See Chapter 1 for disclaimers.
How the Hades did we end up here? How, indeed.
Gabrielle, this would make a great tale...
Don't start that bard stuff, Xena. How could you let Ares do this to you?
Let him? What choice did we have? Who is in whose body here?
Why did you do this?
Hey, I had a plan here...
Well, I hate to tell you, but your plan sucks. There was a moment of silence in the void. I'm sorry Xena, I shouldn't take this out on you.
Look, this sniping doesn't help either of us. We're in this mess and we're gonna have to work together to get out of it.
A whisper of a sigh crossed their thoughts. Yeah, I know. But all I wanted to do was to go home, you know? I don't know if I'm up to all this hero stuff, Xena.
I know what you mean. I don't know where people get the idea that I'm some sort of hero.
Gabrielle mentally laughed at the ridiculous statement. Xena, you just have to breathe to be a hero. You don't get it, do you? Your stature, your confidence, your very nature, screams warrior and hero. You can't help it.
Xena was glad for the company, despite the risk. Gabrielle was very nicely diverting her attention away from the menace pulsing in the background.
Well then, Miss Bard... Xena paused for a moment, trying to adjust to this new turn of events. So far it's just there, as you can feel. I suppose the closer we get to the Temple, the more active and powerful it will become, and we'll have to work together to put up a united front against it. She sighed. Why did you have to go and do this, Gabrielle? I needed you home. I could have handled this by myself.
You know I can't do that. Would you have done the same? I doubt it. We have to be together. No matter what happens, I have to be here.
Yeah, I know, but I wish it wasn't so.
C'mon they're waiting for a reaction from you. Let's get this started so we can go home.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Slowly, Xena struggled to stand, experimentally straightening out her limbs. Blue eyes swivelled around the courtyard, taking in the gods standing there.
"Xena? Gabrielle?" The tall woman gave a nod.
"Where do we go from here?"
"Well, first of all we better get you warmer clothing. Aphrodite?" The young goddess stepped forward and with a wave of her well-manicured fingers, dressed the warrior in something suitable. Xena looked down to find her armour still in place, but a body suit of fine black wool was pressed against her skin, underneath her leathers, warming her immediately.
She looked up at the Goddess of Love and nodded her approval, bestowing a smile on her for a job well done. Aphrodite couldn't help but smile in return, taking in the close fit of the fine wool, fitting the tall woman like a second skin and leaving little to the imagination. It wasn't often that she was thanked for her efforts. Yeah, you can thank me aaannytime you want, Xena.
Xena reached down and picked up her bag. "I really don't want to lose all my belongings. Is there any way I can carry the Chakram without touching it?" In the blink of an eye, a small metallic hook appeared on the side of her armour. Interesting.
Xena gave her partner a mental warning as she reached in to grab the weapon. Dark, visceral images crossed their minds as she lifted it out and placed in on the hook on her hip. The images receded and the entity died down to the ever-present pulsing in the background.
"Can this be placed somewhere safe?" Xena picked up her bag and the feathered shield and pole. Aphrodite raised an elegant eyebrow at the warrior. "These are very, very special. I don't want to lose them." The goddess acceded to her request and sent them off in a shower of stars.
With all her immediate problems now taken care of, Xena approached Zeus. "OK. We're ready." Before she had finished the last syllable, they had materialized on a dusty track, the temperature having dropped several degrees in a matter of a heartbeat. Xena glanced over at Aphrodite, rolling her eyes in appreciation for the warm clothing. The goddess handed over a large fur-lined cloak, which Xena took enthusiastically and swung over her shoulders to keep her partner warm.
"Thank you, Aphrodite." She held the immortal's eye for a moment, letting her know that her sentiments were appreciated. Xena had to admit that as far as gods go, Aphrodite was proving to be one of the better ones. Her brother, on the other hand...
Xena looked over to the two gods in question. Ares' eyes roamed over her body, taking in every line and curve outlined in black wool and leather. Mustn't look too bad then...
"Wow, warrior babe! Very sexy. You totally rock!" Xena could only assume that whatever Aphrodite had just said was a good thing.
"This is as far as I can go, Xena. From here on, you are on your own." Zeus waved his hand and three backpacks materialized containing their supplies for the trip.
