The day was bright and beautiful. A gentle breeze rustled the leaves of the forest’s trees. In the distance, waves lapped lazily against the shore of a small beach.
Iolaus’ view of the idyllic scene vanished as a large figure step before him, fists raised in an attack stance.
“All right, you ready?” Hercules asked.
“Yeth.” Even without the padded helmet muffling his voice, Iolaus had to admit his reply sounded weak. Tentatively, he raised his fists as much as the bulky padding covering his body would allow.
Hercules dropped his attack stance. “Look I’m not really going to hurt you.”
Sure, that’s why I look like a pregnant mummy.
“Oh, what’s the use?” Iolaus pulled his helmet off. “I can barely fight off a cold. I’m just wasting your time.”
Hercules placed a hand on the other man’s padded shoulder. “Fighting isn’t just physical, Iolaus, it’s about outsmarting your opponent. Most battles are won before the first punch is even thrown.”
Iolaus contemplated his words for a moment, then brightened. “Okay, I’ve just got to use my head. I can do that.”
Hercules smiled and helped him put his helmet back on before moving back to his previous position.
“All right, now I’m going to take a swing at you.” He raised his fists. “Ready?”
Iolaus nodded, but then a euphoric giggle drew his attention to a young couple kissing and groping each other against a nearby tree.
Unfortunately, Hercules didn’t notice his friend’s lack of attention and his fist connected with the padded helmet. The other man dropped immediately.
“Well, at least you used your head.” Hercules said, ruefully, as he lifted Iolaus up.
“Sorry, I, uh… Got distracted,” Iolaus admitted, sheepishly. He gestured toward the kissing couple. “They sure seem happy, don’t they?”
Hercules nodded. “Looks like love is in the air -" He glanced around. “-and I think I know why. You can come out now!”
One of the roses on a nearby bush suddenly began to grow, becoming larger and larger until a beautiful blonde stood before them wearing little more than a smile.
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet-and, sugar, I’m the sweetest.”
“Aphrodite. I had a feeling.” Hercules shook his head, then looked at the man beside him. Iolaus was practically drooling. “Hey, roll up your tongue, that’s my sister.”
“Right,” Iolaus squeaked, then cleared his throat. “Sorry.”
“Long time no see, Baby Bro.” Aphrodite grinned, then turned to Iolaus. “And you, Curly from the swirly. Nice haircut. How ya digging life on our side of the vortex?”
“Funny you should ask, ‘cause-"
“-glad to hear it. Listen, Herc, ever see the Tribera ruins?”
Hercules looked at her with bemusement. “There aren’t any ruins in Tribera.”
“Well, there will be soon if you don’t hightail it over there. Heard there’s, like, a major mudslide headed their way. I’d go with you, but I just had a mud bath yesterday.”
“Oh, well, then yeah, I mean, your hands are tied.” Hercules said, his sarcasm totally lost on the goddess.
“Want me to come with you?” Iolaus asked.
Hercules shook his head. “I won’t be long. Stay here and practice what we were working on.”
“You mean, getting hit on the head?” Hercules gave him a stern look. “Okay, okay, I’ll practice.” He moved off and began shadowboxing with a tree.
Hercules turned to his sister. “Listen, give me a favor, all right? Iolaus is having a hard time adjusting to this world.”
“Say no more. You want me to take him under my wing, show him the ropes.”
Neither of them noticed the tree winning the boxing match behind them.
“Actually, I want you to leave him completely alone. I don’t need him anymore confused than he already is.”
“Okay, this is the part where you, like, totally owe me an apology.” Aphrodite said, indignantly. “I’m the Goddess of Love, what could possibly go wrong?” She shrugged with twinkling eyes and an innocent smile.
Triton, brother of Poseidon and patriarch of the seven seas sat in his throne, attempting to remain calm and reasonable. His daughter, a beautiful mermaid name Nautica, was not making this very easy.
“What’s not to like? He comes from a good family.”
“Daddy, please, he can’t keep his tentacles to himself.”
“So he’s a hopeless romantic, you know how writers are.”
“Just because he spills ink all over the place, doesn’t make him a writer.” Nautica mumbled, crossing her arms and flipping her tail petulantly.
“You’re marrying Cedric, and that’s final!”
“But he’s a squid!”
“I’ve never even left Coral Bay! How can I possibly know what I want from life when I haven’t even seen what life has to offer?”
“You may not understand this now, but your place is here. With your family. With people who need you. In time, you’ll see this is all for the best. Now, you’re marrying the squid and that’s that!”
Triton rose and stormed off, leaving Nautica slapping the water in frustrated defeat. Suddenly a woman dressed entirely in black appeared, lounging in Triton’s throne. “Life’s a beach, ain’t it?”
“Who are you?” Nautica pouted.
“Someone who knows just what it feels like to be a big fish in a little pond. Gets kind of claustrophobic, doesn’t it?”
