Farewell to a Hero (Amazon Scrolls 5)
David J. Duncan
Notes Part 1: The characters from Xena Warrior Princess and Hercules the Legendary Journeys belong to Studios USA and Universal. All other characters are mine. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes Part 2: Before reading this story, one might want to see the three Serena episodes from Season 3 of Hercules-"Encounter", "When a Man Loves a Woman" and "Judgment Day" (where Xena and Gabrielle step in to help deal with things). And for those of you not familiar with Hercules, Serena was the last Golden Hind and Herc's second wife.
Notes Part 3: In this AU, there was no deal between the Fates and Herc to keep Serena alive. (Just to avoid any YAXIs or YAHIs out there..)
Preface [Amazon Village, c. 87 AD]
Gabrielle, Bard-Queen of the Amazons, writes..
The seasons come and go as Fortune's wheel continues to turn. Our village continues to prosper and so does our alliance with Althanor. Welcoming Jasmine as an "honorary sister" made for a joyous event, especially given the rejection by her father.
However, the return of one very old friend brought reality back to our home, opening-as our future friends might put it-a big can of worms. This scroll combines his experiences as well as our own..
Chapter 1 [Ancient Greece-Close by to the village from "Judgment Day"]
The air still held a bit of chill on that early spring day in March. A gray overcast shrouded the sun, leaving a dim haze over the landscape. Throughout the countryside, the forest animals hurried toward one spot situated in a clearing by a lake as they did each year on that date. It was bizarre-almost as if they performed a pilgrimage to be with a loved one.
At first glance, one might only notice the tall grasses billowing in the breeze. However, there was more to be seen upon a closer inspection. The very top of a granite tombstone poked out of the grassy cover. Half-buried in its surface, a bejeweled marriage bracelet glittered in the dim light. Next to the stone, a rock pile concealed a buried body, guarding its charge as it had for the previous twenty-seven years.
Passers-by stayed clear of the place, as did the villagers. On some occasions, it was said that a bizarre specter roamed the area. It appeared sometimes as a petite auburn-haired beauty with sad eyes and a desperate countenance. At other times, a ghostly golden creature-half woman and half deer, roamed the clearing, calling for something or someone. Legend had it that she wanted her lost love...
On this particular anniversary, a solitary traveler slowly made his way up the path from the village toward the site. Although sagging under the weight of age, his arm's muscles could still outdo fifteen other men. Light brown and white streaks wove their way through his shoulder length mane. A few wrinkles creased his face as did a frown. He favored his left leg slightly. Looking at this man, one knew that he had fought in his share of battles. Reaching the site, he cleared the grass away from the marker and its mound of stone. "Hi, Serena," he started, as he dropped to one knee. "It's me, Hercules. I never forgot you. You've always had a place in my heart." He bowed his head, trying to obscure the tears welling up in his eyes.
"Oh, ain't this a sight to see?" a sinister voice ridiculed.
Hercules tensed and spun around to find his ebon-clad half-brother standing behind him with his arms folded across his chest. Especially given the situation surrounding Serena's death, this intruder was the last person he wanted to see there. "Ares, get out of here!"
The war god sighed, "She's mine, Half-Brother. Always was. Always will be."
"She belonged to herself, not you!" Hercules challenged, taking two steps toward Ares with his fists clenched. Despite the fact that age had halved his strength, he wasn't about to let the latter get away with this desecration.
Ares drew his sword and chuckled, "Come and get some!"
Thus angered, the half-god charged and landed several blows at the latter, knocking him clear across the clearing.
Ares staggered to his feet and wiped the blood from his chin. His eyes narrowed at the elderly man approaching him. "Still got some of that old drive, do ya? Well good!" Swinging his sword, he managed to nick the other on the arm.
"You'll have to do better than that," Hercules retorted, landing another solid punch and driving Ares still further back from the grave site. "Stay away!"
The war god smirked at his half-brother. "Oh.I think I've done enough." He held the sword in the air where the red colored tip could be seen. "This got ya and it had hind's blood on it. You know what that means, right?"
Hercules suddenly felt weak. "You've poisoned me."
Ares nodded; giving the other a triumphant smirk. "Yeah-I have. Too bad you're half-mortal cuz that means you'll go slow and painful. Still, I guess I get to enjoy it. I'll be watching." With that, he vanished from view; his laughter echoing through the site.
Hercules clutched his stomach, feeling the first effects of the poison. He knew it would be only a matter of days or even a few weeks at most before it took him. "Got to get help." He looked back at the site. "I don't want to leave but I have to get treatment. I love you, Serena." With that, he hobbled away, heading back toward the village.
Once he was out of sight, Serena's ghost appeared. Hurry and get help, my love. And maybe I can help as well. With that, she vanished from view.
Chapter 2 [Amazon Village]
[A/N: This story takes place a month after "The Magi Storm" in the 'Dubois Chronicles']
Gabrielle sat in her hut, catching up with her archival activities. With everything that had happened in the village and with their friends in the future, her scrolls remained woefully behind in their coverage. Will I ever get caught up? Between David's near death experience and the battle in the desert, there's so much to write about. She sighed and scribbled out a few notes.
At that moment, Varia stuck her head into the room. "Begging your pardon, my Queen, might I have a word?"
"Sure, Varia, what is it?" the Bard asked.
The former queen/current Amazon councilor replied, "We just returned with our newest sister from her training."
Gabrielle smiled, as she had wondered about Jasmine's latest training expedition. "And?"
"The Princess improves with each day's workout. She's a very fast learner."
Knowing how hard a teacher Varia could be, especially in concert with Xena and Eve, Gabrielle wondered, "How are the chobos treating her?"
Varia shrugged. "She'll be back in a few minutes. You can ask her then."
"Very well. I need to visit with Hope first. I'll meet Xena and Eve in an hour," Gabrielle concluded, dismissing her.
As she left, Varia wondered, Hope has controlled herself thus far but for how much longer? And can she be trusted? We can only hope her motives are pure this time.
Meanwhile Gabrielle crossed the square, heading for her daughter's hut. As always, two Amazon warriors flanked the entrance, making sure their 'guest' didn't leave unless called for. I wish we could do away with all of these things. Still, Xena and the others don't trust her.and then again, I can't say that I do either.
