An Awakening - Part 17
A God's Twilight
by Hunter Ash
Ownership: Repeat after me: I don't own Xena, Gabrielle, etc. I'm borrowing them for entertainment purposes, please don't bother to sue me, you wouldn't even get court costs.
Violence: a little more than a typical TV episode.
Subtext/Alt Sex: the story assumes a loving and sexual relationship between people of the same gender and of the opposite sex. If this offends you or is illegal for you then please leave. Come back when you are older, have an open mind, moved, or changed your laws.
Feedback: always welcome and responded to!
Storyline: Gabrielle returns to the Amazon forest demanding to see Artemis and finds Aphrodite and a very angry Ares. Xena and Hercules must try and rescue a captive Artemis and dying Gabrielle from the inner depths of Tartarus and spoil Ares' plans once more.
The story can stand on it's own but it is part of a series and you might want to catch some of the earlier parts to know exactly who is whom.
A Visit Home, an Awakening 1
Gabrielle's Awakening 1a- from Gabrielle's Point of View
An Awakening, Discovery, 2
Gabrielle's Discovery 2a- Gabrielle's POV
Amazon Bonding, Awakening 3
Gabrielle, Amazon Bonding 3a - Gabrielle's POV
Healing, Awakening 4
Trial of a Roman, Awakening 5
Gladiator, Bard, Warrior, Mother; Awakening 6
Reunited, Awakening 7
Ides of March, Awakening 8
Children of Gods, Awakening 9
Even with Ares, Awakening 10
Settling with Brutus, Awakening 11
Darkness Awakening, Awakening 12
Amazons North, Awakening 13
Amazon Darkness, Awakening 14
The Wild Hunt, Awakening 15
Bard Scrolls, Awakening 16
Gabrielle moved through the forest with ease but as
always with caution. She had avoided three Roman patrols of soldiers within
the last three hours after entering what was once the Amazon forest of her tribe.
As she looked at the last set of soldiers tromping down the trail below she smiled grimly. Men never seemed to look up, especially soldiers, the Amazon Queen reflected. It was one of the main strengths of the Amazons when they had controlled this forest, when they had been alive.
Gabrielle gritted her teeth and fought back tears that threatened to cloud her eyes. She needed to stay alert for more patrols and not lose concentration because of her emotions. The bard planned to grieve once more for her lost family but later, for now she needed to keep out of the hands of the soldiers.
Roman soldiers were one thing Gabrielle knew about. Over a year spent as a Roman slave and gladiator had taught the young Greek what it could mean to fall into the hands of unethical soldiers, especially Roman soldiers.
The warrior bard was deep in what was once Amazon territory and waited for twilight before moving out of the trees and down to the clearing near the waterfall. It had been a sacred site for centuries and it hurt Gabrielle to see signs that it had been discovered by the Romans and frequently used as a resting place by patrols.
Gabrielle spent the next candle-mark clearing away the brush from a huge boulder next to the river and building a small fire. She sat down and made a pot of tea while waiting patiently for the moon.
Tonight was the crescent moon, held by the Amazons to be sacred to Artemis, patron Goddess of the woods and Amazons. The bard waited until the moon had risen above the tree line and approached the boulder with a torch and placed it in the ancient iron holder embedded in the rock.
The boulder had been chipped by some magnificent forces in eons past and part of the rock had been snapped away, leaving a ledge like surface and a clean wall. Centuries before Amazons had carefully and lovingly carved the image of Artemis into the flat surface wall of the rock above the ledge. Artemis with her bow and a hunting hound at her feet, her bow forming the shape of a crescent moon. The ledge had become an altar to the Goddess.
Gabrielle retrieved a pouch and the two rabbits she had killed earlier in the forest and went back to the fire. The bard quickly pulled out a bowl and placed incense in it with a charcoal from the fire. Next came a goblet in which she poured fresh spring water. Then she placed the rabbit on the altar in the center and raised her eyes to the moon.
Artemis! the bard called softly. I offer sacrifice to you, oh sacred Goddess! I offer fresh water from the sacred forest, incense of pine and herbs from your forest, rabbit from that same forest. Come to me, Artemis! I beg you to appear to me!
Gabrielle waited patiently and fed more incense to the coal.
Artemis, I am your Chosen. You picked me to be your Champion on earth and among the Amazons, even though I wasn't born an Amazon and I wasn't a warrior, the bard continued. I did my best to protect your Amazons, my family. All the tribes of the South, even sacrificing myself on a Roman cross to win their freedom and a new home.
Gabrielle looked down at the bracers covering her wrist and covering the scars from the nails that had been driven through her flesh. She could feel tears beginning to build in her eyes and angrily brushed them away.
Artemis, I wasn't able to protect them from the Romans. Is that what you blame me for? Is that why you won't come to me, your Chosen? Gabrielle's eyes snapped back to the moon above. Or is it my tainted blood? Is it because I've been touched by Bacchus and carry his damned blood craving? This time she couldn't stop a tear from escaping her eyes.
I've fought that Artemis, and I've won, mostly. The craving doesn't control me and I've never harmed anyone because of it. Please, sweet Goddess, I want to see you! I grieve for my Amazons, the bard's tears began to flow of their own accord. I miss Ephiny, Solari, Eponi, all of them so much! Do you blame me for their deaths?
Gabrielle pleaded to the moon and waited patiently for several minutes and then the bard's shoulders slumped in dejection as her head dropped forward and she let the tears fall freely.
The bard was on her feet with sais in her hand before the voice had stopped sounding in her ears. Gabrielle blinked several times at the figure standing in the clearing; it was not who she expected.
Aphrodite? the bard questioned.
The Goddess of Love wasn't surrounded by her usual sparkle show of bright dust-like light and brightness and she looked troubled.
I don't have much time, listen closely, Aphrodite crossed the clearing quickly to the bard, her eyes darting around constantly. Artemis hasn't forsaken you, she can't come to you and you've got to rescue her!
What? Gabrielle stammered. Slow down! What's going on?
Ares has Artemis prisoner in Tartarus, none of the gods can interfere with whatever he has planned. I'm not even supposed to be here, the goddess said hurriedly.
Why did he take Artemis and why can't any of you do anything about it? What about Zeus? Gabrielle demanded.
The Goddess of Love screamed and fell forward and Gabrielle rushed forward the few remaining feet between them and caught the goddess as she fell. The bard's head snapped up and she saw Ares standing in the clearing, energy balls surrounding each hand and one was drawn back to throw one of them. Gabrielle realized he must have hit Aphrodite with one.
Gabrielle turned Aphrodite over and the Goddess of Love arched her back in pain, opened her eyes and glared at Ares.
Damn you and your plots! Aphrodite hissed.
Dad told you to stay out of things! he growled back and threw the energy ball.
The bard barely had enough time to roll with Aphrodite out of the way, taking herself to the ground along with the goddess as Ares released the other energy ball, keeping Gabrielle off balance.
Stop it! Gabrielle screamed. This is between you and me! Leave her out of it!
Ares didn't respond verbally. Gabrielle was still trying to get up off the ground and Aphrodite had gotten to her knees when the God of War reached them.
The bard was shocked beyond belief and movement when he kicked Aphrodite in the ribs, lifting the goddess up. Then he dropped her and the goddess landed heavily and Aphrodite groaned in pain, holding her ribs.
Gabrielle scrambled to her hands and knees as another kick connected with the Goddess's face and sent her head snapping backwards against the ground.
Stop it! the bard screamed as she tackled the god, taking both of them to the ground.
Gabrielle managed several good shots to his ribs before he recovered enough to throw a couple of good blows of his own to her jaw, the last one knocking the bard off of him. Gabrielle growled and brought her foot up into his stomach and grabbed his leather vest as Ares dived for her and flipped him over onto his back.
Gabrielle quickly twisted around and scurried for her sais as Ares cursed under his breath, getting to his hands and knees. The bard grabbed up one of her fallen sais and turned to face Ares again and felt her heart skip a beat when she saw the energy balls surrounding his hands as he knelt on the ground.
After dying on the Roman cross Gabrielle had been brought back to life by her father, the Sun and Healing God Apollo, one of the advantages the god had given her was that she could hurt any god with any weapon or fist. Almost demi-god status like Hercules. What she didn't have was the energy bolts or energy ball thing.
She also knew that she couldn't beat Ares, God of War, in a fight. The first time she had nearly killed him and she had also nearly been killed but she had managed to hurt him badly because of surprise. He hadn't been aware of her equal status with him. Now he was and ready for it.
I was hoping to get you out of the way without Xena knowing I was behind it, he snarled and released one of the balls which caught Gabrielle in the ribs and sent her flying backwards to land heavily on the ground several feet beyond where she had been. Now I don't care anymore, either way she'll be mine. If she won't come back to me as my Chosen Warrior then she can come back to me when the lust for revenge grabs her!
Never! Gabrielle muttered, wiping away blood from her mouth and braced herself for another energy bolt.
Aphrodite threw herself at her fellow god, knocking him over and sending the energy ball flying into the trees, startling a family of squirrels into fleeing their sanctuary and two ravens to take to the sky. Everyone began protesting by cawing and chattering at the human and gods.
Ares cursed again as Aphrodite racked her fingernails across his face and then he backhanded her, sending her to the ground once again. Gabrielle got to her knees and threw her sai as Ares turned to face her and felt some satisfaction when it embedded itself in the War God's shoulder.
The bard rushed to grab the other sai as Ares cursed and pulled the other one out of his body and glared at her. Gabrielle grabbed up her other sai and rolled out of the way of Ares throwing the other one at her. As he rushed her, the bard kept the one in her hand this time and parried his sword strike at her head.
What does Artemis have to do with this? she demanded.
I'm going to use her to force Zeus to undo what the Fates have done to me! he snapped and backhanded the bard, getting around her defenses and he quickly followed up with a sword strike that knocked the sai out of her hand.
Gabrielle barely saw the boot that caught her in the chest and knocked her to the ground. When her eyes cleared a moment later Ares was standing over her with his sword at her throat.
What are you waiting for? You've been wanting to do this since we met! she hissed.
No, not yet, he muttered. I'm going to make Xena suffer with your disappearance!
Not again, you bastard! Gabrielle snapped, taking advantage of his momentary distraction to kick him between the legs and knock the sword away from her neck. The sword left a thin cut along her neck and left palm but the God of War was left clutching his groin after dropping his sword.
Gabrielle never saw the energy bolt leaving his hand as she reached for his sword.
The warrior looked up from the blacksmith forge and frowned. She was out from behind the work area in a flash and began pushing her way through the small crowd that was beginning to form around the figure standing at the town well.
When she got through to the owner of the voice, Xena was shaken to see Cupid standing next to the well with Aphrodite in his arms. The God of Love was dusty, tear streaked and had smears of blood on his arms and chest.
Aphrodite's condition shocked Xena and the rest of the villagers, most of whom had never seen Gods before and certainly didn't expect to see them in this condition. The Goddess of Love's usual pink outfit was dirty and torn and the top, what little of it there was, was blood streaked. Her hair was also filled with dust and matted and Xena couldn't get a good look at the goddess's face.