"Why don't you just drop us at the front door?"
"It's a long story."
"I got time." Xena wasn't going to budge until she got the full story.
Zeus's brows knitted together and Xena thought she may have overstepped her bounds. "Some years back, the Chakram of Darkness resided in the Chakram Temple along side its twin, the Chakram of Light. While they rested side by side, Darkness and Light, the world was in balance."
"Well, someone stole it and the world was thrown into chaos. The Chakram of Darkness's power grew and possessed the man who took it, using his body as a vessel for its malevolence. Its power expanded to the point that we were barely able to stop it. Where he fell was where you found the Chakram, Xena, and ever since I have kept the island hidden from mortal eyes."
Zeus glared at his son. "Now, because of Ares' thoughtless actions, the world is again in danger."
"Why don't you just destroy me where I stand?"
"Because, Xena, unlike what you mortals think, I don't destroy unless I have to. You have a very strong will, as does Gabrielle within you, and I am hopeful that we can get you to the Temple safely. There, we stand a chance of destroying it once and for all."
"But if we take it back to the Temple, won't the Chakram of Light neutralize it?"
"Ahh, there's the problem. Soon after the Chakram of Darkness left the Temple, the Chakram of Light just disappeared. No one has ever heard of it again."
"So that's why you knew what was going to happen to me. Back to my question, why don't you just drop us at the front door?"
"Because the god whose domain the Temple resides in, Kal, wanted to halt any more godly interference. He placed a barrier around the area, stopping any immortal from entering."
Xena's mind secretly smiled, so that means... This trip may not be so bad after all.
"Hang on, godly interference? Do you mean that a god was responsible for all this trouble in the first place?" She couldn't help herself and turned to Ares, who at least had the good sense to blush.
"Very good, Xena. You guessed it."
"You tried this before and you didn't learn from the first time?" What a bonehead.
"Hey! No name calling!"
And stop reading my mind, Ares.
Xena leaned in towards Zeus and whispered, "Do they know?"
He chuckled at her enjoyment of the situation. "No." He whispered back.
"Can I tell them?" Merriment filled those blue pools, and he was glad to see she still had a sense of humour at this point of the journey.
"Go ahead." He stood back to watch his children squirm under the news.
"Xena, so help me if you keep calling me that..."
"You'll what? C'mon do your worst, Ares. It can't get any worse for me right now."
"What about blondie then, Xena? You gonna let her die right now?"
"I don't want to, Ares. But it's gotta be better than the slow death you have planned for both of us with this idiotic plan of yours." A frown crossed her brow at that particular thought. "Well, I have some good news and some bad news." She waited for him to ask, enjoying this childish game with her old mentor.
"Alright, I'll bite. What's the good news?"
"You get time with me on this journey."
"Yeah? Alright." Alone with Xena... yeah, he could live with that.
"You don't want to know the bad news?"
"Nope. That's all the news I need to hear."
"Aww, come on, Ares. Play the game."
He sighed deeply. "Alright. What's the bad news?"
"You get to spend time with me as a mortal. A mortal, Ares."
Zeus tried very hard not to laugh at the stunned look on his son's face. It was like he had been slapped in the face with a dead fish. He watched his daughter's face as well, as the news was delivered. While she was shocked, she at least had a better expression than her brother.
Ares turned to his father. "She's kidding, right?" Zeus remained silent. "Right?" Still no answer. "Oh, no, no, no, no. No way. Look for someone else." The disapproving look in his father's eye told him that he was cornered. Whether he liked it or not, he was going... as a mortal.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Xena shifted over to the elder god. "I can understand Ares going, but why Aphrodite? No that her presence is not appreciated, but..."
"I could easily say that the decisions of the gods are none of your business, but as your lives are involved here, perhaps I can make an exception." He bestowed a smile on these two women who were risking everything in an endeavour they had been unwittingly dragged into.
"Ares has to go because he has caused this mess and should be involved in cleaning it up. Aphrodite, well my daughter has been underestimated in the past, perhaps it's because of her particular vocation, or perhaps because she appears frivolous and self-absorbed at times. Your journey is as much about getting the Chakram to the Temple as it is about these two learning a little humility and self-worth."
