GODDESS OF WAR
I make no claim to Xena or Ares.
There is some sex in this story.
There is also some pretty disturbing violence.
For anyone who loves the bad Xena, this should be enjoyable. Enough said.
In the past. . .
"Shhhhh," she hushed him. "Don't talk."
She forced silence upon him; the only disturbance of the quiet was their hurried, heavy breathing. She pulled him into her again roughly and groaned with pleasure. She held him tightly to her, her sharp nails digging into the soft flesh of his back. He winced a little with the pain, but quickly lost all memory of it as she kissed him again. Their lips locked for a passionate moment and then he withdrew.
"Xena," he said, "listen to me." Her mouth moved to his neck, tackling the tender flesh with her wanting lips. "You and
I, we don't go back very far. In fact, not very far at all, but you and Aries. . ."
"Not this again, Argus," Xena whispered between kisses. "Let it go."
"I'm telling you, Xena," Argus said. "You have a chance at making history. You know Aries, you're close to him. He trusts you. . ." Xena put a lone finger against his lips softly. He held her determined gaze with equal intensity and eventually she backed down. Her finger fell from his lips and trailed down his bare chest. "Xena. . .the Goddess of War," he said slowly.
Xena smiled at the title, but showed little enthusiasm.
"Xena," Argus addressed her, "you could kill him and take his place. I could help you get---"
"Enough!" Xena snapped.
She smiled coyly, and shifted her legs, rubbing against his. She ran an idle finger down his nose and over his soft lips. She met his eyes with a mischievous fire.
"Can we just do this?" she asked softly, and moved in to kiss him again.
He stopped her halfway, his glare firm and determined.
"Xena, the Goddess of War. . .what more could you ask for?" he asked. "I'm offering you the chance for that title and you reject it?" He stroked her hair. "Xena, you can't possibly wish to be a warlord all your life. You could be so much more. You could be a god."
His last word rang clear and true. She looked down at his chest, but she could still feel his preying gaze on her. His comforting hand ran through her hair. She stopped it, and held it gently in her own hand.
"All right," she said. "I'll think about it."
Xena mounted the horse, swinging her heavy leg over the side and into its flank. The horse started forward with a jolt, nearly knocking the rider to the ground. Xena recaptured her balance enough to steer the horse towards the road passed the thick forest that surrounded Argus' hut.
"Xena! Wait!" Argus' voice cut through the trees and echoed in her ears.
She brought the horse to a stop. She turned slowly, giving Argus a slice of her attention.
"Yes?" she inquired.
"Think about what I said," he instructed.
"I thought I already agreed to think about it," she said.
"Just think about it," he repeated softly.
"Right now the only deal you and I have is conquering Arcadia," she stated firmly. "Now, I've got to go talk to some other warlords and deal with them. I'll be back later, OK?" She gave him a sideways glare. "As for your suggestions, my only response is that I'll think about it."
She shook the reins lightly and continued on her path towards the road. Argus watched her leave grimly. He cursed softly and turned back to the hut.
Xena slammed her palm down on the map, smothering Arcadia from vision. She looked convincingly to the other warlords who watched her intently. She smiled naughtily, and withdrew her hand from the map.
"I say we wipe this," she said, "off the map." Her smile broadened with the thought. "First we take out the outer villages, then encircle the center villages, and crush them. Not only will we have total control over Arcadia, but we'll loot every village along the way, ensuring a fortune. It will also get a message across to stay out of our way. A message that will be very helpful when conquering other parts of the Known World, don't you think?"
The three warlords nodded, giving small grunts of approval.
"Impressive, Xena," the first warlord said. "Your aspirations are high, but I fear they may be too high. Your goal seems much too unbelievable."
"Is that right?" Xena mocked him. "In what way, exactly, are they unbelievable?"
The warrior snorted. "You can't take out the whole Known World, much less Arcadia," he said. "That's nearly impossible."
"Oh?" Xena queried. "What makes you think it's so impossible? Have you ever seen my army before? I could wipe any province off the face of this earth."
The warrior chuckled in disbelief. "I don't care how good your army is," he said. "What you're talking about is impossible, especially for a---" He stopped himself before he plunged into hot water. Xena's eyes had already lifted, and her preying azure gaze was focused on him.
"For a what?" Xena asked with increasing anger. "A woman?"
The other warlords laughed amongst themselves. Xena looked from face to face, a sly smirk crawling over her lips. They exchanged glances, and turned a little from Xena as smiles broke out upon their faces. The first warlord's expression did not change, but the amusement of his comment still hung upon his lips.
Her movements came so fast, he barely realized he had been struck until his back hit the floor. He coughed with the impact, and winced as pain came to him, curling up into a ball. Xena strolled over to him, and planted her foot firmly on his chest. She smiled and ground her heel into his ribs. He cried out, and attempted to lift her heavy boot from his chest, but her foot was immobile. She talked to him in a soothing tone as she pressed her heel further in.
"I don't like you very much," she said softly. "I don't think I ever could." He screamed as her heel dug in further. "Yet you have money, and you have an army. That makes you valuable to me, despite the fact that I despise you. I could use both more money and another army. Could you do that for me, huh? Could you enlist under my command?"
"No. I don't---"
"Wrong answer," Xena answered simply. She drew a thin dagger from her cleavage, and wove it in between her fingers. His eyes widened at the sight of the glimmering blade and fear stole over him.
"All right!" he said. "All right. Take my army and my money. Just please----please don't kill me."
"That's good," Xena said. "I'm glad I have your permission. I would have taken it anyway." She smiled. "Now what was that you were saying. . .please don't what?" Her smile twisted into a grimace as she plunged the dagger into his heart, and wrenched it out. She spun around quickly to the warlords behind her and met their fearful eyes.
"Now," she said. "Who's ready to deal?"
"Nice negotiation," Ares said as soon as the warlords had departed. "You'll have Arcadia in no time now." He looked to the corpse in the middle of the floor. "You going to get rid of that anytime soon, or are you planning to keep it as a floor mat or something?"
She smiled. "Nice suggestion, but it'll stink," she concluded. She cleaned off her daggers' edge on her skirts, and fitted it into her cleavage. "I was thinking about using it as a persuasive reminder for the other warlords." She frowned in contemplation. "Or maybe just the head."
