Subtext: They're in love with
each other as far as I'm concerned. I'm never too explicit in my stories though.
There's that and the fact one of the women is actually dead...
There might be a kiss or two, a few hints about the two of them being soulmates, a declaration of love here and there, but apparently all of the above do not necessarily lead to the conclusion the two women in question do not just love each other in a purely platonical way... Which confuses me, to be honest... But anyway, if you're allergic to a good dose of 'sub'text, which involves any of the above mentioned 'platonical' gestures, I advise you not to read this story.
Violence: Duh... There has to be violence. Every single Xena episode has some form of violence in it, and considering this is supposed to be the final episode and I have to be 'in sync' with the show, violence is a must... Besides, it's fun...
This is written as a sequel to FIN II... Now, unfortunately, I haven't seen FIN yet, or any but two eps from season 6, so I'm improvising on the screengrabs I've seen and the spoilers I've read. If I've made any mistakes, please forgive me.
Ares hung in his throne, one leg slung over an armrest, his back leaning against the other. He lifted the golden goblet he was balancing on his knee and took a sip of the nectar it was filled with, letting it swirl in his mouth before swallowing. Closing his eyes, he laid his head against the stone backrest.
A flash lit up the room, lighting up
the darkness behind his eyelids for a moment. Ares lazily pried open an eye,
taking a look at the woman now standing in the centre of his temple. Then he
closed it again, letting out an aggravated sigh. "What do you want?"
"That's no way to treat family, bro..." Aphrodite chastised him, crossing her arms and glaring at her brother. "Most definitely not since I have some utterly wicked news."
Ares cocked his head, then pushed himself upright, until he was sitting on the edge of his seat, his elbows leaning on his knees. "They're back?"
"Well, the bard is for sure. I don't know about your warrior fling. Can't see her ghostliness, remember?"
"Yeah yeah..." Ares waved a hand at his sister. "If the blonde's here we can be pretty sure Xena is too..." He placed his hands on the armrest, then slowly rose to his feet. "So..." He walked closer to the Goddess of Love. "Does this mean we start setting our plan in motion?"
Aphrodite placed her hands on her hips, eyeing her brother. "I guess it does..."
"All right..." The God of War stopped in front of her, looking down at his sister. "We're straight this is a once and never ever more kinda arrangement, right?"
"Absofreakinglutely." Aphrodite confirmed.
"And when this is over with we will never speak of this co-operation again?"
"Not a word from me... I have a rep to live up to, ya know?"
"Hear hear." Ares nodded, extending his hand towards his sister. "Let's do this then."
The Goddess of Love slapped her brother's hand cheerfully. "Right on, bro." And with a flash she was gone.
Ares stared at the pink sparkles slowly disappearing into nothing, then lifted his still tingling hand, watching it as the beaten flesh turned a nice shade of red. He shook his head with a sigh. "This had better work..."
"Gabrielle! There's one on your left!"
A sigh. "I know." Gabrielle elbowed the attacker in the face negligently.
"Archer in the tree!"
"For crying out loud..." The blonde grumbled under her breath, tossing one of her sais at the man's chest, while blocking a sword blow with the other.
Gabrielle turned on her heals and glared at the warrior, who was watching the fighting anxiously. "Would you just shut up?!"
"He was this close to you." Xena held thumb and finger an inch apart. "If I hadn't warned you..."
The blonde tossed up her hands. "I know where the idiots are, okay? They're just a bunch of thugs. I can handle 'm!"
"Thugs?" The group leader, a tall man with long dark brown hair, growled, then launched at her. "You're dealing with Daimon of Saracusa, woman, I'm no mere...Argh!" He gurgled as he was lifted clean of his feet, a strong grip tightening around his throat.
Green eyes glared at him "Can't you see I'm talking to my friend?" she asked, pointing a thumb over her shoulder at the warrior in question.
The man blinked at her, managing to suck in another raspy breath. "Uhm..." His eyes flicked to the obviously void spot behind the woman. "Friend?" he squeaked.
Gabrielle looked over her shoulder to see Xena grinning widely at the man, wiggling her fingers in front of his eyes. "Oh, don't act so smug, Xena." she muttered with a shake of her head, then discarded her burden, shoving him away from her.
"Xena?" Daimon scrambled to his feet hastily, taking a few paces away from her, rubbing his throat with his hand. "Your imaginary friend is Xena?"
"Not imaginary. Dead." The warrior corrected him, walking over and circling around him. "I'll save you the story, it's probably too complicated for your walnut of a brain..."
"You're insane!" Daimon pointed a shaky finger at Gabrielle. "You can keep your gold. I'm getting outta here..." He spun around and ran off... Straight through Xena.
"Ugh..." The warrior shook her head
rapidly, trying to clear it from the strange tingly feeling that experience
always invoked. "I don't think I'm ever going to get used to that."
"Me neither." Gabrielle commented as she stepped up beside the warrior, watching as Daimon and his men hopped on their horses and made a hasty exit. "Well, there go another bunch of people who'll spout that Gabrielle of Potedeia is a complete loony... My reputation is in shatters... It's a good thing half the globe still thinks I died 25 years ago..."
Xena glanced down at the blonde standing
beside her, seeing the angry set of her friend's body, then she dropped her
head, staring at the sand. "I'm sorry, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle looked at the bent head, then expelled a breath, reaching out and wrapping an arm around the warrior's waist. "Don't be." She smiled as hesitant blue eyes met hers. "I'm just glad you're here."
"Always." Xena added softly. "Unless you wanna get rid of me or something..."
"Nuhuh." Gabrielle shook her head confidently. "I'm sorry if I complain sometimes... I just... Still have to get used to all of this I guess... But I know it's tough on both of us, Xe. I know you hate not being able to fight and help me out with stuff..."
"I just feel so... " Xena shook her head in obvious self-disgust. "So helpless I guess...I don't think I ever felt helpless before... It's an ucky feeling..."
Her friend nodded, softly rubbing the leather under her fingertips in silent comfort. "I know."
Xena looked down at the bard, then gave her a wry smile. "Guess that's how you felt in our early days, huh?"
Gabrielle chuckled, nodding an affirmative as she walked to the slumped body of the archer and pulled her sai out of his chest. "Yeah, kinda..." She turned her head and waved for Argo to follow them as they started down the road. "I remember being so annoyed at first that you wouldn't let me touch a weapon of any kind..." The blonde smiled to herself. "I'd imagined I'd morph into this great hero the moment I took off with you. I was a bit disillusioned I was still the countrybumpkin from Potedeia in spite of where I was and who I was with."
Xena laughed softly, ruffling the blonde hair. "You were a very heroic countrybumpkin though."
"As if..." Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "I was constantly tripping on that stupid dress and getting you into trouble. I was more of a menace than a help back then, Xena."
"You were not," the warrior stated, all trace of humour faded from her voice as she pulled to a sudden halt, turning to face her friend. "You were never a menace, Gabrielle." Xena gently touched her cheek, waiting until green eyes tracked up and met hers. "And even back then, you were a hero. You have always been a hero to me."
Gabrielle blinked back at her in disbelief. "Are you serious?"
"Dead serious." Xena grinned wickedly, getting a laugh out of the blonde, who proceeded to tighten her hold on the warrior's waist, laying her head down on Xena's shoulder as they slowly started to continue their walk down the road.
"You have such a bad sense of humour."
"Just one of my many skills," the warrior chuckled happily, rubbing her friend's shoulder. "But I was serious, yes."
Gabrielle shook her head a little. "Xena, how could I possibly have been a hero? I couldn't even defend myself, I couldn't fight..."
"Heroism has nothing to do with the ability to fight, Gabrielle," her friend told her sincerely. "Heroism is being willing to give up things you care about to help out somebody else. And you've been doing that for as long as I've known you."
Gabrielle considered this for a moment. "Maybe..." she then conceded, not knowing exactly how to refute the warrior's statement. "I just... I don't feel like a hero..."
"Most heroes don't." Xena countered
"Heroes like... you?"
A low chuckle. "Maybe."
They walked on in silence for a few
moments, side by side, a single set of footprints forming as they made their
way towards the next village. Xena finally broke the quietness. "Do you ever
wish you could go back to that?"
Gabrielle cocked her head. "To what?"
The warrior shrugged. "You know... the beginning..."
Gabrielle considered this question for a moment, her brows frowning in thought. "Maybe... I mean... I was pretty naïve back then. I don't know if I'd want to go back to being the stumbling village girl, you know?"
"Hmm..." Xena mumbled in understanding.
"But I think I'd like to relive some parts again..." the blonde conceded. "I'd like to relive when we first met. I'd like a chance to see some people again. Ephiny, Solari, my parents..." Gabrielle managed a half smile as she felt a soft kiss placed on the top of her head in comfort. "And... I guess, in some cases, I'd just like to go back and do things right..."
"Yeah." Xena bit her lip, knowing exactly which moments her friend was referring to. "Yeah, me too..."
Gabrielle took a breath. "Well..." She looked up at her friend. "We'll just have to do better in our next life, right?"
"Right." The warrior glanced down at her, then smiled. "I'm sure we'll..."
The warrior cut off her sentence suddenly,
cocking her head and listening intently.
Gabrielle looked up at her in concern. "What's wrong?"
"I don't..." Xena's brows contracted as she wasn't quite able to place the tingle that was running down her spine. Being dead kinda put a spin on her instincts, and though she had translated most of the strange input to things she'd felt before, this one was unfamiliar... Which really meant it could only be one thing... "I think we've got some godly company, Gabrielle."
Green eyes flicked across their surroundings "A god?"
"Goddess actually." A pink cloud shot
up from the nothing and moments later the scantily dressed Goddess of Love was
blocking their path. "You're getting good at this stuff, shorty."
Gabrielle grinned, then walked forward and pulled the goddess into a hug. "Hello, Aphrodite."
"Hiya, cute stuff." Aphrodite patted her back with a smile. "Good to see you too." She pulled back a little, touching the blonde's cheek. "I heard about what happened. I'm so sorry, sweety."
Gabrielle managed a half smile. "It turned out okay."
"Guess so..." the goddess agreed, then glanced around, narrowing her eyes. "So... is she here?"
"Yes, I am."
"Yes, she is." Gabrielle voiced for her friend. "She's right over there..." She pointed a little to their right.
"Great." Aphrodite smiled charmingly. "Perfect." She took a few steps in the direction Gabrielle had been pointing in, waving at the empty air in front of her to see if she could feel the warrior. "How's things, Xena?"
"Things would be a lot better if you'd stop poking your hands through my stomach," the warrior muttered, crossing her arms and glaring at the goddess.
Gabrielle chuckled, shaking her head slightly. "She says she's fine, Aphrodite."
A dark eyebrow raised dangerously, which only caused her friend to start laughing louder.
"Well..." The Goddess of Love glanced
from the blonde to the empty space beside her. "It's good to know being dead
hasn't affected your sense of humour, Xena."
"It's not my sense of humour you have to worry about," the warrior stated, shaking her head slightly. "Why are you here anyway?"
"You're probably wondering why I'm here, right?"
Xena gave the goddess a slightly impressed look. "Sure you can't hear me?"
"Well, it's kinda like this..." Aphrodite
turned back to Gabrielle. "I sorta need your help."
"Our help?" Gabrielle cocked her head at the goddess. "What for?"
"I uhm..." The goddess placed her hands behind her back, taking a few paces. "Well, I've been thinking..."
"Bet that hurt." Xena muttered.
"...that this world really sucks, you know?" Aphrodite tossed up her hands. "I mean, like, Greece isn't really the nation it used to be. Egypt is moving in from the one side, Rome from the other. The city states are squabbling amongst each other. All the great heroes of before have either passed over or are a gazillion years old..." The goddess shook her head. "People are down, ya know? They don't have faith anymore..."
"In you, you mean?"
"In anything," the Goddess of Love corrected. "The whole of Greece is this big bubble of depression, see? Things are really low on the love front, if ya know what I'm saying...I can't work like this..."
"So what do you wanna do about it?" Xena wondered out loud, watching the goddess with interest.
"Okay, so, then I remembered daddy once told me about this power, that's hidden in Mount Olympus."
"On mount Olympus you mean?"
"No no no, in." Aphrodite assured the blonde. "It's hidden inside of the mountain."
Gabrielle nodded. "Okay... So, what does it do?"
"It's uhm... Well, it's gonna do a variety of things." The goddess paused a moment, thinking. "It's a power that's gonna allow me to spread a little happiness... You know, cheer people up a little..."
"Right..." Xena drawled suspiciously. "I don't trust this one bit, Gabrielle."
Aphrodite glanced at the bard, then
turned an evil look to the empty air where Xena was supposed to be. "Lemme guess,
warrior chick thinks I have ulterior motives, right?" She turned back to the
blonde, giving her a hurt look. "Et tu, Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow. "Aphrodite, we've known you long enough to be very aware of the fact there's always something fishy going on when a god asks for our help."
The goddess stared at her for a moment, then rolled her eyes, tossing up her hands. "Fine, fine..." She placed her hands on her hips. "I miss the worshipping, okay? Ever since your girlfriend massacred my family, my adoring fandom has been dwindling a little, see?"
Xena's blue eyes narrowed at the goddess.
Gabrielle let out a breath. "They were hunting us down. We just did what we did to protect Eve."
"I know that..." Aphrodite waved a hand at her. "They were wrong. I think slaughtering them for an error in judgement was a bit rash, still... But I guess I should just be happy this new god is such a merciful deity, huh?" The goddess shook her head, swallowing back her uncharacteristical bout of sarcasm. "Anyway,this is not about who's right and who's wrong... I would just like some people to notice me again, okay? And I'm willing to earn the attention this time..." The goddess looked up into doubtful green eyes. "Aw, come on, sweety. Have I ever lied to you?"
A blonde eyebrow raised.
"Okay, lemme rephrase that... Have I ever intentionally done something to harm either one of you?"
"No." Gabrielle admitted.
"Exactly." Aphrodite placed a hand over her heart. "And I swear, on Mount Olympus and the river Styx and everything else you want me to swear on that I have your best interest at heart."
The young woman looked at the goddess, then past her to meet blue eyes.
Xena shrugged. "She doesn't have her fingers crossed."
Gabrielle considered her options for
a moment, then looked up into pleading brown eyes. "All right..."
"Yes! You rock, Gab. I swear you won't regret this." Aphrodite chortled happily, leaning closer and giving the blonde a peck on the cheek. "Okay, I gotta go arrange some stuff. Meet you at my place, okay?" She wiggled her fingers at the bard. "See ya, cuty."
Gabrielle blinked at the spot where
the goddess had been moments before, then lifted a hand to her face, covering
her eyes. "What have I done?!"
Xena chuckled, giving her friend a pat on the back. "You just did what you always do..." The warrior grinned wickedly. "Get us into troub... Ugh!" She winced as she was backhanded in the stomach.
"Shut it, Princess..."
Xena rubbed her tummy. "Can't fight, can't kill, can't stare at people threateningly... Ghost's gotta have some fun."
