Harmonia slumped against the wall of scrolls in the temple of the Muses. Another long day of tending to petitions and sorting the increasing paperwork was almost over. She looked forward longingly to a long hot soak in a bubble bath. Maybe, something more than soup tonight. If she had the energy to whip up something before Mom got home from her weekly trip to one of her temples.
"NO!" The whispered exclamation exploded from the other side of the bookshelves.
Jumping, Harmonia tuned her hearing to the low voiced conversation that had been going on for the last few minutes. With a start, she recognized her father's voice.
"We've tried everything else, Joxer. Everyone's reserves were used during the war and there's just not enough energy being generated by mortals to let us start building up a reserve. The only other thing we could do is mess with the natural elements to create the storms and disasters that fuel our power." He sighed. "And that would only kill more of the mortals instead of help them."
"I know, Ares. But it almost killed you the first time and you actually died the second time. Even if it was only for a moment. This one really could destroy you." Joxer's earnest tones filtered through the scrolls. "Which means it will kill me as well. You're not leaving me behind."
Harmonia peeked through a chink in the scrolls and saw her father holding Joxer close. She watched in fascination while their expressions changed rapidly. It almost seemed as if they were talking to each other without words. Her father's grim features softened suddenly and he leaned forward, pulling Joxer even closer and kissing him gently.
Harmonia tried to see what they had been looking at but the scrolls on the shelves were in the way. She bit her hand to keep from letting out a frustrated sigh. She watched them separate and Joxer's hand caressed the dark face so near his own.
"The others will be only too ready to let you risk your life." He said sadly.
Ares' eyes closed briefly before opening again to glitter down into Joxer's. "It's my job, love. And I know I can't protect you from it. But it does have a chance of working. Re-energizing the whole of Olympus and from there on out to the whole country. Isn't it worth the possible price?"
Joxer's brown eyes shone with unshed tears, but he managed a tremulous smile. "I know. Why don't we go get something to eat? We can talk more when some of the others get back. It's not an action we can take without them knowing anyway."
Her father laughed and stole another kiss before they left. Darting around the shelves, she checked the scrolls on the table they'd been standing by. Her eyes widened and she felt a cold shiver run up her spine. All three volumes of the Chaos Index were stacked on the table. Biting her lip, she traced the entry they had unrolled and forgotten to close.
*INDERDICTION! It is strictly forbidden to enter the fenced area in the far North corner of the Olympian Fields. Here resides a vast pool of Chaos energy that would destroy the disturber and all the temples of Olympus.*
She hugged herself in fear. Joxer was right. The others would risk her dad's life if it would get them the energy they were used to having. And Joxer would be right beside him. Her jaw firmed and she rolled up the scroll. Her mom needed to know about this. Aunt Hestia, too.
Heading out, she walked quickly to Aphrodite's temple. She found her mother reclining on the white chaise lounge with a damp cloth over her eyes and one hand hanging limply over the side.
"Bad day, Mom?" Harmonia asked quietly.
"You have no idea, sweetie." Her voice was dispirited. "So many lovers have been separated or killed. And the ones left are too busy staying alive to even think about making love. I'm useless. Totally useless."
The young goddess sat down by her mother's hip and massaged the limp hand. "You are not useless, Mom. Everyone feels better after you've visited. Last week, two couples came together because you helped them see each other in a different light."
Aphrodite removed the cloth and tried to smile through the haze of tears. "But for every couple that comes together, two are separated or die. If I just had some energy!"
Harmonia gulped. Should she say something? It sounded like her mom would do almost anything to have some energy. Would she ...? She decided she didn't want to know if her mom would sacrifice her dad for the greater good. Better to say nothing. "I know, Mom. Why don't you rest while I get something for us to eat. There's fish stew that Cycrops made up this noon. It's really good and it won't take long to heat up."
Aphrodite nodded and closed her eyes. "There's a fresh loaf of bread that someone left at the temple. Actually, there were several but I gave the rest of them away to some of my devotees. Poor things are always hungry these days."
"Great." Harmonia forced some enthusiasm into her voice. "I'll give you a call when it's ready."
She hung the iron kettle of soup on the hook and swung it over the fire. Her mind went back and forth in a debate of should she tell her mom or should she just wait to see if her dad said anything. She set the table and cut the bread mechanically. Filling the water goblets, she checked the stew and ladled some of the steaming broth into the white porcelain bowls.
Aphrodite came to the table with an audible sniff. "That actually smells good. Who knew that such a good looking stud could cook, too."
Harmonia just smiled and passed the bread. They ate for a few moments before Aphrodite laid down her spoon . "Okay, honey. What's up? You've got frown lines all over your face and you keep looking at me like I suddenly grew another head."
Her daughter blushed and put down her own spoon. She never had been able to keep a secret around her mom. "While I was in the Archives, I overheard Daddy and Joxer talking. Joxer was upset because of some plan that Daddy was proposing. After they left, I looked at the scrolls they had out. It was the Chaos Index ... open to the Chaos deposit on Olympus."