Ares laughed. "I love the way you think," he said. He moved close to her, encircling her waist with his arm, and pulling her to him. He pressed his lips gently to hers and let his hands wander further upward. She stopped them, and shook her head. He looked to her questioningly. "What?"
"I can't now," she protested. "I have. . .business."
"Business?" Ares echoed. His eyes narrowed. "Don't tell me you're going to see Argus again. Seems like you've spent enough quality time with him."
"What I do with my time is none of your business," Xena said firmly.
"I am the God of War," he said angrily. "I don't see how you can choose this mere mortal over me. What does he have that I don't?"
Xena sidled up to Ares' side, and stroked his cheek. "Nothing, honey," she said in a sickly-sweet voice. "I just have deals to close with him." She kissed him lightly. "You're immortal; you'll be around forever. He won't." She returned to his lips gently. "I'll be back for you later."
Ares was softened somewhat by the kiss, but still he held his angry gaze to her. "You realize Argus and I are on bad terms," Ares said.
"Yes," Xena replied. "I realize that." She ran a gentle hand through his hair and pressed close to him, attempting to soothe his fiery anger.
"I don't like you seeing him," Ares said.
She wrapped her arms around the heavy-set man. "You know I feel nothing for him," she said. "He's just another deal, another warlord. I don't care for him. . ." She ran her hand over his chest. ". . .and he could never replace you."
They shared a kiss, tongues intertwining between the two steaming mouths. Ares hands moved up her back towards the laces that held her armor together. She pulled away, letting her hand fall from his chest to her side, and moved to collect her sword and chakrum resting on the table. Ares cursed silently to himself as he watched the warrior woman gather her belongings together.
"Like I said," she began, "I've got business."
She skirted passed him and out the door, sheathing her sword as she stepped over the threshold.
Xena spun around. "I've got business, Ares. I don't have time for---"
"Just wait," Ares said. "You didn't even give me time to tell you what I came for."
Xena shifted her stance, folding her arms neatly over her chest, and tapping her finger against her upper arm impatiently. She raised a fine eyebrow. "Well?"
"You've heard of King Aegeus, I gather?" Ares asked. When she nodded, he went on: "Well, it seems his son has been kidnapped. He's on the lookout for someone to get him back, and---" He stopped as Xena rolled her eyes. "Let me finish. He's offering a big reward for anyone who can, uh, retrieve his son. Anything you want in his kingdom is yours, if you just get the brat back alive. Now, I know this guy, Xena. Not only is he extremely rich, but he's got his own private supply of Hine's blood, and you know how bad I want that, don't you?"
Xena smirked. "Oh, you want it bad."
"Right," Ares said. "So if you could. . .say, help me out a little, I'd be very grateful."
"Help you out? You're a god. Doesn't seem to me you need much help." She dismissed his proposal with reasoning. He shook his head immediately.
"That's just it," he said. "If I go ahead and use my powers to get this, the other gods are sure to know. I don't want them to suspect me. That's why I've got to do this the mortal way. Surely you understand?" He raised his dark eyebrows in question. She nodded.
"Yeah. I got it," she said. "But why do you need me?"
"I could use a little help," he said. "I'm not too familiar with the mortal world. Besides, if you're the one who collects the large reward, it'll be your name that's heard out. Not mine. The other gods won't suspect a thing with your name to hide me." He looked to her questioningly. "So how about it?"
"What's in it for me, besides this reward?" she asked.
"A place by my side," he suggested, "when I'm King of the Gods."
Xena bit her lip. Ares could see thought passing over her face as she contemplated his proposal. She kept such a straight face, he couldn't tell whether he had won her over or not. It wasn't until she gave a slight acknowledging nod of approval that he felt himself relax.
"All right," she said. "I'm in."
"Good," he said. "You won't regret this, Xena."
She chuckled a little to herself as Ares disappeared. There was something about the god that mystified her; his virile scent, the black leather he wore so well, the power that flowed through his touch and his soft lips, every rippling muscle leading to his forbidden area. She smiled with the thought of her and the god working together. She shook her head, and returned to her focus. Where was I? . . .Business. Ah, yes.
She turned from the place the god had formerly occupied, and made her way over to the horse waiting patiently at the edge of the tree line. She undid the braces, and swung herself onto the horse. The horse broke into a light trot which developed into a gallop as they headed towards the road.
"It's settled then," Argus announced.
He offered the warrior woman his hand in acceptance of her deal. She took his hand and shook it firmly, glancing at his expression as they closed the deal.
"Three other warlords are involved in this deal?" he asked.
"Two," Xena corrected. He gave her a questioning glance. She smiled briefly. "One of them had an. . .accident." He seemed to accept the explanation. "It doesn't matter, though. We have his army, that's all that matters."
"Good," Argus said. His eyes fell to the tabletop. He studied the grain of the wood as a lingering thought passed through his mind. "Now for our other deal. Surely you remember?"
Xena smiled. "Yes, I remember," she said. "But I'd rather not get into that now."
"Goddess of War, Xena," he said. "Just remember that."
Xena shoved her seat back and rose to her feet. She neglected his coaxing with a cool icy gaze as she turned to leave. She felt his eyes on her back, but remained calm, ignoring his persistent stare.
"You could have so much power, Xena," he taunted. "So much power."
"Goodbye, Argus," she said as she forced the door open.
The door shut with a slam, and a cold draft drifted in, traveling through the cabin and chilling Argus. Argus smiled. An icy breeze for a cold woman, he thought. And she was cold.
Goddess of War. . .
It was an interesting thought; a form of flattery in the least that this warlord was constantly bothering her with the suggestion. There had to be something else behind his motives, perhaps his dislike for Ares, but that didn't matter. She liked the thought of wielding so much power. Xena: Goddess of War. The four words sounded wonderful together; like sweet poetry, each word thundering with power. Power. She had power now, but it left something to be desired: more power.
She sighed and shook the reins.
Xena fidgeted restlessly in her seat. Her fingers tapped an impatient rhythm on the tabletop. The god was late. Very late.
Her patience was waning now, and she felt anger coloring her cheeks. What gave him the right to be an hour late? Just because he is a god? She was on the verge of leaving without him when she felt the foreboding presence of the god.
"You're late," Xena snapped as he came into vision.