Gabrielle shook her head softly, taking hold of Argo's reigns and tugging the horse along. "So you're settling for tormenting me for the rest of my lifetime, are ya?"
Xena nodded with a grin . "You bet. I'm having loads of fun."
A sigh. "You're incorrigible."
The warrior smirked back at her. "Thank you."
Gabrielle exhaled gravely, hiding her face in Argo's thick mane.
Dice were shuffled around rapidly in
a rimpled hand, then tossed onto the table. "Three." The hand reached for a
pawn, shaped in the form of a war chariot. "One. Two. Three." The chariot slipped
three paces forward on a large wooden square, covered with words and lines.
"The Parthenon, Athens."
"You wanna buy it?" a second man asked, holding up a small piece of parchment in his hand. He looked even older than the first and was bold, except for a short stubbly beard. "10.000 dinars."
"Hmm..." The first player fingered his moustache in thought for a moment, cocking his head at the board. "All right," he then decided, picking up a few bills lying in front of him and handing them over. "I can double my prices since I've got the Agora too, right Sal?"
"Absolutely," Salmoneus confirmed with a nod, taking the money and handing over the parchment. "Great game, huh?"
"'s Not bad. I still think you should be able to rob the bank though."
"Autolycus, you're not robbing the bank and this game is gonna stay the way it is right now..." Salmoneus informed him sternly, then rubbed his hands with a delighted smile. "This is gonna be a goldmine, I just know it... People'll love this... I'm gonna make a fortune."
"That's what you said the last time," Auto muttered under his breath
"What was that?" The old merchant lifted a hand to his ear.
"I said: if you're not gonna let people rob the bank they should at least be able to steal from the other players," Autolycus told him, raising his voice. "You know... Put a bit of action into this... Stealing some money can never be bad for any kind of game..."
Salmoneus rolled his eyes. "Not everyone thinks like you, Mr ex-King of Thieves."
"Ex nothing." Autolycus crossed his arms indignantly. "I'll have you know I can still steal any object I have my eyes on. A true master..." He stroked his grey goatee. "...never forgets how things are done."
"Is that so, old man?"
Two pairs of eyes turned towards the low voice that suddenly spoke up.
The tall, dark-haired stranger, walked closer slowly, watching the two seniors in amusement. "Time's a bitch, ain't it boys?"
"What are you doing in my house?" Autolycus waved his cane at the intruder. "Why don't you go and play outside, kid, and stop harassing the two of us here..."
Outraged brown eyes stared back. "Kid? Excuse me?"
Salmoneus squinted at the intruder. "Hey... Don't I know you from somewhere?"
"You might have seen my statue around... But that would probably be looking more like this..." A bolt of lightning appeared in his right hand and Ares struck a pose, flexing a bit of muscle. He grinned charmingly as he heard a squeal and saw the oldest of the two duck behind the table for cover. "But those sculptures never really do my stunning looks credit, don't you agree?"
"Ho boy..." Autolycus mumbled, blinking, fixed to his seat.
"You uhm... You're Ares, God of War?" Salmoneus managed, staring at him from over the edge of the table.
Ares crossed his arms over his chest and glared at the two. "That would be me."
"Ho boy..." Auto repeated, still in shock.
The God of War rolled his eyes. "Relax. I didn't come to kill you..."
The King of Thieves took a relieved breath.
"Though after that kid remark I might just change my mind..." Ares growled at him, making him gulp. "But I guess I can stay civil for a moment longer." The God of War pulled up a chair and sat at the head of the table, leaning his elbows on the wooden surface and folding his hands together, his eyes firmly fixed on Autolycus. "So... You're the 'King of Thieves', are ya?"
The mentioned king nodded rapidly.
"Bet that cane gets in the way with the rope swinging, doesn't it?"
Auto tipped his head back. "If you're implying the King..." A straightening of the moustache. "...of Thieves is loosing his touch..."
Ares lifted both hands in defence. "Not saying any such thing... Actually..." A charming smile. "I'm counting on the fact you haven't..."
A grey eyebrow lifted. "How so? You gotta job for me?"
"I might..." the God of War drawled.
"Hmm..." The thief cocked his head. "What's in it for me?"
Ares chuckled, then leaned forward, closing in on Autolycus, dropping his voice. "Youth."
Auto blinked. "Excuse me?"
"You heard me..." Ares leaned back again, watching his reaction.
"You... know of a way to make me young again?" The thief stared at him in fascination.
"To make anybody young again...Well..." He rubbed his nails on his leather jacket. "Those who need it anyway..."
"You're kidding?" Salmoneus mustered enough courage to poke his full head above the table. Ares shook his head solemnly.
"And what exactly do I have to do for you?" Auto asked, leaning his head on his fist.
Ares shrugged. "You just gotta join my team."
The king of thieves frowned. "Team?"
"What are we gonna do? Play melonball?"
The God of War stared at him for a moment. "Play what?"
"Melonball," Salmoneus added, confident enough to allow his shoulders to now emerge from below the table's surface. "You know, you take a melon and you toss it at each other and run with it and try to get it past a line? And the other team tries to stop you?"
Ares stared at the two of them in disbelief for a moment. "You toss it?"
"For crying out loud, we didn't create melons to be tossed with! You're supposed to eat the damn things!" The God of War pushed his hands against his face shaking his head. "Can't you mortals do anything right? You play with melons, you eat cows..."
Salmoneus blinked. "You're not supposed to eat cows?"
"Duh!" the war god sighed gravely, then motioned the two closer. "All right boys, I'll spell it out for you..." He looked from one to the other. "Am-mu-nition. You take a catapult, right? And then you..."
"Are you human?"
Xena shook her head.
Gabrielle sighed gravely. "I hate it when you're a thing."
"Hey, it's a long way to Mount Olympus... I gotta keep you entertained."
"You're so self-sacrificial." Gabrielle muttered sarcastically. "Okay, so, are you a big thing?" A pause as she waited for an answer, but none came. "Xena?"
"Shhh..." The warrior cocked her head. "You hear that?"
Gabrielle mimicked the pose, listening intently. Roar of crowd, thuds of stone, yelp of pain... "Crap." She muttered, then hastily tightened her hold on Argo's reigns, pulling herself into the saddle as Argo took off towards where the sounds were coming without any encouragement at all.
As she cleared the forest, Gabrielle
could spot the masses gathered at the outskirts of a small town. Angry yells
were heard as stones were tossed in the direction of two women, who were fending
the rocks off with their hands as best as they could. Another stone was launched
into their direction. Gabrielle reached for her boot and pulled out one of her
sais, aiming and then tossing the weapon forward. It twirled in mid air, then
finally intercepted the stone, knocking it aside with the hilt. Argo screeched
to a halt, catapulting Gabrielle forward, who pulled herself into a flip, landing
in front of the two victims, facing the angry crowd. "Back off." She pointed
her second sai at the masses. "Fun's over. Go home."
A bulky middle aged man stepped forward, a stone still clenched in his fist. "We don't want the likes of her in our town." He pointed a finger at the women behind her.
Gabrielle followed his hand and looked
over her shoulder, then her eyes widened as her eyes fell on one of the women,
recognising the face instantly. "Eve?"
Eve managed a half smile, one hand pressed on a bleeding gash on her left arm. "Hi."
"Evie?" Xena's voice drifted over, the warrior having just arrived in the clearing. "What's going on here?"
The bulky man, glanced from one to the other, then decided that friends of annoying preachers were allowed to be stoned as well. With that thought in mind he pulled back his hand, then swiped his rock forward, towards the blonde.
Who caught it without even turning
her head. The man blinked, swallowing as raging green eyes met his and Gabrielle
faced him. The eyes narrowed dangerously at him. "You don't have any right messing
with our affairs, woman." The villager stuttered, trying to regain his composure.
"You bet I start messing with your affairs..." Gabrielle took a step closer. "...when you try to kill my daughter."
"Your... Your daughter?" he glanced from one to the other. "No way..."
A blonde eyebrow raised at him.
"Well, if she's your daughter you shoudda raised her better." A skinny woman joined in, getting agreeing murmurs from the crowd. "Tell her not to preach to people who have no need for preachin'."
"There ain't nothin' ya can do to make us stop." A young man stepped forward. "Get outta the way, warrior."
Gabrielle twirled her sai in her hand, giving him an unimpressed look. "Make me."
The youngster hesitated for a moment, but his ego wouldn't allow him to back down, so he charged at her, swinging a hand that was still clenching onto a rock in her direction.
Gabrielle sighed at the hopeless attempt,
ducking under the blow, then knocking the hilt of her sai into his back, making
him stumble forward. Before he could fall she grabbed onto his am, twisting
it around his back and pulling it towards his head. The boy yelped, dropping
the stone immediately. She turned him to face the crowd before any more villagers
would get any bright ideas. "Now, I think you'll agree with me you and your
friends should just go home, right?"
"I don't..." He started, then squealed as Gabrielle twisted his arm. "Yes! I agree, I agree!"
"Good." Gabrielle used her other hand to pat his cheek. "Now, why don't you ask your friends here to turn around and head back, okay?"
The boy blinked, looking up pleadingly at the rest of the crowd. "Please?" He begged, wincing as Gabrielle shifted her grip a little.
The bulky man glared at her for a moment, then spun around, heading back towards the village, soon followed by the others.
Gabrielle waited for a few moments, until she was sure they weren't playing any tricks, then she released her captive, who hastily ran away after his companions, tossing a frightened look over his shoulder. She watched him go, then closed her eyes and took a breath, trying to convince herself this was the way to get what she wanted with as few casualties as possible.
"Thanks." Eve's voice sounded from
behind her, and she turned, giving her daughter a small smile. "Sorry I didn't
get here any sooner." She muttered indicating the bleeding gash, that was now
bandaged up with a torn strip of fabric.
"I've had worse." Eve shrugged, then pulled her into a hug. "It's great to see you. It's been so long since I saw you last..."
"Don't I know it." Gabrielle patted her daughter's back.
Behind her the second woman cleared
"Oh, sorry." Eve hastily pulled back, then motioned towards the person. "Gabrielle, I'd like you to meet a friend of mine... This is..."
"Hello, Gabrielle." The short brunette,
dressed in a simple sea green tunic didn't wait for the official introduction.
"It's been quite a while, hasn't it?"
"Calliope?" The blonde's face looked at the woman in mild disbelief. "Uhm.. yes, yes it has been quite a while. A few years..."
"Calliope?" Xena's surprised voice sounded. "The muse?"
"Twenty six years to be precise." Calliope took a few steps closer reaching out and gently pushing back a lock of blond hair. "I've missed you. You were always one of my favourites."
"You... know each other?" Eve's voice broke into the conversation, sounding a little stunned.
Calliope looked up, giving Eve a smile. "Of course... Every bard gets a visit from me one time or another."
Eve turned to the bard in question, cocking her head. "I didn't know you wrote stories..."
"My problem exactly," Calliope muttered, looking at her former protégée.
Gabrielle glanced down, feeling highly uncomfortable.
The muse looked at her, then patted the blonde's cheek in a friendly gesture. "Don't worry, honey. I could never be mad at you, and that hasn't changed." She smiled as hesitant green eyes peeked up at her. "Honestly. I won't incinerate you on the spot, I promise."
Gabrielle gazed at the muse for a moment, then chuckled softly, shaking her head. "Right, like you even could... Fraud."
Calliope laughed good-naturedly.
Eve watched the whole exchange with
interest, then took a moment to glance around. "Hey Gabrielle?" She waited till
the blonde's attention was fixed on her. "Where's mom?"
Gabrielle's features stilled, her smile dropping away slowly. "You... haven't heard?"
"Heard what?" Eve cocked her head at her second mother.
Gabrielle let out a breath, glancing at Xena who was standing beside her daughter, a hurt look on her face. Her eyes turned back to Eve's, which had turned from at ease to mildly alarmed. "Sweetheart, I think you'd better sit down for a moment."
"Did... Did something happen?" Eve stuttered, ignoring the request and stepping closer. "She isn't... She didn't..." She swallowed. "Did she?"
Gabrielle sucked in a shaky breath, then softly nodded her head.
Eve stared at the blonde in disbelief
for a moment, then lifted a hand to her mouth, stifling a sob. "Oh god..." She
staggered back a few paces until her legs backed up against a large stone on
which she plumped down, staring ahead of her in disbelief.
"Shhh, don't cry..." Xena's pained voice whispered, as she tried to reach out to her daughter, but kept passing through the skin. "I'm still here, Evie... I'm still here..."
"Xena's dead?" Calliope sighed gravely. "Well, there goes another hero to write about. That leaves me with a hundred year old Useless and Sinbad. Yippee..."
"Eve, listen to me, okay?" Gabrielle
took a few tentative steps closer and knelt down in front of her. "She isn't
completely dead. She's still here with us..."
"Oh please..." Eve said in a disgusted voice, wiping at the tears with both her hands. "Don't start that crap about her still being in our hearts and hearing our thoughts and stuff..." She closed her eyes. Calliope walked up to her and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I just can't listen to that now..."
"No, I mean she's really here... She's standing right beside you."
Both women blinked at her, then Calliope
leaned a little closer, dropping her voice to a whisper. "I think she's lost
"She has not lost it!" Xena replied indignantly.
"I have not lost it!" Gabrielle joined in. "She's really here... She's a ghost and I'm the only one who can see her."
Two pairs of eyebrows lifted.
"Great going, Gab." Xena shook her head. "Really convincing..."
"Well it's true isn't it?!" Her friend stood up and pointed a threatening finger in the warrior's direction.
Two pairs of eyes blinked at her.
"Hey, this is not some ridiculous story I thought up, you know? I may have been a bard, but my brain isn't that screwed up..." She scratched the back of her head in thought. "I just wish there was some way I can prove it to you two."
Xena thought about this for a moment.
"Maybe I can help..." she said, walking towards the bard.
"Oh please, Xena, what could you possibly do? You can't touch anyone but me."
"Exactly," the warrior agreed. "So..." She reached down then wrapped her arms around the bard's legs and shoulders, lifting her straight off the ground.
"Ahhh!" Gabrielle squealed, not having expected that. "Xena! Will you put me down?!"
Calliope looked at Eve. Eve looked at Calliope. Then they both looked back at the screaming blonde that was floating around in mid air, stomping her fists against the nothing.
Moments later Gabrielle was lowered
back to her feet gently. She straightened her clothes. "Well..." She looked
at their companions. "Believe me now?"
"I... I just..." Eve stuttered, then took a few steps closer, her eyes fixed to a point behind Gabrielle. "Mother?"
"That's right, Evie. I'm right here..."
"She's a ghost? I'm supposed to inspire people to write about a ghost?" Calliope shook her head softly. "That is never gonna work..."
"I... I can't believe this..." Eve managed, staring at where Xena had to be. "How?"
"Long story..." Xena and Gabrielle muttered in unison, then the living one of the duo looked up at Eve and the muse. "How about I fill you two in along the way, all right?"
