The Longer Journey Ends

David E. Milligan


Part One


"So you really expect me to believe you this time?" Michael, the Archangel, said to Xena.  "You seem to have this habit of telling the truth whenever it serves your purpose, but when it doesn't. . . ."

"I told you, give me another chance. This time it'll be different."

Michael didn't answer, but he was watching Xena's eyes, trying to determine if she was telling the truth or not.

"Send us to Mt. Olympus and we'll take care of Ares. I don't know what else to say."

"All right, Xena. We'll send you back. This is against my better judgment, but I've been overruled. But I'm telling you -- don't fail us again. Do what you promised."

Before Xena could answer, she and Gabrielle were standing at the foot of Mt. Olympus. 

"Xena, I have to know something. You told me that you could never kill Ares because of the debt you owe him for saving my and Eve's lives, but you told Michael that the next time you and Ares meet you would kill him. So which is it?"

Xena looked deep into Gabrielle's eyes, and then put one hand on her shoulder.  "Just know this, I will never lie to YOU."

Gabrielle nodded her head in understanding. Then without saying anything more Xena was moving along the base of the mountain, as if she were searching for something.  Following behind, Gabrielle said.  "Xena, if you're looking for something, maybe I could help if I knew what it was."

Xena stopped and looked up and around as if she was afraid someone somewhere was spying on them. Then in a low voice she said, "I'm looking for the entrance to the Cave of Hephaestus."

"Hephaestus? That name sounds familiar. Wasn't he the blacksmith of the gods?"

"Hephaestus was the son of Hera, but because he was so ugly, Hera cast him down from Mt. Olympus, and he became the blacksmith of the gods just as you said."

"That's right! He forged the gods' weapons."

"Yes he did, and also chains that can't be broken, not even by the gods. So if I can't kill Ares, then there's only one other alternative."

"You want to imprison him somewhere with unbreakable chains!"

"Yes. That's why we need to find the cave. I'm hoping we can find chains there to bind him."

For several days the two searched along the base of the mountain, stopping only to eat and when there was no longer enough light to see.

The fifth day they found the opening. There were large rocks and small boulders covering it, and brush had grown up around the area, but Xena's exceptional eyesight discovered it. It took the better part of the day to clear away all the rocks and debris.  Xena fashioned torches out of the branches and by dusk they were entering the Cave of Hephaestus.

"Be careful where you walk and don't touch anything," Xena warned Gabrielle. "There could be traps anywhere."

They walked almost thirty paces and made three turns when they came to a large room with passages leading off in all directions. 

"This is it." Xena said as she pointed to the forge in the center of the area. 

"Look there." Xena said pointing her torch at one wall. Gabrielle walked over for a better look and saw a large red jewel mounted high in some kind of stone carving.

"The Eye of Hephaestus." Xena said. "Look around, see if there's anything we can use."

Gabrielle took a quick walk around the room without much success. "There's not much here." She commented.

"Then we're going to have to make a more thorough search. Look in all the corners, all the nooks, everywhere. You might even want to check down a couple of those passageways, but don't go far. You don't want to get lost in here."

Gabrielle nodded and began a closer inspection. Soon they both were finding things -- blanks for swords and daggers, almost completed swords and knives with cracks in the blades or handles, unfinished shields, even an occasional chain link or two, but not enough to make a useful length of chain.

"There are an awful lot of broken weapons here." Gabrielle said to Xena.

"Well, my guess would be that they are probably some of the very first things he tried making."

"Then why didn't he just throw them out?"

"He didn't dare. They can't be destroyed, but even weapons that are broken and useless to a god would make a mortal almost invincible."

"Then I guess we should be glad they're still here."

After a light supper, they went back to their searching. Xena was about to suggest that they get some sleep and continue the search in the morning when she heard Gabrielle call to her in a very odd voice.

"Xena, by - the - gods, Xena. Will you look at this?"

Xena walked over to Gabrielle and held her torch closer, and saw that Gabrielle was holding up a Chakram -- an exact duplicate of the Dark Chakram Xena carried for so many years.

"What? How? Where?" Gabrielle couldn't find the words.

"Let me see that." Xena said as she took the Chakram from Gabrielle's hand.  "Hold this!" Xena said as she thrust her torch toward Gabrielle.

