Chapter 1 Part 6

by Joseph Ezell


Disclaimer: Please See Part One

        Gabrielle emerged from the woods and into a small clearing, followed closely by Xena, with Hercules taking up the rear.

        Suddenly, the bard came to an abrupt stop, holding up her hand, gesturing for her companions to do so as well.

        “Why are we stopping?” Xena asked, fear for the safety of her child and adrenalin from the attack still coursing through her veins.

        “Xena,” The warrior bard panted heavily as she bent over and rested her hands on her knees and turned towards her friend. “I don't know about you guys, but I've got to stop and catch my breath from a minute. I mean, we've been running through that forest forever, I'd say at least for a few miles anyway.

        Several seconds passed as the warrior princess thought about what Gabrielle had just said, all the while, carefully weighing her options.

        “Alright,” Xena said at last, placing a warm hand on Gabrielle's shoulder, an affectionate smile instantly filling her face, “but only for a few minutes, okay? Athena's army could be here at any moment.”

        “Okay,” Gabrielle answered, glad that she could at least rest her tired muscles, even if only for a few minutes.

        Xena and Hercules scanned the outline of the surrounding forest, realizing that they both could use a breather as well as it wouldn't do for either one of them to become tired out and collapse on a run from Athena's army.

        Just then, Eve began to cry. Xena quickly took the sling from off her back, wondering if, perhaps, her daughter needed to be fed as it had been awhile since she'd last fed her.

        Xena held the sling with Eve still nestled safely inside its folds out in front of her, a warm look of gushy love spilling out across her face as she caressed her adorable child gently. Eve cooed, giggling happily, making it seem that all she really needed was affection from her mother to sustain herself and nothing else.

        Gabrielle took in the sight of the exchange of love between mother and daughter, a pleased grin spreading across her face.

        Hercules smiled as well at the sight of Xena and her daughter before him, although briefly. He sighed before turning back around, seeming unable to truly enjoy the moment as he eyed the tree line of the forest that they'd just come from only moments before nervously.

        Athena could be on them in a matter of minutes and he wanted to be ready for it when and if it happened. Clearly, Athena would stop at nothing to get at them and kill Eve and he wasn't about to get caught with his pants down if it happened. He would be prepared for it and if it happened he'd meet it head on and without mercy.

        Suddenly, the smile that had been trying so hard to claim his face up until now, quickly fell away, only to be replaced by a tense, grim expression of worry. Then, before he could react, a dark form burst forth from the shadowy confines of the woods in front of him, and, in one fail swoop, lunged for the mighty hero, hitting him square in the waist. The force of the blow sent him crashing to the ground with a hard thud.

        Hercules rose to his feet, only to find himself face-to-face with the one person that he wanted more than anything in this world not to see at this moment: Darius.


        The two men eyed each other warily. Hercules sighed inwardly, realizing that when Darius had told him that his curse was that he was too good that he wasn't kidding. Even though they'd managed to defeat him at least three times already the man just kept on coming, pursuing and attacking them relentlessly in his mission to kill Eve. Hercules briefly considered trying to talk Darius out of his quest to kill Eve but then decided against it as he realized that it wouldn't do any good. Darius was hopelessly committed to his mission and wouldn't consider any other option other than the one Athena and the other gods had given him. Sadly, Hercules realized, Darius was indeed their enemy and it was about time that he start facing up to that fact.

        Hercules shook these thoughts off, realizing that he needed to resolve this whole situation right here and right now. So quit standing around and do it already! He thought.

        Darius sighed inwardly, wishing he were anywhere but here as he watched Hercules charge forward.

        The two mighty warriors met—and began exchanging some of the most brutal blows imaginable that would have made even the most battle-hardened of warriors faint of heart.

        Hercules somehow succeeded in blocking one of Darius's blows—and in the same instant grabbed his arms, pinning them to his side. “Give it up Darius! This game's over with! I know you're smarter than this! So do me a favor and stop playing Athena's little game!” Hercules shouted, knowing in his heart that there was no reasoning with the assassin of the gods—but hoping at the same time that he was wrong and that there may still be some tiny shred of hope for the tortured warrior.

        “I'm afraid that I must play, Hercules,” Darius said smoothly. “I have no choice in the matter. Eve must die.”

        Suddenly, Darius reared back, and, like a coiled spring, unleashed a bone-jarring head but that sent his opponent reeling backwards.

        Hercules recovered quickly, his face contorting in rage and turning a fiery red. “You know, you're really starting to piss me off!” He said through clenched teeth, his voice full of animosity.

        Darius didn't reply, choosing instead to send a punch flying toward the man of might, which hit him square upside the head. Hercules recovered quickly, a look of disgust spilling across his face as he glared at his opponent. Darius stared right back, his own face devoid of emotion, making him look all the world like a cold-blooded killer.
        Then the fight resumed once more, both warriors charging forward and engaging in a brutal battle…the outcome of which was completely uncertain.


        Xena looked at the ongoing fight before her, her face darkening with dismay, fear, anger, and a few other emotions that she couldn't identify at the moment.

        Then, as she ran through these emotions one right after the other, she was hit with a sudden and brutal realization. One that she wasn't that thrilled about but knew was the only way to stop their seemingly unstoppable enemy and save her daughter's life.

