Disclaimers: The characters of Xena, Ares, Zeus, Hercules, Gabrielle, et all, belong to Universal/Renaissance Pictures. I am only borrowing them for this story. No profit is being made here.
Violence: yes, there is some violence. Kind of hard not to have some kind of violence, especially when Xena and Ares are involved. Parts of this story take place in flashbacks and for the most part, and are an observance/recitation of the events.
Timeline: this story takes place in two separate time periods, past (Xena time) and present day.
Special Characters: I am including several characters of my own creation in this story
Dimension: this story takes place in an alternate dimension of my own creation (so, for the die-hard fans, this will be different.)
Final thoughts: I want to thank everyone who has written me with their comments regarding my previous story"A Hero’s Welcome". Your wonderfully positive feedback had encouraged me to continue writing and I hope that you will like this story as much as you have liked my first effort.
Now, on to the story:
Eternity can be a very long time. Eternity can seem even longer without the one you love. Eternity is how long I have waited in this place, just for the chance to be with my one love once again. A chance that might never come, but I am willing to wait. Willing to wait until the end of time, if need be. But, I am getting ahead of myself here.
As I sit here, watching, ever vigilant, I can remember everything as if it happened just yesterday. The battle, being trapped, unable to help, the wound, her words as she lay dying in my arms, my powers unable to save her. I remember the tears falling from my face, onto hers as each breath became harder than the last. Oh, and the blood. The blood that was spilling now was different from any blood that had been spilled in my name. There was so much of it; so much in fact, that it stained not only the ground but myself as well. But nothing, absolutely nothing could compare to the pain. The pain of a bond between a god and his chosen fading.
As she drew her last breath, she asked me if I truly loved her. ‘I love you’ I replied, ‘I swear on Olympus itself, I love you’ as I clasped her hands, staring into her eyes as the light faded from them.
The ground shook and the skies trembled as War itself grieved
There was only one mortal that knew the depth of my pain and that was her friend, and even in my own immeasurable grief I knew that only her grief rivaled my own.
I made this place for her, in this cave, my secret retreat. I made the altar upon which she sleeps in the coffin I created for her, nestled in warm furs. I formed a protective barrier around her altar, to keep her safe throughout time, until the day came when she would be returned to me or time itself ended. What ever happens, I am prepared to wait, to keep vigil.
So I sit here in the dark, staring at my chosen in her slumber and I wait…
Jenna looked up at the high, jagged roof of the cave, pausing to take a break from helping her parents on their latest archaeological adventure. She had been ‘dragged’ as she put it, on more than one occasion, to various parts of the world, following her father, who was a noted archaeologist, on his many expeditions. On several of the previous ‘digs’ that she had been on, the living conditions had been, well, less than perfect, but this time was an exception. The equipment that they were using on this dig was first rate, even though the torches left something to be desired, far above anything that any of her father’s colleagues had ever used before.
"Jenna, have you finished with the translation on that piece yet?" asked her father, pausing a moment to wipe a stray hair out of his eyes.
"Almost, Dad. Please remember, I am NOT as fluent in ancient Greek as you are." Jenna replied, taking a sip of water.
"It is important, you know. If what we’ve found so far is true, it could change history again." Bob Tolliver replied. "It might not be quite as significant as finding proof that Atlantis existed, but it would provide a whole new insight into the Olympian Gods."
"I know Daddy. I know. You’ve told us this a thousand times since we got here. Why didn’t we bring along a language specialist? Better yet, why not some more reliable torches or glo-cubes?" Jenna replied, pausing to relight the torch again.
"Because, daughter dear. This site had been completely undisturbed for centuries. And, no one is paying for this dig, but us."
"You know daddy, it would make things easier if all the torches in here were lit, at least the ones on the temple’s steps."
"Bob, give Jenna a break. We’ve been working non-stop for two weeks now. If our daughter wants to relax a bit, let her." Jenna’s mother replied. "She’s right about one thing, you know. These torches are really bad."
"Enough of this. Hold on a sec, I’m lighting all of these stupid things. Stand back."
With that, Bob and Caroline took a step back and watched as their daughter lit the torches with fine bolts of energy that flew effortlessly from her hand. Satisfied that the torches were going to stay lit, Jenna looked at her parents with a look of ‘why didn’t you ask me before’ plainly evident on her face. Pleased with her handiwork, Jenna sat back and watched her mother.
Caroline Tolliver looked at her husband, a smear of dirt on her cheek and now approximately three months pregnant.
"You know coming here was your idea, you’re the one who wanted to show Jenna exactly where she was born. "
Jenna turned and looked at her mother. From everything she had been told and had been able to find out, she had been born in a hospital in the states. To hear that she hadn’t been born there came as a bit of a shock to her and she looked to her father for answers.
"Okay, daddy, spill it. Where WAS I born?"
"You were born here in Greece. Take a look to your right. You were born in that temple, over there. "
Jenna looked over to where her father pointed. Standing up, she walked over to the temple her father pointed at and looked carefully at the symbols carved around the doorframe. Extremely intricate and they were inlaid with gold, silver and a multitude of gems. Taking a good look at the rather voluptuous figure carved over the entrance, Jenna looked back at her father and said
"APHRODITE’S temple. You’re kidding, right? You had me here????"
Caroline noted her daughter’s expression with great amusement, thinking back to the day she was born. Of all the temples here, this was the only one that was comfortable enough (and easily opened) for her to be born in. Looking back to her daughter, she said
"Yes, Jenna. You were born on the altar in Aphrodite’s temple. While it wasn’t the most ideal place," she said, shooting Bob a ‘look’ " It was the best place at the time."
Jenna looked at both her parents, and sighed the way only a ten year old could. One mystery was now solved but this whole dig was a big mystery to her. She remembered hearing stories from her father’s associates about their expeditions to Greece and none of them had ever mentioned this place. Looking back to her father, she put down the notepad and walked over to where he stood, sipping from a canteen.
"Daddy, why doesn’t anyone know about this place? I mean, why are we here now?"
"Jenna, I discovered this place a long time ago, when I was a student on my first expedition. You see, I sort of wandered away from the group while I was looking at a map, slid down a hole and ended up here. I looked around for a bit and saw a completely intact city with twelve temples dedicated to each of the major gods of the Greek pantheon. Rather than have the site ruined, I climbed back out of the hole and marked its location on a topographical map I had in my backpack."
"So, when you and mom came over, you decided to take her here and began exploring."
"Right. The doctor had told us that you wouldn’t be arriving for at least another two weeks, so we both felt okay about coming here and taking a better look around. We had planned to be here only a week and were two days into the dig, when you decided to make your appearance."
"When I went into labor with you, we were both frantic, wondering how long it would take to get to the nearest hospital or clinic. When we lost that option, and mind you it was quickly, you seemed rather impatient to enter this world, we looked around for the next best place."
Jenna looked around carefully, trying to imagine what it must have been like for them in that situation. Being stuck in a cave with no medical help must have been just awful. Looking back to her parents, she silently encouraged them to continue.
"Aphrodite’s temple was the first one we were planning on exploring. I had just finished unlocking the doors earlier in the day, when your mother told me that she was in labor. Like she said, you were in quite a hurry to make your entrance into the world and when we realized that we were going to have to deliver you here, I thought of Aphrodite’s temple. When we got into the main chamber where the altar was, we were shocked to find it in the condition it was in. "
"What your father is trying to say is that for something well over three thousand years old, it was perfectly preserved, with absolutely no decay of any kind. Our thoughts weren’t on exploring at that moment, though. The altar had been covered in warm furs and pillows, so I climbed up there while your father pulled out what medical equipment we did carry."
Caroline Tolliver smiled at the memory for a moment, looking between her daughter and husband, then continued for her audience of one.
"It didn’t take very long after I had crawled up on the temple’s altar, before you made your rather loud entrance. You had so much hair, and were rather upset at your new surroundings. When you took a hold of my finger and opened your eyes, I was amazed not only at the strength of your grip, but at the bright blue of your eyes."
"Your mother and I decided to head back to town with you to have you and your mother checked by a doctor. After carefully closing the temple, we proceeded back to town, I had you and your mother checked by a doctor and then we flew back to the states with you. We had always hoped to be able to come back and finish this dig, but didn’t have the money until now."
"Cool, now can we finish so we can get back to civilization? I’m missing on some valuable butt kicking time."
Bob and Caroline looked at each other, their faces not betraying their inner feelings, with Jenna’s tiny display of her abilities. Lighting torches didn’t even scratch the surface of Jenna’s powers. Ever since the accident four years ago, their daughter had been ‘special’. They both recalled with vivid clarity every detail of that day.
Jenna had gone out to play with some of the neighborhood kids in the park, which was conveniently, for her anyway, located right across the street from her house. Robby, one of Jenna’s best friends was particularly excited about something and pulled Jenna aside when she reached the swings.
"Jenna, come look. I found some glowing paint in the hole they dug for the new pool."
"Cool. What color is it?"
"All kinds of colors. Green, blue, yellow, and a couple of colors I can’t tell what they are, but they sure glow bright. Hey, I dare you to climb down there."
Jenna was not one to back down from a dare and ran over to the pit dug in the ground. A ladder was still in place from where the workers left it, so Jenna climbed down and stood next to one of the ‘paint’ cans.
"Okay, I’m down here. Now what?"
"Ummm, go and touch it."
"You touch it too. Whatsamatter, Robbie. Chicken?"
Jenna watched as Robbie squared his shoulders and climbed down the ladder, joining her in the pit.
"Okay, I’m here. Now what."
"I paint you, you can paint me."
"Okay, okay. "
By the time the two kids were finished ‘painting’ each other with the glowing ‘paint’, Robbie ‘s arm was covered from shoulder to wrist and Jenna was covered from head to toe in various colors of this ‘paint’, having slipped in the gooey mud the paint had made. Climbing out of the pit, Jenna said
"Robbie, I don’t feel so good. My head hurts a lot…"
"I don’t feel too good either. "
A scream from across the street caused both of them to turn and see both Jenna’s parents running towards them. The last thing Jenna remembered was being picked up by her father before passing out from the pain.
Jenna awoke, for what seemed to her, just a few minutes later, but in fact had been several very anxious days for her parents. Her head still hurt a bit, but not nearly as much as did a while ago and she discovered that she was very, very hungry. Slowly adjusting her eyes, she looked around the room and noticed that she was in some kind of hospital room and that a rather deep, but friendly voice was talking to her. The room was decorated in light, cheery colors, a plant was in one corner, a small door was open on the left indicating the bathroom and there were two chairs next to her bed, where her parents were currently seated.
" I see my patient is coming around. How do you feel, Jenna?"
Willing her eyes to focus a bit more, Jenna looked at where the voice was coming from. She saw a very tall, very muscular man standing there, with dark red hair, teal colored eyes, dressed in black dress pants, black loafers, deep burgundy shirt, black tie and wearing a white lab coat. The doctor looked more like some kind of professional athlete than a doctor as he studied the chart with a practiced eye.
"My name is Doctor Bret Henson. I was called in for a consult by the chief of emergency services of Lawrence Hospital to help you. "
Both Jenna’s parents looked at each other in shock. Bret Henson’s name was known worldwide. Regarded as the best physician on the planet, he had found cures for cancer, most of the muscular diseases and mapping the entire human DNA code all before the age of 20, not to mention all of the treatments he developed for radiation contamination, synthetic skin for burn patients and non-invasive cardiac and brain surgery. Bret Henson was also the world’s leading authority on the origins and treatment of mutants. He was a child prodigy in the medical community and perhaps best known for his invention of the regenerator.
"What’s wrong with our daughter?"
Bret noticed the underlying fear in Jenna’s parents’ tone and put on his best smile for them.
"Relax, folks. Jenna will be fine in a couple of days. "
Without going into a lot of details, Bret explained (in easy to understand terms), to Bob and Caroline what exactly had happened to Jenna and what changes they could expect to happen in the future.
"A mutant, doctor? Are you sure?"
"Look, I know it’s a lot to deal with all at once. First, you find your daughter has been playing in radioactive waste, you then rush her to the hospital and then a specialist is called in, me. Not to mention, almost being picked up by the M.I.B.S., before I could get here. I’ve dealt with many cases like hers and that’s why I had her moved to one of my medical facilities. It’s fully equipped to handle cases like hers discreetly. "
Both Bob and Caroline knew what he meant by that last statement. Mutants were at the top of the American public’s hate list, the prejudice against them having been amplified by small-minded government and religious leaders, and more often than not, mutants just disappeared, never to be seen again. Grateful to the doctor for his help and his discretion, Bob asked
"What can she do?"
"It varies from mutant to mutant. Jenna is definitely some kind of energy projector, what type of energy, I’m not sure of yet. It might be just one type and then again it could be several. It tends to vary from person to person. From the scans I’ve done so far, she will be a very powerful mutant, with increased dexterity, intelligence, strength. There will be some telepathic abilities along with heightened senses, hearing, sight, smell, and such. She’ll develop more abilities over time, what they’ll be, I can’t tell quite yet. I’ll need to see her again in a couple of months, once her DNA pattern has settled down, then I’ll be able to tell you everything. In the meantime, I know of someone who could teach Jenna how to use her new abilities responsibly. "
"Please. I want to learn."
