The Amazon Queen
Part XX : Daughters of Ares
by L. M. Townsend
Disclaimers: See Part 1
Melysë put her head in her hands, striving not to just break down and weep. The birth had been relatively easy, a beautiful son for Lucina. Then Anaxilea burst in the door, brandishing that damn sword - the only blades permitted in an Amazon birthing room were those necessary for cutting the birth-cord. Ares had been standing just outside, waiting. He had tried to intervene, but was badly cut. Either Anaxilea had Dahak's power to kill other gods, or her divine heritage - courtesy of Ares himself - gave her that power. Either way, she was dangerous to him. Still, he had to try. He advanced again, but was thrown backward, further into the chamber.
"Get out of my way," Anaxilea growled. Lucina was holding her son, beaming proudly. CyrenL grabbed one of the bloody birthing knives and stepped in between Anaxilea and Lucina.
"Old woman, do you really think <that> is going to stop me?" laughed the warrior. She made a quick, dismissive gesture with one hand and CyrenL was thrown against the far wall of the room, falling unconscious to the floor. Hypsyple went to her.
"She's alright - Melysë do something!" said the <shamenki>. Melysë looked up from her hasty bandaging of her brother's arm and stepped forward. "Anaxilea, listen to me," she began.
"Oh, shut up, Priestess!" snapped Anaxilea, but it was not the warrior's voice. Instead, it was low and gravelly and definitely masculine. "I will deal with <you> later."
"You," said Eve, stepping, her voice a mere whisper. "It was your voice. Melysë was right - you are evil."
Again the entity threw Anaxilea's head back and laughed unpleasantly. "Evil is such a relative term," it said. "You, for example, Evie - at one time you were considered evil, but then Eli showed you the one true path to righteousness and salvation, did he not?"
"Yes, he did, but there's a deeper truth to his words, Dahak," said Eve. "One I didn't see at first, but now ..."
"Yes?" said Dahak, smiling expectantly.
"Like Gabrielle said, peace is good, but until everyone believes that, some of us have to be warriors," Eve leaped up into the air, somersaulted, then hit Anaxilea in the middle with both feet, sending the entity flying backwards. She turned, grabbed the baby from Lucina's arms and ran past the fallen warrior, bending to grab her sword, then she ran out of the birthing chamber and headed for the woods.
"Stop her!" Melysë called to the guards, but Eve evaded them and ran out of sight. "After her - go, go!"
Melysë started to give chase herself, but Anaxilea grabbed her ankle and stopped her. Grinning evilly, the entity spoke.
"I told you I would deal with you later - it's later <now>!" Melysë felt dizzy, the world spun out of her control for a moment, then all was black and the priestess knew no more.
Xena stared at the god for a moment, then Ares grinned. "Oops! Don't want to turn your back on that fella too long, Xena!" he said.
"I could say the same about <you>, Ares," said the warrior, dryly, before turning back to the great green dragon which was now bending its head, spewing flame as it went. Xena managed to jump back in time to avoid being singed. "You know Ares, you <could> give me a hand here."
"Ooohh, are you asking for my help, Xena?" said the god, grinning, widely.
"No," said Xena, jumping back once again to avoid the jets of flame from the dragon's nose. "Just making a suggestion - unless, of course you want to be the one to tell Melysë you let me be turned into charcoal ..."
"Uh, Xena, that's another thing," said Ares, casually tossing flame back at the dragon. "Melysë is gone. That's why I came to get you."
"Ares, what do you mean, 'gone'?" asked Xena, as calmly as she could manage.
"She's just ... gone," said the god, trading flames with the dragon. "Too bad, too, 'cause we could sure some lightning to throw at this big guy here."
"Ares, damn it, where is she?" said Xena.
"Anaxilea grabbed her and said something I couldn't hear and she just ... disappeared," said the god.
"Son of a Bacchae!" the warrior said with a growl.
Gabrielle whirled around and saw the dragon. She looked at Callisto through narrowed eyes.
"Are <you> responsible for that?" she asked. Then she shook her head. "No, forget I asked - if you were going to kill Xena, you'd want to do it yourself."
Callisto giggled. "Or better yet have <you> do it," she said. Gabrielle looked into Callisto's eyes and her heart softened. The hatred drained from her as she remembered that Callisto had become Eve and images of Eve as a sweet baby came pouring over her.
"I don't understand," said Gabrielle. "Callisto, I thought you had changed. What happened?"
Maybe Callisto has, but I have <always> been Daddy's girl ... Mummy." Gabrielle's eyes grew wide at the sight of Hope appearing where Callisto had just stood.
"But that's ... but you're ..." said the bard.
Suddenly, the fighters were distracted by the sound of horses.
"Xena!" The warrior whipped around at the sound of her name and saw Arynë and Joxer riding up. "What are you doing? We have a treaty with the dragons!"
"This is no ordinary dragon, 'Ryn," said Xena, turning back to her battle. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Gabrielle and Hope.
"What in Tartarus ... ?" Ares looked in the direction of Xena's gaze.
"Is that who I think it is?" asked the god.
"None of these opponents are who we think they are, Ares," said Xena, twirling her sword, her eyes narrowed as surveyed the scene.
Arynë and Joxer dismounted, and drew their swords. Arynë turned to Joxer. "Stay here and guard the horses, Joxer," she said as she walked over to Xena and Ares. "Xena what's going on?"
"The Destroyers," said Xena. "Ares, you remember when you first told us about them?"
"Yeah?" said Ares.
"You said they were insidious creatures," said Xena, remembering. "How much more insidious than to attack us with our own destructive emotions?"
