THE TWILIGHT OF THE GODS
(Sequel to Xena : Goddess of War)
By Phantom Bard (J. Nakamura)
1 / 21 / 2001
Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction, and is offered for non-profit entertainment. It may not be sold, may be downloaded for personal use only, and must contain this statement. The characters and concepts from the TV series Xena: Warrior Princess, including Xena, Gabrielle, and the portrayals of Ares, Hades, and Sisyphus, are the creations and property of MCA/ Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No malice is intended to these characters or concepts. I would like to express my thanks to their creators for sharing them with us. This story is my own, and if other authors feel the desire to create sequels, it's ok, but it can't be for profit. Feedback can be sent to me at the address above.
This story contains violence that may be disturbing to some readers. Additionally there is the implication of relationships of various kinds, including those derived from the "subtext" present in the TV series. There are no graphic sexual descriptions, however, if any of these topics make you feel uncomfortable, please read something else.
This is a sequel to my earlier story, "Xena : Goddess of War", and includes references to events in it, as well as episodes through the first half of the 6th season. I hope you enjoy this story.
Long ago, in a time of ancient Gods, Warlords, and Kings, the schemes of Sisyphus and Hades allowed me to secretly become the Goddess of War and Strategy. Within a few years, Ares, the Great God of War, became a mortal man, sacrificing his immortality to aid me in battle. The war of the Olympians against my daughter, the Twilight of the Gods, brought destruction to seven of the twelve major Gods and Goddesses. Afterwards, I remained the Incarnation of the Spirit of Battle, and for over two thousand years I worked to prepare mankind for an invasion that I sensed would come. Finally, in the second half of the twentieth century, I reclaimed my ancient mantle of warlord, raised a shadow army, and created the most powerful defensive force the world had ever known. As the twenty-first century began, the prowess of my warriors, and our twelve warships was unmatched. We could have dominated the planet. Yet, even a Goddess cannot foresee all that is to come. There was a Power above me, and as battle raged, Ares, my God of War, returned from death, and an ancient weapon was revealed.
THE FOLLOW UP TO THE INVASION
(Or Last War, On Xena)
In 2006, an alien invasion acted as a diversion for a troop of bounty hunters that intended to capture Ares and I for some kind of intergalactic reward. They had said we were the "last of the renegades", and claimed, "your sires fled our world, and ruled the mortals here as Gods". I doubt the bounty hunters would have been broken hearted if their invasion had succeeded. After all, settling down to rule the Earth, as Gods themselves, would have been a good backup plan. I would have done the same thing if I were still a bloodthirsty warlord. You always need a fallback position in any campaign, it's just good strategy.
In the end, the invasion failed. I would love to claim the forces of my shadow army had defeated them. That's just not the truth. When I started writing this history, I promised my long lost soul mate and favorite that I'd tell the truth. The truth is that terrestrial microbes had infected the alien soldiers, and wiped them out on the first day of their invasion. True, a newly resurrected Ares and I had invaded their mother ship, beaten the bounty hunters in an old fashioned sword fight, and sent the mother ship into the sun. Not bad for a day's work I guess. Well anyway, the Earth was saved, Ares and I got together after a couple thousand years, and a lot of alien technology almost fell into human hands. There was also a major mess to clean up. The invading force numbered thirty-one landing craft, each a mile in diameter, about three hundred hovering killers, and about thirty thousand alien soldiers. These are the ones who made it to Earth. Nine landing craft were destroyed on the far side of Jupiter by my warships. Of those who came to earth, my forces, and the New Air Force of the United States, destroyed another twelve.
A war, like an illness requires a time of recovery and healing. The destruction of even a day of modern war can take years to be healed. I sent my forces to take possession of as much of the alien technology as possible, and we acted quickly, while the world's governments were still in shock. We couldn't collect everything, but only a couple ships and a handful of hover killers escaped our immediate acquisition. Ares and I went time after time to the sites of the alien wreckage, appearing in a ship or hover killer, and disappearing with it, transporting it to my base in the mid-Pacific. Some we took as Military Intel cadres approached. Some we took before they arrived. The last ones, we took from government labs within a couple days. I know mortals, and I felt that the alien technology was too deadly for their possession. After all, my own ships were the results of human development based on the Roswell crashes from the forties. When we had rounded up everything the aliens brought to Earth, I let my scientists go through it all. They were so excited, like the cliché kids on Christmas Day, tearing into the alien hardware, and even the bodies of the aliens themselves. We left it to the governments of the world to clean up the damage the aliens had done.
The U.S. President in particular was furious. He broadcast demands and ultimatums in all directions, requiring me to share not only the alien technology, but my own as well. Ares and I ignored him. After a couple months he stopped sputtering, realizing he couldn't command me, and only appeared impotent. I had paid him an insulting visit during the war, and my initially helpful gesture earned me a few dozen bullet wounds. Someone once said, "no good deed goes unpunished". Ares and I let him stew we would deal with him at our convenience, not his. Such is the prerogative of Gods.
There were some unanswered questions in my mind. Things which the war brought up. The most troubling was the bounty hunters. Where were they from? Was there a whole world full of them, and if so, where? Would they come after us again? What about the aliens and their civilization? Ares and I spent many days talking about these issues, but in the end there was no way to find out, unless they showed up again. And a big "no thank you" to that offer.
"Ares, I'm worried about the bounty hunters. There are probably more of them out there, and they could show up anytime," I said while we watched the scientists in one of my labs, "what's to stop them from invading us and starting a new race of Gods?"
"Us," he replied.
"You aren't worried at all are you?"
"What me worry, baby," he said with his usual bravado, "we kicked their asses, they'd be suicidal to show up here. Besides, we aren't alone in this you know."
"Ares, a secret weapon is only a secret until you use it. I'm not going to relax and depend on a bunch of germs to keep the world safe again."
"Xe, it's not just germs. There are other Powers, other defenses. Just relax, hon, the big guy isn't going to let a bunch of aliens take over this is His show."
"Yeah, yeah, He's the one who needed me to do away with the other Olympians, and put a new king in hell," I said, reminding him that God hadn't done everything, "I think we should be ready, just in case. After all, He let Zeus take over way back when, and maybe Zeus wasn't the best or brightest of the race of the renegades."
"Well, keep a couple of your ships flying if it makes you feel better."
"I just wish you'd be a little more concerned."
"I just wish you had a little more faith," he replied, "but you're right, He did let Zeus take over LET being the important word here. When He was ready for a change, Zeus was history."
"Wait a second, are you saying what I think you're saying?"
"Yeah. He used Zeus to clear out some leftovers the Titans, and the Old Ones. He wanted mankind to get used to the idea of their Gods looking like people, like us. I mean, let's face it who would have accepted His son if Jesus had looked like a sea cucumber?"
I chewed on that for awhile as I watched the scientists preparing to test a particle beam weapon they'd removed from a hovering killer. They had set up a target, and attached a power source. Ares came up behind me and wrapped his arms around my shoulders. I leaned back against his chest. Below us in the lab the scientists had retreated behind a force-wall, and put on shield helmets. A klaxon sounded. Suddenly there was a whump, and a blinding white beam sizzled the air. In under a second it had pierced a six-foot thick steel plate. The beam stopped dead where it met a force-wall, then it ceased. We could smell ozone. The scientists examined the plate, and congratulated each other. One of them looked up, and seeing us made a "thumbs up" sign. We would have the beam weapons installed on our ships within a week.
"Well that was hot," Ares joked as he took my hand, "come on Xe, let me show you something."
My scientists, so nonchalant in their investigation of the alien weapon, jumped as we vanished in a flash of lightning and flames.
WHAT WAS AND WHAT SHALL EVER BE
Granite cliffs fell sheer to the pounding surf two thousand feet below, and the reddish sun cast lengthening shadows on the columns and arches in the hall. A ring of sixteen thrones circled the meeting space, open to the sky. Six of the thrones sat empty. A shadow cast into the circle struck the red stone inlaid at the center. The figure on the South throne rose and addressed the other nine.
"We have all felt the loss of our brothers and sisters. They no longer exist in time. In success their hunt has failed. They have been cast into the void."
