Path of Thorns

Part XI



Gabrielle yelled out as she caught the Persian sword on her own, then shoved it back with all her strength. The lieutenant staggered back, but Gabrielle gave him no moment to recover, cutting into his chest. A man came at her and she ducked sideways, smacking him against the back as he did, sending him crashing into a spearman, who’d aimed his weapon at Xena.  


A touch against her leg. Weak, cold fingertips slid over her skin for a moment, then fell away. Gabrielle swallowed back the urge to look down. There was no time.


The image of Xena slumped on the ground, bleeding, her eyes closed…


“Xena!” Gabrielle yelled out, jabbing her sword forward and then lifting it over her head, catching a sword heading for her back. She swung around, taking the heads of three men in one move. “Xena! Get up!”


She detected no movement though from the body slumped at her feet.


What if she was dead? Dying? What if she’d gotten here too late?


A sword passed right by her, heading for Xena’s head. Gabrielle kicked at it angrily, reaching out and blindly fighting the man responsibly, ruthlessly snapping his neck. “Xena!” She screamed out again, almost desperately.


A spear came at her and she grabbed it and shoved it back into her attacker’s abdomen, making him keel over. She planted the spear on the ground, then kicked him in the face, pushing off from his body. She picked up momentum and spun around, her hands on the spear to keep herself centered. Persian soldiers tumbled back as she hit one after the other. A blade glimmered right before her and Gabrielle hastily pulled her body back, a foot landing on each side of Xena’s still form. Gabrielle pulled the spear from the ground, then swung it around, the tip cutting through skin.


A man moved up on her left and she blocked him with the blunt side of the weapon, then slammed the wooden end right up into his forehead.


She vaguely picked up the sound of arrows shifting though the air. Her eyes snapped around, until she spotted a swordsman carrying a large, round shield. She advanced a step, punching him in the face and then yanking the shield from his hands. Two more advanced on her and she just smacked the shield into them, causing them to crash back.


Arrows thudded into the ground and Gabrielle hastily knelt down, blocking both Xena’s body and her own with the weapon. The metal tips clattered on the shield. Cries sounded around her as some of the Persians were hit by their own arrows.  


So close, she couldn’t resist any longer and cast her eyes down at Xena’s face. The Empress was pale, and blood covered a large part of her torso.


The arrows passed and the battle resumed. Gabrielle tore her eyes away from Xena’s face and rose back to her feet, blocking a sword blow and then tossing the shield forward, almost like a chakram. The sharp edge embedded itself into another soldier, nearly cutting him in half at the waist.


A sharp pain at her side made her look down, to see the tip of a sword penetrating through her leather armor into her side.


She looked up at the guilty party in outrage, grabbing onto his hair and yanking his head down as she lifted a knee, snapping his neck with a loud crack. She then pulled the sword free and spun it around, trying to create a little space around herself.


The Persians were numerous though and they relentlessly moved in on her, stepping over the bodies of their fallen comrades.


Gabrielle drew in a heavy breath, shaking her head a little to cast the raindrops which were trickling down her forehead aside.


What if she was dead?


A hand reached for her and she grabbed for it, tossing her attacker over her body and into the masses storming at her. A kick to her side. She reached for a dagger and flung it sideways, hitting a Persian square in the eye and making him scream out.


The next scream was hers though as a spear tip grazed her leg. Gabrielle spun around to find the spear moving towards her again, this time aimed at her heart.


The next moment the man screamed in horror, falling back, his legs cut off at knee height. Enemy soldiers hastily rushed back as chariots charged into the melee, sharp blades attached to the wheel caps. An arrow soared past her and embedded itself in the neck of a Persian right behind her.


The chariots disappeared from sight a moment, then they came racing back, passing on Gabrielle’s other side and clearing space around her.


A chariot slid to a halt right next to her. Gabrielle glanced up to see Cleopatra looking back at her. Her dark hair was windblown and her eyes were wide and alert. The warrior stared up at her a moment in surprise, then she snapped out of it, reaching down and grabbing onto Xena’s arm and pulling it over her shoulders.


Cleopatra jumped off her chariot, her eyes anxiously looking at the Empress’s still form. “Is she…?”

“I don’t know,” Gabrielle managed to say, as she half carried, half dragged Xena onto the chariot. “Get her out of here!”

The regent blinked at her. “But….”

“Now!” Gabrielle snapped at her, her eyes blazing. “Get her out now!”

Cleopatra stared back at her a moment, their eyes meeting for what seemed like the longest stretch of time they’d ever held. Then she jumped back onto the chariot, grabbing onto the reigns and ordering her horses into motion.


Gabrielle breathed hard as she watched them go, her eyes focused on Xena until they’d disappeared into the clouds. Then her eyes darkened and she turned around, smoothly picking Xena’s katana up off the sand with one hand and her chakram with the other.



His horse breathed heard as Odilon pulled it to a stop at the top of the last hill. He wiped the sweat off his forehead as he stared down onto the battle raging below.


The front was located at the start of the pass, which allowed only a limited number of Persian soldiers to join the fighting. It was slowly being pushed back though, and Odilon could see enemy soldiers slipping past the front line to start an attack from the left.


The entire front line was starting to be pushed back, except… Except for a spot on the right flank, where the Persians weren’t just being held at bay, but were actually being driven backwards. “Lemme guess….” The spy muttered, before pushing his horse forward again.


There was still smoke drifting over the battlefield, but it wasn’t so thick, now that the wind was picking up. Odilon soon spotted a figure, right in the centre of the battle.


There were soldiers fighting beside her, but it was obvious to the spy that the fact that the Persians were being pushed back was entirely due to her. She moved with a speed he’d never seen before, not even from Xena. >From his place on top of his horse he saw her cut through the blade of a sword with the katana, then spin around and slice the sword owner’s throat with the chakram.


Arrows came soaring in and his horse screamed as the animal was hit in the side. It reared in panic, then lost its balance and fell onto its side. Odilon managed to free his feet from the stirrups just in time to avoid being caught under the animal. He crawled back onto his feet, then ducked as a Persian came at him. He smacked his elbow into the man’s stomach then rose to his feet and punched him in the face, taking his spear from him and gutting him in one smooth move.


A few dozen paces and a few kills brought him closer to Gabrielle, who was steadily moving forward with every strike of her sword. Odilon slipped into her wake. He saw an axe being lifted, ready to be thrown, and he quickly slammed the end of his staff down on the weapon, making the Persian drop it onto his own foot.


Odilon took one more step, another, then his eyes widened as he suddenly found a katana closing in on his neck.


The blade stopped just in time and Gabrielle smoothly spun the weapon around without loosing her momentum. Odilon breathed a sigh of relief, then quickly turned as the limping axe wielder came stumbling towards him. He threw his spear and ended his misery.


Taking a step back he found himself back to back with the blonde warrior. “Thanks for not gutting me!” He called out.

“Don’t make me regret it!” Gabrielle answered in a growl as she slammed the chakram into a ribcage.

“Where is she?”


“Is she okay?”

“I…”  Gabrielle grabbed onto a man’s armor and flung him forward to clear the path for her. “… don’t…” A spine snapped. “…know!”


Odilon unsheathed his own sword, his falcate, bringing the weapon down hard and cutting through bone. The fighting continued, then the Persians suddenly moved further back. Moments later horses came thundering through. Odilon spun around to see Dorian riding at the front of the group of cavalry.


Gabrielle was about to rush forward again, following the enemy. But Odilon grabbed onto her arm, pulling her back. “Hold up!”

Green eyes turned to him, flashing angrily.

“Just breathe a minute,” Odilon managed to hang onto her, exhausted though he was. “We need to talk strategy.”


Dorian came riding up to them, sliding off his horse. “Gabrielle.” The second-in-command saluted her with a relieved breath. “I am very, very glad to see you.”

Gabrielle managed a nod for him, her muscles twitching to return to the battle.

“There’s Persians gathering on our left,” Odilon got right to the point. “We need to cut them off, fast. Any ideas?”


“Xena said to fall back.”

“If we fall back the Persians will head straight for the camp. Xena is in that camp.” Gabrielle looked at him pointedly. “There’s no way we’re retreating until those bastards or back on their side of the pass.”


Dorian tried to repress a smile. “I agree.” He then seemed to go over the options. “The only troops not engaged in battle are the legionnaires protecting the archers at the top of the pass.”

“Get them down here,” Odilon instructed. “And signal Cleopatra. Her chariots can finish the job.”


The second-in-command glanced at the spy hesitantly, then looked down at his hand, which no longer bore a seal ring.


Gabrielle glanced from one to the other, then reached for her own seal ring, pulling it off her finger. She tossed it at Odilon, who only just managed to catch it. “You boys sort it out,” Gabrielle said, before lifting two fingers to her lips and whistling loudly. She then pointed a finger at Odilon. “I want that back.” She told him, before she pushed herself off the ground and into a back flip just as a palomino horse came thundering past.


Dorian looked on as she landed neatly in the saddle, then urged her horse forward and stormed back towards the front line. “Wow,” he murmured, shaking her head a little. “She’s awesome.”

Odilon glanced at the ring lying in his palm, then managed a wry smile. “Yeah,” he sighed, sounding almost disappointed. “Yeah, she is.”



Khrafstar looked down on the battlefield with an outraged look, as he saw his troops being pushed back into the pass. “No!” He paced along the edge of the rock cliff he was on. “Fight! Fight, you weaklings!”


His eyes caught a flash of movement and he narrowed in on it, spotting a female warrior fighting right in the centre of the battle. He yelled out in fury. “It is her!”


Beside him, the fire flickered gently. It seemed to be observing the fighting with a calm interest.


“She murdered me,” Khrafstar growled, unhooking the white chakram from his belt. “She was unworthy, yet I chose her….”

The flames growled at him, not appreciating the ‘I’.

“And she murdered me with this!” He held the chakram up in his hand, so tightly blood started to seep onto the metal. Then suddenly he yanked his arm back, then threw it forward again, wildly spinning the white chakram towards the fighting warrior.



Gabrielle looked up as she heard the sound of metal shifting through air. She looked up to see a figure standing at the top of the pass. And soaring towards her was her own chakram.


The warrior hastily reached for the chakram she was holding, Xena’s. She pulled it back, aimed, then flung it forward.


The two chakrams clashed together in mid air. The sound echoed over the battlefield and many soldiers stopped to look, then ducked as bright sparks, silver and blue, shot up into the sky. The sparks faded and Gabrielle ducked hastily as metal soared just over her head and embedded itself into the chest of the enemy right behind her. She reached out, wrapping her hand around the weapon as the soldier slumped to the ground. She held it up in front of her eyes, frowning. “Okay….” She drawled, holding the weapon up in front of her eyes. The golden design was gone and in the centre now sat an S shaped handle. “Now that’s weird….”



Khrafstar gasped as fire grabbed onto him. “My Lord…” He managed, then his eyes widened as a flame shot through his chest, flickering in front of him, white and enraged. “No!” Khrafstar screamed out as the fire enveloped him.



The battle was a blur. Men and women came at her from all sides and her instincts surged up and took over. Friend or foe, it did not matter any longer. She just swung out at anything near her, spinning the katana around and feeling it cutting through metal. Through flesh. Through bone. Vaguely she felt the warmth of blood sticking to her skin. She felt pain as blades got past her defenses and wounded her. But it was all muted by the adrenaline pumping through her veins.


