Disclaimer: All X:WP characters belong to MCA/Renaissance. I just borrowed them to add my little spin to the Xenaverse. Everything else in the story belongs to me yadda yadda yadda and is written for your enjoyment...So, enjoy!
Warning: There is some violence, slightly more than the series, and there is some course language. And of course, Greek history as we know it has been altered to suit my needs hey if Xena producers/writers can do it, why cant I? :-D
You have been warned. Also, this is the 4th part of a story arc started by Michael Rountree aka Avondaleguy quite a few years ago, back in 1999 (or around that time) I believe. Unfortunately I dont believe his stories are available on the net anymore so Ive written up a comprehensive summary in the prologue of all that has transpired before this story.
2nd Warning: Though its not completely out in the open, the implication of two women in love is there if you wish to read it that way. Youve been warned.
Comments: Comments, good and bad, can be sent to me at Trigar@telus.net Id love to hear what you think of my story, the good and the bad.
Now, onto the featured presentation...............
Nearly half the day had passed since Gabrielle and Xena left Thebes. Gabrielle walked with Argo's reins in her hand as Xena followed silently behind, deep in thought. The clamoring birds went unnoticed as the pair passed beneath their nests. The soft breeze blowing through the air kept the duos glistening bodies comfortable in the heat of the day's sun. Unfortunately, their visit to Athens for the Festival of Dionysus had taken its toll. So much so, that the usually talkative bard had not the energy to talk of how lovely the birds sang, how beautiful the lands were, or any tales to recite.
It all started on a day cooler than this day, but just as bright and sunny several months past when the bard and warrior came upon a hidden village with a terrible curse; the curse of the Darkmeer. Many many years ago, this peaceful village had been home to some of the most violent people who had committed such atrocities that they could no longer go unpunished. Someone had to stand up to them, and they did. Their reign of terror had been halted with the execution of the worst offenders, but their vile spirits and hate filled hearts would not die so easily. And so the Darkmeer had been born to haunt their innocent descendants, neighbors and any unfortunate soul who wandered by to carry on their legacy of death and destruction by infecting innocents with their lust for blood. To prevent it, the village had willingly condemned itself to solitude deep in a forest that few traveled.
Once settled in their secluded village, a sorceress had found one villager with strength enough and heart enough to willingly take in the entire essence of all the destructive hate that threatened anyone near and kept it contained within him. As the years passed, so did the Darkmeer from one host to another who had been deemed a capable candidate to contain the beast. Each host fought an endless struggle to keep the Darkmeer and the destructive force always fighting to be free. The host became super aware of their surroundings as the emotions from the tiniest animal to the largest giant could be felt simultaneously invading his senses and clamoring his brain hoping to confuse and find a route to freedom. But each host had prevailed, until the last.
The Darkmeer was able to feel the darkness of the stranger known as Xena and the lure of her dark side had given it enough strength to influence. It stretched its tendrils out to engulf the warrior and tap into her already present darkness. He would lure her to kill his current host and set him free to rule through a new host of lesser strength to once again wreck havoc upon the lands. Its plan seemed flawless as all went accordingly. Once the rage within the Darkmeers current host had become too much for him to contain, the warrior princess was infected and sent into a berserker rage killing all in her path, including the host of the Darkmeer. But the villages sorceress had been near and knew what the Darkmeer had been up to and so she spun her magic. Its reign of freedom had been short lived before the sorceress once again trapped the Darkmeer within the strong body and will of the warrior princess as just punishment for the murder of the Darkmeers host and several of the villagers. Xena, filled with grief and remorse and self loathing, willingly accepted the punishment and left the village.
But then Ares had other plans. Plans of grandeur! After the bumbling Joxer had been killed in senseless battle, orchestrated by Ares himself so he could harness the great potential Ares had recognized in the bumbling fool And once the war god had realized this hidden potential, Ares set his plans in motion and stole the soul of Joxer right from under Hades nose. Reborn with no memories of his past or former self, he knew only what Ares taught him and trained him to be, the new skilled warrior known as Alexander.
Alexander had begun his conquests early and had proven himself time and time again. With his growing reputation and conquests, Alexander dubbed himself The Great as he stood above everyone else in battle. His growing reputation soon reached the ears of the warrior princess and the wandering bard. When they finally confronted the man, not only were they shocked and dumbstruck by squaring off against the face of a friend, but to find out that he had also taken an army with Ares backing with the skill that rivaled that of the warrior princess was beyond belief. However, the greatest shock came when Alexander struck Xena down with the mighty sword that had been on loan from the war god, imbued with his power for just such an occasion. It was the end of a great warrior and hero, and Ares wept over Xenas death knowing that there was no other way. If Alexander was to succeed, it was going to be with Xena out of the picture even if it broke his heart to do so. Now nothing stood in his path to glory or so he thought.
No one could anticipate that the Darkmeer that once resided within Xena took up new residence inside the great Alexander upon her death. Little did the Darkmeer know that Alexander would be much stronger than it anticipated as it once again found itself trapped within a host stronger than it. That coupled with the fact that the god of the underworld had discovered Ares treachery, Hades released Xenas soul to even the odds when it was called forth by a wizardess from a nearby village. Gabrielle's heart nearly burst from her chest with joy when she found Xena alive. Ha, alive all right. Gabrielle thought. Alive with no memory of Xena, Warrior Princess.
The villagers who had found her were convinced that she was their recently deceased wizardess, Carinna. Gabrielle found herself on a roller coaster of emotions. She didn't know whether to thank the gods for giving her Xena back, or curse them for playing such a cruel joke on her for the memory-less woman.
After Carinna, as the villagers had come to call the resurrected Xena, restored Joxers/Alexanders memories, Gabrielle was over zealous in performing the ritual on Carinna herself to reunite Xenas memories with her body. Initially, the ritual seemed to have worked without a hitch, Gabrielle was ecstatic. Though later, she discovered Carinna/Xena had not been entirely truthful about the success of the ritual. In reality, Carinna/Xena regained fragments of memories she had yet to understand entirely. Apparently the ritual was made more complicated since Carinna had to perform it on herself. The determined bard vowed to herself and to Xena that they would both paste together the pieces of Xena's past. There was only one place Gabrielle knew of that would hold the key to unlocking Xena's memories: Amphipolis.
"Gabrielle," Xena uttered in a soft voice not quite her own. "Maybe I should lead Argo for awhile."
Gabrielle turned to look at Xena, still dressed in a simple blue dress that just fell short of the ground. It caught her off guard seeing Xena without her armor on. She seemed so relaxed and at peace. With a friendly smile, Gabrielle handed Xena the reins. "Here you go."
Xena took them gently in her hands, carefully measuring up the horse. Then added with a smile of what appeared to be uncertainty. "After all, she is my horse right?" She commented as she tenderly stroked Argo on the snout. Then, with a deep breath, she led the horse down their intended path.
The two women continued down the well-used trade route in silence. Joxers eager army left myriad fresh footprints for them to follow. Now, as Alexander, he was leading the life his former self had only dreamed of. He was leading the crusade against Persia, and went ahead of the two of them seeking recruits.
Gabrielle walked a few paces behind Xena, searching to find the Xena she knew and loved. The problem was, everything Gabrielle saw *was* Xena. The way she talked, the way she walked, even the way she held herself was Xena. Yet, at the same time, wasn't.
"How could the gods be so cruel?" she muttered to herself unintentionally outloud.
Xena cocked her head towards Gabrielle. "Did you say something?" Xena inquired.
"Who me? No no. Just, uh, going over a story out loud." Gabrielle stammered an excuse, not really having an answer to offer her. "Sorry..."
Xena eyed her for a minute with a raised eyebrow, not sure whether to push the subject. Then, she thought against it. She knew what Gabrielle had mumbled. But what could she say? She still had no idea of Xena's life, though she allowed Gabrielle to call her Xena instead of Carinna. She found herself believing the young bard more than she had the villagers who had given her the name and history of Carinna. That, and the fact she displayed no skill for magic, made her believe the young woman by her side that much more. Whereas the sword and, oh what did Gabrielle call it, the Chakram? That's it. The sword and the chakram felt like old friends while in her hands. The battle in Thebes proved that. But, she still refused to wear the armor. That was another woman. Another life. Perhaps, once she got her memories back, she would don the armor. But until then, she felt comfortable in her plain dress. Comfortable, yet somehow out of sync with it. She found she wanted to get back in touch with the simple life that this simple blue dress that currently adorned her muscled body promised.
Though, she sensed that simple life might not be as attainable for her as the leather armor which seemed to be patiently waiting for her in the saddlebags. She intended to relish every peaceful moment while she had the chance. Because, in her heart, she knew it wouldn't last for long. She was born to be more than just a simple woman.
Hours and miles drifted by in silence as each woman found themselves engulfed in their own thoughts. Both tried to find a way to express themselves to the other. Finally, Xena broke the silence. "Gabrielle-"
"Hmm?" Gabrielle looked at her hopefully.
Xena said nothing for a second. The seconds stretched by slowly, making Gabrielle believe that Xena was indeed going to remain silent until she finally did continue. "...we should make camp soon."
Looking up at the sky, Gabrielle agreed with her. The bard held Xenas eyes for a few moments intending to say something while the silent warrior had opened up the gates of communication, even if just the briefest of cracks. She wanted to tell her how much she loved her friend. How watching her die, again, wrenched her soul from her body and that her life seemed meaningless without the beautiful warrior by her side. That no matter what the gods threw at them, she would always be there for her through thick and thin. Nothing would stand in the way of the love that she held for this lost warrior. But to her surprise, Gabrielle found she had no words to express her feelings. So she said the only thing she could think of.
"I think there's a clearing not far from here to make camp."
High atop Mt. Olympus, in his dark war room, Ares sat comfortably on his throne. His chin rested on his fist as scantily clad serving wenches attended him. He cast looks of boredom and annoyance at them. The evil smile which caressed his wicked features dropped as one of his wenches brought him out of his reverie offering a bowl of fruit.
"Leave me be!" the god of war scowled as he waved her away with the same hand he was using as a chin rest. The wench quickly lowered her head, and rushed out of the room. "All of you leave, now!" All the women disappeared from the room much in the same manner as the first.
Ares looked around the empty room. Nothing but tables flooded with maps and chess figures remained. He smiled to himself. "Now," he thought with a grin, "now, the fun begins."
He sprang up from his throne, and marched over to where some chess pieces lay. He held up a female figurine holding it between his thumb and forefinger. Slowly, he brought it close to his face and turned it over, admiring its workmanship.
"Hades, you think you've won don't you?" Ares stated to himself, not really expecting an answer, Ares' mischievous smile never dropped from his handsome face. "I should thank you for practically delivering Xena back into my fold."
He carefully extended the figurine he held towards a marble pedestal. As it neared its destination, Ares' laughter grew louder and deeper until the figurine found its mark. Ares' self-satisfied laughter bellowed throughout Mt. Olympus unchallenged.
"Youre mine, Xena! At last, you *are* mine."
The sun had melted away, letting the darkness claim the lands. Gabrielle and Xena had just finished the soup the bard had made with some vegetables she had bought in the markets of Athens. Gabrielle watched as Xena got comfortable on her bedroll. This brought to mind an idea. Maybe a story about some of their adventures together might stir something in Xena. It was worth a try, she thought hopefully.
Xena turned over on her side to face Gabrielle across the fire and answered, "Yes?"
"I was thinking that maybe you'd like to hear a story."
"Sure." Xena turned to listen to the tale Gabrielle prepared to weave. Xena couldnt help but think that Gabrielle was a truly gifted bard as this particular story caught her interest immediately; a story about a mighty warrior princess who overcame her own evil to fight for cause of good. She dearly wanted to listen, to find out more about this woman, but found she couldn't. All day, both women had remained silent. Each caught up in her own thoughts. Now, words were being spoken, and she could barely keep her eyes open, let alone focused. Her eyes refused to remain alert, and her mind drifted elsewhere. Sleep had claimed her quicker than she thought imaginable.
"Hmph, she never fell asleep during one of my stories before." the bard thought for a moment trying to recall it ever happening before. "Nope, she usually just told me to be quiet. The last couple of days must have drained her more than I thought."
For a minute, Gabrielle watched the slumbering Xena. So serene, so still. The bard couldn't remember the last time Xena ever fell asleep so quick and peacefully. "Guess I'll have to keep one eye open for the both of us tonight."
Xena's eyes shot open as something cold ran across her back. She spun around. Nothing. Nothing but an empty grassy field. She looked to the sky, only to be blinded by the suns brilliant light. She averted her eyes, but not quickly enough to avoid the black sun spots which marred her vision. She tried rubbing them away. Nothing.
In one swift motion, she spun around to face an armored man.
"Xena, my warrior princess, this," he raised a handful of jewels to her, " is for you."
She stared at the featureless man, clad in dark armor, for only a moment. Everything outside of his eyes melted away to be replaced by a richly decorated throne room, with her seated upon a throne of gold. She looked down at herself, dressed in her own leather armor. Feelings and urges stirring up inside her soul. Want, greed, revenge, and passion began to fill her seductively. They seemed so unnatural, but at the same time, so compelling. Somewhere inside, she yearned for more.
