Copyright Disclaimers: Xena, Gabrielle, Hercules, Iolaus, Joxer and other characters mentioned in this story are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction and no profit is sought from this. The same goes for any song lyrics I have borrowed.  It’s just for fun!

Violence Disclaimer: There is violence (It’s Xena) and in this chapter there are several descriptions of torture and there is a rape (off screen) and descriptions of its aftermath.  Please, please do not read if you feel that would distress you.

Subtext disclaimer: Gabrielle and Xena are lovers. There is no graphic sex in this Fiction. If this bothers you (the lovers’ part rather than the lack of graphic action, but I am guessing that will bother some!) or is illegal for you to read in your neck of the woods, please do not continue.

Angst disclaimer: Oh yes!

Author’s note (1) Comments, tips, hints, constructive criticisms will be most welcome.  Please send to  I will endeavour to reply.

Author’s note (2) This fan fiction is set after season 3, but it disregards season 4.  Gabrielle and Xena have been reunited but there is no Alti, India or vision. 

Tag Line Reunited after the Bard’s sacrifice, Xena and Gabrielle face more heartache as Xena’s darkness is cruelly exploited and unleashed.

Chapter two

Runaway train never going back
Wrong way on a one way track
Seems like I should be getting somewhere
Somehow I'm neither here no there

Can you help me remember how to smile
Make it somehow all seem worthwhile
How on earth did I get so jaded
Life's mystery seems so faded

Soul asylum “Runaway Train”

Epinon was surveying the area to ensure that all her equipment had been packed up.  Satisfied that it had she picked up her saddle bags and headed towards her horse.  She glanced back at the young Amazons fussing about the campsite.  “Hurry up we haven’t all day.”  She rolled her eyes and loaded up her horse.   One by one the other amazons joined her until all five were with her.  Delia and Karys carried two large sacks of apparatus that they planned to swap for farming equipment.  Epinon briefly thought of Gabrielle and her infamous bartering skills, and hoped that they would get a favourable deal. Although she was Amazon born Epinon always enjoyed and felt comfortable travelling outside the territory.  She looked around at the other amazons.  Karys and Delia were farmers and in charge of the transactions.  The other three Selene, Amarice and Cara were youngsters experiencing guard duty for the first time.  As much as she enjoyed the trips Epinon couldn’t wait to get back to the village, her hut and specifically Solari.  She smirked a little as she thought lovingly of her bond-mate and was beginning to get lost in thought when Delia approached her.  A no nonsense middle aged woman, Delia also enjoyed her regular visits to trade equipment and crops and had built up good relationships with several towns and villages.  “Pony, my bridle’s broken,” she showed it to Epinon, “I need to fix it before we set off.”

“Damn, I wanted an early start,” said Epinon with mild annoyance.

“Look I’ll stay and fix it and catch you up.  It won’t take too long,” replied Delia, understanding that what Epinon really wanted was to get on the road quickly.  The young ones were full of questions all the time and for a normally quiet warrior it was extremely aggravating.  At least when on horseback she could make her excuses to avoid them.

“Fine, Cara, you stay with Delia, the rest of us will be leaving now.”  She raised her voice and Selene and Amarice scrambled around quickly.  Within minutes the four of them had trotted off and Delia had settled down leaning against a tree mending her broken bridle.

Epinon was happy with how much ground they had covered in the morning.  They had moved quickly enough so she wasn’t bothered by the inane questions of Amarice but she knew that Delia and Cara would catch them up before they would arrive at the village by mid afternoon.  She suddenly could hear something out of place on a warm day.  She raised her hand up for quiet, her sense on full alert.  She could hear fighting.  After exchanging a look with Karys she motioned for Selene and Amarice to go behind her with Karys bringing up the rear.  They moved quickly and around the next corner she could see a small group of men and women standing menacingly in front of a small caravan of four carts. As she approached she could hear a voice.  It was familiar to her yet different in tone.  She strained to hear the words, and decide who exactly was talking.  “People we mean you no harm.  We want supplies, some food horses and men and then we will go.”  Epinon shut her eyes.  She knew who the voice belonged to.  Someone she considered a close friend; who had sung at her bonding; who had drilled with Epinon whenever she stayed in the village.  She gazed at the leather clad figure who was surveying the carts and the terrified owners.  She saw the ominous way she carried herself, her eyes grey and as cold as the steel sword she was brandishing.  Epinon was not there that terrible day when Xena rode in breaking Ephiny’s arm and dragging Gabrielle behind her.  The people present swore they had never seen such coldness or cruelness emanating from eyes, and Epinon guessed correctly that this is what they were like.  What had happened to her?  She had heard that Gabrielle was not dead as they had thought but alive and well.  So where was she?  Why had Xena reverted back to her warlord mode?  Please Artemis, let the queen be safe. There was only one way to find out what was going on.  She rode up to where Xena was standing and dismounted so she was facing Xena. “Xena, what in Hades are you doing?”  She gazed at her friend who suddenly stared at her with not a hint of recognition.  Epinon had been in many battles and fought many deadly foes but she never felt more scared than she did at that moment looking into the brutal, bitter eyes of the tall warrior. No wonder she spent so many years being feared;  even nearly four years since she had given up on her dark path her name still brought anguish to so many. “And who are you to question me?” Xena replied walking towards Epinon.  There was a hush as heads turned to watch the two women interact.  The amazons moved quietly behind Epinon, and Xena merely raised her hand to prevent any of her soldiers from following suit.  Xena kept her eyes on Epinon at all times and she slowly drew her sword.  Epinon did the same reluctantly.  ”Xena,” she said in a pleading tone.  “Where’s Gabrielle?  What are you doing?”  When Xena showed no response at the bard’s name a chill went through Epinon.  She knew in her heart that something terrible had happened to the gentle queen.  She watched as Xena started to circle her.  They had drilled and fought together many times and Epinon was honest enough to realise that Xena was the far better swordswoman.  They parried three strikes and then Xena immediately went on the offensive.  Everyone watched in rapt interest.  It took all Epinon’s reserves to hold her off and she knew she was tiring.  However she kept going and a small gash to her forearm was the only injury she suffered.  Suddenly Xena rolled her eyes and in two movements Epinon was disarmed and had a sword at her throat.  She sunk to her knees and said a quick prayer to Artemis and I love you to Solari.  But to her surprise she was hauled to her feet by Xena and dragged over to another woman who was holding a challis full of water.  “She’ll be excellent,” said Xena her eyes blazing and suddenly full of life. Epinon felt her head tilted back and a hand forced her mouth open.  Water was tipped into it and despite coughing she swallowed reflexively.  She suddenly had to drink more and she could feel fire coursing through her veins.  Then she felt the darkness and she knew she had to feed it.  Anyway, any how.  She heard someone yell, “TAKE THE CARTS” and she picked up a discarded sword and started to fight, and with each parry and hit gained strength and sustenance.