The figure on the East throne rose and spoke.
"For the renegades they sought, and finding them, by the renegades they have been destroyed."
The figure on the North throne rose and spoke.
"Behold, the renegades have become strong in their prowess, and as warriors they have endured. Such is the legacy of our way."
The figure on the West throne rose and spoke.
"Still the riddle remains: Two rings that hold the dark and light, And through eternity remain, No hand of man shall hold the right, For joining them shall be our bane."
In the silence that followed the image of a figure formed in the red stone, a warrior in leather and bronze, and from his anguished face his voice echoed in the circle.
"My son, my son, why have you betrayed us."
THE CAUSE OF FAITH
I didn't know where Ares was taking me, or what he wanted to show me, but I trusted him, and let him take me where he would. We reappeared outside time and the world, in a place I'd never seen before. It was a high meadow among clouds, where the sun shone brightly, and a gentle breeze blew. There was a familiar feel to the place, but I knew I'd never been there. In the meadow were many figures, some with wings of black and some with wings of white.
"They can't see or hear us, but they are angels and archangels," Ares whispered to me, "you never came to this part of heaven. I don't know if we're really here, or if this is a vision. All I know is we can't interact."
"Why did you bring me here," I said.
My heart was deeply troubled, for my only memories of heaven were twisted with pain. I had been here with Gabrielle when we had died together, crucified by the Romans. I had tried to defy the Holy Order to be with her, for I had given up my purity and become a demon. Ares wrapped his arms around me in comfort, and I could see the sadness in his eyes.
"Wait, and watch," he said, "what you see will bring you joy and tears."
As I watched the angels and archangels moving about on their business, one came towards us. A figure with the black wings of an archangel. I fell to my knees, and my heart broke. I knew that figure. In two thousand years I could never forget her. Never, never, never in a million years would I forget her. Through the blur of my tears my voice croaked as I whispered her name.
Of all the company of heaven she alone seemed to be searching for something or someone, and though she looked through us as she drew near, she stopped only an arm's length away. I stood, and saw her clearly, the sun-lightened hair I knew was silky to the touch. The piercing green eyes which had held my own so many times. The lips that had called my name, and had given me so much hope and brought so much laughter. As I watched, her eyes filled, and a single tear overflowed. I reached out, but I could not touch her face. Though she was looking right at me she gave no sign of recognition, yet I heard her whisper.
"Xena where are you."
Then she turned away, and walked back across the meadow the way she had come. But as she turned, I noticed something I hadn't marked before. At her waist, on a brass belt hook, hung the chakram that I had lost so long ago. Then I leaned against Ares sobbing, and I wrapped my arms around his neck. He held me a long time until my breathing quieted, and when I dared to look up I saw on my finger a single tear of gold.
Before he brought me back to the world, to my base in the mid-Pacific, he said one thing to me that I have never forgotten.
"Xena, my beloved, her spirit will never die. As a Goddess you are immortal and cannot join her in heaven, but you must believe that all things in the world change in time. As I too have done, she has waited two thousand years, and kept her love for you alive with hope. In love and hope lies the cause of faith."
It was the first time I truly realized how much he had changed. Then we vanished, and when we reappeared I looked down at my scientists. A blinding white beam sizzled the air. In under a second it had pierced a six-foot thick steel plate. The beam stopped dead where it met a force-wall, then it ceased. We could smell ozone. The scientists examined the plate, and congratulated each other. One of them looked up, and seeing us made a "thumbs up" sign. We would have the beam weapons installed on our ships within a week. This time they didn't have a reason to jump.
"I know you don't like to startle them with God Stuff," he said with a sad smile, "I brought us back while they were busy."
The scientists hadn't noticed our reappearance, and as the timeline had been altered, our disappearance never happened. God Stuff alright.
For a while I was silent, lost in memory, seeing the pictures in my mind from a simpler life. The cherished memories of the years I had spent with Gabrielle so long ago. I was shaken by the sight of her, and by knowing her soul had not been reborn to a new life. I was moved by the knowledge that she still loved and missed me. I realized she knew I had not died. I realized she was still waiting for me after two thousand years. Ares had said love and hope were the cause of faith. Unlike me, love and hope were such a natural part of Gabrielle. The faith that so many strive for, and cling to, was second nature to her. I didn't doubt she had the strength to maintain her faith forever.
Our souls were supposed to be linked, destined to find each other again and again, in life after life. Somehow that promise had never come to pass. I hadn't realized how much I missed her how much I still loved her.
"Oh Ares," I sobbed, "what happened to all the things we believed in?"
"You became a Goddess," he said softly, "and she became an archangel again. Both of you are outside the order of the world. The cycle of rebirth was broken from both sides."
"I belong with her," I whispered.
"Maybe," he said, "but I sense the One God's Will in this, Xena. After being around Him for two thousand years, I can sense His presence, just as you can sense mine."
God's Will? I knew from long ago just how subtle He could be. When I was first reunited with Ares, he had claimed that I too worked for the One God, whether I willed it or no. If I accepted that, then I had to accept that the One God had a reason for separating Gabrielle and I for interrupting our destiny, of which it was implicit that He approved. Could two thousand years of loneliness be nothing more than part of the job? Then I thought of Ares. He had taken me to see Gabrielle, knowing I would find again my soul mate, and my desire to be reunited with her at the cost of my love for him? Oh gods how his heart must have been breaking. To finally win my love, only to lose it again. After waiting for two thousand years just to be reunited with me. Did he know of course he did, he had never been stupid, and yet he took me to see her anyway. What kind of God would cause such heartbreak and sorrow? What plan for the greater good could require so much sacrifice and pain? Ares, Ares, I do love you, for this more than all the other things you have done for me, save one. And what could I say to him that would acknowledge his pain and sacrifice. What poor words of comfort could I offer without speaking a lie we both would know. Ares, my heart is breaking too. Between what is, and what shall surely be, there is no clean victory, no happy ending. All choices are tainted with sorrow and guilt. Even a Goddess and a God are helpless in the arms of fate. I turned and looked at him as he stood before me, and as I had before long ago, I spoke the most pitifully inadequate of words, though they came from my heart.
WORLD WITHOUT END
In the circle of thrones eight figures rose in greeting as two rejoined the circle. The ten figures seated themselves, and one of the newly arrived figures rose to speak.
"We have followed the trail of the hunters. It leads to a small world that circles a yellow star on the fringe. It circles in the third position, and holds captive a giant moon. Much debris circles this world. It is a strange world, with lands and seas much like ours. It is overrun with life in many forms. Beyond the fifth planet is the debris of attack ships destroyed in battle. The trail of the transport ship ends in the yellow star. There the trail of the hunters ends."
The second newly arrived figure rose and spoke.
"Many powers inhabit this planet, but they inhabit different planes. Some we can see, and some we cannot see. The spawn of the renegades is there, but the renegades are gone. Though they are few, the spawn turned against the hunters, and threw them into the void. There are many mortals, and many machines which seem to live. They have many weapons, but we could not see the rings. They are not there."
The figure on the South throne rose and spoke.
"If the rings are not there then we have nothing to fear, for we outnumber the spawn."
The figure on the East throne rose and spoke.
"To avenge our brothers and sisters, to this world we shall lay siege."
The figure on the North throne rose and spoke.
"Beware, for the spawn destroyed the hunters yet they were outnumbered. They are strong in their prowess. They are warriors."
The figure on the West throne rose and spoke.
"There is danger and there is doom. There are powers that we cannot see. There are powers on many planes. The renegades took the rings in their betrayal, yet the rings are not there. There is treachery on this world. One of the Great Powers is on this world, for there are so many forms of life. This is a Cardinal world. Through future colonies it shall endure. This is a world without end."
The figure on the South throne spoke again.
"If the renegades could thrive on this world, then so shall we, with the blessing of the Great Power there."
The figure on the East throne spoke again.
"To rule as Gods on a Cardinal world would a great victory be."
The figure on the North throne spoke again.
"Beware the enemy within, lest the hubris in your heart destroy us."
