AUTHOR: R. Franke
RATING: R for religion, philosophy, language, and non-explicit f/f sex.
SPOILERS: Motherhood (5th season finale)
SUMMARY: An alternative ending to the fifth season. One where the gods of Olympus arent so easy to kill.
DISCLAIMER: Gabrielle, Xena, et al. are the property of Rob Tapert, Renaissance Pictures, MCA/Universal Television, the actors, writers, and all other persons known or unknown with a legal claim on the characters. This is a story of fan fiction, written for the purpose of personal satisfaction and the enjoyment of others, and monetary or other compensation is neither expected nor desired.
ARCHIVE: Permission is given to archive this story, provided it is archived without alteration, including this disclaimer and copyright notice, and the author is contacted at email@example.com
COPYRIGHT: 2000 by R. Franke
AUTHORS NOTES: I was very dissatisfied with the whole "Zap, Xena can kill gods now" ending of the fifth season. Xena is becoming Superman, and theres not an ounce of kryptonite in sight. Killing divine beings should be a lot more difficult. I also feel that Eve had an incredibly easy time of it, and if she gets "Bip, youre forgiven" Hope should get another chance as well.
"Why now?" Xena asked.
"I have to," Gabrielle replied, not looking up from her scroll. "There are dozens, maybe hundreds of rumors and stories floating around about the Twilight already. Ive heard at least a score that a friend of a friend heard directly from Gabrielle, The Bard of Potadeia herself."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"Is there no other way?" Xena asked. She stood, listening to an answer only she could hear. "If thats the way it must be, then Im ready," she murmured. She held up her hand and closed it, as if catching something lightly tossed to her.
Gabrielle watched, dividing her attention between Xena and Eves baptism. The malevolent voices of the Furies filled her head, whispering of Eves past, and foretelling the havoc she could still wreak. With a strangled sob, Gabrielle turned away and stumbled inland.
Xena gave a start as Gabrielle crashed through the brush. "Gabrielle, wait-" she began.
"Let her go," the voice of the Baptizer came. Xena whirled, her hand dropping to the chakram hanging at her waist. "Shes troubled. She needs to be alone right now. We mean her no harm," he added quickly as Xenas eyes narrowed. "Of the three of you, she is perhaps the one we, or at least I, would honor most."
"Explain," growled Xena. "Now."
The Baptizer smiled. "Ever since I was a small boy, Ive loved tales of heroic adventure. I used to dream of sailing the seas with Jason and Odysseus, or wandering the world fighting evil with Hercules, and yes, even you Xena."
"Im flattered," Xena replied dryly.
"But in those tales," the Baptizer continued, "I met a man who spoke of a different kind of world. The kind of world where the poor, weak, unskilled boy I knew myself to be did not have to live in fear, desperately hoping that a heros wandering path might someday come near my pitiful village and grant us at least some measure of relief from the villains that preyed upon us."
Xenas hand moved away from the chakram. "Eli."
"Yes, Eli," the Baptizer confirmed. "There was a man, a follower of Eli, who would pass through my village occasionally. Every other time, I laughed at him and turned away. This time I listened, and followed." He smiled again. "There are many like me, whose first knowledge of the Way of Love came not from a sermon or the exhortations of a wandering holy man, but from the tales of the Bard of Potadeia."
"I hadnt realized Gabrielles stories had become so popular."
"Youd be surprised," the Baptizer replied. "Im sure shell be back soon. In the meantime, you are welcome to join our Feast of Love. The fare may be plain, but it is plentiful. After all," he continued, "while these ceremonies may feed the soul, the body seems to prefer something a bit more substantial." His smile grew as Xenas stomach growled loudly in reply.
The Furies watched as Gabrielle stumbled blindly through the forest and fell to her knees. "Stop it!" she screamed.
"This isnt-" Alecto began.
"-going-" Megeara continued.
"-as Athena planned," Tisiphone concluded. "We should go-"
"-to Olympus and-"
"-tell Athena what-"
"-has happened." Giving one last cackle, the Furies left Gabrielle and sped towards Olympus. Behind them, Gabrielle rose from her knees and stumbled further into the forest.
"Send Gabrielle running mad through the forest," Ares said. "Have we gotten to the subtle part yet, sis?"
"This is a setback," Athena replied calmly. "But not an insurmountable one. Send in the ambassador," she called.
Ares drew in his breath with a hiss as the ambassador stepped into the Main Hall. "Are you insane?" he demanded.
"We have a common enemy," Athena replied.
"Its too dangerous."
"Why, Ares," Hope replied. "And here I thought youd be glad to see me." She smiled. "Im sure Mother will be."
"Hey," Eve touched Xenas arm. "Arent you going to have anything?"
Xena jumped slightly, then gave an embarrassed smile as she reached for some food. "What am I worried about? Gabrielles tougher than both of us put together."
"Should the water be doing that?" Eve asked as the sea began to bubble and froth.
Xenas head jerked around as the giant form of Poseidon erupted from the sea. "Josephus!" she yelled to the Baptizer. "Get your people inland now." She and Eve raced away from the group as Poseidon waded ashore. "The farther he gets from the water, the weaker he becomes," she gasped.
"But we dont," Hades crowed as he manifested in front of the fleeing duo. Artemis, Hephaestus, Deimos and Discord appeared as well. The gods began hurling balls of god-fire. Xena and Eve fended them off, using their swords as shields.
Eve gasped as one of Artemis arrows sliced a deep groove along her ribcage. "Im fine," she yelled as Xena shot her a concerned glance. "She just grazed me."
Poseidon roared in pain as one of the deflected fireballs struck him just above the knee. The other gods stopped as the Lord of the Sea collapsed to the ground. "Axe!" he bellowed. Hephaestus threw his war-axe to Poseidon, who fielded it and brought the blade crashing down on his leg, amputating it just below the hip joint. "Egotistical fools," he rasped as he dragged himself towards the water. Behind him the god-fire devoured the severed limb.
Hephaestus charged Xena with a yell, whirling his chains in front of him. Surprisingly, his limping gait did not slow him down. With an answering cry, Xena adroitly ducked inside the arc of the chains and slashed at Hephaestus throat with one-half of her chakram. He dodged, and the blade sliced through his left eye and the cheek below, baring the white gleam of teeth and bone. With a cry of pain he fell back, dropping his chains. Xena scooped them up and retreated.
On the shore, the watery form of Poseidon collapsed and dissolved as the god died, one watery hand less than six inches from the sea that would have been his salvation.
Ares and Athena looked about wildly as Olympus trembled. Aphrodite gasped in pain and covered the left side of her face with her hand.
Discord charged towards Eve while Hephaestus distracted Xena. She stopped as Gabrielle darted from the brush, putting herself squarely in the goddess path. "Step aside, bard, if you want to tell any more stories."
Gabrielle grinned mockingly and flourished her sais. "Ive still got plenty of stories."
"Your choice, blondie," Discord grinned in reply and swung her sword.
Gabrielle parried and the two fought back and forth until Discord stumbled and fell. Gabrielle thrust her sai downward. Discord knocked it away with her sword and flung a handful of dirt into Gabrielles eyes. Gabrielle staggered backwards, sais waving wildly in front of her. Discord grinned in mocking triumph as she stood and raised her sword. Gabrielle lunged forward, her sai thrusting upward beneath Discords ribcage, piercing her heart. Watery green eyes met shocked brown ones as divine ichor bubbled from the goddess mouth.
Ares and Athena dematerialized as Olympus trembled again. Aphrodite followed moments later.
"So, Xena," Athena said as she materialized. "You can kill gods."
"Not her," Artemis replied. "Gabrielle slew Discord." There was a note in her voice that could almost have been pride. "Xena did that." She pointed to where Aphrodite knelt beside the wounded Hephaestus.
Aphrodite looked up and glared at Xena. "He cant be healed." Her eyes narrowed. "The Chakram of Light wasnt neutralized, was it? You just let us think it was."
Hephaestus grasped Aphrodites hand reassuringly. "Its just a scratch, dear one. Ill live, and it will heal in time." Aphrodite smiled back through watery eyes and stroked the unwounded side of her husbands face tenderly.
"That still doesnt explain how Gabrielle could, could-" Ares threw up his hands. Gabrielle smiled tightly in reply as Xena and Eve glanced questioningly at her.
Hades looked up from his examination of Discords corpse. "Hinds blood."
Athena whirled. "The hind are extinct. Theyve been dead for almost a century."
"Obviously not," Hades replied. Athena glared at the trio and dematerialized. The other gods quickly followed suit.
"Fools," Athena snapped as the gods rematerialized on Olympus. "Just what in Tartarus was going through what I will be so generous as to call your minds. You might have ruined everything."
"We were trying to end this without having to entangle ourselves any further with our new allies," Hades spat. "Oh yes, Athena, we know all about them. Your father would never have allowed this."
Athenas chin came up imperiously. "Zeus is dead. I am ruler of the gods now, and I will do whatever is necessary to end the threat Eve poses. Even make alliances that would otherwise be abhorrent." She looked levelly at Hades. "I would appreciate your support, Uncle. But I will not tolerate dissent."
Hades stood for a moment, nostrils flaring, then bowed stiffly. "You are your fathers heir, and the rightful ruler of the gods. I will not dispute that. But I was there when Zeus defeated the Titans and we gained control of Olympus. We did it with no help from anyone." He glared at Athena, his pointing hand trembling with barely suppressed fury. "Dont you dare throw away what he worked so hard to gain."
"What was that?" Eve asked. "I didnt think the gods could be hurt by fire."
"Not by ordinary fire," Xena replied. "But that was god-fire. Whatever flesh it touches, it devours utterly. Any kind of flesh, human, animal, god, doesnt matter," she explained. "If youre hit, the only way to save yourself is to do what Poseidon did. And pray you have the strength to survive."
Eve shuddered. "Nasty."
"The gods dont use it much," Xena continued. "Its tricky stuff. One mistake and youre your own burnt offering." She paused while they negotiated a particularly steep bit of the hillside. "It takes a two-thirds majority of the gods in full Council to authorize its use."
"They must be getting desperate," Gabrielle said.
"Im guessing they werent the only ones," Xena replied.
Gabrielle sighed. "Hercules and I talked, before we knew what Eve was. Hed been married briefly to the last of the golden hind."
Xenas eyebrow rose. "That must have been some trick."
"Its a long story. Ill have to write it down someday." Gabrielle shook her head. "Anyhow, he had five vials of hinds blood. He hid them in strategic places around Greece. In case-" Gabrielles eyes slid towards Eve.
"In case Eve turned out to be," Xena swallowed, "other than human."
They walked on in silence for a while. "It seems like I wasnt the only one keeping secrets," Gabrielle said.
Xena sighed. "When I split my chakram, one half takes on the characteristics of the Chakram of Light, the other of the Chakram of Darkness. I dont know which half is which until I see them in action. If I use them both together, they neutralize each other, and the chakram is merely a mortal weapon."
Eve coughed and put her hand on the hastily tied bandage over her ribs. "Would you really have killed me, Gabrielle? I mean, as a child."
Gabrielle smiled bitterly. "Oh, didnt you know, Eve? Killing demon children is sort of a specialty of mine."
