Chapter 1 Part 4

by Joseph Ezell


Disclaimer: Please See Part One

        Darius lay there on his bedroll, twitching and turning, his breathing hurried, his heart thudding in his chest.

        Dark images tormented him: memories of people—men, women, children screaming—crying out in pain. Their faces so innocent. So sweet. So real.

        They tormented him, calling out to him, asking him why he had killed them. Their number was so great that he couldn't count them.

        Night after night they tormented him. They called him names. Murder, killer, coward, monster, just to name a few.

        He cried because of them—cried in his sleep, a soft moan of distress erupting from his pain-filled face. And, what troubled him most of all was that whenever he tried to answer their insistent questions of why he'd took their lives, he discovered one thing: he couldn't. He didn't have an answer.

        Their moans of pain tormented him and consumed him with guilt. He couldn't escape them. They were his constant companions. Constant reminders of the pain he'd caused.

        Their faces were bloody. Their forms grotesque. Their bodies were decaying before his very eyes as they reached out to him with outstretched arms—skin and muscle falling off to reveal the sickening gleam of bone—

        And he awoke with a jolt, screaming out loud, completely drenched with sweat. Then his heart beat and breathing slowed and returned to normal.

        Darius exhaled loudly and then sighed with relief. Suddenly very glad that the things he'd seen had only been a nightmare.

        Of course he knew that they were only dreams afterwards, only to be fooled night after night as he experienced them again and again.

        But, perhaps, they're not dreams at all, his mind whispered. Perhaps they are simply the souls of those that you have killed coming to you to exact revenge.

        Darius shook these thoughts away almost violently and rose to his feet, putting on his vest and belt, which contained his sword. Then he slid on his boots. He didn't have to worry about his pants since he slept in them night after night.

        Then he sighed, wiping his face tiredly. And, suddenly, he started walking, realizing that he needed very much to get some fresh air.

        Soon he found the room he wanted and entered it ever so quietly. He'd chosen this particular room since it was one of the few rooms that had a window in it. And a rather large one at that.

        He turned and stared for the window only to stop dead in his tracks.

        Beside the window stood Variea, dressed only in a white nightgown. Darius cursed silently. I didn't expect her to be here, he thought sourly. He turned to leave the room.

        “Darius?” Variea asked, trying to make out his form in the faint light of the moon. “Is that you?”

        He sighed inwardly before turning back around. “Yes, Variea, it's me Darius.” He answered, walking toward her. He stopped when he got near her, standing on the other side of the window.

        For a moment the two of them stood there, letting a breeze of the peaceful night air whip over their bodies and ruffle their hair.

        “So, what brings you here at this time of night?” Variea asked.

        “Ah, I couldn't sleep so I thought I'd get some fresh air.” Darius said.

        “Same here,” Variea replied.

        Gods, she's beautiful! Darius thought, taking in her beautiful form. Then, on the trail of that thought: I wonder what she's got on under that gown? Can't be much. Maybe nothing at all? Lustful visions of her well-toned body dancing through his head, flooding his veins with desire. Stop it! he thought, giving himself a mental slap across the face. You know about Athena's policy on relationships and sex! So get any thoughts of you and her together out of your head right now 'cause it ain't gonna happen!

        Darius sighed inwardly, realizing that as much as he hated to acknowledge these thoughts, he realized that he must. They were right. If Athena found out they were together and had broken her policies then the punishments would be severe. He didn't know if the goddess would kill him but he knew without a shadow of a doubt that she would waste no time in having Variea killed. And Darius realized that he couldn't—wouldn't allow that to happen, knowing that he wouldn't be able to live with himself if she died because of his selfish desires.

        “It's beautiful, isn't it?” Variea asked, breaking his thoughts. He looked up to find her looking out the window up at the night sky. “The night, I mean. Everything about it is so…magical. Don't you think?”

        “Yes, it is beautiful.” He replied, looking in turn up at the night sky.

        A few seconds passed, the crickets chirping softly, followed by the gentle breeze, both sounds seeming to combined to form a sweet lullaby that was so sweet that it served to put everything to rest in the chaotic world around them.

        “Darius?” Variea asked, snapping him out of his trance. He turned back around to find her staring intently at him, her expression completely serious.

        Variea gathered her strength, realizing that she couldn't hide it any longer. She had to tell Darius the truth about how she actually felt about him.

        “There's something I feel I must tell you and I can't keep it hidden for any longer.” Variea said.
        “What is it, Variea?” He asked, concern for her clearly evident on his face.