"On the way to where?" Eve asked curiously, cocking her head.
Gabrielle sighed gravely. "Trouble."
"Perfect." Calliope rubbed her hands expectantly. "I'm definitely sticking around in that case..."
"So Xena stayed dead to save a bunch
of lost souls?"
The muse sighed in defeat. "Ugh, bad plot. Lousy ending."
"Hey, this is not a story. This is the truth." Gabrielle argued, glaring at the muse.
"The truth is a story," Calliope stated calmly. "A lousy story, most of the time, but a story nevertheless..."
"And mom's going to be a ghost until you die too?" Eve asked, walking behind the muse and her former protégé.
"I guess..." Gabrielle peered over her shoulder, looking at the warrior in question, who was pacing along beside her daughter.
Xena shrugged. "Yeah." A grin. "Or we could both be ghosts for a little while longer and go and haunt some people..."
Gabrielle chuckled. "Sure, sounds like fun."
Eve and Calliope looked at her in non-understanding.
"Oh, sorry." The blonde gave them a sheepish smile. "Just uhm..." She waved a hand at Xena. "... talking."
"I noticed that." The muse grinned, then placed a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. "Must be tough."
"Talking? No, I'm still quite good at that..."
"Hardihar." Calliope rolled her eyes. "You know what I mean."
Gabrielle smiled, then shrugged. "It would be tougher not having her around at all."
"I guess so..."
A few more paces. "By the way, what are you doing hanging around Eve anyway?" Gabrielle cocked her head at the muse. "She didn't become a bard, did she?"
"Nuhuh." Calliope shook her head vehemently. "I just happened to be walking about Corinth one day and I heard her speeching to the 'disbelievers'. I figured she could use a hand..." The muse glanced behind her at Eve, who seemed oblivious to their conversation, mulling over the recent events, then leaned closer, whispering in Gabrielle's ear. "She could use a whole lot more than just one hand, to be honest... We're talking arms and legs here, if you know what I'm saying..."
A blond eyebrow lifted. "Are you saying my daughter is a bad public speaker?"
Calliope rolled her eyes. "That's not your blood flowing in there, honey. And I don't know if you've noticed, but that warrior of yours, though charming and heroic, is not really Greece's greatest wizard of words."
Gabrielle managed a wry smile. "Guess not."
"Her speeches are a tad... bland." The muse waved her hand around. "God is great, God is nice, join me... Not very appealing to the public, you know? But she's young, she'll learn..."
"Well, at least she's got a good teacher. That's a big plus." Gabrielle smiled at the muse.
Calliope snorted. "What would you know about me as a teacher." She ruffled the blond hair in amusement. "You were a natural, kiddo. I never taught you one thing."
Gabrielle glanced at her feet, watching
the small clouds of dust that drifted up with every step.
Calliope regarded the bent head for a moment, noticing the hard lines and shadows that were now present on the once young face. "So... You're a warrior now?"
Green eyes peeked up, then turned down again. "Yeah."
"That's what you always wanted, isn't it?"
"It's what I wanted, yes." Gabrielle confirmed.
A sigh. "But... Things are different now." Gabrielle shook her head. "It's... it's hard to explain..."
"Hmm..." The muse nodded in thought. A short silence, then she spoke up again. "You know what the problem with gifts is, Gabrielle?"
The blonde frowned at the muse, not quite understanding the question.
"Sometimes, unwrapping a present is much more fun than the gift itself." Calliope smiled at her. "People don't always realise that."
Gabrielle regarded her for a moment, then nodded in understanding.
"You've been given many, many gifts, and some were easier to unwrap than others. But know that every one you've uncovered will be a part of you forever." Calliope gave the woman a meaningful look. "And I do mean every one."
Gabrielle managed a small smile. "I know. I... I can still feel it, sometimes, when something happens and I just automatically find words to describe it... But..." She sighed. "I'm afraid your gift is buried under all the other presents I got, Call."
The muse chuckled softly, wrapping an arm around the blonde's shoulders. "Patience, my bard. Patience. Don't push it, wait till it pushes you..."
Gabrielle smiled. "I remember."
"Good. Still my brightest student."
"Aw, come on..." The blonde eyed her. "You must have tutored loads of other bards in the past twenty five years."
Calliope rolled her eyes. "You'd be surprised, kiddo. It's hard to teach the lesser mortals when you've dealt with the best... That Homer boy is quite good. I helped him write a few nice stories."
"How is he doing?" Gabrielle asked, curiously. "Is he still alive?"
"Oh, he's alive all right." The muse laughed. "He made a small fortune selling his stories, then he moved to Crete where he's now sitting on a beach bading in the sunshine in his rocking chair."
Gabrielle joined in. "I have a hard time picturing him like that." A chuckle. "I should go and see him someday."
"You'd scare the Hades out of him." Calliope tugged on the blond hair playfully. "You and your eternal youth."
Gabrielle chuckled good-naturedly, then frowned as they exited the forest they'd been walking through and came to the clearing at the foot of mount Olympus. She could see a small group of people standing up ahead. "Hey Xena?"
"Hmmm?" The warrior's voice drifted up behind her.
"There's more people involved in this than I thought." She pointed to the figures in the distance.
"I see 'm..." Xena mumbled, narrowing her eyes. "Three."
"You know who they are?"
"Well, judging by the bright pink screaming at my senses I have to go with Aphrodite as being the figure on the left..."
The warrior squinted. "There's some old geezer in the middle and the last one would be..." A moment of silence, then Xena's voice dropped to a dangerous growl. "Ares."
Green eyes widened. "What?!"
"Gabrielle!" Aphrodite's voice called
out cheerfully. "It's about time too! You..." The Goddess of Love stopped suddenly,
as she caught sight of Calliope. "Hey, what is she doing here?!"
"What is he doing here?!" Gabrielle countered, pointing at Ares. "Since when is the God of War interested in making people happy?"
Ares smiled back innocently. "Would you believe I got in touch with my inner child?"
"Right..." Xena snorted. "You got in touch with him and then stabbed him in the back, is what you mean."
Aphrodite poked her brother in the ribs. "He's here to help, Gab, honest," the goddess then tried to make amends. "Really."
"Why?" Gabrielle asked incredulously. "Since when does he help anyone but himself?!"
"Who said I was?" Ares crossed his arms. "Sis explained things to you, right? We are in need of worship."
"And you've decided to knock the thunderbolt throwing and turn good?" Eve raised an eyebrow at him.
"Ugh, please..." The god shivered at the word. "Don't insult me... Just because I'm willing to do one nice thing to get people back into my temples doesn't mean I've been converted, sweetheart. Dream on..." Ares rolled his eyes. "I've tried tossing things and killing people, okay? Didn't work, so I'm trying alternative methods..."
"I hate to repeat myself, but I still have a bad feeling about this." Xena stated.
Aphrodite sighed in defeat. "Would you please tell that warrior of yours to shut up?"
Ares cocked his head at the mention
of the word warrior. "Xena?"
Gabrielle repressed a smirk.
"She's here?" Ares glanced around. "Where?"
"Beside me." Gabrielle informed him.
The God of War rolled his eyes. "Figures. Some things never change."
"You betcha." Xena agreed, crossing her arms and glaring at him. Then she spotted the man standing behind the two gods, staring wide eyed at Gabrielle, his jaw hanging slightly ajar. Xena frowned, taking in the grey wrinkly face. "Hey, doesn't he look familiar?"
"Yes?" the god answered.
"No, the guy standing behind him. The one with the moustache and the..." Xena stopped, blinking as her memory kicked in. "No, it couldn't be..."
"Autolycus??" Gabrielle asked incredulously, staring at the old man. "Is that really you?"
Autolycus blinked, still unable to speak.
Aphrodite watched him for a moment, then sighed, lifting a finger and closing his mouth.
"If you're gonna stare at least spare us your breath."
"Bw.. You... Gab?" Autolycus managed, finally finding his voice.
"You... You look... young!" the thief blurted.
Gabrielle chuckled. "Had a bit of a beauty sleep... It does wonders for the skin..."
"So I see..." Autolycus shook his head softly. "I should try that too sometime."
"If you want me to deep freeze you, I'd be more than happy to oblige." Ares smiled charmingly at the King of Thieves.
"Deep freeze?" Autolycus frowned at the god.
"Long story." Gabrielle sighed, then walked forward and hugged her old friend. "It's good to see you."
"Ditto." Autolycus managed, recovering from the shock. "What was this about Xena standing by your side when she's obviously not?"
Gabrielle sighed. "Xena's a ghost."
Autolycus pulled back, frowning at her. "You mean... Xena is dead?"
"And she's not coming back from death this time?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "No, she has to stay dead to allow the souls of the people she killed before to rest."
A dark eyebrow lifted. "Huh?"
"It's a long story." Calliope helpfully supplied.
"Right..." Autolycus drawled, his brain having a very tough time at processing all this strange new information. "Okay... And who is this exactly?" He motioned towards the muse.
"Muse of Eloquence." Calliope supplied with a short bow. "And just for the record, I have no problem with people dancing... That was all just a big mix up..."
Auto blinked. "Uhm... Right... Sure..." He pointed at Eve. "And isn't that the preacher woman who talks about that Eli fellow?"
"Yes, that's Eve." Gabrielle confirmed. "She's Xena's daughter."
Eyes widened. "She's Xena's daughter??"
"Whoa, talking about the apple falling miles from the tree..." The King of Thieves scratched the back of his head, glancing from one to the other, then up at Ares. "So this is your team?"
"Yup." Ares nodded.
"No." Aphrodite corrected, angrily
pointing a finger at the muse. "That traitor is so not a part of our team."
Calliope crossed her arms. "I am not a traitor. I am a muse. I inspire people to write. What they write about is their concern, not mine..."
"So you let 'm write about this god that is responsible for the death of our entire family as if he's some hero?!"
"She." Eve corrected softly.
"Hey, if dad hadn't freaked about killing some innocent, none of this would've happened." Calliope put a hand on Eve's shoulder. "I'm not picking sides, I'm just here to do what I was made to do... Which is more than I can say for you, Miss Love-Don't-Live-Here-Anymore..."
"Why you...!" Aphrodite growled, getting ready to jump the muse, when Gabrielle intervened.
"Hey, calm down, both of you!" Gabrielle looked from one to the other. "Aphrodite, Calliope is my friend, and if she wants to come she has just as much right to come with me as Ares has to come with you."
The Goddess of Love pouted.
"And Calliope, Aphrodite is a friend too, and you shouldn't say stuff like that to her."
The muse shot a look at the bard, then tossed up her hands. "Fine, fine. I'll be nice, I promise."
Green eyes drifted to Aphrodite. The goddess glared at the muse for another moment, then sighed in defeat. "All right. I'll settle on a truce..." She looked at Gabrielle. "But if I were you I'd watch your back, sweety."
"Yeah, honey, if you see anything pink there I suggest you duck."
Aphrodite shot another hateful look at the muse, then turned around briskly, pacing off towards the mountain, muttering under her breath. "Bitch."
"Wench." Calliope shot back at her.
Gabrielle closed her eyes, rubbing her temple to ease the headache that was slowly starting to pound against her skull. "Note to self: next time a goddess asks for your help, just say no."
"So now what?" Autolycus started, glancing
at the steep rock face in front of him. "This mission doesn't involve climbing,
does it?" He asked hopefully, leaning on his cane.
"Nope." Ares told him, then looked over to his sister, who was still muttering grumpily because of Calliope's presence. "You ready?"
Aphrodite took a breath, then nodded. "Guess so..." She took a few steps closer, joining the God of War. "All righty... Let the magic flow, bro..."
Ares lifted up both his hands in front of him, fingers tensing. Electricity shot up from his palms and, as he turned his hands in a circular motion, it formed a dark blue orb, bright sparkles lighting up the centre. Meanwhile, Aphrodite had formed a similar ball of light, only this one a bright pink shade. They looked at each other, then swung their arms back, tossing the orbs forward simultaneously. They flew towards the mountain, joining together with a bright flash just before impacting with the stone. A loud bang thundered through the air, smoke erupting from the place of impact.
A few moments, then the smoke passed and in front of them stood a large golden arch, forming the entrance into the mountain.
Calliope looked at the spectacle, then
her eyes widened. "By the gods... You are gonna...!"
Ares smacked his hand hard against her back, knocking the air right out of the muse. Calliope drew in a hasty breath, then coughed loudly, her lungs unable to deal with the rapid shifting of the air.
"Whoa, that's a nasty cough you've got there, Call." Ares patted her shoulder in a friendly gesture, giving the watching mortals a toothy smile. "You oughta see Asclepius about that when we're done here." He leaned a little closer, hissing in the muse's ear. "They don't know, so shut up!"
The muse blinked, considering for a moment, then nodded.
"Good choice," the God of War whispered under his breath, then he raised his voice again. "Feeling better, muse?"
"Yes, thank you." Calliope cleared her throat, patting her fist against her chest. "Much better. Sorry about that..."
"Don't worry about it." Ares shot her another smile, then turned and motioned towards the arch. "Well... Shall we?"
"Yeah, come on, time's a wasting here." Aphrodite hastily joined in, then headed for the arch herself, soon followed by both Ares and Calliope.
Gabrielle glanced from Eve to Autolycus,
then looked at Xena, who gave her a gazed back at her in complete non-understanding.
"This is getting really weird... First Aphrodite and Ares are working together,
and now Calliope is acting strange... What's up with this?"
"Not a clue..." Eve muttered, shaking her head. "Are we sure we wanna go through with this?"
"Yes, we are." Autolycus nodded confidently. Both women lifted an eyebrow at him. "I mean... Well, the reward is gonna be pretty nice, right?"
Gabrielle exhaled. "True enough... I guess we should at least give this a try, huh?"
Autolycus fully agreed, then followed the god, the goddess and the muse.
As they got nearer they could see how
huge this arch really was, the top of the golden portal reaching up as high
as an average temple. The gold was decorated with swirls drawn into the metal.
As she looked closer, Gabrielle noticed that there seemed to be a light bluish
haze filling up the area the arch was surrounding, the colour shifting slightly,
like water rippling on a quiet day.
"Okay, let's go," Ares encouraged, then stepped towards the portal. As his palm touched the blue layer his hand disappeared, soon followed by an arm and a leg until the God of War had vanished completely.
Gabrielle stared at the spectacle, blinking. "Where'd he go?"
Aphrodite grinned. "Chill, cuty, you end up safe on the other side. Gods don't do caving, see? We just zap straight to the centre of the mountain, saves a lot of energy." She patted the blonde's cheek, then headed through the arch herself.
"Don't worry, Gabrielle." Xena touched her shoulder, giving it a squeeze as Calliope disappeared. "It's fun, really."
"You did this before?"
"Sure... Well, not here at mount Olympus, but Ares wanted me to get some chalice out of a mountain in Brittania some time. It's..." Xena fished for the right words for a moment. "It's like riding a horse at full gallop down a hill, feeling the wind on your face... Sorta..."