Bret turned and looked at Jenna. Studying her for a moment, he said
"All-right. But you’ll have to do everything they tell you. And I mean everything. This isn’t some kind of game, Jenna. What you need to learn could save your life someday."
"I know. I need to learn. "
"Very well. In fact, I know the perfect person to help you."
With a smile, Bret tousled Jenna’s hair and left her room, leaving her alone with her confused parents. Seeing the confusion and fear on their faces, Jenna looked at her parents and said
"Its okay mom, dad. Please let me do this. I have to do this."
"All-right, all-right. Just do as this person asks okay. And be careful."
"I will. I promise."
Several days later, Jenna was released from the clinic and went home with her parents. Two days after she was home, there was a knock at her door. Getting up carefully from the couch, Jenna walked over to the door and opened it. Jenna knew all the superheroes by name and costume. Never had she thought she would actually meet one of them up close. Standing in the doorway was Jenna’s favorite superhero. The costume was unmistakable. A white costume with a red, eight pointed star on it. It was Astro.
"Are you Jenna? I’m Astro. Doctor Henson sent me."
"All-right, Jenna. Can you let us finish here first, please?"
"Fine, mom. Whatever." Jenna replied, walking further down the empty street.
As she walked up and down the street, pausing to look at the inscriptions and carvings on each of the temples, she noticed that one of the Greek Pantheon of Gods was noticeably absent. All that was there to mark the spot where the temple should have been was a small, flat stone, well worn with the passage of time. The stone marker was out of place in comparison to the other stone carvings here. It was much older and liberally criss-crossed with sword and dagger marks, and there was still a tiny bit of blood encrusted in the grooves. Taking out a fine brush, Jenna carefully brushed away the encrusted dirt and blood and read the inscription on the stone.
"Let it be known to all here, that this stone marks the entrance to the temple of the God of War, Ares. All who enter, be prepared to pay tribute to the God of War."
There was no more inscriptions on the stone’s surface, nor was there any hidden chambers or inscriptions anywhere else on the stone. Jenna looked around the spot for any remnants of the temple, but found none. Ares was part of the major pantheon of Greek Gods and to have his temple not represented physically was DEFINITELY significant. Jenna looked back down the empty street to where her parents were busily examining a statue.
"Hey, Dad? Can you come down here a minute? There’s something you definitely need to see."
Bob Tolliver looked up from the statue to see his daughter about a quarter mile down the street, alternately looking between a stone marker and flat, empty knoll. Putting his notebook down, he walked the short distance to where his daughter stood, looking rather confused.
"What is it Jenna?"
"Look at this dad. One of the temples is not here. I only counted eleven temples, not twelve. "
Bob looked at his daughter, and then slowly counted the temples in the cave. Scratching his head, Bob realized that his daughter was correct.
"I must have miscounted. I thought I saw twelve temples. Which one is missing?"
"Ares’s Temple. It’s not here, just this stone marker. And I think this may have come from a different temple. It’s a lot older than the other temples. I think it was put here well after this area was built."
Bob looked at his daughter with pride. She had a knack for discovering things and this time was no exception. Pushing his hat further back on his head, Bob contemplated the meaning of this latest discovery. As he examined the stone and empty knoll where the temple should have been, an old story he had heard as an archaeology student came to the front of his mind. A huge smile crossed his features as he realized the significance of his daughter’s find. Motioning to his wife, Bob sat down on one of the stone benches that lined the street. Jenna, just as curious as her mother appeared to be, sat down on the opposite side of her father as he dug in his pack, pulling out a very old scroll.
"Bob, what is it. You look like the cat that swallowed the canary. Jenna found something, didn’t she?"
Bob Tolliver smiled at his wife, then at his daughter. Carefully unrolling the scroll, he showed them some of the faded writing as he replied
"Oh, yes she did, Caroline. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it until now, but the last two times I was here, I was a bit pre-occupied to really notice. Can either of you read this?"
Both Caroline and Jenna looked at the scroll and shook their heads in unison. The writing appeared to be in ancient Greek, in a dialect that neither of them had seen before, but there were some distinct differences between the writing on the scroll and the samples of ancient Greek writing they had seen before.
"Okay, Dad. What kind of writing is this? It looks like ancient Greek, but there are some differences."
"I’ll make an archaeologist out of you yet, Jenna. Take a good look at the scroll, especially the signature at the end. I think that will solve the mystery of who wrote it."
Jenna looked carefully at the writing, delicately unfurling it to look at who had signed the scroll. Her eyes widened as she saw the unmistakable signature of a god. More specifically, the sign of the God of War, Ares. Looking back to her father, she asked him.
"Is this what I think it is? Is this actually signed by the God of War? This could be a fake, or someone just pretending to be him."
Bob looked at his daughter, understanding her skepticism. Looking at his daughter, he replied
"It is signed by him and I’ve carbon-dated the scroll. It’s approximately 2,987 years old. "
"It could have been written by one of his temple priests or someone like that, Bob."
"Caroline, Jenna, what I am about to show you goes no further than this. After I first discovered this little area and returned to the group I was with, I stopped at every little museum and shrine I could find while not with the group and asked a lot of questions, hoping to find some kind of clue about this place. I managed to hear a lot of stories, superstitions and a few tales that were just not believable. The time with the dig was just about over when I found a very, very old man minding a tiny shrine on the outskirts of the town. The shrine was ancient; I’d have to say about 2-3 thousand years old just by its looks alone."
"A functioning shrine that old? Why didn’t anyone know about it, Bob?"
"After introducing myself, I asked that same question. When the old man turned around, I could see that while his body had aged, his mind was still very sharp and I thought that he might have the answers that I was looking for. What I found out, still haunts me to this day."
"Dad, what could be so terrible and why did you wait so long to tell us?"
"Jenna, Caroline. It wasn’t the appearance of the man; it was the story he told me. A story about a god’s love of a mortal and how the god was betrayed by his father and lost the only love he swore he’d ever have."
Jenna’s eyes grew wide as she began putting the pieces together.
"Are you saying that the village, it’s temples, the shrine were all…."?
"Yes, Jenna. One God built them all. Ares."
Both Caroline and Jenna looked at Bob in surprise at his simple statement
"Bob, you expect us to believe that the God of War was in love with a mortal human? And to top it off, he was betrayed by his father somehow? That’s a lot for us to believe."
"Don’t you think I know this, Caroline? I was skeptical myself at first, but then the old man began relating this story."
"Go on, dad. We’re waiting."
"All-right. If you’re sure you’re both ready. This will take some time, it’s a long story."
Caroline handed a can of soda to her husband, daughter and then opened one herself and motioned for her husband to continue. Encouraged by his wife, Bob Tolliver unrolled the scroll and proceeded to relate his tale.
"It all began just over three thousand years ago, in a small, but fairly prosperous village in Greece. There were three children born to one woman, two boys and a girl. The oldest boy was not as entranced by the stories of soldiers and battles like his sister and younger brother were. They were fascinated by these stories; they spent all of their free time trying to learn the various arts necessary to become a great warrior. They studied swordplay, archery, staff, and spear much to their mother’s dismay. They often begged any soldier or warrior who happened to be passing through their village to teach them what ever they knew. Both brother and sister were determined to become the best warriors in Greece. However, little did they know at that time, what the fates had in store for them. Both of these children had been watched from afar since the moment of their births and very carefully and subtly nudged to choose the path of a warrior.
Several years had passed and the brother and sister had become fairly adept with the weapons they had to work with. Although these weapons were of rather poor quality, to these two, they were treated like gifts from Hephaestus himself. Lyceus and Xena took great care to clean the weapons and repair them as best they could, while getting into all kinds of mischief as only a brother and sister could do.
Several moons (months) later, a traveling merchant rode into town with the news that a warlord was nearby and had plans for attacking the village. Secretly thrilled by the news, both Xena and Lyceus gathered as many villagers as they could and began preparing for the fight they both knew was to come. Their mother however was not thrilled by their actions and tried vainly to get them to stop the preparations, fearing for the safety of her children. Whether it was the thrill of the battle the siblings knew was to come, or something else. Little did either one of them know that this moment would change not only their lives, but in time the lives of everyone in Greece and beyond."
Bob paused a moment to take a sip of soda before continuing, noticing that he had the attention of his daughter and wife.
Several days later, the warlord and his raiding force came riding down into the town, expecting to find rather easy pickings in this village. Previous scouts had reported that this was a village of farmers and would offer no resistance. Still thinking that this village would be easy pickings, the warlord rode into the village, expecting to find a group of frightened villagers who would give him anything he wished. Instead, he found a group of armed villagers, being led by two very young, inexperienced people.
The battle was soon raging in and around the village. Raiders and villagers fighting fiercely, each side determined not to let the other side win. The ground ran red with blood from both sides as the bodies began to pile up. It looked as if the villagers were about to lose this fight with the warlord until one name was screamed out loud
"Then what happened daddy?"
Bob smiled at his daughter, then continued
"Xena turned around when she heard the scream. She turned around in time to see her beloved younger brother Lyceus fall to the ground, dying from a sword strike to the abdomen. Something inside her snapped at that instant. Xena turned around with a vengeance, the light in her eyes now turned to cold, her face now twisted into a feral smile. She fought without mercy, ignoring injury until Cortese and the remaining men of his band ran into the hills, licking their wounds. Unknown to her someone else had been watching this battle from afar, having been attracted to the fighting, the smell of blood being spilled and the sound of his name being called. He had appeared just a moment before the fatal blow to Lyceus and watched as the innocence of a young girl was lost and replaced with something he considered, at that time, far more desirable.
The observer watched undetected as Xena cut down over a dozen men with her sword, hands and feet. He saw the change take control as she gently picked up the body of her dead brother and carried it back into the village, unmindful of the various battle wounds she had received. ‘This is who I have been searching for. I will make her into my Warrior Princess. With her by my side, we will be unstoppable.’
"Yes, Bob. Please continue. What did happen next?"
"Over the next few moons, Xena amassed an extremely large army, at first for the protection of her home village, but then thoughts of conquest began creeping into her thoughts, those thoughts having been encouraged by Ares, God of War. Not too long after that, Xena’s name became the most feared name in Greece and beyond. Her army had grown along with her reputation and so had her relationship with the God of War. This relationship continued for many years until she was later betrayed by one of her lieutenants and forced to walk the gauntlet. Although she managed to survive the gauntlet, control of her army had been taken from her, and all that she had grown to know in the past ten years was suddenly gone. She was determined to get her army back until Hercules had intervened and shown her a different way. A way of life that was different from the one shown to her by Ares.
Over time, Xena began to do everything she could to make up for her past deeds and was aided by, some say, her best friend, Gabrielle, whom she had rescued from a group of slavers, just outside the village of Potedeia. Their first several moons as friends and traveling companions were rocky, to say the least, but slowly the two women grew close as friends. Over the next few years, their friendship grew and was tested by great adventures and great hardships. And during this time, Ares had tried many times to get Xena back into his fold, never succeeding at each attempt.
It took a long time for Ares to fully realize that Xena would never come back to him, especially in the way he was trying to get her back, using threats and blackmail. It took him an even longer time to realize that he, the God of War was actually in love with Xena. Once he realized the depth of his feelings for Xena, he also realized that the only way he had a chance of truly winning her back, was to change his ways.
Ares began to change his ways slowly and subtly, not wanting to draw the ire of his father, Zeus. He quietly arranged for large sums of money to be used to rebuild towns and villages destroyed by war, disease and famine. He allowed the outcomes of certain battles to go a different way. Needless to say, eventually Zeus did find out and brought Ares before him to confront him about this. They argued for what seemed…"
Bob’s voice trailed off as Jenna put up a silencing hand, craning her head around, trying to locate the source of the disturbance. They watched as Jenna’s eyes shifted colors, meaning she was using her enhanced sight to try and visually locate the source of the disturbance. Both Bob and Caroline knew to trust their daughter’s instincts when it came to approaching trouble. One of the abilities she had was the ability to detect trouble close by and this time was apparently no exception.
"What is it?" Caroline whispered
"Trouble, Less than a mile off. They’ve been following us since we left the hotel. I just couldn’t pinpoint it until now"
"Damn. That jerk will destroy this cave and claim it as his own."
"Who is it, Dad?"
Caroline’s face fell as the name she hadn’t heard in years fell into place. Jenna, being a quick study, noticed this and asked
"Just exactly who is this jerk and will I have to deal with him?"
Caroline looked at her daughter and said
"Ed McKinley and your father were archaeology students at BU when I was a student there, studying engineering. Ed had a ‘thing’ for me and I had absolutely no interest in him. I was already dating your father at the time, although it was still rather casual. But Ed didn’t see it that way. He began to actively ‘pursue’ me and didn’t want to take no for an answer. When your father went on that first trip, Ed was also in the group and we believe he tried to arrange an ‘accident’ "
"That’s where I got this." Replied Bob, pointing to a faded scar on his leg. "Only things didn’t go quite as we believe he planned. He was injured as well."