        The warrior princess sighed inwardly, turning to Gabrielle and trying with all of the effort that she could muster not to let any of the emotions she was feeling at the moment spill across her face.

        Xena gazed at her friend, her heart breaking when she saw that she seemed to be feeling the same things that she was feeling.

        “Gabrielle,” Xena said, walking over to the warrior bard.

        “What is it, Xena?” Gabrielle asked, somehow getting the feeling that she wasn't going to like what Xena was about to tell her. And why is that? She wondered.

        “Gabrielle, I want you to take Eve. If Darius gets past Hercules—I'm going to have to stop him myself.”

        “Xena, what are you—“ Gabrielle began only to be cut off just as fast by Xena.

        “Gabrielle, listen to me!” Xena said through clenched teeth, all the while trying not to burst into tears. “I'm going to stop Darius one way or the other. I'll kill him even if it means that I have to die in the process.”

        “Xena, don't say that!” Gabrielle cried, tears sliding down her smooth cheeks.

        “I'm sorry, but it's the only way!” Xena replied, unable to restrain her emotions any longer, tears flowing down her face as well.

        Xena used one hand to hold the sling and let the other rest on Gabrielle's shoulder. “Gabrielle, listen to me, okay? There's something else that I need for you to do for me. If it looks like I'm about to lose in the least little bit I want you to run through the woods and never look back.”
        “But if he gets past you how am I going to protect Eve? Xena I can't fend him off, he's too powerful.”

        “Gabrielle, it won't come to that. And even if it does you'll think of something. Whatever happens do whatever it takes to protect Eve.” Xena answered, noticing real quick that the bard didn't like her answer at all. “Look, I don't like it anymore than you do but it's the only plan I've got. Okay?”

        For several seconds Gabrielle pondered Xena's words carefully, not liking any of them in the least little bit, but unable to come up with a better plan of her own. Finally, she sighed inwardly, nodding helplessly.

        Xena handed Eve over to Gabrielle, the warrior bard quickly slipping the straps of the sling onto her back and, with Xena's help, slipping Eve gently inside its comforting folds.

        Then the two friends stared at each other intently, each unsure of what to do next. “Come here,” Xena said, pulling Gabrielle into a strong embrace, each crying softly as they both knew that this could probably be the last time they saw one another alive again.

        Finally, after saying their goodbyes to each other, both warriors pulled away from the embrace, each silently wishing the other well.

        Xena stared at her friend for a few moments longer, praying that everything would be alright for her in the end and that she'd get to see her again soon, before turning back around to face the ongoing battle before her.

        Xena quickly wiped the tears away from her eyes, her expression hardening into a mask of sheer determination, and readied herself for the surely inevitable fight that was before her by drawing her sword. And it was then that she vowed that if Darius somehow managed to get past Hercules he wouldn't live to see another day because she'd make sure of it…no matter what it might cost her in return.


        Meanwhile, Darius and Hercules were still locked in a heated battle, each hoping for the death of the other. Each determined to win this battle at any cost.

        At the present moment Darius had somehow managed to get his arm locked securely around Hercules's neck into a sleeper hold.

        Both men grunted loudly, savage cries of rage escaping their lips, their faces contorting into expressions of sheer determination as each pitted his strength against the other's. Hercules's hands were locked around Darius's arm and, at any moment, the assassin of the gods knew that the tall demigod could and would succeed in breaking his arm in two. That's why I have to kill him now, least he should succeed in his task, Darius thought, realizing even as he did so how much he really didn't want to kill the noble hero—and at the same time—seeing no other way around it. When it came right down to it he was out of options, plain and simple. One way or another Eve must die. And, as far as Darius was concerned at least, he could tear himself up over Hercules's death later. Right now, like it or not, he had a job to do and it was high time he start living up to that responsibility.

        Suddenly, Hercules gained the upper hand and, grabbing Darius by the belt and the throat, the man of might managed to pry him off of him, lifting him high into the air—and in the same instant—slamming him to the ground with a bone-shattering thud.

        For several seconds Darius lay there, too stunned to move as almost unbearable pain consumed his body, his vision filling with strange colors, the whole world spinning around and around, threatening to fade out of focus at any moment. Then Darius shook his head, clearing it of the nonsense he'd been seeing and, slowly but surely, began to regain his bearings.

        He looked up only see the massive shape of Hercules advancing steadily upon him, preparing to do who knew what to him. Darius relaxed and cleared his mind, letting his warrior instincts take over.

        And, just as Hercules was about to grab him, the assassin to the gods suddenly reacted, his leg snaking out in the blink of an eye, catching the tall demigod square in the chest totally by surprise. Hercules stumbled backwards from the sheer force of the blow, a loud “oof” escaping his lips as Darius flipped flopped to his feet.

        Hercules quickly regained himself, a loud roar of defiance erupting from his lips. Then both warriors ran at each other, their meeting inevitable. Finally, both clashed, each combatant engaging in a hellish battle that was frightening to behold indeed.

        Darius and Hercules struck at each other relentlessly, each blocking and receiving blows at an undistinguishable rate. This exchange went on for several seconds before Darius prevailed, landing a solid punch to Hercules's chest that sent him reeling backwards.

        But, just as Darius was about to advance upon Hercules, the tall demigod quickly recovered and launched himself at his opponent, diving for his waist with his arms stretched out before him.

