"Someone took Bliss!" Deimos said as he started running.
A heartbeat later Phobos was behind him, running into the small space between the two stalls.
A fat old man was holding Bliss' mouth firmly with one hand while trying to pull off his pants with the other.
Phobos reacted first and instinctively let out the essence of his godhood against the man.
The man froze, as if in shock as fear boiled up through him and paralyzed him where he stood.
"Come here Bliss." Deimos said and went down on one knee to be on Bliss' level.
Bliss ran to Deimos and hugged him tightly as tears fell down his chubby cheeks.
"We promised Poppa Joxer we wouldn't kill anyone." Deimos reminded Phobos who was trembling in his rage.
"I wanted to curse someone, but I never wanted Bliss to get hurt." Phobos said, feeling that this was somehow his fault.
"Save some for me." Deimos said as he stood, picking up Bliss and holding him close.
Phobos concentrated, remembering how he attached his blessing to Senscie. He attached his emblem and voiced his curse. "I curse you. Everythin ya fear will come ta you. Every hour will be filled with every fear ya ever had, coming ta life before yer eyes. Every time you sleep, every fear ya ever caused will haunt yer dreams."
Phobos symbol of the eclipsing sun appeared, but the sun was violently spewing streams of fire from the edge of the eclipse.
Deimos followed his brother's lead and lifted a hand toward the still frozen man. "I curse you. Every pain you ever had will come to visit you every day, every pain you ever caused will come to visit you every night."
Deimos symbol of the teardrop hung above the man and turned from firey red to deep putrid black.
Bliss looked up and saw what his uncles were doing to the man who tried to hurt him. He pushed his own god power out and said, "No more happy."
Bliss' symbol of a heart and arrow appeared above the man, the heart was cracked and crumbling and the arrow was warped and weathered.
"Let's get back to Dad and Poppa, I don't feel like looking at stuff no more." Phobos said quietly.
Deimos nodded and followed.
"Unca Pho?" Bliss called quietly.
Phobos stopped and looked into Bliss' watery eyes.
"You hold me?" Bliss asked hopefully.
Phobos responded by taking Bliss from Deimos arms and holding him tightly, conveying his concern and relief.
Joxer thanked Codgis and took his reformed sword out to show Anteros and Ares.
"He did a pretty good job... considering what he had to work with." Ares said as he looked at the reshaped metal.
"Yeah. Not bad." Anteros said from his father's side.
"Dad?" Phobos called half out of breath, with tears in his eyes, holding Bliss tightly.
"Pho, what's wrong?" Ares asked in immediate panic.
"I'm sorry. We was watching a mortal make a bowl and a fat old mortal took Bliss when we wasn't looking and he wanted to... wanted to..." Phobos said then started crying, holding Bliss even tighter.
"...to rape Bliss." Deimos said with menace in his cold voice.
"What!?" Ares said and pulled all three boys close to him.
"Where is he?" Joxer asked in a low voice that barely contained his rage.
Deimos pointed back the direction that they came from.
//CUPID!// Joxer sent, not holding back one bit of his rage in the call.
Cupid and Strife appeared less than a heartbeat later.
Bliss pulled away from his grandfather and went to his father.
"What happened?" Cupid asked, feeling terror in his gut.
"A bad man tried to hurt me. Unca Pho an Unca Demi stopped him." Bliss said through his tears as he hugged his father.
"Come on." Joxer said and started walking away from the group.
Ares picked up the twins and followed Joxer.
Cupid held Bliss close. Strife and Anteros walked on either side of him as they followed Ares.
Joxer was about to ask where the man was when he saw the three emblems above an insane man, who was screaming out in pain.
There was a crowd forming around the screaming man.
With a thought, Joxer changed from his 'mortal' clothes into his formal robes. Ares followed his husband's lead and changed into the formal robes of the House of War.
Cupid and Anteros released their glamours and changed their clothes to the formal robes of the House of Love. And Strife changed into his formal robe of the Prince of the House of Death.
The crowd parted as the group of gods approached the screaming man.
Ares sat his sons down, and with a thought they were dressed in formal robes for the first time.
Joxer looked into the screaming man's mind, and became suspicious. Quickly he scanned around the crowd and looked through a few mortal minds, trying to put the pieces together. What he found sickened him.
"I am Joxer, God of Mischief. This man attempted to rape my grandson." Joxer said in a booming voice.
Gasps and murmurs spread through the growing crowd.
Joxer sent the images he had picked up from the townspeople's minds to Ares.
"Some of you knew of this man's deeds. Others suspected. Yet you did nothing." Ares said and passed the images on to Cupid.