Upon seeing the Queen approach, the guards pulled their spears back, allowing the former to enter the dwelling.
"Hope? How are you?" Gabrielle asked.
Hanging in her hammock, the demon spawn snickered snidely, "Oh, I'm fine, Mother. I so enjoy being a prisoner."
"You do have a reputation, you know," the Bard reminded her.
Hope rolled her eyes. "And so do your precious Xena and Livia.oh sorry.I mean, Eve. Face it; we all have our pasts to deal with. And what about Dubois and his demon? They roam free while I rot in here!"
"They are trying to deal with the rest of us at least. You made a great start in that regard in helping us before," Gabrielle replied, trying to give her daughter some reassurance.
Hope snorted. "That is a huge comfort. So how many good deeds do I have to do anyway, Mother, to be released from here?"
Gabrielle counted to ten inside of her head, trying to think of what to say to the other woman. Then she continued, "It's not how many deeds you do, Hope, it's if you can start down a new path and build trust with others. David, Xena and Eve have done so but it's taken years to do it. You need to do the same."
"Whatever," Hope retorted sharply. "I didn't need this when Father was around."
"Your father hurt you. I want to help you so that you can help yourself," Gabrielle countered. "Think on that for a while."
Her daughter just turned her back and sulked. She didn't want her mother to see the hot tears of indignation burning her cheeks.
All right. Be that way, Hope, but I tried. With that, Gabrielle turned and headed across the village to the edge of the forest.
At that moment, Eve and Xena watched their latest protégé, as she drank deeply from the water ladle. Both mother and daughter had marveled at how Jasmine at taken to training in the Amazon village, especially given the lack of twenty-first century conveniences or even those things others took for granted. While the first day had taken some adjustment, the Middle Eastern princess was determined to prove her worth.
"Mmm.thank you," Jasmine expressed, handing the water ladle back to Xena.
"No problem," the Warrior Princess replied warmly. "You earned it."
"You think so? My timing is still off," Jasmine supposed.
Eve's eyes sparkled at her student. She's as hard on herself here as she is at the university. "You'll get the hang of it, Jasmine. Believe me; it takes time to master any weapon."
Jasmine smiled. "Thank you, Dr. Messenger, I'll keep trying."
"Yeah, Doc, nice advice," Xena sassed.
"And you mastered the chakram overnight, I suppose, Mother?" the former Messenger inquired, quirking an eyebrow at her.
Her mother smirked back at her. "When you're good, you're good." For emphasis, she hefted the weapon and slung it into the woods. "Listen, Jasmine."
The Princess did so, picking up on the caroms' echoes. "I hear them. They're getting softer and now louder."
At that moment, the weapon returned to its mistress' hand.
"It's all in the timing," Eve noted.
"Not to mention the genes," Xena added.
"You have many skills, Mother," Eve teased back.
"Ya got that right," Xena concurred, rubbing her daughter's shoulder. "Seriously, Jasmine, Eve's right. With any weapon, it takes practice to know what it can do."
"Indeed. Just as with Carpet or using my scimitar," Jasmine agreed. Seeing Gabrielle approach, she greeted, "Queen Gabrielle, how are you?"
The Bard replied, "I'm all right. Varia reported that you're doing great with the chobos."
"I suppose. I still need practice though," the newest Amazon assessed.
"She's being modest, Gabrielle," Eve disagreed. "That Magi training is helping her here."
Jasmine stared incredulously at her professor. "How do you know about the Magi?"
Eve looked uneasily at them all before bowing her eyes. "I have faced your brethren in battle, Jasmine."
"Dr. Messenger, what are you saying? When was this?"
Gabrielle looked at Xena, trying to figure out a way to change the subject quickly.
Before they could do so, however, Eve revealed, "It was outside of Carthage. I led a Roman battalion against them."
Jasmine's jaw dropped as she put the facts together in her head. "You mean.you're LIVIA?" Feeling outrage and anger wash over her like a tidal wave, she drew her scimitar. "Hundreds of my brothers died that day because of you!"
"Cool it," Xena pointed out. "She ain't Livia anymore! She changed!"
Jasmine shook her head. "You can change clothes or practices but blood never lies!"
"Enough, Jasmine!" Gabrielle ordered. "She is Eve now. Eli changed her."
"And I regret that day, Jasmine," Eve declared, her eyes brimming with tears and her face flushing from her shame. "I was lost then. Now I seek to atone."
From the air, a disembodied laughter could be heard for the briefest of seconds.
"By the Prophet, what was that?" Jasmine wondered, surveying their surroundings and holding her scimitar at the ready.
Xena glared to her left. "It's just a rat. Come out, Rat, cuz I can smell ya!"
In a flash, Ares appeared. "That's King Rat to you. And here I decided to drop in for a visit."
"You mean intrude on Amazon lands. What do you want?" Gabrielle demanded.
He shot her an amused glance. "Has anyone told you how cute you are when you're angry, Gabrielle?" Adding a 'gotcha look' at Xena, he added, "Your friend just made a good point. Just how different is Eve these days? Or you for that matter?"
The Warrior Princess glared at him. "Eve and I have changed, Ares. Sorry the same can't be said for you but then, some people just can't get rid of the stench."
"I'd agree with that, Mother. One has to want to change to actually do it," Eve concurred.
He smirked at her incredulously. "Grow up. By the way, who's the new babe here? She's hot."
Jasmine put her hands on her hips and protested, "Excuse me? I am not a 'babe', you oaf! I am the Princess Jasmine-A 'isha and you will treat me with respect!"
"Ooh and feisty too! Maybe she'd be a good protégé," he supposed.
"Back off, Ares, she's already got a teacher," Xena pointed out, drawing her sword.
"Yeah, yeah..some towel head, I'll bet. How hard can he be?" he scoffed.
Gabrielle shook her head. "Actually, as an honorary Amazon, she is under my tutelage here. Besides, she's one of David's students. You mess with her and you get a certain dark friend of ours-if you get my drift."
"And he still wants a piece of ya," Xena added knowingly.
"The Professor knows this arrogant dog?" Jasmine inquired.
Ares fumed and scored a nearby tree with a fire blast. "I like your spunk but DON'T CALL ME A DOG!"