Both Bob and Caroline saw the expressions on their daughter’s face harden, as coldness crept into her eyes. They had seen that ‘look’ before, from the person who had been teaching their daughter how to use her abilities. He was about Jenna’s age and they had become fast friends after their first meeting. Bob and Caroline regarded Astro as their son now, having informally adopted him into their family. He had been patiently teaching Jenna everything he knew about using her powers to the best of her ability with the responsibilities that went along with that kind of power and that knowledge had saved not only Jenna’s life, but also their lives on more than one occasion.
"Mom, Dad, gather our stuff and head to the back of the chamber. I think there’s some kind of passageway or door there. I’m going to lay down a few surprises for our visitors and put the torches out."
While Caroline and Bob rapidly packed up their equipment, Jenna strategically placed a few traps around the cave and joined her parents at the back of the chamber after extinguishing the torches and wiping away all traces of anyone having been here.
"How are we going to get this door opened? It’s sealed with some kind of key."
"Relax, Caroline. I know the combination; it’s part of the scroll. " Bob replied, as he slowly moved the gemstones in the small panel a certain way.
With a faint pop, the enormous stone door slowly disappeared into ceiling, allowing Bob, Caroline and Jenna to step inside. As soon as they were inside the door, torches lining the walls burst into life, their light eerily outlining a long corridor leading deeper inside the cave. As they walked cautiously down the corridor, the door slowly slid shut behind them and the temperature seemed to decrease rapidly as they approached another door like the one. Reaching the far door, Bob keyed in the same sequence with the gemstones he had used to open the previous door. No sooner had the door slid open and they had stepped inside, were they prepared for the sight that greeted them. In the middle of the room, surrounded by ornate torches, on an altar made out of the purest black marble, was a long, ornately carved, rectangular shaped box made out of what appeared to be smoked glass. Surrounding the altar and glass coffin was a very faint, multi-hued mist.
Stepping up closer to the altar, Jenna could make out what appeared to be someone lying inside of the box, but she could not tell who it was, although whatever had killed this person was quite obvious. Even through the smoked glass, Jenna was able to see the large, gaping hole in the person’s chest. Upon a little more inspection, Jenna could make out that the person lying inside was a woman, dressed in some kind of leather armor, but who she was, Jenna could not tell. She was just about to bring her father up to the altar when a deep baritone voice roared throughout the chamber
"TOUCH THAT ALTAR AND YOU ALL WILL DIE…."
Bob, Caroline and Jenna whirled around as the figure slowly came into view, emerging from the shadows. There could be no mistaking who this was. A tall man, very muscular, hair the color of darkest night, with eyes the color of the darkest steel, clothed entirely in black leather, which was trimmed in intricate patterns with silver. A large sword rested on his hip and he wore an amulet that matched the sigil on the scroll, and a ball of energy was ready in his free hand. The man that stood before them was none other than the Greek God of War, Ares
Ares had quietly observed the progress of these three mortals into the city he had built, mildly curious as to their intent. No one had ever occupied this city and only one mortal still living knew of its existence. And he had been sworn to secrecy, having had a taste of the fruit from the Tree of Life. Ares was particularly interested in the young girl, who bore a bit of a resemblance to his chosen, both in looks and attitude. His curiosity had quickly turned to protective anger as he felt the outer door of the chamber being opened and three mortals had stepped through. The blood-lust which he had not allowed himself to feel in nearly three thousand years since that fateful day, rose to the surface when the young girl had stepped too close to the altar. Young child or not, no one was going to disturb his chosen in her protected slumber. He readied a ball of energy, and let it fly
Jenna saw the energy bolt fly at her, her instincts quickly bringing up the force field she had learned to project and watched as the bolt bounced off her harmlessly. Brushing off her shirt where the bolt had ‘hit’, she looked at Ares and said
"Cool it, leatherhead. I’ll let it go this time. Next time, I’ll return the favor."
Ares was momentarily shocked, as his power had no effect on the young girl. A God, she wasn’t, but something else, someone with the ability to shrug off a shot from the God of War, without so much as a singed hair. Even his chosen wasn’t able to do that without some assistance and the fact that this girl could do that softened his anger a bit and definitely sparked his curiosity. Striding over to the altar, he stood in a defensive stance between the three mortals and his chosen. Ares looked directly at the young girl, expecting her to back down, and was both surprised and puzzled when she stood her ground, not giving him an inch. His puzzlement changed to silent admiration and he was once again reminded of how his chosen had done the same thing to him on more occasions than he could count. Taking a different tack, he waved his hand and three chairs appeared about ten feet away from the altar. Motioning for the three mortals to sit in the chairs, Ares remained between the chairs and his chosen.
"Who are you?"
The tone of his voice left no doubt in either Bob or Caroline’s mind as to who he was protecting, but Jenna wasn’t too impressed by his ‘godly’ display of power, and decided to return the question with one of her own.
"Who do you think you are?"
Ares was a more than a bit taken aback by the underlying sarcasm of Jenna’s reply.
"I am someone you do not wish to anger, child. Now answer my question. Who are you?"
Bob took this moment to speak up, knowing his daughter and her temperment all too well and seeing where this battle of wills was rapidly heading
"My name is Bob Tolliver, I’m an archaeologist, and this is my wife Caroline and my daughter Jenna."
"How did you get in here?"
"An old man living in a small village nearby, gave me this scroll. Said he didn’t feel safe keeping it any longer. "
"So, that explains that bit. How did you find the city?"
Inwardly, Bob was relieved to have avoided a direct confrontation with Ares, so he continued
"I found it by accident almost fourteen years ago. While I was an archaeology student on my first overseas dig in Greece. "
"Another piece of the puzzle. How did you come into possession of the scroll?"
"Like I said, an old man entrusted me with its safekeeping. He said there had been a few people around asking odd questions."
"He must trust you for some reason. He had been instructed never to give that scroll away."
"Like my dad said, the old guy didn’t feel safe keeping it anymore. Now, what is your particular malfunction again?"
Caroline closed her eyes, expecting a fight to break out right here and now. Placing a calming hand on his wife, Bob continued:
"I didn’t know about this chamber when I discovered this place by accident. I managed to climb out and covered any evidence of having fallen down here. I marked its placement on my map and rejoined the dig. I found the old man on my own time, by talking to various small museum proprietors and listening to various stories. He told me a very interesting story, then handed me this scroll for safekeeping. "
Ares’ eyes closed for an instant and after opening them, he looked at the three mortals who had breached this chamber with a bit more softness than usual, his instincts telling him that they might be able to help him.
"So, the story dad told us is true, isn’t it? The person inside there is the only woman you have ever loved?"
Ares looked at Jenna, not wanting to acknowledge that fact to three mortals, but his instincts told him that he could not fool these three.
"You are impertinent and should be taught a lesson in manners."
"Look who’s talking leather-legs. I hate to be the one to remind everyone, but there’s a butt-hole outside, trying to get in. "
Ares took in this information rather quickly and looked to Bob for an explanation.
"An ‘associate’ of mine. He will do anything to get his hands on these artifacts…"
Almost, as if on cue a voice filtered into the chamber.
"Well, Tolliver. Looks like I’ve finally found your little secret. Wasn’t too hard, you know. You never were that careful about hiding your tracks. You know, you had your chance, Caroline. I could have given you the world, but you chose him, not me. Now you can suffer along with that ‘freak’ kid of yours."
Bob was about to answer, when his daughter uttered an all-too familiar phrase
"I DON’T THINK SO."
Ares froze to where he was standing as another voice wafted its way into the chamber, a voice he hadn’t heard in almost three thousand years….
"It’s over, Ares."
Just as Jenna was about to bust through the cave door, an explosion from outside rocked the chamber. Boulders began to fall from the ceiling overhead, raising clouds of dust from where they impacted on the cavern floor. Immediately Jenna pushed her parents into a safe niche and was about to duck in herself when she heard Ares cry out
Jenna turned and saw that a very large boulder was about to crush the glass coffin and it’s occupant into tiny pieces, permanently destroying the body that had been so carefully preserved inside. Instinct taking over, she extended her hand and with a flick of her wrist, bolts of energy flew from her hand and the boulder was shattered into pieces no larger than a small pea, which bounced harmlessly off the coffin. That business dealt with, Jenna looked around the cavern with dismay. Turning to her parents, she said
"It’s over now, and we are stuck inside here, unless you know another way out."
Ares just shook his head, still rather amazed at the simple display of power from the young girl.
"Why did you save her?"
Jenna turned and looked at him, then said quietly as she moved past him to start cleaning up the floor
"It’s my job."
Ares turned to Bob for an explanation, confusion plainly evident on his face.
"Jenna is a very special child. A few years ago, she had an accident and developed many ‘special’ abilities. As a result of this, she asked if she could be trained how to use her abilities to help other people. We agreed, knowing if we didn’t, Jenna would find a way to learn on her own and she’s been learning ever since. There are many people in the world today who fear these ‘special’ people and their ‘special’ abilities and my ‘colleague’ is one of them."
" And just what does she do with these abilities?"
"Put criminals in their place." Jenna said, "Depending on their crimes, they either go to jail or are permanently dealt with."
"Permanently dealt with?"
"Our daughter has a strict code regarding criminals and lets just leave it at that for now. Sweetheart, can you see another exit?"
"No, mom. That door is the only way out. I can’t blast through it until the cavern settles down on both sides and that’s gonna be a couple of hours."
"So, my father’s finally won." Ares said quietly, sitting down heavily into the large chair positioned at the head of the coffin."After all this time, he’s finally won."
Jenna looked at Ares with disdain and said
"Some kind of warrior you are. You know, for a ‘God’ you give up way too easily."
Ares looked at Jenna, the anger beginning to build again inside. First this child, brushes off a shot from him, insults him and then dares to call him weak. Despite his predicament, Ares was not about to let a mere girl get the best of him, even if she reminded him of his chosen.
"That’s Zeus out there, little girl. Despite the passage of time, he is still the King of the Gods."
Jenna looked at Ares, shaking her head in disbelief. Here she was sitting no more than ten feet away from the God of War and HE was admitting defeat. She was sure glad that she didn’t follow his line of thinking as she decided a little display of her own powers were in order. Walking over to where he sat staring at the coffin, Jenna lifted his chin just enough so she could look him directly in the eye.
"Look, I don’t care WHO it is out there. Cowards like him don’t impress me all that much and I will deal with them shortly."
Caroline, wanting to avoid a knockdown, drag-out fight right here, looked to where her daughter stood and spoke quickly
"Please, while we’re waiting, can you finish the story? We all will help in whatever way we can"
Ares looked at Bob, Caroline and then Jenna, his instincts telling him that not only could they help, but also they might be able to save his chosen. His gaze settling on Jenna, Ares leaned back in the chair, draping one leg over the side and said
"All-right, what can it hurt? How much did you hear?"
"I know what the old man told me, but I was only able to relate to them up to something about an argument between you and your father."
A touch of humor crossed the God of War’s face as he remembered that little ‘discussion’ as if it were yesterday.
"Well, I wouldn’t call it a ‘discussion’" Ares said, stroking his beard thoughtfully. "It started with…"
Zeus looked around his throne room on Mt. Olympus, searching for Ares and not finding him anywhere in sight.
‘My son has defied me for the last time. I will not only teach him a lesson, but also permanently end his association with his ‘princess’ once and for all.’
The King of the Gods seethed with barely controlled rage, furious with Ares at the outcome of the latest battle between Greece and the Persians. The odds were weighing heavily in the Persian’s favor and the only seasoned military commander that Greece had left was the Warrior Princess. The leaders of Athens and Sparta’s militia had come to her, literally begging for her to take command of their combined army. Most of the high-ranking commanders of both city-states’ military were either seriously wounded or dead as a result of earlier battles with the Persian Army. Despite the many problems that asking Xena to lead their army, had posed for the leaders of both Athens and Sparta, they both knew that she was the only one that stood any kind of chance of defeating them.
Both sides were relieved when after a chat with Gabrielle, Xena agreed to help. Taking a vastly out-numbered force, Xena had called upon all her many years of experience, battle tactics, and strategy, to try and win this battle. The Destroyer of Nations was back.
The battle raged on for days and many times it looked like the Persians were going to win, but the troops rallied time after time around Xena’s battle cry and fought with a ferocity unmatched by any army. On what turned out to be the last day of the battle, the Persian army rallied their remaining troops and launched an all-out assault of what was left of the Greek forces. The tide was rapidly turning in the Persian’s favor, until both sides saw the dust clouds of thundering hoof beats rapidly approaching. Xena had not really noticed Gabrielle’s absence from the field of battle, but relief flooded her face as she saw the group Gabrielle was leading, Amazons and Centaurs. Xena saw the fear rising in the eyes of the Persian army as the combined forces of the Amazons and Centaurs joined the fray and took the opportunity to rally her troops one last time. Allowing the ‘battle fury’ to fully rise to the surface, Xena screamed out her battle cry at the top of her lungs and ran into the thick of the Persian army, her body and sword as one. She was only peripherally aware of Gabrielle in the middle of a group of soldiers with the elite Amazon Royal Guard, very competently holding their own. Satisfied that Gabrielle was safe especially with Ephiny and Eponin right beside her, Xena turned her attention and fury to the group of Persian soldiers vainly attempting to surround her. It was no longer the Xena who fought for the greater good; the Xena fighting now was the legendary Destroyer of Nations, the Warrior Princess.