The figure on the West throne spoke again.
"On a Cardinal world a Great Power rules to it's own desire, and even the Gods may be scattered in the wind of it's passing. Yet to this world we shall lay siege for vengeance, in our brothers' and sisters' names."
The figure in the red stone spoke in a voice that echoed in the circle.
"My son, thy betrayal has doomed thyself, and thy family, for the riddle is a prophecy. The rings survive from a Cardinal world long ago abandoned. They were the creation of the Great Power that separated dark and light. If the rings have been joined, then it's wounds will kill Gods of your generation, yet leave the spawn untouched. In vengeance for the dead you shall doom the living, and all shall be lost."
In the weeks that followed I again felt the sense of impending danger which had accompanied me for centuries before the invasion. I wasn't wholly sure that my emotional upset wasn't the cause, but being a warrior I valued preparedness above all else. Two weeks after the equinox I ordered three ships to patrol at all times, and we again watched the sky.
Several days after my warships resumed patrol, there was an incident involving the U.S. New Air Force. Fate required that the Ares be involved. Now under the command of Adam McClellan, recently promoted to Captain, the Ares was over the North Atlantic travelling towards Europe on a routine flight path. At 0400 GMT, the Ares was approached by a squadron of eight American saucers. The following exchanges come from the A/V recorder aboard the Ares.
"Captain, we are being hailed," the communications officer reported.
"Audio on, Mr. Davis," Capt. McClellan ordered.
"Unknown warship, this is the New Air Force Theta Squadron. You are in a NATO airspace. Identify yourself at once," their squadron leader transmitted.
"This is the Ares. We are on routine Atlantic patrol. Please do not approach. Maintain a twenty-mile radius. This is a safety warning. We are at DefStat 2 condition. Hostile actions will not be tolerated," Capt. McClellan replied. This is a standard warning when my forces are at DefStat 2. At this condition level my forces will accept no interference.
"Ares, you are regarded as a suspect foreign power. You are operating in defiance of NSC guidelines, and are within NATO sovereign airspace. We require that you accept our escort, and make landfall at Reykjavik, Iceland base. Do you copy, Ares?"
"Theta Squadron leader, this is the Ares. Conditions are unacceptable. We will not comply. Do not approach. Maintain a twenty-mile radius. This is a safety warning. Hostile actions will not be tolerated. I repeat. Do not approach," Capt. McClellan said. At the same time, he ordered his communications officer to inform my command center of the developing situation. I ordered the Apollo and the Athena off patrol. They were to converge with the Ares by the most expedient courses about six minutes.
"Ares, refusal is not acceptable. Procedures are dictated by the lawful charter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. You must comply or you will be forced down. I repeat, you are required to accept our escort, and make landfall at Reykjavik base."
"This is the Ares. We do not recognize your authority. We accept orders only from our own commander. We will not comply. I repeat. We will not comply. You are within twenty-seven miles and closing. Do not approach. I repeat. Do not approach."
With these ships, seven miles disappears in seconds. The twenty-mile radius allows only one course correction and adjustment for the New Air Force fighters. We had made maneuvering advancements on our warships, and they were perhaps two generations beyond anything the New Air Force had.
The Theta Squadron continued closing on the Ares, and as they crossed the twenty-mile radius, McClellan knew he had them.
"Weapons officer, charge the x-ray laser and initiate a full force-wall shield," he ordered.
Captain McClellan had ordered the giant capacitors within the Ares to build a charge of 1.5 x 10__ joules. A sphere of visible distortion surrounded the ship. Within two seconds the Ares was glowing blue-white, and shedding gamma radiation. The g-rays built up within the force-wall shield to create a radiant weapon. Upon collapse of the force-wall, the gamma rays would kill anything within a twenty-mile radius, literally roasting metal, plastic, and living tissue. A body so exposed would explode in less than 1/100 of a second. This was a passive-aggressive tactic.
Sensors aboard the Ares monitored the inter-ship communications between the Theta squadron fighters.
"Theta leader to Theta squadron, they were radiating g-rays, then nothing. What's going on?"
"Theta 6 to Theta leader, long-range visual of the Ares is distorted, but the ship is glowing. I don't like this."
"Theta 4 to Theta squadron, remember that briefing we got about this ship from the survivors of the Epsilon squadron? It destroyed two alien ships at the same time, but before it fired it was radiating g-rays. Two E-squad ships were roasted."
"Theta leader to Theta squadron, maintain intercept course. Those bastards are fuckin' with Old Glory, and we can't let that pass."
"Roger that Theta leader."
They didn't have a chance. Capt. McClellan ordered full stop, which maintains a ship's position and negates the Earth's rotation. Before they could react, the New Air Force fighters had closed to within five miles of the Ares. From the mesosphere Apollo and Athena power-dived to meet them. Far in excess of the rate of a falling object, they came like flaming bolts out of the near black where the unblinking stars are bright. They stopped their fall to bracket both the Ares and the Theta squadron, orbiting them at a seven-mile radius, like the twin electrons of a helium atom, creating a spherical shell. The Ares at the center glowed within its force-wall shield, nova bright, utterly blinding to the New Air Force crews. Now for the demonstration of power.
Ares and I appeared in the New Air Force command center, at National Security Council headquarters. With lightning and flames we materialized in their situation room, where a huge screen showed the view from the Theta squadron's cameras. It was blasted out the screen completely white. Ares made a gesture, and the screen darkened, filtering the image to make it visible. I addressed the commanders, as their guards surrounded us.
"General Reusch, General Abbot, Mr. Hewitt, we have a situation," I said with a smile, "your Theta squadron has managed to enter my trap in pursuit of one of my warships. How dare you interfere with my forces?"
"Who the hell are you, and how did you get in here?" General Abbot countered.
"General, please leave this to me it is an intelligence matter, not a military matter," Hewitt said with forced restraint, "we cannot gain anything by force, for I guess we are in no position to make demands."
"You're the brains of this outfit?" I asked, knowing Dean Hewitt had been head of both the CIA, and the NSC, and had been in charge of U.S. intelligence, under four administrations, for over twenty years.
"I guess you could say that I have never met a Goddess, " he said with a slight smile, and nodded to Ares, "or a God before."
"What the hell are you talking about are you crazy?" General Reusch interrupted.
"I told you I would handle this." Hewitt said more forcefully, " Neither of you can recognize your most valuable allies, or keep from provoking them. If they didn't have centuries of patience you would both be dead in a heartbeat."
"Believe him," Ares said, "and by the way, she's the one with the patience, not me."
The generals were seething, but Hewitt was in charge. He probably told the President off too. I knew enough about him to know the President should be scared of him. In some ways, the United States was his kingdom, and in his kingdom even some high ranking people went missing. No one overruled him on national security issues.
"Mr. Hewitt, we have to reach an agreement very quickly. Your pilots are having difficulty with restraint. I believe their orders are to try to shoot their way out of such situations where possible?"
"Yes," he confirmed, "and yes, an agreement for future situations is a necessity."
"Do you know what you are looking at, now that the screen is showing an image?" Ares asked him.
"High energy radiation, type unknown, contained around your central ship in an unknown manner." He looked at me and continued, "I would guess the results of containment failure are lethal, and that failure is under the control of your crew. That's all I can be sure of based on our reports of your forces' actions during the invasion last month."
"That's accurate enough," I replied, "this is only a passive tactic. If your crews fire on my ship, it will elect to breach its force-wall. Your ship's fire will not pass the force-wall. They cannot harm my ships. Because of my two other ships, they cannot withdraw. They can surrender unconditionally, which we prefer, or they can be destroyed."
"Flawless battle tactics," Hewitt replied, "I would expect no less from the Goddess of War. We surrender. I don't want to sacrifice our crews needlessly, but more importantly, I dont want us to be enemies. We got off on the wrong foot when you came to see the President. I'm sorry about the Secret Service overreaction. They were stressed."
"That's acceptable, as far as it goes," I said, "but I want it clear to all the armed forces everywhere that they are never to interfere with my forces. We are concerned with the defense of the Earth, not with the acquisition of territory on it."