"A couple of minutes isn't going to make a difference," he said nonchalantly.
"I am doing you a favor," Xena said angrily. "The least you can do is be on time."
Ares rolled his dark eyes. "I had warlords to take care of," he explained.
"And you had an appointment with me," she replied with irritation. "We were supposed to have left for King Aegeus' kingdom an hour ago."
"All right, all right," he said. "I'm sorry. It won't happen again." Xena was unamused by his simplified apology. Still, there was a certain quality that the god possessed that allowed her anger to cool and her resentment to fade.
"Are we leaving now or what?" Ares asked.
"I was just about to ask you the same question," Xena said haughtily.
She rose from her chair and headed for the door, straight passed Ares without a hint of affection. Ares smiled at her cold neglect. He knew she wasn't really angry; he could sense the arrogant smirk stealing over her lips as she crossed the threshold. She was a hard woman, Ares knew; he had made her that way. He watched her walk to the stables in silence, following moments later.
Ares entered the stables, and immediately found Xena saddling her horse in one of the stalls. He looked to the stall beside her, and saw a tall, black stallion. He assumed that horse was meant for him, and headed into the stall.
"Is this one of your horses?" He inquired as he began to dress the horse. He fumbled with the braces, and attempted to secure the saddle on the horse, but with little success. Xena eyed him with amusement from the side, and turned to help him. She took the bridles from his hand, and saddled the horse herself.
"I'm a god, Xena. When do I ever use a horse?" He found his explanation somewhat belittling, but he managed to maintain a certain level of pride that could not be tainted by this mere slip of ignorance.
"Yeah, it's my horse," she said. "I usually use this one for long-distance trips. The other horse I use for battle." She smiled as she climbed onto her horse. "As for the God of War not knowing how to saddle a horse---that's sad."
He glared at her angrily and followed her example, climbing onto the horse. He felt his balance falter, and immediately grabbed for the reins, righting himself on the horse. Xena smirked.
"The trick is to stay on the horse no matter what," she explained. "And don't upset it because that's when it becomes difficult." He nodded weakly. "Don't worry. You'll get the hang of it after a couple hours."
"Remind me again," Ares began. "Why am I not using my powers?"
"You said it yourself: using your powers will attract attention," Xena said.
"Yeah, yeah," Ares mumbled.
Xena shook the reins, and started her horse at a slow trot. Ares imitated her light shake, and felt the horse move beneath him. Startled by the movement, he jarred backwards. He quickly regained his balance, and held the reins firmly between his hands. He heard Xena's low chuckle ahead of him and scowled.
"If you were in my position, you'd be going through the same thing," Ares reminded her. "And you wouldn't be laughing."
"But I'm not in your position," Xena laughed. "So I guess I don't have to worry about that."
"Shut up and ride," Ares said with annoyance.
"Fine," Xena agreed. "But don't look for any pointers from me."
Xena heard Ares grumble in return. She gave the horse a sharp kick to the ribs and it lurched forward, gaining momentum as it moved swiftly towards the road. Ares cursed behind her. I'm a god, he reminded himself. I can handle this. He took a deep breath, and mimicked Xena's kick. He fell forward with the sudden movement, grabbing desperately for the reins. They had long since fallen from his hands, and in his panic, he grabbed hold of the horse's mane. The horse squealed and bucked, throwing Ares from its back. Ares met the ground with a dull thud, and felt the wind knock out of him. He closed his eyes and tried to breathe which only resulted in coughing. Moments later, he opened his eyes and saw Xena's face before him. She knelt beside him, trying her best to hide her amusement. She eased him up, slapping his back with an open palm. He coughed once again, and drew in a breath. Well, at least I can breathe again.
Xena stood and looked down at him. "Well," she said. "Do you want me to help you up, Ares, God of War?"
"You'd take any chance you get to mock me, wouldn't you?" he asked. He wasn't really angry even though his image had been damaged a little. Xena had cared enough to come back and help him out, and that meant a lot to him.
He clambered to his feet, and searched for his horse. "Where is it?" he asked.
"Gone," Xena said.
"Can't say that I miss it," Ares said. He stumbled forward. "This is just great. How am I supposed to get there now?"
"You can ride with me," Xena offered. He looked to her in disbelief, but met her serious gaze.
"All right," he agreed.
With Xena's high-rising whistle, the horse came trotting up beside her. Xena led the horse to Ares, stopping it a few feet from the winded god. Ares staggered over to the horse, and attempted to get on. Seeing he needed help, Xena boosted Ares up onto the horse, taking hold of one of his heavy leather-clad legs, and swinging it over the side of the horse. The heavy scent of leather invaded her nostrils, and she smiled faintly. She climbed up beside him, nestling into the saddle.
"You'll have to hold on to me if you don't want to fall off again," she instructed him. Soon enough she felt his familiar hands against her ribs. She shuddered a little under his touch. He sensed this, but said nothing.
"Ready?" she asked.
She started the horse once again.
"Are you sure I can rely on you?" King Aegeus asked in speculation of the two warlords on their knees.
Ares looked to Xena who ignored him, reserving her full attention to the king. Her knee was beginning to grow tired of her weight; she wasn't used to being down on her knees, it was something very new to her. She gave the king a reassuring smile, and said in a most sincere tone:
"Yes," she said. "You can depend on us to get your son back."
The king looked to Ares who nodded in agreement. He sat back, skepticism still in his eyes, and contemplated them. Finally, he acquiesced, and nodded.
"Fine," he said. "If you bring him back alive and well, I will give you both a generous reward, and if you bring him back within the next three days, I will double the reward."
Xena's eyes flickered with the promise of fortune. She nodded, and said:
"You won't be disappointed."
The king gave them one more doubtful glance, then waved them away. "Be gone," he said. "I will be waiting."
Xena smiled as she got to her feet. Ares rose beside her, brushing his leather pants off from the dirt and dust of the floor. The king's dictating tone bothered Ares, and he shot a last glare at the king before following Xena down the length of the royal red carpet to the door.
The guards opened the doors wide for the two warlords with hoarse whispers of rumors circling the warrior woman. As to the dark man that accompanied her, they knew nothing of him. They guessed he was a lover, or perhaps a bodyguard of hers, but they couldn't pinpoint exactly who he was. If only they had known the truth, that Ares, the God of War was passing by them, they might have stopped the whispers altogether, and paid homage to the war god. Instead, their focus was on the fearful warrior woman who strode out of the door with confidence and arrogance. Xena was a name well known.