The battle was almost over when a group of ten soldiers charged her from behind. Instinct told Xena that this was probably the end for her until the feel of a rather large, definitely male, muscular body at her back and an all too familiar presence permeated her senses.
Ares had stepped out of the aether between the group of soldiers attempting take down Xena from behind, swinging the sword of war, in a wide, sweeping arc, and thereby preventing Xena from being killed. He swung with a ferocity that matched Xena’s and didn’t stop until all the soldiers were gone. Knowing that the battle was now won, he left as quickly as he had appeared.
The battle now over, Xena forced the ‘battle fury’ back into the corner of her mind where she kept it under tight control and surveyed the battle zone. Bodies lay everywhere and now came the task of caring for the wounded that would survive, and making those that wouldn’t live as comfortable as possible and trying to rebuild as much as possible. With the help of the Amazon and Centaur healers, the wounded were tended and the dead were given a warrior’s funeral.
Gabrielle approached Xena; her face was dirty and tired from helping with the wounded and seeing to the funeral pyres.
"Xena, why did Ares show up like that and then just leave?"
Xena turned to Gabrielle, the confusion evident on her face.
"I don’t know, Gabrielle. I just don’t know. If he hadn’t shown up when he did, where he did, we wouldn’t be talking right now."
"Do you think what Aphrodite said is true?"
Xena looked at Gabrielle, her face not betraying her inner thoughts.
"I don’t know. Where Aphrodite’s concerned have you ever known her not to speak oddly?"
With a nod to Xena, Gabrielle turned and left the hospital tent, leaving Xena alone with her thoughts and suspicions about the God of War.
"So what happened next?"
Ares looked down at Jenna, his previous anger with her now since long gone. ‘So much like Xena’ he thought. Knowing that he had a semi-captive audience, he paused a moment, allowing Jenna and her family to absorb the story before continuing.
Looking around the interior of the cavern, his gaze rested on the altar as he watched the patterns the torches made on the walls. Knowing mortals needed nourishment to survive, he said
"If you have food, eat it now. I don’t know how much longer we have until my father destroys the door and…"
Jenna looked Ares in the eye and said
" Look, I won’t let that happen. I’ll make you a promise. If he does somehow get in here, I’ll take that sorry bastard father of yours outside and deal with him there. "
"You honestly think that you, a child, could defeat the King of the Gods. He’s lived for thousands of years and has an unbelievable amount of experience."
"Yep. I have something he doesn’t. Serious attitude. And I will deal with Mr. Ed McKinley as well. Nobody hurts my family and gets away with it."
Making sure that he had their attention, Ares continued
"Needless to say Zeus wasn’t happy about the outcome of the battle…"
Ares knew that his father would not be happy that the Greek army had defeated the Persians again. And with the very timely intervention of the Amazons and Centaurs, Zeus’s anger would be a great deal more than just formidable. Ares also worried about what could happen to his sister, Artemis for her ‘subtle’ assistance in the fight. While the combined forces of the Amazons, Centaurs and the Greek militia could have won the battle, a great many more lives would have been lost if Xena had died in that last fight. Zeus had discussed the war god’s ‘obsession’ with Xena many times and had tried on several different occasions to end the relationship. While trying to avoid his father’s mercurial temper where Xena was concerned, Ares had time to analyze his feelings about Xena and much to his own surprise, he realized that he was truly in love with her and the only way he might have even a slight chance to win her heart was to change his ways. He avoided ‘playing’ with her, subtly shifted battles to her favor and quietly left vast sums of money with villages destroyed by battle so they could be rebuilt. Ares hoped that Xena would somehow realize who had been doing this and maybe give him a chance.
He still did his ‘job’ as he now called it. The thrill it used to bring him wasn’t there any longer. Ares still planned numerous battle campaigns, raids, and visited various warlords, inspiring them to do battle in ‘his name’. But if that battle meant that Xena would be involved in any way, he saw to it that somehow both she and Gabrielle survived, even if it meant sacrificing a warlord’s army or even part of a nation’s army to achieve that goal.
Trying to figure out a way of easing his father’s displeasure at his actions, Ares built an underground city with temples designed for each of the twelve enthroned Olympians of the pantheon, except his own. They were extravagant to say the least, each of them had gold and silver inlays around the doors, gemstones embedded in the statues and altars, the finest tapestries and furs he could find hung from the walls, with each temple keeping in line with the ‘job’ each god or goddess was responsible for. Zeus’s temple was by far the grandest of them all, with pure white marble walls, gold and silver patterns inlaid around the doors, floor and ceiling. Even a throne that rivaled the one Zeus occupied in the Great Hall on Mt. Olympus. But apparently it wasn’t enough for Zeus, for not too long after the end of that battle, his presence was requested in the Great Hall.
Ares nearly jumped out of his own skin when Hermes delivered the message to him in his northern temple. ‘This is it’ Ares thought. The day he knew and dreaded would come; had now arrived and he knew that somehow Zeus had found out about everything that he had done and Ares hoped that somehow, his father would see reason for once.
Materializing in the Great Hall of Olympus, Ares looked around and noticed that every seat was gone except for two, his seat and Zeus’s throne. He also noticed that the seats were facing each other, just a short distance apart, which was highly unusual. In all his many years on Mt. Olympus, never had the Great Hall been completely empty, even the minor gods were absent. Ares knew that this did not bode well at all for him, and especially not for Xena. Zeus had been acting rather strangely of late, his displays of temper becoming more and more frequent and violent each time. Most of the other gods avoided Zeus when at all possible, each of them choosing to spend time either in their own personal realm or on the mortal plane. When there was a formal meeting where it was necessary to be around him, they all tried not to do anything to provoke him, even Hera and Aphrodite kept their little ‘spats’ to themselves
Thinking to himself, Ares realized that several things could happen now, given Zeus’ current state of mind. Zeus could strip him of his role as the God of War and make him the god of something else, he could kill him, or he could strip him of his godhood completely. That had happened once before and it was Xena who had helped him to regain it. Walking around the dais that held Zeus’s throne, Ares wondered what could be taking his father so long. Usually if one of the gods was in trouble, Zeus didn’t wait this long to talk to them. Something about this ‘summons’ wasn’t right, and Ares had a sinking feeling growing in his stomach and was about to leave when he heard
"Sit down, Ares. We have much to discuss."
Zeus appeared rather quietly (for him, anyway) and walked slowly to his throne, sitting down carefully, waiting for Ares to do the same.
Unable to shake the uneasiness, which surrounded him, Ares sat down in the chair, expecting the chair to throw chains around him holding him in place. His uneasiness grew as he saw the madness lurking in Zeus’s eyes.
"Sorry to keep you waiting, my son. I had a few things to attend to."
"What is it you wished to see me about, father?"
" No sense in wasting words here. Why did you let Xena live?"
"It wasn’t her time to go."
"And how did you know that? Did you consult the Fates or Hades?"
"No, father, I did not need to consult either. I knew that her time had not yet come."
Ares noticed the subtle shift in Zeus’ posture and the madness that was now racing through his eyes and the uneasy feeling he had upon arriving on Olympus was quickly escalating into fear. Fear, not for himself, but for Xena and what unknown plan Zeus had in store for her.
"Your association with Xena is over, Ares. You have done more than enough damage already. "
"Damage, father? Just what damage have I done? Wars have been fought, people have died, and lands have been conquered."
"She wasn’t supposed to survive the battle. And you intervened by killing a group of warriors that would have killed her."
"Did you check with the Fates, father? Did they deem her time at an end?"
"It doesn’t matter my son. I need not to consult with the fates on this matter. Your association with her is about at an end."
"Just what do you mean, father?"
"Watch and see, my son. Just watch and see. While you were kept waiting, several moons have passed down below…."
Ares tried to rise from the chair but was held in place by invisible bonds. What the other gods had privately feared for some time was now true, Ares realized. Somehow, something had driven Zeus mad and Xena was his first target. Unable to rise from the chair, seeing that he was held in place by invisible bonds, all Ares could do was sit back and watch helplessly as the scene unfolded before him….
Xena and Gabrielle had been riding along the northern road to Athens, having been asked to attend a mediate a truce between Athens and Sparta. The recent battle with the Persians had finally driven some sense into the leadership of both city-states and each side had agreed that Xena should be the one to mediate a truce, having successfully led them to victory over the Persians. Gabrielle was attending, not as Xena’s friend, but as Queen of the Amazons, having been asked to join in the truce talks.
Being accompanied by the Royal Guard, their trip was taking longer than Xena would have liked it too. But seeing as Gabrielle was attending the talks as Queen, she put up with the request from Ephiny and Chilapa to have the Royal Guard as their escort. This upcoming treaty marked the first time that the Amazons had been invited to join in the negotiations and could prove very prosperous for all involved. The treaty would give all sides time to regroup and rebuild their strength. It also called for mutual protection for the villages between Athens, Sparta and the Amazon Nation, offers of trade, education for all and training in various crafts and skills.
The entourage reached Athens several days later, only encountering a couple of bands of would be thugs, which were easily dispatched. After finding their accommodations the group settled down for a bit of rest and relaxation. Enjoying a fine meal in the tavern, the entourage settled down for the night, the talks having been set to begin in the morning.
The next morning, having risen early, Gabrielle, Xena and the Royal Guard ate a hearty breakfast and set off for the negotiations. Having reached the site where the negotiations were to take place, Xena sat down in the mediator’s chair and was quickly joined by representatives from all sides involved
The treaty negotiations took over four days to complete and would have taken much longer if it hadn’t been for the presence of Gabrielle and Xena. Having accurately anticipated what the other two sides would ask for in concessions and demands from each other, Gabrielle had already drawn up a long list of proposals and counter-proposals, which she hoped, would be accepted by both sides. With a copy of the treaty having been sent to Ephiny and Chilapa by fast courier, Gabrielle had dismissed the Royal Guard when they had reached the valley leading to Amazon territory. Bidding a fond farewell to their friends, and a promise to visit soon, Gabrielle and Xena headed towards a long overdue visit to Amphipolis. As they traveled, Xena’s senses perked up and she motioned Gabrielle closer.
"Gabrielle, keep you voice down. We’re being followed."
Gabrielle looked around at the edges of the forest, her senses now picking up on what Xena had felt.
"I feel it too. You know, I felt something rather odd back in Athens. Kind of like we were being watched."
"Me, too. I don’t have any idea who, though. "
"Ares? He’s been awful quiet lately."
"No, not him. I could tell if it was him a league off. Someone else, though and a very powerful god at that. I don’t like it at all. You’re right about your feeling of being watched in Athens. I didn’t want to say anything while we were there and spook the Guard. They are entirely too paranoid as it is."
"You are right about them. I don’t like being this out in the open. This place seems all wrong. Xena, let’s get out of here."
Xena nodded in agreement, nudging Argo to move faster, the feeling growing more and more ominous as they traveled across open country. The air had seemingly grown stagnant and the normal sounds of the forest were eerily absent. They were near the far edge of the forest when the attack came. Seemingly from out of nowhere the attackers emerged from the sides of the forest, brandishing every weapon known to man, yelling oaths of loyalty to their master as they charged across the open field towards Xena and Gabrielle. Flipping neatly off Argo and sending her on a hard gallop towards Amazon territory, knowing that when the border patrols saw Argo come in riderless, they would send help; hopefully it would arrive in time. Xena quickly calculated the odds and they weren’t good. Outnumbered by at least three to one, Xena figured, they would be lucky if they survived this at all. Xena saw someone standing on the hill, apparently directing these troops. Taking a brief instant to study the attacker’s armor, Xena’s eyes widened in shock as she recognized the symbol on the armor and the robes of the man on the hill.
"What is it? Who is that guy on the hill?"
"The guy on the hill goes by the name of Keltos. He’s the high priest of … Oh, lords, what have we done to piss him off?"
"Piss who off, Xena?"
"It’s his army, Gabrielle. The only army even my army and I hoped never to face in combat."
By the time Xena had uttered his name, the army of Zeus was upon them, swinging their weapons mercilessly, their swords carving deadly arcs in the air, each and every single of them sworn to do Zeus’s bidding. And his bidding was to kill the Warrior Princess at any cost.
Ares could only watch helplessly as Zeus’s private army swarmed down around Xena and Gabrielle. He struggled against the invisible bonds holding him in the chair to no avail. He saw the madness now in complete control of Zeus and knew that this was the punishment his father had decided upon. His punishment was to watch his own father’s army kill the woman he loved, with him absolutely helpless to stop it. Ares sat helpless as he watched Xena and Gabrielle take down one opponent after another, only to have even more charge forward. A slight glimmer of hope came when out of nowhere, a deadly accurate shower of arrows started raining down upon Zeus’ troops and a large force of Amazons and Centaurs came pouring out of the forest, quickly joining the fray. Artemis must have been watching her own chosen and transported the combined Amazon and Centaur army to the battlefield to help in what way they could.
