Xena, Gabrielle, Hercules, Iolaus, Alcmene and Hera do not belong to me. They belong to MCA/Universal/Renaissance.
I want to dedicate this story to my good friend, Nancy, who has always supported me with my writing. Thanks Nancy, for all your support. J
It was early morning and the fire had died out several candle marks ago at the campsite of three travelers.
Two of them were still sleeping soundly and they had no idea that two men were approaching them.
One was taller and more muscular than his shorter companion. The taller one said:
“Now we've got them.” His friend replied:
“Yeah, won't they be in for a surprise.” They quietly sneaked a bit closer to the sleeping figures when a warrior jumped down from the tree and landed right in front of them with her weapons ready.
“Sorry fellas, not on my watch”, she said and seemed to be prepared to fight them. The men just looked at each other and the man with dark brown, medium long hair said:
“May I have the honor?” His friend with blond, curly hair nodded and said:
“Please, be my guest.” As the young warrior was about to make her move, the man who was much taller than she was, lifted her by the neck of her shirt and set her hanging from a tree branch too high for her to get back down to the ground. She struggled but it didn't help and she could only look at the men who were now smiling at each other.
“I'll get you, you big bullies!”, Exl shouted as she tried to get herself down.
“Why don't you stay up there for a while small fry and calm down. We just want to surprise old friends”, the shorter man said to Exl. Both men's smiles were turned into looks of amazement when they heard two people saying simultaneously behind them:
“Surprise.” A tall, dark woman said to the men:
“You old tricksters…” The men turned around and were greeted by Xena and Gabrielle who were both looking at them with their arms crossed in front of their chests.
“Well I guess there goes our surprise”, the blond man said to his friend. He turned to the women and greeted them:
“Xena, Gabrielle, it's so good to see you. It's been a while.” First Xena grasped arms with the men and then pulled them into a friendly hug. Gabrielle also hugged the men and said:
“Likewise, how have you been?” They were about to start talking about everything that happened after the last time they had met when Exl interrupted:
“I don't want to spoil your nice little chat, but I'm starting to get a bit uncomfortable up here so could someone please get me down?” Xena looked at the taller man and said:
“Hercules, could you please get our dear Guardian down from where you put her?” The man smiled and lifted Exl back to the ground and she was happy to have the firm ground under her feet. Then she realized what Xena said.
“Hercules? You're THE Hercules? Son of Zeus, great hero and doer of the Twelve Labors?”, she asked.
Hercules smiled and answered:
“Yeah, that's me.” Gabrielle introduced the men to Exl.
“Exl, this is Hercules and his best friend Iolaus. Hercules, Iolaus, I'd like you to meet Exl, she's our Loyal and our Guardian, she's part of our family.” Xena smiled as she went to stand beside her wife and Guardian. She said:
“Not to mention a great, noble and valiant warrior, Queen and so on.” Exl looked at her friend and said:
“Oh come on Xena, I think “warrior” would have been enough.” They all smiled and Exl then said to Hercules and Iolaus:
“I've heard of you Hercules and your great deeds. On my way here I heard people tell stories about you.”
Hercules bowed his head and responded:
“We've also heard about you Exl. We've heard of a young warrior who travels with Xena and Gabrielle and is part of their family.” Iolaus smiled and said to Gabrielle and Xena:
“Congratulations, we heard about your wedding ceremony. We were very happy hearing the good news.”
Gabrielle and Xena looked at each other with a loving smile on both their faces.
“So what are you doing here anyway?”, Xena asked as they went to sit down on the tree trunks which provided good seats for all of them.
“Well would you believe it if we'd say we just happened to be around and decided to drop by?”, Iolaus asked and as an answer all three women shook their heads and the men knew that explanation wouldn't work.
“To be honest, at the last town down the road we heard you had just passed by there and you were heading this way, so we thought we'd find you and congratulate you for your wedding”, Hercules said.
“On the way here Herc got the idea that we should surprise you. I had a feeling right from the beginning that you wouldn't be so easy to surprise”, Iolaus said.
Xena, Exl and Gabrielle all looked each other, then at the men who were sitting opposite to them.
“Well you nearly did, but luckily I was already wide awake when I heard you approaching. I had no idea who you could be, so I warned Gabrielle and Xena, who had also heard you approach and then I got up that tree to wait and see what you would do”, Exl explain. Gabrielle smiled and said to Exl:
“Well I think you didn't expect to be up that tree hanging by your shirt.” This brought a smile to everyone's face and Hercules said:
“I'm sorry Exl, I hope you're alright, I didn't want to hurt you.” Exl shook her head and answered:
“Not at all Hercules, I'm okay.” Iolaus looked at Xena and noted:
“We heard that your new companion was a brave and loyal young warrior, but at first I couldn't believe she's that courageous. Not everyone would stand between friends and complete strangers ready to fight.”