The man remained several paces back, his features still somewhat blurred from her. She could make out that he was tall and appeared to be quite handsome. The blurriness at last could not hide his thick, jet black hair which accentuated his strong features.
"Come with me Xena, my warrior princess, and your heart will never go unfulfilled." the man's whispered words echoed through the air, reverberating down into her soul. She found herself drawn in by his seductive words. His promise carried the possibility of physical and emotional love, pure unrestrained passion, riches beyond her wildest dreams, and power. Raw power, the very likes few mortals have ever experienced.
Before her eyes, everything flashed in and out of existence. Men appeared at her sides, caressing her body. She reached out to one of the men. Her fingers touched his face just as he disappeared from her. Women, in fine silks, offered her fruits and jewels. Upon her touch, they too vanished from sight. She felt herself sink into her throne. Her eyes lit up as she found herself buried hip deep in riches, which ranged from exquisite jewels and valuable stones to cold, hard gold.
She dipped her hands into the pool of riches, snatching up the treasure and letting it spill through her fingers. Her baby blues sparkled as brightly as the brightest jewel reflected in them. Laughter erupted from her as the coins she scooped up fell lovingly over her body. She knew she should accept nothing from this strange man, but she couldn't help herself. She found herself wanting what he offered.
The man stood motionless before her, his eyes never leaving her. His pleasure growing, a smile spread across his handsome features. He knew she couldn't resist. She was....
"Xena. Come on Xena, time to wake up." Gabrielle said as she gently nudged Xena to consciousness a few hours after the sun had risen. Xena rolled over on her back, her eyes fluttering open. Gabrielle saw the smile Xena still wore on her face from her sleep. The bard laughed inwardly, shaking her head.
"Must have been some dream. What was it about?"
Xena smiled, arched a brow and shrugged her shoulders as she got up. "I'm not sure. I can't really remember." Xena replied honestly.
Gabrielle smiled, not sure of what to say. Whatever the dream was, she was thankful it made Xena so happy. Shes never known Xena to wake up with such a light heart.
The two women went about gathering their things when a rare sound filled the air. Is that singing? Gabrielle looked around to where Xena stood gathering their things and sure enough, there was Xena, singing a familiar beautiful melody as she worked. Xena is singing? Boy that must have been one good dream! To say Gabrielle had been surprised to discover her friend singing would have been an under statement, but an occurrence she welcomed whole heartedly as her own smile grew. The infectious melody lifted her soul as the bard picked up the tune as she hummed along. The young woman couldnt think of a better way to start off a long day of traveling.
Good thing the day had started off so well because the day had turned into quite the scorcher and patience tester. By late morning, the two women were wiping away beads of sweat that formed on their skin as their clothes began to stick uncomfortably to their bodies. At this rate, they would have to stop for the comfort of shade and hopefully a stream within the next hour.
"So this is what it would have felt like to be cooked up as that giants main meal." Gabrielle remarked humorously as she wiped her forehead with the back of her hand.
"Giants supper?!" Xena's eyebrows arched disbelievingly towards the bard.
"It's a long story. You sure it won't put you to sleep?" Gabrielle teased.
"I told you I was sorry. Really!" Xena exclaimed in her defense, feigning a look of hurt.
Gabrielle laughed at Xena's failed attempt at looking wounded.
"I'll tell you all about it while Argo leads us to a nice stream out of the sun." the horse snorted it's approval as Xena loosened her grip on the reins, letting Argo lead the way.
"Did I teach her that?" Xena asked amused as she watched the horse lead the way.
Gabrielle looked at her friend barely able to surpress her giggle. "Come on, I'll tell you about it in my story."
Argo did indeed find a nice shady spot along the stream. Xena had insisted on unsaddling the mare while Gabrielle relaxed by the cool, bubbling stream, occasionally splashing the inviting water over her hot skin. Xena quickly joined Gabrielle, hoping to cool herself off as well.
The two friends sat by the stream's edge for a little while longer as the sun's heat began to wane. In that short respite, Gabrielle finished her tale about being the giants main course, secretly hoping Xena would remember the incident. She didn't, which caused a slight tension to fill the air around them.
"Well, at least I didn't put you to sleep." the bard again teased as she lay on the grassy ground next to Xena.
Xena leaned against a tree trunk smiling at the bards attempt to lighten the atmosphere. She could see the pain reflected in the young bard's blue/green eyes as she told her she could not remember the incident.
'Who am I?' Xena thought to herself as she watched the lazy stream flow by. 'This isn't right. Why can't I remember?! It's my life. MY LIFE!' She exclaimed in her mind as she picked up a nearby rock and flung it into the stream causing a small splash. It frustrated her that she was so powerless to do anything about her situation except sit and wait. She knew that wasn't her style.
She tried calming herself before they took to the road again. Being angry at a situation she could do nothing about, made little sense. Besides, she didn't want to upset Gabrielle anymore than she all ready was.
"Hey," Xena gently nudged Gabrielle with her foot, "time to go."
"I'm all ready gone." Gabrielle stated as she pushed herself up with her elbows. "I'm going to fill the water skins before we leave." She grabbed her staff and walked off towards the skins.
Xena watched Gabrielle leave to fill the skins, wondering what must be going through her mind. Wondering how all this must be affecting her and admiring the womans bravery in the face of such difficulties. She shook the thoughts away, leaving herself to saddle Argo. Before long, they were back on the road.
Gabrielle told stories nearly till the time they settled for the night. Xena noticed, however, that Gabrielle seemed to have stayed away from the stories depicting Xena's adventures. Once in a while she'd mention a reference to Xena, but that was mostly it.
The women lay on top of their bedrolls, preparing for sleep. No fire burned. The night air was much too warm for that. As Gabrielle lay on her back, arms folded across her chest, she looked up into the night sky. The sky was so clear the bard could see every constellation twinkling against the black heavens. Stories of each constellation sprang to mind. She rolled her head over to look at Xena. Again, Xena had fallen asleep quicker than even herself despite the stifling heat of the night. She rolled her head back.
'This is going to be a long night.' Gabrielle thought to herself as she felt herself fidgeting under the heat of the night air. She let her mind drift into solutions on how to get Xena to remember her past. She thought that by telling her stories of the lands and peoples they had met first, and then stories of their adventures might help her. That way, Xena wouldnt feel overwhelmed by all the stories of her good deeds over the last couple of years. She couldnt tell just yet if her method was having any positive effects on Xenas memory. She closed her eyes, letting her mind wander through possible solutions.
Xena's eyes closed, her mind slipped away to a quiet village. Beautiful blossom fragrances filled the air accompanied by the laughter of playing children. Xena felt at peace as she helped out at the local inn. No difficulties, no trouble, just a quiet and peaceful life.
Screams suddenly ripped through the peaceful atmosphere, shattering the serene scene. Xena's eyes widened with surprise as she shot out of the inn to find out what caused the disturbance. Horrified, she found soldiers ripping through this peaceful village killing everything. She felt light headed as her world began to spin.
Everything spun so fast. The ground disappeared beneath her feet. Air rushed up past her as she fell uncontrollably to whatever awaited. Sounds of battle drifted up to meet her. She frantically searched about trying to find the battle. Gray clouds of smoke blocked her view. She felt a force take hold of her body, swinging her around.
She was on top of a horse, sword in hand. Men around her turned to her for their orders. She stared at them, confusion playing through her. A small village lay before them.
"No." she said looking at the village and then her sword, lowering it. "I won't do it again."
The warriors eyes grew dark and menacing. They raised their swords to her and attacked. She fought to bring her sword up in defense, but found she could not move. She was helpless, powerless. She felt the coldness of their blades cut into her vulnerable flesh. Panic and fear began to fill her body. Slashing and piercing blades found their mark. She cried out in fear, an unnatural fear that she'd never felt the likes of before. And the pain- the pain raged through her mortal body more intensely with each new wound.
Just as she felt the last ounce of her life slipping away, she forced herself to look up at her murderers through the cloud of pain and fear. She beheld their bloodlust, their pleasure in giving her pain and ultimately her death. The faces of evil flashed before hers as they delivered new wounds again and again. Their evil, maniacal smiles unrelenting, their laughter unforgiving; it all filled her heart, her very soul with powerful emotions. Emotions she knew she possessed, but dared not release.
Through the haze of death, she could see a lone figure in black leather standing above everything. His dark eyes looked down at her in sorrow as his head shook disapprovingly.
"Xena." he called softly in the wind. "Come to me and you can end all your suffering." His hand reached out towards her. Uncertainty filled her mind. Again the pain of the piercing blades ran through her. Darkness began to take ahold of her. "It can't end like this," she whispered through the pain. Tentatively she reached out to him with her last vestige of strength. His hands clasped around hers. A wicked smile spread across his face.
His power rejuvenated her mortally wounded body. Her eyes flashed with hatred formed from their evil. Her motor skills were once again her own. Now, hatred and rage coursed through her body, the helplessness replaced by power. She refused to die.
Her body sprang to action as she cried out her shrill war cry. She leapt up and back flipped over her enemies. How many, she couldnt tell; that no longer mattered. Her feet landed on solid ground behind them. She willed her sword to her hand, fending off the first wave of attackers. Her arms danced in a flurry of parries and blocks. Her face contorted into a mask of rage. Her eyes burned with revenge. Her motions became a blur as she cut through their ranks with incredible ease.
With the sound of each dying warrior, her power grew. Without hesitation, she tore into them with her sword and bare hands. Warriors were thrown back with powerful kicks and lightning punches. Her hands thrust out in some instances, locking onto weak exposed necks. With a quick twist, necks snapped beneath her grip. She let out a cry of triumph as another fell to the ferocity of her attack. Soon, all bloody, she stood over the corpses of many enemies. She looked up to find several warriors running away in fear. This brought a wicked smile to her already contorted face. She looked down at her empty hands. Her chakram appeared out of the mist.
"You don't get away that easily!" she yelled to the retreating warriors.
She snapped the chakram back and then forward, letting it fly. With its death delivering whistle, it found its mark. Like a hot knife cutting through butter, the chakram sliced through the necks of its victims coming to rest in the head of the last. Never again would she let anyone harm her.
Behind her, a single man in black leather appeared in a cloud of smoke. His heart delighted at the sight before him; a battle field filled with the carnage of war. His warrior princess battled through it in all her former power and glory. The same emotions that brought her to this point in the first place would always be a part of her. Only this time, she had very little memory of how to fight these feelings. It was so simple. Now, all he had to do was get rid of the bard.
"Xena, are you all right?!" Gabrielle asked cautiously keeping a short distance between them as she worriedly watched Xena slashing at a nearby tree.
Xena's still sleeping body spun around, sword in hand, and bloodlust coursing through her dream filled eyes. Her mind showed to her no one but enemies surrounding her. With her shrill war cry, and evil, lopsided grin, she swung her blade upwards towards Gabrielle's head.
Frantically, the bard scrambled away from the deadly blade, bumping into the side of the golden mare at the same time, nearly losing her balance. The horse let out a whinny in protest as she anxiously stomped the ground around her.
Again Xena attacked, swinging her sword horizontal to Gabrielle's mid-section. The bard jumped back, stretching her abdomen out of the reach of the sword. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of her war staff. She looked up into Xena's eyes. The black emptiness which now filled them scared her.
Gabrielle quickly whirled around, snatching up her staff. Continuing with the momentum of her turn, she narrowly turned back in time to deflect another attack.
"Xena! Xena it's me, Gabrielle...Your friend!" Gabrielle cried frantically. "You've got to wake up!"
Xena paused in her attack. Gabrielle stood at the ready. Xena's eyes blinked rapidly, waking up from her dream. Her eyes came to focus on Gabrielle's frightened face.
"Gabrielle? What's wrong?" the concern was genuine in her voice. She reached out to her and stopped when Gabrielle took a step back. Gabrielle was eyeing her outstretched hand. Puzzled, Xena looked down. To her surprise, her sword was in hand and her dress was torn and ripped almost beyond decency. She looked at her sword for a moment, not sure what to do with it. It felt so warm in her hand. Her heart was racing. "What happened?"
"I could ask you the same thing." Gabrielle replied in-between surprised gasps of air as she attempted to catch her breath.
Xena saw Gabrielle standing in a defensive posture, staff in hand. She looked at the staff, then at her own sword in her hand.
"I attacked you didn't I?" Xena's voice was level, her sword still in hand.
"No," she said, directing Xena's attention to a tree behind her. "You attacked that tree; I just got in the way."
Xena looked at her sword quizzically. She didn't want to put it down, but knew she had to. Gabrielle relaxed once the sword was out of Xena's hands.
"What happened Xena? What were you dreaming of?" Gabrielle asked as she walked over to her friend.
Xena heard the quiver in Gabrielle's voice. She was frightened, frightened of her. What did happen? One minute she was sleeping, the next, she was trying to kill Gabrielle.