Ares almost missed it, but his well-trained eye caught sight of a lone spear sailing across the battlefield, headed straight for Xena. Unable to break the bonds holding him in the chair, he tried desperately to deflect its trajectory, but to no avail. Nothing could have knocked this spear off its course, the spear having been guided by Zeus himself. He saw the maniacal smile on Zeus’s face and knew that he was powerless to stop it. Ares watched helplessly as the spear seemingly avoided other targets and continued on its course.
Time seemed to slow to a stop when the spear hit Xena, striking her in the chest. Slowly sinking to her knees, one hand still on her chakrum, her blue eyes wide in disbelief, as the other hand clutched the spear. Ares watched, horrified, as Xena slowly fell to the ground, blood now dripping from the corners of her mouth, and her features clouded with pain and confusion. The God of War felt the excruciating pain of her injury thru their ‘bond’ and watched as she sunk to the ground, the chakrum fell from Xena’s hand and scored a long cut on her leg as it skittered across the battlefield only to come to a rest at the feet of Keltos, Zeus’ temple priest. His prize now in hand, the priest quickly signaled for retreat and the battle was over as quickly as it had begun.
Ares saw Gabrielle turn in that instant and watched as her eyes widened in horror as she saw Xena lying on the ground in a growing pool of her own blood, a spear sticking out of her chest. He heard the scream as he saw Gabrielle run to where Xena had fallen, taking the warrior princess’ head into her lap.
As he felt the invisible bonds holding him release, nearly collapsing to the ground himself, he heard Zeus say.
"It’s over Ares."
Materializing on the battlefield, Ares knelt down beside Xena, unmindful of the Amazons clustering around them, forming a circular defensive position. Taking the utmost care and tenderness, Ares gently cradled Xena in his arms and looked at Gabrielle as she asked him through tear-swollen eyes, her voice hoarse and raw with emotion.
"Why? Why her?"
"Zeus has gone mad. Because of me, because of what I’ve done, she was his first target."
The amazons that were standing around the trio on the ground closed their eyes as their biggest fear was confirmed. Not even Artemis could protect them from Zeus if he has gone insane. The King of the Gods had gone mad and Xena had been his first target. Ephiny stepped forward, kneeling down beside Gabrielle. Forcing down her own urge to vomit, the Amazon Regent laid her hand on her Queen’s shoulder, and spoke quietly.
"Let us take her to the village to try and save her."
The statement didn’t come from Gabrielle, but from Ares as he brushed a strand of raven hair out of Xena’s face, his hand now covered in her blood. Ares looked directly at Gabrielle and Ephiny, unmindful of the tears that were slowly tracing a path down his face, his own voice raw with emotion,
"It doesn’t matter, don’t you see? No medicine can help her; no god can heal her, not Athena and not even me. Zeus himself guided the spear. He wanted her dead so I would suffer and he got what he wanted."
Sparing a glance at Ephiny, Gabrielle’s suspicions about Ares had been confirmed by the God of War himself.
The voice was so faint, that Gabrielle almost didn’t hear it. Swinging her head around, Gabrielle looked down and saw Xena’s eyes flutter open, her face clouded in pain. Each ragged breath was rapidly draining more of her life away. Hearing her voice, Ares looked at Xena and listened as Gabrielle spoke.
Taking one of Gabrielle’s hands, Xena placed it around the spear. Unable to hold the tears back, Gabrielle acknowledged Xena’s silent request. Xena didn’t want to die with the weapon of her death still in her. Steeling her reserves and taking a firm grip on the weapon, Gabrielle pulled it out of her, knowing that would hasten the Warrior Princess’ death. Xena’s chest, now free of the spear, began pumping blood out faster through the hole. Willing herself not to lose it in front of Xena, Gabrielle knelt back down next to her, taking up Xena’s right hand. Even the battle-hardened Amazons and Centaurs had trouble keeping their stomachs under some kind of control after catching a glance at the hideous injury to Xena.With her free hand, Gabrielle brushed away the tears that were tracing paths down the warrior’s face. Gabrielle needed to be strong for Xena, to reassure her that she would be all right. "… A…always…" As soon as Gabrielle had pulled the spear from Xena, both Gabrielle and Ares’s clothes were soaked with her blood. Ares looked down at the woman now dying in his arms, his warrior princess, his chosen, and the woman he loved above all else, feeling the bond he shared with Xena fading fast. As he cradled her close, tears fell freely from his face, only to land on her forehead. "Xena, please don’t leave me…." "….not your….fault….know you….tried to….help…." By this time, Ephiny and Eponin were beside Gabrielle, each of them silently lending her some of their strength, finally able to comprehend what had just happened. The King of the Gods had sent his private army to kill the Warrior Princess because Ares, the cold, unfeeling God of War had fallen in love with her. Exchanging glances, they both knew that the only peace they could give the dying warrior now was to let her know that the Amazons would now take care of Gabrielle. Xena needed to hear that Gabrielle would be taken care of. Casting a glance at Eponin, Ephiny leaned down and looked Xena in the eye, unable to stop the flood of tears coursing down her own face and said "Xena, we swear as not only as Gabrielle’s and your Amazon sisters, but as friends to you and Gabrielle, we will take care of her. She will never be alone until it comes her time to join you." Traces of a very faint smile crossed the face of the now very pale Warrior Princess as shifted her gaze to the man who held her so loving and carefully, his immortal eyes now filled with tears. The God of War, Ares, who had once been the focus of her entire life and later the bane of her existence. Xena knew that she had very little time left before Celesta came to claim her and take her to Hades for judgement and there was something that she needed to know from Ares. Reaching down into what precious little reserves she had left, Xena raised her free hand to his tear and blood stained face and asked Ares "Is…what Dite…said true?" Clasping Xena’s raised hand tightly with his own, Ares replied "Yes, it’s true…I swear on Olympus itself…I.. love you, Xena…." "….love…." Xena’s voice trailed off as her body shook in one last violent spasm and was suddenly still. Gabrielle, realizing that her best friend of so many years was dead, simply collapsed across the still form, her head coming to a rest upon Ares’ chest. Ephiny and Eponin put their own grief aside and both were about to wail the Amazon funeral dirge, normally reserved only for a Queen, when a cry broke forth that tore at the depths of both their very souls. "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" The force of Ares’ cry not only shook the mortal plane, but the realm of all the Gods as well. Everyone across Greece heard the cry ring out over the land as they felt the violent shake of the land. Everywhere they stood, leaders looked out their windows, temples went silent, entire armies stopped in mid-battle and citizens just stopped whatever they were doing. They looked to the skies for answers and found none. And somehow, everyone knew that a God was in mourning. Zeus’s madness had not only claimed the life of a mortal but the soul of a god as well. All of the other gods were reeling in shock, not only from the action Zeus had taken, but their worst fears had just been realized. Not even if they banded together could they take Zeus on and they could not change what had been done. Not even the Fates could interfere this time. Whatever, or who ever had driven Zeus mad could do the same to all of them. Unable to help, fearful of Zeus, the only thing the other gods could do was watch in silence as Ares mourned alone… Ares watched numbly as Ephiny and Eponin attempted to pull a now very hysterical Gabrielle off of Xena’s body. Ares, his face still stained with Xena’s blood, cast a disheartened glance around the battlefield and saw that the Amazons and Centaurs were dealing with the few surviving soldiers of Zeus’s temple. Knowing that only the depths of Gabrielle’s grief matched his own, and not giving a damn about who was watching, Ares gently brushed the top of Gabrielle’s head gently and put her into a healing sleep. Looking directly at Ephiny, Ares said, his voice now devoid of any kind of emotion; "Take Gabrielle back to your village and care for her. She is your responsibility now. I will see to Xena." The tone of Ares’ voice left no doubt in the Amazon regent’s mind what would happen to her if she didn’t do as he said. Although rather uncomfortable in the presence of the god of war, Ephiny took a chance and was about to speak, but was silenced by a look from Ares. "I will see to Xena. She was and will always be my only Chosen." With that Ares stood slowly, cradling his chosen close to his chest, her blood slowly drying in the creases of his leathers and disappeared into the aether. Brushing away tears, Ephiny looked at Eponin who had gathered Gabrielle in her arms and said "Take the Queen back to Arborea. We have a funeral to prepare for…" Without another word, Amazons and Centaurs, both young and old, flanked Ephiny and Eponin carrying Gabrielle, turned away from the field of battle minus one warrior…. Ares materialized out of the aether deep inside a cave a few leagues away from the battlefield. He walked past the temples carrying his precious burden and into a hidden chamber and didn’t stop until he reached the small chamber where his chosen now was to sleep. Ares sat down in the chair that used to reside in his personal realm and held Xena tight to him for what seemed like ages, but in fact was only a very short time. Never in all of his existence had any mortal affected him like Xena had and the pain that he was feeling over the intense bond that they had once shared was threatening to overwhelm him, so Ares allowed himself the mortal luxury of the chance to grieve. Slowly realizing he had precious little time before Xena’s body would start to decay, Ares composed himself and set about the task now at hand. With a wave of his hand, in the middle of the chamber, appeared an altar made out of the purest black marble to match the color of Xena’s hair and on top of the altar rested a magnificent blue smoked-glass coffin, the color matching Xena’s eyes. Walking over to the altar, he willed the top aside and placed her on a bed of rich brown and golden furs, the colors matching her leathers and armor. Placing a last, tender kiss upon her forehead, Ares slid the lid closed over Xena, sealing her inside. Taking a step back, Ares summoned up all the power he could and placed a protective aura around the coffin. The aura would protect her body from decay until he could somehow; someday find a way to bring her back to him. A single tear now slowly wound its way down his face as he whispered "You can rest now, my Princess. I swear that I will find a way to bring you back someday, somehow. Until then, I will watch over Gabrielle. And, until you come back, I will keep vigil over you…." When Ephiny and Eponin arrived back at the village, having picked up the full Queen’s Honor Guard, with a now unconscious Gabrielle, they found that the preparations were already underway. The word had reached the village almost immediately and the loss of Xena was palpable everywhere they looked. The Queen’s dais had already been draped with the colors of mourning and the Amazons that were walking around the village square were noticeably subdued. All heads bowed respectfully as Ephiny and Eponin passed them with Gabrielle, and Xena’s weapons were clutched tightly in Gabrielle’s hand. The Nation had suffered a great loss this day and may never fully recover. Eponin laid Gabrielle down on her bed in the Queen’s hut and left to take care of Argo back at the stables. Ephiny sat down beside Gabrielle, unsure of how to comfort her from a loss such as that. Grateful to Ares for putting her Queen to sleep, Ephiny took Xena’s sword from Gabrielle’s hand, laying it on the table and stood guard by Gabrielle’s bed until she began to stir a short time later. Gabrielle awoke with a start, believing the day to have been just a horrible nightmare. Her eyes darted around the hut, settling on the dull glow off the sword on the table and she realized that somehow she had been transported back to Arborea, but didn’t know how she got there and she was alone. Finally noticing Ephiny standing by the door, Gabrielle called to her. "Ephiny, where’s Xena? "
Ephiny’s reserve began to crumble and her eyes threatened to spill with tears and she walked from her post at the door of the hut and sat down beside Gabrielle on the pallet. Taking Gabrielle’s hands in her own, Ephiny said
"Gabrielle, Xena’s dead. Don’t you remember?"
Gabrielle’s eyes locked on the bloodstains on her clothes and hands and it all came rushing back to her. It wasn’t just some horrible nightmare; it had all been too real. Xena was dead and not coming back. Zeus had killed Xena because of Ares’ love for the Warrior Princess and she was completely alone now. Gabrielle’s body began to shake with sobs until she sensed the presence of someone else in the room with her.
"Where are you?"
"Here, Gabrielle. "
Neither Gabrielle or Ephiny had seen Ares materialize in the Queens’ hut and both of them turned around and saw Ares sitting in Xena’s favorite chair, his clothes still stained with Xena’s blood, and the lines of grief were so deeply carved on his face, that even Ephiny felt the depth of his pain.
"Where is she?"
"Bring her back."
" I can’t. Gabrielle, I would give anything if I could do that, but I can’t. Not even Hades or the Fates could change this now. Don’t you understand, Zeus is insane. If I were to bring her back here now, Zeus would find her body and destroy it. I won’t let that happen, I owe her at least that much."
The tears began to flow freely again down Gabrielle’s face and her body shook with heart-wrenching sobs. Xena was gone and not even Ares could do anything about it. Motioning Ephiny aside, Ares stood and strode over to where Gabrielle sat on the pallet, pulling her into his arms, holding her tight. Ares waited patiently as Gabrielle sobbed in his embrace, slowly falling back into an exhausted slumber. As soon as she was deeply asleep, Ares placed his still bloodstained hand on Gabrielle’s forehead and whispered.
"Rest easy, Gabrielle. Your grief will pass. I will come for you when it is time…"
"So, then what happened? Did you go for Gabrielle?"
Ares looked down at his audience of three. It had been almost three thousand years since he last told the story, the memories of that day still vivid in his mind.
"Many years later, when her time came, I did. Until that time, I kept watch over her as I had promised."
