Author: Athea (
Series: War God I, part 22
Challenging a King

Joxer sighed and tried not to think about being a god. //A god of what?// Ares rubbed his hand and thought back to him.

//Anything you want to be, Joxer. You can choose a place to be the god of. Well, so long as no one else has chosen it. Or an element. There's more than one god and goddess of fire. Olympus knows, there's a lot of gods of water. There's time to think about it. We still need to work on your control of the elements before you need to pick a profession.//

Iolaus was sitting there with the strangest look on his face. Joxer prodded his knee and waited until those blue eyes moved to his. "Are you all right, Iolaus? It's been kind of an odd trip so far."

A snort of laughter was his only reply while Iolaus dissolved into quiet chuckles that proved to be infectious. They'd finished laughing when Joxer felt a disturbance in the air currents around them. Ares was already up and moving across the deck when Harmonia flashed into view, staggering into her father's arms and gasping out, "Daddy, she has Aunt Hestia."

Ares scooped her up in his strong arms and headed for the captain's cabin while Joxer went ahead to open the door. Xena and Gabrielle were sitting at the captain's table sipping tea when they burst through. Xena was on her feet immediately but Joxer didn't pay any attention while he turned down the blanket so Ares could lay his daughter on the bed.

Gabrielle was there in an instant, pushing the pair of them aside while she laid her head on the still chest to listen for a heartbeat. Xena brought over a bowl of water and a soft cloth. The bard began to wipe the smudged face clean.

"Ares, do you think she's right? Could Ate have taken Hestia?" Joxer hesitated to say the words out loud for fear it would make them true.

"It's possible. Aphrodite sent Harmonia away to Hestia's mountain retreat for safety. How could she have tracked her?" Ares' tones were savage but low.

Harmonia moaned on the bunk and her blue eyes flickered open. She looked in confusion at Gabrielle and Xena who moved away so Ares could sit on the edge of the bunk and hold her hand. "It's all right, princess. Tell us what happened."

The blue eyes filled with tears. "It's all my fault, Daddy. When Bacchus died, Aunt Hestia went to Olympus to see if she could help. I went back for my rose bush, so I could plant it in her garden. Ate used the leaves that fell off it to track the bush." She sobbed harder.

"She linked to the leaves and followed the trail to the bush." Ares sighed heavily. "Were you alone when she showed up?"

Harmonia nodded and rubbed the tears from her eyes with a fist, reminding Joxer of when he was a very little boy and had been left alone in the dark. "I thought she was Aunt Hestia and then she trapped me and I couldn't move or disappear or anything. She called me her child and told me she'd let me have a garden if I survived the battle. Then Aunt Hestia popped in and started throwing fireballs but Ate was really strong. They fought so evenly but when Ate moved the earth I broke free and tried to help Aunt Hestia."

She caught her breath and sipped some of the tea that Gabrielle held for her. "Thank you. Then, Aunt Hestia told me to leave and come to you. Better than having us both caught, she said. I didn't want to go but Ate started to twist me out of my body and Aunt Hestia threw something at her and distracted her. She said, now and I left." Tears broke out again and this time Ares gathered her up in his arms and rocked her gently, his eyes meeting Joxer's.

Joxer felt the pain even though they weren't touching. A fierce desire to strangle Ate with his bare hands overcame him and he fought it down, slowly. He heard Ares' soothing words through a curtain of white noise. How much of the anger was his and how much was his lover's, he wondered.

"It will be all right, Harmonia. I promise."

"Not if she kills Aunt Hestia. It will never be all right again." Harmonia's words echoed in the small cabin. Her head came up and she looked very much like her mother for a moment. "We have to find Ate and stop her before she can hurt her. I'm going to help."

"It's not safe, princess." Ares' voice was filled with such pain that Joxer ached to touch him.

"Nowhere is safe now, Daddy." Harmonia stroked his cheek. "If I found you then she could too. How close are we to her island? I'll bet that she's taken Aunt Hestia there."