She stole down the dark hall, her blue eyes alive with excitement. She had told Ares she had to get a couple things before they left the castle, which was true. She was getting something, just not something he'd expect. She waited in the hall, her eyes quickly adjusting to the darkness, searching for a figure amid the shadows. Movement startled her, and she turned quickly to the source. A man crept up beside her, and laid a thin hand on her shoulder. He beckoned her to open up her hand silently, and she did so. He dropped a cold, thin capsule into her palm. She studied it carefully, holding it up to the small candle which dimly lit the hall. Sure enough, red Hine's blood shimmered inside. She smiled, and closed it in her fist. She turned back to the man, and nodded.
"Nice work," she whispered. "One of my men are waiting in the stables to give you your earnings."
"What about Autolycus?" the man inquired.
"Who?" Xena asked.
"The thief you hired," the man explained. "I didn't steal the Hine's blood----I just delivered it. He's the one who you paid to steal it."
"Ah," Xena said. "His share is there too."
"Thank you," the man said quickly, and left as fast as he had come.
A lazy smile crept across her face as she faded into the shadows, and headed out of the hall.
"So a warlord, huh?" Ares asked as they left the castle. "A warlord is the one who snatched the kid?"
"Yeah. Largo. . .I know the name," she said as she saddled her horse.
"You know him?" Ares inquired.
"Yeah, I know him," she said. "Ransom is his style. He'll do anything fast to get money."
She swung herself onto the horse, gesturing for Ares to climb up beside her. "Zeus, I hate these things," he mumbled as he placed his foot in one of the stirrups and hauled himself onto the animal. Xena chuckled.
"You'll get used to it," she said.
"I hope so."
"She's gone?" Argus' voice was distressed.
"Yes, my lord," the messenger said.
Argus shook his head wearily, and sat back in his chair.
"I went to Xena's camp to deliver your message, my lord," the messenger went on, "and she had already left."
"Do you know where she went?" Argus asked.
The messenger shook his head doubtfully. "No, sir."
Argus felt anger curdle inside of him. His lips tightened, and his teeth gritted. "Find her," he commanded. "Give her the original message, and find out what she's doing."
"Yes, sir," the messenger said quickly. He left the room, leaving Argus alone to contemplate the situation. He drummed his fingers restlessly on the tabletop, and stroked his chin thoughtfully. If I were Xena, where would I be. . .
"This is ridiculous," he said aloud. "Why would she leave?"
Business. . .more deals. . .more warlords. . .Nonsense. All the deals she had were centered here. Then his thoughts took a happier turn. What if she's with Ares? His fingers stopped their idle drumming, and he smiled. Maybe.
"Where exactly are we headed?" Ares rose the tired question that had been weighing in his mind since they left.
Xena regarded the question with a small smile. "To Parthos," Xena answered. "Largo's got his own fortress there. I'm sure that's where he's got the boy."
"Ah," Ares said. He looked ahead, down the small, winding path, and into the forest on either side of it. "Are you sure this is the way?"
"Yes," Xena replied. She felt a little disheartened by his doubt in her abilities. Ares had always held her with the highest respect, but every now and then a comment would slip, and reveal his incredible distrust of mortals.
"You know this Largo guy well enough to assume that?" Ares questioned.
"Yeah. Well enough to predict his moves," Xena answered. "He's a pretty predictable guy, anyhow."
Ares smiled. "Aren't all mortals?"
"Yeah," Xena said, smiling. "Except me."
Ares chuckled. He nodded in agreement, allowing her to have some pride even when matched with the god. "You are exceptional." He admitted this truthfully, and Xena accepted the compliment with pride, wearing it boldly before the god. He smiled as he noticed her arch her back and puff out her chest a little with conceit. "You know, Xena," Ares began slowly. "You'd make an excellent goddess."
Xena stopped. Her blood rushed from her veins to her head where it remained, thumping with the unholy rhythm of her heart. She smiled weakly. "Oh?"
"Yes," Ares went on. "You've got everything it takes: power, arrogance, passion, and an air. . .an air of royalty I suppose." He thought carefully on his last few words. "Have you ever considered it?"
"Not really," Xena lied. "I'm not much for the idea of immortality."
"Ah," Ares said. "That's too bad." His eyes fell to the ground passing slowly beneath them. "You could have been the Goddess of Mayhem, perhaps. Or the Goddess of Passion."
"No," Xena dismissed his suggestions. "The titles don't seem to fit me." Did he suspect her? The question sped through her mind in confusion. She could feel the Hine's blood burning in her pocket, searing through her deerskin with guilt. She shook her head. No. He couldn't possibly. She gave herself these reassurances in hopes of actually believing them. Ares stirred behind her. She glanced back quickly. "What are you doing?"
"Nothing," Ares said. "What did you think I was doing?"
"Nothing," she said defensively. No. He didn't suspect her. If he did, he wouldn't be here. Ares wouldn't walk into situations that could be potentially dangerous to himself. She relaxed with this consolation. "After Parthos," Xena began, "we bring the brat home and get our reward. No strings attached, right? You get the Hine's blood; I get the gold."
"That's the deal," Ares agreed.
"And I get to take out Largo, right?" Xena asked eagerly.
"If you want to," Ares said carelessly. "It doesn't matter either way to me."
"Good," Xena said slowly. She almost allowed herself to forget the objective of her mission as she became lost in thoughts of the future. Still, the ever-relentless Hine's blood moved in her pocket, and she was suddenly reminded of her intent. She almost hesitated to reassure herself that Goddess of War was really what she wanted. Her fingers trembled as the Hine's blood shifted once again in her pocket.
"It's getting dark," Ares remarked, looking grimly at the sky. "Are you planning on traveling all night?"
"Do you have a problem with that?" Xena questioned. Her eyes rose to the sky in turn, observing the fading colors of the sunset melting into a deep blue. The air had grown considerably cooler, but she was still warm with anxiety.
"No," Ares answered. "If that's the way you want to travel, then I don't mind."
