Strife, the perpetual motion machine known throughout the world as 'who're you' and to a select few - who mostly learned the hard way - as the God of Mischief, sat on his throne bored out of his skull. "Why can't I do somethin' neat?" he asked himself. Not only couldn't he think of anything to do, he really couldn't figure out who to do it to. If he could just figure out one of those, the other would fall into place. It had happened before, he knew a bright idea would come to him soon.
As he sat there, trying hard not to think, because great ideas never came when you tried, he noticed something disturbing. It had been happening for a while now, but at that moment it really irritated him. He didn't know why it was so quiet in his temple, but damn it, it had to stop! He screamed in outrage, nothing was coming to him and it broke the silence. Still, no great plan came to light due to his frustration. Maybe if he found some noise he'd find some inspiration. He sent himself to the mortal realm, walking through a small village near his home temple. Not the one around his home temple, because they had built the temple so he would leave them alone.
Up the road, he heard screams of laughter and joy, and it tugged on something inside him. He decided to follow the noise, watching as the village children played tag. The game subtly morphed into 'get the odd one' but that was okay as well. He planted his little butt in a tree to watch them, sure he could find some inspiration from his most devoted followers. As he watched them pick on the littler kid, a thought struck him. And yes, before you ask it hurt, it gave him a headache.
He realized that each child born had a little bit of him already inside them. Even the kid being picked on had some of him inside him. He sent a quick thought to the boy, watching as he pounced the biggest boy there and tickled him, making him scream and beg for mercy. "You pick on the little ones and we give you hell," Strife said to himself, happy that he had found an idea. As soon as he realized that, he realized that he could only help himself by having his own version of the muses around. Hey, it worked for Apollo and his job wasn't that much bigger than Strife's own. After all, Apollo only healed the sick, watched over the music and poetry people, and rode the sun chariot. Strife was the one who made people happy! And sometimes miserable.
With that idea, he disappeared with a cackle and a small flash. The kids all 'ooh' at the flash, thinking that someone had set off a Chin firecracker. Then they went back to their game of pick on the new little guy, the former bully. Being found to be ticklish could ruin a guy's tough guy image forever.
Strife popped into Cupid's temple. If anyone would help him, Cupid would. "Hey, Cuz," he said with a smirk. "What's shakin'?"
Cupid looked at him, then smiled. "What do you need help with today, Strife?"
"I need ta know how Pop and the Big Guy do it with the wives."
"Oh, that." He shrugged. "It's not a big, they just take the idiot's form usually."
"Don't the wives know?"
"You'd be surprised how many wives are ignorant of their husband's nature. When you're gone all day, either in the field or not, you don't exactly have time to talk to one another. Most guys come home and fall into bed, and if the wives are lucky the husbands give them a few gentle touches instead of yelling about what dinner was." He leaned back on his couch, his wings draped over the arm. "As far as I can tell, the further either of them have had to go is to maybe do a small memory charm or a confusion spell." He grinned. "Why did you need that?"
"'Cause I want my own muses," he admitted, jumping up and landing on Cupid's stomach, grinning down at him. "I realized today that every kid's gotta piece of me already, but that they're my best muses so I need some. Lots of 'em."
"I'll help you pick out chicks if you'll help me with this totally bitchy couple who denied me having any part in them falling in love."
Strife grinned more evilly. "You sure? The last time I helped ya, you got upset and yelled at me."
"I didn't need them dead," Cupid reminded him. "Just sorry. If you can restrain yourself this time, then you're more than welcome to give me an evil idea."
Ares appeared. "Strife, get off my son." Strife launched himself into the air and landed after a spectacular backflip. "Thank you. Don't you have work to do?"
"No. You told me I was a hindrance and I said I'm not comin' back until you see me as my amazing self and not some plowboy that you've handed a sword."
Ares sneered at him. "You could never be a plowboy, Strife, you're too small. Now get back to work!"
"Fuck you." Strife wiggled his fingers. "Tell me who and where and I'm yours for a day," he told Cupid with a wink, then he disappeared.
Ares looked at his son. "You're using him again?"
"I've got a pain in my ass and he's helping me with an idea," Cupid told him. "He's right though, you don't appreciate him. He is a God too." He waved his fingers and sent Ares out of his temple, sending the bad vibes far away from his pleasant mood. "Yeah, much better," he sighed, getting comfortable again. "A pack of muses for Mischief. What a concept."