The Fates looked up as the cloaked figure entered their lair. Clotho spoke. "What is your purpose here, daughter of Ouranos?"
"Tell me of what lies ahead. Must the followers of Eli rise to power? Is there no other path?"
Lachesis spoke. "Once, perhaps. No longer."
"Then we must die, and be forgotten."
The three Fates looked at each other. "Not necessarily," Atropos replied.
"You are of the old order," Lachesis answered. "You may view the paths of destiny unaided."
"I chose to side with the Olympians long ago."
"That does not change who you are," Clotho replied. The three Fates drew back from their weaving. "Look."
"Look. Or go in ignorance by your own choice."
The cloaked figure stood in front of the Tapestry, one shapely finger just above the surface, tracing the paths of various threads. "Oh, Athena," she murmured. "You fool."
"He brought joy to everyone who knew him. And you," Virgil ground out, "killed him." He sheathed his sword and stalked away.
Gabrielle watched the interplay between Virgil and Eve. Her head snapped up at a voice only she heard. "I have to admit, even I had a bit of a soft spot for the old bumbler." "Hope?" Gabrielle breathed. "Pity he had to die like that," the voice continued. "Must have been painful. She seemed to enjoy it though." Gabrielle looked around, then saw Xena looking at her questioningly. She avoided Xenas eyes and hurried over to Virgil. "Where are you going?"
"interesting?" the Furies sneered as the cloaked figure emerged from the Cave of the Fates.
"Anything to save-"
"your precious Gabrielle?"
"Will she still-"
"feel the same-"
"about you when-"
"your true nature,"
The cloaked figure backhanded Megeara across the face. "Ive warned you before," she growled savagely. "Never call me that again."
The other two Furies hissed in rage as Megeara blotted the ichor from her lip with the back of her hand. "As many mortals have-"
"been given over to madness-"
"and self-destruction by your-"
"power as by ours."
"We were born-"
"when you were born."
"We share Ouranos-"
"as a father."
"What else should-"
"we call you, but-"
"It doesnt matter how Gabrielle got the hinds blood," Artemis snapped. "The fact is she has it. That makes her the most dangerous."
"No," Ares replied. "It makes all of them dangerous to us. What?" he added as the others looked at him. "You think she wont give some to Eve and Xena?"
"Maybe she doesnt have any more," Deimos spoke up. "Maybe she just had enough for one god."
Ares smiled and shook his head patronizingly. "Gabrielle may be naïve at times, but shes not stupid. If she only had enough hinds blood for one god she would have used it on one of the major gods, like Artemis or Hades. She wouldnt have wasted it on Discord."
"At least weve got a chance now," Xena said.
"Not as much of one as you might think," Gabrielle replied. She handed the vial of hinds blood to Xena.
Xena took the cap off. "Son of a Bacchae," she swore. "Its dried up."
"There must have been a flaw in the seal," Gabrielle said. "There was barely enough left liquid for my sais."
Xena smiled grimly. "Tell me theres another vial close by."
Gabrielle shook her head. "A weeks ride, at least."
"Then why-" Eve coughed harshly. "Then why," she began again, "kill Discord. Why not one of the major gods?"
"Because if she had avoided Discord," Xena answered thoughtfully, "And headed for Hades or Artemis, they would have known something was up."
"Of course." Eve coughed again. "And they would have known she had a very limited supply."
"Exactly," Gabrielle confirmed. "I was trying-" she looked up as the post she was leaning against gave an ominous creak. "I think Id rather not be under this hayloft. As I was saying, I was trying to get to Hades," she continued as she moved further into the barn. "But once Discord started to move I had no choice. She would have seen me in another couple of steps."
"Both sais?" Xena asked. Gabrielle nodded in reply. "So that leaves us with one sai and the Chakram of Light."
"So what are our chances of running a blu-" Eve brought her hand up to her mouth as another coughing fit hit her. "Of running- Oh gods!" Eve stared at the blood-flecked froth on the palm of her hand.
Xena leapt to her daughters side. "Eve?"
Eve coughed again. "I guess that graze was a little deeper than I thought."
Xenas head snapped up. "Ares. Hes here." She looked down at Eve again, the anguish plain on her face.
"Go," Gabrielle ordered. "Youre the best one to deal with Ares. I can take care of Eve. Go," she repeated as Xena hesitated. Xena opened her mouth, then shut it again and raced outside. "Lets get you comfortable," she told Eve.
Eve looked at Gabrielle. "Why dont you hate me?"
"I-" Gabrielle hesitated.
"Dont you?" asked Megeara.
"After all, she-" Alecto chimed in.
"-killed Joxer." Tisiphone concluded.
"And who knows-"
"-how many others she-"
"So was Xena," Gabrielle argued.
Eve looked up, her eyes wide. "Gabrielle?"
Ares smiled as Xena emerged, sword and chakram at the ready. "I was hoping you werent planning to kill me on sight."
"The thought had crossed my mind," Xena replied.
"And you decided not to? Im touched."
"Im still debating. What do you want, Ares?"
"Actually, Im here to parley," Ares replied. Xenas eyebrow rose. "Seriously, I am."
"Athena send you?"
Ares shook his head. "No. She knows nothing about this."
"Then why should I listen to you?"
"Because Athena has allied us with Hell." He smiled grimly as Xena drew in her breath with a hiss. "Yeah, that was pretty much my reaction when I found out. And, troublesome as Eve is, our new allies are even more dangerous."
"So what are you proposing?"
"Help us rein in Athena, and rid Olympus of her allies. In return, Eve gets to live out the rest of her natural life."
"Sounds good," Xena replied. "Whats the catch?"
"She has to live on Olympus, where we can keep an eye on her," Ares said. "She places one toe outside the boundaries of Olympus, shes fair game."
"Myself, Hades, Artemis, and several minor gods."
"And the others?"
"Well, since Artemis is on our side, Apollos siding with Athena." Xena raised an eyebrow. "See, the twins have this little thing they do-"
Xenas mouth quirked in a one-sided smile. "Whoevers on the winning side protects the one on the losing, right?"
"You got it. Aphrodites none too happy," Ares continued, "but shes pretty much useless for this sort of thing. Same with Hestia and Demeter. Hephaestus is sympathetic, but hes injured, so hes staying on the sidelines."
"Which means the only other major gods backing Athena are Hermes and Dionysus?"
Ares shrugged. "Well, Hermes is more loyal to the office, and to the memory of Zeus. Hell probably come over to the winning side without too much fuss. That just leaves Dionysus as an out and out supporter of Athenas policy." He grinned wolfishly. "And he wont be much of a loss."
Xena smiled grimly. "I wonder who gets to be the ruler of the gods after Athena?"
Ares shook his head. "Xena, I am shocked, absolutely shocked that you think I would have anything to do with overthrowing the lawful ruler of the gods."
Xena raised her eyebrow again. "Oh? Then what were we talking about?"
"Merely about getting her better advisors. Ones who will be able to guide her properly."
"Damn it," Aphrodite protested. "All those years, while Eve was growing up, nothing happened. I mean, Ares even worked with her, tried to make her another Destroyer of Nations. Nothing happened. And now two more of us are dead, my husband has lost an eye, and for what?"
"For our survival," Athena retorted. "And if you think nothing has happened, check your temples, your worshippers. Once, our temples were the most magnificent in the land. And now?" She walked over to Aphrodite. "The Temple of Love needs a new roof, doesnt it?"
"Itll get fixed," Aphrodite looked out the window, avoiding Athenas eyes. "The budgets just a little tight this year. Roofers are expensive."
"Roofers are expensive," Athena repeated. "The budget is a little tight this year. And the year before that, and the year before that." She threw up her hands. "They used to line up for miles, eager to donate their services to the gods." She took Aphrodite by the shoulders and gently but firmly turned her around. "Listen to me, Aphrodite. I know you like for everyone to think of you as a ditzy lightweight, but youre not, are you?" Athena held up one finger, forestalling Aphrodites reply. "The rest of us tend to forget just how powerful you really are." Athena took Aphrodites face between her hands. "Lets end this. No more deaths. We need your support." She took a deep breath. "I need your support. Please."
"Xena left Ares," Megeara hissed.
"Given a chance,"
"-shell start again."
"How many more-"
"-as Hope killed?"
"No," Gabrielle moaned.
"By the power of Love, I command thee, go!" The Furies screeched angrily in reply. "Depart from this soul, in the name of Love." The Furies retreated, hissing imprecations at their banisher.
Gabrielle looked up. "Hope?" Her daughter stood before her, clad in a spotless white robe. Gabrielle smiled tremulously. "How-how is this possible?"
"I have been given a second chance. A chance at redemption," Hope answered with a smile, taking her mothers hands in her own. "Redemption for me, and for you. A chance to bring peace to that part of you thats still screaming."
"How did you know?"
Hope cast her eyes upward. "Did you think you were the only one to hear it? My lord told me of your torment." She looked into Gabrielles eyes. "But, Eve must die." Hope passed her hand in front of Gabrielles eyes. "If she lives, then the future holds what you see before you. Mighty engines of war devouring the land. Camps where people are killed a dozen, a hundred at a time, and their bodies burnt to ash. And weapons so terrible they destroy entire cities with a fire hotter than a thousand suns."
"And if she dies?" Gabrielle asked.
"Gabrielle, who are you talking to?" Eve began to ease slowly away from the bard.
Hope passed her hand in front of Gabrielles eyes again. "Then the future holds a land where wondrous medicines have all but eliminated the diseases that now take so many, where the people select who leads them, and not an accident of birth. A land where even the lowliest peasant may command the lightning of Zeus to enlighten the darkest night."
"But the Twilight?" Gabrielle asked, her hand dropping to her sai.
"The gods are dying," Hope replied. "Eve has served her purpose. Like a medicine that becomes a poison if too much is taken, she is now the danger. She must die," she repeated as Gabrielle hesitated. "As strong as Xena is, she doesnt have the strength for this. You know how difficult it is." Gabrielle drew her sai. "You must bear this burden. You must kill Eve."
Gabrielle moved towards Eve, her sai upraised. "I love you, Hope."
Hope looked away. "Kill her, Mother," she said, turning back to face Gabrielle. "For me."
"Gabrielle, what are you doing?" Eve tried to stand but doubled over as another bout of coughing sprayed more bloody froth from her mouth. "Gabrielle, no!"
Xena burst through the door, her scream mingling with her daughters cry as Gabrielle brought her sai down into her own stomach. "Gabrielle, no!"
"You bitch!" Hope screamed.
Eve looked from Gabrielle to the suddenly visible Hope. "Who- who-" she stuttered.
"Dont think this means youve escaped, Mother," Hope hissed. "The bargain you made still holds."
"I know it does," Gabrielle gasped.
Xena glared at Hope as she cradled Gabrielle in her arms. "You cant have her."
Aphrodite materialized. "You heard her, blondie. Back off."
"This isnt your concern, slut goddess," Hope snapped.
Aphrodites eyes narrowed. "Do you really want to try taking me on?"
"This isnt over," Hope snarled as she dematerialized.
Aphrodite knelt down beside Gabrielle. "Oh, little one, why?"
Gabrielle smiled painfully. "You know why."
"Shes not worth it," Aphrodite replied. "She never was."
