Path of Thorns

Part XII



The earth had already been shaking, but now the world practically exploded with movement, soldiers and horses falling left and right, unable to keep standing. Cracks formed in the ground, as the earth tried to compensate for all the movement.


Athena’s head shot up in complete shock at the sudden eruption of power she could feel. It was so strong it pressed on her chest, making her breathing quicken. She lifted a hand to her throat, touching the heaving skin there.


It was out. Ares’ power had left its vessel. Which meant Iona….


“Noooo!!” Xena’s desperate scream was echoing across the battlefield now, over the roar of the earthquake and Dahak’s flames. Gabrielle instantly reacted, turning and running back toward the battlefield in a feverous sprint.


Athena stared after her a moment, confusion temporarily overpowering her ratio. Dahak must have killed Iona. And the power Iona had held inside must have transferred to him. That… That hadn’t been part of the plan. Iona had been holding him off. And she was just trying to talk Gabrielle as a backup, to…


There was no more hope. If Dahak had added Ares’ powers to his, he was too strong to….


Then she got to her senses, realising that she had to substitute guesses for facts. In a flash of blue she transported herself right onto the battlefield.



The earth had stopped shaking, and around her soldiers scrambled back to their feet. They were in her way. Gabrielle elbowed a Persian in the face. There were three more blocking her path and she just stormed into them blindly.


Hands grabbed for her and she felt a sharp pain as metal touched her thigh. She struggled, but then the next moment horse hooves shot past her, hitting one of her attackers right in the head. A second Persian was run through. Gabrielle looked up, finding a familiar face looking back at her. “Dorian!”

“Gabrielle!” Xena’s Second in Command tossed his sword at her and she caught it, spinning around and taking the head off her last assailant.

“Where’s the Empress?” Dorian called down to her. “What’s going on!?”

“I don’t know!” The warrior called back to him. “Get whatever cavalry you can find and storm through there!” She pointed at the fire roaring up ahead. “She’s there. She’s hurt. Get her out!”

“On it!” Dorian obeyed the order without a moment’s hesitation, spinning his horse around to collect the rest of his cavalry.



Athena spun around, searching. After a moment her eyes fell on Iona. The girl was lying on the ground, completely still. Her tunic was torn and bloodied, a dagger hilt protruding from her stomach. Behind her, Athena could see Xena desperately clawing at rocks and dirt, trying to crawl closer. Her face was bloodied and tear-stained.


Athena spared another look for the still child, then her eyes found the figure standing just left of her, her back turned towards her. With swift paces she moved closer, grabbing onto Aphrodite’s arm and spinning her around. “What ha…?!”


Her eyes widened then as she looked into her sister’s face. Aphrodite’s skin was glowing, golden. Her brown eyes looked confused. But at the same time there was a… a depth that…


“You?” Athena asked in complete disbelief. “You killed her? For his power? You?”

“Of course I didn’t kill her!” Her sister argued instantly, darting a look at Iona. “She’s not….” She stared at the small, still body. “I… She…” She released a shaky breath, her eyes growing watery. “Oh no….” She took a step closer. “No….”



Iona!!!” Xena sobbed, her voice hoarse from screaming.


She couldn’t think. The pain was tearing through her as she pulled herself closer to her daughter, the gravel getting in her wounds. That pain was nothing though compared to the feeling of her heart being ripped out of her chest when she’d seen….


She can’t be dead. She can’t be dead. Xena repeated it to herself like a mantra. She can’t be dead. My daughter can’t be dead. She fainted. She’s unconscious. She’s hurt. But she’s not… Another uncontrolled sob racked through her. She’s not….


Footsteps running closer and yells. Xena heard them, vaguely, but she ignored them, not caring anymore.


Persian swords unsheathed and were raised and then… A weapon embedded itself in thick leather. A large brown eye looked at the Persian soldier, who was wildly tugging at his blade, then Argo snorted in outrage, before snapping her teeth at him. The soldier scrambled back in shock, then the mare reared, waving her front legs at the soldier and hitting him in the face with a hoof. A moment later a second soldier was sent flying back as Argo’s hind legs hit him square in the chest.


Xena breathed heavily as she looked up at the mare towering over her. Argo sidestepped, neatly placing herself between the soldiers and Xena. Then she bent her head, her wide nostrils blowing warm air onto the Empress’s chilly shoulder. Xena lifted a hand, touching the horse’s soft nose with weak fingers.


She glanced at Iona, then back up at the mare. She could never climb onto the horse’s back. But… With a huge effort Xena pushed herself up a little, reaching out and wrapping a hand around the mare’s stirrup, dangling off her saddle.


Argo snorted, but understood, as she started to move forward slowly, dragging Xena behind her. Dragging her closer to Iona’s still form.



She caught a flash of blue out of the corner of her eye then and instinctively she spun around and raised a hand. A pink sphere flew forward and impacted with the tingling blue orb Athena had hurtled at her. The two forces impacted. Sparkles flew as the blue orb exploded instantly, the pink one passing right through as if Athena’s powers were nothing more then a breath of air, a puff of smoke.


Athena yelled as she tried to fend the pink sphere off, flying back several feet before impacting harshly with the ground. She looked up, stunned, to find Aphrodite’s brown eyes staring back at her with an equal amount of surprise.


The Goddess of Love stared down at her own hands, which were still tingling pleasantly. “Wow… That was… Wow….” She glanced up, her eyes finding Iona’s pale face. “She… She gave it to me…. She knew what she was doing, she….” Her gaze shifted, to the fire roaring close by.




When she was only a few feet away, Xena let go of Argo’s stirrup. She crawled, ignoring the pain and the blood and the sand getting into her lunges. Then she was at her daughter’s side and she reached for her face, touching her cheek.


It was cold.


Iona?” Her voice was faltering as she turned the girl’s head to face her.


Her eyes were closed. She wasn’t moving.


Iona? Iona, please…”  She stroked the pale skin with shaking fingers. “I’m here now. I’m here.” She reached for the child’s hand, lifting it up and kissing the back. “Please. Please, I….” She choked on her words, unable to go on hoping.


Her daughter was dead. 


Her scream of agony echoed across the battlefield.



Dahak’s flames shivered as Xena’s pain surrounded him. The Persian deity laughed. It had not all gone as he had planned perhaps, but this…. He relished the moment as Xena screamed out a second time. This is what he had wanted. To make her suffer. To break her. 


He soaked up her pain. Her defeat. And his flames rose even higher. His victory now was a certainty.



Her breathing choked in her throat as Gabrielle heard Xena’s screams. Knowing instantly what it had to mean. Tears prickled at her eyes.


But the sadness was no match for the rage that swept over her. She clenched Dorian’s sword in her hands and swung it forward with a scream of her own, cutting deep into a man’s midriff.


Persian soldiers and Greek ones fought around her, but she no longer made a distinction between them now. They were all just men standing between her and Xena.



Aphrodite stared at the Empress, who held her daughter cradled in her arms. It was so sad. The goddess felt a tear sidling down her cheek. It wasn’t fair.


Fire warmed her skin and Aphrodite turned to see Dahak’s flames roaring up. She could hear the Persian god laughing.


It pissed her off.


Aphrodite lifted both her hands in front of her, holding them about two feet apart. Forces formed and grew and shifted and then she pushed them forward.


Pink, heart shaped drops soared at Dahak, impacting with a large fiery tendril. A high shriek pierced the air as the tendril dropped to the ground, as if it had been severed. The tendril of fire squirmed on the ground another moment, then died out as sparks of pink descended on top of it. 


Flames shifted and turned towards Aphrodite as they had before. But this time the Goddess faced them, no longer afraid. “Guess what?” Aphrodite said, as she formed a pink ball and pulled her hand back. “Love just started hurting.”