        Hercules was just about to hit his target when suddenly Darius jumped into the air, drew his sword, and used his feet to propel himself off of his enemy's back through the air, causing Hercules to hit the ground with a hard thud, where he skidded for several feet before finally coming to an abrupt stop at the base of a small tree.


        Darius flipped overhead, his blade clashing with Xena's in a blinding shower of sparks—and a second later, landed with a hard thud. And, wasting no time, the assassin of the gods struck at the warrior princess relentlessly, their blades clashing repeatedly in an explosive ching, ching! of sound.

        Xena grunted loudly and, using all of her warrior prowess, managed to block Darius's almost unforgiving attack—but just barely, as he attacked again and again, seeming to want nothing more than to cut her to pieces.

        Both warriors continued in their attacks, neither of them wanting to give in to the other as they struck out at each other again and again, their attacks so fast and so brutal that it was utterly impossible to determine who was lashing out at who!

        And, just as Xena was preparing to end this whole thing, Darius beat her to the punch and, in one fail swoop, disarmed her and pivoted on one foot, sending her crashing to the ground with a lightening fast kick to the legs.

        Darius stood over his fallen opponent, coldly surveying her with the face of the trained professional that he was and that the gods had made him to be—and yet—at the same time his eyes reflecting that all-too-now-familiar emotional intensity that she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt was coursing through his body, threatening to make him lose his focus and nerve. Such a shame he won't listen to it, Xena thought sadly, half of her wanting to pity the tortured warrior in front of her, while the other half coolly informed her that no matter what she said or did he was fully intent on completing his mission and killing Eve. Xena shook these thoughts away in an instant, immediately looking for a way to escape her now seemingly eminent death, all the while knowing that no matter what she did she was dead for surely her soon-to-be killer would not hesitate to end her life and ultimately do what he had to do to complete his mission. But, regardless of what happened, she could only hope that Gabrielle would somehow be able to protect Eve. Please be okay, Eve. She silently wished her child, Please survive and know that your mother will always love you.

        Gabrielle stood there, her breaths coming out in quick gasps, realizing that she needed to take Eve and run as far away from this place as she could, and yet unable to tear her eyes away from the sight of her best friend lying on the ground at the mercy of an unforgiving killer. All the while thoughts whirled at lightening speed through her head as she was torn between running for the relative safety of the nearby woods with Eve or staying behind to help out her friend.

        Darius stood over Xena, raising his sword high over his head, preparing to deliver the blow that would kill the noble warrior before him and ultimately end the warrior princess's existence forever.

        “Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” Hercules screamed, as time seeming to slow down to a crawl.

Darius stood there, all sounds around him as well as everything else vanishing at that moment except for two things: his own heart thudding in his chest and the sight of his fallen opponent before him, a defiant and yet resigned expression filling her face.

Darius stood there, his breathing slow and steady, sweat covering every inch of his body, as time continued to slowly tick by. All the while images flashed through his head: Variea lovingly stroking his face, Athena giving him his orders, the haunting look in the old man's eyes just before he'd killed him. Stop it! Darius shouted inwardly to his brain. But it would not stop. In fact, if anything, the images only seemed to increase in ferocity and strength, flashing faster and faster until they became an almost steady blur.

        Finally, it stopped, a new image coming to his hazy and confused focus: Eve's face as she looked up at him with her innocent, little eyes. And it was then that he was hit by a sudden realization: he couldn't do this. Killing Xena's child and the rest of these people was wrong and he knew in his heart that it wouldn't solve anything and, ultimately, that their deaths would be useless to him and completely unnecessary.

        Regardless of what happened, Variea was waiting on him and all he had to do was give her the word and they'd be off to Egypt, away from the Greek gods.

        He may not have been able to escape the gods in the past, but, perhaps, with Variea's help, now he would be able to. Perhaps now things were different. Perhaps now he had been given a chance to escape from the nightmare that had been his existence for so long and all the torment he'd received forever. Perhaps now he'd finally be able to live the life with Variea that he'd longed for for so long and never been given before. He could only hope.

        But whatever happened, Darius knew that the window of opportunity for this peaceful life may already be closing and that he'd be a fool to not seize it while he still had the chance. He nodded inwardly, now knowing what he had to do.

        Darius lowered his weapon, sliding it back into its case on his side and offering a hand out to a stunned Xena. She looked up at him, confusion and disbelief playing across her face as she cautiously took his hand and was instantly pulled to her feet.

        Darius reached down, grabbing Xena's sword from off of the ground. “Here you go,” He said, throwing it to a still stunned Xena. “I believe this belongs to you.”

        Xena caught the weapon, instantly sliding it into its case as Gabrielle and Hercules quickly joined her by her side, both wearing looks of confusion and disbelief of their own.

        “Why did you do that?” Xena asked, still unable to process what had just happened.

        Darius smiled, finally feeling like he'd done something right for once in his life. “Let's just say that I've had a change in heart.”

        “But I don't get it.” Gabrielle began. “Your orders were to—“

        “My orders mean nothing now.” Darius stated simply, cutting her off before she had time to finish. Then his smile faded, a serious expression instantly filling his face. “Look, Athena's army will be here at any moment. When that happens I won't be able to help you. So I suggest you leave now.”