Using the light from both torches Xena looked closely at it, examining it over and over until she found something.  "I knew something didn't feel right just as soon as you gave it to me. Feel right here," Xena said as she held out the Chakram to Gabrielle, who had to put both torches in one hand to touch where Xena was indicating. She felt a nick in it, a very small notch.

"What is it?" She asked Xena.

Xena held it up and then pulled on opposite sides, and a small sliver of a crack allowed the yellow-orange light to show through.  "It's flawed." Xena answered. "It must have cracked somehow just as he was finishing it. So he made another one, the one Ares stole from that temple and gave to me."

"Why do you think he made them in the first place?" Gabrielle asked.

"I have no idea. As much as he hated Hera, maybe he was hoping someone would use one or the other to kill her. Or maybe just for his own pleasure. You know, something no one had ever made before. But then I'm just guessing."

"I didn't find any chains, did you?" Gabrielle asked.

"No, but I think I found something almost as good. Look over here."

Gabrielle followed Xena to the side of the room opposite of where the Eye of Hephaestus was.

"What is it? It looks like a large bath tub -- or a stone coffin."

"That's what I was thinking. If Hephaestus made this as well, it could be used to hold Ares."

"Do you have any idea how to actually get him in there?"

"I'm still working on that." Xena answered. "If we can get him in here, in this cave, I may be able to make him climb into it on his own. Or die."

"I thought you said...."

"Or make him THINK he'll die if he doesn't. Now, how to get him in here is the problem."

"Maybe if you just call him out he'll appear."

"No, that won't work. This cave is as god-proof as the chains. If he comes in he'll have to walk."

Neither one spoke, looking to the other for an idea.  Gabrielle opened her mouth as if she was going to say something, then didn't, but the expression on her face interested Xena.

"You have an idea?" Xena asked.

"I'm not sure. I mean I have one, but I don't know how good it is."

"Well, spit it out! It can't hurt to tell me what it is."

"I was thinking, what if we get Aphrodite to help? I'll bet if it came down to either her thinking you would kill Ares, or helping us lock him up, she'd rather help."

Xena thought for a while. "It might work. But before we let her in on this, maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea if you talked to her. You know, see how she feels about this change in Ares. I'm sure she can't be happy about it."

"That's not a bad idea. Now all I need is some kind of reason to get her down here."

Again both women were quiet, trying to come up with a good excuse. Finally Xena asked, "Gabrielle, your scrolls are in Poteidaia, aren't they?"

"Yes, I left them with Lila for safe keeping. Why?"

"What if you asked Aphrodite to take you to Poteidaia to get them and then bring them back here?"

"I guess I could. But why would I want them here?"

"Why not? Can you think of a safer place for them? What would happen if Poteidaia was attacked by some warlord and they were destroyed?"

"Xena...." Gabrielle started to say.

"Or what if there was a fire? Or if they were stolen? And don't forget, things in here don't age. They will look just the same in a hundred years as they do now."

"Okay, okay, you've convinced me. Now that I think about it, this probably is the best place for them.  First thing tomorrow morning I'll try to get in touch with Aphrodite and see what she says."

The next day Gabrielle left the cave and called for Aphrodite. Xena decided to stay inside and look around to see if there was anything else of any value to be found.

"Gabrielle! Oh I'm just SO glad to see you! Things have been so terrible this past year!  First I heard that Xena died. And then you were gone for so long looking for her. But I heard she's alive again, and I'm really happy about that! Is she here?"

"You know Xena, she's around somewhere. But it's good to see you, too.  It has been a hard year, I just hope things get better real soon."

"Oh, me too. So what do you want to do? We could go shopping or something."

"Well actually, I was hoping you might flash me back to Poteidaia so I could get my scrolls."

"Oh," Aphrodite said a little disappointed. "Sure, be glad to."

"While we're there we could walk through the marketplace." Gabrielle suggested. "It's not a particularly large one,  but there are always interesting things there."

"Okay!" Aphrodite said, brightening up. "Let's go to Poteidaia."


By midday Gabrielle and Aphrodite were back with Gabrielle's scrolls. "I never realized you had so many." Aphrodite was saying as she helped Gabrielle carry them into the cave.

As they walked down the passage, Aphrodite was becoming a little apprehensive. "Are you sure this is where you want to put them?" she asked Gabrielle.

"I just want to make sure they're safe. And this is just about the safest place I can think of."