"Shes my daughter." Gabrielle groaned in pain and reached out. "Eve?"
Eve grasped Gabrielles hand. "Yes, Gabrielle?"
"Take care of your mother. Make sure-" Gabrielle gasped again. "Make sure she eats. She doesnt take proper care of herself."
"I will," Eve promised.
Gabrielle freed her hand and reached up to touch Xenas face. "I have to tell you, about the lava pit. I- Oh gods." she groaned in pain.
"Tell me later, my love," Xena replied, brushing a lock of hair off Gabrielles forehead. "Ive waited this long. I can wait a little while more."
Gabrielle shook her head violently. "I dont have a little while more. I- Gods!" She screamed and twisted in pain.
"Help her!" Xena demanded.
"I cant," Aphrodite shot back tearfully. "Theres hinds blood in the wound. It interferes with my healing power. Theres nothing I can do."
Xena looked back down at Gabrielle, who had passed out from the pain. Her face crumpled with grief. "Gabrielle," she moaned.
"Wait, wait," Aphrodite cried. "Ive got it. Put her down."
Xena looked up. "Wh-what?"
"Put her down and shoo," Aphrodite ordered. "Its the only chance shes got, and I need to do it now."
Xena laid Gabrielle gently down. "Do it."
Aphrodite held her hands over Gabrielles unconscious form. Electricity arced from her fingertips to wrap Gabrielle in a net of lightning. "Ooh, I hope I can remember this," she muttered. She grimaced with effort as the lightning spun faster and faster. The entire net flashed with a brilliant light and Aphrodite was thrown back against the wall.
"Aphrodite?" Eve asked.
The goddess looked up with a grin of exhausted triumph. "Ive still got it."
Xena was back at Gabrielles side, her hands hovering less than an inch above Gabrielles unconscious form. "I cant touch her," she said, her eyes wild. "Why cant I touch her? My hands keep sliding off."
"Its okay," Aphrodite replied. "That means its working."
"Whats working?" Xena growled.
"A little trick I learned a long time ago." Aphrodite held up her hands as Xenas eyes narrowed. "Settle down. Each hour that passes for us is a second for Gabrielle."
"Not a cure?"
"No," Aphrodite replied. "But it does buy time for you to get her to Britannia." She drew a deep breath. "Branwen has the cauldron now."
Xena blinked. "I thought it had been destroyed in the war between Bran and Matholwch."
"Thats what everyone was supposed to think," Aphrodite replied grimly. "The cauldrons healing power is just different enough that the hinds blood wont be a problem." She looked down. "At least for the physical wounds."
Xena smiled sadly in reply. "I know."
"Umm," Eve broke the silence. "But, who was that? She looked just like Gabrielle."
"That was Hope," Xena explained. "Gabrielles daughter."
"Gabrielle has a daughter?"
"Gabrielle didnt, doesnt tell that story much, so Im not surprised you dont know." Xena sighed heavily, then gave Eve a quick precis of Hopes story.
"So all that religious stuff, that peace kick," Eve asked. "That was-"
"Gabrielle trying to find some sort of peace," Xena replied. She smiled sadly down at her friend. "I owe her that much. At least."
"Its hard enough just watching your child die," Aphrodite added. Her mouth crooked in a sad smile at their questioning looks. "Not all of my children have been gods."
"I met Aeneas once," Xena replied. "He was a good man. You can be proud."
"Im proud of all my children." Aphrodites head snapped up in surprise. "Theyre coming. I cant help you right now." The goddess vanished, taking Gabrielle with her.
"Sorry, Xena," Ares said as he appeared on one side of the barn, his sword drawn. Artemis appeared on the other side with an arrow nocked and her bow at the ready. "But we took a vote and decided things would be simpler with Eve dead."
Deimos and Hades materialized in the space between the two other gods, balls of god-fire between their hands. Deimos launched his directly at Xena. She barely had time to pick up a board to use as a shield. The god-fire disintegrated when it hit the makeshift shield, annihilating it. The force of the explosion threw Xena against the wall. Three sets of shelves and their contents tumbled down on top of her.
Hades looked down at Eve. "How did you think it would end?" He raised the ball of god-fire above his head.
Xena launched herself from the rubble with a cry and struck the post supporting the hayloft with both feet. Hades and Deimos looked up as the post collapsed, bringing the loft, with its load of highly inflammable hay, down on top of them.
Ares sprawled on the floor from his desperate dive to avoid the hayloft. He looked at the screaming, burning forms of Hades and Deimos, then at Xena, crouched just a few feet away with the Chakram of Light at the ready, grabbed his sword and dematerialized.
Artemis struggled to her feet on the far side of the wreckage, her hands empty. "If my Chosen dies because of you-" She glared at Xena and Eve and dematerialized.
"You all right?" Xena asked.
"Im fine," Eve replied. "You?"
"Fine." The two of them limped outside. "Nice of you to join us," Xena continued as Aphrodite rematerialized with Gabrielle.
"Hey, you two can defend yourselves." Aphrodite pointed to Gabrielle. "She cant."
"Fine, whatever," Xena replied. "Heal Eve and well be on our way to Britannia."
Aphrodite shook her head. "Sorry, no can do. Eve lives or dies on her own." She held up her hands as Xenas eyes narrowed. "Wait, wait, hear me out. Athena made an alliance-"
"With Hell, I know," Xena interrupted. "Is there a point to this?"
Aphrodite blinked. "Oh. Anyway, she realizes now that that was a mistake. Shes agreed that if I bring you to Olympus youll have one full day to try and negotiate a compromise. No harm will come to any of you while youre there."
"And afterwards? If we cant agree?"
"Then Ill take you straight to Branwen. After that youre on your own."
Eve coughed again. "But in return for these negotiations, you cant help me."
"You got it. Well, Xena?"
"How do I know this isnt just another trap?"
Aphrodite grabbed Hephaestus chains from the ground and held them out to Xena. "When we get to Olympus bind me. Youre fast enough to do it before anybody can stop you. Damn it, Xena, this, all of this, has hurt my friends, my family, everyone I care about. I am a goddess of light, and love, and laughter. Of life. This is death, and hate, and grief. I hate this, and I want it over." She took a deep breath. "You have my word, my solemn oath as a goddess, that no harm will come to you within the boundaries of Olympus from now until this time tomorrow."
Xena took the chains. "All right. Take us to Olympus."
"Wait." Eve limped back into the barn, re-emerging with Artemis silver bow and arrows. "This might come in handy."
Aphrodite raised her eyebrows. "Man, I thought the only way to make her let go of those puppies was to cut her hand off."
"Well, uncontrolled god-fire running around sounds like a pretty good reason to me," Xena replied dryly. "You ready?"
Aphrodite held up her hand. "One thing." She looked seriously at Xena and Eve. "And I want to make sure you both understand. Eli was wrong."
"Aphrodite, this isnt the time for a theological debate," Xena replied testily.
"I meant about us," Aphrodite snapped back. She took a deep breath. "Eli said the gods cant love, because we cant know loss. He was wrong. We do." She looked at Xena and Eve again. "Athena was far and away Zeus favorite. And he was everything to her."
"I understand," Xena replied solemnly. Eve nodded in agreement.
Aphrodite examined their faces. "I hope so." The four of them dematerialized.
"I am very disappointed in you."
Hope trembled. "Yes, my lord."
"You assured me you could control Gabrielle."
"Mother was stronger than I had anticipated." She took a deep breath. "I do, however, have a-"
"Im not interested." Hope waited in silence. "Michael will be launching an all-out assault on Olympus. To do that, hes had to take angels away from the walls of Heaven. Theres a gap in the defenses, here."
Hope examined the image in front of her. "Its pretty small. And hard to get to. You couldnt take the entire army through there."
"True. But it is very close to the main gates. A small group might be able to get through and open them, especially if Uriel is distracted."
"What do you wish of me?"
"You will lead the attack. I trust you will not disappoint me a second time."
"Yes, my lord." Hope took a deep breath. "And the Olympians? Will we be assisting them?"
"Their usefulness is at an end. Except for the casualties they will inflict on Michaels forces in their dying."
"Of course, my lord."
Athena smiled as the four of them materialized in front of the gods assembled in the Main Hall of Olympus. "Xena, Eve. So nice of you to join us." The smile faded from her face. "Seize them."
"What?" Aphrodite held up her hands as Eve and Xena retreated to a defensible niche, weapons at the ready. "What are you doing? You said-"
Dionysus laughed raucously. "Did you really think we could all just sit down all nicey-nicey and talk about this? Youre an even bigger fool than I thought."
Artemis took Aphrodites arm. "Come on. This is the only way."
Aphrodite angrily shook off Artemis hand. "Damn it, Athena, I gave them my word."
"Im sorry," Athena replied. "I dont have any other choice." She signaled to Hermes, who picked up the protesting goddess bodily and set her beside Hephaestus.
Aphrodite turned to glare at her husband. He held up his hands defensively. "I swear, I knew nothing about this."
"You and Gabrielle can go free, Xena," Athena said. "Just give us Eve. I promise her death will be quick and painless."
Xena smiled grimly. "Forgive me if Im not overly trusting of your promises right now."
Hephaestus reached over to pull Gabrielle out of the way. His one good eye widened as Gabrielles body shimmered and vanished. Aphrodite and Artemis both screamed and clutched their chests. Xena and Eve looked around wildly. "What happened?" Xena demanded. "Wheres Gabrielle? What have you done with her?"
"Sh-shes gone," Aphrodite gasped hoarsely.
Xenas shoulders slumped. "You mean, shes dead."
Aphrodite shook her head violently. "No, I mean, shes gone."
"Even if she had died, we would still feel her," Artemis said, rubbing her chest. "But shes just," she waved her hands helplessly, "gone. E-even in death," the goddess continued, "we can still feel the essence, the soul if you will, of our Chosen. Theyre a part of us, and we of them."
Aphrodite examined her outstretched hands. "It feels like I should be missing something," she noted brokenly. "A hand, a finger, something."
Apollo broke the silence. "We will discover what has become of the bard in time. Nothing has changed, Xena. Eve must die."
Xena smiled. "Think you can get through me?"
"Look, Xena," Ares said. "None of us likes this. Despite what you might think, we dont enjoy wantonly killing mortals." He smiled slightly at their skeptical looks. "Trust me on this one." The smile faded as he strode over to stand in front of Xena and Eve. "But as long as shes alive, Eve is a danger not only to us, but to the whole natural order. As long as she lives-"
Xenas eyes slid over to Eve, and she nodded slightly. Eve smoothly raised Artemis bow and shot. Ares grunted and doubled over in pain as the arrow hit. Xena lashed out with the chains of Hephaestus. They wrapped around Ares and she used the chains to pull him to her.
Hephaestus moved behind Aphrodite and began massaging her shoulders. She angrily shook him off, but Hephaestus gripped her shoulders tightly. "This really is for the best, my love," he murmured. Bending closer, so that his mouth was just beside her ear, he added in a lower voice, "Were not the only ones looking for another option." Aphrodite shot him a startled glance. "Ill support you. Just dont throw everything away on a gesture."
Aphrodite scanned the faces of the other gods. "Wheres Hope?" she murmured.