Xena rested her chin on Iona’s head, rocking back and forth. She closed her eyes. Exhaustion overtook her. Her arms, her chest felt heavy.


“Wait for me,” she murmured softly, near her daughter’s ear. “Wait for me at the Styx. I won’t be long.”



Fire and pink lit up the dark skies. Aphrodite drew in a ragged breath, then flung another ball of energy to fend off a fiery tendril.


She had never before felt this powerful. It was amazing. But Dahak’s power was great, and he had wielded it longer than she had.


A ball of flames slid past her defences, and Aphrodite hastily dived to the side, just managing to avoid it. She scrambled back to her feet. A flame reached for her, but she just stomped on it, then swung her hand forward. A burst of pink sparks flew towards Dahak and the Persian God hissed as it cut into him.


Clearly she was hurting him. But every time a flame was extinguished, another grew and strengthened. It was a tie, it seemed.


Movement caught her eye as a small group of horses thundered into the clearing, carrying Xena’s colours.


The fire crackled, then a large flame suddenly shifted, speeding away from Aphrodite and towards the horses.


“No!!” Aphrodite hastily extended her hands, raising a shield over the horsemen before Dahak could reach them.


It was an opening and Dahak took it without hesitation. His flames reached out. Before Aphrodite could focus back on her own defence, flames wrapped around her neck and lifted her from the ground.



Footsteps came closer. Xena wanted to ignore them, but her instincts betrayed her and she opened her eyes. The eyes then narrowed. “You!”

Athena stopped, looking down at her. Her expression was blank. Unreadable.

“Get away from me!” Xena snapped at her, her blue eyes blazing. “You brought her here! You killed my daughter!”

“I did not kill you daughter,” the goddess of wisdom said quietly. “Which is not to say that I wouldn’t have, if I’d had the chance to.”

“Bitch!” Xena blindly reached for the nearest weapon at hand. Which was the hind’s blood dagger that had killed Iona. She grabbed onto the hilt and wildly swung it at the goddess.


She was weak though and unable to use her full body weight to speed the weapon. Athena easily smacked her aside, making the Empress release the dagger. The force of the blow flung Xena around, exposing her back to Athena.


With the last of her power Xena pushed herself up to….


She gasped in a breath then as a simmering heat enveloped her lower back. Only vaguely she felt a hand touch her arm. She realised it was Athena’s and wanted to shrug it off. But the heat blasting against her spine was too intense.


Xena pressed her eyes shut tightly. Her head was throbbing, her hands were shaking and her legs….


Blue eyes flew open.


Her legs were hurting. She could feel her legs hurting.


Then just as suddenly as the heat had started it vanished. The cold night wind blew against her back, where the leather had been cut, cooling the skin there. Xena drew in a breath, then she slowly sat up. Everything felt sore, but… She moved her foot, then tentatively she reached out and touched a knee.


Her head shot up then, to look at Athena. The goddess towered over her. “It will still hurt for some time. But the pain will fade.”

Blue eyes stared at her in disbelief. “You… You healed me?”

“Yes.” Athena folded her fingers together. “As you may recall, I have the ability to heal.”

Xena stared at her another moment, then her eyes flicked to Iona. “You…”  She scrambled over to her daughter, wrapping an arm around her and raising her up a little. “You can heal her.” She looked up at Athena hopefully. “Heal my daughter.”



“What do you mean no?” Xena snapped at her, her eyes wide and panicky. “You healed me. Now heal her!”

Athena knelt down next to them, so she was eye to eye with the Empress. “She is dead,” she said. “As a god, one time I could heal the dead, but… not anymore. My powers are too little now.”


Xena stared at her another moment, the inkling of hope she’d been given fading again. She hid her face in Iona’s hair, clasping the girl’s cold hands in her own.



Aphrodite struggled, her hands clasping at the flame circling ever tighter around her neck. Don’t fight me, Love. She heard Dahak’s voice snarled in her head. I will make it quick. The fire dug into her skin and Aphrodite felt her Dahak’s rage bearing down on her.


But before it could over power her, an arrow whisked by and hit Dahak just inches in front of Aphrodite’s eyes. The fire shivered, and the hold on her loosened just a little, allowing Aphrodite to breathe. “Cup…” She started as she turned her head, expecting her son to have come to her rescue.


Artemis drew back her bow again, letting another arrow fly.



Athena looked at Xena, as the Empress dissolved into helpless sobs. Then she turned her eyes to Iona’s pale face. A moment, then she allowed a small smile to tug at her lips. “Well played, Iona.” She addressed the girl. “You figured it all out. You outsmarted the Goddess of Wisdom.” She reached out a hand, her fingers gently touching the pale skin. “You win.”



Aphrodite blinked in surprise, then a flash of green caught her attention and she turned to her left to see Artemis’ twin brother Apollo had appeared. The god drew his own bow and sent an arrow soaring towards a flame which had been heading towards his sister.


Another flash. And another. Dahak’s flames twisted in confusion as forms popped up around him. Flames hissed as a watery trident turned fire to smoke. Aphrodite glanced over her shoulder to see Poseidon’s large shape rising over the mountains, waving another trident over his head. A deep green orb shot from Hades’ hands and impacted with the flame holding Aphrodite up.


Dahak lost his hold on the goddess and Aphrodite landed back on the ground. She stumbled but soon refound her balance.


She looked up then, her eyes sliding from left to right, from one family member to the other. A smile slowly spread across her face.


“Mom!” Wings flapped and she turned to find Cupid landing just behind her. “What’s happening? Are you okay?” Cupid’s eyes studied her anxiously. “I took the kids back to the beach, and then I felt like this… this tingle, you know? And… And what’s with the whole of Mount O. lined up to….”

“Cupie,” Aphrodite reached out and patted her son’s cheek. “Mommy’s kinda busy now killing the evil Persian. Get back to you in a sec, okay?” The Goddess of Love then turned around and raised her hand, forming and then tossing a ball of pink electricity in one smooth movement. The ball of pink impacted with the core of Dahak’s flames, and the Persian God shrieked out in pain. The flames grew smaller.


“Whoa!” Cupid stared at the flames, then at his mother, then at the flames again. “Whoa!” He repeated again, his eyes sparkling. “That’s nifty!”



It was a bright white glow. Xena looked up in confusion. Through her tears she could make out Athena’s fingers and the white light that streamed down from them to touch Iona’s skin. “Wh….?” She drew in a breath. She turned to look at the goddess’ face. Athena had her eyes closed, focussing. Her skin seemed… a little paler then it had before. “What are you doing?”


Athena didn’t speak. The light flowing from her hand stroked Iona’s cheek, then entered the skin, sinking away and disappearing.


“What are you doing?” Xena repeated again, more anxiously now. “Athena? Tell me wh…”


The glow stopped emanating from Athena’s fingertips then, very suddenly as if it had… run out. Athena dropped her hand, leaning it on the ground for support as she swayed a little from exhaustion. She drew in a breath, then coughed.


“What did you do?” Xena insisted. “You said you couldn’t help her.”

Athena drew in another breath, more slowly this time. Then she lifted her chin to meet Xena’s gaze.


The Empress frowned. Something was different. Her eyes were… duller somehow. Seemed….


Her heart stopped. Then it resumed beating with redoubled effort. Her eyes dropped down to look at Iona’s hand, which she still held in her own. She stared at the fingers wrapped around hers.


They moved.



Dahak roared. The Greek gods surrounded him now, and one after the other they attacked. Arrows, balls of energy and waves of pink hearts and dust kept blazing at him. He could barely defend. There was no time to recuperate.


He was shrinking. His flames, which not long before had risen up to touch the clouds, now rose only metres above the earth. He struggled, reached up again. But his flame was instantly quelled as Hephaestus’ chains snapped at it.


The flames flickered, frail now. Goddess! Aphrodite heard his voice calling out to her, threateningly. You are too weak to lead them!