"As long as he confined his activities to commoner's children, it was overlooked." Cupid said with fury and passed the images to Anteros.
"A town that will not protect its children, doesn't deserve them." Anteros said with fire.
"Those of you who turned a blind eye to these activities shall be forever blind." Joxer said as his curse was bestowed on twelve people in the assembled crowd.
"Those of you who refused to voice your suspicions, shall spend the remainder of your days mute." Ares said coldly as twenty people fell silent.
"Since your city doesn't see fit to protect your children, you do not deserve to have any. No woman who is in Arcadia on this day shall bear another child until every child hurt by this man has been healed in mind, body and spirit." Cupid said in fury.
"No man who is in Arcadia this day shall father another child until all the damaged children have been able to trust and love again." Anteros said with a look of disgust at the crowd.
"Tha people of Arcadia have angered tha gods. Remembah tha days when you was happy cause it was tha God of Happiness tha old man tried ta fuck." Strife said as he preened Bliss' ruffled feathers.
"No more happy!" Bliss said and let loose his curse over the town.
Phobos felt the charge of fear rush through his godhood and instead of absorbing the power; he turned it into a curse.
"All of you will feel tha fear that tha kids felt. You'll never feel safe. Every time you're alone, you'll feel tha rapist watching you from tha shadows. Whenever you're around people, you'll be lookin ta see who's watching you." Phobos said, letting the crowd's increasing fear fuel the curse.
"Pain. You'll all feel tha pain that tha kids felt. Every night." Deimos said coldly.
"Don't bother with prayers and offerings. They won't ease your curse. The only thing that will release you is to heal every child this man ever hurt." Joxer said and turned to hold his husband.
"An when you get to tha underworld, don't expect ta see tha Fields. Until tha curse is lifted, it's straight to Tartarus fer every single soul from Arcadia." Strife said, then pulled Cupid and Bliss into his arms.
Joxer picked up Deimos as Ares picked up Phobos and they flashed out as a family.
Cupid, Anteros, Strife and Bliss flashed out next, leaving a shocked, horrified group of people standing silent except for the insane man still screaming and rolling on the ground.
"I'm sorry Dad. I was really watching him." Phobos cried in his father's arms as they appeared in the halls of war.
"Shhh. It's okay son. I saw what happened from the old mortal's mind. He was watching you before you even went to that merchant's stall. He was just waiting for you to look away for a second." Ares said as he rocked his son.
"Sorry." Deimos said as he buried his face in Joxer's chest.
Joxer looked helplessly at Ares.
Ares and Joxer held the boys, occasionally murmuring words of encouragement until both boys finally fell into exhausted sleep.
Apollo appeared in the Halls of War with an impatient expression.
"You cursed my festival? How dare you lay a curse on my biggest festival of the season." Apollo blustered dramatically.
Joxer and Ares stood silently, waiting for him to scream himself out. Both were emotionally exhausted and couldn't find the energy or will to get into a screaming contest with Apollo.
"You made them sterile! What possessed you to make an entire city sterile?" Apollo asked furiously.
"Impotent." Joxer said coldly.
"Impotent?" Apollo squeaked.
"The women are barren, the men are impotent. Making men sterile isn't much of a curse. It means they can screw around without consequences." Ares said icily.
Apollo shook his head, then continued his tirade.
"They have pain, nightmares, paranoia, depression! How did you manage that one, anyway?" Apollo screamed with increasing volume.
There was silence. Apollo was obviously waiting for an answer.
Ares remained silent and sent him the image from the fat old man's mind of what he intended to do to Bliss.
The golden god of the sun paled as he realized what had almost happened.
"How is he?" Apollo asked with concern.
"He's a little frightened, but he doesn't realize what the man was trying to do to him. Pho and Demi stopped him before he could do more than frighten Bliss." Ares said quietly.
"But why did you curse the town?" Apollo asked, this time in a much more reasonable tone of voice.
"He was a politician. He circulated in the upper class of the town. He confined his rapes and molestations to the children of lower class people, so it was overlooked." Ares said darkly.
"How dare they..." Apollo said as anger boiled behind his eyes.
"They have been cursed until every child that was ever hurt by that man is healed in mind body and spirit and able to trust and love again." Joxer said seriously.
"That's a tall order. It could take years." Apollo said in thought.
"It'll be time well spent if it'll teach them to cherish their children." Joxer said in response.
"Okay. Sorry I was so pissed off at you guys. I only got half the story. My priests in Arcadia were whining about the curse and wanting me to intervene." Apollo said in thought and his eyes became defocused.
"What are you going to do?" Ares asked cautiously.
