Chapter 1 Part 3

by Joseph Ezell


Disclaimer: Please See Part One


        Darius opened his eyes and quickly sat up—and immediately hated himself for it as sharp pain exploded throughout his head. He groaned, grabbing his head with his hands and massaging it gently for several seconds.

        Finally, the pain subsided enough and Darius dropped his hands and gazed around at his surroundings. It didn't take him long to realize that Xena and company had vacated the area. Which means they took Eve with them, Darius thought sourly. Then he sighed inwardly, realizing that that would only serve to make his job that much more harder. Harder than it needs to be, he thought angrily.

        Even though he hated the idea of killing anyone—let alone an innocent child like Eve—still he half wished Xena would just hand her over to him. At least it would make things easier on him.

        But gods knows we can't have that now, can we? He thought sarcastically.

        Of course it probably wasn't that he wanted to get the job done so much that had put him in a sour mood as the fact that he'd been knocked out cold and had thus failed to kill his assigned target yet again. I've failed Athena twice in one day, he mused to himself, bet she isn't going to like that.

        Then he shrugged inwardly and slowly rose painfully to his feet, picking up his sword, which had fallen on the ground, and sliding it into its case on his side.

        “Of course if Athena had bothered to inform me that a certain son of Zeus named Hercules might be dropping by I might have been able to kill Eve instead of playing get up off the ground.” Darius said, anger beginning to well up inside of him. You know, it wouldn't kill the gods to let me know about things like this every now and then, he thought bitterly.

        Darius sighed inwardly, realizing that this wasn't the first time something like this had occurred. In fact it had been like this on almost every mission he'd been on for the gods and it didn't matter which god it was either. They were all the same when you got right down to it. They gave him orders and expected him to follow them without question and do whatever it took to get the mission done but when it came time to leveling with him they didn't do it. Instead, he was expected to handle whatever problems came his way, expected or unexpected, regardless of the situation.

        And Athena had basically done the same thing. Except it was one thing if she neglected to mention Xena's surprise disk-like weapon. It was quite another to forget to mention that HERCULES was in the area and might interfere with the mission. And he certainly didn't buy the possibility that she simply hadn't known about it. As a goddess of her stature she made it her business to know everything that went on around her, especially when there was a child that was a death warrant to the gods lay close by.

        And because she'd neglected to mention Hercules's presence in the area, he'd failed his mission. As a matter of fact, the more he thought about it, the more he became convinced that if anyone was to blame for his defeat it was Athena.

        Darius shook his head and sighed once more. He was about to look for the vanished threesome's tracks when suddenly, with a crackle of electricity, a large image appeared before him. It was Athena's face. No actually an image or projection really, Darius corrected.

        “Darius, why are you just standing around here? Why haven't you killed Eve yet?!” the goddess demanded angrily.
        “Well, I would have if you'd bothered to mention that a certain son of ZEUS might be stopping by!” Darius replied his fear of Athena temporally forgotten for the moment, as he was clearly annoyed.

        “Yes, your right,” Athena answered, “I should have known Hercules might interfere.”

        “Yes, you should of,” he said under his breath.

        “What was that?!” Athena asked.

        “Oh, it was nothing, my goddess. Nothing at all.” He replied quickly, realizing that regardless of his feelings toward her at this moment he needed to give her the respect she demanded of him while he was in her presence least she punish him in some awful way.

        “Good, because if I thought you were smarting off to me in anyway I'd throw you in Tartartus myself!” Athena warned. “Change of plans, Darius. I want you to head back to the temple. I've devised a new plan of attack against Eve and I want you there to hear it. Is that understood?” She asked sternly.

        “Yes, my goddess. I'm on my way.” He replied.

        “Good. I'll see you then.” Athena said. Then her image faded away and Darius sighed inwardly before beginning his journey back toward Athena's temple.