Ares kissed the palm of her hand and nodded. "We're close, honey. And you're right. There are no safe places anymore."

//Except right by your side, lover.// Joxer thought longingly, watching Ares' head turn to him as if he heard the words.

//I did, love.// Ares look of surprise was followed quickly by a considering gaze that questioned how and why. //Something has triggered our connection to a new level. Interesting.//

"Hey, guys. The captain said that Thira is in sight." Iolaus' voice came from the cabin door.

"I need to talk to him and to Flip before we get any closer. Would you mind looking after Harmonia for a moment?" Ares settled her back onto the bunk. "Honey, this is Xena and Gabrielle. Xena is your half-sister. This might be a good time to for you to get acquainted."

Ares passed him with a quick thought. //Want to stay and referee? I'll be back as quickly as I can.//

//Make it quick. This could get ugly.// Joxer was only half kidding. A mental laugh was his only answer.

Harmonia was sitting up gingerly, wincing at a bruise on her arm. Gabrielle took one look at Xena and began rummaging in her bag.

"I know I've got some herbs for bruising. A good poultice will help take some of the pain away." She babbled while Xena and Harmonia traded considering looks.

The blond teenager was the first to break the silence. "Gosh, I never knew I had an older sister, just a lot of older half-brothers. You look like Daddy. I'm afraid I take after mother. That's Aphrodite."

"Well, we're even. I didn't know either." Xena's voice was calm. "I just found out that Ares is my father."

"Oh, wow! That must have been hard. Are you a warrior?"

"Yes. I trained most of my life to be a fighter."

"Well, then you knew Daddy. I wonder why he didn't tell you when you were little." Harmonia looked puzzled.

Xena quirked an eyebrow, opened her mouth and closed it slowly. Harmonia surprised them all by laughing out loud. "You look just like him. When he wants to say something but he thinks twice about saying it because he knows it won't come out right."

Joxer hid a grin and watched Gabrielle turn a laugh into a cough while she wet a cloth and sprinkled in a few herbs before folding them into a pouch and moving back to the bedside.

"I wish he'd trained me as a warrior. Then I could have helped Aunt Hestia instead of just running away." Harmonia's lip trembled but she kept the tears from falling.

"No, you don't. Fighting is only good for war and death. It sounds like you're learning better things, like how to plant a rose bush."

Joxer wondered at her mild tones. Did they hide regrets or resentments at their very different upbringing?

The two women's eyes met and Joxer wished he could hear their thoughts. Could Xena really appreciate her little sister or would she be jealous of Harmonia's easy life up to this point? Joxer wished there were a way to wave a magic wand and make everything all right.

//They'll be fine, Joxer. They're both strong women. Just different kind of strength, that's all. Right now, the only thing they have in common is me. And that's not a big selling point for Xena right at the moment.// Ares' thought came loud and clear from above them.

//What did you two talk about back on the island?// Joxer hadn't liked to ask before.

Ares sighed mentally. //She asked me why a warrior? I explained that all my mortal children have been in warrior families. 28 sons ... 27 warriors and 1 poet until her, my first daughter. I didn't think, at first, that she could be mine. I sent her father home a few days after I'd visited so she could have been his. But as she grew ... I could see she was a chip off the old block. But I was busy and couldn't be there for her. So, I made sure she had the right teachers and the right situations to make her grow stronger. More able to take care of herself ... not have to depend on another for her own safety or happiness. But I just couldn't keep from interfering in her life.//

Joxer listened in fascination. //A poet?//

//Later, lover. His poems are in the Muse's archives. I'll let you read them.// Ares laughed at him. //Harmonia is the only full blooded immortal child, I've had so far. Xena just listened and nodded once. I still don't know what she's thinking. Thank the gods, you're the only one with whom I can share thoughts.//

//She seems to be all right with Harmonia. Maybe, a little bemused.// Joxer listened in on the conversation in the cabin for a moment. Harmonia's dress was the main topic and she'd grown more animated with gestures copied straight from Aphrodite.

