by Aurelia

See Chapter 1 for disclaimers.

Chapter 9

The morning was bright and sunny, at odds with Gabrielle's gloomy disposition. The young lad Cyrene had found to lead her to the next village was constantly chatting, and for once she silently begged for peace and quiet.

"So where do you come from, Gabrielle?"


"Nice farming country there. They've re-built Potadeia recently and there's now a pretty good market for produce." He could see that the girl was unimpressed with his proud show of knowledge.

Carpus was met with stony silence from the pretty blonde. When Cyrene had asked him to escort someone to the next village he grudgingly agreed. When it turned out to be a beautiful young woman, he thought the Fates had blessed him. However trying to engage her in any kind of conversation was proving very difficult indeed.

"Are we meeting up with a boyfriend?"

A deadly glare silenced his questions for a while.

Gabrielle tried to take an interest in the surrounding countryside, after all she had been away for nearly two summers from her home, but she found it very hard to muster any kind of enthusiasm in that knowledge. She picked up the pace, trying to turn two candlemarks into one, causing the young man next to her to stumble in an effort to get out of her way.

"My, my, we are in a hurry."

She couldn't explain her need for speed, except that her heart was telling her to hurry. Was it a sign that time was running out?

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



Xena could see the spires of the Temple not far ahead and breathed a sigh of relief. Soon it would be over and she could go home, or so she hoped. She was never sure with Ares. The path widened, opening onto a dirt courtyard leading up steps to the entrance of the Temple. She could feel the heaviness in the air as soon as she had stepped into the courtyard. A massive serpent slithered its way out of the undergrowth, blocking her path.

The thing reared its ugly head, showing row upon row of jagged teeth, intent on making her its next meal. Standing up on its muscled tail, the snake easily bested her height by at least five body lengths. Xena backed up, giving herself plenty of room between them, while she contemplated her next move.

The creature twisted and writhed, now woken from its slumber and ready to defend the entrance at all costs, its dark, malevolent eyes studying the human crouched in the undergrowth. A long, flickering tongue tested the surrounding air.

Xena considered her options. The serpent did not attack but simply stood its ground, waiting for her to approach. There was no way around this thing to get to the front door. Well, she could wait. Rushing in at this point would get her killed.

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



Despite her haste, Gabrielle had not saved much in time, arriving at the next village in a little under the two candlemarks. She thanked the smitten lad and sent him on his way. She had no intention of returning to Amphipolis any time soon, at least not without her partner.

She approached the small shrine, barely a tiny stone altar, that had slipped into disrepair. Brushing away dried leaves and dead flowers, Gabrielle thought about what she would say to the goddess. She laid a small token on the altar, a bracelet made by Xena for her on their sea journey. Before she had opened her mouth, her heart cried out in open supplication, saying all that she needed to say.

"Took you long enough." A female voice scared her from her reverie. She turned to see a woman in a see-through pink nightie. Gabrielle closed her eyes and opened them again. Yep, that's what I saw.


"In the flesh, sweetie."

In the flesh, indeed... too much flesh. "Um." Gabrielle couldn't take her eyes off the apparition, watching the unrestrained breasts of the goddess shake every time she spoke.

"I'm here to ask a boon."

"I already know. I've been watching you."

"Me?" What did I do?

"Well, you and tall, dark and deadly. Where is she, by the way?"

"You've been watching us?" All the things they had done together came flooding into her brain, starting a blush in her chest, rising quickly to stain her face.

"Certainly have. That's what I do." Aphrodite chuckled at the blonde's embarrassment. "And by the way, very nice..."

Gabrielle shuffled her feet, trying to get rid of the images in her brain. Try as she might, she couldn't shift them; in fact, the harder she tried not to think of them, more poured into to fill the void.

"Xena is with Ares on an island somewhere." Aphrodite's demeanor changed immediately.

"An island?"

"Um, I think it was called Demnos."

"Ares, of all the stupid..." Aphrodite muttered under her breath.

"I need to get back to her. Can you help me?"

"Wait one moment, sweetpea. I will return." With that, the goddess disappeared in a shower of sparkles, leaving a bewildered Gabrielle behind to ponder what had just happened.

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



Xena sat quietly watching the serpent settle, lowering itself into a coil in front of the stairs, its serpentine eyes watching her every move. Killing it was not going to be easy. Large, thick scales covered its body and she had doubts that her sword was going to make much of a dent on the skin. She looked at her makeshift bow and arrows. They might work but would not cause enough damage for her to move in and finish it off.

The feather shield lay in front of her and she idly brushed a finger over the soft surface. The edges were razor sharp, even sharper than her sword, and could inflict a great deal of damage if used effectively. But how?