Gabrielle looked up at her doubtingly for a moment, then straightened, taking a breath to steady herself before stepping forward...
It was more like riding a horse at
full speed through a whirlwind, Gabrielle decided as she emerged on the other
end, feeling dizzy and slightly nauseous. She shook her head in an attempt to
clear it, then looked up, studying her new surroundings. She was standing in
a large round room carved out of the stone of the mountain. There seemed to
be no other exits than the portal they'd just travelled through. The room was
divided in two equal halvesby a deep crevice, near which Ares, Calliope and
Aphrodite were standing, talking amongst each other. Dark red smoke drifted
up out of the opening, colouring the whole area in a creepy deep red. Behind
the crevice stood a small cylinder shaped stone, which seemed to serve as an
altar, but there was nothing on it. Gabrielle frowned. "Is it gone?" she asked
as she walked closer to her immortal companions.
"No, it can't be gone." Ares stroked his goatee in thought. "If it were we would know about it."
"Definitely." Aphrodite agreed.
"So where is it?" Autolycus, who had just passed through, asked, as Eve emerged into the room.
The God of War shrugged. "How should I know? If I'd known how to get it I wouldn't have dragged you along, would I have?"
Calliope tentatively leaned forward a little to peek into the crevice. "Good gods, that's deep..."
Gabrielle stepped up beside her , peering down as well. "What's down there? Lava?"
"Well, it's orange, it's hot and steamy... I have to go with yes..." Xena muttered, looking over Gabrielle's shoulder. "Though technically it would be magma, not lava... See, it's only lava when..."
"Xena?" Gabrielle turned her head to gaze at her friend. "Spare me, okay?"
The warrior shrugged. "Whatever."
"You think we have to cross this depth?" Eve wondered, picking up a stone and tossing it into the crevice, then waited if she could hear the plunge.
Eve frowned. That was not a plunge.
"Who the Hades is tossing stones at me?" The voice asked in mild annoyance, echoing it's way op the stone walls. Another moment, then the red smoke burst up in a stronger concentration, lifting itself out of the crevice and landing on the other side.
Both mortals and immortals staggered
back a few paces, blinking at the smoke, that was now slowly piling up into
a human shape.
The creature yawned, a smoky hand lifting to scratch its head. "You know, if you wanted to wake me up you could've just called out or something. No need to get nasty..."
Aphrodite blinked, glancing at the
spectacle, then she leaned closer to her brother, whispering. "Who the heck
"I..." The creature glared at the goddess. "...am Chaos."
"Chaos?" Gabrielle looked wide eyed at him. "You mean...?"
"In the beginning there was..." The creature pointed both thumbs at his chest. "Yup, that would be me. Got kinda bored all by myself, so I created the world... No biggie. You can thank me for your existence later sometime. I'll drop by for tea."
"You're the Creator?" Calliope stared at Chaos, not believing her eyes. "Wow this is... It's such an honour to meet you..."
"It is, isn't it?" Chaos grinned good-naturedly.
"Eve, you just dropped a stone on the Creator." The muse hissed at her student, bumping her with an elbow. "Now is that gonna make a good story or what?!"
"I'm not to fond of that part myself, actually." Chaos stated calmly, glaring at the girl, who gulped nervously. A chuckle. "Don't worry, Evie, I'm not gonna hurt you. Your mother would kill me... Well..." A grin. "If she could..."
Xena frowned, glancing at Gabrielle. "Is he talking about me?"
"Of course I'm talking about you, Xena." Chaos replied, crossing his arms. "Does she have any other moms?" A pause. "Ugh, nevermind that..."
"Y..." Xena blinked at the Creator. "You can see me?"
"Well hello!" Chaos tossed up his hands. "Have you been listening? This is the creator of the known world you're talking to... I made the earth out of nothing, I shaped people with my bare hands and gave 'm life... And you think seeing a ghost is an issue for me?"
"Guess not..." the warrior muttered in reply.
"Of course not," Chaos confirmed with a nod, then he turned to Ares and Aphrodite, who were goggling at him. "So... You two are looking for the...?"
"Yes," Ares hastily confirmed. "Yes, that's what we're here for."
"Darn, and I was just hoping you came here to play snakes and ladders with me... Shoot."
"Is it gone?" the Goddess of Love asked. "It was supposed to be here, right?"
"You think I'm just gonna hand that kind of power to ya?" A snort. "I think not... No, no, you're gonna have to prove yourself first, darling."
"We suspected as much," Ares sighed, crossing his arms.
"Exactly. That's why you brought this wonderful team along, right? Can't go wrong with a woman warrior, a muse, a preacher, an old geezer and a ghost, is what I always say..."
"So, what are we supposed to do exactly?" Xena asked, the Creator's strange sense of humour getting on her nerves.
"I was hoping you would stay and chat, Xena..."
"I'm not the chatting kind," the warrior muttered, giving Chaos the look that was reserved for a state of extreme annoyance.
"Tch... Touchy. Being dead has done nothing for your inner calm, has it Xena?" Chaos laughed at the lethal look that was shot in his direction. "Fine, fine, I'll get on with it." He took a few paces towards them, coming to a standstill at the far edge of the ravine. "In a few moments I will send you on your way. When you arrive at this new location I'm sending you to, you will need to find the key." Chaos sidestepped and pointed at the small altar on his side of the gap. On the front of the altar, Gabrielle could now see a large indentation, about the size of a fist, embedded in the stone surface. The key had to be an emerald, or some sort of disk or something, Gabrielle reasoned. "The moment one of you finds the key and touches it, you'll all be transported back here, on this side of the crevice. Unlock the altar and the power is yours." Chaos pointed a finger at them. "No key, no nothing, game over, got it?"
Nods all around.
"Good." Chaos then spread his arms out wide, a bubble of the bluish haze Gabrielle had also seen on the portal forming between his palms. "Have fun."
The bubble shot towards them, surrounding all of them at the same time. The same feeling took hold of her, only this time it lasted longer, much longer. Nausea swept up and Gabrielle winced, closing her eyes firmly, blocking out the swirling blue colours around her.
Countless moments passed, then the
spinning stopped. She felt grass under her hands and knees and as she opened
her eyes her visions was filled with small stalks of green.
"Gabrielle? You all right?" Xena's concerned voice drifted over.
Gabrielle took a breath of the fresh air, forcing back her dizziness and pushing herself to her feet. "Yeah... Little dizzy."
"Whoa, was that rough or what?" Aphrodite dusted off her pink dress. "Nasty ride..."
"Ugh..." Autolycus stretched his back, his spine realigning itself with a sharp crack that made everybody wince. "I'm getting too old for this..."
"Coulda told you that beforehand." Ares muttered.
"Where are we?" Eve asked, confused, walking up to Gabrielle.
"Not a clue..." The blonde turned to Xena. "Any ideas?"
Dark brows frowned as Xena judged their surroundings. They were standing in a small clearing, surrounded by trees. "Looks vaguely familiar, but I can't place it..." the warrior muttered. "I think maybe..."
A wild roar suddenly filled up the
air, screams of battle from thousands of voices shivering through it like thunder.
"Oeh!" Ares face lit up immediately, like a child given a new toy. "Battle!" And he ran off towards where the sound was coming from.
"One-track mind..." Aphrodite sighed.
"Some things never change." Gabrielle rolled her eyes, then started off after him, together with the rest of the group.
A few moments, then she cleared the
tree covered area, slowing to a halt beside Ares, who was staring at the scene
in front of them. On their left Gabrielle could see the thick walls of a city,
the tops of tall buildings like temples and palaces sticking out above the gates.
It was the city of Thebes, from the looks of it. Gabrielle had only been there
once, but the thick walls were quite distinctive.
Ares rubbed his hands in delight, a huge smile plastered on his face "Oh, this is too good. This is just too good." He murmured, watching the ongoing events in front of them. An army was storming the city, horses and armoured soldiers racing towards the city walls at full speed.
"What's going on?" Eve breathed as she pulled to a stop, then her eyes widened as she saw what was going on.
"Oh goodness..." Calliope blinked as she arrived at the scene. "That's..." She frowned. "That army is huge. I didn't know anyone owned an army that size these days."
Ares just chuckled, mesmerised.
"The Athenian army maybe?" Gabrielle wondered out loud. "Maybe it's a rivalry between cities, or..."
Gabrielle turned to face her friend. The warrior was white as a sheet. Not that that was uncommon for a ghost probably, but this was an exceptional shade of white nevertheless. "Xena?" Gabrielle frowned. "You know who's attacking the city?"
The warrior nodded slowly, her eyes fixed on the approaching army, a solitary figure riding in front on a tall black stallion. A warcry filled the air and Gabrielle's eyes widened in shock as she recognised the familiar sound all too well. She spun around, watching as the leader of the group sped forward, then reached for her side, unhooking a metal ring. The metal swooshed towards the walls, slicing a throat, splicing a skull and cutting of a limb before flying back towards its owner, who caught it with ease.
Behind her, Xena took a shaky breath. "I am."
"Oh, my sister, this was a brilliant
idea." Ares gloated, patting Aphrodite on the back. "Screw the key, I'm staying
"What?" Gabrielle's eyes flicked from the ghost to the leader of the attacking army. "But... how is this possible? You can't be attacking a city, Xena... You're... Well, you're dead."
"Normally dead people don't talk either." Calliope noted.
"She wasn't dead back then."
They all turned to look at Ares. "Excuse me? Back when?" Aphrodite wondered out loud.
"Back when she sacked Thebes," the God of War replied cheerfully. "How long ago was that, Xena? Thirty six years? Thirty seven?"
"Thirty seven," the warrior confirmed quietly, her eyes still fixed on the battle before her, where 'her' army had now reached the gates, arrows flying down from the walls towards the soldiers.
"Kick ass battle." Ares punched the air with a fist. "Rode in there, smack, bam... Three days later the city was ours."
"Mine," Xena corrected. "You never showed yourself."
"So, you're saying we've been sent back in time?" Eve asked, frowning.
"Or this is some alternate universe," Gabrielle reasoned. "Or both."
Calliope scratched the back of her head. "Uhm... Shouldn't we go down there and help them or something?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "We can't. We'll never get into that city alive with that battle going on."
"Who said we wanted to get into the city?"
The blonde shot the wargod a look.
"What? You're not gonna betray your girlfriend, are ya Gabs?"
"Shut it, Ares." Gabrielle growled, her eyes narrowing dangerously, hands tensing into fists.
"Oh right, I forgot... Been there done that, ri... Ouch!" The God of War staggered back a few paces as the blonde's fist impacted with his nose with a crack. "Crap! That seriously hurt..." He lifted a hand to his nose, then frowned as he felt a warm liquid there, pulling back his hand to see blood staining his fingertips. "Blood? I'm not supposed to bleed."
Aphrodite blinked in alarm, then snapped
her fingers. Nothing happened. She snapped her fingers again. "Oh boy..." She
grimaced as every one turned to her. "No powers."
Gabrielle looked from one to the other, then buried her head in her hands. "This is such a mess..."
A branch snapped with a loud crack to their left, then Autolycus wrestled his way through the thick foliage, finally joining them at the forest edge. "Boy, you guys run fast," he managed, breathing heavily. "So, did I miss anything?"
"Okay, so lemme get this straight.
Even though you just told me Xena is dead, now you're claiming she's right down
there sacking one of the bigger Greek cities and she's doing this because she's
still evil, since she hasn't been converted yet, cause we've travelled back
"I never said evil," Gabrielle corrected. "But except from that... Yeah, that about sums it up..."
A deep sigh. "Oh boy..."
They had settled down in clearing where
they had arrived, away from the battle. Since it was no use trying to get into
the city right now, they had decided to regroup and decide on what would be
the best course of action.
"So? What do we do now?" Autolycus stroked his moustache. "Do we go find Hercules? He can beat her, right?"
"Maybe we should join Thebes and fight with them?" Aphrodite joined in.
"Hey!" Gabrielle stood, looking down at her companions sternly. "This is not about defeating Xena. All we need to do is get that key and get out of here." She took a few paces left, then turned and paced right. "If we have been sent to the past, anything we do here to change what happened before might affect the world as we know it. Maybe we should just lay low and wait for this battle to be over, then go and look for the key."
Gabrielle looked up at Xena, who was sitting beside her, elbows leaning on her knees, her folded hands supporting her head. "Why not?"
Blue eyes looked up at her. "Because before nightfall the key will be destroyed."
"Destroyed?" Gabrielle frowned, dropping
down to a knee next to Xena, ignoring the odd looks she was getting from the
rest of the group. "How so?"
Xena closed her eyes, letting out a breath. "I came to Thebes because I was low on cash at the time. I had built up a huge army, but I had no way to pay for it. Then I heard about the treasures at Thebes. Thebes was filthy rich back then, the city was stocked with gold and tons of dinars, but the most precious thing the king owned was a huge ruby, bright red. Bout the size of a fist. Worth millions." Xena peeked up at her friend. "It'd fit that spot on the altar perfectly."
"So? What's the problem? If we just get to it before you do, we should..."
"That's the problem. I never got to it. On the eve of the first day of the siege I ordered for the city to be bombarded. We shot huge boulders into the city, and one of them hit the treasury. When I took the city the next day, I found pieces of the ruby scattered all over the city. It was blown to bits." Xena looked up at her friend. "Think about it, Gabrielle. What's the best way to hide a key from both mortals and gods?"
A nod, as Gabrielle understood where her friend was going. "To make sure it doesn't exist in our world."
"Exactly. Chaos hid the key in the past. No one would think about looking there, and even if they did, none of the other gods have the power to time travel."
"Excuse me, not that I mind watching you talk to yourself, but could you please fill us in on this little conversation?" Ares complained, glaring at the blonde.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes, then turned
towards her other companions, quickly summarising Xena's thoughts.
"So, now we don't just have to steal a huge ruby out of a fortress city that's under attack by an army, but we have to do it before Xena blows the thing to smithereens?" Autolycus sighed gravely. "This is just too much..."
"Do you think you can get to that ruby before the bombarding starts?"
"I doubt it." The King of Thieves shook his head. "It's gonna be hard enough getting into the city with all that fighting going on. And if we do get in, a gem that valuable is gonna be well protected. Might take me a while..."
"Which means we need a distraction, to keep Xena occupied long enough so you can get into the castle and find the ruby." Green eyes glanced across the faces before her. "Any suggestions?"
"I suggest it involves me," Ares immediately proposed, which got some groans from the rest of the gang. "Hey, think about it, I'm the best guy for the job. She knows me. Back at Thebes we were still pretty close." He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. "Right, Xena?"
The warrior glared at him for a moment, then got up and turned around, walking away from the group.
"Xena." Gabrielle immediately jumped to her feet, taking a moment to give Ares a vicious stare. "Why don't you just get a life?" She spat at him, before running after the warrior.
"Hey, who needs a life when you can have immortality?" The God of War yelled after her, obviously highly entertained by this whole situation.
"Just let me go." The warrior's voice was barely audible, her friend not slowing her pace as she entered the woods, distancing herself from the others.