Strife looked at the first woman he had chosen, she was his type. Pretty, generous mouth, totally ignorant of the fact that he existed. Still, a very nice place to start and her husband hadn't died so it might be easier this time. He took on the appearance of the idiot, who was out whoring around, and slid into the bed with her.
"If you're back from that slut's house, you can get right back out."
"I'm not," Strife said.
She looked over at him. "You're new to that whole taking on other's appearances, aren't you? Okay, which one are you?" She pinched him.
"Ow! You're a mean wench," Strife said as he changed back to his usual persona. "Better?"
He grinned and got to his knees. "Strife, babe, and I want you to have my first Muse of Mischief."
"Are you going to change diapers and feed the brat? I've had enough of that stuff."
He nodded. "I'm bettin' I can find someone to help me with that until they become proper muses. How hard can it be?" She snorted in derision. "Really?" She nodded. "Then when do they become interesting?" He planted his butt on the bed. This was actually working out better than he had thought. She was willing to *talk* to him!
She sat up and looked at him. " You're that clueless about kids? Don't you have a nephew about that age?"
"Yeah, but Gods are easier. If we dirty ourselves, we just clean it up by instinct. I know that humans can't, but how hard is it?"
"For the first two? You're a slave to the child. After that, they start to be able to do things on their own. They'd probably become more interesting to you by the age of five." He nodded. "Why can't you go and pick up some of those street orphans that such problems? They'd probably be help to you."
"They are," Strife agreed. "I'm gonna get a buncha those tomorrow. But I needed some'a my own to make things easier. So I can connect better with them."
"Oh." She nodded. "I guess that makes sense." She looked out the window. "I tell ya what, Strife, you can get me knocked up, but you're takin' care of the kid and I'll let the little ones I already have put up a small shrine to you. How's that?"
"Wonderful," he said, eyes wide. "You're sure?" She nodded. "What about the husband?"
"What's he going to say? If he does anything then I remind him about the bad smell he brought home and why the mayor's wife is presently itching badly." She smiled cruelly. "You'd be surprised at how much power that carries. The Mayor's my brother."
He cheered and bounced. "You are so great. I should name you a priestess."
"Does it come with perks, like someone to milk the cows?"
"Sure. Did you want to stay here? I have a temple and you can come live there. I won't even make you change the diapers or anything. Or scrub or any of that nasty stuff if you don't want."
"Sure. It beats staying in this backwater. The kid's and I'll pack tomorrow."
"Honey, I can help you with that," he said with a smile, snapping his fingers. They were suddenly in the temple. "Three kids, a dog, and a cat?"
She nodded. "Yeah, basically." She looked around at the new room, the tapestries on the walls and the marble peeking out from behind it. "Wow. This is yours?" He nodded. "Where?"
"Foot of Mt. Olympus. Just look out the window and you can see the temples, sorta, on a clear day." She slid out of bed and went to go look, her mouth falling open. "Yeah. You wanna play mommy to the older kids and try to make sure that they eat, or just HP and play with 'em?" he asked with his brightest grin.
"Honey, for getting me away from the smelly bastard, I'll have more than one for you! I'll even breastfeed and change diapers." He opened his arms and she launched herself into them, cuddling him. "That is so cool. Why don't you get more respect?"
"Because the other gods are bigger assholes," he told her, making her laugh. "Trust me, I get enough from the right people." One hand slid down her back and she shivered. "I can make it real good for you," he promised. "Us Gods have stamina you know." She gave him an adoring look. "Besides, I love how women taste after their sixth orgasm."
"What's an orgasm?"
"Let me show you," he said with a naughty grin.
A few months later, Strife looked around at his temple. His core of orphans were taking very well to living in his temple, and some were taking the opportunity to learn something. One was even planning on going out and building him more temples. He noticed a few of the boys were lurking in the shadows so he smiled encouragingly at them. "It's all right, guys, really. You can come out and eat and everything." One of the younger boys ran for the table and grabbed some bread, heading back to the shadows. "Whenever you're ready," he assured them. He walked into the kitchen to check on his high priestess, who was stirring a large pot. "Soup?" he asked, leaning down to nip her on the neck.