"That's brilliant," said Ares. He saw the look from Xena. "In a completely evil and deranged way - of course."
"Jealousy, hatred, mistrust, guilt, fear - and now, despair," said Xena, nodding towards Hope and Gabrielle. "They've all made an appearance." Xena turned and spit on the dragon and he shrank and withered into nothingness. "He's nothing - none of these are what they seem - Dahak has taken the images from our memories and created these things - things which have no souls because the people they resemble have moved on. Only their images remain in our memory."
"So, what do we do?" asked Arynë, sheathing her sword.
"We move on, too - past all these memories and emotions which have clung to us," said Xena, walking over to Gabrielle. She felt the pull of despair radiating off of Hope and fought it. "Come on Gabrielle, let's go."
"Xena, it's - " began the tearful Bard.
"No, it isn't," said xena. "Come on. Walk away."
"You ask me to walk away from own daughter? My firstborn?" said Gabrielle. "It's not enough I killed her - more than once - for <you>?"
"You didn't kill her for me, Gabrielle," said Xena. "You killed her for all of us."
"Xena, I can't," said Gabrielle, covering her face with both hands.
"Tanti, listen to Xena," said Arynë, approaching the bard to embrace her. "This isn't Hope. It's a Destroyer. Hope has moved on - "
"Ephiny!" said Gabrielle, looking up, her teary eyes wide. She looked at the entity who stood before her in her eldest daughter's guise. "They're right. You are not Hope."
"Mother look at me," said the entity. "How can you say I'm not your daughter? I look just like you."
"Walk away, Gabrielle," said Xena. "That's the only way to defeat her."
Gabrielle turned and started away.
"You <never> loved me!" screeched the Destroyer. Gabrielle hesitated a moment, but Xena put one arm around her shoulders and Arynë stepped closer yet, Ares right behind her, covering her back. "You always loved Xena more.
"Xena, I can't ..." said Gabrielle, trying to pull away.
"Yes you can, Gabrielle," said Xena. "That is <not> Hope. When we get back, we'll go to Lykastia and spend some time with Ephiny."
"Ephiny," said Gabrielle, starting to walk again. Then again she hesitated.
"Don't look back, Gabrielle," said Xena, softly.
"But Xena, I <did> love her," said the bard, her voice breaking. "I failed her, but I did love her."
"We both failed her, Gabrielle," said Xena. "But we'll talk about that when this all over, okay?"
"You did wha - ...?"
"We will talk about this, Gabrielle, I promise you," said Xena. "But right now, we have to get out of here, okay?"
Gabrielle nodded. The walked to the horses where Joxer waited for them.
"Everything alright?" he asked. "Because I can - "
"Everything's fine, Joxer," said Arynë, even as Gabrielle grabbed him and hugged him tightly.
"Come on, let's get back and then I want a report, 'Ryn," said Xena.
"There's nothing to tell, Xena," said 'Ryn, with a shrug. "Your friend, Josiah showed up and told me I was needed back here, offered to escort the others to Amphipolis."
"Josiah?" said Xena, brows raised in surprise. Then she smiled. <Thank you, Hekate,> she prayed silently, acknowledging the gift.
"Yes, he showed me a letter from you," said Arynë. "Gods, Xena, he sure is <huge>. He didn't have any weapons, but he looked liked he handle it without them."
"Yeah, he can," said Xena. "What about him?" The warrior nodded towards Joxer, helping Gabrielle - who didn't need help - to mount his horse.
Arynë rolled her eyes, then smiled affectionately. "As soon as he heard you were in trouble, there was no convincing him to stay with the family. I know what kind of warrior he was from Gabrielle's stories, but I'll tell you, Xena, I don't think I'd worry about my back with him guarding it."
"Yeah, he's a good guy," said Xena, distracted. She whistled, then cocked her head, listening.
"Xena what's wrong?" asked Arynë.
"Your mother ... it's complicated," said Xena, watching through the trees.
"What about Mother?' asked Arynë, alarmed.
"Evidently, she has disappeared," said Xena. "Ah, there she is."
"Mother?" said Arynë, confused.
"No," said Xena, as Argo thundered into the clearing. "Come on, we need to get back to AemetzainL."
They mounted up, Gabrielle riding double with Joxer. Ares disappeared in a flash, saying he would meet them in AemetzainL. They rode furiously through the trees, Gabrielle grateful she was steering the horse she shared with Joxer as they narrowly avoided crashing into a great oak. Arynë pulled up next to Xena and shouted.
"Xena, what happened to Mother?"
"Not now, 'Ryn," Xena shouted back. "I need you focussed."
"On what? Xena if you don't tell me - "
"Okay! According to Ares, Anaxilea grabbed her and she disappeared." said Xena.
"Son of a Bacchae! If that bitch has harmed Mother, I'll - "
"'Ryn - focus!" said Xena, riding on ahead.
They arrived in AemetzainL to see the warriors assembling into battle ranks with Melysë's cousin, Pitana, leading them, calling out orders from horseback. She saw Xena and Arynë arrive and rode over, saluting.
"Just in case, Warrior Queen," she said, gravely.
"Good job," said Xena. "Remind me when this over to promote you, Pitana."
The warrior beamed proudly, then dismounted to join the ranks. Xena rode up and inspected them.
"Good!" she called out. "Stand by. At ease. 'Ryn, come with me - Pitana, fall out - you're in charge till we get back."
Xena and Arynë rode to the House of Mothers where Lucina was, still int eh birthing chamber, weeping bitterly. Hypsyple and CyrenL, her head bandaged, stood over, trying to console the new mother.
"Mother, Hypsyple, what happened here?" asked Xena.