//She's her mother's daughter. And that's probably a good thing.//

//Oh, I don't know, love. Her determination seems to come straight from you.// Joxer remembered the look on her face when she'd said there were no safe places anymore.

Silence was his answer. Instead, a picture appeared in his mind of a chart and a tanned finger tracing a route. Smiling, he came back, mentally, to the cabin. They were talking about some contest in Arcadia that Xena and Gabrielle had attended. Harmonia was more like her old self, perching on the bunk and gesturing animatedly to the two sitting at the table. Joxer settled against the cabin doorframe, prepared for a lengthy session.

But a humming in the air distracted him and turning, he saw a silver shape materialize in the air before him. "Bax?"

The foot tall whirlwind spun busily before him. "Joxer, Joxer. Pain, pain. Big, big."

Joxer laughed out loud and reached out to pat the air around the zephyr. "It looks like you're growing, Bax. Pretty soon, you'll be one of the big boys." He frowned, remembering why he'd disappeared. "I'm sorry about Bacchus. Where did you go?"

"Home, home. Mama, mama. Grow, grow." Bax sounded very pleased with himself.

"Hey, Bax. It's about time you started growing." Harmonia joined Joxer in the doorway, ducking under his arm and greeting her old playmate.

"Nia, Nia. Good, good." Bax laughed when he saw her, swirling around her body in an exuberant dance.

"Come on up on deck, guys. We need to have a little strategy session." Ares called down. "Good to see you, Bax."

"Ares, Ares. Air, air." Bax darted up to the dark god and spoke urgently.

"Do you feel something in the wind, Bax?" Ares asked him gently.

"Smell, smell. Bad, bad." Bax swirled anxiously a few feet off the deck. Darting to each new person that emerged topside.

"Oo-o-o-h, Daddy. It does smell bad." Harmonia sniffed and held her nose.

Joxer breathed deeply then began to cough as the carrion smell of death assaulted his nose. //Ares, something is very, very dead over there.//

Ares touched his arm. //I hate to ask you but link with me and take another deep breath.//

Joxer nodded and meshed his mind with Ares until they were one. Unity. Taking a deep breath, he inhaled the charnel house odors that rose from the waves that surrounded the barren island. He followed Ares' train of thought to recognition of the smell.

"Harpies and their prey. But there's also something . . . ah, got it. Sulfur." Ares opened his eyes. "Ate may have chosen the wrong power storage." With that cryptic remark, he motioned them forward to the deck where Hercules and Iolaus waited for them.

"We're going to need a plan of attack. If I'm right, we should be hearing from Ate shortly." Ares sighed. "Her challenge to Zeus will be loud and may be accompanied by another death."

Harmonia leaned against Joxer with a sigh. He hugged her close and thought of Hestia, his adopted aunt, with love. Hoping against hope that she was still alive and would stay that way. A strange thought crossed his mind. Who do I pray to if I'm now a god?

A shout from one of the crew drew their attention to the lower deck. A woman was climbing over the rail with the help of the crewman, an older woman, one who Joxer and Ares recognized at the same moment.

//Tethys!// //Tethys.//

"Oh, look, it's Aunt Tethys. She can tell us about the waters around the island." Harmonia waved at the white haired woman who made her way regally across the deck and up the small flight of steps.

"I'm glad to see you are all right, Harmonia. I've just had a word with Flip before sending him back out of harm's way." Tethys nodded at the others while accepting a hug and kiss from Harmonia. "The waters around the island are heating up. Most of the smaller creatures have already fled. Those that remained have mostly died already or will shortly. Several fissures have opened and are releasing toxic gases into the water."

Joxer watched while Ares nodded in understanding. He directed his thought directly to his lover. //What am I missing?//

//Too much power, Joxer. It has to go somewhere and the earthquake that we felt is just the first of what may come.//

"It is Zeus' opinion that Hestia is somewhere here on the island. That Ate is holding her in readiness for the draining of her power when the challenge is accepted. Fire is her weakest element. That's where you will come in, young Ares." Tethys' blue eyes raked over the dark god. "I'm glad to see that you've ceased offering up your stomach to me."

