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From the Pits of Hell
Disclaimer: First the legal mumbo-jumbo. The characters of Xena and Gabrielle and all related names are owned and copyrighted by MCA/Universal. Spawn and all related names are owned and copyrighted by Todd Mcfarlane Productions Inc. Avengelyne is owned and copyrighted by Rob Liefield Inc. and Little Wolf Productions. Everything else in this story is mine.
Warnings: This story depicts scenes of violence and their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story. This story also depicts a blossoming love between two adult women, there is no sex. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of issue may wish to read something other than this story.
PART 1 - Questions & Answers
The figure lay in the open field. Just returning to consciousness after only the gods knew how long. He slowly crawled to his feet, unsure of who he was, where he was, or how he had gotten there. He stood there for a moment, hands pressed against his temples, eyes closed, attempting to sift through the many different images, names, and faces racing through his mind. He knew they were all his own memories but they seemed to belong to somebody else. None of them made any sense to him.
He opened his eyes and took in his surroundings. He was in a large field with a forest to the north. A dirt road ran along side him to the south. Well normally it would be dirt, right now it was mud, soaked from the rain that was falling on it. Rain? It was raining? To his utter surprise that he hadn't noticed it sooner it was raining. Pouring in fact. What surprised him even more was that the rain was in no way bothering him. If he couldn't see the rain for himself, he would have had no way knowing it was even there because he couldn't feel it. He looked down at his drenched clothes and for the first time saw the odd attire he was in. He was dressed completely in form fitting black armor. With an odd design on it that consisted of two white lines running along his side, with red beneath them. His dark red boots went up to his knees, and had several layering circles of spikes. The gloves he had on his hands he noticed also were dark red with layers of spikes on them. He also noticed to his amusement that he had a large red cape. To top it all off there was an extremely large, and serrated chain wrapped about his waist and stomach.
He shook his head not knowing what to think of the situation. It was obvious enough he had to figure out what to do next. Unfortunately he knew he couldn't just wander into any village or city and just start asking questions, especially when he had nowhere to start.
What was that? He turned south and heard what sounded like a horse. Correction, a lot of horses. Probably at least a hundred. Easily a fair sized army.
* * *
Toldan knew he shouldn't have ordered his army to move today. The skies hadn't looked to friendly this morning, but they had raided all the villages they could down south, and he had wanted to get moving as quickly as possible, but now thanks to his impatience he was stuck atop a war-horse with a soaked cloak pulled over his head, and a very cranky army of thugs, murderers, and thieves at his back. But if the map that was rolled in a saddle bag behind him, which incidentally was probably useless by now, was correct they should reach the next village before morning.
"Oh, what in Tartarus is this?" Toldan complained to himself under his breath. There was a large man standing in the middle of the road. He was dressed up like he was ready for a costume party. He couldn't help but be impressed both by the man's gall to where such a suit of armor, and by his ability to get one made. The chain around his waist and the mask on his head however totally baffled Toldan. There was no conceivable reason for them. But he was just too tired and too wet to give a damn about any of this.
"Look, you've got two choices you can either get the hell out of here and live. Or we can kill you and I can claim that beautiful suit of armor you have there as my own. Choose quickly. I ain't got all night."
The figure stood there for a second appearing to consider the options, then slowly turned around and started walking away from the army. He never saw the arrow that whistled through the air and embedded itself in the back of his head. To Toldan's horror all the figure did was reach around and pluck the arrow from behind him. Worse yet there was no blood, all Toldan saw was a mass of... something squirming beneath the mask where the wound was supposed to be. Then the hole in the mask itself simply closed up, as if it had never been.
As the figure turned around once more its eyes lit up from beneath its mask, a dark inhuman green. As Toldan drew his sword from his sheath, and looked into those hellish eyes that had to have been born from the very fiery pits of Tartarus itself, he somehow knew, he would never see the light of day again.
He was right.
* * *
The warrior and bard sat around their campfire in their usual positions. Xena sharpening her sword and Gabrielle with a scroll in her hands, the fish that was to be their dinner slowly cooking in the fire. Xena looked up from her sword at her young friend's face, so innocent and so beautiful in the light from the crackling fire. She arched her eyebrow in curiosity, wondering what had caught Gabrielle's interest so absolutely. The bard had read several scrolls through the evening without stopping to go through her nightly ritual of recording some of their most recent adventures. Gabrielle put the scroll she had just finished reading into her bag and immediately drew out another and began untying the leather twine around it.
"What are you reading?" Xena's curiosity finally got the better of her.
"Huh? Oh, nothing, just some writing that David gave to me a couple months ago." The bard looked up absentmindedly from the scroll, slightly surprised she hadn't realized how late it had gotten.
"Oh yeah, I remember David, good kid." Xena said, also remembering the results of the Israelite, Philistine war. "His people had some odd beliefs though."
"Maybe so, but some of the beliefs make a lot of sense. That's what these scrolls are, a compilation of the Hebrew belief system and moral traditions.
David called it the Torah." Gabrielle paused for a moment and retrieved some of the scrolls she had read earlier. It was this point that Xena knew she was about to get into a very long-winded conversation, she resheathed her sword at her feet and braced herself. Gabrielle was looking at one of the scrolls in front of her as she talked. "Did you know that according to this, their god created the earth with nothing but a word? No fighting, or bickering between divine siblings. And when he created people, he set them in a garden that was supposed to be paradise. Of course they ended up getting tricked by a snake, but that part didn't make too much since to me anyway."
Gabrielle had picked up yet another scroll and was skimming through it when she looked up at her friend who had her sword drawn and was on her feet. The bard was instantly up beside her, with staff in hand. "Xena, what is it?" The warrior hushed her friend as she trained her sensitive ear on the forest. It was making far too much noise for Xena to feel comfortable, which meant it was either very large and didn't have to worry about masking its presence, or small and too scared to give a damn about masking its presence. The warrior had her answer soon enough.
She could tell easily that the man was a soldier by the leather and chain mail he wore. There were three things however that were definitely out of the ordinary for this soldier she noted with some amusement. The first was that he apparently carried no weapon, in his hand or at his side. The second was that his face was as white as a full moon. The third, and most telling, was that she didn't think a mortal could run as fast as this man was. Xena knew immediately that this man was no threat, but whatever could convince a grown man to run an involuntary marathon was definitely something that needed to be dealt with. So, even though she knew the only thing she had to do to be out of harms way was to step a foot to the right, she lowered the point of her sword and, after yelling at him to stop, and he not wanting to hear her, planted the hilt of her weapon in his chest. She then knelt down and jabbed him once in the temple and he fell into unconsciousness.
Gabrielle, finding her voice again, lowered her staff and asked her friend what she thought he was running from.
"I wish I knew." The warrior walked over and began picking up the brass additions to her armor and buckling them on." Hopefully when he wakes up in the morning he'll be in a more talkative mood, right now, I want you to stay here, I'm gonna go out and follow his trail and see what I can find." And with that, Xena picked her sword back up and headed into the dark forest.
Normally the bard would have argued with her friend over being left behind, but after seeing the look of pure terror in the man's face she knew it was probably better this way. She began picking up the scrolls and rerolling and tying them for lack of anything better to do. She also knew that she wouldn't be able to focus on anything else until they got some answers. When she was finished with the scrolls she sat back and stared into their campfire, waiting for her friend to return with some useful information.
* * *
The warrior figured out quickly that it was a long way. She had been following the soldiers trail for nearly an hour, almost ten miles of ground covered and she still hadn't seen anything. She was about to turn back when she heard something, and caught the unmistakable smell of blood on the night wind. She walked about another hundred feet and she saw it.
It was definitely the sight of some battle. Hundreds of corpses littered the field, bathed in a crimson shine. But that wasn't the worst of it. There had to be millions of what could only be described as small, fat, sickly green, worms spread out over the bodies like a blanket. Xena stood there for a moment, surveying the landscape, it only took her a moment to realize what was happening. The worms were feasting on the dead and dying flesh under them. The warrior princess had seen many atrocities in her lifetime, but nothing ever quite matched what she felt right now. She turned around and fully intended running all ten miles back to the camp and telling Gabrielle to pack up, but she only just barely got away from the field when she had to stop.
"Xena." A loud voice called out her name from behind her. The warrior turned around and brought her sword up into a defensive position, surprised because she didn't see any survivors. The voice belonged to a woman, a tall woman, easily taller than Xena herself. She also looked young, with a hawkish face and long, dark red hair. She wore a black headband to keep her hair out of her face, which was accompanied by a long pitch black robe she wore about her shapely figure. It was hard to determine what the robe was made of, for one minute it appeared to be made of silk, the next, heavy sackcloth. She wore a red belt, tied around her waist, and neither hands nor feet were visible. Xena stared at the woman, suspicious of her knowing her name, her odd attire, being so far out in the forest late at night, and last but not least, her proximity to the battle field.
"Who are you, and how do you know my name?" Xena asked, keeping her temper in check, and though she would never admit it to herself, let alone anybody else, a small amount of involuntary fear at still being near the battle ground.
"My identity isn't important at the moment, as for how I know your name, I've been watching you a long time Xena. In fact if you had taken the path I had originally thought you would, we wouldn't be standing here now, talking the way we are. I must say that I'm pleasantly surprised at the course your life has gone down. I must remember to thank Gabrielle for what she has done for you." The woman paused for a minute, Xena didn't react at all at the mention of her friend's name, at least visibly. The reaction was what the woman was looking for. "You can put your weapon away Xena, I'm hardly a threat to you or your *friend*, I am unarmed after all." The woman stopped again, and waited for Xena to comply. The warrior lowered her sword, she also noted the woman's emphasis on friend, but ignored it at the moment, it wasn't important to the matter at hand. The woman's mouth barely cracked a grin, and she continued, knowing that to ask for anything more from the warrior would be folly. "I have a question for you Xena, what do you plan on doing, after what you saw here tonight? It's obvious enough right now that you have no want to cross that field in its current condition. But I can assure you, that those creatures of darkness and evil will be gone by the day break, they can't stand sunlight. Nothing will be left but a field of white bones."
Xena let out a breath she didn't realize she was holding, before speaking. "You sound as if you want me to find what did this. If that's true, then you must know what it is, what it wants, and why it's here. And you also don't look like someone who should be out here right now, which leads me to believe that you have a stake in this somewhere." The warrior's icy stare met that of the woman robed in black, the warrior had met few people who could meet her stare without turning away. This was one of those people, yet, most that could withstand her eyes had hearts and souls that were destroyed and burned, cold, hard, and black. This woman's eyes however, had the look of water, soft, flowing, yet able to move mountains, shape land masses, and give life as they can take it away. The woman merely stood there and waited for Xena to answer her question. "As to what I'm going to do about it, first I'm going to take Gabrielle and the unconscious soldier to the nearest village, find out what I can about what did this. Then I'm going to find this thing, and attempt to destroy it. But, it just leveled an entire army, so I don't know how much success I could possibly have. Which is also why I'm going to leave Gabrielle behind, I won't be responsible for her death, and there probably wouldn't be a damn thing I could to stop it if the creature decided to turn on her." The entire time Xena's face stayed the same as it had been since leaving the campsite, rock hard, betraying nothing.
The woman looked at Xena for a minute, before she started laughing to herself. When she had control of herself again, she snapped at Xena. "You TALK as if you have CHOICE!" She waited till she composed herself again before speaking. "Gabrielle is going to be an integral part to what will unfold. She must be by your side or you will FAIL, warrior! And allow me to guarantee to you that the creature will not harm Gabrielle or you if you are no threat to it. Though how long that will remain true depends on how long it takes you to find it. The corpses laid out in that field were fools, they deserved their fate. They attacked a being not of this world without knowing what they were getting themselves into, I trust you will not make that same mistake warrior." The woman turned around and was headed for the darkness of the trees, but stopped, and looked at Xena once more. "Oh, one last thing, my name is Temeris, remember it well." She then continued into darkness and seemingly disappeared.
Xena stood there for a moment, before resheathing her sword, the only thing going through her mind, the fact that she could never remember being awestruck by anything short of a god.
* * *
Xena jogged back to the campsite, the entire time unable to put the conservation she had with Temeris out of her head. What kind of creature could possibly destroy an entire army? And possibly more importantly, what events was she speaking of? Of which she and Gabrielle were obviously supposed to be a party to. Well, she admitted to herself, answers will only come with time, but what she already did know was that she would never allow Gabrielle to die. Not when she could do something about it, not ever again.
When she returned, she began putting out the fire and told Gabrielle to pack up. The bard immediately began corralling their belongings and shoving them into Argo's saddlebags. Intending later on asking her friend some questions of her own. Gabrielle was rolling up the blankets, as Xena began tying up the still unconscious soldier's arms and legs, and laying him across Argo's back. But before she could get that far the mare backed away from her master, or more precisely her cargo. Xena stood there for a moment perplexed, That's odd, Xena thought to herself, Argo's usually very obedient with me. Normally the warrior would have just tried to soothe her mount and tell her that nothing was wrong. But after the few revelations tonight, Xena couldn't even say that to herself, besides, there wasn't time to argue. So instead she plopped the soldier back down on the ground and told Gabrielle that she would have to ride.
The moon was past its zenith and beginning its descent when Xena hefted the unconscious soldier over her shoulder and Gabrielle climbed up on Argo, and started moving again. This time in the opposite direction of the battlefield, Xena made sure. She intended on making her way to a small village they had passed through the day before, and should be able to make it their before day break, if they kept up a good pace.
It was almost two hours later before either tried to break the silence that had settled over them. Gabrielle looked at Xena and knew she was deep in thought about something, she also knew it was time to try and start getting some answers from her friend. As much as the bard would hate to admit to herself, something had spooked the warrior, and she wanted to know what. "Xena?" Gabrielle asked quietly.