Someone managed to kick the katana out of her hand and she blindly grabbed onto the chakram with both hands. It split into two equal halves. Gabrielle slammed one to each side, gutting two attackers at once.


A twist, a kick, the smell of blood, screaming. Gabrielle heard herself call out Xena’s name, repeatedly, like a war cry.  


A horn sounded from up ahead, but Gabrielle barely heard it as she ran after the fleeing Persians. She made a man trip and fall onto a sword blade, running over him and feeling him sink deeper onto the metal.


The sound of cheering rose up around her. Gabrielle stopped her pursuit, watching the enemy soldiers disappear back into the shadows of the pass.


She stood, blood liberally covering her armor, limbs and face.  A chant rose and Gabrielle vaguely realized that it was her name.


A soft whispering tickled her hearing. Her eyes searched for its origin, but there was only blackened grass and the occasional flame feeding on whatever remained. A small bush was being consumed by the fire.


Another whisper, faint, but alluring. The flames reached out towards her, like crooked fingers, beckoning her closer. She closed her eyes and the whispering became clearer. She could distinguish words now. Words in a language she did not know, yet understood.


Come to me. The flames hissed. Come, and I will reward you.


Gabrielle stopped, feeling the warmth of the flames on his skin, burning. It was… pleasant.


Join me. The flames whispered, tempting her. If you join me, I will spare her.


Green eyes snapped open and gazed at the fire. Then she turned her head, gazing back at the Greek camp.


Come to me! The flames tried again, but the whispering was fading as Gabrielle’s eyes stayed glued on the camp she could see in the distance. Without another look back she turned around fully and headed away from the pass.


Soldiers parted to allow her through. She could see their mouths move, could see them raising their swords in salute. She walked on, somewhat dazedly, then stopped.


A body was lying on the sand, its head turned away from her. Gabrielle walked closer to it, until she could see the face of the young man. It was Ellos, the young guard.


Gabrielle bent her head and closed her eyes, only a single tear escaping to sidle down her cheek. She drew in a deep breath. Then she reached down, wrapping an arm around Ellos’ body.


The chanting of her name slowly faded and the soldiers fell silent, watching as she lifted the fallen boy’s body onto her shoulder. Argo came to a halt next to her and she laid his body on the horse, then pulled herself into the saddle behind him. The soldiers stared after her as she silently steered Argo back towards the Greek camp.



The Persian General stumbled back into the camp, only managing to stay upright because of the spear he was leaning on. He glanced around, seeing wounded soldiers staggering past him, demoralized.


His eyes fell on a form, standing silently in the centre of the camp. His back was turned, but he recognized him as the Lord’s priest. His eyes darkened and he paced towards the man angrily. “What happened!” He snapped, reaching out to grab onto his shoulder. “You promised me the Dark Lord would be with us!”


He yelped out in pain as his hand burned. The priest turned around, calmly, and the General gasped as he saw flames flickering in the Priest’s dark eyes. The young man smiled, baring his bright white teeth. “I am.”



Xena blinked open her eyes, gazing up groggily, trying to figure out where she was. She lifted a hand and reached for her head, which was throbbing painfully. She groaned, then carefully pushed herself up a little.


“You should stay down, Empress.”

Xena glanced to her side, to find a physician standing at her bedside, placing a bowl of clean water on the bedside table. She frowned at him, then took in her surroundings. The soft sound of rain drizzling onto the fabric of the tent.


She instantly sat up further, swinging her legs out of the bed. It hurt like Hades.

“Empress, please!” The healer placed a hand on her shoulder, trying to push her back.

“I need to get back out there,” Xena hissed at him. “The battle….”

“…it ended, Empress.” The older man cut her off.

“It… ended?” Xena looked at him, confused.

“Yes. For now anyway. The Persians will be preparing for another attack, I am sure.” He took advantage of her confusion to inspect the cut on her cheek.

“We didn’t loose the pass?”

“No, fortunately not,” He looked up and smiled at her. “That was quite smart, Empress. Holding her back until the last moment. It surprised the enemy and motivated the troops. Very good thinking.”


Xena ran a hand through her damp hair, then her eyes shot up as the tent flap was pushed aside. Light poured in, outlining a form she instantly recognized. The flap fell back and the light was blocked out again, revealing the warrior fully. Both her skin and armor was liberally covered in blood. Her whole posture radiated anger. Xena swallowed. “Yeah,” she murmured softly. “Great thinking.”


She drew in a breath, then turned to the healer. “Leave us.”

“But, Empress,” the healer started to object.

“Leave us,” Gabrielle’s voice rose up in a low, threatening growl. The healer darted a frightened look at her, then hastily headed for the exit.


In any other circumstance that would have been funny. Xena’s eyes followed him as he walked around the warrior in a wide arch and quickly slid from the tent. She then forced her eyes to meet Gabrielle’s. The green eyes stared back at her menacingly. Her hair was disordered and blood-stained. Xena could see muscles twitching. She noticed a few cuts in her leather armor, and a wound on her shoulder and thigh.


She swallowed, unsure. “Are…”  Her voice broke a little. “…Are you hurt?”

Gabrielle looked at her, disbelieving, then a short, outraged laugh escaped her. “Am I hurt? What kind of a question is that?!” The green eyes blazed. “You drugged me!”

Xena winced. “I meant physically.” She tried.

“I don’t care what you meant!” Gabrielle snapped, throwing the katana she’d still held onto on the ground. The metal clattered loudly.


Xena dropped her eyes, drawing in a shaky breath. “I know, I know, I….” She closed her eyes. “I know you’re angry. I know I screwed up. I just….” She swallowed. “I didn’t know what to do. And all I could think about was you and how I wanted you to be safe. To live. And I….”


“Shut up!”

Xena bit her lip, turning her head away in pain.


“I love you!”

Blue eyes shot open, then turned back to look at the warrior.

Gabrielle stared back at her, breathing hard. “You tell me twice,” the blonde then snapped, advancing a pace on her. “And then you either… run off or… or drug me! And you don’t give me a chance to say it back so….” A shaky breath. “So there.”

The Empress blinked at her, a small incredulous smile slowly tugging at her lips. “I love you too.”  She said.

“Yeah… well, you’d better,” Gabrielle scoffed, staring down at her feet uncomfortably.


She felt a touch at her arm, long fingers wrapping around her wrist. She looked up. “Don’t,” she murmured, but obeyed nevertheless as Xena pulled her closer. “I’ll…” She vaguely waved her free hand at her blood-stained self. “I’ll get this stupid Persian blood all over you.”

“I don’t care,” Xena said in barely more than a whisper, pulling her even closer.


Their lips met. Gabrielle closed her eyes, trying to hold back the tears. She reached out, tangling her hands in Xena’s hair and pulling her closer, suddenly desperate for the contact. Arms wrapped around her waist and Gabrielle felt herself tumbling onto the small bed beside the Empress.


It was hard to breathe. Gabrielle leaned her forehead against Xena’s, keeping her eyes closed. Her hands, still clenched in the dark locks, were shaking.


Xena wasn’t doing much better. She glanced down at the blonde’s face. She hesitated a moment, then reached for the bowl of water at her bedside, finding the small sponge inside and squeezing the water from it. She then gently started to clean some of the blood off the warrior’s cheek.


Green eyes blinked open and looked at her from a very close range. “Warned you,” she murmured, lifting a finger and rubbing at a red stain on the Empress’s nose.

“Worth it,” Xena mumbled back, as she continued cleaning the warrior’s face. “Is any of this yours?”

Gabrielle absently let her fingers slide down the other woman’s jaw to her neck, resting her fingertips against her pulse point. The strong heartbeat felt reassuring. “A little of it.” She let her other hand slide down further, to touch the Empress’ bandaged abdomen. “How about you?”

“Took a few arrows in the gut,” Xena muttered. “Kinda stings.”

“Teach you not to wear such silly armor,” Gabrielle scolded her, glancing at the few bits of metal lying on a nearby chair. “I mean, please….”

“I just though it looked pretty.”

“Yeah, well….”  Gabrielle leaned closer, pressing kisses against her jaw. “From here on, you don’t get to look pretty anymore unless it somehow benefits me.” She looked up. “Got that?”

The Empress tried to suppress a grin. “Possessive little thing, aren’t ya?”

“You bet,” the warrior easily agreed, claiming her lips again.



Odilon loosened his hold on the reigns, letting the horse find its own way back to camp. He went past soldiers moving in the same direction.


The atmosphere was… odd. Many soldiers had picked up their fallen comrades and were carrying them off the battlefield, in spite of their own injuries. There was no more cheering, but Odilon could see their faces were set and confident.


His horse trotted up the hill and as it did a familiar form came into view. Odilon steered the horse to his left a little.


Cleopatra stepped off her chariot. Her lightly colored skin was glistening with sweat and she had smudges of red on her face. She looked up as a horse stopped beside her. “Ah. You did not kill yourself then? Good.”

Odilon shot her an angry look. “You left me behind,” he accused, as he swung his leg off the horse’s back and slid to the ground.

“Yes, I did,” Cleopatra easily admitted. “Would you have preferred I’d let her go alone?”

The spy rolled his eyes. “No. But you could have delayed her at least.”

Cleopatra chuckled. “There is no delaying Xena. She is stubborn as a mule.” The Egyptian regent looked down at a young female servant, who bowed deeply. She absently waved a hand at the servant, who bowed again, then ran away back to the Egyptian’s tent. “I have sent out my spies. First report is the Persians are taking their time to regroup. They are still numerous and it is not in their advantage to rush into another slaughter.”  She glanced at Odilon. “I’ll have time for a bath. Though you will ruin it and plan some meeting to talk of more killing, I am sure.”

“I’ll give you time to clean your act up,” the spy grinned at her, then sobered. “I heard you got her out.”

“I did,” the Egyptian confirmed.



Cleopatra smiled wryly. “I wish I could account Xena’s rescue to my own heroic actions. If we were to survive all this, that would benefit me greatly. Unfortunately I was merely a….” She pressed her lips together. “…pawn.” They walked on silently towards the Egyptian’s tent. Cleopatra finally spoke up. “We are not getting rid of this one, are we?”

Odilon repressed a smile. “No. I’m afraid not.”

“Pity,” the regent muttered. “She is more annoying and uncivilized than any of her predecessors.”

“She’s loyal though.”


Cleopatra shot a faintly amused look at the man walking next to her. “Ah, it has happened then.”


“You have fallen for her.”

Odilon snorted in outrage. “I have not.”

“Yes, you have,” Cleopatra retorted easily. “She has wooed you with her flashy tricks and her slaughtering.” She cocked her head pensively. “Men seem to find all this bloodshed appealing. I wonder why that is.”

Odilon rolled his eyes. “It’s not about appeal. It’s…” He sighed. “They love each other. I can’t say I understand it, but… They do. Who am I to stand in Xena’s way of a little happiness. She’s earned it.”

Dark eyes looked down at him, then twinkled. “You are soft-hearted.”

The spy scowled at her. “Am not.”

“Yes, you are,” she patted him on the cheek condescendingly, then walked into her tent.

Odilon looked after her with narrowed eyes.



