Disclaimer: Characters from the television show Xena: Warrior Princess are not owned by me, to my regret. This is written purely for enjoyment with no thought to monetary gain. There are women in love (eventually, as Gabrielle is a bit miffed) and if that is illegal for you or where you live, move on or simply move.
Post FIN, I guess, though I have kept specific references to a minimum.
Mail is always answered and appreciated at Kamouraskan@yahoo.com
My website is at http://dreamcatching.netfirms.com/kam/index.htm
Thanks for corrections and encouragement to the members of the Bardic Circle and Tavern Wall, especially Extra, Jaden, Dawn, JLynn, Jordon Falconer, and Sue. More thanks to Claudia, Morgane, and for rereading this countless times, Abardreader. And my thanks as always, to the great Mary Morgan.
Gabrielle stared at the space where the human life had been lost and her eyes brimmed.
Xena forced her mask of indifference on and casually asked, “So does Joxer know you have his helmet?”
Ares gave them a slow grin. “Funny. Shouldn't you be asking if I lost something?”
They both gave him their best, wide-eyed innocent expressions.
“Yeah, I think you know. That lovely Loom? I'm guessing that you,” and he slowly circled Gabrielle, “were hired to keep me busy while my aunt went after the ladies and their little weaving shop. Actually, I don't mind. I'm not even pissed off. I'd think being stuck for eternity with your sisters completing all your sentences is punishment enough. I am just a little surprised that dear, sweet Dite didn't use her powers to get you guys somewhere safe. Or did she promise and then renege?”
Again the two remained silent.
“Doesn't matter. See, I don't need the Loom of the Fates anymore. I think this world is just about perfect as it is. In fact, I'd say this world is exactly the way I wanted it.” He barked a laugh. “After all, it is all mine. What I made of it.”
There was a crazed manic look in his eyes that they had never seen before. The energy he was casting off vibrated and jarred both of them so much that it seemed essential to remain silent until they could get some sort of bearings.
“You couldn't possibly understand just how beautiful this world will be,” Ares continued, enjoying their silence. “There are threads upon threads, laced just so, and exactly right in place… to make sure there will always be war. Rebellion. Civil disturbances! Lots of fun for me to feed on for the rest of time. And guess what?” He paused to stare into Xena's eyes for a moment. “There's nothing you can do about it. With the powers I'm going to be receiving from all those new altars, there's nothing I won't be able to do. So, nope. I'm not worried about losing the Loom.”
The partners shared a glance, trying to repress any show of fear. But this was frightening. A crazed Ares, mad with power, almost unlimited power and daring them to make him use it.
He had been ignoring Gabrielle for the moment, satisfied with teasing Xena with the energy his body was generating, so it was Gabrielle who broke from the stupor to accuse him, “What about all the lives you destroyed? Even the warriors you controlled had no futures. What about all the people we saved in our time, the people who deserved more? You turned the Amazons into your most fervent followers and what happened? They'd survived under my rule and through Artemis, but now? They're all dead. Only myths!”
Ares seemed to address the skies instead of Gabrielle. “ Just myths? Glorious myths. Sacrifices to my power.” He turned to her and his smile became slightly less manic. “Hey, I had to break a few eggs to make my perfect omelette.”
Gabrielle shook her head, her grim lips the only sign of her anger and sorrow.
“That's right, don't say anything you might regret, because first, we're going to play a little game.”
“Goody,” said Xena, flatly.
“Oh yes, you'll like this. See, I often had to take little trips to the future. Just to see what effect some of my tinkering was having. And I came across a situation that screamed of…you.”
They were suddenly on high plain that dropped into an abyss a few feet away from them. Ares motioned to them to move closer to the edge. “Come on. You can't play your best if you don't know the board.” They found each other's hands and followed the War God.
“See that lovely cliff across the way?” He gestured to the other side of the chasm. “Behind it and down the valley is an encampment with a cohort of Roman soldiers. They've been trying to find a way around this mountain, or over that river way down there. There is one, but it's a four days march to it and another four days back to here. In the meanwhile, on this side of the gorge, behind us, is a tribe of Germans. Now they hate the Romans nearly as much as Xena does. Because, not only are they bent on keeping their miserable piece of land, but after the last battle, the Romans crucified all of their leaders. And then their wives and children. Gotta love it.”
He looked to the partners for some reaction, but receiving none, continued.
“But one of the soldiers the Romans sent out for reconnaissance, well, he unfortunately got caught by them. So the Germans figure, turnabout being fair yaddayadda… so in just a candlemark, they're going to tie that poor Roman bastard up and nail him to a cross right here. Where the Romans can see it. But in the old future, the Roman commander couldn't bear such a mark of humiliation on his command, so he ordered one of his men to cross this gorge. And that poor little Roman gets completely stuck with German arrows for his efforts. So picture it. One on a cross and the other stuffed with arrows. Now does that sound or does it not sound like two people we both know? Now, generous being my middle name, I'm going to save both of those poor souls, by swapping them with my favourite ladies. But first, when in Rome …”
Gabrielle dropped to the ground, surreptitiously slipping the chakrum from under her robe to rest in the tall grass near her foot. Ares looked down at her, kneeling just as he would want, but asked suspiciously, “What? Giving up so soon? Don't you wanna play, Gabby?