Jenna looked at Ares, understanding the attitude that he had first greeted them with, realizing that she would have done the same thing. Knowing that she had made the right decision when she shattered the boulder, Jenna looked the war god in the eye and asked
"What happened to the chakrum?"
Ares was about to answer when the floor began to shake violently and debris began to fall from the ceiling. Before Ares could react, Jenna had shoved her parents and him onto the platform and stood in a defensive posture between them and the door and a voice all too familiar to Ares wafted through the cave wall.
"Oh, the chakrum. I have it…"
Zeus stood outside the last door of the chamber, having given Ares just enough time to relate the tale to them before he destroyed the inner door and eliminated Xena once and for all. Zeus had waited for nearly three thousand years for this day to come and he was determined to enjoy every single second of it. The King of the Gods watched as the ground shook violently and smiled as he demolished the last door, not expecting the sight that was before him.
Between him and Ares and his target, stood a young girl, of no more than maybe ten or eleven summers old, by his judgement, with a coldness on her face that he had never seen before. The darkness that rolled off her was quite palpable as he studied the scene before him. This child reminded him of Xena with her looks and demeanor. She stood defiantly between them, almost taunting him to take a shot.
"You are sending children out to fight me now, Ares? You are a coward and a disgrace."
"And you are an asshole, who is just aching to have his sorry ass kicked. And guess what, I’m available and in just the right mood to do it."
Zeus stared at the girl, unable to believe that she had addressed him in that manner. He was the King of the Gods, an immortal being, with powers that mortals could only dream about. Ares, he expected that kind of answer from, but not a little girl.
"Girl, I AM ZEUS. ‘
The reply was not what he expected.
"And I am supposed to be impressed? You look more like a psychotic old fart to me."
Zeus had had enough. It had taken him nearly three thousand years to find this chamber and he wasn’t about to let this little slip of a girl stop him. Drawing his hand back, he felt the power surge build inside and knew the bolt of lightning had formed in his grasp. With a smile borne out of sheer madness, Zeus stepped forward and threw the lightning bolt at the girl.
Jenna watched as Zeus launched the lightning bolt at her. Not giving an inch, her forcefield snapped on, forming a protective barrier between Zeus and her family behind her. There was no way she was going to let him win this fight. This bastard was going down, and going down hard. She would finish it and deliver on her promise to help.
Bracing for the impact, Jenna felt the bolt slam into the forcefield, nearly knocking her down with the intensity of the bolt, the effect causing her forcefield to glow in a myriad of colors. The bolt had not penetrated her forcefield, but would leave a nice bruise where it had bounced off. ‘Two can play at this game’ Jenna thought. ‘Let’s see if he can take it as well as he gives it.’ Drawing a deep breath, Jenna looked Zeus directly in the eye and said,
"Not bad for an old fart. In fact, I think I’ll return the favor."
With that, Jenna drew back, took aim and fired a bolt of energy of her own back at Zeus. The force of the impact caught the King of the Gods by surprise and knocked Zeus flying backwards through the chamber, and out into the city. The group of men that had been surrounding Zeus fled through the demolished door, stumbling over each other as they swarmed through the passageway.
Ares looked at Jenna incredulously, unable to speak.
"Now, I finish it. My way…"
"You’ll never get the chakrum, Ares. It’s only a matter of time, now."
"Game over, you lose."
Zeus whirled his head around to see the girl walking slowly and methodically out of the chamber, headed directly towards where he stood. The look on her face gave Zeus cause to worry about his own continued existence. As she approached him, Zeus studied this latest threat to his authority a bit more closely. She was quite young, with pitch-black hair; ice blue eyes and demeanor that exuded utter hatred for him. Her overall appearance and utter contempt of him reminded Zeus of a very young Xena. The only thing that was different between the two was the unusual dagger strapped to her leg and the powers she had exhibited. ‘This child must go. I will not have her standing in my way’
"Step aside, mortal. Child or not, no one will stand in my way."
Zeus’ attention was drawn by a sudden, loud commotion to his right. Both he and Jenna turned and saw that the group, which had accompanied Zeus, was now surrounding a figure, whose identity was obscured by the sounds of gunfire and fists hitting flesh. Occasionally punctuating the gunfire were brief flashes of light, which resulted in bodies hitting the ground. Casting a sideward glance at Jenna, he was puzzled when he saw a smile cross her face, and even more surprised when he heard her whisper quietly
"Ooooh, someone’s gonna get it now."
The commotion was over as fast as it had begun and when the dust finally settled, a lone figure came walking over to where Jenna stood, finally coming a stop beside her. Somehow, Zeus sensed, a predator far more dangerous than this girl had suddenly joined them and the first tendrils of fear brushed across his mind. The newcomer was dressed in some kind of white outfit with a very large, red, eight-pointed star emblazoned on the chest. And when this person turned to look at him, he had the same look that the girl had on her face…
"Jeez, can’t leave you alone for a minute. Just how do manage to find trouble in Greece?""Hey, I learned from the best. Besides, I didn’t start it. This time, anyways."
Astro pointed a finger at where Zeus was standing, regarding them with hostile intent.
"Who’s the annoying geezer?"
"Oh, him. Claims he’s Zeus, King of the Gods, you know. Yadda, yadda, yadda."
Astro took a moment to look Zeus over, then asked
"What did he do to piss you off?"
"Went nuts and had the woman, one of his sons loved, killed to get even. Seems he got all pissy that his son was doing anything he could to win over this woman."
"Which kid? He has so many. Talk about not keeping it in his pants."
"Ares. Seems he had a thing for this warrior named Xena…"
"Wait a minute. You’re trying to tell me that the Greek God of War had the hots for a mortal?"
"Yep. Seems he figured out, on his own mind you, that the only way he had a chance with her was to change. "
"That coward is an embarrassment to me…."
Zeus didn’t get a chance to finish, when he suddenly found himself flying back into the wall of his temple, sliding down the smooth surface and coming to a stop at on the floor, having been on the receiving end of a solid roundhouse punch from Astro. He was more than a bit bewildered and struggled to sit up when he heard
"You know, if I wanted your opinion, I would just beat it out of you. Until then, shut up."
Zeus pushed himself to his feet, his face still stinging from the tremendous impact of such a small fist to his jaw. Zeus’ body began to shake uncontrollably as the anger welled up inside him to a fevered level. No one, in all of his eons of existence, had ever dealt him a blow such as the one he had just received and no one would again. ‘Both of these mortal children must be destroyed’, Zeus thought ‘And after I deal with them, I will deal with that traitorous son once and for all.’
With the thought of destroying his son coursing over and over in his mind, Zeus summoned, for the first time in centuries, all the power he could, reveling in its feel as it coursed through his body. He felt the comforting shape of a lightning bolt take form in his hand and the overwhelming desire to let it fly and destroy his enemies. Drawing back his arm, he took aim at the two ‘mortals’ standing between him and his prize and let the bolt fly.
Both Astro and Jenna sensed the energy bolt before it hit and jumped clear of it as it impacted the ground at their feet, blowing up a cloud of dirt and debris. Astro and Jenna turned to look at each other, then turned to look at Zeus, who was now walking towards them, the madness apparent on his face.
Without turning his attention away from Zeus, Astro said.
"That’s it. You’re toast."
Jenna quickly moved out of the way when Astro spoke, knowing now that this fight would now be between Astro and Zeus. She was somewhat disappointed until she saw a figure sneaking between the temples, trying to make it to the city’s exit. ‘Oh, no you don’t. Nobody screws with my family and gets away with it.’ Easing the dagger out of it’s protective sheath, Jenna, not wanting to damage the artifacts inside the city, waited to throw her dagger, til the figure had cleared the temples and was near the wall of the cave. Taking careful aim, Jenna threw the dagger with deadly accuracy and pinned the figure through his clothes to the cave wall.
Her strides quickly brought her to where the figure had been pinned; a smile crossed her face as she recognized her captive. It was Ed McKinley. The man who had hurt her father. Taking a firm grip on the man’s tunic, Jenna pulled her dagger free, placing it back in its sheath. A feral grin crossed Jenna’s face as she pulled the man down to her.
"Well, lookee what I have here. The rat bastard who tried to hurt my father."
"You little bitch. You honestly think that you can defeat Zeus? He’ll kill that little murdering freak Astro, then you and then finally that bitch Xena."
Jenna looked into the man’s eyes and realized that Ed McKinley believed he was the reincarnation of Zeus’s temple priest. ‘That’s’ why he followed us… ‘ She also noticed something else about the man, through the man’s clothes she saw the outlines of an ornate robe and something round slung on one hip. Jenna held her ground when the man attempted to shove her back and rewarded his efforts with a bone-shattering punch to his left hip, smiling sweetly as his face contorted in agony.
"Now that wasn’t nice. Such a big, tough man shoving little girls around like that."
Jenna watched as the man, ignoring the searing agony of his shattered hip, ripped his outer clothes away, revealing robes inscribed with Zeus’s symbols and her eyes fastened on the prize slung at his right. It was the chakrum that had been stolen from Xena on that field of battle. It was still stained with her blood and Jenna felt a faint energy trace emanating from it.
"What do you think you are?"
"I am Keltos, High Priest of the temple of Zeus. Prepare to die mortal."
Looking at the man, Jenna knew now, that he fully believed that he was the High Priest Keltos, and was not above killing to serve his master. She jumped out of the way as he swung the chakrum in a downward arc intending to slice her across her neck. Using a high block, Jenna managed to knock his arm away and delivered another solid punch to the man, sending him to the ground writhing in utter agony.
"Not a chance, asshole. You have something that doesn’t belong to you and I am taking it back. "
"You little bitch…. I’ll kill you…"
"That’s what you think."
Jenna turned just as the gun was fired, the bullet striking her in the upper arm. ‘Damn, forgot rule number 18.’ Furious, Jenna stared at the man, just now noticing the .45 caliber handgun in the man’s left hand. It must have been hidden in the folds of the robes he was wearing. Pushing the pain in her arm aside, Jenna stood her ground.
"I said I would kill you. Now I will."
"You have one chance to live, hand over the chakrum."
Ed McKinley/ Keltos laughed in spite of the pain and drew a bead on Jenna’s heart and said
"You’ve lost, now you die."
" I gave you a chance, you just blew it. "
The last thought Ed McKinley/Keltos had was that he was going to make his master proud. It was the last thought he would ever have as Jenna’s dagger sunk deeply into his chest, killing him instantly. The .45 fell from his lifeless hand and skittered to a stop at Jenna’s feet. Kicking the weapon aside, Jenna walked over to the dead man, retrieved her dagger from his chest, wiping the blood off on the robes and picked up the chakrum from where it had fallen. Sitting down on the bench, Jenna fastened the chakrum to her belt with one hand after securing her dagger. Ripping a piece of her shirt off, she tied a makeshift bandage around her injured arm and watched the battle of wills that was now going on across the cavern.
Astro slowly circled his opponent carefully, looking for any weaknesses, and knowing that this fight would be tough. He’d faced a great many criminals and villains in his ‘career’, but never one who claimed to be a ‘god’. ‘This is gonna be good.’
Zeus felt extremely confident, despite the ache in his jaw from where Astro had struck him earlier. He had great confidence in the man he had given the care of the chakrum to keep it safe from his son. Believing this ‘Astro’ as the mortal boy-child called himself to be easy to defeat, Zeus spoke, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
"Give it up, boy. You cannot defeat me. I am Zeus, King of the Gods."
"Yeah, you said that already."
"You will not stand in my way."
Without a further word, Zeus fired another energy bolt at Astro, striking him harmlessly on the chest. Astro looked down at where the bolt had bounced off his forcefield and found that the starburst on his costume had been singed. Looking down at the singed starburst and then back up to where Zeus stood staring at him in disbelief.
"Do you know how long it takes to make one of these? Oh, you shouldnta had done that."
"What about your little friend over there?"
Astro cast a sideward glance over to where Jenna sat on the bench, her right hand covering a stained piece of cloth tied around her upper left arm. He could smell the coppery scent of the blood as it was soaking up the cloth. A ‘thumbs up’ sign from Jenna reassured him that it was superficial (for her, anyway) and time for him to kick some ‘godly’ butt. Turning his full attention back to Zeus, Astro grew very quiet and refused to respond to the god’s taunts.
"Don’t worry. I’ll put your friend out of her misery as soon as I am finished with you. Have you suddenly gone mute, boy?"
It took all of Astro’s self control not to just tear into Zeus in a blind rage for hurting his friend, but his years of experience as a super-hero had taught him well. Taught him not to fall for an enemy’s taunts, to put the anger those taunts generated aside and concentrate on dealing with the situation quickly and efficiently.
When Astro spoke, his voice was so quiet, Zeus had to strain to hear him properly.
"This ends now."
Without any preamble, Astro launched a counter attack of energy bolts on Zeus, some shots intended to scare, and others intended to injure or kill. It took all of Zeus’ eons of experience to avoid serious injury as he returned the shots with his own. While Astro took great care not to aim shots to destroy the temples, Zeus had no such compunction against destroying anything necessary to get at his target.