"I don't know." Xena said simply. She remembered the power, the thrill. She felt unbeatable. The sensations excited her. The possibilities intrigued her, yet terrified her at the same time. She looked down at her sword, which lay in a clump of grass. Right now, the sword seemed to be the only thing she understood. But there was something else, something vague. She remembered a village so peaceful, and calm. There was also an inn with an ever smiling woman. The owner probably. She found the thought of it comforting. But, the thought of it seemed to fade away much quicker than the power she felt with the sword.
Gabrielle saw there was more to it than what Xena was letting on. She watched as no emotions registered on the tall, raven haired woman's face. Xena appeared to be remembering her dream. Gabrielle reached out to her only to have Xena pull away from her touch.
"Xena, talk to me. Tell me what you're remembering," pleaded Gabrielle. Xena looked down at the bard, her eyes begging to let her help. She knew the two of them had shared a strong bond before all of this started. She found herself wanting to reach out to the bard.
"Don't fight this alone. You don't have to anymore Xena." the bard said in her most reassuring tone.
But something held the warrior back. She still felt the power burn inside of her. She wanted to go with it, and found it hard to suppress. But she knew it could not be allowed to run free.
"I'm here for you Xena. Let me in."
How could the bard know anything of these feelings? She was so young and innocent. "There's nothing to talk about!" Xena shot back as her arm lashed out at the air between them, pushing the bard away from her.
"All right." the bard shot back defensively, taking a step back, hands raised in front of her. "Just know that if there's anything you ever need to talk about, I'm not going anywhere."
They held one another's eyes for a moment before Xena turned and walked away. Something was terribly wrong. But what? thought Gabrielle with more than a hint of worry. Xena wouldnt talk to her and she had no idea what was going on inside of her head. She found this so frustrating, after everything they've been through together. Gabrielle found it hard to accept Xena's silence. She had to help Xena get her memories back quick before she lost her way.
"It's nearly dawn." Xena grunted back over her shoulder. "We might as well pack and make ready to leave."
"Ya, I guess so." Gabrielle responded with little enthusiasm.
Xena reappeared after Gabrielle had finished packing their things wearing her armor; the armor she had been so reluctant to put on since they left Thebes. The young strawberry blonde wasn't sure how to take this change in wardrobe. Xena was remembering her life, but what part? Things werent looking very promising.
The day was slightly cooler than the previous days, but still warm nonetheless. The weather was just right for traveling as a slight breeze blew through. But Gabrielle noticed storm clouds moving in from the East. Great, she thought. Not only is Xena in a dark mood, but the heavens are turning on me too? She sighed. What else could go wrong?
"I remember something about this area." Xena interrupted, talking more to the wind as she sat atop Argo, than to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle's train of thought was broken at the sound of Xena's voice. Hope spread across the bards face, her eyes opened wide with anticipation.
"You do?! That's great! What do you remember of it?" Gabrielle excitedly asked.
"I remember how my army and I rode through this area about six years ago. There was a small coastal village east of here. We ransacked it, taking the supplies we needed. They put up a valiant fight. I remember the villagers resistance gave my men good practice."
Gabrielle looked at Xena, the disappointment evident, as she recounted the memory. If she didn't know better, she would have almost guessed Xena savored the thought.
Gabrielle went to Xena's side, gently placing a hand on Xena's leg to slow her down to talk.
"Is that all you remember? Your army? What about your mother in Amphipolis, or your brothers Lyceus and Toris? Or how about all the good you've accomplished within the last couple of years?" Gabrielle stood there, waiting for an answer. Xena simply sat atop Argo, staring straight ahead. She wasn't sure if she was thinking about the question, or ignoring her.
Slowly, she turned to look down at Gabrielle who casually leaned on her staff. Gabrielle's eyes demanded an answer; Xena's own face remained expressionless.
"I remember." was all she offered in a dark tone to the young bard. Not waiting for a reaction, Xena spurred her horse into motion. Gabrielle found herself glued to the spot for a moment, not sure what to make of Xena's response. She snapped out of her thoughts breaking into a jog to catch up with Xena.
She's changed so much in the last couple of hours, Gabrielle thought. Turning into a woman the young bard had never met. Her Xena was still there...barely. Every attempt Gabrielle had tried at conversation with her silent friend was shot down. Xena didn't want to hear anything Gabrielle had to say. That didn't mean she would stop trying to break through to Xena.
"...then there was the time you helped the Amazons avoid war with the Centaurs. If it wasn't for you, alot of lives would have been lost."
"Gabrielle, please, not now." a hint of an icy undertone in Xena's voice caught the bards attention.
"Okay, no need to get all hostile about it."
Xena halted Argo so suddenly that Gabrielle almost walked into the rear of the horse.
"Hey! What's wrong?" asked Gabrielle.
Xena just turned around in her saddle to look at the young woman. She didn't know why she was being so cold to her. "I'm sorry Gabrielle. I didn't mean to snap. I'm just not myself...yet." she slipped off the horse to walk a little with her friend.
"Why don't you tell me that story about stopping a war between the Amazons and the Centaurs." she offered with the warmest smile she could muster, which was slight.
Gabrielle lightened somewhat, a smile playing at the corners of her lips. "All right."
The bard broke into the story full force after Xena had consented to hear it. She wasn't sure if Xena wanted to hear the story to help her get her memory back or not. But, by the gods, she wasn't going to let the moment pass. She was going to take advantage of the situation. Xena was going to hear every heroic deed she had ever done in the last couple of years, so many stories that shed think she was a saint.
Xena walked quietly between Gabrielle and Argo. She listened patiently to the bard's tales of her heroic deeds. She tried desperately to remember them as they were told to her, but found none struck a chord. More and more, she found herself remembering her life as a warlord. The thrill of the fight was so intoxicating. The power she held over the lives around her excited her more than she thought possible. Each thought brought her closer to the warlord she once was.
Gabrielle noticed the change in Xena's walk, in her attitude. She became even quieter, if that was possible. Her posture grew more intimidating, her strides grew longer as if with a purpose. Xena was fighting a battle where she refused any help. Gabrielle didn't know what to do, so she stuck to what she knew best...stories.
The rain had held off until early evening. It came down relentlessly, soaking them utterly in minutes. They veered off the trail they had been following to find shelter. Fortunately, they found a small cave in the side of a small hill. Xena went forth to check it out.
The cave was barely large enough for a comfortable shelter for the two women. It was high enough for them to stand, and wide enough to stretch their bodies on the ground, barely. Rain soaked, the two women squeezed in finding the shelter preferable to the rain. Xena quietly apologized to Argo for not finding any shelter for her as she unharnessed her for the night.
Gabrielle found some damp wood near the cave. While Xena was outside tending to Argo in the rain, Gabrielle gave her best efforts in attempting to start a fire with the damp wood. Try as she might, the most she could manage was a spark which was quickly replaced by a low fizzle and then nothing. Despite the deafening cracks of thunder, Xena heard the soft curses coming from inside the small cave. She gave Argo a quick pat and went inside.
"Is something the matter?" Xena inquired.
"Is something the matter?!" Gabrielle repeated a little beyond annoyed. "Of course something's the matter. I'm cold, wet, hungry *and* I can't get this damn thing going! *That's* what's the matter, OK?!" snapped the irritated bard as she threw her tinderbox into the fire pit frustrated.
Xena walked with her head lowered slightly to avoid hitting the ceiling of the cave as she walked in to store the saddlebags and saddle out of the rain. Gabrielle listened to the squeaking and creaking of the wet leather as Xena fetched something out of the saddle bags, and headed back her way holding a small leather pouch.
"What's that?" she inquired, nodding towards the pouch in Xena's hand.
"A little flash powder from my life as Carinna." Xena responded evenly as she knelt down in front of the fire pit Gabrielle had made. "I won't be needing it anytime soon."
Xena fetched the discarded tinderbox and used the two items in unison and got the desired effect. At first, it was a small flicker of flame. But with a little encouragement, it turned into a warm fire. Xena quickly gathered other small pieces of wood and placed them by the fire to dry out.
A tiny smile of relief spread across Gabrielle's face as she felt the warmth of the fire reach her chilled body. She glanced over at Xena, hair matted to her face. She still wore her wet leather.
"You should take that off, let it dry." Gabrielle suggested to the drenched warrior.
Xena grunted her agreement. She set about taking it off, slipping into her worn nightshirt. Gabrielle went over to the saddle bags to find something to make for their supper.
"Hope you like soup again tonight. That's all that's left," she called back over her shoulder to Xena as she gathered some dried meat and vegetables. "We should stop in at the next village to pick up a few things."
"Whatever you make will be fine." she said without looking up at Gabrielle as she poked at the fire with little interest. Gabrielle went about preparing their meal, noticing with a heavy heart that Xena made very little eye contact with the bard and even less of an attempt at being approachable. Even when the bard was talking to her, the warrior barely paid her any attention, being too caught up with her own thoughts. Those thoughts, whatever they were, had Xena continuously eyeing the forest that lay beyond their meager shelter.
"Xena, this is crazy!" blurted the fiery bard as she finally reached the end of her patience. "I mean, even when you had your memory you were quiet, sure. But at least you'd pay attention to me when I was talking to you."
Xena leaned over the stew pot, poured herself a bowl of soup. Without acknowledging the bard's comments, Xena made her way to the back of their small shelter and began eating. Again, she was too wrapped up in her own thoughts to even realize the bard was talking to her.
"See, this is what I meant!" Gabrielle fumed as her hand unconsciously fingered her staff, ready to vent out her frustrations on a nearby tree.
Xena's eyes caught the movement and misinterpreted its meaning.
Xena put her bowl of soup aside, her hunger gone. "If you plan on using that, then use it. If not, be quiet and go to sleep. It's late."
Gabrielle's hand jumped away from the staff at hearing the coldness in her companion's voice. The bard was left speechless as she watched Xena pick up her sword and whetstone. She settled herself down on the hard ground, comfort far from her mind, and began sharpening her sword. She looked more and more like the stern warrior Gabrielle could only have imagined she once was which scared her more than she would admit.
Great" she thought to herself as she turned away from the secluded warrior. I just blew up at my best friend in what's probably her greatest time of need. Real smart Gabrielle. The young bard quietly scolded herself as she retrieved her roll from the saddle and went about getting comfortable on the damp ground after putting away the untouched food.
As she lay down, blanket wrapped around her shivering body, her mind wandered back to the past few moments. Back to when she tore into Xena, back to when she didn't mean to snap at her like that. The whole situation was just so damned frustrating; she just didnt know how to act around her best friend anymore. Shes not the friend you once knew. A small voice inside of her piped up.
And what had her intentions truly been when she reached for her staff earlier? Had she merely intended on venting her frustrations out on an inanimate object or was she preparing for the worst from this woman she once knew better than her own family? She knew Xena was changing. Silently, she prayed to the gods that she didn't lose Xena to her darker passions...or to Ares.
She drew her blanket up tight under her chin, unaware of her own squirming under the watchful eyes of the warrior. She turned herself slightly so she could keep Xena in sight. Quietly, she watched her longtime companion go about her routine of taking care of her weapons. This was the first time she remembered Xena doing that since they began their trek back to Amphipolis. A possible indication Xena was indeed regaining some of her forgotten memories. For some reason though, the bard didnt think the habit came from the Xena she had come to know these past years. Whether it was a good sign or not, only time would tell.
The bard finally closed her eyes, listening to the constant sound of stone against blade. Slowly, her mind drifted into Morpheus' world as the rhythmic sound of Xena's sharpening and the dull beating of the rain outside lulled her into a restless sleep.
Xena knew the young bard had been watching her. A few quick glances confirmed her suspicions. Fortunately, Gabrielle wouldn't be harassing her with stories or questions since she fell asleep before Xena was through sharpening the sword.
*My* sword" she mentally said.
She brought the sword to her face to better look it over. She marveled at how comfortable it felt. Her eyes lingered on it for several moments before she grabbed an old cloth, wiping the blade clean before returning it to its sheath.
She knew she should get some sleep, but her body refused to listen. She leaned back against the rocky wall, adjusted her back several times before settling on a reasonably comfortable spot. She tensely stretched her long muscular legs out while crossing her arms over her chest trying to convince her body to rest. The coldness of steel against her outer thigh assured her that her weapons were within easy reach.
Several hours had passed, and still sleep had not come to claim her. The heavy rains had finally subsided, leaving a slight drizzle with the occasional flash of lightning and crack of thunder. Their campfire had died down low, being neglected throughout the night. The young bard who had fallen asleep near the fire, shivered beneath her blanket. Darkness had almost consumed the remaining light, making it difficult to see if Gabrielle remained asleep, though the light snoring and even breathing told the mighty warrior that she did indeed sleep.
A flash of lightning briefly lit everything, revealing the inner peace of this remarkable young bard. For an instant, Xena could almost feel that peace. Then, the light and peace that accompanied it disappeared just as quickly, surrounding her once again with the darkness of the night and of her mind.
Images of herself leading her army through the country side, instilling fear in the lands both in their grasp and beyond; with men cowering in fear at the very mention of her name. The glorious taste of battle and bloodlust flooded through her mind. She let these images play through, her muscles flexing unconsciously in anticipation. An old spark lit her eyes as an almost imperceptible, lopsided grin played at the corners of her mouth.