"Okay, if that's what you want to do. You know, I never did like it here. It's so dark and -- dark, and all. Did you know that Hephaestus was in love with me? My own brother! I was so glad when he was thrown out of Mt. Olympus."

"So you've been in here?"

"Just a couple of times. I tried to stay as far away from Hephaestus as I could."

"This looks like a good spot," Gabrielle said as she stopped walking. "I think they will fit nicely in these little nooks." 

As Gabrielle began to put the scrolls in one by one, she casually asked, "Have you seen Ares lately?"

"Gabrielle, if you don't mind, I'd rather not talk about Ares."

"Why, is something wrong with him?"

"Come on, Gabrielle, I may not be the smartest god there ever was, but we both know what's going on with him and Xena. He told me she tried to kill him."

"Did he tell you why."

When Aphrodite didn't answer, Gabrielle went on. "In order for Xena to get her body back, she had to promise to kill Ares. Haven't you noticed a change in him since he came back from Japa?"

Aphrodite nodded slightly.

"He has been infected with this terrible evil spirit. The spirit of a Soul Eater. He had eaten the souls of 40,000 innocent men, women and children. Xena destroyed him, but his evil was still there, hiding. And when Ares took me to Mt. Fuji, this evil spirit got into Ares. Aphrodite, Xena doesn't want to kill Ares. She tried but she couldn't do it. But he has to be stopped, you know that don't you?"

Aphrodite nodded again

"Aphrodite, we need you help."

"You want me to betray my brother?"  Aphrodite asked incredulously.

"I want you to help us not kill him. Xena has a plan to imprison him here in this cave somehow, but we need you to get him down here."

"I don't know, Gabrielle. I mean, I know there's something wrong with him. I've never seen him so cruel and so heartless, but still...."

"Aphrodite, there are only two options here. Either we lock him up, forever, or Xena will have to kill him. Which would you rather happen?"

"I don't want him to die, Gabrielle. Can you  promise me that Xena won't kill him?"

"Why don't you ask me?" Xena said as she walked up to them.

"If I help you, do you swear you won't kill him?"

"I can only tell you this -- if he cooperates then he won't have to die, but if he fights me I  may not have a choice. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I don't want Ares to die any more than you do."

Aphrodite was silent, the agonizing conflict playing across her face. Finally she said, almost in a whisper. "All right, I'll help you. What do you want me to do?"

"Well, I was thinking," Gabrielle said. "Why don't you tell him you saw someone come into the cave, but assure him it wasn't Xena. And when he comes to see who it is, he'll only see me with these scrolls. And while he is distracted, Xena can, I don't know, knock him down or something. And then you can take off. You won't even have to be here after that."

"Good plan." Xena said. "Good and simple. Just the way I like `em."

"Thanks!" Gabrielle said, beaming with the compliment. "So have you come up with anything?"

"Actually, I have. I found out that the Eye of Hephaestus is actually some kind of trigger. If it's hit in a certain place there is a stone door that comes down and seals off the cave."

"Well, yeah." Aphrodite said. "Everybody knows THAT."

"Everybody mortal, or everybody god?" Gabrielle asked her.

"Oh.  Well, all the gods know it,  knew it."

"Is there anything else about it we should know?" Xena asked.

"I can't think of anything, except that once the door has been sealed it won't open again for a couple of thousand years."

"A Couple of Thousand Years!!" Gabrielle cried out. "You mean I won't be able to get to my scrolls for two thousand years?  Xena, I can't leave them here. What if I want to read them again, or...."

"Gabrielle, how long do you think they'll last if you don't leave them in here?  Thirty, forty years? I thought you said you were writing them so that future generations will be able to read them and understand how things really happened?"

"I thought they were just about Xena." Aphrodite said to Gabrielle.

"They are about her, and me and you and Joxer and Ares. They're about all of us. Xena's right, as usual, this IS where they should be kept."

"Is there anything else?" asked Xena.

"No." Aphrodite said. "I think that's about all."

"So, Xena, do we have a plan yet?" Gabrielle asked, changing the subject.

"Still working on it. Aphrodite, why don't you go on back for now, and that will give us a chance to get ready. And then tomorrow morning you tell Ares what Gabrielle said."

"All right. You really do promise you won't kill him?"

"I will do my best not to, I swear to you."

Aphrodite looked at Gabrielle for confirmation and then walked to the entrance of the cave, and disappeared.



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