See Chapter 1 for disclaimers.

Chapter 16

Ares watched Xena move off with her band of followers, secretly pleased that his plan still had a chance of coming to fruition. All he needed now was for Zeus to restore his powers before he lost complete control of her. The tall god moved over to his fallen sister and helped her to her feet.

"Well, that's it then. Zeus!" He yelled to the heavens, waiting for his father to answer the call.

"Ar, what are you doing?" Aphrodite had been surprised when the group of men just left, leaving both of them still alive.

"It's finished and we've lost her. No point in hanging around here. Zeus!" Ares wandered around in a circle as if that would make the King of the Gods magically appear at this feet. There was no answer from the sky above, not even a rumbling of thunder.

"Hey, get us out of here!" He was loathe to say the next word, but he wanted his godhood back. "Father!"

"I don't think he's going to answer us, brother. I think we're on our own."

Damn, this was not what he had hoped for. Every second he was without his power was one second more the entity had to get a firmer hold on what was his. He only hoped that the thing inside Xena got rid of what's-her-name in the bargain.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *



"Marina? Marina honey? Are you here?"

A small mop of midnight blue hair moved behind the bed as Cyrene watched from the doorway. "What are you doing?"

"Nothing." This seemed to be the stock standard answer from the girl for the last day or so.

The older woman stepped over to the bed and lifted the empty egg. "Where's your little pet?"

"He's hiding."

"He?" The unruly mop bobbed up and down. "How do you know it's a he?"

"Because he told me so."

"He told you..." Cyrene was taken aback for a moment, then realised she was playing make believe. "So, has he a name?"


"Is that what you were doing in the scraps bin this morning? Getting food for Jax?"

Again, the small head bobbed in the affirmative.

"OK then, honey, you can play with him for a little while but be careful, he's only a baby. Come down for lunch soon and then you can go play with your new friends."

"OK, grandma."

Grandma... oh my.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *



Gabrielle had never felt so alone in all her life, and that included her time as a body slave. She could feel every horrific sensation running through her partner, but her own attempts at communicating went unheeded. For the moment, she was an unwilling passive observer of her lover's actions.

What Xena had done to that warlord turned her stomach. Gabrielle knew that her gentle partner was capable of such violence, but her negligent despatch of her enemy after crushing his hand bordered on cruel. She knew if she didn't stop this woman soon, the sadistic violence would escalate to epic proportions. No one would be safe - Marina, Cyrene and herself included.

Xena's mind clawed at the deepening quagmire of maliciousness that was threatening to take away her remaining resolve. She had managed to divert herself from the two gods, dangling a greater target further down the road as bait. Her only hope now was to come up with some sort of plan to stop the upcoming slaughter before it began.

A tiny corner of her mind was repulsed at the action she had taken, and the fact that she had reacted so erotically to the violence. She had always felt the excitement of the fight and the satisfaction of the victory, but the utter seduction of the bloodletting she had felt sickened that tiny kernel of her that belonged to Gabrielle.

She desperately tried to find that tiny piece of herself untouched by the entity inside her; that tiny beacon of humanity that was her lifeline back to sanity. For now, she was unable to reach it because of the power the Chakram had over her, but she hoped that when the opportunity came she could grab onto it with both hands.

Somewhere out there was her partner, cast adrift and floating helplessly in her consciousness, watching the slow destruction of her lover's will. She fervently hoped that their love would survive this; that Gabrielle's feelings for her wouldn't die along with her soul. With that thought, her will slipped another notch into the slime. Frantically, she searched her memory for those thoughts of the one person who meant everything to her - her Gabrielle.

This woman had been an unexpected revelation in a situation that had been close to hopeless. She swept into her life like a tornado, upturning everything she had held dear in her life upside down, and giving her such great joy that she could never imagine her life without the small blonde ever again.

Pleasant images flooded her mind's eye, playing over and over again in her head. She felt herself calm, as she had always done in her lover's presence, and her equilibrium returned. Xena had found a way to halt the downward slide into chaos, floating in a dream-like state, emersed in her memories.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *



"Hey, dad. Down here!" Ares had been calling Zeus for the last half a candlemark without success.

"For the last time, he's not coming." How thick can he be?

"I don't see you doing anything constructive."

"Grab those packs and let's get going." Aphrodite had just about had enough of her brother, and decided some action was needed.