Lightning danced across the night sky once again. A deafening crack of thunder immediately followed. Her eyes snapped towards the entrance to spy Argo stomping the ground and snorting fiercely at something just beyond her sight. Her warrior instincts took over.
She was up on her feet, sword in one hand, chakram flying through the still night, without a second thought, to find the intruder. The scream of the chakram was the only sound to be heard. Then it went quiet. Deathly quiet. Even Argo quieted down. The mares form was so still, she almost looked like a statue. Even Gabrielle's rhythmical breathing seemed to have stopped. The seconds themselves stopped their continual passage.
Then she heard it. Not the expected thud of her chakram finding its target. Rather, she heard a low, husky laugh. Her eyebrows furrowed in uncertainty. She clutched her sword handle more firmly.
"I see you haven't lost your touch Xena."
In-between flashes of lightning, Xena noted the silhouette of a man standing just outside the entrance of the cave. In his hands, she caught the flash of rounded steel; her chakram. He appeared to be examining the weapon. Moments passed before she heard anything. Then, he tore his eyes from the weapon. His eyes pierced through the night to gaze into Xena's spectacular crystal blue eyes. His face and body also seemed to have illuminated against the darkness enabling Xena to see his strong smile and the twinkle in his eyes.
Xena easily reacted and caught her chakram as it was tossed playfully her way. Her eyes never left his.
"You know Xena," he started, "if I wasn't a god, that toy of yours would have left me without my head. I'm *very* impressed."
"Ares..." Xena said sweetly as her muscles relaxed and her defense posture slipped away. Her weapons dropped to the ground with a clang. Dressed only in her nightshirt, Xena glided toward Ares. Her movements were gracefully seductive, even in the low cave.
Ares made no move towards her. He stood, waiting for her to come to him. Less than a foot away now, she paused, and each stood studying the other, expectant of what was to follow. Xena took a step forward, bridging the gap between them. Her hand shot out, clutching the back of Ares' head forcing his face towards her. Their lips locked with one another forcefully for what seemed an eternity.
When they finally parted, Ares took a step back from Xena. He looked her over. Pleasure and excitement raced through veins.
"Welcome back Xena, *my* Warrior Princess."
A flash of blue light engulfed Xena. Her leather and weapons adorned her body once again. Then, they disappeared with the next flash of lightening.
"Hahahaha!" laughed the female warrior. "You almost got close to me that time!"
A hard looking warrior regarded the female who sought to make a fool of him in front of his army of warriors, with a mixture of anger and determination. She blocked, parried or leapt away from his every attack. He attacked with a mock forward thrust, and struck out with his fist at the last moment. His chunky fist caught the side of her face. The leather clad female retaliated by knocking his sword out of harm's way with her sword, followed by a kick to his chin, throwing his body backwards onto the ground.
"Is that the best you can do?!" she scowled at him in mockery and disgust as she stood over him, his throat at the mercy of her sword point. "Ive seen dead men do better! Pathetic. Youre no warrior." Her sword slid from his throat to rest at her side as she turned to leave.
The warriors face contorted in rage at this last insult, all good sense leaving his mind. With a hate-filled cry, he attacked her from behind, hoping to prove to her once and for all she cant come waltzing into his encampment and challenge him making him look the fool in front of his men.
His sword raised high; he intended to cleave her head in two. A smile spread across his face as he smelled victory near. His blade not a few inches away from her head now. Then, his descent stopped in mid-swing, inches away from its target. His grip loosened, his sword came to rest on the womans armored shoulders with little force behind it. His eyes wandered down to his abdomen. He was surprised to find her sword penetrating his body. Absently, his hand crept towards the foreign object lodged in his stomach. He barely touched it before he fell backwards, sliding off the blade and landing on the grass, dead.
The raven-haired woman bent down and wiped her blade clean with the fallen warriors clothing. She stood back up, tall, proud, intimidating. The legion of warriors had surrounded them during the battle. One by one they raised their swords above their heads. Her eyes darted around her, meeting the uncertain gazes of the soldiers. Her muscles tensed, her mind alert. Her body revealed no trace of fear as her eyes challenged anyone who dared. They made their move. "Xena! Xena! Xena!" They chanted one after the other, raising their chant louder and louder till ever man had joined in making themselves heard all the way to Mt. Olympus.
This brought a smile to her face. It invigorated her soul. Now, nothing could stop her.
"This is better than I could have hoped for," mused the god of war as he watched on from behind one of the encampments larger tents. Xenas tent now. He watched her every move, from the way she had taken full control of this army within minutes, to the way she commanded her troops. She was relentless, demanding, unforgiving. Everything he was and more.
Gods it felt good to have Xena back. he thought pleasantly. He glanced up into the calm, blue sky of early evening. Not to admire it, but to mock those who would watch him. "I know youre watching this Athena. Accept it, this is where Xena belongs; with me. All your planning and scheming will never get her. Shes outta your league sis." He laughed at her, emphasizing his triumph. Truly, this was a good day. his laughter showed no sign of ending anytime soon. He was just having way too much fun.
Beyond Ares sight, Athena smiled to herself as she watched her secret weapon take position. You havent won yet dear brother, she thought, I still have a few tricks left up my sleeve.
She spun around to take her leave of Mt. Olympus in a swirl of beautifully woven cloth and armor with her weapons always at her side. "Time for the next stage to begin. Lets see you try and outsmart the goddess of wisdom brother of mine."
Gabrielle walked through the bustling market place. She couldn't believe all the wonderful sights and smells that consumed her senses. She felt a weight at her hip. She peered down to find a sack full of dinars. What luck! She was going to enjoy herself this day. Maybe pick up some new clothes for herself and some sweets for Xena. She knew Xena had a soft spot for sweets.
She reached a vendor who sold the sweets Xena liked so much. As she was in the midst of bartering, Gabrielle heard a low rumbling. She dismissed it to her complaining stomach. She thanked the vendor for the chocolates and was off.
Another vendor she wished to visit came into view. Several people walked by, blocking her view for an instant. When they cleared, her target was back in her sights. A smile spread across her face. She began to advance towards her target when screams penetrated through the common conversations and bartering. Spinning around, she caught sight of what was causing the disturbance. To her surprise, she found armed horsemen rampaging through the market place, hacking and slashing at any living being in sight. Vendor booths crashed to the ground, while others burned. Peasants and vendors ran past the bewildered bard in panic and fear yelling "She's back! We're all doomed!"
Her curiosity compelled her to at least peek at who was creating all this death and destruction. She pushed her way through the crowd, an accomplishment in itself seeing as how she had to fight against the flow of panic stricken people.
A mounted warrior swung his sword down towards Gabrielle's head, narrowly missing. Simultaneously, she jabbed the rider in the chest with her war staff, knocking him to the ground. The stampeding people rushed past and over him, pummeling him to death. The young bard had no time to think about the warrior's death as several more warriors made their way towards her in pursuit of the fleeing peasants. She expertly ducked away from her attackers blows, delivering a few well placed attacks in the process. She ducked and weaved in and out of attacks. However, the number of warriors soon began to overwhelm her. She frantically searched around for a possible escape route. No luck. All possible avenues of escape out of reach. She had no choice but to stand and fight.
Then, just as things seemed hopeless, a glimmer of hope came riding into view.
"Xena!" cried the frantic bard.
The strong, imposing warrior caught sight of the bard who was in dire need of help. She rode through the ranks of warriors with ease. Not a single sword was raised in her passing. Finally, she reached the desperate bard seconds before a warrior meant to run his blade through his fragile victim.
"Stop!" Xena ordered with her most commanding tone.
To the bards surprise and relief, the warrior did as Xena said. The point of his sword stopped just above her heart.
"Xena! I'm *so* glad you're here," expressed the bard with a sigh of relief.
For a moment, the fighting around her seemed to have stopped. Xena remained seated on a dark horse, unmoving. Her emotionless gaze studied the young lady who lay on the ground, helpless.
"Xena?" she asked nervously. "What's the matter? Why are you looking at me like that? Help me!"
For a moment, the warriors also stared at Xena not sure of what was going to happen next. The warrior princess was quiet for a moment longer before speaking.
"I'm not here to save you Gabrielle." the warlord stated threateningly. "I'm here to destroy you."
Gabrielle gasped unintentionally. Her eyes grew wide with fear. Could she have heard the warrior princess, her best friend, correctly?
"What?" she gasped, smiling nervously she added. "You're joking right? You're here to help me out right?" she tried backing away, only to have the men hold her in place.
The faces around her smiled wickedly as death flashed in their eyes. Her heart jumped in her throat when she saw the same look mirrored in Xena's cold, uncaring eyes as she jumped off her horse to stand over her. Slowly, meaningfully, Xena unsheathed her sword. The sound of the blade slowly leaving its sheath grated on the bards ears, instilling fear through her very core.
Two strong men grabbed her from either side, holding her firmly in place. Gabrielle kicked and squirmed trying to get free. It was no use. They were too strong. Gabrielle looked back to Xena, fear and the pain of betrayal filled her eyes. She shook her head in denial as she watched Xena position her sword above the bards chest. The point of the sword pointing down, as both of Xena's hands grasped the hilt of the sword ready to strike.
She fought against her captors in one last ditch effort of escape. Her eyes grew wide in pain and disbelief as she felt cold steel slip between flesh and bone, into her chest. She stared at the blade that protruded from her chest, then up the length of the arm of its wielder; Xena. No words came to her except for a pain filled cry. Tears welled up in her eyes. She felt Xena retracting her sword from the bards chest. The mortally wounded bard slumped down to the ground in a heap of blood. The last thing the bard saw, before the darkness claimed her, was the smiling image of Xena wiping her blade clean of the bards own blood.
"NO!" Gabrielle cried out in horror as her body sprang to an upright position, her hands clutched at her chest where the sword pierced it. Her breathing was heavy and labored. Sweat glistened off of her well muscled body. Panic stricken eyes swept through her unfamiliar surroundings, then down to her trembling hand still at her chest. Gingerly, she removed her hand expecting to see blood oozing out of a blade wound; a wound inflicted by Xena.
She let out her breath, which shed been unconsciously holding, when she found no wound.
"I'm not dead!" she breathed with a mixture of relief and surprise. "It was just a dream."
She quickly looked around once again for Xena. She recognized the cave now. It was their shelter from the driving rain the day before. Now the sun beamed in through the entrance of the cave. As she squinted against the bright light, she saw Argo grazing on some grass peacefully outside. She gingerly pushed herself up to take a look around for Xena. In the corner, all of their equipment remained exactly where they had been placed the night before. With the exception of Xena's weapons, armor and Xena herself.
"You'll not find your warrior friend here young bard."
Gabrielle turned at the sound of the soft, eloquent voice of a lady behind her. The figure she spied standing just outside the cave, next to Argo, stunned her into speechlessness. A tall, fully armed female warrior figure with shield and helmet stood unmoving in the sunlight. Her own brilliance outlined her strong, but subtle features.
Gabrielle quickly grabbed her staff. A few steps brought her out of the cave and within striking range of the warrior woman. Thus far, the bard made no threatening advances.
"Who are you?" the headstrong bard demanded as she held her staff out in front of her. "And what have you done with Xena?"
"I think you know who I am Gabrielle of Poteidea." the radiant woman smiled as she lifted her golden helm from her head to reveal her face. "I am the goddess Athena."
Gabrielle found herself slack jawed at the revelation. Quickly, the bard regained her composure. "How do I know youre *the* goddess Athena?" she asked skeptically.
The goddess tilted her face towards the inquisitive bard, slightly arching her right eyebrow with amusement. Gabrielle immediately caught sight of the luminescent glow surrounding the intruders body. Simultaneously, her feet gently lifted from the ground as her body floated over to within a few feet of Athena. An embarrassed look spread over the bards face for having doubted the goddess authenticity.
"Sorry, I had to make sure." Gabrielle added somewhat sheepishly. "Usually, we never know whos gonna drop in on us or whether or not theyre friend or foe. Sometimes its just a bunch of thugs, or its just Joxer doing his normal annoying routine. Well, before he changed anyway." Suddenly, she stopped herself, realizing that she had been rambling, to a goddess no less!
Athena found the bard amusing, in a mortal sort of way. She admired her spunk and straight-forwardness, even if she did ramble a bit. But the time for pleasantries was not at hand. The goddess smiling, carefree expression gave way to a solemn look. Her tone grew serious. It was time to cut to the chase and get down to business. "Gabrielle, I've come here to warn you of Ares' plans for your warrior friend."
Gabrielle immediately snapped to attention at the mention of Ares name. Any thought of chatter quickly slipped her mind. She waited patiently for what Athena had to say. "I'm listening," she prompted.
With a grave sigh, Athena began to relate what she knew of Xenas fate. "Xena has been put in a very vulnerable situation, without the memories of her former self. Ares has taken it upon himself to reveal to her the past, but only those times and memories when she had pledged herself to him. The rest is inconsequential to him and thus has no room in his plans for her."
In her mind, Gabrielle went over the last day or so, noting Xena's character change. It all made sense. The recollection of only her warlord days. Her increasingly seclusive attitude. Why didnt I see this before? she chastised herself silently.