"Yes." Xena replied without looking up from the road.
"What did you see?"
The warrior's eyes flinched for half a heartbeat before answering. Gabrielle knew that for anybody else this was the equivalent of a scream. "Something I wished I'd never done." Xena paused for a moment, looked at her friend before continuing, "I thought that I had seen every conceivable level of violence and gore that the human mind could cook up. I have. Tonight, I saw something that mortals were never supposed to lay eyes on."
Xena looked forward again, the bard knew that the warrior was envisioning what she spoke of. Reliving what she had experienced only a few short hours ago. Xena's face became a mask again out of habit, obviously hiding something that she was very uncomfortable with. All Gabrielle wanted to do was jump down off Argo, cradle her friend's head in her lap, and assure her that everything was going to be fine. But she thought about how fruitless a venture that would be and restrained herself to continuing listening to her friend's story.
"It was obviously a large army, hundreds of corpses at least. The field was soaked with blood, and far too much ash to simply have come from flaming arrows. Now that I think about it, there were still flames burning in the grass, but they were green and white, not red and orange. There were also countless numbers of worms, eating the already decaying bodies. They covered the field as far as the eye could see."
Gabrielle was now looking at her friend with concern. Yes, what she had just described was horrible, and far from common, but it didn't sound like something that would phase the warrior princess. She had the feeling that Xena hadn't told her everything. "What else?"
Xena didn't begin speaking again immediately, she contemplated how much she really wanted to tell her friend. It was obvious enough that if she told Gabrielle about what Temeris had said that she would refuse to stay behind, but Xena also knew that particular task wouldn't be easy to begin with, for the moment she decided not to. "It wasn't just the physical... what could actually be seen. There was also something more. Something that reaches to the very soul of your being. Like I said, what I saw, no human was ever supposed to. There was also somebody there, by the battlefield. She called herself Temeris, and she told me some things I would rather not have heard."
Xena stopped again, Gabrielle looked down sadly at her friend, wanting even more to comfort her. This was very hard for both of them, but the bard knew that she needed to know what happened, and decided to prod just one last time. "What did this Temeris say?"
"First, that it was indeed a single entity that slaughtered that army. Second, that the entity wasn't inherently violent, at least, not right now. And last, that I'm involved somehow with this thing's destiny. I don't know what to do right now, there are still to many questions. All I do know is that tomorrow, I will find this thing, and get some answers."
The bard looked down at her friend again, she still had the feeling that she hadn't heard everything, but the look that the warrior princess's face had taken on, said that she was through talking for now. So instead Gabrielle entertained her own thoughts again. The many more questions that had been raised from this conversation with her friend. The first and foremost question of which was, why did the name Temeris seem so familiar? It had been tickling the front of her brain since Xena had first said it. Gabrielle went about dredging through her memory, trying to pull the name from somewhere. After a few minutes, it finally hit her where she had heard the name before.
"Xena." The bard said anxiously, she was very glad that one question would get an answer, but she also knew that, as the saying went, one answer would bring about five more questions. And she would be lucky if that's all the questions this answer would bring about. "Temeris. I know that name. It belongs to a warlord in a lot of stories I've heard and read. She was supposed to be one of the most brutal, vicious, heartless, and cunning warlords that ever lived. In one story she took Sparta by seducing the king, and the captain of the guard, and within a month time, turned the Spartan army into one of the most pathetic excuses for soldiers that ever lived. Her army attacked in the middle of the night, and because half the guards were asleep at their posts, nobody ever saw them coming. But get this, Temeris is dead. She died almost two hundred years ago."
So we have a creature that is able to slaughter an entire army, yet isn't violent, and we get to top that with a two hundred year old warlord. This is getting better by the minute, Xena thought to herself.
* * *
It was just before sunrise when the small party reached the village. The soldier was still out cold, which didn't surprise Xena since fear, compounded by need for sleep, then compounded even more by getting slugged can put a person out for a long time.
Xena saw the nearest inn and headed for it, with Gabrielle and Argo close behind. Gabrielle jumped down off the mare, headed inside, and got a room. Unfortunately, the room was on the second floor, which meant that Xena had to haul the soldier's dead weight up the stairs. It was a small room, a single bed, one chair, a small mirror on a stand across the room, and a bucket in the corner for various needs. The warrior happily dropped the soldier on the bed and sat in the chair, facing him. She told Gabrielle to go get some food and any other supplies she thought they might need. So the bard picked up her bag, and headed back out, knowing their stay would only be as long as the soldier decided to sleep. The warrior sat back in her chair, and stared at the unconscious figure in the bed, thinking about what questions to as first.
It was still very early, so Gabrielle decided that a little breakfast was in order, before hitting the waking village market. She ordered herself a plate of hotcakes and sat by a window. She had been there only a few minutes when a small girl ran through the door. She wouldn't have thought this an odd event if weren't for the fact that the few other patrons in the common room didn't seem to acknowledge her. The girl looked around for a few seconds, than ran up to Gabrielle's table and seated herself across from the bard. She couldn't help but admire the little girl's fearlessness, and put on the best smile she could to make her feel welcome. She then asked the little girl's name.
"My name is Blake, what's your name?" Blake asked with a beaming smile of her own.
"My name's Gabrielle," the bard returned, wondering what brought the little girl here. "Are you here waiting for somebody Blake?"
The little girl laughed for a second, in that innocent way only children can, before answering, "No silly, I'm here for you!"
Gabrielle raised her brow in surprise, then looked at Blake and asked, "Oh, is that right? And why, may I ask, are you here for me?"
"Well, actually I'm here for you and Xena." The little girl admitted, she then stood up on the chair, leaned across and started whispering to the bard like what she had to say was the most important thing in the world. After Gabrielle heard it, she decided it might have just been. "You and Xena are here to fight the bad people! But you have to know that the people you think are the bad people are not! Oh, and would you please get Xena to understand how important you are to what will happen? The bad people will win, unless you are all there!" Blake pleaded to a now slack-jawed, and speechless Gabrielle.
The bard was so shocked in fact that she couldn't say or do anything until she heard Xena call out her name from behind her at the top of the stairs.
"Gabrielle, eating breakfast without me, I see." Xena said, giving her friend a wry smile.
Gabrielle looked at Xena for a moment, then pulled back around and was looking for Blake. The little girl was nowhere in sight. She got up and ran to the door that she came in. Xena was instantly by her shoulder, looking out the door, trying to see what had her friend so rattled. "Gabrielle, what is it?"
The bard stood for a moment, still speechless, then she found her voice, "Xena, what happened to that little girl that was sitting across from me when you came down?" She asked hesitantly.
Xena looked at Gabrielle quizzically, then slowly said, "Gabrielle, there wasn't anybody sitting with you when I came down."
Gabrielle looked at Xena with pleading, and almost angry eyes. The bard then proceeded to question every other person in the room as to what they saw, nobody saw anything.
* * *
"Look, I'm not saying that she wasn't there, all I'm saying is that I didn't see her. Zeus knows that with everything else that's been going on that it's perfectly possible that you were the only one that saw her." Xena explained to her friend, who at this moment was still standing by the window, looking out at the small village.
Gabrielle, for her part, was wondering if she was going crazy. Seeing nonexistent people can do that to you. She didn't have much longer to worry about that however, because she heard what sounded like a low-pitched moan from behind her. Both women turned toward the bed, toward the now waking soldier.
He slowly opened both eyes, then quickly shut them against the little bit of light shining through the window. He opened them again, even slower this time, and forced himself to look around the room he found himself in. It took less than half a minute for him to focus on the other two occupants who were with him. At first his eyes darted open, and he almost climbed up the wall behind him, not knowing who the other two people were, or what to think of them. The warrior, or at least that's what he thought she was from her armor, simply pulled the lone chair in the room next to the bed he was laying in and sat in it.
He started to back away from her, but she grabbed him by the shoulder, and forced him to look into her cool gaze before speaking, "First of all calm down. Nobody here has any intentions of harming you. You're in a small village, about half a day's journey from where we found you, you've been unconscious for the better part of a night. Now, my name is Xena, and her name is Gabrielle. What is your name?"
He sat there for a moment, considering the story this woman told him. He figured he had nothing to lose and decided to answer her question. "My name is Abradeen." He said shakily.
"Abradeen. Good." Xena was relieved, she knew now that she might be able to get some information from this man. It was something she hadn't originally been too sure about. "Abradeen, I need to ask some more questions. Do you think you can answer them?" The soldier slowly nodded. "Ok, first, you were running from something when we first found you. We need to know who, or what you were running from."
Abradeen's face contorted in fear almost instantly. He grabbed the blankets on the bed, his mouth opened with a scream that wouldn't come, he closed his eyes, reliving the stark horror that had gripped him, and his comrades the night before. He started screaming something, the two others could barely make out what he was saying. "NO, NOT AGAIN. You killed my friends, you'll not get me to you BASTARD!" Xena bounded from her chair, Gabrielle grabbed her staff, which was leaning against the wall. The warrior pinned the man's arms to his sides, started yelling at him that what he was experiencing wasn't real, to calm down and get a hold of himself. He didn't notice. The next thing Xena noticed was being hurled across the room, over the chair behind her. Abradeen's strength had just rocketed to inhuman levels. He jumped from the bed he was in, to his feet. His eyes told the story of a mad man, he reached down and removed Xena's sword from its scabbard and began making his way to the warrior. She simply stood up with a look of cold determination on her face, and readied her self into a fighting stance.
Gabrielle circled behind the man stalking her friend. For some reason that she couldn't gather, Abradeen seemed to have forgotten about her and was focusing on Xena. She took his mistake for all it was worth and hit him as hard as she could across the back. It was like hitting a brick wall. Her staff rebounded out of her hands onto the ground. Her hands stung so badly from the impact that she couldn't even close them. Unfortunately, it was at this point that Abradeen decided that she was more of a threat than he originally gave credit for. He turned around with a look of rage on his face. He hefted the sword over his head, intending on ending the life of the nuisance behind him. It was then that Xena landed three quick taps to pressure points on the back of his neck. He stood for a moment, before dropping the sword to the ground, and crumpling to a pile of flesh and bones on the floor.
The warrior grabbed her sword, resheathed it, and threw it on the bed. She then checked for a pulse in the body, and was glad when she didn't find one. She walked over to Gabrielle and threw her arm around the bard's shoulder. Gabrielle was flexing her hands, trying to get some feeling to return, without much success yet. The warrior merely stood there, looking at the body, not believing what just happened.
After a few minutes, Xena picked up her sword and slung it on her back. Gabrielle, who had just managed to be able to make a fist again, asked her where she was going.
The warrior looked at Abradeen's body one last time before answering, "I'm going to get some answers, the battlefield that Abradeen was running from obviously has something to do with it. And at this point, it's the last avenue of investigation."
Gabrielle grabbed her staff again, "I'll come with you."
"No." Xena answered quickly, a little too quickly, Gabrielle looked at her friend with surprise, and then a moment of realization. An argument almost made its way past the bard's lips, Xena spoke again before it escaped, "Look, I plan on coming back. Besides, Argo will be able to make it there and back before noon. And I don't know what I'm going to find there." The last sentence being spoken almost under her breath.
Gabrielle took in a breath of exasperation before speaking, "Xena we're in this together. Normally I might be able to understand your reservations about something like this, but isn't it obvious that Blake wouldn't have appeared to me if I wasn't supposed to be involved somehow?"
"Gabrielle." The warrior was starting to lose her patience. "I don't plan on making any world shattering decisions without you. All I'm going to do is gather some information."
Xena began making her way to the door, but the bard wasn't going to let her leave without voicing her suspicions. "That's part of what Temeris told you, wasn't it?" The warrior turned from the door and looked at her friend. "She told you that I was part of this, that it wouldn't work without me, but you, being your typically pig-headed self decided that for some self-righteous reason that you couldn't protect me. Well I don't NEED your PROTECTION!" Screaming her final words, Gabrielle grabbed her staff and marched from the room and ran down the stairs.
Xena stood in the doorway, she blinked her eyes a few times, attempting to puzzle through what just happened. She had never seen Gabrielle with that kind of rage toward anybody before, with the possible exception of Callisto. Xena decided to follow her friend and find out what was going on, hoping that there was something behind the obvious. Not being able to bear the thought of the bard really feeling the way she had exhibited toward her. If the warrior had remained in the room five seconds longer, she might have noticed the bit of what looked like green mist rising up from the mouth of Abradeen's corpse. It faded out of sight as it headed for the lone window in the room. And even if she didn't notice that, she would definitely have noticed the body disintegrate into a small pile of dust.
Xena was halfway down the hall when she heard a loud crash from below her, then the hushed conversation of a roomful of people. When she made it down the stairs the first thing she saw was a crowd of people gathered around something in the middle of the room. She made her way through the crowd with pushing and a bit of yelling. Her heart jumped in fear when she saw what they were looking at, Gabrielle was sprawled out on the floor, apparently unconscious. A table was flipped up on its side, she probably grabbed onto it when she was falling. And her staff was next to her unmoving hand.