"I figure most of the kids will like it. It's got meat and veggies." She turned her head and stole a kiss. "Your sprong is active today." She stood still while he rubbed her stomach. "Are you liking this, Strife?"
"I'm loving this," he told her, murmuring in her ear.
"STRIFE!" Ares bellowed from the front of the temple.
Strife grinned at her and led her out, frowning at his uncle. "Ready to see me as more than a gopher and a mindless toy?" he sneered.
"Where did these kids come from? Where did *she* come from?"
"She's having my kid, Unc. This is Trayana, my High Priestess."
"I didn't know you had any lower priestesses," Areas said, looking her over. "Sit, make the little brats get stuff for you."
She snorted. "Fat lot you know, you big lug. They're helpless right now because he took them in. They don't know enough to get anything yet. Strife, I need to go back to the lunch."
"Hey, knock yourself out," he said with a fond grin. She stole a kiss and shot a glare at Ares before disappearing back into the kitchen. She smiled and helped one of the smaller boys grab some bowls and the older ones dish out the soup they were trying to steal. Strife looked at his Uncle again. "You had a reason to come visitin'?"
Ares crossed his arms. "The Pythia border is getting active again."
"Yay, and? You're the God of War," he pointed out.
"I can kill you again," Ares reminded him.
"If you try, then even you have to answer to the Big Guy."
"Who would be the same person who ordered you to not breed," Ares said with a smirk.
Strife shook his head. "He rescinded it. Back when I was twelve. You obviously weren't paying attention. So, why the visit? I said I'm not coming back until I get some respect."
"I'll show you respect," Ares growled, reaching for him, but one of the kids stopped him, glaring up at him. "Move."
"You go away. Strife's nice. He feeds us and lets us learn stuff. He doesn't need you, we love him." A few of the other kids nodded at that. "So piss off and go beat up on a hero or something."
Ares smiled down at the boy. "Do you know who I am?"
"The person who had my parents killed," the boy told him.
"Oh." He shrugged. "Sorry, but it happens to the best of them."
The boy nodded. "And they weren't, but I'm not letting you pick on Strife. He is the best of any adult. He even plays with us."
Ares looked at Strife, seeing him for the happy God he was now. He nodded. "Fine. You're not a gopher or a plowboy. Now get your ass to Pythia and stop the battles for me while I deal with stopping Sparta from moving."
"I'll be back tonight, listen to Trayana, guys." He smiled down at the little boy. "Tell her I said there's brownies in the cupboard and you get first pick." The boy ran off, a bright smile on his face. Strife smiled at all his kids and left to go back to work. It was a miracle, he was getting some respect from more than his chosen few. It was heady and powerful, and he felt like a God now instead of a Godling. Wow.
Strife looked down at his first daughter and smiled. "Kaiya," he said happily. "Such a cute little booger."
"Don't call our daughter a snot, she'll turn out like that," her mother said from her position on the bed.
Strife crawled in with her, sharing the daughter with her. "Isn't she adorable?"
"Very," she agreed. She yawned. "You take her while I rest."
"Hey, nap away," he agreed, holding her against his side, continuing to coo at his daughter. The baby waved an arm at him and settled in to be worshiped. "My first muse," he whispered. "What will you be the muse of?"
"Naughtiness," Trayana whispered, eyes closed. "She excelled in having bad timing when she was in me, I'm sure she'll continue that trend now that she's not." She yawned. "Why don't you go show her to the others, Strife? She could use being worshiped by the boys."
"Yeah, I can do that," Strife agreed, heading out to introduce his daughter around. There was only one other female in the whole temple, another one saved from the street, but she might as well have been a guy. The boys gathered around and cooed at her, making silly noises and faces. "You guys are my greatest work, but this is my first Muse of Mischief." The kids cheered and went to make pretty things for the new addition to their family. Strife felt a Goddess pop in and went to check and see what that one wanted. "Yeah, Hera?"
"You bred?" she asked dryly, looking at the little girl. She smiled. "She's adorable."
Strife grinned. "I know. Her ma's nappin' at the moment." One of the younger boys tugged on his leg and he looked down. The boy, who couldn't, or wouldn't, speak, held out his arms. "Sure. Just sit somewhere and be careful with her, okay?" The boy nodded so she was carefully handed over. The boy walked away and the older kids came to help him. "So, you like?"