"Because you did not want to believe it possible." replied the goddess to Gabrielle's unspoken words. "She will become something she has fought so hard to be rid of. Things will get worse before they get better...if they get better." Athena looked meaningfully at Gabrielle, almost sad, and continued. "Gabrielle, you helped save her soul once, only you can do it again."
Surprised, Gabrielle stared at the goddess. This all seemed so surreal. Could this really be happening?
"Why would you want to help us? Two mortals who don't even worship you in your temples." she boldly demanded, knowing the help of a god usually came with a price.
Athena smiled. "You may not worship me in my temples young one, but in your hearts. And helping to defend my city and people was a debt I intended on repaying to the two of you."
"So, what's the plan?" Gabrielle chirped believing Athena truly wanted to help her.
"The warrior's horse will take you to Xena." Athena stated simply as she turned away from Gabrielle, ready to make her departure.
"Wait!" Gabrielle interrupted before the goddess disappeared. "What am I supposed to do when I find her?"
Athena regarded Gabrielle with a smile. "Trust in yourself Gabrielle. Your heart will know what to do." Athena disappeared in a flash of pale blue light.
Gabrielle wanted to say more, ask more, but never had the chance with the goddess taking leave so quickly. So god-like. Gabrielle thought as Argo snorted softly and shook her head towards the bard. When she looked over at the mare, Gabrielle was surprised to find the horse already saddled, packed and ready to go. Argo cocked her head towards Gabrielle, stomping the ground restlessly. The bard eyed the mare nervously.
"Ha, ha, ha..." she chuckled nervously, "I have to ride the horse. Great. Why the horse?! Why couldn't it have been a handsome prince escorting me, or even a bird to show me the way. Sigh! I'll never understand why it always comes to this." Argo snorted again. Gabrielle could have sworn the horse was offended. She started towards Argo, resting her hand on the saddlehorn. "Just be gentle girl. Dont take offense, but Im not crazy about having you in charge."
She placed a nervous foot in the stirrup, still not sure what to expect from the horse, and heaved herself smoothly into the saddle. Sitting atop the golden palomino without a hitch, the bard smiled. In the past, it seemed like the mare just didnt like her. She truly hoped that wasnt the case at the moment. Confidently, the bard grabbed the reins. A final glance around the camp, making sure she had all their supplies, and they were off. Argo started at a slow trot, and then unexpectedly, she broke into a full gallop.
"Whoa Argo! Do the words be gentle mean anything to you?!" the bards voice trailed as they disappeared down the dirt road.
Almost two days had passed, and Gabrielle feared Argo would go on into forever. "Great," she sighed out loud against the rush of air, "an eternity on a horse."
Suddenly, she felt Argo slow to a walk. She carefully lifted her torso away from the palominos body, now that the low branches were no longer a threat, to see what brought on the drop in speed. At first, she didnt notice anything significant. More trees, more dirt, more riding, she ruefully thought. Then the areas familiarity hit her. She was about a days ride from Amphipolis.
She also noticed, now that Argo was walking, the many tracks in the dirt and numerous broken shrubs and other greenery. "Looks like a small army came through here not long ago." She mumbled to the wind. Suddenly, Argos ears came to attention, alerting Gabrielle that something was wrong.
"What is it girl? What do you hear?" the bard gently urged the horse, not really expecting an answer.
Then she heard a shuffling noise on the road, around the bend, behind them. Gabrielles heart jumped up into her throat. Whoever was behind her made no attempt at being quiet. And they werent on horseback by the sounds of it. Her mind quickly raced, trying to figure out the best course of action. He could just be a common traveler, or he could be a scout left behind by the army who made the tracks on the road. Her mind made up, she quickly hopped off of Argo, grabbed her staff, and led the mare off the road out of sight. She herself, crouched down in a thicket of bushes waiting to see who rounded the bend, her staff at the ready.
The sounds of a pleasantly whistled tune carried through the air, reaching her ears. She frowned in concentration at the familiarity of the tune. She shook her head, dismissing the familiar tune as mere coincidence. Arguing to herself that many people knew that particular tune and not to let it fool her. This person could still be dangerous.
She waited anxiously as the seconds crawled by. Her heart pounded a little quicker in anticipation, knuckles turned white as her grip tightened on her staff, eyes remained glued to the road. Then a single person came into view. He wore no armor, just an open vest, leather pants, and sword adorned his otherwise plain body. His face was obscured by small shrubbery directly in her line of sight. She moved as quietly as she could to get a better view of the lone man on the road. Snap! She froze as her foot came to rest on an old, dried up twig. Her breath caught in her throat. Further behind her in the thick forest, she could hear Argo restlessly fidget.
The lone traveler stopped in his tracks, his hand pulling forth his blade. "Whos out there?!" He yelled in Gabrielles direction. She heard the voice and confirmed it once she caught sight of the mans face.
"Iolaus!" she leapt out of her hiding place, dropping her staff, and raced towards the fair haired man.
"Gabrielle?" he managed before the bard pinned his arms to his side as she engulfed him in a warm, crushing embrace.
"Runner coming!" bellowed a tall, husky warrior.
From within her tent, Xena heard the call of an incoming runner ring through the encampment as warriors repeated the arrival. Dressed in her armor, she casually walked out of her tent with an air of superiority surrounding her. Every man watched this feared warlord exit her tent, all anxious to hear what the runner had to report.
The lean man stopped short of running into Xena as she stood in front of her tent. He swallowed hard attempting to wet his throat enough to speak in-between breaths. He opened his mouth to speak when she held up her hand, silencing him. He felt the fear rising in his throat, but did not show it. He knew what this woman was capable of; their previous warlord found out the hard way. So, he simply remained quiet, waiting for Xenas command to speak.
In a whisper only he could hear, Xena spoke. "Not here. In my tent." she motioned him through the tent flaps first, quickly sliding in behind him.
He glanced around her sparsely decorated tent. Nothing fancy. A war table sat in the middle of the tent with neatly rolled maps. A single wooden chair lay in the far corner, a cooking pot and utensils. The other side of the tent was separated by a draping piece of canvas hiding her private sleeping quarters. He noticed she took little time in clearing her predecessors belongings from the tent. His quick eyes also alerted him to Xenas second who stood just inside the flaps of the tent, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword.
"What news do you bring Burralus?" demanded the deep, booming voice of Xenas second. Burralus swallowed hard as he worriedly looked at Xena, meeting her gaze.
"An army has moved into Thrace." he paused for a split moment darting his eyes between Xena and her second, "theyre moving through Thrace recruiting men."
"How many?" She demanded.
Shaking his head, he replied. "Two, maybe three hundred troops. A hundred or so mounted. Im not sure."
"Who is leading them?" Xenas second demanded.
Burralus thought for a moment. "A man called Alexander."
Xena looked at the runner, "Go, and say nothing to my men if you wish to remain among the living."
Burralus nodded his understanding and scurried out of the tent.
Once she was sure he was gone, Xena turned to her second. "Marek, ready the troops. Were moving out."
"But Xena, their army nearly outnumbers our own three to one."
Xena glared at Marek with her piercing blue eyes, freezing him where he stood. "Are you questioning my orders?!"
"N-no, Xena." he stammered. "I was merely informing you of the odds."
"I know the odds, and I know him. Hell split his army, not expecting any resistance, so he can cover more ground recruiting more men faster, and then hell regroup at another location at a later time. We attack now before his army has a chance to regroup. His army will still be strong, but not strong enough." she paused a moment, grabbing Mareks full attention. "He will *not* ride into my territory and take what he pleases. Hell soon learn what it means to ride into my land uninvited." she spat savagely. A faint hint of a sparkle showed in her eyes at the thought of a battle.
Marek saw the fire in the warlord's eyes and knew the issue was closed to discussion. He respectfully saluted his commander before leaving her tent to ready the troops for the coming battle.
Xena paced around her tent, strategies she intended on employing in the coming battle racing through her mind. Even with Joxers...Alexanders army separated, her troops would be hard pressed. She did not doubt the strength of her army, but its numbers fell short of a hundred men. Her pacing stopped when she passed in front of a map of Thrace, her eyes falling on the dot called Amphipolis. She absently stared down, running her index finger over the name, not knowing why it captivated her attention so. True, its where the young bard, Gabrielle, was going to bring her hoping to bring back her memories. But why did it trouble her so knowing that an army will be marching right through Amphipolis, probably razing the valley in the process? "What should I care if a bunch of has-been villagers lose their homes and their lands?" the warlord Xena spoke aloud, trying to convince herself.
"Exactly what I was asking myself."
Xena spun around to face her intruder, rage coursing through her veins. Her icy glare quickly melted away once she recognized the handsome, leather clad man who stood before her.
"Ares..." she purred. "...to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"
The god of war stared down into his most cherished of warriors azure eyes. Her beauty never ceased to amaze him. She took a step towards him, snaking her arms around his strong neck as her fingers danced through his thick hair. Unconsciously, he responded to her touch by gliding his own hands down her body, coming to rest on her shapely waist. He drew in a breath, taking in every scent, every curve of her body before responding to her question.
"I want you to leave Amphipolis alone. Let it be burned to the ground. Its not worth your effort. I have greater plans for you my dear." he stated expressionless, offering no explanation for his uncharacteristic statement.
Xenas hands stopped their ministrations around Ares neck as she regarded him coldly. "What do you mean leave Amphipolis alone? Since when did the god of war back down from a fight?"
Ares would like nothing more than to see Xenas army battle Alexanders, whom he himself had trained. *He* had turned the bumbling fool Joxer into the man now known as Alexander. However, Ares did not want Xenas new enthusiasm for battle to ruin what he had begun with Alexander. His objective was for the two armies to remain separate, working in unconsolidated concert, and for the moment Alexander wasnt the problem. The problem was Amphipolis itself.
"Im not backing down from anything." he remarked with a confident smile. "I just happen to know of bigger and better conquests than Thrace, if you head north now..."
Xena studied him with inquisitive eyes. They swept over his face, his expressions, and his posture. All confirmed what he was saying, but her heart was screaming out that he was hiding something important from her. Her heart also told her she should go to Amphipolis. However, she was never one to listen to her heart. Few warlords did. But, somehow, this was different. She took a step away from the god. Ares hands offered no resistance. Then, she made a bold statement. "I *am* going to Amphipolis Ares. These are my men, my lands, and *my* life. To keep it all, I have to show them exactly who is in charge here."
The gentle, confident sparkle in Ares eyes grew dark and menacing. His hand struck out, catching Xena square across her left cheek. She knew the retaliation was coming, and was able to roll somewhat with the punch reducing its full effects. However, even a grazing punch from the god of war felt like a ton of rocks connecting with her face. The Warrior Princess was quick to draw her sword against the god.
"You *dare* defy me?! Me?! The god of war!" he sneered. "You presumptuous fool. You only live because of me. You only die because of me. You are mine!" he hissed, his own sword drawn coming down towards the warlord in a wide arc. Xena easily blocked the blow, but didnt expect the power behind it as it knocked her to her knees. In one swift motion, Ares knocked Xenas sword from her hand, picking her up by the throat with his free hand.
"I am a tolerant god Xena, but know this: No mortal talks to me that way. Not even you. Do I make myself clear?" he growled through clenched teeth. Xena made a choking sound as her hands worked to free her neck. Whether it was an understanding or a challenge, Ares was not sure, but he couldnt help the inner pride he felt for this beautifully feisty woman. His Warrior Princess never ceased to impress him. A smile crept onto his face as he threw her back down to the hard ground. As Xena lay on the ground, greedily filling her lungs with air, Ares sheathed his sword and disappeared in a quick flash of light. His voice echoed through the air, "You are mine Xena."
Xena got up, regaining her composure. No man or god laid claim to her and told her what to do. Defiantly, she stormed out of her tent, preparing to stop Alexanders army. Her mind was set and nothing was going to stop her.
Marek silently tucked his head back around the corner of Xenas tent as she made her hasty departure. He watched as she readied herself and war-horse for the coming battle.
So, he thought to himself, the warrior princess is going against the wishes of the God of War. This just might be what I was waiting for. he thought with a leer. His spirit rejuvenated, Marek turned and marched off in the opposite direction, preparing for battle.
The two friends, Iolaus and Gabrielle, talked of their various adventures as they traveled under the late morning sun. Each took their turn relating their adventures, until all was said. Then, Iolaus came to the subject of why he was traveling in these parts. He had heard of Xenas demise in Athens and came to help the bard with her set task. He watched as a dark cloud passed over the bards face, confirming the incident. He regretted bringing up the subject, but he had to know everything if he was to help Gabrielle. However, Iolaus explained he knew very little of the incidents following Xenas resurrection. Gabrielle picked up where he left off and filled in the blanks. Soon Iolaus knew everything. Xenas death at the hands of Ares new chose, Alexander. The warriors own resurrection by a village who believed her to be their dead wizardess Carinna and then her terrifying transformation back into the warlord Ares had always wanted. The retelling had been quite taxing on Gabrielles emotions, but she handled it in her own way as the rest of the day passed by in relative silence.