"I'm going to send priests from my temples in the neighboring cities to the temple in Arcadia to help with the healing of those children. I just peeked into my Arcadian priests' minds... they knew. They never even spared a prayer for one of those children. I'm tempted to kill them but... I'll let them live with your curse. Those that knew will be blind, those that suspected will be mute. All of them will be banned from my service hereafter." Apollo said with a distant look.
"Thanks for supporting us on this Pol. If Pho and Demi had been one minute later... there probably wouldn't be a living soul left in Arcadia." Ares said seriously.
"And I'd help you salt the Earth." Apollo said in a whisper.
"Pol, can you let Heph and Dite know? I don't want them to get a distorted version of the facts." Ares said with concern.
"I'll tell them. You stay with the boys." Apollo said and motioned to the twins standing in the doorway, both looking sleep rumpled and worried.
"Thanks Pol." Ares said as he got off the couch to pull the boys into a hug.
"I thought you guys were asleep." Ares said as he held them close.
"We was, then I remembered Senscie. We don't want her ta be cursed. She helps kids." Phobos said sleepily.
Ares guided the boys to the couch and took his seat beside Joxer. He picked up Phobos and Joxer pulled Deimos into his lap to be held.
Ares cast his mind out and easily found Senscie by looking for the blessings of Pain, Fear and Mischief.
"She's fine Pho. Your blessings protected her. They might not have held up to a curse directed at her, but they were enough to protect her from a curse laid on the whole town." Ares said seriously.
"But she's around all tha cursed people. Can't we get her out?" Phobos asked in sleepy concern.
Ares looked to Joxer who was stroking Deimos back.
"I don't know. We could ask her if she wants to leave." Joxer said unsurely.
"Please Poppa Joxer. She's nice. We gotta make sure she's okay." Phobos said as he was drifting into sleep.
"I promise Pho, we'll make sure she's okay." Joxer said as he felt Deimos even breathing against his neck.
"Let's put these guys back to bed. I'll go check on Bliss, when I get back, you can take care of Senscie." Ares whispered.
"It's a deal." Joxer said with a smile.
Cupid, Anteros and Strife were sitting silently, watching Bliss sleep in Cupid's lap.
"He hasn't sucked his thumb in almost two years." Cupid said with worry as Bliss sucked his thumb in his sleep.
"I think he was as scared by our reactions as he was by the attack." Anteros said in speculation.
Hephaestus, Aphrodite and Apollo appeared in the room with little flourish.
"How is he Cupie?" Aphrodite asked in a whisper.
"He's okay mom. He just got scared a little." Cupid said, keeping his firm hold on his son.
"We looked in the halls of time, it wasn't Pho and Demi's fault. Please don't blame them." Aphrodite said sadly.
"I know mom. It's just... I should have been there. I should have said 'No' when dad asked if they could take him to the market." Cupid said with despair.
"Son, you know I always try to be honest with you, even when you don't like it, right?" Hephaestus said quietly.
Cupid nodded slowly.
"It isn't your fault, it isn't Phobos or Deimos fault, it isn't Ares or Joxer's fault. The mortals of Arcadia share the blame for this in varying degrees." Hephaestus said firmly.
"Thanks Daddy Hep. That makes me feel better." Cupid said as he rocked Bliss in his arms.
"Make sure you talk to Pho and Demi about this Cupie. They feel responsible for Bliss getting hurt, you need to show them that you don't blame them." Aphrodite said with uncharacteristic seriousness.
"I will mom. I know they wouldn't hurt Bliss. And Bliss is crazy about them. He's always wanted to be their other brother." Cupid said quietly.
"Then make sure that he gets to spend some time with them soon. They all need it right now." Hephaestus said seriously.
"I will Daddy Hep... are you angry about the curse?" Cupid asked hesitantly.
"I was for a minute, but I understand that it's what you needed to do. I have to admit that if I'd been there I probably would've been killing mortals for half an hour before anyone could talk sense to me. What you did was fine. Your mother and I will let the curse stand." Hephaestus said in a somber tone.
"Thank you Daddy Hep." Cupid murmured.
"Get some sleep Cupid." Aphrodite said as she gave Cupid a gentle kiss on the forehead.
"Goodnight Anteros." Aphrodite said and pulled Anteros into a hug and gave him a big kiss.
"Goodnight Strife, take care of Cupie for me." Aphrodite said softly as she hugged him.
Aphrodite, Hephaestus and Apollo left the room in a subdued flash.
"Ah gotta go talk ta dad bout tha curse." Strife said regretfully.
"Will he back us up?" Anteros asked with concern.
