"And the first challenge is?" Ares scowled at the cloaked and hooded figure beside him. He wondered how desperately he really wanted to fill that nebulous nagging emptiness in his life. The Fates had told him he would have to face three challenges to win what he was lacking. He had only found out after agreeing however, that the challenge cave was in the heart of a mountain bordering Gaia's Valley, where no godly powers could be used. He had had to arrive there by walking and in some parts, climbing. He was hot, sweaty, tired and battered and all in all, in a right godly temper.
He walked to the center of the cave and pulled the rope that dangled from the ceiling. A bell rang out, and the humanoid clad in bright blues and greens that now stood before him had seemed to glide out of nothingness.
"Welcome to The Challenge!" said the figure in mellifluous tones "For our first test today, you must choose the most important aspect of love. There is no right or wrong."
High-pitched giggling erupted behind him and he turned to see Strife, pale eyes under dark spiky hair gleaming in amusement in a pale face, leather-clad body leaning against the cavern wall. Beside the God of Mischief stood his son, a contrast in bronze and gold, his white wings shining with light. The God of Love's handsome face was smiling but solemn.
“Lurv, tru-uue lurv.” crooned his second-in-command.
"Shut up Strife!" he snarled, blushing, and turned to face forwards again. Several objects had appeared before the throne - a scroll, a pair of matched bracers, and a leather collar.
"Hey, hey, visual aids! Didja see that Indian book Apollo nicked from the future? Wanna come home and read my copy?” Strife leered at Cupid.
Cupid ignored him and directed a quiet comment at his father.
“The scroll symbolizes communication.”
“Yeah, well that's the kinda communicatin' I like ta do!" Strife protested. “Whadda ‘bout the bracers? We inta a little bondage spiciness here?”
"They stand for compatibility, babe, not kinky sex." Cupid told his lover in an amused tone.
“Bor-ring! Ooh, ooh, go for the collar Unc! Though Party Pooper Boy is probably gonna tell me it has nuthin to do with bottoming.”
"Too right. It represents loyalty."
"Strife! Just shut up! I don’t want to hear another word out of you or when we get out of here…" Ares tailed off in annoyed exasperation, a heavy scowl darkening his face. Strife took one look at the little glow lighting up his Uncle’s eyes and opened his mouth to protest his innocence. Fortunately the God of Love quickly grabbed him and slapped a hand over his mouth.
“Shutting up now Dad!”
Ares turned back to the objects. Damn. Which one to choose? Communication was all very well, but in his experience lead to gabbiness – a thought that brought a certain whiny blonde bitch to mind and caused him to shudder. Compatibility? Sad to say but Strife was right – bor-ring.
“The collar it is.” He declared.
“A very good choice sir!” the figure answered “And now we have the second challenge - you must choose what is the most important aspect of your intended."
He waved his hand and the scroll, bracers and collar disappeared, to be replaced by a cup of water, a shield and a pile of coins.
“These symbolize empathy, protectiveness and generosity” the God of Love informed his father.
“Mmmf mmm MRR mff hrr! mmff MMFF!!” Cupid had wisely refrained from removing his hand from Strife’s mouth, and whatever the God of Mischief was saying on the subject remained unintelligible.
*Empathy? What the heck use is some bleeding heart liberal going to be to me?* the God of War thought. *And protectiveness isn’t really what I’m looking for. Generosity then, I suppose. Door number three again.*
“The coins.” He announced.
“You’re sure about that?” queried the hooded figure.
“Quite sure? Don’t want to change your mind?”
“The coins” Ares replied curtly.
“Very well, and for our last challenge,” waving an arm, the figure banished the objects and three new images displayed. On first glance they were of the same man, until a closer look was taken.
"You're ideal match is one of these three men, triplets."
There was a pause and the first man was highlighted. He had blond hair hair with an open face and smile, wore silk and bright colours and was singing.
"Jace is the epitome of Love. He is always caring, will be there to soothe you when you are down, a helpmeet in a time of trouble."
The light darkened over Jace and shone on the next triplet. His hair was black and he wore a sneer just as dark. His clothing choices had a lot in common with Strife’s, and he was balancing a silver dagger on his fingertips.
"Jett is a Killer. He will help you in your battles and fight to protect you, assassinating all who oppose you. He would let no one hurt you."
The light dimmed over Jett and finally highlighted the third and final triplet. His hair was brown, with ruddy highlights. He had an open face that currently wore an unhappy look as he gazed somewhere into the distance. He wore an ill-fitting hodgepodge of armour put together shoddily, and held a slightly bent sword in one hand and a lute in the other.
"Joxer does not yet know what is or can be. He is convinced he is a mighty warrior yet he cannot fight. When he tries to help others he ends up needing to be rescued. When he loves he loves faithfully and will do anything possible to make them happy, even if it hurts him. He is clumsy, loyal to a fault, will argue with you if he thinks you are wrong, and will love you till the end of time."
The light diffused over the third triplet and the images of all three displayed once more, showing what they were doing at the moment. Jace was on a stage, singing. Jett was somewhere dark, moving quickly and quietly towards his goal. A familiar blonde harridan who had a tight hold of his nose was yelling at Joxer. The look on his face was one of quiet desperation as he suffered her diatribe.
Finally, the images dimmed and the figure spoke again.
So, which of the three? Blondie was the cutest, the black-haired one the lest trouble, and the brunette the most amusing. It was such a hard choice.
Which is the most
appealing? Who do I want to spend eternity with? He thought hard. Comprehension
dawned and he knew without a doubt what was the right choice this time.
The figure looked towards the third triplet then back at him.
"You're sure about
this? Don't want to ask a friend?"
“mmmm mmmf mmm”
Ares turned to speak to his son but discovered not only was Cupid still refusing to let Strife speak, but whilst Ares had been perusing the three figures he had exchanged his hand for a somewhat more intimate part of his anatomy. He appeared to have forgotten his father in his desire to kiss Strife into the wall whilst manually stripping him of leather.
Ares gave an
exasperated sigh. Kids these days. No concentration.
"Joxer!" he reiterated.
showing Jace and Jett faded and disappeared. There was a bright flash and Joxer
sprawled onto the floor.
"Joxer!" he demanded, holding out his arms to embrace him.
Joxer looked up at the imposing figure of the God of War and his face lit up. Ares looked into those melting chocolate eyes and knew he had made the correct decision.
upwards into his arms and he bent his head to ravage that beautiful pink mouth
with an adoring kis…
Ares jerked upright screaming. There was a flurry of white skin, black hair and various pointy steel sharpnesses beside him.
“Fates!” Ares groaned “What a dream!”
“Dream! You call that a DREAM? Tartarus! I’d hate to see you piss Morpheus off and have a nightmare. You just scared years off my immortality!”
Ares laughed and flopped back onto the pillows.
“So? Are you going to tell me the ‘dream’?”
Ares sighed, rolled onto his side and proceeded to relate his dream. He finished and looked at his bedmate expectantly, hoping he hadn’t hurt any feelings. Blank eyes and an expressionless face looked back at him. His stomach curled up into a little ball.
“I see what you’re getting at.”
“It was just a dream. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“No, no. I give up!”
“You can have your damn house dog! Just don’t blame me when you choose an unruly pup that follows you everywhere and piddles in the temple corners.”
Ares relaxed at the evil grin blossoming opposite him.
“However,” Jett leaned forward to pull his love close, “We are not calling the damn thing ‘Joxer’!”