Zeus looked at his two children with warm eyes. "I think Aphrodite will be fine. Give her a chance to help. The journey should be relatively easy and the Temple is up this path on that far peak." He pointed a majestic finger up the path to a distant crag, the spires barely visible in the surrounding mist. "There is not much left in the day and there is a small village a couple of candlemarks away."
"Ares, Aphrodite." The two immortals came when their father beckoned. "Anything you want before you begin this journey?" Ares stared with a scowl on his face and Aphrodite... well she didn't quite know what to think. Zeus drew his daughter aside. "Daughter, you are going as a mortal, that's all there is to it."
"I think you may need something more practical here. Perhaps a weapon or two?"
A weapon? When did this get so deadly? Confused, she changed her clothing to her warm hunting gear, a long bow in her hand with two quivers of arrows. Her long platinum blond hair was pulled back into a plait down her back and a warm fur cloak hung from her shoulders.
"Ahh, much better. Now I must say farewell. I will see you at the end of your journey." The goddess mutely nodded her head, still wondering why she was going at all. Zeus leaned in and whispered in her ear before placing a fatherly kiss on her cheek.
"Ares, come here." The tall god sauntered over to his father, dragging his feet like a naughty little boy. "Listen to me, no tricks. You understand me?" Zeus's stern voice alerted his son that he was serious. "When you get to the Temple there is a vessel inside there that contains the power that locks the Temple shut to immortals. You will need to destroy it for the barrier to be lifted."
Zeus could nearly see the wheels turning in the God of War's mind. "Don't you even think about it, Ares. You have tried this ruse twice and both times it failed. Don't be foolish to try it again." His eyes narrowed, trying to instil a bit of fear into his impetuous son.
Zeus turned to face the two remaining figures awaiting him. Raising his hands to the sky, lightening sparks flickered across his fingers, arcing across the distance to join together. He closed his eyes and muttered. Glowing auras surrounded Ares and Aphrodite, pulsing in intensity and slowly drawing strength from them. Driven to the ground, both young gods gasped for breath as their immortal life force was taken away, leaving them weak and panting on the ground.
Xena stepped in to help Aphrodite to her feet, leaving Ares to get himself up. "How do you mortals do this?" Aphrodite had been mortal for just moments and she already hated it.
"Well, you just live with it, I suppose." What could one say? You were born mortal and you died mortal. It's not every day you got the chance to be a god.
"Hey, a little hand over here." Ares struggled to get to his feet. Xena gave him a cursory glance and went back to helping the young goddess.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Yeah, well, he was being a pain in the ass. Don't forget he's the one that caused all this.
Hmmm.... Gabrielle directed her frustration towards the dethroned god. Is he going to whine all the way there? I may be tempted to kick him off the side of the mountain.
I hope not. I may beat you to it.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
As Zeus had promised, the road was easily traversable and they eventually made it to the small village just before sundown. Xena had to constantly slow down for the two immortals who struggled with walking such a long distance. It was going to be a long, long trip...
"A bow, Aphrodite?" Xena had never thought about the goddess actually ever using a weapon.
"Swords, knives and stuff are too sharp for me. I could cut myself or something."
"Well, that is the point of them you know."
"That's why we have warriors like you."
"Hey, what about me?" A slightly miffed voice could be heard behind them.
"Exactly. What about you?" Xena couldn't help the jibe at Ares' expense.
"So, do you actually ever get the chance to use it?"
"Not really, no, but I did teach Cupid to shoot his arrows."
"Yeah," Ares snorted, "The arrows of luurve."
"Hey, that's my Cupie you're talking about there. Watch it!"
"What's he gonna do? Shoot me with his iddy-biddy arrows? Big threat there."
"Well, I'm not carrying any 'arrows of luurve' and your butt is no longer arrow-proof. Don't make me use you for target practice."
Oh dear, we're going on a life and death journey with a couple of kids...
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
It took a little prompting to get her two companions through the door of the inn, but after a couple of drinks they began to loosen up.
Xena and Gabrielle sat back, relaxed in the warrior's body, watching as the two gods ate and drank for the first time, unaware of the side effects of alcohol. As the night wore on, they started giggling, finding the smallest thing amusing.
Well, this was worth the price of admission. Gabrielle couldn't help but laugh at their antics.
Shhhh.... Xena watched amusedly, deciding these two had just about had enough for the night.