The warrior moved forward quickly as Cupid knelt at the well, lowering his mother to the ground gently. Xena tried not to gasp at the sight of Aphrodite's face. The most beautiful face in all of existence was ravaged. Dite's right eye was swollen closed with a cut along the eyebrow and Xena thought might need a few stitches, her right cheek was obviously broken with another cut on it. The goddess's nose had been bloodied but a quick examination told the experienced warrior that Dite had probably escaped a broken nose but her lips were cut, bruised and bloody and it looked like she might loose a tooth. A massive welt was forming along the goddess' jaw-line as well.
Xena's quick hands found the rising welt along the goddess's ribs and Aphrodite moaned as Xena touched the area. Cupid groaned in response to his mother's pain, his eyes searching Xena's face for answers.
She's got a couple of broken ribs, a dislocated jaw, a broken cheekbone and a cut along the eye that would need stitching if she wasn't a goddess, Xena answered.
We can't go to the other gods or goddesses, Xena, Cupid answered, gently stroking his mother's hair.
Bring her inside, gently, the warrior instructed. She watched with a worried expression and winced at her moan of pain as the god lifted his mother into his strong arms.
Xena turned to the crowd. Okay, I know you haven't seen this before but give us some room. I'm taking them to my mother's inn. Silvus, could you please get the healer?
The man nodded and moved off quickly towards the far end of town.
Xena led the god and goddess to her mother's inn.
A candle-mark later Xena led a weary Cupid down the stairs to the tables while the healer finished stitching Dite's broken cheek.
Cyrene, Xena's mom and tavern owner, didn't say a word about having the Greek God of Love sitting at one of her tables, his wings discretely tucked in behind him in the booth, although the muscular chest and arms were hard to ignore and he was extremely handsome. Cyrene shook her head with a grin and sat down two mugs of port, understanding why the god had no problem in the love department nor the sex one either.
What happened, Cupid? Xena finally asked.
I need your help and you need mine, Xena, he said cryptically.
What in Tartarus is going on! she demanded again.
Tartarus is exactly what is going on! he growled, his eyes taking on a faraway and angry look. Let me start somewhere near the recent beginning of this mess. Ares got Zeus drunk and in a good mood. Ares got Zeus to promise that no Olympians could interfere with a plan of revenge he had against Gabrielle.
He held up his hand to hold off the warrior's anxious questions when Gabrielle's name came up. Just let me explain, the time it takes to explain isn't going to make any difference, okay?
Xena's eyes narrowed but she nodded slowly.
The Fates got angry at Ares messing with Gabrielle's fate and punished him. He won't say how but it must be major because he is one pissed off god. He captured Artemis and is holding her in Tartarus.
Tartarus? Xena questioned.
Yes, none of us have any powers in Tartarus nor the Elysian Fields except Hades and his minions. Since none of us can interfere and Artemis can't escape, she's stuck there, he explained.
Okay, how does that explain Aphrodite's condition and why you can't go to the other gods or goddesses to heal her.
Mom interfered, he answered simply.
With his plan against Gabrielle? What's happened to Gabrielle?
Mom and I have always had a soft spot for the two of you and she went to warn Gabrielle as to what Ares was up to and to say that Artemis hadn't abandoned her. Ares showed up and attacked them. He beat up Mom and took Gabrielle, the god said unhappily.
Where is Gabrielle, Xena growled.
In Tartarus with Artemis, being held by Ares.
She's not dead! I'd know if she was dead! Xena snapped and Cyrene looked up from her position behind the bar with a concerned look. Xena lowered her voice.
"No, she's not dead. Ares has bragged about that much. He intends to kill Artemis unless Zeus reverses whatever the Fates did to him," Cupid explained.
"And Gabrielle?" Xena asked in a growl.
"He wants her dead or out of your life forever or both."
"Okay, I go in get her out and then we'll settle with him!" Xena stated firmly.
"It's not that simple," Cupid argued. "I've already tried."
He shrugged and blushed slightly at the warrior's raised eyebrows.
"Hey, I may be the God of Love but I'm not a helpless wimp!" he protested. "Mom and Artemis are... uh, they're very close and Mom is very fond of Artemis."
Xena's years of training as a war leader kept the surprised look off of her face but it wasn't easy. This was one development between the gods that she was not aware of and hadn't suspected. Could be interesting in the future. Was that why the Goddess of Love had a "soft spot" for her and Gabrielle, as Cupid put it?
"Mom tried to use her talents to get Ares to release Artemis but that seemed to make him madder. She tried distracting him while I went to Tartarus to try and get Artemis out. She's being held in a specially built cell with no door. The bars on three sides go into the mountain five feet deep and the back wall is the earth. The bars were made by Haepestus."
"No normal tool or weapon can break or cut them," Xena muttered.
"Right, and we don't have any powers in Tartarus, only Hades and his minions. He's the only one that can get in and out of that cell. Not even Ares can get in or out," Cupid complained.
"Why is Hades helping him? I thought the deal was no interference from any of you, Xena demanded.
"We don't know. Ares has something over him," Cupid shrugged.
"My chakram will cut through the bars," Xena assured him.
"Why would your chakram be any different than my sword? he asked.
I don't know but it is. I've gone up against weapons forged by Haepestus and my chakram was able to slice them in half. I'm betting that it'll cut those bars.
Then the trick is getting you in there and out without Ares and Hades stopping you, not easy for a mortal," Cupid commented.
"I have many skills."
Ares, damn you! Have you lost your mind?
Gabrielle opened her eyes and groaned in pain as she took in a deep breath and quickly closed her eyes.
Shhh, don't move, Gabrielle, the voice instructed.
The bard opened her eyes slowly this time and was careful not to move or breathe too deeply.
Artemis? she whispered, realizing that she was lying in the Goddess' arms. Gabrielle glanced around and frowned. A cell? Where are we?
Tartarus, deep below the Underworld, the Goddess answered.
What's going on? the bard whispered.
I think my brother has gone mad. He's threatening to kill me unless Zeus makes the Fates reverse something they did to Ares. You he just wants dead.
Terrific, what else is new? Gabrielle complained and then groaned again as Artemis carefully lowered the bard to the hay covered cell floor.
A moment later Artemis held a wooden cup of water to the bard's lips and Gabrielle drank gratefully.
How bad am I? she asked.
A few good bruises and several broken ribs, that's why you can't move, Artemis informed the young woman. If you move you could rip open the wounds to your lungs and collapse both of them and die.
They'll heal quickly, Gabrielle muttered.
No, not down here they won't, Artemis responded. None of the gods have any powers in Tartarus nor the Elysian Fields except Hades and his guards. Your god given healing powers won't work down here. Those broken ribs could easily kill you.
Can you bind them and keep them in place?
Of course, I was waiting for you to wake up.
Gods, this is gonna hurt, Gabrielle complained.
Yes, the Goddess agreed.
The God of Love looked up from his folded arms at the warrior, his face and eyes reflecting his weariness. He sat up from Aphrodite's bedside and quickly checked his mother and sighed with relief as the goddess slept on.
She's doing better, the healer said softly as the young god stood and stretched. He nodded and followed Xena out of the room and down the stairs to the common room of the inn.
Thank you, Xena, he said simply as Torris , Xena's brother, set a goblet in front of the god and one in front of his sister.
For what, Cupid?
Helping my mom.
Sure, she shrugged.
How long was I asleep?
A couple of candlemarks, the warrior replied.
And you've planned what while I was with mom?
I know of two entrances to Hades, one through a bottomless lake and the other is guarded by Cerebus, Hades' hound. I'm going to go through the hound.
Because you've used the lake before and Hades will be expecting you there, Cupid reasoned and Xena nodded.
You have to move fast, you know. If Gabrielle eats anything while in Tartarus she's doomed to stay there, Cupid reminded the warrior.
I remember the story of Persephone, so will Gabrielle, it's one of her favorites.
That gives you three maybe four days before hunger drives her crazy, Cupid frowned. Tell me something, Xena, why weren't you with Gabrielle? You now have the ability to hurt gods, Ares probably couldn't have taken both of you on.
Xena's face looked pained and the warrior blushed.
Gabrielle wanted to make the trip alone. She knows how I feel about reaching out to the gods, she muttered.
You didn't approve of her reaching out for Artemis?
I did approve but Gabrielle knows I'm not much for making sacrifices and chanting to the gods and she wanted to face her fears of Artemis having reject her.
With all the Romans around in that area? Cupid demanded and Xena's eyes narrowed.
That was one of the fears she wanted to face, Xena growled.
Never mind, when do you leave?
Immediately, that's why I woke you. Is there anything you can tell me about where they're being held or anything that might help get me in?
Cupid sat with a thoughtful look on his face for a few moments and then shook his head. No, just that they are in the deepest level of Tartarus and you'll have to get through Cerebus, Hades and then Hades' guards to reach them and back out again.
I don't have a choice, if she's not coming back then neither am I! Xena growled.
And your daughter? Who will keep Ares from getting her? Cupid demanded.
Hercules and Iolaus are her godparents and I've already sent Joxer to find them. I know they're visiting Iolaus' family three villages over, Xena stated simply. How does Ares plan on killing Artemis?
He found the Dagger of Helios, Cupid whispered.
Oh gods, what in the name of the gods did the Fates do to him? He's gone insane! Xena exclaimed.
I don't know. No one does and the Fates won't say. Whatever it is he thinks it's worth taking on all of the Olympians when this is over, Cupid frowned.
He's going to answer to me first, Xena growled.
Here, Gabrielle, drink some water, Artemis said softly, helping lift the bard up slightly to drink but the bard shook her head.
If I eat or drink anything I'll be stuck here, like Persephone, she protested.
I have Hades word that the water won't condemn you to Tartarus, only the food will. Besides you drank earlier.
You trust him after he's helped Ares in all of this?
We have to, without water you'll be dead in two days.
What is going on? the bard asked between sips of the water, praying to Apollo that she wasn't condemning herself to eternity in Tartarus.
The Fates punished Ares for meddling in your fate one too many times and now he wants to use me as a hostage to force them to take back their punishment, Artemis explained.
What did they do to him?
They took away his manhood, Artemis grinned and Gabrielle grabbed her ribs and bit her lip.
Oh gods, don't make me laugh, damnit! she growled. Ares? The God of War?
Yes, he can't get it up, Artemis grinned even wider.
You said the Fates got tired of him interfering with me and Xena, I know about setting me up to be captured and sold into slavery by the Romans, is there more? Gabrielle asked.
Besides crashing your wedding, tricking Xena back into his bed, and the incident of trying to kidnap Sasha when you nearly killed him?
Yeah, besides those.
Yes, a lot more, Artemis answered.
Gabrielle felt her heart skip a beat and moved her head enough to see into the main area outside the cell and felt herself go pale.
Caesar, she whispered and felt Artemis stiffen beside her.
Glad you remember me! the conqueror said cheerfully. The would-be Emperor was dressed in Roman General finery of gold armor and purple cloak. A richly designed and jewel encrusted sword hung at his side and a matching Roman dagger hung from his belt. The handsome Roman held a bunch of grapes in one hand and with the other he began tossing grapes in the air and catching them easily in his mouth.
Gabrielle felt her body responding to the visual sight of food.