        Variea exhaled, sighing loudly and looked down at the floor, wondering how she was going to do this. Then she met his gaze once more. “Darius, I don't know how to say what I'm about to tell you but I can't hold it back any longer. I have to get this off of my chest. Darius, I…I…”

        “You what?”

        “I love you,” she answered.

        He only stood there, completely stunned. He was about to reply when, suddenly, Variea reached forward, landing a passionate kiss upon his lips.

        Several seconds passed, both of them lost in the moment, Darius realizing that he should stop this, but unable—or unwilling to make himself do it.

        Finally, the kiss ended and the two separated. Variea was about to come back for more when Darius stopped her.

        “No, we can't do this,” He breathed.

        “What? Don't you feel the same way?” She asked.

        “Yes, but, I…” He started to reply.

        “Then don't deny it?” She said, putting her finger to his lips to silence him and gazing into his eyes, seeing the same level of desire she felt for him burning in them. She wants me? He thought in disbelief, stunned by the very notion of it.

        Then Variea grabbed him, kissing him even more passionately than before. Unable to resist any longer he gave in and returned her kisses with some of his own.

        She pushed him gently to the floor, bringing one leg over so that she was sitting ontop his groin.

        It was then he realized that she did indeed have no clothes on under that gown of hers as the bare skin of her pocketbook rested on his organ, which quickly began to swell under the heat that seemed to pour from her, a faint moan escaping from her lips, her breathing becoming hurried as she arched back, suddenly absorbed in this new sensation. “Yes,” she breathed, her eyes begging him to give her the relief she so desperately wanted. To make love to her.

        Darius's heart began to pound, his breathing hurried, every fiber of his being begging him to honor her request—and suddenly a new thought burst forth in his head: Athena. She'll kill her if I do this! His mind screamed.
        “No!” He shouted, pushing Variea off of him almost violently as he rose to his feet. “Athena will kill you if she finds out that we slept together!”

        “I don't care about Athena!” Variea shouted, rising to her feet.

        “Variea, what are you saying?!” Darius asked.

        “I saying that she doesn't have the right to tell us what we can and can't do as far as our private lives go. So, I could care less about her little policies.” Variea said, angrily, turning away from him.

        “But I do care about them.” Darius replied, walking over to her and turning her around by her shoulders and placing her hand in his. “Variea, I care about you—I love you and if you died because of me I don't know what I'd do.” Darius said, trying to hold back tears.

        “I know you do,” she replied softly, stroking his face gently with her free hand. “But…”

        “But, what?”

        “Darius, I don't know if I want to work for Athena anymore.” Variea answered, realizing that it was true. She was having some serious doubts about the goddess and her forces.

        When she'd first joined Athena's elite squadron of archers she'd done so because their organization had been one of honor, strength, virtue, and courage. Everything she'd failed to find in society she'd been able to find in them.

        In truth, it had been an honor to have been chosen as a member of Athena's archers considering she'd worked so hard to become one. Not to mention that not only were they the best warriors Greece had to offer but they were also one of the few places that was reserved for women only. Truly only the best of warriors were accepted as members in this club.

        Here lately, however, she was having some serious doubts about the same organization. It seemed that, somehow, over time, it had begun to lose those qualities that had first attracted her to it in the first place. That and it seemed that Athena had changed too. At one time she had seemed to have stood for everything that was holy and just. Now it seemed that killing an innocent child was perfectly fine with her. But do I really want to serve a goddess and an organization that are willing to kill an innocent child? Variea thought only to realize that she already knew the answer to that question. No she did not.

        “I've been having serious doubts about Athena and her squadron.” Variea replied.
        A few seconds passed as the two broke eye contact, both looking around the room for answers.

        “Variea?” Darius asked, breaking the silence that had enveloped them.

        She met his gaze evenly. “Yes, Darius?”

        “Do you think I should kill this child? Am I doing the right thing?” He asked, his voice becoming strained.

        She sighed inwardly, letting a few moments of silence pass between them before turning her attention back to him. “I can't tell you the answer to that question, Darius. I'm afraid that's something you'll have to figure out on your own. I think, however, that in your heart you already know the answer to that question. But whatever decision you make I'll stand by it.”

        Darius sighed, nodding to himself, realizing that he would have to find an answer to that question on his own.

        Then she kissed him yet again, this time softer than before, seeming to use her love to caress his tortured soul. They fell to their knees. And suddenly, Darius broke contact, placing his head on her lap and sobbing softly, overcome by the sadness of what he'd become…of what the gods had made him to be. Memories of all the pain and suffering he'd caused flashing through his head.

        “I'm sorry,” he said weakly, looking up into her beautiful eyes, only to see that they were filled with compassion.