        “Come with us. We can help you—“ Xena began, suddenly feeling very grateful to him.

        “No, I have to be here when Athena gets here or she'll become suspicious and come looking for me.” Darius replied.

        “Darius, if she finds out that you let us go, she won't hesitate to kill you.” Hercules warned.

        “Don't worry. I can handle her. Now get going before I change my mind.” Darius answered.

        With that said, the three heroes all nodded and ran to the woods, stopping briefly to gaze at their newfound friend for a few moments longer before turning and disappearing into the thick brush of the surrounding forest.

        Darius stood there and looked on for a few moments longer at the spot where they'd been in just moments before and then turned away from the surrounding brush and gathered all of the courage that he could muster as he waited for the inevitable arrival of Athena and her troops. And, yet—at the same time he couldn't help but smile on the inside as he realized that he felt better than he had all day.

        Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Darius, a pair of watchful eyes lay hidden amongst the brush. The owner of those eyes had seen it all. In fact, you could say that it hadn't missed a thing. It had also been the same unknown witness to Darius's and Variea's meeting last night and had, snuck off to follow him when Athena had told him to go after their enemies simply out of curiosity of whether or not he would kill their foes. Now that it had seen what had just happened it now had its answer.

        The silent figure took one last look at Darius before turning around and rushing back into the depths of the woods—and back to Athena and her army.


Thirty minutes later, Variea and the other archers burst forth from the woods, followed closely by Athena's army. They came to a stop only moments before Athena appeared before them in a flash of light, followed a few seconds later by Hades and Hephaestus as they appeared in separate flashes of light behind her.

        “Report,” Athena barked, turning her attention to Darius.

        “I'm sorry my goddess, but they managed to escape from my grasp and I was unable to subdue them. For my failure I will gladly accept any punishment that you may give, even if means my death.” Darius said, bowing before her with all of the humbleness that he could manage, hoping that she would buy his act and that this wouldn't the last breath he took.

        Several seconds passed by as Athena eyed him coldly, Darius noticing with growing discomfort that her hand was resting on the helt of her sword, making it that much easier for her to kill him before he even had time to react. The goddess of war and wisdom sighed inwardly and, for a few moments, briefly considered killing him, and then, just as quickly, decided against it. Whether she wanted to admit it or not he was just too important to her right now alive.

        Finally, Athena smiled, her overwhelming sense of pride erasing any previous rage she may have had against him at the sight of his display of total reverence to her. Then she sighed, the smile that had been claiming her beautiful face quickly falling away only to be replaced just as quickly by the emotionless expression that she usually wore.

        “I'm honored by your loyalty to me, Darius but that won't be necessary. You have earned my forgiveness for the moment at least, thus sparing your life.” Athena told him calmly. “Rise,” She commanded.

        Darius did as he was commanded and rose to his feet.

        “Alright people! I think we've all had enough excitement for one day. Let's head back to the temple. We'll strike at our enemies first thing in the morning.” Athena said, turning to the rest of the group, suddenly feeling very weary. She'd wasted enough time chasing her prey today. And after all the resources she'd lost today she felt that the battle against her enemies could wait until tomorrow. Right now all she wanted to do was to go back to her temple and relax for the rest of the afternoon. Clearly, she didn't need the rest but, the way she figured it, she'd earned it after all she'd been forced to suffer through today.

        Then, with that said, Hades, Hephaestus and Athena vanished in separate flashes of light, while everyone else turned around and began the long journey through the woods to Athena's temple.

        Darius walked closely behind them, silently bidding the time until he would be able to escape with Variea from the gods and perhaps then, finally have the one thing that he had wanted more than anything for so long: freedom.



        Later that day, shortly after the sun had descended below the horizon and darkness had fallen upon the land, bringing with it a breathtaking blanket of stars, which covered every inch of the night sky and everything under it, Darius stood in Variea's bedchamber, holding Variea's hands with his own, a huge grin plastered on his handsome face. Variea smiled back at him, clad only in her white nightgown, and returned his smile with one of her own, making her seem to Darius less like a woman and more like the radiant creature she truly was.

        She is truly a sight to behold, isn't she? Darius thought, literally beaming both inside and outside. What did I do to deserve such a beautiful woman? He wondered silently in awe of her very beauty, still trying to take in the fact that this woman—this angel—loved him at all. She knew about his past—all of the horrible things he'd done—and yet, she still loved him anyway. He shook his head inwardly, still incredulous at the whole thing. At the moment, they were the only people to occupy the small room.

        “So, are we really going through with it?” Variea asked excitedly, hardly able to keep the joy that filled her heart from bursting forth from her. “Do you really want to leave for Egypt tonight?”

        “Yes I do. We'll leave tonight, unless of course you don't want to?” Darius asked, hoping against hope that she wouldn't say yes to that question and put their trip off to another night as he didn't think he'd be able to stand being here much longer.

        “No problem at all,” Variea replied. “Then it's settled. We leave tonight.”

        “Are you sure…?” Darius asked questionably, still trying to make sure that she was indeed ready to do this.