"Make them understand they can't beat us, and we don't want to have to beat them," Ares said, "we've got more deadly enemies in our sights."
"Another alien incursion?" Hewitt asked, making the connection in a flash. He was smart, and he didn't miss a thing. Our conditions were expected sooner or later, and didn't seem to concern him much. I realized that they were a military matter to him.
"Perhaps," I replied, "I suspect another assault soon, and I have placed my forces on alert."
It seemed we had reached an agreement. There was nothing further to discuss. Ares and I vanished. Moments later I ordered my three ships to stand down, and I saw the New Air Force squadron fly off in the other direction .whipped.
AND THE POWER
A week later the assault I had expected began with the materialization of two mother ships in low orbit over the Earth. This time there was no stealth, no warning, no chance of waylaying the invaders before they reached us. They had learned their lesson well once burned, twice wary applies everywhere in the galaxy. Within twelve minutes all of my warships had moved to engage the enemy. Joined by the New Air Force, we barricaded their flight paths, hoping to keep them from landing any of their attack ships. At first it appeared to be a stalemate. They made no move to release the numerous smaller ships. Perhaps they knew enough about their earlier failure to be wary of landing, but if there was to be no landing, then there could be no goal to the invasion, except Ares and me. Perhaps this was only a great posse coming to apprehend the renegades. Perhaps the Earth would be spared. That would almost be acceptable.
We waited. Ares and I had materialized in Washington, D.C. to meet with Dean Hewitt. He had become a valuable contact for us, reigning in the impulsive President, and using him to manage the Congress. Where the U.S. led, the rest of the nations would follow. In a way, the whole world had become Hewitt's kingdom. Not bad for a South Carolina army brat.
Then all hell broke loose. From the mother ships over fifty landing ships emerged. The battle plan Ares and I had agreed on with Dean Hewitt left the New Air Force to rain fire on the emerging ships, while my twelve warships would deal with the ones who got past them. A lot of the aliens got past them, and many more would have if not for the almost mind staggering heroics of Delta squadron. All eight fighters of the Delta squadron, realizing they were outclassed by the alien ships, chose a suicidal maneuver which will be remembered in the military history of Earth forever. Ares will make sure those courageous warriors are never forgotten.
Taking advantage of their smaller size, the Delta squadron moved into the dispersing formation of alien landing ships, and flew head-on towards the mother ship's exit portal. Because of their position in the column of enemy ships, they couldn't be fired on. The aliens would have been shooting at each other. They fired continuously at the landing ships, destroying many as they passed by. That was not their objective. Though reduced to five fighters, they breached the mother ship's defenses, and flew into the alien's hanger deck. Once inside, they made kamakazi runs at the command structure that acted as a flight control tower for the departing ships. They overloaded their own reactors, turning their ships into fusion bombs. Three of the New Air Force fighters managed to crash into the command structure, causing so much damage that almost twenty alien ships were trapped inside. This meant that close to two hundred hover killers and twenty thousand enemy troops never joined the battle. Their attack was recorded, from their onboard cameras, at the New Air Force command center. Those images are now almost a cliché for patriotism and self-sacrifice. The Delta squadron attack is studied by every military cadet, in every branch of the service. There is not a single American school child that hasn't seen that footage before reaching their twelfth birthday.
There were many other outstanding acts of bravery in the skies over Earth that day, as mankind fought for its continued freedom. My warships attacked the aliens relentlessly, and all the while their tactics and capabilities were being analyzed by military experts on Earth. To say they were astonished would be an understatement.
Over the South American rainforests of the Amazon basin, my warships Apollo and Hera engaged a squadron of six enemy ships. The enemy ships were attacking from a formation, and so my ships applied a fast moving and unpredictable attack pattern. They combined to engage the aliens from two sides, making high-speed feints and firing runs. In this attack pattern, they minimized the disadvantage of being outnumbered by always keeping the enemies in each others' lines of fire. They made their attack runs keeping two or more of the alien ships perfectly lined up behind each other. They fired both x-ray laser beams, and electromagnetic pulses. As they flew, they corkscrewed or wove erratically so as to present an inconsistent and difficult target. The aliens couldn't fire on them with any accuracy.
The Apollo lined up a target, with another enemy ship behind it. The approach was made with the sun at the Apollo's back, making visual and infrared tracking impossible. At only a half-mile from the targets, the Apollo struck the nearest alien ship with an electromagnetic pulse series. In the three-quarters of a second it took the Apollo to close with and pass the nearer target, over a hundred pulses lashed out, shifting from the first to the second target as he passed. Behind the Apollo, first one, then the other enemy ship incandesced from the absorbed energy, and exploded. By the time the debris sphere began to expand, the Apollo was far beyond the blast zone.
In the confusion of their destruction, the Hera swept up from below, glowing blue-white with deadly gamma radiation. Two beams lanced out from the Hera, and as she passed through the center of the ruined enemy formation, two more of their ships exploded. In a second and a half she was two miles above the targets, back flipping to reverse her course and resume the attack. But ill fate was with her that day, and as she lined up the remaining two aliens for a diving attack, another three enemy ships dropped from the cloudbank to the south to intercept her. From the west, the Apollo hurtled in to cover for her, and from a distance of almost fifteen miles a projectile from his electromagnetic launcher punctured one of the alien ships, causing it to flip end over end into the jungle below. At 27% of the speed of light, the projectile had struck the target before the weapons officer had lifted his finger from the firing button. At almost the same instant, an enemy ship, which was engaging the Hermes over the south Atlantic, was struck by the same projectile. It was an unimaginably lucky shot.
Still, two enemy ships were closing on the Hera from the south. There were also two ships remaining from the original squadron she was engaging. She targeted the original two with electromagnetic pulses, but with the Apollo closing too fast. She aborted the firing, closed her force-wall shield, and rammed one of the enemy ships instead. At the speed the Hera was moving, it was like a bullet hitting an alabaster egg. The two incoming aliens waited for her to drop her shielding. As the Hera began to glow with gamma radiation prior to an x-ray laser attack, they fired their particle beam weapons. The beams from the two ships were directed through rotating prisms to form a flickering net two miles square. The Hera struck the net at full speed. She absorbed so much energy that for a second she appeared to be a multiple image in blue-white, being stretched like a rubber band. There was no explosion. One moment she was there, the next moment she was gone. Like her namesake two millennia before, the Queen of the Olympians was the first to be lost.
Half a world away, over the sub-continent of India, Zeus and Poseidon were fighting for their lives. Outnumbered six to one at the start of the battle, they were facing two full squadrons of alien ships, the squadron they had engaged, and a second which had reinforced them. My warships were designed to fight at a numerical disadvantage. They had to be. We never intended to build many of them. So we armed them to the teeth, and each ship carried a triple crew. When the second squadron arrived to oppose them, the Zeus and the Poseidon changed tactics. Double teaming their battle stations, and linking their navigation controls, they maintained a distance of a half a mile between them. Then they flew in tandem, revolving around each other like the suns of a double star, covering each other's backs, and multiplying their firepower. As their enemies converged on their position, their flight path described a tumbling spiral, electromagnetic pulses dispersing in a widening sphere around them. The tactic was devastating. Around them seven enemy vessels incandesced, doomed, but the five that remained formed a sphere around them, tracking their procession across the sky with weapons fire. As the population of Srinagar watched the Gods battle above, the five surviving alien ships laced the sky with their particle beams, driving the battle to the West. Whether they drew straws, or acted on orders, no one shall ever know, but two of the alien ships, despairing of victory by normal means, flew into my warships' formation, ramming them, and sacrificing themselves as well. It was a tactic of desperation, but valid on the battlefield against a smaller force. The resulting fireball could be seen for almost two hundred miles, and the shock wave leveled buildings in Islamabad, now only fifty miles away. In a moment I had lost two more of my ships, and two hundred of Earth's finest warriors met their end.