"Proxidicae!" Athena called. A dozen blue-armored forms flowed from behind the throne to take up position in front of Xena and Eve. Athena smiled. "It took me quite some time, but eventually I was able to discover the secret of their creation. Oh, and Xena?" she added mildly, "Ive managed to eliminate that pesky moment of paralysis when one of the Proxidicae dies. You wont find them so easy to kill this time." She leaned back on her throne, and her smile grew. "Your choice, Xena."
Ares groaned in pain and sank to his knees. Xena yanked his head up, her chakram at his throat. "Try anything and youll-" she gasped as she saw the divine ichor staining the front of his armor.
"What did you expect?" Ares rasped. "You shot me with a hinds blood arrow."
"And signed not only your own death warrant, but your precious daughters as well." Dionysus laughed. "After all, youre both his Chosen. We just have to wait."
Ares glared at Dionysus. "At least I wont have to listen to you anymore." One hand shot up to grasp Xena by the front of her cuirass, fingers pressing against the skin above her heart, the other grabbing Eve in the same place.
Xena gasped as she felt something shift inside her. She heard Eve gasp beside her as she tore herself from Ares grip. "What do you think youre doing?" she hissed.
Ares smiled painfully. "You are no longer my Chosen." His eyes rolled back and he slumped in unconsciousness.
Hermes broke the silence. "When a god dies, his Chosen die with him. If theyre lucky."
Xena swallowed. "And if theyre unlucky?"
"They live out the rest of their lives with less mind than a brute beast."
Xena knelt down by Ares. "Why?"
"This isnt entirely Xenas doing." Aphrodite held up the vial of hinds blood. "I took this off of Gabrielle. Before Artemis lost her bow."
Every eye turned to Artemis. "Th-they must have had more," she stammered.
Xena shook her head. "No, we didnt."
"You, and you," Athena ordered. Two of the Proxidicae went over Artemis and grasped her arms. "Take one more step and Ill arrest you as well," she continued as Apollo started forward. He stopped and shot his sister an apologetic look.
"It was just the one arrow, I swear," Artemis babbled desperately. "Just for personal protection. You have to believe me. I would never-"
"You know the penalty," Athena interrupted coldly.
Artemis closed her eyes and swayed slightly. "May I at least enter the Pit under my own power, rather than having your minions throw me in?"
"Yes." Athena held out her hand. "Aphrodite?"
Eve coughed. And coughed again. Bloody froth sprayed from her mouth as she dropped the bow and sank to her knees. "Oh gods," she moaned.
Athena smiled. "Well, well. Looks like all we ever had to do was wait."
Xena reached into her cuirass and pulled out a small, glowing sphere. "Problem is, Athena, you just ran out of time." She tossed the sphere into the air where it hung, flattened, and expanded into a glowing oval.
Michael was the first to step from the gate, a squadron of warrior angels at his heels. "Thank you, Xena."
Xena bent over Eve. "I got you in here, the rest is up to you," she answered distractedly.
Michael nodded and turned to survey his opponents. They stood bunched around Athenas throne, balls of god-fire quivering in their hands. The Proxidicae stood in front, swords drawn.
"Let me have a look." Xena looked up to see an angel with chestnut-brown hair bending over them. A healers satchel hung from his shoulder.
Michael grinned wolfishly and raised his sword. "Att-"
"Hold it! Anybody makes a move and I will make damn sure there are no mortals left in Greece to fight over."
Hope stood atop the walls of Heaven and surveyed her small band with pride. "Heaven is within our grasp. The guards-"A demon shrieked and pointed behind her. Hope whirled. "Uriel!" The dark, saturnine face of the angel split into a wide grin as he raised his arm and signaled. A troop of angels rose from concealment and surrounded the demons. Hope raised her staff and charged. "Attack!" She smiled tightly as Uriels triumphant grin was replaced by shock, then she had no more time to think as adamantine staff met flaming sword.
Aphrodite stepped between the two sides, her lush form trembling with fury. "This, all of this, stops now. I am tired of everybody I care about killing each other. There has to be another way."
Hephaestus was the first to find his voice. "Aphrodite, what are you doing?"
"You said you would support me. Did you mean it? Or was that just to keep me quiet?"
Hephaestus swallowed heavily and moved to stand beside her. "You are my wife," he answered. "Forever and always." Aphrodite smiled gratefully in reply.
"You cant stop us," Michael replied. "The Greek gods have already lost too much power. More and more of your worshippers are abandoning you and turning to us. Surrender, and I promise you a comfortable imprisonment." His face hardened. "Resist, and we will have no choice but your complete and utter annihilation."
Aphrodite smiled slightly. "Perhaps youre right." Her smile faded. "But even those who have turned to you still believe in us. We can hand you a victory that would make Pyrrhus himself grateful that his cost so little." She raised her head imperiously. "Mortal desire for sexual union is my domain. I control when, or if, it happens."
Michaels eyes narrowed. "Youre bluffing."
"Am I? No more sex, no more mortals."
"Even if you arent, that wont make any difference to the ones already born." Michael smiled confidently. "You should have started two mortal generations ago. You dont have the power. Or the worshipers."
Aphrodites smile matched his. "As I said, even those who have turned to you still believe in us. They still tell their children about the gods and their power." Her smile grew. "You want to know about power? My power comes from every man who hardens at a coquettish glance, from every woman who moistens at a lazy, confident smile and every single mortal who cries, moans, screams, or shouts in orgasmic ecstasy is praying to me." She turned slightly, facing both the Olympians and the angels. "And my worshipers are your worshipers," her pointing finger stabbed at Michael, "and yours," her finger moved to Athena, "and yours," she pointed to Apollo, "and every mortal who has ever desired another."
"Calm down, girl." A stocky, round-faced goddess stumped to the front of the group. "Hestia and I arent too happy with the way things have been going either. Well back you, for now." Demeter turned to the others. "The grain in the field, the fruit on the vine, is my domain. Nothing grows without my blessing. And nothing will until you lot find a solution that doesnt involve us all slaughtering each other."
Hestia stepped forward as the fire in the main hearth flickered and died. "Until then, mortals will have no refuge from the world, no place they may relax and feel safe. No home. Im sorry, dears," she added, absently straightening her hair-bun as the other gods looked about nervously, "but it affects us too. Ill relight the hearth-fire when weve come to some sort of an agreement."
"How dare you," Athena growled in fury. "Zeus saved you from spending eternity in Cronus belly. And you," she rounded on Aphrodite. "Zeus could have imprisoned you like the Titans. Instead he made you his own daughter."
Xenas eyes widened. "So the old stories are true," she breathed. Eve looked up at her questioningly. Xena looked down as Ares groaned. His eyes fluttered open and he looked around blearily.
Athena looked at Aphrodite, her eyes narrowed. "You care too much for mortals," she stated confidently. "You wont kill them, even if it means your own destruction."
"Im warning you, Athena. Dont test me."
"Look," Michael said through gritted teeth, "I made you a fair offer. Surrender now-"
Athena raised her chin imperiously. "The gods of Olympus do not surrender. Especially to the emissaries of some hopped-up desert thunder godlet."
Michaels eyes narrowed. "So be-"
"Hear me, O Goddess of Wisdom." Xena knelt in front of Athena, her head bowed in supplication. "Hear my plea."
"Xena, get out of the way," Michael ordered.
"Athena, please listen to me," Xena raised her head, ignoring Michael. "I know how you feel. I-"
"What do you know, mortal?" Athena spat.
"I know that part of you feels like it has been ripped away, leaving an aching void that nothing can fill." Xena took a deep breath. "When Lyceus was killed my world collapsed. I would have given anything, done anything, including destroy the world, if it meant I could have him back, even if it was only long enough to tell him I loved him. But I cant. Nothing can bring him back." She paused, then continued quietly. "The best I can do is try to be the person he always believed me to be."
"How touching," Dionysus sneered. "But its hardly-"
"Why are you telling me this?" Athena asked.
"Because in life you were the one Zeus trusted to bear his thunderbolt, to carry his aegis," Xena replied. "You are the one he trusted to lead the gods and their mortal worshippers after his death. You, all of you," her gaze swept over the assembled gods, "have given mortals so much." Her head turned, eyes resting briefly on Ares prostrate form, "Both our darkest impulses and our highest aspirations." She turned back to face Athena. "Please dont lead them on a path that can only result in destruction."
Athena stared at Xena, her face expressionless, then her mouth crooked in a small smile. "It seems the bard has rubbed off on you, warrior." She looked at Michael. "I make no promises. But I am willing to attempt to negotiate a reasonable compromise." The ball of god-fire in her hand shrank and vanished. The other gods followed suit.
"No, you cant," Dionysus blustered, preparing to throw his god-fire. "Athena-"
Hermes turned towards Dionysus, god-fire reforming in his hands. "Go ahead. I would just love a reason."
"Stop it, both of you," Athena ordered. Hermes bowed and the god-fire vanished.
"B-but, our allies-" sputtered Dionysus.
"Seem to have made themselves scarce," Athena replied. Dionysus slumped and his god-fire vanished. "I take it you have the authority to negotiate?"
Michael stood, his nostrils flaring. The chestnut-haired angel spoke. "Michael." He nodded towards Aphrodite. "Dont you see it?"
"See what?" Michael snapped. He looked at Aphrodite and his eyes widened. "Shekinah." He shook his head. "It cant be. Its a trick."
Athena raised her eyebrow. "Was that a yes or a no?"
Michael slammed his sword into its scabbard. "Not on my own," he said with a sour smile. Turning to the young angel beside him, he ordered, "Abdiel, request the presence of the other members of the high council."
"Sir." Abdiel saluted and stepped through the gate.
"Raphael is a gifted healer," Michael said, indicating the chestnut-haired angel helping Eve to her feet. "If you permit, may he offer healing to those already injured?" Athena nodded, and Raphael moved over to Ares. The god of War watched him closely, suspicion battling pain on his face.
Raphael knelt beside Ares and turned him on his side, leaving one hand on his shoulder. The other curled around the shaft of the arrow. "This may sting a bit," he said, pushing the arrow through until the arrowhead emerged from Ares back.
Ares yelled in pain. "No, it doesnt sting, you damn quack," he said through gritted teeth. "It hurts like Tartarus."
Raphael raised an eyebrow and broke the shaft just below the fletching. He pulled the remainder of the arrow through Ares, then laid his hands on the exit and entrance wounds. His hands glowed as he frowned in concentration. Ares wounds closed. Raphael stepped back.
Ares examined himself and stood. He walked toward his fellow gods, then stopped and turned to Raphael. "Thank you." Raphael nodded and smiled slightly in reply.
Athena signaled the Proxidicae to release Artemis. "Youre lucky."
"Wheres Gabrielle?" Xena asked.
Michael looked at her. "What do you mean?"
"She was injured. You took her. It had to be you." The words tumbled from Xenas mouth. "It had to."
Michael shook his head slowly. "Im sorry. We couldnt do anything here until you opened the gate."
Xena shook her head in denial. "No," she moaned.
Uriel emerged from the gate, followed by a youthful, tow-headed angel and an older, somewhat portly angel. "Were here, Michael."