        “Of course I'm sure, Darius. I'd gladly follow you to the ends of the Earth if that was the only way to be with you.” Variea answered, looking into his eyes with open admiration and love. Darius smiled even more, his heart aching at her words so much that he thought it would break. But he didn't care. As long as he was with Variea, somehow, he knew that no matter he did or what happened, she would always be there for him and no matter what she would always love him. And, for some reason that Darius had yet to comprehend, that made him feel better than he'd ever felt before.
        “But how are we going to do this?” Variea asked, her face turning very serious all of a sudden.

        Darius looked at her, his face losing its joy at once as his heart began to fill with fear and doubt.

        On the battlefield earlier in the day, after he'd spared Xena's life and let her and her baby and friends go, he felt so sure of his chances of success of escaping from Athena and the other gods because when he'd thought of Variea being at his side, their escape had seemed so certain—so real—that he'd felt that nothing could or would stop them.
But now that he was at the threshold of that moment he wasn't so sure about their chances anymore. What if they failed and Variea was killed because of it? Could he live with the knowledge that he'd had a hand in her death? Somehow, Darius knew the answer to that question almost immediately: he could not. And, ultimately, Darius also knew that if that happened and she died because of him, he would have to kill himself because, at that moment, life simply wouldn't be worth living anymore.

        Before Variea had announced her love for him he had no one—no reason for living. And now that she was his he felt strangely complete in a way. And it was then that he vowed to both god and mortal alike that even after he had taken his life that he would never work for the gods again. Dead or alive.

        “We'll leave later tonight, around midnight when everyone else has gone to bed and the gods will surely have returned to Olympus.” Darius answered, gripping her shoulders reassuringly.

        “Agreed.” Variea said, nodding quickly.

        “Good, and Variea, I promise I'll be by your side all the way and I'll die to protect you, okay?”

        “Okay,” Variea said with a small laugh, her face once again transforming into the work of art she truly was.

        Darius smiled back at her and for a moment neither of them spoke, each choosing instead to gaze into the other's eyes.

        It was Variea who finally made the first move, walking slowly up to Darius, closing her eyes, and planting a gentle, yet very sensual kiss upon his lips. Then she pulled back, casting a questioning glance his way. “Should I go further?” her gaze seemed to be asking.

        As if to answer that question, Darius pulled her close, claiming her lips with a passionate kiss of his own, his hands gripping her body and pressing it against his own as she did his. Both of them seeming to do it out of instinct rather than desire.

        As the kiss continued, Darius's hands began to travel all over Variea's body. Finally, one of them came to rest on her leg and began traveling slowly up its smooth, soft surface. It was mere inches from the secret treasure chest that was between her legs, when he suddenly became aware of what he was doing and stopped his progress abruptly. He pulled away from her slightly, Variea's gaze seeming to only egg him on, her eyes pleading with him to proceed. All the danger posed by Athena totally forgotten for the moment.

        “You know, we can if you want to,” Variea breathed, barely suppressing a moan. “We can do whatever you want. She'll never know even know about it.”

        “Yes she will.” Darius replied simply. “She'll know everything. She's a god after all and they always know about such things.”

        It was then that Darius stepped back from her, removing his hands from her body, his heart aching at the loss. In truth, it was then that he realized that he'd never wanted a person so badly in all of his existence as he wanted Variea at this very moment, not only in physical desire but also in the heart as well. Sex wouldn't be simply a means of obtaining physical pleasure. Rather it would simply be a way for him to express physically all of the love he felt at this very moment for her.

        Darius sighed inwardly, wishing that things were different for them, but knowing that they weren't. Soon, Darius thought. Soon we'll be free and all of that will change.

        “Okay, I understand. But when we get out of here and escape from the gods I trust you won't deny me that pleasure then?” Variea asked.

        “I wouldn't dream of it. But if I do I trust you'll persuade me to change my mind?” Darius asked, faking seriousness.

        “Oh you bet I will,” Variea answered, her eyes promising him untold pleasures on that day. Darius turned away, blushing like a little schoolgirl.

        “Darius, are you blushing?” Variea taunted.

        “No,” He answered stubbornly.

        For a few several beats neither of them spoke. Then, suddenly, both of them burst into a fit of uncontrollable laughter, each turning to one another and grinning stupidly. It was the kind of laughter that only those in love could truly understand.

        After an undisclosed amount of time, it could have been thirty minutes, it could have been two hours later, Darius stepped out of Variea's room into the silent hallway of the temple and was about to say goodbye to Variea and close the door, when she came forward and practically attacked him, claming his lips with her own in a passionate kiss that was even more intense than all the others that had come before it. In fact, the kiss lasted so long that Darius began to wonder if it would ever end. Then, before he even was aware of it, the kiss did in fact end and Variea pulled back, gazing deeply into his eyes.

        Darius was about to say goodbye and leave, when he suddenly found himself in yet another kiss with Variea, the vague realization hitting him that he'd been the one to initiate it. Variea moaned, closing her eyes as she let herself be lost in the moment. Darius continued to kiss her for several moments longer, the rest of the world seeming to cease to exist in that moment, leaving them all alone, before pulling away from her, abruptly ending the whole thing.

        “Soon, my love,” He whispered in her ear, “Soon, all of this will be over with and we'll have each other totally to ourselves.”

        “I'll be waiting,” Variea replied.

        Then, gazing deep into her eyes, he pecked her lightly on the lips, took her hand in his own, kissing it gently, before turning around and walking off down the corridor to his room.