"<Primeia> - CyrenL, what are you doing here?" asked Arynë, shocked.
"What do you mean, Dear?" asked CyrenL.
"If you're here ... then who went to Amphipolis with Meg and the kids?" asked Arynë.
Xena frowned. "Mom? You <were> supposed to go," said the warrior.
"I know, but at the last minute, I just decided that with Lucina so close to her time and Eve not ... here ... I changed my mind," said CyrenL.
"But if you're here ... then who was in the wagon?' asked Arynë, alarmed.
"I ... don't know," said CyrenL, looking to Xena.
"I have a pretty good idea," said the warrior. "It's alright - listen, Mom, what happened here?"
"I don't know - that nasty warrior showed up and knocked me into the wall," said CyrenL.
"Melysë tried to stand up to her, then Eve stepped in and actually fought her," said Hypsyple. "She knocked that ... thing down, grabbed the baby, then grabbed a sword and ran for the woods. Melysë tried to go after her, but Anaxilea grabbed her and Melysë just disappeared."
"Was there a ... a flash or something?" asked Xena, hopefully.
"A flash?" said CyrenL.
"Yeah, like this." The women saw Ares appear with a flourish.
"No, no nothing like that," said Hypsyple. "One moment she was there and then she was not. Just like that."
"Okay, first things first," said Xena, grimly. "Ares, I want you to look for Melysë. The Amazons will hunt for Eve and the baby."
Ares nodded and disappeared.
"What about Anaxilea?" asked Arynë, her voice quiet and dangerous.
"Can I trust you to go after her, Arynë?" asked Xena, one eyebrow raised.
"Oh, yeah," said Arynë, quietly, her face a mask.
"'Ryn, I mean it," said Xena.
"Oh, believe me, Xena, there is nothing I would like better than to ... never mind," said 'Ryn, her smile eerily reminiscent of Xena's in her warlord days. "I give you my word, I will not harm Anaxilea ... until Mother is safely back."
"Good enough," said the warrior, nodding. Xena had heard the qualifier Arynë added to her promise, but felt that she knew the young woman well enough; Arynë was Melysë's daughter. She would keep her word and do no harm to Anaxilea without cause, even after Melysë was found. Unless ... but Xena would allow that thought to go no further. 'Lysë was alright; she had to be.
"No," said Lucina, sitting up, slowly. "I'm going after her."
"Lucina, you just had a baby. You're not going anywhere," said Xena.
"I know you think that I'm just some weak little Elisian girl," said Lucina. "But I know something about fighting."
"How?" said Arynë.
"Mother - maybe she wouldn't let herself fight anymore, but she wouldn't let herself forget how, either," said Lucina. "When I was little, she would get up before the sun and go away from the compound to practice. She never held a weapon, but I could see her with a blade in her hand, the way she moved - it was like a dance."
"Of course," said Xena, quietly. "But Lucina, watching and doing are entirely different things. Come on, you know that."
"Yes, but ..." Lucina bit her lip. "I know I shouldn't have, but ... I ..."
"You copied her," said Arynë, nodding.
"Yes," said Lucina, looking down.
"It's okay - you were a little kid, looking up to your mother," said Arynë. "I used to do the same thing with Xena. But still, Lucina, it's different than doing the real thing."
"I know, but I still have to go after Anaxilea," said Lucina.
"What about the baby?" asked Xena.
"He has Mother," said Lucina. "So I know that he's okay. Anaxilea has no one. I have to help her. I can't explain it. I just feel ... like I need to help her."
"Okay," said Xena. "You go with 'Ryn." Lucina started to protest.
"That's the only way you're getting up out of that bed, Young Lady," said CyrenL.
"Very well," said Lucina with a sigh. She arose shakily and began to dress, but grew pale and clutched CyrenL as dizziness struck her.
"Lucina, you're not going anywhere," said Hypsyple.
"Yes, I am," said the young woman, determined. "Queen Melysë told me that Xena fought off Zeus's elite guard minutes before my mother was born. I have Xena's blood in me. I can do this. I have to."
She straightened and finished dressing. "I'm ready," she said.
"'Ryn, watch her," said Xena, quietly. "Please."
Arynë nodded and the two young women left. "Xena what are you going to do?" asked CyrenL.
"I'm going to go and have a sensitive chat with my best friend," said the warrior, leaving.
Eve ran with the baby deep into the woods. She stopped only to fashion a sling to carry the child on her chest, leaving both hands free in case she needed to fight. She wasn't sure where she was going, but she knew she had to get this baby to safety, away from the possessed Amazon Warrior. Suddenly, there was a flash of light and Eve found herself facing Michael. She raised the sword.
"Out of my way, Michael," she said.
"What are you doing, Messenger?" asked the archangel.
"If you were up on things, you'd know that I'm no longer Eli's messenger," said Eve, bitterly.
"Ah, but I do know that," said Michael, grinning. "So what are you doing? Protecting this child?"
"Yes - you got a problem with that?" asked Eve, eyes narrowed.
"Nah," said Michael. "You see, I have an interest in protecting this child as well. He will mean a great deal to a great many people when he grows up."
"Are you offering to help, Michael?" asked Eve.
"No, I am insisting - get back!" The archangel whirled around, sword in hand and Eve saw Anaxilea, floating through the trees towards them. She saw Michael and snarled at the archangel, touching down on the ground and running to engage him in a sword battle. Eve turned and ran further into the woods.
The baby began to cry and Eve stopped. She looked around, scouting the area, then sat with him on a fallen log, rocking back and forth.