"I do like her, she's got a very fine future ahead of her. A bit long and troubled, but otherwise a wonderful young lady." She smiled at him. "I came to see if you were making her a Goddess or just immortal. Zeus wanted to know."
"Tell him he can ask me himself," Strife said dryly. He looked at his daughter. "Immortal for now. If she wants ta be a Goddess, she can ask when she's aware of what that means. The same for the rest of the ones comin' in."
"You're having more?" she asked.
Strife nodded, grinning again. "They're gonna be my muses. They inspire me to do such great things. My older kids are great, and they inspire me to new heights, but they're all gonna find futures away from me. I've checked and only one will be staying and that's because she'll need the space for her rugrats." The only female orphan shook her head. "Trust me, ya will. The Fates said five or six, and they're *all* livin' here." She shuddered and walked away. He turned back to Hera. "My kids will always be here with me. Even if they go off to do other stuff, the house will be filled with them. I need all the inspiration I can get, and each one will specialize in a different sort of skill. I think we'll do fine."
"I'm sure you will. You love children." She glanced around and stepped closer. "Is Bliss yours, Strife? Cupid noticed that he's been a bit….worse than usual."
"He's not mine directly, but all kids are partially mine." He grinned. "I'll talk to the little guy if you want."
"Please. He's driving Cupid insane." She patted him on the arm. "I'm happy that you're happy finally. Do try to keep the noise down and yell if you need me for advice." She disappeared.
Strife grinned, bouncing around happily. He was so happy he did a tumbling run across the main temple's floor, landing inches away from the wall. "Hey, I still got it," he said happily. He walked over and grabbed his daughter. "I'll be right back. Let Trayana nap, and I'll make treats." They nodded and he went to show Cupid his new daughter, and take the opportunity to have a chat with Bliss. He landed in the temple of love and Aphrodite squealed, coming over to look at the baby. "Get off." But he was smiling. "I came to show her off and check on the other little guy."
"Bliss is grounded to his room and Cupid has a headache," she told him. "Can you fix that?"
"Some." Strife headed back to the bedroom area, popping in on Cupid first. "Hey, look what I just got." He laid down beside his bestest buddy and showed off his baby girl.
"She's adorable," Cupid said with a sappy smile. "What's her name?"
"What a wonderful name." Cupid smiled at him. "Stop Bliss."
"I'm headed there next." He blew a kiss. "You wanna come down and play with my kids tonight? They're rowdy and normal little guys."
"Take Bliss, I'm sure he'll enjoy it." Cupid stroked the little girl on the forehead. "I hope you eventually find the one who makes you happy, Kaiya, I will be watching over you – as long as my son doesn't drive me to leap off the mountain and not fly."
Strife giggled. "I'll protect you from the nasty Bliss monster. Come down later and worship her with me." He slid out of the bed and noticeably adjusted himself. "You're better'n a vibrator, cuz."
Cupid smiled. "That's the nicest compliment I've gotten in years. Thanks." He zapped Strife on the butt. "I'd offer, but I don't think you could handle me. "
"After Trayana dies," Strife told him with a grin and a wink. "Then I'm yours for the next year or so." He walked away, making sure he wiggled just a little bit. He tapped on Bliss's door, right under his nameplate. "Open up or I'm never lettin' you kiss my daughter." The door was flung open and Bliss looked at the little creature he held. "Yup, I had a little girl."
"Wow," Bliss breathed, flying up to look at her. "What's her name?"
"Kaiya. Want to come help the horde play with her?" The baby god nodded, grinning at him. "You can if you don't drive your father to suicide, okay?"
"I was trying to make him smile. He never does that anymore."
"It happens. It's called stress and you will feel it one day as well, Bliss my man." He pulled the baby God closer and disappeared with him, landing in the audience chamber of his temple, right behind his Uncle. "Hey! Look who decided to show up today."
Ares took the little girl to look over. "I see you've got your father's nature in all meanings of the word," he said when she peed on him. He handed her back, watching as one of the orphans stole her to change, literally stole her. He shook his head. "Are you happy?"
"Very," Strife agreed with a calmness that almost no one saw. He let Bliss go, watching as he went to play. "Why the social visit?"