* * *
The moonlight shone delicately through the breaks in the trees. The black robed woman sat at the base of one of the trunks, her red hair glinting in the darkness. A pack of wolves broke through the dense foliage to her right. The wolves were surprised by the presence of the human. Not expecting her here. What they did not know however was that she had summoned them. She needed the dark power that their very souls generated in this plane of existence. For they were creatures of the night, they shunned the light of day for reasons of their own, but their reasons mattered not. The light is not part of their world, so they become passive conduits of the one pure aura in the existence of darkness, evil. So the wolves' eyes begin to glow red as power in its purest form is channeled through them, from the farthest reaches in her home, from the place known as the Darklands. She has performed this ritual many times before, when she wore the cloak of the Hellspawn. Since the power that she had procured had dissipated long ago, she has spent the rest of her time in the demons' land. When she returned to Earth, she was given a small amount of the energy known as Necroplasm. The green energy of Hell. But there was no way she would be able to manipulate it in the fashion that the Hellspawn could. In fact the only reason she was imbued with the gift was so the temporary shell her spirit has been given wouldn't fall apart.
But the intricacies of her world were very unimportant at this time. What was important was the soul of the current Hellspawn. He had gotten lucky. His spirit was intertwined with the love for two women. Which was one the reasons he had been chosen. Her masters knew how strong the emotion of love was, and what it could make mortals do. But what they were more interested was its value as a bartering chip. The promise to see a loved-one, one last time, in exchange for damming your own soul, and involving them with the cold war of the beyond. But she knew something went wrong with the current spawn. Her masters never told their underlings anything, of course, but rumors still got around, especially with such a traitorous bunch as Hell kept around. She didn't know what happened exactly, she did know however, that Hell had lost control of this one. And that this Xena's name has been connected with the Spawn more than once. She honestly didn't know if some of what she told the warrior was true. But she also knew that it didn't really matter. Even if the Spawn turned out to be a psychotic murderer, the worst it could do was kill her. Her soul's passage has already been determined, there wasn't anything she could do to change it. She thought about her view of death for a minute, the differences in her outlook from when blood pumped through her veins, and a heart beat in her chest. For so many mortals' death was nothing but an ending, so few truly understood what it was, a transformation, a change. A rebirth into a new world.
She also thought for a moment about her place in the grand scheme of things. It would have seemed that fate had chosen for her, the part that she would play. One tends to believe that with death, especially when the soul has already been judged. But what people don't know is that the soul retains one of its greatest gifts, even after death, the power of a free will. And there are many souls after death, on both sides, that choose to exercise that gift. Temeris is one of those souls. She heads a covert faction inside hell that is actually determined to fight for the other side. Though she knows it can never be on the front line, she fights in her own ways. Her thoughts are interrupted as another person enters the area. She wears long, leather beaten pants, and a shirt with a leather vest over it. She also carries a sword in its scabbard in her hand.
The wolves begin to growl and circle the newcomer, but she pays them no heed. Such lowly creatures of darkness hold no threat for her. Temeris recognized her immediately as the angel called Avengelyne. A seraph actually, an angel of the warhost. A warrior. But she is a very rare breed these days in a kingdom of light. She knows of the group headed by Temeris and aids them on a regular basis. Temeris stands and tells the wolves to leave them. She then turns to Avengelyne and greets her. "Well angel, it would seem you received my message."
"Yes, it seemed urgent, what is it, you know if you're seen with me it would mean retribution from your lord?" Temeris smiled slightly at Avengelyne's want for speed in these matters. Like most that need to deal with the devil to achieve the greater good, she never liked when she had to actually confront the reality of the situation. In the long run her apprehension was probably a good thing, it meant she still knew where her loyalties stood. She decided it wouldn't be a good idea to torture an important ally to her cause. "Have you heard about the latest Hellspawn?" Avengelyne simply shook her head. "Something has happened to him, my master, Malebolgia, screwed up the imbuing process with the necroplasm. I don't know what it did to him, but I do know that he's definitely not himself." Temeris finished with a grin spreading across her face.
The angel looked at the black robed woman quizzically for a moment. "Let me guess, you want me to find this new spawn, and see if there is some way he can aid us?"
"Yes, I have my suspicions as far as to what happened to him, and if I'm correct, then he could aid us considerably. The only problem is going to be Angela." Angela was the name of another angel, this one had been given the express permission to hunt Hellspawns, and she certainly wasn't known for her social skills.
"Angela. If what you say is true, then she probably won't get orders concerning this one."
"As true as that might be, you and I know both know that Angela has never played by the rules. If another Hellspawn has been created then she is going to find it, and kill it. In many ways she is cut from the same cloth as we are, she does what she thinks is right despite what the law says."
Avengelyne began to shake her head again as she spoke, "We, are not cut from the same cloth Temeris. My soul hasn't been damned for eternity, and it didn't take death to make me see the way things really worked, what the right things to fight for were."
Any traces of a smile or a grin that had previously played across Temeris' face disappeared at the statement Avengelyne just made. "You're fooling yourself again, angel. If I'm such an unredeemable monster then what does that make you? You agree with my methods, you agree with my goals, you aid me when I need it. You're a party to your own vision of a crime. So don't go spitting your self-righteous drivel in my face. I have no reason to believe it."
Avengelyne looked at her ally, studying her, before speaking. "I never said you were unredeemable, that's not my decision to make. And as far as to why I work with you," the angel turned around and began making her way out of the clearing, "unlike others, I know that good and evil have many shades of gray in between. Nothing is ever as cut and dry as our lords might try to make us think. There's the potential for both good and evil in every one of us, and that spreads across all the peoples of the earth, and all the realms not of the earth. And the sooner we can all accept that, the sooner the truly important things can be given attention to."
The angel was about to leave, but Temeris spoke up one last time, "Wait, there's one last thing," she held out her hand and a small green flame erupted from her palm. Inside the flame was the picture of two women, one wore black leather armor with brass guards, the other wore a green top with a brown skirt and carried a staff in her hand. "The warrior's name is Xena, she has been whispered about more than once in conjunction with the spawn. It's obvious that the two knew each other when he was still alive, I'm not sure what the exact relationship was, but she will factor into this somehow. The other is Gabrielle. She fancies herself a bard, and is a friend and confidant of Xena's. Possibly more but I can't be sure on that yet either. I got strong reaction to her essence on a metaphysical level. I have no idea what role she will play, but I'm sure it will be an important one. I've got a feeling they might be the wild cards in this whole thing, and that means that we have to reach them before anyone else does."
"Any idea where there at right now?"
"Yes, Xena picked up a soldier that had been wounded in a fight with the spawn, probably to get information about him, my guess would be she would take him to the nearest village to heal his injuries. That is about half a days walk from here, to the north."
"Does the Hellspawn have a name yet?"
"No, at this point the only ones who would know that would be Malebolgia, and the one Malebolgia always assigns to watch over, and further corrupt the Hellspawn."
Avengelyne stood for a moment, mulling over the information she just received. Then she threw her sword and scabbard over her shoulder, and left Temeris to her own machinations.
* * *
Avengelyne had almost no trouble tracking the three mortals, the Necroplasm present in the body of the soldier was leaving an unmistakable trail. The angel never could get used to the method of traveling in a corporeal form. But unfortunately, her spirit form would be of absolutely no use on the earth. After all, she needed to be able to interact with people, and no one would be able to see or hear her if she did that.
Absorbed in her own thoughts, she almost didn't notice the creature lurking in the darkness off the road. In fact she wouldn't have noticed it if it hadn't been for the fact that the creature radiated an aura of evil so strong it pulled her to her senses. She whirled around, drew her sword, and shouted into forest. "Show yourself!"
It was a few moments before she received an answer, "I'd rather not, if I manifest myself physically we'd just end in a fight, and that's not why I'm here." The voice was high pitched, and screeching, Avengelyne recognized it well.
"Violator, why do you try to taunt me, our two kinds know each other to well for subtlety to work anymore."
"Angel... I simply wish to talk, surely you and I can do that without getting pissed at each other."
"Then say what want to say traitor, I haven't got all night." Avengelyne's voice was strained, Violator couldn't tell if it was from anger, frustration, or impatience, and frankly he didn't care. He had seen her battles with other demons on more than one occasion, if you'll excuse the pun, she was definitely a holy terror with a sword, but she always had and always will lack the patience required for cold war battles. He smiled to himself slightly, (which was quite a trick, considering he had no physical body at the moment), for all their combat skills, angels were incredibly easy to manipulate.
"You seem to think that the current Hellspawn can be redeemed, you have tried this before, you and that traitor Temeris, yes, I know that you and Temeris are working together. When I manage to gather enough evidence to show Malebolgia, he is going to destroy her too. She was a human at one time, she doesn't deserve what she's been given."
Typical thinking for a demon, especially for Violator. Unfortunately, Avengelyne knew, both angels and demons had a tendency not to give mortals their due. This angel had to admit to herself that she didn't understand what her lord, or Violators lord for that matter saw in humans. She did know however that both would often choose a human, or at least a spirit that had been human at one time, over one of their own kind. It was obvious enough that both knew something about a spirit that inhabited a human body that the angels and demons didn't. Both sides have already decided that the final battle would be fought with the humans leading both sides. "Violator, I've always wondered how stupidity could wield the powers of a demon. You're notorious for your hate of humanity, yet, have you ever stopped and wondered why both of our lords seem to treasure them so much? Malebolgia certainly must see something in them, after all, every Hellspawn has been mortal, if not human."
"I wonder that every day of my unlike angel. Its why I can't stand them, they're weak, and can so easily change their view on life. And I've found it has so much to do with that damn love emotion. Such a weakness can make them do things they might normally not. Makes them perfect candidates for betrayal." Avengelyne knew Violator was right about one thing, love was the strongest force in the universe. It seemed to sway mortals like not quite anything else could. It was something she never could quite understand, but was eternally grateful for. But again, it was typical demon thinking for Violator to perceive love as a weakness. It was more thinking she couldn't understand, and hoped she never would.
"A traitor can be a hero, or a villain, it just depends what side you're on. Anyway, I know you didn't make yourself known to me just so we could discuss the moral implications of betrayal. As far as the current Hellspawn being redeemed, I honestly don't know if it can be done or not, but I'm going to try. Besides, your master, Malebolgia, screwed up considerably, he's going to have to expect us to try and capitalize on that."
"The loss of his memory does not excuse the atrocities he committed when he was still alive. He's still the same person, regardless of what he tried before he died."
"He lost his memory? Malebolgia did screw up big time." The angel, with a slight smirk on her lips, then proceeded to resheath her sword, sling it over her shoulder, and continue down the road to the next village. She actually got a good twenty feet before Violator recovered himself.
"Wait, you... you didn't know?" His voice was a mixture of frustration and disbelief.
"Now I do."
It's said to this day that if you travel this old road in this small forest that you can still hear the wind cursing itself.
* * *
It was already past sunrise when Avengelyne finally reached the village. She had reached the village square when she sensed it. The unmistakable aura of escaping necroplasm. It came from the upper story of the inn up ahead. She swung her sheathed sword into her left hand as she ran up to the door. As she stepped into the common room, she saw a scene that she would remember many times in the years hence.
The warrior she knew to be Xena was bent over the body of the bard she knew to be Gabrielle. Xena was screaming at the seemingly lifeless body. She was also banging on her chest, apparently attempting to jumpstart an arrested heart. Avengelyne merely stood for a few seconds, observing the actions of the warrior. She honestly could never remember one who called themselves a warrior exhibiting such emotions. It also told her everything she needed to know about Xena's feelings toward Gabrielle.
She went to push her way through the crowd surrounding the two. Xena didn't even look up until the brown-haired newcomer got down on her knees beside Gabrielle. At first she ignored her, and continued trying to restore Gabrielle's missing pulse. But Avengelyne grabbed Xena's hands and shook her head, looking her straight in the eyes.
"That won't work. Please, allow me to examine her." Xena's initial reaction was to push her back, she didn't know what she was talking about. She couldn't say if it was something in the woman's voice, or her eyes, but she complied nonetheless. Avengelyne placed her hands on Gabrielle's throat for a second, she then lifted her eyelids, and looked into her pupils. It took only a moment for her suspicions to be confirmed. She grasped Gabrielle by the hand, then looked at Xena. "It's obvious you wish for her to live, what are you willing to give for her life?"
The answer to the warrior was obvious, and she hesitated not even a second in speaking. "I would give anything for her."
Avengelyne nodded in understanding. She then held her hand up to Xena, palm up, "Then take my hand warrior, and brace yourself, this will be far from pleasant."
Again, the warrior didn't know why she trusted this woman, but she did. Xena did as the woman said, taking her hand, she looked down at Gabrielle's still lifeless body. At first nothing happened, then Avengelyne closed her eyes, and Xena felt a sharp stabbing pain through her entire body, she looked down to see a bright light travel down her arm, into the woman's, then further down into Gabrielle's body.
Xena's first impression, surprisingly, was how tired she suddenly seemed. Granted, she had been up for close to 24 hours already, but she hadn't been this drained a moment ago. She looked down at her little bard, Gabrielle's eyes first began to flutter open, and Xena knelt down beside her, just in time to hear her choke a word out. "Xe... Xena? I'm so...."
"Shhh... don't say anything, you need rest." Xena smiled at her friend as she closed her eyes again, this time with the comfort it wouldn't be permanent. She wiped the tears from her own eyes as she looked up at the stranger who saved Gabrielle's life, and probably her own soul indirectly. She asked the only obvious question, the only one that seemed to matter at this point. "Who are you?"
The stranger looked down into the eyes of the warrior, and judging from what was below, saw something she knew didn't find its way easily onto her face, genuine emotion. "My name is Avengelyne," a beat, "I'm a friend." She slings the leather strap on her sheath across her shoulder. She then asks Xena "I assume you have a room?" The warrior just nodded her head. "Good, you were correct, Gabrielle's body will need to find its way to a bed. Grab an arm, we'll take her upstairs."