"I know, Little One, I know," she crooned. "I'm so sorry. I know you're hungry and I promise I'll get you back to your mama as soon as I can, but for now, it's just too dangerous there. Not much better here."
Eve could still hear the ring of swords from the battle between Anaxilea and Michael.
"No, it isn't." Startled, Eve looked up to see an old woman, bending over her and the baby.
"Who are you?" she asked, jumping to her feet and brandishing the sword.
"Oh, now come, Child - aren't your arms weary from carrying both that heavy old thing <and> the baby?" said the old woman. Eve hadn't noticed the weariness in her arms until that moment. "You've not had a sword in your hand for many years now."
"How would you know that?" asked Eve, eyes narrowed.
"I know all," said the old woman, nodding wisely. "I know that this little one should be back with his mother now."
"Yes, he probably should, but his mother is not in a safe place," said Eve, warily.
"Nonsense!" said the old woman. "She is safer than you are right now - do you really think that the Amazons would allow harm to come to one of their own? Even you, little Eve, they would have protected if your mother had chosen to remain with them as she had considered at the time."
"Amazons protect me? You have got to be kidding. They would have executed me if it hadn't been for ..." began Eve.
"For what, Child?" asked the old woman.
"Xena and Gabrielle," said Eve, quietly.
"Yes, well, we're always harder on our own, aren't we?" said the old woman, sitting next to Eve and the baby.
"What do you mean?" asked Eve, setting the sword down, but within easy reach.
"Oh, of course, you wouldn't remember - you were just a baby," said the woman. "Gabrielle gave you her Right of Caste."
"She ... she did?" said Eve, incredulous.
"Yes, she did," said the old woman, nodding. "So you see, Eve, you were once an Amazon."
"And I did ... all those things ..." said Eve. The old woman reached over and took the baby in her arms, crooning softly to him before responding.
"Yes, you did, but Ares was behind all that, wasn't he?" she said.
"That's beside the point," said Eve. "I went along with him, no matter what he said for my own reasons."
"And it was Livia, not you, <Eve>, after all," said the old woman. "And the Amazons declared Livia legally dead."
"But that doesn't really change anything," said Eve.
"Well, of course it does," said the old woman. "As long as you yourself declare Livia dead as well."
"How can I do that?" asked Eve. "That's who I <was> - who I still am, deep inside. My actions these past years prove that."
"Are you, Child?" the old woman asked in a soft voice.
"Yes, Livia is still a part of me," said Eve with a sigh.
"Which part, Eve?" asked the old woman.
"I don't know," said Eve.
"You know, it's interesting, your mother began her road to redemption by saving a child much like this one," said the old woman, handing him back.
"I know," said Eve, quietly gazing at the child in her arms. "I read it in Gabrielle's scrolls a long time ago."
"Well, you are very like your mother," said the old woman, rising and walking away.
Eve thought for a moment, then rose and made her way back to the Amazon village.
<Still, have to admire her,> thought Arynë. <Just had a baby and already up and hunting for that bitch, Anaxilea.>
Lucina signalled to Arynë that she needed a rest, so the warrior found a suitable place for her to sit.
"Thank you," said Lucina.
"No problem," said 'Ryn, shortly as she continued to scan the area with squinted eyes. She absently handed Lucina a waterskin.
"You're a warrior?" said Lucina, awkwardly.
"Yeah," said Arynë, drinking from her own skin.
"The Priestess's daughter?"
"Yes," said 'Ryn, with a sigh. Lucina nodded and remained silent. Shaking her head and smiling, 'Ryn asked, "Why do you ask?"
Lucina looked thoughtful before answering. "My mother was once a warrior. My grandmother still is," she said. "I'm just wondering what I would be if I wasn't an Elisian."
"You'd be Lucina," said 'Ryn with a shrug. "What's with all the deep thinking?"
Lucina chuckled, then shrugged slightly. "I guess I just figured out that I need to learn who <I> am before I can teach my son about who he is."
"Wow," said Arynë, softly. "I never thought about that. Tecmessa and I have been talking about having a baby. You know, all the changes that would create in our lives and how to prepare for that, but that's one thing we never considered. Thank you, Lucina."
"I never considered it before this moment, either - maybe that's just one of those things that comes with motherhood - not that I've been at it all that long," Lucina said, rolling her eyes. "What does it feel like? To fight, I mean."
"It doesn't really feel like anything," said Arynë. "You just do what you have to do. When I'm fighting, I just think of my family and what the enemy would do to them if they get past me."
"So ... you fight because you love your family," said Lucina.
"Yes, and my people - the Amazons," said Arynë.
"You fight for love," Lucina said again. "I had never thought of a relationship between love and fighting - I was raised to believe that the two could not co-exist. Since being among the Amazons, I have learned much. But I think there is more yet to learn out there in the world."
"I know what you mean," said Arynë, nodding. "Until I went to go and visit my father in Hattusas, I never knew much about the world outside of AemetzainL. Even going to the great Amazon city of Themiscyreia - well, it's still Amazonia. Except for my uncles and my little brother, Iksander, I had never before seen a man anywhere except in battle. In fact, the very first contact with men I ever had was when a warlord rode in and started attacking the village during my First Initiation. In my father's country, I fought <beside> them. It just gives you a whole new perspective."
"Yes, like the Amazons," said Lucina. "All I ever heard was how evil the Amazons were and then it was an Amazon who rescued me from my own people."
"Anaxilea?" said Arynë, one eyebrow raised.
"Yes," said Lucina. "But the thing who came in and tried to hurt my baby is <not> Anaxilea."
"What do you mean?' asked Arynë.
"I mean that it may be Anaxilea's body, but it's not her in it - at least not the one controlling it," said Lucina.