“Weak huh?” Aphrodite growled back as she extinguished another flame.

You may be strong today, but your reign will be short. A laugh, mockingly. Who has ever heard of a Love Goddess at the head of a pantheon?!  

Aphrodite stopped, gazing into the flames.

Gods. Mortals. They are led by War. By Lightning bolts and Thunder. By strength of arms. A pause, then more seductively. I can show you. Call your family back, and I will show you.


A hand touched her shoulder then and Aphrodite turned her head. Athena’s blue eyes looked back at her.


The eyes darted over to Dahak’s fire, then back at Aphrodite. “Ignore him. Finish it.”

The goddess of love drew in a breath, smiled, then faced forward again. “The rule of War is over,” she murmured, drawing back her hand. “And don’t I just love it.”



Xena looked at their entwined hands as if in trance, then her head shot up again to look at the girl’s face. Eyelids twitched, then blinked open, revealing bright blue eyes. “M…” A cough. “Mom?”


It was hard to breath. Surely… Surely she was dreaming…. The Empress reached out, touching her cheek with shaking fingertips. The skin was still clammy, but… warm.


“Urgh,” the girl lifted a hand, touching her temple. “My head hurts. Wh… What happ….?” She coughed as all the air was pushed from her lunges. Arms wrapped around her tightly, pressing her close. “M…Mom!” The girl managed to get out. “Need to breath!”

“Sorry, sor…I….” Xena hastily loosened her hold, leaning back a little and cradling the girl’s head in her hands. “I love you. I love you so much.”



It was an unpleasant tingle. Nothing much, really, but it caught his attention. Dahak’s flames swirled around, focussing on it.


He roared in utter fury as his eyes fell on Xena. On Xena and the girl she held cradled in her arms.


No!!! A cold blue flicked in the fiery centre. He had won! Not moments ago, he was invincible! And now…


He could return to Persia. He could vanish into the east, until he had regained strength. And he would. But not without her. Not without having destroyed Xena.


Angrily, he abandoned his own defences, sending a flame soaring towards her.


I love you so much.


The emotion was powerful. Like water. And it swept over him, circling the flame he’d sent towards her. The flame died out instantly, leaving nothing but smoke and smouldering ashes.


A flash of pink came at him from the other side. And before he has the time to recover and defend himself, a pink orb impacted.


It was large and powerful and in his lust for revenge he had not managed to deflect any of his power. Pink dust covered him completely, forming a shield over him, cutting of the air on which he fed. Then, slowly, it started shrinking. And so did he.



Aphrodite stared at Him, breathing hard. Through the pink haze, she could see Dahak’s flames shifting. Struggling. A muted scream was heard. Then the flames shrunk and thinned down.


And finally with a final hiss they died out, becoming no more then smoke.


A moment of complete silence passed, then the spot where Dahak had been moments before seemed to implode. The earth sank away, carrying nothing but ashes with it.



Gabrielle swung at a shape in front of her. She felt the blade touch skin. Then suddenly… Nothing.  The weapon swung through thin air. Gabrielle looked in confusion as the soldier that had been blocking her path faded, shrivelling up to a cloud of black smoke, before disappearing into the earth.


She looked around her to find that the same was happening all around her. Of the hundreds of Persians that had stood between her and Dahak’s flames, now only a few dozen remained. The flames that had raised op in the distance were gone.


There was a moment of complete silence. Then cheers rose up as the Greek soldier raised their weapons in victory. The few Persians that remained were looking around in fear and confusion. Then they turned and fled, back towards the pass.


A choky cough sounded close by. Gabrielle turned in its direction, spotting a male figure not too far away. He was breathing, but only barely. Several weapons were lodged in his body.


The warrior took the two steps forward, stopping next to him. Khrafstar’s dark eyes were wide and fearful as he stared up at the dark, cloudy skies. “My lord…” He drew in a breath, ragged. “You have forsaken me.”


It was amazing he was alive at all, considering. Gabrielle stared down at his face. She had feared him. Every time she’d closed her eyes, since he had surprised her in the woods near Athens, she saw Dahak. His flames. But most of all she’d seen Khrafstar. His face. Had felt his touch.


That fear vanished now, as she saw what little was left of the man. Dahak’s priest was in clear agony.


He noticed her then, turning his head to the right a fraction and staring up at her. “K…” He coughed. Blood seeped from the corner of his mouth. “Kill me.” He pleaded.


Gabrielle looked back into his eyes for a moment. Then she knelt down beside him, leaning a little closer. “You hurt the people I love,” she told him, in a low voice. Her green eyes met his, only inches apart. Then she rose back to her feet. “If she’s dead, the hurt you feel now will be a picnic compared to what I’ll do to you in Tartarus.”


Then she walked away, leaving him to die.



Aphrodite stared at the gaping hole in the ground in wonder. Dahak was gone. And she’d done it. She’d defeated him.


She looked up, glancing around at her family. They’d done it. Together. The Greek Pantheon hadn’t fought together since Zeus had died. A laugh bubbled up and she let it. “Wicked!”


“Booya!” Cupid called out in victory, waving his fist at the air. “My mom totally kicks ass!”

“Not bad, sister,” Artemis spoke up, inclining her head a fraction.

“Nice to know the old bow still works,” Apollo commented from her other side, before looking at her as well. “Well fought.”


Agreeing murmurs rose up around him, as the other Gods started walking towards her.

“It was awful,” Hestia’s voice drifted over. “All the blood and the sparks flying.” She shivered, clearly appalled, before looking up at Aphrodite. “Please tell me we can go home now?” Her look was pleading. “I’m tired.”

“Uuuhm,” Aphrodite blinked, a little taken aback. The other gods were looking at her, clearly waiting for… something.


Behind her, Athena cleared her throat. “Rest would be welcome, for sure. It has been a long day’s fighting.” She glanced at her siblings. “A long decade even.”

Nods and even a few smiles.

“Perhaps... Before we do we can clear the sky and arrange for a full moon. Some supplies too. To aid the… mortals on their way.” She looked at Aphrodite. “Do you agree your highness?”

Aphrodite nearly choked, barely managing to repress a cough. “Sure,” she then managed in a squeaky voice. “That seems uhm… royal and stuff.”

“I’ll see to it,” Artemis stated, before disappearing in a flash.

“Wonderful,” Hestia sighed, happily. “I’ll see you back home, Dite.” She said, before also disappearing. The other family members soon followed. Only Aphrodite, Cupid and Athena remained.


Aphrodite continued to stare at the vacant space in front of her, where they’d stood. “This is nuts.” She then commented.

Cupid chuckled. “Yeah. But it’s a cool kinda nuts.”

“Totally,” Aphrodite agreed, grinning broadly. “I’m the Queen of the Gods. Go figure.”

“Yeah, how’d that happen?” Her son inquired, curiously. “You found Ares’ power? Where was it hidden?”


Aphrodite grin faded instantly, remembering. “Iona…”  She turned, searching for the girl’s body.


She blinked then, surprised to find the girl sitting up, fending off an overload of kisses from her mother. “What the…?”

Athena stepped up behind her. Aphrodite glanced over her shoulder, to look at her sibling. “Did you heal her?” A frown. “I didn’t think you had that kind of power anymore?”

“I don’t,” Athena agreed, somewhat distractedly, studying her palm.

“But… But then how did y…” Brown eyes widened then, darting back to Iona a moment, before refocusing on Athena again. “You g… No way!”


Cupid glanced from one to the other. “Excuse me? Confused winged fellow waiting for an explanation here?”


But Aphrodite ignored him, her attention focused entirely on Athena. Her sister sighed, then looked at the goddess beside her. “It’s a pain, you know? A pain our father settled me with not just war and wisdom to look after. But also justice.” She cast her eyes down again. “Her death didn’t seem very just to me.” She flexed her hand a little, wincing as she did. Aphrodite’s eyes dropped to look at the palm Athena had been studying earlier.