        “No,” she said firmly. “It's alright to cry, Darius. Everybody cries at some point in their lives, Darius, and your no exception. Don't be afraid to let it all out.”

        And, as he took in her words, he found that they only made him want to cry even more.

        “Shh, it's okay. You go ahead and let it all out, baby. Okay?” she said softly, pulling him to her chest in a warm hug. He hugged her back fiercely, almost as if he was afraid she'd vanish into thin air.

        “Don't leave me,” he whimpered softly in a childish voice, resting his head on her lap once more.

        “I won't,” she reassured him, stroking his head gently.


        “Yes, Darius?”
        “Why do you love me? What have I done to deserve this? I'm a monster and I don't deserve your love.” Darius replied quietly.

        She bent over, kissing him gently on the forehead. “Well, that's too bad 'cause you got it.”

        Darius's only response was to snuggle up to her like a little child and strengthen his grip on her as if he were afraid to let her go.

        Darius smiled, realizing for the first time in his life that he felt whole. It seemed that all his life he had always lacked something and that was love. And as he thought back he realized that this must be true because never in his entire existence had anyone shown him love. That was, until now.

        Why exactly Fate had given him someone like Variea he didn't know. But, perhaps, he didn't want to know, caring only instead that she loved him and wanting to keep that love in his life at all costs. It was then that he realized that now that he'd found it he didn't want to let it go. And, ultimately, he realized that he'd die to protect Variea and not even Athena herself would take her from him…even if it meant his death.

        “Darius?” Variea asked.

        “What is it, my love?” He asked, sitting up.

        “I was thinking about leaving this place soon but I can't do it alone. Will you help me?”

        “Variea, I've tried to run away from the gods before and, no matter what I did, they always seemed to find me. I can't escape from them.” Darius said.

        “Your right. You can't escape from them.” Variea answered. “But together we can escape from them. Athena and the gods don't have dominion over every place in the world. If we can make it to Egypt then they can't touch us. After all, they don't rule over Egypt so we'll be safe there.”

        A few seconds passed as Darius took all of this in. “Okay,” He said at last, “I'll do it.”

        “Great! Whenever you're ready you come and tell me and we'll leave as soon as possible.” Variea said almost shouting.

        Then the two embraced, kissing each other tenderly.

        For the next hour or so they remained together. Darius seeming thrilled by the whole experience. And, after gathering a little courage, he even dared to explore her body gently with his hands, as she did, in turn, with his body. But, at the same time, they both realized that they had to be careful least they get too carried away and end up having sex anyway.

        Finally, after both of them had tired of this, Variea grabbed Darius's head, pulling it close to her own. “Now, you get some rest and you go do whatever it is you feel you have to do tomorrow, okay?”

        “Okay, but only if you'll promise me that you'll be careful and watch yourself tomorrow.”

        “I promise,” She said with a laugh only to end up kissing him again.

        Then they both said their good nights to each other, kissed once more, and left the room to go their separate ways.

        A few seconds passed as nothing moved in the room. Then a figure emerged from the dark, shadowy recesses of a corner of the large room. The figure hadn't meant to be in the room when Variea and Darius had stumbled into it. It had only come here for a breath of fresh air as well. But, regardless of this, it had seen and heard all. Poor Darius and Variea, if only they hadn't been so wrapped up in each other, perhaps, they would have noticed the figure in the room.

        But they hadn't noticed it and now they would pay dearly.

        The figure headed for the door, and, being as quiet as possible, it opened the door, stepped through, and closed it and headed on its way.


        Somewhere in the forest, the cry of an owl erupted through the trees. Xena whirled around toward the sound, pulling her sword from its case before it dawned on her that what she'd heard had only been an owl hooting and not the footsteps of an approaching assassin. She sighed, sliding her sword back into its case, and let her hands drop to her side.

        Then she turned back around and resumed her duty of keeping watch over Eve, Gabrielle, and Hercules, all of which were sound asleep at the moment.

        Xena sighed once again, remembering how she'd managed to get the night watch. It had been shortly after their conversation about Darius and the gods when Hercules had declared with a yawn that he was going to turn in for the night. He hadn't gotten far, however, before he'd been stopped by Xena who'd suggested—or rather demanded—that they should decide who would keep watch while the others slept.

        But this had proved pointless after the three of them had argued heatedly about who this person should be as none of them wanted to keep watch, preferring to sleep instead.

        So finally Gabrielle had halted the argument, declaring that they should draw straws and that whoever got the shortest straw would become the unlucky individual to get to keep watch over the others.

