Miranda and Hannah walked out of the hut. All of the women
in the Amazon tribe were present. There was quiet murmuring amongst them.
Miranda looked back inside. Soon, Gabrielle and Meldinas
stepped out of the hut. Meldinas walked out in front
of the three women. She began to speak to the large crowd before her.
"Now that you are all here, there is a very serious matter which I must discuss with you. As you all are aware of, the warlord Attila the Hun has devastated all of Greece, and there is talk of further invasions. You may also be aware of the legend of Attila possessing the sword of Mars, the God of War.
"I'm sure that you are also aware that we have a very special visitor among us- Gabrielle, the Warrior Bard. After destroying the goddess Velasca, she was buried in an avalanche, and one of the weapons she was using to fight the goddess froze her into a state of deep sleep. She was in that sleep for four hundred years, and an earthquake released her from her prison. It was at that time that I and my hunting party found her.
"Gabrielle has brought forth some information regarding the God of War. Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle stepped forward. She gazed upon the group of curious faces. Gabrielle took a deep breath, and began to speak.
"Firstly, I'd like to thank Queen Meldinas and her group of Amazons for rescuing me. I also want to thank her and all of you for your tremendous hospitality. I am very humbled by it. I had hoped to be reunited with Xena again, but I guess Fate had other ideas. Maybe this was my destiny. Who knows.
"At any rate, if you've followed my adventures with Xena, you'll know that one of our most dangerous adversaries was Ares, the God of War. Ares is known to possess a sword that has great power. After I was told of the legend of Attila and the sword of Mars, it dawned on me that Mars is also known as Ares-Mars being the Roman name of the God of War. Xena and I fought Ares long ago, and had him imprisoned in a cave in Macedonia, which is in Greece.
"My fear is that Attila has somehow gotten a hold of the sword of Ares. Now, this isn't definite. I am hoping that I find the sword when I go to Macedonia. If however it is not where I think it is, then I can only surmise that Ares somehow has gotten it over to Attila. Ares lusts after war, and he has always looked for a disciple he could control. This disciple has always been a warlord-the best that Ares could find. As you probably know, he tried to seduce Xena to his side.
"If Attila indeed has the sword, no one-I repeat, no one- is safe. No general will be able to go against Attila. Ares most likely is in communication with Attila through his sword. No general will be able to match wits with the God of War. Therefore, if the sword of Ares is indeed with Attila, then my mission is to kill Attila and destroy the sword of Ares."
"This will be an extremely dangerous mission." began Meldinas. "Given what's at stake here, I've decided to accompany Gabrielle on this mission. My sister Miranda will take over as queen. I also am requesting that four of our best warriors come with us. Keep in mind that there is a good chance none of us may make it back. We are going deep into Hun territory.
"Why am I doing this? Because I strongly feel that it will only be a matter of time before Attila's forces reach Crete. Our way of life-everything that we know, could be lost. We've been extremely fortunate so far, but we can't leave anything to chance. That is why this tribe has survived for as long as it has."
Meldinas gazed upon the group of worried faces. She could hear nervous murmuring within the crowd of women. Meldinas licked her lips and spoke again.
"Are there any questions?"
An Amazon in front of her raised a hand.
"I've got one. Why only 5 women? Wouldn't Gabrielle be better off with more protection?"
"Too risky." said Gabrielle. "The more Amazons that come along, the more danger of one of us getting captured. I also don't want to draw too much attention to us. This is why I only want the best warriors to come with us. They have to be capable of camouflage, stealth, combat-in other words, nothing less than experts."
"Count me in."
Meldinas and Gabrielle turned to their left. A tall brunette walked towards them. Meldinas's eyebrows rose.
Gabrielle squinted at the Amazon.
"You look familiar."
A crooked grin formed on Althea's face.
"I should. While you were going berserk in your tent, I held you down, and you threatened to smash in my face."
Gabrielle immediately remembered. She blushed in embarrassment, smiling weakly.
"Ummm-sorry about that."
"Don't worry about it."
"Count us in as well."
Two more women walked forward-a redhead and a shorter woman with brown hair. They came over to Althea's side. Gabrielle walked up to them.
"And you are…"
"Stella." said the redhead.
"I'm Yasmin." added the shorter woman.
"And I'm number four."
Gabrielle looked towards the source of the voice. A brunette walked forward. She had short black hair, ice-blue eyes, and was powerfully built. Her arm muscles rippled with energy. She walked up to Meldinas. The queen nodded.
"Valacia. Thank you for volunteering."
She then turned to the other three women.
"Thank all of you for volunteering. We have to get together, and discuss preparations."
"All of you need to make it back."
Meldinas turned to her right. A woman, about forty summers old, stepped forward. Her face was filled with anxiety.
"You all need to make it back safely. None of this talk about not making it back."
The crowd of women loudly shouted their agreement to this. Meldinas smiled sadly. She walked up to the woman, placing her hands on the woman's shoulders.
"Katrina, we'll try. I promise."
The queen then looked at the large crowd of Amazons. All of them had somber, worried looks on their faces. A few had tears in their eyes.
"We'll do our best to make it back." Meldinas said in a louder voice. "All of us. Anyway, that's it. Thank you all for coming."
The crowd of women slowly broke up. Meldinas turned to Gabrielle and the four volunteers.
"All right. Let's all go inside and talk."
The eight women went inside the hut.
The sun was just setting over the horizon. Gabrielle rode her brown palomino slowly through the crowds of people. She studied her surroundings. Meldinas rode at her right, and the other four Amazons rode behind them. Gabrielle slowly shook her head.
"By the gods…how things have changed."
She turned towards Meldinas.
"It's a monotheistic society now. Remember-the Christian God. Folks are a bit touchy about that."
Gabrielle frowned in embarrassment.
Meldinas smiled slightly.
"That's all right."
Eventually, the six women neared the docks. Three large ships stood by them. Meldinas rode ahead of the other women and approached the center ship. She stopped near the ramp. A tall, gruff-looking man stood near it. He was bald, and had a long, stringy beard. He watched as the men moved carts of cargo up the ramp into the ship. Meldinas got off her horse. Gabrielle and the other women rode up to her and dismounted as well. Gabrielle walked up to Meldinas's side.
"Looks like he's the captain." she remarked.
Meldinas raised an eyebrow.
"Let's find out."
The two women walked up to him. The man looked towards them. His eyes narrowed.
"Something you ladies want?"
"Are you the captain?" asked Meldinas.
"We'd like passage aboard your ship. There are six of us, and we each have a horse. We're heading to Miletus."
"That'll be a hundred eighty nomismata."
Meldinas winced slightly.
"A bit steep. Break that down for me?"
"Twenty nomismata per horse, ten nomismata per person. You want hay for your horses, that's extra."
"How much extra?"
"Eight nomismata per bale."
Meldinas licked her lips. She paused a moment.
The man held out his hand. Meldinas unhooked a small leather purse from her belt. She counted out the appropriate amount of coins, and handed them over to him. The man counted the coins and nodded slowly.