        Darius walked down the corridor for several seconds before the hallway came to a stop, opening up into a large room beyond it.

        He cleared the last remaining bit of the hallway and entered into the large room, which consisted of bare stonewalls, a floor and a ceiling. In fact, the only objects to adorn the room at all were three doors, one of which was located in the corner of the wall to his right, while the next one was actually a set of double doors that lay in the far corner on the wall to his left. Darius figured that both of them probably led to one of the many passageways that twisted and turned only to lead you deeper into the temple. As for why Athena wished to have one of her temples constructed in this way, Darius didn't have a clue. Don't have a clue and don't care, Darius thought. Just have to go to my room, lay low, and when the time is right, get Variea and the two of us will flee and, hopefully, leave this place forever. Darius shook these thoughts away and turned in the direction he meant to go, toward the last door, which was located on the wall that he'd just exited from, via the hallway, and that would led him down a long hallway that would eventually led him to his room. He sighed and started for the door, reminding himself that he would only have to endure this place for a few moments longer and then, when the time came, he would finally be free and happy with the woman he loved to keep him company.

        “Darius,” Athena called from somewhere behind him.

        He turned, facing the direction her voice had come from just in time to see her appear in a flash of golden light. “What is it that you wish of me, my goddess?” He asked humbly, bowing slightly in respect.

        “We need to talk,” She answered sternly, her face an emotionless mask, while her eyes were as cold as ice.

        Then Athena snapped her fingers, and, in a flash of light, Variea appeared several feet away from him, off to his left.

        For several seconds Variea stood there looking bewildered as she tried to figure out what had just happened. She stopped when she saw Athena. “My goddess, why have you summoned me here?” She asked Athena.

        “Silence!” Athena replied coldly, causing her to do just that, the sudden volume of rage in her tone, making both Variea and Darius jump involuntarily. “You'll speak when only I wish for you to speak and not a moment before then!”

        Seeming satisfied at Variea's response to her words, Athena turned her attention back to Darius. The goddess of war and wisdom smiled, placing her hand on the hilt of her sword.

        “Darius,” Athena mused, looking all the world like she couldn't decide whether to explode into a fit of rage or a fit of uncontrollable laughter, “tell me again what happened when I sent you after Eve when Xena, Gabrielle, and Hercules left the battlefield earlier in the day.”

        Darius frowned, not liking at all where this was going. “You know very well what happened, my goddess, they managed to escape from me before I could subdue them.”

        “Do I?!” Athena asked sharply, her face becoming deadly serious. Then she laughed, shaking her head. “Oh, you little liar. You never learn do you?” She chided much as a mother might do to a naughty little boy, before snapping her fingers.

        On cue a woman stepped into the room from the shadowy recesses of the set of now open double doors. She was one of the archers. And, without one word, the woman turned her attention towards Variea before placing an arrow on the string of her bow, pulling the string back, and pointing it at her.

        Variea looked at the woman and recognized her immediately as her second in command. A woman she'd thought was a friend.

        Darius stared in horror at the scene before him, desperately knowing that he needed to do something to save Variea but at the same time knowing that if he made the slightest move toward her he might just give the woman the excuse she needed to kill her.
        Athena cast a look at the woman and began to speak. “Velana's been quite helpful to me. First she saw you and Variea together the night before today. Then she saw you today when you spared Xena's life and let her and her child and friends go.” Darius cast a look of surprise and true fear Athena's way, as he suddenly realized that his worst fears had just come true: Athena knew of his relationship with Variea and of his treachery toward her.
        “Now imagine my surprise when she came to me after the battle today and told me that you had lied to me.” Athena said, turning around and walking slowly along the wall to his right a few feet, lightly tracing it's smooth surface with her fingers, looking all the world as if she were actually talking to herself rather than anyone else. Then she stopped abruptly and spun around on her heel, a sweet smile plastered on her face, her eyes full of malicious intent, seeming to throw daggers at him.

        “You know, Darius, I would have let you break the rules and keep the girl. I mean, as long as you killed Eve, what did I care? The only thing that mattered to me was that you got the job done.

        “But you didn't do that, now did you?! You lied to me, Darius!” Athena shouted, her voice taking on a deadly tone that somehow made Darius realize what she was planning to do. That she was planning on making him suffer for his treachery toward her by having Variea killed right in front of him.

        “ My goddess, please, don't do this! I'll do anything you ask from now on! Just don't kill her!” He pleaded desperately.

        “You LIED to me, Darius!” Athena continued, her voice full of animosity, her body literally shaking with rage, acting as though she hadn't even heard him. “And if there's one thing that I can't stand IT'S A LIAR!”

        “No! Wait!-“ Darius began, only to be cut off by Athena as she continued in her monologue, now oblivious to his protests in her now blind and consuming rage towards him.

        “And with that said I'm sure you'll understand it when I tell you that this was the only punishment I found suitable to fit the crime.” Athena finished, tipping her head towards the archer.

        Velana nodded in understanding, and, before Darius could react, released her grip on the string of her bow, sending the arrow slamming into Variea's chest.

        Variea stood there, time seeming to slow to a crawl as she looked in disbelief down at her chest, noticing that the arrow had pierced her heart before collapsing to the floor on her knees with a bone-jarring thud, the rest of her body toppling like a ton of bricks.