"I'm glad I have your approval," Xena said sarcastically. She shook her deerskin off one shoulder, and attempted to remove it from the other, but with little success. She glanced hopefully back at Ares for assistance. "You mind taking that?" He nodded, and relieved her of the deerskin. He folded the deerskin and fumbled for one of the packs dangling loosely from the horse's saddles. He smelled the powerful scent of violence as the deerskin passed under his nose: sweat and blood coalesced together to form the bitter cologne of war. He smiled as he forced the deerskin into one of the sacks. The deerskin smelled like Xena. She really is a goddess. He inhaled the scent deeply, but caught her stealing a glance at him and quickly buried the deerskin deeper into the pack.
"So," Ares said, looking around. "How far from Parthos are we?"
"Not very," Xena remarked. "We should be there before daybreak."
"Oh." Ares looked ahead. It was getting much darker out, and he was having trouble making out the path ahead. Somehow Xena managed to keep the horse on the path, but Ares couldn't even begin to guess how. She was an indefatigable traveler, so he imagined she knew much of traveling at night. His eyes grew heavy with thoughts of Xena, and his muscles began to slowly relax. Soon he slumped forward with sleep, becoming more unaware of his surroundings with each moment. Xena smiled as she felt his head fall gently on her shoulders.
Ares awoke as he felt the horse stop. He looked around, groggily searching the darkness for Xena. She had dismounted and was rummaging through one of the bags dangling off of the horse. She noticed him and smiled faintly.
He rubbed his eyes and yawned, groaning as he felt pain in his back. Sleeping on a horse wasn't the most comfortable of experiences. He turned to Xena.
"Why'd we stop?" he asked.
"I gotta go to the bathroom," she said. "You mind?"
"No," Ares replied. He forced his eyes to remain open, but an uncontrollable urge to shut them made it difficult.
"Why don't you go back to sleep?" she asked. "You look tired."
He smiled. "Sleep?" he mumbled the word gently. Thoughts of sleep taunted his eyes to close. He watched Xena trot off into the bushes through half-closed eyelids. She disappeared into the brush and he felt his eyes fall, darkness closing all around him.
Xena shook her head slowly, laughing a little to herself. How could anyone fall asleep on a horse? She imagined the God of War hadn't done much traveling in his time. If he wanted to go somewhere, he could simply zap himself there without any strings attached while she had to travel for many days, trusting the blazing sun for direction during the day, and relying on the stars at night. It was a difficult skill to develop, but hers had evolved over time and now it was almost a perfected art.
She found a decent place to relieve herself and began to draw her panties from beneath the leather folds of her skirts when she heard a rustle in the bushes beside her. Her hand immediately found her sword and drew it, all of the muscles in her body tensed and ready. She looked to the source of the sound and her eyes narrowed.
"Come out," she commanded.
A man stepped out from the bushes. He kept a safe distance from her; his eyes never leaving her formidable blade. When he finally drew enough courage to speak, Xena had moved in close enough to touch the sword to his neck.
"I'm a messenger," he said. "Sent from Argus."
Xena smirked. "Oh, really?" she asked. "And this message is for me?"
"You're Xena, right?" the messenger asked. He relaxed a little as she nodded. "Then the message is for you."
"Go on," she instructed.
The messenger nodded eagerly. His eyes turned quickly to her blade which was still pressed to his throat. He looked to her hopefully. She smiled.
"I suppose you want me to move this," she said. He nodded in agreement. "Well, too bad." She raised her eyebrows in amusement and pressed the cold metal closer to his skin. "Speak."
"Argus wants to know," he began, "what you plan to do. . .about Ares, I mean."
Xena rolled her eyes and sighed. "Tell Argus," she began, annoyance heavy in her voice, "I've got everything under control. I've already gotten the Hine's blood. I had a thief steal it for me. . .oh what was his name? Autolycus. . .I don't know. Never heard of him before this." She pushed the blade against his throat so it made fine red cut along his throat. It was only a scratch, but the fear that he felt was enough to make his knees tremble. "And tell Argus I don't need to be babysat. I'm a big girl. I can take care of myself. I don't need him watching every move I make." She gave the messenger a challenging glare and held it to him. He nodded that he understood, and she shoved him away from her. "Argus is starting to annoy me," she told the messenger. "He had better not get in the way."
"I'll tell him that," the messenger promised.
"Good," Xena said. "You tell him that. And tell him I don't need to be rushed. I need time to think this out. It's got to be well-planned."
"Right," the messenger agreed.
"Now, go!" she commanded.
The messenger hurried off into the brush. She smiled as she watched him go, fear urging his every footstep further away from her. She sheathed her sword and turned back to the task at hand: she had to go to the bathroom.
"Where'd you go?" Ares asked when she returned.
"I thought I already told you, sleepyhead," Xena remarked.
"Huh? Oh, yeah." He rubbed sleep from his eyes once again, but his nagging exhaustion wouldn't permit it. "How far to Parthos?"
"We're practically there," Xena replied. "Just a couple miles up the road." She nodded in the rough direction of Parthos. Ares looked ahead hopefully.
"Are we going?" he asked.
"Is the God of War getting anxious?" Xena asked mockingly.
"Yeah. A little," Ares admitted. "We're leaving, right?"
"Yeah, yeah." Xena mounted the horse beside Ares and righted herself. She glanced back at Ares and he met her eyes expectantly. He nodded ahead. She smiled at his impatience and shook the reins lightly.
"Largo!" Xena's voice echoed off the crumbling walls of the fortress and returned to her.
Ares, standing beside her, shook his head in disbelief. "He's not here," he said. "Nobody is. It's deserted."
"That's exactly how he wants it to look," Xena snapped. She looked to the high ceiling and then around at the walls that surrounded them. A stack of hay barrels sat quietly in the corner. Dust clouded the air thickly and streams of sunlight shone through the cracks in the wall, illuminating the traveling dust with a strange aura. Xena stepped into the thin beam of sunlight, casting a long shadow across the floor and suddenly her ears sharpened. As the sound of her footstep died away, she heard another. "Step back," she instructed Ares.
"Why?" he asked.