Athena stood at the top of the pass, looking down on the battlefield. The wind picked up, blowing back her hair. She closed her eyes and tipped her head back, looking up at the dark clouds.


Footsteps sounded behind her, but Athena did not turn. She squared her shoulders though, taking on a more confident pose.


He stepped up next to her, joining her in looking out over the battlefield. “Pretty. Don’t you think?”

“It’s mostly your soldiers out there,” Athena said, folding her hands behind her back.

“Doesn’t matter,” He waved his hand at the air carelessly. “Bloodshed is bloodshed. Hatred is hatred. It all strengthens me.”

“If you are so strong, then why are you in mortal form?” Athena turned her head and looked at Him.

Dahak chuckled. “I am in mortal form…” He turned to face her. “…because you are not yet dead. Because this is not yet my realm.” A smile as the dark eyes flickered orange. “But that won’t be long.”


Athena looked away, staring at the stone under her feet. “Probably not.” She paused, drawing in a breath. “I have come to offer a deal.”

Dahak grinned unpleasantly. “Really?” He did not sound surprised though.

“I want you to spare me. And my family. I will…” Athena swallowed, trying to push away the rotten taste in her mouth. “…I will pledge allegiance to you. And rule Greece as Queen of my Pantheon.”

“Oh you will, will you?” Dahak looked amused. “And why would I let you do that?”

“Because I can get you what you want.”

“And what do you think I want?  Xena?” He laughed. “Xena will die soon. It is merely a matter of time. I do not need your help for that.”

Athena managed a smile. “You no longer want Xena.”

“The warrior will die with her.”

“If you want her dead, then why did you speak to her?”


Dahak folded his fingers together. “I will admit… she intrigues me. I had… plans for her. But they were disturbed.”

“She was a student of Lao Ma,” Athena informed him quietly. “She has great power. Not just physically.” She turned to Him. “I will deliver her to you.”

Dahak laughed, then looked down at her. “Very well,” he then said, his flamey eyes bearing down on her. “Deliver her to me. Have her join me. Willingly. And you will rule Greece.”

Athena managed to hold His gaze. “Consider it done.”



Gabrielle looked up as someone entered the tent. She looked at the visitor, then dismissed him and continued bandaging Xena’s shoulder.


Xena looked up as well. “Odilon.” She crossed her arms, but was rewarded by a smack from Gabrielle, since the movement disturbed the warrior’s bandaging.

Odilon looked at them in amusement. “Xena. See you’re being well taken care of.”

Xena managed to keep a stern look. “You come here to apologize?”

“For disobeying you and making sure you didn’t die?” Odilon smirked at her. “Fat chance.”


He focused his attention on Gabrielle, then held out his hand. Gabrielle looked at him, then at his hand. She reached over, taking the seal ring back from him.

“Thank you. For letting me borrow it.”

“Thank you. For…”  The warrior tried to repress a smile. “Disobeying her.”


The spy chuckled. “Be careful, Gabrielle. Don’t start liking me now. It will take all the fun out of our relationship.” He turned around before she could retort. “The Persians are preparing a new attack, but they are taking their time. Healers are looking after the wounded. The soldiers are resting. There is a meeting with the officers in a candlemark. I hope to see you there.” He turned to leave, then reconsidered. “One more thing.” He lifted his hands again, holding out two shards of metal. “You left this on the battlefield. I took the liberty of cleaning it up for you. It was kinda gory.”


Xena took the pieces of metal from him, staring at them with wide eyes. Odilon hastily exited the tent. “M…My…” Xena managed to stutter. “My chakram?” She looked up at Gabrielle, who was biting her lip apologetically. “You… You wrecked my chakram?”

“I uhm….” Gabrielle tried a smile. “Khrafstar tossed the white one at me. I threw yours up to intercept.”

Xena looked sadly at the metal, stroking it like a pet.  

“There was this… flash. Sparks. And then all that came back was this one chakram, looking all funny, with this sorta… S-shaped handle. And…” A breath. “I can’t really remember much after that. Fight got sorta blurry.”


Xena cocked her head, then moved the two half-circles around a bit and brought them closer together until…


With a soft click they slid back together. Xena split the weapon into two again, then merged it back into one chakram. “Cool.”  She smirked, grabbing onto the handle in the centre, testing the weight a bit, then flinging the weapon towards a tent pole. It bounced off the pole, then split, sending one end bouncing off the edge of the desk and the other off the bedpost. The two halves merged back together again. Xena scooped it out of the air, then grinned broadly. “Very cool.” She hesitated a moment, then glanced at Gabrielle. “So uhm… there’s just the one, huh?”

Gabrielle tried to smother a grin. “Yeeeees.”

“C’n I keep it?”

The warrior seemed to consider the question seriously. “Well… I don’t know…”

Xena pouted at her.

“I mean, the white chakram was the more powerful one and that was mine. So technically….”

Xena’s lower lip quivered.


Gabrielle chuckled, then leaned closer, kissing the quivering lip. “You can keep it.”

“Excellent,” Xena kissed her back soundly, before focusing her attention on her new toy again. “Love you.”

Gabrielle shook her head a little in amusement. “You’re just saying that ‘cause I give you weaponry.”

“Hmm?” Xena mumbled absently, inspecting one of the halves, trying to work out the mechanism.


Gabrielle rolled her eyes, then just snuggled closer, resting her chin on the Empress’ shoulder, watching her fuss over the weapon. “You know,” she murmured, nuzzling the other woman’s skin. “It’s kinda symbolic actually.”

“Symbolic?” Xena repeated, inspecting a tiny lever, concealed in the centre of the ring, where the two halves clicked together.

“Yeah, you know. We each had one chakram. And then they… connected. And now they’re two halves of a whole.”

“And the whole is way cooler because of it,” Xena continued her thought.


Gabrielle smiled, rubbing her cheek against the Empress’ skin, closing her eyes. Silence fell a moment, then Gabrielle spoke up again. “Hey, Xena?”


“Do you know that story about how people used to have four legs and two heads?”

The Empress smiled. “No. Sounds weird.”

“No, it’s actually quite nice,” Gabrielle countered, her eyes still closed. “This traveling bard told it to me when I was just little. It was my favorite story.”

“Yeah?” Xena turned a little, pressing a kiss to the top of the blonde head. “What‘s it about? Besides people tripping over their own multitude of feet…”

“Well…” Gabrielle thought back, then smiled as the words drifted up from her memory, much easier than she’d expected them too. “Once, a long, long time ago, all people had four legs and two heads.  And then the gods threw down thunderbolts….”


“So… You’re saying that before the whole thunderbolt tossing, we shared some legs?” Xena frowned, working out the mechanics of that. She winced. “That might make some stuff… kinda complicated.”

Gabrielle tugged her ear, scolding. “Shut it, Empress.” She shook her head a little. “It’s amazing how you can completely ruin such a romantic notion as sharing a soul.”

“It’s not the soul sharing I mind,” Xena corrected her. “Just…. Four legs, four arms.” She paused. “You know, I think technically that would make humans arachnids.” Xena yelped as fingers pinched her thigh. “Okay, okay, I’m shutting up.”


Gabrielle smiled, tightened a buckle. “How’s that?”

Xena wiggled her shoulders a little, wincing as her wounds ached at the movement. “Okay, I guess.” She glanced down at the faded brown leathers she was now wearing. “No bandages showing?”

“Nope,” Gabrielle settled some light metal armor over Xena’s head. “You look mighty and invincible.”

Xena snorted self-deprecatingly. “Don’t feel like it.” She smoothed her hand over the old leather. “Can’t believe this old thing still fits. Been years since I wore it last.” Her fingers trailed over a mended cut in the leather. “Lifetime ago. When I was a Warrior Princess. Not a Conqueror.”


Gabrielle moved a little closer, pressing a light kiss to the skin at the base of her neck. “Looks good on you,” she murmured, before placing a leather bit around Xena’s upper arm. “Definitely covers you better than those flimsy bits of metal.” Gabrielle circled around her until she came to stand in front of the Empress, adjusting the last strap on the metal armor. “Those Japanese make some great swords, but very sucky armor.”


Xena reached over, resting her arms on the warrior’s shoulders. She waited for the blonde to look up and meet her gaze. Xena absently twirled a lock of hair between her fingers, managing a smile. “How about we just… skip the meeting?” Gabrielle rested a hand against the leather covering her abdomen. “I mean, it’s not like there’s all that much I can say they don’t already know,” Xena continued on, explaining herself. “I could rest a little longer. You could tell me another story or something.” A grin. “I promise I won’t ridicule the amount of limbs or anything.”

The warrior smiled a little, reaching up and tracing her cheek with the back of a finger.


Xena held out a moment longer under the scrutiny of those green eyes, then she dropped her gaze, exhaling. “Just…. Just give me an excuse not to step outside just yet? Please?”

Gabrielle traced an eyebrow. “Why?”

“Because I don’t want to stop pretending,” the Empress murmured. “Pretending we are not on a battlefield with thousands of soldiers waiting behind a pass to kill us. Pretending I still have a life to live. With my daughter. With you.” She glanced up again, meeting the green eyes. “It’s such a pleasant illusion. I just wanna… hold onto that a little longer.”


Gabrielle looked up at her in sympathy. “I can’t give you an illusion.” She said softly, moving a little closer. “I only have reality.”

Xena inhaled a shaky breath. “There are too many.”

“I know.”

“We can hold them off a little longer but… I probably won’t see another sun rise.”

“Then neither will I.”

Xena leaned forward, resting her forehead against Gabrielle’s. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We were supposed to be… Happily ever after… You know?”


Gabrielle lifted her hands, laying her arms around the Empress’ neck. “Xena….  A minute with you, fills me with more life… than any ever after without you ever could.” She pulled back a little, waiting for blue eyes to meet hers. “No regrets. Okay?”

Xena drew in a breath, then finally managed a nod. “No regrets.” She repeated



Xena ducked out of the tent first. Apparently her tent had been watched closely, since eyes instantly turned in her direction. Xena squared her shoulders, feeling her armor shift lightly as she did so. She let her eyes roam over the watching soldiers, trying to exude confidence. Judging from the respectful nods and salutes she received, she seemed to be doing okay.


Gabrielle now appeared from the tent and stepped up behind her. Instantly all eyes turned to the warrior. Xena raised an eyebrow, intrigued. The men and women had looked at her with…. Respect. Loyalty. But when their eyes turned to Gabrielle there was…




Xena moved forward, walking towards Cleopatra’s tent, where the meeting was being held. The eyes didn’t move until Gabrielle did.


And it wasn’t just the young soldiers now. They’d liked Gabrielle before. But now even with the veterans, Xena could see something had changed. It was not so much adoration with them but…. Certainly admiration.


Xena repressed a smirk. “I smell a mutiny,” she mumbled under her breath, so only Gabrielle could hear.

The blonde looked up at her, confused.

“What kinda stunt did you pull to make them all look at you like that?”

Gabrielle glanced around, uncomfortably aware of the eyes focused on her. “I dunno,” she mumbled. “It’s all… sort of a blur now.”


They reached Cleopatra’s tent and the Egyptian guards outside saluted, then let them enter.