Hercules travelled with Joxer for several hours before they parted.  He was happier to travel alone; it allowed him to order his thoughts regarding the tumultuous events of the previous day.  He was terribly concerned over Gabrielle.  He knew of the destruction that could be wrought by a rampaging warrior princess.  But that was only half the problem.  What would it do to the Amazons to have to fire on her, so soon after the assault on the queen and regent?  Hercules knew of those terrible events from Joxer.  And could Gabrielle and Xena ever recover from this?  They had before but the bard was so shaken by Xena’s behaviour, and Xena no doubt would feel so much guilt, even from actions she had little control over, he knew it could take a long time for their relationship to recover.  Hercules looked into the distance and gave a small smile.  There it is.  The temple.  He kicked his heels against his steed and hurried towards it.

The temple was a small and by Olympian standards a simple one.  It was deserted as usual.  He walked through the double doors and unlike most temples that had several statues of the particular God the temple was for, this had none. In fact it was quite empty other than a small dais and several chairs.  Athena had told him about this temple and he knew that only mortals with God’s blood in them could enter, in fact could see it at all.  Iolaus was dumbstruck as Hercules disappeared in front of his eyes one time when they visited it.  That was why it was so deserted.   Few knew it was there.  It could allow any progeny of a God to converse in secret, away from prying eyes of the acolytes.  And to call any God they require.  “Artemis, Athena, Aphrodite, I need The Oil of Lanius, please.”  Nothing happened.  Hercules spoke again more forcefully, “Please, it is a matter of urgency.  Honour my request.” 

With a flash Artemis appeared, dressed as usual in her Amazon clothes with a bow strapped across her back.  She smiled as soon as she saw Hercules and held her arms out to greet him and they embraced warmly.  Hercules was fond of his sister.  She was genuinely concerned about her Amazons yet believed that they had the right to make their own choices and decisions unlike most of the other Olympians.  She was devoted to her family, especially her sisters Athena who she adored and Aphrodite who she was fond of in an older exasperated sister kind of way.  She and Apollo were as close as any twins and she found joy in her family’s offspring.  She was very proud of Hercules and tried to stay out of her family machinations as much as possible.  But she would never refuse him help.  “My brother, how are you?  Why do you need the oil?” she said warmly as they pulled apart from the embrace. 

“I need your help Artemis,” he said with a worried look on his face “I-we believe Ares found the Challis of Hectate and has given to some of his followers.”  Artemis gasped, at the audacity of Ares and the horror that could be brought by the challis falling into wrong hands.  She remembered of many occasions when this had been the case.  “Xena has been affected.”  At this news Artemis sank to one of the chairs and put her head in her hands.  “And Gabrielle?”  The Goddess whispered.  She was genuinely fond of her queen.  The circumstances to her becoming queen were extraordinary but she had led them well especially against Valasca and appointed a wonderful Regent in Ephiny.  She had seen how she had influenced Xena and how that had pleased Athena and infuriated Ares.  She knew that Aphrodite had a soft spot for her too after spending time with her as a mortal.

“Xena attacked her but she escaped.”  Artemis nodded and with a flash a small vial appeared in her hand.  Hercules looked at the vial and then at Artemis with an uncertain look.  Artemis smiled and stood up and took the lid of the vial.  She poured the contents out and once she had righted it she showed Hercules its contents.  It was full again.  “Fear not brother, you will not run out.   It is enchanted.  The vial is more manageable than a large wineskin.”  Hercules briefly told her of their plan and of Hephaestus’s involvement.  She nodded thoughtfully and pointed at the vial, which suddenly glowed.  “A sedative.  It will work with the Oil and give you a couple of hours to sort things out before they awake.”  She paused.  “I’ll try to gain as much information as I can.   Take care brother,” she gave Hercules a genuine smile.  “This is no longer the Xena you care for.  She’ll be more dangerous than ever, more ruthless.”

“I know, but I hope we can change her back before…before she does too much damage.”  Artemis nodded and gave her brother a warm hug.

 Xena surveyed the scene with a joyless smile.   She closed her eyes and savoured the blood lust that still ran through her body.  Today’s fights now and at that pathetic little village had barely satisfied her. She was still edgy and full of energy.  Hard as it was she knew she had to be patient.    Their army was growing and they would soon be taking on bigger targets.  Xena could hardly wait-the darkness was all encompassing and whatever she fed it with wasn’t enough.   All the amazons and two of the men from the caravan were captured-they had proven themselves to be worthy opponents and would join them.  Everyone else lay on the ground dead.  Xena watched interestedly as Claudine forced the amazons and men to drink from the challis.  Her army was growing and they would be soon taking larger villages and towns.  Claudine could keep the money and jewels; she had no interest in them.  All she was interested in was satisfying her blood lust and sustaining the darkness within her.  The need to feed it felt insatiable, but that would not stop her.  Nothing would.

Delia and Cara watched the carnage unfold from behind the trees.  They had heard the fighting and were riding in to join the fray when Delia had recognised Xena and Epinon’s voices.  Pulling Cara off her horse and low onto the ground she watched with horror.  “Shouldn’t we help them,” whispered Cara angrily?

“There’s nothing we can do to help them,” Delia retorted sadly.  She watched with tears in her eyes as Epinon ran through a hapless opponent merely trying to protect his goods.  What was that cup?  And what had it done to Xena and Pony?  She closed her eyes.  She was no fighter, granted she had fought in the past and would die for the Amazon cause if needed but she was also a pragmatist.

“Come on, we need to head back and tell Ephiny.”

“And Solari,” piped in Cara.

Delia shuddered.  She was not looking forward to that at all.

Kelsa looked out at darkness.  Guard duty she thought.  Had to be done but boy was it boring.  She glanced at Walia who also wore a very bored look on her face.  Only a few hours to go.  She continued to gaze at nothingness but thought she detected a sound.  She strained to hear and motioned to Walia to do the same.  Within a few seconds she knew that it was a horse being ridden very fast.  She exchanged a concerned look with Walia.  The rider was nearly upon them before they could see them clearly.  He slid off his horse, his armour and leathers squeaking and crashing together. He was out of breath and after he took off his bizarre helmet they could see his hair was caked in sweat. He gave a nervous smile.  “Hi,” he said his voice squeaky. 

“Joxer,” said Kelsa warmly, and held her hand out for a handshake.  “How are you?”

 “I’ve got a message for Ephiny from Gabrielle.  There’s trouble.”  Joxer may have been out of breath when he spoke and panting slightly but they could hear the anxiety in his voice.  One look at him and his steaming horse told them how hard he had obviously ridden.  Kelsa looked at Joxer expectantly.