Suddenly, men swung down on ropes on either side of them, clambering off the ropes and drawing their swords. One man swung into Ares, knocking him over with the force of his movement. Ares hit the ground hard, coughing with the impact. A warrior brought his sword down on him quickly and Ares rolled out of the way. He scrambled to his feet, drawing his own sword and rushed to his defense. Men crowded around him, attempting to get at him from the sides, but he parried off their blows with his sword, managing to get in a couple swipes and kicks of his own. Over the din of the battle he could clearly hear Xena's undulating warcry and the clash of her sword against others. He felt a little inspiration in this and brought his sword through several oncoming men. He turned, slashing the throats of three other men and backfisted another that attempted him from behind. His fist met the face of another man with a satisfying crack. At the same time, his sword plummeted into the chest of a soldier and resiliently returned to his side to slice through the chest of another man. The ambush was dwindling quickly; eventually it diminished down to ten men who were called off by a voice from the loft. A tall, austere man stood ominously over the edge of the loft, watching his men retreat with dismay. Ares felt his muscles relax as the ten remaining men withdrew. Xena was still tense, and she attempted another swing at one of the men. The man dodged her blow and retreated with the others. She snarled and turned to the man in the loft. Smiling, she sheathed her sword.
"Largo, buddy," she said, chuckling. "Quite an ambush you got here. Great soldiers. . .where'd you find 'em? The ones that didn't make my recruit?"
"Silence, Xena!" Largo snapped. "I know what you're here for."
"You do, do you?" Xena asked. "What's that?"
"The boy," Largo answer simply.
"Maybe," Xena said, folding her arms across her chest. "Maybe not."
"Don't play games, Xena," Largo warned. He looked to Ares. "Who's this---your boy toy?"
Ares growled. "I am---"
"---a friend," Xena finished for him. "That's all." Xena played with her chakrum idly. "He's a good fighter. . .I like to keep him around."
"Ah," Largo said. He eyed Ares once again. "Well, you're not getting the boy, so you might as well head back home."
"As soon as you give us the boy," Xena said sternly, "we'll leave." She looked around. "Where you hiding him anyway?" She strolled across the room, nudging the dead bodies strewn across the floor with a curious foot. She started to move towards the hay barrels in the corner. "Behind these, maybe?" She checked behind them casually, but found nothing. "No. Of course not. Too obvious, right?" She rapped on the walls. "In the walls, maybe?" She frowned. "No. Too difficult." Her eyes turned to him. "In the loft, maybe?" She gave a warcry and flipped up into the loft. She landed softly on the floor of the loft, her eyes immediately finding the boy. He was gagged and bound, forced into a small, secluded corner of the loft. She smiled and headed towards him. Largo stepped in the way.
"Sorry, Xena," Largo told her. "Can't let you take him. I want that king's riches just as bad as you."
"Funny," Xena said. "I don't think you do." She drew her sword and swung at him wildly. He ducked and drew his own in the process. She made a quick foray to his left side which he blocked and moved swiftly away from her. He recovered his guard as she came in for another attack, but just barely managed to stop her sword from plummeting into his chest. He became suddenly aware that she was pressing him closer to the edge of the loft. He moved further into the loft and turned the tables so her back was facing the unlucky edge. Xena laughed as she realized what he was trying to do and charged him with another blow. He ducked it and regained his position quick enough to fend off her next attack. He was unaware of the dark man behind him and as he began to grow confidence, he suddenly felt a sharp pain in his back. The sword came through his back and out his chest. His eyes sunk into his head and he crumbled to his knees as Ares withdrew the sword with satisfaction. Xena rolled her eyes. "I thought we agreed," she began. "I get to kill him."
"Well, you were taking too long," Ares said. He sheathed his sword. "Now, let's get the boy and get out of here."
Xena nodded. She stepped over Largo's body and walked over to the boy. The boy watched her every move with fearful eyes. She could hear soft whining through the gag in his mouth, a pathetic sound that reminded her of a small animal. She crouched beside the boy and smiled. "You wanna go home, don't you?" she asked. The boy nodded quickly. "Well, too bad. We're not taking you home." The boy's eyes became hopeless again and he withdrew his knees to his chin. Xena patted one of the knees hard. "Just kidding. You're going home, kiddo." Relief wasn't quite what the boy showed, only a lesser degree of fear. Xena jerked the boy up to his feet and shoved him into Ares. Ares guided the boy towards the ladder descending from the loft.
"You're evil, Xena," Ares muttered. "You really are."
"I know," Xena said, a lazy grin passing over her face. "Believe me, I know."
"The three of us are going to fit on that horse?" Ares asked, doubtfully observing the horse.
"No," Xena said. "You walk." She eased the boy onto the horse and then mounted beside him.
"Me walk?" Ares objected. "I am the God of War---"
"Here we go again," Xena said. "I heard that one already. Either you walk, or none of us get there. Think about it: the boy can't walk the whole way. He'll only slow us down." She shook the reins. "And I'm not walking."
The horse started into a slow trot. Ares jogged up beside them. "I can't believe this," he said, shaking his head slowly.
Xena stopped the horse and allowed for Ares to catch up. Ares, a little winded from the long walk, looked to her with questioning eyes.
"Why'd we stop? Not that I'm complaining or anything."
"I think someone's following us," Xena remarked, looking behind them.
"Following us?" Ares asked.
"Yeah," Xena confirmed, looking passed Ares and deep into the forest. "You wait here with the boy. I'll go check it out."
She headed down the path without waiting for a response from Ares. She drew her sword, her other hand waiting over her chakrum, ready for the slightest trigger of reaction. She felt movement to her left and turned quickly.
"Xena," someone whispered.
She recognized the voice immediately. She looked worriedly back to Ares, but he was out of sight by now. She had traveled far enough down the road that she was out of view from their perspective. She hurried over to Argus, peering into the bushes in search of his face.
"Right here," Argus said.
She turned and saw him. She regarded him with aggravation. "Why are you following me?" she hissed.
"Why isn't he dead, yet?" Argus demanded. "I thought you were going to kill him."
"That's not what I said," Xena clarified. "All I said, was that I need time to think about it."
"But you got the Hine's blood, right?" Argus asked.
"Yeah, so?" Xena challenged.
"So that means you're considering killing him," Argus said.
"Not if you continue to bother me," Xena snapped.
"All right, all right," Argus acquiesced. "I'll leave you alone." He backed away into the brush. "But just remember what we talked about."
"Yeah, yeah. Get lost." Argus moved deeper into the brush and eventually he was out of sight.