The Egyptian’s tent was, as only could be expected, the epiphany of comfort. A large tub stood in a corner, the sweet smell of rose peddles drifting up in the soft clouds of steam. In the other corner stood a large bed covered in cushions. On it Cleopatra was reclining. The Egyptian was looking rather bored. This was probably due to the topic of the conversation Odilon was having with several of her lieutenants and…


“Dorian,” Xena smiled, honestly pleased to see him. “Haven’t bothered to die for me yet, have you?”

Her Second in Command chuckled. He had a nasty gash running down his cheek, which had been neatly stitched up. Besides that and a bit of a limp he seemed fine. “I did try, Empress,” he replied. “But your Champion prevented it, I’m afraid.”

“My Champion?” Xena smirked, amused by this new nickname.

“Certainly,” Dorian inclined his head at Gabrielle politely. “The men have spoken of nothing else but her awe inspiring defence of you, Empress.”

“Really?” The Empress turned to the blonde.


Gabrielle glanced up at her and there was… the faintest hint of a blush. Then the green eyes rolled. “Exaggeration,” she mumbled.


“Did you see when she speared five Persians with one toss?” One of the lieutenants asked his companions excitedly.

“I was battling these two swordsmen. Huge fellows. And the next moment suddenly their heads drop down at my feet. I barely even saw her riding past, she was that fast…”

“That horse drove into those Persian ranks,” a third joined in, his eyes shining. “And they… they parted like the Red Sea.”


“The Red Sea never parted,” Cleopatra’s voice drifted up lazily as she gracefully rose to her feet. “They had boats.” She stopped in front of Xena and looked up at her. “So.”

“So,” The Empress repeated, looking back. “Another chapter…”

“Yes,” The Egyptian regent looked displeased. “I do hate longwinded stories.” She studied Xena another moment. “You look good. Considering.”

“I was well looked after.”

“Yes, so I heard,” The regent glanced past Xena to the silent Gabrielle. “It seems your pawn has been promoted.”

“Yes. A nasty side effect of drugging her, perhaps,” Odilon commented casually, giving them all a pointed look. “I know everybody here is in the mood to praise her blondness over there, but maybe we can save that until after the war council, hmm?”

“Yes. Please,” Gabrielle easily agreed, circling past Xena and joining Odilon to look at the map of the area. “Distract me with strategy. Quick.”

Odilon smothered a grin. “As you wish… Champion.”



Xena gave some last instructions to her lieutenant. The man nodded, then walked off towards his troops.


The situation was grim. Though they’d managed to hold the Persians off once, there had been many casualties. On both sides. But since her numbers were considerable lower, it hit harder. She’d had the element of surprise before, used some old tricks…. But she was sure Dahak’s forces wouldn’t be as easily surprised the second time around. Dahak had wanted to humiliate her, by quickly trampling over her. That hadn’t worked. He’d underestimated her. He wouldn’t do that twice. During the last candlemark they’d taken inventory of the remaining soldiers and she’d repositioned them across the battlefield. Infantry in front, archers behind them. She’d purposely positioned some of her weaker troops on the left. Maybe that would entice the Persians to strike there. It would mean some losses, but it’d allow her to move her cavalry over to flank the enemy troops. Odilon had taken it upon himself to cause a bit of a landslide in the pass, to slow the Persians down. His spies had reported the Persians were busy preparing, but weren’t moving just yet. They were probably waiting for dark.


The light around her was slowly darkening, painting the remaining clouds in beautiful shades of ochre and orange. Xena looked around and after a moment spotted a lone figure sitting on the hillside, separated from the army.


Moments later she made her way up the hill herself. As she came closer, green eyes looked at her a moment, then turned back to the horizon. Xena settled down next to the blonde, leaning back on her hands and wincing as her wounds stung painfully.

“You should go lie down.”

Xena snorted softly. “I’ll have enough time to lie down later.”


Gabrielle managed a faint smile. “Sorry I walked out of the strategy talk.”

“That’s okay.” Xena pulled a few stalks of grass free, twisting the green between her fingers.


They were both silent for a moment, before Gabrielle spoke up. “I was never in a war before. Just in… fights.” She mumbled. She turned her head a little, looking out over their camp and the battlefield beyond. Funeral fires were burning. The enemy’s dead were still littered across the battlefield. “I don’t much like war, I think.”

“Nobody likes war, Gabrielle.”

“You do.” Xena glanced up at her. Gabrielle was still staring at the horizon. Her throat moved as she swallowed. “You’re in there, moving dots around on a map like… Like they’re just dots. Not people.” She clenched her fists and unclenched them again. “Using weaker troops as bait.”


Xena frowned, confused. “Are…” A breath. “Are you mad at me?”

Gabrielle lifted a hand and rubbed at her eyes.

“I uhm…” Xena started to get up. “I’ll go back, take a look at the map again. Maybe I can…”

Fingers wrapped around her arm, holding her down. “No, just…”  Green eyes looked up and met hers. The eyes were red rimmed and tired, as if the warrior had been working hard to fight back tears. “I know that’s how it works. War.” A breath. “It just shouldn’t.”


Xena sat back down, reaching over and touching her cheek. “What’s wrong?”

Gabrielle dropped her eyes, snorting softly. “What’s right?”

The Empress remained quiet, waiting.

“It’s…”  The warrior glanced up, looking out over the camp unseeingly. “I just… dove in today. I saw you and… I ran and… It’s like my brain shuts down parts of itself. Like memory. Fear. Guilt. And I just fight. It’s instinct. Like it was in Chin.” She turned back to face Xena. “Everybody hated me for that. And now I do the exact same thing and… And I’m a champion. Explain that to me?”

“Well,” Xena took her hand, rubbing the chilled fingers with her thumb. “First they thought you were a psychopathic, bloodthirsty killer. And now… You’re their psychopathic, bloodthirsty killer.”

A soft snort. “Is that it?”

“To them it is,” the Empress said. “War makes stuff… Simple. I mean, it’s not simple before, with all the strategy and stuff. And after it’s over… That’s when the real tough stuff starts. But… the war itself… When you’re fighting. Then it’s simple. It’s black and white. There’s you. And there’s the enemy. And anyone who fights for your team is good. And the enemy is bad.” Xena managed a wry grin. “That’s why bad rulers like war so much. It uncomplicates things. You just keep fighting to keep everybody’s mind off the hard stuff.”


“They look at me like I’m going to fix everything,” Gabrielle managed, her voice slightly hoarse.

The Empress released a breath. “Gabrielle…”

“But those spies in there were talking about how many Persians there were and… And I thought… If I could just tap into Lao Ma’s powers… That…. That could hold an army back. At least for a while. Right?” 

“Maybe,” Xena allowed.

“So I came up here, to get away from it all, and I… I closed my eyes and I tried.” The blonde shook her head a little. “But all I saw was you falling in that battle and Khrafstar and the flames and….” Gabrielle raked a hand through her blond locks. “How pathetic is that?”


Blue eyes studied her a moment, then Xena drew in a breath. “You know… I once had a sorta similar conversation….”

Gabrielle turned her head a little to look at her.

“With this rebel,” The Empress continued. “Who had for some reason saved my ass, repeatedly, and was hiding me in her home. Don’t get jealous now, but… she was really gorgeous.”

The warrior couldn’t repress a chuckle, gently bumping Xena with her shoulder. “So you have a thing for rebellious blondes huh?”

“Totally,” Xena smirked at her, then turned more serious. “I told you before I believe in destiny. That some things are meant to be.” She glanced out over the battlefield, watching the setting sun colour it in shades of orange and red. “I would have preferred it if I’d been destined to… To see Caspar finish his classes with the highest scores ever recorded. Hear Niobe pronounce my name right.” She smiled wistfully. “I would have liked to see my daughter grow up. I always promised I’d show her Germania. I would have liked to have done that.”

Gabrielle moved a little closer, resting her cheek against the Empress’s shoulder.

“But I‘m meant to be here. To fight. To lead men to war. It’s how I started and…. I guess that’s how I’ll end. A fighter. A leader.” She leaned her head against the blonde’s. “You and I… Our destiny is to be different. To excel. And that means people will either hate you. Or they’ll worship you. I’ve had eyes turn to me since I was eighteen. And I learned…. I learned you have to block everybody else’s expectations out. And focus on your own. Focus on why you are here.” Xena closed her eyes. “For my empire. For my kids. For my daughter.”

“For you.”


Xena opened her eyes again and turned her head a little. Green eyes looked up at her. And she allowed the battlefield and the soldiers and the setting sun to fade, until those eyes became her entire world. “I think I would have lived the rest of my life with you.”

The green irises took on the faintest twinkle. “I think I would have let you.”


A horn echoed across the open plane then and they were both yanked back to reality. A small group of horses was coming from the pass, racing towards them. “They’re coming!” Odilon’s voice called out. “The Persians are coming!”



Niobe wiggled her feet so they sank deeper and deeper into the sand. First the sand was warm, but when she wiggled it got colder and wet. Niobe giggled, slapping the sand covering her feet.


The others were standing near the water. Cupid had a wooden board and was explaining something to Caspar. Aphrodite looked up from time to time and waved at her.


Niobe waved back. Dite was nice because she was pink and gave her sweets. And she always smiled.


Iona wasn’t near the water. Niobe looked around, finally spotting her, sitting on a sand dune. She looked sad.


Niobe pouted. Iona missed Xena. Niobe missed Xena too. Holidays were fun, ‘cause there was sand and sea and candy, but it would be more fun if there was sand and sea and candy and Xena. Because Xena made everything more fun.


But Xena would come later. She’d promised. They just had to wait. Niobe bit her lip. Maybe she could give Iona something. A gift. So she’d be happy again. Iona liked gifts.


Maybe Dite had more candy hidden away. Niobe wiggled the sand off her feet and stood up, toddling over to a pink bag lying near the rest of their stuff. The child sat down beside it and pulled it closer, sticking her hand inside.


Soon enough she felt something sticky. Niobe peeked inside to see a piece of candy sticking to her fingers. The toddler pulled her hand free and stuck the candy in her own mouth. Just to check if it really, really was candy.


It really was. Niobe sucked on it contently, then she cocked her head as she spotted something else. It was an envelope and there were letters on it. Niobe didn’t know a lot of letters cause letters were dull and not as much fun as pictures. But she knew how to write her own name. And then Iona had said that she could write Iona’s name too, because they were almost the same letters. So she could write Iona’s name. And on the envelope it said ‘IONA’.


Niobe pulled out the envelope and scrambled back to her feet. She would go give it to Iona. Maybe that would make her happy. She would….


“Whoa, hold up kiddo.”


Niobe looked up in annoyance at the hand that had grabbed onto her collar. “Leggo!”

“Sure,” Aphrodite loosened her grip a little. “Whatcha doin’?”

“Gots present for Jona,” Niobe told her, holding up the envelope.

Aphrodite’s eyes widened a trifle, then she reached for the envelope to take it back. But Niobe hugged it to her. “Give that back, sweetie. That’s mine.”

“No,‘s not,” Niobe said firmly. “Says Jona.” She pointed at the letters. “Jo-Na… See?”

“Yes, yes, I see, but….” The goddess drew in a breath. “Just uhm… How about I give you candy and you give me that back, okay?”

“Already gots candy,” Niobe countered, sticking out her tongue to prove it.