The fight between Zeus and Astro stretched on for what seemed to be hours, each combatant putting their best shots in and taking the other’s attacks. What neither of them failed to notice was the shadowy figure slowly creeping up to the battle zone, a lone weapon in his hand.
Jumping out of the way of one of Zeus’ lightning bolts, Astro somehow caught his foot on a broken pillar and crashed to the cave floor. Zeus saw this and took the opportunity to end this fight once and for all. His face was badly bruised, his left arm was gone, having been blown off by a solid shot from Astro and his robe was burnt in more places than he could easily count. Gathering the last bit of strength he had, Zeus put all his remaining energy into one massive lightning bolt and was about to let it go when he was stopped by a voice behind him.
"No, father. It’s over, for you."
While the fight between Zeus and Astro was going on, Ares had crept quietly from the tomb, traveling amongst the shadows around the temples, a spear in his hand. Ares was deeply relieved to see that Jenna had won her fight with the pseudo-priest and had taken possession of the chakrum, having pried it from the man’s dead hand. He noticed, with some amusement, how Jenna looked so much like Xena after a fight, her weapons cared for and tending to her wounds.
Turning his attention back to the battle now raging between Zeus and Astro, Ares knew that he would have only one chance to do this and made sure he was ready to take it the moment it presented itself. Pulling a small vial out of his leather vest, Ares poured its contents along the edges of the weapon. ‘I owe that guy one favor’ he thought grimly as the battle continued.
As soon as Astro had stumbled backwards, falling to the ground on a piece of broken pillar, Ares knew that this was the chance he had been waiting nearly three thousand years for. With grim determination, his resolve firm, he quietly approached Zeus from behind, the spear ready in his hand.
When Zeus heard the voice behind him, it took him a moment to recognize whom the voice belonged to.
"Ares. So you finally decided to show your face. What makes you think you can take me? This boy couldn’t and you certainly can’t."
"You will destroy no more lives father. I’ll see to that."
"With what? You are no match for me. There is no weapon you have that can hurt me."
Ares’ voice was so quiet, Zeus had to strain to hear it.
"Just one, father."
Faster than Zeus could react, Ares lunged forward with the spear, plunging it deep into his father’s chest. He watched without remorse as his father crumpled slowly to the ground, clutching the spear. Ares watched as Zeus pulled the spear from his body and the traces of a smile crossed his face as his father recognized the vial that dangled from a chain around Ares’ hand.
He saw his father’s eyes widen as he recognized the deep crimson stain on the spear and felt the poison coursing through his system. Ares stood over the crumpled form of his father, waiting for him to speak.
"H….Hind’s blood?????? Where?????"
"How does it feel?"
"Ares…" Zeus’s voice was beginning to tremble a bit as he felt his life force ebbing away. "Why?"
"Recognize the spear, Father? You should, you used it to kill Xena. I thought it was only fair that I use it to kill you. Except, there will be no one mourning over you. No one to hold you as you die, to give you comfort. As for the Hind’s blood, a very clever person obtained that for me, quite some time ago."
"It was gone… destroyed…."
"And so are you…." Ares said as he walked away, not looking back.
With one final, gasping breath, Zeus, King of the Gods, died.
Astro walked over to where Jenna sat on the stone bench, holding her arm. Looking between her arm to the discarded .45 caliber handgun, Astro said.
"Lemme guess. Rule number 18, right?"
"Yeah, Rule 18. Got a spare band-aid?"
Astro pulled a large bandage out of the first aid kit he carried, taking care to examine the wound before tying the bandage on. ‘Could have been worse’, Astro thought.
"You’re lucky that it went straight through. It could have been a lot worse, you know."
"Yeah, I know. What’s next?"
"Well, I’m calling the doc. You need to have him check your arm out and maybe he can help with the ‘situation’ in the cave back there."
Jenna sighed. She wasn’t looking forward to this, knowing the time difference between Greece and New York, but she knew that he was the only person on the planet capable of helping Ares’ situation, and her arm was beginning to hurt quite a bit more.
"All-right, all-right. Arm’s kinda hurting a bit anyways."
"Good. Besides, I already called him. "
"I’ll get you for that. "
"Come on. Your parents are gonna flip when they see that arm."
"And the doc’s gonna flip when he sees your ankle. He just fixed that three weeks ago."
Astro and Jenna continued to trade verbal barbs as they walked through the city and into the open mouth of the cave beyond.
By the time Astro and Jenna reached the chamber where Xena was buried, Ares had resumed sitting in the chair and Bob and Caroline were laying out some of their provisions.
Upon seeing their daughter walk in with Astro, holding her arm, Bob quickly strode over to where they stood. Relieved to see his daughter wasn’t seriously injured, Bob brought the two of them over to Caroline who looked them both over. Her anger dissipated, Caroline’s motherly instincts took over as she settled her daughter down on the chair, fussing over Jenna’s arm.
"Jenna, your arm. What happened? And Astro, what are you doing here?"
"Hi, mom. That jerk who had the hots for you did this."
"And, what happened?" Bob asked, already knowing the answer.
"Seems the rat bastard thought he was Zeus’ temple priest. Had some funky robes on and such under his clothes. He had a .45 hidden in his robes and the chakrum on his side."
"Jenna! If I had some soap…"
“Chill out, mom. You know he was one, you just won’t say it out loud. “
“Where is he?"
“Lying on the ground near the entrance in a lifeless heap. “
Ares, who had been sitting quietly in his chair, perked up his ears at the simple, factual comment from Jenna. ‘This child is so much like Xena ‘. Rising up from his seat, he sat down next to Bob and waited for Jenna to continue.
“Was it necessary, Jenna?"
“Yep. Not too hard either. Shattered his hip with a punch, busted a couple of ribs with another punch after he tried to slice my head of with this thing, “ Jenna said, indicating the chakrum. “So, after that, I buried my dagger up to the hilt in his chest and took the chakrum from his cold, dead hand."
Caroline closed her eyes a moment, stifling a brief attack of nausea. ‘I should have known better than to ask her that. ‘ Her thoughts aside, Caroline turned her attentions to Astro.
“Put your foot up. I can see the swelling already. Doc’s gonna have a fit if he sees that.
‘You’ve got that right."
All head turned at once and saw a figure emerge from the dimness of the corridor and into the lighted inner chamber. Bob and Caroline breathed a huge sigh of relief as Dr. Bret Henson walked over to where they stood and took in the sight before him. Running a hand through his unruly hair, Bret sighed as he knelt down next to Jenna.
“Do either of you know what time it is in the states? I just got to bed twenty minutes before you called me. I can’t let either of you two out of my sight. Not for an instant. “
Bret continued to mutter to himself as he took a couple of small items out of his bag and examined Jenna’s arm. Taking the utmost care and precision, Bret quickly and efficiently repaired the minor damage the bullet had caused, dressing and bandaging the wound. Turning his attention to Astro, Bret examined his ankle, quickly removing the boot before the swelling burst the leather stitching. Pulling out an ankle wrap, Bret quickly wrapped and taped Astro’s ankle and after he finished, he glanced over to the altar.
“What happened here?"
“You are a healer, are you not?"
Bret rose to his full height and turned around to face who had spoken to him. Looking directly at the speaker, Bret replied
“I am. Who is asking?"
“ I ask. Heal her. “ Ares said, pointing to the altar, a bit of arrogance tingeing his voice.
“ And you are who?"
Ares looked at Bret, trying to size him up, using his most intimidating manner. He was more than a bit surprised when Bret didn’t back down at all, choosing to return his stare with one of his own.
“I am Ares, God of War. They, “ Ares pointed, indicating Jenna, Astro, Bob and Caroline with a wide sweep of his arm, “ said you are the best healer around. So, mortal. HEAL HER NOW."
Bret ignored Ares’ ‘request’, moving to sit down on Ares’ chair. Looking over to where Jenna sat next to Astro, Bret asked
“Just who is this annoying little man, Astro?"
Astro looked between Bret and a now fuming Ares. Astro knew about the rather short temper of the God of War and also knew that Ares could not take Bret in a fight. Acting as the peacemaker this time, Astro raised a hand to put a halt to the rapidly building tension.
“Now that both of you are through marking the cave with testosterone, I will try to explain."
“Ares, chill out. Getting all pissy and laying on the attitude will get you absolutely nowhere with Bret. And Bret, I’m sorry for calling you at such a bad time, but we kinda needed your help here."
Bret turned his attentions to Astro, ignoring Ares for the moment. Glancing over at Xena’s resting place, Bret looked over at Ares, then back to Astro, then at the coffin. A somewhat amused grin crossed his features as he spoke, pointing at the coffin on the altar.
“This is why you needed me? You want me to restore a body? And just why should I do that?"
“I WANT HER BACK, NOW!"
Without even looking at Ares, Bret spoke in a tone that sent chills down the God of War’s spine.
“Do not even think of telling me what to do, immortal."
“You are a healer. Why won’t you help?"
Taking in a calming breath, Bret slowly stood up and walked over to where Ares stood by the end of the altar. Locking his gaze on Ares’ face, Bret placed on hand on the altar and addressed Ares.
“Before I answer your question, let me pose one to you."
“What do you think would happen to the planet if no one ever grew old and died? “
Ares pondered this for a moment before replying
“Pestilence, disease, famine, no where for people to live?"
“Correct. How do you think people would react if the technology was available?"
“Governments would take control of it?"
“Exactly. They would make themselves forever young and completely corrupt and those who really needed it would never get it."
“Why do you ask?"
“Because I HAVE the technology to do just that. “
Ares was thunderstruck. Right before him stood a mortal with the ability to heal his chosen, and he was asking all kinds of weird questions, which seemed to make sense, but he had made no move to help him.
“Why should I help her?"
“She didn’t die an honorable death. She was murdered by my father."
Bret looked at Ares with a bit more understanding. He now realized the reason for the God’s rather petulant behavior and took a moment to study the coffin’s occupant.
“Looks like she suffered some kind of severe cardiac and thoracic damage. What did this?"
“A spear, guided by my father’s hand." Ares spat out with obvious disgust. “He had her death planned because he was insane and angry with some things that I’d done."
The last statement from Ares piqued Bret’s curiosity. His expression now softened somewhat and his mood changed from anger to curiosity.
“And just what did she do?"
“Originally, she left my ‘guidance’. Changed her ways, started helping people and foiled more of my plans than I could count. I tried everything to get her back, but she refused each time. “
“And just what did you do?"
“Helped people once I realized how I felt about her. They never knew it was I. I changed outcomes of battles if she was involved. But the last straw was when I actually defended her back when the Persians attacked. She was about to get cut down and I showed up just long enough to hold them off, then I left."
Bret looked at Astro, then at Jenna, then back to Ares. ‘They might be worthy.’
“I knew Zeus would be upset, but I didn’t know he’d do that. I’d built this city myself, sort of my way of appeasing his anger. It didn’t work. He kept me prisoner while his troops attacked Xena and Gabrielle. It would have been worse, if my sister hadn’t transported help to the battlefield. It was the most she could do, every god and goddess on Olympus was living in fear of Zeus. I could only watch as the spear struck her. “
“You were held?"
“You could call it that. As soon as the ‘deed’ was done, I was released and materialized on the battlefield. I held her as she died, then I brought her here. This, “ Ares indicated with a sweep of his arm, “was the only safe place I knew. I brought her here, made this resting place and have stayed here since. I have left this cave only twice in nearly three thousand years."
“Perhaps you and she are worthy. But what happens here goes no further than this cave. Otherwise, “ Bret pinned Ares with a stare, “there would be no safe place for you to hide in any plane. IS THAT UNDERSTOOD?"
Something in the look he was receiving from Bret told Ares that there was more to Doctor Henson than he was seeing. A feeling of being in the presence of someone more powerful than Zeus pierced Ares’ senses and he knew that the doctor would carryout his promise.
“All I need to do now is see my uncle and ask for him to release her spirit."
“That won’t be necessary. Let’s say that Hades and I have an ‘understanding’. “
Ares looked at Bret, confusion evident on the Olympian’s face. ‘How could this mortal have an understanding with my uncle?’
“Let’s just say that he owes me. Besides, her spirit isn’t there."
Ares looked horrified. He’d waited nearly three thousand years for someone that could heal her and rejoin her spirit with her body. Ares had been ready to beg his uncle to release Xena’s spirit and now he had been told that Xena wasn’t in the Underworld.
“Where is she?"
“In this thing, I think."
Jenna, who had been quiet throughout the whole verbal exchange between Bret and Ares, stepped up, holding the chakrum.
“I noticed some kind of funky energy coming from this thing when I pried out of putzball’s hand. If she’s not ‘downstairs’, could she be here?"
Bret looked at Jenna, a grin slowly forming on his face. From what he knew of Zeus and his ‘abilities’ it would be like him to do something like this. Taking the chakrum in his hands carefully, Bret closed his eyes for a moment, and then opened them again. Walking over to the bag he brought, Bret pulled out an object, which was approximately the size of a medium briefcase. Setting it down on the cave floor, he pressed a button and stepped back.