Perhaps she could attach them to her arrows, but only a small part of the edge would be used. She needed something that would use as much of the sharp edge as possible, inflicting large open wounds that she could get her sword into.

Xena quickly attached a feather to one of her arrows and fired. The projectile stuck in the large scales of the beast, but it seemed to have little effect, even with the razor sharp feather embedded in it. This was going to require some thought.

Trying to attach them to her sword may prove fruitful, but she still had to get close enough to use it, and she doubted the creature was going to give her the chance to do that. She needed something she could throw at it, something that could use a large part of the cutting surface to inflict damage.

Her mind flashed back to her childhood days when she and her brother Lyceus used to skim stones along the water's surface. Flicking a stone so it could spin and skip and make it seem like it was flying.

As she formulated a plan, Xena began detaching two plates from her armour and reaching for the pile of loose feathers. Here wego again.

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

Aphrodite materialised in a massive hall, surrounded by huge marble columns and godly opulence. The sounds of her footfalls echoed in the Great Hall of Olympus as she made her way down the long walkway to the dais at the end. Bowing in reverence, she greeted Zeus.


"Aphrodite. What are you doing here? I thought you'd be off causing havoc amongst the mortals."

"Something has come to my attention that I think you should know."

"If it concerns Ares, the Fates have already advised me of his indiscretion."

"I have Gabrielle at one of my shrines. What shall I do with her?"


"Xena's... lover. She has asked to be sent to Xena's side. What do you wish me to do?"

The Fates' words echoed in Zeus's head. The wheels were now in motion. "Do as she asks, Aphrodite. She may go."

"And Ares, father?"

"I will see to it. Your responsibility is the girl. Protect her, daughter, she is more valuable than you know."

"Very well."

The goddess's high heels click-clacked on the marble floor as she left the Hall.

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



Several attempts and cut fingers later, Xena had fashioned a working model of her weapon. In theory it should work, but the only way to know would be to try it. It was crude at best, and she would only get one shot at it, but it was the best she could come up with.

It had to be the weirdest idea she had ever had, but the strange feathers from those mythical birds had given her the chance to try ideas that would have otherwise been out of the realm of possibility. They had been a lot of trouble to carry, but she hoped she could get some of them home, giving her the opportunity to create something truly unique and beautiful for a weapon.

If this didn't work, then it was up to her trusty sword, which would prove very hard work indeed. Taking a moment to prepare for her attack, Xena sent a thought to her absent partner.

Confidently, she strode out into the open courtyard, attracting the attention of her enemy. Slowly, the massive serpent unwound itself, rising up to look down on its tiny opponent. In a show of ferocity, it bared its teeth again, hoping to freeze its prey in place before striking.

Xena stood stock still, waiting for the creature to make its move. It struck down quickly, jaws open to receive the tasty morsel standing before it. At the last second she flipped herself out of the way, throwing the feathered ball into the open jaws that passed so close by her. She back-flipped out of the way and awaited the outcome.

The serpent slithered from side to side trying to dislodge the pain lodged in its throat. With every flick of its muscular body, the feathers embedded further into the flesh, cutting through muscle and tissue.

It was struggling with the damage the ball was inflicting, its lifeblood leaking out of its gaping mouth. Xena let out her battle cry and ran in, her sword raised in one hand. Half a dozen slashes later and the serpent's body writhed around unaware that it no longer had a head. Xena stood in a pool of blood, watching the dying twitches of her enemy, feeling the haunting sensation of satisfaction.

She had a moment to feel the horror before she was drawn into the vortex of days gone by, where her blood lust was unrivalled. She had lived for death and power and everything in between, when she was teetering on the edge of being lost to her darkness forever.

Taking a steadying breath, she knew she was walking that edge again. One little push and she would fall. She inhaled and her lungs filled with the odour of blood, fresh blood. Her pulse beat in her head, slowly and steadily, sending a red curtain across her eyes, bathing her vision in crimson.

A half-grin, tinged with menace, crossed her face, and she slowly ascended the stairs to her destiny.


Xena could feel the raw power as soon as she entered the chamber, throbbing through her in time to her own heartbeat. Images of her past were drawn into her head, scenes of carnage and bloodshed that she had tried so recently to forget. A new thirst for blood surfaced, and she could nearly feel the familiar hilt of her sword resting in her hand, sending tingles up her arm and reminding her of those days when killing and mayhem tasted like sweet vintage wine.

Dead torches buried in sconces in the walls burst into life, acknowledging her presence in the room. The very air itself seemed to come to life, inhaling and exhaling its stale breath over the flickering flames.