        Later that night Darius stood in the hallway, just outside the entrance to yet another of the many rooms that furnished Athena's temple. The doorway to the room before him stood open allowing him to glance in from time to time. The room before him was massive and circular in its design. It was furnished by only one piece of furniture that Darius was aware of and that was a large, round table, which was made out of the same material as the floor it rested on. It sat in the center of the room, where, at the moment, the figures of three gods stood around it: Athena, Hades, and Hephaestus. The three Olympians stood closely together, examining something, which Darius guessed was a map of some sort, and discussed battle plans of which he didn't have the slightest clue of what they might be considering that he could barely make out their words as they were so far away from him.

        The meeting had been going on for at least an hour now with no sign of letting up. Of course, Darius was to be called in by Athena at any moment along with at least one other person. Who that other person might be Darius didn't have a clue.

        Darius sighed, stamping his foot impatiently on the floor. Geez, he thought, how much longer can they possibly be in there? I'd kinda like to rap this thing up soon.

        But, even Darius knew that that might be a while before that happened as the gods were immortal, and because of it, they rarely were aware of the passage of time. Darius, however, was aware of it. And, after the day he'd had, he was ready to get this over with and get some rest.

        Darius rubbed his face tiredly, before looking back up at the scene before him, hoping against hope that he would see Athena beckoning him to enter the room. No such luck as the gods continued to look at the map, totally absorbed in the conversation they were having.

        Although Darius knew who both of the gods in the room besides Athena were, he had only had dealings with one of them: Hades. Although Darius served as an assassin for the Olympian order, not all the gods had used his services (or at least that he was aware of anyway).

        Among those who did use his services, Hades was probably the second largest user of Darius's skills as an assassin, topped only by Athena herself. Most of these assignments from the dark lord of the Underworld simply had to do with killing those who had arrived at their time to die by the Fates. But, even though this was a large part of his workload, when he worked for Hades, this task was usually carried out by Hades's sister the goddess of death.

        Probably the only exception to this that Darius could remember was the time one woman had made the mistake of declaring herself to be more beautiful than Persephone, who was Demeter's daughter and Hades's wife and queen of the Underworld. Apparently, that had been enough to infuriate Hades--not to mention Persephone--who loved his wife dearly, and as a result of this the dark lord of the Underworld had ordered the woman to be killed.

        Darius struggled to remember her name or even what she had looked like, but gave up after a few moments of trying. In the end, all Darius really knew was that Hades had given him the order and he'd killed his assigned target.

        Of course other gods had used his services as well such as: Poseidon, Apollo, Hera, and even Zeus, just to name a few. Darius knew that there had been other gods to add to that list but for the moment he couldn't think of anymore as his head hurt from all this remembering he was doing.

        But he was absolutely certain and knew without a doubt that Hephaestus had never called upon his services. And that didn't surprise him as the god of the forge didn't strike him as one who would want someone dead. From what he knew about the blacksmith god he was generally docile, even fun loving and friendly at times to both mortals and gods alike. Which was why Darius couldn't understand why he was here and why he seemed to want Eve dead so much.

        Now that he thought about it, Darius realized that Hephaestus's wife, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, had never ordered him to kill anyone either. Personally, Darius was relieved of this considering it would be a dark day indeed when the goddess of love started ordering people killed. Of course there had been other gods who'd never asked for his services, although at the moment he didn't really care to recall their names.

        But most of his orders had come Athena herself, although whether or not they were always her wishes or simply the wishes of another god, which had been passed on to her to give to him, Darius didn't know. Either way he feared the goddess of war more than any other god on Olympus—more than anything else in the world even. Considering that she might beat him for the sheer pleasure of it, while the other gods would only punish him if he disobeyed a direct order.

        Typically, though, most of the gods seemed to go out of their way to avoid him, except for a select few, that is. Although why they did this Darius didn't have a clue. The only reason he could think of for this behavior was that they obviously looked down on him. After all, he was only a mortal and the Olympians thought no more of mortals than they did of sheep.

        Of course, there was one exception to this and that was Hades, who, although he didn't show any affection for Darius, didn't show any prejudice against him either. Somehow, Darius got the distinct impression that there seemed to be a mutual respect that existed between the two of them, although why this might be Darius didn't have the slightest idea, but was glad it was there nonetheless.

        From somewhere behind him, someone cleared his throat.