Nautica sniffled. “Yeah.”
“Ever disobeyed Dear Old Dad before?”
“Well, no, but-"
“-but there’s a first time for everything. Why, your Romeo could be beachside, and you’d never even know it. Are you really going to let Triton stop you from finding your dream man?”
“Maybe you’re right.”
“I happen to have a first class ticket down Lovers Lane with your name on it… But there’s just one, little catch.”
Nautica sat on an outcropping of rocks, nervously watching the waves lap at the shore. Discord’s plan had seemed a good idea back in Coral Bay, but now she wasn’t so sure.
“Ready?” Discord asked, clearly eager to proceed.
“Wait… Are you sure this is going to work?”
“Trust me, I’m a goddess.” Discord raised her hands. “Here goes…”
“Hold on,” Nautica interrupted. “Have you ever done this before?”
“Well, no, but there’s a first time for everything.” Discord grinned wickedly, raising her hands once more. “All right, now this is it.”
“Okay, but one more thing…” Nautica interrupted once more and Discord lowered her arms, gritting her teeth. “What if I want to go back?”
“To what-a life with Mr. Tentacles, in a three bedroom shell with a pink coral fence and a two seahorse garage?” Discord snorted.
“Since you put it that way, I’m ready.”
Satisfied, Discord raised her hands--then paused, wincing. “Wait… I almost forgot.”
“What is the holdup?” Nautica demanded impatiently.
Discord’s smile was forced as she swallowed her anger. “Get wet, and you’ll have quite a tail to tell. Pun intended.”
Discord’s raised her hands and a streak of energy enveloped Nautica’s tail which split into a pair of long human legs.
“Thanks, Discord!” Nautica squealed, jumped onto the shore-and promptly fell on her face.
Discord helped her up out of the sand. “A word of advice: learn to walk before you run.”
“Good thinking.” Nautica straightened, looking out to sea. “Forgive me for what I’m about to do, Father, but I’m not a little guppy anymore.”
Nautica wobbled off down the beach, attempting to find her ‘land legs’ and missed the wicked grin on Discord’s face. “Hook… Line… And sinker.”
Iolaus and Aphrodite ambled into the town square of a small seafaring village.
“Well, isn’t that gratitude for you?” Aphrodite griped. “I offer to keep you company, and he insults me. My own brother, can you believe it?” She turned to Iolaus and noticed he wouldn’t meet her gaze. “Hel - lo?”
“I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it.” Iolaus offered, looking anywhere but at the goddess herself.
“What’s the matter with you, anyway? Why can’t you look at me?”
Iolaus glanced at her, then quickly looked away. “I guess I’m just not used to seeing… So much if you.”
“Well, get used to it, Curly, ‘cause I travel light.” If possible, Aphrodite seemed to stick her scantily clad bosom out even farther as they walked along.
“So, uh,” Iolaus cleared his voice and tried again. “Goddess of Love, huh? What’s it like?”
“Pretty cool. I’m my own boss, get to travel a lot-"
“-no, I mean… Love.”
Aphrodite stopped in her tracks, her look of surprise quickly turning to pity. “You mean, you’ve never been in love? Why didn’t you say so, sweet cheeks? I’ll be glad to help ya’ out.”
“Sure! Anything for someone who looks like a friend.”
Before Iolaus could respond, Aphrodite had waved your hand and suddenly he found himself in the arms of a strange woman who was smothering him with kisses.
“Wait! Stop! I can’t breathe!” Iolaus unsuccessfully attempted to push the woman away. “Aphrodite, get her off!”
“That’s your job.”
“No, I mean, get her away from me!”
Aphrodite shrugged and waved her hand. Immediately, the woman ceased her amorous assault and walked away in a daze.
“Not your type, huh?” She gestured to another passerby. “How ‘bout him?”
“Look, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but that didn’t feel like love.”
“Oh, you mean love. I thought you meant LUUUUUV. Well, ain’t that sweet-a real old-fashioned romantic. I like you, Iolaus. And with a little help, someone else will, too.”
“I appreciate that, but I want to fall in love, I don’t want you to drop it on me.”
“No problem.” She looked around. “This town doesn’t exactly look like it’s crawling with competition.”
They both looked around the little village square and began to notice most of the villagers seemed to have one thing in common-they each had at least one cast somewhere on their body.
“Sheesh, what happened around here?” Iolaus asked.
Nautica approached the small village, taking in all the new sights surrounding her. Never had she imagined the world outside Coral Bay to be quite this big.
As she reached the outskirts of the village, she came across an old man sitting on the dock. “Excuse me, sir…”
The old man slowly turned to look at her.
“I’m new in town and I was wondering: would you please be my friend?”
The man stared at her a moment, then suddenly began to tilt and fell from the dock straight into the water.
Nautica gasped. What could possibly have caused such a reaction?
Then she looked down.
Other than her necklace, she was completely naked.