        “Nooooooooooo! No! “ Darius shouted, rushing over and kneeling beside her fallen form. Then he took her, holding her gently in his arms.

        “Come on baby! Don't leave me! Don't go! Please don't go!” He begged her, his voice trembling, tears streaming down his face as he gently removed a strand of hair from her face.

        “Darius,” Variea said lovingly in a whisper, reaching up and gently caressing the side of his face. Then her hand dropped away suddenly, and, issuing one final breath, Variea passed away, leaving Darius all alone in the world.

        “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Don't go!” Darius screamed. “Come on baby! Don't you leave me! Don't you give up on me!” Darius cried, shaking her body roughly, not wanting to accept her death. Then he stopped, the realization hitting him with the force of a hurricane. Darius grabbed Variea's still form, clutching her tightly to his chest and burst into a torrent of tears, his whole body shaking as he was racked by one massive sob after another.

        Meanwhile, the woman (Velana) looked on at the scene before her, and, suddenly, became overcome with emotion, perhaps because she realized that she had just killed her best friend, or perhaps she did have a conscious after all and it had suddenly arrived on the scene and had decided to reveal itself with a vengeance. Either way, it didn't matter, because whatever the reason she dropped her bow, causing it to hit the floor, clattering loudly before it finally came to rest at her feet. “What have I done?” She asked, looking at her hands, her voice almost an inaudible whisper.

        Darius looked up suddenly, whipping his head around in her direction, a dark look instantly passing over his face. And as he looked at her a dark smile of understanding slowly crossed his face, his eyes filling with that same dark understanding as well.

        Slowly he rose, wiping his face with the side of his arm and drawing his sword from its case on his side as he turned toward her.

        “Darius, wait! Athena made me do it! I didn't want to but I had no choice! She said that if I didn't do it she'd kill me!” Variea's assassin pleaded, causing Athena to arch an eyebrow. They were all lies of course since she'd done everything to alert Athena to their activities.

        But her cries fell on deaf ears, and in the blink of an eye—before she had any time to react—Darius rushed forward, and, in a stoke like that of lightening, severed her head from her body, both of which fell to the floor in a sickening thud.

        “Hmm, interesting,” Athena said lightly, clearly impressed with how fast he'd killed Variea's killer.

        “Alright, Darius, you've had your fun but the party's over. We've got a lot of work to do tomorrow.” Athena replied, with a slight laugh.

        Darius turned to face her, casting a not-so-pleasant look her way. Then he laughed, shaking her head. “You know, Athena, I could take the beatings, suffer the punishments, and basically take all of the crap you and the other gods put me through all my life.” Darius said darkly. “But this…this I won't take!”

        “Darius, don't be stupid. Killing her was the only way to make you realize what you'd done—“Athena began.

        “She was the only woman that I ever loved! She was the only woman to love me! She knew what I was…what I had done…and she loved me anyway!!!!!!!!!!!!”Darius screamed at the top of his lungs, his voice choked full of emotion, literally on the verge of tears, all the while making Athena flinch involuntarily at the volume of rage that spilled forth from the depths of his being.

        “Well, one way or another I'm going to make you pay for this!” Darius promised her darkly.

        “Darius, are you insane?! I'm a goddess! You cannot kill me!” Athena declared.

        “Good,” He answered venomously, a dangerous gleam filling his eyes. “'Cause when I get through with you you're going to wish you dead!”

        It was then that Athena realized that she had pushed him too far by killing Variea and, because of it, she had lost that precious control over him that she so cherished. Athena sighed inwardly and drew her sword, now knowing that a fight between them was inevitable.

        Suddenly, with a chilling cry of rage, Darius raced forward and literally threw himself at his opponent.

        When the two met, Darius wasted no time at all, bringing his sword flying down toward Athena—and with a loud CHING!, a shower of sparks erupting from off of the blades. Their swords separated—an with an even more bone-chilling roar of rage erupting from his being, Darius sent his sword flying at Athena's head, only to hit her sword instead. But, he remained unfazed, and acting like a wild animal, he reared back and struck—hitting her sword again, and again, and again, and again!—leaving Athena struggling with all of her might to deflect his blows. Darius struck at her madly, his sword careening off of walls and the floor as he tried to hurt her in whatever way possible. All the while an almost never-ending stream of rage coursed through his body, transcending any he'd ever known! Nothing else mattered now. What little he'd had to hope for in life was now gone and, because of it, so had his reason to live.

        As a matter of fact, as far as Darius was concerned, he had only one purpose now and one purpose only and that was to make Athena feel as much pain as was humanly possible. One way or another Athena would pay for what she'd done. She would pay dearly for having Variea killed! He'd make sure of it.

        Then Darius rushed forward, impaling Athena with his sword.

        Athena stumbled backwards, and then she regained control of herself, looked down at the “object” that was currently lodged in her stomach, and looked back up at Darius. She cocked her head, giving him an “Oh, please!” look with her eyes, before sending him flying backwards with a brutal backslap to the face that caught him right under the chin, the force of the blow sending him flying back through the air.

        With a loud thud Darius landed on the floor next to a wall, a loud “Oof!” escaping his lips. Then, slowly, he rose to his feet. Darius lunged at his opponent, a ferocious battle cry erupting from his lips.