Xena shook her head at Jasmine before retorting, "She's calling it like it is, Ares. Stay away from her and the other students."
"Whatever," he conceded. "I'm having fun elsewhere at the moment." He glared at Jasmine, warning her, "I'd watch it if I were you. Dubois can't be everywhere, you know." With that, he vanished from view.
"Who was that?" Jasmine demanded. "And to use a war god's name no less?"
The three older Amazons exchanged glances and tried to restrain themselves.
"What?" Jasmine insisted.
Finally, Xena explained, "That was Ares, the god of war. Hot air and all."
"You're serious?" Jasmine asked in disbelief.
"Deadly serious. He was the one who pushed me to attack the Magi," Eve pointed out.
The Princess shook her head. "I need to consider that, Professor. Excuse me." With that, she walked away toward the village.
Eve watched the angry young woman depart. I will never wash the blood from my hands. Still the past pulls at me.
"It'll be okay, Eve," Gabrielle assured her. "Give Jasmine time."
"I'm sure. I just wish it would get easier to deal with my past," the Amazon princess commented sadly.
Xena embraced her tightly, noting, "It doesn't get any easier, Eve. We just learn to deal with it is all. Come on; let's get back." As they walked back, she wondered to herself. What did Ares mean when he said, he was 'having fun elsewhere'? Why do I get the feeling that his 'fun' is going to come back to bite us in the ass? With that, she followed the others toward the village.
Chapter 3 [Althanor]
As she did each morning, Deirdre walked along the perimeter of the Hidden Realm, listening to the birds singing. A gentle breeze rustled her hair. She felt light, leaving all worlds and their problems behind. I wish Auntie would come with me. She needs a break.
More and more, Cybelle's responsibilities as the High Priestess of the Realm kept her from taking time to smell the roses so to speak. Consequently, she increasingly sequestered herself from the world.
There would be enough if she would trust Genaria and me to assist her. The young priestess sighed and rubbed her forehead, trying to head off the potential headache developing there.
Suddenly, a flash of white passed to one side of her.
"Who's there?" she called out. What was that? She felt a presence close by. "In the name of Cybelle, High Priestess of Althanor, I command you to show yourself!"
"Very well," a disembodied voice agreed. Having said that, Serena's ghost materialized in front of the priestess. "I only seek help for the one I love."
Deirdre eyed the phantom carefully, considering if this was a legitimate sending or not. How did she get through the mists? "Who is this loved one?"
Serena gazed sadly at her. "His name is Hercules, the son of Zeus. He's a great hero. Please!"
The priestess scratched her head. Why does that name seem familiar? Best to let Auntie know about this. "I'll help if I can. What's the trouble?"
The ghost replied, "His half-brother used a sword dipped in hind's blood to cut him. The blood is killing him! I used to think Ares was a good god but now, I know differently."
Hearing the war god's name made Deirdre look sharply at the spirit. "Ares attacked him?"
"You know him?"
Deirdre sighed, "Unfortunately and so does my Aunt Cybelle." She focused for a minute, sending a telepathic message to the High Priestess. Upon getting a response, she smiled. "She'll see you. Follow me."
"All right," Serena agreed hesitantly, following her newly-discovered guide toward the settlement proper.
[Fifteen minutes later]
Deirdre and Serena stopped in front of Cybelle's hut.
"Before we go in, I wanted to thank you for trusting me, Deirdre," the ghost expressed.
The priestess shrugged, "I can tell you're sincere. Your eyes reveal that about you. Come." She rapped on the door.
"Enter," Cybelle bade.
The two visitors opened the door and entered the hut. There, in the midst of shelves lined with books and some simply-hewn wooden furniture stood the High Priestess of Althanor. "Welcome, Serena."
"You know me?" the ghost wondered, feeling uneasy.
"Indeed I do. Don't be alarmed. I knew who you were from the minute you passed through the mists. Deirdre's message to me confirmed your identity," Cybelle reported while easing the usual stern look she gave to visitors.
"You have my thanks then, Cybelle," the spirit expressed.
The High Priestess continued, "Tell me; what is the nature of the poison in your friend?"
Serena took a deep breath. "It's hind's blood-the only thing that can kill a god."
Cybelle considered the answer. "It's not the only thing. Your friend is a god, then? I would caution you. They have attacked us on several occasions."
Serena bit her lip. "He's half-god. Look, he's spent his entire life helping others, all right? He's not like the others in his family. I died because the gods wanted to get back at him!"
Deirdre gave the visitor a sympathetic look. "Aunt Cybelle, certainly we can do something."
The High Priestess shrugged. "Follow me-both of you." She led them outside to the stone well in the center of the village. There she glanced into the still waters. "Serena, look into the water and think of this person. You will see him there."
The ghost stared into the waters and saw Hercules there. He was limping up a dirt path in the forest, trying to get help. "There! You see?"
The priestesses stared at the image and they winced at the angry wound on his left arm.
"He needs help," Deirdre declared. Then she looked again at the image and saw several armed thugs coming out of the woods. "Aunt Cybelle, look!"
"I see them," Cybelle noted. "They're Ares' scum."
"The last time this happened, two friends of his, Xena and Gabrielle, helped him and Iolaus," Serena recalled.
"He's a friend of Xena and Gabrielle's? That changes everything!" Cybelle exclaimed. She looked around for Genaria, Deirdre's sister priestess. Seeing her, she called, "Genaria, you're needed!"
"Yes, Mother?" Genaria asked after rushing over.
Cybelle pointed to the well's image. "I want you and Deirdre to help the man in the image back here. Take him to the House of Healing. I'll see what I can do for him. Meanwhile, I must go see the Amazons. Serena, come with me if you would."
The two young priestesses bowed and disappeared into a mist portal.
"How?" Serena gasped.
"Magic, my Dear," Cybelle told her, opening another doorway. "Come."
The ghost agreed, following the priestess into the fog.
Chapter 4 [Forest trail]
Hercules slowly forced his way up the forest trail. In the two days since his battle with Ares, his arm had burned, feeling as if a thousand bees were stinging him relentlessly. His side ached as did his left leg. The hind's blood is eating away at me. I thought there was a settlement close by.