Looking around, she noticed a clothesline hanging beside a nearby shack. She hurried over, grabbed a dress from the line and pulled in on.
Smiling, she continued on into the village.
Iolaus and Aphrodite continued their stroll through the village, visiting the local fish market which was buzzing with activity. They found themselves ducking under various forms of dangling sealife.
“Euww, this place can’t be good for my pores,” Aphrodite whined.
Just then, a local fish merchant approached. “Iolaus! Thank the gods you’ve come! Where’s Hercules?”
“Uh… He’ll be back soon.”
“No matter. I’m sure you can handle them yourself.”
“Them who?” Iolaus asked, nervously.
“Them them!” Iolaus and Aphrodite turned to look where the man was pointing, only to see a gang of goons knocking over merchant booths and tossing a villager on crutches into another in a full-body cast. “Brutus’ goons! He sends them out to collect his so-called ‘Property Tax.’ If we don’t pay, they start breaking bones!”
“By the look of things, there are a lot of brave people around here.”
“Not really. Even if we pay, they still beat us.”
“Well, since it makes no difference what we do, I guess I’ll be off.” Iolaus turned to leave, only to be stopped by Aphrodite.
“Wait, don’t you see? This is your chance.”
“My chance to what, switched to an all-knuckle diet?”
The merchant looked around in confusion. “Who are you talking to?”
“No,” Aphrodite continued impatiently. “to become a hero. If you beat these guys, you’ll have your pick of any chick in town.”
“What good is that if I have to carry my head around on a date?” Iolaus spun on his heel, intent on running away-only to bump right into two more goons.
“Say, what’s wrong with this picture?” asked Goon #1.
Goon #2 took a hefty swig from a bottle in his hand before answering. “I got it: he ain’t wearin’ a cast.”
“Listen, fellas, can’t we talk about this?” Iolaus asked hopefully, trying unsuccessfully to keep the panic out of his voice.
Goon #1 grabbed him by the tunic, yanking him up and sneering in his face. “That ain’t gonna be too easy, when you’re spittin’ teeth.”
Iolaus gulped. “Good point. I, I can see you got the brains in the family. And, and what did you get, sir?”
Goon #2 belched in his face. “Ah, the liver. Well, I, I really should be running away now, but, my legs don’t seem to be cooperating.” Iolaus gave a nervous laugh.
Aphrodite watched, wincing, as the two goons lifted Iolaus off the ground and tossed him into a nearby booth.
She teleported herself over to where Iolaus was attempting to get to his feet, while wiping fish scales from his face. “Let me guess, you’re just giving ‘em a false sense of security, right, Curly?”
“Actually, I’m trying to enjoy my last few moments on earth.”
“But I thought you knew how to fight!”
Iolaus gave her an incredulous look. “Oh, yeah? What gave you that impression?”
Suddenly, Iolaus was grabbed and tossed into a fruit cart. Once more, Aphrodite appeared next to him as he struggled to stand. “I saw you fighting with Hercules.”
“That was my first lesson!” He looked up to see the goons moving in. “Help!”
“Oh, all right. Make a fist.” Aphrodite waved a hand, guiding Iolaus’ fist and sending an uppercut to his own jaw. “Oops.”
She waved her hand again and like a puppet, Iolaus rocketed forward, his fist connecting with Goon #1’s jaw, sending him flying.
“Did I do that?” Iolaus asked, just before he found himself knocking Goon #2 into a fish barrel. “Ow! Not so hard!”
“Don’t be such a baby.” Aphrodite admonished, clearly enjoying herself. “If it hurt you, it hurts them.”
Villagers gathered around to watch as they made quick work of the last two goons. With a final wave of her hand, Aphrodite positioned Iolaus into a bow, much to the delight of their cheering audience.
“Whew.” Aphrodite wiped nonexistent perspiration from her forehead. “What a workout.”
Iolaus shot her an incredulous look, while attempting to catch his breath. “Tell me about it, I’m having heart palpitations from all the humiliation. You’re making me miss juggling for the Sovereign.”
“Buck up, little camper. They think you’re a hero.”
“Yeah, well, too bad I know I’m not.” Iolaus sighed and moped off.
Meanwhile in the crowd, Nautica had been watching the fight with interest. She turned to the man beside her. “Who is that?”
“His name’s Iolaus.”
“Iolaus, huh?” she sighed. “What a catch.”
Not far from the village was hidden a dark, dank den. Aquariums filled with colorful sealife lined the walls and nets filled with lobsters and crabs hung from the ceiling.
In the midst of this, Brutus, a Troglodyte with the intelligence and emotional maturity of a fetus, sat on his throne, playing with a sardine as if it were a doll.
“Please, don’t eat me, Brutus!” he said in a high-pitched voice, before growling in his own voice, “Don’t what?”… “Eat me.”… “If you insist.” Finally, he dropped the fish down his throat.