Aphrodite sat frozen in position, her mouth slightly open. Her blue eyes looked through her daughter to somewhere far away. Harmonia stayed quiet and watched her mother think. A lot of people thought the goddess of love was all heart and no brains but Ares had always said that that was fiction. And right now, Harmonia agreed with him.
Her eyes suddenly focused and she reached for her water goblet, taking a swift drink. "It could work. The theory is that the released energy sinks into the surrounding terrain and because useable. No longer Chaos. And he has survived it twice. Although, this last time was a close call."
"Joxer said he died, just briefly." Harmonia said softly.
"And Joxer shared the energy from almost the moment it was released." Aphrodite mused out loud. "But no one knows how big this pool of Chaos energy is. How deep, I mean. It's at least as long as your father is tall. We need to talk about this."
"I thought maybe Aunt Hestia might know more. She helped out the first time." Harmonia ventured.
"Good idea. We'll have to confront your father as well. He's got this quixotic streak in him that comes out at the oddest times. There is no way I'm letting him get himself or Joxer killed now." She smiled oddly. "I have plans for them."
The next few hours sped by while the other gods and goddesses gathered, talked, argued, ate and drank. Harmonia kept busy pouring water and distributing the treats the others brought. Joxer joined her as the evening grew older.
"I hope this works." He settled back against the table and watched Ares and Athena arguing. "I don't want to lose him."
"You won't. Mom says she has plans for the two of you." Harmonia smirked.
His eyes widened and he looked down at her in consternation. "What kind of plans? No, don't tell me. I don't think I want to know. I'll worry about that after we survive this."
Harmonia's attention was captured by Hestia's quiet tones. The fire goddess sat on the hearthstone looking just as she always had, plump and comfortable. Her energy levels had remained constant, as if she were still connected to the River of Fire. Unfortunately, she could only share with other fire gods. Daddy Hep had created a lot of iron pots and pans with her shared energy.
"It's the backlash that's the problem. The first time it flowed through me, and damn near extinguished every fire I had. Of course, the alternative was to let it dissolve Ares from the inside out." That calm statement caused everyone to shiver. "Now, the second backlash was tempered by Joxer's presence and his ... closeness to Ares. But also by the mortals that absorbed some of the initial shock wave. Cycrops, didn't you say that Athena was still sparkling when she collapsed at your home?"
The dark sailor nodded from behind Athena's chair. "Golden sparkles that cascaded outward. They left me feeling tingling and refreshed even after the long day."
"The archives say that any mortal that *first* touches the Chaos energy is blasted into the four elements. But after that, the energy becomes benign and anyone else in the immediate area feels renewed. Perhaps, it's attracted to mortals." Clio, the muse of history, offered a theory.
"I think it's attracted to *life*." Athena slowly stroked Cycrop's hand on her shoulder, her gaze on the flames of the fire. "But mortals and immortals are able to process it while gods are incapacitated by it. At least initially. Ares, what of the power levels in your storage site? Did they go up? Could you use it after?"
Harmonia watched her father also stare distractedly at the fire while he leaned against the mantle, turning a goblet around and around in his fingers. "Yes, they went up. The Oread of the mountain said there was too much energy. But Joxer and I both soaked up energy after his ... death. And he was only immortal at that point. It didn't feel any different to me."
She felt Joxer stiffen next to her and once again she had the oddest feeling that her father and his lover were talking to each other while their eyes met and held from across the room. Joxer relaxed and buried a smile in his goblet but not before Harmonia saw it.
"Perhaps, if we invited some mortals and immortals to Olympus to be here when the pool is triggered?" Aphrodite spoke hesitantly.
Athena started to speak then sat back and looked up at Cycrops. The sailor shook his head slightly and met Ares' challenging gaze. "If it will help get all of you back to normal, I'd be pleased to join the effort."
"While Zeus and Hera are gone, it would probably be safe to have Hercules and Iolaus come up." Aphrodite suggested.
Hermes spoke up from the corner where he sat. "Autolycus will help out, so long as I can think up a suitable reward for him."
The others began to name mortals who'd been trustworthy in the past. Harmonia heard Joxer murmur Xena and Gabrielle's names under his breath and caught Ares' rather wicked look at him. The young warrior blushed and Harmonia hugged him.
"I was just going to suggest them." She whispered to him and he hugged her back.
By the time they broke up, each god had an assignment and at least one mortal to be propositioned. Ares kissed her goodnight and left with his arm around Joxer. Aphrodite looked abstracted while she helped her clean up the debris left behind.
"There's something different about them. Since that last brush with the Chaos energy." She paused with three goblets balanced in one hand and an empty platter in the other. "It's almost as if they can share thoughts." She shivered and set the goblets down on the sideboard. "Who knows where they were while they were in that coma? I just hope it was together."
Harmonia smiled affectionately at her mother. "I think they were, Mom. I think that's why they can even think about disturbing another pool of chaos energy."
This time, they both shivered.
End chapter 3