He shook his head, wearily.  “I really need to see Ephiny.”  His face was etched with concern.

“You ride in with him Kelsa,” said Walia.  “I think he could fall off his horse with tiredness.” There was no humour in her tone, only worry.

Kelsa mounted the horse and Joxer got on behind her and as she led the horse deep into the forest the gentle movement lulled the tired man into sleep.

“It’s good to see you Joxer.”  Solari gave the-would-be warrior a warm hug and when they parted Ephiny repeated the gesture.  “Come sit,” said the regent. “You have a message from Gabrielle.  Is she well?” 

Joxer looked at the floor.  He nervously kicked dust around with his toe.  “Not really,” he mumbled.  “There’s been some trouble.”  He looked up into the faces of the two Amazons.  Ephiny motioned for them to sit and they did at a large table.  Joxer immediately poured himself some wine and drank the whole glass in two gulps and then poured another one.  This one he merely held, gently swishing the cup around.  He swallowed and then looked up, “We-Hercules, Iolaus and I-were staying in Renwa.  We were waiting for Xena and Gabby.  Gabby had been sick, so they were meeting us there later.”  At those words Solari and Ephiny both leaned forward in their chairs both wearing identical looks of concern.  Joxer took a gulp of wine and continued, “Then, Gabby appeared, alone.  She looked pretty terrible.  She had some minor injuries, cuts and bruises.  I think maybe someone tried to…”  Joxer started to mumble and looked down into his wine his ears turning pink.

“Where was Xena?”  asked Solari.

There was silence as Joxer tried to work out exactly how to explain all that had happened.

“Did Xena hurt her?” growled Ephiny. 

Joxer nodded and opened his mouth to say something Ephiny interrupted him by jumping out of her chair.  She balled her hand into a fist and started to hit her other hand.  “I’ll kill her.  This time I will kill her.”  Solari jumped up and tried to placate the fuming regent.  “It’s Xena but it’s not,” said Joxer loudly and quickly.  The two women turned to look at him with confused looks on their faces.  “Gabby told us that she had drunk from a challis.   The Challis of Hectate; it causes drinkers to only feel darkness.  Memories and other feelings are lost.  That’s what happened to Xena.”  There was silence as they all digested that information.  The Amazons lowered themselves to their chairs and Solari poured two mugs of wine and handed one to Ephiny who drunk it straight down.  She continued to breathe deeply and stared at Joxer with an uncompromising look.

“Tell us, Joxer”, she said.

So Joxer related what happened to Xena. 

“Xena controlled by darkness,” whispered Solari as Joxer had finished.

“It’s a nightmare,” said Ephiny her eyes torn away from Joxer and suddenly lost in thought.  “Rewind five years.  No one is safe.”

“There’s a cure,” said Joxer with a little smile.  “That’s where you come in.”

“US!” said Ephiny and Solari in unison.  “How?”

“Hercules has gone to get the oil of lanius.  It only needs the affected to take a tiny amount like a pin prick to be returned to normal.  Hephaestus is making darts and mini crossbows for us.  We just need some good archers.”

“Hephaestus?”  The Amazons were used to being left alone by Artemis and have very little to do with the other Gods.  But Xena and Hercules being involved, divine intervention was inevitable.  

“Of course we’ll do anything we can to help.  We’ll ask the centaurs too, they certainly won’t relish another battle with Xena. ” Ephiny exchanged a look with Solari. Then she swallowed and gently asked, “Gabrielle’s ok?  Did, did Xena hurt her?”

“It was more the shock I think.  It shook her up quite badly; Xena had no memory of her at all.”  That must have nearly killed the bard thought Ephiny. “She hit her couple of times, and –“Joxer looked away, his face crumbled and then he said quickly, “put the pinch on her.”  There was silence apart from the odd sip of wine.

“She’s really back then.”  Ephiny poured herself another drink.  This really was the Xena of old, the warrior princess, destroyer of nations, and murderer of amazons.  And it was up to them to stop her one way or another.

Joxer got the scroll out of his saddle bag.  He handed it to Ephiny.  “Gabrielle explains it all in greater detail.  Hephaestus will deliver the bows and darts to our rendezvous point when we meet up with Hercules.”  Ephiny nodded and unrolled the scroll.  She ran her fingers over the neat writing.  She had received many scrolls from Gabrielle in the past, but this one was the first since her “return”. She could feel the tension in each mark of the parchment.  She sent a quick prayer to Artemis that Gabrielle’s soul would survive along with her body.  ”Let’s get some rest and then we can move out first light.  Sol.”

“I’ll sort the party out tomorrow, don’t worry.  I’ll send runners to Tyldus now.”  She smiled at both of them and left the hut.

“You can stay in a guest hut tonight Joxer.  Thanks once again for what you are doing.”

“I’ll do anything for Gabrielle,” he said quietly, and his face was full of pain for one moment.

“So would I,” said Ephiny softly and patted him on his hand.

She watched as they left and slumped back in her chair.  She stared at Gabrielle’s scroll again, not reading it but thinking of a night several months ago.

Ephiny stared at her friend.  “Has she said anything?”

Solari shook her head.  “Only that she needs to speak to you.  I asked where Gabrielle was and she said nothing.”

The Regent moved from behind her desk and moved closer to Solari.  “Has Gabrielle left her do you think?”

“I don’t know Eph, but Xena looks, I dunno-lost.”


“Not quite the arrogant so and so she usually is,” said Solari dispassionately.  “Will you be OK with her Eph?  You’ve barely spoken since that day.”

“Lead her in Solari.  I’ll be fine.” 

The dark Amazon nodded and turned on her heels and exited quickly.  Within a few moments Xena entered.  Ephiny understood what Solari meant.  Her leathers looked loose, and the ebony hair was untidy and unkempt.  She moved with a stiffness and tenseness that Ephiny could recall from her first meeting with the Warrior Princess but had been absent since.  Ephiny motioned for Xena to sit down but she shook her head.

“Ephiny,” the voice was cold.  “Thank you for agreeing to see me.  I realise it must be difficult.”

“Not at all Xena.”  Ephiny paused.  “She’s not here, I promise you.”

For a second Ephiny noticed a shadow pass over Xena’s face and then the warrior mask snapped on again.  Apart from the eyes.  Ephiny looked deeply into the blue eyes and started to feel a wave of panic.  There was so much pain in those eyes.  Even the stoic warrior couldn’t hide that.

“I know.”  With those two words Ephiny was certain about her friend’s fate.  The surge of emotion made her whisper, “No, No.”

“Ephiny, Gabrielle is dead.”