Arynë thought back to a time when her own beloved Tecmessa was so afflicted. "Okay," said the warrior, quietly. "I think I understand. But if that's the case, what do we do about it? And how do we find my mother?"
"I'm not sure - I just felt a bond with Anaxilea - one I can't explain and don't really understand, but I think I can help her through that," said Lucina, rising. "In any event, we should get going - the sun won't last forever."
The two young woman started back toward the woods. Suddenly, Arynë thrust Lucina behind her and drew her sword.
"What is it?" cried Lucina. Then she heard the sound of clashing swords. She followed 'Ryn to where Michael battled Anaxilea.
"Wait here!" cried Arynë, joining the battle.
"Oh, but - " began Lucina, biting her lip. She had never seen a battle before and as she watched, she could feel both excitement and despair rising up within her.
"Lucina, stop them." She turned to see a woman standing beside her.
"Who are you?" asked the young woman.
"I am Hekate, the Mother of All," said the woman, glowing with an ethereal inner light.
"You're a goddess?" said Lucina, breathless with awe. "But I thought - "
"Never mind all that, Child - stop them," said Hekate.
"But ... how?" asked Lucina, bewildered.
"You are the Messenger," said Hekate. "Speak the message to them."
Lucina frowned, then nodded. She stepped forward boldly, reminding herself that the blood of the greatest warrior ever, Xena, flowed through her.
<What would Xena do?> she asked herself silently, then shook her head. <Xena would kick all their asses and ask questions later. I have to do this <my> way -not Xena's way and not Eli's Way.>
"Stop!" she cried, just outside the invisible boundary of the battle. Michael saw her first and stopped fighting, bowing low before her. Arynë noticed this action and jumped back, just evading being sliced in half by Anaxilea's sword. She lowered her sword and stepped out of the battle, hoping that Anaxilea's Amazon Honour was still intact despite the possession.
"Lucina, daughter of Eve," said Anaxilea with a growl. "What do you do here, Peace-Monger?"
"I am here to stop this fighting," said Lucina.
"Why?" asked Anaxilea.
"What do you mean, <why>?" said Lucina.
"Why should I stop fighting these two? You do realise that if I don't fight back, they will kill me? Do you want me dead ... <Sister>?" said Anaxilea.
"What are you talking about?" asked Lucina.
"Lucina, Daughter of Eve ... Daughter of Ares ...." A slow smile spread over Anaxilea's face as Lucina looked at her in shock.
"No, my father was killed before I was born," said Lucina, hesitantly. "His name was Lucius, not Ares."
"Ah, ah - that's what your mother told because she was ashamed," said Anaxilea. "My mother just left me on a hillside to die when I was born. But that's a family trait - her mother put her in basket and floated her down a river."
"I - I don't understand," said Lucina.
"We are sisters - through our father, Ares, god of War," said Anaxilea. "We have to stick together, you and I - we're all each other has."
"That's not true," said Lucina. "I have my son - I have the Amazons."
"That Amazons," Anaxilea said with a derisive snort. "The Amazons are led by Xena and Gabrielle - both of whom treat the children of total strangers better than their own." She nodded towards Arynë.
"You lie!" said 'Ryn, jumping towards her.
Anaxilea whirled around at the defense. "You see?" said Anaxilea, triumphantly. "She would kill me in an instant if you weren't here."
"Not before I found out what you did with my mother," said Arynë, twirling her sword.
"Your mother is unharmed," said Anaxilea with a growl. "Too bad, I wasn't able to kill her as I wished - she is too powerful. I have put her where she is out of my way, though. Maybe she will be able to find her way back. But as for you, Lucina, your mother has stolen your son."
"No, said Lucina shaking her head. "She was protecting him."
"Are you sure, Lucina? Given your family history - and mine - can you really be sure that is all she is doing? Her mother gave one child away and abandoned Eve for twenty-five years - gave her to Rome to be raised a murdering bitch, just like she was. Now she has abandoned yet another child to the whims of the gods. And Gabrielle! She threw my mother to the mercy of a basket in a river and then tried to kill her - not once, but twice. You would claim these people as your family?"
Lucina looked at Michael. "You are an archangel and cannot lie," she said. "Is this the truth?"
"One version of it," admitted Michael. "But there were circumstances surrounding these events which gave Xena and Gabrielle no choice."
"I see," said Lucina, nodding slowly. "Is Ares my father?"
"Yes," said Michael.
Anaxilea turned her arm. "And so am I," she said, showing Lucina the mark. Lucina looked at her own arm.
"Very well," said Lucina, putting the knowledge away for later. "That explains a lot. In the meantime, Anaxilea, since it seems we are truly sisters, I would help you."
"Excellent!" said Anaxilea, looking triumphantly at both Arynë and Michael. "Come, we'll leave this place and start fresh."
"No," said Lucina. "I will not go with you. I will only go with my sister."
"But ... I thought I explained all that," said Anaxilea. "I am your sister."
"No, you are something which is controlling my sister's body," said Lucina. "I want to talk with Anaxilea, see if this is what <she> wants."
"You are <so> like your mother! She's always questioning me - " Anaxilea began then stopped abruptly.
"I want to talk with Anaxilea," said Lucina, firmly.
"No!" cried the entity, flying at Lucina, sword drawn. Arynë jumped between them and fought.
"Run, Lucina! Back to AemetzainL - tell Xena we need her," she cried, as Michael joined her in fighting Anaxilea.
Lucina was torn. Somehow, it didn't seem right to abandon Arynë to fight. Then, too, she was supposed to stop this fighting. "What do I do?" she whispered.