        Well, as luck would have it, Xena ended up with the shortest straw, much to her dismay. Either because he wanted to be fair to her or because he saw the displeased look on her face, Hercules suggested that they take turns keeping watch, each person taking only a few hours at a time after which someone would take their place.

        Xena looked up at the night sky, taking in the stars, which seemed less like stars and more like gleaming jewels. Finally, her eyes came to rest on the moon. Although she couldn't be sure, she guessed that, judging from it's position in the sky, that meant that it was probably somewhere near midnight.

        Xena looked back down at the surrounding forest, a smile slowly spreading across her face as she realized that in a few more hours she'd be able to wake up someone to replace her and fulfill her duties as night watchman.

        Xena chuckled softly, knowing already who she would pick: HERCULES!

        The tall, groggy demigod wouldn't be pleased when she woke him up but it was better she chose him since Gabrielle was a heavy sleeper and probably wouldn't want to get up unless you spent several hours pestering her. As a matter of fact, Xena thought, nothing short of an explosion would stir her from her slumber.

        Xena laughed silently, a mischievous gleam flashing in her eyes and her smile transforming into a devilish grin as she pictured Hercules trying to wake the sleeping bard. Boy, won't he be in for a surprise?! She thought. Then she sighed, shaking her head, pushing the thought from her head and turning her attention back to the matter at hand.

        Xena scanned the dark shadowy outline of the surrounding brush, using her sharp vision to search for any trace of a hidden attacker. Finding nothing menacing lurking out in the brush, her eyes finally came to rest on Eve, who lay nestled in a few blankets under the protection of Hercules's outstretched arm. Xena didn't know exactly what, if any, protection the sleeping demigod could give her daughter should an unexpected attack occur. But for some reason unknown to her, seeing Eve near him brought her a sense of peace that she couldn't explain.

        Seeing Eve with Hercules also brought back memories of before she'd stared on her adventures with Gabrielle, when she and Hercules had shared a passionate, yet brief relationship together. As the years passed, however, they began to drift apart considering they never got to spend any time together and never knew where the other might be next.

        Xena smiled as she took in the handsome form of the fair-haired son of Zeus, remembering on several nights past when she'd entertained lustful fantasies of being in the embrace of his strong arms as he made love to her. And, even after all these years of their being apart, she wondered that if he made advances toward her if she'd refuse.

        Xena also knew from talking to Gabrielle that the bard had said that she'd even entertained such thought concerning the demigod. Which didn't surprise Xena at all considering almost every woman in Greece would probably throw themselves at him, just to say that they slept with the mighty Hercules.

        Xena guessed that, in the end, that she still had feelings for him. But she knew that there could never be anything between them considering the demanding aspects of their jobs.

        Not to mention that part of her feelings for him mostly derived from the fact that he had been the first person in her life to show her the pain and suffering her misdeeds as an evil warlord had caused.

        True, Gabrielle may have been the one to have given her hope and kept her from returning to her evil ways, but it was Hercules who had helped to generate the spark which had made her give up her evil life and start on the path of good.

        And, Xena knew, because of that, she would always be grateful to him.

        Xena stretched her tired muscles, wishing that she was asleep at this very moment. It wasn't that she minded watching over them—especially Eve—it was just that after the day she'd had she really wanted to do nothing more than curl up somewhere and fall fast asleep.

        Xena turned around and started to head toward the opposite side of the camp, when she stopped suddenly.

        The hair on the back of her neck stood up, as a chill moved down her spine—and then it came, that familiar, dreadful tingle she always felt whenever a god was near her but remained unseen. Clearly, she was not alone.

        Xena whirled back around, drawing her sword. Her body remained tense as she tried to figure out who this particular god or goddess might be. Then it hit her, the realization painfully obvious, making Xena give herself a mental kick in the rear. “Ares,” she said darkly, almost as if the name were a dirty word.

        And, as if on cue, the black, leather-clad God of War appeared before her in a flash of blue light, laughing loudly.

        “Hello, Xena. You know, you never cease to amaze me. How do you do that anyway?” Ares said, clapping his hands together, smiling broadly, and shaking his head before sighing loudly.

        “Call it intuition,” Xena replied. “What do you want, Ares?”

        “Do I always have to be after something?” he asked innocently.

        “Cut the crap, Ares. I'm not in the mood to play your little games. Okay?” Xena replied venomously.

        “Who said I'm here to play games? I came here to offer you a deal.” Ares answered, walking up to her and then behind her, tracing her shoulders with his hand before leaning toward her.

        “Give me a child.” He said, whispering seductively into her ear. Then, suddenly, he was in front of her once again. Xena hated when he did that. First he'd be in one place then he'd pop up in another without her knowing it until after he'd done it. She slipped her sword back into its case.