Blood was seeping from a cut in the centre.


“Whoa!” Cupid’s eyes nearly dropped from their sockets. “Aunty A! You’re like… bleeding!”

“Hmm,” Athena murmured in agreement. “Mortality sucks that way.”


A kiss was pressed against her cheek then and Athena shot her sister an annoyed look. “Hey! Cut that out!”

“I knew it!” Aphrodite cried out victoriously. “You softy! I knew there was a heart hidden under all those brain cells!”  She wrapped an arm around her sister’s waist, hugging her. “You gave up your immortality to save the kid! That is so awesome!”

“So glad you’re happy about it,” Athena muttered, dabbing a finger at the blood on her hand.

“See, Cupie?” His mother chortled in clear delight. “I told you: we’re all pink in the centre.”


Cupid stared from his mother, to his aunt, to her bleeding hand. “Still confused,” he murmured.



“Fab Gab!”

Gabrielle looked up to see Ephiny limping closer. She had a nasty gash in her thigh and arm, but seemed okay otherwise. She hugged the Amazon, happy to see she had survived.

“Awesome battle,” the Amazon Queen commented. “One for the books, for sure.”

“And what’s gonna be put in that bloody book?” Solari grumbled from behind her. “Amazons fought valiantly. Enemy went poof.” She looked at Gabrielle. “What the heck happened?”

“I don’t know,” the warrior replied honestly, looking around the battlefield in confusion. It was so surreal to see empty spaces, where only moments ago thousands of Persian soldiers had stood. 


“Gab!” Gabrielle was nearly unbalanced as arms wrapped around her and hugged her tightly.

“Easy, Thal,” she said, unable to repress a smile as she hugged her friend back. “Don’t wanna bleed over you.”

“Bleed?” The redhead pulled back and eyes studied her anxiously. “Are you okay? Are you hurt?”

“Cuts and bruises,” Gabrielle reassured her. She caught sight of a figure walking up behind Thalia. She frowned. “What’s he doing here?”

Thalia looked behind her, then smiled. “Oh, Toris just… came to help.”

“Her,” Toris stated, motioning his head towards Thalia. “Not Xena.”


“Xena,” Gabrielle repeated, her eyes sliding past the people gathering around her, searching. “I need to find….”


She spotted the Empress then, a few yards away, sitting huddled over another shape. “Xena,” she breathed, before she started to run, pushing herself through the masses towards her.



Aphrodite chortled. “This is so absolutely…. Oh! Oh!” She pointed as she spotted Gabrielle. “Oh, excellent!” She smiled broadly. “Mushy reunion time! That’s the best bit!” She snapped her fingers and three comfy chairs appeared, bumping against the back of their legs. Cupid and Aphrodite tumbled down into them. The next moment a bowl of popcorn appeared in Cupid’s hands, while a box of tissues settled itself on Athena’s lap. Aphrodite grabbed onto a tissue, dabbing at her already watery eyes. “I just love mushy reunions! Much better than all these heroic dashes onto the scene we’ve been getting. Those are so 200 BC, you know?”




The Empress looked up at the sound of her name being called and glanced over her shoulder.

Iona sat up too, wincing a little as her stomach ached dully.


Gabrielle slowed down as Xena’s face turned towards her. And then Iona’s face peeked from behind the Empress’s shoulder. She drew in a ragged breath.


They were alive. They were both alive.


The relief…. It was so overwhelming the world started spinning. The hurt of her wounds, the strain of the continuous fighting, the exhaustion. It all caved in on her at once.


She fell as her knees collapsed, feeling the sand scrape under her legs as she sagged onto the ground. The world was a blur, sounds around her mixed into a chaotic symphony of noise.


Images she’d blocked out came surging towards her. Images of the battle. Of men dying. Of Dahak’s flames. Panicked screams echoed through her head. She raised her hands, wrapping her fingers in her hair and closing her eyes.


A hand against her cheek. She blinked open her eyes, dazed.


Blue eyes filled her vision and slowly the world stopped its spinning until those blue irises were all she could see. “Th…”  She cleared her throat. “This is Elysia. Right?”

Xena stroked the warrior’s hair. “Does this look like Elysium to you?”

“Yes,” Gabrielle managed. “I always imagined Elysium would look like you.”


The Empress smiled, then leaned closer, resting her forehead against Gabrielle’s. She felt the warrior shift. Shaking fingers touched her skin. It was only a gentle contact, but it held an intensity of its own. A hand slid down Gabrielle’s neck. She pressed a kiss against the warrior’s temple. Moments later, lips touched her cheek, just below her left eye. Kissing away some of the salt from her dried up tears.


She raised her head a little and her lips found Gabrielle’s. Tentatively at first. Disbelievingly. Then as a more solid contact.


A sudden wind picked up and blew the clouds apart, revealing a starlit sky. Soldiers looked up as the crescent moon grew and grew until it was a full circle, emitting its gentle light across the plain. Lighting up a world, once again filled with countless possibilities.



Xena leaned on the windowsill and drew in a deep breath, letting the fresh air fill her nostrils and clear her mind. The sky was blue with just a few white clouds. A perfect day.


She looked out over the garden, watching the children running around on the grass. Iona had apparently done something to annoy her brother, who was now chasing after her with a furious look on his face. Iona clearly loved it, grinning widely as she easily stayed ahead of her brother.  Niobe was skipping along behind them contently, occasional stopping to pick up a daisy to add to her tiny bouquet.


Xena let her gaze wander, until it settled on a figure in the shadow of a large tree. Gabrielle was bent over a scroll, scribbling words onto the parchment. She paused a moment, tapping her nose with the end of her quill, before resuming her writing. Xena leaned her head against the windowsill, a smile tugging at her lips as she watched the blonde.


A throat cleared conspicuously. Xena spun around, then rolled her eyes as she spotted the figure waiting in the doorway. “Don’t you ever knock?”

“No,” Thalia drawled, clearly quite enjoying herself. “Not when your door is standing wide open.”

“There should be a law against just wandering into other people’s open doors.”

“I’d be happy to write one, run it past the council… And if the majority agrees that walking into open doors should be illegal….”

“Ugh,” Xena sagged into her chair, crossing her arms and glaring at the redhead. “Democracy is lame.”


Thalia grinned, taking up her seat on the other side of the desk. “So. What have you got for me?”

Xena reached for a pile of papers. She tossed the first onto the desk right in front of Thalia. “Request for funds for a road in Iberia.” She tossed the next. “Request for funds for a new market square in Sparta. Request for funds for a….” She checked the paper again. “….a coliseum in Rome.”

“Where are they gonna fit that?” Thalia sighed, adding the item to her list with a shake of her heads.

“Roman philosophy is give the people what they want,” Xena muttered. “And apparently the people want bread, games and really narrow streets.”

“Stupid Romans,” the redhead sighed.


“Request for additional troops in India,” Xena continued her summery. “A letter from Cleo stating that she arrived safely back in Egypt and is wondering when I will refund her army’s losses.” She rolled her eyes. “So subtle, that woman,” she muttered before she continued. “A letter from Chin, where they invented something called ‘black powder’.”

“Wait. They’ve got powder. And it’s black. And they think they invented it?”  Thalia darted the Empress a look. “Do they realise I’ve got loads of black powder at home in my chimney?”

“Don’t ditch the Chinese,” Xena told her sternly. “They suck at marketing stuff with fancy names, but they can be quite innovative when they set their mind to it. Apparently this powder blows stuff up when it ignites.”

“I can see why you would be interested then,” Thalia drawled.

“I like blowing stuff up,” Xena easily confirmed as she tossed the last two documents at the redhead. “That’s a list of suggestions for a new regent in Persia. And that last one is the itinerary for my trip to Gaul.”