Once again, Xena complied with the woman's orders, it was starting to feel odd to the warrior, taking so many orders from someone else. As the two lifted the limp body of the bard, the warrior shot Avengelyne a look that let her know she was far from done with the questions. "I know that you still have many questions Xena. About me. About what happened to your friend. And about you have seen in the last eight hours. And trust me, I will, and can give you all the answers that you need. But, it will need be in time. Remember, patience is a virtue."
* * *
Gabrielle lay on the bed, under the covers. Some of the color had returned to her face. Her breathing, the steadiness of deep sleep. Xena sat on a small chair next to her friend, stroking her bangs off her forehead. Avengelyne sat on the window sill, looking out at the small village, and the forest beyond. "Avengelyne. I don't believe I've ever heard a name quite like that before."
Xena's face had regained its composure. Avengelyne turned and looked at the warrior, her own face betrayed as much emotion as a stone. "I'm not from around here."
"That much is obvious. I'd hazard a guess that you might be a goddess, but you've shown more compassion and mercy than any god has I've ever met. But of course a god could have simply restored Gabrielle's health, you had to take some of my own and transfer it."
"You're a very observant person Xena. Makes me wonder why you haven't noticed the fact that the soldier's body that you dragged up here is now missing."
It was now time for the warrior to act surprised again. At least as close to surprised as she ever gets. She looked around the room for the first time, and wondered herself why she didn't notice it before. Granted she had been more concerned with her friend's well being, but something like that should have jumped out at her instincts. She did now however, notice the small pile of dust, no larger than the width of her palm, sitting in the exact place the corpse should have been.
"Is all that's left of his body." Avengelyne walked over to the small pile, scooped it all up into her hands, and blew it out of the window. She stood, staring for a moment, thinking, before speaking. "And thus his remains are scattered on the four winds. He died without an identity, no one will ever remember him, except his family, who disowned him when he left to join an army. All his friends died on that field last night. His was a needless death, one that served no purpose. It didn't need to happen. But unfortunately, it is the fate of too many, who choose to fight for greed, greed for money, greed for power. And, who have not the ambition to think for themselves."
Xena looked out the window, at the dust on the wind, she then looked back to Avengelyne, "What happened to him?"
"He was possessed."
"Possessed? You mean by a spirit?"
Avengelyne shook her head slowly, "No, not a spirit. He was possessed by an energy, called Necroplasm. It is a pure green energy that is cultivated from a land beyond the realm you call Tartarus. They are called the Darklands. Anyway, when the soldier died, his body was no longer fit to house the Necroplasm. So it left his body, and chose to invade the nearest host body. I believe you can guess who that was."
Xena looked back down at Gabrielle, still lying peacefully in the bed. "But that still doesn't explain why his body disintegrated while Gabrielle's didn't, or why she didn't go psychotic and try to kill me the way he did."
"Well, as to why his body disintegrated, it was probably just a matter of volume. His body held a large amount of Necroplasm, when the transfer occurred all the energy left his body, but not all the energy made its way to Gabrielle. In fact, a large percentage of it probably just dissipated into the air. But the energy had worked its way into his system, the two were of a symbiotic nature. The sudden severance was too much for his body to handle, and the result was that it disintegrated. But since the concentration was so much less in Gabrielle's, and hadn't had time to work its way into her system, the severance simply caused her heart to stop. Now, as to why she didn't try to kill you, maybe she did. It is in the nature of Necroplasm to use the skills the host already possesses to hurt people. He considered himself a soldier, therefore his best chance would have been to attack you physically. Gabrielle on the other hand is a bard, she is also your closest friend and knows the fragility of your soul, she would have used her words to harm you."
Xena looked back down at her friend, she attempted to harm her on purpose? The warrior found the thought unreal. But it made sense. "She never did like it when I treated her as anything less than a complete equal."
"Did you have any reason not to?"
"No, of course not. Gabrielle's never been anything to me but the best friend anybody has ever had. She's been the only person who's accepted me with all my faults. And my strengths. I'm also sure she's the only reason I haven't fallen into my old ways again. She's the strength in my soul, the center of my life. I don't know how I would go on without her. And yet every time I turn around it seems like I'm bringing her to the brink of death. Whether it is something as simple as being at knife point, or something like what just happened." The warrior was again shedding unbidden tears. A single one, from the corner of her left eye. The emotions she had buried for so long, emotions she had at first denied, "I love her," the last three words spoken barely above a whisper.
A small smile played across Avengelyne's lips, she suspected it all along, and her suspicions had just been verified. "I believe I understand now."
"Understand what? ," the warrior asked in a shaky voice.
Avengelyne, not realizing she had spoken aloud, quickly recovered her surprise, "Huh? Oh, nothing, it's not important right now. What is important is that you have admitted your feelings Xena, I suppose that means you've decided that you're worthy of them. Now its time to decide if you realize that you're worthy of her." She came away from the window sill and retrieved her sword, "I'm going to leave you to your thoughts for now. You two can use sometime alone." She headed through the door, pulling it shut behind her.
Xena looked down at Gabrielle, this time more than a single tear running down her cheek. "How I've longed to tell you. How I've longed to share myself with you." The warrior, uncomfortable with her emotions, looked down at her hands, wringing them dryly, searching for words. "Why do I always do this? When you're standing next to me, I don't know what to say, forever giving vague clues. But when you can't hear me, my heart screams for release. And I never know what to say." Xena leaned over and kissed the bard upon the forehead. "I wish I knew what to do, do I tell you, and risk rejection, or do I content myself with your presence?"
It was at this most inopportune moment, that the door came crashing open. Avengelyne came running into the room, her sword was drawn, and she started speaking quickly to Xena, "Xena, I hate to break up this very tender moment, but we have company outside." She ran to the window, the warrior close behind.
Outside, surrounding the village, was an army, a very large army. Xena couldn't be sure because of how far she was from the closest troops, but they definitely didn't appear human. Many of them were far to thin in the arms and legs, the skin seemed to be hanging off their bodies, the dried blood, and dead muscle tissue very visible. With many them, their bones were hanging clear of their bodies. The warrior would have said they appeared to be walking corpses. "There has to be a thousand of them..."
"One thousand fifty eight, to be exact." Xena looked at her new friend quizzically, "don't ask."
"What are they?" There was no sign of apprehension in the warrior's voice, Avengelyne had to note admirably.
"They're called zombies." She studied the army for a few moments before speaking again, "undead, I believe, is the term for their current state of being."
"Since I assume that they're not here to escort us out, how do we get past them? There's no way we can fight our way past all of them."
Avengelyne's eyes almost immediately set, whatever her course of action was that she had decided, she wasn't going any other way. "No, we can't. But I do have an idea. Unfortunately, it's going to require me to leave temporarily." Xena just waited for her to continue. Wondering how she planned on leaving the village. "First, though, there are a few things you need to know, most importantly, why I'm here." Xena once again glanced out at the army surrounding the village. Surprisingly, it wasn't moving. Xena didn't understand this. "The thing that slaughtered that army, and planted the necroplasmic energy in that soldier, was human at one time. To make a long story short, he died, was given power by an otherworldly entity, called a demon, and was sent back to earth in order to do his bidding. But, what was unforeseen, he lost his memory. And now, you have to get to him before the demons do, and you have to convince him to fight for the right reasons."
Still wondering why the army wasn't moving, she looked back at Avengelyne, "Why me?"
"Simple, you knew him when he was alive. You have the best chance to turn him."
To a certain degree, this didn't surprise Xena, she knew the situation had to be something like that. As farfetched as the situation seemed, it all made sense within the context of the last eight hours. The next obvious question, "Who was he?"
Avengelyne bit her lip before speaking, not wishing to answer the question. "I don't know. Temeris is working on that though. For now, call him Spawn, for that is what he is."
Temeris. As impossible as it might seem, Xena had almost forgotten about her. "You and Temeris are together? You don't seem like you two would get along well."
"Trust me, we don't. But we're both smart enough to realize that our goals are the same."
The warrior looked back at the army outside, fully understanding Avengelyne's reasoning. "Why hasn't the army attacked?"
"Because we haven't made our selves known yet, zombies are mindless beings, they can only follow orders. Obviously, they haven't seen their targets." Avengelyne made eye contact with Xena before asking her own question, "Are you ready?"
The warrior looked back at Gabrielle in the bed, still resting. "Can she be moved in her current state?" Not like there was a choice.
"That shouldn't be a problem. All she feels right now is fatigue, a good nights sleep and she should be fine. You have a steed, correct?"
She knew that if they didn't have a fast mode of transportation, her plan wouldn't work.
"Yes, she's in the stable."
"Good, when we leave this inn I want you to travel back to the battlefield, his trail shouldn't be to tough to pick up. Oh great..." She looked back out at the army, "They're moving, they must have gotten new orders."
It was precisely at this moment that the two heard a great commotion arise from the common room below them. "Well, I think the townspeople saw the movement." Xena commented dryly.
She then pulled back the covers from Gabrielle, and tried to wake her. "Come on Gabrielle, we need to leave."
The bard's eyes opened slowly, blinking at the light in the room. "What... Wh...Why?" Xena then grasped her friend by the forearm and lifted her from the bed. "All right, all right, I'm up!" A yawn found its way from her mouth, as she searched for her staff. "Where's my staff at?" It wasn't in the room.
Xena and Avengelyne looked at each other for a second, "She's your friend," Avengelyne spoke first.
"It must still be downstairs." Xena shook her head dismissively. "You still haven't told me what you're going to do to get us out of this." She redirected her attention to Avengelyne.
Avengelyne held the point of her sword up, staring at the blade distractedly, "Simple, I'm going to kill myself."
Suffice it to say, both Xena and Gabrielle were at the very least, mildly shocked by what they heard.
* * *
Avengelyne stood outside the inn, staring at the zombies as they approached. One thing that could be said, corpses didn't make the best soldiers for speed. After their leg muscles, tendons, and joints, had been rotting for an untold amount of time, most people could simply outrun them. Of course, they had other attributes that made them priceless. Mindless obedience to their creator, and a near immortality, were only the most important.
Xena rode up beside her on Argo. Gabrielle rode in front of her, Xena's hands wrapped around her waist, holding the reins. This being the only arrangement that would guarantee that the still half asleep bard, wouldn't nod off, falling off the mare.
Both women looked down at Avengelyne. She still hadn't told them how killing herself would allow them to escape, or how it would only be temporary. Xena looked down at her, "Well, Avengelyne, whatever magic you're going to work, you better do it now."
Gabrielle's eyes opened wide for half a moment, before being drawn shut again by lack of sleep. She then turned her head around and spoke softly to Xena, "You sound awfully calm for someone who just heard that someone else was going to kill herself for your sake!" The last was almost yawned out.
Xena looked back with a slight grin spreading across her face. "I honestly don't think there's anything to worry about." Gabrielle just looked at her for a second before turning her attention back to Avengelyne.
Avengelyne began making her way to the center of the small village. She raised her sword over her head, she then swung the blade down, and placed the tip on her stomach. She took one last look around, mentally cataloguing the enemy. She saw now that they had surrounded the village on all sides. Damn there were a lot of them, "Xena, be prepared to break out of here, I've never done this with this many before, I don't know how well its gonna work."
The warrior's brow raised, with equal parts anger and surprise, she didn't however have the chance to shout anything before Avengelyne plunged the steel into her flesh. The blade entered and traveled out of her back. When she pulled the sword through the hole, a small amount of blood trickled from the wound. Then a bright flash of light exploded out of the holes in front of her and behind her. The flash formed into a spherical wall, then slowly began expanding away from the body. Avengelyne had dropped her sword, she then dropped to her knees, her face contorted in pain, a silent scream from her mouth. She then hit the ground, face first.
Xena and Gabrielle removed their arms from their eyes, having to cover them from the light. They sat for a moment, watching the wall of light pass over the walking corpses. Each time it did so, a green mist could be seen leaving the body, before it hit the ground. The two were stunned, never having seen anything quite like this before. It was at this point that they both heard it. A voice inside of their heads, Avengelyne's voice. Go, now! There is nothing left to be done here. With the voice also came a presence, but both left just as soon as they came.
Xena needed no other prodding. She snapped the reins and Argo was happy to move. The horse and its two riders broke for the southern end of the village. Ghastly, unearthly screams could be heard from both sides as they rode.
When they made their way beyond the outskirts, they turned around and looked at the scene before them. A small amount of green mist could still be seen, rising from the roofs. Gabrielle turned her head around and looked at Xena, "You're going to tell me EVERYTHING, right?" Despite the inflection on the last word, it wasn't a question.
Xena looked down at her friend before speaking, "Yes, as much as I learned, which wasn't a lot, trust me." There were still far to many questions as far as the warrior was concerned. None of which could be answered without meeting this Spawn figure. Even on reflection, being out of the pressure of the moment, there wasn't much that Xena could piece together. The next step would be to make it back to the battlefield, and hopefully, pick up on the trail this thing left. She also honestly wouldn't be surprised if she ran into Temeris again before that.
Gabrielle looked back at her friend again, it was obvious she was deep in thought about something, but this was really bothering her. "Xena, I'm sorry about what happened earlier, I don't know what happened, and I don't have a good explanation for my actions, but, would you please accept my apology?" She was now pleading with her eyes at her friend.
The warrior looked down into those starry emeralds, and couldn't help but let a smile play across her face. "Gabrielle, I've told you its all right. I know that wasn't you that snapped. I could never stay mad at you anyway, haven't you figured that out yet?" Gabrielle let a huge bright smile come across her tired face, she then turned around and settled herself into her friend and braced herself for the ride. For the first time, Xena noticed how close the two were. This was going to be an extremely long ride.