The hand of fate struck down the Hephaestus over the Bering Strait. Having destroyed a lone alien ship with a beam from his x-ray laser, the Hephaestus was suddenly besieged by the remaining five ships of the enemy squadron. They were fighting in the whiteout of a squall, targeting each other by sensors, their weapons lacing the clouds with the lightning of war. Hephaestus flew within the enemy formation, tricking them into shooting down two of their own ships, while killing another with an electromagnetic pulse. But the pulse was his undoing. Though not a weapon of war, yet still destructive are the forces of nature. The electromagnetic pulse series caused a huge static buildup on Hephaestus' hull, and when an alien ship approached, the discharge of lightning jumped between them. For a second Hephaestus was blinded, and at the speed the ship was travelling, a second was his undoing. Hephaestus struck the Bering Sea at over 3,500 miles per hour, skipped twice on the surface, and slammed into Gambell, on the tip of St. Lawrence Island.
AND THE GLORY
Ares and I had concluded our meeting with Dean Hewitt. We had agreed to release some of the alien technology, and to have our advisors direct its integration into the U.S. arsenal. By the terms of our agreement, my advisors would answer only to me, and they would not be obstructed by the military command structure. I think Hewitt enjoyed the idea that the generals would have no real control over my men. He also knew I would never agree to having my warriors take orders from them, and he wanted the technology. He had succeeded in achieving through negotiation, what the President had failed to get with his earlier demands. We were all in the oval office, getting his signature on the documents, when we saw the flames, and the flashes of lightning that could only signal the appearance of Gods.
Out on the lawn of the White House, with the Washington Monument in the background, they materialized. There were ten of them, dressed in leather, fur, and coarse fabrics. They wore helms and armor of steel and bronze; bracers, grieves, breastplates, and gauntlets. They bore the weapons of ancient warriors, spear, bow, and sword. They were equally divided, male and female. They stared directly at Ares and me as if the walls of the White House were glass. They stood in a line facing us, and in the center a God stepped forward.
"We have found the spawn of the renegades, and our triumph is at hand."
From the end of the row of figures a Goddess stepped forward.
"Two only are they, yet in battle our hunters did they overcome."
At the far end of the row another Goddess stepped forward.
"Fear not, for the rings are not with them, and they are unarmed."
The God standing next to her in the row stepped forward.
"Still, there are powers unseen about us, and the fate of worlds is not ordained."
Ares and I looked at each other as Dean Hewitt and the President looked on. Their aides had fled in terror, but a detail of secret service agents had entered the oval office.
"Take them to the bunker," I told them, "and keep your heads down."
"Guess it's' time to go to work, baby," Ares said. "looks like we could use our weapons though now where did I put that sword?"
"Ares, I think they really don't take us seriously," I said with a grin, "and I always did like a fight against overwhelming odds."
"Makes them careless, huh," Ares quipped, "I'll take the ladies, and you can have the boys hon, I know you'll knock 'em dead."
"You're both crazy," Hewitt remarked as the agents dragged him out into the hall, "hope you beat them though, they don't look like they're very reasonable folks."
"We've got a deal," I called after him, "and I always keep my word."
Ares was concentrating on something, but then he smiled and said, "Oh yeah, how could I forget."
There was a flash, and we were in the battle dress we had worn two thousand years ago. I didn't remember that breast-plate being as heavy, but it felt good to have a sword at my back. I drew it, spinning it twice on my palm.
"The weight's good," I told him as I watched him draw his own sword.
"It should be, Xe, it's yours took me awhile to remember where it was though. I don't think the British Museum will miss it a bit. It hasn't been on display since the forties."
"I see you've still got your old blade," I said, looking at the sword that had once made me a Goddess.
"Oh yeah, the One God gave it back to me when he let me return to the world," he said, "I think he liked it himself though."
"Come forth to your doom," one of Gods yelled from the row of figures on the lawn.
. "Sounds like a challenge to me," I said.
"Nothing like ganging up on us, ya know kinda rubs me the wrong way," Ares said.
"Me too. Guess we should start by evening the odds," I said with a grin.
"Don't scorch the carpet," Ares joked as we disappeared from the oval office.
We appeared on the White House lawn right behind the row of Gods and Goddesses, and before they knew what hit them we had hewed down three. Then we disappeared again, and materialized twenty feet in front of them. They were still reacting to our surprise attack.
"Hey," I said to Ares with a smile, "no fair you slashed two of them, and I only got one."
"Kindness to your enemies is cruelty to yourself," Ares replied with a grin.
"Have you noticed the four standing ahead of the others?" I asked him, "I think they're the ones we're going to have trouble with."
"They don't look so tough," Ares said, appraising them like warlords in the old days, "I'll bet it's been forever since they've really had to fight."
"The time has come for you to meet your fate," one of the three secondary Gods said, "and we will beat you without cowardly tricks."
"If you think ten against two is a fair fight, you've got nothing to say," Ares yelled back at him, "this is WAR, boy!"
"Give it your best shot," I yelled back, "and by the way, when you're in our back yard, you play by our rules."
We closed with them. The three who had stayed in the line took the lead at first, the four speakers hanging back. I noticed they were watching us, trying to get a feel for our tactics. I would have done the same with an unknown but deadly enemy. Perhaps they underestimated me, but it was a young looking God who approached me, while a God and a Goddess attacked Ares. The young God I fought pleased me. He was a very good swordsman not a prodigy, but more than competent. He just didn't know enough tricks of the trade to survive very long. He began by circling me, then opened with a high slashing attack. I tested him by blocking his strokes and shoving his blade away to break his rhythm. He didn't fight my force, but continued with it, pivoting on one foot, and spinning to attack me from the other direction. Again I shoved away his blade, and again he pivoted, to attack from the other direction. I knew his weakness. After trading blows with him face to face, I shoved away his blade for a third time, and as he started to pivot, I leaped over his turned back, landing behind him as he slashed at where I had been. I brought my blade down on his neck from behind, and he fell on his face. A moment later his body disappeared.
Now I joined Ares as he fought the God and Goddess. The Goddess was wielding a spear, and had managed to keep Ares from killing the God, who was armed with a sword. They fought well together, covering for each other, and working their weapons at the long and middle distances. I knew from experience that to best them I would have to force the Goddess to lose the spear first, to allow us to get close enough to kill them. I waited for an opening, and leapt in front of her as Ares traded blows with the swordsman. She used the spear like the Romans had, holding it from the end, and attempting to stab with the point. The Chinese field lance, with its flexible shaft, used both ends to attack, by both stabbing and slashing, and I had always found it a more troublesome weapon to defeat. She made rapid controlled movements, parrying my most rapid attacks, and driving me back with the point, using longer thrusts that came from the movement of her body. I was again testing my opponent, probing her techniques to find anything unexpected. She was very quick, very strong, and very predictable. A good technician, but not an artist. I had no doubt that I would kill her.
By now Ares had appraised his opponent, finding the weakness in his repertoire. Being used to fighting with the spear wielding Goddess, he was lazy, and didn't recover well. I watched them out of the corner of my eye as I fought. Ares pressed his enemy, changing speeds to confuse him, then, without warning he unleashed his full speed. His opponent couldn't believe how fast he could move that massive sword using only one hand. Ares slammed both sides of his blade, slapping it to the side, and sliding the tip of his own blade up his arm, slicing him to the bone, from the wrist to the shoulder. Shock and pain distorted his face, and he looked at the wound. He was out of position, and couldn't parry when Ares thrust his sword into his chest.
And I saw the reaction I was looking for on the face of the Goddess with the spear. She was either the lover or the sister of the swordsman Ares had killed. When she thrust at me again, there was the slightest decrease in her speed. I spun, rolling up the shaft of her spear, now too close for the way she used it. If she had abandoned the weapon, leapt back, and drawn her own sword, perhaps she could have recovered, but she was hurt by the loss of her loved one. My sword entered her body just above the sternum, and pierced her windpipe before striking her spine. She gave me an astonished look, and then her body vanished. I looked over, and gave Ares a big smile.
"Yeah," he crowed, "we bad, we bad."
"So what about you?" I asked the four who had been watching us, "Seen enough? Going home?"