Thalia picked up the last document, studying it. “Three months?” She looked up. “You’re going to be gone for three months?”

“Yep,” Xena leaned back in her seat, folding her arms behind her head and stretching.

Thalia exhaled heavily. “How am I supposed to manage all this for three entire months?”

“By working very long hours,” Xena beamed a grin at her.

That earned her a foul look from the redhead. “I’ve enjoyed running the council and all, but don’t push your luck, Empress.”

Xena chuckled. “Relax. I’ve asked Odilon to keep an eye on things.”

This didn’t help matters much. “I don’t like him,” Thalia grumbled.

“You don’t have to like him,” Xena cheerfully instructed her. “You just have to know he’s smart and he knows how I think and he has a ring to veto anything you do wrong.”

“Lovely,” Thalia sighed, making another note on her parchment. “Anything else?”

Xena considered this, then shook her head. “Nope. I’m off to enjoy my afternoon.” She pulled open a drawer and started to neatly clean out her desk. She hesitated a moment, then spoke up again. “So… How’s Toris doing?”

“Good,” Thalia smiled at the mention of his name. “He hates living in a house that you gave him. But I think he’s settling in, now that he found a job and everything.”

“Good,” Xena nodded a little as she busied herself with storing her quills away. “You two should… come over some time. Have dinner with us.”


Thalia glanced at her, somewhat suspiciously. “Why?”

“Cause…” Xena sighed gravely. “'Cause I don’t like you and I don’t like him. But Gabrielle loves you and my daughter deserves to know her family, so…”

“You’re weird,” Thalia stated bluntly.

“Thank you,” the Empress muttered, rising from her seat and circling her desk. “Try to get that Coliseum through the council. I know it’s a lot of money, but it’ll cost more to quell the rebellion when their request is denied. Romans are sneaky that way.”

“I’ll look into it,” Thalia allowed, closing the door to Xena’s study and following her down the hallway. “Oh… The Amazon emissary is here by the way…”


Xena stopped then spun around to face her. “You tell me this now?”

Thalia flashed her a charming smile.

“Did they bring it?” The Empress asked anxiously.

The redhead shrugged.

“Urgh,” the Empress dismissed the leader of the council with a wave of her hand, before turning around and jogging into the hallway.


Her eyes darted impatiently across the hall, until she spotted something adorned with feathers. “Ah!”

Solari turned around, crossing her arms when she spotted the Empress. “I hope you’re happy.”

“That depends on whether we have a deal,” Xena easily responded.

The Amazon rolled her eyes, then pulled a scroll from her belt, unrolling it. “My Queen, Ephiny, Ruler of the Amazon nation, agrees to your offer to trade independency of the Amazon Lands from the empire for….” She huffed out a breath. “…the salad recipe.”  The Amazon looked at her pointedly, holding out the note. “And she thinks you’re nuts. But she didn’t put that in writing.”

“Excellent!” The Empress chortled, smiling broadly. “So you’re rejoining my cooking staff then are you?”

“For one week,” Solari grumbled, staring at her coldly. “I’ll teach them the recipe, then I’m going home.”

“Fine by me,” Xena smiled at her charmingly. “I’m sure you remember where to find the kitchen?”

The Amazon stared at her humourlessly.

“Wonderful.” Xena patted her cheek, then turned and headed for the garden ducking to dodge the fist aimed at the back of her head.


Xena walked through the open doors into the garden. Only to nearly bump into her daughter, who instantly spun around her, using her as a human shield to fend off her brother.

“Tell her to stop!” Caspar demanded, looking up at Xena pleadingly.

The Empress cast an exasperating look at her offspring, but Iona just beamed an innocent smile back at her. She turned back to the boy. “What did she do?”

“She made a bird float.”


Xena frowned at him. “Sport, birds float just fine by themselves.”

“Yeah, but not continuously right above my homework! Look!” He held up a scrap of parchment, which was littered with bird droppings.

Xena cleared her throat, smothering a smirk. “Iona….”

“What?” Her daughter stared up at her in complete innocence. “It’s a really pesky bird. So how did that become my fault?”

The Empress turned to the girl, placing her hands on her hips. “Do you still want to come with me to Gaul?”

“Ugh!” Blue eyes looked at her in outrage. “Mom! That’s blackmail!”

“Yes, it is,” Xena easily agreed. “But I am allowed to blackmail you, because….”

“…she’s the Queen,” Caspar finished, smirking at his sister.


Iona looked from one to the other, then released a disgusted sigh. “This sucks.”

“It will…. Suck… more when I give you detention.”

Xena looked up to see Athena walking closer. The former-goddess’ hair was disordered and she seemed somewhat out of breath.

“Detention?” Iona looked insulted. “Why?”

“Because subjecting annoying children to detention is the only power I have left,” Athena stated, crossing her arms. “Since I sacrificed my powers to save your life. Which you are now choosing to waste on chasing after your brother.”

“Urgh!” Iona groaned melodramatically. “Blackmailed again!” She stomped off, back towards where she’d left her quill and parchment.”


Xena watched her go in amusement, then ruffled Caspar’s hair affectionately. Which earned her a smile form the boy before he skipped after his sister.


Athena released a tired breath. “How do you manage?”

“Manage what?”

“Manage being mortal,” the ex-goddess grumbled. “First off, there’s the hygiene… and the hair…” She pulled at one of her own blond locks, glaring at the split ends. “And then there’s all these…. Emotions… And doubts and…” Athena grimaced as Caspar screamed and went chasing after his sister again. “And these children are giving me a headache.”

Xena chuckled. “Now, be nice to my kids,” she drawled, clearly quite enjoying the miserable state the ex-Goddess was in. “Remember, we’re hiding you until your sister can find you Ambrosia. And I gave you a job…”

“…teaching the brats while the official teacher is on holiday. Yes. Eternally grateful,” Athena grumbled. “When I regain my powers, you do realise I will torment you….”

“Why?” Xena inquired innocently. “Didn’t you just say mortality was torment in itself?”

“I… You… That’s…” With a frustrated growl Athena tossed up her hands. “Whatever.” Then she stormed off.


Xena continued on her way with a grin. Not long after hands grasped onto her legs. “Sena! Up!”

The Empress obediently bent down and picked up the toddler. “What’s up, Shorty?”

“I am!” The child squealed in delight, making Xena grin. “Sena?”


“When we goes to Gauw?”

Gaul,” The Empress corrected her. “In four weeks.”

The toddler scowled. “Too long.”

“Yeah, I know.” Xena reordered the child’s short brown locks. “Patience….”

“… isse not you vitu,” Niobe finished dutifully, drawing a chuckle out of the Empress.

“You said it, kiddo.”


She slowed then and finally stopped at the base of a tree, looking down at the figure seated there. “Hi.”

“Hi,” Gabrielle smiled back up at her, her eyes twinkling.

“Hi!” Niobe joined in enthusiastically, wrapping her arms around Xena’s neck for a firm hold as the Empress sat down.


Xena leaned over to kiss the warrior on the lips.

“Mush!” Niobe scowled.

“Always the critic,” Xena laid a finger on the tip of the child’s nose, making the girl cross her eyes to keep the finger in focus. She then returned her attention to the woman sitting next to her. “What are you writing?”

“Oh, just…” Gabrielle shrugged a little, feigning casualness. “Just jotting down some stories I heard after the battle, you know?” She dotted an i and crossed two t’s. “If someone wants to write a story about what happened, they should have the facts, right?” She jotted down another line. “Besides it… helps me sort stuff out.” She tilted her head up, looking at the woman sitting beside her. “You know?”

Xena managed a wry smile. “Yeah. I mean I don’t do stories but… I talk to Iona and… and I go out at night and do extra drills. Does the trick for me.”