Then five well-muscled men in dark armor came out of the woods and quickly surrounded him. They held clubs and other sundry weapons.
"Hi, guys," Hercules greeted. "Umm, I'd like to stay and chat but I need to see a doctor."
"You'll need more than a doctor soon," the leader, a particularly tall man with a large scar on his left cheek. "We're here to delay you. There ain't nobody in these woods who can help you now."
At that moment, Deirdre and Genaria stepped out of the mists.
"Hey, Marcus! Who are the chicks?" a small thug asked.
"Chicks?" Marcus wondered.
"Yeah, the ladies in back of you," Hercules noted.
The leader turned to see the two priestesses standing there. "Get lost! We're here on a mission from Ares, god of war!"
Deirdre frowned. "That's a name not welcome in these woods. In the name of Cybelle, High Priestess of Althanor, I command you to be gone!"
"That ain't nice! Looks like I'll have to teach you some manners," Marcus spat, swinging his club.
Deirdre growled; her eyes turning red as she seemed to grow before their eyes. "If you can!" She chanted a short spell and fired a powerful burst, bowling over the attackers and knocking them unconscious. "Fools." With that, she returned to normal.
Hercules took a deep breath and fought a spasm surging through him. "Th.thanks. I take it you both are friends?"
"Indeed," Genaria concurred. "Please come with us."
He started to walk but collapsed from the effort.
"Hercules!" Deirdre exclaimed. After shaking him, she could feel the heat from his flushed body. "He's burning up. Stand back!" She chanted again, levitating his body. "Help me get him into the portal before they wake up."
Genaria nodded and held the floating half-god's feet. "I'll steer if you want to guide him."
Deirdre replied, "Sounds good. Let's go!" With that, they disappeared into the mists.
[Amazon Village-Queen's hut]
After watching Jasmine stalk off to her hut, Xena and Gabrielle sat at the makeshift table in the latter's hut, eating a bowl of rabbit stew apiece.
"I wish Jasmine would lay off of Eve, Xena," Gabrielle stated.
The counselor shrugged. "It'll take time. Just like with David and the Child, she and Eve will work things out when they're ready. Remember how you felt about Eve after she killed Joxer?"
The Bard frowned. "How can I forget that?"
"My point exactly. She needs time to deal with her feelings and to remember that Livia's gone," the Warrior Princess mentioned, taking a mug full of water. "Besides, the kid's had it rough lately."
"I guess," Gabrielle conceded, taking a sip of her own drink.
As she tried to deal with Jasmine's issues, Eve walked around the outskirts of the village. She felt badly about things. "I wish I could bring back Livia's victims."
"Sometimes, we can only look to the present and future, Child," Nai-Jin interjected, approaching from out of the forest.
"Nai-Jin, I'm sorry. Did I disturb your meditation?"
The mystic shook her head. "No, Princess, I was dealing with my own thoughts. I felt your inner turmoil though. Is everything all right?"
Sometimes she's too insightful for her good. Not for the first time did Eve feel unnerved around the Amazon prophetess. Remember what Eli says about all people having a purpose in this world. "Jasmine's judging me on something Livia did."
Nai-Jin nodded. "Ah. I see. Princess, you will receive forgiveness from the young one when the time is right. Make her realize that Livia's truly gone. Only then will you earn her true trust and faith."
"And how do I do that?" Eve wondered.
"Keep doing what you're doing," Nai-Jin advised. "And be true to yourself."
"Thanks for that at least," Eve expressed. Then she saw the mists forming to her left. "Who's there?"
"It's me, Eve," Cybelle declared, stepping into view. "Nai-Jin, greetings."
"Cybelle," Nai-Jin replied with a bow of her head. "Who is the entity that follows you? Have her step forth."
"Entity?" Eve asked.
The High Priestess turned back to the portal. "Step forth. You are among friends."
Serena walked into view. "Umm, hello."
The former Messenger smiled. "Welcome. I'm Eve, Princess of the Amazons and this is Nai-Jin, our seeress. Who might you be?"
The spirit revealed, "I'm Serena and I need to see Xena and Gabrielle if I could."
"They're sequestered at the moment, I'm afraid," the Princess declined. Then seeing her sister's reaction, she asked, "Nai-Jin?"
The prophetess took a deep breath and collected herself. "Serena must see the Queen and Xena immediately! A friend.a very old friend is in danger!"
"That's correct," Cybelle concurred, eyeing Nai-Jin curiously. Goddess knows; her instincts are as sharp as any of our priestesses in Althanor.
What now? "Nai-Jin, are you certain?" Eve inquired.
"It's important, Princess, your mother and the Queen will want to know," Nai-Jin indicated.
"Please!" Serena insisted desperately.
Seeing the desperation in the spirit's eyes, Eve couldn't abide the pain she felt from her. "Follow me."
"Thank you, Eve," Cybelle expressed as they followed the two Amazons.
I just hope Mother and Gabrielle are in a good enough mood to deal with this situation. They've already had a rough day and I get the feeling that things are about to get worse.
Chapter 5 [Ten minutes later]
Eve stopped in front of Gabrielle's hut and took a deep breath. "This is it." She knocked on the door. "Queen Gabrielle? Mother? It's Eve."
Xena called, "Come on in."
"Cybelle's with me. She needs to talk to you on urgent business," Eve reported.
Gabrielle opened the door. "Come in, Eve. You too, Cybelle. I trust everything's all right in Althanor?"
The High Priestess noted, "Everything is fine with our realm, thank you, Queen Gabrielle. However, we have a problem that arisen in the outside world."
"Yeah?" Xena asked. "You and your brother had another argument, did ya?" She started into another cup of water.
"Actually it has to do with an old friend of yours. He's dying," the priestess revealed.
"Friend? Who would that be?" Gabrielle inquired. Noting the hesitation in her visitor's eyes, she added, "Cybelle, what is it?"
"Some guy named Hercules," Cybelle reported. "He said he knew you."
Gabrielle's eyes went wide and she looked at her soul mate.
Xena spat the water back into the cup in shock. She bounced out of her seat and glared at the priestess. "Damn right he knows us! What's wrong with him?"
"His friend can tell us," Cybelle replied. "Come, my Dear."