“Playing with yourself again, Brutus?”
“Discord!” he exclaimed, brightly.
“That’s my name, don’t wear it out.”
Brutus lowered his head, rose and walked to the corner of the room, where he began banging his skull against the wall.
Discord immediately softened. “There, there, my little potatohead, I didn’t mean to yell at you.”
“I may be a big guy, but I have feelings, you know.” Brutus pouted.
“Of course you do.” Discord took a seat on his throne and gave him a patronizing smile. “And you know how much I need you, sweetums.”
“You do?” Brutus sniffled, wiping his nose with the back of his hand.
Discord opened her arms invitingly and he took a seat on her lap, lowering his head against her chest.
“I can’t get too directly involved here,” she said, stroking his head. “Poseidon is Triton’s brother, and if he found out what I have in mind for his glorious oceans, he’d filet me faster than you can say ‘fish sticks.’”
“But… Aren’t you already involved? I mean, you gave the fish-girl legs.”
Discord snorted. “She thinks I did her a favor. Now if we can just keep her on land till sunset, the seas will be ours forever.”
“And I still get to smash people into a bloody pulp?”
“Of course.” She took his hand, continuing seductively, “I love to watch you work with your hands.”
Suddenly the door burst open and Brutus’ men limped in. Discord jumped to her feet, heedless of Brutus dropping to the floor with a thud.
“What happened to you?” she demanded.
“It was terrible! Terrible! He was like a human tornado!”
“One man did this to you?” Realization dawned. “Hercules.”
“No, no, the other one, the man he travels with!”
Discord frowned. Everyone knew Iolaus was back at the Academy with Jason and Hercules was with…
“The Court Jester?” she scoffed. “Please. He couldn’t hit water if he fell off a boat.” Her eyes narrowed. “There’s something fishy going on around here.”
Iolaus stood on a bluff, looking out over the sea and contemplating the mess he was in.
“I can’t believe you’re taking this so hard.” Aphrodite appeared beside him. “I mean, I only helped you a little.”
“Nice try, Aphrodite, but I was there, remember? When those guys come back, everyone’s going to expect me to stand up to them again.”
“Duh, I said I’d help you.”
“What are you going to do, follow me around the rest of my life? Turn me into a puppet every time some ape picks a fight?” Iolaus shook his head. “I have to tell everyone the truth, otherwise I’m nothing but a fraud.”
“-no ‘buts.’ You can’t turn me into a hero anymore than you can make someone really fall in love with me. Now, if you don’t mind, I need some time alone to figure out what I’m going to tell the town.”
With a sigh of pity, Aphrodite disappeared.
“Excuse me, sir…”
Iolaus turned to see a woman standing behind him, hair blowing in the breeze and a warm smile on her beautiful face. She was nothing less than a vision.
“… I just wanted to tell you I think you’re very brave.”
Iolaus groaned silently. “Thanks, but I have to be honest, I’m-"
His eyes widened in shock as the woman locked her lips to his, but after a moment’s hesitation, he returned the kiss enthusiastically.
Finally, the need to breathe forced them to separate. “-a little tongue tied.”
“I… Think I love you.” The woman said, reaching out to touch his cheek.
Iolaus recoiled. So that was it. “Oh, great. Look, miss, not that I don’t wish I were the kind of person who could take advantage of this situation, but what you’re feeling right now isn’t real. See, Aphrodite did this to you.”
The question caught him off guard. “You know, Aphrodite? The Goddess of Love?” She just smiled. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
“Where exactly are you from?”
“It doesn’t matter,” she said, dismissively. “My home’s a whole other world away.” “Really? Mine, too.”
“Truth is, I felt like a slave there.”
“You don’t say.”
“So I’m trying to let go of my old life and get on with my new one.”
Iolaus blinked. Was she real? “What’s your name?”
“Nautica…” Iolaus repeated with a dreamy sigh.
Aphrodite sat on a rooftop, looking down on the village. Below, the couple she’d taken the trouble of putting together earlier that day had apparently managed to undo all of her hard work.
“But, shnookielunps, I swear, we’re just friends!” the man simpered as he followed his erstwhile paramour through the market.
The woman stopped and turned on him. “I catch you with your arms around a naked woman in our living room, and you expect me to believe you?!”
“She’s a nudist! And she was choking!”
Aphrodite sighed and waved her hand. Immediately, the bickering couple melted into each other’s arms.
“Oh, Hogarth, I’m sorry I didn’t believe you.”
“That’s all right, my darling, I didn’t believe me, either.”
Aphrodite smiled, pleased with herself.
“Well, if it isn’t the multi-talentless and easily inflatable Aphrodite.” Discord sneered, as she appeared right beside the other goddess.
“What do you know, the Goddess of Skank. Here to defend your title at the Kielbasa swallowing contest?” Aphrodite asked with feigned sweetness.