“So much happened,” Gabrielle mumbled, rereading some passages from the scroll. “To write it all down… It’d be like 300… 400 pages, at least. It’s gonna take me… take someone years.”

“Someone… Sure,” Xena agreed with a smirk, leaning over and kissing her again.


Niobe sighed. “More mush.” Having grown tired of it and feeling confident she would not get enough attention out of her two favourite grown-ups while they were together, the toddler crawled out of Xena’s lap and started back over towards her siblings.


The child stopped and turned, looking at Xena. “Yes?”

“Tell your sister to stop harassing your brother, would you?” Xena asked her. “She listens to you.”

“Kay,” the child agreed with a nod, before continuing on her way.


Gabrielle laughed softly, lying down and resting her head against Xena’s thigh, looking up at the other woman. “You do realise you’re letting a three year old run your family, don’t you?”

“Leadership is in that girl’s blood. Why fight it?” Xena laid an arm across the warrior’s waist, her fingers idly tracing circles over her bare skin. “Have you thanked Ephiny for me yet for this lovely Amazon garb she sent you?”

Gabrielle repressed a smirk. “Yes, dear. But I’ll tell her again if you want me to. Just in case she didn’t believe you the first seven times…”

“Please do,” the Empress murmured, leaning back against the tree and tilting her head up, letting a ray of sunlight warm her face and colour the insides of her eyelids a bright shade of orange.


“By the way… My sister asked if we’d stop by on the way up north.”

“Sure,” Xena easily agreed. “We’ll be passing Potidaea anyway.”

The warrior studied her. “You seem very relaxed.”

“I am,” Xena confirmed cheerfully. “But don’t worry. I’m taking three children on a camping trip, so within four weeks I should be perfectly miserable again.”

“That’s a relief,” Gabrielle drawled, for which she was rewarded by fingers tickling her bare abdomen. She swatted the offending hand aside, then launched her own attack on the back of the Empress’ knee.


The next moment they were tumbling through the grass together. Gabrielle squealed, trying to fend off the Empress’ hands. “Xena!” The Amazon outfit left too much skin showing though and defeat was inevitable. “Okay, okay!” The blonde managed, breathing hard. “I give!”

“Ha-ha!” Xena crouched over her, chortling triumphantly. “Finally something I can beat you at.”

“Yeah, well,” Gabrielle scowled. “Just wait until I get some armour to… Argh! Xena!” The fingers resumed their attack. “Okay, I take it back! You beat me fair and square! Now please stop it!”

“I love it when you beg,” the Empress drawled.


A giggle sounded nearby then and Xena looked up to find a pink figure had appeared beside them.

Aphrodite wiggled her fingers at her. “Please, don’t let me interrupt. You were just being so totally cute.”

Xena glanced down into twinkling green eyes with an exasperated look. “You are such a bad influence on me. I’m ‘cute’ again.”

“Totally cute,” Gabrielle echoed Aphrodite’s words with a smirk, before pressing a kiss to her nose. She then tilted her head back to look up at the Queen of the Gods. “Hi, Dite.”

“Hi, sweetie,” the goddess greeted her back cheerfully. “How’s the writing going?”

“Not bad,” Gabrielle responded as Xena rolled off of her and she sat up. “How’s ruling the divine world going?”

“Totally wacky,” the goddess sighed, as she seated herself beside the two. “We’ve got the Norse Pantheon over to talk about the Persia situation.”


Xena looked up in alarm. “Situation?”

“Oh, honey, don’t worry,” Aphrodite hastily corrected. “No more bad malicious deities who want to squash you. Chill.”

Xena exhaled in relief.

“There are no deities in Persia at all in fact, since Dahak killed all the other ones off, so… Persia is like all atheistic, you know. Can’t have that.”

“Yes. Heaven forbid they should learn to think on their own or something,” Xena muttered.

“Exactly,” Aphrodite agreed seriously. “So we need to move some people in. But apparently Persia is a popular spot. Everybody wants it. So I’m having all the candidates come over for a visit. The Norse family was up first.”

Gabrielle frowned. “But they live on the other side of the world, practically.”

“That’s what I told them,” Aphrodite agreed. “Sucky commute, you know? They say they don’t mind. But I think they’re just after a nice spot to chill in the winter months, you know?” The goddess sighed. “They’re so loud. And they’re like perpetually drunk. Dionysus loves them, but me…” she waggled her fingers. “Not so much. The Hindu gods are coming over next week. Hestia is running around frantic, gluing every urn and jar down to its stand because she’s convinces they’re gonna break everything. All those arms, you know.”

Gabrielle chuckled, while Xena smothered a smirk.


“Yeah, laugh why doncha,” Aphrodite darted them a foul look. “I could really use my sister back up on Mount O. She’s good at all this organisy planny stuff.”

“Not yet,” Xena hummed.

“I’ve had the ambrosia for weeks now,” the goddess muttered. “When she finds out we made her stay mortal she’s gonna freak out.”

“You’re the Queen of the Gods. You can handle her.”

“Course I can,” Aphrodite easily agreed. “I’ll just tell her you made me do it.”


Xena chuckled, leaning back on her hands and staring out over the garden, to where Athena was trying to teach the children about biology. “I just want to make sure she gets out of this with some respect for people. So she knows mortals can’t just be exposed of and manipulated for her own greater good.”

“I know, I know,” Aphrodite sighed. “She’s such a sucky mortal though.”

“She just has to experience some good things about being human,” Gabrielle added.

“Like?” the goddess seemed sceptical.

“Uhm… Lots of things. Like…. reading a book. Candy. Or that nice warm feeling after you’ve taken a bath.” She turned her head, meeting Xena’s eyes and staring into them. “Falling in love.”

Unfortunately this made her miss the glint that appeared in Aphrodite’s eyes. “Right,” the goddess murmured to herself, tapping her chin. “I can do that.”



Xena tore her eyes away from Gabrielle. “Yes?”

“Sena, Sena!” The toddler’s eyes were wide and panicky. “Make lady go way. Isse no good!”

“What’s wrong?” Gabrielle inquired, wrapping an arm around the girl and hugging her.

“Bad lady!” Niobe pointed back at Athena, who was standing near the pond, holding up a frog by one of its limbs. “She get foggy. Says go look at foggy’s insides! Is no good!”


Xena glanced at squirming frog in dismay. “When did frogs get back into my pond?” She sighed. “You’d think after all these years I’d have annihilation down pat…”


The Empress sighed melodramatically, then pushed herself up a little. “Athena! Put down the frog!”

Athena looked up in annoyance. “But it’s educational material!”

“Put down the frog!” Xena repeated. “Release it now so I can kill it later!”


Disbelieving eyes stared at her another moment, then with a flick of her wrist the ex-goddess tossed the amphibian back into the water. She stomped off, muttering in obvious annoyance.


Meanwhile Iona had spotted Aphrodite and was running towards her. “Ah!” The goddess stood up and opened her arms. “If it isn’t my favourite niece!”

Iona hugged her, then looked up at her with a twinkle. “You’re just saying that 'cause I gave you ultimate power.”

Aphrodite laughed merrily. “You ready? I was just telling your mom we’ve got visitors up there. It’s totally hectic.” She grinned. “You’ll love it.”

“Righteous,” Iona agreed, ignoring her mother’s groan as she used the word. She hesitated a moment. “Mind if I make it more hectic?”

Aphrodite cocked her head. “How?”

Iona leaned closer, whispering in her ear. The goddess grinned. “Fine by me. But you’ll have to ask your mother.”


“Ask your mother what?” Xena drawled. Iona skipped over, tumbling onto her mother’s lap. She looked up at her, blinking disarmingly. “You know I think you’re the greatest mom ever, right?”

Xena smothered a grin. “Ask me what?” She repeated the question.