Exl “blushed” slightly and Xena ruffled her hair saying:
“That's true, but luckily we have the best Guardian there is. Exl is really special.” Exl brushed her hair after Xena had completely messed it up and said to Iolaus:
“Xena's exaggerating, but I would do anything for these two.”
They made breakfast and after finishing it, they discussed about their travel plans.
“So where are you headed?”, Xena asked the two men. Iolaus tried to answer, but his mouth was full of food so no-one could understand what he meant. Hercules answered behalf of his friend:
“We were on our way to Thebes and then to Corinth to see my mother. What about you three?”
“We didn't really have a plan yet, but if you don't mind, we'd like to join you on your way to Thebes”, Gabrielle said with a smile. Of course Hercules and Iolaus didn't mind the company and after they broke camp, they were on the road to Thebes. Iolaus said to Exl glancing at her weapons:
“So Exl, I hear you're a warrior from the great north. What kind of skills does a warrior in your homeland learn being in training?” Exl took a quick look at the sky and then at Iolaus saying:
“Every warrior has a different kind of mentor, so everyone learns very different things. My mentor, my grandfather taught me the loyalty, unselfishness and bravery of being a warrior. I bet you've never met a warrior from my homeland, our techniques in battle are unique.” Iolaus replied:
“Well I have learned a few unique skills myself traveling around the world. I think I could teach you a thing or two.” Exl raised an eyebrow the way her tall warrior companion always did and said:
“Is that a challenge?” Hercules smiled and so did Xena and Gabrielle and he said to Exl:
“Don't mind Iolaus, he's just kidding.” Exl shrugged her shoulders and said:
“Too bad, I would have liked the challenge. But if Iolaus is afraid of fighting me…”
“Hey, I'm not afraid of fighting you, I just don't want to hurt you that's all”, Iolaus defended himself.
Gabrielle and Xena looked at each other with the expression “oh boy, here we go again” and Hercules said:
“Okay, but it'll be just a friendly little fight, okay?”
A while later, the group had stopped and Exl and Iolaus were preparing to “fight each other”. Xena and Gabrielle said to Exl:
“Remember Exl, Iolaus is sly and very agile.” Exl understood this and said:
“Don't worry, I'll just show him a few tricks of my own.”
Hercules was with Iolaus and asked him:
“Iolaus, are you sure you want to do this? You're being too over-confident, don't underestimate her.”
Iolaus was very confident about his victory and he thought he could teach Exl a lesson about being a warrior.
“Don't worry Herc, I won't hurt her. You know I would never hurt a girl, I'll show her a few tricks of mine and that's all.”
The fighters approached one another and while Iolaus had a fierce battle expression on his face, Exl was simply just smiling. Hercules walked to Xena and Gabrielle and asked them:
“Why is she smiling?” Gabrielle looked at Hercules with a smile of her own and replied:
“Wait and see.” Exl spread her hands and said to her opponent:
“So Iolaus, what are the rules in this little fight of ours'?” Iolaus looked at his young adversary and said:
“Very simple, all means are allowed and winner is the one who manages to keep his or her opponent down. Got it?” Exl nodded and as Iolaus drew his sword she winked at him and ran to the tree next to her and climbed up it in an instant. Iolaus ran to tree and tried to see where she had disappeared to. He couldn't see her anywhere and looked around him, never noticing that Exl was holding on to a branch with her feet and hanging upside down right behind him. She tapped him on the shoulder and disappeared back up to the tree. Iolaus turned around fast and was ready to face Exl, but didn't see her anywhere. Xena, Gabrielle and Hercules saw this and couldn't help but laugh at this amusing sight. Iolaus shouted to Exl:
“Come on, show yourself! This isn't a fair fight.” Exl jumped down from the tree behind Iolaus and said to him:
“You said all means are allowed. Don't take back what you just said.” Iolaus tried to hit Exl with his elbow, but she blocked it quickly and hit him in the knee. Iolaus swung his sword at Exl and she managed to disarm him with a quick hit on the wrist. She was now holding his sword and smiling. Iolaus said:
“Hey, give it back.” Exl said:
“Sure, think fast” and threw it back to him and when he caught it, she hit him straight in the nose. He barely noticed it and swung his sword at Exl again. This time she had pulled out her axe and blocked his strike with it.
“Had enough?”, Iolaus asked Exl and she answered with a smile:
“I've barely even started.” She used a quick leg swipe and made Iolaus fall right on his back dropping his sword.
He was now watching how the young warrior was holding a battleaxe right at his chest and she asked:
“Have you had enough?” Iolaus nodded and Exl smiled as she put her axe away and grasped Iolaus' arm and pulled him up. Hercules looked at Xena and Gabrielle and said:
“Now I know why she was smiling.” They walked to the fighters and Xena said to Iolaus:
“Iolaus what was that all about? You lost to a girl?” Iolaus seemed embarrassed and said not making eye-contact with anyone:
“Well…I… I'm sorry, I guess I was too confident about winning. It made me blind to everything else.”