He turned to his left.
"Skiros!" he called out.
Meldinas and Gabrielle followed the captain's gaze. A large, bald, muscular man set down a crate he was carrying. He turned towards the captain.
"We've got six ladies here who are passengers. They've got horses. Set them up in the hold."
The man nodded.
He motioned to the six women with his hand.
"This way. Just watch the cargo."
The women took hold of their horses' reins and followed the man. He turned left up a large ramp. The women and horses walked up the ramp as well. They entered the hold. The man turned to face the women.
"All right. You ladies can stay off to my right here. Let me know if you need anything."
The women brought their horses off to the side and tied them to posts. Then, they all settled in a small corner, sitting down on the wooden floor. Meldinas turned to the other women.
"Well, here we are."
Althea looked at Meldinas uneasily.
"The six of us against Attila and his Huns. I hope it won't come to that."
"Second thoughts?" asked Gabrielle.
Althea shook her head.
"No…this needs to be done. But I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about this."
"I think we're all nervous." said Meldinas. "Considering what we're facing, it's understandable."
"Hopefully, we'll all make it back."
Althea turned towards Valacia, who sat at her left. Althea raised an eyebrow.
"With any luck." she responded.
Valacia placed a hand on Althea's leg.
"We're all in this together. We'll make it."
The muscular Amazon then turned to Gabrielle.
"Do you think we'll run into problems from any other gods?"
Gabrielle shook her head slowly.
"No…no, I doubt it. Ares is the only one we need to watch out for."
"What about Aphrodite?" asked Meldinas.
Gabrielle paused in thought.
"Not very likely. But anything is possible."
She turned to Meldinas.
"I take it getting to Macedonia won't be easy."
"If the Huns were as thorough as I believe, there's little left in Greece. And we're likely to run into quite a few of them on the way to Macedonia."
Gabrielle nodded slowly.
"I figure this is something you and Xena had to deal with lots of times." said Stella. "It must take its wear and tear on you after a while."
Gabrielle looked at the red-haired Amazon, and gave a tired smile.
"Oh yeah. Absolutely, it did. But in the end, it's worth it. If you get to help people doing it, there's no better reward."
"Were all the gods really that bad?" asked Yasmin.
"Bad enough. They were selfish, full of themselves. The fact that they had powers and immortality made them think they were better than everyone else. They made many people suffer, Yasmin. And I've also dealt with gods in other cultures too. No, they pretty much strike me as being all the same."
Yasmin looked around. She leaned closer to Gabrielle.
"No comments on the Christian god?"
"Color me a skeptic. Sorry-I don't trust any of them. I've been around gods too long. I know how they manipulate people. I honestly believe the world would be better off without gods, and that people should think and do things for themselves. We should look into ourselves for inspiration-not gods."
Yasmin leaned back, nodding slowly.
"You make a lot of sense, Gabrielle."
There was a moment of silence. Then Meldinas spoke.
"Let's get some rest. We'll need it, because we have a long ride ahead of us once we get to Miletus."
"A nap sounds like a good idea." said Stella.
Meldinas turned to Gabrielle.
"I'm going to head up top. I want to see what's going on. Be back in a bit."
Gabrielle took a bite out of her piece of bread, washing it down with some water. Nearby, her horse was chewing quietly on some hay. Gabrielle looked out of the porthole into the star-filled sky.
Gabrielle had thought back to yesterday, when they had all left the Amazon camp. It was a very emotional time. Sadness and fear were prevalent among the Amazons. It was difficult to see their queen and their four friends leave. There were a few women who cried. Miranda made a brave effort to keep her emotions in check, and was mostly successful. That was, until she hugged her sister good-bye. Gabrielle could see how tough it was for them to leave each other. Part of her wished that the Amazons had never found her. Gabrielle knew that these women had chosen to go along with her-but that didn't make things easier on Gabrielle. She knew that she had 5 other lives weighing on her. And that bothered her greatly.
Yet, her other half, grudgingly, knew that Meldinas was right from the start about Gabrielle needing company on this journey. It would help increase her odds of carrying through this mission.
Suddenly, Gabrielle heard footsteps. She looked up. It was Meldinas. The Amazon looked down at her and smiled.
"Hey there. Your fellow Amazons are fast asleep."
"Yes, it seems that way. Mind if I join you Gabrielle?"
The blonde returned the smile.
"No, not at all."
Meldinas sat down next to Gabrielle. She turned to her and spoke.
"Well, I got together with the captain. And we talked."
Gabrielle drew closer, her face filled with anxiety.
"So-did he agree??"
A warm smile crossed Meldinas's face. Gabrielle sighed in relief.
"Gold talks. After he saw what I had, he was more than willing to drop us off near Athens."
Gabrielle shook her head in amazement.
"I can't believe that you and your Amazons have access to that much gold." she said in a lowered voice.
"Yes, but we know the kind of trouble it can cause. The last thing we need is the Romans infiltrating our world. We're very careful with how we use it. Besides, we do fine living off the land."
A moment of silence passed. Then Meldinas spoke again.
"So. Ares was a formidable opponent, hmmm?"
Gabrielle sighed. She looked up at the ceiling.
"Very much so. He was the grand manipulator. The amount of times he tried to seduce Xena and me…"
The blonde slowly shook her head.
"You know, I've lost count."
"What finally made you two decide to imprison Ares?"
"Actually, we were going to kill him. It was due to a war in the kingdom of Mirtan. Ares had backed this vicious warlord named Bartules. King Gantor, ruler of Mirtan at the time, sent a large army out to face Bartules's forces. The carnage was incredible, and Bartules was able to beat Gantor's army. Gantor called for support from the nearby kingdom of Boisha. Many of Mirtan's citizens fled. One of the groups of people who were trying to flee were children from an orphanage. Some of Bartules's forces managed to cut ahead, killing whoever they came across. Unfortunately, they came upon the children from this orphanage."
Gabrielle's face grew dark.
"They slaughtered every single child. Not one was left alive."
Meldinas's features twisted in horror and disgust.
Gabrielle nodded slowly.
"Yes. Children. Bartules had given orders to kill every single person in sight-no matter how young or old."
Meldinas gritted her teeth in rage.
"Anyway, Xena and I happened to be in the area at the time, and we helped Boecia and Mirtan to battle back Bartules's forces. We defeated them-at a terrible cost, but we defeated them. Xena eventually found Bartules and beheaded him. And it was then that Xena and I decided that the world had to be rid of Ares, once and for all. I tell you…the horror we felt when we saw those dead children…"
"So, how did you finally encase Ares in the sarcophagus?"
Gabrielle sat back, slowly rubbing her hands.
"Well, let's see…we tracked Ares down to Macedonia…"
Xena and Gabrielle knelt in the bushes, in the midst of a large group of trees.
"There's his temple."
Gabrielle followed Xena's gaze. She spotted the massive temple standing in the middle of the clearing. Gabrielle turned to Xena.