        Darius whirled around, reflexively grabbing for his weapon. But instead of seeing an attacker he saw only the lone, leather-clad figure of the God or War leaning up against the wall with his hand on the hilt of his sword and a smile on his handsome face.

        “What do you want, Ares?!” Darius growled, his disrespect for the God of War painfully obvious. If there was one god on Olympus that he didn't have any fear of at all, it would have to be Ares as the dark god had bullied him for almost everyday when he was a small child, or at least when Athena hadn't been around to protect him, that is. In fact, you could say that Darius not only disrespected Ares, but hated him with a passion as well.

        “Well, hello to you too, Darius.” Ares said sarcastically, his smile fading for a second before popping back up onto his face.

        Darius glared at Ares, his anger for the dark god almost unbearable.

        Ares laughed, shaking his head, clearly amused by Darius's behavior toward him. In fact, the God of War could almost feel the waves of hate and anger that seemed to radiate off of the warrior.

        He smiled even more than before, clearly enjoying the fact that Darius hated him so much, realizing that he was ultimately responsible for that hate. Then he shrugged inwardly, after all, what was a god to do when they were suffering from boredom.

        The truth was, however, that Ares admired Darius because he possessed a quality that no other warrior he'd come across so far had and that was that he hated to kill but was resigned to do it. In truth, Darius was like a dead man walking and wasn't afraid to die if it meant killing an assigned target. Not to mention that Darius was also one of the most lethal assassins he'd seen so far as he killed not only without question, but in a matter of seconds a well, which was also a plus as far as Ares was concerned. Of course, Ares had never asked for Darius services as he didn't see the need to use a mortal to kill someone when he could do it himself, even if that mortal was top rate. He might desire a mortal to help him take over the world but never to help him kill someone.

        “You've grown into quite the warrior, haven't you?” Ares asked, seeming to appear genuinely concerned for his well being at the moment.

        But Darius wasn't fooled. Ares was up to something. The question was, what that something was.

        “What do you want, Ares?” Darius asked, repeating his question from before with more than a little irritation in his voice.

        “Do I always have to be after something?” Ares asked, trying his best to look as innocent as possible.

        “So, what? You're here to attend the meeting with Athena and the other gods?” Darius asked skeptically.

        “Maybe, maybe not. Actually, to be honest, Darius, I've never been much of a team player. Which is why I need to talk to you.” Ares said, rising to his feet. “You see, Darius, there's this woman who happens to be carrying the child your supposed to kill. This woman's name is Xena and I'd really like it if you didn't kill her.”

        “Ares, Athena has ordered me to kill the child at all costs. That means that if Xena or anyone else gets in my way I'm authorized to kill them.”

        “Yes, well, like I said try not to kill her if that's possible. She's kind of special to me. As for Hercules or Gabrielle feel free to kill them anytime.”

        “How do you know about them? How could you-“ Darius began.

        “Hey, genius, I'm a god, remember? I make it a point to know these things.” Ares said confidently.

        “Very well, but if Xena gets in the way I will kill her.” Darius answered.

        “Of course, man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.” Ares said, walking over and patting him on the shoulder. “But before you do that there's something you might want to consider first. When it comes right down to it, do you really want to kill another innocent person? Someone who is not only a great warrior as she clearly is, but also a hero and a hecka of a person as well. Do you wish to rob the world of such a person as that? Do you really want to be the one who killed her? Think about it, Darius. After all, you might just find that what I'm asking really isn't that much after all.” And with that the God of War disappeared in a flash of blue light, leaving Darius alone with only his thoughts to keep him company.

        Did Ares really expect him to avoid killing Xena. Surely, the God of War must know that even though Darius didn't want to kill Xena that he'd have to if she got in his way. Only time would tell.


        Darius stood there near the table with his back turned to a wall of the room the meeting was being held in.

        Not far to his left stood a woman dressed in a silver uniform that was the standard dress code for Athena's Elite Squadron of Archers. She had long, straight, slightly curly, brown hair and blue eyes. In short, she was beautiful.