"Where are we going?'

"After them, of course."

"Are you nuts?? And what's gonna happen if we ever find them? You gonna fire your 'arrows of lurrve' at them? Big help that'll be."

"Stop whining. Let's just go." Aphrodite picked up her pack and bow and left, not looking back to see if Ares followed. She heard a scuff of boots and felt his presence next to her.

"And how are you going to find them, oh wise one?"

Aphrodite turned to look at him, raising an elegant eyebrow in a mocking gesture. "Well, unlike you, I did something with my spare time. Artie was very helpful in that department."

"Oh, so that's where you learned all about women, eh?" He broke out in rawkous laughter, amused at his own joke, ignoring his sister's unamused glare.

"Actually, she was very helpful with that too, but no. She taught me all sorts of neat stuff like hunting and tracking."

"Well, then, what happened in that fight? You did nothing."

The goddess ducked her head. "Yeah, I know. At the first sign of trouble, I folded. Totally uncool."

"You got that right."

"Hey! You didn't do much better."

"I had two of them in the palm of my hand."

"And Xena had the other eight."

Ares didn't know how to respond to that. Out of the corner of his eye, he had watched her decimate her enemies, feeling that familiar rush of excitement when he saw her fight, wondering how much was the entity and how much was her raw talent. Gods, how he loved that woman!

"C'mon, let's see if we can pick up the trail."

* * * * * * * * * * * * *



The small army made slow progress towards its next target, a small village up ahead. Cebraxis had been content to just intimidate them to get supplies, but they knew there would be no negotiation this time, only total annihilation. Spirits were high amongst the followers, finally having the chance to kill at will.

They looked up to the tall woman seated on the prancing horse, her bearing had leader stamped all over it. Cool sapphire eyes surveyed the scene in front of her, scanning the horizon for any signs of life. The menace surrounding her shimmered in the noonday air, attracting the men around her. They could feel the need for a kill building, agitating them to the point of pushing and shoving those around them.

A knife fight had broken out at the back of the line, drawing Xena's attention. "Stop!" The low voice vibrated, stopping the combatants in mid-fight. "The next one to start a fight, I will rip out their beating heart. Got me?" Oh yeah, they got her alright.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *



Aphrodite and Ares were making good time, the goddess easily picking up the trail left by twenty men and a horse who were doing nothing to disguise their passing.

"So why are you so interested in saving them?" Ares knew his sister was responsible for blessing them, but he would have thought that her responsibility ended there. There was silence from his sister, her head bent to the ground looking for directions. She glanced out of the corner of her eye at her sibling.

"Oh no, you didn't! You didn't fall for her, did you?" This will complicate things. Getting rid of blondie was one thing, but hurting her sister was another.

She shrugged her shoulders. "No point now. It's not going to happen."

"Why not? Hey, this could work out great. You get what's-her-name, do your thing, and I end up with tall, dark and beautiful."

"I can't do that, and you know it."

"C'mon, 'Dite, you know you want her. Why not bend the rules just this once?"

"Ar, you just don't get it, do you? That sort of love never lasts. It has to be freely given. I can cause the infatuation but without true love, it'll eventually fall apart. You want that?"

"Hades, yes!"

"You are such a Neanderthal, you know that?"

"Hey, I'll get her any way that I can."

"Give it up, bro, she's just not interested. You are so old news."

"Well, without blondie there..."

"Gabrielle. Her name is Gabrielle. Stop calling her blondie."

"Without Gabrielle, she would come back to me, no problem. She'd be begging to come back."

"What parallel universe are you living in? She grew tired of you a long time ago."

"But I'm persistent. Chicks love that."

"Persistent as a rash you can't scratch, Ar. And chicks hate that. Besides, it's a sacred trust."

"Since when has that ever stopped you?"

"Not with these two."

"So, how far has this gone?" He paused for a moment and thought. "Oh 'Dite, you didn't. How could you? You love her that bad?"

She nodded sadly. That bad.

"Hrrmph." He was not going to give up. He had time on his hands – well, not while he was mortal, but once he was back on Mount Olympus he just had to wait until Xena became tired of blon... Gabrielle and he'd step back in, just like the old days.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *



Xena ordered her army to make camp, despite the fact that they were only a candlemark or two away from their target. She could have ridden in at sunset, but she wanted the village out and about so that she could enjoy the killing of each and every one of them. Burning them in their houses would be too easy, and would be far less than satisfying than seeing the horror on their faces, their lifeblood seeping from their dying bodies over her outstretched hands.