“I’ll give you more candy. And… And toys… And…” Then the goddess rolled her eyes at herself. “Geez, all this mortal stuff is making me act all kooky and reasonable.” She lifted a hand and snapped her fingers, a small cloud of pink dust drifting up from between her fingertips. The next moment the letter had vanished from between Niobe’s hands and had reappeared in Aphrodite’s. Niobe looked down at her empty hands, then pouted in dismay. “I’m sorry, sweetie, really I am. But….”

“Jona!!!!” Niobe started yelling at the top of her voice.

“Whoa, whoa, shhh!” Aphrodite hissed at her.


“Shhh! Iona can’t….”


At that moment Iona slid to a halt beside her sister. She was looking at the toddler in some panic. “What is it?”

“Dite gots letter for you.” Niobe told her sister. “No give. ‘s Bad.” She pointed a finger at the goddess. “Go takes it.”

Iona looked up at Aphrodite with a puzzled expression, then her eyes moved down to look at the envelope in the goddess’ hands. Her name was written on it. It was Xena’s handwriting. “You have a letter for me?” She asked, advancing on the goddess. “From mom?”

Aphrodite took a step back, swallowing. “Oh boy….”

Iona’s eyes narrowed dangerously. She lifted a hand. “Give it to me.”

“Oh boy…” Aphrodite repeated, clenching on the letter a little tighter, just before a strong force sent her flying back.



Athena’s head shot up as the presence of a power much greater than her own suddenly made itself known to her. She closed her eyes, searching. Then with a bright flash she disappeared.



Xena settled herself in the saddle, feeling her side sting painfully as she did. She touched the faded brown leather covering her side tentatively, feeling the small bump where the bandages were.

“You okay?” She heard Gabrielle ask in a low tone, as Argo pulled to a halt beside her.

“Hurts like Hades,” Xena mumbled back, managing a wry smile. “But as long as I can hold a sword and my new fancy chakram, it’ll do.” She hesitated a moment, glancing up at her troops, who were hastily running around, reforming the lines.


This was it. The last stand. Her final act. She hoped the history books would take note of it.



Green eyes looked at her. “Yeah?”

“When the fighting starts, I want you to stick to me like glue.” She reached over, taking the blonde’s hand. “You and me. Back to back. Okay?”

Gabrielle gently squeezed the hand holding onto hers. “Okay.”


“Xena!” Odilon called out from the front of the lines, waving her over.

The Empress released a breath, then lifted their joined hands. She kissed the back of Gabrielle’s, before loosing her hold and taking hold of the reigns instead, steering Chilon towards the front lines. Gabrielle followed behind quietly.


“Look,” Odilon said as the Empress halted behind him. He pointed forward, towards the pass, where Xena could make out the pile of gray rocks blocking the exit. As she watched the rocks shook, as if from a small, very local earthquake. A large bolder slid from the top and thundered down.

As Gabrielle drew up beside her, the rocks shook again. The blonde frowned. “What is that?”

“I don’t know,” Xena murmured pensively. “Maybe… Maybe they’ve got a battering ram or….”


Suddenly flames shot into the air just behind the rock wall. A roar echoed from the pass, rolling towards them and growing louder and louder. At the same time the entire pile of rocks exploded, sending flaming boulders flying in all directions.


“Look out!” Xena called as a giant bolder headed right for their camp. Men and women ducked as the boulder flew just over the lines of soldiers to crash into one of the tents, completely destroying it. Chilon jumped, his brown eyes wide. Xena glanced at the large boulder, then faced forward again, looking at the pass.


Smoke had filled the area between the stone walls. A moment passed, then another, then the smoke parted a little and one lone figure stepped forward. Dressed in dark robes, the wind toying with his red hair.


“Khrafstar,” she growled, grabbing onto the hilt of her sword.

“No,” she heard Gabrielle say in no more than a whisper. She looked at the warrior, who was watching the figure in the distance, staring at him with an unreadable expression. “No,” she repeated again, her voice slightly hoarse. “It’s Dahak.”


As she spoke the name Dahak lifted his hands and flames erupted from the earth around him.  A roar of a thousand voices came from the pass and the smoke parted again to now reveal countless soldiers marching forward steadily.


Xena heard the gasps around her, the soldiers whispering to each other in anxious voices. Even Dorian, standing at the head of the cavalry, seemed taken aback by this immense show of power.


“Xena!!!!” Dahak’s voice boomed over the battlefield in a deafening roar. “Your life ends today!!!”


Gabrielle felt her world dissolve into a blur. She vaguely heard Xena’s breathing, Odilon’s curses and the frightened murmurs of the soldiers standing behind her. But it was only vague as Dahak’s power called to her. The power she’d felt as he had lifted her up in the flames, the one she’d felt as he had spoken to her just after the previous battle. She felt it emanating from across the battlefield, clutching at her. It was alluring. Seductive. Intoxicating.


And she wanted to destroy it.


Without another thought she pushed her heels into Argo’s flanks, making the mare jump forward. She grabbed for the hilt of her sword and unsheathed the metal, yelling at the top of her lunges.


And her yell was answered by female voices as dozens of horses swarmed around her. Gabrielle blinked, then looked to her left to see a brown gelding thundering up next to her, its rider’s curly blond hair blown back by the wind. Hazel eyes turned, then winked at her. “Hi.”

“Ephiny,” Gabrielle breathed.

“Didn’t think I’d let you have all the fun without me, now did you?” Ephiny called out over the thundering of hooves. Then she pulled her own sword and lifted it into the air. “Amazons!!”

The Amazon warriors roared, drawing their own weapons as their horses raced towards the Persian front lines.



“Give it to me,” Iona repeated again, in a low voice, her eyes narrowed to slits.  

Aphrodite scrambled back to her feet. “Sweetie, please, calm down before… Ahh!” She was sent scrambling back again as Iona used her powers to push her further back.

“What’s going on?” Caspar asked as he came running up. His little sister instantly latched herself onto his leg, clearly frightened.

“Hey!” Cupid hastily passed by him, reaching for his cousin. “Iona, don’t…”


Without even turning around Iona lifted a hand and moved it back and Cupid froze in mid motion, unable to move.

Caspar glanced from the girl to the frozen god, blinking. “Whoa… Didn’t know she could do that…”


Meanwhile Iona had advanced on Aphrodite again, and she stretched out her fingers towards the letter. Aphrodite tried to cling onto it, but a power much stronger then her own pried it from her fingers and send the folded parchment flying into Iona’s hands. “Iona, please…” She tried. “Xena said I couldn’t give it to you. Not until after…”

“After what?” Caspar asked, confused. “What’s going on?”


Iona ignored them all though, hastily tearing at the seal and unfolding the parchment.



Argo dove forward into the first line of Persian infantry. Gabrielle took a firmer hold on her sword, then swung it down, into the skull of a Persian man. Soldiers surrounded her now, coming at her from all sides. One grabbed onto her leg, tugging hard in an attempt to dislodge her. Before he could the back of a spear slammed into the side of his head. Gabrielle looked up to see Solari twirl the weapon around with a single hand before driving the point into an exposed bit of neck.


A loud battle cry rang over the battlefield. The next moment a dark stallion thundered up beside her, trampling over the soldiers at her other side. “What the Hades was that!” Blue eyes flashed at her, before Xena drove her chakram into a nose.

Gabrielle repressed a grin. “Not my fault if you can’t keep up.”

The Empress growled, kicking a Persian in the face while backing her sword into another.


A motion caught her eye and on instinct Xena grabbed behind her for a dagger, flinging it to her right. Solari’s head shot up as she felt it rushing past her ear. A pained gasp sounded behind her and she turned just in time to see a soldier who’d ridden up dangerously close to Ephiny, tumbling off his horse. His sword still clutched in his raised hand.


The Amazon’s eyes flicked back to Xena. But the Empress did not look back, her face grim as she fought of the soldiers who were swarming around her.



Iona swallowed as she saw words in black ink. Her name, written in Xena’s firm handwriting.




I know you must be mad now. Mad at me, for leaving you. For not telling you. I wish it could have been different. But it isn’t.


When you were born… I remember how I held you for the first time and your eyes blinked open, all hazy and dazed. And you looked at me and I was saved. Saved from the meaningless life I’d been living. Cause suddenly there was meaning. Because there was you.


You saved me. And now it was time for me to save you back.


The ring I gave you will make people listen to you. It is my seal. Use it to get as far away as you can. Hide. Don’t be stubborn. Don’t do anything stupid.


I love you. More than anything. Always remember that.




Iona stared at the parchment, letting the written words sink in. Letting their meaning sink in.


Then she screamed.



It was Xena who fell first. A dagger drove into Chilon’s flank and the horse reared in pain, Xena tumbling off behind him. Dust drifted up around her as she fell to the ground, muting a yell as her wounds hurt almost unbearably.


She opened her eyes to see a metal blade soaring towards her head. But before it could reach her a wooden staff moved over her protectively, swiping the blade away. A hand reached for her and Xena grabbed onto it, allowing to be pulled up.


And she was face to face with a hard-breathing Thalia. Their eyes met, only for a brief moment. Then the battle collapsed on them again as enemy soldiers rushed towards them.


Thalia grabbed onto the end of her staff and swung it forward as hard as she could, smacking a soldier in the face. A rushing of air next to her and when she turned her head, there was Gabrielle, fending off the men coming up behind her. The warrior delivered a vicious roundhouse kick, then took a step backwards, pressing her back up against Thalia. The redhead drew in a breath, quickly reaching behind her to touch her friend’s side. A hand covered hers for the briefest of moments.


“Xena! Are you okay?” Gabrielle yelled over the fighting.

“I just got my ass saved by a peace-loving rebel,” the Empress growled. “How do you think I am??”

Thalia actually laughed at this, then quickly ducked as a sword came soaring in her direction.



Her world was tumbling apart. Iona let the parchment fall from her shaking fingers, staring ahead of her with wide eyes.


This couldn’t be happening. Xena had said… She’d….


A bright blue flash lit up the twilight. Iona’s head shot up to look at the new arrival.


Aphrodite looked up as well, then groaned hopelessly. “Oh, no….” She pushed a hand up against her face, watching everything fall apart. “No, no, no, no….”


Athena ignored her sibling though, focussing solely on Iona. She looked at the girl, the tearstained eyes, the parchment lying on her feet. “Iona.”

Iona just stared back at her, breathing hard.



It was weird, Xena thought, as Ephiny came up on her left, Solari close behind. Here she was fighting shoulder to shoulder with people all of whom she’d once called enemies. Not that they were friends now. They were fighting for Gabrielle. Not for her. She knew that.


But she’d come here, thinking she would die a heroic death in battle. Alone. So this…. Was still weird.


A roar echoed through the valley. Xena gutted her opponent, then looked up to see flames rising up not too far away, coming closer. She heard soldiers scream in terror. She hesitated a moment, then glanced behind her. “Gabrielle!”

“I know!” The warrior called back, glancing at the friends fighting at her side. Behind them she could hear the sound of hooves thundering towards them. It was Dorian. “Go! I’ll be right behind!”


Xena drew in a breath, then nodded a little to herself. She slammed the hilt of her sword into a soldier, creating some space around her. She then pushed herself up, flipping over their attacks. She landed on the ground behind them, then started running towards the flames.



“Come with me,” the goddess said simply, holding out a hand. “I can take you to her.”

“Back away from her!” Cupid called out. “Don’t listen to her, Iona!”