Ares watched in fascination as the object unfolded into some kind of floating table with some kind of tablet with lighted buttons on it. He watched as Bret walked over to the altar and placed his hands on the coffin. Stunned, Ares watched as the sphere of protection he had placed around the coffin dissipate and the lid just seemed to move aside on it’s own. Ares noticed the great care and tenderness Bret took as he picked up Xena from inside the coffin, walking over to the floating table, and gently placed her upon it.
His fears aside, Ares watched with great curiosity as Bret stood at the ‘keypad’ as he called it and watched Bret’s hands fly over the keypad.
“Begin diagnostic cycle. Full regeneration."
“Enter security code."
“Authorization code fifteen alpha zero nine delta shade."
“Code accepted. Beginning diagnostic cycle. Do you wish full display mode?"
“Display diagnostics, then full regeneration cycle."
Bret sat down on the nearest rock and watched as the regenerator began it’s diagnostic cycle. Bret turned and observed Ares, who was staring at the regenerator with great interest as it did its work.
“It will take a bit for the regenerator to work. There was a considerable amount of damage to her body. “
“What about her spirit? How can you put that back?" Ares asked, not looking at Bret
“This unit is different from the others that I’ve built. It will take her life force from this item and reinfuse it into her. Fortunately there wasn’t a great deal of DNA damage and her RNA is intact."
“RNA? What is that?"
“Oh, sorry about that. RNA is what ingrains memories, knowledge in the brain. Hers is still intact, so she will remember what happened, if you want that."
Ares looked to Bret then to Xena, then back at Bret as the flood of memories washed across his face. He was going to get her back, but did he want her back with the memories of her remembering her last moments. Ares knew Xena better than she knew herself and realized she would want her memories intact, regardless of they would cause her pain or not. Taking a calming breath, Ares looked at Bret, then said.
“She wouldn’t want her memories tampered with again. It’s happened a couple of times before, and she was rather angry. As much as it may pain me, I know she would want her memories, good or bad."
“Very well. What of her friend?"
“Friends", corrected Ares. “There are several that I’ve ‘rescued’ shall we say. I couldn’t do as much for them, but they are safe."
Both Bret and Astro regarded Ares in a new light. Here was a ‘god’ who was the physical representation of war, death and destruction, gloried in the pain it brought others, yet he had done selfless acts all because he had fallen in love with a mortal woman. He had been willing to give up everything he was just to win her heart and discovered his own ‘humanity’ in the process. He had learned to look past the ‘glory’ of war to see the other side; people dying to protect what they had worked so hard for, innocent people dying because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, disease, famine and loss of spirit. War wasn’t so glorious anymore as he saw the ‘price’ of surviving.
“Once the regenerator is finished, it will be a short time before she wakes up. She will be weak for a bit, but with rest and care she will be fine. “
“And her friends? Will you do the same for them? “
“Are they important to her?"
“Yes, one in particular. Gabrielle. She kept Xena on the path of the ‘greater good’ much to my dismay. “ Ares recalled with an amused grin. “Gabrielle became quite an accomplished fighter on her own. I tried to get her to take Xena’s place once. She turned me down flat. My sister was wise in picking Gabrielle as her chosen."
“Sister? Which one?"
“Artemis. Patron goddess of the Amazons. Gabrielle was queen of the amazons, and ruled wisely for many years. Artemis took a great chance that day by sending her amazons to the battlefield and all I could do to thank her was to take care of Gabrielle like I did for Xena. “
“All-right. I will help them. “ Bret said.
Looking at the readouts on the monitor, Bret said
“Are you ready?"
“Ready for what?"
Ares watched as Bret took the chakrum and placed it on the small shelf, pressing a button on the side. A clear covering surrounded the chakrum, sealing it inside the bubble. He watched with great fascination as a very vibrant blue-violet haze filled the sealed chamber. Ares’ eyes widened as his senses identified the energy sealed inside. It was Xena’s life force, still strong and vibrant after all these years. His father had trapped her spirit in her signature weapon and had kept it from him all these years. ‘That’s why my uncle never saw her in the Underworld.’
Bret smiled as he studied the readings on the regenerator’s view screen. Looking at Ares’ facial expressions, he knew he had made the right decision to help. Noticing the strength of the life force and its color, Bret smiled and activated the life force infusion mode. The regenerator had done its job well, having repaired all physical damage, not only from the injury, but also healed a multitude of physical reminders of injuries from the past. And as an added bonus, when she awoke, she would be at her physical peak. A soft chirp from the console caught Bret’s attention. Turning to look at the monitor, Bret was mildly surprised by the readouts. ‘Hmm, that’s interesting.’
Ares had rather nervously kept watch throughout the entire process and was instantly by Bret’s side.
“What? What is it?"
“Calm down. There’s nothing wrong here. The process is going smoothly. Just some interesting readings, that’s all. The machine will be finished shortly. Just one question, though. Do you want her waking up in blood-soaked clothes?"
“I never thought of that. “
“How about this?" Jenna said, stepping forward and handing Ares a small, folded bundle.
Taking the offered items, he asked; “What is this?"
“Something like she’d be used to. It’s a lot like one of my favorite outfits, except bigger. I keep a spare outfit in my bag all the time. “
Ares unfolded the wrapped bundle carefully and laid out the contents on his chair. It was a two-piece outfit, made from some kind of black, leather like material. Ares tested its strength and was pleasantly surprised when it didn’t rip apart in his hands.
“This will work. Thank you. “
“No problem. Umm, one other question. Where are all of you gonna stay when we’re done? Its not like you can go back to doing what you were doing here."
“Maybe they could come to the states with us. Certainly safer for them over there, than here. “
“And where would they stay? “
“Could they stay with us, mom, dad? You wanted to know more about ancient Greece and rather than study some musty old relic, you got a couple of people who have lived it. “
Bob and Caroline looked at each other, then at the pleading look on their daughter’s face. Knowing they had already lost this particular battle, they both acquiesced gracefully, also realizing the truth of their daughter’s statement.
“All-right. They can stay with us for a time. It will take a bit to acclimatize them to the twentieth century anyway. “
“Thanks mom, dad. “
A beep from the regenerator got everyone’s attention.
“Regeneration complete. Life force infusion complete. Patient stable. Do you wish to remove stasis?"
Bret looked at Ares, who was staring at the regenerator, a look of confusion and fear on his face.
“Look, she’s fine now. What are you worried about?"
“I…I never thought that this day would happen. I was prepared to wait here until time ended to be with her and … You see, what happened to her, us, seems like it happened this morning and not three thousand years ago. I… I don’t know if she will still have any feelings for me…."
“You won’t know until you talk to her. Find out, you’ve waited long enough."
Pressing a button on the machine’s keypad, Bret released the stasis field. Ares stood still for a moment, gazing down at his princess. With the new outfit safely tucked inside of his vest, Ares gently wrapped Xena in some of the furs that had lined her coffin and slowly lifted her into his arms. He felt the bond between them that had been shattered so long ago and he noticed that she was much younger physically after this treatment and no longer had the scars from many previous encounters. Ares walked over to where a large bed had been set up in one corner of the cave and with utmost care, he lowered her onto the bed, tucking the furs in around her. A flick of his wrist and she was wearing the outfit that Jenna had provided, and Xena’s blood-soaked leathers were in a pile at the end of the bed. Ares watched with great anticipation as Xena’s eyelids began to flutter. In a low voice, tinged with anticipation, he said
Xena inhaled slowly as her senses slowly returned to her. She became gradually aware of the presence of several other people nearby and was distinctly aware of Ares’ presence beside her. She cautiously opened one eye and then the other, waiting impatiently for them to focus so she could see her surroundings. When her eyes finally came into focus, she noticed that she was in some kind of cave, and lying in a large bed and Ares was sitting next to her, a worried look on his face. As her consciousness became more aware, her hands shot down to where she remembered having a gaping hole in her chest, only to find that it wasn’t there any longer. Xena tried to sit up, but was held firmly in place by Ares. He put a finger to her lips and quieted her with one of his infamous ‘looks’.
“Just rest for a bit, my princess."
“Where am I? What happened to me? I was injured, and dying. I know that much. I remember talking to Gabrielle and you and then nothing. “
Ares fought to keep the tears from falling down his face as he replied
“You…did die… In my arms….I brought you here afterwards…
Xena looked at Ares and noticed the tears that had welled up in his eyes. With one hand, she reached up and brushed away a few that had fallen as her memories of her last few moments came rushing back to her.
“You said something to me."
“What was it?"
“I said…I said I loved you, Xena. I meant it then and I mean it now."
Xena was stunned. She thought she had heard him say that right before, but wasn’t too sure. She also realized that her injuries were gone completely and she felt like she had just before she had met Ares for the first time. Xena pulled herself to a sitting position, despite Ares’ attempts to keep her lying still. She saw for the first time, her leathers, now lying in a pile at the foot of the bed and saw how severe her injury had been. Xena also noticed the dried blood on Ares’ vest and hands.
Xena noticed the presence of several more people in the cave and looked to Ares for answers.
“Who are these people? Where’s Gabrielle?"
“Princess, I will answer all your questions. It has been nearly three thousand years since that day in the forest. “
“THREE THOUSAND YEARS?"
“Yes. After you died, I brought your body here and placed it in a sphere of protection to preserve it. I swore an oath that somehow, someday I would find a way to heal you, to bring you back to me. These people helped me to do just that. “
“And what of Zeus?"
Ares looked away, towards the mouth of the cave. In the distance, Xena could see the shape of a body, dressed in ornate robes, lying lifeless on the cave floor.
“I killed him."
“But how? All the weapons that could kill gods were gone."
“There was one left. I just had to locate someone who could steal it for me."
“The Hind’s blood? “
“I stole it for him."
Xena looked and saw an old man walk towards them and sit down on the edge of the bed.
“It was the least I could do for you, Xena."
Xena looked closely at the old man, settling her gaze on his face. While the face was old and wrinkled, the eyes still held the same spark she had come to know on many occasions.
“It can’t be, but it is. Autolycus, is that you?"
The old man flashed a genuine smile at Xena and pulled off his outer clothes, revealing a faded, well worn, but familiar outfit.
“Ares came to me a short time after what happened and offered me a deal. I would steal the hind’s blood necklace from Zeus and he would see that I survived long enough to see Zeus’ downfall."
“That’s not all of it."
“Oh, yeah. I also promised to keep this location secret until someone came along that was worthy and could help. That guy standing over there, with the woman and two kids, found this place a few years ago and came to me, hoping to find some information on the underground city. I felt I could trust him, so I told him the story of what happened and gave him a scroll for safekeeping."
“And I owe you this. “
Ares stood up from his place next to Xena and took hold of Autolycus’ hand. He closed his eyes and his body began to glow softly. The glow traveled down Ares’ arms and over Autolycus. Xena watched in amazement, as Autolycus quickly grew young again. The glow continued until Autolycus had been changed back into his youthful self. Finished, Ares sat back down next to Xena, somewhat exhausted by his ‘gift’.
“The debt is now paid. What you do with your life is entirely up to you."
Catching a look from Bret, Ares sent Autolycus over to the doctor with a different scroll.
“Doctor, on the scroll are the locations of the ‘others’ I’ve mentioned. Autolycus will show you where to look."
Ares turned his attention back to Xena who was now looking at him rather curiously. He could see all the questions she had written on her face and put a finger to her lips to keep her quiet.
“ I know you have a great deal of questions. I will try and answer as many as I can for you. Yes, the amazons took care of Gabrielle for you. Ephiny and Eponin kept their promise they made to you. I came for her, when it was her time. She will be restored shortly along with certain other people. “
“You stayed with me all this time?"
“Because you love me?"
Xena suddenly realized who had been behind the rebuilding of towns ravaged by war, sudden deliveries of medicines to help disease stricken areas, food just appearing overnight in areas of famine. Ares had been trying to win her back, honestly, not through deceit and he had kept a three thousand year vigil over her while she slept. He had risked his own existence for her, admitted his feelings for her in front of others and killed his own father just to get her back.
“You were the one who helped all those villages."
“Yes. After a time, I realized that the only chance I had of truly winning you back was to change my ways. I still did the ‘job’ as you called it, but I also traveled to these areas afterwards and saw things as you saw them. It finally dawned on me, why you left me and once I was able to admit to myself how I felt about you, I realized that I needed you. I couldn’t live without you. And the only way I might stand a chance was to change things, beginning with myself."
“You don’t have to say anything now, my princess. All I ask is for a chance to win your heart honestly."
“You already have…"
Ares slowly pulled Xena to a sitting position on the bed, his eyes never leaving hers. With a trembling hand, he slowly traced a path down Xena’s face, his fingers coming to a stop under her chin, his eyes locked on hers. Ares could feel his own heart hammering wildly as he gently pulled Xena close and brushed her lips lightly with his own. Ares nearly fainted as Xena returned his gentle kiss, as his emotions ran wild, feeling the bond that they had once shared stronger than it had ever been. Not breaking the tender embrace, Ares whispered into his chosen’s hair
“We have forever now."
Unseen in the shadows a lone figure watched the scene unfold between Ares and Xena. Satisfied with what had just transpired, the figure smiled and whispered as it quietly vanished;
“My vigil is now over. Take care of my daughter…."
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