Gabrielle looked around her. She stood in the middle of a featureless, perfectly flat white plain, lit by a soft, sourceless light. The sky above her was the same featureless white. She could see no horizon. A still, small voice came from behind her. "Hello Gabrielle." Gabrielle tried to whirl to face the voice, but found herself grasped in fingers of cool fire. "No child," the voice continued in a quiet murmur that drowned out the loudest thunder. It was at once completely masculine and utterly feminine, quavering with age and ringing with the strong tones of youth. "No mortal may look upon me and live." The simplest of comments by the voice were not pronouncements set in stone. Stone was far too impermanent a medium. Whatever the voice said simply was. If the voice offhandedly mentioned that the sky was green, the sky was, had always been, and would always be, green.
Gabrielle stilled. "Who are you?"
"Man, those dudes can talk your ear off," Aphrodite said as she approached Xena and Eve. "Howre you two doing?"
"Were fine," Xena replied as she got to her feet. "Daughter of Ouranos."
Aphrodite hesitated, then smiled slightly. "Figured it out, huh?"
Xena smiled in return. "Gabrielle always liked hunting up old scrolls. Shed read them to me as we traveled. We both wondered why there were two stories of your birth. The ones that say Aphrodite is the daughter of Zeus, and the older ones, that say when Cronus overthrew Ouranos he took an adamantine sickle and-"
"Yeah, yeah," the goddess interrupted. "Lets so not go into details. Its icky." Xena raised her eyebrow. Aphrodite sighed. "But essentially true. Zeus decided itd be better if I was part of the family, so to speak, rather than running about on my own. So he adopted me. Worked out okay since it meant I got to meet Hephy." She shook herself slightly. "Anyway, Im in there, right, and Im thinking, like, here we are, determining the fate of mortals and like, there arent even any mortals here, you know, and-" the goddess stopped, an embarrassed smile flitting across her features. "Sorry, force of habit." She took a deep breath. "Would you care to observe our deliberations as my guest?"
"We would be honored," Eve replied with a courtly bow. "I was an Emperors ward long before I became a warlord," she explained to her mothers raised eyebrow.
They almost ran into Hephaestus as they turned a corner. The cut made by the Chakram of Light had been healed and he smiled, his evident affection for his wife shining in his two good eyes. "I see you found them."
Aphrodite gave him a quick peck on the cheek and slipped her arm around his waist as they continued walking. "We missing much?"
Hephaestus shook his head. "Same old, same old. Everybodys talking around and at each other instead of with each other." He stopped and held out his hand. "Xena, I just want to say no hard feelings for the eye. You did what you had to do. Im just glad you werent going for my throat."
Xena clasped his hand. "I was going for your throat. Most opponents I would have gotten it." She paused and cleared her throat. "Um, if you dont mind my asking, which story about your limp is true?"
Hephaestus said nothing for a moment, just looked at Xena with an unreadable expression on his face. "Zeus was enraged when Hera gave birth to me," he replied finally. "I guess he felt sauce for the goose was not necessarily sauce for the gander."
Hope stood. In front of her stretched a broad, straight path over gently rolling hills. Behind her a narrow path twisted its way between sharp rocks and tangles of thorns. "How long, my lord," she murmured, "until my only use is to inflict casualties upon your ancient enemy in my dying?" Taking a deep breath, she stepped off the path.
"Furthermore," Apollo droned as one of the Proxidicae slipped into the room and gave something to Athena, "pursuant to those mortals who wish to-"
"Son of a-" Ares snapped his fingers and stood. "You clever bastards. You gods-be-damned clever bastards." He pointed at the archangels. "It never was about Eve, was it? It was about Gabrielle."
"I think hes finally lost it," Aphrodite murmured to Xena.
Artemis smiled widely. "Of course. Gabrielle is a bard. It wasnt the Messenger. It was stories about the Messenger."
Hephaestus slapped the table with his hand. "The stories in your Holy Books. If theres anything your mortal worshippers are known for, its that."
"And if we eliminated the bards-" Ares continued.
"Wed eliminate their stories," Aphrodite chimed in. "And those stories are the basis-"
"For mortal belief in us," Hermes concluded with a smile. "You are a bunch of clever bastards, arent you?"
"Eves importance has always been-" the portly angel began.
"It makes sense," the younger angel broke in. "It makes a lot more sense that way."
"Gabriels right, Metatron, it does make more sense," Raphael said. "It answers a lot of the questions weve all had."
Metatron shook his head. "No. He would have told us."
"Even we arent privy to all of His plans," Raphael argued. "What about," he drew his fellow archangels into a huddle away from the gods, his voice lowering to inaudibility.
The Olympians gathered around Athena. "If we strike now we can destroy them and end the threat to us forever," Dionysus urged in a low voice. "Our allies-"
"Will turn on us as soon as were no longer of use to them," Aphrodite snapped.
"And these wont?" Dionysus retorted.
"Neither side is likely to let us continue ruling Greece," Ares broke in.
"We cant be neutral," Hephaestus pointed out. "Were not strong enough to hold off both of them. And we damn sure cant win on our own."
"It comes down to this," Aphrodite argued. "No matter what Hell may say, Heaven is in the ascendant." She took a deep breath. "When Zeus and the rest of you were growing in power myself, the Titans, the Muses, the Furies, everyone of the old order had to make a choice." She looked at her fellow gods. "Were faced with the same choice."
"To be Heavens lap dogs?" Dionysus sneered.
"Hounds maybe," Hephaestus replied. "That lot over theres got some brains. They wont just ignore us." He shrugged. "Besides, the old ones who chose to side with Zeus have done pretty well."
"Theres something you all should hear." Athena held up a small metal cube. "Hope left it."
She passed her hand over the cube and Hopes voice spoke from the cube "And the Olympians? Will we be assisting them?"
The gods were silent as the lord of Hell spoke. "Their usefulness is at an end. Except for the casualties they will inflict on Michaels forces in their dying."
Athena passed her hand over the cube again and raised her eyebrow at her fellow gods. Dionysus looked faintly sick. Demeter let out her breath with a huff. "Seems our choice is pretty obvious."
"I still say its too dangerous," Metatron argued. "Wed be better off without them."
"Would you rather have them allied with Hell?" Raphael snapped. "Theyre not exactly helpless."
"All the more reason to make sure theyre safely imprisoned," Michael replied. He held up his hand. "Yes, I know, Raphael. We can all see the Shekinahs mark upon Aphrodite and Demeter. But that doesnt mean they can be trusted."
"When Our Lord breathed life into His creation he set the burden of continuing Life upon the Shekinah," Gabriel countered. "If they are her agents, however unwitting-"
"Exactly," Metatron interrupted. "They bring life in spite of themselves, not because of-"
"But they do bring Life," Raphael retorted.
"And death and destruction as well," Metatron shot back.
"And we dont?" Uriel snapped. "The twin cities? The firstborn? Remember them?" He drew in a shaky breath. "It comes down to this. Can we win?"
Michael grimaced. "Yes, but any victory will cost us dear."
"There might be other advantages to having them on our side," Gabriel added. "Greece is one of the most advanced civilizations existing. To have their philosophy, their science allied with our morality would be a potent combination."
"Chin is just as advanced, if not more so," Metatron countered.
"Yes, but Chins too far for our mortal worshippers to spread in the time we have," Raphael replied.
"And Chin philosophy tends to look inward, not out at the world like the Greeks do," Michael added. He spread his hands. "If we had time and no serious opposition, Id say imprison or eliminate them. As it is, were safer if theyre where we can keep an eye on them."
Metatron rubbed his lower lip with his finger. "The rest of you feel the same?" The other archangels nodded. "All right then, lets make them an offer."
"Most souls never leave the path."
"What does it mean?" Gabrielle asked.
"There is more than one way to enter Heaven. Or Hell."
"W-w-" Gabrielle cleared her throat. "Will she be redeemed?"
"Redemption is available for all, if they choose. Hope is as much your daughter as she is Dahoks."
"Do some choose otherwise?"
"All beings have free will, and choose their path in life."
"She is but a child, given the form of an adult, and the power of a god. Redemption remains a possibility for her. And for you."
Gabrielle shook her head. "I made a bargain."
"For your daughter."
"Yes." Gabrielle took a deep breath. "What do you wish of me?"
Abdiel stumbled through the gate into the main hall of Olympus. "My lords, we are under attack," he gasped. "By Hell, and unknown allies." He held up a club studded with shards of obsidian. "This is one of their weapons."
Ares stepped forward as Michael took the club in his hands. "May I?"
"You recognize this?"
"I might," Ares replied. "These allies, is one of them a god with a black stripe painted across his face? And a black mirror on his chest? Missing a foot?"
Abdiel glanced at Michael. "Sir?"
"Answer the question," Michael ordered.
"Yes sir," Abdiel replied. "He led the second assault."
"Who led the first attack?"
"I didnt get a good look at him, sir. He had a beard."
"Anything else?" Ares grasped the young angels shoulder. "Anything at all? No matter how vague."
"I did- I did get the impression of feathers." Abdiel replied. "And scales. Sir."
Ares sighed and dropped his hand. "Damn it."
"You know these gods?" Michael asked.
"Yeah, I do," Ares replied. "And thanks to me they know about Greece." He turned to the others. "The god with the missing foot is named Tezcatlipoca. The other is Quetzalcoatl. Their people live in the lands across the Atlantic. They call themselves Toltecs." He sighed. "I encountered them during my wanderings after um, after the Dahok incident. They are a warrior culture, and seemed to be quite successful. They took a lot of prisoners."
"But?" Xena prompted as Ares fell silent.
"For every victory they grant, for every prayer they grant, by the gods, even to make the Sun rise and set, the gods of the Toltecs demand a human sacrifice. A living human sacrifice." The others gasped. Ares ran his fingers through his hair. "To watch mortals die in battle, even those who happen to simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time, is one thing. But this, this was one of the most horrible sights Ive ever seen."
"Ares loves war and conflict too much," Gabrielle said. "Even though hes siding with Heaven for now, he always looks out for number one. And he can be very," she paused slightly, "persuasive."
"He nearly persuaded you."
Gabrielle dropped her head into her hands. "Yeah, he did. And I know him. What happens to the next person he targets? Will he convince them to do evil in the name of good?"
"You fear another Najara."
"I fear a whole army of Najaras," Gabrielle replied.
"There will always be those who confuse their own desires with the sound of my voice."
"Why did you do it?"
Ares sighed noisily. "Gee Xena, Im kind of busy right now. You know, preparing to defend whats pure and good from the evil depredations of Hell. That sort of thing."
"Nothing on Olympus could have saved you. All you had to do was do nothing, and your fellow gods would have been safe." She snatched up a gauntlet as Ares reached for it. "Damn it, Ares, you had no reason to do it. And every reason not to."
"You think I want to keep any of those bastards safe? And believe me, they are bastards, in every sense of the word." He laughed bitterly. "Did you know I am the only child Zeus and Hera had together? And the only one they both hated?" Ares glared at Xena. "Maybe I wasnt doing anything except giving you a bit of false hope before you died."
"Bullshit." Xena stepped forward until she was chest to chest with Ares and glared into his eyes. "You took something from me. Something I didnt even know I had until it was gone. Now theres an empty space inside me where it used to be." She jabbed his chest with her finger. "I want it back."
"Xena, I didnt know you cared."