The campfire flickered against their faces: the apprehensive face of the god, the fearful face of the small boy, the complacent face of the warrior. Xena threw her head back and looked into the dark, fathomless sky. It was a clear night, one of the clearest nights there had been in a while. The stars sparkled against the navy blue of the sky, the North star brightest of all. Xena turned her attention back to the fire as she tossed a thin twig into its core. She watched the flames crackle and spark, thin lines of hazy smoke clouding her vision of the woods beyond the fire. She rolled onto her back and sighed with content. She felt the boy's worried eyes on her.
"What's your name, boy?" she asked.
"Theseus," the boy replied timidly.
Xena smiled at the meek excuse for a voice.
"Well, Theseus. What have you got to say for yourself?" Xena asked.
The boy hesitated before answering. He seemed as if he were making certain she was speaking to him and if that was the case, could he speak. When she said nothing in response, he braved to speak.
"Nothing," the boy said softly.
"Nothing?" Xena echoed. "The prince of a rich king has nothing to say? Do you believe this, Ares?" She looked to Ares who had gotten to his feet and was pacing anxiously behind the fire.
"What I don't believe," Ares began angrily, "is why we're sitting here doing nothing when we should be traveling back to collect our reward."
"Relax," Xena said. "Take a load off." She stretched her limbs lazily in every direction, yawning with fatigue. "The boy's learning to relax. Look at him. He's about as relaxed as can be."
Ares shook his head slowly as he looked at the frightful boy. The boy's hands were trembling with nerves, and his eyes darted rapidly from face to face. The boy shifted uncertainly under the gaze of the god.
Xena drew a small dagger from her boot and a flask of whiskey and the Hine's blood from a sack. She kept the Hine's blood tightly in her fist.
"You both need a drink," Xena said, tossing her canteen in Ares' direction. Ares caught the canteen, but made no motion to open it. He dropped it beside the boy as he passed by him and settled down behind the fire. Xena watched the god lower himself to the ground and attempt to relax his tense muscles.
"We got here in such a hurry," Ares grumbled. "Why aren't we leaving faster?"
Xena sidled up beside him, smiling. She let her prying fingers roam over his firm muscles and onto his hunched shoulders. She loosened them with her touch, massaging them methodically with care. She moved to the muscles in his back and consoled them, alleviating the stress and tightness that crowded them together. He slowly began to relax under her fingertips and sighed heavily.
She pressed her lips gently against the flesh of his throat. Then she nudged his chin towards her so she could kiss him softly on the lips. They shared a kiss, Xena's hot breath steaming against Ares' cheeks. She draped herself over his shoulders and urged his leather shirt from his body. He shook his head and withdrew. "No, Xena. The kid," he reminded her, nodding in the direction of the frightened boy.
"Oh, he needs an education," Xena commented and moved onto Ares. She straddled his lap, showering him with kisses, her hands running wildly over his now exposed chest. He became lost in her affection, caught in the sudden moment of passion so much that he didn't notice one of her hands leave his side and fall to her own. She reached into her boot and drew the dagger out. It was lined with Hine's blood, glimmering against the firelight as she guided it towards Ares. Ares stopped in mid-kiss as he felt the cold metal press against his bare chest. His eyes turned to hers in confusion and then to the dagger pointed at his chest.
"That's Hine's blood," he remarked fearfully.
"Very good," Xena said slyly.
He scrambled out from under her and moved further away. She got to her feet and approached him, thrusting the dagger in his direction. He struggled to his feet and stumbled backwards. Xena smiled at his terrified expression, the sudden realization of mortality stealing across his face, turning it pale white.
"What do you want, Xena?" he asked.
"Your godhood," Xena explained. "Give it to me."
"Why are you doing this, Xena?" Ares questioned sternly, moving further from her.
"You said it yourself, Ares," Xena told him. "I'm meant to be a god. Not Goddess of Mayhem or Passion, but Goddess of War." She lessened the distance between them. "So hand it over."
Ares looked down at the blade pressed to his chest anxiously. His eyes shot up to Xena's and caught her amused expression.
"And don't try any of your godly tricks," Xena warned. "What do you think is faster: your little disappearing act or my hand? I don't think you want to find out."
"All right, all right," Ares agreed. He drew his sword from its sheath slowly, and cradled it in his callused hands. He hesitated. She narrowed her eyes and closed in on him.
"Give it to me," she demanded.
He handed her the sword reluctantly and she snatched it from his hands. "Is this it?" Xena questioned. "This is the key to your godhood?"
"Without it I'm mortal," Ares said grimly. "And whoever has it, is a god."
"Then call me Goddess of War," Xena said in a sing-songy voice. She wielded the sword carefully, feeling the power rushing through her arm like electricity and extending to all parts of her body. Wide-eyed, she studied the sword to its tip in awe of its power. She threw her head back and laughed heartily into the night sky.
Ares shook his head in dismay. He cursed angrily and turned from Xena. "Why did you do this?" he demanded.
"Oh, it's good for you, lover," Xena assured him mockingly. She placed a playful hand on his shoulder, allowing her power to burn into his skin. He brooded with anger and shook the hand off, plunging into the dark brush. "Oh, Ares!" Xena called. "I wouldn't go too far! I might need you!"
She laughed and slid the Hine's blood dagger back into her boot.
It had been an hour now; an hour filled with experimentation of her new toy. So far she had blown up three trees, started four fires, and had disappeared and reappeared several times now. Her godhood was an amusing new pastime that she enjoyed thoroughly.
The boy had watched all her antics with a cautious eye, scrambling across the camp far away from her. He knew better than to try and escape, though. He saw her powers and feared them, but not anymore than the warrior woman herself.
Ares had returned and was sulking behind the fire, watching her through resentful eyes. Xena turned to him and offered him a mock-sympathetic smile. "Aw," she said. "Not having any fun, are we?"
"You're going to use up your powers," he warned her.
"Is that right?"
"Yes," Ares answered. "You're a new god. Your powers are limited."
"Limited?" Xena echoed. She blasted the top off of a tree to prove her point, power surging through the extent of her arm and channeling to the tree through her eager fingertips. Red fire spouted forth from her hand and obliterated the treetop. She turned to him, smiling. "What were you saying?"