"Are you ready for this?"
Xena glared at the temple. Her lips twisted into a snarl.
"I've never been more ready."
She looked down at the dagger she had in her hand.
"I just need to get close enough to bury this into him."
"I'd hoped we'd never need the Hind's Blood Dagger again."
Xena's eyes narrowed.
"Never say never, Gabrielle."
Xena sheathed the dagger. She paused, then spoke again.
"The gods are so full of themselves…"
Xena turned to Gabrielle, her blue eyes afire.
"The world would be better off without gods. It's high time Ares joined his dead relatives."
"I'm with you on this. Especially after what happened with those poor children."
Xena gazed out at the temple and licked her lips.
"All right. Let's do this."
Xena and Gabrielle emerged from the forest, and ran towards the temple. Soon, they arrived at it and ascended the steps. They entered a cavernous room. At one end was a throne, made out of marble. Running along either side of the room, near the walls, were a dozen candelabras mounted on poles. High up, near the ceiling, were a dozen windows running along the top of each wall. Light shone down from them onto the bare marble floor. Xena looked around, her face filled with fury.
"Ares, you coward!!" she shouted. "Show yourself!! NOW!!"
No response. Xena and Gabrielle slowly walked towards the center of the room. Their eyes darted left and right.
"ARES!!!" Xena screamed. "You good-for-nothing cowardly piece of SHIT!! SHOW YOURSELF!!"
Suddenly, Xena stopped in her tracks. Gabrielle stared at her.
"My skin's tingling…he's coming…"
There was a loud thunderclap. At that moment, a red glowing form appeared before the women. Eventually, the light subsided and a tall, muscular man appeared. He had a dark mane of hair and a beard. He wore a leather outfit. The man looked at the two women with amusement. He spoke.
"You forgot to say 'please'."
Xena slowly approached him. Her eyes bored into the War God like daggers.
"It ends today, Ares." she growled. "Your days as a War God end today."
Ares raised an eyebrow.
"Mind telling me what brought this on, Xena? It's not like you haven't been pissed at me before."
"The hundred children that were butchered by Bartules, you cold, soulless son-of-a-bitch!!"
"Um-Xena?? Reality check. I'm the God of War. Not the God of Peace, the God of Dressmaking or the God of Love. War. War God. It's what I've done for thousands of years-long before you were a thought in Daddy's little eye."
"It goes to show how twisted Zeus was. A God of War?? Like humanity really needed that?!"
"Xena, it's the nature of the beast. A tiger can't change its stripes."
"Exactly. And that's why I've come to skin it."
Xena got closer. Ares took a step back.
"Xena, don't forget-I saved you from the wrath of my relatives."
Xena's lips curled into a snarl.
"Just another excuse to manipulate me. I should have gutted you right after I gutted Athena."
Ares' eyes narrowed.
"You really are serious about this."
Xena's eyes narrowed into icy slits.
Ares raised an eyebrow.
"You do know I'm a god, and I can just blast you and Gabrielle to pieces. You do know that?"
A wicked smile crossed Xena's face.
"You can try. But I'll tell you this-if it means Gabrielle and I losing our lives to bring you down, so be it. Your reign of terror ends today. And you'd better finish us off now, because I'll hunt you down to the ends of the Earth, Ares. You always wanted me, Ares. You've wanted me for decades. Ya got yer wish. I'm on you now like a shadow."
Xena's smile turned into a ferocious snarl.
"No second chances." she hissed "No mercy. No more of your bull."
Ares' features grew cold.
"Well then Xena…bring it!!"
Xena quickly drew her sword. Letting out a savage cry, she rushed at the War God, swinging the weapon down at him. Ares' left arm snapped out, grabbing the sword. Less than half a second later, Xena rammed her right foot with all her might into Ares' chest. The powerful blow caused Ares to release the sword. He stumbled back. Xena leapt into the air towards Ares, executing a vicious rapid-fire series of kicks to his face. She drove him back across the floor, towards the throne. With a final double-kick, she pushed herself off of Ares' face, somersaulting backwards and landing before the War God. The moment she landed, Ares thrust his left arm out and fired an energy ball at Xena. With incredible speed, Xena drew her chakram and deflected it, right back towards Ares' feet. There was a violent explosion. The floor collapsed. Xena and Ares fell into a deep hole. Gabrielle's eyes widened in terror.
Gabrielle rushed to the edge of the hole. She looked down into it. There was a lot of smoke and dust, but she could make out light filtering through a fair distance below. Gabrielle heard Xena's angry cries, and a couple of loud explosions. The temple shook. Gabrielle quickly looked off to her right and spotted a staircase. She ran over to it and grabbed a nearby torch. Gabrielle rapidly descended staircase after staircase, listening intently for the sounds of battle. Finally, Gabrielle arrived at the lowest level. She ran out into a giant corridor that stretched out far beyond her. It was lit by many lamps that aligned the corridor on either side. Gabrielle reached into her backpack and took out a medium-sized shield, which was as shiny as a mirror. Gabrielle quickly walked down the corridor. She stopped. To her left was a large arch, and a staircase that led to the entrance of a chamber. Suddenly Gabrielle heard Xena's angry cry, and a loud grunt from Ares. A second later, the War God flew out from an entrance on her right. He slammed hard into the staircase, rolling down it. Xena leapt out after him, quickly descending the staircase. As Ares rose to his feet. Xena threw a vicious right into his face. His head snapped back. Blood burst from his nose. He stumbled back through the entrance. Xena followed. Gabrielle quickly ran down the stairs and entered the chamber, just in time to see Ares hit Xena with a vicious right cross. Blood exploded from her mouth. She flew through the air and crashed into the side of a wall.
Letting out a scream, Gabrielle leaped into the air and slammed her left foot hard into Ares' chin. The punishing blow made the War God flip over himself. He crashed face-first into the ground. Ares struggled to his feet. And this time, Xena flew at him. Her right foot smashed into Ares' face. He flew back through the air, through the entrance of another chamber. There was a loud thud as Ares' body hit the ground inside. Xena and Gabrielle got up and ran inside after him.
It was a large chamber. There was a massive sarcophagus in the middle of the room. Its lid was open, slid off to the left side. Off to the left of the sarcophagus, up on the wall, was a metal eye. Ares rose before the sarcophagus. Xena, sword drawn, charged at him. She swung down at him, and Ares dodged to the left. He rammed his left heel hard into her side. There was a crack as a rib snapped. Xena grunted loudly in pain. She flew back, crashing onto the floor. Gabrielle leaped at Ares, her shield drawn back. She slammed it hard into Ares' face. His head snapped back, blood bursting from his nose and mouth. He flew into the wall. Gabrielle drew her right arm back towards her left, and snapped it out. The shield slammed into the side of Ares' face again. More blood burst from his mouth. He stumbled towards Xena. She was now on her feet. Xena took out the Hind's Blood Dagger and charged at him. With a piercing scream, she thrust the dagger at his belly. At the last possible second, Ares turned off a bit to the right, and the knife burrowed into his left upper thigh. Ares cried out in agony. He then sent a punishing right uppercut into Xena's left side. More ribs cracked. Xena let out a strangled grunt. Ares followed it with a left into Xena's jaw. Blood and several teeth burst out of her mouth. Xena flew back through the air, crashing into a wall. Half a second later, Ares pulled the Hind's Blood Dagger out and threw it at Xena. It burrowed deep into her right shoulder. Xena screamed in agony.