"Dont flatter yourself," Xena growled.
"All right, after the battle."
"No." Xena shook her head. "Now."
"After the battle," Ares repeated.
"Now," Xena growled. "I lead an army for almost ten years. You think I cant tell when somebodys not planning on coming back?"
"Wouldnt that solve all your problems?" Ares sneered.
Xena jabbed her finger repeatedly into Ares chest. "Nobody, but nobody except me is going to decide whether you live or die. You got that, war god?" She smiled slightly. "You were bad for me, Ares. You still are. But you taught me some good lessons. Lessons about loyalty to your fellow warriors. Lessons that I will always treasure."
Ares laid his hand on Xenas chest. "This could be dangerous. Im the one who cut off Tezcatlipocas foot."
"Ill risk it," Xena replied. Ares closed his eyes and pressed his glowing palm to Xenas chest. Her back arched in ecstasy. "Oh gods." Ares withdrew his palm, his breathing heavy and ragged. "Dont think this changes anything between us," she said as she turned away.
"Oh, I wouldnt dream of it," Ares replied with a smile. "Hey," he grabbed Xenas arm. "I miss her too."
Xena stood unmoving. "She hated you, Ares."
He let his hand drop. "Yeah, I know. But she hated me because I was me. I had to respect that." Xena turned, one eyebrow raised in silent inquiry. "Most people who hate me, hate me because I am the god of War and Battle. She hated Ares." He shrugged. "I know, she annoyed the crap out of me, but Im still going to miss her."
Xena leaned over and kissed Ares on the cheek. "Thank you," she whispered.
Aphrodite watched as the warrior princess walked away. "She still doesnt love you," she commented quietly. "She just hates you a little less."
"At least she feels something," Ares replied.
Athena walked up. "Its time." Ares nodded and headed for the gate. "Will you be able to handle everything?" she asked Aphrodite.
"Well be fine," the goddess replied. "Go kick some demon butt."
Athena stood for a moment, absently chewing at her lower lip. "When did you Choose Gabrielle? And why?"
"I liked her." Aphrodite smiled and turned away as Athena rolled her eyes.
"I should be there."
Xena batted away the spear with a negligent parry and thrust her sword into the demons abdomen, dancing out of the way as diabolic ichor sprayed from the wound. A curl of smoke rose from Xenas leather armor as a stray drop struck her. She barely spared it a glance as the smoke died, leaving a small pit in her armor. There were already a dozen more like it, and a quarter of Xenas hair had been burned away.
"A mortal? Heaven is forced to use mortals for its defense?"
Xena looked at the god standing before her. "Quetzalcoatl I presume?"
"You have spirit. And a pleasing figure." The god looked Xena up and down, one hand stroking his beard. "Stand aside, mortal. When this is over, I will grant you the honor of being one of my concubines."
"When this is over," Xena replied, "I will grant you the honor of cleaning out my horses stall."
Quetzalcoatls face paled with rage. "Insolent wretch. You will be the plaything of the lowest, foulest demons." He swung his club at Xena, light glinting off the razor-sharp shards of obsidian embedded in the club.
Xena parried the club. "Sounds like an improvement." Quetzalcoatl growled and swung again. Xena parried, and the two battled back and forth until Quetzalcoatls heavier club hit Xenas sword directly and snapped it in two. The god grinned in triumph as he raised his club for the killing blow. Xena flung her chakram at Quetzalcoatl. The chakram separated in flight, one half embedding itself in the gods chest, the other half spinning past him on a curving trajectory that brought it back to Xenas hand.
Quetzalcoatl looked down and smiled. "An interesting-" He coughed. The god looked at Xena with uncomprehending eyes as divine ichor bubbled from his mouth and he collapsed, driving the chakram half further into his chest.
The demon beside Quetzalcoatl shrieked and turned to flee. His panic infected his fellows and soon the disciplined army attacking the walls of Heaven was an unruly mob fleeing for their lives. "Cowards! Dogs! Scum!" Tezcatlipoca laid about him with his club as the press of demon-flesh carried him away from the battle. "I will avenge you, brother!" he howled as he disappeared. "The Toltecs will never forget you."
The Olympians and the archangels met in front of the gates of Heaven. "I believe we were discussing our place in the new order," Athena said, her dented helmet shoved back from her head. Behind her Ares, Artemis, Dionysus and Hephaestus stood, panting slightly. Michael, Uriel and Gabriel faced her, also panting slightly. Out on the plain, Raphael and Apollo moved among the wounded, offering what comfort they could.
"Yes we were," Michael replied as Metatron emerged from the gateway. "Raphael!"
"Apollo!" Athena called. The archangel and the god looked up from their labors and trotted over to join their fellows.
The five archangels conferred briefly, then turned to the Olympians. "Under the Olympians, mortals have made great advances in art, in science, in philosophy, and in many other realms of knowledge," Metatron declared. "We propose that you become our agents in the mortal realm, under the authority and control of the Council."
"If we agree," Athena replied. "What safeguards do we have against you abusing your authority?"
"The same as any other inhabitant of Heaven," Metatron answered. "The right to publicly petition the Council for redress, the right to face any accuser in a public trial, and the right of appeal to the Most High."
Athena looked at her fellow gods. "Agreed." She held up her hand. "If, in return, our influence may be extended beyond Greece."
"Your influence will be conterminous with ours," Metatron replied.
Athena extended her hand. "To a long and fruitful union."
Metatron grasped her hand in his. "A long and fruitful union."
Gabrielle stood. "Into thy hands-" She turned and faced the voice.
Aphrodite gave an inelegant squawk as she and the remaining gods suddenly vanished from Olympus to appear on the plains of Heaven.
A hand descended on Metatron and Athenas clasped hands. "Well done, my children! Well done!"
The lord of Hell looked up from his throne as the triumphant cry echoed through creation, his face paling. "Oh, shit."
Xena gasped as she sank to her knees. Athena and Metatron stood before her, their hands still clasped as they both knelt before the figure whose hand still rested on their own. It was Gabrielle, her form glowing with pure light, yet as solid and earthly as ever. She turned to Xena and smiled. The bards eyes were orbs of velvet blackness, dotted with points of light. Xena gulped as she realized the points of light formed patterns, the same patterns she and every other person saw whenever they looked up into the night sky.
"She is safe." The voice that came from Gabrielles lips was the voice of the stars above Xenas head, the dust beneath her feet, and the very marrow of her being. Xena could not even conceive of doubting that voice.
"Th-this was your plan all along, my Lo- my Lady?" Metatron stammered, hastily correcting himself at the rise of a reproving eyebrow.
"You had to make the choice yourselves." She turned to Athena. "You have not lost him forever child, merely for a time."
Athena smiled through tear-filled eyes. "Thank you."
She moved out among the wounded, dispensing healing, demons and angels both lying on the plains of Heaven. She paused by one demon.
The demon looked up. "Bless me, Mother, for I have sinned."
She smiled, and laid her hand upon the demons breast. "I absolve thee." Pure white feathers sprouted from the demons wings as his rags wove themselves into a gown of spotless white, and the demons tormented visage smoothed to calm serenity as the newly re-born angel joined his fellows.
"Wh-what-" Xena stammered to Michael.
"I-I dont know," the archangel replied. "He, or rather, She, usually speaks through Metatron."
"He or She?" Xena asked.
"I guess since Metatron is male we rather got used to thinking of Him, I mean Her as male, when She isnt. Hes female. And male. And beyond." Michael paused. "Am I making any sense?"
She paused again, this time by an angel. "Im sorry."
The angel bowed her head. "I know."
"Whenever you are ready to ask, I will answer." The angel said nothing, merely turned and walked away as feathers fell from bat-like wings and her face twisted in demonic torment.
Athena looked over at Aphrodite and the other gods she had left on Olympus. "What are you doing here?" Aphrodite spread her hands and shrugged.
She continued to walk among the wounded, dispensing healing, occasionally exalting a demon or casting down an angel.
"What does this mean?" Xena asked. "Is Gabrielle-" her voice trailed off.
"I dont know," Michael replied. "Shes never incarnated as a mortal before. I just dont know."
"In a mortal," Gabriel corrected in an absent-minded voice.
"In a mortal? Are you sure?"
"At this point Im not sure of anything."
"Well thats a whole lot of help," Ares sneered.
"Who asked you anyway?" Michael snapped.
"Behave children." Xena laughed at the identical guilty expressions on the gods and the archangels faces. "You too, Xena."
"Sorry," Xena mumbled, looking down. She took a deep breath and raised her head. "My Lady, what did you mean we had to make a choice? What choice? And why Gabrielle?"
"Mortals, gods and angels must all make this choice, individually and collectively. You must actively choose between good and evil."
"So, were good now?" Aphrodite asked.
"I did not say that. I said you must choose."
"When must we choose?" Athena asked.
"Now. And for every moment until the end of time." She smiled. "It is much easier to make that choice when the head and the heart work in concert."
"Are you saying they," Eve pointed to the Olympians, "are the head, so to speak, and the angels are the heart? Of what?"
"Humanity." She shrugged. "As for why Gabrielle, consider this a dry run." She looked at Xena, Her mouth crooked in a small smile. "Take care of her. Remind her she is loved."
"Take care of-" Xena stopped as emerald eyes locked with hers. "Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle fell to her knees, her mouth opening in a wail of loss and pain and-
* * * * * * * * * * *
Xena jumped as the scroll landed in the fire. She leaned forward to snatch it from the flames. "Leave it," Gabrielle commanded.
"Yes, Gabrielle," Xena murmured, settling back.
"And stop that," Gabrielle snapped. Xena said nothing. Gabrielle looked over at Eve. "Go hunt or something," she ordered. Eve scrambled to her feet and grabbed her weapons, disappearing into the night with a hasty bow. Gabrielle sighed and stood. "This is getting ridiculous, dont you think?" She eyed Xena as the warrior fiddled with the laces of her left boot. "Damn it Xena, what is wrong with you? Everything I say, its Yes, Gabrielle, of course, Gabrielle, youre absolutely right, Gabrielle. I say jump, you dont even bother asking how high until youre halfway up in the air. Not only that, you havent touched me since we got back. Not once. What is it?"
Xena shook her head. "Nothing." Gabrielle grabbed Xena and kissed her roughly, tongue plundering the warriors mouth. Xena drew back, her eyes wide. "Gabrielle, you cant. Youre-"
"Not some damn plaster saint," Gabrielle growled, pressing Xenas hand between her breasts. "Feel that," she demanded. "My hearts still beating, same as it ever did."
Gabrielle took Xenas hand from between her breasts and pressed it between her legs. Xena drew in a ragged breath as the moist secretions began to coat her fingers. "I still want you, same as ever." She looked directly into Xenas eyes. "If you dont want me anymore, then fine, Ill deal with it. But dont you dare turn away from me because you think Im some damned holy icon you have to put on a pedestal and worship." Xenas only reply was to snake her free hand behind Gabrielles neck and draw the bards mouth down to hers.
Eve crept back to the campsite in the gray light of dawn, a brace of rabbits dangling from her belt. She looked at Xena, sleeping face down on a blanket, and at the other blanket pooled around her hips, leaving Xenas upper body covered only by her long black hair. She raised her head to catch Gabrielles amused glance as the bard stirred the fire, reawakening the embers. "Let her sleep. I think I tired her out last night."