        “You already know the answer to that question, Ares.” Xena replied.

        “Do I?” Ares asked softly.

        “The answer is no, Ares. I've told you that already. So, why don't you do me a favor and accept it.” Xena said, walking up to him until they were almost nose-to-nose, almost shouting.

        “Xena, Xena, Xena,” Ares chided, shaking his head. “So quick to make your decision, are you? I thought I taught you better than that. I don't know if you're willing to acknowledge the truth yet but sooner or later you will. The other gods are relentless and they're not going to stop until they destroy your baby.”

        “Maybe, maybe not. That remains to be seen.” Xena replied, backing up a step. Ares laughed, clearly amused at her words.

        Xena exhaled loudly. She'd had enough of this. “That's it!” She shouted, throwing her hands up into the air. “I'm waking Gabrielle and Hercules up. I've had enough of this!”

        And, for some bizarre reason, this only caused Ares to laugh even more.

        “I don't think that's going to be possible.” Ares replied, now behind her. She whirled around, anger creeping onto her face.

        “What do you mean?! What have you done to them?!” She asked between clenched teeth.

        “Oh, well, I'm afraid they'll be out for quite awhile, or at least as long as I'm here. I put both Hercules and Gabrielle as well as Eve into a deep sleep. Let's just say I wanted us to have a quiet meeting with no interruptions.”

        “Oh, yeah, well, how do can I be sure that this isn't some sort of elaborate trap set by Athena?”

        “Xena, have a little more faith,” He said with a laugh. “I only put them under so I could talk to you alone. Although, I must admit that the thought did cross my mind to use the opportunity to kill Hercules but I didn't.”

        “And why not?” Xena asked.

        “Because may be I'm not here to kill him or anyone else that matters to you. Did you ever think about that?”

        Xena cocked an eyebrow and took in what he'd just said.

        “Xena, what do I have to do to convince you that I'm only interested in the welfare of your baby?!” He asked, throwing his hands up into the air.

        “That's the problem, Ares, you can't.” Xena answered coolly.

        “And why is that?”

        “Because you're Ares and you always lie!” Xena shouted.

        “Really?” He replied, suddenly behind her again. She spun around. I'm really getting annoyed with that little stunt of his! She thought.

        The two of them fell into silence, neither of them speaking for several seconds.

        “Ares, let me ask you something, and it's about Darius. I've heard rumors that he's been known to have killed kings and warlords amidst their kingdoms and armies. There any truth to that?” said the warrior princess, breaking the silence that had enveloped them.

        “Of course and those are just a few of the things he's done. Truth is, he's the best mortal assassin Olympus has to offer. And, now that the whole ordeal with Eve has started, the Order, particularly Athena, is looking to him more and more everyday as a means to end it and solve all their problems. And I'm sorry to say, Xena, that, despite your vast training, that you aren't capable enough to deal with him. And that goes for Hercules as well. I saw what happened today, Xena. I know how close he came to killing Eve and then Hercules.” Ares said.

        “But how do you know that?” Xena asked.

        “I'm a god, Xena. I have my ways.” Ares replied sarcastically with a slight laugh. “Besides, I don't think you need to concern yourself with that. You see, in the end, Darius doesn't need to defeat you or Hercules to kill Eve. All he really needs to kill Eve is an opportunity, no matter how small of impossible it is, and he's already proven that once today when he defeated you and Gabrielle. Given that he's on your tail, as well as the gods, it's only a matter of time before your daughter's time is up. Consider that, Xena. Think about it and then tell me if my offer is really so bad after all.

        “But don't take too much time on it, Xena. 'Cause, given the relentlessness of the other gods, Eve may not have that much time left.” Ares said before disappearing in flash of blue light.

        Xena stood there, knowing that he was wrong. But, at the same time, she wondered what would happen if it turned out that he was right all along and Eve ended up dying because she'd failed to heed his words. Would she be able to live with herself then?

        Xena sighed, telling herself that she was over worrying and that, in the end, everything would be alright before turning around and resuming her watch over the others.


        Gabrielle kneeled down by the water's edge of the small pond and dipped the bucket into its cool surface. Then, with a small grunt, she pulled it out of the pond's still surface and set the bucket onto the dry bank, water sloshing noisily over its sides.

        Then she proceeded to repeat this process with another water bucket that she had brought along as well.

        And just think, Gabrielle thought sarcastically, when you're finished with this you'll get the joy of lugging both of these heavy things back up to the village!

        Gabrielle sighed, remembering how she had gotten this assignment.