Gabrielle rushed to Ares' left side, grasping her shield with both hands. As Ares turned towards her, she swung it with all of her might into the War God's face, again and again, whipping it off to the right and left. Gabrielle drove him back towards the sarcophagus. Letting out a piercing scream, Gabrielle swung at him again. This time, Ares grabbed the shield. He rammed a knee into Gabrielle's abdomen. A vicious explosion of pain erupted from it. Gabrielle released the shield. With a furious cry, Ares began battering Gabrielle the same way she did to him. Her face whipped from side to side, blood splattering in all directions. Ares finally slammed the shield hard into Gabrielle's chest. Gabrielle flew through the air, crashing hard into the ground. Ares tossed the shield at her. It fell before her body. Gabrielle groggily looked up. Ares closed his eyes. He raised his right arm, and suddenly lightning hit his hand. A long, glowing form appeared in its grasp. The glow subsided, and Ares' sword sat in his grip. He turned towards Xena. The Warrior Princess rose from the ground, sword in her right hand. She grasped the handle of the dagger with her left. Xena yanked it out, shrieking in pain. Ares cocked his head to the side, raising an eyebrow. He spoke.
"You don't look too good Xe."
Letting out a savage cry, Xena rushed at Ares. They parried violently. Xena repeatedly took swipes at Ares with the dagger, but Ares managed to stay out of reach. Then suddenly, Xena lunged at Ares. He somersaulted over her head. As he did so, he swung his sword at the back of her left shoulder. Blood burst from the deep cut. Xena shrieked in pain. Ares landed. She spun around. Ares kicked out at her left hand, knocking the Hind's Blood Dagger out of it. It flew through the air, into a deep pit. Ares' eyes widened in fury. He swung his sword down at Xena. She raised her chakram. The sword collided with it. Violent sparks of electricity shot around the sword and the chakram. Letting out a piercing scream, she kicked Ares hard in the groin, then the chest. Ares stumbled back. Xena swung her left foot out at his sword, knocking it out of the War God's hand. It fell into another deep pit. Xena swung her right foot at Ares' face. This time, Ares grabbed it with his right hand. He lifted Xena up, swinging her back-first into a wall. He whirled her over his head twice and threw her across the room. She crashed into the wall and fell to the ground.
Gabrielle reached into her belt and threw a sai at Ares. His right arm snapped out and he caught it in his hand. Ares turned towards Gabrielle, his features twisted in disgust. He dropped it. His eyes grew ice cold.
"Fun's over, blondie." he growled.
Ares raised his right hand. A glowing energy ball formed in it. Letting out a loud roar, Ares threw it at Gabrielle. She quickly lifted her shield. It bounced off it, towards Xena. The Warrior Princess instantly raised her chakram, and the energy ball deflected off of it. It flew straight at Ares. His eyes widened in shock. It hit him square in the face with a violent explosion. Ares flew back through the air, sparks of electricity wrapping around his body. He fell into the sarcophagus. Xena instantly rose to her feet. Letting out a scream, she threw the chakram at the metal eye. It ricocheted off it, off the walls, and back towards Xena. A light shone from the eye, onto the sarcophagus. The lid slid over it, sealing it. Xena caught the chakram, and dropped to her knees, gasping. Gabrielle got up and stumbled towards Xena, falling on her knees beside her.
"H-How did you know to aim for the eye??"
"Because Ares had this trap set for Hercules. He never got to use it. Iolaus had learned about it when he was in the underworld, and told me long ago."
Xena slowly smiled.
"Ares isn't getting out of there, Gabrielle. Not even a god can escape it. Ares is caught in one of his own traps. Serves him right…"
Xena suddenly grunted in pain, doubling over. Gabrielle quickly drew closer.
Suddenly, the building around them began to shake. Xena quickly turned towards Gabrielle.
"The temple's collapsing!! Ares' thunderbolts damaged it too severely!! Let's go!!"
Gabrielle helped Xena to her feet. She picked up Xena's sword, and the two women rushed out of the chamber…
"…and the temple collapsed. Ares was buried."
Meldinas shook her head in amazement.
"Incredible. I find it amazing that you two were able to beat a god."
"It wasn't easy, by any means. The shield came from Hephestos' cave. It's strong enough to hurt a god or deflect a thunderbolt. Xena is incredibly strong. And her chakram is something else. It can do some amazing things."
"I really wish she were here now." she said in a small voice.
"I'm so sorry for you."
Gabrielle lowered her head. There were a few moments of silence. Then Meldinas spoke again.
"You'll see her again."
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed in anger.
She turned to Meldinas, fire and despair in her eyes.
"Meldinas, I shouldn't even exist. I am four hundred fifty eight summers old. I can be your mother many times over. And I have the body of a thirty-summers old woman."
Gabrielle gazed at the ceiling.
"I know how Xena feels about this. I don't have to imagine. I know. She's my soul mate."
"Maybe her sprit is with us."
"It's not the same." she said flatly. "Not the same as feeling her, touching her, holding her…"
Gabrielle took a deep breath, then exhaled. She gazed down at the floor forlornly.
Annoyance crept into Meldinas's features.
"Stop it Gabrielle. You're hurting. After what you've been through, I'd question the sanity of a person who wouldn't vent."
Gabrielle looked up at Meldinas, her face deadly serious.
"But this isn't the time. We're on a mission."
"You can allow yourself to be human for a few moments."
Gabrielle shook her head.
"Not now. After this is resolved…yeah. But now, I have to stay focused."
She looked up at the ceiling.
"That's what Xena drilled into my head for years. Focus…I have to stay focused on what needs to be done."
"I understand what you're saying-but that doesn't mean you can't open up and vent a little. We're alone, in the hull of a ship. We're not at battle. I'm sure you'll focus when the time comes. Even Xena isn't perfect. Not everyone practices what they preach-and that doesn't necessarily make them bad. Just human."
Gabrielle's eyes focused on Meldinas.
"There's a time and a place for that." she said quietly. " And believe me that I've been in enough battles to know that even in down times like this, you have to stay focused. If you don't, it can cost you your life and the lives of people you are with. I've seen it happen. I need to stop feeling sorry for myself and think."
Her eyes focused on the ceiling again.
"I have to think about Ares, and how to deal with him once I get into the temple. Ares is incredibly dangerous. I can't afford to make a mistake."
Meldinas lowered her head in defeat for a moment. The she looked at Gabrielle.
"I'm going to get a little rest. Wake me if anything comes up."