“Can we take Caspar and Niobe to mount Olympus?”  Iona tried a smile. “I told him about the flying horse and the dog with three heads, but he doesn’t believe me.”

A dark eyebrow rose at her. “The dog with three heads is in Tartarus. There is no way I’m letting you take your brother to Tartarus.”

Iona rolled her eyes. “We don’t need to go there. Duh!”

A second eyebrow rose.

“Dite has like these big flat screens that can show you places. It’s totally wicked.”


Xena studied her daughter, then looked up to see Caspar and Niobe standing nearby, darting pleading looks at her as well. For greater effect, Niobe stuck out her lip and pouted adorably. Xena released a breath. “Okay, fine.”

Cheers went up.

“But no wandering. You stay together and you stay with Aphrodite.” She turned back to her daughter. “And if I hear anything about visits to the underworld….”

“You won’t,” Iona smiled charmingly, kissing her on the cheek, before getting up and adding a sub vocal. “…hear about them.”


Xena made a grab for her, but the girl just hopped out of the way with a laugh, taking Aphrodite’s hand, while Caspar and Niobe gathered around her as well. “Take care of my kids, Aphrodite,” Xena rumbled at her.

“No sweat, babe!” The goddess wiggled her fingers at her, then the four of them disappeared in a flash of pink.

“I want them home by dinner!” Xena called at the empty air.


Gabrielle watched the pink twinkles disappear, then turned her head to glance around the now empty garden. “You know, now that we’ve sent the kids of with their divine baby-sitter….” She rolled onto her side, facing the Empress. “I do believe we might actually have an entire afternoon to ourselves.”



The Empress looked at the blonde sternly. “There you go. Now you jinxed it.”


Odilon stopped next to them, looking down at the pair. “You told me to report about the word on the street in Athens.”

“Not now,” Xena told him with a look. “Remember how I said I’d start working part time? Well, this is the part of time that I’m not working.”

The spy rolled his eyes. “Well, it’s not like there’s anything to report anyway. Public opinion has been soaring since Thermopylae. Nothing like winning the unwinnable to increase popularity.” He scowled. “I don’t get why you keep sending me out there.”

“I have my reasons,” Xena responded easily.

“Yes, and I’m sure one of them includes needing a delivery boy to pick up gifts for your girlfriend.” Unceremoniously he dropped a small rectangular box onto her lap. “This is the last time, Xena. I swear.”


He turned around intent to storm off. But then he stopped when he spotted a woman marching closer. He frowned, then turned back to the Empress. “Are you aware of the fact there’s an Amazon walking through your garden wearing an apron?”


The Amazon in question reached them at that moment, plunking down a tray on which rested a huge salad bowl. “Your kitchen staff is incompetent,” Solari told her bluntly, before spinning around and marching off again.


Odilon’s eyes followed the Amazon blankly, then he looked down at the salad bowl, which was being pounces on by Xena. The Empress spiked up some bits of the salad with her fork, then stuck the fork on her mouth. She chewed a moment, then hummed in clear delight, smiling broadly. “Yep. That’s the way it’s supposed to taste.” She closed her eyes, soaking up the sun as she munched on her food. “Perfection.”


Odilon stared down at  her another moment, then he tossed up his hands in defeat. “This household is crazy…” He stated before he stalked of.

“Love you too, Odie!” Xena called after him, laughing as she heard his insulted muttering. She dug her fork into the salad again. She then turned her head to look at the woman beside her.


Curious green eyes stared back at her.

“Wha?” She mumbled around a mouthful.

Gabrielle smiled patiently at her, then pointed at the small box Odilon had thrown at her.

“Oh,” Xena hastily swallowed. “Right.” She picked up the box and handed it to Gabrielle. “Remember when I said I still had a present for you, for your birthday?”

Gabrielle frowned, thinking back and finally remembering a lunch in the sunny backyard. It seemed to have happened years ago, when in fact it was only a few weeks in the past. “Yes.”

“Well, this is it,” Xena stated simply, indicating the box. “Open up.”


Gabrielle studied the small jewellery box, which was about five inches tall and two inches wide. An odd shape for a jewellery box. She glanced up at Xena again, who was watching her expectantly. Then she focused on the box again, prying open the lid.


She stared at the contents. Then she looked up at Xena again. “It’s a key.” She said, trying to hide her disappointment.

“Yes,” Xena drawled. “You were expecting something else?”

“No, no,” Gabrielle hastily denied, picking the item up out of the box, holding it into the light. “I was expecting a key.”


It was a plain key too. A tall, cylindrical shaft and a square bit at the end, which was indented in three places. A blond eyebrow rose. “Please don’t tell me this is the key to your heart or something.” 

“Damn, why didn’t I think of that.” Xena laughed. “But no… It’s the key to a door.”

“What door?”

Xena stared back at her calmly, letting her suffer a moment longer. Then she got to her feet, extending down a hand. “Come on. I’ll show you.”



Gabrielle ducked under a protruding branch. “Where are we going?” She called out to Xena, who was riding up ahead. Argo snorted in agreement blinking her eyelids against the dust drifting up under her hooves.

“Not much further!” Xena called back.

“That’s not what I asked!” Gabrielle huffed out a breath as the Empress just responded with a laugh.


They’d been riding for half a candlemark now, uphill over narrow paths. It was hard to keep track of their route, but Gabrielle had the distinct feeling they were just circling around the city. Between getting the horses and saddling them and dodging branches, they’d lost over a candlemark for sure, which could have been spent much more pleasurably. Gabrielle swapped a hand at a couple of flies. “This had better be good.”


“Over here!” Xena waved her over. Gabrielle sighed in relief as she noticed the Empress was basking in the sunlight. They’d finally cleared the woods then. Argo trotted the last few paces as the trees were now further apart. Then there were no trees at all and Gabrielle stared out over the city of Athena, stretching out below them. She could spot tiny figures walking across the Agora. The sunlight reflected sharply off the bright white marble of the Parthenon.

“Pretty huh?” Xena commented, staring out over her capital.

“Yes,” Gabrielle agreed, before turning to look at the Empress. “But if this key fits to any door down there, I will flog you.”

The Empress chuckled. “Temper, temper…” She clucked her tongue, making Chilon to take a few steps back, to reveal the building she’d been blocking from the blonde’s sight.


Gabrielle glanced from the building to Xena then back to the building. She laid her heels against Argo’s flanks and the mare instantly trotted forward.


There was a large gateway, one of the two doors which once held it closed still in place but unhinged. Gabrielle slid of Argos back. She touched the door, letting her fingers run over the cracked wood.


This couldn’t be… She glanced over her shoulder, to judge which side of the city they were on. Then her eyes fell on a metal sign just left of the door. It was largely overgrown with poison ivy and slightly rusty. Gabrielle hesitated a moment, then she pulled the plants aside. The letters indented in the metal were still clear.

Athens City Academy for the Performing Bards


Gabrielle stared at the letters in disbelief for a moment. Then she passed the gate and walked into the small courtyard.


Memories came to her and she smiled as she remembered the grumpy woman sitting behind the table in the courtyard, checking application forms. How she’d been too late to hand in her application and had distracted her and then quickly added her scroll on top of the pile. The young bards-to-be around her had laughed and smiled at her. After the long trip from Potidaea to Athens it felt nice to be surrounded by friendly people.


She walked on, mounting the few steps that led up to a large decorated door, the paint weathered and chipping. She pressed down the handle, but this door was closed. She hesitated a moment, looking over her shoulder to find Xena busying herself with the horses. She sliced an apple in two halves, holding out one half to Chilon and the other, bigger half to Argo. The stallion snorted, displeased.


Gabrielle turned back to the door, fishing the key out of a pocket and sticking it in the lock. She turned it. The lock croaked, then opened. Gabrielle pressed the handle down, pushing open the door. Then she just stood there.