Exl patted Iolaus on the back and said:
“Iolaus, that's exactly why I won. I let my opponents think they have no problem defeating me and when they're too focused on doing just that, I take them by surprise and use their own strength against them. That's one thing I learned from my grandfather, I hope you learned something from this fight.” Iolaus raised his head and grasped Exl's arm which she had offered to him and responded:
“I sure have, thank you Exl.”
Hercules walked to the two fighters and said:
“If you've got everything sorted out, I believe we were on our way to Thebes.” He gave Iolaus his bag and Gabrielle gave Exl hers and they continued their journey to Thebes.
In a temple near Thebes, a man was kneeled in front of the altar and praying:
“Oh mighty Hera, my spies have informed me that Hercules is headed this way. But he is not alone, he has Xena and her friends with him. I pray to you oh great Hera, give me a sign, how can I defeat the great Hercules?”
A peacock feather floated down in front of him and he picked it up smiling.
It was nearly dark and the troupe decided to stop and set up camp for the night, they would reach Thebes in the morning. As they were sitting by the fire, Hercules went on a small walk away from the campsite. He looked at the dark sky and sighed. He heard footsteps behind him and he hid in the bushes. When the mysterious character reached him, he grabbed it by the shirt and raised his fist. But seeing the person who he was holding on to, he said with relief:
“Exl, it's you. Don't sneak up on people like that.” Exl replied:
“Sorry Hercules, I didn't mean to startle you. I just wondered where you disappeared to and followed you to see you were okay.” Hercules released his grip on Exl and said:
“I just wanted to get my thoughts straight.” He looked at the sky again and Exl asked him:
“Is something the matter?” Hercules looked at her and said:
“Seeing that Xena and Gabrielle have found their soulmates in each other and seeing you three as a family makes me very happy, but it also made me think about my family.”
“Is it true that your family died in a tragic accident?”, Exl asked him. Hercules seemed slightly angry and said:
“It was no accident, they died because of Hera. She has always hated me for what Zeus did. So she destroyed my family, my wife and my three dear children.” Exl looked at the sky and said:
“I've lost my family too.” Hercules looked at Exl with amazement and grief. Exl continued:
“When I just a small child, my parents were killed by an evil shaman who had always wanted my father's place as King. He murdered them in cold blood, with no mercy. He tried to kill me too, but he was too weak. He had to go into hiding and when I returned to my father's kingdom a while ago, he tried to finish the job he started so long ago. But I stopped him, I pushed him to his death from the same cliff where he ended my parents' lives years ago.” Exl turned to Hercules and went on with her story:
“We're not so different you and I, we've both lost our families in an unfair way. When I pushed Korago from that cliff and avenged my parents' death, I thought it would ease my pain somehow but it didn't. Nothing will ever bring them back and I have accepted that.” She pointed at the sky saying:
“They're up there, in Heaven and your family is in your Elysian Fields, waiting for you. You'll be together again some day, but until then you have all your friends by your side, you're not alone. I have Xena and Gabrielle and all my new friends and because you're such a great hero, I'm sure you have lots of friends too.”
Hercules had been listening to Exl so carefully he didn't know what to say, except:
“Thank you Exl. The stories about you are true.” Exl was surprised and she asked:
“What stories?” Hercules looked into Exl's eyes and answered:
“The stories that despite your young age, you are very wise, you have a good heart and that you have the most amazingly gorgeous eyes.”
Exl blushed slightly and said:
“Thanks Hercules. Let's go back to camp and get some rest.”
When they returned they found Iolaus, Gabrielle and Xena preparing their bedrolls for the night and after a while, they were all sound asleep.
In the morning after a quick breakfast, they continued their journey and it wasn't long before they reached Thebes. Gabrielle and Exl went to reserve rooms for them in the inn, Iolaus stayed with them while Hercules accompanied with Xena were asked to come and help solve a dispute between some townspeople. As they were walking back towards the inn, four figures dressed in black surrounded them. On their chests they had a picture of a red eye, the sign of Hera. One of the figures said to Hercules:
“Surrender or face the wrath of Hera.” Hercules looked at Xena and said ignoring the attackers:
“I think I've heard that one before…” Xena grinned and as they were attacked, both Hercules and Xena had their hands full fighting Hera's soldiers. Hercules' fierce punches and Xena's swift kicks were accurate and as the soldiers were beaten down to the ground, one of them said:
“You and your friends will pay for this.” A cloud of smoke suddenly appeared and the soldiers were gone. Xena and Hercules were left standing in the middle of town looking at the empty ground, then quickly turned to look at each other. The look on their faces signaled worry about their companions. Xena said in haste:
“Gabrielle, Exl…” Hercules replied with the same haste:
“Iolaus…” They ran back to the inn as fast as they could and went to see if the others were okay. Their rooms were completely turned upside down and signs of struggle were everywhere. At the bar, they found the innkeeper struggling to catch his breath. When he saw the two, he said with a shallow voice:
“Your friends, they took them…”
“Who took them?”, Xena asked the innkeeper.