        Darius quickly looked away, suddenly very fearful that she would notice him staring at her and he didn't want that. True, she was extremely beautiful and attractive—Or you kidding? Darius thought. She's hot! And she also seemed like a nice enough person but Darius knew he could never have a relationship with her. And thinking that he could would only serve to cause him more pain than he knew he could handle in the long run. Not to mention that Athena probably wouldn't approve of it. As a matter of fact, now that I think about it, Darius mused sarcastically to himself, she'd probably delight in nothing more than to see me suffer by forcing me to be alone for the rest of my life.

        Besides, he thought sheepishly, how could I even think of being with a woman like her considering that I'm really nothing more than a monster and a coward? And the way Darius figured it after all the death and destruction he'd caused in the past, he just didn't deserve someone like her. In Darius's eyes she was an angel—a work of art that deserved someone far better than he was—she deserved a real man rather than the pathetic excuse for one that he was. But, as if that wasn't bad enough, what hurt Darius even more than that was that, sadly, he'd never had a woman to call his own and yet he ached to have one. Only, in the end, Darius realized that that simply wasn't something he could ever hope to have and, out of all those things, he realized that that was what hurt him most of all.

        Then Darius sighed inwardly, pushing back the tears that were welling up inside of him and which threatened to explode forth from him at any second, before turning his attention back to the scene before him. Before him the gods were still gathered around the table, talking about and studying the map stretched out across the table before them intensely.

        Variea, captain of Athena's elite squadron of archers, not to mention Athena's latest champion, glanced at Darius. She smiled inwardly, taking in his handsome features.

        Variea knew with all her heart that she loved Darius, although it had taken her a while before she'd finally admitted it to herself. But, despite how much she wanted him she knew that it would be wrong if she pursued it. After all, Athena had made it clear time and again that she expected everyone who worked for her to refrain from all relationships—especially sexual ones, since the goddess prized her virginity and thus felt that if she chose to be a celibate then, therefore, everyone else who worked under her must follow her example as well.

        This, of course, not only included herself and her squadron, but Darius as well. Poor baby, she though sadly, after all she's put him through she won't even allow him the simple pleasure of having a woman to call his own. She knew this because it was no secret among her squadron how Athena treated him. Because of this fact almost all of the women of the archers had a genuine respect for Darius. And, as a matter of fact, quite a few of them liked him a lot, but most knew to stay away from him as well since they knew from past experience how dangerous he was.

        Variea shuddered inwardly, remembering one instance several years ago, back when Illana had been captain of the archers. It was the first time she and Darius had met.

        They'd been ordered to kill a ruthless warlord, who'd managed to not only offend Athena by defiling one of her temples—but had actually had the gall to overtake it and proclaim it as his own.

        That had been enough to give Athena reason to kill him and as a result, she'd sent in her best, her archers, since they were the best warriors she and Greece had to offer.

        Thus they had raced out to the location of the temple and had confronted the warlord out in the open in front of the massive structure. But, just as they'd been about to kill him, they'd been surrounded by his men, who'd literally popped right out of the surrounding brush.

        They'd been ambushed, meaning that he'd known about the attack. Apparently, he hadn't been as dumb or as helpless as Athena had figured he'd be and had anticipated that she'd send her archers to kill him. Athena had made a mistake and had misjudged him and it was a mistake that they were going to pay for with their lives.

        Just as he'd been about to kill them, suddenly, there was an interruption.

        The warlord looked up from one of the archers that he'd been about to kill, only to see two of his men leading a man dressed in expensive-looking, black leather by the arms into the camp, stopping when they were in front of him.

        “Who's this?” the warlord demanded.

        “We found him outside the camp, sir. He was carrying this,” one of the men answered, tossing the warlord a sword.

        The warlord caught the weapon, eyeing it carefully and noticing the excellent craftsmanship of the sword. “Well, well, well, nice blade you got here son. And who might you be?”

        The stranger stood there, his gaze cold and indifferent, seeming to stare right into the depths of the warlord's very soul. “My name is Darius and I've been sent here by Athena to kill you. Also, you are to release the archers at once.”