Serena's image appeared. "Xena, Gabrielle, thank the gods I've found you!"
Again the two warriors exchanged shocked looks. "Serena?" they chorused.
The ghost replied, "Yes, it's me. I've returned from the Other Side."
"How did you do that? I thought once spirits went to the Elysian Fields they were there forever," Gabrielle inquired.
Suddenly in a cascade of pink sparkles, Aphrodite appeared. "I helped her."
Xena smirked. "Aphrodite, it figures."
The former love goddess sighed, "Hey, even if I'm not the official goddess of love anymore, the One God does allow me to intercede for love. As if I'd let my little brother down. Besides, he wanted to see you and Gabrielle too."
Eve cleared her throat. "Mother, is this the same Hercules of whom the legends are written?"
Xena nodded. "Yes, Eve. He turned me around and held off the gods long enough for you to be born."
"Among other things," Gabrielle added, recalling some of their adventures together. "What's wrong with him?"
Aphrodite scrunched her brow while reporting, "Ares cut him with a sword covered in hind's blood."
Serena bowed her head, knowing that her very nature was killing her love.
Xena growled, "It figures! Damn him! Where is Hercules now?"
"Deirdre and Genaria bring him back to the House of Healing as we speak. Will you come with us now?" Cybelle reported, opening the portal.
"Absolutely. Nai-Jin, tell Varia she's in charge until we return," Gabrielle agreed. After getting the other woman to nod in agreement, she and Xena stepped through the portal followed by Serena, Eve and Cybelle.
After the mists had dissipated, Nai-Jin mused, "The pain will come. Soon, Ares will learn the error of his ways."
"Meaning what?" Aphrodite asked.
"Meaning he meddles in things he has no concern with," Nai-Jin advised. "Already the wheel is in motion. Soon, he will damage the fabric of life, bringing not only Xena and Gabrielle into the fray but their friends from the future."
Recalling the raid on Olympus, the former love goddess gulped. "Dubois?"
The prophetess nodded. "His darkness looms there and so does Hope. Aphrodite, he has already interfered with Hercules and Serena once again. They cannot be reunited without help even after death."
Aphrodite winced at the thought of Hope and the Child playing tag-team on Ares. As much as I hate him for being a scuz bag, he is my brother. Still for hurting Herc, he deserves what he gets. "Thanks for the heads up."
"Thank you for guiding Serena to Althanor," Nai-Jin responded pleasantly.
Without further comment, Aphrodite vanished in a poof, leaving the Amazon to tell her sisters of what had happened. May the god of Eli and goddess guide us.
Chapter 6 [House of Healing, Althanor]
Even as Cybelle and Serena were talking with the Amazons, Deirdre and Genaria brought Hercules back to the Hidden Realm and placed him on their most comfortable resting place in the House of Healing.
"He's really bad, Deirdre," Genaria noted, fearing for the patient's life.
"I know. Only the goddess knows if we can help him," Deirdre responded, wiping Hercules' forehead with a cloth soaked in herbal water. At that moment, the portal opened and Cybelle guided the three Amazons and Serena into the room. "Aunt Cybelle, you've returned."
"Yes," the High Priestess agreed. "That is Hercules, is it not, Xena?"
The Warrior Princess gazed upon her friend's aged visage sadly. We haven't seen him since Eve was born. Look at him. "It is."
"Can you help him, Xena?" Serena asked desperately, hoping for a miracle.
Gabrielle and Eve gazed upon the man in front of them, trying to understand what could do this to him.
"He looks so fragile, Xena. I can't believe it," the Bard mentioned.
"Age robs us of our strength, Gabrielle," Cybelle noted, measuring out herbs and crushing them together into a paste with a pestle. "This will help to slow down the poison and revive him." She rubbed the mixture into the wound and chanted softly for a minute.
Then he stirred and opened his eyes. "Uh, where am I?" He did a double take. "Xena?"
The Warrior Princess smiled. "Yes, it's me. Gabrielle, Eve and I came as soon as we heard. You're safe."
"Welcome to Althanor, Hercules," Cybelle greeted, rubbing his shoulder. "You are in our House of Healing."
"Where?" he asked, rubbing his head and trying to get his bearings.
"They're our friends," Gabrielle pointed out. "In fact, their medicine helped you to heal."
"So you cured me?" he asked.
Xena glanced expectantly at Cybelle who shook her head. "Sadly no. There is no cure for hind's blood in one who is of Olympian descent, Hercules. But we can make your remaining time pleasant for you."
"And I'm here too," Serena indicated, approaching him. "Hello, Hercules."
He stared at her. "Serena? How did you get here? You've passed on!"
"Aphrodite brought me back so I could help you," the spirit told him. "I found the priestesses here and they brought me to Xena and Gabrielle."
He nodded, feeling his eyes water with tears of joy. "I'm glad to see you."
"And I you," his wife stated. "I'm just glad we have such good friends."
"I owe Hercules a lot, Serena," Xena pointed out grimly. "He saved me."
"You were already turning yourself around," he argued.
"But you made sure it happened. You both deserve to be happy," the Warrior Princess noted. "Oh, Hercules, there's someone who wants to meet you." She motioned to her daughter who stepped forward. "This is Eve."
It took him a minute but he realized who the young woman was standing before him. "This is your daughter, isn't it?"
"Yes. Thank you for helping me to be born, Hercules," the former Messenger expressed.
"You're welcome," he replied, feeling a bit of sadness creep over him.
"What is it?" Eve asked.
Gabrielle frowned. "While your mother and I delivered you, he had to kill Zeus-his father."
"Oh," Eve realized, shaking her head. Will it never end? When will the past stop haunting me?
He shrugged. "Zeus wouldn't stop when I warned him. I had to do it. I know what it's like to lose my family. I wasn't about to allow your mother to lose another child."
Xena sighed, "And you don't know how much I appreciate that."
He managed one of his trademark grins. "It's no trouble really. From what I understand, Eve, you were Eli's first Messenger bringing peace to the world?"
"Yes. I wanted to redeem myself for my past," Eve explained. "Ares pushed me onward."
He shook his head. "He does that to everyone. Don't worry, Eve, you have a great mentor in your mother and also in Gabrielle."
"I know. Thanks," the former Messenger told him warmly, smiling at her mother and the Bard.