“They were… Hera's soldiers… they asked me where they could find you… When I couldn't tell them exactly where you had gone to, they went and attacked your friends…”, the innkeeper answered.
“Where did they take them?”, Hercules asked.
“I heard them mention the temple of Hera… It's just outside of town… Beware, everything there is not as it seems…”, was the innkeeper's answer.
Seeing that the innkeeper was okay, Xena and Hercules left the inn and on the way to the temple, Xena asked Hercules:
“Why would Hera's soldiers kidnap Gabrielle, Iolaus and Exl?” Hercules knew the answer right away:
“For the same reason they attacked us. Hera wants to destroy me once and for all, and apparently she is trying to get to me by hurting my friends. I'm sorry Xena, this is my fault. Because of me, they're in terrible danger…”
Hercules seemed very angry and remorseful, but Xena put her hand on his shoulder and said to him:
“In case you've never realized it, our lives are in danger nearly every day. I know you're worried about them, so am I. But I know that they'll be alright as long as they're together. I know Exl will do anything to protect Gabrielle, she'll put up a real fight in order to get them to safety. We have to find them, do you agree with me?”
Hercules looked at Xena's azure eyes and saw that she really believed that their captures companions would be alright. He nodded, grasped Xena's arm she had offered him and replied:
“First we find them, then I'll go and face Hera.” Xena shook her head and corrected him:
“Not you, WE will.”
In the temple, not very far from town, Gabrielle and Exl were held in the temple dungeon. They heard shouting from the next room and saw how two soldiers dragged Iolaus to another cell and chained him from his wrists and ankles to the wall. Iolaus asked from his captured friends:
“Gabrielle, Exl, are you okay?” They both answered yes and Gabrielle asked Iolaus:
“Are you okay? What was all that shouting?” Iolaus replied:
“I'm fine, those guys just tried to play tough. They wanted to know where Hercules was and I refused to answer. I won't help Hera's men capture my best friend.” After all the guards left the dungeon, Exl said:
“Now is the time for our escape.” From her left boot, right next to where her knives usually were, she pulled out a set of lock picks and said:
“It's a good thing Autolycus gave me these for Solstice. He knew I could use these someday.”
As she started to pick the lock of the shackle on her right ankle, Iolaus said:
“How did you do that?” Exl looked at him and asked:
“Free yourself from your chains?”
“What are you talking about Iolaus? I just started to unlock my shackle, see?”, Exl answered and showed the shackle that was on her ankle. But Iolaus still didn't understand:
“But how did you release your wrists?” Gabrielle said behalf of Exl:
“Her hands were never chained in the first place.” Iolaus struggled in his chains and said:
“But how? You are one dangerous fighter, how could they leave you so loosely chained?”
Exl had finally unlocked her shackle and said to Iolaus:
“Remember what I said yesterday about the fact of letting my opponents underestimate me. When we were attacked in the inn, I didn't struggle and when we were brought here I heard one of the soldiers say something like this about me:
“She's just a kid, we won't be of much threat to us” and they only put this lame excuse of a shackle on my ankle.” She stood up and started to unlock the door of her cell as Iolaus asked her another question:
“I thought about it already at the inn, why didn't you put up a fight against the attackers? You could have probably beaten them easily.” Exl rolled her eyes slightly and turned to Iolaus saying:
“Because, if I would have fought them, something could have gone wrong. They would have seen my real strength and abilities and I would have wound up like you, heavily chained. I couldn't take the risk of making a mistake like that because I had to protect Gabrielle, I've promised Xena I would protect her with my life. By not fighting them, I ensured that I would be here with Gabrielle.” Gabrielle smiled at Exl and she smiled back at her friend. Iolaus also smiled and said to the young warrior:
“If I didn't know you any better, I would say you're the personification of Loyalty and Friendship.”
They all laughed and just as Exl had opened the door to her cell, Gabrielle heard something from the next room.