The Regent looked dumbly at Xena.  The warrior mask was on, but Ephiny could see it was taking all her self control, all her strength in keeping her emotions in check.  Ephiny couldn’t manage that.  She walked away from Xena and whispered,” No,” again.  She put her hand to her eyes and could feel the tears flowing.  This was not supposed to have happened.  Ephiny had begged Gabrielle to stay with the tribe to rule as Queen, but Gabrielle had insisted that her place was with Xena.  Xena was her home and would keep her safe.

“What happened?” was all Ephiny could manage.  She too was struggling to keep herself together.  She didn’t want to break down in front of the warrior princess.  She would mourn fully later.

“Hope.”  The word was dripping with bitterness.  Ephiny turned to look at Xena.  “She returned.  We had to stop her.  But if I killed her I would die, so Gabrielle-“A lone tear ran down Xena’s cheek.  “Gabrielle sacrificed herself.”

Ephiny swallowed “Did you, did you bring her home?” The word had slipped out erroneously.  Ephiny winced.

Xena seized on it immediately.  She shook her head, and said bitterly, “I was her home.”

Ephiny’s anger rose.  Xena knew how important an Amazon funeral was to the tribe especially when it involved a member of the royal family.  “Where is she?”  She asked angrily.

“I don’t know,” Xena retorted angrily, her resentment rising, and her control on her emotions becoming more fragile by each passing second.  “She fell to her death.”  Seeing Ephiny looking shocked she added, “It would have been my decision where she was buried.”

“She was an Amazon,” replied Ephiny her voice rising in anger.

“She was my life!”  Xena shouted.

“You didn’t look after her well then,” the caramel eyes were blazing and her legendary temper that had got her into so many scrapes when younger was at full force.  “You were the person she needed protecting from!”

“I wondered when you would bring that up,” said Xena.  She took a deep breath in.  “I’ve apologised to you and Gabrielle.  We made it up.”  Her voice broke, “we were happy again.”

“You said you would keep her safe.  You promised.  We trusted you.”

“Gods don’t you think I tried.  Don’t you think every second of every day I wish she hadn’t done it?”

“I begged her to stay, I pleaded with her, but she wanted to go with you,” Ephiny’s anger vanished for a moment and was replaced by a sweet remembrance.  “I just wanted her to stay, with me.”  The last two words were whispered to herself but the warrior’s unnatural hearing picked them up.

“How did it feel Ephiny that she chose me again?”  Xena’s anger was showing no sign of dissipating.  She was relishing the feel of emotion after so long trying to keep a lid on them.  “That you came behind me twice.”

“But I didn’t, did I?” Ephiny smiled a feral smile.  She was past caring about pandering to Xena’s hurt emotions.  She knew that she could strike her down any minute but she couldn’t stop herself.  “What bothered you the most, Princess,” the name was spat out and the rest of the words said spitefully, “that she was with me at all or that it was before you?”

“At least I didn’t take advantage of her grief,” Xena was shouting at the regent despite her standing two feet away, “She barely knew if she was coming or going, but you pounced.”

“It wasn’t like that!” Ephiny stepped forward so she was practically nose to nose with Xena.  “I would never take advantage of her.  I didn’t, and she knew that.”

“Keep telling yourself Eph and maybe you’ll believe it.”

“I LOVED HER.  I LOVE HER.”  The words were shouted with such passion that Xena stepped back momentarily surprised.  Ephiny shut her eyes.  “When you came back to the dead, I saw how happy you were.  I wasn’t going to stand in your way.”  The tears were streaming down her face. She opened her eyes glanced at Xena and then looked away.   “But after Solon,” Xena winced and Ephiny reflexively put her hand on Xena’s shoulder, and Xena let her, “I asked her to stay with me.  I told her that I could make her happy, but she said her place with you.  She would-,” Ephiny shut her eyes and began to shake.  Xena returned the favour and laid both hands on her shoulders.  The shaking stopped and Ephiny opened her eyes and gazed into Xena’s.  The pain was mirrored in both sets.  “She said she would prefer to die tomorrow at your side loving you than to live without you for years.”  Xena pulled Ephiny into a stiff embrace and after a few seconds they both emerged.  Two women who had lost a cherished friend.

“I’m sorry for what I said.  Thank you for coming.  It must have been hard for you.”  Ephiny sniffed and rubbed her teary eyes with her hands.

Xena nodded.  “I thought I might get this sort of welcome but I can’t blame you.  I nearly kill the queen, injure the regent and now I have failed in my most sacred task.”

Ephiny poured out a glass of wine, her hands shaking, and handed it to her.  She poured one for herself and drunk it quickly before refilling it.  “And I didn’t mean what I said Ephiny.  You’ve been a friend to Gabrielle when she needed one, and I never once thought you took advantage.”  There was a pause and Xena looked away into the distance for several seconds.  Her voice was breaking with emotion as she spoke,” she never knew I knew.  The dead really can hear your thoughts.”

There was a painful pause, both women lost in their own thoughts.  Ephiny looked up and said quietly,”What do you think she’ll be saying about us now?”

“Warriors,” they both said in unison and laughed.  However in a heartbeat the jocularity was gone.  “Stay with us a couple of days,” said Ephiny, kindly.  The very least she could do for her best friend’s lover was to ensure she had a few days rest and food.  Xena nodded and her face crumpled, the strain of keeping the mask on was too much.  Ephiny knew she had to distract her. Her grief was heavy enough without having to deal with Xena’s.  Besides she knew that Xena would prefer to keep it private.

Ephiny gently laid her hand on Xena’s shoulder.  “Do you think you can tell me,” she said and Xena looked up, nodded again and launched into how they started to look for Gabrielle’s friend Seraphin.

Ephiny sat staring into nothingness.  Xena had left them a couple of days later, and although their relationship was not warm it was at least civil.  And then there was the joy of receiving word that Gabrielle was alive.  Ephiny felt her prayers had been answered until the shocking news that Joxer had brought today.  It looked like they would be meeting up with Xena and Gabrielle sooner than they thought but in circumstances that were far, far from ideal.

The ride had been torture for Gabrielle.  Whether it was the remnants of the sickness or her anxiety over Xena she didn’t know but she felt worse than ever.  She had to force herself to eat small amounts to keep Iolaus from nagging at her.  Her body was full of aches and pains but those paled in comparison to the ache in her heart.  Every time she shut her eyes she saw the cold blue eyes and heard the voice “That’s her taken care of, as if she was no more consequence than a fly.    She prayed and prayed that this Xena hadn’t left her mark but to their horror she had.  They had heard that two villages had been ransacked.  Everyone was dead.  And there was word that a caravan heading towards Renwa had been destroyed too.    Gabrielle pushed down the hurt, anger, betrayal, loss and grief and tried with all her strength and resolve to keep focused on the mission.  Destroy the challis; buy Hercules and the Amazons some time and this will all be over, Xena will return to normal.  Gabrielle sighed as she sat astride Argo not taking in her surroundings at all.  That was a pipe dream Gabrielle knew.  Xena would blame herself for everything and add it to all the other guilt she carried.  This time, Gabrielle wouldn’t let her.  This was not her fault.  She had no choice in the matter, and if she had to repeat this every day for the rest of her life she would.  She blamed Ares, Claudine and Lindos for this.  She felt the bile rising in her throat as she remembered Lindos pawing her.  She didn’t care what had happened to her but they would pay for what they put Xena through.  This could rebuild the barriers that Gabrielle had spent so long trying to tear down.  No, thought a determined bard, she wouldn’t allow it. 