Eve chewed her lower lip nervously. "Yeah, I kind of heard. You guys got pretty loud." She bit her lip again as Gabrielle blushed. "A-and when I didnt see lightning striking or anything I kind of figured everything was okay and maybe I should stay away for a while."
Gabrielle smiled. "You saw the same thing Xena did. What do you think?"
"Um, I, well that is to say I ah-"
"What shes looking for is No, Gabrielle, I dont consider you a holy saint to be worshipped from afar," Xena said without opening her eyes. She reached down and pulled the blanket up over her shoulders, then sat up and faced the other two. "Something along those lines."
Eve ducked her head, then glanced at Gabrielle. "I know youre not. I mean you eat, and drink, and have to go into the bushes and everything else, but still you, you were-" Eve waved her hands vaguely in the air.
"I was a vessel, thats all," Gabrielle replied. "Nothing more. It could just as easily have been you, or Xena, or somebody else entirely."
"But it wasnt," Xena said. "It was you."
"That has to mean something," Eve added.
Gabrielle shook her head. "No, it doesnt. When I was, was," she smiled slightly, "I guess you could say when I was carrying Her, Him, whatever, within me, I knew everything. What had been, what could have been, what might be, all possible pasts and futures." She drew her knees up to her chest. "And not only ours. I saw beings living their lives beneath the light of stars so far away we cant even see them." She drew in a deep breath. "And I saw what would have happened if I had made some different choices in my life."
Xena swallowed. "What do you mean?"
"Do you remember when Eli was killed?" Gabrielle asked. Xena nodded. "Ares came to me."
"You told me about that," Xena replied.
"I didnt tell you everything."
"You turned him down, thats all that matters."
"I didnt at first," Gabrielle said. "He came to me directly after Eli was killed. I know," Gabrielle continued as Xena shifted slightly. "I told you he didnt come to me until after the funeral."
Xena shook her head. "That doesnt matter. What matters is what you did in the end."
"I almost accepted his offer. To do what was necessary," Gabrielle almost spat the word out, "to have a peaceful world. Do you remember Najara?"
Xena laid her hand on Gabrielles arm. "Gabrielle, you are not Najara. I have seen you use your bardic gifts, your gods-given ability to end the hatred and fear that separates people. You would never have become her."
Gabrielle looked up with a bitter smile. "No, my gods-given gift, as you call it, would have let me become something far worse." She moved slightly and Xenas hand dropped from her arm. "I saw myself leading armies, leading nations, destroying everyone who resisted me, torturing people to save their souls. And all for the greater good." She laughed harshly. "You think you were evil, Warrior Princess? You have no idea what evil can be done in the name of good."
"But thats the past-" Xena began.
Gabrielle shook her head. "That wasnt the only path that leads there. Its fading now, I cant remember all the choices, but it would be so easy to let them call me saint, twist their love to hate, and call it good. I know what I could become."
"Could become," Xena repeated. "Could. Not will." She ran her hand through her hair. "Did every path lead there?"
Gabrielle was silent. "No, not all of them," she replied finally
"Well then, just stay away from any path the ends up with you leading an army."
"But how will I know?"
Xenas mouth crooked in a small smile. "Welcome back to life as a mortal, your divineship."
Gabrielle smiled slightly. "Thank you. I feel so much better now." She stretched and yawned. "What are we doing today?" Xena shrugged. "Thats not very helpful, Xena."
"Actually," Eve said hesitantly, "I was thinking of going back to Rome."
"Rome?" Xena cried. "Why in Hades name would you ever want to go back there?"
Eve leaned forward. "To you, Rome is Julius Caesar. A city built on lies and deceit and betrayal. But to me its home. Every treacherous, backstabbing inch of it. If there is any place that needs to hear Elis message, its Rome. And it needs someone who loves Rome to do it."
"If you go back theyll kill you. Theyll crucify you or put you in the Arena or-"
"Im willing to risk it." Eve took Xenas hands in her own. "I have to do this, Mother."
Xena looked down at their joined hands, then back up at her daughter. "Damn it," she sighed. "The main Rome-Jerusalem military roads about two days north." She looked around. "Anybody seen my- Ares!"
"Here." Ares materialized and picked up Xenas shift.
Xena snatched her shift out of Ares hand. "What do you want?"
Ares shrugged a slight smile on his face. "Oh, just thought Id drop by, see how my best girls were doing."
Gabrielles eyebrows rose as Ares flopped down beside them. "Excuse me? Your what?"
"Gabrielle, Im hurt. After all, we are on the same side now." Ares looked at the doubting expressions on the threes faces. "Ah well," he sighed. "I guess thisll take a while." He pulled out a scroll. "If you dont mind, I need to study."
Xena raised her eyebrow. "You? You have a lot of skills, Ares, but I dont think scholarship is one of them. And yes, we do mind."
"Im studying an interesting little concept called a just war," Ares replied. "Hey, when the paradigm shifts," he shrugged.
The three looked at each other. Gabrielle sighed. "She believes in as many second chances as it takes."
"And its going to take a lot," Aphrodite commented as she materialized. Artemis appeared moments later.
"You two really arent helping," Ares responded peevishly. "I need positive reinforcing, um, things, instead of-"
"Could someone please tell me exactly when this became the Athenian agora?" Xena demanded. "I really would like to- Oh, forget it." She grabbed her shift and leather armor and stalked off, one hand holding the blanket closed.
Ares grinned. "Gods, shes beautiful when shes angry." He waggled his eyebrows and disappeared.
"Um, Eve, do you mind?" Gabrielle gestured vaguely. Eve smiled and left. Gabrielle looked at the two goddesses. "Youve been well?"
"Fine, fine," Artemis replied hastily.
Aphrodite smiled sadly. "Ive missed you, Gabrielle. So has she, even if she wont admit it."
Artemis looked down at the ground. "I thought Terreis had lost her mind. Melosa too." She raised her eyes to meet Gabrielles. "You turned out to be exactly the queen my Amazons needed. I was proud to call you my Chosen." She sighed, and her shoulders slumped. "Even so, they are fading. Soon the Amazon nations will no longer exist. Isnt there anything you can do?" the goddess begged. "Talk to Her? Ill do whatever-"
Gabrielle shook her head. "Im sorry. But," she smiled and took Artemis hand as the goddess hung her head, "even though the Amazon nations will fall, the Amazons will go on, and their daughters will spread throughout the world, to every nation." Gabrielle cocked her head. "They will still need their protector and wise teacher, even those to whom the Amazons will be nothing more than half-remembered childrens tales."
"Sounds like a bit of a challenge," Aphrodite commented.
Artemis head came up as her spine straightened. "Yes, it does, doesnt it?"
Gabrielle released Artemis hand. "One more thing," she added hesitantly, holding up glowing palms. "Since it was kind of taken from you. If either of you are interested, that is. I mean you dont-"
The two goddesses each took a hand and laid it on her breast. Gabrielle smiled and pressed her glowing palms above their hearts as they arched in ecstasy. "Oh yes," Aphrodite hissed as she threw her head back. Artemis moaned wordlessly beside her. Gabrielles palms faded, and the three embraced. "Its good to have you back, little one," Aphrodite murmured.
"Yes, my Queen," Artemis breathed. "It is good."
"Its good to be back," Gabrielle replied huskily.
Aphrodite drew back slightly. "Are you all right with everything, Gabrielle? Truly?"
Gabrielle smiled and pulled Aphrodite back into their embrace. "I knew who you were long before this," the bard whispered. "Long before."
Xena and Gabrielle watched as Eve disappeared around a curve in the road. "Where to now?" Xena asked, several minutes after Eve could no longer be seen. She looked over at Gabrielle, who stood quietly, her head cocked as if listening to something. "Gabrielle?"
"Thank You," the bard murmured. She turned to Xena and smiled. "I have to go to Judea."
"Judea? Why Ju-" Xena stopped as Gabrielle pointed upwards. "Oh." The two started down the road. "Is this going to be a regular feature in our lives from now on?
Gabrielle shook her head. "No, this is simply a one time thing. I just have to go to Judea, make one little announcement to a virgin and were done."
"I take it this announcement has to be made to one particular virgin?" Xena asked. Gabrielle nodded. "What sort of announcement?"
"Trust me Xena, you wouldnt believe me if I told you." The bard stopped, looking off into the distance. "And theres something else as well." She took a deep breath. "Hopes soul is to be reborn." She turned to face Xena. "At my request."
"Her soul?" Xena asked finally.
"Does she even have one?" Xena reached out as Gabrielle turned away. "Im sorry, I didnt mean that."
"It doesnt matter," Gabrielle replied.
"Yes, it does." Xena turned Gabrielle around to face her. "I guess I tend to forget shes your daughter as well as Dahoks." The warrior hesitated. "Are you going to be her mother again?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "No. Hopes parents have already been decided on."
Xena grinned. "Well, thats a relief." Gabrielles eyebrows rose. "I mean, a second pregnancy for us without any men involved?" Xena explained. "How would we explain that?"
Gabrielle smiled. "And exactly what makes you think any future pregnancies of mine wont involve a man? I am an Amazon Queen, you know, and with my heir off running around Rome, well," she shrugged, "it might not hurt to have a spare or two. Close your mouth, Xena," she said, tapping the warrior gently on the cheek. "You look like a fish."
"But- but-" Xena sputtered.
"Oh, dont worry Xena. Ill probably adopt someone as my heir, like Melosa did me." She waited until the warrior had slumped in relief, then leaned forward and whispered in her ear. "Probably."
Xenas head came up. "Gabrielle-" She stopped as she saw the bards grinning face. "All right, you got me. I take it you want to meet Hopes new parents after were finished in Judea?"
"Actually, I do," Gabrielle replied as they started down the road again. "Theyre in Judea too, some place called Magdala."
AUTHORS NOTE: This was my attempt to present an ending to the Olympian Order that I prefer, one that matches up with my philosophy that our civilization owes an enormous debt to both Athens and Jerusalem, and that reason and faith are in fact complementary aspects of humanity, and not in opposition, as all too many of their proponents have been.
Having said that, I also want to add I took a page from the poets of old and mixed and matched various myths and legends of the Heavenly Host and the Olympians until I came up with versions that best suited the needs of my story. Here is a quick listing of the aspects I chose.
THE HEAVENLY HOST
Abdiel: "servant of God" A tip of the hat to John Miltons Paradise Lost. When Satan attempts to subvert a large group of angels into joining his rebellion, Abdiel is the only one to remain loyal and denounce Satan. I thought he would make a good aide-de-camp for Michael.
Gabriel: "God is (my) strength" One of the four great Archangels of Christian, Hebrew and Cabalistic tradition, along with Michael, Raphael, and Uriel, he is the Herald of Heaven, responsible for delivering Gods word to humanity. It is Gabriel who informed Mary that she would give birth to the promised Messiah, and it is he who will blow the trumpet signaling the beginning of the Apocalypse, summoning all Creation to the Final Judgement. Gabriel is often represented in art as a blonde-haired youth, and adding to that the fact that he is seen in some magical traditions as a feminine angel, along with Raphael, and I just couldnt resist the connection with Gabrielle. Gabriel is the Guardian of the West, Lord of Water, and his wings are said to be made of the glimmer of sunlight upon water.