“Exl, it's the guards, quickly”, she said to Exl, who went to sit where she had been previously and put the shackle loosely on her ankle, so it would appear that she had done nothing to it. They were all very quiet when two guards entered the cell block and opened the door to Gabrielle's cell. A guard with a very insincere grin on face walked to Gabrielle and said:
“It's your turn, sweet cheeks.” Gabrielle looked at him with disgust and said to him:
“Don't call me sweet cheeks…” The guard got angry and said to Gabrielle:
“If I were you, I'd come quietly. It will be much less painful for you if you co-operate.” Exl stood up and said to the guard:
“If I were you, I wouldn't talk to her like that…” She was starting to loose her temper. The guard ignored her and grabbed Gabrielle by the chains on her wrists and pulled her after him from the cell. That's when Exl kicked the shackle from her ankle and smashed the door at the guard's face. He let go of Gabrielle's chains and held his aching nose. Exl kicked the other guard on the chest and sent him flying across the cell block to the back wall. When the guard had finally ignored his nose, he grabbed Exl's shoulders and she grabbed his hands and flipped behind him. But unfortunately the guard was quicker and turned around and punched Exl on the cheek and temple. The punch was too much for Exl, she fell straight on the hard floor of Gabrielle's cell and went unconscious for a moment. Gabrielle raced to her side to assess her injuries, the left corner of her mouth was only slightly bleeding. She tried to wake up Exl, but didn't succeed at first. Iolaus was angry to see the way his friends were treated, she shouted to the guard:
“You dirty creep, why don't you fight someone your own size, not young women!” The guard closed the cell door and locked it, leaving Exl with Gabrielle and he walked to Iolaus' cell door and said back to him:
“Watch your mouth little man, or you'll be the first to answer to Hera for your rudeness.” After the guards left, Iolaus looked at Gabrielle and Exl who was unconscious and said to them:
“Don't worry, I know Hercules and Xena will find us.” Gabrielle was worried and she answered:
“I know, but will they make it in time?”
At the main entrance of the temple of Hera, two guards were watching their surroundings for intruders. They were warned that someone would try to attack the temple. They heard a whistle from straight ahead and saw Xena and Hercules walking towards the entrance. They stopped and looked at the guards. One guard said to the other:
“Do you know who those two are? Xena, Warrior Princess and Hercules, Son of Zeus. I heard they're two people you don't want to mess with.” They looked at the two heroes with horror and after Xena said:
“Boo!” with calm, but intimidating voice, they ran for their lives. Xena raised an eyebrow as Hercules noted:
“You still have that charming first impression on people…” They entered the temple and looked around, it was very quiet. Perhaps a bit too quiet. Seeing more guards near the stairs heading downstairs, they figured that's were they held the prisoners. With some subtle head bashing and punching, they arrived to the dungeon, where they found Iolaus chained to the wall and Gabrielle holding Exl's hand as she held her aching head. The prisoners turned to look at people who entered, first thinking they were the guards, but seeing who they really were, they were very happy.
“Xena…”, Gabrielle said being very happy to see the dark warrior open the door and enter their cell. She hugged Xena and didn't want to let go of her. Xena was happy to see Gabrielle safe, she had been very worried about them.
“Gabrielle, I so glad you're okay. When we saw the rooms at the inn…”, Xena said with a tear of joy in her eye.
“I'm okay, they didn't hurt me. But Exl… she was hit pretty hard…”, Gabrielle answered turned to look at their young friend who was still feeling poor.
“What happened?”, Xena asked her bard.
“That big scumbag called me sweet cheeks and was going to take me to be interrogated, but Exl had picked the lock of the shackle around her ankle and tried to stop him. But he surprised her with that punch, she just came to”, Gabrielle answered. Xena knelt down and touched Exl's cheek with her hand saying with a calm voice:
“Exl…Exl, can you hear me?” Exl opened her eyes slowly and as she saw the tall warrior in front of her, she answered:
“Xena… is that you?” Xena was relieved that no serious damages were visible. She continued:
“How are you feeling?” Exl kept holding her aching head and replied:
“Not that bad, if everything would stop spinning.” Xena knew exactly what to do. She placed one hand behind Exl's neck and the other below her ear. Without a warning she pressed the pressure points and after closing her eyes and opening them again, Exl saw that everything was normal, she wasn't feeling dizzy anymore.
“Thanks Xena”, she said and carefully stood up. Xena smiled at her and noted:
“Why are you always getting yourself into situations like these?” Exl's reply was short and simple:
“I guess that's just my nature. Seeing and hearing what that guy said to Gabrielle just made my blood boil.
I had to do something.” Hercules had freed Iolaus from his chains and said to the others:
“Now that we're all okay, you have to get out and fast. I have to go and face Hera.” Xena shook her head and said:
“No Hercules, don't you remember what we talked about before? You are not going to face her alone, I'm coming with you. You're not the only one she's hurt and mistreated.” Exl stood by Xena and said:
“If Xena's going, I'm coming too. I think you could use my help.” Before Xena could say anything, Gabrielle said:
“Where my two warriors go, I go.” Iolaus patted Hercules on the back and said smiling:
“Don't even think that you're going to have all that fun without your best friend.” Hercules didn't want to endanger his friends anymore, but he knew he couldn't get them to stay away. He smiled, patted Iolaus on the shoulder and said to all of them:
“Thank you. It's good to know I'm not alone.”
Exl, Gabrielle and Iolaus retrieved their weapons from a chest where they had seen the guards put them, since they where confiscated from them after they were captured.