Meldinas settled herself into a corner and closed her eyes. She fell into a light sleep. Gabrielle unhooked the chakram from her belt and slowly turned it in her hands. It glimmered in the faint candlelight.
"Xena…" she whispered. "Help me figure out how to deal with Ares."
She leaned back against the wall, continuing to twirl the weapon in her hands. Gabrielle knew that it would take everything Xena had taught her over the years to deal with Ares-and if possible, Attila.
Deep down inside, she wasn't looking forward to any of it. But she knew it was her destiny. And she had to face it headlong.
Stella and her horse were the last ones off the boat. The captain then turned to Meldinas.
"Okay. Where's the rest?"
Meldinas handed him the small bag. The man next to the captain held his lamp up near the bag. The captain took out the large gold nuggets and inspected them. After a moment, he nodded.
He turned to Meldinas, raising an eyebrow.
"You women are suicidal, you know. Huns are all over the place."
"We can take care of ourselves."
The captain shrugged.
"Whatever. It's your lives."
He turned to his other men.
"All right, let's hurry up and get out of here before any Huns show up."
The captain and Meldinas went their separate ways. Meldinas reached her horse, climbing on top of it. She looked to the east. The first rays of dawn lit the horizon.
"Daylight's beginning." she remarked.
"Let's get going." answered Gabrielle.
The six women rode off. Dawn eventually bloomed into full daylight. The six women rode hard, racing through forests and countryside. They kept up a brisk pace. They did not come across a single person. The women pressed onward for a good while. As they rode up a hill, Gabrielle noticed that they were approaching a small town. She began to slow down. The women behind her did as well. As they drew closer, they could see that the town had been ravaged. Gabrielle suddenly spotted skeletons beginning to litter the road before her.
"By the gods…" she gasped.
Gabrielle brought her horse to a stop. Meldinas and the other women stopped. Their faces filled with horror. Meldinas shook her head in disbelief.
They slowly rode into town. There were so many skeletons laying about that it was difficult for the horses to avoid them. As the women took a closer look, they could see that most of the dead were civilians. Men, women, children, as well as countless livestock. Most of the buildings had been totally destroyed, and the few that were standing were severely damaged. A sickly, musty smell hung in the air; the smell of death, the smell of rotting flesh. Gabrielle gritted her teeth in fury.
"Bastards…" she hissed.
She turned to Meldinas and the other women. Their faces mirrored hers. They were filled with devastation and rage.
"Let's go." said Gabrielle.
The women rode off, leaving town. As they continued down the dirt path, Gabrielle's sharp ears suddenly heard the war cries of men. She looked behind her-
-and in the distance appeared eight men on horseback. They were following the women. Her eyes widened in fright.
Meldinas looked at Gabrielle, then looked back. Her jaw dropped.
"Huns!!" exclaimed the Amazon queen.
The women pressed onwards, deep into the forest. The Hun soldiers followed in hot pursuit, giving out war cries. Althea reached behind her back and took out an arrow from its pouch. She quickly un-slung her crossbow from her shoulder and loaded the arrow onto it. Then she aimed at the men and fired.
The arrow whistled through the air, hitting one of them square in the chest. He fell off his horse, hitting the ground hard. His body rolled into a ditch.
"I got one!" she exclaimed.
"Keep at it!" said Meldinas. "Keep picking them off! If they get any closer, they'll kill us all!!"
Althea quickly took out another arrow and loaded it. She fired again. A second man was hit. He flew off his horse, crashing into the side of a tree. One of the men took out a bow and arrow of his own. Althea's eyes widened in alarm.
"They're getting ready to fire back!!"
She quickly loaded up again. But the man fired first. It tore through the air, and ripped across the side of Stella's shoulder. Blood exploded from it. She cried out in pain. Gabrielle spun towards her.
The Amazon clutched her left shoulder. Blood flowed from the jagged wound. Gabrielle's eyes widened in rage. She brought her horse to a stop. The other Amazons shot past her. Meldinas's eyes widened in horror.
Gabrielle spun her horse around and rode back towards the Hun soldiers, letting out a furious cry. The Hun archer reached back and pulled out another arrow. Gabrielle quickly took out two knives and threw them at the men. Both the archer and the man beside him were hit in the chest. They flew off their horses and crashed into the ground. Two of the Hun soldiers approached Gabrielle, swords drawn. Gabrielle unhooked the chakram and threw it at the men. It screamed through the air, ripping through the side of one soldier's neck before burrowing itself into the chest of the second. Both flew off their horses, crashing into the ground, dead.
The remaining two men raced past Gabrielle towards the other Amazons. But this time, Valacia and Althea were ready. They fired their arrows. The arrows hit their targets. Two lifeless bodies smashed into the earth.
Gabrielle dismounted her horse. She walked over to the body of one Hun, yanking the chakram out of his chest and wiping it on his fur coat. She heard a horse approach her. Gabrielle looked up. It was Meldinas.
"You all right, Gabrielle?"
The blonde nodded.
"What about Stella??" she asked in return.
They two women looked over to where the other Amazons were. Yasmin was checking Stella's shoulder. Gabrielle ran over to her horse and mounted it. Then she and Meldinas rode over to the other women.
"How is she?" asked Meldinas.
"It looks worse than it is." said Yasmin. "I'll wrap it up for the moment and then we'll get going."
"Make it quick." said Meldinas. "It's not a good idea to be standing out in the middle of the road here."
Gabrielle looked around, studying her surroundings. She then moved closer to Meldinas.
"I agree. Let's find someplace where we can rest for a bit."
The women found an area by a large lake, where they rested briefly and tended to Stella's wound. Soon afterwards, they were on the move again. They passed through town after town. And each town they went through was a mirror of the other; utter destruction, countless dead. The Huns had indeed destroyed everything and everyone they came across. The carnage was total. Man, woman, child-it didn't matter. Many of the corpses were overrun with maggots. Buildings had been burned to the ground. Larger structures, such as churches, often only had parts of their shells standing. Meldinas and her Amazons were horribly shaken by what they saw. Gabrielle observed the destruction with a grim familiarity. It was something she had seen all too often. And the same old emotions welled up again-rage, horror, bewilderment. They were old companions by this time in her life. Companions that were too familiar…companions Gabrielle wished she had never known.
They had also managed to avoid running into several troops of Huns who were on patrol. The troops varied from a dozen to about sixty men. They were scattered throughout their route. It was early evening when they finally made camp, in a cave that was hidden away by a small lake. Gabrielle and Meldinas stood before the cave. Gabrielle studied her surroundings, nodding slowly.
"I recognize the land features…" she said.
Meldinas turned towards her.
"Mmmm-hmm. We're getting close to Macedonia. We should arrive there the next day."
"I'd thought we'd be seeing more Huns."
Gabrielle turned towards Meldinas.
"I'm not surprised. With the devastation they've caused, the Huns left almost nothing behind. They just sacked and pillaged…."
Gabrielle shook her head, her face filling with seething anger.