Shouldn't you be off somewhere being tortured? Artemis demanded.
Nah, I thought it'd be more fun to see my old friend Dancer, he grinned, chewing on a grape. He held out the bunch towards the bars. Would you like some, gladiator? Champion of Rome and the Arena?
Gabrielle clenched her jaw as her eyes blazed at the Roman.
Caesar, seeing the rage in the Greek's eyes, threw back his head and laughed heartily. I must say it is good to see you, Queen of the Amazons, he grinned. I never thought I'd beat you here. That attack in the Senate was a surprise and then, just imagine my shock when I got here and discovered that you had actually survived the crucifixion!
Glad I surprised you, Gabrielle snapped.
Go find some Goths to torment or something, Artemis growled, sitting down on the floor of the cell and laying Gabrielle's head in her lap.
But I like Gabrielle so much better! he taunted, continuing to munch on the grapes. Just think of the fun we'll have when these bars come down and you're here forever!
Not likely! the bard muttered.
Hey, you'll have to share, Caesar!
Gabrielle's eyes widened at the sight of Brutus stepping out of the darkness. Unlike Caesar, Brutus looked like he had in the last moments of his life. Gabrielle could see where the sword had entered upwards from falling on his sword and the Roman General was still covered with battle grime of dust and blood. The bard could also see where he had been spitting up blood in his final moments.
Artemis, the bard whispered.
I'm right here, Gabrielle, and they can't get in, the goddess said softly, her eyes blazing at the Romans.
The bard coughed and Artemis wiped at the bard's lips with a frown. Seeing Gabrielle's questioning look the goddess held up her finger and showed the bard blood.
Guess I'm still bleeding into the lungs, Gabrielle commented softly.
Yes, Artemis agreed with a frown.
Hey, Artemis, Brutus called through the bars. Come out here and you won't be a 'virgin' goddess anymore!
Both Romans laughed until Gabrielle thought they might throw up.
Why don't you two go fight each other or something, she growled.
No point of it now, Caesar shrugged. We're no longer fighting for Rome so there's no reason to fight.
Well, he did stab you in the back, literally, Gabrielle reminded the would-be Emperor.
Caesar shrugged and grinned at the bard and Goddess. That I can understand and applaud!
Another coughing fit seized the bard and with it racking pain and then darkness.
The warrior rose up from behind the rocks and looked down at the clearing below. She sighed with relief and pulled herself up further.
Hercules! she called and waved to catch his attention when he looked for the source of the shout. He grinned and quickly scrambled up the rocks to her.
As he rounded the last boulder blocking his view he frowned and moved quickly to his friend's side. Xena was leaning against a large boulder and looked worse for wear with her armor dusty and dented and a large cloth wrapped around her thigh with blood soaking through.
The demi-god knelt beside the warrior and handed her his water flask. Xena drank gratefully as the son of Zeus pulled the bandage aside and grimaced at the sight of the wound.
What happened to your rapid healing abilities? he asked.
That is my rapid healing, she responded with a grimace of her own.
If you weren't the daughter of gods you would have lost that leg already, he commented, rummaging through his travel pack until he came upon a small leather pouch. With practiced ease Hercules began cleaning the wound and dressing it properly.
And I'd be dead, Xena agreed.
Goddamn hound of Hades. He bit my sword in two, tried to munch on my chakram and took a couple of good chunks out of me, Xena answered, revealing several bite wounds on her arms and one on her other calf. Dog has three heads and all of them are in a bad mood.
I don't know of anyone that's gotten past him, in or out, Hercules commented. Why didn't you treat the wounds?
I dropped my pack down there and anytime I get near the ground the mutt comes roaring out of that cave after me. With my leg like this I couldn't move from up here, she responded.
Well, let's get you on your feet and get past that overgrown monster down there. Joxer told me what is going on.
We don't have very long, she's been down there a full day and night now. If she gives into hunger and eats anything down there then she'll be trapped forever! Xena growled as the demi-god tightened the bandage on her leg.
I know. We've got to get in, get past Hades and his guards, break open the cell, get Gabrielle and Artemis back out through Hades and his guards and probably face Ares when we get back on the surface, that about it? he grinned.
Xena grinned back at him. Yup, that's about it.
Sounds like a typical day with our half-brother involved, he complained and helped the warrior to her feet. Together they leaned over the boulders and looked down at the entrance to one of the entrances to the Underworld where Cerebus waited.
Any suggestions? she asked.
Well, drugs and poison won't work against him. You can't distract him away from the entrance and he can bite through steel easily. He's not afraid of fire or loud noises like some dogs and the three heads think and act independently. I can't think of anything. If we drop rocks on him then we'll block the cave and it won't kill him, Hercules said thoughtfully.
My thoughts as well, Xena replied.
I could handle one, maybe two heads. I can't grab three at once for you to slip by, the demi-god frowned.
What about lassoing one of the heads and pulling him up, that might give me enough time to get by him before one of the other heads bites through the rope? Xena suggested.
Might work, maybe even long enough for me to follow, you're going to need help in there. Hang on, let me find a branch or something for you to lean on until you can put weight on that leg, Hercules suggested.
Okay, it'll take a while to heal, Xena agreed.
And you'll lose that quick healing thing of yours when you enter Tartarus, the demi-god said as he pulled a fallen tree branch out from two rocks where it had wedged when it fell from a lightning struck tree.
What do you mean?
All god powers are lost in the Underworld except for Hades and his guards. That's why Ares chose it to hold Artemis, he informed Xena as he began stripping old twigs off the branch.
Aphrodite thought Gabrielle might have been hurt when Ares attacked them, Xena frowned.
Then her god healing gifts won't work either and she won't heal until she's out of there.
When Gabrielle opened her eyes again Artemis was wiping the blood from the bard's lips and offering Gabrielle water.
Laughter and raucous suggestions caught Gabrielle's attention finally and she looked past the Goddess of the Amazons and saw several figures outside the cell.
"What is this? Every single person I've ever pissed off?" she complained, looking over at the grinning faces. Some sent chills down her spine.
Rajal, the Arab sorcerer who had been had planned on turning her into a full bacchae and sacrificing several pregnant women in his dark spells.
Brutus, Casear, un-named bandits and gladiator opponents.
"Menstratus?" she said softly, looking into the manic eyes of her brother-in-law. The same relative that had almost killed Xena for some twisted idea of revenge against Perdicus' marriage to Gabrielle and his death at the hands of Callisto.
"Yeah, I finally get you down here, bitch," he growled.
I still don't understand why you want me dead, you're the one who helped Xena kill Callisto's family and Callisto is the one that killed your brother Perdicus.
Because of you he was unarmed and weak, Menstratus countered. I can't wait to get my hands around your throat!
The bard's stomach rumbled as she took in a new addition to the cell she was sharing with Artemis. A long table piled high with food of all kinds.
"Can you get rid of that stuff since I can't eat it?" she asked as Artemis sat down with her back against the wall, next to the bard.
"Can't, every time I throw it out it just reappears," Artemis said simply, glaring at the men and women on the other side of the bars.
"Terrific, guess that's why people want to stay out of this place," the bard muttered, ignoring the yells and taunts from her enemies.
"That's one of the reasons," Artemis agreed, moving to put Gabrielle's head in her lap.
"You didn't reject me?" Gabrielle asked softly, suddenly looking very young.
Artemis smiled a sad and gentle smile at her Chosen.
"No, my young one, I never rejected you," the goddess said softly. "Not even with your Bacchae blood. I never had a problem with that and I've admired your struggle against the darkness. You are still my champion."
The goddess gently wiped a tear from Gabrielle's face and then more of the blood that the bard coughed up.
Why did Ares kidnap you? Gabrielle asked, trying to ignore the food and the men and women taunting them.
I was going to challenge him over his involvement with the slaughter of our Amazons and demand Zeus do something about him, Artemis explained, watching Gabrielle's enemies closely in case any of them decided to try a knife or sword throw through the bars.
He was involved with that? Gabrielle's eyebrows furrowed.
How did he capture you and get you here? Gabrielle whimpered with another coughing fit and swore horrible things she wanted to happen to Ares.
Artemis waited for the coughing to subside before answering.
I was distracted at the time and he zapped me with two of those damned energy bolts before I could think clearly, the goddess answered and Gabrielle's eyes narrowed.
What aren't you telling me?
The bard's eyes widened when she realized that Artemis was blushing.
I was preoccupied and didn't sense or hear him quick enough. Hades is helping him for some unknown reason and I woke up here.
You were distracted? With whom? Gabrielle asked and realized she had found the answer when Artemis began blushing even more.
Does that matter? the Goddess countered and Gabrielle smiled and shook her head 'no.'
I still don't really get it, Gabrielle complained. The Fates punished him for interfering too much in my life, so he takes you out and is going to ransom you to Zeus in exchange for undoing what the Fates did to him?
That's about it, twisted isn't it?
So, he figures he'll just get rid of me along the way and hopefully twist Xena enough into a battle frenzy, Gabrielle muttered.
Yes and I don't think he has any intention of letting me go even if Zeus agrees to undoing the Fates did, he wants us both out of the way, Artemis commented. How's the hunger?
Not bad, swallowing this blood is making me sick and not hungry. I didn't think blood would make me sick, the bard said thoughtfully.
Your own blood won't sustain your blood hunger and you're getting too much of it. Even full bacchae can only drink so much before they gorge themselves into a stupor, Artemis tried smiling for her Chosen.
It doesn't bother you that your Chosen is part bacchae now? Gabrielle asked, her voice young with obvious nervousness.
No, I understood the circumstances and the price we all had to accept when Apollo brought you back from that crucifixion, the goddess responded.
Gabrielle brought her wrists up and looked at the bracers covering the scars from where the nails had been driven through her flesh and muscle into wood of the cross.
Something I wondered, she said softly. After the crucifixion, when you zapped us back to Amphipolis, why didn't you heal the wounds and take away the fluid on my lungs?
The same reason Hecate or Apollo didn't heal Solan's eyes. Even though you weren't meant to be on that cross that doesn't mean the gods like to automatically fix things. The future is never totally set, Gabrielle, Artemis said. Xena and Hercules are right mostly, humans do set their own fates for the most part. It's like looking at a map, if you take one road then you face this set of road choices. If you take the other road then you will face a totally new set of choices that you wouldn't have on the other road.
I think I understand that. By allowing Solan to suffer with his injury and recover, he had to learn how to do things differently and so learned new strengths, the bard commented.
Yes, by not healing you it made you face the reality of how much you sacrificed for your Amazons and how close you came to dying. The strength of that sacrifice helped you face the darkness of the bacchae in you and helped give you strength to overcome it.
The bard looked away from Artemis and glared at the taunting men and women outside of the cell as the taunting got louder.
"Will you shut up!" the bard snapped at the figures outside the cell.
"Shhhh, ignore them," Artemis said softly as Gabrielle closed her eyes again.
"What happens if I die here," Gabrielle asked, wiping away a trickle of blood from her mouth.
"You'll be trapped here forever. The best I could hope for is that Hades would take you to the Elysian Fields," Artemis said simply. I have no control over that, only Hades decides who goes where after they die. He's usually fair.
"How long have I got?"