"Now if you don't mind, Hercules, I'd like you to rest a bit," Cybelle advised. "You're safe here and I'd like to give you as much time as you have coming."
"Thanks," he replied. "I am sleepy. First though, Xena?"
"Yeah?" Xena asked.
"Thanks for coming to make sure I was all right."
She arched her right brow at him, allowing her eyes to sparkle at his. "Anytime. Besides, I couldn't say no to Serena either." She turned to the spirit. "Watch him, all right? Gabrielle, Eve and I have to get back to the Amazons."
"Absolutely. Thank you all," the ghost concluded.
With that, the three Amazons left, heading down the path toward their village and the confrontation brewing there.
Chapter 7 [Amazon Village]
Even as Xena, Gabrielle and Eve visited with Hercules in Althanor, Ares materialized in the center of the Amazon village. "I can't believe they really live here all of the time. I could offer them so much more."
"Such as being your slaves?" Varia challenged, coming into view with her sword drawn. "State your business here, god of war."
"I'm here to speak with Xena and Gabrielle. Get out of my way, Varia," he growled, glaring intensely at her.
"They're busy. Speak to me," she countered, matching his glare with one of her own.
"I really don't have time for this!" he roared and submarined a lightning blast, stunning her. "Where are they?" He stormed through the village, trying to sense his targets but found nothing.
Then he turned the corner and found Hope standing there. "You?"
She grinned. "Yes, Ares, me. You do like making a fool of yourself, don't you?"
"Side with me and we can rule together. We were good once," he offered.
She frowned and shook her head. "It was good for Father. Besides, your performance left something to be desired. Father had to help you.get ready., remember?" As she said the last part, a wicked grin spread across her face. "Get lost!"
"I can't believe you're with them," he argued.
She shrugged. "Mother's trying to understand me. Xena-I can deal with. I have a good thing going, Ares! GET LOST!" Focusing, she telekinetically flung him across the square and into the large oak tree standing there. "Besides, watching Callisto taught me a few things too." Her hands glowed with orange energy. "Deal with this!" She hit him with magical fire.
He writhed under the heat before slumping to the ground.
She walked up and glared right into his eyes. "Last chance, Ares; leave or pay the price. I won't ask again."
He scowled at her. "This ain't over!" With that, he vanished.
"It never is with him," she ridiculed. Looking over her shoulder, she saw Xena, Eve and Gabrielle standing there. "How long were you there?"
"Long enough to see you throw him across the square," Gabrielle stated. "Thank you for safeguarding the village, Hope."
Xena shook her head and stalked off. She still wasn't ready to say thank you to Hope just yet.
"Ares is a pain in the ass," Hope hissed. "Don't make too much out of it, Mother." Having said that, she headed toward her hut.
Eve watched their guest for a minute before concluding, "She can say what she wants, Gabrielle. Hope wants to be accepted by everyone."
"I want to believe that, Eve. Xena still doesn't accept her. I know it'll take time but I want it to all work out," Gabrielle wished.
The Amazon Princess assured her, "I think she's getting there. Come on; let's make sure everyone's okay."
Chapter 8 [One week later]
Eve sat in the grass by the forest's edge, admiring nature's beauty as she composed a new prayer scroll. In quieter times, she treasured these moments when she could be in contact with the One God's creations. Eli, this is beautiful. Thank you for telling us all about these things.
Then a twig snapped behind her. She turned to find Jasmine standing there watching her. "Yes, Jasmine, what can I do for you?"
The newest Amazon took a deep breath and looked at her through contrite eyes. "I wanted to apologize for doubting you. I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about how I prejudge people and you don't deserve it."
Eve patted the ground beside her. "Sit, please." When the other had done so, she asked, "Just out of curiosity, how did you come to this realization?"
Jasmine replied, "I remembered how the Jinn stood up for me against my father. Then I.watched Hope take on Ares. I can see now.how you would.well.be taken by him."
The Amazon Princess recounted, "Those days are ones that I'm ashamed of, Jasmine. As with Professor Dubois when he changes, the dark tide swept me along for a while. I am Eve now, however, I was Livia. Accordingly, I will carry the shame of those days with me the rest of my life."
"How do you deal with that?" Jasmine wondered.
"By doing the right thing and living a good life. Admire nature's beauty around us, Jasmine. Strive to make the world better by living better. That is how we can redeem ourselves."
"Yes. Well, I'll leave you to your meditation. Thank you," Jasmine concluded. She got up and left quickly.
Eve smiled after her departure. She's growing all right. David, you would be proud.
[Forest path about a quarter mile away from Eve]
Xena and Gabrielle stood at the forest's edge, watching down the path. For a week, Hercules had rested in Althanor, regaining his strength. With the priestesses' ministrations, he was up and walking with the aid of a staff. Now he insisted on seeing his friends' achievement for himself.
Gabrielle squirmed nervously, biting her lip.
"What's wrong?" Xena asked.
The Bard-Queen glanced anxiously at her soul mate. "What if he doesn't like it, Xena?"
The Warrior Princess looked at her friend skeptically. "You mean the village? Gabrielle, he'll love it."
"I hope so. I hope it's good enough," Gabrielle commented.
"You made it. It'll be better than 'good enough'," Xena countered. "Have faith."
At that moment, Hercules and Serena stepped into view followed by Deirdre.
"Hi," he greeted.
"Hey, yourself," Xena replied. "Good to see ya on your feet again. Serena, how are you?"
"I'm fine. Thank you, Xena," the spirit responded warmly.
"It's good to be walking around; let me tell you," he agreed, approaching them. "And I can't wait to see your village."
"It's just around the bend. Come on," Gabrielle agreed, leading them down the path. "I hope you like it."
From where she was helping him, Xena chided good naturedly, "Gabrielle."
As they came into view of the Amazon village, he surveyed the settlement and all of the activity. "It's amazing, Gabrielle. Ephiny and Hippolyta would be proud to see what you've built here." Especially since Hera's not in charge this time. Good for both of you. You deserve a home and to be doing so much good in establishing it, I commend you both.
The Bard-Queen shrugged. "I just added a few things to what was already there. Eve and Xena not to mention my sisters are the inspiration for what I've done here. You knew Ephiny?"