The sun had begun its slow descent to the horizon by the time Gabrielle and Iolaus had reached the outer edges of Amphipolis. Argo casually walked in front of the duo, leading them here with a purpose. The day long walk to Amphipolis gave the two friends ample time to catch up on the happenings since last they met.
"You know Gabrielle," Iolaus started, diverting the bards attention away from the ground, "I have to admit, its not everyday I find myself following a horse where it wants to go." Iolaus stated in his usual chipper tone, hoping to lighten the bards mood.
With a smile, and then an almost undetectable solemn look, Gabrielle replied. "Well, like her mistress, Argo has many skills."
The two smiled at the simple, but true statement. Iolaus himself had been on the receiving end of some of those skills.
As they continued on towards the heart of Amphipolis, Iolaus grew serious. He tilted his head slightly towards the ground, seemingly searching for answers to questions he hadnt begun to ask. Then, his attention turned to Gabrielle. "You miss her dont you?" it was more of a statement then a question.
She turned her head from what she was looking at to gaze into Iolaus face. She gave him a sad smile. "Ya, I do."
She returned her attention to the ground in front of her, absently kicking a rock that got in her way. Not looking back at Iolaus, she continued. "Sometimes Im scared of what shes doing right now. Athena told me it was going to get worse before it gets better." Then she looked up at Iolaus, whose compassionate eyes never left her sorrow filled face. "What if shes returned to being a warlord and doesnt want to come back? What then?" she helplessly asked. A faint mist appeared in her eyes. She quickly turned her head away from Iolaus.
"Hey," he said soothingly, forcing her to look at him, "if anyone can bring Xena back its you. You have to believe in yourself Gabrielle. I do, and so do the gods. Thats why they chose you to help Xena."
A warm smile spread across her face as she blinked away the forming tears. "Thank you for believing in me."
"No problem. Whatre friends for?"
"Gabrielle!" cried out a familiar voice.
The two travelers snapped their heads in the direction of the calling voice, not realizing they were on the outer edges of Amphipolis. They spotted a villager walking towards them. As she got closer, they noticed she was an older woman, dressed in a simple grayish-blue dress reaching to the ground, and two water buckets in each hand finishing up the scene.
"Cyrene!" Gabrielles eyes lit up as she recognized Xenas mother making her way towards them. The bards pace doubled as Iolaus stood back slightly watching the two women embrace one another, patiently waiting to be introduced as he didnt want to disturb their reunion.
As they were just breaking up, Iolaus walked up beside Gabrielle. The bard turned to Iolaus and went about introducing the two.
"Cyrene, this is Iolaus, a good friend of Hercules and myself." she turned to Iolaus. "Iolaus, meet Cyrene, Xenas mother."
Cyrene smiled at Iolaus, "Its a pleasure to meet a friend of the legendary Hercules. Come the two of you, to the tavern, you must be famished." She had motioned with a nod of her head since her hands were occupied with the buckets.
"Here, let me take these for you." Iolaus said as he quickly scooped up the two buckets from Cyrenes hands.
She gave him a warm, appreciative smile. "Why, thank you." Then, looking over to Gabrielle on the other side of her, she asked. "When will Xena be joining you?" she asked hopefully. Gabrielles face betrayed her feelings.
"Cyrene," Gabrielle began, words coming to her with great difficulty. "We have to talk."
Night had long since fallen over the quiet valley as Gabrielle once again recounted the story Xenas death and resurrection once again. No matter how many times she told the tale, it still struck a shattering blow to her heart. A blow the old inn-keepers heart also felt as it sank down to the lowest depths of Hades with each of the young bards pain-filled words.
Cyrene knew that her daughter would die one day. Most likely before the innkeeper herself, considering the danger Xena threw herself into each day on her quest for redemption. But to hear that her daughter had escaped the underworld only to be lured back into her former life as a warlord was almost too much for the old woman to bear.
Her face had grown very pale by the end of Gabrielles story. Iolaus looked to Gabrielle concerned for the pale innkeeper. He saw the same concern reflected in the bards eyes as well. Cyrene noticed the silent exchange. She took a few deep breaths and reassured her two guests that she was fine. Both Gabrielle and Iolaus protested and insisted she should get some rest, but Cyrenes mind was made up.
"Right now, I have more important things to do than be fussed over."
This said, Cyrene got up from the table they were sitting at just as a troop of soldiers walked into the tavern. Before either of her guests could protest further, she gave them a quick hug and whispered "Dont worry about me, Ill be fine. You just worry about bringing back my little one." She drew back from them, gave a warm smile and made her way behind the bar, grabbing an apron as she went. Then, as if nothing was the matter, she began serving drinks and helped prepare meals for the hungry soldiers.
Gabrielle watched Cyrene go about her activities. So determined, so dedicated. She couldnt help but laugh. Iolaus barely heard her little laugh above the ruckus that had quickly filled the tavern. He debated on asking her what that was all about. His curiosity getting the better of him, he asked. "What?"
The bard turned her head to look at Iolaus, her emerald eyes holding a sparkle. "I cant believe how Xena and her mother are so much alike-"
"-stubborn." they voiced together. They lowered their heads smiling at the distinguishing similarity.
But the levity was short lived as the two companions grew increasingly alarmed at the number of soldiers that had appeared in the tavern. Gabrielle knew Amphipolis had no militia of its own. And Iolaus figured as much. "So, where were all these soldiers coming from?" he asked. Gabrielle could only shrug her shoulders.
Gabrielle thought about the question for a moment, pondering that same question. If the tracks she had seen on the road earlier truly were the markings of an army passing through, why were they only just arriving in Amphipolis? They clearly had at least a days ride up on her. The bard leaned over to her companion, voicing her concerns.
"What?!" Iolaus bent his ear closer to her mouth to hear what she was trying to say. The noise level in the tavern had gotten so loud and rowdy that he couldnt hear a thing, even this close, above a shout at the top of her lungs.
Not wanting anyone to catch their conversation, just in case, she grabbed Iolaus by the arm and led him towards the entrance of the tavern. On their way out, bits and pieces of conversations floated to meet their ears.
"...slaughtered! Taken completely by surprise by..."
"...didnt stand a chance against the likes of..."
Gabrielle slowed her pace, coming almost to a complete stop to hear more. She caught other similar phrases, but most were drowned out by the others, making it difficult to discern anything useful. And then she heard it.
The young bard stopped dead in her tracks. Her head swung around to a table against the southern wall where she had heard the words spoken. Iolaus heard it too and followed her gaze. Had she heard right? She took a step closer to the table in question.
"...Xena lead her army right through the third division. They didnt even know what hit them!" cried out one of the four soldiers who sat at the table.
Gabrielle couldnt stand it; she had to know where Xena was. She found her way to the oak table against the wall. Her intended path held more obstacles than she realized as the fair sized tavern had filled to capacity with rugged soldiers. Undaunted, she began to fight her way to the table that held some answers she was searching for. Without her staff, which was left with Cyrene as with all other weapons entering the establishment, she had to fight off roaming hands with an affirmative slap, or *accidentally* kicking chairs out from under soldiers and a few choice words. Behind her, Iolaus shouted something about how useless it is to talk to this crowd, but his warnings were drowned out by the cacophony that filled the tavern. Exasperated, he did his best to keeping up with the tenacious bard, but fell behind as he encountered sturdy frames blocking his way.
The veteran soldier who had been relaying the story of Xenas attack suddenly stopped his tale to hungrily gaze into demanding green eyes. A smile grew on his rugged face and the faces of the other three soldiers seated at the table as their eyes swept over her finely chiseled body, taking no notice of the short blonde haired man fighting his way towards them.
"Well, well. What do we have here?" the soldier remarked with a sly undertone and toothy grin.
"Looks like a nice piece of innocent to me." added another soldier as he elbowed the veteran in the ribs, showing the same grin on his own scruffy face.
Ignoring the implied remarks, and slapping away more roaming hands, she gave them the look. "Im not here for your entertainment." she retorted, annoyance beginning to surface. "I want to know in what direction Xena was headed."
"Xena?!" the scruffy man squawked, his eyes never leaving her sleek body. "Wouldnt ya rather I show ya the lysian fields instead sweet thing." he suggested as he licked his lips hopefully.
"Been there, done that, told the story." she countered. Gabrielle could barely contain her disgust at the men seated in front of her now. Despite their nauseating advances, they were the only ones that could point her in Xenas direction. Sure she could always find out from travelers or other more pleasant sources, but right now, she couldnt afford to lose any valuable time. Her mind set, she put aside her revulsion, and put on her best bardic performance.
Slowly, cautiously, she sat herself down on top of the soldiers table, smiling sweetly towards the man who had been relating the story of Xenas attack from the previous day. A hand had wandered onto her thigh, quickly earning itself a swift swat. "Ill tell you what..." she purred, "...you tell me where Xena is headed, and Ill tell you what her weakness is." Before getting the desired response, one of the soldiers cut in.
"Ill show you her weakness!" The soldier leered as he stood up from the table, fumbling with his belt buckle. The action earned the soldier cheers and shouts of encouragement. With surprising speed, the soldier worked his way around the table and grabbed at the young, desirable bard from the table, thrusting his body up against hers. Impulsively, Gabrielle attempted to break the soldier's grasp, unsuccessfully.
Even though the night was early yet, Gabrielle could smell strong ale emanating from this soldier. Behind her, his companions urged the soldier on. One even held her firmly from behind to keep her still. Trying to remain calm she remembered what Xena had said to her once: Act, dont react.
She watched in disgust as the soldier in front of her brought his lips close to hers. Her stomach rolled in protest at the repugnant smell she caught from the soldiers breath.
"Gabrielle!" Iolaus shouted over the ruckus of the tavern.
Hope sprang to life as she heard something connecting with the soldier behind her. His body tensed for a second, then fell limply away from her, releasing his hold on the bard. Not skipping a beat, her knee came up quickly connecting with her assailant. She watched as his eyes went wide with surprise and pain as he slowly sank to the ground in front of her, clutching at his groin.
Before she could thank Iolaus for his timely intervention, her eye caught the last two soldiers throwing their chairs away from the table, slamming against the wall.
"Only two of you against a little fella like me?" Iolaus remarked, "Even enough."
The smiles on the soldiers face spread from ear to ear as their eyes focused on something just past Iolaus. Iolaus got a sinking sensation in his gut.
"Iolaus, duck!" Gabrielle cried out as she grabbed a jug of ale from the table.
He dropped himself just as the jug flew over his head, smashing noisily against a scarred soldier behind him. The soldier staggered, one hand holding his broken, bleeding nose as he spat every known curse at the bard.
Iolaus jumped back to his feet, spinning around to face the bleeding man. "Now, thats no way to speak to a lady!" He scolded as he sent a left uppercut towards the soldier, catching him under the chin sending him reeling backwards, unconscious. Riding the momentum of his punch, Iolaus quickly spun around to stand side by side with the bard smiling. "One down, a tavern to go."
To Gabrielles dismay, Iolaus wasnt far off the count as she observed most of the soldiers, from the surrounding tables, were hastily picking themselves up from their tables excited by the possibility of a fight.
Out of the corner of her eye, Gabrielle caught a glimpse of Cyrene from behind her counter. She could clearly see the nervousness reflected in the innkeepers eyes as her body bent down behind the counter. Shed probably be safer behind the counter anyway. The bard thought, until she noticed Cyrene reappearing holding an amazon staff in her hand.
"Gabrielle, catch!" yelled the innkeeper as she threw the warrior-bard her weapon of choice.
Gabrielle watched as the staff sailed effortlessly over the heads of her many attackers. Quietly, she mouthed a silent thank you to the thoughtful woman as she adeptly caught her weapon and maneuvered it around to attack. Her staff slammed hard into a soldiers chest that had been a heartbeat away from delivering a blow that would have undoubtedly made her see stars.
Gabrielles head snapped over to where Iolaus had last been, only to find him surrounded and completely cut off from her. Apparently, the soldiers had thought he was more of a threat than the bard. Theyll soon learn the error of their ways. With a low sweeping motion, with her body and staff, she successfully knocked one soldiers feet out from under him, sending him flat on his back with a resounding thud.
She twirled her staff back up to an offensive posture, arcing it towards another soldier. The hardwood staff connected solidly with the back of another soldiers head, dropping him instantly. She brought her staff back close to her body readying for another attack when she felt a jabbing pain in her ribs, stopping her attack momentarily. She twisted around to face this new attacker only to be thrown backwards off balance.
Iolaus caught sight of Gabrielles frantic grasp to keep her balance. Out of the corner of his eye, and in-between punches, he noted the bards flailing arms and staff. He expertly directed one of her random swings into one of his attackers, catching the soldier painfully in the thorax. Wild staff swings and several more dodges, Gabrielle had unintentionally taken out several soldiers. Iolaus stood up with a momentary triumphant smile on his face only to be taken down by a still off balanced bard.
Gabrielle looked up from where she had landed in Iolaus lap, the two of them sitting helplessly on the floor. Surrounding them were over a dozen angry and bloodied soldiers closing in for the finishing touches.
"Now would be a good time for Xena to show up." Iolaus said hopefully to Gabrielle.