"Time is impossible to track down here but I'd say a day," Artemis said truthfully.
"If you get out of here, tell Xena I love her and not to follow me," the bard said softly and closed her eyes again, not noticing the tears running down the goddess' face.
The two Greeks cautiously approached the cave entrance yards apart from each other. With an ear-shattering howl the Guardian of Hades appeared, all three heads howling and growling. Cerebus stood in the center of the entranceway, all three heads watching the two approach.
"Will you be able to flip over him with that leg?" Hercules asked, a huge tree limb in his hands as a club.
Xena leaned heavily on the branch she was using as a crutch. "I have to. It's either that or I fall on my knife and get into Tartarus that way."
"Well, since I'm not going to let you kill yourself, I guess you'll have to make it," Hercules grinned.
"Draw him out and I'll lasso him," Xena grinned back, readying her rope.
The warrior suddenly stopped and straightened up and spun, almost falling over with her injured leg.
"Hercules!" she yelled just as Ares appeared and attempted to backhand Xena. The warrior was able to duck under his swing and punch him in the chest with the flat of her hand, sending him stumbling backwards several feet.
The God of War drew his sword as Hercules moved in with his club and Xena drew her chakram.
"Get out of here, Ares," Xena hissed. "Remember, I can hurt you and right now I really want to!"
"I'm hurt, Xena," the God of War growled back. "Is that anyway to talk to the father of your child?"
"You'll never be a father to Sasha!" the warrior growled. "The only thing you're good for is dog bait!"
Both Hercules and Xena rushed the God of War, Xena parrying Ares' sword strike with her chakram and Hercules tackling him around the waist, both falling to the ground. Ares retaliated with a blow to the demi-god's head with the pommel of his sword and he parried a chakram slash from Xena and forced her back.
Before he could gain his feet, however, Hercules retrieved the rope Xena dropped as he grabbed his half-brother again and pulled Ares back to the ground. Xena kicked the sword out of Ares' hand as Hercules and the God of War wrestled. Hercules threw the rope to Xena and the warrior quickly tied it around the War God's feet and yanked, throwing Ares off balance in the wrestling match.
Hercules jumped to his feet and grabbed the rope and began spinning it until Ares was suspended on the end of the rope, flying through the air by his feet.
Xena moved closer to Cerebus and began taunting the monster dog while Ares shouted curses and threats that neither Greek had ever heard of. Cerebus moved further out into the open as Xena got closer, each head growling and snapping.
"Now!" she shouted and stabbed at the far left head of the dog with her crutch-like tree branch as Hercules hurled the screaming God of War into the other two heads. Xena, shouting her battle cry, flipped over the dog's heads as they chewed on the tree branch and the God of War.
Hercules smashed the one head of Cerebus that had dropped the tree branch and managed to slip inside the entrance to Tartarus as the screams of Ares filled the chamber. The demi-god quickly grabbed Xena and threw her over his shoulder and began moving quickly down the passage.
"Put me down, damnit!" Xena snapped.
"We need to move quickly and you can't run," he growled. Xena was surprised but pleased when he reached up and handed her Ares' sword. "I prefer my fists, he muttered.
"Do you know where we're going?" Xena asked, gritting her teeth against the pain in her leg and the discomfort of being thrown over Hercules' shoulder.
"Down, always down until we find them."
"We need to hurry, Gabrielle's hurt. I can sense it," Xena stated.
"As fast as I can," Hercules promised.
"Xena!" they heard Ares shout behind them.
"Uh oh, sounds like Cerebus didn't think our half brother tasted so good!" Hercules muttered and moved off into a side passage.
Xena lost track of how many fights they had gotten into and managed to get away from over the next couple of hours. Hades himself, his guards and Ares had all tried to stop them along the way but Hercules and Xena had managed to get lower and lower into the Underworld.
The warrior leaned heavily against a rock and then quickly ducked behind it at the sound of running boots. She looked over at another set of rocks and saw Hercules looking around. They both cautiously left the cover of the boulders.
"How's the leg?" he asked as they met in the center of the small cavern room.
"Hurts like Tartarus," the warrior grinned.
"How much further can it be?" the demi-god wondered.
"Not much, that last set of guards weren't looking for us, they were headed with a purpose," Xena commented.
"They're heading to the cell where Artemis and Gabrielle are to wait for us," Hercules surmised.
"I'm betting on it. The fighting has gotten more and more desperate, we're getting close."
"So now, they'll gather all the troops together and make a stand," Hercules grimaced.
"Yes," Xena agreed on the obvious strategy. "Listen, Herc, when we get in there and if I get through the bars, I want you to grab Gabrielle and make for the surface."
"We all go out together," Hercules frowned.
"Gabrielle is hurt and she needs out of this place before she can start healing again. I'll follow with Artemis," Xena argued.
"We'll argue about this when we get them out," he countered.
"Alright, until then, take the sword - everyone else in this place is armed," she suggested and handed him the sword of Ares. "Do we try and sneak up on them?" she pondered.
"Probably not, they'll have the cell surrounded and be expecting us," Hercules said thoughtfully as they walked along.
"Maybe I can help?"
Both Greek warriors spun around with weapons drawn, Hercules with Ares sword and Xena with her chakram. Neither of them could see the owner of the voice.
Xena resisted looking surprised when a Roman Centurion appeared before their eyes, lifting a helmet off his head.
"The Helmet of Invisibility of Hades?" Hercules asked, his sword at the ready.
"Yes, do you recognize me, Consort?" the Roman asked Xena.
"Consort?" she muttered, looking intently at his Roman face and brown eyes. "You're Octavion, the Roman that poisoned Gabrielle at our wedding."
"Yes, at your service," he bowed slightly at the waist.
"What? Xena's the reason you died," Hercules demanded.
"Yes, I deserved it and I was wrong. My death meant nothing to Rome or to Caesar," the Roman said simply. "I'm here, Caesar is here, Brutus is here, Crassius, Pompey, all of them. For what? The glory of Rome? I tried to kill a beautiful young woman who was no threat to the Empire, I want to make up for that, if you'll let me."
Xena knew her face reflected her surprise this time. "How did you get the helmet?"
"Most of Hades guards are off looking and preparing for you. A woman in a gray cloak came to me and freed me from my chains and told me where the helmet was."
"Can't have been any of the goddesses, none of them have powers down here," Hercules muttered and Xena nodded.
"It doesn't matter though, he's here and so is the helmet. We'll figure out the details later."
"Agreed, Octavion and I will attack while you sneak in with the helmet and cut the bars," Hercules suggested.
"Yes, then you take the helmet and get Gabrielle out of here," Xena continued.
"We all get out together," Hercules countered.
"And hopefully get Octavion here to the Fields on the way."
"That's not my goal, warrior," Octavion protested.
"We try and take care of our friends," Xena grinned.
With the bard unconscious, most of the tormentors had wandered off down the various passages leading away from the underground chamber, giving Artemis a break from their taunting and crude suggestions.
Then guards started running into the chamber, all armed and most of them battered and looking as if they had been in a good fight. The enemies that had wandered off came running back in and the last to follow was Ares and Hades themselves.
Ares grabbed the sword from Menstratus with a growl. Give me that! You can use that crossbow of yours, you actually shot Xena with it once.
Everyone crowded around the cell, facing outwards, towards the passages.
Gabrielle! Artemis began shaking the bard gently. Gabrielle, look! Even Hades and Ares are here now and they're scared. Only Xena could cause that kind of fear in those spineless macho types.
Ares turned his head and snarled at the goddess and turned back to watch the main entrance.
Gabrielle? Artemis quickly checked for a pulse and was frantic to find that the bard's heartbeat was very rapid and shallow and the bard was non-responsive, her breathing ragged and quick.
Ares, if Xena doesn't kill you then I will for this! Artemis promised.
Haven't you figured it out yet? Ares turned and looked at the goddess. I want you all dead, Xena included.
Before the goddess of the Amazons could respond, shouts from the front of the pack caught the attention of Ares and the others.
Octavion, bearing a Roman shield, led the assault into the chamber and took the arrows and crossbow bolts in the shield while Hercules followed with sword through one bandit and his massive fist smashing the nose of another. Within moments the chamber was a mass of moving limbs and bodies.
The Roman found himself face to face with Caesar and Brutus and hesitated momentarily.
The would-be Emperor glared at his former Praetorian Guard and assassin.
You would turn on your Emperor? On your General? Caesar demanded, slashing with his sword, forcing Octavion to block with his own sword.
Yes! I followed you loyally for nothing! Octavion shouted back, taking the offensive with his own sword and blocking blows from both Caesar and Brutus.
You would side with the Greeks against the God of War? Brutus demanded.
And where will you be at the end of the fight? Right here in Tartarus! Octavion countered.
Hercules growled as a sword slashed along his ribs and a knife was somehow buried into his thigh. The Greek demi-god yelled in anger and grabbed two bandits by their tunics and smashed their heads together and then threw them into the others crowding around him.
Ares stumbled back from a blow from one of the hands of Hercules and landed next to Hades. The God of War stood up by the bars and leaned over towards Hades, How can they be winning?
They're fighting the dead. The dead really don't care what happens in this, they're still going to be dead. It takes away their edge, Hades responded.
What about that idiot Octavion, he's dead and fighting on their side!
He's fighting for redemption, it gives him a reason and an edge, Hades shrugged.
Neither of them noticed the bars on the far side of the cell being sliced through at the bottom and then at the top but Artemis did and caught three of the bars before they fell and struck the floor. The other two bars hovered in the air and then went silently to the floor.
Ares growled and dived back into the fight with a scream of rage, driving Hercules back several feet and landed a massive wound along Octavion' shield arm, causing the Roman to drop his shield.
Artemis, it's Xena. When I grab Gabrielle she's going to go invisible, don't panic, Xena's voice instructed the goddess. Get out of here, grab a weapon and head for the surface, we'll be right behind you.
We can't move Gabrielle! the goddess protested. Both her lungs are punctured and will collapse if you move her.
If we don't then she'll bleed to death anyway, Xena hissed back.
Use your energy bolts and take them out! they heard Ares shouting at Hades.
I promised to help you hold and keep your prisoners, I said nothing about attacking Hercules. Fight your own battle, Hades countered.
She's almost dead now! Artemis whispered intently.
Alright, I'm going to drag her out of here and stay invisible. You make for Hercules, Xena instructed. Ares and Hades will think Gabrielle and I are with you. I'll follow behind after I make a stretcher to drag her. Go!
The goddess ducked out of the cell and turned to see that Gabrielle was gone. Artemis resisted crying out in surprise when something unseen shoved her out of the way. She could feel Xena move past her, dragging Gabrielle out of the cell and against the rock wall.
Damnit, Hades! They're out!
Artemis turned at the sound of Ares' voice with a snarl and leaped at the God of War, intent on at least hurting him before Hades could use his energy fireballs.
Everyone froze and a small circle drew back from the gray-cloaked figure in the center of the room. As the figure drew back the hood Xena removed the Helm of Invisibility, making her and Gabrielle visible to everyone in the room.
Hecate glared at everyone, wounded dead, fighting Greeks, and Greek gods and goddess.
Enough of this nonsense! she snapped.