        Shortly after breakfast, just after the sun had rose, Xena had suggested that they head toward a nearby village that was only a few miles away considering that there was an old friend of hers that owned an inn there where they could stay and lay low for a few days.

        So, after an unanimous vote, the group had headed toward the village, arriving shortly before noon. Once there they had headed for the inn, and, once inside, had been welcomed by a kindly, elderly gentleman by the name of Dirk.

        After that they had all settled into the only available room in the place. It was then that Gabrielle had decided that she needed a bath only to be informed by Dirk that there wasn't any water in the inn for that. So, being the good-hearted person that she was, Gabrielle had immediately suggested that someone do the deed and go and fetch the water.

        But what little good mood she'd had had up until that moment had quickly faded away when she'd seen the funny expressions Hercules and Xena both wore. They had given her a look that had instantly made her regret ever opening her mouth in the first place.

        “Hey, that's a great idea!” Hercules exclaimed, picking up some water buckets that just happened to be lying on the floor and tossing them to her, both of which she caught easily. “So, why don't you just mosey on down to this village's local water source and get us some water?”

        “But, Hercules-“ Gabrielle had started to protest.

        “Ah, quit your whining, ya little baby! You were the one who wanted the bath so it's only fair that you get the water. Now get going.” Xena said. And then both the warrior princess and the son of Zeus had begun pushing her toward the door, much to her protests and hadn't stopped until they'd pushed her right out of the door into the hallway where they'd slammed the door in her face.

        Sighing loudly and muttering obscenities under her breath, Gabrielle had headed out of the inn.

        And when she had discovered that the village didn't have a well, she had stopped a passerby and asked them where the nearest water source was only to find out to her dismay that it was a pond which was located a few miles from the village.
It was that very pond that she was at now.

        Gabrielle pulled the bucket from the water and set it down onto the bank. Then, grabbing both buckets by their handles, she rose to her feet.

        Beyond the pond was a grassy plain, which stretched on for as far as the eye could see.

        Gabrielle started to turn around and head back to the village when she suddenly stopped. She gazed out along the vast plain. She wasn't sure but she thought she saw something. A group of men perhaps? Using her sharp vision, she studied the object, which was fast approaching.

        And then as it got closer it dawned on her that what she was seeing was more than a mere group of men. It was an army, massive in size. Probably the largest she'd ever seen! As they got closer she saw that they were covered in black leather from head to toe and carried silver shields in front of them.

        Then Gabrielle froze, finally able to read the symbols that were etched on their shields. This was no average army. These guys belonged to a god or goddess. Gabrielle squinted her eyes, trying to use the symbols to determine which god it was—and then it hit her, the realization sending chills down her spine. These were Athena's men and they were headed straight for her! Gabrielle frowned. No, they can't be heading for me, She thought, They probably don't even know I'm here yet. So that means their heading for…

        “THE VILLAGE!” She shouted, dropping the buckets. “They've come after us no doubt!” I've got to warn Xena and Hercules! She thought.

        Then she turned and headed back toward the village.


        Back at Dirk's inn, which was actually a combination of an inn/tavern, Xena leaned back in her chair, downing her glass of ale and slamming the mug on the table before her. At the moment the tavern was filled with people all of whom were engaged in a conversations, which filled the tavern with a steady roar.

        On the other side of the table sat Hercules who, at the moment at least, held Eve in his comforting arms. He gazed down at the child, lovingly, a warm smile on his face.

        “I think she's taken quite a likening to you.” Xena said, smiling at the sight of them together.

        “I guess she has,” Hercules replied, not taking his gaze off of Eve as he spoke.

        “Here you go, Xena,” an elderly gentleman said, setting two glasses of ale on the table, “compliments of the house.”

        “Why, thank you, Dirk,” Xena said kindly, looking up at the elderly gentleman, who had gray hair, blue eyes, and who was dressed rather simply. His wardrobe consisted only of a meek, brown shirt, pants and shoes. “I'm sure my friend and I will enjoy them very much.”

        “Good, good. Glad to hear it and if you need anything else you just tell me and I'll make sure you get it.” Dirk said, smiling from ear to ear. Then he turned around and headed back for the tavern's bar.

        “So, what's his story?” Hercules asked, looking up from Eve and turning his attention to Xena.

        “Ah, I saved his son from being run over by a runaway wagon a year or so ago. He's been grateful to me ever sense. Not to mention he's a heck of a nice guy and a good friend.” Xena replied.

        Hercules nodded and then turned his attention back to Eve, while Xena downed her glass of ale.