Her mind wandered past the immediate attack to the future. It was only a matter of time, with a growing army, to shift the slaughter to her own hometown, and ultimately Athens. The entity within the tall warrior would now systemically erase any evidence of Xena of Amphipolis - for now only she existed, the new Xena, the Destroyer of the Known World.

The entity fed on Xena's spirit, slowly sapping the life force out of her. The knowledge of what savagery she was capable of scared her, and she suspected that wouldn't be the end of it. Before this was finished, she was going to learn it all. She knew she had a deep-seated darkness, Ares had shown her that, but she feared how deep that darkness still had to go.

The loneliness was getting to her though, which was strange. She had pretty much been a loner most of her life, but since the arrival of one small blonde, she had craved the company nearly as much as breathing. She cast her mind adrift, looking for the other part of her soul, and found nothing. Gabrielle, where are you?

C'mon Xena. Marina is home and Gabrielle is counting on you. Stop lounging around. Are you gonna let this thing get the better of you? The entity may have had control of her body but she wasn't finished yet. Patience, Xena.

Gabrielle was tired, the aggressiveness and anger bombarding her was wearing her down. She longed for the tender caress of Xena, the feel of her large arms around her in a warm embrace. At that particular moment, there was a gentle tickling at the end of her conscious thought. Xena? For the first time in quite a while, Gabrielle extended herself, vainly trying to press through the swirling chaos around her. Maybe there was a chance after all.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *



"Are we there yet?"

Aphrodite was about to turn around and punch her brother, who had been whining for the last candlemark. "For the last time, no we are NOT there yet. Stop asking!"

They had continued on in the twilight until Aphrodite could see the ground no longer. With a little effort, they were able to get a fire started after having watched Xena the day before. Cooking was beyond them so they settled for dried rations. As much as either of them would never admit it, they missed their two companions. Ares sighed heavily, looking deep into the fire.


"I'm tired of all this. I just want to go home. One way or the other I want it over."

His sister reached across the distance, placing her hand on his arm, "Things will work out, don't you worry."


"Yeah. Xena will come through. She just so totally rocks, you know?"

"This might even be beyond her, 'Ditie."

She hit him. "What are you talking about? One minute warrior babe is so totally awesome and the next you're kicking her in the teeth? This is so not like you, Ar. Have some faith."

"Faith is for mortals, sis."

"And gods too, you dumb-ass. You are such a downer, you know that?" She so wanted to kick the living daylights out of her brother, who was dragging down her own high spirits with this talk. "Let's get some sleep before you say something else stupid."

"Yeah, right, Miss Love Goddess of the Woods."

"Too late."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *



The camp slowly stirred in the crisp morning air. Xena was in no hurry to attack the village, waiting for mid-morning when the inhabitants would be out going about their business. Weapons were sharpened and armour checked. The fervour built as the morning wore on.

The two immortals got an early start, wasting no time in picking up the trail and setting off in hot pursuit. They had arrived in time to see the army pack up and begin its move towards the hapless townspeople.

"So, what do we do now?" Ares whispered.

"You're the God of War. This is your department."

"It's so much easier when you have your powers. You just walk in, and bam! 'I'm the God of War, do as I say'. I don't think that's gonna work this time."

"Well, we gotta stop them somehow."

"You and me against twenty men and Xena, who counts for ten more? Even with my powers, that isn't good odds"

"Let's follow. Maybe we can come up with something on the way."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *



Gabrielle pushed herself to find her partner through the darkness. She was heartened by the small response earlier, knowing that somewhere Xena was trying to find her. If there was any chance, any chance at all to break through, she was going to take it. She was not going to lose the woman she loved because of lack of effort on her part.

Time was running out, Xena knew that. She needed to do something soon to salvage this situation before innocent people were killed. As she bent her intellect to getting herself out of this mess, a gentle warmth could be felt, afar off at present, but it was there. She knew that feeling intimately and greedily reached out for it, throwing caution to wind, mentally throwing herself off a cliff into the dark void, hoping against hope that a small hand was there to grab her before she fell.

Continued in Chapter 17

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