"Come on." Gabrielle caught up to her, touching the warrior's shoulder. "You're not gonna let that jerk get to you, are you?"
Xena took a breath and released it, then softly shook her head. "It's not him... It's..." She sagged down on a fallen log, leaning her elbows on her knees and hiding her face in her hands for a moment. "It's being here and seeing..." She closed her eyes, taking another breath. "After Japan, I thought... I thought it was finally over... I thought by staying dead and saving the souls of the people I killed I found a way to make amends... I thought I found redemption. But I haven't..." She waved a hand towards where the city lay. "I haven't avenged any of the people at Thebes. Or the ones at Corinth, or the ones in Brittania, or the ones in China or..." She paused, swallowing back her emotions. "It never ends. No matter how hard I try, how many years I did good, no matter how many times I die... It just never ends. It's never enough."
Gabrielle let out a breath, then dropped down to her knees before the warrior. "Xena..."
"No." Xena shook her head. "I know what you're gonna say. That I saved so many people. That hardly anybody remembers Xena, Destroyer of Nations. I know that." The warrior bit her lip. "But it doesn't matter. It's not a scale, Gabrielle. It's not like I just have to save more people than I've killed to make things right again. To make me right... No matter how many people I save, the ones I killed are still dead."
"I know that." Gabrielle reached out and placed a gentle hand on the warrior's knee. "But you are a good person, Xena."
"Really?" A self-deprecatory snort. "You just walk out there and look at me killing a dozen of innocent men, then come back here and see if you wanna say that again, okay?"
"I don't have to," her friend replied confidently, "but if you want me to go out there and prove it to you, I will."
"Look, Xena, I know what you did, okay? You made it very clear to me from the moment we started travelling together that you were a 'stubborn ex-warlord' and you were 'generally not a nice person to be around'." Gabrielle told her, mimicking the warrior's voice as she quoted her, which got a tiny smile out of her friend. "I heard stories in the villages where we stopped. People warned me about you. And I won't say that didn't scare me a little at first."
Xena peeked up at her from behind dark lashes. "Then why did you come with me?" She asked softly, curiously. "Why did you stay?"
"Duh!" Gabrielle chuckled softly. "Because I fell in love with you."
The warrior blinked at her.
"Ow, come on, Xena, a scantily dressed, utterly gorgeous warrior woman saves me from some yucky guys and I'm not supposed to notice? Puhleeeaaase..."
A reluctant grin from the warrior.
"Besides, it was what I'd always dreamt of. I get in some jam, as usual, and then a hero comes along and saves me and rescues me from a dull life in Potedeia." A grin. "Okay, so my prince charming turned out to be a Warrior Princess... Minor detail."
Xena laughed softly, an amused smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. She searched the green depths before her for a moment, finding nothing but love and friendship reflected back to her, then she just gave in, leaning forward and placing a gentlekiss on Gabrielle's lips. "Thank you..." she murmured as she pulled back, lifting a hand and stroking a blonde lock out of her friend's face, "...for making me feel better."
"Anytime." Gabrielle smiled back, patting the warrior's knee affectionately.
They spend a moment in companionable
silence, then Xena stood, taking the bard's hand and helping her up as well,
before they headed back towards the others together. "So, we've got to find
a way to distract me, huh?"
"Uhuh." Gabrielle confirmed, then paused for a moment, thinking. "Actually, I might have an idea, but I don't think you're gonna like it."
"Does it involve Ares?"
"You're right, I don't like it..."
"I don't like it."
"You want me to do what?!"
Gabrielle rubbed her temple. "Hey,
if you guys have a better plan, tell me now, okay?"
A short pause that was filled with complete silence. "That's what I thought. Look, we wanna get out of this place, right?"
"No." Ares protested.
"Yes." The rest agreed.
"And the only way to do that is to get that key." Green eyes glanced across the group, seeing reluctant nods. "Right. Autolycus, I want you to move as fast as you can, okay? I don't know how much time I can give you..."
The King of Thieves leaned on his cane. "The moving part might be a bit of a problem, but the breaking and entering will be done like that." He snapped his fingers.
"Good." Gabrielle patted his shoulder. "Eve, I need you to protect Auto. I hope you guys can avoid conflict, but just make sure he gets enough time to do his thing."
Eve frowned unhappily. "I don't like this, Gabrielle... Can't I come with you? I don't trust him..." She motioned her head towards Ares.
"Well, I'm shocked." The God of War laid a hand over his heart, looking profoundly hurt.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "Me neither, but I need you to take care of Autolycus, all right?" Gabrielle softly touched her daughter's cheek. "Can I trust you to do that?"
Eve sighed, but nodded.
"Good girl." Gabrielle chuckled at the insulted look on the woman's face, then turned to face the last participants. "Calliope. Aphrodite. I need you to keep out of each other's hair and stay out of the way."
The Goddess of Love's jaw dropped and
she stared at the bard in outrage. "Well ouch!"
Calliope put her hands on her hips, shaking her head at Gabrielle. "You lose your powers for a moment..."
"...and they dump you like a brick." Aphrodite finished, crossing her arms with a vicious glare. "I might be blond and utterly gorgeous, but that doesn't mean I'm lacking in the brain department, you know?"
"And I can fight!" Gabrielle raised an eyebrow at the muse. "Well... I think I can... I've read enough about the subject... 'And she swayed her sword overhead, bringing it down with a force equal to that of a raging lion, splitting her opponent in two.'" Calliope shrugged. "Come on, how hard can it be?"
Her former protégée gave her a look. "Calliope, you know I love ya. And Aphrodite, you're a great friend. But you two do have this tendency to mess things up."
"Look who's talking!" Aphrodite exclaimed indignantly. "Miss Oh-Xena-I-got-caught-again-please-save-me."
"Just..." Gabrielle took a breath, calming herself. "Just don't mess things up, okay? Listen to Autolycus and Eve." She turned, motioning the God of War forward. "Let's go, Ares."
Aphrodite watched her go with a shake
of her blond head. "The nerve..."
"After all we did for her..." Calliope joined in.
"Oh, what did you do? Haven't seen the babe twirling a quill lately, have you?"
The muse pointed a finger at the goddess. "Hey, I'll have you know..."
"Ladies, ladies..." Autolycus held his cane between the two immortals. "Be nice to each other. Gab said no fighting, remember?"
Calliope grumbled a little, but then dropped her hand and took a step back.
"Good. That's much better. " Autolycus produced a charming smile. "Now that we've got that part worked out, I think we have to move onto the 'listen to Auto' bit... See, I'm afraid me and my tired old legs are gonna cost us too much time getting into the city, so I figured..." He wrapped an arm around both women. "...what if these two lovely ladies carry me into the city? That way we could... Ugh!" He gasped as the muse slapped a hand against his stomach, making him double over. His ribs cracked in agony as Aphrodite shoved an elbow against his exposed back, making him crash to the ground.
Aphrodite gave the groaning man a disgusted look. "Who says we can't fight?"
The muse brushed her nails on her tunic. "Like I said, how hard can it be?"
"Autolycus!" Eve dropped down beside him in concern. "Are you all right?"
The King of Thieves moaned, rolling over to lie on his back, blindly looking up at the skies above. "When will the hurting stop?"
"Look, I'm sure we can come up with
some other piece of fiction to toss at Xena. Why don't I just tell her I need
to spend some quality time alone with her?"
"Aw, come on..." Ares walked backwards in front of the blonde. "What happened to not changing history, huh? If I tell her I picked you as a new Chosen and she should just buzz off, Xena will hate my guts. History is gonna get changed big time."
"Your former self will find some slick way around it, I'm sure."
"And how about you? You're gonna see her now and then she's gonna turn good and meet you in ten years time and you think she's not gonna notice?"
Gabrielle shrugged. "I'm gonna look seven years younger, have long hair and wear a dress. I'm hoping she'll shrug it off as some weird coincidence."
"And if she doesn't?"
"Ares, we have no other options, okay? Get over it..."
The God of War released an aggravated breath. "All right, fine... Fine..." he muttered, turning his back to her and walking on.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes at him, then
looked up as Xena fell into pace beside her. The warrior looked down at her.
"Anything I can do to change your mind?"
"Thought as much." Xena gazed down at her boots.
Gabrielle stared at the bent head for a moment, then wrapped an arm around the warrior's waist, patting her side. "Don't worry, it's gonna be fine..."
Xena sighed, shaking her head slightly. "I just..." She peeked up at her friend. "I just don't look forward to you meeting... Well, me... The other me..."
Gabrielle managed a small smile. "Like I said, don't worry... I'm just gonna go in there, keep you occupied long enough and get outta here..."
Blue eyes regarded her seriously. "It's not gonna be that easy and you know it..."
Gabrielle released a breath, nodding. "Yeah... I know..."
"Gabrielle, for all we know you could die here..."
A shrug. "Then we'll just get to haunt together earlier than we thought..."
Xena gave her a look. "That is not funny."
"Isn't it?" Gabrielle lifted her hands, then let 'm fall to her sides again. "Xena, it's not like I'm afraid of death. Been there, done that, you know?"
"That doesn't mean you have to do it again in a hurry." The warrior touched her friend's shoulder. "Gabrielle, I know how you think, all right? I know you believe there has always been this bit of goodness inside me, but there just wasn't anybody around to make it surface back then." She touched the blonde's cheek, forcing their eyes to meet. "You... are... wrong." She told her, clearly pronouncing every word. "Do you understand that?"
"I'm not hard of hearing, Xe."
The warrior gave her a look. "I'm serious. Gabrielle, if you go out there thinking you can convert me to the greater good, you're already dead, okay?"
"Xena, what I think doesn't matter." Gabrielle touched the warrior's arm. "All I'm gonna do is keep your former self occupied long enough for Autolycus to find that gem, so we all get zapped back to our time and place. Trying to turn you into a saint is not part of the plan."
Xena shook her head as they exited the forest. "Gabrielle, you never, ever stick to the plan."
"There's a first time for everything..." her friend informed her.
"Xena!" Ares called out cheerfully,
walking towards where the tall, dark-haired woman was discussing some matters
with some of her lieutenants.
The warlord's head shot up as she heard the low voice, a grin crossing her face. "I thought you weren't gonna show."
"And miss the greatest battle of all times? Please..." The war god rolled his eyes, then pulled her closer, kissing her soundly.
"...but this is not that time," Gabrielle
growled, her hands clenching to fists as she prepared herself to pummel the
God of War senseless.
Xena hastily grabbed onto the blonde, holding her back. "Easy. Focus, Gabrielle, focus."
"He is screwing up the plan!" Gabrielle hissed from between clenched teeth.
"I know, but you tearing his head from his torso is not gonna do this situation any good, now is it?" Another moment, then Gabrielle's muscles relaxed, the blonde letting out an aggravated sigh. "Good girl." The warrior patted her cheek, then released her hold.
"Hey, who's the blonde?" Xena's former
self asked, spotting Gabrielle over Ares' shoulder.
"Huh?" Ares murmured dreamily, then he refocused on his present situation. "Oh right, the blonde..." He forced a laugh. "Well, it's funny really..."
"No, it's not." Gabrielle grumbled behind him.
"See, the thing is..." Ares wrapped an arm around his protégée's waist. "She thinks I should pick her as my Chosen."
Xena glanced up, judging her competition. "Her?" She asked, in disbelief.
The God of War rolled his eyes. "It's ridiculous, I know..."
"...but he promised me I'd get a chance to prove myself," Gabrielle spoke up, crossing her arms and giving Ares a particularly lethal look.
A dark eyebrow lifted. "By doing what, exactly?" Xena asked suspiciously.
Xena looked at her in disbelief for a moment, then started laughing. "Oh please...Why don't you just go home, okay? Can't you see I'm busy?" She waved a hand at the city of Thebes.
"Tough luck." Gabrielle stared back, unimpressed. "Ares promised me."
Xena looked up at her mentor. "Why on earth did you do that?"
Ares shot the blonde a hateful look, then tossed up his hands in defeat. "She was bugging me, okay? She kept nagging. I figured I'd just take her here, you could cut her head off and we'd both be happy..."
"Oh, come on..." Xena tossed up her hands. "Ares, even I can't wage war and battle an obnoxious blond at the same time."
Gabrielle shrugged. "So don't..."
The warlord shot her a look of pure disbelief. "Excuse me? You want me to just drop everything so I can go ahead and smack you into next week?"
"I never said that." Gabrielle nodded towards the city gates. "Come on, look at what's going on back there. You and I both know you're not getting anywhere this way. You might as well save yourself some men by pulling them back now and just waiting for the catapults to be towed in."
Xena blinked, alarmed by this woman's knowledge of her plans, but then her alarm changed to interest. She studied her opponent for a moment, intrigued, then she shrugged negligently. "Guess it couldn't hurt... City won't be going anywhere..." She lifted a hand, waving over one of her officers, her eyes not leaving Gabrielle's. "Parsus, call the men back."
Parsus frowned. "But, genr'l, I thought..."
His commander spared him a glance. "I changed my mind."
A salute. "Aye, genr'l." He bowed, then walked off.
Ares' eyes flicked from one woman to the other. "Xena, I don't think you should..."
But he was ignored completely. "Well..."
Xena unsheathed her sword, twirling it in her hand comfortably. "Come on then..."
Gabrielle didn't move an inch. "What is it now?" The warlord rested the blade
on her shoulder. "Chickening out, are ya?"
The blonde shook her head. "If I fight you now, people are gonna claim I only defeated you because you weretired from battle."
Both Xena's eyebrows shot up into her hairline, then she started laughing. "My my, aren't we sure of ourselves." She took a few steps towards the blonde, leaning closer and dropping her voice. "Me being a little tired won't stop me from beating you, shorty."
The threat was so much like the warrior's normal banter Gabrielle actually had to stop and think about her reply. She leaned closer as well. "You being tired won't. But that gash in your side will."
Xena's eyes widened, then narrowed dangerously. "How do you know? Did Ares...?"
Gabrielle snorted. "Please, don't make me laugh. He doesn't have a clue..." A shake of the blond head. "You put a little more weight on your right leg, you're bending to the left a little, when you laughed your eyebrow twitched ... Do I need to go on?"
Xena crossed her arms, giving her opponent a mildly impressed look. "Not bad..." She drummed her fingers on her swordhilt for a moment. "All right... How's this? We face off in half a candlemark... I get my side patched up, you stop complaining and just fight, okay?"
A shrug. "I can live with that."
"Good." The warlord grinned at her, then turned to walk away. But mid turn she seemed to change her mind, spinning back to face the blonde. "You feel like having a drink, before you die?"
Gabrielle quirked an eyebrow at her. "Do you?"
A laugh as Xena shook her head, then motioned towards her tent, walking over and holding the tentflap open, letting Gabrielle pass before her.