Stay out of this Hecate! This doesn't concern you! Ares warned.
Or what, little god? You forget, as a dark goddess, I have power in this realm! the goddess countered and the War God grumbled but his sword lowered several inches. You threaten my child and her mate. You threaten the life of a fellow goddess and you secretly are planning to overthrow Zeus for the control of Olympia, Hecate snapped. Yes, this concerns me, godling.
The goddess swept her hand and the dead warriors, bandits, generals and riff raff disappeared, leaving Octavion, Hercules, Ares, Hades, Artemis, Gabrielle and Xena in the rock chamber.
Ares turned to Hades but the Lord of the Underworld shrugged and stepped back. This is your problem, nephew, I consider my debt to you paid in full, the god declared.
Zeus! Hecate called loudly. I demand a hearing on this!
Xena blinked and stared at the sudden change of surroundings. Instead of a dim rock chamber, they were all now in a white marbled hall with traditional Greek pillars lining the long hall. At the far end of the hall sat two thrones and they were occupied.
From the descriptions from the stories of bards Xena recognized Zeus and Hera.
Ares started forward but Zeus held up a hand, silencing the War God's protests before they began.
Silence, everyone! he ordered.
Xena knelt beside Gabrielle, examining her mate in the decent light and growled at how pale her bard was and how faint Gabrielle's heartbeat felt.
Hecate, you demanded something from me? Zeus glared at the older goddess in the center of the room. I swore that I wouldn't interfere with whatever Ares had planned for the humans, Gabrielle and Xena.
You swore that when you were drunk, Hecate countered. Besides, you can't swear not to interfere when his ultimate goal is to throw you into Tartarus and take your place.
Zeus and Hera's eyes narrowed as they glared at Ares. Their son began to blush but kept quiet.
Father, he has found the Dagger of Helios and was going to use it on me and you, Artemis informed the head deity of the Greek gods.
Enough! Fine, we'll address his plans for the gods. I'm sending the humans back to earth. Zeus commented and raised his hand.
Xena jumped to her feet as both she and Hercules began protesting. Zeus held his hand up for silence again.
Why should your war with Ares concern me? he demanded.
Xena clenched her jaw and Hercules looked at her. Xena, tell him, he encouraged but Xena shook her head.
I won't ask anything of him, she snarled.
Zeus! Hecate stepped forward and placed a hand on Xena's arm. It's time, daughter. The ancient goddess turned to Zeus and Hera. Hera, I have asked for your forgiveness in the past for my affair with your husband and you have granted it. For that I am grateful. What wasn't known to either of you was that I had a child from that affair.
Hera's brilliant clear blue eyes flashed angrily. What? Another bastard child, Zeus? she demanded.
Zeus knew nothing about the child. She was born to a human mother and wasn't aware of her true parents until this last year. Xena is my daughter and yours, Zeus.
Xena clenched her fists and knelt back to Gabrielle's side as the bard's breathing became more labored and blood trickled out of her mouth. Xena cradled her mate in her arms as Gabrielle's shook and gasped. Then she was silent.
Hercules went pale at Xena's scream and both Zeus and Hera stopped bickering over his past affairs and looked at the warrior holding her mate, tears streaming down her face.
Xena? Hercules whispered softly.
Ares! Xena screamed and launched herself towards the War God only to be grabbed by Hercules in a bear hug. The demi-god held on tightly as the Warrior Princess struggled to free herself, screaming in rage.
Hecate walked up to her daughter and placed both hands on Xena's face and waited until Xena's blue eyes cleared.
Wait, daughter, she said softly.
Both Greeks watched as Hecate walked over to Gabrielle's body and placed her hands on the bard's chest. A glow filled the area surrounding the Greek and the goddess until it was too bright to look at and Xena narrowed her eyes against the brightness. When the light cleared Hecate was helping the bard sit up.
Gabrielle's green eyes reflected her confusion until she spotted Xena and the bard grinned. Xena sighed with relief and Hercules released the warrior. Xena rushed over and hugged Gabrielle before turning to face Zeus and Hera.
I don't want anything from you, Zeus, she stated. Except justice. Ares just killed my mate and has interfered in my life, my marriage and wants to take my daughter from me for his own.
Artemis, why did Ares kidnap you and hold you hostage? Hera asked.
Because I found out just how much he's been interfering with Gabrielle, my Chosen. Even the Fates declared he was out of line and punished him. He was going to force Zeus to reverse their punishment by threatening to kill me, the Goddess of the Hunt stated.
Gabrielle welcomed Xena's arms around her for a quick hug and accepted the warrior's help in standing up. Hercules grinned at the small bard as the small group joined him again.
Glad to see you up and about, he whispered and Gabrielle nodded in agreement.
I suggest, husband, Hera said, that we listen to what they have to say about our errant son. We will discuss your offspring later.
Yes, dear, Zeus agreed. He turned to Artemis. You have something to say about this?
First, where are the other Greek Gods and Goddesses, they should observe this and some of them are witnesses to these events, Artemis suggested.
Moments later all the Greek gods and goddesses, that Xena and Gabrielle knew of, were filing into the hallway and taking up their positions in chairs between the pillars until the small group was surrounded by Greek deities.
Gabrielle felt Xena growl as Poseidon walked by them with a snarl, his trident shining in the sunlight as he took his seat. The bard watched the various gods and goddesses take their seats with fascination, taking in various details about all of them for her future tales; the way the air seemed to shift and go hazy around Morpheus; the air surrounding Iris flashing in rainbow colors; Mercury's dancing hands and tapping feet; the sadness in Demeter's eyes; the golden light surrounding her father, Apollo. Gabrielle noted each of the Muses carrying something symbolizing their talents; and other details filed themselves away in the bard's mind.
Artemis frowned at two empty seats and pointed to them. Where are Cupid and Aphrodite? she asked.
Here! a voice caused everyone's head to turn to the opposite end of the thrones where Cupid stepped out of a doorway, walking slowly with Aphrodite, lending his arm for her to lean on.
Xena and the others heard many of the gods and goddesses gasp or cry out in shock at the sight of the Goddess of Love, still showing her injuries from her fight with Ares.
Gabrielle rushed up to lend her arm to the other side of Aphrodite and the goddess smiled gratefully as they led her to her customary seat.
How did you come to be in this state? Hera demanded, holding her hand up and silencing everyone.
I attempted to warn the bard Gabrielle of Ares' plot to kill her and Ares attacked us. I was injured. My son, Cupid, took me to Xena and her family cared for me, the goddess answered.
Athena walked over to her sister goddess and held her hands on Aphrodite's head. When she stepped back the Goddess of Love was once again her beautiful self with no sign of having been injured. Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom and War resumed her seat.
Ares? Hera demanded.
Zeus swore none of the Olympians would intervene in my plan against the human Gabrielle and Aphrodite broke that pledge, Ares responded sullenly.
Gabrielle started to walk back to Xena and Hercules and spotted Bacchus, Lord of wine and the bacchae, in the shadows of one of the pillars and quickly rushed to Xena's side. The warrior noticed her bard trembling and questioned Gabrielle with her eyes but Gabrielle just shook her head and took Xena's hand in hers for support.
Later, lover, she said simply.
Aphrodite, did you interfere? Zeus asked.
Yes, Ares has gotten away with the most underhanded things while the rest of us sit back and let him. I'm fond of Gabrielle and Xena and couldn't stand by, the goddess responded, glaring at the War God who glared back.
What has he done that irritated the Fates into action? Hera asked of Artemis.
He has always wanted Xena back as she was before, a blood-thirsty warlord bent on total domination of the known world with Ares by her side. Ares views Gabrielle as a direct obstacle to that goal. He has impersonated Xena's human father to enrage her, framed her for murder, threatened Gabrielle's life, has sent other warriors against her, the list is endless! Artemis complained.
Details, please, Zeus commanded. Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, you know of Ares and his plots. What has he been up to?
Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom stepped forward.
The involvement of Ares in the affairs of Xena and Gabrielle are long and some are well known. It is known that Ares planned for Xena to conquer the known world and send it into darkness. The mortal Xena turned away from those plans and Ares has struggled since then to turn her back to her Warlord ways.
The Goddess moved to the center of the room.
Ares framed Xena for the murder of some simple villagers, hoping that she would return to him in exchange for escaping a murder sentence. Xena was able to trick her way out of it and prove her innocence.
Next Ares changed his appearance and pretended to be Xena's mortal father and tried to trick her into returning to the Warlord ways, again he failed. Athena continued.
Ares glared and assumed his seat in the great hall.
The War God then teamed up with the maniac Callisto and they preyed on Xena's guilt over not having saved Callisto from death. Xena ended up in Tartarus in Callisto's body. Again, Xena was resourceful and escaped from Tartarus but in Callisto's body, the Goddess of Wisdom and War recited.
Gabrielle shivered, remembering having to deal with Xena in Callisto's body, her most beloved in the body of the one person the bard hated more than anyone on earth or in Tartarus.
It wasn't until Ares lost his sword and required Xena's help that she was able to force him into returning her back to her own body.
Ares growled and waved his hand in a dismissive gesture, Yeah, yeah, yeah, he muttered.
Go on, Athena, Hera urged, glaring back at her son.
Ares convinced the Furies that Xena hadn't avenged her father's death and she was cursed with persecution and insanity. Ares' plan of revenge for Xena not coming back to him was clever. It was Xena's human mother, Cyrene, who had killed her husband when he attempted to kill Xena as a child.
I remember that, Zeus commented. I wondered why you were taking an interests in the lives of a soldier and his family. You encouraged him to attack the child, you convinced him that she wasn't his offspring.
Ares shrugged and threw his leg over the arm of his chair.
Yes, when Cyrene's husband was going to attack the child she killed him. The Furies decided Xena hadn't avenged her father's death and punished her, Athena concluded.
If she had killed her mother then she would have been cursed by the Furies for killing her kin, Hera frowned and Athena nodded in agreement. How did she get out of that one?
She convinced the Furies that Ares was her father and she wasn't required to avenge the death of Cyrene's husband, Athena answered.
She didn't know Zeus was her father? Hera questioned.
No, she had guessed that Ares might be her father because of his intense interest in her. Xena knew nothing of Zeus or me, Hecate answered.
The following incidents require others to speak of them: the wedding of Gabrielle and Xena; the poisoning of Gabrielle; drugging Xena and placing her under a spell to forget her marriage; the pregnancy of Xena; the bard being attacked and sold into slavery; the birth of Xena's daughter; the attack on the Amazons by Caesar and the crucifixion of Gabrielle; the slaughter of the Amazons; the attack by the priests of Ares against Xena and her son, kidnapping of her daughter Sasha and attempting to kill Gabrielle; the kidnapping of Sasha by Brutus; and the influence of Bacchus in the bard's life. These are the plots of Ares.
Both Zeus and Hera were frowning at their son.
That is quite a list, don't you have other battles to fight and arrange, my son? Zeus demanded.
Ares shrugged and attempted to look bored.
Continue Athena, call witnesses in. It is hard to believe that Ares could be the center of all this misery these humans have lived through, Hera instructed.
"Who would speak of their wedding and the actions of Ares?"