There it sat on an altar in the middle of the chamber: the Chakram. The weapon was truly beautiful; a perfect harmony of shape and power, its azure gems glistening in the reflected light. She could feel her fingers itching to hold it, to feel its cold smoothness in the palm of her hand.

Despite herself, her right hand reached out towards the weapon of its own free will. It took all her willpower to stop herself from grabbing it, and she stepped back into the shadows of the wall, pushing herself against the cold surface. The cool menace she could now clearly feel emanating from the Chakram pulled at her resolve, willing her to step forward to claim the prize in front of her.

Her plan seemed to be unravelling at a rapid rate, and she now questioned the validity of this action. She thought she could control this situation but was finding the opposite to be true. Perhaps trying to turn the tables on Ares was going to end up destroying them all.

In a final act of desperation, she forced herself to stick to her plan, praying that this risk would pay off. The pull became stronger and she found herself unable to ignore it any longer. Step by step, she moved closer, her hand extending itself. As her fingers closed around the circle of darkness, it felt as if a nest of ants had crawled inside her head...

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



Cyrene sat on a faded, tattered bedspread, a large wooden box lay open at her feet filled with mementos of a past life that she had thought long gone. In her hands rested a small rag doll, brand new despite its age. Here were memories of her wild and tempestuous daughter who had been a constant source of frustration to her.

The doll had never been used by Xena, who was more interested in fighting imaginary battles than raising an imaginary family. She had never been, nor ever would be, what was considered a normal little girl. Her hand ran through the ragged woollen hair idly as her thoughts turned inward to a gawky child who would take on the older boys and usually beat them at their own game.

"Grandma! Grandma!" In ran the nine year-old who was the embodiment of her daughter; a child whose boundless energy tired out her grandmother just watching her. Marina slowed at the sight of the open box, her curiosity getting the better of her as she knelt in front of it in homage. She looked up at her grandma with beseeching eyes.

A fond smile touched the woman's lips and she nodded permission. A wide grin split Marina's face, lighting up her features from within. Eager hands rummaged through the pile of toys, looking for booty to add to her own meagre supply. A tiny wooden sword, its hilt fitting perfectly into her small hand, took her attention. She lifted it and swung it around in imitation of her mother. Cyrene sighed, like mother, like daughter...

What Marina did next did surprise her, though. The child put down the sword next to her then reached for the doll in Cyrene's hands. She pulled the rag figure to her chest and cuddled it, swaying softly from side to side. The older woman felt a tear come to her eye watching the young child whisper to her own make believe child. It was a tender scene that broke her heart and she made a decision to find her granddaughter some real friends to ease the loneliness. Or perhaps a nice brother or sister. He he...

"C'mon Marina." Cyrene stood up and took the child's hand, leading her downstairs to some milk and cookies. At the bottom of the stairs the building shook, sending pottery jars flying off the shelves. Dragging Marina along behind her, Cyrene ran outside. By the Gods...

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


"Are you ready to go?" Gabrielle jumped with a start, unaware that the goddess had returned.

"Ah, yeah. What is your price Aphrodite?"

"Let's just say this one is free for all the good memories you have given me."

Gabrielle had just gotten rid of one blush to have it replaced by another. Watching the Goddess of Love's breasts jiggle around as she laughed only deepened the blush. Aww, no...

The ground shifted under their feet. "What in Hades was that?" Gabrielle looked up at the concerned look of the immortal. "I don't want to know, do I?"

"But you're going to find out." She mumbled just before sending them both off in a mass of stars.

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


Even the distant Halls on Mount Olympus felt the upheaval. A solitary figure seated on a massive throne bowed his head. "Damn..."

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



Ares awaited Xena's re-emergence from the Temple with unrestrained enthusiasm. She would now be his again. He saw movement from within. "Welcome back sweet..." His voice felt like it had been ripped from his throat and left him cowering in the dirt.

What he saw... for the first time in his immortal life he was truly scared. This creature standing in front of him was barely Xena. An eerie glow emanated from her eyes, its power dwarfing his own substantial power. He knew he had made a fatal mistake.

Xena felt like she was in quicksand, slowly sinking into the memories of her past. Writhing bodies of her fallen enemies surrounded her, trying to draw her down into their festering pool of dead humanity. Oh Gods, Gabbriieeelllleeee!!!! Her spirit cried out for help.

She rallied her defences and drew herself out of the ungodly pit of despair intent on killing her. Her soul was not theirs to have; it belonged to another. Just as Gabrielle's belonged to her. She drew her mental line in the sand to fight and set her mind to that task. If this evil wanted her, then it would have to take her kicking and screaming...

Continued in Chapter 10

Return to the Academy