"You stopped them long enough to hear what you needed to, albeit not in a very nice way," said Hekate appearing again. "Go for help, like Arynë asked you to."
Lucina nodded and ran back towards AemetzainL. Halfway there, she saw Eve.
"Mother!" she cried.
"Lucina! What are you doing here?" asked Eve, coming tyo her and handing the baby to her.
"Oh, little one," said Lucina, smiling gently.
"He's hungry - you better feed him," said Eve.
"I don't ... What do I do?" asked Lucina. Gently, eve loosened Lucina's tunic and guided the baby's head. "Ow! Mother, that hurts."
"Yeah, I know," said Eve. "You'll get used to it. What are you doing out here? You shouldn't be up out of bed yet."
"And you shouldn't have a sword in your hand, either," said Lucina, one eyebrow raised. "Some demon bursts into my birthing chamber and you run off with my newborn son. Some day, we need to have long talk about a lot of things, but for now, Anaxilea is fighting Arynë and Michael about half a league that way. I was sent for help. Since you have a sword, maybe you could ..."
"Lucina, I am the Me- uh ... an Elisian -"
"Yeah, I know, but at one time you were one kick-ass warrior," said Lucina. "So do you think maybe you could go and step in? Arynë sent me for Xena, but since I found you, maybe there's a reason."
"Alright, but go on back to AemetzainL and get Xena - and Gabrielle, too," said Eve, nervously. "It's been a long time since I've fought."
"I will, but you'll be fine, Mother," said Lucina, moving the protesting baby and re-fastening her tunic. "Later, little one - we have to get you somewhere safe first."
"AemetzainL," said Eve, quietly. "The Amazons will protect you both." Lucina smiled and planted a quick kiss on her mother's cheek, then ran off to the Amazon Village.
"Lucina! You have the baby," said CyrenL, gathering them both in her arms. "Where is Eve? And Arynë?"
"They are both in the woods, fighting the demon. I need Xena and Gabrielle," said Lucina.
"They're in the Lodge," said CyrenL, signalling a sentry to go for them.
"She was protecting him," said Lucina, gazing at her son. Then she chuckled. "From the Amazons, as well as Anaxilea."
"Eve ... has reason to not trust the Amazons," said Hypsyple. "We condemned her to death."
"But that's not true," said Gabrielle, approaching with Xena, her eyes swollen and red. "Varia's Tribe condemned <Livia> to death so that Eve, the Messenger of Eli could continue her work. Marga banished Eve from Amazonia, declaring the death sentence if she should return earlier. None of really remembered that."
"What's going on, Lucina?" asked Xena, quietly.
"Arynë and Michael are fighting Anaxilea - by now my mother is there, too," said Lucina. "Arynë sent me to get you."
"Where?" asked Xena. Lucina told her and Xena nodded and turned to Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle you stay and- "
"No," Lucina interrupted. "Mother said Gabrielle should go, too."
"Very well, said Xena with a weary sigh. "Let's go."
Warrior and Bard ran into the woods until they cam to the battle. With a battle cry, Xena leapt into the fray. Michael was nowhere to be seen, but Eve and Arynë were barely holding their own against the demon-possessed Anaxilea. 'Ryn was wounded badly, blood flowing from deep gashes on both her shoulder and her thigh, but she fought on. Eve had blood flowing from a gash on her temple, probably inflicted by a blow from the hilt of Anaxilea's sword.
"'Ryn get out of there!" Xena yelled, jumping in. "Gabrielle, take care of her!"
Arynë limped over to Gabrielle and collapsed. Gabrielle bound up her wounds, stopping the bleeding, but Arynë was too pale; she had lost entirely too much blood, fighting on even after she was wounded.
"Oh, gods," Gabrielle whispered. "Come on, 'Ryn, wake up! Just like your mother. Come on 'Ryn! Please?"
Xena saw her fall out of the corner of her eye, but focussed on the opponent before her. With a quick nod of acknowledgement to her daughter, she began to fight. Anaxilea was too good. Xena quickly saw how her heart-daughter, the most proficient warrior she had ever seen aside from herself, had been so sorely wounded.
"Where's Michael?" she called to Eve.
"Had to go," said Eve, breathlessly as she parried a blow. Anaxilea recovered from the parry and followed through with a swipe at Xena.
Xena rolled her eyes, then fought in earnest. Anaxilea laughed maniacally at the women's efforts.
"You cannot defeat me," she said and her voice had changed again. It was low and masculine and somehow slower than a normal voice would be. Suddenly Gabrielle looked up from Arynë.
"Dahak," she whispered. Anaxilea snapped her head around to look at Gabrielle. Gabrielle arose and approached. The fighting stopped as she grew near. The Bard pointed at Anaxilea. "You."
"Yes," said the possessed warrior with a hiss.
"You and I have some unfinished business," said Gabrielle, taking the sword from Xena as she passed. "I owe you - for Hope."
"Consider it a gift," said Dahak/Anaxilea with a sarcastic shrug.
"You bastard - it was <your> fault - all of it," said Gabrielle, brandishing the sword.
"Oh, come on! You don't know how to use that thing!" laughed the demon.
"Oh really?" said Gabrielle, swinging with some skill and making a hit as Xena retreated with Eve to check Arynë.
"You've learned a bit, then, haven't you?' said the demon, hesitantly as blood began to ooze from a cut on Anaxilea's cheek.
"Yeah," said Gabrielle. "Another '<gift>' I have to thank you for. Damn you! You gave me a child doomed to die because of her very nature - and mine. You knew I couldn't let her live when I found out what she was!"