        The warlord stood there for a few seconds, seeming to take all this in—and suddenly he burst into laughter and was quickly joined by his men as well. Finally, after several minutes, the warlord and his men were able to regain control of themselves and the warlord shook his head, unable to believe the boldness of this young man before him. “Wait, wait, wait, wait a minute, you expect me to believe that Athena—the great goddess of war and wisdom—would only send one man to rescue her beloved archers? Not to mention to kill me?” the warlord asked incredulously with a laugh, shaking his head in disbelief.

        “Actually, I wouldn't laugh if I were you. You're about to die.” Darius said coldly, his gaze seeming to bore into the man's eyes.

        The women glanced around at each other, their faces displaying fear and disbelief. Who was this man to come into this madman's presence and say such things? Didn't he know that not only was he endangering his life, but their lives as well?

        The warlord laughed, even more amused than before at this young man's behavior toward him. Just who does he think he is to talk to me like that anyway?! The warlord thought angrily. I could kill him at any moment!

        “Foolish words, my boy. Foolish words, indeed,” said the warlord. Then he turned around, shaking his head as he began walking away from him. “Kill him.”

        Suddenly, Darius brought his foot down on one of his captor's feet, causing him to cry out in pain and surprise. Seizing the moment of opportunity that had been provided to him, Darius grabbed both men and slammed them together, causing them to drop to the ground like a ton of bricks.

        Then Darius walked up to the stunned warlord, and, as Variea watched in disbelief, he brought him to his knees with a lightening fast jab to the neck. Without saying a word, Darius picked up his sword from off the ground, and, in the blink of an eye, beheaded the warlord, his body and head toppling to the ground with two audible thumps.

        Darius resheathed his sword and turned, looking at the remaining men calmly and expectantly with a slight smile on his face.

        Variea had expected them to attack at any moment, but to her surprise they suddenly turned and fled the scene immediately. Apparently, without their leader they weren't so tough anymore.

        After that, he'd traveled back with them to Athena's temple, completely calm and collected, speaking only when he was asked a question and not for very long either.

        Since then the archers had served as backup for Darius when a particular target he had been assigned to kill proved to be too tough for him to handle alone. Which usually happened when Darius found himself confronted by an army intent on blocking him from killing one of their own, usually their leader. But, regardless of this, it still was a rarity that they had to assist Darius at all, considering that, given enough time, he usually found a way to kill the target anyway.

        Either way, because the archers often found themselves working side by side with Darius, most of them had formed a bond of sorts with him. Even though Darius, however, didn't seem to share the same feelings toward them.

        Of course, not all of the women in the squadron liked him—in fact, some of them down right hated him. It's probably because he's so dangerous, she thought, They're just afraid of him is all.

        Not that she could blame them considering that if prompted to he could kill anyone one of them in an instant. Variea guessed that what really made Darius so deadly was the fact that he was a professional in what he did through and through.

        But, even knowing all of this and what he was capable of—even what he'd done in the past—she still loved him.

        To be honest, however, she didn't really know why she loved him exactly. But she did know this: that beneath that cold, professional killer that the gods had made him into, lay a warm, caring individual. And when she really thought about it she realized one thing: he was in pain. For whatever reason he didn't want to do what he was doing. And Variea realized that there could be only one possible reason for that: he was being forced to do these things. She didn't know how she knew it but once she realized it she knew it must be true. Why else would he hate what he's doing and do those same things that disgusted him so much even though he didn't want to. Perhaps, it was this side of Darius—the side that truly cared for other people and hated what he was doing—and not the one he presented to his victims—was what had attracted her to him in the first place.

        Then she sighed inwardly, shaking these thoughts from her head, before turning her attention back to the meeting at hand, least Athena notice her staring at Darius and make a big deal out of it. But no sooner had she finished that thought did she notice herself sneaking quick glances at him, eying him with lust. Stop it! She thought, giving herself a mental slap across the face. Get a grip on yourself or Athena's going to kill you if she sees you looking at him like that! And, on the trail of that thought: Yeah, but can I help it if he's so hot?!

        Variea sighed inwardly, pushing the lustful fantasies that had begun to flash through her head aside, realizing in that moment that she really shouldn't pursue a relationship with Darius but wondering at the same time how much longer she could continue to keep denying her feelings toward him. Sooner or later Darius would more than likely become aware of her true feelings for him and when that occurred—who knew what would happen?