Ares bounced along behind them. "Hey, Xena, how about afterwards you and me go..." The flap slid shut in front of his face. He stared at the blue fabric for a moment, then covered his eyes with a hand. "I can't believe this," he muttered. "Dumped again. And for the same damned obnoxious blonde too..." He growled kicking at a rock, then yelping out in pain, grabbing onto his throbbing foot. "Gods be... This world sucks!"
"They're pulling back." Eve pointed
at the receding soldiers. "Let's go..."
Autolycus sighed heavily, then pushed himself off the rock he'd been sitting on, his stomach and back protesting vehemently at this action. "Ouch..." He winced. "Next time I'm coming on too strong, a simple 'no thanks' would suffice, okay? Beating up an old man is very unladylike, you know?"
"Stop complaining, you pervert." Calliope muttered, pacing down the slight incline towards the city.
Eve watched the soldiers pulling back from a corner of her eye, taking a tighter grip on the large wooden stick she'd found to arm herself with. Weapons weren't really her thing normally, but since this situation was far from normal, a staff could be overlooked, she reasoned. Besides, she'd promised Gabrielle she'd look after Autolycus. Preaching to the citizens of Thebes about 'loving thy neighbour' was not going to do that.
A few more paces and they arrived at
the city. Eve walked up to the gates and knocked on the large wooden doors.
A moment, then a small hatch was pulled open, two puffy red eyes peeking through.
"We need to get in," Eve announced.
"In? Are you insane?!" The man frowned his brows at her. "You have noticed the huge army trying to take over the city, right?"
"Well, yes, but..."
"Then get some sense pumped into ya and get the Hades out of here!" Was shot back, before the hatch smacked shut again.
Eve placed her hands on her hips, glaring
at the door. "Stupid piece of..."
Aphrodite shook her head, patting the dark haired woman on the shoulder. "It's a good thing you brought me along, toots." She cracked her fingers. "Now sit back, and watch the mistress do her thing..." The goddess fluffed her hair a little, straightened her dress, made sure she was showing enough cleavage, then gently tapped on the door.
The hatch snapped open again. "Didn't I tell you to..." A sudden stop, as the eyes focused on the goddess.
"Hi," Aphrodite drawled, smiling charmingly at the guard. "Could I come in?"
The door was yanked open.
Aphrodite peeked over her shoulder,
giving Eve a smug look. She motioned towards the door. "After you."
Eve rolled her eyes, unable to repress a small smile, then stepped into the city of Thebes.
"So, now what?" Auto asked, as they
walked down the main street, several soldiers limping in the opposite direction.
"Now we find that gem and get the Hades out of here..." Calliope stated, waving a passing soldier to a halt. "Excuse me, could you tell us where the treasury is, please?"
Aphrodite covered her eyes with a hand, shaking her head. "Amateur."
The soldier looked her up and down, his eyes narrowing suspiciously. "Why do ya wanna know?"
The muse's mind hastily searched for
a good reason, then she grabbed onto Autolycus, pulling him closer. "It's because
of my dear old father." She patted the thief's shoulder. "He's very ill, you
see, and his last wish is to see the treasury of Thebes." She leaned closer
to the soldier, whispering behind a hand. "Don't ask me why. I don't know, the
guy's a loony, but you have to respect a man's last wish, right?"
The soldier looked at her, then glanced at Autolycus. "He doesn't look sick."
"Oh, but he is..." Calliope assured him. "Very ill. It's some new virus, bacillicus idioticus, very lethal."
Autolycus coughed loudly for emphasis
The guard eyed them insecurely.
Eve cleared her throat, laying a hand on her heart, swallowing uncomfortably. "Sis, I'm not feeling too good..." She directed at Calliope, then dropped her voice a little, hissing loud enough for the guard to hear her. "You think maybe it's infectious after all?"
The soldier hastily took a few paces back. "Turn right after the library, third building on the left. Now please get away from me."
"Thank you." Calliope gave the soldier a dazzling smile, then turned and headed in the indicated direction.
"You are so good!" Aphrodite giggled, nudging Eve with an elbow. "You get that from your mom."
"Oh, you're trying to get me drunk now, are you?" Gabrielle lifted an eyebrow at the warlord, sagging down in a chair in front of the desk.
Xena chuckled. "Well, there goes that plan." She poured two glasses full of water, then placed one on the desk in front of Gabrielle.
The blonde lifted the glass, taking a sip. "So, tell me something?" She waited till blue eyes met hers. "Why all the politeness all of a sudden? Just moments ago you were telling me to go home..."
"That was before you proved yourself as a good tactician and an expert on interpreting people's actions."
Gabrielle leaned back in her chair, watching the dark-haired woman. "Which makes me a threat."
Xena shrugged. "Not necessarily," she drawled, as she tugged at a bracer, pulling it off her arm. "Oh, you don't mind if I take care of that gash now, do you?" She asked innocently.
The blonde waved a hand at her. "Not at all." She told the warlord, adding under her breath. "Nothing I haven't seen before."
Which got her a jab against her shoulder
from her friend, who was standing right behind her. "Gabrielle!"
Gabrielle smiled wickedly.
Xena's ghost sighed in defeat, looking up and watching herself pull off a second bracer, before starting to unclip her armour. It was strange, seeing herself like this. It was like looking in a mirror, only this time her reflection was walking and talking without her consent. She took a moment to let her eyes slide across the room, tracking past familiar items of her past. A sword, the first one that had been marked with her sign on the hilt. Her old chakram. She took a shaky breath as she spotted a small dagger, half hidden under her pillow. It had been Lyceus's. It was the only thing she'd taken when she left that had belonged to him. She'd sworn on his casket she'd shed Cortese's blood with it, to avenge her brother's death. Obviously she never had. She'd lost it in Chin, where it had fallen into a river asthey tried to cross the roaring waters. She'd chased after it, but the rapids were too strong and she'd nearly drowned trying to reach the weapon. Borias had dragged her out of the water and taken her back to camp. When she regained consciousness she'd taken her sword, walked to the man that had been carrying her baggage and chopped off his head.
Xena shook her head, forcing the memories out. No time for those now, she had to focus. "I'm gonna ask you to join my army." She told Gabrielle, who inclined her head in acknowledgement.
"Now tell me..." The warlord stripped
off a last layer of leather, gently peeling it back from her skin. "Is all this
"All this what?"
"All this wanting to fight me?" Xena clarified. "Being Ares' chosen really isn't that much fun, you know? I'm only in this for the good battles he leads me to, nothing more..."
Gabrielle cocked her head. "And what if I want to get into some good fights too?"
Xena smiled charmingly. "Oh, there's an easier way to do that..." She leaned forward a little, locking eyes with the blonde. "Join me."
Gabrielle crossed her arms, lifting an eyebrow. "Are you afraid I'll beat you?"
The warlord chuckled. "No. But I know an asset when I see one." She shot the blonde a sexy smile. "And you're definitely an asset."
"Ugh..." The ghost winced, hiding her face in her hands. "I can't believe she said... I said that..."
Gabrielle repressed a smirk. "Oh really?"
"Definitely." Xena assured her, leaning back in her chair, then jerking upright again as the wound in her side spoke up. She pulled open a drawer, fishing out some disinfectant and bandage, flipping the top of the bottle of disinfectant, then sprayed some drops on the wound, biting her lip to hold back the pain. "I'm not blind. I could use someone like you." She stated, struggling as she tried to wrap the bandage around her waist.
"Well, I can see that." Gabrielle rolled her eyes, pushing herself up from her seat. "Let me do that."
"Gabrielle!" The warrior hissed behind
"Sure," the warlord agreed eagerly, handing over the bandage as the blonde circled the table. "You're a healer then, are you?"
"Among other things."
Xena watched as Gabrielle set to work, expert fingers efficiently bandaging up the wound, causing as little pain as possible in the process. "You have many skills..."
Gabrielle chuckled. "Now there's a first."
Xena frowned, watching the bent head intently. "If that's the first time anybody's stated the obvious, you must be hanging around the wrong people."
Amused green eyes looked up. "Are you saying hanging around you would be 'right' then?"
The warlord laughed. "Depends on what you mean by right. If you mean being filthy rich, adored by my army and having the known world tremble at your feet, than yes..." She reached out, stroking a lock of blonde hair out of the woman's face. "...being with me would be more than right."
Gabrielle smiled, wrapping the bandage over Xena's shoulder a few times to secure it. "You offer me a great deal..." She secured the bandage, straightening. "...but I'm afraid I have to decline."
Xena frowned, looking up at her. "Why? Because you want this all for yourself?" She waved a hand at her tent, her surroundings.
"No." Gabrielle told her quietly. "Because there are certain things you do I don't agree with." She watched the pensive blue eyes look back at her for another moment, then took a few paces away. "I should prepare for our fight. Thank you for the drink." She inclined her head, then turned and walked towards the exit.
"Why are you here?"
The blonde turned, cocking her head at the warlord. "Excuse me?"
"You don't belong here." Xena stated quietly, watching her. "You carry a weapon, but you're not a warrior. Not really."
Gabrielle regarded the warlord for a moment, then shook her head softly. "No, I'm not."
"Then why are you here?"
Gabrielle considered the question. "I... I used to travel with a friend." A pause. "She died..."
Xena dropped her gaze. "I killed her?"
"No, you didn't." A shake of the blond head. "But she... she taught me... you have to fight for what you believe in... Even if what you believe in is not fighting." Gabrielle gave the warlord a smile, then turned, pushing open the tentflap and exiting the tent.
Xena gazed after her for a long moment,
her eyebrows furrowed in thought. Then she shook her head softly. "I don't understand
"You will." Was the unheard reply from the ghost standing behind her.
This was boring. A young soldier, barely
out of his teens, stared ahead of himself grumpily. Everyone else was out there
defending the city and he was stuck with guarding a stupid piece of stone. He
kicked at a rock. This sucked.
The guard's head shot up to see a blond woman, dressed in a very thin pink dress run towards him.
"Please, you have to help me!" The woman touched his arm. "It's my friend, she tripped and fell and now I can't wake her up."
The soldier straightened, squaring his shoulders and flexing some muscle. "Don't worry now, missy, let me see what I can do," he stated, dropping his voice an octave lower to sound more manly. "Lead me to her."
The blonde pointed. "She's just around that corner. Please hurry!"
The soldier took off in a jog, turning the corner and...
"Sorry," Eve apologised, grabbing onto
his arms and dragging his slumped form behind a couple of bushes. "I promise
I'll put in a good word when you die or something to make up for this, okay?"
"Sweety, stop chatting to the unconscious." Calliope tugged on her arm. "Time is an issue here, let's go..."
They turned the corner and walked to
the entrance. Eve glanced around nervously, but everyone was too concerned with
the army stationed outside the gates to notice them. Autolycus pulled a small
metal device out of his pocket, then leaned his ear against the door, sticking
the device into the lock. A twist, a turn, then there was a soft click and the
door opened with a crack. "Heh." The thief chortled. "This is not even a challenge
"...the King of Thieves." His three companions joined in in unison.
"Exactly." Autolycus smiled charmingly, then waved a hand toward the open door. "Ladies first."
A long, wide hallway led to a second
door, this one decorated with golden hinges and nobs and three locks. Autolycus
rolled his eyes, starting on the top lock. "What's the point of making me do
this three times?" he wondered out loud, as the first lock unlocked. "It's just
a waste of time." The second clicked softly. "If they wanna make things tough,
this is not the way to do it." Another click, then Autolycus pulled open the
door. "Now that, on the other hand..." he said, pointing at the half dozen of
large, growling dogs slowly prowling closer. "... is a very good way of protection."
One of the dogs barked, showing his fangs.
"Aaah!" The King of Thieves jumped back, hiding behind Eve. "Save me."
Eve swallowed, slowly backing away from the advancing canines. "I... I don't..."
"Come on!" Auto urged, shaking her shoulders. "Show me those Warrior Princess genes and chop 'm into bits!"
"With what?!" Eve shot back.
"Your teeth!" Aphrodite offered, wincing as a dog eyed her viciously.
"It's what Xena would do," Calliope assured her.
Eve took a shaky breath, her mind racing over her options. "Listen..." She glanced at her companions. "When I say 'go', race for the door, got it?"
Nods around her.
"All right..." Eve held her staff in
front of her horizontally, took a firm hold, then braced herself, suddenly rushing
forward, shoving the weapon towards the approaching animals. The two closest
ones didn't have time to respond to the sudden attack and were knocked off their
feet. The other four immediately sped forward, sinking their teeth into the
"Go!" Eve yelled, turning and then pushing the staff away as hard as she could, sending weapon and dogs flying. "Fetch," she muttered under her breath.
"Eve! Look out!" Calliope warned from the door opening, and Eve was just in time to duck as one of the dogs that she'd knocked down before lunged for her. She spun around and jumped for the door as the second came running towards her, the other seriously pissed off dogs not far behind.
Eve slid inside and Calliope and Autolycus
hastily pushed the door shut. A hard thud as a dog impacted with the wood, then
scratching as the rest pushed against the door, barking loudly. Autolycus leaned
back, closing his eyes and trying to calm his pounding heart. "I'm really getting
to old for this... I really am... I can't wait till we get this power of youth
and make me..." He slapped a hand in front of his mouth, his eyes wide. "I wasn't
supposed to say that..."
"Idiot!" Aphrodite hissed at him.
Eve looked from one to the other, frowning. "Youth?" She turned to Aphrodite. "But you told Gabrielle you were looking for a way to make people happy..."
"Well, that's...the uhm..." The Goddess of Love stuttered forced a toothy smile. "I mean, being young makes people happy, right? And I think I..."
"Aphrodite." Calliope interrupted quietly, giving her half sister a look. "If all of this works out, she won't exist anymore. You owe her the truth."
"What?" Eve's head shot to Calliope in complete bewilderment. "Won't exist? What are you talking about?"
Aphrodite released a breath, walking up to Eve and touching her shoulder. "Sweety, I think you'd better sit down for a moment..."
Gabrielle pulled up her knees, wrapping
her arms around them and balancing her chin on top as she watched the movements
of the army below her from the slight slope she was sitting on. Xena was warming
up in the centre of the camp, twirling her sword around her body in fluent motions
with negligent ease. "You think I can beat you?"
Blue eyes glanced down, the warrior sitting beside her considered the question. "Depends," she answered finally. "If it's a sword fight, no."
Gabrielle nodded softly, dropping her head.
"But with anything else, it's fifty-fifty."
Gabrielle cocked her head at the woman. "Really?"
A confident nod. "Yeah. Thebes was three years after my encounter with Cortese. At this stage you have more experience in combat than I do."
Her friend digested this for a moment. "True."
A long moment of silence as they both thought their own thoughts, then Xena spoke up again. "Gabrielle?"
"I..." The warrior took a breath. "If you get a chance to kill me, I want you to take it."
The expected answer. Xena sighed. "Gabrielle, just think about it. If you stop me now, there won't be any deaths at Brittania, or at Chin, or anywhere else... It would be the right thing to do... The greater good."