She was so lost in thought that she did not hear Iolaus call her.  “Gab, Gabrielle.”  The bard looked up and smiled at her friend.  He continued,”I think we’re close.  Through this forest is a large clearing.  It would be perfect for a base; it has cover, a stream nearby, and by the looks of it,” he pointed down at the ground, “there has been heavy traffic.”  He dismounted and Gabrielle did likewise.  “On foot?” she inquired, and Iolaus nodded.  They got the hammer out of their saddlebag and sent their horses on their way.  Gabrielle gave Argo a hug and a kiss and the horse neighed her goodbye.

Claudine lay in bed, arms wrapped around herself a she did when she was a girl. Life was good she thought.  No life was great.  She smiled.  She got out of bed and wrapping a blanket around her went to the tent flap and looked out.  There were a few people up early and drilling, Xena one of them.  Claudine watched in admiration as the muscular lean body moved gracefully through each phase of her routine.  Some others were rousing from their slumber.  She noticed her brother was up and already whining.  Still mourning the loss of that blond girl no doubt.  Fool!  He was obsessing about her all the time, as he was prone to do about his latest conquest.

Their army was small but building up.  Xena had started to organise drills and soon everyone was working off their energies in sword play.   Claudine practically drooled every time she thought of Xena.  She was the perfect specimen.  Much to Claudine’s disappointment Xena showed no interest in anything other than fighting.  Only a couple of weeks and they would be heading towards larger towns.   And then to Corinth.  As Claudine slipped back into bed she licked her lips in anticipation.

Ephiny sat astride her horse watching the area quietly.  She turned to Solari and nodded.  Within moments the Amazons had dismounted and started efficiently to set up camp.  Joxer watched slack jawed with amazement as in the time it took him to dismount and tether his horse, firewood had been collected and tents erected.  He moved closer to Ephiny and Solari who were in discussion with Tyldus.  They greeted him as he joined them.  “Everything OK?” Joxer asked smiling nervously.  He received three nods in reply.  “Do you want me to start cooking?” He asked.

“NO!” said three voices in unison. 

“Thanks for the offer,” said a pale faced Tyldus.  He had heard about Joxer’s legendary culinary skills.  “I would like to hear more about Hephaestus though.  I ‘d like to know more about him before I meet him,” He put his arm around Joxer and started to lead him away.

“OK,” shrugged Joxer.  “He doesn’t look like much but I could see he was brave, as brave as me, well not quite…” Ephiny could hear Joxer’s voice grow fader as he and Tyldus walked off.  “Remind me we owe Tyldus one,” grinned Solari.  Ephiny laughed.  She looked around.  The camp was looking organised.  The well oiled machine was working the two leaders were pleased to see.  Ephiny was pleased with the numbers she had.  They had taken twenty warriors from the village including the healer Piri who insisted that she came along.  “If the queen is injured, it is my job, my duty to come.”  Ephiny had rolled her eyes and begrudgingly agreed.  The healer was very protective of the queen, thought Ephiny, as were we all.  There would be no arguing with her when she got an idea in her head.  They had sent word to Tyldus and he had pledged twenty centaurs.  Many remembered the wars against Xena and were not eager to relive them.  If they could avoid it they were happy to help.  It also fortified the already strong ties with the amazons.

Ephiny tried to grapple with the horrific idea of Xena being consumed by darkness.  She had heard the stories of what Xena did to the northern tribes and throughout Greece, but even as they fought Valasca and Callisto that seemed to be another person.  It was only when she rode into the village on that fateful day that she appreciated what Xena was capable of.  She lowered herself to the ground and watched Solari as she went to her horse to take a water skin.  Would she have done that if it had been Xenon?  Would she have brutally attacked her dearest friend in that manner?  She didn’t care about her arm, she had worse injuries but what happened between Xena and Gabrielle touched her deeply.  When Gabrielle returned unharmed and full of forgiveness she had listened to the incredible story.  She had begrudgingly forgiven the warrior only after Gabrielle’s apparent death and asked the tribe to which they did.  But she never forgot and hoped that they would never have to face this again.  And now they did. 

Her musings were interrupted by a bird call indicating a rider approaching.  Ephiny immediately got to her feet and watched as a beautiful black stallion carried his rider.  It was good that it was enormous as the man would have made a normal sized horse look like a small donkey.  Ephiny stared and noticed there were two other horses following behind.  Two familiar horses and riders; Delia and Cara.  Giving Solari a glance they both ran towards the horses.  Hercules had dismounted by the time they reached them and there was a small crowd around them.  Hercules gave Tyldus a warm hug and a handshake and did the same to Joxer.  Delia and Cara had also dismounted and were hugging several amazons.  Ephiny didn’t miss the look of sadness Delia gave Solari and she went cold.  Oh gods not Epinon please don’t let anything happen to her.  One of her oldest friends.  She put her hand on Solari’s shoulder for support. Solari appeared in a state of shock, not acknowledging Ephiny’s touch merely staring at Delia. 

“Where’s Pony?” she whispered.  “Gods, no please.”  Solari put her hands to her head.

“She’s alive Sol. They all are.”  Delia exchanged a glance with Hercules.  “She’s with Xena.”

“They drunk from the challis.  They’re all part of Claudine and Xena’s little army,” added Hercules. He looked around at the little group.  “Ephiny?” said Hercules uncertainly.  She stepped forward to be embraced in an enormous hug.  “I’ve heard lots about you.  I’m sorry we meet under such grave circumstances.”

“I know me too” she said pulling away slightly.

Hercules lent back towards her.  ”We need to talk,” he whispered in her ear.  He released her and she motioned for Delia and Solari to join them and Hercules did the same to Joxer and Tyldus.   They made their way to the outer part of the camp.  Ephiny could see Solari was bursting to find out news about Epinon, but she managed to restrain from asking.  Hercules looked at them all.  “Joxer’s filled you in?”  They all nodded. He looked at Delia who had a tear rolling down her cheek.

“My bridle broke,” Delia started apologetically, “Cara and I were to catch the others up.  When we did,” she looked away from Solari’s piercing glare and closed her eyes, “we saw them fighting Xena’s army.  She didn’t recognise Pony, and they caught them, and forced them to drink from the challis.”  She paused and opened her eyes and gazed at the small crowd, still avoiding Solari.  “I rode into Hercules and he filled me in about the challis.”