        “Okay people,” Athena said, breaking Variea's thoughts, “here's the plan. Due to the fact that the possibility of Hercules teaming up with Xena and Gabrielle to protect Eve has now become a realty, I see no choice but to launch and all out frontal assault against them. In doing so we might be able to accomplish our objective and kill Eve. I've compiled a massive army which will hopefully serve to overwhelm our enemies.” “Variea, what's the status on the archers?” Athena asked.

        “Ready and standing by, my goddess.” Variea replied.

        “Good, once the army has converged upon the target, you'll set up your squad, here, here, and here,” Athena said, pointing to various places on the map, “where your objective will be to stop Xena, Gabrielle, or Hercules. However, if you get a chance to kill Eve take it. But you are not to fire until I give the signal. Is that understood?”

        “Yes, my goddess. I understand you completely.” Variea answered.

        “Good,” Athena replied. “Also, if the need arises then it may become necessary to for some of the archers to launch an all out assault on our enemies. But this will happen if and when I give the order. Understood?”

        “Perfectly, my goddess.” Variea answered.

        “Darius, as soon as the attack begins, upon my command, I want you to go into the area of the attack and take out Eve at all costs. Do you understand my orders?” Athena said.

        “Yes, my goddess. I understand you orders loud and clear. But, if I may, if I go in to kill Eve won't there be a chance of my being hit by arrows from one of the archers?” Darius replied.

        “It's a possibility yes,” she answered sarcastically, her tone slightly annoyed, “but I'm instructing the archers not to shoot you. Is that clear, Variea?”

        “Of course, my goddess, perfectly clear.” Variea replied.

        “Okay, then, now that that's settled here's the final piece of the puzzle. Hephaestus, you, Hades and I will act as enforcers and help provide the firepower to ensure that our enemies don't escape. Also, if necessary, you'll engage, Xena, Gabrielle, or Hercules in battle. Be especially watchful of Hercules, as I don't have to remind you two of the threat he poses to us since he is, after all, a half god and thus the most dangerous of all of your foes. As an extra precaution against failure, I'll be fighting along side you two. Okay, any questions?” Athena asked.

        “Yeah, just one,” Hephaestus asked. “Will we be getting any reinforcements from the other gods?”

        “No, and at the moment I don't think it's necessary. But if this attack fails then I'll consider it. Any other questions?” Athena asked.

        No one spoke.

        “Good, we'll begin the attack tomorrow.” Athena said. “Until then I suggest we should all get some rest considering we've all got a long day ahead of us tomorrow. Meeting's dismissed.”

        And, with that said, everyone left the room and prepared for the upcoming battle.


        The three warriors sat there, all of them silent, with grim expressions on their faces, each seeming lost in thought at the moment.

        Gabrielle poked at the fire with a stick, sending several sparks of orange brilliance rising into the air only to fade away into the clear, star-filled night sky. Xena, meanwhile, was hunched over her sword, directing her all of her attention on the weapon as she sharpened it slowly—a rhythmic shink, shink erupting forth from the blade and filling the night air.

        All the while, Hercules sat on a nearby log, staring intently into the fire as if there were something within the scorching flames that only he could see. It had been hours since Hercules had returned from his journey from Athena's temple. It had been hours since he'd told them of the heart-breaking news that Athena had no intention of calling off the attack on Eve. It had been hours since he'd told them what they had already expected was going to eventually happen but had been dreading to hear: the other gods were now getting involved in the battle against Eve.

        Xena abruptly stopped sharpening her sword and sighed inwardly. She had started sharpening the weapon because she'd told herself that it might need sharpening considering Xena had learned a long time ago that if you took care of your weapons then, in the end, when the time came, they'd take care of you when you needed them the most. Only it was at this moment Xena realized why she had really been sharpening her weapon. The truth was, that her weapon didn't need the attention she was giving it at all. No, the real reason she had chosen to sharpen her weapon at this moment was that she had found out a long time ago that doing so often gave her a sense of comfort and peace, things that she had found to be most appealing in a world as insane as this one. But, sadly, it wouldn't give her that same comfort tonight that she so desperately sought. And, realizing that the weapon couldn't give her the relief she had so much desired, she sighed inwardly once more before slipping her sword back into its case.