Gabrielle shook her head softly. "Xena, I'd give up anything for the greater good. All my dinars, everything we own, even my life if I had to... But not you." She leaned her head against the warrior's shoulder. "Call me selfish, but I can't... So don't ask that of me."
The warrior released a breath, then nodded, laying an arm across her friend's shoulders. "Okay." She mumbled, kissing the blond hair. "Sorry."
"'s Okay." Gabrielle assured her, patting Xena's knee. A pause. "You know, in a way, I'm glad I got this chance. To see you like this."
The warrior gave her a look, frowning. "Why?"
A shrug. "Because I've always wondered if I could've made a difference, if I'd met you earlier... And now I know."
Xena looked at the blonde, then faced forward again, watching herself go through a series of flips. She wouldn't have bothered with the drills normally, she realised. If it had been anyone else... "You would've."
Gabrielle smiled softly. "Yeah."
A bell echoed across the camp, which got some cheers out of the waiting soldiers, who immediately cleared the area around their commander.
Gabrielle pushed herself to her feet,
dusting some stalks of grass off her skirt. "Well... Here goes..."
Xena got up as well and walked over, standing behind her and wrapping her arms around her friend. "Good luck." She placed a kiss on a bare shoulder. "Kick my butt."
Gabrielle chuckled, covering the warrior's hand with her own and giving it a friendly squeeze. Then the hold on her loosened and she stepped forward, straightening and facing her opponent.
The warlord looked at her for a moment,
her arms crossed. "You can still back out now, you know?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "No, I can't."
"Very well..." Xena gave her a small nod. "You pick the weapon."
One of the soldiers handed her two of the weapons, one of which she tossed at her opponent, who caught it with ease. "Staffs it is."
Behind them Ares rubbed his hands expectantly, watching as the two started circling each other. "Now this oughta be good..."
"This is gonna be tough..." Autolycus
stroked his moustache, judging the glass case placed over the red ruby, which
was displayed in the centre of the treasury on a large wooden pillar.
Aphrodite gave him a look. "Why? We lift the glass, we take the gem. Easy as can be." She reached for the case, but found her hand jerked back by the end of a cane circling around her wrist.
"Don't touch it," Autolycus hissed, then pointed at the thin, almost invisible strings leading up from the glass. "The moment you touch that glass and those strings vibrate even in the slightest we are toast." The thief motioned towards the multitude of small holes in the walls and ceiling. "I prefer to keep any arrows hidden in there and stay unperforated, if you don't mind."
"Right..." Aphrodite drummed her fingers on her thigh. "Does that mean we can't get to it?"
Auto rolled his eyes. "Hey, don't insult me." He rubbed his hands together, focusing on his new challenge. "I think I know how to do this... All I need is some time."
A loud bang on the door. "Hey, who's
"Time is a finite source and I think we just ran out, Autolycus." Calliope muttered, putting her weight against the door as she heard keys rattle in one of the locks. "I need some stuff to block the door with."
"Right..." Aphrodite hastily glanced around, then grabbed onto a large bag of dinars, dragging it towards the door.
Eve looked up from her thoughts, glancing at the door uncertainly for a moment.
"Get out of there now!" The voice from
outside shot up. "We're giving you three second to come out before we start
breaking this door down! One..."
Eve made up her mind, picking up a bar of gold and tossing it towards the muse. "Catch!"
Calliope started piling up the bricks in front of the door. "Hurry!" She called out to Autolycus.
"Right." The thief nodded, then dug a small drill out of his sleeve, carefully placing it against the wooden pillar, just below the glass case.
A quick rattling of wood echoed across
the camp. Gabrielle deflected a strike aimed at her side, then tried a jab for
the warlord's ribs, but found her path blocked. Xena parried the blow, then
took a pace back, creating some distance and circling her opponent, waiting
for an opening. "You're good," she admitted, her breath gone slightly ragged.
"Thank you." Gabrielle excepted the compliment gracefully, then intercepted a blow aimed for her left side and hopped back to avoid the weapon when it turned to swing at her right. "You're not too bad yourself."
Xena chuckled, then winced as the edge of the blonde's staff impacted with her ankle harshly. She managed to parry the next blow, shifting her weight slightly to her other leg to make up for the injury.
Gabrielle ducked, avoiding the staff
aimed for her head, before lunging out again, swinging at the warlord's feet.
Xena hopped up, pushing herself off the ground and into a flip, landing on the other side of the blonde. Gabrielle only just managed to lift her staff to block the warlord's overhead strike, then she pushed off with all her strength, managing to force the warlord back up a few paces, leaving her slightly out off balance.
Which gave her a clear shot at the woman's injured left side. Gabrielle felt her battle instincts surge up to take advantage of the situation, but a part of her hesitated, not wanting to hurt the warlord. This was still Xena and...
With a loud crack Xena's staff impacted
with her shoulder, sending her staggering back. The warlord jabbed her staff
forward, Gabrielle only just avoiding the edge poking into her stomach. "No
pity!" Xena growled, turning and swinging at the blonde's side. "You wanted
to fight me, so fight!"
Gabrielle parried another angry blow, wincing as pain seared through her arm.
"Come on!" Another growl from her opponent as Xena suddenly reached out and grabbed onto Gabrielle's staff with both hands, then turned and flipped the blonde over her back. She then spun around, swinging her own staff around and falling to a knee, swiping Gabrielle's legs out from under her.
Gabrielle lost her hold on her staff
and tumbled backwards, falling into the dirt with a thud.
"Nooo!" She heard her friend's voice yell out behind her and she heard the heavy bootsteps as the warrior came running closer. But she blocked all other sounds out for a moment, looking up at the dark form towering over her, the edge of a staff aimed for her neck.
"Autolycus!" Calliope winced as another
hard thud nearly blew open the wooden door. "Now would be a good time!"
"I'm trying, aren't I?!" the thief shot back, continuing his careful drilling. But he wasn't even halfway through the wooden pillar. He winced as the battering ram was slammed into the door again, the wood creaking loudly under its force. "I need more time!"
Eve pushing all her weight against the door. Another thud from the battering ram. "Autolycus, just break the glass!" she yelled, topping the roar of men and the barking of dogs.
"I told you I can't," the thief shot back, looking at her in annoyance. "Those arrows will fire and we'll be shish-kebab before we can even move."
"But we don't have to move!" Eve reminded him. "Chaos said we had to touch the key. We only have to touch it to get pulled out of this world."
Autolycus frowned, insecurely. "I don't know... What if you're wrong?"
"We're dead. But if we wait any longer..." Another bang against the door. "...we're dead too..."
Autolycus blinked, then realised she did have a point. "Okay." He took a breath, squaring his shoulders. "But if we all die here it's on your head!"
"Just do it!" Aphrodite managed from between clenched teeth.
"Okay, okay!" Autolycus lifting his cane, pulling back his arm, then slammed it towards the glass. As the sound of shattering glass filled the room, arrows shot out of their hiding places...
Xena tightened the grip on her staff,
staring down at the blonde lying at her feet. Green eyes looked back at her
calmly, unafraid. Every muscle in the warlord's body was tensed, screaming to
move in for the kill, but something was holding her back, some tiny voice in
the back of her mind that she though she'd silenced years ago... "Damn you,"
she cursed, shaking her head softly. "Why couldn't you just kill me?"
"Why can't you?" Gabrielle shot her a quirky smile.
Xena's eyes narrowed. "I..."
A soft plop sounded. Xena blinked, then blinked again, her eyes widening as she stared at the empty patch of grass beneath her, only air where her opponent had been moments before. "Ares, you...!" She turned around, pointing a finger at where the god of war had been, but he was gone too. The warlord took a breath tossing up her hands in disbelief. "What the Hades just happened?!"
Spinning, twisting, then everything
calmed down again and Gabrielle could feel the cold stone floor under her hands.
She blinked open her eyes to find herself back inside Mount Olympus, staring
up at the ceiling, the fumes drifting up from the crevice now behind her.
"You okay?" Xena crawled closer to her, a concerned look on her face.
Gabrielle nodded. "Fine..." She pushed herself up, then winced at the soreness of her arm. "Ugh, I was hoping that would be gone."
"Things you do in the past effect the present." Chaos spoke up, sitting on the edge of the crevice, facing away from them. "It's important you realise that."
"Well, we definitely realise that now." Aphrodite dusted off her dress. "I think we..." The Goddess of Love drew in a sharp breath. "Oh, gods... Eve..."
Gabrielle head shot up at the alarmed
voice, then she too spotted her daughter, lying on her back, an arrow sticking
out of her chest. "No..."
"Eve!" Xena ran to her side, dropping down to her knees, staring at the arrow in disbelief.
Eve smiled and lifted a hand, reaching for her face. "Mom, I can..." She drew in a raspy breath. "I can see you."
The warrior pressed a hand to her mouth, trying to fight back the tears. "You have to fight, Evie. It's not your time... Please..."
"Did we... Did we get the key?" Her daughter managed , struggling to keep her eyes open.
"Yeah." Autolycus lifted the gem up for Eve to see. "Yeah we did. You were right, Eve."
A soft nod. "Good."
"But I'm afraid we can't let you use
Gabrielle instinctively reached for her sais, spinning around and aiming the weapons at the intruders. Her eyes widened as she recognised one of the winged men standing in the room. "Michael?"
"We can't let you do this, Gabrielle." The archangel drew his sword. "We can't allow you to turn back time."
"Turn back time?" Gabrielle stared at him in complete bewilderment. "What are you...?" She turned back and shot a look at Aphrodite. "What is going on here?!"
"Surprise!" Ares called out cheerfully.
Aphrodite lifted her hands in defence. "Gab, it's not what you think..."
"I think you tricked me into helping you."
The goddess scratched the back of her neck. "Okay, it is what you think...but I only did it to help you, honest. I only did it to make the world a better place."
"They want to undo the Twilight." Michael stated, twirling his sword in his hand, his eyes carefully watching all occupants of the room. "We can't allow that to happen."
"I want my family back!" Aphrodite shot back with fiery eyes, pointing a threatening finger at the angel. "We've shared the world with other gods for decades and there were never any problems. We stayed out of their way, they stayed out of ours.. But then your 'true god' shows up and starts killing everybody and we're just supposed to take that lying down?"
"God wants what's best for mankind." One of the other angels dropped in.
"Really?" Ares crossed his arms, glaring at them. "What has your God ever done for any of the people here, huh? Oh right, he used Xena to give birth to your bringer of the Twilight, he forced the bard here to become a warrior and he let Eve grow up as a ruthless killer and did nothing." Ares muttered sarcastically, gaving him two thumbs up. "Great guy."
"You should talk!" Michael eyed him. "You're not exactly a man of peace, God of War."
"Hey, I saved them! I saved your messenger and I saved the blonde, both of whom I seriously detest, I might add..." The war god glared at the archangel. "Haven't seen you doing...
His sentence was cut off by loud rumbling, the earth shivering beneath them. Gabrielle looked up to see Autolycus standing beside the altar, the red ruby sparkling as it lay embedded in the stone. Another roar from beneath them, then slowly something was pushed up from inside the altar, pushed up to the surface. It was an hourglass, Gabrielle noticed, only there wasn't really any glass, the small pile of sand lying at the bottom being held together by some force which emanated a soft white glow. Grains seemed to form from the nothing in the top half, then fall down, sliding to the centre of the hourglass before falling onto the pile
"Don't let them near the Glass of Time!"
Michael yelled out, raising his sword, his angels immediately rushing towards
the mortals and immortals standing around the altar.
"Now this is gonna be fun." Ares grinned wickedly, extending a hand, a fireball forming on his palm. "Fried angel... You want breast or wing, sis?"
"I just wanna get out of here alive!" Aphrodite squeaked, ducking under a sword, then punching her fist against an unsuspecting jaw. "Ow!" She shook her hand, wincing. "Crap, that totally hurts..."
"We have to keep them away from the Glass." Calliope instructed, tackling an angel headed towards the altar. "If they destroy it, time can't be changed anymore."
"Right. "Autolycus nodded, extending his cane to grab onto an angel' neck yanking the winged man back.
"Wait!" Xena scrambled to her feet,
running to Michael's side, ignoring the fighting. "Michael, you have to save
Eve!" No response. "Come on, I know you can hear me! She's dying! Please!"
Michael ducked under one of Ares thunderbolts then turned to Xena. "There is no time..."
"Then you'll just have to make time." Gabrielle stepped up to him. "That's our daughter lying there..." She pointed, looking to where they'd left Eve and...
Her eyes widened as she found the spot empty, only the broken shaft of an arrow lying on the stone floor. Then she caught movement from the corner of her eyes and she sucked in a breath as she spotted Eve slowly crawling closer and closer to the altar. "Eve, what are you doing?!" She yelled, darting towards her daughter, only to find a blaze of fire crossing her path, Ares focusing all his attention on obstructing her way.
The fire didn't bother Xena however
and she rushed through, dropping to her knees at her daughter's side. A hand
reached out to stop her, but she just passed through the arm she was trying
to grab onto. "Eve please!" She tried reasoning. "If you do this they'll make
sure you never exist, don't you realise that?"
"I..." Eve swallowed, pushing back the pain. "I know..."
Eve reached the altar, grabbing onto the top and pulling herself upright, jolts shooting through her body, emanating from the arrowhead stuck in her chest. "You did sss... so much for me..." She took another breath, reaching through the white forcefield for the pile of sand lying on the stone. "It's time I did something in return." Her hand closed over the grains lying on the top of the pile, then she sagged back to the ground, her muscles caving in, her tired body finally giving up on her.
"No!" Gabrielle ignored the flames, speeding through them as if they didn't exist at all, racing towards her daughter.
But she was too late. Eve's hand thudded limply on the ground, the grains of sand spilling out, falling on the ground. And as they touched the cold stone they vanished into the nothing. And so did Eve. And Xena, and Gabrielle. Autolycus, Michael and all his angels, leaving only the three Olympians in the room.
Aprodite blinked, scratching the back
of her head. "Hey, were'd they go?"
"They were never here." Chaos voice drifted up, the Creator not having moved an inch, still siting with his legs dangling in the crevice.
"That part of time was destroyed." Calliope quickly explained, her eyes wide with excitement. "Eve undid everything that happened in the last few days by taking the grains of sand from the Glass of Time." She smiled widely. "This is gonna be the best story ever..."
"And now you can do what you came here for." Chaos pushed himself up, turning to face the three. "But I suggest you think carefully about what you're about to do. Every change you make in the past can have unexpected consequences in the future."
"Oh, we don't want to make any changes." Aphrodite assured him. "We just want to turn back time, so things are as they were before and we can get a second chance to keep 'm that way."
"Actually..." Calliope scratched her jaw. "I think we should make one tiny change..." Her two godly companions shot her a look. "Hey, if we leave things this way Xena will just run off to Japan and sacrifice herself again. And I think we all agree she's much more fun alive."
"That'll make Gab happy." Aphrodite nodded.
"Who cares..." The God of War muttered. "It'll make me happy."