Metatron: Metatron is found more in Hebrew and Cabalistic tradition than in Christian tradition. He is the Chancellor of Heaven, and the Voice of God, which may be considered roughly equivalent to Presidential Spokesman. His twin brother, or possibly sister, Sandalphon is said to be the tallest angel in Heaven.
Michael: "who is like God" Michael is the Protector and Defender of Heaven, responsible for leading the loyal angels against Satans rebels. In magical tradition he is the Guardian of the South, Lord of Fire. He is said to appear as an athletic man in the prime of life, with red hair and wings of flame. Interestingly enough, Satan is also traditionally considered to be a redhead. Michael is the patron of all those who protect the innocent.
Raphael: "God has healed" Guardian of the East, Lord of Air, Raphael is Gods healing hand upon the world. His wings are made of golden light, and he is the patron of all those who give aid and comfort to the afflicted.
Shekinah: "the glory/presence/wisdom of God" Also known as the Liberating Angel, the Shekinah is said to make her dwelling within the hearts of humanity. She is the feminine aspect of the Creator in Jewish tradition, and may be considered roughly equivalent to the Holy Spirit of Christianity.
Uriel: "the fire/light of God" The Dark Angel of Death and Rebirth, Uriel is probably the least well known of the four great archangels. Unlike the other three, he is not named in the Bible, but only in the Apocrypha. Uriel is traditionally held to be the unnamed angel who slew all the first-born of Egypt in response to Pharaohs continued enslavement of the Israelites. I have noticed in the Bible that whenever God wants someone killed, or afflicted, or an army destroyed or a city laid waste, he sends an angel to do the job. Ive always wondered how they felt about it. Uriel is said to be an older angel, of dark and dour countenance, and the only one of the great archangels to actually have feathered wings, of a green so dark they appear black. Milton calls him "the sharpest-sighted angel in Heaven". He is sometimes called, or was replaced for a time, by Phanuel.
The ancient Greek religion was a distillation of many regional beliefs as various tribes in what is now Greece and Asia Minor clashed and combined in trade and warfare. As the tribes merged into what we now call the ancient Greeks, so too did their gods and goddesses, until the Olympic pantheon emerged. It was not until centuries later that the Greeks began to write down their myths. With no central authority to determine orthodoxy, the tales of the Olympians form a less than coherent and frequently contradictory whole, from which I have drawn out the threads that best suit my story. Most of them come from Hesiods Theogeny, with other aspects from Homer and various other Greek poets, and the odd bits I just made up on my own.
Origin of the Greek gods:
Chaos brought forth Gaia (Earth) and she gave birth to Ouranos (The Heavens). Ouranos lay with Gaia, and she gave birth to the Hecatonchires, horrible creatures with fifty heads and a hundred hands. Again, Ouranos lay with Gaia, and she gave birth to a race of giants, including the Cyclopes, the terrible one-eyed giants. Ouranos feared the great strength and power of his children, and bound them in Tartarus, in the depths of the Earth.
Gaia pleaded with Ouranos to release their children, but he refused, and lay with her again. She gave birth to six sons and six daughters, the first generation of the Titans, and Ouranos cast them into Tartarus as well.
Gaia went to her sons, and begged them to free her from Ouranos, but they feared him, and all refused except the youngest Titan, Cronus. She smuggled him out of Tartarus and, after extracting from him a promise to release all of her children from Tartarus, armed him with an adamantine sickle. When Ouranos again came to lie with Gaia, Cronus struck, castrating Ouranos and throwing his testicles into the sea. The seas boiled and foamed, and from that foam arose Aphrodite, goddess of Love and Desire.
The blood from Ouranos wound fell to Earth, and the Furies, goddesses of Vengeance and Punishment, sprang forth. Ouranos fled, and the Heavens separated from the Earth.
Cronus released Gaias children from Tartarus, but he grew to fear them as Ouranos had, and soon bound all but his fellow Titans in Tartarus again. Enraged, Gaia prophesied that his son would overthrow him, as he had overthrown his father.
Cronus married his sister Rhea, and she gave birth in turn to Hestia, Hades, Demeter, Hera, Poseidon, and Zeus. As they were born, Cronus took his children from Rheas arms and swallowed them. Rhea went to Gaia, and between them they substituted a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes for Zeus, which Cronus swallowed.
Gaia hid Zeus until he matured, and when he was grown Zeus tricked his father, forcing him to vomit up his brothers and sisters. The gods fought the Titans, and wrested control of Olympus from them, binding them in Tartarus.
Here is a little more information about various individual Greek mythological figures.
Aeneas: A hero of the Trojan War, and the son of Aphrodite and her mortal lover Anchises, he led the refugees from Troy to either Rome or Britain, depending on which version you read.
Alecto: "She Who Rests Not" A Fury.
Aphrodite: The goddess of Love and Desire. The Greeks both admired and feared her power for its unpredictable nature, and often teamed her with Ares, whom they also both feared and admired.
Apollo: The god of Music, Healing, and Prophecy, Apollo rules over the Sun. Twin brother to Artemis, he is the son of Zeus and Leto, who was the daughter of the Titan Coeus "the Intelligent", and Phoebe, the Titaness who ruled the moon until supplanted by her granddaughter Artemis.
Ares: The son of Zeus and Hera, the god of War and Battle was looked upon as a coward and a braggart by the ancient Greeks, and feared for his unpredictable nature. At the same time, they honored him as the Father of Victory and the Defender of Olympus. He was the first being to be tried for murder, having killed Halirrothius, the son of Poseidon, when Halirrothius attempted to rape Ares daughter Alcippe. Poseidon demanded Ares life in exchange for his sons, but the other gods acquitted Ares, ruling his actions to be justifiable homicide.
Artemis: The twin sister of Apollo, Artemis is the huntsman for her fellow gods. The virgin goddess of the Hunt and Nature, and ruler of the Moon, she protected the young of every species. Surprisingly, for a goddess who demanded chastity from her followers, persecuting any who became sexually active, Artemis also presided over childbirth. There are several versions of why Artemis has chosen to remain virginal, one of the most poignant describes the goddess turning aside the affections of her first lover, demanding he perform some heroic task before she will give herself to him. He performs this task, but is killed in the process, and in shock and grief Artemis declares that she will lay with no man, but remain ever virgin.
Athena: The goddess of Wisdom, Warfare, and Weaving, Athena sprang forth fully formed from the head of Zeus, and soon became his favorite. He gave her his thunderbolt, and later his aegis, or shield, to carry. A legend popular in the city of Athens said that Athena would eventually replace Zeus as ruler of the gods. It seems the producers of Xena have heard of this legend as well. Athena is said to have invented the bridle, the pot, the rake, the plow, the yoke, the ship, and the chariot.
Atropos: "Inflexible" The eldest of the Fates, it is she who cuts the thread of a persons life. No one knows the true origin of the Fates, or the extent of their power.
Clotho: "Spinner" The youngest of the Fates, she spins the thread that makes up a persons life.
Cronus: Ruler of the Titans, father of the first generation of the Olympians, known as the Cronids.
Demeter: Goddess of the harvest and all growing things, she is specifically associated with wheat. She taught the science of agriculture to humanity, and is the mother of Persephone, the wife of her brother Hades.
Dionysus: The god of wine, he is said to have invented viniculture. He could be a cheerful, jolly god but was also given to fits of brutal, unthinking rage. He was the son of Zeus and Semele, and the only god to have a mortal parent.
Hades: The ruler of the Underworld and King of the Dead, Hades is said to be unpitying and terrible, but not capricious. The Greeks called him the greediest of the gods, always concerned with increasing his subjects.
Hephaestus: Zeus cast Hephaestus, the son of Hera, out of Olympus at birth in a fit of rage over Heras infidelity to him. The fall smashed Hephaestus legs, and he ever afterwards walked with a limp. The only one of the gods with a physical deformity, Hephaestus was also the only god who could physically create the items that the Olympians invented. At the pleading of the other gods, Zeus allowed him to return to Olympus, and soon items of great power began to flow from his workshop, including Zeus thunderbolt, Hades helmet of invisibility, Poseidons trident, Ares sword and Artemis bow and silver arrows, among many other items of great beauty and terrible power.
Hera: Queen of the gods, Hera presided over marriage, childbirth and financial matters.
Hermes: The god of Diplomacy, Theft, and Commerce, Hermes acts as messenger for his fellow gods, as well as guiding the newly dead to Hades realm. The son of Zeus and the nymph Maia, he is said to have invented the lyre, the pipes, the musical scale, astronomy, boxing, and gymnastics.
Hestia: The first born of the Cronids, this virgin goddess of the hearth and home was said to be the mildest, most upright, and most charitable of all the Olympians.
Lachesis: "Alotter" The middle Fate, Lachesis measures the thread of a persons life, determining its length.
Megeara: "The Jealous One" A Fury.
Poseidon: The god of the Sea, he is said to have created the horse. Second only in power to his brother Zeus, he was headstrong and quarrelsome, and often shook the Earth, sending the ocean against cities ruled by the other gods.
Rhea: A Titaness, she was the goddess of Vegetation and the Harvest until supplanted by her daughter Demeter. She is the mother of the first generation of the Olympians, known as the Cronids.
Tisiphone: "The Avenger" A Fury.
Zeus: Ruler of the gods, lord of the sky, Zeus controls the weather.
OTHER MYTHOLOGICAL FIGURES
Branwen: "White Raven" The daughter of the Celtic sea god Llyr, and sister to Bran the Blessed, King of Britain, she was given in marriage to Matholwch, King of Ireland. One of Brans gifts to the couple was a large cauldron that, if someone were placed inside it, would cure all wounds, and even raise the dead. At first Matholwch treated Branwen with kindness, but he soon began to beat her and forced her to work as a kitchen slave. She managed to teach a starling to speak and sent it to her brother. Brans army boarded ships to cross the Irish Sea, but Bran was of too great a stature for any ship, so he was forced to wade across. The two armies met in battle, both Bran and Matholwch were killed, and the cauldron destroyed. Branwen returned to Britain and lived in seclusion until her death.
Quetzalcoatl: The Toltec, and later Aztec when they replaced the Toltecs, god of the day and all spiritual things. His name means feathered serpent, and the Aztecs pictured him as a pale-skinned, bearded man. They believed he had gone on a long journey and would return from the east, ushering in a new era of prosperity for the Aztec people. When the Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes began exploring what is now the eastern coast of Mexico, he met several tribes the Aztec Empire raided for sacrifice victims on a regular basis. They told him both of the legend of Quetzalcoatls return and of the fabulous wealth in the capital of the empire, Tenochtitlan. Cortes allied with these tribes, convinced the Aztec emperor Moctezuma II that he was Quetzalcoatl, and pulled off one of the biggest con jobs in history.
Tezcatlipoca: The Toltec god of the night and the material world. He and Quetzalcoatl fought, Tezcatlipoca striving to bring eternal night to the world, and Quetzalcoatl eternal day. A victim would be sacrificed at sunrise and sunset of each day in order to strengthen each god in turn and continue the cycle of day and night.
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