“What happened?”  Ephiny knew Delia well enough to recognise she was shaken by something. 

“They murdered those people Eph.  Just ran them through.  Traders going to the market.  I wouldn’t have believed it if-“She stopped and sniffed.


Ephiny winced as if wounded and Solari fell to her knees, face screwed up, and hands formed into tight fists.  Ephiny sank down next to her and put her arms around her.  Hercules looked at them both with sympathy and said gently, “It’s not Epinon, remember that.  The challis robs them of everything.  Even the kindest gentlest person has a measure of darkness and that’s what feeds them.  They are not the people you love,” he said gently.

  Hercules looked around at the shattered faces.  They deserved to know everything. “I’ve heard of two villages completely destroyed.”  There was silence.  Tyldus looked around at everyone and ever practical said,”so we are here.  You have the oil Hercules.  How does it work?”

“We are going to dip darts into it and send them into the camp.  Artemis has also added a sedative which should at least take care of them for a short while.”

“And the darts?” said Ephiny, and at that moment there was a flash and Hephaestus and Artemis appeared.  The Amazons present immediately dropped to their knees.  This was a rare honour; Artemis had not appeared to their tribe within Ephiny’s lifetime.  She looked embarrassed.  “Get up please” she said quickly and motioned with her hands.  Both Hephaestus and Hercules looked amused at her awkwardness.  “The darts and crossbows as ordered,” Hephaestus said and they materialised in a neat pile.

“Thank you,” chorused Joxer and Tyldus.

“What is it?” asked Hercules conscious that Artemis looked concerned.

Hephaestus and Artemis exchanged a glance.  “Iolaus and Gabrielle have gone to destroy the challis.”

“What!” exclaimed Hercules?  “She could barely move.  Did you give them that idea?”  He looked accusingly at Hephaestus who looked horrified.  Tyldus and Joxer looked at him with surprise.  This was not like Hercules.  Artemis immediately rounded on him.

“No it was Gabrielle’s.  They both wanted to do something.”

“How’s Gabrielle?” said Ephiny, her concern over her friend over-riding her awe of the goddess.

“Hurt mentally and physically, but this has given her something to do rather than brood.”  She directed her answer at Hercules.

“I’m sorry,” he said.  He took a deep breath in.  “I shouldn’t have taken my concerns out on you.”  He held his hand out for Hephaestus who shook it.  “How do they destroy it?”

“With a specially made hammer.  They should be close to the camp by now.  Herc, we’re sorry we can’t do more.”

Hercules gave a wan smile.  “I know.  I can never understand the rues about you interfering but I know you do your best.”  He spoke with an exasperated tone.

“One thing we will do is keep Ares busy,” said Artemis.  “It was him that was gave the challis to Claudine and her brother.  Their father was a great follower of his.”

“Thank you,” replied Hercules and with a nod of their heads the two Gods vanished with a flash.

“Looks like it’s an early start tomorrow then,” said Joxer.

“May it be a successful day,” said Tyldus, echoing all their thoughts.


Iolaus had thanked his days in the army many times and today was one of them.  It allowed him to scout close to camp without being detected.  There were a couple of soldiers posted around the camp as sentries, moaning at the lack of action.  He spotted Xena and her tent and from Gabrielle’s description Claudine.  He headed back to where Gabrielle was waiting.  A whistle from him and the next thing he knew Gabrielle had descended gracefully from the tree she was hiding in.  “You’re good at that,” he said in an impressed tone.

“Thanks,” she said.  “I picked a few things up from the Amazons.  I drove Sol mad as she was teaching me.”  She smiled at the memory and was joined by a shy smile from Iolaus.  “So what now?”

“I think Claudine has the challis.  She’s not drunk from it.”

“What makes you say that?”

“She just seems different.  And another man, who looks like her.”

“That’ll be Lindos,” Gabrielle shivered unconsciously. Iolaus patted her arm, comfortably.

“So we have to break into a heavily fortified camp and smash the most valuable thing they have.  And face the greatest warrior in Greece.”

“So what’s the plan?” asked Gabrielle.

“Dunno.  I’m just a sidekick,” Iolaus grinned.

Gabrielle sighed.  She looked towards the camp.  “Do they have sentries?”

“Yep, they’re in pairs, fairly far apart.”

“Pairs.  MMMmmm.”  She looked at Iolaus and winked.

Within an hour Iolaus and Gabrielle were dressed in a uniform with helmets on.  The two sentries were relieved of their duties unconscious, bound and gagged.  They made their way in camp, glad of the failing light.  Gabrielle could feel the hammer hidden underneath the grimy tunic.  They slowly walked towards the outskirts of a tent.  From what Gabrielle could tell it was a typical army camp.  She recognised the two tents as Amazon issue.  Oh no, she thought did they run into amazons?  Iolaus had estimated that there were twenty to twenty five soldiers.  There was a grassy area with a large fire in the middle, and several soldiers were sitting around it.  Some were eating and others picking fights.  Gabrielle racked her eyes over the camp looking for Xena.  She saw her in the distance drilling.  Her eyes welled up with tears and she sniffed. Iolaus gently brushed her arm with his fingers and she gave a weak smile.  It’s not my Xena, not my Xena she repeated.  She knew that Iolaus too was watching for Claudine.  Gabrielle reluctantly tore her eyes away from Xena and looked intently around the camp.  They were in the shadows of the tent and had not been spotted.  She watched Claudine and another person leave the tent.  She watched them walk away and inhaled deeply and then turned towards Iolaus and he motioned for them to go towards the tent the pair had vacated.  From the size and position they had assumed it was Claudine’s.  They quietly entered the empty tent.  Gabrielle went straight for a couple of saddle bags that were on the floor while Iolaus looked around the bed.  Although they were only in there seconds to Gabrielle it felt like hours.  Every noise sounded magnified.  She had little doubt they would be killed if caught.  She searched through the bags but nothing.  She then heard a gasp, as Iolaus held up a familiar sack.  He reached inside and pulled out the challis.  She shared a grin with her friend and started to move towards the tent flap.  Gabrielle saw a soldier enter the tent.  All three were shocked at seeing each other but Iolaus reacted the quickest and he moved in front of them and then threw the challis back to Gabrielle.  She caught it and laying it on the ground, drew the hammer out from under her clothes and with as much force as she could muster brought the hammer down and smashed the challis into tiny fragments.  The soldier drew his sword and after yelling rushed towards Iolaus.  He weaved his body left and right out of the way of the sword and managed to get a kick into the stomach of one that sent him sprawling backwards.  Before they could exit the tent, three more soldiers entered.  Two were immediately engaged by Iolaus and Gabrielle looked frantically around to see if there was anything she could use as a weapon, having left her staff with Argo.  She threw pieces of the challis at him and he swiped at them with his hand, and while distracted Gabrielle threw the hammer at his head.  It as a good shot and downed him.  She then gave him a kick to the head, rendering him unconscious.  She looked up and the joy she felt at Iolaus doing so well was short-lived as the alarm had truly been raised.  Standing in the tent doorway was Xena, her blue eyes watching the fracas emotionless and her face completely passive.  “ENOUGH!” she yelled.  Iolaus got one last jab into his opponent sending him sprawling and looked towards Xena.  Gabrielle watched her partner closely and could see little of the woman she had loved for the past few years.  She could see that she was flanked by several men and oh, no, Amarice and Epinon.  How they had got involved, Gabrielle thought with a pang.  She tore her eyes back towards Xena, who flicked her head and immediately both Iolaus and Gabrielle were held by two soldiers each.  “WHAT IS GOING ON?” Xena shouted.  She looked around the tent and saw a large piece of the challis on the floor.  As she bent down and picked it up Claudine entered the tent.  “NO!” Claudine cried as she saw the broken piece in Xena’s hand.  Gabrielle gave a slight smile, and seeing that she went straight to Gabrielle and punched her in the face.  Gabrielle’s head lolled back and her nose stared to spurt blood and from the sound of the crack and the intense pain she knew it was broken.