        Xena reached over on the ground beside her feet where Eve was nestled in a few blankets, sleeping peacefully. She stared at the child tenderly before picking it up as gently as possible and holding it to her chest. Eve wiggled around a little bit, but, otherwise, didn't stir from her slumber.

        Xena glanced down at her beautiful daughter, noticing for the first time just how innocent she really was. Don't you worry little one, she thought, mama's going to protect you. So nothing's going to happen so just go ahead and rest now 'cause everything's going to be alright.

        But just as she finished those thoughts, a small fear began pulling at her from the back of her mind. What would happen if she couldn't keep those promises to her daughter? What would happen if she failed Eve and as a result she died? What then?

        Almost everyday since she'd first given birth to her little bundle of joy she'd experienced happiness unlike any she'd ever known. Even though she had gone through hell to protect Eve from the gods's attacks, somehow, even in the most despairing of times, it seemed all she had to do to wash away that desperation was to look at her daughter's beautiful face. Those pretty, innocent, blue eyes and that darling, little face of hers could give her more strength than she'd ever known she could possess. She didn't know exactly what power was truly responsible for the creation of her little gift, but, to be honest, she didn't really care. All she knew was that giving birth to Eve had given her a second chance. Something she'd never had with her first child: her son, Solon, who'd been brutally murdered and taken away from her by Gabrielle and Dahak's daughter, Hope, who was really nothing more than evil incarnated.

        But this time it would be different. This time she would be the best mother to Eve that she could be. And, because she had been given this second chance, she thanked whatever power it was that had given her her daughter everyday.

        Xena also knew that if anything happened to Eve and she ended up dead because of it, she knew that she wouldn't be able to live with herself because, at that moment, life simply wouldn't be worth living any more.

        “So, Hercules, how much do you know about Darius?” Gabrielle asked, Xena immediately wishing she hadn't brought up that question. He was the last thing she wanted to hear about right now. The bard looked up from the fire, and looked expectantly at Hercules.

        Hercules looked up, seeming to have awakened from a daze. “ Huh? Oh, him. Well, the only thing I really know about him is what I learned today.”

        “You mean you've never heard the other gods talk about him before?” Gabrielle asked, probing his eyes, searching for an answer to her question.

        “Nope, the only thing I know about him is what Athena told me today.”

        “Which is what, exactly?” The bard pressed.

        “That he's considered to be the property of the Olympian order and that long ago he was selected by them to help them do business in the mortal world. Also, he was apparently given to Athena by Zeus on the grounds that she train him into what you see today. So it makes sense that they'd try and keep his existence a secret.”
        “You mean so as to make him a better assassin?” Gabrielle asked.

        “No, I mean, so no one would know that he was associated with the Olympian order.” Answered Hercules.

        “Well, I guess they did a good job 'cause I've never heard about him before today.” Gabrielle replied, seeming to be talking to herself more than anyone else at the moment.

        “Maybe, but there were still stories among the mortal population.” Hercules said.

        “Stories?” Xena asked, looking up, suddenly very interested in the conversation.

        “Concerning an unknown assassin,” Hercules replied.

        “Like what?” Gabrielle asked.

        “Oh, things like warlords and kings ending up dead under mysterious circumstances. Even right among their own men and kingdoms, where they thought they were most safe. Usually, most were found beheaded. But there were a few of them who died of unexplained causes, or at least it appeared that way as most of them seemed to had died only by the assassin's touch.” Hercules answered.

        “And you think that this assassin is none other than Darius?” Xena asked.

        “Well, at the time I didn't believe those stories. After all they were only by the word of mouth. But, yeah, given what I've seen today, I'd say it could have very well been Darius, yes.” Hercules replied.

        A silence fell over the group, Xena and Gabrielle taking in what he'd just said. Never in all of her life had the warrior princess encountered an enemy so deadly or lethal. It seemed that, in truth, Darius was really nothing more than a living weapon and a killing machine and needed only his bare hands to kill someone. Clearly, if given the opportunity, Darius could kill an assigned target in a matter of seconds.