Discord growled and waved a hand at the couple below. Instantly, they pulled away from each other and the woman slapped the man, beginning their brawl anew.
“You’re the one who helped that little clown, aren’t you? I knew he couldn’t have beaten those men on his own.”
Aphrodite shrugged, all innocence, then waved her hand at the couple whose mutual chokehold turned into a warm embrace.
“So what if I did? Don’t tell me those gorillas work for you.”
“I’m warning you, Aphrodite, this is none of your business. Skip town before things get ugly.”
“Too late. Have you looked in the mirror lately?”
Discord shrieked with rage and started the couple fighting all over again. Aphrodite countered the spell and before long the two goddesses were lost in a mercurial gain of one-upmanship.
“Enough!” Discord eventually roared.
“Blonde!” With that, Discord disappeared.
Aphrodite looked down with a victorious smile at the couple now locked in an amorous embrace. The smile faded somewhat as she thought of the reason Discord had appeared in the first place.
“Better make sure Curly’s all right.”
Iolaus and Nautica were strolling through the town, enjoying each other’s company. Iolaus had just finished delighting Nautica with a demonstration of his juggling ability, when a bucketful of dirty water came splashing into the street-right in Nautica’s direction.
Nautica screamed and jumped into a bewildered Iolaus’ arms.
“What? What is it?” Iolaus asked in concern.
“Uh… The water… This is a new dress, and I didn’t want to get wet.”
Nautica ambled on and Iolaus followed. He could sense her mood had soured somewhat, though he wasn’t sure why.
“Iolaus, when you left your world, how’d you know it was the right thing to do?”
“I guess, when all was said and done, I knew there wasn’t anyone there I’d miss.”
Nautica nodded, but he could see confusion beneath the surface.
“Still, I think about it every once in awhile. You?” he probed gently.
Nautica attempted to shrug it off. “What’s to miss? Like I said, I felt like a slave. I mean, what kind of father won’t let his daughter see the world for herself?”
“Maybe the kind that loves her so much, he’s afraid to let her go.” Iolaus suggested.
Nautica stopped, looking at Iolaus with open affection. “You know, you’re the first man I’ve ever met he talked to me, not at me.
Iolaus smiled. “Can I ask you something?” He waited for her nod. “Can I kiss you again?”
Nautica nodded again and leaned forward, but just before their lips touched, she let out a gasp and moved away.
“What? Is it my breath?” Iolaus turned to find her beside a nearby fish stand, picking up a large trout and hugging it as though her heart was breaking.
“Cousin Abernathy! What have they done to you?!”
Iolaus gave a nervous laugh, looking around to see if anyone was watching. “Uh, Nautica? You OK?”
Nautica just looked at him a moment, then seem to realize how she must look. “Oh. Sure. It’s just that I… Used to have a fish… That looked exactly like this one. I called him… Cousin Abernathy. Would you excuse me?” Her voice broke on the last words. “I’ll be right back.”
Nautica hurried off, stifling a wash of tears, but before Iolaus could react, Aphrodite appeared in front in.
“What’s the rumpus, Curly?”
“Hey!” She slapped him on the arm. “I expect a little more enthusiasm from my fans.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way. It’s just that I met this great girl, we have everything in common, and I was actually starting to believe she really liked me for me.”
“Hey, don’t look at me, I didn’t have anything to do with it.”
“You mean… You didn’t sprinkle her with… Whatever it is you sprinkle people with?”
“Okay, now I’m totally lost. I thought you didn’t want me getting involved.”
“This is great news!” Iolaus was practically bouncing with excitement. “That means she really meant it when she said that-" His excitement died instantly. “-that she thinks I’m brave… Oh, no! She’s falling in love with me she thinks I am! I mean, the me I’m not! I mean… What do I mean?”
“Quit spazzing out, Curly, this is what I call a golden opportunity. When those goons come back to rip the flesh from your face, you can stand up to them for real! Then you’ll be the you she thinks you are!”
“Sorry, Aphrodite, but the me I am isn’t that kind of guy. I have to tell Nautica the truth.”
Discord furiously paced the length of Brutus’ den, glaring at anyone who dared cross her path. “Fashion victim? Me?! Who does she think she is? At least I don’t double as a flotation device!”
“Don’t sell yourself short, my little leatherclad licorice stick,” Brutus cajoled, embracing her from behind.
“I can’t take any chances with her around,” Discord mused. She suddenly realized she was being groped. “Get a grip, Brutus."
“I thought you’d never ask.” He tightened his hold on her, his hands seeking a new area to grope.
Discord spun, slapping him and knocking him back several feet. “No, you idiot, I want you to catch that fish!”
Iolaus made his way down the beach and found Nautica on the shore, looking somewhat sadly out at the ocean.
“Are you all right?”
Nautica turned to him, brightening instantly. “I’m better than all right. Iolaus, I want to stay with you forever. ” She wrapped her arms around him. “Let’s get married!”