From the ground she replied, defiantly, “I figured if we're about to have Roman armour put onto us, I'd prefer to take the weight off my knees first, if you don't mind.”
Ares laughed. “You guys are so smart. One of the many things I love about you.”
From her place, kneeling on the ground, a glow began to coalesce around Gabrielle, until she could no longer be seen, but the sudden scream of pain had Xena running to her side. But before she could reach her, Ares had made the slightest movement with a finger and the warrior was flung to one side, where she lay frozen in place. The screams grew louder until the glow vanished, leaving Gabrielle lying on the ground, clad in a helmet, iron mail breastplate, leg and arm guards, belt, red and white tunic, and laced boots. But between the bowl-shaped helmet and neck guard was the face of a Gabrielle that was far more familiar to Xena. One with short cropped, almost bleached-blonde hair and a face she had dreamed of for centuries.
“What would be the point of having you watch each other die, if you could pretend it wasn't really each other?” Ares asked rhetorically.
“I'm okay.” The bard shifted her shoulders experimentally, feeling the muscles confidently flex, and smiled. Unseen, her foot moved to find the chakrum, and slipped the toe of her boot through it. “Actually, better than okay.”
“And now, my warrior princess. I'm a little disappointed despite all my reminders, you didn't feel the need to get revenge for that poor slave.”
“Yeah, well about that. As you must have guessed, you too get to be in the Roman Army again.”
Another glow surrounded Xena, and though she tried to remain silent, a pain-filled cry emerged, and then she was dressed identically to Gabrielle, and once again the familiar planes of her face could be seen under the helmet.
Ares admired his work. “Isn't this perfect though? Now, I can't take the risk of sending Xena to the Germans. Because you'd just as likely beat up their leader and take them over, right? Instead, you'll just be a conscript with the cohort, following orders or find yourself whipped, while Gabby hangs on another cross. And despite the inevitable outcome, I just don't think you'll let that happen, will you? So now that you know the game, here are your choices.”
Xena rose and walked towards the God. “Choices?” she growled. “And what might they be?”
“To become whatever I will you to be.”
“Don't think so, Ares.”
Are thrust his face into Xena's. “You don't get it do you? This is all you get for a choice. Because I will it. This is my world, the world I created and you will live or die as I decide. You can choose to be with me, or I will make you into whatever I want.”
“Why us? What's the point?”
“Because you don't know what's best for you. And that's me.”
Xena snorted. “You? The only time you had a chance of having me, was when I was mad. The only time we cared about you, wasn't when you had power, but when you showed your vulnerability. When you were human. And this, this latest power crazed madman? He's nothing to me. He's Mars, and I don't worship Gods.”
Ares shouted back, “I have loved you, needed you…”
Gabrielle spat out, “You don't know what love is. This is all about power, not love. Control, not need.”
Ares spun to her. “I showed my love! I buried you together. I let you die together! That was love. But now… You're right, you'll see rage and my wrath. You will never, never be together again. Not in any moment. You can watch each other die the way you have in your nightmares. That's my last wish for you. Unless one of you finally says the words. And you know what they are. Simply ask to save yourself or the other, say that you'll be mine and I'll grant your every wish. Or be mine anyways.”
He lowered his voice but continued to gloat. “See, there is no chance of victory. With the powers I'll get at noon, I can change you into whatever I please. This time, Gabrielle won't be a playwright. I'm not that idiot Caesar. Maybe we'll just dumb you down a bit, maybe turn up the blood lust. How'd you like to be a gladiator, Gabby? A killing machine devoted to the Queen and King of the Gods. And maybe when we feel like it, Xena and I'll let you sleep at the foot of our bed, like a dog. What about it? Maybe you need to really know what I'm talking about. Doing whatever I want. Do you know what that will feel like?”
There was no motion that they could see, but suddenly Xena slumped to join Gabrielle on her knees. Xena looked up at the glorious figure that was their God and began to wonder how she could ever have thought to best this greatest of beings. “Feel the glory, Xena. Imagine what you can do for me, the death… the conquest. And you Gabrielle?”
Gabrielle raised her dazed eyes, blinking.
“If I were to ask you to sacrifice yourself now, right now, what would you say?”
Her wondering lips parted and Xena could hear her soft and awestruck voice. “Anything, my Lord, whatever you wish…”
Ares released them and they shook themselves, a terrible shudder that was pure, cold fear.
Fighting her own shame, Xena looked at Ares with disgust. “I don't know how many long hot baths it will take to get that feeling off…”
“But you haven't the time.” Ares grinned cheerfully. “All I want to hear is you giving yourselves to me. Freely. Otherwise, this final game ends with both of your worst nightmares, and then I'll take you anyway.”
“You think we're going to give up, just because you rigged the game? We fight to the last minute, Ares. Always.”
“So one last moment together? A little goodbye?”
Still stunned at seeing their own familiar faces, they looked into each other's eyes for one moment before slowly moving together. They reached out, but then, just as they about to touch one other, there was a small gesture by Ares, and they vanished, whisked off to their final destinies, alone.
Ares blew on his fingers. “Psych!”
And even if he'd been aware that a certain round killing thing was not lying on the grass where Gabrielle had stood, he wouldn't have cared.
After all, His fate was already written.
And so was theirs.To be continued...
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