They went up the stairs to the hall with the altar and then they heard more guards approaching. They were all ready to fight, but the guards didn't head to their direction. They started approaching the altar, when Iolaus said:
“This is weird, it's awfully quiet all of a sudden.” Before anyone could comment, a trapdoor suddenly opened in the floor and they fell down a deep tunnel. They landed on the hard ground in a heap of arms and legs.
“You were saying Iolaus?”, Hercules noted. It was so dark they couldn't see anything more than an inch away from them.
“I wish we had a torch of some kind”, Gabrielle said. Exl said nearly immediately:
“Your wish is my command”, and took out her flint from her pouch on her belt, one of her knives and a torch from next to the scabbard on her back and stroke fire to light the torch. The tunnel filled with light when she held the torch higher in the air.
“Exl, you are amazing”, Iolaus said with a big smile.
“You must always be prepared for anything, another lesson I learned being in training”, she said and the others agreed.
“Where are we?”, Gabrielle asked looking all around them.
“We must be in an underground passageway just below the temple”, Hercules said.
“How do we get out of here? Our torch won't last for long”, Exl said pointing at the torch she held.
“We'll just have to see where this passageway leads us”, Xena said and looked at the tunnel that was ahead.
Then she looked at Hercules and asked:
“Shall we?” Hercules nodded and Exl gave him the torch. They walked one behind another, Hercules first, then Xena, Gabrielle, Exl and Iolaus was last in line. They walked and walked, but the tunnel didn't seem to end.
The tunnel got larger and larger, after a while they noticed they were in some kind of cave.
“Is it just me or is it hot in here?”, Iolaus said wiping his forehead. They were some what exhausted after the long walk and the cave did seem to be warmer than the tunnel.
“Let's sit down for a while and rest. It's no use wearing ourselves out”, Hercules said and sat on a rock looking at the torch.
“What do we do after the torch burns out?”, Gabrielle asked. Xena saw something in the corner and went to take a closer look. She found a skeleton which was holding a half burnt torch in its grip. She took the torch and two leg bones from the skeleton and wrapped a piece of cloth around them which she had ripped from the skeleton's shirt. She took one last look at the skeleton and said:
“Sorry pal, but you won't need these anymore.” She walked to Gabrielle and sat down next to her and Gabrielle asked her:
“What do you think happened to him?” Xena shrugged her shoulders and replied:
“I don't know. It looks like he tried to scare something off with his torch, but he was cornered and… end of story.” Iolaus sat down in a darker part of the cave and when he stretched out his arms, he touched something rather soft. He felt cold chills climbing up his spine and he looked very surprised. Exl saw his expression and asked:
“Iolaus what is it?” He touched around him and more of the soft material was behind him.
“I touched something, something soft”, he answered. Exl tried to see what was behind him, but saw nothing.
“What are you sitting on?”, she asked.
“I don't know what it is, but it feels like fur…”, he answered with a frightened voice. A quiet growling was heard behind him and everyone's attention was drawn to it. Iolaus stood up very slowly and took a few steps away from what ever was behind him. The growling got louder and louder and instinctively Xena and Exl drew their weapons. A large creature emerged from the darkness, it was 6 ½ feet tall and it looked very fierce. It was had the head of a lion, the body and head of a goat and a serpent as its tail. As it approached the troupe, they took a few steps back. The creature growled and Exl asked the others:
“What is that thing?” Hercules knew exactly what it was and he answered:
“That's the Chimera.” Exl looked at him, then back at the monster.
“Oh you mean the legendary monster with a lion's head, a goat's body and a tail of a snake? That Chimera?”, she said. The goat's head opened its mouth and that's when Xena shouted:
“You forgot that it can breathe fire. Duck!” They all hit the deck as it breathed fire in their direction. The flames missed them only slightly. Xena stood up, turned to Hercules and asked:
“You have a plan?” Hercules just shook his head and Xena continued:
“Me neither. Let's improvise.” They both looked around themselves to get an idea how they could defeat the monster. Xena looked up and saw how the ceiling of the cave was full of sharp, pointy rocks. Then she looked at the tunnel leading out of the cave and she got an idea. She called the others to her and told them her plan.
“You all know what to do. Gabrielle and Iolaus, when I say now you make a run for the tunnel.” Iolaus nodded, but Gabrielle seemed slightly worried. Xena assured her that the plan would work, they would all make it.
“Exl, Hercules, let's get ready”, Xena said to them as Gabrielle and Iolaus got to their position near the tunnel.
Xena walked right up to the Chimera and distracted it by taunting it.