“Whoa, Nautica,” Iolaus pulled back, taking her hands in his. “We have to slow down. I mean, we hardly know each other. I haven’t had time to ask you what your favor collar it is, or what your hobby is… ”
“You know what I mean.”
“Iolaus, don’t you believe in love at first sight? When I saw you standing up for those poor people, I knew you were the one.”
Iolaus winced. “Nautica, I have to be honest with you.”
Nautica nodded, taking a deep breath. “So do I.”
“I’m not the person you think I am.” They both stared at each other, having spoken the same words that the same time.
“Time to sort out all this confusion…” A new voice broke in and they turned to see the goons from earlier standing nearby, accompanied by an even larger brute who was obviously their leader. “Which one of you’s Nautica?”
Iolaus and Nautica exchange a look. Was he serious? Nautica slowly raised her hand.
“So, which one of you’s the creep who beat up my men?”
Iolaus hesitantly raised his hand.
“Okay, you?” He pointed at Iolaus. “Are dead. And, you?” He pointed at Nautica. “Are mine.” He and his men began to laugh menacingly.
Iolaus was close to panic, trying to figure out how he could escape in one piece with Nautica. Unfortunately, she seemed to have other plans.
“Yeah? Well, you’re really asking for it this time, because Iolaus went easy on you before!” She informed them defiantly.
“Nautica,” Iolaus giggled nervously. “Let’s not upset the rather large gentleman who obviously has his own zip code.”
“Is that right, Mr. Tough Guy? Time to teach you a lesson.” The goon cracked his knuckles.
“Wait, that’s it!” Iolaus practically bounced with excitement, speaking to himself. “Lesson. ‘The battle is often won before the first punch is thrown.’”
He glanced down, and then took a hesitant step toward the man, keeping his posture low and deferential as he learned while serving the Sovereign. “I would really hate to do this without telling you your shoes are untied.”
“What do you think I am, stupid?” The brute sneered. “That’s the oldest trick in the book: I look down and you whack me one. Well, it ain’t gonna happen.”
“Okay. Okay. I tried,” Iolaus said, backing up.
The goon stepped forward, tripped over his untied shoelaces and landed face down in a mud puddle. His men, stunned by their leaders fall, were unable to react in time to prevent Iolaus grabbing Nautica and running off.
Triton sat on his throne, listening to the sirens sing their special chord.
“All right, already!” Aphrodite suddenly appeared, holding her ears. “Those sirens are like the dog whistle of the gods! Call ‘em off!”
Triton gestured for the sirens to stop singing. “Thank you for answering my call, Aphrodite.”
“Any friend of Poseidon’s is a friend of mine. What’s up?”
“It’s my daughter, she swam away from home.”
“You blew my eardrums out for that? Listen, my main Merman, don’t sweat it; she’s a kid, she’ll come back.” She shivered. “And can we, like, turn up the heat in here? It’s freezing.”
“That’s just it. I can’t. When Nautica was born, my brother Poseidon gifted her with a heart so pure, it warms the seas. If she doesn’t return by sunset, the waters of Greece will turn to ice.”
“Nautica has no idea how important she is. I should have told her the truth. Instead, I tried to arrange a marriage to make her stay.”
“Did you say Nautica?” Aphrodite smiled. “That’s great! I just saw her back at the village.”
“She’s on land? How is that possible?”
Aphrodite started to shrug, then realization hit. “Discord. I knew that scheming little skeezer was up to something. Don’t you worry, Triton. I know exactly where to find your daughter, she’s with…” Her excitement died and she sighed sadly. “Curly. Oh no.”
Laughing, Iolaus and Nautica ran into a wooded glen and stopped to catch their breath.
“I guess we lost ‘em,” Iolaus panted.
Nautica looked at him with adoration. “You’re amazing.”
“Only when I’m with you.” He glanced back the way they had come. “I wonder what they wanted with you.”
Iolaus took her hand. “Nautica, I’ve been thinking about what you said before. About love at first sight… And when I’m with you, I’m the person I always wanted to be.”
“Then why do you look so unhappy?”
“Because I’m afraid that when you hear what I have to tell you, you won’t feel the same way about me. But I can promise you this: nothing’s going to change the way I feel about you.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure about that,” Nautica murmured, looking off.
“I’ve been looking all over for you!”
Iolaus cringed as Aphrodite appeared directly behind Nautica. “Now is not a good time; can we talk later?”
“Was it something I said?” Nautica asked, sounding puzzled and a bit hurt.
“Not you-,” he assured her hastily, and then turned his attention back to the goddess. “-you.”
“You, who?” If anything, Nautica sounded even more puzzled.
“Me, me.” Aphrodite waved her hands. “She can’t see me, Curly, and we have to talk, like, pronto.”
Iolaus gave a sigh of resignation, then turned back to Nautica. “Can you excuse me a moment?”