As if to make a final test, one of the Goddesses notched four arrows in the long bow she carried, and fired them at us. As two arrows came towards me, I leapt high into the air, back flipping, and landed after the arrows had passed. Ares just held out his sword, and angled the blade towards the arrows targeting him, using it as a defelade. The arrows struck the blade, deflecting off it and away.
"Is that the best you can do?" he asked.
I took a quick look around us, and noticed, on the other side of the fence surrounding the White House lawn, a news team had set up, and were broadcasting our battle with a camera. I couldn't resist waving, and seeing this, Ares looked over at them too and bowed.
Our four opponents drew their swords and approached us. Ares and I went to meet them. We squared off, each of us facing a God and a Goddess. They were very good fighters. Actually, they were outstanding. They were pathetic tacticians. I would have set three against one, leaving the fourth to hold off the other of us, until the three had made their kill. Then it would have been four against one, one who was already tired. The second kill would have been quick. But they must have been ruled by their own code of honor, and whatever it was, it worked to our advantage that day. They drove us apart, and kept pressing us relentlessly.
The two I fought favored attacking me from two sides, knowing I had only one weapon to fend them off. I expended a lot of energy turning back and forth, defending against their attacks from both sides, and hoping for a mistake or an opening. They made no mistakes, and I realized if there was to be an opening I would have to create it. To make things more difficult, the Goddess was using a parrying dagger as well as a narrow bladed sword. In the past, I had often used my chakram with my left hand for this purpose. Now I had to move at high speed constantly, just to keep them away. At one point we had locked swords overhead, and as I blocked their two blades, she stabbed me with her dagger. I felt it pierce my left shoulder. The wound would slow me down until it healed, even though I wouldn't bleed. Ares called my name, and I knew he had seen it. I could only hope it wouldn't break his concentration. She smiled at me then, trying to goad me into an error. It wouldn't work, but it gave me an idea. The next time they closed in, I locked up their blades with my sword, and as she went to stab my chest with the dagger, I turned my wrist, letting their blades slide away down mine, and moved closer to her. There, her dagger slipped between the leather and the bronze of my breast-plate. I turned, and the dagger was trapped in the scrollwork. Then I twisted my body, and wrenched it from her grasp. I would have a bruise along my side below my right breast, but I had a second blade! I pulled it out with my left hand, turned the blade towards her, and smiled. Now I could create an opening.
I fought them with renewed vigor, weapon against weapon, and I think they were surprised. As the Goddess closed in again, I kicked her hard in the stomach, throwing her off balance, and I cut her right thigh deeply with my sword. She staggered, but the God covered for her, forcing me back.
Ares had been holding off the two he fought, and his greater strength made his combat more equal than mine. At one point he had managed to slide his sword down the blade of the Goddess he fought, catching her blade guard, and by twisting his wrist, flipped her sword from her grasp. She back flipped out of his range, as his blade whistled past her throat. It was close. The God came at him, but he parried his attack, and kicked his forearm, driving his sword to the side, and creating an opening. He drove his left fist into the God's face, and followed it with a crescent kick that knocked him to the ground. Then Ares reversed his grip, stabbing his blade down to make the kill, only to have it blocked at the last moment by the Goddess who had retrieved her weapon. He turned towards her, and had to settle for kicking the downed God hard in the ribs. From where I fought I heard the snap of bone. He pressed her, driving her away, but before he could overpower her, the God rejoined the fight.
Having wounded the Goddess, I found myself concentrating on the God who was covering for her. He lunged at me, but I flipped over his blade, turning in the air, and kicked the Goddess' sword arm as I came down. There was a satisfying crack of bone as the joint gave way. I had managed to damage both her right arm and leg. She transferred her sword to her left hand, and kept her injured side away from me after that. Then I heard a yell of pain, and a curse. Ares had caught his foot on a sprinkler head embedded in the lawn, twisting his ankle, and losing his balance. In that moment, the Goddess he fought had managed to knock away his sword, and the God had pierced his left side. I could tell from the position it was a lung wound, a wound that would be lethal in minutes if they didn't kill him first. The Goddess was reversing her grip preparing to impale him. I did the only thing I could. I rolled over my shoulder, away from my enemies, flipped the parrying dagger so I held the blade, and threw the dagger as hard as I could. It struck her, burying itself to the hilt in her back, driving her off balance, and making her drop her sword. She fell right on top of Ares. I barely turned back to my attackers in time to roll away under the blade of the God's sword. I was rolling towards the injured Goddess, and she was ready for me. It was a bad situation. Luckily I was on her injured right side, and she had to turn to attack me. Instead of regaining my feet, I stayed down, and lashed out with my legs, sweeping her feet out so she landed on her back. I could have killed her if I'd still had the dagger. I settled for a back-fist strike across the bridge of her nose. Then I was on my feet, racing towards Ares, with the God at my back and the Goddess close behind. All I could think of was keeping them away, so he could die in peace with me beside him. I doubt more than a dozen feet separated them from me, when there was a blur overhead, and the ground right behind me erupted, throwing me head over heels.
UNTO THE AGES
As Ares and I fought on the lawn of the White House, battles raged in the skies. The Hades was high above the Earth, firing on the damaged mother ship. Making pass after pass, Hades had fired seven rounds from its electromagnetic launcher each a twenty pound steel egg, moving at 27% of the speed of light. Each had pierced the mother ship, passing completely through it, and imparting part of its energy to damage the structural integrity of the target. The shots were not directed at random. Hades' crew had scanned the mother ship, and located its structural axis. Each round had chipped away a part of the mother ship's frame. After seven impacts, it was like a giant cracked egg. At my base in the mid-Pacific, this message was received from the Hades.
"In the name of the free people of the Earth, we choose the way of the warrior. The crew of the Hades sends this message to any beings that would oppress mankind. IT IS A GOOD DAY TO DIE."
The Hades circled in an arc of one thousand miles, and turning back towards the mother ship, accelerated to full attack speed. The crew charged the x-ray laser capacitors to 120%, and within its force-wall shield, it glowed the blue-white of a dwarf star. The Lord of the Dead had become the Avenging Angel. The Hades slammed into the mother ship at almost 34,000 miles per hour, on the damaged axis it had created. Part way through the target they collapsed their force-wall shield, freeing the gamma radiation. And vaporizing themselves. The mother ship was reduced to a dead hulk, lit from within by secondary explosions, broken into two halves, which slowly drifted apart.
Two other ladies lost their lives that day. Artemis, and Athena. They were destroyed in separate battles; Artemis while engaging four alien ships over the Gibraltar Strait, and Athena during a dogfight over the Australian outback. Their crews won honor in combat, taking many invaders to Tartarus before their own destruction. I lost seven warships that day, but seven hundred warriors lost their lives.
As the Hades was preparing to make its suicide run, I was lying on my back on the White House lawn, stunned, staring at the sky. A few feet away there was a gaping hole in the ground. On the other side of the hole were a God and a Goddess who wanted to kill me. About eight feet away from me lay the fallen Ares, wounded through the chest, while a wounded Goddess, and a God intent on killing him were starting to regain their senses. In the sky above the blur resolved itself as it sped away to the east. It was the warship Ares the distinctive red color of the hull unique among all my forces. It took what seemed like hours for my head to clear enough for me to understand what had happened. When I did, I knew I owed a crew of mortal warriors my life. Capt. McClellan had somehow managed to line up the Ares, in a vertical dive, and fire a round from the electromagnetic launcher straight down into the White House lawn. He had used the ship itself as a gun sight, and the shock wave, as the projectile slammed into the earth, had knocked us all off our feet and stunned us. He had pulled the ship out of the dive only eighty feet above the ground. Heat from the ship scorched the famous rose garden, and the suction behind the ship tore the antennas off the roof. I hadn't recovered enough to stand or walk, but I could crawl. I grabbed my sword, and dragged myself over to where Ares lay dying.
"Who turned out the lights," he mumbled to me as his eyes focused on mine.
"It was McClellan he shot the lawn. Saved our butts, for a few minutes at least," I told him.
"Damn hot rodder," Ares said, forcing a grin, "we're screwed I think at least I am."
"Bull," I said, "you're a God. You can heal."