“Hey you ugly overgrown fur ball!” The Chimera turned to look at Xena with each of its heads, so it didn't notice Exl and Hercules sneak right next to it. Xena nodded as she saw them just where she had told them to be. Exl whispered to Hercules:
“Herc, give me a boost.” Hercules gave Exl a boost as she jumped onto the Chimera's back and grabbed the goat's head by the horns. That really got its attention and it tried to throw Exl of its back. Xena and Hercules tried to keep the lion's head busy so it couldn't attack Exl. Xena shouted:
“Now!” and Gabrielle and Iolaus ran into the tunnel to wait for the others. Hercules saw danger and warned Exl:
“Exl, behind you!” Exl saw how the serpent was ready to strike her with its poisonous fangs. She leaped in the air and grabbed hold of the wall as she watched how the serpent bit the goat's head and the goat breathed fire at the serpent's direction because of the pain. The lion's head turned to see what had happened to the other heads, now was the heroes chance to strike. Xena shouted to Hercules:
“Hercules, now!” Hercules struck the wall of the cave with all his strength and it made the cave tremble. The pointy rocks started falling from the ceiling and the Chimera tried its best to avoid being hit by them. It was starting to be hard for Exl to hold on to the wall of the cave. She looked behind and below her to see if it was safe to jump down. She nearly lost her grip and falling could have been catastrophic. The rocks formed a cage like construction that held the Chimera from reaching the heroes. Xena knew now was their chance to escape, she looked up towards Exl and shouted:
“Exl, jump!” Exl trusted her friend and made a back flip jumping down. She landed safely and ran to the others.
“We need to get out of here in case the whole cave collapses!”, Hercules said and Xena and Exl agreed.
They ran to Gabrielle and Iolaus who were waiting for them in the tunnel. With a quick look Gabrielle saw that they were all unharmed and she was relieved. Iolaus patted Hercules on the shoulder and gave him the torch.
“We still have work to do”, Hercules said and lead them onward.
They saw an altar ahead and raced toward it. Hercules walked right to the altar and shouted:
“Hera! Show yourself! I want to settle this once and for all!” Hera didn't show up, but her priest approached Hercules from the shadows and said to him:
“The goddess Hera agrees with you, she also wants to end this. But it will be just you and her, not your friends.”
He pulled on a rope and bars dropped from the ceiling dividing the hall in two, leaving Hercules alone with the priest while his friends were in the other part of the hall. Hercules turned to look at his friends and then said to the priest:
“It's me she wants, let my friends go. It was supposed to be between me and her.” The priest grinned and said:
“Yes it will be, but your friends still have to be disposed of.” He pointed at something behind the others and they turned around to look behind them. From nowhere, four figures appeared. They looked just like them, but they were black and white and their eyes were blood red. These dark counterparts approached their exact lookalikes and each of them was prepared to fight. Iolaus' dark self said to him:
“You're so pathetic Iolaus. You've always been called “the little guy” or “Hercules' sidekick” or his “kid brother”. No-one takes you seriously. You're always getting yourself into situations you can't handle, so your big buddy always has to save your sorry behind.” Iolaus looked annoyed and his double seemed to like teasing him.
Gabrielle's dark double was also very nasty; she kept twirling her staff and said to Gabrielle:
“My, my… if it isn't the great Gabrielle, bard and Queen of the Amazons. Some Queen you are, you can't do anything to protect yourself, you always need your two warriors to save you from everything. Who would watch over you if your warriors would happen to die? No-one. You are so weak.” Gabrielle didn't like the smirk on her face. Exl was in her fighting stance, ready to take on herself, but she wasn't attacked physically, but verbally.
“The loyal Guardian… and great warrior… It's so hard to imagine. You, a poor little orphan, a sweet little girl who never got to know her parents' love would become such a tough warrior. And that good nature of yours, so loyal, so brave, willing to sacrifice everything to protect two women you barely even know. You would have the life beaten out of you so they could be happy. You make me sick.” Exl was about to lose her temper.
Xena was looking straight into the eyes of her dark equivalent. She knew that behind those eyes was all the badness within her. She was ready, she was waiting for the first move she would make.
“Xena, you've gone all soft. In the good old times you were strong and feared. Now, you're just a goody-two-shoes doing good and making amends for your past. And you've found love, how sweet. The love of your wife and the love of your Guardian. But you're just like me, a killer, a vicious warlord, you don't deserve their love. What you need is power, that's all you've ever needed.” Xena drew her sword and so did her double.
Hercules looked at his friends then he turned to look at the priest again and asked:
“What is this? Do you think they can't defeat themselves. Hera sure has made a poor misjudgment.”
The priest smiled widely and said:
“Not at all, that's exactly what she wants. When they kill their doubles, they'll die themselves.” He laughed, but Hercules was worried. Iolaus, Xena, Gabrielle and Exl were still facing their doubles as they attacked them. Each of them fought themselves, just as expected. The dark ones were stronger and knew to expect every move the heroes made. Finally, Xena was standing by Gabrielle's side and they were back to back with Iolaus and Exl as they were surrounded by their evil counterparts. Hercules knew he had to help them somehow, or else they would kill themselves. He shouted to them:
“Don't fight yourselves! It's Hera's trap!” Exl looked at Iolaus and Gabrielle looked at Xena and they each got the same idea. In an instant, they turned around and now, Xena and Gabrielle were facing the dark Iolaus and Exl and vice versa. The dark ones didn't know how to react, they were so surprised. With a quick slash of Exl's axe and Iolaus' direct elbow hit, Xena and Gabrielle were out cold. Gabrielle knocked Iolaus unconscious with her staff and Xena stabbed Exl with her sword and they were out of the game. They watched as the four figures fell to the ground and disappeared into thin air and Hercules was relieved that his friends were alright.