* * *
Violator sat back in the forest. He watched the two mortals talk, then ride away. After they left, he broke out into hideous laughter. Humans could be such fools sometimes. Always thinking no matter how bad it gets, there's always a way around it. Hope would get them killed. Not knowing when to call a strategic retreat. If this Xena bitch had half the brains everyone claims she does, she'd ride north as far as possible and forget she ever met Avengelyne and Temeris. But of course some misguided sense of honor, or duty, or whatever the hell it was, told her to do otherwise.
Avengelyne was already out of the game. If only temporarily. He chuckled to himself, that army worked perfectly. With no one to protect them, it would be so easy to gut both of them, the Spawn would then have no chance at redemption. He would fall back into the same patterns he had in life. But where would the fun in that be? There was such a thrill in torturing others. To see them, hear them, brought to within an inch of their sanity. And then their life. To see them break down, and beg to serve you to avoid any further exposure. He would decide then if either woman was worthy to stand beside him.
A tiny bluejay landed on a branch beside him. He looked at the bird, it seemed to be inspecting the wood for some reason. He honestly didn't give a damn. The bird was snatched from its perch. Violator held it in his taloned hand. The bird immediately began chirping loudly, yelling to be let go. "Xena, when I'm done with you, you're going to be wishing that death was all I had planned. But true power comes from controlling someone else. Telling them what to do, what to think. Knowing you hold their entire livelihood in your hands. Not from something that can be taken as easily as a life."
Violator broke into another fit of laughter, and left the bluejay as nothing but a splat on the bark of the tree.
* * *
Gabrielle found herself standing amidst a barren landscape. It could only be described as an endless white desert. But not a clean, pure white a dirty, corrupt white. But then to even call it endless isn't correct, for there are many cliffs, crevices, and canyons dotting the surface. The sky overhead is a sickly orange, matching the ever lingering scent of sulfur in the air. The scent, however, was far from overbearing. Just the opposite, some have said. It's like a scent that you know was just there, but its point of origin is long since gone.
She drew her arms about her shoulders. Hugging herself for no reason. The gesture usually meaning the body was cold, but that would be impossible. The air was neither hot nor cold. Not in a temperate sort of way, but in a stagnant sort of way. As if the air had never known the company of a cool breeze, or a warm sun.
For all Gabrielle knew, perhaps it never had. She looked around, without any conceivable landmark in sight. She had not a clue as to where she was, or how she had gotten there. She chose a random direction, away from a cliff edge, and started walking, knowing that no answers would be found where she stood. She walked, for what seemed like hours, the scenery never changing the slightest bit. She felt that if there was much of this to bear, that her mind might not be able to take it. Such emptiness was not for humanity.
What was that noise? It sounded like... a buzzing sound. She turns around, behind her, a sight that she will never forget. What looks like, a thousand, no, ten thousand, flying, buzzing insects, together in a huge cloud race toward her. Her face barely has time to register surprise before the insects tear into her sweet, living flesh. They invade her mouth, her ears, they begin gouging out her eyes. She falls back, the earth opens up beneath her, wherein lies numerous more, all of them feeding on her sweet flesh and blood. The screams never come, in fact there is no noise at all, besides the feasting. The entire time, she is alive, feeling every bite, every tear. Feeling the blood drain from her body. The insects, intending to leave nothing but bare white bones.
* * *
Xena jumped up as Gabrielle's body began to twist and convulse on the blanket she was laying on. The warrior grabbed her friend by the shoulders, she shook her, trying to wake her.
Gabrielle rose to consciousness, she was in a cold sweat, blinking her eyes trying to figure out where she was. Xena managed to get her to look into her eyes and calm her down. Gabrielle's eyes still held the look of terror however, and she reached up and grabbed her friend to hold her. Xena instinctually moved to put Gabrielle's head in her lap. The warrior stroked the bard's hair as she spoke. "Oh Xena... it was horrible. I was... I was in a wasteland, there was... nothing in site. And... and the air was so stagnant, I wanted to throw up. And then I walked, for what seemed like hours, and then... the buzzing." Gabrielle's face took on an indescribable look of horror again, her mind trying to relive the experience.
Xena spoke to her friend, simply trying to comfort her, "It's all right, It was just a nightmare."
Gabrielle took a deep breath, was able to gain her composure. She looked up for the first time and realized that dusk was settling in. She looked back at Xena, "How long have I been asleep?"
"Most of the day. You fell asleep shortly after we left the village."
Gabrielle was wondering how much time she had probably cost them. "How far are we from the battlefield?"
"About a two-hour ride. I had a hold of you, so you weren't going anywhere. And besides, you needed the rest."
Gabrielle looked at her friend's face, large bags had begun to form under her eyes, and she then realized that Xena probably hadn't slept at all that day. Which would bring the grand total to two now. Gabrielle sat up and looked at her friend. Xena managed to hide the look of disappointment she felt. "You're not planning on tracking this thing in the dark are you?"
Xena had been grappling with this question all day. She had a feeling that tracking this thing at night wouldn't be a hot idea. But, she also didn't want to waste more time than was absolutely necessary. "No, I don't think so. It would probably be too dangerous anyway."
Gabrielle smiled at her friend, "Good, that means you have no reason to be up. You need to get some sleep, o' brave warrior."
Xena smiled back before the voice behind her spoke up, "She doesn't have a choice. She'll never be able to find the Spawn in the daylight." The warrior was immediately on her feet and turned around to meet the intruder. Her original instincts were right, for there, standing in the darkness of the forest, away from the last rays of the sun was the red-haired, black robed Temeris. "I see your reflexes are as peak as ever."
Xena ignored the attempted jest as Gabrielle rose to her feet behind her. "It's not pitch black out yet Temeris, Aren't you early?" Once again a smile played across Xena's mouth, only this one projected nothing but ice and amusement, unlike the one she had given her friend only seconds before.
"This is Temeris...?" Gabrielle's obvious question met dead air as both Xena and Temeris' presences did battle for supremacy.
The eyes of stone met and locked for what seemed an eternity, Temeris decided to break the silence first. "Much like myself, Spawns prefer the darkness, but are not confined to it. If you wait until daybreak the Spawn will simply hide from you. You'll never find him. But he is on the move at night. You will at least have a chance. No matter how slim the chance may truly be without an angel's ability to track him."
Gabrielle's eyes widened in alarm for a split second, recognizing the word that Temeris used. But it was still Xena that spoke. "You're talking about Avengelyne aren't you?"
"Yes, she gave her mortal shell so that you may live. Such noble sacrifices are not uncommon for her." Temeris waved her hand in a dismissive manner, Avengelyne's personality well known, and frankly, boring to her at the moment. "The fact still remains that you have not a guide, you have nobody at hand that can answer your questions, help you against an unknown enemy."
"The unknown has never scared me before, there's no reason for it to start now." This had been another question Xena had grappled with today, she had come to the conclusion that there was nothing that could be done about it. So it would be a waste of energy to worry about it. "Besides, you say that Spawn won't be moving during the day, it'll be easier for me to track him that way."
Temeris sort of shook her head before speaking, "No, there is no time to waste. Violator is whispering his lies to him as we speak. Further corrupting his soul, destroying any chance he has at redemption."
"Violator?" Xena didn't like the idea of another, mysterious, and far too strange name coming into the problem.
Temeris' face came as close to surprise as it ever had since she had died. "Avengelyne never told you of Violator?" Xena simply shook her head. Temeris sighs to herself, "Violator is the third party in this entire situation. First there are Avengelyne and myself, we are attempting to redeem the Hellspawn. Second, there are you and Gabrielle, you two can make it happen. And third there is Violator, he was sent here by the one who gave the Spawn his powers and is attempting to make sure we don't succeed." Temeris stood for a moment, watching Xena take it all in, she then decided to lay another bomb on her, "I take it you also don't know who Angela is?" Xena's face become a statement that basically said, "Great, there's more," then said no. "Angela doesn't like Hellspawns, she's here to make sure none of us have anything to fight over."
Xena shook her head, hoping that was all the players in the game. She was starting to tire of surprises. "Is that all you wanted to say?" In light of everything that was just revealed, she knew that there was no way they could rest tonight, and was therefore very happy that Gabrielle had gotten what rest she could.
"No." She looked at Gabrielle, "You have had a dream," she paused for a moment, finding a better word, "A nightmare."
Gabrielle looks at Temeris quizzically for a moment, "Yes, do you know something about it?"
"Of course I do. I wouldn't be playing the role I am if I didn't." Temeris was just barely able to keep the edge contempt from her voice, "The demons are invading your dreams bard. They are attempting to frighten you from your chosen course. Were you frightened?"
"Of course I was. I was being eaten alive." Xena looked back at Gabrielle with a face of disbelief, "Bravery and stupidity are not the same thing."
Temeris' view of this woman was radically changing, "Rarely have I heard such wisdom from the mouth of one so young." She knew in the great conflict if either side had a more liberal view of reality that one of them might have already won. "You have much to be proud of."
The only words that Gabrielle could muster were thank you. Temeris focused her attention back on Xena. "I have one last question warrior. And I want you to think hard before answering. Why are you helping us? Myself and Avengelyne."
Xena did think for a few minutes, there were actually several reasons. First and foremost was the fact that she knew whatever tore up that army couldn't be allowed to wander the countryside unchecked. And though, she wasn't completely convinced by what Avengelyne and Temeris had told her, there were too many things going on that were too strange to be ignored, and too strange, that farfetched stories could be immediately discarded. Besides, if what they were saying was true, about her knowing him when he was alive, she felt a certain responsibility to at least investigate. But Xena knew that none of this was the words that Temeris was looking for, "Because it's the right thing to do."
A large wolf appears from the darkness behind Temeris, its eyes are glowing red, and it nuzzles up to the black robed woman who stands beside it. Temeris appears to be completely oblivious to predator standing beside her as she speaks again, "Good." She turns around, and heads back into the shadowy darkness behind her, the wolf stays for half a second, looking at the two female humans, before following her master.
Gabrielle stood for a moment, attempting to recover from the pure intangible aura that Temeris radiated. She then remembered what she had wanted to tell her friend about, "Xena. I recognized the word angel."
Xena looked back at her friend, "The word she used to describe Avengelyne?"
"Yes. It's in David's scrolls. Angels are basically his god's messengers." Gabrielle already had a saddle bag open and was looking for her scrolls.
Xena had relaxed her muscles. She started putting out the fire and getting their possessions together as she spoke, "Messenger? Gabrielle, I know you didn't get a chance to meet Avengelyne, but she didn't strike me as the messenger type."
"Yeah, I agree Xena. If all this is somehow tied to the beliefs of the Israelites," Gabrielle paused for a moment, collecting her thoughts. "Xena, what if there truly are other gods out there, and I'm not just talking about their "one god," but, another entire plane of existence which is inhabited by nothing but divine entities. And it's just that some don't want to make their existence known to us."
Xena was rolling up their blankets as she listened to her friend speak, "If that's true then where do we go when we die? I've already been to Tartarus and there were a lot of souls down there that didn't have a choice."
"Don't you see Xena? If it's all true, then we go where we want to when we die. We do have a choice. We've been taught, the Elysian Fields, and Tartarus our entire lives. That's what we know, that's what we believe in, that's where we'll go when die. David on the other hand will go wherever his god wants him to."
Xena had to admit it was all a very interesting train of thought, but..., "Gabrielle, even if it is true, there isn't much we can do about it. And besides, we have more pressing matters. Have you found those scrolls yet? Any information at this point is nice." As a matter of fact she had. She brought over a bundle of scrolls and unrolled them. The next two hours, as they headed south to the battlefield, were spent going over all the mentions of angels in the scrolls and attempting to glean any information that might prove useful.
* * *
They reached the field shortly after the night had fully taken over the land. They both had their weapons at the ready, not knowing what to expect. As they entered the vicinity the only things that greeted them, and this could be considered fortunate, were bare bones and armor scattered about the field. Xena noted interestingly that even the blood that had soaked the ground just a day earlier had disappeared.
"This is horrible..." Gabrielle, never having seen such wide scale death and destruction, wandered about the field, not believing her eyes.
"I agree." Xena, not wanting to spend any more time here than was absolutely necessary, began searching the perimeter of the field, looking for signs of something moving in some direction. It didn't take her long to find it. "He's heading east, let's go."
"Xena, what's this?" Gabrielle stood up with a small disc in her hand. The edge was green, the face had two white sides with a black line down the middle, and what looked like two green eyes dotting each hemisphere.
Xena came up to her friend and looked at what she had found. "I don't know. I'd be tempted to say that it might be a good luck charm to one of the soldiers. But it looks to... new." She takes it, flips it over in her hands a few times, "Save it, it might be important."
Gabrielle shoved the disk into one of the saddle bags, she then followed Xena as she headed for the trail she had found.
* * *
The trail was not easy to follow in the pitch of night, and so Xena was walking beside Gabrielle and Argo, her eyes to the ground the entire time. Gabrielle finally got around to asking a question that had been bugging her for the last few hours, "Xena, when we finally find this Spawn, what are we going to do with him?"
The same question that had been going through Xena's mind since she had first found out about the slaughter. She had gone over the possibility that he might not want to listen to what they have to say. She knew that anyone that had the ability to destroy an entire army wouldn't think twice about a single female warrior. "I don't know. I'm going to try to talk to him first." She didn't want to think about the other possibility. "If things look like their going to go sour, I want you to get away from us fast. Go find Hercules and Iolaus. Because if this thing decides it wants to rampage there won't be much I could do about it."
Gabrielle looked upon her friend with sad eyes. She didn't know if she had ever seen Xena so hopeless about a situation. "Xena, it's going to be all right. You told me that this thing was supposed to be a human at one time. If that's true then it should react like a human. Which means attack might not be his initial reaction."