"You mean <Xena> couldn't let her live, don't you?" said Dahak, bitterly as Gabrielle made hit after hit. Where the others couldn't get close, Gabrielle was fighting like a Harpy and cutting it badly all over, thought the wounds did not bleed. It seemed to have no defense against the bard.
"No, you wanted me to blame Xena for killing her, to drive that wedge between us," said Gabrielle. "You knew that if we separated, you would be able to take over and create a world of death and destruction. We were what stood in your way."
"You have it all wrong, Gabrielle," said Dahak. "I wanted our daughter to live. It was Xena who wanted her dead, remember?"
"I do remember," said Gabrielle. "I remember I loved her and I tried to save her, but it cost Solan his life. It cost a lot of lives. It almost cost Xena and me our friendship. But there is a soul bond between us, Dahak - you didn't count on that, did you?"
Dahak laughed and Gabrielle suddenly realised that she was not killing the demon, but Anaxilea. She stopped fighting. "Why is it," asked the Bard, slowly, "that I can hit you, but they couldn't?" Dahak stopped laughing and glared at the Bard.
"You see too clearly, Amazon!" he growled and came her, fighting furiously. Gabrielle stepped back, refusing to fight except to block and parry.
"No, I will not kill the body of Anaxilea while you go off to possess someone else and come back to do more harm," said Gabrielle.
With a roar, Dahak charged at the bard and Gabrielle neatly stepped out of the way. Xena ran back towards them, sword drawn to protect Gabrielle if necessary. Suddenly Michael re-appeared.
"Gabrielle," said the archangel. "Do you know the name of the entity?"
"Yes, it's Dahak," said the bard.
"Then you can command him to leave his host - hurry, Gabrielle, before it's too late for Anaxilea!"
"Wait," said Xena. "Make him tell us where Melysë is first."
"There's no time for that," said Michael. "Anaxilea will die."
"So might Melysë if we don't get to her," said Xena, desperate.
"Melysë <might>, Anaxilea <will>, Gabrielle," said the archangel before disappearing again.
"Dahak, I command you by your name - where is Melysë, priestess-queen of the Amazons?" said Gabrielle. The entity merely laughed.
"Ask the fallen one - she knows all," he said with a sneer. Gabrielle glanced quickly back at Arynë. Eve was tending her and offered them a gesture that she was alright - for now. Gabrielle looked to Xena, who nodded.
"In that case, I have no use for you. Dahak, I command you to leave Anaxilea," said Gabrielle, her voice taking on a tone of authority - it was her bard voice, strong and sure, despite her trembling body. "I bind you from harming the children of the goddess and I bind you back to your prison within the black stone in the pit bound and guarded by Leukippe."
With a stricken look, Anaxilea dropped the sword and collapsed, her wounds, inflicted by Gabrielle now bleeding freely. Xena and Gabrielle cautiously approached. They could feel the absence of the entity now. Anaxilea breathed, but it was a struggle.
"Come on," said Xena. "We have to get these two back to AemetzainL."
Xena took Arynë on her back while Gabrielle and Eve fashioned a litter for Anaxilea. They arrived in AemetzainL just after sunset and carried the wounded warriors to the Temple where Lucina was waiting with CyrenL and Hypsyple and half a dozen other healer apprentices.
"I wish 'Lysë was here," said Xena, worriedly tending Arynë's wounds herself.
"So do I," said Gabrielle, assisting.
"She's like your own daughter, isn't she, Xena?" said Eve, quietly watching Xena tend Arynë.
"Yes, she is, but Eve ... " began Xena hesitantly.
"I know - Mother," said Eve, smiling at her. Her face was transformed by that smile and the ravages of time seemed to disappear in the lamplight of the healing chamber. "It wasn't your fault that you couldn't raise me. I know you loved me."
"I still do, Eve," said Xena, turning to embrace her daughter. "I always have and I always will."
"Eve, we both do," said Gabrielle, placing a gentle hand on Eve's shoulder. "Xena and I had talk today which we have both put off for too long. We talked about ... well, many things we've both avoided over the years, but one of the things we both know is that you were a daughter to both of - a second chance to be a mother for both of us. When that was taken, it was taken from both of us. You are still our daughter, despite everything which has passed and we would like another chance - a fresh start with you and Lucina and now this new child."
"I'd like that, too," said Eve, moving towards Lucina who was rocking her son in corner of the room. "In the meantime, I need to talk to my daughter. We have some things to resolve before we can move on. And moving on is something I learned from both of my mothers a long time ago. I guess I just forgot how important it is to leave the past behind."
She left the temple with Lucina and Xena and Gabrielle turned their attention back to Arynë.
"Xena is she going to make it?" asked Gabrielle, worried.
"She has to, Gabrielle," said Xena, quietly.
"What about Anaxilea?" asked Gabrielle.
"I don't know - the damage to her wasn't so much physical as spiritual," said Xena. "Her wounds will heal, but her spirit ... Hypsyple is working with her now."
"We sure could use a little ... 'god-thing' right about now," said Gabrielle, looking down at Arynë.
"Say no more," said Aphrodite, appearing. "Ares is still looking for Melysë, but he can't come here in the Temple anyway, so I offered to help. What's up with little 'Ryn?"
"She fought a demon," said Xena.
"Ouch!" said the goddess, gently running a slender finger across Arynë's bruised face.
"Yeah," said Xena, quietly.
"Aphrodite, can you help her?' asked Gabrielle.
"Of course I can, Sweet Pea - she is my goddess-daughter, after all," said the goddess of Love. "That, and she carries the blood of Zeus, diluted as that may be."