Iona swallowed, not even hearing him. “Is… Is my mom…?”

“She is fighting Him,” Athena said, calmly. “She is still alive. But she won’t be for long. Not unless you come with me. Only you can save her.”


“You bitch!” Aphrodite yelled, circling around Iona to stand in front of her. “She is just a child!”

Athena made a negligent swipe at the empty air, sending Aphrodite tumbling to her knees.


Iona swallowed, glancing down at Aphrodite, who looked up as she did. The brown eyes pleaded with her silently. ‘Don’t,’ the goddess mouthed. The girl stared at her another moment.


Then she looked up at Athena. She stepped forward, taking the goddess hand. “Take me to her.”

Athena let a grin to slip onto her face, darting a last look at Aphrodite, before she disappeared in a flash of blue. Taking Iona with her.



Xena gutted one man, slammed her elbow into another, ducked under a third. She beat back Persian after Persian until…


The warmth of the flames touched her skin suddenly and she stopped, looking up to find Khrafstar waiting patiently for her. Or at least the figure that looked like Khrafstar. He smiled and fiery orange sparks lit up his eyes. “Hello, Xena.”

Xena moved her weapon in front of herself protectively. There was some space here, the Persian soldiers fighting in a circle around their master.

Dahak chuckled. “Now, you do know that won’t do you much good, don’t you?”

“Served me well enough last time,” Xena shot back, trying to control her breathing.

Another chuckle. “Oh please. You don’t really believe you actually defeated me then, did you?” He lowered his voice to an angry hiss. “And this time there is no icy river to toss me in. No God King to hold me entrapped.”

“No. There’s just me.” Xena countered, then raised her sword and rushed for him, swinging the katana at his neck.


Dahak lifted a hand, flames shooting up from his palm to form a sword. He almost negligently used it to block her strike. Then he twisted around, his dark robes fluttering around him gracefully, as he kicked out at her legs. Xena jumped, then ducked as Dahak swung his weapon at her side. She tried a counter attack, but Dahak swatted her katana aside again, then punched his fist forward, hitting her in the face. Followed by a kick against her abdomen, jarring the wounds there. Xena barely managed to smother a scream.


“Oh, did that hurt? So sorry.” The Persian God drawled sarcastically, then laughed in clear delight. “I do love playing games with you, Xena.” He commented, as he lifted his sword overhead and brought it down. Xena only just managed to block his weapon, trying to hard to push it back but failing. “I could kill you in an instant. Drive flames into your heart. And poof.” He brought his face closer to her, seeing the fear in her eyes. Feeling the fear. “But this is much more fun.”



Iona felt dizzy as she felt her feet land on ground again. Athena had a firm grasp on her arm, to steady her. Iona blinked her eyes. The bright blue flash had blinded her. There was noise in the distance. Screams and yells and the clattering of battle. It smelled of smoke.


And now slowly her surroundings came into focus and she could see she was standing on a hillside. There was a camp to her left and in the distance she could see men and women fighting. In the centre of it all she saw flames. And she saw…



Iona started running down the slope of the hill as she spotted her mother. Athena’s hold on her arm held her back though.

Iona, wait!” The goddess hissed at her, her voice anxious now. “Calm down!”

“I can’t calm down!” Iona shot back, spinning around and looking at Athena. “My power works when I feel strong emotions! You told me that!”

“Yes, yes, I know,” Athena quickly agreed. “But when you moved things for the first time, in the agora, the emotion you felt most was fear.” She knelt down, grabbing onto both of the girl’s shoulders. “Dahak feeds on fear. You can’t fight him with fear. You’ll lose.”

Iona drew in a shaky breath, darting an anxious look over her shoulder at the battlefield. “But… But then how….”

“Dahak fights with hatred,” Athena told her. “That’s a very strong emotion. It makes him very powerful. But the power you have inside you is stronger.”

Iona frowned, not understanding. “It can’t be. I’m just….”

“It’s Ares’ power,” Athena cut her off.


The girl stared at her with wide, confused eyes.

“Do you remember the well that spoke to you? On the island I took you to when we had just met?”

“Of… of course,” Iona stuttered. “You… You said it was nothing.”

“I lied,” Athena told her bluntly. “The Well of Segais foretells what is to come. Like our oracle at Delphi. All this time we have been searching for the power Ares had. The power he hid.” Athena’s eyes looked directly into bewildered blue ones. “He hid it in you. You’re it. You are the one.”


“You are the one,” Iona heard the voice from the well in her head. “He will come for you. And you will lose. One way or the other, you will lose.”


“Ares was stronger than Dahak is now,” Athena continued. “If you use hate, and unleash your father’s powers, you will win.” The goddess’ dark eyes bore into Iona’s. “Do you understand?”

Iona swallowed, then nodded her head. “Yes.”



A yell sounded just beside him and the next moment Dahak felt the body he was in being pulled sideways, away from the Empress. He thudded to the ground, then hastily got back up again to see Gabrielle doing the same, standing in front of Xena. He grinned broadly. “Aw… Now isn’t that sweet. The girlfriend coming to the rescue.” He looked directly at Gabrielle, letting her eyes bore into hers. “You have immense potential for hate. I can feel it, bubbling inside of you. Waiting to be let out. To be set free.”

Gabrielle swallowed, feeling a strange sensation in her belly, as if the hatred was in fact physically bubbling up there.


With a shifting of air the chakram soared past her. With amazing speed it moved at Dahak, cutting through his wrist before he could defend himself. He dropped his sword, the blade evaporating into smoke before it could hit the ground.


Dahak hissed, looking down at the wound in his arm. “Oh, did that hurt?” Xena drawled as she got back to her feet, slightly limping. “So sorry.”

Dahak’s fiery eyes looked up at her. Then he grinned. “I am the flames within.” He moved his hand over the wound and the next moment it was burned shut, leaving only a charred scar. “You can wound the body. But I don’t feel pain.”


Gabrielle looked at the whole scene. Fear was trying to take a hold of her. Fear of Him. Fear of death. But she managed to push it back. She took a more firm hold on her sword, then she rushed forward at the Persian Deity.


Dahak merely caught the blade in his hand, clearly not feeling any hurt as blood seeped from his palm onto the blade. Then with force he pushed the blade backwards, sending Gabrielle flying back.


Xena had moved up behind him and with a yell drove her chakram forward. Before she could reach Dahak though a hand grabbed onto her neck, lifting her right off the ground. She felt the heat emanating from him as his hand turned to flames once more, circling around her skin. She squirmed in his hold, struggling for air.


Dahak laughed loudly. “That’s it, Xena,” he taunted as she looked down at him with wide, frightened eyes. “Give me your fear. Make me stronger.”



Thalia only just managed to duck under a sword tip as she tried to fend off a strong Persian soldier. Ephiny was fighting at her side, the Amazon expertly slamming one chobo into a stomach and then crashing the man’s skull with the other.


Ephiny had taught her some staff moves on the boat over here, after she had insisted. The Amazon Queen was a good teacher, but unfortunately she was a lousy student. Thalia blindly swung her staff forward, somehow managing to hit her opponent in the head and knock him out. There wasn’t much time to celebrate though as two more rushed at her. The staff saved her again, as its length managed to block both their attacks.

“Watch it!” She heard Ephiny’s voice call out, and the next moment one of her attacks hunched over in pain. Metal flashed and then embedded itself into his neck. Ephiny pulled it free again, then refocused on her own safety.


That left her with one attacker. She brought the weapon down, somehow hitting him on the toes. He hopped back, hissing in pain. Then he raised his sword, rushing at her furiously. Thalia held up her staff, hoping it would miraculously block him again, when….


The Persian groaned. Thalia looked down, to see the tip of a sword penetrating from his chest. The sword was pulled free and her attacker sagged to the ground, to reveal the figure standing behind him.


“Toris,” Thalia breathed, not believing her own eyes.

“Hi,” Xena’s brother flashed her a brief smile, then hastily ducked as a spear was lunged at him. He turned and smoothly drove his sword into another Persian. “Fancy meeting you here.”

Thalia poked her staff at another Persian and backed up a pace, so they were fighting back to back. “I thought you were leaving!” She called out to him over the fighting.

“I was,” Toris responded, gritting his teeth as a sword was brought down on his own.

“What happened?” Thalia couldn’t help to ask, as she kicked a soldier in the shins as hard as she could.

“Well,” Toris swung his sword around his body defensively, not unlike his sister. “Though I still don’t like the thought of fighting with Xena… I realised I like you more than I hate her.”

Thalia felt a silly smile claiming her lips. She turned to face him. “Really?” 

She managed to duck just in time as Toris tossed a dagger into a Persian attacking her from behind. “Whoa!” She quickly turned around again defended herself. “Fighting first. Romantic stuff later. Check.”



Suddenly yells drifted up from behind them. Dahak frowned, looking past Xena. The Persian soldiers that had been surrounding him were backing up. A soldier was sent skyward with a scream.


There was power there. Dahak closed his eyes, ignoring Xena’s struggles as he tried to recognise that power. He frowned, then opened his eyes again. “Ares?”


A last soldier stumbled backwards and fell, to reveal a form heading towards him. Not of Ares. But of a young girl in a tattered tunic. Her blue eyes met his fiery ones. “Well, well…” Dahak cocked his head in interest. “What is this then?”

The girl advanced on him, lifting her hand. “Let go of my mom!”


Dahak stared at her a moment longer. Then he started laughing uncontrollably. “Oh, this… this is precious!” He turned his eyes back to Xena. The Empress was staring ahead of herself with disillusioned eyes. She was pale as a sheet. “I get to take Ares’ powers, destroy your daughter…” He took hold of Xena’s chin, forcing her to look at him. “My Deliverer promised you I would make you watch helplessly while I destroyed all that you love. Remember?”

Xena swallowed, staring down at him, unable to speak.

“It’s time I make good on that promise, I think.”


With his free hand he grabbed onto the chakram, then he threw Xena backwards. The Empress fell to the ground, her back now turned to Dahak. Her hands and knees scraping harshly over the rocks as she braced herself. She bit back the pain though and started to get up.   


Dahak glanced down at the chakram in his hand a moment. Then with an almost negligent toss he sent the weapon soaring.


Xena arched back as she felt a deep, sharp pain in the centre of her back. The sound of metal clattering onto rock sounded loud to her ears. Then her legs gave out and she fell back to the ground, the small pebbles scratching open the skin on her cheek. Her eyes stared mutely in front of her, where she could see the chakram slowly circling to a halt. There was blood on it. Fresh blood.


“Xena!!!” Gabrielle scrambled back to her feet and stumbled towards her. She fell and crawled the last lengths over to Xena’s side. The Empress was trying to use her hands to push herself up. Gabrielle hastily reached out, wrapping her arms around Xena’s shoulders to support her.



“Mom!!” Iona cried out, starting towards her mother. But then she heard Dahak laugh. And she paused, remembering Athena’s words.


Dahak fed on fear. She couldn’t be afraid for her mom. If she was then he would win.


Iona looked as Gabrielle fell to her knees beside Xena, then slowly she turned to Dahak. He was watching the Empress, still laughing. Iona’s eyes narrowed to slits. “I hate you,” she whispered at him, raising up both her hands and focussing all her will on him. “I… hate… you….”