        What Xena had neglected to mention to Hercules was that not long ago she'd heard rumors that his son had died after drowning in a nearby pond and, because of that, Dirk had turned away from the gods and embraced the teachings of Eli to heal his pain over the loss of his son. Not that Xena could blame him, considering that the gods often had a habit of promising to help their followers and then abandoning them in their greatest time of need.

        Suddenly, the door to the tavern burst open and Gabrielle came running through, coming to a stop when she got to Xena.

        “Xena, there's an army heading this way and they're going to be here any second!” Shouted a nearly hysterical Gabrielle, causing everyone else in the tavern to stop talking and turn their attention to her.

        “Did you see any markings to identify who they might belong to?” Xena asked.

        “They belonged to a god—“ She began.

        “Which god?” Hercules asked, his attention completely on Gabrielle.

        “They were Athena's men, I'm sure of it.” Gabrielle answered. At this both Xena and Hercules stood up.

        “Where did you see them at?” Hercules asked.

        “On the plain not far from a pond which is a few miles from here.” Gabrielle answered.

        “Okay, let's go.” Xena said, grabbing the sling up off of the floor. Hercules carefully put Eve into its snug folds before Xena slipped it onto her back.

        “Xena,” Dirk said, walking up to them. They turned to face him. “I have a back door to the place. I can show it to you if you'd like. It could provide you with an easy escape.”

        “Okay, show it to us,” Xena said.

        “Xena, wait, what about Argo?” Gabrielle asked.

        “We haven't got the time to go get her. If we get time later then we'll come back for her. But I'm sure she'll be just fine for now in the local stables where I left her.” Xena answered.

        Then Dirk started forward, followed by Xena, Gabrielle and then Hercules. Once they had worked their way to the back of the room, Dirk led them down a series of hallways, before coming to a stop at a door located on what had to be the back wall. Dirk opened the door, revealing a brown, dirt plain that stretched on for several yards before coming to a stop at a dense wall of trees that marked the start of the forest.

        “Go on, Xena, I'll stay here and stall them for you.” Dirk said.

        “Are you sure you want to do that? They're liable to kill you if you do. You'd be safer if you came with us.” Hercules said.

        “No, my place is here. Now go, before they get here already.” Dirk said.

        “Then you be good now, ya here? And be careful, okay?” Xena said, patting Dirk on the back. Then they all clasped hands with him and said their goodbyes before Xena, Gabrielle, and Hercules stepped through the door and headed on their way. Soon they were out of sight as they were quickly lost in the arms of the thick forest beyond them.

        “Goodbye, my friends. May Eli watch over you.” Dirk said, watching the forest they had disappeared into for a moment longer before turning around and, gathering all of his strength, prepared to face down the approaching army. Then, sighing inwardly, he walked forward, heading back the way he had come to the front of the tavern.


        Soon, Athena's army arrived and it wasn't long before the lead commander had everyone in the village lined up in the street with the army facing them. In the back of Athena's troops stood Variea and her fellow archers. And, near the front of Athena's army stood Darius, who watched the crowd with both a sense of detachment and pity. It wasn't their fault that the people Athena was looking for had decided to stop and rest in their village. But Athena wouldn't see it that way. They'd be lucky if she didn't kill them all, which she was probably prone to do just for the sheer fun of it. Or at least that was his opinion anyway and Darius really hoped that, just for once in his life, he was wrong about her.

        Suddenly, Athena, Hades, and Hephaestus appeared in flashes of light not far from him.

        “What is the status on the current situation?” Athena asked the commanding officer.

        “We've searched the village and there appears to be no sign of the fugitives. We believe they may have escaped and that these people may know where they went.” The commander said, gesturing to the crowd before him.

        “Well then, that is a shame, now isn't it?” Athena asked, turning to the crowd, malicious intent clearly evident in her eyes. The people shuddered and cowered in fear, afraid of what she might do to them. The Goddess of War and Wisdom walked forward, stopping when she was a few yards from the crowd…and smiled.

        “If anyone should tell me where they went they shall have my favor.” Athena stated, seeming to talk at the crowd instead of talking to them. “But also know that if anyone lies to me then they will die. Now, who knows which way they went?”

        No one spoke.

        Athena was about to say more when a soldier handed the commander a piece of cloth, whispering something in his ear.

        “Excuse me, my goddess? Please forgive my interruption but I just received this from one of my men.” He said, walking forward and handing it to Athena. “I was told that it came from one of the rooms in the inn.” The commander bowed before her before scampering back to the safety of his fellow troops.

        Athena examined the piece of cloth closely before wrinkling her face in disgust. “Who's is this?!” Athena asked the crowd, holding the cloth up in the air as if it were diseased. The cloth was white and scrawled upon its surface were some teachings of Eli.