"Hercules couldnt hurt either." the bard added.
Then, with as much force as she could muster, Gabrielles feet struck out at the nearest legs hoping to topple some of the soldiers out of their way. Iolaus picked up on the bards train of thought and lashed out with his fists hoping to gain some advantage. A couple of soldiers fell, opening up a hole so the two fighters could gather some semblance of a defensive posture.
Several of the soldiers began to move in on the duo, only to be halted by their comrades on the outside of the attack circle. A hush began to spread among the soldiers in the tavern, heads began to turn.
"Guess they had enough." Iolaus smirked as he scanned the room, still ready for a fight.
From what they could see, many of the soldiers had begun to shrink away. As the huge number of bodies began to thin out, both Gabrielle and Iolaus could see why.
Standing in the doorway of the tavern, with what appeared to be several lieutenants, was a fully armored general. His stance was firm, his fingers danced on the hilt of his sheathed sword. Hard eyes scanned the scene before him.
"Leave is over!" he shouted angrily, "Get back to your posts you bunch of lazy dogs!"
"Joxer?!" Iolaus said with incredulously wide eyes.
Gabrielle leaned into Iolaus with a smirk of her own, "Nope. Alexander." she corrected as relief slipped into her voice. Hearing no comment from Iolaus, she turned to find him staring at her, confusion etched across his face. "Long story." She said as a hint of sadness crossed her face.
The duo watched as Alexander motioned to his lieutenants to escort his soldiers back to camp. "And assign them the worse duty you can think of." he paused for a moment, and then added with a smile "I always hated cleaning the horse manure."
His lieutenants nodded their heads at the encrypted order, grins playing at the corner of their mouths as they disappeared into the night.
Alexander himself, made his way towards Cyrene, who still stood behind the bar. Upon reaching the bar, he reached under his armor and produced a small leather pouch. He threw the pouch and its clinking contents onto the bar in front of the aging innkeeper. "For damages imposed by my men. Please accept my humble apologies."
Quickly, Cyrene sized up the man who stood in front of her, and then her tavern. Broken chairs, tables, and jugs of spilled ale littered the usually tidy tavern. Before turning back to face this gracious general, her eyes caught sight of a chair sticking out of one of the far walls by its four legs. Cyrene was never one to accept charity, however, this time the damage sustained to her tavern was going to be expensive. She fixed her gaze on the gracious warrior, standing at her bar, with appreciation. With a heart-felt smile, she accepted the offered pouch of money. And then added sternly, "but only if you give your word as a warrior that you will let me repay you by feeding you and your lieutenants to make up the differece."
Alexander began to protest, but knew it was useless against this woman. With the Darkmarr residing within him, Alexander felt her stubbornness and her overwhelming gratitude, even though she tried to keep her emotions from flooding through and possibly overwhelming him. He knew she wasnt going to take no for an answer. He surprised himself when a picture of Xena came to his mind as he looked upon this woman and felt the controlled reign she had over her emotions. But he felt all emotions, no matter how controlled. He was just relieved to find he could feel more than just the dark emotions of late. One needs to see the light once in awhile, else theyd wither away and die.
He gave the gentle innkeeper a sincere smile, then turned and made his way towards the bard and warrior. "Gabby!" he exclaimed as he engulfed her in a warm embrace. He turned towards Iolaus, each grabbing the others forearm in a warriors greeting. "I shouldve known Id find you in the middle of a brawl. Trouble does seem to have a way of seeking you out." he smiled jokingly.
"Aint that the truth?!" Iolaus added with a smirk of his own.
Gabrielles innocent face began turning a light shade of red, knowing that the two men were right. Then jabbing Iolaus in the ribs, she added with sarcasm, "Like youre a stranger to it huh?!"
The trio joked for a few moments longer, Iolaus getting reacquainted with Alexander in the process. Despite the light banter, Alexander felt the urgency in his two friends. His tone grew serious. "I know you love to talk, but I know youre not here for idle chit chat."
"Youre right, Im not." she stated, quickly becoming somber. "I think you know why Im here Alexander."
"Xena," he knew, "What did you have in mind?"
"I know Xenas on her way here. I want a chance to talk to her. I know I can talk some sense into her before your armies clash."
"Gabrielle, thats crazy!" Iolaus barked, not realizing what she had planned to do.
The bard spun on Iolaus, locking her unwavering eyes with his. "Iolaus, I have to do this, its the only way!" she argued as her anger began to surface.
"No way! Shed cut you to ribbons before you even knew what hit you." he tried reasoning to her rational side. "I know this Xena Gabby, and shes not the Xena you call your best friend. This is a frenzied warlord out for blood."
"You dont know that!" she shot back. "You havent been with her these last few years, I have! I was there when she died, and I was there to help bring her back. I know I can help her Iolaus. You even said so yourself."
Alexander stood quietly, listening to the heated exchange taking place in front of him. An exchange he would have started himself if Iolaus hadnt. He felt their emotions raging. Outwardly, one would have immediately thought anger. But instead, he felt desperation and sadness within the two. He knew Gabrielles mind and heart was set on this course of action. Nothing short of godly intervention was going to stop her.
He loudly cleared his throat, interrupting the raging argument. "Hopefully, our two armies wont clash." he paused momentarily, seeing his words reaching his two friends. "Ive all ready sent out a messenger to her camp explaining our intentions of just passing through, recruiting a few men for my campaign eastward."
"Do you really think shell go for it?" Iolaus asked hesitantly, deep down fearing the answer.
Avoiding a direct answer he replied, "I sincerely hope so." then added more quietly, "Ive all ready hurt her and Gabrielle enough for one life time." A silent tear formed in his eye as he remembered killing Xena in Athens and seeing the hurt and pain it had caused the bard.
Gabrielle barely heard his last sorrow-filled comment and felt her own chest tighten. Whatever she had felt, it must have been worse for Alexander with the Darkmarr inside him as it amplified feelings and emotions. She placed feather light fingers on his forearm for reassurance. "Alexander," she paused, "Joxer, its all right."
He looked up into those emerald green eyes that had captured his heart and returned his soul. He saw the compassion and understanding reflected there that the power inside of him had all ready confirmed. But somehow, actually seeing the emotions stirring through the bards eyes made them all the more real to him, as the love he held for Gabrielle. Though the bards feelings for him were not the same, he took solace in knowing that he would always have her friendship no matter what. He opened his mouth to express his gratitude when he suddenly stopped, horror etched onto his face.
"What is it?!" demanded the concerned bard as she grabbed him by the arms steadying his swaying body.
The question fell on deaf ears. Sensations of fear and panic paralyzed him. So strong were the emotions that he was completely under their spell. He lived through the pain of the injured and dying. His body reacted to the feelings of death. He fell heavily into Gabrielle, not realizing his own actions. A film of perspiration glistened heavily off of his body.
Gabrielle slid down to the floor with Alexander as she was unable to carry the weight suddenly thrust upon her. Iolaus quickly rushed to Gabrielles side when he saw Alexander collapsing into her arms. Taken off guard, he awkwardly grabbed at one of Alexanders arms, trying his best to alleviate some of the weight from Gabrielle.
Slowly, gently, Alexander was carefully lowered to the ground with the wide eyed bard still frantically holding onto him. With the back of her hand, Gabrielle started wiping away the film of perspiration which glistened heavily off of his body.
Torturously, Alexander regained control over the overwhelming emotions. Gabrielle watched as the look of horror was blinked away from his eyes to be replaced by sadness and concern.
"Alexander, were here for you." the bard whispered in soothing tones as she brushed back his sweaty hair.
He looked up into her eyes, letting her compassion replace the pain and fear. He felt himself falling into her relaxing ministrations. His eyes began to close.
"NO!" he yelled, his eyes flaring open. He quelled the bards ministrations as he jumped to his feet.
Reaching out to him, Gabrielle called to him "Alexander, stop, you need to rest."
"No time!" he said hurriedly, "my men need me!"
Just as Alexander spoke those words, the sound of galloping horses reached the ears of Gabrielle and Iolaus. Clashing steel and the screams of the wounded and dying soon followed.
"How did he..." Iolaus trailed off as he and Gabrielle watched in surprise as the tavern door burst open as a bloody Athenian soldier stumbled through, breathing heavily. "Sir, come quickly!" he managed before falling into the door frame revealing a gaping wound to his abdomen.
Alexander quickly rushed over to one of his lieutenants, lending him the support of his body. "Whats happened Kendrick? Who did this to you?!"
Slipping down the length of Alexanders body, smearing blood on his generals armor, he managed one word, "Xena..."
Alexander slid down to the floor with Kendrick as he watched his friends eyes glaze over with death. He felt the life force leaving his body just as he physically felt him stiffen with a final spasm in his arms. His body went limp in his arms as he looked over to Gabrielle and Iolaus, who each stood unmoving. The bards eyes had gone wide with horror as she heard the whispered name of Kendricks attacker.
All eyes turned to the bar when the loud crash of tankards fell to the hardwood floor and the whispered words "no" met their ears.
"Cyrene!" Gabrielle cried out as she dashed to the innkeeper.
Cyrene looked up from the mess she had made on the floor to the young bard that now stood in front of her. "I-I dont know what came over me." she stammered, looking a little perplexed at the mess on the floor. "Ive never dropped a tray before."
"Its okay...its okay." Gabrielle assured her. "Just leave that be," the bard said, shooing away Cyrene from the mess. "Ill get that later. You just go and find someplace safe to wait this whole mess out."
The innkeeper nodded. "Be careful Gabrielle." She whispered before disappearing into the kitchen and out the back door.
Then, looking back at her companions, the bard grunted. "Come on," she commanded, "we have a job to do."
On hearing the commotion stirring just outside their range of sight, the defending soldiers scrambled out of huts and sleeping rolls. Buckles on armor had gone undone, boots unlaced, all in order to gain precious time to meet the onrush of attackers. Soldiers stumbled over sleeping rolls and ran through cooking fires to meet their adversary roaring their own battle cry.
Hooves plowed through the ground beneath them as battle cries rang through the once still night air. The encampment which rested just outside of Amphipolis was ill-prepared to meet the ferocity and surprise of their attackers. At the head of the attacking army was a warrior who had the look of a crazed warrior etched upon her features. She rode her black stallion hard through the encampment, sending soldiers to Hades with each swing of her blade. Her lust for blood seemingly endless.
The battle was fierce and unrelenting. What seemed to be hours passing, were mere moments. And the moments seemed non-existent. The warlord, who seemed untouchable, suddenly became accessible as a spear dug deep into her steeds chest sending her up and over the surrounding soldiers in a controlled front flip, yelling her feared war cry. Her feet landed solidly with the ground, her body swinging around instinctively to meet the on rush of enemy soldiers.
"Come and get me!" she yelled with a feral smile that made grown men hesitate with fear.
Four soldiers surrounded the warlord, more than willing to do just that. The first attack came as a forward thrust to her chest, followed by a second and third attack swinging low to her right and left side as a downward swoop to her head finished the first wave of attack. She stepped back avoiding the jab and downward swing. She swung her blade to her left knocking away the attack and threw a sidekick to the last soldier on her side. She flashed her blade back around splitting open one soldiers throat. As he fell to the ground gurgling, another soldier slumped down next to him clutching at a puncture wound just below his ribs.
The last two remaining soldiers pulled back enough to live, barely keeping her at bay as they called for their comrades to join them in killing the enemy warlord. Soon, Xena was squaring off against ten fully trained, and fully armed soldiers.
Despite the attacks being directed at her, Xena was acutely aware of all around her; the cries of the dying and the clashing of swords. The sounds seemed only to excite her. To urge her on and conquer.
But then a new sound drifted to her acute hearing, freezing her heart. She heard the cries and pleas of mercy from mothers and their children in the nearby town. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of raging flames tearing through buildings, eating up storage houses. Then, out of nowhere, the face of a young, blonde man standing by her side, when she was much younger, found its way into her minds eye.
She watched as the memory played itself through. She saw a masked army attack her and countless other villagers. Her village, she pondered. She relived the image as she watched herself starting to beat back the army with the curly blonde haired man who never left her side. Then, she watched as he was torn away from her by an arrow finding its mark in his heart. He had thrown himself in front of her, taking the arrow that was meant for her. She felt connected somehow with the image, but the connection itself eluded her.
Her mind was brought painfully back to her present situation when cold, hard steel tore through the flesh of her left shoulder, scraping the underlying bone. Her rage boiled and overflowed. She couldnt allow those helpless villagers to be slaughtered, nor would she be stopped by these soldiers.
She spun her blade in a figure eight motion so quickly, the soldiers who stood around her saw only a blur of motion. She maneuvered the blade in a wide circle, pushing the soldiers back away from her. With a wild yell, she lept over their heads, out of reach. She grabbed the nearest live horse, and somersaulted into the saddle. Several soldiers stood to block her way, but were convinced to move as Xenas boot connected with their faces. She quickly glanced over the raging battle before heading towards Amphipolis. Confident her men could hold their own; she drove her boots into the horse spurring it into motion.
"Gabrielle, behind you!"