A force exploded from her palms, rich and angry. Power surrounded her, liquid like water, as if she were bathing in it.


The next moment Dahak’s feet left the ground and the Persian deity was send hurtling back.



Athena watched anxiously from her position overlooking the battlefield. The power Iona was capable of summoning surprised her. She had told the girl the powers she had were greater than Dahak’s. And that hadn’t been a lie. But there was a big difference between holding a weapon and being able to wield it. Iona held a great power, but she had no experience in controlling it.


And she was a mortal, not a god. For a god, accessing divine powers was a natural thing. Like breathing. But for mortals, accessing these powers was like trying to breathe when someone was squeezing your windpipe shut. You could pull in gasps of air, but it took effort. It was tiring.


She would have preferred to give Iona ambrosia, to make her a god. That had been her original plan. But Xena had destroyed her ambrosia and there had been no time left to find more of the scarce item. She had to take a gamble, and send Iona into battle as a mortal. From the looks of it though…. Her eyes sparkled as Dahak flew backwards. From the looks of it, her gamble was paying out.


“That’s it, Iona.” She encouraged the girl from afar. “That’s it… Take him down.”



The air shivered and Gabrielle looked up, watching as Iona attacked. A darkness, an anger radiated from her.


She turned back and looked down at Xena. Blue eyes looked up at her. Gabrielle swallowed when she saw the mixture of pain and sadness there. “Come on!” She urged, as she started to help the Empress to her feet. “Get up!”

“I can't, Gabrielle.” Xena’s voice broke as she spoke the words. “It's my spine. I can't move.”


Green eyes just stared at her, panicked. “N…No, you… you have to. Come on!” She tugged at Xena’s arm, helplessly.

“I can’t,” Xena repeated again, fighting back the tears. She reached out and touched the blonde’s cheek, forcing their eyes to meet. “Look at me.”

Green eyes darted left and right.

“Look at me!” Xena repeated again. And now the wandering eyes did focus on her. The Empress reached out blindly with her hand, her fingers touching metal and lifting it. She held out the chakram to Gabrielle. “Go. Save my daughter.”

“No,” the warrior shook her head feverously, knowing the Empress was helpless now. “I won’t leave you.”

“Yes, you will,” the blue eyes forced their will upon her.


“You can’t protect me!” Xena harshly informed her over the noise of the battlefield. “I’m going to die. I knew that before I even came to this battlefield. I was going to die to make sure my daughter lived! Don’t make my death meaningless. Save her.” Xena held out the chakram to her again. “Please.” The eyes gentled, became pleading. “Please.”


Gabrielle hesitated a moment, torn. Then she drew in a shaky breath, closing her eyes a moment. She stroked Xena’s cheek with her fingertips, then leaned closer, kissing her. She felt a hand wind in her hair as the kiss was returned.


The moment lasted far too briefly and she pulled away, looking at Xena through teary eyes. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” the Empress replied in a hoarse voice.

Gabrielle kissed the palm of the hand Xena had laid against her cheek. Then with obvious effort she rose to her feet, taking the chakram from Xena’s hand with shaking fingers.



“We need to go after them!”

Aphrodite covered her face in both her hands. “Dahak will destroy us if we do.”

“I know that, I…” Cupid tossed up a hand in frustration, pacing restlessly. “We need to do something! We can’t just sit here and wait!”


Niobe stared at the two squabbling gods in great confusion. She bit her lip, then turned to seek out her brother. She found Caspar standing a few steps away, holding the parchment Iona had dropped, reading it. She toddled over to him. “Caspie, whe’d Jona go?”

Caspar didn’t respond. His dark eyes were anxiously skimming over the letters. “Xena…” He breathed.

“Sena?” Niobe repeated. “Jona go find Sena?” She smiled. “Is good!”

“No, no, it’s not good,” Caspar shook his head firmly. “It’s not good at all.”


“What about the kids?” Aphrodite hissed. “We told her we’d make sure they were safe!”

“They’re safe here,” Cupid countered. “We can zap in there, get Iona, zap back here. Then we take the three of them and run.”

Aphrodite hesitated.

“Come on, mom! We have to help her! She’s just a kid. And she’s family.”

“I know, I know,” Aphrodite raised both her hands. “Okay, let’s do that. Zap there, zap back.” She swallowed, squaring her shoulders in an attempt to gain confidence. “We can do that.” She raised her voice so the kids could hear. “Guys, just chill out and stay put. We’ll be right back.” Aphrodite, raised her hand, ready to snap her finger.”

“Oh no you don’t!” Caspar hastily dropped the parchment and started running, his sister clinging onto him. He reached out, grabbing onto the folds of Aphrodite’s dress just as the Goddess snapped her fingers. All that remained on the beach was a cloud of pink.



Dahak spread out his hands and let unseen forces pull him back onto his feet. Iona pushed her hands forward again, but this time the force she had sent soaring towards him missed him as he stepped aside gracefully. In return he sent a ball of fire soaring towards her. Iona’s eyes widened, then she jumped, only just getting out of the fire’s way in time.


Another ball of fire went soaring towards her and she rolled aside again, covering her head as the flames hit a rock inches away from her and sparks went flying.


A knife was lying next to her. Iona looked at it, narrowing her eyes, focussing as hard as she could. Instantly the weapon rose from the ground. The next moment it went soaring in Dahak’s direction.


The Persian deity made no attempt to halt the weapon and it thudded into his chest. He grabbed onto the hilt, pulling it out, reaching out to heal the wound “You can’t hurt me, g….”


He felt another item impact. He looked up to find Iona had raised her hands, palms up. Her eyes were open, but unfocused, as if she were in some kind of trance. The weapons that had fallen in combat, scattered around him, were rising from the ground. One by one they came flying at him. An axe hit him in the side. A spear tip struck his thigh. A sword cut into him. And another. And another.


There was no time to heal the body he was in. No time to mend the wounds. A dagger came soaring at him and Dahak angrily wiped it aside with his hand. But at the same an arrow pierced his lung on the other side.


Dahak gasped, stumbling back a pace, reaching for his throat.



Xena looked at the scene, helplessly but suddenly hopeful. She looked in amazement at the weapons lifting up from the earth and launching themselves at Dahak. Maybe there was hope. Maybe Iona could do it.


A yell sounded behind her suddenly and she looked around to see some Persian soldiers had spotted her and were charging towards her now.


Xena gritted her teeth, then flipped herself around. She reached for her boot, pulling a dagger tucked away against her leg. It was odd. Knowing she should feel the metal brushing against her leg, but didn’t.


She didn’t have time to ponder over this though, as the first soldier came within range. She pushed herself up on one hand, then slashed the dagger into his leg, cutting through the skin. He fell and with a savage move she withdrew the dagger from his leg and then plunged it into his eye socket.


Blood sprayed over her, but she ignored it as a sword plunged into the sand inches from her. She took the whip the Persian she’d just killed had strapped to his belt and snapped it to her right. The whip wound around his neck. With a firm pull, she broke his spine. He fell to the ground, gurgling. “Hurts, don’t it?”  Xena growled at him, before tossing her dagger towards her next victim.



Iona drew in a breath, laboured. The effort it took to focus, to use her powers was clearly great. Her hands were shaking and her body was strained. With even more speed then before item after item was slung at Dahak. The Persian god was speared, a sword drove into his gut, an arrow into his neck.


Dahak stumbled again, then fell to his knees. The fiery eyes turned to Iona in rage. Iona met them with an almost vacant expression. Then he fell forward, dust drifting up as the body hit the earth.


Iona stared at the fallen body of Khrafstar silently, her laboured breath forming clouds in the cool evening sky. Then she felt the last bit of strength fading and her legs collapsed under her.


Before she could hit the ground though, arms wrapped around her and gently guided her to the ground. Iona tipped her head back, finding Gabrielle’s face hovering over her. “Iona? Are you okay?”

Iona managed a nod. The haze of hatred that she’d called upon was slowly fading. The real world coming back into focus. “H…” She cleared her throat. “How’s mom?”


Gabrielle drew in a breath, then shot a look over her shoulder to see Xena holding two Persian’s at bay by swinging a whip around. She hastily reached for the chakram Xena had given her, measuring the angles, then letting the weapon fly.


The chakram bounced off a rock, then off the Persians’ foreheads. The soldiers slumped down. Instinctively Xena reached out and caught the chakram out of the air. She paused a moment, then half turned.


Their eyes met. Xena looked at her, then at the body of Khrafstar lying slumped on the ground behind her. Then at the girl Gabrielle held cradled in her arms. She closed her eyes, exhaling in obvious relief.


Gabrielle smiled. “She’ll be fine,” She answered Iona’s question. “Now that you’re okay.”

“I’m…”  Iona drew in a breath. “I’m tired. It’s so hard….”

“I know, sweetheart.” Gabrielle hugged the girl. “But you’ll be fine now. It’s over and….”


The roar was so loud its force pushed against them, actually driving them back a few inches. Iona looked up, then her eyes widened in fear as flames suddenly burst from Khrafstar’s body, rising up right onto the skies. The clouds turned a deep red, reflecting the flames eerie light back down to earth. The fire spread until it covered half of the clearing. The heat was incinerating and Iona raised her hand, trying to shield her eyes from it. Behind her, Gabrielle hastily scrambled to her feet.


Iona swallowed heavily, suddenly finding it hard to draw in breath. A laugh rung in her ears. Not from outside, but from inside her head, it seemed. “Did you think it was over, little girl? It’s only just begun.”



Gabrielle quickly stepped in front of the fallen girl, unsheathing her sword. “Iona, run!” She instructed in a yell as the flames rose higher still.

“I…” Iona tried to get up, but her muscles felt weak. “I can help you…”

“No!” Gabrielle spared a look for the flames, then quickly turned around, kneeling and grabbing onto the girl’s chin. “Your mom’s hurt. They will try to kill her. Call Chilon. Try to get her out of here. Okay?”

“But….”  Iona breathed. “You…”

“I want you to be with your mother.”


Blue eyes gazed up at Gabrielle. Then Iona looked over her shoulder to find Xena swinging her chakram around in an attempt to hold off an attacker. The Empress managed to push the Persian back a moment then shot a quick glance over her shoulder, at her.


Xena was afraid. She’d never seen Xena afraid.


A roar sounded again and Gabrielle hastily spun around, clasping onto her sword tightly. The flames burned against her skin, tendrils reaching out in al directions. Gabrielle swung her sword at them, but the metal just passed through, not harming the fire.


Iona hesitated another moment, torn. But then she pushed herself up. She stumbled to her feet, turning around and heading towards her mother. Xena’s anxious eyes met hers another moment, then Xena had to refocus on her own safety as three more Persians came running at her. Iona lifted her fingers to her mouth and whistled loudly, hoping Chilon would hear her over the battle roar. She then focused all her energy on tapping into her powers again. “Move away from my mother,” she mumbled, letting her rage build with each word. She then swept her hands at the empty air. Moments later the Persians were soaring backwards.



An orb of fire soared towards her and Gabrielle could only just slam it aside with her blade. She instantly had to drop the weapon though, the fire having charred the wooden hilt of her sword.


A flame suddenly reached out, hitting Gabrielle in the side and knocking her out of the way. It then soared right past her, reaching for the fleeing Iona.