"Joxer managed to equalize my water levels for me." Ares gave all the credit to his blushing lover.

Tethys gave the young warrior an appraising look. "Really? I look forward to ..." her eyes went sleepy, "helping you with your studies, young man."

Joxer managed to hold his position and his smile while his brain went into freeze mode. He felt like a rabbit hunted by a panther, afraid to move for fear of provoking it. //Breathe, lover. I won't let her have you. She's just testing the water, so to speak.// Ares rubbed a little circle of his lower back in a comforting caress.

Joxer nodded mentally and took a deep breath. "Thank you, ma'am. Ares told me that you were the very best in water control. I look forward to learning from you. Later."

//Much later. Sometime in the next thousand years later.//

"Yes, we really must take care of the rogue and rescue poor Hestia. She's going to be livid at missing this battle. What is your plan?" Tethys seemed to notice the map for the first time.

"This is the only map of the island available. Cycrops got it for us. I thought I'd take a very small group out to investigate." Ares said with a shrug.

"Simple. But probably effective." Tethys pursed her lips.

Suddenly Iolaus pointed to the island with a shout and as they turned, the sickening feeling of helpless despair and pain washed over the gods. As a flame rose high over the highest island mountain, Ares went to his knees, clutching his head while Tethys doubled over the table with a groan. Joxer and Harmonia held each other up with trembling limbs.

In the aching silence came a voice full of triumph. "Zeus! I challenge you to combat. And may the best god win."


Iolaus was closer to Ares when the big man went down and he darted to his side, afraid that he'd go all the way and hit his head. But he remained on his knees, his hands threaded through the black strands. When the golden warrior reached him, all he could hear was a steady stream of quiet profanity.

"... fucking bitch!"

"Who was it this time?" Iolaus asked cautiously. "Not Hestia?"

"No." The answer came from behind his shoulder. "It was one of my blood. Bia." Tethys gripped the table hard enough to snap off the edge. Looking at the piece of wood in her hand uncomprehendingly, she threw it aside and took a deep breath. "One of my granddaughters. Just a youngling."

Offering Ares a hand up, Iolaus braced himself to take his weight. The dark god came to his feet with a groan. "This is getting real old. I want her dead. I'll take the headache of her passing and enjoy it."

"Bia wasn't much older than me, Daddy." Harmonia was still huddled in Joxer's arms. "Can't Grandfather take care of Ate? I heard her challenge him."

Iolaus watched Ares and Joxer exchange one of those charged looks like they were talking to each other. Casting one of his own looks at Hercules, his lover gave a slight shrug.

"It's better to be safe than sorry, princess. Zeus hasn't been as active lately as he could so his power levels aren't as high as they should be. He may need a bit of help." Ares and Iolaus joined the others at the table.

"The fire on top of the mountain hasn't gone out yet." Gabrielle's voice was hesitant.

"I know." Ares was grim while he and Tethys exchanged an odd glance. "I'm afraid Ate is draining Hestia dry of her fire to feed that obscene flame. We need to get to her before it's too late."

"Daddy, what happens if all her fire is drained?" Harmonia shivered and reached out a hand to her father.

Ares sighed and gripped it reassuringly. "It's one way to dissolve a god by removing all the elements that fuel their power. But it won't happen, Harmonia, because we're going in to find her and break the link between them."

Tethys nodded and soon sorted them into groups with different jobs. It just so happened that they split into male and female groups with Tethys taking charge of her team to circle the island at water level while Ares undertook the job of taking the rest of them to the island interior. Bax agreed reluctantly to stay with the ship.

Iolaus was rather pleased about that, at least he knew Ares. Tethys seemed like a rather formidable lady. Although, he did wonder how she and Xena would work together. At least, Harmonia would be safe with a great-aunt and big sister looking after her.