"Yeah, yeah," he said, blinking, "not if they have anything to say about it."
I followed his gaze, and I saw the enemies staggering towards us, weapons in their hands, confident that it was all over.
"Why don't you bug out," he said, "live to fight another day and all that crap."
"I'm not leaving you," I told him, then I said it, " I love you. We're in this together."
"I have always loved you, Xena," he said, "I'd be happier knowing you were still alive. I'll tell 'em you went to powder your nose or something."
"Ares, shut up." I said, "I'm going to take at least one of them with us."
"That's my girl," he said with a grin, figuring he'd get away with it this time.
I kissed him, and I staggered to my feet, my sword gripped in both hands. I glared at them as they approached us. I thought the wounded Goddess would be joining us in hell real soon. She was closest. I didn't notice the spotlight that came down behind me, but Ares must have.
"Well, I never thought I'd be happy to see the you again," he said, "hey Xe, cavalry's here."
"Oh great, now your getting delusional on me," I muttered.
Then I heard a sound I hadn't heard in hundreds of years. It's whine sang of metal and speed. It came from behind me, and by reflex I dropped to the ground. Something flew past me a few feet above the lawn. It struck the nearest God so hard he flew backwards, ricocheted with sparks, and nailed the wounded Goddess in the side of the head, flipping her off her feet, ricocheting again back towards me. I raised my hand, and it slammed into my palm. I closed my fingers, and let my arm absorb the impact, pulling it close to my body. When I looked, I saw I held a ring of steel, with an S-curve in the center. I just stared at it, unbelieving. Two bodies sizzled on the ground where they'd been struck down, flesh smoldering, impression of their skeletons, burning and crumbling to dust. Then they were gone. I'd seen a God die that way once before. Only once before. I stared at the chakram I held like a dim witted mortal, still unable to comprehend.
"Shut up Ares," a voice said behind me.
I didn't believe my ears, but I wanted to believe so bad that I hurt inside. There was a shadow moving up behind me, and now it covered me. A shadow with wings. I turned around, forgetting the two enemy Gods still before me. She was right there in front of me, not two feet away. The Archangel Gabrielle, and she was smiling up at me. I choked back a sob and grabbed her in a hug that would have squeezed the guts out of a mortal. She wrapped her strong arms around me and shrouded us with her wings. Neither of us spoke, words could not express the tidal wave of emotions at this reunion. I rested my chin on her head, and would have been happy to stay that way forever, never letting go again. I might have too, but from behind me came a grunt, and a cry of triumph.
I released Gabrielle and spun around. The remaining God had driven his sword into Ares chest, pinning him to the ground. He wasn't moving. I took a step away from Gabrielle, and I threw the chakram so hard my feet left the ground. It closed the distance between us in a heartbeat, just a silver blur in the afternoon sun. Then it struck him down, the impact severing his head from his body, the force carrying it right through him to slam into the Goddess who accompanied him. It knocked her flying across the lawn, and ricocheted away, its whine a cry of outrage and vengeance. It's flight carried it to the White House portico, where it finally struck the chain of a great lamp over the doorway, dropping it to the pavement, and rebounding back to me. I caught it as I ran to Ares.
He was dead. No question about it. No breath, no twitch of dying he was gone, killed while my back had been turned. Was every joy to be shadowed by despair? Was this the will of the One God? Though our enemies were vanquished, the cost was bitter to my heart, yet such were the fortunes of war. Many had lost their lives that day in battle, but none so dear to my wretched heart. I fell to my knees and cradled his head, and my tears splashed his face. Emotionally, I was a disaster beyond conflicted, I felt the rise of the blinding fury that had once been my emotional retreat. The red of bloodlust grew in my heart, and demanded sacrifices, bodies to hew, enemies to snuff out yet there were none. All our enemies were dead the last two falling to dust a few feet away, smoldering. I raised my eyes to the sky, and with a cry that tore my throat, I wailed out the pain in my soul, and the anger in my heart.
"OH GOD NO!!! WHY HAVE YOU BETRAYED HIM!!!"
And then my senses shut down. I may have passed out, or I may have turned within. I don't know how much time passed; minutes I would guess, because when I regained my senses, nothing on the lawn had changed. There was a warm hand resting on my shoulder, gently squeezing. I let the chakram and the sword fall from my hands, and I wrapped my arms around Gabrielle's waist, and buried my face in her chest. Her hands cradled my head as I sobbed. And there I stayed, as her warmth thawed the monster I knew lurked a hairsbreadth below my skin.
After a time, she gently tilted my face to look up into her eyes. I saw there the love that had changed me two millennia before, and a greater wisdom than I had ever seen.
"Xena, I know this tragedy has brought you immeasurable pain," she said, "but beyond the pain is a chance which is hidden within. You will know what to do. It is the time of change, and the time of restitution. There is a debt to be paid."
A debt? A time of change? I tried to understand, because in some deep place, her words rang true. I played back all the time I had spent with Ares since he had come back to me. His words came back to me then "you must believe that all things in the world change in time in hope and love lies the cause of faith." He had brought me to heaven so I would know that Gabrielle still waited for our reunion, still had faith in the promise of future lives together. He had done it, knowing he would one day lose me again. He had done it though it had broken his heart. All I could say was "thank you", such a paltry expression for what he had done for what he had done at Olympus an age ago, when I had supposedly been a mortal, and he a God. And I knew what I had to do.
Gabrielle stepped away to give me space. I laid my hands on his head, cradling his face, and I concentrated as I had never concentrated before. "Immortal beloved, my life force for you accept my immortality, for I would bring you back. I will that you take my gift, it was ever yours from the very beginning. Come back from the hall of souls, come back to the world. You were meant to be a God. Come back to me." A blue light had surrounded him, flowing from my hands, and I felt the power draining out of me. I felt my wounds, and the fatigue of battle. I felt him move beneath my hands!
Behind me I heard Gabrielle softly beseeching her God as well, "Almighty Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy Will be done, on earth as in heaven "
He lifted his head, and looked into my eyes, and he knew what I had done, for a God always knows a mortal from an immortal.
"Xena, why?" he asked.
"It was the only way," I stammered, "I couldn't let you go like this. I couldn't leave you. The world needs a God of War...the world needs you...and, and I need you. You gave up your god hood to heal Eve and Gabrielle now things are back the way they should have been."
And I realized another thing. The circle had come back to its start, and I was mortal again. I could die, and finally, I could one day be reborn. On some day in the future, in some place we could not foresee, a child would be born to fulfill the promise made so long ago. God had granted me a way back a way out of the detour of two thousand years we had taken. All things in the world change in time, yet all things flow in a circle. I had done God's Will, and He owed me. I knew there was one other debt to be paid, but now I had faith. I turned to look at Gabrielle. She stood on the lawn next to us, just her. The wings were gone. She looked into my eyes, and I could see the truth. Her prayer too had been answered. We were both mortal, and we could both die one day, and we could proceed with the cycle of rebirth that had been promised so long ago. We were home.
In the silence that followed I felt the sun on my back, and the beating of my mortal heart. I began to hear the sounds of the world around me. I stood, and I helped Ares to his feet. He was shaken, but otherwise unchanged. He looked into my eyes, and I knew it was an emotional moment for him, but he swallowed, took a breath, and spoke to me.
Better than any other I now knew those words were not pathetic, not inadequate, for they came from the deepest part of his heart, just as they had twice come from mine. A weight of guilt lifted from me. The circle had truly closed at last.
SO MOTE IT BE
(2256 A. D.)
I've been around a long time, and I thought I should write this all down. It really is history, and I've started to feel obligated to preserve it. There isn't anyone now who knows the whole story except me. Maybe someday someone will need to know. So much has been lost in the passage of time, and often, I hear things that make me want to scream, "No, no, no, it didn't happen that way". While I still have the chance, I'd like to get it right. It's more than taking names and kicking ass.