Hercules stepped forward. I will. I am Xena and Gabrielle's Kumbada and was there for the entire event. The Gods and Goddess of Olympus gave their blessing to the union of Gabrielle and Xena and gave their blessing to a blood bonding, the most binding and serious of joining of two human souls. All of the Olympians nodded in agreement, remembering the Amazon wedding of the couple. After the ceremony, Ares attacked the couple in their wedding hut. His intent was to kidnap Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazons, to spark war between several of the delegates. When Xena stepped in and tried to stop him, Ares attempted to kill her, going against the blessing of the gods.
Ares came to me the next day and attempted to seduce me into joining him as a warrior and as a bedmate, again undermining the blessing of the gods, Gabrielle stated and blushed when she saw Xena's surprised face. She had never mentioned Ares' actions that day to her mate.
"Was Ares responsible for the poisoning of the bard at her wedding?" Athena asked. Who speaks on this?
Hades stepped forth into the main part of the hall and waved his hand towards the door. Xena growled as Caesar, Brutus and Octavion stepped through the door in their Roman finery and approached Zeus and Hera.
Romans, Hades called to them, Tell Zeus and Hera of the assassination attempt on Gabrielle's life the day of her wedding.
Why should Romans concern themselves in this, they're already dead, Ares complained.
Because I told them to and I control what happens to them in Tartarus. Speak the truth Romans and all of it, Hades instructed.
Ares came to me and offered me glory and the power to build an Empire out of Rome. Naturally, I accepted his help, Caesar began. I knew Rome would be great if I could gain that power. Ares suggested that if the Amazon Queen were killed during her wedding it would cause political upheaval throughout the region and maybe several wars, all of which would be beneficial to Rome. This would have given me the opportunity to send in troops and take over many of the small kingdoms and their land and wealth. I sent Praetorian Guards, like Octavion here, to poison her.
Octavion stepped forward, She was poisoned but lived. I was executed for the crime without naming Caesar or Ares.
She lived because she is my daughter and has the gift of quick healing, Apollo spoke up from his seat.
"Who will speak of the child of Xena and Ares?" Athena asked formally.
Artemis stepped forward, They were in my Amazon village after the wedding and the poisoning. Xena was escorting their families home when Ares disguised himself as a trusted friend of Xena's and tricked her into drinking enchanted wine. She lost her memory of the previous two winters and forgot Gabrielle and her changed ways, Artemis continued. He seduced her and then set her out to kill Gabrielle, even though their union was blessed by all of us. Gabrielle succeeded in reviving Xena's memories but Xena became pregnant and a child was born.
"The Fates have said that Gabrielle was to be at the birth of the child and she wasn't, who can speak on this?" Athena demanded.
A new figure stepped through the doors and Gabrielle couldn't suppress her gasp of shock at the sight of Grimhild Thornfinndottir, Xena's Valkyrie from the northern lands.
All-Father Odin has sent me, great Zeus and Hera to speak of the crimes against Xena and the skald Gabrielle, she stated and they both nodded. It was set by the Norns and the Fates that Gabrielle should be there when the baby Xena carried was born. She was meant to protect them both and bond with the child. This was denied her.
How? Zeus frowned.
Gabrielle and their friend Iolaus were attacked by Roman soldiers. Iolaus was crippled and almost killed. Gabrielle was sold into slavery, Hecate answered.
Iolaus? Hera questioned, Your mate, Hercules?
Yes, Hera, he responded.
Hera frowned and nodded for the Viking to continue.
Gabrielle wasn't there at the birth of the child known as Sasha because she was in the hands of Romans as a slave. I was sent by All-Father to protect Xena and the child from raiders sent by Ares, Grimhild stated simply.
Slavery? The daughter of a god? Hera's eyes flashed angrily and Ares shuffled his feet in discomfort under her glare.
"Who can speak of the slavery of Gabrielle, daughter of Apollo?" Athena called.
Brutus stepped forward. Gabrielle was treated as other slaves, branded, raped, beaten, and flogged. She became a very skilled gladiator and killed many in the Arena. She was away from Xena for almost two years before I was able to trick her way out of Rome and back to Xena.
You were her friend but become their enemy? Hera questioned.
Yes, after Gabrielle returned to Xena, Ares came to Caesar and offered power and victory. He suggested attacking the Amazons. He knew that it would bring Xena and Gabrielle out of the protection of the Northern lands where he could get ahold of them. Caesar forced me to attack the Amazons," Brutus answered.
I had Brutus attack and slaughter most of Gabrielle's tribe, Caesar continued. I was hoping she was there with them and would be killed but she wasn't. The bard traded herself for the Amazons I had prisoner and I had Xena in chains when she attempted to assassinate me.
Xena growled with the memory and Gabrielle's grip on her hand tightened as Caesar grinned at both of them.
Ares suggested I get rid of Gabrielle and then let Xena go. She would go berserk and would start a war with Rome. I would get the wars I wanted and the conquests I needed to increase Rome's power, the would-be Emperor grinned. I had Gabrielle crucified in front of Xena, knowing that would drive her insane.
He didn't count on being assassinated the next day, Brutus grinned an evil grin. "I was able to get the Senate to agree to a treaty with the Amazons and rescued Gabrielle and Xena."
"Crucified?" Zeus growled and Ares decided that his feet were more interesting to look at under the glare of his powerful father.
Athena looked at Ares with obvious contempt. Who can speak of the crucifixion of the mortal Gabrielle?
Apollo stood up from his chair, shaking with anger. Gabrielle, my daughter, died on that cross. Because Ares had influenced everything so heavily, the Fates agreed that I could bring her back but the price was that the darkness that had touched her earlier would show up now. As a partial bacchae she tasted two drops of the blood of Bacchus, now it would flare up, Apollo continued.
The bard is part bacchae now? Hera asked with a frown.
Yes, but she defeated any control the darkness might have had on her, Apollo said proudly.
"How does this affect her?" Athena asked. "Is it permanent?"
"She craves blood, animal and human and sometimes human sensuality with the blood. It hits once a month and it can be overwhelming but it doesn't control her any longer, Apollo stated proudly again.
"Artemis, your Amazons were killed anyway. Was Ares responsible for this?" Athena continued. Who speaks on this?
Brutus stepped forward formally again. In revenge for Gabrielle not dying, Ares approached Marc Antony and me, Brutus continued. We had his blessing and assurance of victory and attacked the Amazons in their new home and slaughtered all of them.
Xena looked over and saw Artemis clenching her hands into fists so tightly that the warrior thought the goddess might draw blood with her nails digging into her palms.
It has been accused that Ares sent his priests against the family of Xena and Gabrielle, what happened? Athena asked.
Ares then had his priests attack me and my son, Xena spoke up. They injured Solan almost to the point of death and I was hurt badly and taken captive with my daughter. They were setting up a trap to ambush and kill Gabrielle when she attacked them and killed all of them. She then confronted Ares in one of his temples and they fought to a standstill, both of them injured.
Almost all the gods looked puzzled and Hecate stepped forward.
"The bard was able to hurt Ares?" Athena questioned with a frown. How could a mortal hurt a god?
Xena's gifting from me and Gabrielle's gifting from Apollo is the ability to hurt any god or goddess on equal footing. Any weapon or fist, they use can hurt you, Hecate explained.
The hall erupted into chaos as the gods and goddesses began protesting loudly over humans having the ability to hurt and possibly even kill them. A few were in favor of the two having the power so they could fight against Ares but most were protesting and worried about the warrior's fighting skills.
Silence! It's done! Zeus yelled and everyone grew quiet. Xena hasn't set out to overthrow Olympia with this gifting. How long have you had it, warrior?
A couple of winters, Xena answered.
There, see? Zeus asked. The only one she's gone up against has been Ares. I don't see a problem with the gifting and reasons for it.
Sasha is my daughter too! Ares protested.
You have plenty of children, go play with them, Hera snapped.
Not the daughter of Xena and me, Ares protested.
The daughter of Xena and Ares has been a source of contention between the two of them and at the center of several of his plots lately. Who will speak about the kidnapping of Xena's child and the blinding of her son? Athena demanded.
Ares is the reason I kidnapped Sasha, Brutus spoke up. He told me if I could get my hands on Sasha that he would grant me victory against Octavian and Marc Antony. The Roman turned and looked at the War God with a sneer. He promised me the position of Emperor if I killed Xena, and Gabrielle as my slave and in my bed, that's why I betrayed them.
You failed? Hera asked.
You don't keep up with the warriors, my love, Zeus smiled. He succeeded in kidnapping the toddler but Xena and Gabrielle were more clever and helped Antony and Octavian defeat the troops of Crassius and Brutus and got their daughter back. I watched the battle, it was amusing.
Because of Brutus and Ares the Romans blinded my son, Xena growled.
"Did Ares let up on his scheming after these failures?" Athena questioned.
No, during this time Ares had me start calling my blood out in the bard, Bacchus' deep bass voice called from the shadows. She began feeling the pain of craving blood, especially human blood and the sex that goes along with it. Ares didn't think Xena would accept the darkness and hoped Gabrielle would leave Xena because of it or even kill herself.
Xena's hand clutched at her chakram and restrained herself by sheer willpower from using it on Ares, growling at the memory of how Gabrielle had suffered with the blood craving.
What is the big deal? Ares suddenly demanded. I influence the outcome of battles every day. I decide who lives and dies and no one says a word. Why are you concerned over these two humans?
You're half sister, brother, Hercules reminded the War God.
Did you have to mention that? Xena hissed and got a shrug from the demi-god.
"You mean almost everything that has gone wrong in our lives has been because of Ares?" Gabrielle demanded, her green eyes blazing.
"It appears so, human," Athena answered.
Xena and Hercules grabbed the bard as she screamed in rage and tried to launch herself at the War God. Ares flinched but attempted to look bored.
Zeus looked amused and Hera's eyes were still blazing angrily.
"Well, my son," Zeus smiled at Ares' obvious discomfort. "Seems that these godlings are upset with you and for good reason. What do you have to say about all of this?"
"Not much," Ares growled. "Everyone knows I want Xena back as my Chosen, my Warlord and I've worked hard to get her back."
"You admit all of it?" Hera demanded.
"You got it! Xena's destiny is to rule the world and all of you have fought against that, even before Xena was a teenager. Apollo fathering Gabrielle to fight against Xena's future with me, what was that?"
"Your plans would throw the world into darkness and chaos, we agreed there needed to be a balancing of light and Xena would choose between the two," Hera countered.
"And I'm just working to get her back, you can't fault me for that!" Ares growled at the gods.
"Your methods go too far, my son," Zeus responded.
Is there anymore accusations against Ares? Athena asked all gathered.
There's more, Zeus, Hecate stated and Ares glared at the dark goddess. Ares found the Dagger of Helios and I believe he planned on using it against you in his plans for conquest.
The hall went quiet at the thought of Ares having the power to kill any god or goddess with the Dagger. There was very little in existence that could kill a deity and this was one of them.
Is it true, son? Zeus frowned as he asked his son.
No, Father, the War God answered. I have the dagger but it was only to force you to undo what the Fates did to me, not to overthrow you.
What exactly did the Fates do to you? Hera asked and Ares began blushing a bright red.