 “You!  Do you know what you have done?” Claudine hissed at the bard.  Gabrielle tried to spit the blood from mouth at her and then smiled which further enraged the woman who raised her hand to hit her again.  Her hand was stopped mid flight by the larger one of the warrior princess.  “Patience dear Claudine, we need to get information.”  She spoke coldly and she gazed at Gabrielle.  Gabrielle could feel her eyes being drawn towards the cerulean ones and she knew what pain she would feel when she looked into the eyes she loved so much, the eyes that had told her so much of what Xena felt, that usually radiated so much emotion.  She did look at them, and there was no recognition, no love, no concern, nothing in those eyes linked Gabrielle to the person she loved.  At that moment Gabrielle knew this truly wasn’t her Xena and she had lost something precious.  She started to weep.

 “Afraid to die?” sneered Xena, spitefully.

Gabrielle shook her head.  “No, what I am experiencing is worse than death,” she said quietly.  She looked at Iolaus who had a stunned look on his face.  He heard about the effect it had on Xena, he had heard the stories from Hercules about what effect the challis had but he didn’t comprehend the influence until now. It was truly mind spinning.  “We’ll see,” said Xena with a feral smile.  “First we need to know why you are here and if you are working with anyone else.”

“The little man is Hercules’s friend, so that do-gooder is probably involved,” said Lindos as he entered the tent.  His eyes widened as he saw Gabrielle and he shared a knowing look with his sister.  She gave him an indulgent smile and nodded.  He licked his lips and made his way towards Gabrielle.  She started to struggle as he moved towards her, her memories of his attempted rape fresh in her mind.  Xena put her arm against his chest to stop him from going any nearer. “You can have her later,” she whispered.  “So is Hercules involved?” She said louder.  There was silence.  She punched Gabrielle in the stomach, the bard rocking backwards and only being prevented from falling backwards by the two soldiers holding her.  Gabrielle was momentarily winded and could only cough and couldn’t yell to Amarice to stop hitting Iolaus.  She eventually managed to splutter, “Amarice don’t.”

“So you can talk,” said Xena coldly.  She slapped Gabrielle on one cheek and then the other.  Amarice followed suit on Iolaus.  Although her hits were not hard for Gabrielle they weighed heavy on heart.  Oh Xena, don’t feel guilty if you remember this, it’s not your fault, it’s not.  She looked at her partner with sad eyes.  Xena was totally oblivious to Gabrielle’s melancholy and looked around.  “It’s late and I would like to be fresh in the morning for our next interrogation.  You don’t have to be though.”  She smiled sweetly at Gabrielle but the smile didn’t reach her eyes.  “Lindos, she’s yours.”  Gabrielle looked at Xena with a look of horror and revulsion and then fear. “No, please Xena,” she cried.   Lindos grabbed the bard who was kicking and screaming at him.  She was fighting with Lindos like a feral animal but to no avail.  She was truly panicked and the adrenaline was racing through her body increasing her strength but it was not enough.    Iolaus shouted but he was rewarded with a punch to the face.  He struggled against his captors, as Gabrielle was being dragged away.  When he couldn’t see her any more he turned towards Xena with tears in his eyes.  “I’ll never forget what you did Xena,” he said bitterly, “And one day you won’t.”

 “Tie him outside.  Put four guards on him.”  She walked out of the tent.  Claudine looked at the shattered challis and said coldly, “and break one of his legs.”

Iolaus tried yet again to find a comfortable position, and failed.  His right leg was broken and he was trying to keep his weight off it.  His arms were tied behind his back, and for the first two hours he struggled against the binds but only succeeded in ripping his skin raw.  His face ached and he was cold and thirsty.  He was also dreadfully worried about Gabrielle.  He had heard screams from Lindos’s tent for two hours but now there was silence.  He moved gently again, wincing as pain shot through his leg.  He had managed to doze only on and off.  He closed his eyes but was awoken by further screams from Lindos’s tent.  Tears welled up in his eyes.  After an hour he saw a figure being dragged from the tent and thrown on the ground, her hands and feet bound.  “Gabrielle,” he whispered.  “Gab, please.  Please.”  After several minutes her head rose a little.  Iolaus could see the contusions on her face and the red, swollen eyes.  “Not long now,” Iolaus said trying to be cheerful.  He thought he saw a ghost of a smile before her head lay down again and he could hear sobbing.

Xena eyed the two prisoners from her tent.  Oh she would enjoy this.  The extraction of information could be a slow process, but she didn’t feel like hanging around for too long today.  She threw her chakram up and caught it, no she wanted to find out any information, kill the prisoners and head out.  The need for blood was overwhelming.  She threw the chakram up again and caught it and started making her way to the pair.  The man was still tied to the post, trying to balance on his left leg, keeping the weight off his right.  And the girl, she was lying bound on the floor.  By the look of her Lindos had a good night.  A thought ran through her mind but she quickly extinguished it.  She had none of those needs; all she wanted to do was feed the darkness.  She approached Iolaus and kicked his left leg causing him to cry out.  The girl looked up and wore an angry scowl. Oh goody, Xena thought, maybe she is tougher than she looks.