This is a big step for me. It's really out of character. I guess writing was never my thing, but things change...I've changed...the world has changed. I've known a couple people who could have done this right, so I just keep asking myself, "What would they have done? How would they have told this story? What words would they have chosen to make it come alive?" And yes, I miss them both, even the annoying little blond. What makes it difficult is that I've always liked hearing stories about myself, but I've promised to tell the truth this time. This is not a myth or a legend. Well, maybe someday it will become a legend, for the events deserve to be seen for their heroism and passion, and they are bigger than life.
First, let me relate what happened after I was resurrected from the dead. The last of the race of the Gods was destroyed, and their threat ended forever. In all the time since, there has been no evidence of any more survivors. I am the last of the renegades. The invasion ended with their defeat at Xena's hands. The aliens who survived the battle withdrew to their remaining mother ship, and disappeared. We considered hunting them down, but I reasoned it was better to let them relate the terror they had met with on this world, then to invade their home world and prosecute the war. The defense forces Xena created have expanded, having absorbed the military forces of the nations of the Earth. Fifty years after the invasion, the people celebrated the Dissolution of Nations, and have ruled themselves as a global community for the last two hundred years. Their security from invaders is guaranteed by my forces; five hundred warships, and a half-million warriors. You cannot imagine the advances we have made.
I keep the chakram. It was not a thing to be held by mortal hands, and having within me the balance of dark and light, I am the only being with the right to hold it. I treasure it, for the memories it holds, and because it was a deathbed gift from the one who held my heart. I also keep a battered sword, and a bronze breast-plate, both priceless for their ancientry, and their sentimental value. I keep them with my own sword.
In the last hundred years, we have attained to the mastery of space, and the promise implied by the invading Gods. This is a Cardinal world they had said. A world without end. So Mote It Be. We have spread beyond the confines of what God first gave, and now have six colonial planets. We have established The Kingdom. On those worlds, the riot of Earthly life was transplanted, and gratefully took hold. Someday, far in the future, when this Earth is gray with age, we will live on those worlds, and many more to come. We will abandon this world, and become a race of the galaxy by then, perhaps a race of Gods. And then what shall be? Maybe one day a band of renegades will take with them into exile, a chakram and their history, and the cycle will begin again.
Mankind was created to struggle, both with the world, and with itself. The battle is joined each day, through the struggle to survive to master the world, and to master ourselves. A two-fronted war, within and without. Mankind will always need a God of War, and in His wisdom, the Great Power that is here has always known war is not an evil to be stamped out, but a force to be applied in righteousness. What would you have? That when an evil threatened there would be no one to stand forth to set it right? The Spirit of War is what kindles hearts to the greater good. It exists in the hearts of every soldier who, on some battlefield masters his fear, and fights for the right of others to live in peace. It is what drives every good cop to enter into mortal danger for the sake of those who would be victimized. It is the instinct that drives a parent to protect a child, even one that is not their own. You could say it is love that drives them on, and yes, you would be right, but love without strength is a force out of balance, for it allows evil to prosper by its weakness. Love must have a spirit of battle to win it room to grow, just as a spirit of battle must be tempered with love, lest it degenerate into tyranny.
But I get ahead of myself with all my philosophy. The people of the world had seen what had happened on the White House lawn that day so long ago. Because of the special effects tradition of cinema, they didn't believe a bit of it. The shadow forces could be explained as a secret government project. That was believable. They went back into the background for awhile. Xena gave command to Capt. McClellan, who she promoted to Air Marshal, and she dropped out of the force. She'd had enough, and she wanted to spend her mortal years with Gabrielle and me. McClellan did a great job as commander, continuing the development of the warships, and expanding the goals to include space sciences in general. He'd been a trekker as a kid, and the thirst for the unknown had never left him. He was achieving my desire with the fire of his own heart. He became the Favorite of the God of War the first favorite since ancient times. Nothing could stand in his way after that.
By now you are wondering, why doesn't he say more about Xena and Gabrielle? I guess after all these years, it's still hard for me to talk about them. Especially Xena. But it's part of the story, and I've promised to tell the truth.
Xena was perhaps the richest mortal on the face of the Earth. She bought properties everywhere, and she and Gabrielle lived in privacy for the rest of their lives. By the time she died, she had made anonymous donations to disperse her fortune something like 1.7 trillion dollars. It took her forty-five years. We spent a lot of time together, the three of us, or just Xena and I. She still loved me, and there was no question of my love for her. She and Gabrielle took the long view placing their faith in a shared eternity of successive lives. She didn't begrudge me her time in this life. She was an invaluable counsel to me, she was my best friend, and she remained my lover for many years.
On March 14, 2051, I stood in the rain with her as the earthly remains of Gabrielle of Poteidia were interred in a private mausoleum just a few miles from The Archeological Museum of Amphipolis, near the ancient city, now a ruin in Serres Prefecture. We knew the time had grown short, for Xena too had advanced in years, and to follow Gabrielle had always been her purpose. She reckoned her age to have been about thirty-one when she lifted my sword, and became a Goddess. She was still thirty-one when her mortality resumed in 2006. She was now seventy-nine.
On Friday the 13th of April, 2051 her spirit left her body for the last time in her villa on the island of Amphios. There was thunder that shook the rock beneath my feet, and lightning split the sky, tracing webs through the clouds. An honor guard of twelve warships circled the island just below the squall, holding salute formation, glowing blue-white. Then the rain came down in torrents, as though heaven itself cried at her passing. I held her hand as the warmth left it, and it was many hours before I moved from her side. It was forty-five years to the day since she had defeated the last of the invaders, and given up her immortality. In her final hour, she had sent away the members of the household, and whispered a last request to me. Then she had told me to open the safe in the wall behind her bed. There were her ancient weapons, and some other heirlooms she had managed to keep through the centuries. These she told me to take as tokens of our time together, memories of our love. Then I waited with her for the end.
In the final hours of the night I carried her body to the roof it felt so light, for her spirit, the best and strongest part of her, was gone. The storm had ended, and the sky was clear. Nowhere on Earth are there more stars to be seen. In the dark I waited, holding her, until the first pink of dawn opened in the east. Then I laid her on the rain soaked pyre she had prepared, and with God's fire I made it burn. All day it burned, hour after hour as the sun progressed across the sky, for I fed it with my heart long after the wood was spent. Then, as the sun went down, blazing red into the sea, so too I let the flames die. In the dark of the Aegean night I gathered the ashes of my beloved.
Half the ashes I interred with Gabrielle in the mausoleum near ancient Amphipolis. The other half I keep with the chakram and the sword. She was split between us in life, and asked to be divided thus in death. And then I mourned.
Literary Guild of America Awards Ceremony
March 15, 2084
Best Historical Fiction
Awarded to Chelle Martin
"The Way of the Warrior"
I really hate these awards ceremonies, but I have a reason for being here. I've read the book, and it's not bad, but it's fiction, and after the things I've seen, fiction isn't really very interesting. Not compared to the truth. I've watched this author for a decade, and though I will never approach her, I am very sure we'd become close friends. I'm even more certain I would become close to her lover Diana Miller. I see her in the front row. She's taller than the people on either side of her, and that dark hair makes her pretty unmistakable. She's watching her partner take the stage to accept her third award for the writing that comes from somewhere deep inside her soul. Michelle Martin is a short blond, with a bubbly personality that doesn't get mistaken for ditzy. She also holds a brown-belt in Tae Kwan Do. Diana Miller is a real piece of work. Lt. Diana Miller, that is. She is one of the youngest executive officers of a warship, and the only woman so far to hold that commission. It figures doesn't it, another cycle happening before my eyes.
I'll stay long enough to hear the acceptance speech, but I'm not sitting through the dinner afterwards. I can't take a chance on one of them noticing a tall handsome guy that no one knows anything about, but somehow seems familiar. They are both very curious, and they are both very smart. I know things are better off with them living their lives without a God in the picture. I want them to have space, to live their lives, and to grow old and die. I know they'll be back. And I know they were meant to be together. Together through a succession of lifetimes, forever. And maybe one day, just maybe, oh say ten thousand years and a hundred lifetimes down the line, someone like Diana will manage to steal the chakram, and flee to the stars. And I know she'll have someone alot like Chelle with her.
THE END ?