"We met once," he revealed. "She was a fine woman and an excellent representative for your sisterhood. I take it you knew each other?"
"She was my mentor in the Amazon ways," Gabrielle explained, "and a good friend to us both."
"You got that right," Xena concurred, as they entered the village. "But then, so are you."
"I just live my life the right way," he pointed out, brushing off the compliment. Then in the doorway of a hut just to their left, he saw Hope standing there. "Is that who I think it is?"
Xena frowned. "Yeah."
"Xena, please," Gabrielle requested. "Yes, Hercules, that's my daughter, Hope."
"She's your daughter? But her father's Dahak," he stated.
"I dealt with Dahak," Xena indicated. "Gabrielle thinks she can save Hope."
"She did save the village from Ares," Gabrielle countered.
He took a deep breath and reassessed the half-demon in front of him. "Remember what I told you before, Xena. All it takes is one good act to turn yourself around."
"Let's not be hasty," Hope grumbled as she approached the group.
"Just make sure you consider all of your options. You have a second chance here. Don't blow it," he urged.
She shook her head and returned to her hut.
"Sorry, she can be like that sometimes," Gabrielle apologized, cutting off Xena's rebuttal with a sharp glance.
"At least she did something good," he stated. "Where she goes from here is her decision."
Seeing Jasmine and Varia walking close by, Xena called, "Jasmine! Varia! There's someone you need to meet!" When the other two Amazons had joined them, she introduced, "This is Hercules, a very old and good friend."
"It is an honor to meet the son of Zeus," Varia expressed, offering her hand.
"Likewise," he accepted, clasping hands with her.
"Welcome. I've read so much about you. People think you're only a legend where I come from. I'm glad they're wrong. I agree with Varia. This is an honor, Hercules," Jasmine added, clasping hands with him as well.
"She's from the future," Deirdre explained.
He looked curiously at her. "Really?"
"Yes, Hercules, I'm from the twenty-first century but I enjoy being with our friends and training with them too," the Princess informed him.
He scanned her up and down, taking in her appearance. "You fit in well."
Jasmine sighed. "I try to. Sometimes I do."
"Don't let her fool you," Varia insisted. "She's turning into quite an Amazon in her own right."
"I can only hope that I do one day so that my fellow Magi respect me," Jasmine hoped.
He smiled. "Just keep trying, Jasmine, and you'll be great."
"Thank you, Hercules, I appreciate that," Jasmine expressed.
"Not a problem. Just follow in Xena and Gabrielle's footsteps and you'll be fine," he advised, as they continued on the tour.
After they were out of sight, Ares appeared. "It would figure that they would help Hercules."
"And me, Bro," another voice indicated.
He scowled. "Figures. Stay out of it, Aphrodite."
The former love goddess glared at him. "I'm staying put to make sure you don't mess with Herc or Serena anymore! You've done enough to them!"
He gave her a knowing grin. "Oh, you haven't seen what I've got up my sleeve for them yet. It's going to be something else!" With that, he vanished.
Aphrodite folded her arms and stewed, "Why does he have to be such a jerk? WHY?" In a pink poof, she disappeared as well.
Chapter 9 [A week later-Althanor]
Hercules awoke from a troubled rest. The night before had been long and painful. "This is it," he muttered.
A familiar sinister chuckle could be heard.
"Ares," he realized. "Let me die in peace, will you?"
The war god appeared in the corner of the room. "And miss this scene that I've been waiting for? No, I want to watch every minute of it."
"You're sick," the dying man stated.
"Maybe but I finally get rid of YOU!" the war god exclaimed enthusiastically.
"Leave him alone, Ares," Serena warned.
"You don't give me orders. You belong to me!" Ares countered, adding a nasty glare for emphasis.
"She.belongs to nobody.but herself," Hercules argued, forcing himself out of bed. "Leave her alone."
Ares snorted in amusement. "You're really going to try to fight me? Oh this is good."
"If I have to," Hercules asserted, trying to steady himself.
"Hercules, don't!" Serena requested.
"Serena, I'm not letting you go again!" her husband declared.
"Oh how sweet," Ares remarked sarcastically. "You want to die? Fine by me!" He fired a lightning bolt at his half-brother.
From out of nowhere, an energy burst intercepted the fatal blast.
Both combatants turned to see Cybelle standing there; her eyes burning with anger.
"This is a sanctuary! How dare you fight in here?" she snapped.
"Go away, Cybelle, I'm busy," Ares scoffed.
She growled an angry chant, throwing him across the room. "Get this straight, war god, this is my realm! Hercules and Serena are my guests! And you, Scum, aren't welcome here! SCRAM!!" She created a portal and blasted Ares through it.
"Sorry, Cybelle," Hercules apologized. "I was trying.to defend.Serena." Losing his balance, he fell to the floor.
Serena was by his side in an instant. "I told you not to do that. Why?"
"I did it for you," he gasped, as Cybelle helped him back to bed.
Cybelle examined him again and realized the end was close. "Deirdre!"
Her niece ran into the room. "What is it, Auntie?"
Cybelle shook her head. "Get Xena and Gabrielle back here now!"
"Right," Deirdre agreed, disappearing into another portal. Five minutes later, she had returned with her friends.
Hercules looked up weakly. "You.got here."
"As if I wouldn't come for ya," Xena chided gently, as she sat down at his bedside. As she took his hand, she felt the chill there. Death is close by. Deirdre was right. "Deirdre told us what happened. You have to be a hero to the end, don't ya?"
"I'm a.role model, you know. And I wasn't.going to let him hurt.Serena again," he insisted.
"As if you do anything else," Gabrielle declared, allowing her eyes to shine into his.
He spasmed, coughing nonstop for two minutes. "You've grown into.quite a woman, Gabrielle. Iolaus should.see you now."
The Bard looked at him and her soul mate. "I had the best examples." She embraced him even as she fought back her tears. "You're a good friend, Hercules."
"So are you," he complimented. "You've taught her well, Xena."
"It goes both ways," the Warrior Princess replied, trying to keep her composure. "I wanted to thank you again for saving me." She took his hand again. "Because of you, I redeemed myself and have known so much happiness."