"Ah think so. Ah'll let you know." Strife said and gave Cupid a brief kiss to convey his love and worry.
"I love you Strife." Cupid said quietly.
"Ah love you too Cupe. If it's okay with ya, Ah wanna come back and spend the night here with you an Bliss." Strife said seriously.
"Thanks Strife. I need my family tonight." Cupid said as he looked from Strife to Anteros, then to his son.
Ares appeared in the Temple of Love to find Anteros staring at Cupid's bedroom doorway.
"How are they?" Ares whispered.
"Bliss is asleep, I think Cupid is watching over him." Anteros said without emotion.
"And how are you?" Ares asked with concern.
"Me? Nothing happened to me." Anteros said evasively.
"Your brother and your nephew, who you look upon almost as a son, just went through something horrible. I know it's got to effect you. How are you?" Ares asked as he took a seat beside his son.
Anteros ducked his head and said, "I feel so selfish. I wanted to hold Bliss and help him feel better. But Cupid did that. I wanted to hold Cupid to make him feel better, but Strife did that. I feel so useless, like I'm an outsider in the family."
Ares pulled Anteros close and said, "I know, this is hard on all of us. I wanted to hold my son and my grandson, and not let them out of my sight. But Pho and Demi are really torn up and I can help most by helping them."
"What's wrong with Pho and Demi?" Anteros asked with immediate concern.
"They were watching Bliss when he was taken. They feel responsible for all of this. I was trying to prove to them that I trust them, and now they feel like they let me down." Ares said with pain.
"How's Joxer holding up?" Anteros asked, his mind racing.
"Like a rock. If it weren't for him and his strength, I would have gone into a berserker rage and killed every mortal in Arcadia." Ares said honestly.
"Dad, you need to get back to Joxer. The thing about rocks is, if you put enough pressure on them, they crumble. Is there anything I can do to help?" Anteros asked hopefully.
"Yes, come with me. There may be one thing." Ares said in thought.
Joxer looked up as Anteros and Ares appeared in the living area.
"How are they?" Ares asked with worry at Joxer's despondent expression.
"Phobos woke up again. He said that he thinks this is all his fault because he wanted to curse someone. The fates heard him and made this happen." Joxer said with a pained look at Ares.
"Ter, would you mind staying with the boys? I think Joxer and I need some time to deal with things ourselves." Ares asked hopefully.
"Yeah, I'll stay with them, and thanks for letting me help." Anteros said with a sad smile.
"I've got to go check on Senscie, I promised." Joxer said quickly.
"You can do that in the morning, you need to come with me and relax for a while." Ares said in a calming voice.
"I can't. I won't be able to relax until I've done what I promised to do. Please Ar, let me do this and then I promise I'll come back and we can relax." Joxer said with an imploring look.
"You know I can't refuse you anything. Do what you need to do." Ares said in defeat.
"I'll be back as soon as I can." Joxer said and gave Ares a quick, firm kiss.
"I'll be with Ter." Ares said and sat on the couch by his son as Joxer flashed out.
Joxer followed the blessing that he had bestowed to Senscie. He materialized outside her room and gently knocked on her door.
"Who's that?" Senscie asked in fear.
"I would like to talk to you for a minute good lady, we met earlier in the day." Joxer said, then heard a howl of pain coming from another room.
"Good lady? Are you the man with the twins from this afternoon?" Senscie asked hesitantly.
"Yes, then again this evening." Joxer said, trying to sound calm despite the shrieks of terror coming from inside and outside the building.
Senscie stepped out the door and closed it behind her, joining Joxer in the hallway.
"How are your boys? They haven't been hurt have they?" Senscie asked with immediate concern.
"No. They're fine. In fact, I'm here because they're worried about you." Joxer said gently.
"Me?" Senscie asked in surprise.
"Good lady, my boys were raised on Olympus and never really met a mortal before today. I disguised us as commoners so we could watch people being themselves." Joxer said as he began to walk down the hallway, followed by Senscie.
"You're gods?" Senscie asked in wonder.
"Yes good lady. I am Joxer, the God of Mischief." Joxer said frankly.
"Oh gods, they said... they said a boy... a godling... did someone try to hurt one of your boys?" Senscie asked in panic.
"No good lady, but do you remember the younger boy from this evening, the one with the blonde curls and chubby cheeks? That's my grandson Bliss. He's the one who was taken." Joxer said with a note of hardness.
"Not the little one. Oh dear gods, no wonder this city's been cursed. The way he lit up when he drank the sweet tea, that little one's all happiness and joy." Senscie said as a tear dropped down her cheek.