"I haven't seen such total destruction in a long time…What has become of my homeland?! First, taken over by Romans, and now devastated by the Huns?!"
Gabrielle let out a harsh sigh. She began to pace back and forth.
"What are we going to do once we get to the temple's ruins, Gabrielle?"
She turned to face the Amazon queen.
"You and I will go in. The other women will stand watch for the Huns."
At that moment, Althea walked outside. The two other women turned towards her.
"Food's ready." said the Amazon.
"How's Stella?" asked Gabrielle.
"She's better." Althea answered. "She'll be all right."
"Tomorrow, we arrive at Macedonia." said Meldinas. "We need to discuss what we plan to do once we arrive at Ares' temple. We also need to get some rest. It's been a long day."
The three women entered the cave. Valacia, Stella and Yasmin sat around a small fire. Above it, threaded over a long branch, were six rabbit carcasses. The smell of roasted rabbit wound its way throughout the cave. Gabrielle, Meldinas and Althea sat down by the other women. Valacia stared at the fire, shaking her head.
"What kind of animals are these Huns?!"
She looked up at Gabrielle. The Amazon's face was filled with pain and fury.
"What kind of monsters would do this to other human beings?!"
Gabrielle frowned deeply.
"Valacia, if I had a dinar for every time I asked myself that question, I would be the richest woman in history."
Gabrielle gazed at the ceiling of the cave.
"Things like that I've seen too many times. Over and over. I've stopped being surprised at people's actions long ago."
Gabrielle reached forward, lifting one end of the branch from the branch that was supporting it. She pulled a rabbit off it and placed the branch back down. Gabrielle turned the rabbit in her hands.
"There've been many times I've been ashamed to be a human being. Too many times."
She took a bite from her food. Meldinas reached for the branch from both ends and took the rabbits off the fire. One by one, she pulled them off the branch and handed them to the other Amazons.
"But why children??" growled Yasmin. "Why would they want to butcher children?!"
"Because they can." answered Gabrielle. "Because they eliminate the possibility of future generations causing trouble for them. And because children are the weakest. They can't fend for themselves. They make easy targets."
"I just want to disembowel them." Yasmin hissed. "I just want to find every Hun soldier I come across, and cut them open from their nuts to their throats."
"And this war god Ares is whole-heartedly for all this, huh??" said Stella in an icy voice.
"He lives for war. It's what he's about."
Stella let out a harsh sigh. She shook her head.
"I think I've lost my appetite."
"You have to eat." said Meldinas. "You've got to keep your energy up."
"How can I eat after what I've seen?? I've seen…I've seen carnage that I wouldn't have been able to picture in my wildest nightmares."
"That's why we're here with Gabrielle. Hopefully, we can put a stop to this, once and for all. You have to find the strength to push on. Go on. Eat."
Stella licked her lips and took a bite out of her rabbit. Meldinas turned to Gabrielle.
"I wonder what we'll encounter in Macedonia."
Gabrielle nodded slowly.
"So do I."
"Do you think Ares knows about us?"
"It wouldn't surprise me. In any event, we really have to keep our eyes peeled once we arrive at his temple. The trick will be getting in. The temple, from what I remember of it, was pretty much devastated. In any case, we have to get in there."
Gabrielle turned towards Meldinas, her emerald eyes filled with anger and anxiety.
"With Ares, we have to be prepared for anything. Anything."
Gabrielle went back to eating her food. Meldinas gazed at her own. She too, felt that lack of desire to eat. But Meldinas knew she had to. She had to set an example for the others. And the thought of encountering the old enemy of Gabrielle-an actual god- didn't help much either.
But Meldinas knew she had no choice. It had to be done. They had to find out if Attila indeed had possession of the War God's sword. And she didn't even want to get near that possibility. The ramifications of that were too much for her to deal with at the moment.
She would cross that bridge when she got to it. And Meldinas hoped with all her might that this bridge would be left uncrossed.
Gabrielle gazed into the sky. The light of dawn slowly bled into the dark, starlit skies. She turned to the other women.
"All of you ready?"
The women nodded in response.
Gabrielle looked towards the temple ruins. She bit her lower lip.
"Okay. Let's go."
The six women got up and ran out of the forest. They rushed across the grassy earth, reaching the ruins. The women walked around the temple. Suddenly, Gabrielle spotted an opening.
"I think I found one of the staircases. Valacia, make a torch."
The Amazon nodded. She got down on the ground, taking her leather bag from her back. She opened it and took out a piece of wood, a small bottle of oil, and some cloth. She tied the cloth around one end, then poured some oil on the cloth. Putting the oil back in the bag, she took out two rocks. Valacia then held them near the cloth and struck the stones against each other several times. A couple of sparks hit the cloth, and flame instantly rose from it. Valacia then picked up the torch and handed it to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle turned to Meldinas.
The Amazon nodded.
"Let's do this. The rest of you, keep a sharp eye out for Huns."
Gabrielle and Meldinas walked over to the opening. Gabrielle aimed the torch at it. It was indeed a staircase. The two women began to descend. They kept going deeper and deeper.
"Any of this look familiar?" asked Meldinas.
Gabrielle nodded slowly.
"Yes…yes it does. We still have to go down a bit before we reach the area where Ares' sarcophagus is."
The continued on down, until they could go no further. Gabrielle and Meldinas entered a hall. Ahead of them was tons of debris, blocking the path. Gabrielle grimaced.
She walked forward a few feet, then looked to her left. Suddenly, she spotted a small opening. Gabrielle walked up to it, and peered inside. Meldinas followed close behind.
"What is it Gabrielle?"
The blonde shrugged.
"Don't know. Never seen this before…"
The two women walked inside. It was a small chamber. Gabrielle held the torch out in front of her. Suddenly, she spotted something. Her eyes widened with curiosity.
She walked up to the wall. There was a circular depression in it. Her eyes fell upon a small globe embedded in the middle of it. Sticking out of the globe were scrolls. Gabrielle held the torch towards Meldinas.
"Hold this for a moment."
Meldinas took hold of the torch. Gabrielle reached for a scroll, then pulled it out and began to read it. Her eyes widened in shock.
"These are my scrolls!" she exclaimed.
Meldinas's face filled with astonishment.
She drew closer to Gabrielle. They began to read.
Xena and I were devastated. Salmoneous was an old friend. It was terrible to see him die this way. He didn't deserve this-
Gabrielle immediately rolled up the scroll and closed her eyes. A tear trickled down her cheek. Meldinas gazed at her in sympathy.
"I'm sorry Gabrielle."
"Salmoneous was a good man. Rascally, a bit of a womanizer, into get-rich quick schemes, but very funny, and full of life. A decent man…"
Gabrielle placed the scroll back in the hole.
"A woman with an infant was being robbed by a bandit. Salmoneous tried to stop him, and the bandit stabbed him."
"What happened to the bandit?!"