"You've been quiet recently so your mother sent me," he said with a slight shrug. "It's a heady feeling, enjoy it. Pretty soon she'll be screaming at all hours and driving you nuts." Strife raised an eyebrow. "Okay, maybe not *you*, but everyone else nuts." He smiled. "If you want advice, come ask me or one of my priestesses."
"Thanks, Unc. Needed anything else? I'm makin' ice cream."
"No, go have fun. I'll see you at work in one week, Strife. Athena's botched up her army and they're causing crop damage."
"So give 'em the runs or somethin'," Strife suggested. "That'll stop them dead in their tracks. Or, hey, let Joxer cook for 'em."
Ares shuddered. "I don't know how he did that the last time. He's the only man I know who can bring down an army with two chickens and a bag of rice." He shuddered again. "That's a good idea though. Are you bringing them here?"
"Jox is already on his way, so is Jett. Jace is bein' fussy so I sent one of the older ones out with my personal seal and a deadly trick to play if he don't comply." He grinned. "They're gonna love doing this for me. It's safe enough and they can all pass on their knowledge. Especially since they're getting' too old to perform anymore." He winked. "Sure you won't stay?"
"No, thank you. Have fun with the children, Strife. One week." He disappeared.
Strife turned to look at his kids and clapped his hands together, creating big tubs of ice cream in flavors that they couldn't even dream of. "Dig in!" he called. The kids dove for the ice cream, spoons at the ready. He walked over and picked up his daughter, then scooped some ice cream out and let her suck it off his finger. "That's a strawberry," he told her. "The second taste is watermelon. You'll like them when you're older." She smiled at him and wet him. "Ah, that's so sweet."
Jett walked into the main temple of Strife, limping on his recently broken leg. He flopped down onto the chair that materialized in the middle of the room with a sigh. He needed to tighten the straps holding it together again. Once he wasn't in pain, he decided. The door opened and one of his two brothers walked in. Since he was wearing a ruffled shirt, he couldn't be sure which one it was.
"What happened to you?" Joxer asked. He came over and tightened the bindings. "There, that should help."
"Thanks. What's with the shirt?"
"I was at a bard's competition. I won." He smiled, looking around. "What's that noise?"
Jace stormed in, his pink cape flowing behind him. "What is the meaning of killing my stage manager!" he raged.
Strife appeared. "I warned ya to come," he told Jace with a smirk. "The other answer is why you're all here." He grinned at Joxer and whistled, bringing kids running to meet the new denizens. The little one clinging to his leg whimpered. "Don't worry, precious, they came from the same spot. They'll like you." She slowly let him go and walked over to the older girl, giving her a hopeful smile.
"First thing you need is a bath," the older girl told her. The little girl smiled up at her. "Yeah, you can call me your sister." She steered the girl away, taking her back to get her cleaned up.
Joxer waved at the little kids, then smiled at Strife. "You want me to do what?"
"You three are the best three to teach them all the skills my priests should have," Strife said, taking his daughter since she was fussing. "These guys are my horde, and this is my muse and daughter, Kaiya," he said, showing them his pride and joy. "There's a high priestess here now, Trayana is her mom." He smiled at Jett. "I can heal your leg and you can have a spot to get back into shape in if you teach the kids how to be sneaky and do the thief and assassin stuff."
Jett frowned. "I don't like kids."
"I think these aren't normal children," Jace said, touching him on the shoulder. "Look at them, Jett. They're orphans from wars."
Strife nodded. "Very good, Jacey. You willin'? You're getting a bit long in the tooth to play the ingénue." He glared at the God. "Hey, tellin' the truth. Not even heavy makeup will cover up the wrinkles. Besides, it'll give you a chance to wear pants. I'll put you in charge of wardrobe, personality stuff, and sex talks." Jace rolled his eyes. "What? All they know is the violence they've seen. And while that can be fun sometimes, I'd rather see them all happy." He smiled at Joxer, who had a special place in his cold heart. "You can teach them all sorts of stuff and never have to sleep on a rock again. Beds and everything for all of you if you agree."
"If we don't?" Jett asked.
"Well, gee," Strife said with his most mean and cruel smirk. "I could conveniently take you off the roster of my guys. Leave you hanging?" Jett shuddered and rubbed his neck. "Got me? It's time to pass on your skills. Think of it as making sure the next generation carries on your memories and skills. I'll even let you bring home lovers if you don't do it in front of the kids."