Xena turned around and looked at her friend. No words needed to be spoken. She reached up and embraced Gabrielle. The two just stood there, enjoying the closeness of the other. The moment of paradise was far to short lived.
"Why are you following me?" The voice seemed to come from everywhere at once.
Xena grabbed her chakram, and still holding on to Gabrielle with one arm, steps back and looks for the source of the voice. He stands up the road, cloaked in the folds of his own cape, and the darkness of the forest. The only things visible are the green of his eyes. The first thing Xena finds herself asking is, what do these people have against light? She then answers in the only way she can think of, "We're here to help you. We know you don't know what you are, who you are, or where you came from, we only want to help you."
He steps from the shadows into the moonlight of the road. Xena and Gabrielle's first sight of a Hellspawn is one of darkness, the folds his cape laying about him, the interior of his costume is not visible thanks to the moon shining behind him. "I suggest you leave now, before I lose control again."
Her instincts tell her that he's not trying to threaten them, he's simply trying to warn them. "I understand your fear. That's why we're here. If you simply wander the countryside in your current condition your going to get the same reaction everywhere."
He looks at her, his piercing green eyes seeming to look straight into her soul, finding her motives. Their faces are two of the many that run through his head, he knows they may be speaking the truth. "I destroyed that entire army back there without a second thought, what makes you think I won't do the same to you?"
"They mean you no harm. You have no reason to harm them." Temeris stood in the road, behind the Spawn. She walked up to him, and though he stood a good six inches taller than she did, managed to look straight into his eyes. "The armor only reacts when it feels threatened. And even then only if you allow it. You're going to have to learn to control it, or it will control you."
Spawn looked down at this brash newcomer, "Who are you?" She seemed to know too much.
"When I was alive I was known as Temeris. And I'm like you my friend, or at least I was at one time, a Hellspawn."
He wasn't sure what he thought about so many people taking an interest in him all of sudden, "And I take it you're here to help me too?"
"No, that's what they're here for," indicating Xena and Gabrielle, "I'm just here to guide you, and make sure you don't screw up before you get a chance."
"So what exactly are you going to do to help me?" Spawn's patience was starting to wear thin, it wasn't a good feeling.
"All of you are going to Athens."
At this point both Xena and Gabrielle had the same question, the bard managed to get it off first though, "Why Athens?"
Temeris looked back at the women who had kept quiet until this moment, "Because young one, it's where he was when he died. It's the best place to start snooping around for his true identity."
Xena stepped forward, there was only way Temeris could have known that, "If you knew where he was at when he died, then you must at least have a name by now."
Temeris looked at Xena and said, "We do, It was something I had suspected for awhile." She lets out a long breath before finishing her sentence, "It's..."
At that precise moment a lightning bolt strikes the ground behind Temeris, she barely has time to turn around before she is impaled on the battle stave of the figure that appeared behind her. The figure is female, easily as tall as Spawn, she to has long red hair and wears golden armor. Ribbons flow about her being as she steps over the body of Temeris, which is now pooling into blood at her feet. "My name is Angela, but then you probably already know that."
Spawn's cloak pulls forward and begins snapping at Angela like a tethered beast. The only word that enters Xena's mind as she pulls her sword from its sheath is, DAMN! Though she is in no way surprised by this turn of events.
* * *
Temeris lies prone on the ground behind the warrior Angela. Spawn stands between her and the two mortals, Xena and Gabrielle. The bard's staff is brought up into a defensive position, despite how little defense it will probably afford her, its feel is comforting. The warrior also has her sword drawn, hoping beyond hope that no violence erupts between two beings that wield such power. Spawn steps forward, ready to meet the one that struck down the only avenue of understanding that had introduced itself.
Xena steps between the two, knowing she can't allow this to happen, "Wait, there's no reason for this!"
"I suggest you step away warrior, unless you want your innards splattered across the ground with his." Angela didn't sound like she wanted to listen.
Xena turns her head to reply to her, the half second distraction is all Spawn needs. Four separate chains rip from the darkness of his cloak, each one wraps around a limb of Angela's and slams her against a tree. He steps around a rarely stunned warrior, then gets up in Angela's face, "I don't even like people who kill other people who MIGHT turn out to be my friend."
Over her momentary lapse in concentration the Xena tries to take control of the situation, "Gabrielle, grab her weapon." Gabrielle moves to do as she asks, however when she gets up to her she discovers Angela's hand in a death grip, a sudden tightening of Spawn's chain corrects the problem. The battle stave is an extremely large weapon, easily longer than any person standing in the road at the moment. Gabrielle expects a weapon equal in weight, she is surprised however when she finds it lighter than her own staff. She immediately hands the weapon to her friend. "Thank you, Spawn let her go. We won't harm you." The former directed at Spawn, of course. The latter directed at Angela.
Spawn gives Xena an indiscernible look. The mask he wears hides it. "I'm not promising anything, if she comes at me again she's dead."
The angel spits in Spawn's face, a rather large smile creeps across her own, "I'd expect nothing less from a denizen of hell."
Xena was fast losing her patience, "Put her down Spawn, if you don't I will kill you myself, and be done with all of this."
The green in Spawn's eyes flares with anger, "SCREW THAT! I'll kill her right now, then you!" His right hand is brought up into a fist, then glows with necroplasmic energy.
"You'll do no such thing!" With the tension building in the situation before them, nobody noticed Temeris, with a gaping wound in her chest, stagger to her feet. She leans against a tree to support herself, necroplasm oozing from the rather large hole. When she begins to step forward, Gabrielle moves to help her by placing her arm over her own shoulder. "Thank you young one ." She looks forward to the others, "Spawn release her, she is no threat to you without her stave."
Spawn shoots Temeris a look that says, "Are you crazy woman? ," Temeris however is having none of it. "I said, release her." Her voice is strained, whether it's from pain of anger isn't known.
Spawn reluctantly backed away, then recoiled his chains back into his cloak. He gave Angela a look however that stated they weren't finished. Temeris then turned to Angela herself, "If we return your stave will behave yourself?"
Xena is the first one to react, "She attacked us, I'm not returning her weapon." Her voice is calm, steady, the way she would have spoken to a soldier in her army.
"I promise I will not attack anyone, for now." Angela was rubbing her wrists where the chains were digging into her flesh.
Temeris wasn't in the mood for the warrior types, always so quick to fight, "You will return her weapon Xena, for you know as well as I do that trust must be established before we have any attempt at negotiations."
Xena, not knowing what Temeris thought could possibly be said to Angela after she just tried to gut her, handed the stave to the warrior angel. She twists the weapon behind her arm lets it rest there. "Now, what do you want?" Angela already was starting to feel questionable, something didn't seem right with this situation.
"You will not take the head of this Hellspawn." Temeris was starting to breathe heavily, and was clearly leaning heavier on Gabrielle's shoulder.
"And pray tell why not?"
"Because he does not serve them. He died only six months ago, and the imbuing process backfired with this one somehow. He has lost all his memories, and he has no chance at getting them back." Angela listened with interest, clearly wanting to hear more. Temeris stopped for a moment, a hacking cough developed in her chest. She coughed up what looked like a fair amount of blood on the ground, it was mixed with the necroplasmic in her body. Not a pretty sight. When she has control of herself again she continues. "He was not gone long enough for Violator to setup this world for his corruption," she then looks to Xena, then Gabrielle, "In fact, it's ripe for his redemption. But that is going to take all of you working together."
"So what am I supposed to do?" Angela asked, this time without the edge of a sneer in her voice.
"You're going with them to Athens. He needs someone to teach him how to use his powers, control his armor, and since I'm not sure how much longer I can keep this body together, and Avengelyne has already sacrificed herself once, you're the only one that has any knowledge whatsoever about how it all works."
Angela looks back at Spawn, who is simply standing rigid, absorbing everything. She then looks at Gabrielle, showing compassion for one she knows she couldn't have met too long ago. "I'll do it." The only choice is obvious.
Temeris then erupts into a another fit of coughing. This one racks her body so violently that she falls out of Gabrielle's arms. The bard kneels beside her, Xena does the same. Temeris is now barely breathing, she motions for Xena to come closer, to place her ear close to her mouth. Xena does, and Temeris whispers something to her. By the exclamation on Xena's face, they all know it's the one answer they all want. Once again, Gabrielle is the first to get any words out, "Xena? Who is he, what's his name?"
Xena first looks at her friend, reacting mainly to the voice. She then looks to Spawn, with disbelief on her face, "It's Draco."
Athens was not far, not far being less than two weeks walk from where they where they were at. A full seven days had passed now. One of the first things Angela had informed Draco about his powers was that he would not be able to use them frivolously. There was a finite amount of necroplasm in his body, and once that was depleted his soul would be returned to the Darklands, where he had gained them, to forever serve as a soldier, and a general to the armies of the dead. So, because she did not want him wasting his energy on disguising himself, they traveled only at night to avoid the traffic of the daytime. And only on back roads that were seldom used. So each morning, they would spend time practicing away from Xena and Gabrielle, she would teach him how to control his armor and chains, their weak and strong points, and attempt to teach him just how few limitations he truly had now.
Xena wasn't sure she liked any of it. If this thing truly was Draco, and she wasn't convinced of that yet either, there's no way he should have the kind of power he has now. The Draco she knew would have held entire nations at ransom. And though he hadn't regained any of his memories, and according to how Temeris was talking before she died, he never will, she still thought she knew what made him tick, and she definitely did not like the scenarios she was drawing up in her imagination.
As was to be expected, Gabrielle was the most vocal of all of them at first. The first few days she spent asking Angela a load of questions, what these Darklands that they were talking about were, where did she come from, was Avengelyne an angel to, why did the scrolls she have depict angels differently than her and Avengelyne, and more. Angela did the best she could to answer all of the bard's questions, unfortunately those answers required Gabrielle to rethink what her vision of reality was. She decided the best way to describe what was beyond the mortal plane was to start with what they know, which is are the Elysian Fields and Tartarus.
"The realms you know as the Elysian Fields and Tartarus do exist, I want to make that clear. They are in actuality the first levels of their respective worlds. Tartarus is part of the Darklands, which is actually a collection of nine levels, governed by supernatural beings that have been generally dubbed as demons. Though there are in fact numerous amounts of separate entities that live there. On the flip side, the Elysian Fields are the entrance level to the realms known as Godshome. On these levels are where the gods of every religion reside. And among these levels is of course the world you would call Olympus. These eighteen levels, together make up every denomination, every pantheon upon the earth. Every level is filled with both good and evil, for the personalities of the supernatural are as varied as here."
Gabrielle was busily taking notes in her scroll as Angela spoke. When she was finished, she had a look of disbelief on her face. "So what you're saying is, everything is true?"
"Yeah, that's basically it." Angela looked at the bard for a moment before continuing, "I know, it's all a bit much, isn't it?"
Gabrielle smiled, and exhaled at the understatement she had just made. "It's just, so unreal. But, if it's true, then what about questions like, who put us here?"
Angela let a conspiratorial smile creep across her face, "Come now, you don't honestly expect me to answer such a question, do you? There are still many truths that are yet to be beheld by mortals, that includes your ultimate reasons for your existence. You'll get those answers in time, I promise you that."
Gabrielle had to just shake her head.
Anyway, that was four days ago. For some unknown reason Spawn had stayed surprisingly quiet as far questions about his past went. In fact he had asked neither Xena nor Gabrielle about his existence. The attitude puzzled both of them, but to Angela, who had been hunting spawns her entire life, it made perfect sense. Especially if he had dreams of redeeming himself. Even though in all reality, he didn't have a chance. Draco had missed his chance when he died. It simply didn't work that way. It was just that redemption was far easier to achieve when you didn't know what you were redeeming yourself from.
Angela had also used these passing days to observe the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle. It seemed to be obvious to her what the truth was, she could never understand repressed love. It seemed a waste of time to her. Though she had a feeling she knew what fate was unraveling as far as everything went. It made sense to her, especially if Spawn did know them both when he was alive. Well, the one truth that summed up her entire feeling was, "Love saves all ," and it looked like she was about to see that in action.
* * *
The party reached the walled city of Athens shortly before the dawn of the twelfth day. The problem was immediately clear to Xena, how to get Spawn into the city. Though she had a feeling Angela already knew the only solution, since she had told Spawn that he couldn't waste power changing his form the first day.
The warrior looked back to the angel warrior, knowing that her golden armor would be just as conspicuous. She had a surprise when she saw that Angela was no longer wearing her armor, and was in fact wearing almost exactly the same clothing that Avengelyne had been wearing. "Hey, it's standard issue ," was her response.
All three then looked to Spawn, who was still dressed in the same red and black armor, still draped in the same crimson cloak. Angela knew this was where the past two weeks of training would come to use. "Ok, big guy, remember, the cloak has to stay tightly wrapped about your body."
Spawn just nods, he then spreads his legs apart, and puts his arms out away from his body. The cloak then wraps itself around his person, his arms and hands, legs and feet, his torso, and finally his head. The cloak then seems to shimmer for a moment, and then in his place stands a tall, very average looking peasant. Brown vest and pants, black shoes, and short blonde hair.
Xena's brow rises in interest, "I'm impressed, how much energy does he use doing that?"
"None, both the chains and cloak have their own special properties. This happens to be the cloak's main ability, that and it's sentience."
Xena then nods her head, "Good, come on, the gate should be opened by now."
The four head for the city, Gabrielle drops back and looks up at Spawn, or at least what was Spawn a few moments ago, "Any of your memories return yet?"
Spawn looks down at this girl, he wished he still had her optimism, "No, and I seriously doubt if I'll ever get them back without returning to the Darklands."