He and Aphrodite moved off, leaving a bewildered Nautica behind.
“You lost them?!” Discord glared furiously at Brutus and his goons who had just returned - empty-handed - to the den. “How could you lose them?!”
“They were running really fast.”
“How fast could she have been running, she’s only had legs for ONE DAY!”
“Well, we’re trying our best and now you’re hurting my feelings!” Brutus pouted.
“Yeah, you’re hurting his feelings!” One of his men concurred - only to be reduced to a pile of ashes a moment later by the irate goddess.
“Anyone else have something to say?” Discord demanded, and then turned back to Brutus. “Brutus, darling, I know it’s not your fault you’re only slightly smarter than a cabbage. In fact, if you weren’t more endowed in other areas, I’d have killed you long ago.”
Brutus brightened. “Gee, thanks.”
“Shut up!” Discord snapped. “Listen carefully; I’m going to make it easy for you. Step one: approach the girl. Step two: grab the girl. Step three: bring the girl here. Got it?”
Brutus watched her intently, his eyes glued to her fingers as she held them up to emphasize each step in turn. At her question, he smiled and nodded eagerly.
Iolaus couldn’t believe what Aphrodite had just told him. “Yeah, and I’m a Centaur.”
“I’m sorry, Iolaus, but it’s true,” Aphrodite insisted, her voice laden with sympathy. “She’s got to go back.”
“Have you taken a look at her recently?” Iolaus asked, skepticism lacing his words. “She’s not a mermaid. She has legs.”
“Yeah, which Discord gave to her - to freeze the oceans!”
“Why would she want to do that?” Iolaus scoffed.
“Hel-lo? Her name is Discord.”
Iolaus shook his head, refusing to believe what he was hearing. Suddenly, a thought occurred to him. “I now what this is about. This is about you!”
“I found love without your help and you can’t stand it!”
“So not even in the hard corest of ways!” Aphrodite couldn’t believe she was being insulted like this - by a mortal yet! “I didn’t have to hang out with you today, you know, but I did, out of the goodness of my huge heart!”
“Which we could all see beating if it weren’t for your skin - put some clothes on, for the gods’ sakes!”
“That’s it! You’re on your own!” Aphrodite exclaimed in outrage and began jabbing him in the chest with her finger to emphasize each of her next words. “Let the seas freeze for all I care! I hope you two are very happy!”
Iolaus watched in shock as the enraged goddess disappeared before his eyes.
“Ow,” he muttered, rubbing his sore chest, then headed back to find Nautica.
Nautica sat in the grass, plucking petals from a flower. “He loves me, he loves me not. He loves me, he loves me not…” Before she could pluck the last petal, someone suddenly grabbed her from behind. “Hey, what are you doing?! IOLA--!”
Brutus clamped his hand over her mouth before she could finish her cry. “My, my, Discord will be pleased.”
He laughed wickedly as he and his men dragged the struggling girl away.
“Why are you doing this?” Nautica cried, struggling against the men as they tied her to a table. Behind them, a familiar figure came into view, smiling wickedly as she watched them work. “Discord? I thought you were my friend!”
“What makes you think I care about your happiness in the slightest?” Discord scoffed.
“Why did you help me then?”
“Help you?” Discord chuckled. “There’s no greater handicap than innocence, my dear. But in a way, I envy you. It must be nice to float through life with your head in the clouds.”
“Yeah, must be nice.”
Discord rolled her eyes at Brutus’ parroting, before turning her attention back to her victim. “Time to pop the balloon. Your father never told you the real reason he wanted you to stay: if you’re not home in time for supper, the seas will freeze, along with everyone you left behind.”
“No…” Horror-stricken, Nautica renewed he struggles to get free.
“Look on the bright side,” Discord smirked cruelly. “We can all learn to ice skate.”
Iolaus tentatively approached the golden statue, glancing at the many tributes laid at its feet. He had nothing to offer but the broken necklace clutched in his hand. Somehow he doubted it would be enough to earn him any favor - or prevent him being struck down for presuming to ask a favor of the very goddess he’d so recently insulted.
He looked down at the necklace and his heart clenched, just as it had when he came back to the clearing where he’d last seen Nautica and found only this string of broken seashells awaiting him.
Looking back at the statue, he took a deep breath and prepared himself for whatever might come. His fate was unimportant, so long as Nautica was safe.
“Aphrodite, I know I’m the last person you want to see right now, but Nautica’s been kidnapped and I need your help.”
His heart sank as no response was forthcoming. “Please don’t punish her for what I said. I know I didn’t believe you, but that was because…I love her. And I don’t want to let her go.”
Still nothing; maybe a different tactic was called for. “Did I mention you’re my favorite god?”
“Go on…” The voice seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
“You’re…funny, beautiful…your fashion sense is beyond reproach…and I’m a jerk for saying those things to you.”