The captain agreed to stick around for at least twelve hours. Or until the island disappeared. Iolaus cursed his own morbid thoughts. How can Herc be so calm? Doesn't he realize we could die here? He could feel a purple funk deluging him as they were rowed ashore to the sheltered cove of black sand.

Ares knelt immediately and thrust his hand into the sand, a look of intense distaste crossing his expressive face. Harmonia followed suit with an uncertain sigh.

"Daddy, it feels ... lifeless ... dead." She said hesitantly.

"Ate has stripped it clean. Down to the sea bed if I'm not mistaken." Ares shook his hand free of the clingy sand and stood up, Joxer wiping his hand with the tail of his shirt to be sure none remained.

"Not to mention killing the sea bed with her vicious raping of the waters of all life forms." Tethys' moue of distaste echoed her nephew's grimace. "She has proven a bad steward of her island."

Iolaus shuddered and leaned back against the solid form of his lover, who surreptitiously rubbed his back comfortingly.

"We'll meet back here in three hours. Be careful, ma'am. Ate has proven ... resourceful." Ares accepted Tethys' nod. Giving Harmonia a hug, he let her go. "Listen to Xena and do what she says. She's got good instincts when it comes to trouble." He exchanged a long look with his eldest daughter before Tethys led her group away.

"They'll be all right, Arry." Joxer was doing a little rubbing of his own to Ares' shoulder. "We'll hear if anything happens."

"Maybe." Ares shook himself free of whatever nasty vision had him in thrall. Smiling down into Joxer's face, he traced his cheek with one finger. "I wish I'd had more time with your training. De-materialization is high on the list of things I wish you knew."

"Sorry, you're stuck with me."

Their shared grin would have melted iron, Iolaus decided. Private joke. Hercules stirred restlessly and Ares turned to them with a rather odd look on his face.

"Um, I don't think you're going to like this but we need to split up to cover more ground. Which means that Joxer and I need to each take one of you." He shrugged. "The two of us can communicate without being with each other."

Iolaus and Hercules shared a long look. Hoping he was doing the right thing, Iolaus stepped to Ares' side. Joxer moved to Herc and sighed.

"Thanks." Ares nodded and ran his fingers through his hair. "If we head around the mountain, we should meet up in an hour. The island's not that big. Remember the map and be careful of traps. I doubt Ate is trusting enough to leave the island defenseless."

With a last lingering look, they separated and headed inland, one pair to the left and the other to the right. Iolaus felt as if someone was watching him. Stopping abruptly, he turned in a quick circle. But there was no one there.


When had his voice gotten so ... gentle, Iolaus wondered. The golden warrior shook his head. "It feels like someone is watching us."

"I know." Ares started up again. "The sooner we find Hestia and get off this island, the better I'll like it. This place isn't just dead, it's a vortex that sucks the life right out of anything that lives. Have you noticed, there are no birds or wildlife of any kind?"

Iolaus took a good look around. "There aren't even any insects. How did she do that?"

Ares sighed and detoured around what looked like a rockslide that Iolaus noticed was very carefully balanced to give way if even brushed against. He decided to follow the god of war a little more closely.

"The energy that empowers us is everywhere. In the food we eat, the air we breathe, even in the sunshine that warms us. But only a very selfish person would deplete the very elements that give us life. That's what Ate has done. She's removed all life from each and every element on this island. Sterilizing it down to the roots." He shuddered. "I shouldn't be surprised at how ruthless she is. She's done nothing but go from one evil deed to another. But this ..."

"What makes this worse than the killing of innocent children?" Iolaus asked.

Ares sent him a blighting look, more like the old Ares he'd known before. "I didn't say worse." That brooding gaze was dark and angry. "Perhaps it's because earth is my first element. This feels ... wrong to be unable to feel anything beneath my feet. I've always been able to sense the earth. Except when I'm on water."