"You can't take that kind of attitude. If you truly believe that there's no reason to live for tomorrow, then there's no reason to fight for tomorrow."
"Fighting for tomorrow? You mean you don't believe that the fates already have it spun? If they do, nothing we do here really matters."
Gabrielle couldn't understand such a pessimistic outlook, "Yes the fates already have our lives mapped out, but if we simply accept our lots in life, nobody would ever achieve anything in life, for good or ill."
"And what exactly is worth fighting for?"
Gabrielle paused for a moment, appearing to think about her answer, "Others, other people you care about. Other things, if you truly believe in an ideal, it's worth fighting for."
Spawn remains silent, considering her reply, "Others that you love, when you love somebody enough that you adopt their well being as your own responsibility. When you love somebody so much that you can't bear the thought of being without them, so you stay quiet, not wanting to be rejected, and always having their needs before your own. Is this what you're talking about?"
Gabrielle fetches a glance in front of them, just in time to see Xena throwing her head back around, pretending she hadn't been listening. Then she speaks, in a very slow, soft voice, a voice of realization, "Yeah...yeah that's exactly what I'm talking about."
Angela, having overheard the conversation, decided Spawn had been studying the interplay between their mortal friends, and came to the same conclusion she had.
* * *
The small party passed through the sizable gates with no problems, arriving at the southern end of main street.
"Gabrielle." Xena immediately seized control of their next actions, "How much money do we have?"
The bard reached into her purse and retrieved a small pouch. She undid the leather strap and looked inside. "I'd say no more than, maybe 60 dinars."
Xena cursed to herself under her breath, that wouldn't be more than enough for maybe a few days at an inn. She had a feeling they were going to be here a bit longer than that. "Ok, we'll go find an inn and see what we can work out."
Gabrielle, always trying to lighten the mood, interjects, "Maybe their looking for a bard. We can get free room and board while we're here."
Xena smiled down back at her friend, refusing to see the mug half empty, "Maybe."
"Spawn what are.... Spawn?" Xena looked around once and saw that he had deserted them. Angela was still there though, "Where did he go?"
"To find an alley. The sun's coming up, Hellspawns' armor doesn't like sunlight, besides, for some unknown reason all spawns seem drawn to the slums of a city. Sometimes it works out well, they end up identifying with the downtrodden. Other times it really doesn't matter." She looked around at the tall buildings surrounding them, quietly impressed with the work the humans had done.
"So does that mean we're not going to have to worry about hiding him?"
"Nope Xena," Angela then gives her a wry smile, "But I still need a place to stay, and I have no money."
Xena returns a crooked smile of her own, "don't worry, we'll have you covered. Come on, let's see if we can find an inn that doesn't cater to the garbage of the community, which won't be easy with only 60 dinars."
* * *
The alley stunk of refuse and chamber pots. The too many unfortunate souls that inhabit these areas of the cities were just awakening to the sun over the horizon. They got and stumbled away to live their miserable lives one more day, oblivious to the seemingly well dressed man that just appeared at the opening of the alleyway.
The alley itself was still relatively dark compared to the rest of the city at that point, thanks to the height of the buildings on either side. Spawn stepped into the alley, breathing in its atmosphere. He had barely enough time to survey the site before two large men approached him from behind.
"Hey, rich man, I think you're in the wrong part of town." The first one's breath stank so bad it would kill Hades.
"Yeah, so you pay a toll and you will be aloud to leave without us having to extract it from you the hard way." The second's was even worse.
Spawn looked them both in the eye as they flashed mostly toothless grins. He sized them up, trying to decide if he should kill them now, or give them a second chance. He elected to give them the choice. "Leave now and you can keep your useless lives."
The first one's grin grew wider as he spoke, "Well then, I guess this means we get to have some fun." He and his friend produced crudely made knives, advancing on Spawn.
Spawn decided he had enough, his clothes whipped about him until they formed into a large red cloak, settling around his black and white armor. His mask covered his face almost instantly. The two thugs' faces turned white, freezing in their footsteps. The undead warrior's hands shot out from the darkness of his cloak, wrapping around the throats of both men. The last thing the one on the right saw before his eyes rolled back up into his head were his "victim's" eyes turning a hellish green. The last he heard being the sickening crack of his neck.
The other one had pissed his pants by this time, the liquid running down both sides of his legs as Spawn drew him closer. The thug looked into this thing's eyes, he knew that looking into oblivion couldn't be too different. He managed to choke out a feeble, "Don't kill me, please don't kill me ," from around death's grip.
"I'm not going to kill you. I'm going to let you go. I want to you to let every other piece of trash in this city know that this is my alley now, I own it and everything in it." He stopped for a moment, thinking back to the conversation he had with Gabrielle, about how you need to care for something, someone, before you can care about tomorrow. He also thought about his powers, what he was capable of now, and the piece of garbage he now held in his hand. He knew what he had to do, it was so obvious to him now. He looked back into the thug's eyes, "I also want you to tell your friends that I'm protecting everyone in this city. Anyone who preys on anyone else because they're weaker than them will have to answer to me."
The thug tried to choke out another word, but after finding it stuck in his throat, he just nodded yes.
"Good. My name is Spawn, don't forget it." The thug then found himself dropped on the ground, he wasted no time in picking himself up and running from this monstrosity. Not even wasting a glance at his fallen friend.
Spawn turned around and headed back to into the alley, to the stone wall at the end. He sat down on the ground, the cloak wrapped around him protectively, hiding everything but his face. He turned his head as he heard something coming out from behind a public garbage can. He saw that it was a small boy, no more than five or six. His hair had the look of not being washed or brushed in a month, his clothes had the same problem. He approached Spawn, and much to his surprise it wasn't cautiously. The boy held out his small hand in greeting, "Hi. My name is Gelfinus."
Spawn looked up at the boy with something that was almost curiosity, then asked, "Aren't you afraid of me Gelfinus?"
He swallowed a lump in his throat before answering, "A little, but I'm not here to hurt you, so there's no reason for you to want to hurt me. You won't hurt me will you?"
Spawn had to wonder at the innocence of youth, at this small boy's simplistic, but very logical, outlook on life. "No, no I'm not going to hurt you ," he looked away from the boy's face for a moment.
"Spawn? Can I ask you a question?" Gelfinus seemed very cautious now, like he wasn't sure about Spawn's reaction to his question.
Spawn looked back up at the child, "Yeah, what?"
Gelfinus stayed quiet for a second, going over how he was going to ask his question, the way a child might ask his mother for an extra sweet when he knows he shouldn't. "What you said, about protecting the innocent. Did you really mean that?"
Spawn's eyes narrowed for a second, "Yes, yes I did. Why?"
Gelfinus paused again for a second before continuing, "Because there's someone else in this city who's much worse than those two bullies. He killed my Mom and Dad, he's killed a lot of people."
Spawn's eyes narrow even further, this time out of anger, "Who?"
* * *
"Haha, Deimos, life is good. Or, the afterlife, as the case may be." The fat little man plopped down in the luxury chair that was provided in the study.
The private study belonged to the current regent of Athens, Deimos. He was hunched over some writing on his desk when the fat, disgusting little man, who only called himself Clown stepped through the door. As usual Clown had a shirt on that was too small for his stomach, and his clothes were stained and dirty. His always unshaven face was marked by an odd design on it. Blue and black covered almost the entire surface, and his hair was a greasy black, in the ring that he had around his head. He wore a smile that was filled by rotten yellow teeth.
Deimos still couldn't believe that this... person was in no small way responsible for his state of royalty. What he hated was that he hadn't went away. Deimos looked up from his work, "And why are you so happy, Clown?"
"Because my friend, everything is falling into place."
Deimos stood up and went to retrieve a bottle of wine from his ice chest. He removed a glass from the shelf and poured himself a drink, after he put the bottle down, Clown picked it up and took a swig.
"Has he made it here?" As much as Deimos hated to admit it, Clown was still necessary for his rule, he probably always would be. Clown knew things, things no normal person ever would. And as farfetched as some of those things seemed, he still hadn't been wrong. And now he was saying that there was a monster on his way to the city that was planning on killing him.
"Yes he has. Of course, I knew that he would."
"That's terrible. Does he plan on striking anytime soon?"
Clown laughed to himself for a moment, "You fool, everything is going as planned, didn't you hear me? When I'm through, he'll be working for us." He tipped the bottle up once again, a not so small amount fell from the corners of his lips, down the sides of his neck onto the back of the chair. Deimos couldn't help but think about the cost of the velvet. "The first obstacle is already out of the way. And the seed has already been planted in the Hellspawn himself. It's only a matter of time now." The smile faded, "There is the small problem of that red-headed bitch to take care of, she could end up ruining all of it. I knew I should have killed Temeris myself, if it wasn't for her Angela would have skinned them all alive."
Deimos had heard all of these names before, except for the Hellspawn, who he expected was the monster, none of them made any sense to him. Then there was the name that he had mentioned for the first time only a few days before, that of the warrior princess, Xena. He had heard the stories of the warrioress, from her rise to infamy, to her supposed stories of redemption, which he had gotten from a primary source. The academy for bards had been closed down almost immediately after he took the throne. Any thing that promoted education had to be destroyed as soon as possible. An ignorant and superstitious public was much easier to manipulate. The scrolls within the academy however, had been saved and added to his own collection, and several he found had been claimed to have been written by the warrior's best friend. He knew she could be trouble if she ended up in Athens. "So what about the mortals you were talking about the other day? Any news on them?"
Clown looked up at Deimos with a mix of annoyance and anger. "Yes they're here to. They're not going to do much though. Their only mortals, to be used as pawns in the greater game."
This was another thing about Clown he had noticed, he never gave us "lowly" humans our do. "Listen Clown, I don't think you know much about this warrior. She can seriously screw any plans that you might be working out. You need to take her for the threat she is, which is a real one."
Clown bounded out of the now wine stained velvet chair and looked Deimos in the face, "Look you stupid son-of-a-bitch, I don't tell you how to run a city into the ground, so don't tell me how to weave a web of deceit." As hard as it might have been, he calmed himself before continuing, "The mortals are unforeseen complications, but far from critical. Their best chances for controlling the Hellspawn were both destroyed almost two weeks ago. There's nothing they can do now." The disgusting smile returned to his face, at this point Deimos is convinced that the only reason he does that is to flash those award winning teeth of his. "You just concern yourself with keeping this city reeling from the lies."
"You know that is going to require finding Pericles." Pericles headed an indistinct underground organization in Athens. Everyone who belonged to it was convinced that Deimos was the worst dictator that ever lived. A tyrant that needed to be overthrew. Needless to say it wasn't a standpoint that Deimos was happy with. Worse than that, Pericles hadn't been spotted inside city walls in almost three months.
Clown snatched up the bottle of wine again, "Well then, I guess that's just another responsibility for you to overcome. Good luck. I hope you have a plan." He then waddled from the room with the bottle in his hand.
Deimos stood for a moment in the middle of the room, he walked over and calmly closed the door behind Clown. He then pitched his now empty glass across the room at the far wall. After it shattered he picked up the fairly large chair Clown had been sitting in and heaved out of the window. It landed, easily a hundred feet down in the courtyard. Deimos was now red with anger. "Oh, don't worry you fat, disgusting piece of shit. I have a plan for dealing with Pericles." A small grin spread across his lips, he ran his hand through his dark black hair, "And then you."
* * *
Twilight was upon the town. The darkness was held away however by the warm light of the inn. A young bard performed on the small stage to a captivated audience. An audience that hadn't heard a story in at least seven or eight months. It had ended up being much easier to attain a cheap room than anybody would have expected. After they had discovered that the academy had been shut down months ago, all they had to do was promise that Gabrielle would perform each night. That wasn't the worst of it however, as was demonstrated by the fact that the innkeeper kept a nervous eye on the door. They also discovered that shortly after the academy, every single bard in the city's walls had been ran out, or imprisoned. Sometimes false convictions had been drummed up, other times the city guard simply harassed them and their families until they couldn't take it any longer and fled.
Both Xena and Angela sat at the bar, watching the bard work. It had already been decided that tonight would be spent unwinding, and tomorrow they would start going to other taverns and inns, floating Draco's name around until they turned something up. Xena had a feeling it wouldn't take long. All the stories that Gabrielle had told her about the city from her time at the academy, as well as everything she had ever heard about the academy itself told her there was something seriously wrong with the current ruler. She knew that they had decided to wait, but she wanted answers now. She turned around to the innkeeper, whom she knew to be Davinus, and spoke to him in a low voice, so as not to interrupt her friend on the other side of the room. "You mentioned earlier that the current king has only been ruling for about a year. What happened to the last one?"
Davinus looked at the warrior, in a way that seemed to say he had forgotten that she was there to begin with. He to spoke in a low tone, though it seemed more from the fact that what he was about to say could be considered treason against the king, rather than for courtesy's sake. He still kept his attention on the door, "Deimos succeeded the last king. The story of how he became heir is a very screwy one." He swallowed a lump before continuing, "Ya see, Deimos appeared in Athens, proclaiming to be the long lost son of the king. Now the king had been getting up in age with no heir born to him yet, and he had no queen so the possibility of him getting one soon was nearly non-existent. So this seemed to be a gods-send, and he accepted him with almost no resistance whatsoever. However, shortly thereafter the personal advisor appeared to the populace, saying that the king had passed away, and that Deimos was now the rightful ruler. Now this is where it gets really screwed up, the royal healer confirmed the death of the king several days later, but did not give a time nor cause of death. Not even old age. And there was no public funeral, which is totally unheard of since it is the time that his former subjects are supposed to say their good-byes to their former king. So nobody outside of the royal court ever saw the supposed corpse." Davinus pulled a rag from under his bar and wiped away the nervous beads of sweat that were gathering.