"He wasn't hurt, just scared a little. If he had been hurt, no one would have survived." Joxer said as he led Senscie down the stairs to the pub.
"So why are you here?" Senscie asked with fear in her voice.
Joxer waved his hand and the oil lamps in the pub lit.
"Have a seat and I'll tell you." Joxer said, motioning to the nearest table.
After sitting down, Joxer said, "You were nice to us. The boys were impressed that you cared for them even though you didn't know them."
Senscie nodded, though she couldn't guess where this was leading.
"So they bestowed their blessings on you, and so did I." Joxer said, watching for her reaction.
"Is that why I feel... lighter? Freer?" Senscie asked curiously.
"Yes. And that's why you're excluded from the curse on this city." Joxer said quietly.
"I am?" Senscie asked in wonder.
"I'm here to ask you if you'd like to leave. It may not be safe for very much longer. These people are going to start turning on each other soon... you'd be better off elsewhere." Joxer said in thought.
"Where?" Senscie asked in a lost tone.
"Tonight, you'd stay on Olympus with us. Tomorrow we can take you wherever you want to go." Joxer said seriously.
"My husband's gone. My son is dead. I've got nowhere to go." Senscie said desperately.
"Then I've got an idea. I've just built my first temple in the mortal realm. If you'd like, you could serve as my high priestess." Joxer said in thought.
"What would I have to do?" Senscie asked cautiously.
"Water the plants, feed the toads, instruct anyone who comes to pray how to do it properly. Oh, and the main thing is, you'd be responsible for caring for children in the community. You'll be there to listen when they talk, to feed them when they're hungry, and if they need a place to sleep, you'll make arrangements through the community so no child has to do without." Joxer said with passion building in his voice.
"Thank you Lord. That sounds... it's better than anything I could have dreamed." Senscie said in wonder.
"Does that mean you accept?" Joxer asked hopefully.
"Yes Lord, it would be my honor to serve as your priestess." Senscie said humbly.
"Good, then your first duty as my High Priestess is... to stop calling me Lord. You, good lady, may call me Joxer." Joxer said with a smile.
"Yes Joxer, I can do that." Senscie said with a smile in return.
"Okay, let's go upstairs and gather your things. I have a feeling that neither of us are going to want to come back here." Joxer said darkly.
Senscie nodded and led the way out of the pub.
Joxer and Senscie appeared in the Halls of War.
"My gods!" Senscie exclaimed as she realized she was standing on Olympus.
"Yes, that would be us." Ares said with a chuckle.
"I've moved your things to the spare room down the hall. This is my husband Ares and my son Anteros." Joxer said pleasantly.
Anteros had a slight look of surprise, being introduced as Joxer's son.
"My Lords." Senscie said with a respectful curtsey.
"You're a guest in our home, so please be comfortable and call us by our names." Joxer said kindly.
"Yes, of course Joxer. It is good to meet you Ares, Anteros." Senscie said shyly.
"Would you come with me for a minute? I think the twins will be able to sleep better if they know you're safe." Joxer said as he walked toward the door.
"Of course." Senscie said and followed.
"You still have a room here if you want to spend the night Ter. You already cleared it with Cupid to have the day off tomorrow and a good war might help you feel better." Ares suggested.
"Yeah, thanks dad. I think I will." Anteros said, lost in thought.
"What's wrong Ter?" Ares asked quietly at his son's distant expression.
"Oh. Um, nothing wrong. I was just thinking how Joxer introduced me as his son..." Anteros trailed off.
"If it bothers you, I'll talk to him about it." Ares said immediately.
"No. It doesn't bother me... I think I like it. If he'd said he wanted to be like a parent to me, I wouldn't have believed him. But for him to automatically introduce me as his son... It just makes it real somehow. I've got a Poppa Joxer." Anteros finished with a smile.
"Everyone should be so lucky." Ares said warmly.
"Pho, wake up. There's someone here to see you." Joxer said quietly.
Phobos jerked awake and stared at Senscie standing in the doorway.
"Deimos, come on, wake up for just a minute." Joxer said, urging Deimos awake.
As soon as Deimos eyes were focused enough to recognize Senscie, Joxer said, "Senscie is going to spend the night here with us. Tomorrow she'll be moving to another town in the mortal realm. You two don't have to worry about her. She's safe."
"Thanks Poppa Joxer." Phobos said with a warm smile.
"Yeah." Deimos said and gave a brief ghost of a smile.
"I'll show you around and take you to your room now." Joxer said quietly as he watched Phobos and Deimos both fall asleep with smiles on their faces.
[And I'll do whatever I can to keep those smiles there.] Joxer thought to himself as they left the room.