Aphrodite appeared before him, giving him a warm smile. “C’mon, Curly. Let’s go save your girlfriend.”
“I don’t get it,” Brutus muttered, poking at Nautica’s legs. “She don’t look like no mermaid.”
“Think of her as powdered milk.” Discord smiled wickedly. “You just add water.”
“Well, what are we waiting for?” Brutus reached for a nearby water pail.
“Iolaus will find me,” Nautica gave them both a defiant glare. “He’ll stop you.”
“Iolaus would run from his own shadow if he didn’t have Aphrodite’s help.” Discord gave her a mock pitying look. “He’s not the hero you think he is.”
“But I’m about to be.”
They all turned to see Iolaus standing in the doorway.
“What you’re about to do, is find out how much love can truly hurt.” Discord motioned to her men. “Get him!”
Iolaus could hardly believe he was doing this. Rather than running from the behemoths charging him, he rushed to meet them head on.
Nautica. Must save her. The words became a mantra in his mind and the next few minutes were nothing more than a blur as he dodged blows and attempted to return a few of his own.
A blow to his back suddenly sent him reeling and he found himself pressed against the table Nautica was tied to. One look at her beautiful face and he momentarily forgot all that was going on around them - until he was grabbed from behind by two of the brutes.
He struggled to no avail as the two goons dragged him away from Nausica. He tried to keep eye contact with her, but suddenly the one called Brutus stepped in front of him, smiling wickedly as he made a show of forming a fist, his hand covered in the sort of studded glove the Sovereign would’ve loved. Iolaus could do nothing more than try to brace himself for the pain to come.
A shriek and a flash of light suddenly filled the room and Iolaus barely had time to noticed Aphrodite and Discord fighting on the other side of the room when a bucket exploded, dousing them all with water.
Nautica cried out and at first Iolaus feared she’d been hurt, and then he could do no more than stare in shock as her legs joined together and formed what was clearly a fish’s tail.
“Hey guys, look! She really is a fish!” Brutus exclaimed and he and his men began to laugh, jeeringly at Nautica.
Iolaus felt a sense of anger and indignation he’d never felt before. How dare they mock her?
“That’s my girlfriend you’re laughing at!” Bracing himself against the two men still holding his arms, he backflipped out of their grasp and began fighting like a man possessed. Peripherally, he was aware of Nautica using her tail to take out Brutus and soon the other goons were lying on the floor at his feet.
On the other side of the room, a net crashed down and he saw Discord struggling to free herself from it and its many clawed inhabitants.
“Eww, Discord, looks like you’ve got a nasty case of crabs!” Aphrodite heckled the other goddess.
“Get these things off me!” Discord shrieked.
“Better high tail it out of here, Discord.” Aphrodite told her, ignoring her shrieks and glares. “I don’t think you want to be too near the coast when I tell Poseidon what you’ve been up to.”
“The great thing about being immortal? You always have time to try again.” She shot back and then disappeared.
Iolaus raced to Nautica and began untying her from the table.
“- You don’t have to say anything,” he assured her. “We both should’ve been honest from the start.”
“We were.” Nautica caressed his cheek. “I meant it when I told you I love you.”
“Me, too.” Iolaus scooped her up into his arms. “That’s why I’ve got to get you home.”
Iolaus carried her down to the beach, stopping at the shoreline. Reluctant to let her go, he stood for a long moment, looking out to sea and wishing there were some way to avoid this parting.
“Nautica.” Aphrodite had appeared nearby and they turned to face her. “Tell Triton he owes me one. And don’t be too hard on him. He loves you, you know.”
“Thank you, Aphrodite.” Nautica gave the goddess a grateful smile, before turning her attention back to Iolaus.
They looked into each other’s eyes, unsure of what to say, then Iolaus gestured toward the beach. “This is where we first met.”
“If I’d known we were only going to have one day together, Iolaus…I still would’ve kissed you.”
“How about one for the road?” Iolaus suggested, giving her a bittersweet smile. Then their lips were touching and they shared one final, tender kiss before he pulled back and met her eyes once more. “I don’t know how to thank you.”
“For what?” Nautica asked in confusion.
“For giving me something to fight for.” He gestured toward the sea. “Ready?”
Nautica nodded. “I won’t forget you.”
Iolaus gently set her into the surf and watched as she disappeared beneath the waves.
Iolaus sat on a rock at the edge of the forest, staring out over the sea in the distance. He didn’t hear Hercules approaching until the demigod called his name.
“So, how was your day?” Hercules asked, after Iolaus had acknowledged his presence.
“Oh. Not bad.” Iolaus shrugged. “Did a little of this, a little of that.”
“Uh huh.” Hercules looked him up and down, noting his torn clothing. “I just ran into Aphrodite down the road; she was crying. Is everything okay?”
“Yeah,’ Iolaus answered automatically. Then he noticed a tail splashing water out to sea and couldn’t help smiling. “Everything’s fine.”
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