Joxer looked at his triplets, who looked depressed. "We are getting old. Even Xena is getting old."
"It'd give us a base to work from," Jace agreed. "I can work in the local town?"
"Hey, I don't care if you want to run a stable of whores in town," Strife told him. "As long as you teach my horde how to be perfect priests." He smirked at Jett. "You?"
"I do need the time to heal," Jett admitted. "My leg is healed fully and I have say over what they learn, and who gets what training from me."
"Deal, as long as you don't hit 'em, hurt 'em, and keep the yellin' down. They've had more than enough of that already in life."
One brave little boy walked up to Jett and looked him in the eye. "What makes you so special?" he demanded.
"I kill people."
"Cool!" the boy said, giving him a bright smile. "Can you teach me? There's a few people I want to kill. Like the woman who knocked my mother off the building. I'll even be good and help you wash the grime off you."
Joxer felt his heart melt and both his brothers glared at him. "They need us, guys. We can still have a life and teach them." He smiled at the little girl who was coming out in clean clothes. "You're very small. What's your name?" She dove behind Strife and his heart broke. He looked at his brothers. Jace melted as well but Jett was still scowling, only less. "Guys, they can learn from us. Jett, you were saying you wanted to find a good student and train. Who better to train than the kids who already have the edge you're looking for? Or the fact that they've probably seen death already. Living the life of an orphan couldn't have been easy and you'll get everything that you wanted in at least one of these guys I'm sure. "
"You should have been a lawyer," Jace said dryly. "Fine."
Jett groaned. "All right."
Strife smiled at them. "I knew you'd see sense. Jett, I'll have a healer come look at your leg tonight, after you three catch a bath and join us for dinner." He grinned. "Then you can start planning your rope set and all that stuff." Jett nodded, not moving. "Oh, and hey, Jace, can you teach Kaiya how to dance? I think she's going to be very rhythmic when she's older."
Jace just nodded, looking around at all the little kids. "Can I start with dressing them?"
"There's a cloth shipment on its way," Strife said cheerfully. "Come on, guys, let's go eat!" The boys cheered and headed to the dining area, where food was coming out with the older kids. He took his seat and put his daughter into her normal spot. The three new teachers walked in and took empty spots and all of them looked at all the kids. "They're good kids," Strife told them.
"I'm sure you'll be able to change that," Jett said diplomatically. The kids looked at him like he was the God. He might be able to get used to this stuff. Maybe. One of the kids handed him a knife handle first and he smiled at him. "Good technique. I can teach you how to throw that."
The boy grinned. "Good. I always wanted to know about that."
Another boy looked at him. "Have you killed anyone famous?"
"I helped kill Iolaus once," Jett admitted. "A few leaders, a warlord or six. I try to stay out of the limelight. It's safer."
"Can you help me climb walls?" the older girl asked him. "I know how but I can't get beyond the second story."
He nodded. "I can teach you how to do that. To get really good at it, you'll need to be taught by Autolycus."
"Great idea!" Strife said happily. He grinned and waved a hand, bringing the thief to him. "Sit, have dinner with me and the kids," he said.
Autolycus looked at the expectant faces, then at his host. "Not a chance."
"I can put you back," Strife reminded him. "The guards were just outside the door."
"What were you trying to steal?" the female asked.
"He was tryin' ta sneak in and get one of the Hestian virgins who's gonna marry the schmuck in Tiberia," Strife told her. "They're very protective of their future queens and broodmares for heirs." He smirked at Auto. "Your choice of course. I hear castration ain't so bad once the pain stops."
One boy looked at him and nodded. "Once the pain is over, it's like you forget you ever had the parts."
Auto shuddered. "That's all right, I'll skip that experience." He pulled out an empty chair and sat down. "What did you want, Strife?"
"You to teach," Jett told him, handing down a bowl of stew. "We got shanghaied too." Auto looked at him. "We can pick any student we want to teach and give them whatever we decide."
"What about my reputation?"
"It sucks at the moment because you're getting' old too," Strife pointed out. He buffed his nails then looked at them. "I might be able to arrange for a map to one of the ambrosia sites around here to be left out." He smiled at the indrawn breath. "Got it?" he asked.
"Yeah, I think I can stand to train someone while I can still move up and down ropes," Auto agreed. He looked around at the faces, noticing the underlying hardness in the eyes and the wary nature most of them still showed. "Street kids?"