Iolaus thought about that for a moment while they investigated a shallow cave. Ares felt the walls all around the perimeter and shook his head. No way in, no secret chamber. They re-emerged into sunlight and hot breezes. The god of war shaded his eyes and took a good look around. Iolaus sipped from the war bottle on his belt, glad that Ares had insisted they bring their own.

No way would I eat or drink anything that came from this island. Even in the heat, he felt a cold chill shiver through him. Something in Ares stance alerted him to a problem. He cast a quick look around them but saw nothing out of the ordinary.

"Joxer said that they've found the bones of a giant with a booby trap inside of it." Ares smiled tenderly and shook his head.

Iolaus watched in fascination the fleeting expressions that crossed the dark god's face. Interest ... question ... exasperation flowed in quick succession. "They're going to climb higher. Joxer has a feeling."

They began moving again and Iolaus noticed they were also moving in an angle higher up the mountain. "How do you do that? Talk to someone in your mind?"

Ares' eyes never stopped moving across the landscape. "It's rare, Iolaus. I don't know any of the other gods who share this . . . gift. It appears we ... um ... merged at a certain point in our relation-ship. One of the reasons that Joxer is doing so well with the lessons in the elements is that my knowledge of power and the years I spent learning how to control it are now part of him."

Iolaus thought about that while they investigated another cave. It sounds uncomfortable. No privacy at all. Does that mean Joxer shares the memories of all the wars and death that Ares has caused?

"Don't worry, Iolaus. We haven't had enough time for him to be exposed to all my memories." Ares sighed and answered Iolaus' questioning look. "Has anyone ever told you just how expressive your face is? Every thought and emotion shows up in complete detail. It must drive you nuts when Herc goes into stone-face mode."

Iolaus blushed. "I understand that sometimes he needs to think things out. Not just blurt out what he's thinking or feeling, like I do."

"My brother and I have more in common than I thought. It's called brooding, Iolaus and it seems we have it down to a science." Ares leaned over and touched a boulder in their way. His eyes closed and Iolaus watched his fingers subtly caress the stone. The dark eyes opened and the pain in them seared the warrior's heart.

"She's taken everything from the island. The very stone has been stripped of memories." He moved on, angling even higher. The smile that crossed his face seemed out of place. "Joxer says they'll be at the top in about twenty minutes... . Is this constant need to touch someone a part of a relationship?"

A broad smile flitted across Iolaus' lips. The god of war is asking me for advice about his love life? Ironic. He cleared his throat before answering. "Yes. I've always found it so. There's something reassuring about the feel of a solid body beneath your hands. I feel ... connected. A part of something bigger than I am."

Ares sighed again. "I was afraid you'd say that. It's damned inconvenient. This need to have him near me. Listening for him, watching to see what he's doing, touching him."

"It's called love, Ares. It happens to the best of us." Iolaus was having a hard time keeping the grin off his face.

"Well, it took 1500 years to happen to me."

Iolaus stopped dead. 1500 years!

"What?" Ares stopped as well, looking over his shoulder with one eyebrow quirked up. "You do realize the gods have been around for centuries? Hestia and Zeus are almost 5000 years old. Gaea is the oldest. The theory on Olympus is that she was born when the world was created."

Iolaus smiled tentatively. "Um, I guess. It takes a bit of getting used to. You really never fell in love in all that time?"

"Fell in lust a lot." Ares shrugged and started moving again. "Did my duty with the mortals who came my way. My only other male lover has been dead for a thousand years. Young Demetrius was an excellent warrior who caught my eye. That may have been love. Too little time to find out, I'm afraid. He was killed less than a month after we first came together."

"Did your duty with the mortals?" Iolaus felt as if his brain was free-falling from a great height. How does Joxer cope with all of this?

Ares threw him a sardonic look. "It's expected that we consort with mortals. It helps to have demigods and goddesses in place among the population. I've just had thirty children up to now. Harmonia is the only full goddess. Aphrodite caught me in a weak moment."

Iolaus swallowed hard. I really have no clue what makes the gods do what they do. Thirty children! I wish I could tell him about why Herc was so negative about him.