Gabrielle and Artemis glanced at each other and resisted grinning by biting their lips. The bard leaned into Xena's arms as they watched Ares shift on his feet and refused to meet the eyes of any of the other gods and goddesses.
Well? Zeus asked.
They took my manhood, Ares mumbled and blushed an even brighter red at the laughter of the Greek deities.
Xena looked over at Hercules and both resisted joining in on the laughter but found it difficult.
Knowing Ares like I do, I understand why he went nuts, Xena whispered in Gabrielle's ear and the bard nodded in agreement.
Zeus waited until the laughter had died down and held up his hand for silence again. A harsh punishment for you, I agree.
Before we continue, husband, Hera interrupted her husband. Hades, send your witnesses back, this concerns only the gods and the godlings here, she instructed.
Hera, wait! Xena called out. Octavion aided Hercules and me in Tartarus in attempting to rescue Gabrielle and Artemis. I ask that Hades reconsider his case and send him to the Elysian Fields.
Hades frowned and Hera looked puzzled. Isn't he one of the ones that poisoned your mate on your wedding day? Hera asked.
Yes, but he regrets that and went against the wishes of Hades, his Emperor and General in an attempt to help us, Hercules added.
Hades? Zeus questioned his brother.
I will consider it and I will be fair and balanced in my decision. In the mean-time he will be kept away from all the other Romans that might wish his harm for his aiding you, Hades stated.
Thank you, Hades, Xena responded.
Now, back to my son, Zeus said as the Romans disappeared from sight.
What? Ares demanded, getting to his feet and going to the center of the room, standing near Xena and the others. I'd still fight to get Xena back!
You go too far, my son, Zeus said sadly. The list against you is long and serious and you admit it as well as having witnesses against you.
His plans are that if he can't have me then he wants my daughter to raise and train as a Warlord and conqueror, Xena stated.
Zeus and Hera appeared thoughtful and bent their heads together whispering. Ares glared as Hercules kept a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder, ensuring that the bard didn't launch herself at Ares again.
After a few moments the head Greek deities turned to look at Ares, both still frowning.
I don't agree with the decision of the Fates, Zeus declared and Xena's eyes narrowed in suspicion. Obviously it has done nothing but make you more desperate and dangerous. I will reverse their decision, my son, but there are all the other incidents for you to answer to.
Godlings, Xena and Gabrielle, this concerns you the most, Hera spoke up, What justice would you ask?
I could almost want him dead, Gabrielle muttered, but I can't. Not even him, but how do we keep him out of our lives?
Banishment? Hera asked Zeus softly.
Hmmm, a possibility, he agreed and Ares turned red with anger.
Nothing has been proven that I was plotting against you, Zeus, Ares growled. This is between Xena, Gabrielle and myself.
What would you suggest? That we let you go on the way you have? Zeus demanded.
Trial by combat, Ares suggested with a grin and turned to Gabrielle. How about it, bard? Up to a challenge?
Gabrielle growled and felt Hercules' hand tighten on her shoulder.
How can a human, even a godling, stand up against the God of War in a fight? Hera complained.
We could even the odds, wife, Zeus said thoughtfully. Would you agree to my conditions, Ares?
Ares frowned. What would those be?
Zeus grinned. Just agree because you don't have a choice. If Xena and Gabrielle agree to a fight, that is.
Gabrielle started to step forward but was grabbed from behind by Xena who quickly covered the bard's mouth with her hand and held her mate tightly.
I think you just want the responsibility off of your shoulders, Xena growled at both Hera and Zeus and the God shrugged in agreement. I am Gabrielle's champion and consort. Ares, you'll face me, Xena declared.
The God of War lost his grin and looked thoughtful.
You've never been able to beat me, Xena.
I convinced the Furies that you were my father by beating you to a draw. I have even more incentive now, Xena countered.
Husband, I am not comfortable with this, Hera declared. If Xena should lose then Ares suffers nothing.
I agree, Zeus said and pondered for a few moments. The choices are this: Ares and Xena decide this matter by combat, as fitting a warrior and the God of War or Ares accepts the punishment of the Fates and promises never to bother Xena, Gabrielle or their families again, including the child Sasha.
What is the incentive to win the combat? Xena asked.
It will be fought in a cave that is magically sealed. Whichever one of you wins the contest and emerges from the cave will be the winner. The loser will be trapped in the cave for eternity or until the winner releases them, Zeus declared.
And the imbalance of power? Hecate questioned.
Both will have equal powers, Zeus decided. Ares will not be able to use his fireballs or energy bolts and both will be able to inflict mortal wounds and even be able to kill each other. The only weapons will be Ares sword and shield and Xena will have her sword and chakram.
Gabrielle finally wiggled a hand free and removed Xena's hand from her mouth. The warrior relented and eased her hold on the bard, allowing Gabrielle to turn in her arms. The bard's green eyes flashed angrily into Xena's blue ones.
Don't even think about it! Gabrielle warned.
It might be our only shot at getting him out of our lives for good! Xena whispered.
And if you don't? I'm not going to lose you! the bard snapped.
He's just going to keep coming, Gabrielle, until he gets either you, me or Sasha. You heard everything he's done! Xena urged.
She's right, Gabrielle, Hercules said softly and blushed at the glare the bard gave him. Iolaus is crippled, you were taken a slave and it's only a miracle that you survived that. The crucifixion, everything. How long can you keep surviving what he throws at you?
Then let me take him! Gabrielle insisted. I remember all the rapes, all the people I was forced to kill, Solan being blinded, this damned blood curse, all because of him! Let me challenge him!
No, my love. You're better than most warriors I've seen but you're still no match for Ares, Xena said gently.
Then you'll still have a chance at him if I fail, Gabrielle insisted.
No! If I fail then I want you, Hercules and Iolaus to take the family back North where Ares can't reach you and Sasha. Promise me, Gabrielle, Xena demanded.
I can't promise that! I can't live without you!
You have to, for Sasha!
Xena, please! Gabrielle begged as she threw herself into the warrior's arms.
Oh please, this is sickening already, Ares taunted and found himself lifted off the ground by his vest and looking down at a very angry Hercules.
Shut up! Hercules growled.
Promise me, Xena insisted.
Alright, if you fail I won't follow you until Sasha is grown and strong enough to face Ares herself, Gabrielle promised.
Xena wiped a tear away from her bard's cheek and turned to Zeus and Hera.
I agree to the conditions, she stated.
One more thing, to make the conditions even. Since Ares is a god and immortal, if he wins Xena you will be made immortal and trapped in the cave forever. You'll both be facing the same fate. Zeus declared and Gabrielle went pale.
Zeus, if Ares wins then he escapes punishment, Here objected.
I know, that's the risk.
I suggest that he be banished for the turn of one year into Tartarus, Hera said strongly.
Hey! What if I just take the year banishment and not risk eternal isolation? Ares demanded.
Not an option. Eternal banishment if you lose, one year if you win, Zeus declared.
Xena was frowning, Eternity? Gabrielle and I wouldn't be together when I die? she whispered.
Those are the conditions, Zeus stated flatly. Do all the gods and goddesses agree to the conditions and swear that they won't interfere now or in the future in this decision?
All of the deities nodded their heads in agreement, some reluctantly, like Cupid and Aphrodite. Others in amusement like Bacchus.
Zeus turned to Hecate, Do you agree as well?
Yes, I agree. Hear this, Ares, if you win do not ever cross me or Gabrielle again, Hecate threatened.
I agree to the fight, Ares answered with a grin.
Xena, no! We've gotten through everything because we knew we'd be together no matter what on the other side! Gabrielle protested.
It's our only hope, I won't lose, Xena promised and kissed Gabrielle lightly on the lips and held the bard for a moment. She then turned out of the embrace.
Xena, Gabrielle whispered, dropping her head in defeat.
Hercules, please, Xena asked softly and turned to Zeus and Hera and nodded.
Gabrielle found herself wrapped tightly in Hercules' arms as Xena and Ares disappeared along with all the other deities; only Artemis remained.
The demi-god held the bard as she began to cry and Artemis began to pace.
Xena and Ares found themselves in a large cavern with Zeus, Hera and Athena. Torches lined the walls and a large firepit lent warmth and light as well to the dark and foreboding place.
There is an entrance and many passages but your prison shall be this room for whichever one of you falls in combat, Zeus declared. See that jewel over the coffin? That is made by Hephaestus, it will be the key to the coffin for whichever one of you remains here.
And only Xena can release me in the future if I fail? Ares questioned.
Either Xena or a descendant of Xena. If Xena falls then only you, Ares, will be able to free her, Zeus confirmed.
Works for me, Ares said confidently, swinging his sword around several times and stretching.
Zeus walked over to the warrior and smiled kindly and waved his hands over her. Ares growled when he realized that his father had just healed Xena of all her wounds and re-established her energy level.
Xena looked down at her once mangled thigh and grinned, pulling out her own sword and twirling it a few times.
Thank you, she said simply.
I said the odds would be as fair as possible. Remember, both of you, either one of you could die or be trapped forever. We will await outside for the outcome, Zeus stated and lent his arm to Hera as they started out of the cavern.
Hey, Dad, Ares called, stopping the couple as they turned and looked at the God of War. Who are you cheering for? he demanded with a smirk.
You are both my children, I'm trying not too, Zeus said sadly. Oh, by the way, Zeus stopped and held out his hand. The dagger, son, hilt first.
Ares turned red with anger but reached behind to his belt and pulled out a wavy bladed dagger and handed it to his father. Zeus and Hera turned to leave.
With a snarl of disbelief the God of War turned to the Warrior Princess.
Shall we dance? he grinned.
Without warning Ares was on her with his sword flashing. Xena barely countered his sword strikes with her own sword and found herself forced backwards across the enclosure and felt the fire's heat behind her.
With a growl Xena swung her sword around, matching move for move with Ares and regained her balance and forced him back several feet, giving her room to move. Again and again they met with swords and fists until each of them were breathing heavily and both had various cuts on the arms and legs, though none serious.
What's the matter, Ares? Xena taunted. Not used to fighting someone on equal terms?
Not really, he admitted. It is exciting, though. Admit it, Xena, nothing gets you going like a good fight.
Give it up already, Ares, Xena sighed and countered his next strike with one of her own, both sword strikes parried and deflected without harm to either of them. We've been through this. I'm not coming back to you.
Drop the sword and we both walk out of here to go rule the world, he suggested as he parried another sword stroke but missed countering Xena's fist and was rocked back a foot. He rubbed his jaw with his free hand. Either that or you get stuck here for eternity and I get Sasha.
Xena's eyes narrowed and the warrior growled. Ares was surprised with the sudden fury with which the warrior was fighting and stumbled back under a rapid series of sword strikes.
As they separated and caught their breath again, Xena knew Ares was frustrated. They were fairly evenly matched now that Ares didn't have his energy bolts to rely on and both were very experienced warriors.
Xena flipped over Ares with a war cry and slashed backwards and found her sword strike blocked again and Ares found his fist blocked by Xena's gauntlet. The warrior spun and attempted another strike and fist blow only to be blocked. Both separated again and glared at each other.