Gabrielle reacted on instinct, reaching down and pulling her only remaining weapon free. It was the hind’s blood dagger. She got her legs under her and then dove forward, driving the dagger into the flames.


The weapon seemed to have an impact on Dahak. It didn’t seem to hurt him. But the tendril of fire that had been speeding towards Iona was instantly halted, pinned down to the ground by the blade.  


Dahak roared in anger and the tendril of fire moved about restlessly around the weapon, trying to free itself. Gabrielle gritted her teeth, struggling to keep the fire rooted. She needed to keep it pinned down just a little. She looked up, seeing Iona had nearly reached Xena. Just… a little… longer…



Iona!” Xena managed to push herself up a little, looking at her daughter. “You need to get out of here!”

“Not without you!” Iona yelled back as she reached her, dropping to her knees beside her mother. She looked her right in the eyes, her gaze intense and fiery. “You are stupid! You are stupid for sending me away and getting hurt. And… And you write stupid notes… And…” Then she gave up wrapping her arms around her mother’s and hugging her tightly.


Xena closed her eyes, wrapping her free arm around her daughter and pulling her closer, needing the contact desperately. “I wanted to protect you,” she managed, hearing her voice break. “I was told it’s what mothers do.”

Iona drew in a breath, then backed up a little. Her eyes were watery. “Can you walk?”

Xena shook her head.

“Okay,” Iona sniffled, but squared her shoulders. “I… I need to get you a horse. I…”



Xena looked up over Iona’s shoulder as she heard Gabrielle’s panicked scream. The warrior was clinging onto the hilt of a dagger that was pinned into fire. A giant flame had wrapped around her abdomen and was pulling her backwards. “Gabrielle!”

“I can’t hold him off!!” Gabrielle yelled over the battle. “Get out of here! Now!!!”


Iona spun around as well, her eyes widening as she saw what was happening. She drew in a deep breath, pulling out her last bit of strength and focussing it on the flames which entrapped Gabrielle. She thought of what Dahak was doing to Gabrielle. What he’d done to her mother. And when she’d summoned up enough hate she lifted her hand and pushed it towards him.


The air vibrated as the force that shot from her palms raced towards Dahak. It hit right where she had aimed, it hit the flames but….


The flames flickered for a moment, as if slightly stirred by the wind. But Dahak’s hold on Gabrielle remained strong.


Again, she heard Dahak’s voice in her mind. Stronger now. “You can’t destroy me! You can’t destroy pure rage! Pure hate!” 


At that moment Gabrielle’s grip slipped. The flames laughed, then flung her away carelessly. Gabrielle flapped at the air helplessly as she was sent soaring up.

“Gabrielle!!” Xena yelled out, watching helplessly as the blonde vanished in the darkness of the night.


A flame shot up on her left then and before Xena realised what was happening the flame had wound itself around Iona’s ankle. The girl scrambled for a hold as the fire was pulling her back.

Iona!!!”  Xena reached for her, managing to grab onto her wrist.

“Mom!” Wide blue eyes looked back at her in panic. “Mom, help me!!”

“I’ve got you!” Xena reached out with her second hand, managing to get a hold on the girl’s arm. “I’ve got you!”



Gabrielle felt the gravity getting a hold on her again. Dahak had flung her up high and now she was falling, faster and faster. She looked down, seeing nothing but hard, rocky soil in the twilight. Seeing no way out, she closed her eyes, hoping the end would be quick at least.


An odd sensation suddenly, as if something soft surrounded her. Her fall seemed to slow. She frowned, then opened her eyes.


She hastily lifted a hand to shield them from the bright white light that was surrounding her. She felt her feet touching ground. A moment, then the light faded. Gabrielle blinked, then looked up.


Athena looked back at her calmly. “Hello, Gabrielle.”



Another flame shot closer, hitting Xena in the face like a whip. Xena gritted her teeth though, keeping her eyes focused on Iona, tightening her hold. Another strike against her arm, against the hand clinging onto Iona. She managed to hold on still, but her hand was sweaty and she could feel her hold slipping. She grasped desperately for a better hold, but then….


She felt Iona’s finger slip past hers. The fingertips clutched onto hers for a last moment, and then…. “Iona!!” She shouted in panic as the girl was dragged backwards.



Gabrielle narrowed her eyes at the goddess. A multitude of insults presented themselves.


Then she heard Xena scream. Iona scream. Dahak had flung her far away from the fighting and she was now looking out over the battlefield from atop a hill. She spotted the flames in the centre of the battle. One was raising up a girl. “No!” She yelled, and she forgot about Athena and turned around.


“Wait!” Athena’s hold on her arm was strong. “Don’t be a fool!”

“Let go of me!” Gabrielle snapped, moving her arm back and slamming her elbow into the goddess’s nose, in a desperate attempt to break free. Athena winced, sniffed, but kept her hold on Gabrielle. “What do you want to accomplish, running back there? He will just lift you up and fling you away again. I might not be able to catch you next time.”

“I don’t care!” Gabrielle snapped back, her eyes blazing. “I am going to protect them. For as long as I can.” With a sharp tug she managed to get her arm freed. She started back towards the battle 


“I know a way you can save them both.”

Gabrielle stopped, paused, then turned around again, looking back at the goddess. “What?”

Athena closed the distance between them. “He wants you. You know that, don’t you?’


Gabrielle swallowed, the frightening images of Khrafstar hovering over her in that clearing near Athens. Of Dahak’s flames rising her up and entering her skin. “Yes.” She managed, her voice shaky.

“We can make a deal with him,” Athena said. “Give yourself up. In exchange for their lives.” Athena dropped her voice to a whisper. “The battle will end. Nobody else has to die.”



Iona screamed, clutching at the empty air as she was raised up high. A flame circled around her neck, turning her around so she was upright again. She was being brought closer and closer to the core of the fire. The heat was scorching.


She heard the sound of her mother’s screams. But they seemed distant as tendrils of fire surrounded her, she sound of the fire’s hissing slowly shielding out all other sounds.


The core of the fire shifted, left and right, then spun. Iona pulled back as she saw a face in the flames now, eyes and a mouth shaped by dark holes in the bright fire. 


The hollow eyes stared at her. “You are…. Interesting.”  She heard Dahak’s voice. There was no more roaring now. The voice was calm. Calculating. “You have Ares’ power. Made of hate. Darkness. Yet at the same time, there is a light. An innocence.” A chuckle. “It is a shame you are his child. And Xena’s. Otherwise, I might have let you live.”


Fire reflected off metal. Iona looked down to see the hind’s blood dagger slowly rising inside the flames. It soared up until it was right in front of her. And then…..


Iona gasped as the metal plunged into her stomach.


The ground started to shake. In the distance, vaguely, she heard her mother’s voice, screaming her name. Iona swallowed, blinking her eyes which were glazing over. She looked down at the hilt protruding from her abdomen. Little slivers of light, like drops of blood, slid from her skin, onto the blade and then fell, entering the flames.


Then suddenly a bright, pink orb soared past her, impacting with the flame holding her up. There was a sharp hiss, and the flame holding her up extinguished, all that remained a thin sliver of smoke. The next moment, she was falling.



Aphrodite stood, breathing hard as Dahak’s flames turned to her, flickering from a simmering red to an icy blue up in clear fury. When she’d spotted Dahak holding Iona, she’d acted on pure impulse, not thinking about the consequences.


The consequences were made painfully clear though as greedy flames headed towards her. Aphrodite hastily lifted her hands, managing to create a shield around her. The flames impacted with it, slamming at the pink shield furiously. Aphrodite closed her eyes, her hands shaking as she tried with all her strength to hold the flames at bay.



Hands were clutching at her arms, then Iona felt a pull. Slowly she was moving away from Dahak. She drew in a heavy breath, then managed to lift her head a little. She blinked. “Caspar…”

The boy didn’t respond though, as he was working hard on dragging her away from the flames. The ground was still shaking and it was hard for him to keep his balance.

“Caspar, you have to get away from here,” Iona managed to say.

“We all have to get away from here,” Caspar spoke up through gritted teeth. He pulled Iona a bit further, having managed to get her at least several yards away.


He looked to his left, to see Xena crawling towards them. He was about to head for her, when…



Niobe’s wild scream made him look up to see a huge flaming orb soaring in his direction. Caspar hesitated a moment, then let go of Iona, jumping in front of her protectively.


The ball of fire soared closer and closer, then was flung aside as a bright arrow impacted with it. Caspar swallowed, then looked behind him to see Cupid drawing his bow for a second time. Niobe was clutching onto his leg, her eyes wide and frightened.


“Cupid!” Aphrodite winced as a flame broke through her defences. “Cupid, we need to get them out! Fast! He’s too strong!”

“You’re telling me!” Cupid yelled back, releasing his bow and hitting another fiery tendril before it could reach Caspar.

“Get ready!” Aphrodite drew in a breath, then let the shield she’d built up around her drop away. She quickly rolled out of the way, the flames passing her only by inches. She scrambled the few feet over to where Caspar was standing. “Go!”  She pushed Caspar towards Cupid. “Get them out.”

“But mom…” Cupid started to argue.

“I’ll get Iona. Now go!”

Cupid hesitated another moment, then grabbed onto Caspar’s shoulder before the boy could protest. In a flash he disappeared from the battle.



It was an odd feeling. Iona stared ahead of her mutely, the swirling of flames all that she could see. Sounds had faded. Her stomach hurt, but it was a strange, numb pain. Slivers of light were still dripping from the wound, along with blood now. The blood stained her tunic. The slivers of light flew towards Dahak.


She tilted her head back a little. Through the haze she could see Xena, pulling herself closer with great effort. She was muddy and bloody and burnt. Blue eyes met hers for a moment. Iona stared into them and smiled.


A flicker of pink caught her attention as Aphrodite launched a pink orb straight at the flames reaching for them. They pulled back as the pink ball impacted. Pulled back like you pull back your hand when you get stung.


A hand touched her face and she looked up, seeing Aphrodite’s face hovering over her. Aphrodite was saying something to her, but she could only see her mouth move. Instead she spoke up herself. “It’s… It’s got to be you….”


“Huh?” Aphrodite stopped what she’d been saying, staring at Iona in confusion.

The girl drew in a heavy breath, then reached out, her hands weakly finding Aphrodite’s and lifting them up. “He said… He said I can’t destroy hate. He’s right, I… I can’t…”

“Sweetie, it’s okay, you…”

Iona moved Aphrodite’s hands to cover the hilt of the hind’s blood dagger. Her own hands still covered Aphrodite’s. The goddess stared down at the dagger and her hands. Then her eyes lifted, in sudden realisation what the girl was doing.

Blue eyes looked straight at her. “It’s about power,” she said, repeating Aphrodite’s words of a day before. “You just need a little more of it.”


And with that Iona pushed Aphrodite’s hands down on the hilt, driving the blade in deeper.


The slivers of light that had been dripping from Iona’s wound and had been winding their way towards Dahak, suddenly changed course and hurtled back around. At the same time the skin around Iona’s wound lit up in a searing bright white as something moved up through the girl’s skin. The light wiggled and moved, apparently trying to free itself. Then it did and with a sudden, immense speed it hurtled itself right at Aphrodite. The goddess tried to move back, but failed as the light impacted with her chest, greedily entering her skin. Aphrodite gasped, her eyes widening.


To be continued

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