boot heel in both boy's stomachs.
"I do good work," she dusted her hands off on one another.
Just then Jason straightened up and hit her square in the face. "Dad always told me never to punch girls; but in your case I think he'd make an exception," he wiped some blood off his split lip.
"Ow! By dose!" she gasped nasally, staggering back a few feet as she clutched at her crushed nasal cavity.
"Now!" he waved to Iolaus, who tugged on a rope and sent the net hidden beneath the rug she was standing on skywards.
"Mortals: one, Gods: zero," the two boys clasped hands jovially.
Strife barely noted the defeat of his companion, so focused was he on his opponent. "Filthy little half-breed," he snarled.
"You know what?" Herc glared him. "One of these days someone is going to teach you not to pick on people, and I hope it's me."
"Ooh, I'm shaking in my little leather boots," the God bared his teeth. "It can't be done."
"Believe me, we've tried," Fatuus nodded, getting a dirty look from Strife for his trouble.
"When I told you to lighten up I didn't mean this very moment."
"Sorry," the other god looked guilty.
Hercules turned the momentary distraction to his advantage, hitting Strife hard enough to send him flying. The God squealed in pain, landing hard enough on the table to break it, scattering knives all over the floor.
"Bet you didn't see that coming," Iolaus nodded to Fatuus.
The god put his hands to his temples. "I foresee...battles are never over until the war's been won."
"He's starting to sound like Cheiron," Iolaus wrinkled his nose.
"What does that mean?" Jason snorted.
"It means, you guys are chumps if you think you can take us down that easy," Strife clambered out of the wreckage, glowing dagger in hand.
The knot Mirth had been working on with one of her buckles finally gave way, dropping her down to catch both Iolaus and Jason in the back of the neck with her knees. She tucked her feet together and did an easy pirouette when her toes touched the floor. "Ta-daaah!" she took a bow and pretended to tip her cap at the very dazed boys lying on the stone.
"Not so tough now are you?" Strife giggled insanely, jabbing the blade in Herc's direction. "Mr. Popular," With each name, Strife took another vicious jab at him with the knife. "Mr. Big Shot." Jab. "Mr. Daddy Likes Me Best." Jab. "Mr. I'm So Much Better Then You."
"Knock it off," Hercules took cautious steps backwards. "You aren't thinking clearly. That thing is messing with your mind."
"Oh I'm thinking *very* clearly," his voice dripped venom. "And I'm thinking that if I off you, even Ares will have to respect me." The demigod's back hit the wall and Strife's manic grin got even wider.
Jason and Iolaus both struggled to move but Mirth pushed their heads into the rug with her hands. "Stay down," she ordered.
"If you're nice I'll make it quick," he kneed Hercules hard in the abdomen and grabbed him by the hair. "Look on the bright side," he crouched down. "At least you'll die with a smile on your face. Say 'Goodnight' Gracie," he sneered. Just as Strife raised the dagger and prepared to plunge it into Hercules' chest a flash of power blasted it from his hands and sent it spiraling across the room where it embedded itself in the wall. The god snapped his head around, expecting to find Ares or, Gods forbid, Zeus himself.
Mirth nonchalantly brought a finger to her lips and blew smoke from the end of it. "I *have* always been a crack shot," she smiled demurely.
"You idiot," Strife hissed, getting to his feet but staying where he was; trying to stare down the goddess. "I was *this* close!" he held two fingers little more then an inch apart. "I wanted to get him!"
"You wanted to have fun. Fun is not being roasted on a spit for all eternity. Or do you want a one way ticket to Tartarus?" Mirth asked pointedly.
"I want to prove to Ares that I'm not a screw-up. I want to beat him at his own game," Strife slowly put a hand behind him and tried to reach the knife.
"It's not a game anymore," she pointed a warning finger at him and manifested a small spark at the end. "I like you Strife, really I do, but if you don't stop right there I'm going to have to hurt you."
"Just going with your gut instinct huh?"
"Yeah," she said softly.
The god's eyes shifted nervously, his fingers twitching slightly. Hercules tensed, preparing to roll out of the way if Strife made a move. Iolaus and Jason remained frozen where they were, afraid that if they moved, Mirth might misfire and hit their friend. Fatuus stood to the side, smiling glumly as usual.
"Let it go," she pleaded, looking at her partner meaningfully.
Strife bit his lip, weighing his options. To say the atmosphere was tense would be an understatement.
"Fine, be that way," he snarled spinning on his heel and grabbing Fatuus by the arm. "I'm taking my ball and I'm going home!" And with that they burst away in a flash of light.
"He'll get over it," she half-shrugged at the boys, who were looking at her with slack jaws.
"You beating him, or the whole killing Herc thing?" Iolaus asked, helping Hercules get to his feet.
She pursed her lips in contemplation. "Well normally Fatuus handles this sort of thing. But I'm guessing he's going to forget about the first one a lot faster then the second one." She walked over and freed the dagger from the wall with only a minor struggle.
"Look..." Hercules faltered, watching Mirth glance over at him "Thanks for saving me from Strife. Really."
She smiled as she looked over the knife for scratches and twirled it, blade pressed to the finger of one hand, hilt held between two fingers of the other. "Oh I'm sure you would have found a way to beat him on your own; you always do."
Herc rubbed nervously at the bottom of his nose. "But still...um...Thank you."
"I hope you don't think that just because you're being nice it means I'm going to let you keep this," she grasped the knife loosely by the blade and shook it reproachingly at him. "It *is* the whole reason I came here. Thalia gets pretty cranky when people borrow her things and then lose them."
"Thalia," Hercules asked dubiously. "The muse of comedy Thalia?"
"Yeah, you know for someone in her line of work she sure doesn't have much of a sense of humor," she gazed shortly off into space.
"Well, I suppose there's no real harm in letting you take it," Jason said carefully. "It's not like we ever use it."
"Who's gonna miss a green glowing dagger?" Iolaus added helpfully.
"Well someone might. This oughta cover your bases if a dignitary ever shows up unannounced." Mirth pinched the tip of the blade and held it up with one hand, with the other she drew a line in the air and made a twisting gesture. A duplicate knife flickered slowly into being.
She tossed it to Jason, who fumbled with it a minute before deciding this one didn't have similar powers. "Thanks," he said rather sheepishly.
"Anyway I'd better be going, if people are even in the same room as this thing when it's out of the box too long they can laugh themselves sick."
"Well why didn't you just tell Jason all this when you got here? " Hercules asked.
"Yeah, I would have let you take it."
"Now where's the fun in that?" she smiled slyly, before dissolving away in a shimmer of light. "Oh," her voice echoed off the walls. "And don't worry about your missing staff, they'll be back once the paranoia effect wears off.
"Okay," Iolaus said carefully. "*That* was weird."
"At least there's one goddess around with a sense of responsibility, I suppose we should be thankful for that." Herc smoothed down his mussed hair.
"King Jason!" a voice came from the hall. "I'm back from my vacation."
"That's Ophistus," Jason looked up.
"Vacation?" Iolaus snickered. "That's a pretty lame way of getting rid of him."
"It's just about the only way of getting rid of him." Jason leaned out the door. "We're in here Ophistus!"
"What's wrong with this closet?" the advisor's voice came back.
"Closet?" Hercules looked puzzled, and then his eyes went wide. "Oh no."
A startled yell and a lot of nasty barking confirmed his suspicions.
"We're going to get blamed for this one, aren't we?" asked Iolaus.
"Oh yeah," Jason nodded breathily, before the three heroes ran out the door and to the rescue.
TERN O'BRIEN AND MEDEA
Ophistus: Stephen Tozer
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