"Xena caught him. He begged for mercy, but she beat the living daylights out of him. Xena was so furious that she was going to kill him, but Hercules intervened. The three of us were on our way to visit him, and we learned what happened. Salmoneous lingered for a short time, but he died of an infection."
Meldinas shook her head in disgust. Gabrielle took out another scroll and opened it. As she read, a slight smile came to her face.
"Huh. This one's about the time Xena and I visited her older brother, Toris."
Meldinas drew closer, and read….
It's a wonderful thing to see Xena at ease. It's something that's just so rare. Toris has aged quite a bit, to be sure-but he's still in decent shape. And it was nice to see Xena bond again with family. They talked to each other about what had happened in their lives, what was going on in the world…all kinds of things…
Gabrielle rolled the scroll up and placed it back in its hold. She sighed.
"Well, enough trips down memory lane. We have a job to do."
"Who put these scrolls there?"
"Wish I knew."
Gabrielle turned and saw another opening in the wall.
"Let's go through here."
The two women walked through the opening. It was the entrance to a small hallway. It twisted to the left, then went sharply to the right. After walking a bit, the two women entered a chamber. Before them was a giant sarcophagus. And beyond that, on the wall, was a large metal eye. Gabrielle instantly drew her chakram. Her eyes darted left and right.
"That's where Ares is sealed."
Meldinas looked closely at the sarcophagus.
"It looks sealed shut to me-"
Suddenly, a low peal of laughter echoed throughout the chamber. Meldinas's eyes widened in fright.
"What was that?!"
At that moment, before the two women, appeared a glowing ball of red-white light. Then, Ares' head appeared, floating before them. A cold smile formed on his face.
"My, my, my…" the War God said saucily. "What do we have here?? I can't believe it. You look good for your age, old lady."
"Shut up Ares!!" shouted Gabrielle angrily. "Are you behind Attila?!"
Ares raised an eyebrow.
"Attila? Hmmmm….Attila, Attila, Attila…somehow, that rings a bell…"
He paused for a moment, squinting his eyes and looking upwards, as if in thought. Then a wicked smile crossed his face.
"Ohhhhhhh, that Attila. Leader of the Huns. The one who was responsible for ravaging Greece, killing countless thousands of people. The one who will soon be invading Northern Gaul, and who will carve a path of destruction right across the Western Roman Empire, to all points east and south. The man who will take over all of the world. The one who currently has my sword. Attila, the one who's under my complete control. Yup! I'm behind all this. Ya got me. Can't get anything past you, Gabby."
His eyes narrowed, and the smile disappeared from his face, replaced with a snarl.
"You think that by sealing me in that sarcophagus, you stopped me, huh? Nooooo, not really. My power may have been diminished somewhat, but my mind is still what it was. I scoured the earth with my mind, looking for the right warrior that I could take under my wing. And then I came upon Attila. He reminds me soooo much of Xena. Just as ruthless, just as cunning. So, I set some plans in motion. Using my mind, I got thieves to come in here and find my sword. And then, eventually, the sword found its way into Attila's hands. Of course, it meant that all the little agents that got my sword to him over those vast distances had to die horrible, agonizing deaths, but hey! All part of the cause. You understand, dontcha, Gabby??"
Gabrielle gritted her teeth in fury.
"Xena should have gutted you, you twisted son of a bitch!! YOU HAD THIS BASTARD DESTROY MY COUNTRY!!!"
Ares clicked his tongue several times.
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed into icy slits.
"I'm going to finish you off Ares."
The War God raised his eyebrows.
"Um-go for it! It's simple. Toss the chakram at the Eye of Hephestos up there. It hits it, the sarcophagus opens, and bingo!"
Gabrielle immediately drew back the chakram. Meldinas grabbed Gabrielle's hand.
"I have to!!"
"What happens to Attila if Ares dies??"
Gabrielle paused a moment. Suddenly, she remembered.
"By the gods…I'm an idiot…"
Gabrielle hooked the chakram back onto her belt. Rage crossed the War God's face. His eyes tore into Meldinas like daggers.
"You Amazon HARLOT!!!!" he roared. His voice shook the cavern fearsomely.
"Up yours." she responded with spiteful glee.
The War God's eyes narrowed.
"You think that you and your little tribe of Amazons are safe in that mountaintop hideout, Meldinas?!" he said in a low, dangerous hiss. "Wroooong. I'm going to get you for this. I'm going to make sure you and your Amazons are wiped off the face of the earth. You've crossed the wrong god."
"You're not going to do a damn thing, Ares!!" snapped Gabrielle. "Not if I have anything to do with it."
Ares laughed harshly. He glared at Gabrielle with derision.
"Ohhhhh, and how, pray tell, are you going to stop my plans?!"
Gabrielle drew closer. A cold smile crossed her face.
"Xena and I planted your sorry ass in that sarcophagus. I'm sure I'll be able to deal with Attila."
Ares winced. A dark scowl crossed his face.
"So tell me Ares," began Gabrielle again. "How come Attila isn't a god? Remember the last time you lost the sword?"
"That was while Zeus was alive. After Hercules killed him, I was able to make some…modifications to it. The sword is under my complete control."
"And yet, if I kill you, Attila becomes the next God of War."
Ares fell silent. Gabrielle nodded slowly.
"Hmmmm. Well then. I guess I'll have to find Attila and destroy him and the sword."
Ares let out a furious giggle. It soon turned into loud, uproarious laughter. He then gazed at Gabrielle with a brilliant, feral smile.
"Ohhhh, you'll destroy him, eh? Well then, there's something I should tell you Gabrielle. Attila is Xena's equal, when it comes to fighting. In this time, his skills are unparalleled. If you go up against him Gabrielle, you'll die."
Gabrielle moved closer to Ares, eyeing him steadily.
"If it means my death, Ares, so be it. I will defeat him."
Ares' smile disappeared.
"Are you sure?"
The War God gazed upon Gabrielle calmly. Then he raised an eyebrow.
"No warrior lasts forever, Gabrielle." he began. "Sooner or later, they all must fall. Look at Xena. Even though she defeated and killed those who challenged her, including gods, she was brought down. Beheaded."
"I could say the same thing about Attila, Ares."
"The good guys don't always win, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle eyed Ares, her face filled with defiance.
"I plan to."
Gabrielle turned around and began to walk off. Meldinas followed. Ares let out a low chuckle.
"You and your companions won't get far, Gabrielle. I don't plan on making it easy for you."
Gabrielle and Meldinas ignored Ares, leaving the chamber. Ares' head faded from sight. The two women headed back the way they came in. They eventually made it up the stairs, heading out into the pre-dawn light-
-and suddenly, the two women heard the sound of horses galloping towards them.
"What's that?!" exclaimed Meldinas.
"Huns!!" she heard a woman shout.
Gabrielle and Meldinas turned to their right, towards the sound of the woman's voice. It was Stella. And beyond her, they saw a large group of Huns on horses, racing towards them.They charged at the six women, letting out loud battle cries.