Large wooden beams held up the large hallway, the walls made of large blocks of white stone. The floors made of fine, white marble and inlaid with detailed mosaics. Statues and busts of great writers and poets stood along the walls. All around her were doors, leading off to different parts of the building.


The marble was shining, polished to perfection. The scent of lemon was in the air, mixed with the smell of freshly varnished wood.


It was exactly as she remembered it. Grand. Bright. All that Athens had represented to her at the time, after years of living in a village. She stepped inside and the sound of her boots on the marble echoed through the empty hall. She remembered how busy it had been, people bustling about from one place to the next, someone practicing his art as others listened to the story he was telling.


She touched the wooden counter, letting her fingers slide along it. She remembered the laughter and the gossip and the discussions on the young Empress, who’d taken up her seat in Athens a few months before.


She came to a door, noticing the metal sign on the outside. She pushed open the door. Stepping into the library.


The musky smell of old parchment filled the air and Gabrielle soaked it in, her eyes sparkling as she let her them glide over the rows and rows of shelves. Each was stacked with scrolls, ordered by author. She strolled through the room, noting the tags attached to the scrolls. Herodotus. Ovid. Plato.


A throat was cleared softly behind her. Gabrielle looked up, to find Xena standing in the doorway, watching her. “So…” The Empress spoke up, her low voice rumbling off the marble. “Do you like it?”

The blonde turned around. “I… of course…I…” she stuttered, as she moved back towards the other woman. “The council said….”

“The council doesn’t have anything to do with this,” Xena cut her off quietly.

Gabrielle drew in a breath. “You… You’re giving me the Academy?” She said, as she stopped in front of the Empress.

Xena nodded. “Yeah. So… Do you like it?” She asked again, raising an eyebrow in question. “Cause it’s kinda non-refundable…”


Green eyes continued to stare at her a moment, then the blonde laughed, shaking her head in disbelief. “You’re insane.” She leaned forward, kissing the woman soundly on the lips. “I love you.”

Xena hummed contently. “You know, women always say that after I give them real-estate…” She winced as she was rewarded for this comment with a poke.

“You’re awful,” Gabrielle scolded her with a smile. She sobered then, looking around. “Xena… This is huge…” She glanced back into the nearby blue eyes. “How am I ever going to outdo this?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” the Empress drawled. “How about… If I ever get myself stuck in this huge, apocalyptic battle… you can come save me.” She cocked her head. “Oh wait… You already did that….”


Gabrielle tried giving her a stern look, but failed to suppress the smile tugging at her lips. “Don’t try to shake off the amazing things you do with a joke.”

“I just want you to be happy.” Xena smiled back at her, lifting a hand and gently stroking her cheek. “You don’t need to buy stuff to outdo me or anything. Just…” A small shrug. “Just stay with me. To me that’s… huger than anything I could buy you.”


Gabrielle stared into the blue eyes another moment, then leaned closer, letting her lips brush Xena’s. “I love you,” she repeated again, as Xena’s arms folded around her, pulling her closer.

“I love you too,” was the whispered response.



It was several candlemarks later when Xena strolled back into the palace, her hand firmly clasped around Gabrielle’s.

“The way back was considerably easier,” the blonde commented, giving her a pointed look.

Xena smirked. “If I’d have taken you through the city, you would have figured out where we were going. That’d have taken the fun right out of it.”

“Yes, because getting my lunges clogged with dust was just so exiting,” Gabrielle drawled.

Xena turned around to face her. “Stop it. Or I’m never giving you an Academy again.”

Gabrielle chuckled, then wrapped her arms around the Empress. “Forgive me,” she murmured, before leaning closer.


The next moment three children ran from one end of the hallway to the other end, laughing loudly.

Xena looked up, following the three through the hallway, before turning back to Gabrielle. “Kids are home.” She sighed.

“You don’t say,” Gabrielle commented dryly.


The next moment a furious Solari entered the hallway, ripped off her apron and tossed it onto the marble floor in fury. “This place is a nuthouse!” She pointed a threatening finger at Xena. “If you want any more Caesar salad, you will get that woman out of my kitchen!” She told the Empress, before storming out of the door.


Gabrielle followed her, frowning in confusion. “How long were we gone?”

“Long enough f….” Xena stopped talking then, staring as an enormous pile of pancakes floated past.

“Oh, hi!” The pile of pancakes spoke and Xena realized it was in fact not floating but being carried by Athena, whose body was almost completely hidden from sight. The ex-goddess poked her head around the pile. “What do you think?”

Several thoughts occurred to Xena at that moment, but none of them were very coherent. “About… what?”

“The pancakes!” Athena elaborated. “Aren’t they just perfect?” She stared up at the pile lovingly. “I mean, I never realized…. Such a fantastic combination of flour and eggs and milk and… Pure perfection. I love baking pancakes,” she sighed adoringly, before continuing on her way, precariously balancing her tray.


Xena and Gabrielle stared after her, then turned to look at each other. Then in perfect unison they shouted: “Aphrodite!”


A flash of pink and the Goddess of Love appeared. She was beaming a broad grin at them.

“What did you do to her?” Xena asked threateningly.

“Nothing! Nothing!” The goddess lifted both her hands, backing away a step.

Gabrielle crossed her arms. “Dite….”

“Well, I mean… I might have… cast a little spell,” the goddess fumbled. “You said she had to enjoy being mortal, but my sis is as social as a hermit, you know? So I figured I’d just cast a little spell, make her fall in love with someone… So she was walking past this fellow who owns this little tavern and I cast the spell, but then Iona…. I mean, then she tripped… somehow and… uhm…” Aphrodite cleared her throat. “And instead of the guy she saw the pancakes he was serving and uhm….”


Xena stared at her blankly for several moments, then she turned back to Gabrielle, dropping her head and resting it against the blonde’s collarbone in exhaustion. “When will the hurting stop?”

Gabrielle repressed a grin, lifting a hand and patting the Empress’ head. “There is a good side to this, you know?”

“What?” The Empress groaned.

“I’m really hungry.”


A moment, then Xena started laughing helplessly.


Thalia’s head peaked around the corner. “Hi, uhm….” She took a step into the hallway, shaking her foot, trying to get rid of the pancake sticking to her sandal. “I’m trying to get to the council’s chambers. But for some reason a gazillion pancakes are blocking the hallway…”

Gabrielle burst out laughing.

Xena turned to Aphrodite. “How long is this going to last?”

“Not long,” Aphrodite stated, taking a step back. “Like… Just… A week. Tops.” She wiggled her fingers hastily, before disappearing.


“Oh my gods,” Xena sighed, then raised her voice. “Iona!!”

“Yeeees?” A voice piped up from far away.

Xena wrapped an arm around Gabrielle, steering her along towards the dining room. “You remember how we’re going to Gaul in four weeks?”


“Well, until we do… You… are… grounded.”

“Oh, come on!” A door slammed from somewhere down the hall. “Mom!”



The End




Author’s note: Okay, so…. That took me a while, huh? <chuckles> My apologies for taking so long to finish this story. But I wanted to do it right, because Path of Thorns is my official retirement from the Xenaverse as a bard.


I had a lovely time writing for you all and I’m very grateful for the opportunity the Xenaverse provided for me to experiment with my writing a little. But as some of you may know English is not my native tongue. And I want to try my hand at writing in my own language a little, see if I can write something publishable even maybe. Who knows.


Anyway, when I say the Xenaverse provided me with opportunities I’m really saying you did. Because the Xenaverse is so special because of the people that walk about in it. So thank you if sent me feedback or if you told someone else about my stories or if you host them. But most of all, just thank you for reading. The fact that I’m publishing this online and people out there actually bother to read through 300 pages of my writing while there is so much wonderful writing out there is utterly amazing to me.


So thanks for that.


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