Without turning around, Gabrielle knelt down, thrusting the butt-end of her staff into the ribs of an unsuspecting warrior.
"Where did these guys come from?!" the bard yelled to no one in particular as she blocked another sword attack, countering it with a staff attack of her own.
Her friends floated in and out of view as her attention was torn between her friends, her attackers and a glimpse of Xena. To her relief, Xena was nowhere to be seen. But marauding warriors seemed to be pouring out of the darkness. If it hadnt been for a number of Alexanders soldiers being in town at the time of the attack, the three friends would have been sorely outnumbered and possibly dead by now. The men of Amphipolis had also joined the fight to save their town from these warrior scums, increasing the friends chances of survival.
The Athenian soldiers and the three friends were holding their own against their attackers, when suddenly they heard a familiar war cry. "Yiyiyiyiyiyiyiyi!"
Gabrielles heart froze at the sound of the once comforting and wanted security that came from that sound. Now, she could only guess at what horrors that sound would bring. Still too engaged with her attacker, she couldnt afford to steal a look behind her to Xena. She could hear Xenas battle laugh as she cut through armed soldiers after offering them one chance to surrender. Her heart raced, wondering when the inevitable was going to take place. Sooner or later, they were going to meet.
The bard forcefully dispatched her latest attacker in time to see Alexander and Xena turn and face one another, weapons poised for the attack.
"No!" the bard cried out in desperation, several feet away from the two warriors. "Xena, whatre you doing?! Hes your friend, were your friends!"
Xena ignored the annoying strawberry blonde, as she let out a shrill battle cry attacking Alexander. The warlord managed several attacks, unsuccessfully, before the bard rushed in on their position.
"STOP!!" yelled the desperate bard placing herself in a perilous position between the two warriors.
Xenas sword came to a splintering halt against the hardwood of the bards staff, sending a jarring bolt through the bards arms, unprepared for the ferocity of the attack from the warlord. Xenas eyes narrowed towards the young woman who now blocked her way. She raised her sword towards the bard once again.
For one hesitant moment, recognition flashed through her eyes, and Gabrielle saw a shred of hope. Then, with a blink of the eye, it was gone just as quickly. But instead of attacking the bard with her sword, she quickly lowered her sword slightly, posing no threat to the bard, lashing out instead with her free hand. Her left hand caught the bards shoulder, knocking her to the ground out of the way.
Not seriously injured, Gabrielle quickly scurried to regain her fighting stance. Alexander and Xena had resumed their battle with a little less heart the bard thought as she watched them. Gabrielle took this moment to try and help Xenas memories before someone got hurt.
"Xena, this is Amphipolis! Do you realize youre attacking your own village? The village you risked your life and soul to save from Cortese so many years ago?!" she hoped this would stir something in the warlord. Xenas sword halted its attack against Alexander as more images ran through her mind. Alexander stopped all his attacks, but remained at the ready as he felt something deep inside the warrior princess begin to stir.
"My village..." the warlord whispered to herself responding to Gabrielles ploy. Images ran through her mind of village men gathering together under her leadership to fend off the army who wore masks over their eyes threatening their home.
Again, the face of the blonde man appeared, standing once again by her side. This time, she knew who he was, he was her brother. She could almost feel his presence next to her as she stood here, in the present. "Lyceus..." she whispered, turning around to look for him, expecting to find him at her side once again. He wasnt there. She looked back to Gabrielle, confusion playing through her eyes.
"Im sorry Xena, but hes not here." Gabrielle paused for a moment trying to decide on how much she should tell her friend. "He died in the battle against Cortese, remember?"
"No..." she said in a low tone. "NO! Youre lying! Youre just trying to confuse me!" Xena made a move towards the bard as if to attack her and stopped as a terrified plea of mercy from a woman rang through the air tearing at the warlords heart.
Xena, Gabrielle and Alexander turned to see who had screamed. At first, all they could see were the broad shoulders and back of Xenas second in command, Marek.
"MAREK! What do you think youre doing?!" Xena growled, her face contorting in a mask of anger from seeing one of her men harming an unarmed villager.
Marek didnt even bother turning at the sound of his commanders voice. Xenas only response from the man was laughter. She watched as his body twisted, sending his blade into his unfortunate victim. From her vantage point, Gabrielle could see an older woman, with pepper hair slumping to the ground.
"Cyrene!" cried the bard hysterically running towards the fallen woman.
Xena stood where she was moments after Gabrielle took off running, completely ignoring Alexander, trying to remember where shed heard that name before. Suddenly, in a heart wrenching recollection, she knew. "NO!" came her pain stricken response. "YOU BASTARD!" No more words were spoken as she launched herself towards the man who murdered her mother.
Iolaus heard the commotion off to his side and quickly delivered the finishing stroke to his assailant. He started towards the direction the bard had headed in when several other terrified screams cut through the air. He looked around to find the source of the cries only to realize they came from a rapidly burning building. He took one glance towards Gabrielle and found she was holding her own against Xenas men. "Alexander," Iolaus hollered, "I need some help!"
Alexander heard Iolaus cry for help and immediately responded. He knew the battle raging within Xena was a battle he could do nothing about. Only the bard or the gods could help the warrior princess regain her forgotten heart. But the villagers caught within the burning building he could do something about.
Gabrielle engaged three of Mareks henchmen, her emotions running freely as she saw for certain Cyrene lying on the dirt road, blood staining her clothes. They tried blocking her way unsuccessful as her staff came up and out of nowhere connecting with the three men so swiftly the blow almost had no time to register.
One warrior managed to pick himself up after the bard's attack and engage her. She held her own until two of his pals came to his help, attempting to overpower the young woman. In her blind rage, she let slip by one goon who managed to grab ahold of her staff, succeeding in overpowering her. He swung her body around, finally slamming her hard against the unrelenting road. He towered above her, a wicked smile and sharp blade poised above her.
Marek saw Xena closing the distance between them quickly, showing nothing but hate and rage for him. He could see his own death reflected in those ice blue eyes. Miraculously, just as Xena was about to close the final stretch between them, one of his men had the bard at his mercy catching Xenas attention and diverting it for the moment.
Gabrielles attacker stopped whatever attack he had planned for her and turned towards the maker of the unique war cry. Before he could raise his sword to form a semblance of a defense, Xenas sword ran its course through the mans back and out the front of chest. Gabrielles feelings of relief at Xenas timely intervention were fleeting as she felt herself roughly pulled to her feet by her hair causing a slight protest to escape the bards lips.
Xena eyed Marek menacingly as he held Gabrielle in front of him, a knife poised threateningly across her throat. "Stay where you are Xena or the wench gets it."
To emphasize his point, he tightened the blade against Gabrielles neck, causing blood to trickle down the side of her neck. "You dont deserve the right to lead this army." he spat, "You dared to defy my lord and master Ares! These men are no longer loyal to you bitch! I am their leader now!"
Xena froze where she was. "You can have them." she growled, but remained motionless. She watched Mareks every move, trying to gauge his intentions with Gabrielle. Her eyes kept meeting with those of the bards. She could read fear in those eyes. Somehow, seeing Gabrielle in mortal danger brought more images to her mind, images of similar events and other battles. It was as if she was seeing the young bards life flash before her own eyes. Even more surprising was when she found her own life woven tightly together with that of the bard. She had to stop Marek no matter what the consequences, no harm could come to the bard
Xena was brought back to reality when Marek let out a low, sinister laugh. "You lose!" he snarled as she watched his body shift to draw the blade across the bards unprotected throat. Something deep down inside of her took control. No rational thoughts crossed her mind, except Mareks death. Her body no longer listened to her mind, only to the animal that lay beneath. Her hand produced a small dagger, thrusting it towards the bard and Marek.
Gabrielles heart quickened as she watched Xena launch herself towards them and as she felt the blade tighten against her throat. She caught a glimpse of Xenas eyes and found nothing of Xena, only the look of a wild animal.
She felt one of Xenas hands stop the blades path across her neck as the dagger wielding hand shot past her ear. Before she had time to roll out of the way, she heard the dagger sink into soft flesh as warm blood began to flow freely down her neck and back. She felt herself pushed away roughly as Xenas body flew over her. The stunned bard fell to her knees as she thought she heard snarling sounds coming from the crazed warrior. Marek cursed and grunted as he tried his best to fend off the insane woman. Before Gabrielle could turn around, she heard a slow cracking sound, and then all was quiet.
She hesitantly turned around, scared of what she might find. There, standing over the torn body of her former second in command was Xena, smeared in the mans blood. Her dagger lay on the ground.
All around them, warriors had ceased fighting upon seeing the death of their leader. Terrified of retribution from the Warrior Princess, most had turned and ran from the city rather than stay and face death.
"Xena," Gabrielle risked speaking. No answer.
She pushed herself up, slowly reaching a frightened hand out to the warrior. Before her hand reached the armored shoulder, she saw the warriors body begin to tremble.
"Xena..." she repeated, concern and some fear evident in her voice.
Surprisingly, she found Xena willing to be moved, and proceeded to slowly turn her about... Xena came face to face with the bard, but her eyes seemed to be staring right through her. Her unseeing eyes looked down to her hands, staring at the blood that now stained them. Nothing could be read from the stoic warriors face. Absently, the warrior walked around the bard, coming upon the villager Marek had murdered. The villager who had been Xenas mother.
Slowly, Xena lowered herself down to her knees. Her hands trembled as they reached out to the motionless body; shaky hands gently turned the body over, face up. Xena gasped, her hand jumped away from the body, reacting as if it had just touched burning embers.
"Xena, whats..." the bard trailed off as she saw what had startled the warrior. The body Xena had turned over was not the body of Xenas mother, but rather the body of a middle-aged man lay in front of the warrior. "Wha...who..." the bard fumbled as she stared dumbfounded at the body. "I saw...well, I thought I saw...no, I know I saw Cyrene. So did you, right? We both couldnt be wrong...could we?"
Xena left the dead body on the ground as she picked herself up to stand at her full height. She turned to the bard confused, confirming the bards suspicion. How could they both have imagined, or thought they saw Cyrene die by Mareks hands? Unless...'the gods' she thought suspiciously.
"Gabrielle?" The bard turned at the mention of her name called out by a sweet voice tinged with fright. She looked over her shoulder to see a smiling, pepper haired woman turn the corner of a building as she sauntered over towards her. The womans quick pace slowed almost to a stop as she caught sight of the warrior. "Xena..." she breathed.
"Mother..." the warrior whispered disbelievingly, a wisp of life creeping back into her dead eyes. At first, she strode towards the woman uncertainly, growing more confident with each step. "Oh mother!" she let out as she engulfed the older woman in strong arms forged by years of battle. "Oh mother..." she said more softly into her mothers hair as a single tear made its way down her cheek.
"My little one," Cyrene said, choked full of emotion, "oh my little one, youre back."
Iolaus and Alexander came running out of the building with the last of the villagers caught in the burning building in tow, to a deserted street. They scanned the bloodied road for signs of Gabrielle and other surviving soldiers and townsmen. They stopped in their tracks as Xena stood bruised and bleeding in the arms of her mother. They watched dumbfounded as the Warrior Princess knees seemed to weaken. Gabrielle slid her head under the warriors arm to help Cyrene support her daughter. A burden, Alexander knew, Cyrene didnt mind.
Quietly, the strong warriors body began to tremble uncontrollably as she held onto her mother and bard for fear of losing the two people she cherished more than life itself. No words were exchanged, none had to be. Each knew what the other felt in their hearts.
Alexander felt the warriors heart as it shattered under the onslaught of unrelenting memories. She needed a release, and Alexander was relieved to see that it now came through tears and not blood shed. Quietly, Alexander placed his hand on Iolaus shoulder motioning to the injured men who littered the now peaceful streets. Understanding Alexanders intentions of giving the women some much needed privacy, he joined Alexander in aiding the injured.
Ares watched everything from atop Mt. Olympus. All his carefully laid plans destroyed in the blink of an eye. He had worked so hard, laid his plans out so perfectly, to actually see the day his beloved Xena would once again lead an army in all her former glory all in his name. Just thinking about it, even if it only lasted for a short while, sent charges through his body. If it wasnt for that fool Marek interfering, she would still be his. Because of that pathetic mortal, his prized possession slipped right through his fingertips. For that, he made sure Mareks eternity in Tartarus was to be *very* unpleasant. If he was very quiet, Ares could actually hear Mareks tortured screams drift up to meet his ears on Mt. Olympus. He smiled each time. I never really liked him anyway.
However, he knew another played a major role in his defeat.
"Hello brother." Athenas soft voice hummed. "Such a lovely day isnt it?"
"You really think youve won dont you dear sister?" the god of war stated matter-of-factly. "You may have won this battle Athena, but eventually *I* will win the war." he smugly added. "You saw that spark near the end. The old Xenas still mine, and soon Ill have the whole package."
"Not as long as she is under my protection Ares." the goddess of wisdom warned her half-brother, then added "so dont even think about." With that, she was gone in a flash of crystal light.
Ares found himself chuckling to himself despite his anger. The coming days would prove to be interesting. How could he refuse such a tempting challenge? A smile spread across his face, quickly turning into a mischievous laugh.
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