        “Darius, please, stop this childish display right now, before I—“ Athena began, only to have Darius respond by hitting her upside the head with a brutal punch.

        The goddess of war and wisdom stumbled backwards, giving Darius the opportunity he needed to attack. And not wanting to give her a moment to recover, Darius tore into her, descending upon her like a plague of darkness, pummeling her with punches and kicks to numerous to count, the sheer force of the attack sending Athena reeling backwards. But Athena quickly recovered, unleashing a hellish combination of blows his way.

        Yet, Darius fought on, a never-ending howl of rage erupting from the depths of his being, as he was fueled by the unrelenting pain that only grief can provide, his vision clouded with a seething rage that seemed to block out all thoughts except for one: hurting Athena in whatever way possible.

        Darius continued to unleash a deadly assault of punches and kicks, taking blows just as fast as he dished them out. And yet, somehow, he seemed to be unaware of the physical pain his opponent's blows had dealt to him.

        Then, issuing a savage scream of her own, Athena descended upon Darius, landing several solid punches to his body, on of which hit him square in the chest, sending him flying back into a wall. With a deafening crunch, Darius hit the wall, a huge crater forming from the point of impact as cracks spiraled out from it.

        Darius groaned loudly, his face contorting in pain as he fell, hitting the floor with a massive thud, chucks of stone raining down on him.

        “I've had enough of this foolishness, Darius!” Athena said harshly. “Now, why don't you be a good little boy and quit this before you get hurt?”
        Then she turned around. “Go to your room, Darius and get some rest. We're going to have a long day ahead of us tomorrow.” And with that said, Athena sighed inwardly and began walking away from him.

        Darius groaned, reaching out and grabbing a nearby piece of fallen stone from off of the floor. “Don't you walk away from me!” He screamed, throwing the piece of stone at Athena. The stone hit her in the back of the head and shattered instantly, causing her to stumble forwards. Athena quickly recovered, and whirled back around, a murderous look spilling across her face.

        Darius rose painfully to his feet, holding his ribs with one of his hands, every fiber of his being screaming out in pain. “We're not through yet!” He cried, his voice stained with the almost unbearable pain that now coursed through his being.

        Then he staggered forward, lunging himself at his opponent with all of the strength that he could muster, his face contorted with pain and rage. Athena stretched out her arm, releasing a massive stream of energy that slammed into Darius's chest and sent him flying back thorough the air, pinning him to the wall.

        As the energy continued to hit him, his whole body shook, cry after cry of agonized pain erupting forth from his being. Athena smiled, gazing at him with a kind of sick fascination, thoroughly lost in the moment.

        Then she released him, causing him to fall to the floor like a ton of bricks. Athena turned away from him a sweet smile of malicious glee filling her face. “See what happens to those who defy the gods.” Athena stated. Suddenly she spun around on her heel and began walking casually toward him, a smug look now filling her face.

        Darius watched her approach him with growing horror and dread, his body so tired and filled with pain that he could no longer move.

        He'd given it everything he'd had in his mission to defeat Athena and avenge Variea's death and he'd failed miserably. What would happen to him now?

        “No,” He cried out weakly as Athena placed her hand gently on his forehead.

        “Aw, come on now, Darius. You should have thought about that before you decided to oppose me.” She said softly, laughing harshly, a sadistic smile slowly claiming her lips.

        Athena shook her head and sighed before sending a surge of electricity coursing thorough his body that rendered him completely motionless. Then, placing her hand out in front of her, in a flash of light, an object appeared in her grasp. It was a golden necklace, a few jewels and intricate designs covering it it's shiny surface.

        Athena gazed deep into Darius's eyes…and smiled, placing the necklace around his neck.

        Suddenly, Darius's body arched back violently, the necklace seeming to take on a life of its own as it began sending bolt after bolt of electricity coursing through his
body—then it began changing shape, conforming itself so that it fit perfectly around his neck like a collar. Then the necklace stopped shocking Darius and he dropped back to the floor and slumped back against the wall—and was no more.

        Athena chuckled to herself, unable to contain her amusement any longer. Sighing inwardly, she healed him of his injuries. And, after making a few adjustments, she released him and stood back to admire her handiwork.

        “Darius rise,” She commanded.

Darius did as he was commanded, rising smoothly to his feet with inhuman ease. He opened his eyes, which were now lifeless, completely devoid of whatever it was that had made him Darius. Whether or not Darius still existed in that now inhuman frame of a man was uncertain. But one thing was certain: Darius was gone, leaving behind an empty shell of a man—a machine that would obey orders without question.

        “Darius, listen to me and understand,” Athena said slowly as if she were talking to a child. “You have one objective in this world and one objective only from now on and that is to kill Eve and destroy anyone or anything that gets in your way. Do you understand what I have told you?”

        “Yes, my goddess,” The machine-like warrior that was now Darius replied tonelessly, his tone slightly inhuman. “Eve will be destroyed and all those who try to stop that destruction will be destroyed as well.”

        Athena smiled and began to laugh. She had won. And as far as she was concerned Eve was as good as dead. And if Xena, Hercules, Gabrielle or anyone else got in her little assassin's way they'd be sorry that they did.

Part 7

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