Ares slowly slid off the bench, landing on his ass on the floor, sending Aphrodite into a new round of raucous laughter and finger pointing at her brother sprawled out below her.
"Now, now children. You've had enough for tonight." She would have got more response out of Marina than she was getting from these two. Xena spared a quiet thought for her absent daughter, wishing she was home with her.
"Aw, Xena. No fair. It's our first night as mortals. I'm not finished yet." Xena's eyebrows disappeared into her hairline as Ares sat there with a pout on his lips. A pout! It looked so incongruous on the God of War.
"Oh, yes you are. Come one, time for bed."
"Bed?" Aphrodite's eyes lit up. "That sounds good." She looked around for a suitable bed companion, disappointed that the room came up sadly lacking. Her eyes fell on the woman helping her up.
"Oh, no. Don't even think about it." It took all of Gabrielle's willpower to stop herself from taking control of Xena's hand and slugging the woman.
"Because I'm barely holding Gabrielle off from hitting you, that's why."
"Oh." She was suitably chastised and went along meekly with the warrior.
"Hey! What about me?"
Xena turned and looked at Ares sprawled out on the floor, a large mug in one hand and a foamy white moustache plastered on his cheerfully inebriated face. She shook her head and assisted the goddess to her room, leaving the drunken god on the floor where he fell.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"Xena, you call this a bed?"
"For a small country inn, yes I do."
"You expect me to lie on that?" Aphrodite thought Xena had lost her mind.
"No, I expect you to sleep on that."
"Sleep? That is so croaty, Xena. It's... it's... like so rumpled. Sweaty, smelly men have slept on that."
Xena pushed the swaying goddess to the mattress, lifting her legs up. "And you'll live. Now you're mortal, Aphrodite, you have to sleep. Close your eyes..." Xena found a spare blanket and tucked it around her young charge. "Let your body relax. Wipe all thoughts from your mind and let it wander." She could see the goddess start to relax as the alcohol started to take effect. "That's it, just relax and let yourself drift off."
When she was fully asleep, Xena tiptoed out of the room, gently closing the door on her way out.
Well, let's go and collect the other one.
Couldn't we just leave him face down in the dirt?
Hmmm, nice thought, but we need him in some sort of shape tomorrow for the trek.
Damn, I rather liked that image.
Sure enough, Ares was just where they had left him minutes before, unable to find his legs to stand.
"C'mon Ares." Xena struggled to pick up the dead weight as Ares resisted her attempts to lift him. "Damn, why do these gods have to be so heavy?"
"I knew you liked me, Xena." His alcoholic breath blew over her face, the stench nearly causing her to lose her dinner. Xena grabbed the half-full mug still in his hand, slamming it down on the table.
"Hey! I was still drinking that!"
"Not any more, Ares. Time for bed." His face lit up at the thought of he and Xena in the same bed. "You can forget that thought right now."
"How did you know? Are you a mind reader, or someth'n." His words started to slur as the alcohol made him sleepy.
"I don't need to be a mind reader to know what you're thinking, Ares." She managed to get herself under his armpit and manhandled him up the stairs to his room. Unlike Aphrodite, Xena grabbed his boots and yanked them off and roughly covered him with a blanket before leaving the room.
Now that the kids are tucked in...
Well, what do we do now?
That particular thought needed no interpretation for Gabrielle. Yeah, me too. What do you think? Can we?
Why not? I had a really nice dream the other day and you weren't there, but it seemed very real to me.
You did? When was this?
That first night after you left the island.
No, it wasn't possible, was it? Gabrielle hesitantly asked, What was it about?
We were in a meadow in the shadows...
Gabrielle continued the image, And you led me out into the sun to a mound of grass.
Xena hesitantly filled in more of the picture. And you had trouble getting my tunic off.
This is really, really strange. And afterwards you showed me your back and your scars were gone.
Two minds took time to get over the shock of their mutual dream. What is going on here?
I have absolutely no idea, but if it worked once, it may work again. You want to try?
Hey, if it's gonna keep you calm and relaxed, well then I'm all for it.
Calm and relaxed? Then I'm not doing it right. Later perhaps.
Gabrielle couldn't help but chuckle at her partner's easy banter. A lover to the end...
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Continued in Chapter 12
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