        Perhaps that was what made him so deadly to his enemies. Or for that matter, so deadly to Eve. The warrior princess shuddered inwardly, remembering back earlier in the day when he'd defeated her and Gabrielle and had had Eve at his mercy. So, why hadn't he killed her? Why had he hesitated?

        Somehow, deep, down inside of her Xena knew the answer to that question. He hadn't killed Eve because he hadn't really wanted to. For whatever reason, it seemed that having to kill Eve wasn't sitting to well with the assassin for the Olympian order. But, even so, did that mean that, given another chance to kill Eve would he hesitate? But Xena knew somehow that if given another chance he wouldn't. Clearly he had made a mistake by not killing his assigned target when he'd had the chance and he obviously would have no intention of repeating that same mistake.

        “I don't know if it's just me, but, as I said before, I get the distinct impression that he doesn't want to kill Eve.” Gabrielle said.

        “Yeah, I got that same feeling when I fought him today.” Hercules replied, nodding his head slightly in agreement.

        “Well, if that's indeed true than Eve may be in more danger than if he had wanted to kill her.” Replied the warrior princess.

        “Xena, what do you mean by that?” Gabrielle asked.

        “I mean, if Darius doesn't like the idea of killing Eve but will stop at nothing to kill her anyway that can only mean one thing: That he is resigned to his fate as an assassin of the Olympian order and therefore has lost all hope of a normal life. And when a man loses hope he is truly dangerous and is capable of anything. Because at that moment he doesn't care if he lives or dies.” The warrior princess replied.

        Silence once again enveloped the camp before Hercules chose to break it. “Xena, have the other gods teamed up on you guys before?” He asked, trying to change the subject.

        “Only after Zeus was killed, but only indirectly. They sent a few storms our way. Also, Apollo, Artemis, and Poseidon sent some assassins after us, but they were a piece of cake compared to Darius. And the same three gods temple armies came after us as well. But as for a direct appearance, no. This is the first time I've heard of them actually working together to kill Eve.”

        “Well, I don't know what they're planning, but I'd be willing to bet that whatever it is, it's big. I think we should all be on our toes until this whole mess is over.” Hercules replied.

        “Hercules, what if I fail—what if I try to protect Eve from the gods and only succeed in getting her killed?” the warrior princess asked quietly.

        “Xena, that's not going to happen. You've got us to help you so you won't fail.” Replied the tall demigod.

        Xena didn't reply, choosing instead to look into the flames of the fire as if they could give her the answer she so desperately sought.

        “Xena,” Hercules said, doing his best to put her fears to rest, “do you remember what I told you just after we had defeated Zeus's secret guard when I said that I would die before I let anyone hurt your baby?”
        “Yes, I do.” Xena answered.

        “Well, I meant it. As I said before, if my death ensures that Eve lives then so be it.”

        When no one responded to his words, Hercules rose to his feet. “Tell ya what. How 'bout we make a pack right here and now? That way we'll be sure of the outcome no matter what.”

        Xena put Eve gently back into the blankets she had been lying in and rose to her feet, walking over to Hercules. She saw Gabrielle do the same.

        “We make a pack, right here, right now, that if we fail, we fail as a team and that if we succeed, we succeed as a team.” The tall son of Zeus said, holding his arm out in front of him. “Agreed?”

        Xena and Gabrielle placed their hands on top of his. “Agreed.” They both said in unison.

        “Good, then from this day forth, let it be known that we will not surrender without a fight and we will fight to protect Eve at all costs!” Declared the fair-haired son of Zeus to all those that might be listening, whether they be mortal or god.

        And with that said the three of them separated, each taking their previous places around the fire. And for some reason, although Xena wasn't sure why, simply knowing now that she was part of a team that would be there with her to the bitter end suddenly made all the dangers that lay ahead seem less menacing than before. And, perhaps, because of this, there might be hope for Eve after all. Only time would tell.

        But whatever happened, Xena knew that they'd be ready for it and would go down fighting to protect Eve.

Part 4

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