“Claudine, get a team, we’re going to see what they know.”  Claudine nodded and beckoned to several soldiers.  Xena feigned disinterest as a small group gathered close to her.  Xena turned towards Gabrielle and Iolaus.  “Now you are going to spill your guts, one way or another.”  The voice was impassive as was the face.  She waved her hand at Gabrielle and within seconds she was hauled to her feet and held by two grinning soldiers.  “Now who else is involved?”  There was silence.  Xena nodded and Epinon went to Gabrielle and hit her across the ribs with a staff.  Gabrielle screamed.

“Who is involved?”  Silence.  Another hit.

 “Who is involved?”  Silence.  Another hit.

“Who is involved?”  Silence.  This time Epinon turned and went to Iolaus and hit him with the staff.  This went on until both had been hit a dozen times.  Xena looked on half impressed; she thought they would have passed out long before they did.

“Leave them until after breakfast,” she said coolly.  “They’re not going anywhere.”

Gabrielle watched with one eye, barely open, at the soldiers undergoing drills.  Her other eye was swollen shut and she kept her good eye as closed as possible so they would think her unconscious.   She was sure she had never been in so much pain.  She was unsure if most of it came from her shattered soul; her revulsion and horror at what she had endured last night or the physical pain she was in.  She tried to block as much of the pain out as she could, although focusing on the physical pain kept her from dwelling on her broken heart.  They had revelled in torturing them, and at times the soldiers had to be restrained from continuing the beatings.  Gabrielle had sensed that Xena had enjoyed thinking up crueller tortures.

All they had admitted was they knew the hammers would break the challis.  They wouldn’t admit anything else.  They did not know what force Ephiny could muster together and the element of surprise was such an important weapon.   But still the beatings came.  Both their backs were bloodied from numerous lashes.  Gabrielle’s nose was broken.  Her left arm was dislocated and her wrist was broken.  Her ribs were a mess and she had bruises and whip marks all over her legs.  Iolaus was in an even worse state.  His face was swollen and bruised and as well as his broken leg, he had several broken ribs and a nasty concussion.  He was unconscious, thank the gods thought Gabrielle.  She could feel someone approach.  It was Claudine and she held the hammer.  Two soldiers untied Gabrielle from the rack she was on and pushed her onto the ground.  One held out her broken wrist.  “So is Hercules working with you?”  Asked Claudine.

“No,” said Gabrielle fearfully as she watched the hammer descend.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” her scream was heard throughout the camp.  The pain was incredible and Gabrielle just managed to keep conscious.  She started to hyperventilate and screamed as the hammer descended and struck her hand she slipped into blissful unconsciousness. 

Ephiny was leaning against a tree as she watched the final preparations being made.  A group of scouts had been dispatched to asses the numbers they were facing and if they could locate Gabrielle and Iolaus.  Everyone had a crossbow and several darts dipped in the oil.  They were all resting awaiting the scouts return.  Their plan was sound, Ephiny knew that.  She was pleased; the archers chosen were of the finest quality and the fact that there only needed the barest scratch and the affected was rendered unconscious made their job much easier.  They would separate into five teams, with each team taking a different area and they would send in a blanket of arrows.  They would secure the soldiers and once their memories were returned work out what to do with them. 

Ephiny looked up as she saw the scouts, including Solari return.  She had considered deeply whether or not to send Solari, she was concerned what it would do for her friend if she saw Epinon.  But Solari was a fine scout.  Ephiny looked at her friend and the other scouts and saw their expressions.  Hercules and Tyldus had joined her and they all looked at the scouts expectantly.  Solari swallowed deeply twice and said in a shaky voice, “There are about twenty to twenty five of them, a couple of miles away.”

“And?” asked Ephiny impatiently, there was obviously something else. 

“Gabrielle and Iolaus have been captured.”  Ephiny took a sharp intake of breath and exchanged a worried look with Hercules.  “How are they?” said the demi god echoing Ephiny’s thoughts.

“Not good.  They’ve been badly beaten,” Solari looked away for a moment.  Ephiny closed her eyes and took a deep breath in.  “Are they alive?” she whispered.

“I don’t know,” came the anguished reply and Solari dissolved into tears.

“It was hard to tell we were quite far away,” continued Dax, a man from the centaur village.  “They were hurt very badly,” he added.

Ephiny covered her mouth with her hand.

“We have to go now,” said Tyldus quietly.  He patted Hercules’s arm.  The tall man looked completely stunned and tried to reconcile himself to the news.

“I’ll tell Piri to prepare for casualties,” said Ephiny sadly, and the camp was quietly packed up as more people became aware that it was now also a rescue mission.

“So my Lord, are you happy?”

“Oh yes,” the dark haired God purred.  “Xena at the head of an army, full of darkness and that irritating blonde nearly dead.  Just as I planned.”

The three of them were in the woods about half a mile from the camp site.  Ares hadn’t wanted to show himself just yet to Xena, but he had watched her from afar with delight and pride.  She was everything he remembered and more.

“I like the blonde,” said Lindos sulkily.  Claudine slapped her brother around the head. 

“Are you pleased with me Lord Ares?” said Claudine seductively running a finger down his chest.

“Oh yes, my dear,” he said but backing away.  He stilled and said, “Damn.  One of my sisters is calling.”  He looked angrily at Lindos and Claudine who had stared at him with amused looks on their faces.  He rolled his eyes, “Since that Dahok thing Zeus has been keeping a close eye on me.  That means lots of sucking up to my sisters.  Wait here, I’ll be back.”  With a flash of light he disappeared leaving the siblings to sit on the floor frustrated.

Ares materialised in the dining hall of Olympus.  “Aphrodite, Artemis, you bellowed,” he deadpanned.

“Ares good to see you,” Aphrodite beamed as she spoke.  Artemis wore a bored look on her face.

“What can I do for two of my most delightful sisters?”  Ares tried to sound enthusiastic.

“Stay here.”  Said Artemis.

“I beg your pardon,” said Ares suddenly becoming alarmed for the first time.  Within a moment Hephaestus and Athena had appeared holding in their hands something that looked like fishing net.  Artemis and Aphrodite immediately sent out fireballs towards him, knocking him off his feet leaving him too weak to disappear.  Hephaestus and Athena merely walked over to him and looking down at his worried expression, dropped the net over him.  It was as light as silk but Ares couldn’t move.  He looked at the four gods with anger.

“What’s this about?”

“Just to make sure your little plan with Xena is terminated tonight,” said Athena speaking for the first time.  She put her hands on her hips and stared at him with a frown.  “It’s over Ares.  The challis is broken and Hercules is leading the centaurs and Amazons.  They have enough oil to return everyone back.”  They all turned their back on him and walked away.

Ares slumped for a moment, and then smiled, his face taking his customary arrogant smirk.  “Maybe you’ve won this battle, for now” he said quietly.  “But battles have consequences and whether the warrior princess can live with hers is a different matter.”  He smiled coldly, and said prophetically,” this is far from over.”



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