They had already fought all over the cave, balancing on the edges of the stone coffin and trading blows, running up and flipping over and off the walls, swinging from torch holders while dodging sword strokes, and generally beating each other almost senseless. Still they were fighting to a stand still.
Ares traded several more sword strokes, bringing him close to Xena.
You know something that Athena and the others didn't figure out? he grinned and Xena struggled to maintain her block of his sword with hers.
What could that be, Ares? she growled and shoved him back with a burst of strength.
I was the one that shot Gabrielle's horse out from under her when she tried to escape the Roman soldiers, he grinned.
Xena felt herself blinking as her mind tried to process the new information. Gabrielle had almost escaped the Roman soldiers that crippled Iolaus and sold her into slavery, except that an arrow had shot her horse and the dead weight had pinned the bard's leg.
The warrior felt her heart begin racing faster to match her rising emotions as images of Gabrielle's capture flashed through her mind. Iolaus had seen everything.
Xena felt a roaring in her ears and a pounding in her head and felt her eyes narrow as she looked at a grinning Ares.
Do you know what they did to her? Xena whispered.
Of course I know! he smirked, I watched.
The warrior felt everything inside of her snap and she launched herself at the God of War with a scream of rage.
It's been forever! Gabrielle complained as she paced in the hall.
We don't have a choice but to wait, Hercules commented, throwing himself into Cupid's chair and watching his friend pace, her fists clenched in anger.
What if she loses? Ares will just grab Sasha!
No, if Xena doesn't come out of that cave, I'll take you and the entire family North to safety before he can take Sasha, Artemis promised.
She can't lose! Gabrielle muttered, twirling one of her sais in her hand, wanting to break something.
I hope you're right, Hercules mumbled.
Xena became aware of her surroundings slowly, the first thing getting through her berserker haze was pain.
The warrior realized she was laying face down on the cold rock surface of the cave and everything hurt, especially her back. Xena raised herself up on her arms and cried out in pain as it felt like a red-hot poker stabbing her in the lower back. With a growing sense of dread the warrior discovered she couldn't move her legs easily.
You've always had one weakness for the last few years, Xena.
Xena looked over and saw Ares standing over the stone coffin with his back to her. She glanced around quickly for her sword and saw it near his feet, totally out of reach since she was right at the doorway of the chamber. She bit her lip against the pain as she tried to move her legs and they refused to respond.
Ares turned and sat down on the edge of the coffin, watching the warrior's struggles.
I knew I could get to you if I mentioned that irritating little blond. She's been your soft spot and weakness. She makes you weak, Xena!
She's the best thing that ever happened to me, Ares, the warrior growled. Her sharp eyes did take in the fact that the God of War was wounded badly in several places, apparently not having moved fast enough to avoid all of Xena's sword strikes when she was enraged. He was holding his left arm and the wound was still bleeding freely, even with direct pressure and Xena could see a deep sword thrust along his ribs. She almost had him, she silently cursed.
Maybe you'll change your mind after you've been in this thing for a couple hundred years, he taunted, slapping the stone side of the coffin. Maybe I'll drop by long after that little bitch of yours is dead and gone and see how you feel about spending eternity in this thing.
I'm not the only one with weakness, Ares, Xena countered, pulling her chakram up along her body where the War God couldn't notice it.
And what would that be, Xena? he asked with a grin.
One, you talk too much when you should be fighting. Two, you really don't want to destroy me. You're too hung up on me, admit it.
Ares lost his grin and looked thoughtful for a moment. Alright, I admit it. I'd rather have you with me than dead or trapped here but I'll take the trapped part.
You still talk too much, Xena muttered and rolled over onto her back with a cry of pain and sent her chakram flying.
Ares was caught off guard and ducked as the chakram went sailing past his ear. It rebounded off three walls and came straight at the War God's head. Ares snapped his body backwards to avoid the flying weapon and stumbled backwards into the coffin.
Ares yelled in rage as the chakram hit the Eye of Hephaestus and the lid of the coffin and the stone door to the chamber began closing.
The chakram continued its path past the Warrior Princess into the passageway and snapped into two pieces, embedding itself in the wall.
Xena bit her lip as she rolled out of the way of the stone door into the passageway. She could hear Ares screaming in rage as both the coffin lid and stone door closed, sealing him in and then there was silence.
The warrior looked up at the two pieces of the chakram high above her head on the passage floor and frowned.
Damn! she muttered and then bit her lip to keep from screaming as she tried to get to her feet again, the pain sending her to the cold stone floor.
After a moment of letting the worst of the flash of pain pass, Xena began the long crawl towards the opening.
Gabrielle yelped with surprise as all the Greek gods and goddesses began appearing next to their seats in the great hall. Her eyes quickly scanned the deities and noticed several absent. She turned quickly to Zeus and Hera as they appeared in the main chairs.
Well? she demanded.
Here, a voice called and Gabrielle, Hercules and Artemis turned to find Cupid and Aphrodite holding a very battered and wounded Warrior Princess.
Gabrielle rushed over to her mate and Aphrodite moved aside to let the bard get close to Xena. The bard felt tears begin falling down her cheeks as she took in the sight of her warrior mate.
Xena was bruised, dusty and bloody. The warrior opened her eyes and tried to manage a smile when she saw green eyes looking down at her.
Hey, she whispered.
Hey yourself, Gabrielle responded and looked up momentarily as Hecate appeared in the chamber near them. The bard looked up into Hercules' face as he knelt and quickly looked over the warrior. Both the bard and demi-god had seen plenty of battle wounds before.
Not so bad except the back, Xena muttered as Hercules' hands gently felt her wounds and limbs. I think my spine is broken.
Your mate won against Ares, bard, Zeus declared loudly.
What does that mean now, Zeus? Poseidon demanded. Who will be the God of War?
That can wait, Zeus said impatiently. First, we deal with the godlings.
Gabrielle and the small group surrounding Xena watched carefully as the main god stood up from his chair and approached them. He looked down into the pained face of Xena and smiled gently.
I didn't think you could do it but I'm pleased, he said simply and raised his hands over the warrior.
When the bright light cleared, the warrior was unharmed and cleaned up. Xena grinned a lopsided grin and accepted Hercules' hand up to her feet and turned to hug Gabrielle.
I'll never get used to that, one moment I'm crippled and dying and the next it's as if nothing happened, she complained softly. She looked at Zeus over the head of the bard. Thank you for that.
You're welcome, he responded and walked back to his throne and sat next to Hera.
You'll find an interesting future without Ares in it, I think, Hera commented with a smile and Gabrielle grinned widely in response.
What will you do without a God of War? Hercules asked his father.
We'll deal with that, Zeus promised and suddenly looked thoughtful. Xena, he called.
Gabrielle and Xena turned towards the main deities, Xena wrapping an arm around the bard's shoulders and the bard wrapping an arm around the warrior's waist.
The position is open and I couldn't think of a better replacement, Zeus offered.
Me? Xena questioned. You already have a Goddess of War.
Athena's role is much different than that of War deity, her primary role is that of the Goddess of Wisdom, Hera stated.
Yeah, Athena thinks, Xena grinned, Ares just liked the fight and usually didn't care who won.
Exactly, Zeus agreed. Athena deals with battle because of the end result, Ares wanted battle just for battle sake.
Sorry, Zeus, that's not me any longer, Xena grinned down at Gabrielle and the bard hugged her tightly.
Good! I'm glad of that but I thought I'd offer it since you did defeat Ares, Zeus grinned.
Now go back to your lives and live as humans as long as you can, Hera instructed.
What do you mean, as long as we can? Gabrielle demanded.
You both are the daughters of gods, Hera smiled, there are things yet to be discovered by you both. Good lives to you.
The Goddess waved her hand before any of them could question the deities further.
Cyrene dropped the tray of mugs she was carrying in surprise as Hercules, Xena and Gabrielle suddenly appeared by the fireplace in the inn.
The trio looked around in surprise themselves and then everyone grinned as Xena's mom rushed forward to embrace all of them.
Soon the room was filled with family members hugging each other: Iolaus, Joxer, Solan, Reija and Sasha welcoming the three Greeks home once again.
Later that evening Xena's sharp eyes noticed a cloaked figure in one of the booths in a far corner and left the table of celebrating family. She smiled reassuringly to her bard and then moved to the booth and sat opposite the figure.
Hecate, Xena stated simply.
The goddesses blue eyes danced from under the cloak hood at the warrior.
It's good to see everyone so happy, none of you have ever really had a chance to relax, the goddess commented.
That's true, the threat of something is always over our heads. Now with Ares out of the way maybe some of that will ease up, Xena agreed.
How does it feel?
Weird, he's been such a part of my life since I was a teenager, over 15 years now.
Enjoy it, he's not the only one who has ever caused you problems, Hecate grinned.
No, he had lots of help, Xena agreed. What brings you here?
I knew you'd have questions, Hecate stated simply.
You have powers in Tartarus, Xena commented after thinking for a few moments.
Yes, as a Goddess of the Darkness, I do.
Why didn't you get Artemis and Gabrielle out of there sooner? Xena asked softly but intensely. Gabrielle died!
I could have but I had to wait until things got out of hand, Hecate responded, also in a low voice.
Why? If she had died in Tartarus she would have been trapped there!
If I had just gone in and brought her back, Zeus and the other gods wouldn't have listened and agreed to finally doing something about Ares.
Xena frowned and then nodded. Okay, I'll buy that. Gabrielle was explaining why Artemis didn't heal her after the crucifixion and Solan's injuries and stuff.
Yes, even though the gods have played heavily in your lives you still have to live with some of the consequences on your own and discover your own paths, Hecate agreed.
I still don't like it, Xena growled. Solan is blind, Gabrielle died again, I was almost crippled, and Hercules risked his life again.
Yes, and now Ares is out of your lives, is that too high a price?
No, Xena sighed. Not if it keeps him out of Sasha's life, it's not.
Both the warrior and goddess were quiet for several moments.
What did Hera mean about our lives not being human?
Hecate smiled sadly. You are the daughters of gods and have had more dealings with gods than any other human ever has. I can't tell you what your future is and what it means to be the daughters of gods except that you aren't like other mortals and it will affect you both eventually.
Before Xena could demand further explanations the goddess was gone and the warrior was left swearing under her breath about gods and riddles.
The warrior was on her feet with chakram in hand before Solan's cry had stopped echoing in the room of the closed inn. All the laughter and talk stopped instantly at the family table as everyone turned or jumped out of their chairs at the yell.
Solan, cooking dinner in the kitchen for the family, came running and stopped in the doorway with a huge grin on his face.
Xena blinked and slowly lowered the chakram as a familiar roaring filled her ears as she was overwhelmed with the realization that her son was looking at her. Solan wasn't wearing his blindfold over his eyes and his blue eyes were looking into her own blue ones.
Solan could see once again.
Xena crossed the room in an instant and grabbed her son up in a huge embrace as the rest of the family began to crowd them, everyone talking and laughing at once.
Everyone suddenly went still when Solan's eyes scanned the family and caught sight of the former Amazon in their midst, a very pregnant and apprehensive Reija.
By the Gods, you're beautiful, he whispered and swept her into his arms.
Thank you, Hecate, Xena whispered.
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