"I'm.proud of you, Xena. You.saved yourself," he reiterated. "I feel cold." At that moment, his life flashed before his eyes: his childhood, his adventures with Iolaus, his attempts to help people, and best of all, the faces of his mother, family and dearest friends. "Thank you," he whispered.
"You're welcome," she told him; the tears now streaking her cheeks as well.
Serena stood next to Xena at this point, sharing the last minute.
"Serena, I love you. See you soon," he croaked in a broken whisper before breathing his last.
His wife nodded. "I'll be waiting. Thank you, everyone." With that, she vanished from view.
"And so passes Hercules, the champion of mankind," Gabrielle noted, trying to come up with a fitting eulogy for her scrolls worthy of their friend. "Cybelle, can we have a minute, please?"
The High Priestess concurred, "Absolutely. Come, Deirdre."
"We're here for you if you need us," Deirdre told the duo before leaving the room and shutting the door behind her.
Gabrielle felt sad but she knew that was nothing compared to the feelings crashing inside of Xena. "Xena?"
She kneeled at his bedside, still holding his cold hand and holding back her emotions. "I can't believe he's really gone, Gabrielle. He was always there for everyone -always so strong, so noble and caring." She set his hand on his chest and stood up. "He deserves the best funeral."
"He'll receive the highest order of Amazon funerals, honoring what he did here on Earth for us and the rest of humanity," the Bard vowed. "Xena, it's me, you know. You don't have to keep it bottled up for me." She looked at her best friend and urged, "Let it out."
"A.all right." Xena embraced her friend tightly and opened the floodgates, allowing her grief to spill out. For over an hour, she wailed painfully, trying to deal with the pain in her heart. Since he had helped her, she had cared for him. Even though the Fates had different plans for them, her feelings had remained.
As her friend did this, Gabrielle rocked her slowly in her arms, sheltering her from the world. Yes, he will get the funeral he deserves.
Conclusion [Three days later]
[A/N: If you want to hear "Burial", listen to XWP Soundtrack Volume One, Song 5]
As Gabrielle had promised, Hercules' funeral was something to behold. All of the Amazon tribes attended. Cybelle and the priestesses added their blessing. Eve, of course, offered a few words. With Deirdre's assistance, Brother Paulus, Eve's successor in the role of Eli's Messenger, waxed long on the deceased's role in helping mankind.
Then Xena put the torch to the pyre and watched the smoke and flames go to work. Then she closed with the "Burial" chant, the notes and tones coming out heavier than usual-with more emphasis. But that was no surprise since she was sending her dear friend to the Other Side.
"Be at peace," she bade the burning corpse, trying to stand straight and tall to honor her friend. "Your labors are done. Now you can rest."
With that, Gabrielle had concluded the event so as to allow herself and her soul mate some measure of peace before they took the ashes to their resting place.
[That night-the clearing next to Serena's gravesite]
Deirdre opened the portal, allowing the two warriors to return to the clearing where they had been twenty-seven years earlier. "This should be it."
"It is," Xena agreed flatly, holding the little stone jar of ashes in her hands. "Still looks about the same, doesn't it?"
"Yeah it does," the Bard concurred, recalling the last burial there. "She's still here."
"Yeah. First, it was the last Golden Hind and now, the last true hero," the Warrior Princess concluded, taking out a shovel and digging a small depression in the ground next to the rock pile. Then she placed the jar in the space and buried it with the dirt. "You two are together now. Be happy always." She took a step back before asking, "Deirdre, did you bring the grave marker?"
"Right here," the priestess agreed, waving her hands. When the granite appeared next to Serena's stone, she asked, "That's where we want it, right?"
"Exactly. Thank you," Gabrielle replied.
"Then step back. Auntie wanted one more thing," Deirdre advised and she began chanting.
As she did, the air around the tomb crackled and glowed for a minute before it turned quiet once more.
"Now nobody will disturb them," the priestess stated. "And just in time too."
Xena scowled and drew her sword. "Come out, you bastard!"
The war god appeared. "That's no way to talk to me."
"Why shouldn't I kill you right now?" the Warrior Princess demanded.
"Try it," he dared her.
"I might," she hissed, jabbing at him with the point of her blade. "You killed your own brother."
"Half-brother. And that's my goal. Oh and as for your pretty field there, you're too late," he cracked.
"Meaning what?" Deirdre insisted.
"Now what have you done?" Gabrielle demanded.
"Hercules and Serena never belonged together. She was MINE! And now, they can never be together. I made a deal with Lucifer on that one. He was all too eager to get at you through them. Better yet, there's nothing you can do about it!" he revealed.
"He won't go to Hell! He belongs in the Elysian Fields!" Xena challenged.
"Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do about that. But...he'll never be able to be with his family or Serena AGAIN. That was good enough for me. So keep the bodies, they're worthless now anyhow," he conceded before disappearing.
"Unbelievable! That bastard won't stop! He just won't stop!" Xena screamed. "Ares, I won't stop until they can be at peace!"
"And Althanor shall stand beside you.not to mention Papa. This is low even for that scum," Deirdre added.
Xena considered those words. While he didn't know Hercules, David would feel her pain. Worse still, if Ares' role in it was known, the Child would swear vengeance. "I appreciate that, Deirdre. Come on."
The priestess opened the portal, ushering Gabrielle through. "Xena?"
Before she left, Xena vowed, "This won't stand, Hercules. I promise I'll get to the bottom of this mess whether the remaining Olympians stand in my way or not!" Then she turned and muttered to Deirdre, "Let's go!"
Deirdre nodded and closed the portal behind them, leaving the two stones to themselves.
Ten minutes later, Aphrodite appeared and kneeled before her brother's grave. "Hi, Herc. I just wanted you to know that Ares won't get away with this mess. Trust me; Xena and Gabrielle have some friends who can help with the situation." She stepped back and sent energy waves at the protective field, altering it slightly. "There! Now, when her friends come along, they'll be able to help you. I know we weren't all that close, Little Bro, but I love you. Cupid misses you too." She kissed the stone before standing up and muttering, "I hate sad endings! And I hate this!" Pouting, she disappeared, hoping that she had done enough.
And for the next two millennia, things would remain as they were.waiting for aid and hoping for deliverance.
THE END (for now)
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