"Mostly orphans," Strife agreed. "These are my horde, my priests and priestesses in training." He touched his daughter on the head. "This is Kaiya, she's mine. She's my muse of complicated plans and research." Auto smiled at him. "If you can behave, I might even…help you find something so precious that it'll make your reputation for eternity."
"How can I say no to that?" Auto said smugly. "What's the treasure?"
"Hera's golden marriage girdle. I know where it was stashed."
"Ohhh," Auto moaned. "It's supposed to have been destroyed." He glanced at Jett. "Does it really render one invincible?"
"And inpenetrateable, even by Zeus," Strife told him.
"Okay," Auto agreed weakly. The kids cheered. "I'll need a training setup."
"Done," Strife agreed. "You and Jett can work out what you need together and I'll get it." He tossed down a small bag of gold. "I forgot to mention I'd pay you four." He winked and stuck a bottle in his daughter's open mouth. "There, no fussin'." He picked up a spoon. "Eat already." The kids dug into their food, talking in some strange language between them.
Joxer looked down at Auto. "Welcome to the temple of Strife. I'm sure we'll be listening to you snore later tonight."
Auto smirked. "No Xena?"
"Nope, she's retiring," Joxer said smugly. "I survived all of her good years."
"By chance only," Jett told him.
Strife shook his head, stunning the other two triplets. "Anyone who can take down an army with two chickens and a bag of rice is safe, Ares' orders." He nodded at Joxer's blush. "Any warlord who touches him not only dies, but ends up doing the most horrible thing Ares can think of once he's dead. He's gonna be cleaning the outhouse in the Hall of Warriors forever." All four men shuddered and dug into their meals. Joxer grinned at him. "Hey, even Ares appreciates a good bit of mischief, as long as it's on his side." He picked up a bite of his stew and chewed thoughtfully. "Trayana, honey, why is there basil in this?"
"Because it spilled in there," she called, coming out of the kitchen. She stopped when she saw the four adults. "Who're they?"
Strife grinned. "Four of the many faces of my higher priests. The troublemaker, the queen/actor, the assassin, and the thief. They're here to help train the next generation of priests."
"Cool. Don't even think you're getting anywhere with me. I like the pale and squishy thing." Strife giggled and pulled her down into his lap. "You never did tell me who was going to be taking my place after I died."
"Cupid." He nuzzled her neck. "He's got the hottest ass ever seen and I've been dyin' ta part it now for years."
She smiled and wiggled. "I guess you could always call him down here and we could… accommodate that desire, Strife." He moaned. "I don't mind."
"Cupid!" Strife yelled. Cupid appeared, smirking at him. "You're mine."
"Am I? Have you hunted me down and caught me?"
Trayana, with an almost catlike grace, got off Strife's lap so he could chase his cousin around. All it took was one good pounce. It's not like the God of Love was playing hard to get. She laughed and sat down across from Autolycus. "Trayana. Mother to his daughter."
He smiled and winked. "Autolycus. My friends call me Auto."
"Your friends call you annoying," Jett corrected. "Jett, Joxer, Jace," he introduced. "Thank you for making real food." Joxer nodded and he glared at him. "Don't ever let him near the kitchen, we don't want to have to bury anyone from his cooking." She laughed and waved. "What else do you do?"
"I cook, I make sure everyone has *something* to do every day, and I sit around and read." She winked. "That's when Strife doesn't need me in a more personal way."
"Good for you," Jace told her. "He's got to be exciting at least."
"All jump and hands and tongue," she told him. She served herself some food and dug in.
Bliss put down his quill and looked around at the crowd of kids with him in Strife's Olympian temple. Over the years, so many more had been added, especially a lot of daughters. He wasn't the only God either. Auto and Jett had stolen ambrosia and tortured the other two until they begged for it. Plus, a few of the daughters were given ambrosia as well, because they were loved by everyone.
He laughed as Kaiya stretched out on the floor. He liked her, she was fun. The God of Contentment had found his perfect high priestess and she even liked to help him record the history of the group so no one would forget. She was one hell of a woman and was the best loved of all of them. But hey, she was family and it was all good on Olympus. He laughed as Kaiya turned and pounced one of the younger daughters. Yes, it was definitely a family thing.