He looked very angry as he turned to the priest. The priest knew that expression on the face of Hercules meant big trouble. He started to take a few steps backwards from Hercules as he approached him.
“So, where is your great goddess now?”, Hercules said to the priest with a contemptuous tone in his voice.
“This isn't over Hercules, Hera won't not stop until she has destroyed you”, the priest said trying to gather his courage. Hercules stopped and gave the priest a mean look saying:
“Well I want to show her the same courtesy” and he threw down everything that was on the altar. The priest got very scared and he ran to a secret door in the corner of the underground temple. Hercules knew that chasing him would be futile, it wouldn't help him defeat Hera. He pulled the same rope as the priest had earlier and the bars separating him from his friends were gone. Iolaus ran to his best friend and asked him:
“Herc, aren't you going to go after him?” Hercules just shook his head and replied to his short companion:
“No, he's just another fish in the sea. Hera still has priests going her dirty work all around, if one of them gets away, it's not that big of a deal.” Iolaus nodded understanding what Hercules meant and they walked to the women who had stood back to let the men talk. Gabrielle pointed back towards the tunnel from where they had come from and asked:
“How do we get out of here? If we go back there, we'll end up in the Chimera's den again.” Xena pointed at the corner and said:
“We'll just have to the same way as the priest, he must have gotten out this way.” They found themselves in another tunnel leading to who knows where. Suddenly, the tunnel divided into two. Xena searched the ground for fresh tracks and saw that the priest had gone left. Just as they were about to go the same way, Iolaus stopped them and said:
“Shh… did you hear that?” They all stopped to listen and heard the frightened shouts and calls for help of the priest and a loud growling from ahead. Then it was quiet again. Exl said:
“I think someone had a nasty encounter with the Chimera.” So their only chance was to go right and see where it would take them. They saw a beam of light ahead and walked to something that looked like a wooden door. Together they pushed it open and walked outside into the fresh air. Hercules and Iolaus recognized the place where they were, about 5 or 6 miles southwest from Corinth at an old mill that had been abandoned for nearly a decade.
“Well I'm glad we got out of there, in one piece”, Iolaus said smiling. They all smiled and Hercules asked the women:
“Would you like to come for dinner at my mother's, I'm more than sure that she has made plenty of food to share.” Xena looked at Gabrielle who seemed very hungry at hearing the word dinner and Exl who nodded with a smile. Xena grasped Hercules' arm and replied:
“We'd be delighted to.”
Later that evening, before dinner, Hercules went on a walk to go to where his family was buried. But when he got there, there was already someone there. He reached the figure and the figure turned to Hercules to see who had arrived. Hercules recognized the person and said:
“Exl, it's you.” Exl responded turning to look at the tomb stones:
“Yes Hercules, it's me. I wanted to pay my respects to your wife and children and tell them about our adventure and what a great hero and amazing friend you are. But I think they knew that already. I'm sure they're very proud of you.” Hercules could only smile and turned to look at the tomb stones as well.
“And I'm sure your parents would be very proud of you too.” They stood there quietly for a while and Hercules finally broke the silence.
“I thought about what you said the other night. About how we're not that different. You're right, we do have things in common. Both our families were lost, but still we're not alone. We both have people who care about us and who we care about. You have Gabrielle and Xena and I have Iolaus and my mother and many, many more. I know that taking revenge on Hera won't bring my family back, but I won't let her destroy anyone else I love and care for. But I still wish Deianeira and the kids could be here with me.”
Exl looked at the tall hero and said:
“As long as you love them, they will always be with you, in here. That's where they'll stay forever.” She placed her hand on Hercules' heart and smiled. Hercules looked down at the wise young warrior and ruffled her hair.
“Thanks Exl, I'm glad I have friends like you and Xena and Gabrielle and Iolaus in my life”, he said.
“I've really gained an appetite after today, what do you say we go back to your mother's for that magnificent dinner she's been preparing?”, Exl noted and turned around to walk away. Hercules nodded and before he followed Exl, he looked at the setting sun and it seemed like he could see the image of his family in the horizon. It made him smile and feel warm inside. Returning to Alcmene's house, Hercules found everyone waiting for him to arrive. He went to sit with his friends and they enjoyed the most amazing dinner any of them had eaten in a long time. Dinner could have just as well been a small loaf of old bread and a mug of water, but sharing it with friends would have made it like eating a meal fit for the gods themselves.
End of “The Goddess' Wrath”
The series will continue in: “Future Days”
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