"Don't get too carried away, Xena," he said angrily. "You don't want to use up your powers."
"I'll do whatever I please," Xena said indignantly, and she cast another bolt of lightning towards a thick tree trunk. The power weakened at her fingertips and drizzled to the ground. She cursed and closed her fist on the bolt. "So you were right," she said nonchalantly. "So what?" She fell beside the fire like a spoiled child dealing with disappointment for the first time. She kicked dirt into the fire angrily and turned to the boy beside her. "Bet you wish you were a god right now, huh? You could bust out of here and be home before we even realized you were gone. Too bad, huh? Guess you'll have to wait." She sighed and fingered the heavy sword at her side. "Or maybe not." She looked to boy hopefully. "I could probably zap us both there, collect my reward, and be out of there before I knew it."
"No, you couldn't," Ares said.
"What do you mean?" she asked the ex-god. "Of course I could: I'm a god."
"Go ahead," he said. "Try it."
She raised a fine eyebrow challengingly. She wrenched the boy up to his feet by his collar and laid a hand on his shoulder. Then she closed her eyes and promptly attempted to channel them both to the kingdom. When she opened her eyes, Ares was sitting before her, laughing hysterically. She was still in the camp. "Why doesn't it work?" she demanded.
"He's mortal," Ares said. "You can't channel yourself with a mortal."
Xena cursed angrily. "So I have to travel on horseback the whole way if I want to get this stupid kid there and get my reward?" she asked. Ares nodded.
"That about sums it up," he said. "Have patience, oh Goddess of War. Have patience." She growled in response and rolled lazily onto her side.
"Guess I should get to sleep if I want to preserve my powers," she said with a small smile. "I need my beauty sleep." She sheathed the sword, still feeling its power glowing against her skin and walked over to Ares slyly. She wasn't going to run the risk of Ares taking it, that was for sure. She reached into her belt and drew out a coil of rope. "Sit still," she commanded. Ares watched her in brooding anger as she took his wrists and tied them to a strong tree trunk with the heavy rope. She tested the knot with her own strength and finding it satisfactory, got to her feet and brushed herself off. She stooped over once again and drew out a dagger Ares had hidden in his boot. "Wouldn't want you to escape, would I?" She nestled the dagger into her cleavage and turned from him. "Sleep tight."
She was at the head of the army, fire shining in her eyes with the promise of victory. She smelled the opposing army's defeat in the air, could feel sudden fear flood into their pale faces. Her eyes narrowed as she sighted their leader. Sparks shot from her fingertips, dancing with the force of her throw; the leader was obliterated. Only his charred ashes remained, scattering over his army like morbid confetti, coating the ground with a thin layer of soot. A smile edged upon her lips, and she sounded her fluctuating warcry over the battlefield. Her men surged upon the enemy, swords lifting and falling to the beat of her grotesque orchestra playing her theme song of violence over the helms of the battle-frenzied men. Heads flew and bodies fell to the ground with each of her fierce men's strokes of passion. Her eyes gleamed. Victory entered her nostrils and as she turned to slash open a man behind her. . .
Small hands nudged her back several inches off the ground. She felt her sword lifting gently beneath her and was suddenly awakened, but all too late. The small boy had gotten hold of her sword and had managed to scramble to the other side of the camp. Ares was laughing in delight as the small boy moved quickly from her, waving the sword in front of him for protection. She was already on her feet and cornering the young boy. She drew the Hine's blood dagger from her boot, holding it tightly in her fist and pointing it at the boy.
"If you kill him, Xena, no reward," Ares reminded her.
"I'm a god," Xena reasoned. "I can have anything I want."
"You're not a god anymore, Xena," Ares said with amusement. "The boy is."
Xena snarled and swung at the boy. He dodged her swipe quickly, moving deeper into the brush. Suddenly, a man leapt out from the bushes and tackled him to the ground. The man struggled with the small boy, wrenching the sword from his tiny fingers and returning to his feet. He kicked the boy out of his way, and the child rolled into the brush, clutching his gut in pain. Argus met Xena's eyes with the fire of godhood.
"I thought I told you to stop following me!" Xena snapped.
"You didn't do your job," Argus protested. "You were supposed to kill Ares! I wanted to see him dead!"
"And I don't like being used," Xena said angrily. "Give me my godhood back!" Xena lunged at him with the dagger, but he moved to the side, swinging at her with the long sword. She tucked and rolled under the blade and came to her feet several feet behind him.
"Ares deserves to die," Argus went on. "My men and I prayed to him for seven days straight. Prayed and made sacrifices to the so-called war god. My army was demolished the next day. . .I was left with only five men standing. We had to run, Xena. I never run from battle, but I did then. Ares isn't a god, he's a heartless ingrate!"
"Then give me my godhood back and I'll kill him," Xena reasoned.
"Why should I give it back to you when I can kill him myself!" Argus challenged. Upon finding no response, Xena opted to attack him again from the side. He kicked her aside and she landed hard in the brush. "I don't have time for you, Xena," he told her, turning from her and heading for Ares. "I have to get---" The dagger plunged into his back. Xena smiled with satisfaction as she hit the bull's eye wonderfully. She staggered to her feet and eagerly rushed over to retrieve her prized possession. A heavy fist met her jaw and she stumbled back into the brush. Ares stooped over and drew his sword from Argus' cold hands. He gripped the hilt steadily with both his fists and relaxed as he felt familiarity flooding back into him. "Oh, Xena," he said. "You don't know how much I missed this." He turned back to the small boy holding the broken coils of rope in his tiny hands. "Thanks for untying me, kid. You'll be rewarded."
Xena watched in fury as she saw godhood swimming in his eyes. She rubbed her jaw sorely and clambered to her feet. Ares bent over and pulled the Hine's blood dagger from Argus' back, twiddled it around his fingers and smiled. "Thanks, Xena," he said. "I've been waiting for this for a long time." He pocketed the dagger and then approached Xena. "But you're going to pay for this little. . .incident. Oh, you're going to pay."
He kicked her in the gut as hard as he could and watched her keel over in pain. He grabbed her head and smacked it into his oncoming knee. As he felt her growing heavier in his hands, he turned her so he could face her. Then he brought his fist directly into her face and watched her eyes roll back into her head. She was unconscious.
Continued in "Imprisoned"
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