"Exactly." The muse nodded, then walked over to the hourglass, squinting at the grains for a moment, then she selected one, holding it up to her siblings. "So I suggest we change this bit..."
Aphrodite looked at it, then smiled widely. "Wicked!"
Gabrielle squinted, lifting a hand
to shield her eyes from the bright beam of sunlight shining through the thick
foliage up above her. She noticed she was a bit more restricted in her movements
than normally and looked down at her body, her eyes growing wide as she noticed
she was cooped up in her old blue dress. Which looked surprisingly new for an
old blue dress.
"So, then what?"
Gabrielle frowned, then turned to look at her sister. She blinked. Her very young sister.
"Come on, Gabby, what happened next?" Lila urged again, popping one of the berries she'd just picked from the bush they were standing in front in her mouth. "The warrior trusted his sword towards the Hydra and...?"
"I... You..." Gabrielle stuttered, her eyes growing wide as she noticed the locks of hair lying scattered over her shoulder. "My hair is long."
Lila frowned giving her a look. "Yeeees..." She drawled. "And this is shocking exactly why?"
Gabrielle blinked, putting the pieces of the puzzle together and drawing to a conclusion. "They did it... They undid time..."
Gabrielle took a few paces, then spun around. "I tried to get to Eve, but she dropped the sand and then Ares and Aphrodite undid time."
Lila gave her a doubtful look, then lifted a hand to her mouth. "Mom! Gabrielle is acting weird again!"
The blond head shot up. "Mom?"
A short skinny woman walked around the large bush that had been hiding her from view, wiping off her juice-covered fingers on her apron. "What is it now?"
"Mom!" Gabrielle raced towards the older woman, only just managing to avoid stepping on her dress, and wrapped her arms around her mother, hugging her tightly. "You're alive!"
Hecuba looked over her eldest daughter's shoulder to share a completely confused look with her youngest. "Uhm... Well, yes, dear... Of course I am..."
"But you won't be for much longer."
A raspy voice growled behind her.
Gabrielle spun around to see a group of well armed men standing blocking the road. The leader was a particularly ugly fellow, who's scarred faced she immediately recognised. Hector, Draco's former lieutenant.
"Round 'm up boys!" Hector yelled out
and the men immediately responded, prodding weapons towards the panicking villagers,
forcing them all towards the small clearing that lay up ahead. Gabrielle's mind
raced. This couldn't be happening. This couldn't be... She let herself be pushed
along with the others. As they entered the clearing her eyes immediately shot
to a small bush at the side. She frowned. No Xena. "What is going on here?"
She wondered out loud.
"They probably want our money." She suddenly heard a familiar voice beside her. "But don't worry, Gabrielle, I'll protect you." Perdicas insured her, placing a hand on her shoulder.
Gabrielle looked up at him for a moment, watching his young, unmarked face, then smiled, patting his hand. "Thanks." She considered her options for a moment. "Hey, Perdicas?"
"Could I borrow that pitchfork of yours for a moment?"
Her young man gave her a look. "Uhm...Well, sure... Why?"
"Oh, you'll see..." She shot him another charming smile, as they turned to face their attackers.
"Okay," Hector started off. "We can
do this one of two ways. You can let us have the girls and go back to those
houses you call home or..." He rubbed his hands expectantly. "We could chop
you all into little pieces and take the girls anyway." He laughed wickedly.
"Or..." Gabrielle offered, taking a step forward. "...I could beat the stuffings out of you."
"Gabrielle!" Her mother hissed behind her. "What do you think you are doing?"
"Hah!" Hector crossed his arms, looking her up and down. "You and what army, little girl?"
Gabrielle gave him a charming smile. "I don't need an army for the likes of you." She told him, then jabbed her pitchfork forward, slamming the end against an unprepared head with all the force she could muster. Which was a lot less than normal, she had to admit, since there was a lot less muscle covering her body than there had been before... Uhm... after... Whatever...
The dress would get in the way... Couldn't have that... Gabrielle poked her pitchfork in the ground, grabbed onto the edges and tore the fabric, creating a nice split on either side, then she straightened and kicked out just in time to stop an approaching soldier from clobbering her over the head. A second got swiped off his feet, a third poked in the gut, a fourth....
A warcry suddenly split the air as
Xena somersaulted into the clearing, landing beside the bard, smacking out a
fist and discarding opponent number four for her. She hummed in delight "Gods,
I've wanted to do that for sooooo long."
Gabrielle glanced at the warrior, noting the leathers and the sword strapped across her back. "You're dressed..." She stated in dismay.
"Sorry to disappoint you." Xena muttered, kicking a booted foot into the next attacker. "Does that mean you remember what happened in the future too?"
"Uhuh." Gabrielle confirmed, ducking under a sword lunged in her direction, then snapping it out of the soldiers hand.
Xena took a look at the blonde's weapon, then pulled a dagger from a scabbard strapped to her side, holding it out to her friend, hilt first. "Here..."
Gabrielle looked at it for a moment, then shook her head softly, tightening her grip on her wooden weapon. "No, thanks. I think I'm sticking to staffs this time around."
Xena smiled at her. "Good." She elbowing an attacker in the face without even looking. "Let's wrap this up, okay? I'll go get Hector." She stated, then jumped up again, flipping over her next opponent, to land behind him, facing the lieutenant.
Hector grabbed onto his sword tightly,
then swung it towards her with a yell. Xena rolled her eyes, drawing her own
sword and blocking the weapon with ease, then twisting it, forcing him to lose
his grip, his weapon flying up, ending up stuck in branch above them. "Call
them back," she ordered in a dangerous voice, pointing the edge of her sword
as his throat.
"Back off!" Hector squealed immediately.
Gabrielle watched the men recede slowly,
making sure none of them were gonna try anything funny, then she turned to her
family. "Don't worry, it's gonna be fine now."
A dozen pairs of wide round eyes stared back at her.
Gabrielle frowned. "Are you okay?"
Perdicas blinked. "I...I never knew you could do that with a pitchfork..." he finally stuttered, getting agreeing murmurs from his fellow villagers.
Gabrielle bit her lip, giving him a
sheepish smile. She decided it would be impossible to explain all this now,
so she didn't, turning and walking over to Xena's side, looking at the shivering
Xena motioned her sword towards the blue fabric on his shoulder.
"You're with Draco," Gabrielle concluded for her, which was awarded with an amused raised eyebrow. "Tell him Xena..." She patted the warrior on the shoulder. "...says hello."
"Xena?" Hector's eyes widened in complete shock. "The Defender of Amfipolis?"
Xena frowned, then looked over her shoulder at her friend, who had a similar flabbergasted expression on her face.
"You know Xena?!" Lila's voice shot up as she ran to her sister's side, grabbing onto her shoulder enthusiastically. "And you never told me?!"
Gabrielle blinked. "Uhm... What's there to tell?"
"Duh!" Lila threw up her hands. "Like how she defended Amfipolis against Cortese. Or when she saved Thrace from being invaded by Sparta, or..."
Branches cracked loudly as another person entered the clearing, this one a young man, with blond, curly hair. "Gees, Xe, you run fast..." He breathed heavily, taking a moment to glance around him, taking in the unconscious men, his sister holding a scruffy fellow at sword point, a blonde girl in a ripped dress sporting a pitch fork, a wide eyed brunette and a bunch of completely stunned villagers. "What happened here?"
Xena felt her hold on her sword slipping.
Lyceus turned to face her. "Yes? What's...Ugh!" The air was pressed out of him as his sister pulled him into a bear hug. "Can't... breathe..." He managed in a husky tone.
"Oh, sorry..." Xena immediately dropped him back to his feet, continuing to look at him incredulously. Then a thought occurred to her and she turned around, motioning for Gabrielle. "Lyceus, I'd like you to meet my friend Gabrielle. Gabrielle..." She smiled broadly. "This is my brother, Lyceus..."
"Hi..." Gabrielle extended a hand towards him. "Xena's told me all about you..."
"I..." Lyceus took her hand, shaking it. "I wish I could say the same..."
"Uhm... excuse me? Xena?"
The warrior turned around to face Herodotus. "Yes?"
"It...It would be an honour if you would join us for lunch..." The older man suggested shyly. "If you're not too busy, of course?"
"Now there's a change..." Gabrielle commented under her breath.
Xena laughed softly. "I think I can spare the time..." Then a familiar shiver past down her spine, alerting her of another presence. "You just go on ahead... I'll uhm... be right there..."
Gabrielle immediately noticed the change in her friend. "Sure." She hastily nodded, touching Xena's shoulder. "You know how to find our house right?"
The warrior grinned. "I think I'll manage."
"Good." Gabrielle tugged on Lyceus's arm. "Come on, I'll show you around." She started, heading back towards the village of Potedeia, soon followed by the rest of its inhabitants.
"Okay." Xena's brother agreed amiably, allowing himself to be lead on. "So..." He asked curiously. "How long have you known my sister?"
"Oh..." Gabrielle shrugged negligently. "Not that long..."
Xena watched them go, then turned and
crossed her arms facing the empty air, raising an eyebrow.
A flash of pink, then Aphrodite appeared. "Hiya toots. Still got the godvibe going on, huh? Cool."
A second eyebrow raised.
The Goddess of Love gave her an apologetic smile. "You mad at me?"
Xena took a breath, running a hand through her hair. " I don't know..." She shook her head a little. "I can't really think straight right now..." She frowned, cocking her head at the goddess. "Does this mean I never did... what I did? You know..."
"Exactomundo." Aphrodite nodded with a smile. "I hate to say this, but you owe the muse a thank you for this one... She suggested to toss out the grain where your little bro dies and replace it with one where you save him in the nick of time... 's All we did, the rest kinda formed itself..."
Xena blinked, digesting this. "And Ares just... let this happen?"
The Goddess of Love giggled. "Well no..." She scratched the back of her neck sheepishly. "We kinda tied him up..."
The warrior grinned at the mental picture that evoked.
"He's raging mad now. He's not gonna leave you alone that easy, tall, dark and deadly. You gotta watch out for him."
"I think I can handle him..." Xena muttered softly, than she looked up again, a pained expression in her eyes. "What about Eve?"
The goddess released a breath, patting the warrior's shoulder in comfort. "That was one brave kid you raised there, gorgeous. Couldn't have done it without her." She lifted a hand, palm up, a small item appearing out of nothing. "Here..." She handed it to Xena. "She wanted you to have this."
Xena's hand shook as she tentatively reached out for the small rag doll she'd made herself shortly after Eve was born. In spite of its age it was still completely intact. "I didn't even know she still had this..." Xena whispered, tracing the doll's hair with a finger.
Aphrodite looked at the warrior sympathetically.
"She knew what she was doing, Xena. She wanted this, for the both of you." The
goddess stated, then glanced up as she spotted movement from the corner of her
eyes, where Gabrielle re-entered the clearing. "Hiya, cute stuff." She greeted
the blonde. "You need a hair cut."
Gabrielle gave the goddess a wry smile, before turning her attention to the warrior, who was still hidden in thought. "Hey?" She wrapped an arm around Xena's waist. "You okay?"
The warrior considered this question for a moment, then finally nodded in reply. "Yeah..." She managed a smile for her friend. "I'll... I'll miss her..."
"Me too..." Gabrielle agreed quietly.
"Hey, she may pop up in a few years, you know?" Aphrodite offered. "If that God is still intent on being the one and only deity he's gonna need her... But this time I'll make sure daddy doesn't go all wacko and hunts her down, okay?"
Xena managed a grin for the goddess. "Deal. And I'll try not to slaughter all the Olympians, how's that?"
"Wicked." Aphrodite grinned, then took a pace back, wiggling her fingers at the two. "Gotta go spread some lovin'. See ya..." A flash of pink and she was gone.
Xena closed her hand over the doll,
then turned to Gabrielle, wrapping her arms around her friend, hugging her.
Gabrielle laid her head on the warrior's shoulder, closing her eyes. They stood
like that for a long moment, silently, only the sound of leaves rustling in
the wind, soft distant voices sounding from where Potedeia lay.
"What are you thinking?" Gabrielle finally asked softly, her voice muffled.
"I'm trying not to think," Xena replied.
"This is gonna be weird, huh?"
"Yeah..." the warrior agreed quietly. Another moment of silence. "But... Maybe... Maybe weird in a good kind of way..."
A soft nod from the blond head. "I think so..."
"Uhuh," Gabrielle confirmed. "I mean, my family's alive, your family's alive... You're alive." Green eyes peeked up. "And the Destroyer of Nations never existed."
Xena took her breath, her mind still unable to grasp that particular bit of their new situation. "I... But I still did all of that... Maybe not in this life, but..."
"Shush." Gabrielle pressed a finger to her lips, smiling. "Just accept this, Xena. Just accept the fact that you're actually a nice, heroic person and learn to live with it."
Blue eyes looked at her for a moment, then the warrior exhaled, a small smile tugging at her lips. "That's not gonna be easy."
"I'll help." Gabrielle patted her side amiably.
Xena chuckled. "Thanks."
"No problem." A pause as they started back down the road towards Potedeia. "So... What do we do now?"
"Well..." Xena considered this for a moment. "I think we have to start by finding you some new clothes." She tickled her friend's exposed thigh, making her squirm. "Not that this doesn't have certain advantages..."
"Hardihar..." Gabrielle gave the warrior a playful shove. "Very funny."
"And then we have to find a way to explain how you turned from clumsy peasant girl to amazon warrior over night."
"And after that..." The warrior shrugged. "Well, I know some villages nearby that'll soon get attacked by raiders, people that need saving, some wars that need to be stopped..."
Gabrielle grinned. "Sounds like you could use a sidekick."
"Yeah, I guess I could..." Xena went along. "You know anybody who'd be interested?"
"I might..." Her friend drawled. "Short, blond, swings a mean pitchfork."
"Pitchfork swinging is high on the list of required skills." The warrior commented with a straight face, then she turned serious, looking down at the blond head tucked against her shoulder. "Are you sure she wouldn't rather stay home insteadof putting up with some grumpy warrior?"
Gabrielle released a breath, looking up and meeting the warrior's doubtful gaze. "Xena, you are my home. This lifetime or the last, there's nowhere in the world I'd rather be."
Blue eyes blinked at her. "Yeah?"
The warrior digested this. "Even when I'm stubborn and grouchy?"
Gabrielle smiled. "Yes, even when you're stubborn and grouchy."
"Even when I use your frying pan as a weapon?"
"Even when I do this?" She tickled the blonde's side, making her squirm.
"Or this...?" A tickle on her other side.
Gabrielle bit her lip to keep from laughing. "Stop that!"
"Heh." Xena chortled, avoiding squiggling fingers aimed for her stomach. "Make me." Blue eyes twinkled mischievously, then the warrior darted off.
"Brat!" Gabrielle called after her, setting in the pursuit. "Hey this is not fair! My body's not used to keeping up with the Warrior Princess yet!"
"No time like the present to start
training, sidekick." Xena beamed a wicked smile over her shoulder, then sped
up even more, racing down the road to Potedeia, Gabrielle following close behind.
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