They cleared the rubble-strewn path and with a few handholds, they pulled themselves over the top onto the slightly concave crest of the mountain. Barren, boulder strewn, hot and windy, the summit stretched before them. Movement on the other side drew their eyes. Iolaus sighing in relief at the sight of the tall sandy haired demigod.

Their team met in the middle of the knoll and it was all Iolaus could do to keep from hugging his lover. Contenting himself with a brief grip of Herc's arm, he stood shoulder to shoulder with him and watched the other two. Joxer had gripped Ares' arm immediately then let him go. Iolaus wondered if they were talking to each other in their heads.

"I can feel her near but she's so weak I can't latch on to her." Ares' eyes caressed Joxer briefly then turned serious. "I suspect she's being held in a cave with no entrance."

"So, Hestia is trapped in earth without any outside air and no way to reach even outside fire." Joxer said sadly. "Can you tell if she's conscious?"

"No. She's been drained so far that I doubt if she's feeling anything. There's a point beyond which none of us can go. She's floating in a limbo of energy. We need to get to her soon."

"What's happening on Olympus?" Hercules joined the conversation.

"Zeus is meeting Ate on the Field of Challenge. The others are there as witnesses. If we can get to Hestia, Tethys and I should be able to destroy this island and release the energy that Ate has been storing here." Ares had that faraway look again.

"How are we going to do that?" Iolaus was getting impatient, that weird feeling that someone was watching them was back.

"Ares. Someone is coming." Joxer moved to cover his lover's back, his eyes moving quickly over the ground and his sword held carefully before him. The god of war suddenly had a dagger in his hand.

Iolaus moved to guard Hercules, his own dagger held to the fore. The silence of the mountaintop was broken only by the wind moaning around the jagged boulders. The golden warrior found himself searching the skies for a threat. But the movement came from the side of the mountain when it finally came.

"Hi, Daddy." Harmonia's sunny accents preceded her climb onto the crest. She turned immediately and helped Tethys onto the knoll. Xena was a close third with Gabrielle right behind. "We followed a clue up here."

Tethys brushed herself off and took a critical look around the mountaintop, managing to reduce it do the dingy backwater it was. "It appears we had an ace in the hole all the time. Harmonia has some of Hestia's fire."

"Aunt Hestia knew about my fear of the dark." Harmonia blushed and pulled out a silver chain around her neck with a deep clear crystal drop suspended in the sunlight. A flame danced in the center.

Ares closed his eyes and sighed, hugging Harmonia close. "We can use this to find her. I can feel her close by. Probably under us in a cave or old steam vent. Let me have it and I'll go down and get her out. Then," his gaze went to Tethys, "you and I can take this island right out from under Ate."

An icy smile crossed the sea goddess' lips. "I look forward to it."

Harmonia began to pull her hair away so her father could undo the clasp when a scream rent the air. The warriors in the group all raised their weapons to defend against the band of harpies that appeared out of nowhere, exploding into the airspace above them and attacking with wing and claw.

Iolaus swung his sword with both hands, knowing that it would take all his strength to even dent the harpy skin. Ares was crouched with Harmonia in the center of their circle. He only heard a few of his words and they didn't make any sense.

"Stay focused and keep moving towards her. Let the crystal lead the way. Can you do it?" Ares held her.

Harmonia looked scared to death but she nodded. "I have to."

"Good girl. Be careful. I love you." Ares pulled back so only his hands cradled her head.

Before Iolaus' bewildered gaze, Harmonia shimmered in the air for a long moment before she disappeared. But between Ares' hands a small green snake writhed and he carefully laid it on the ground where it slithered slowly into a hole appearing before it. Then the god of war was on his feet and his sword was cutting a swath through the attacking harpies.


Iolaus shook his head at the cry that echoed through the air. Several shapes shivered into being around them. He recognized Zeus but the tall dark woman who was throwing fireballs at him had to be Ate. It seemed that the battle had come to them.

End part 22