Aphrodite produced a small pink satin pouch and extracted a bit of ambrosia from it which she placed under Arynë's tongue. 'Ryn's eyes fluttered open even as the bruises began to fade from her cheek.
"Mother?' she said, weakly, then she sighed and closed her eyes again. "Xena."
"'Ryn, where is your mother?" asked Xena.
"I don't know," said Arynë, sitting up slowly. "Thanks, <tanti> 'Dite. The Amazon Land of the Dead isn't even a nice place to visit, let alone to live."
"That was close," Gabrielle whispered to Aphrodite. The goddess nodded.
"I forgot, you Amazons don't go to the Fields or to Tartarus," she said with a shudder.
"'Ryn, you were in the Land of the Dead?" asked Xena.
"Yeah," said 'Ryn, climbing off of the table. "I tried to cross over, but this old woman stood there and blocked my way."
"Hekate," said Aphrodite, nodding.
"I guess," said 'Ryn. "I was looking for Mother - even though Anaxilea said she hadn't harmed her, I just had to be sure."
"And she wasn't there?" said Gabrielle, relieved.
"No," said 'Ryn.
"Wait - she said 'Lysë wasn't harmed - what else did she say?" asked Xena.
"Just that she had put her someplace where Mother wouldn't get in her way and maybe she would find her way back here someday," said 'Ryn, her jaw tightening in anger. "Where is Anaxilea, anyway? I hope you killed her. Actually, I hope you didn't because I would like to."
"She's not dead, 'Ryn," said Gabrielle. "But it wasn't her. It was Dahak."
"But I thought ..."
"Dahak is bound again," said Gabrielle. "But I think we know now that we have keep our guard up against him from here on. And the Destroyers ..."
"Gabrielle, the Destroyers were already here," said Xena. "Think about it - all Dahak did is dress them up in the image of people from our past. Human beings battle the Destroyers every day - doubt, fear, mistrust, jealousy, guilt - all of the destructive emotions. Our worst enemy is ourselves sometimes."
"That's true," said Gabrielle, thoughtfully.
"Whatever - I want to talk to Anaxilea," said Arynë, standing. "She must know where that thing put Mother."
"Not necessarily," said Gabrielle, shaking her head. "And anyway, she isn't ... conscious. Hypsyple is working with her, but ... there is very little hope of her coming out of this. Dahak did some damage. If 'Lysë were here, I know that she could probably do something for her, but ..."
"Damn!" said Arynë, clenching her fists in frustration. "I have to do <something>!"
"Not until you're fully recovered," said Xena. "And then you can go to Amphipolis to bring Romy home."
Arynë nodded in defeat. "I may as well leave now," she said, pulling the bandages off. There was no sign of scars or any other evidence of her wounds. Gabrielle looked at Aphrodite who smiled brightly.
"Ambrosia - works every time," said the goddess. "Gotta go - all of Olympus is looking for 'Lysë. I need to check in." She blinked out.
Xena returned to the Queen's Cottage. She had had a long day. During her talk with Gabrielle, she had absorbed all the pain and the guilt of that time so long ago with Hope. She had been battling Dahak all day and worried about Arynë until Aphrodite showed up with the ambrosia, dealing with Eve and mourning the loss of her youngest children, though Hekate, in her own way, had at least let Xena know they would be alright and where they were. <Well, at least I know where the children are - stroke of genius, that - putting them with the Elisians,> thought Xena. <And it was very generous of Hekate to let me know, even though I wasn't exactly cordial to her on our last meeting.> Hekate knew that Xena would neither act on this knowledge, nor would she share it with anyone - not even the other mothers. <She knows that Melysë and Gabrielle have faith in Her, more so than I will ever be able to have faith in any god, but I'm getting there. She knows that I just needed to know where they were.>
Now she was simply wrung out. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, the warrior was exhausted. She wanted nothing more than to fall into bed and sleep for days.
Xena lay down on the bed and suddenly she was stricken. Melysë was gone! Her scent still lingered in the bed she shared with the warrior and Xena breathed deeply of it, willing the priestess back to her, but Melysë remained gone. Xena sat up and called out, "Ares!"
The god appeared with no bright flashes. His face was sombre and his voice was quiet when he spoke.
"Xena I have every god and demi-god on Olympus searching this world - and as many others as we have access to - and there is simply no sign of her anywhere," he said.
"Okay," said Xena. "So, how do we find her?"
"We keep looking," said Ares, with a shrug. "I don't know what else to do. Do you remember the last time she disappeared?"
"Yes, but that was her own doing," said Xena. "This was Dahak."
Melysë opened her eyes slowly. Her head was throbbing and her whole body ached. She had never felt so beat up, even after battle. The priestess surveyed her surroundings. She was lying on a soft bed in a darkened room. The smells of this place were all wrong, though. She could detect some kind of smoke, but it wasn't wood smoke. It was harsher, more acrid and it burned her nose. Melysë tried to cover her face with the blankets, which also felt somehow wrong. She could hear a panicky voice in other room, but the words were unfamiliar to her. It would take some time before she could assimilate the language, though it sounded remotely familiar, especially with the hammering pain in her head.
"Come on Nat - you have to help me - this is all your fault!" said the voice. "Oh, yeah - big uptown MD. Well, if it weren't for you, I <could> have called the police when I hit her - you're the one responsible for me losing my driver's license. Never mind that - I don't need the damn pills - just get over here - she's hurt and I don't know what to do - if I end up in jail, think what a scandal it will be for your big career - I can see the headlines now, 'Prominent Physician's Cousin Kills Woman' details at eleven. Okay, I'll see you in a few. Thanks, Natalie."