        “If no one will claim this then I will have to kill all of you to ensure that the offender is punished. Is that what you want?” asked the goddess of war and wisdom coldly, her smile never leaving her face.

        The people looked at each other uneasily but otherwise made no effort to speak.

        “Very well,” Athena replied, preparing to pull her sword from its case on her side.

        “Wait!” Cried a figure from the back of the crowd, who had already started making his way to the front. The crowd quickly parted for the mysterious man, who stepped through the opening they had created and stopped when he was at the front of the them. It was Dirk.

        “You dare to defy the gods with fifth such as this?!” Athena asked hotly, dropping the cloth to the ground in disgust.

        “Well, I'm sorry, but I don't think I had much of a choice in the matter, goddess! I prayed to you and your order to protect my son from harm and do you know what happened?! He drowned and not ONE of you did anything to stop it! So, I don't think I'll go on serving an order that'd let my son die regardless of my service to it!” Dirk spat venomously, his sudden outburst causing those closest to him to flinch involuntarily.

        Athena grit her teeth, her face turning red with rage. How DARE this—this lowly mortal think he can speak to me this way?! I AM A GODDESS and won't be treated in any other respect! Athena thought darkly.

        Athena started forward to draw her weapon, hell bent on doing nothing less than gutting her intended target like a fish when she suddenly stopped, a better idea popping in her head almost instantly. She turned and walked back toward her army.

        “Kill him!” Athena shouted to Darius.

        “But he's only an old man!” Darius protested, an incredulous look filling his face.

        “DO IT OR I'LL DO IT MYSELF!” Athena screamed at him, literally shaking with rage and giving Darius one of the coldest looks he'd ever received. And, somehow, Darius got the impression that if he didn't do as she asked right here, right now, that she'd do nothing short of beat him black and blue, regardless of the fact that there were other people watching.

        Darius turned, sighed inwardly and drew his sword, walking toward the old man, stopping when he was several feet from the crowd.

        “Come forward,” Darius commanded Dirk.

        Dirk obeyed and stepped in front of Darius.

        “Fall to your knees.” Darius said.

        Again Dirk did as he was commanded and fell to his knees.

        Then Darius raised his blade high over his head, preparing to behead the kindly old man named Dirk. It was bad enough that he had to kill him. So the least he could do for the guy would be to make his death as quick and painless as possible.

        Dirk looked up at Darius and the two locked gazes. And it was in this moment that Darius saw that the old man seemed to have lost his animosity toward the gods which had been quickly replaced by fear and it was also in this moment that Darius saw how truly afraid the old man was.

        Darius sighed inwardly once more, his eyes swimming with apology for what he was about to do. “I'm sorry,” He said softly, pitching his voice so only Dirk could hear it. The old man nodded slightly, his gaze seeming to say, “I know you are. Now you do what you have to, son. My time has come.” Then, struggling to hold back the tears that threatened to burst forth from his eyes, in a stroke like that of lightening, Darius sent his sword hurtling toward Dirk's head, cutting it clean off. And, with two, sickening thumps, both the head and the body both fell to the ground.

        The crowd looked on in horror, some of the women who were mothers turned away to shield their children from the gruesome sight before them.

        Darius resheathed his sword, turned around, and walked back toward Athena and her army with his head held low, his heart already consumed with guilt, his face an expressionless mask that hid the torrent of emotions swirling around inside of him that threatened to erupt to the surface at any moment. He may be the assassin for the Olympian order but that didn't mean he had to like his job because of it.

        “Search the village again! I'm sure we'll find some sign of where they went.” Athena said to the commander.

        Then, as the army dispatched to follow her orders, Athena, Hades, and Hephaestus all disappeared in separated flashes of light.

        Less than an hour later, Athena's army had found the tracks of the three fleeing fugitives behind the inn.

        Athena's commander stood in the center of the village, eyeing the people suspiciously.

        Then, in a flash of light, Athena appeared before him.

        “What have you found?” She asked him.

        “We've found the tracks of the fugitives behind the inn, heading due west towards the forest.” He replied.

        “Excellent. Get your army moving at once. Once you find them follow my orders I gave you earlier to a 'T'. Understood?” Athena said.

        “Yes, my goddess. We will not fail you.”

        “See that you don't. Now move out.” Athena commanded coldly, before disappearing in a flash of light.

        “Alright, troops!” the commander shouted to his men. “Let's move out!”

        Then Athena's army, archers, and Darius headed out of the village in the direction of their fleeing prey.

Part 5

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