Meldinas quickly un-slung her crossbow from her shoulder and armed it with an arrow. The other Amazons fired theirs. The four arrows found their targets. The men flew off their horses, crashing into the ground, dead.
Gabrielle ran directly at one Hun solider, who was charging at her, bow drawn back. He fired it. The arrow whistled through the air. Gabrielle's arm snapped out, and she caught the arrow in her hand. She quickly flipped it around so that the tip was facing the opposite direction. Letting out a furious cry, she leaped high into the air, towards the soldier. Gabrielle rammed the arrow deep into his right eye. The soldier let out a hideous scream, flying off his horse. He fell to the ground dead. Gabrielle landed on her feet. Another Hun solder charged at Gabrielle, sword drawn back. Gabrielle drew the chakram. The Hun soldier swung at the blonde. Gabrielle lifted the chakram. It ripped the sword in two as they collided. The blonde quickly drew a knife from her belt and threw it at the soldier's back. It burrowed deep into his neck. He fell off the horse and crashed face-first into the earth.
Meldinas fired her arrow. It buried itself into the throat of a Hun soldier. He fell to the earth. Another rushed at her, sword raised. Meldinas took out a knife and threw it at him. The blade burrowed into his chest. He fell off his horse, crashing into the ground in a cloud of dust.
Gabrielle saw five more men rush towards the Amazons. She drew the chakram and threw it. It screamed through the air, ripping across the throats of all five men. Blood exploded from the gaping wounds. The corpses dropped to the earth. The chakram sailed a distance, then came flying back. One unfortunate Hun was directly in its path, and the weapon cut across his face-ripping open both his eyes. The man let out a piercing scream and grabbed his face, blood erupting from the now empty sockets. Stella fired an arrow at him. It burrowed into his hand, pinning it to his face. He dropped to the ground, dead. The chakram flew towards Gabrielle, and she snatched it out of the air.
The Hun force was whittled down to eight men.
These men had already passed the women and were now turning back to rush towards them again. They loaded their bows with arrows. The Amazon women did the same. Gabrielle held her chakram and stood crouched, eyes narrowed. The eight men raced their horses towards the Amazons and Gabrielle. The Amazons and Huns fired at the same time.
Arrows hit six of the men in the chests and sides. They fell off their horses. Two arrows hit Valacia and Yasmin-one hit the former in the shoulder, and the latter was hit in the abdomen. They cried out in agony and fell to the ground. Meldinas's eyes widened in horror.
"NoooOOOO!!!" she screamed.
At seeing this, Gabrielle was filled with an all-consuming fury. The two remaining Huns rushed at her. Suddenly, one of them turned right and rode off into the forest. The last one rushed at Gabrielle, sword drawn. She put the chakram in her teeth. He swung at her. She dodged the sword and grabbed the saddle and straps. The horse yanked Gabrielle off her feet. She quickly climbed up behind the rider, took the chakram and ripped it across his throat. A huge explosion of blood erupted from the gaping wound. Gabrielle threw the lifeless body off the horse and climbed onto the saddle. She hooked the chakram on her belt and tore after the last Hun.
They raced through the thick forest. Gabrielle got closer and closer to the fleeing Hun soldier. She then maneuvered herself into a crouched position, standing on the saddle. When Gabrielle got close enough, she jumped off her horse onto the Hun's horse. Letting out a furious cry, she jabbed her fingers hard into the neck of the Hun soldier. His eyes dilated in shock and incredible pain.
"Stop this horse now, or you die!!" screamed Gabrielle.
The rider instantly brought the horse to a stop. Gabrielle grabbed his throat and yanked him towards her. Her eyes narrowed into slits.
"You've got twenty seconds to live." she growled. "Tell me where I can find your leader's camp, or you die."
"H-H-He's a half day north of here!!" the soldier gagged. "B-By a large lake!!"
"How many men?!"
"How many sentries?!"
"T-Ten s-s-scattered around camp-t-t-t-hat's all I know!! P-P-Please-"
Gabrielle wrapped her left arm around the man's head. Letting out a loud shriek, she viciously yanked the man's head off to the left. There was a loud, sickening crack. She pushed the lifeless body off the horse, and it fell into some bushes. Gabrielle climbed into the saddle, and rode the horse back to the Amazons. She saw Althea tending to Valacia's shoulder. Stella and Meldinas were crouched by Yasmin. Gabrielle heard weeping coming from them. Her face collapsed in grief. She already knew what had happened.
"By the gods…no…!!"
She rode towards the three women. Meldinas quickly turned towards Gabrielle, armed with a crossbow. Rage and grief were strewn across her features. But upon seeing it was Gabrielle, the rage disappeared, leaving only profound agony. Gabrielle stopped before the three.
"Yasmin is dead." said Meldinas in a strangled voice.
Gabrielle climbed off the horse and rushed over to them. She knelt down beside Stella, who was crying bitterly. There lay Yasmin, her lifeless eyes staring into the clear morning sky. Gabrielle gritted her teeth in fury.
"Damn you, Ares." she hissed. "DAMN YOU!!!!"
A deep depression flowed over the blonde's face. She placed her left hand over Yasmin's eyes, closing them. Gabrielle gazed at the two Amazon women. Tears trickled down her cheeks.
"I-I-I am so sorry…" Gabrielle uttered, her voice trembling.
The blonde turned towards Althea and Valacia. Their faces were filled with pain and rage, their cheeks streaked with tears. Gabrielle looked back at Meldinas. The Amazon queen looked around erratically, a torrent of emotions racing across her face. Then she took a deep breath and spoke.
"Stella…that's enough crying." Meldinas said in a shaky voice. "We have to bury Yasmin, and move on."
Stella slowly shook her head.
Meldinas grabbed the Amazon's shoulders and pulled up to her, their faces almost touching. Meldinas's face was filled with fury.
"You HAVE to!!" she yelled. "You VOLUNTEERED to go on this mission!! There is NO TURNING BACK!!"
Meldinas shook Stella roughly. She pressed her nose against the other woman's.
"Now you listen to me." she growled in an icy voice. "The fate of the entire world rests on our shoulders!! You back out of this now, and you condemn countless people to death!! Including our tribe!! Now you'd better suck it up Amazon and deal with it!!"
Stella trembled violently. She took a deep breath and stared at the ground. Meldinas got to her feet. She glared down at the Amazon.
"Get two horses. We need another horse so we can put Yasmin's body on it. Move it!!"
Stella quickly got to her feet and ran off. Gabrielle rose and turned to Meldinas, placing a hand on her arm. She frowned deeply. Meldinas closed her eyes and gritted her teeth.
"I wish I didn't have to do that." she whispered.
"But you did. It was the right thing to do."
"Like you said on the boat…Focus."
Gabrielle nodded slowly. Meldinas walked off, over to Althea and Valacia. Althea was tending to Valacia's shoulder wound. It was bleeding heavily. A low growl rose from Gabrielle's throat. She ground her teeth.
"I'm going to beat you Ares." she hissed. "And I will kill Attila. Even if it means my life."