Xena waited for him to finish, but after realizing that he didn't want to, she finished for him. "And all of this together is sparking rumors of assassination within the royal court."
The innkeeper laid the rag down on the counter, he just nodded his head, refusing to admit his own feelings toward the situation. "Yeah, but you never heard any of this from me. People who get to vocal with their ideas have tended to disappear."
Xena nodded her own head in assent, the last bit not surprising at all.
"Should've known it was going to be something like that." Angela spoke in a whisper, obviously not intending to be heard at all, but Xena's astute senses picked the words up. She decided that Davinus probably didn't need the information. Which was why Angela hadn't meant to give it in the first place. She would inquire later.
"And so the cunning warrior princess revealed the magistrate for the selfish man he was, and saved the life of not one, But two innocent people!" Gabrielle finished her story in her usual bardic flourish, to the resounding ovation of the far too easily pleased crowd. "I'm sorry to say that's all for tonight ," a loud moan of disappointment from the crowd, "But don't worry, as I said before, I will be here tomorrow night, and probably for the next week or so. So be here for tales of heroes, gods and monsters!" The smiling bard descends the small stage as the crowd erupts into another roar of applause.
As Gabrielle walks toward her friends, they rise from their seats and direct her toward a table against the wall. The three sit down and wait for the general hum of conversation to drown out their own talking. The bard, seeing Xena only moments before listening to the innkeeper, is eager to find out has been learned. "So what's going on, did we learn anything?"
Xena takes the next few minutes to fill Gabrielle in on what Davinus had told her and Angela. Gabrielle listens intently as her friend finishes, "At this point our best move is just going to be to do as we planned earlier. Davinus just has too much anxiety to involve himself in anything that could be considered illegal. We'll have to hit some of the shadier taverns tomorrow if we hope to learn anything about what's going on beneath the surface."
Gabrielle nods her head thoughtfully. "So we still don't know how he is involved in all of this?" Xena and Angela know that she is speaking of Spawn. They had also decided earlier that it would be best to not allow any of there own information to leak before they were ready.
Xena shakes her head, "No, and we still haven't heard anything at all from him today."
"It won't be long until we do." Angela spoke again, she seemed strangely distracted from the case at hand. "They always find themselves some form of home among the less fortunate of society. But it's never long before the criminal element in a city will start noticing his presence."
Xena looked over to Angela, she determined now was a better time, "You said that you should have known it was going to be something like this. Were you expecting what we found?"
"Not really. I was just wondering when the Violator's influence would show up in this jumbled mess. I was hoping it wouldn't be in a royal court, with the ear of the king."
"Temeris mentioned Violator to us. She didn't go into great detail about who he was though." Gabrielle thought a moment about the full implications of what Angela had said, "Are you saying you think Violator assassinated the former king?"
"No, she's saying that she thinks Violator arranged it." Xena looked at the angel warrior. She already had an idea of where this was going.
"That's right warrior. Violator doesn't like getting his own hands dirty."
"So we have someone who likes to sit back and pull strings?" Xena knew that wasn't the end of it, "So where does the current king fit into all this? Not to mention Spawn."
Angela waited before answering, the thoughts were jumbled at the moment, but they quickly came into focus, "No one who ever becomes a Hellspawn dies accidentally, it's always something that is plotted, and planned. The being is chosen for their ability to kill. To lead, and how likely it is they can be permanently turned down the road of evil. Undoubtedly, the succession of the current king on to the throne is linked directly with Draco dying. I might even go as far as to say that he probably ordered it himself. Violator stuck Deimos on the throne."
Gabrielle still had a fundamental question of her own, "What is Violator? Is he a person?"
Angela looked at Gabrielle to answer her, Xena couldn't get it out of her mind that Angela looked awfully preoccupied, she hoped that it was just Angela's nerves, cause she also felt edgy, sitting here, doing nothing. "Violator, is at his most basic, a demon. A being of evil that lives in the Darklands. In fact, he is the right hand man to Malebolgia, a demonlord of the eighth level, who bestowed Draco's powers. His soul purpose is to corrupt the Hellspawns, to make sure they make all the wrong choices by manipulating them through their anger and confusion. It's his job to make sure the world that the Hellspawn is born into, seems to be a hellish counterpart to what they knew."
Gabrielle considered this, "Then might have Violator have already been in contact with Draco?"
"It's totally possible, but we got to him almost exactly a day after he was reborn. Not much of a window there. Also, I'm pretty sure he would've told us if he had spoke with him."
"But what about today? We haven't seen him at all, he might have gotten to him today."
Angela shook her head, Gabrielle really didn't get it, "Listen, even if Violator hasn't spoken with him yet, and if he hasn't he will, there's nothing we can do about it. There's nothing we should do about it." Angela received a quizzical look from Gabrielle on that answer, "All of the options must be laid out in front of him, and he must choose our side. If all that he ever hears is our speech, then he will have never been tested, because no mortal can ever know true goodness," Angela paused for a moment, looking for a better word, "true justice, without living through the struggles of hardship, of evil. Cause only when you know both sides of the issue, can you ever truly understand, and appreciate the side you have chosen. If he chooses our side without a fight, then it will be a pale victory, for truth only makes itself known in times of turmoil. And redemption can only be attained through fighting your dark half, not denying it exists."
A sudden object of silence filled the air. Gabrielle looked at Xena, the warrior's face was attempting to be stone, but it just wasn't working. Gabrielle thought to herself, beings of such raw power, not even human, and yet their showing me sides of my own humanity, my own life I didn't even know existed.
Angela decided to break the uneasy quiet, "Well, this body needs rest so I'm heading up to my room." She rose from her chair and pushed it in, she then looked out at the dark street and said, "We should get an early start tomorrow. At this point I'm convinced that we need to find a way into the castle. Find out what we can in there."
Both Xena and Gabrielle agreed weakly with her. "Yeah, all right."
Angela nodded, then turned around and headed for the stairs. An extemely sly grin came across her face as walked, now that neither Xena nor Gabrielle could see it.
Gabrielle looked up at her friend, she didn't think she had ever Xena as uncomfortable as she looked now. "Um, Xena. Can we go upstairs and talk?"
Xena looked down at her friend, "Yeah, let's go." She had a few things she thought needed saying to."
* * *
Angela closed the door to her room as prepared to settle down for the night. The moonlight was shining through the window as she removed the leather jacket she was wearing. The night wind was warm, and yet strangely unsettling, she knew it was just an omen of things to come.
There was a scraping on the window sill behind her, she didn't even need to turn around to instantly know who it was. "I was wondering when you would decide to get back in touch with us."
Spawn stood in the window, the darkness, and moonlight flooding over him. Angela knew that Draco had finally found the niche that Hellspawns always fall into. She, for the first time, has seen him truly in a calm state of mind. He feels certain, he has made a decision, Angela knows Violator has made his way to him. "I assume you know who Deimos is."
"Yeah, of course I do." Damn, she already knows the decision he has made.
He turned around and set his green eyes on the silhouette of the castle in the distance. "He's held this city in a grip of manipulation and terror ever since he took the throne."
"And how do you know that? You've been in this city less than twelve hours."
Spawn looks back to Angela, "Surely you've heard the stories."
Angela shakes her head, she can't believe how easily this man has been manipulated, "There just that, stories, you have no proof of anything."
Spawn looks back to the castle, "Then I guess I'm going to find some." He moves closer to the window sill, then jumps out of it and plummets to the ground.
Angela stands in the room, knowing that he didn't say he wasn't going to go through with it. "Dammit, we didn't need this." She whispers under her breath as she grabs her battle stave where it leaned against the wall. She slings her jacket back on as she slams the door behind her.
* * *
Gabrielle enters the room first, Xena closes the door behind her. The bard takes a few steps into the room, then turns around, Xena looks nervous. Gabrielle knows that this is probably a once in a lifetime experience, and that she will never see her friend like this again. She smiled slyly, enjoying the experience.
Xena took in a long breath, the next thing she planned on doing, was the hardest thing she has ever done in her entire life. "Gabrielle... now I don't want you to think that what I'm about to say. At least not right now. Just take it, and think about it later. It's not something I'm saying has to be...."
"Why Xena? I have no problem with it." Gabrielle interrupted her friend, her voice a low and sensuous sound. Xena's face is a look of shock, she couldn't find any words to push past her throat. Gabrielle begins to slowly slide, to stand directly under the shadow of the warrioress. Xena finds herself locked by the gaze of the beautiful younger woman in front of her. "Xena, when we were back in that small village, and you thought I was unconscious, guess what, I wasn't!"
Xena stammered for a minute, trying to find herself, "But, but, I saw you fall asleep."
Gabrielle reached up and swung her arms around Xena's neck, where their flesh met the warrior could feel her skin buzzing with electricity, and desire. It took all her will power to keep from throwing the bard on the bed right this instance. Gabrielle was feeling the same things, however the only way she resisted was to keep her mind on what she planned to say next. "I don't know Xena. I can't explain it. It's like my soul went out of my body, and though I couldn't react to you, I was there. I heard everything Xena. Everything."
Xena shook her head in disbelief, there was so many questions she wanted to ask Gabrielle now, though only one truly important one, "And you're all right with this?"
The bard's sly grin grew broader, her answer, she reached up, and locked lips with the warrior. The moment was pure ecstasy, pure magic. Xena felt like a hero, after returning home after a life-long journey, into the arms of the one she loved, a moment of triumph, knowing that nothing was for naught. Gabrielle felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted from her shoulders, two years of pent up, and restrained emotion and feelings, finally brimming to the surface to be satisfied. For each woman, there was nothing else in the entire world except the other. Nothing else important to be done, except to show how much they cared for each other. Time had stopped, and all was perfect with creation. Unfortunately it wasn't true, there was much that needed done.
Both were so enthralled in the experience that neither noticed the door behind them swing open, or hear Angela as she entered. "Xena, we got prob...lems." Angela takes a moment to observe the scene in front of her. Xena turns around, still holding Gabrielle, the bard looked over her shoulder. Angela was ecstatic. "Ohhh, I'm so thrilled for you two! You know, I was really starting to get tired of waiting."
Xena resists the urge to grab Angela around the throat, and pitch her out the nearest window. Instead she asks, in a carefully controlled voice, "What's the emergency Angela?"
Angela struggles for a moment, not wanting to drag them along, but knowing she was going to need both of them. "You know I'm gonna hate to break this up, but it's Draco. He was just in my room. He's decided that Deimos needs dethroning, now."
Gabrielle blurts out, "He's going to after the king?"
Angela nods her head assent, "Yes, hopefully you see the problem with this."
Xena releases Gabrielle from the embrace she was in, but keeps one hand on her arm. "Violator's already maneuvered him into position." It was phrased as a question, but the inflection said otherwise. Xena was starting to lose all her patience. She grabbed her sword, Gabrielle, her staff, and headed out the door. Angela closed the door to their room and followed.
* * *
"Do you have any idea about what we're going to do when we find him?"
The three women walked through city, through the darkened streets, heading toward the castle. Xena couldn't keep it out of her head, what were they going to do, it wasn't like he was going to respond well to threats.
Angela nodded her head, then answered the question, "Yeah, you two are going to talk to him." Xena looked at the angel warrior, wondering if she had went nuts. Angela kept her face forward, "Xena we can't kill him, you know that." Angela knew if it came right down to it, she could still take him in a fight, but just as the denizens of the Darklands aren't out to destroy the human race, their own goals were more complex. "Violator has given him what he wanted, a target. Now he is just acting on instinct, not thinking about the repercussions of his actions. We have to make him realize this isn't in his best interests."
Xena nods in agreement, "So, do you have any idea where he would have went to get in. He couldn't have just went in through the front gate." At least she hopes he didn't.
Angela spent a few minutes studying the architecture of the palace, she noticed the four towers, dotting each corner. "Assuming he doesn't know where Deimos is exactly, he probably would hit the closest tower. Then worked his way down and inside. Knowing that the best place strategically is high and in the middle, away from possible attack." Xena nodded her head, knowing that was true. Gabrielle, tired of her own silence, asks the next obvious question. "So how are we supposed to get in?"
"I don't know. That's your department Xena." The warrior looks at Angela once again, "Hey, I'm not a stealthy person okay. Besides, my specialty is knowing how the Hellspawn thinks."
Xena lets in a breath, then looks up at the structure of the palace itself. She studies it for a moment, noticing there is only two guards posted. And that there is a convenient entrance just to the right that undoubtedly goes into the guard house, just over the barbican. They could make it to the catwalk beyond that. She thinks about the best way to approach them, then looks at the moat that runs around the castle. She knows how... "I have an idea ," she paused for a moment, looked at Gabrielle, "But first we're going to have to ditch your staff for a minute."
Angela decides to voice her concerns at this point, "Do you have an idea about how to get past those guards?"
Xena looks at the angel warrior, "Of course, since we can't go over the hundred foot wall, like Draco, then we just go through the guards."
Angela looks at her a moment, "And do you have a plan to do that without them raising the alarm?"
Xena lets one of her trademark wry smiles across her face, "Most definitely."
* * *
"Oh boys!" Gabrielle begins to walk up the bridge over the moat. A playful smile graces her lips, and a sensuous walk moves her legs. "Anyone know where I can find some bored guards who need entertaining!"
The two guards break into wide smiles of their own, "Oh yeah love!" They both begin to advance on the young woman, their attention so rapt that they don't notice the two dark shapes dart from the nearby bushes and bound into the water around the castle, without barely a splash.
Gabrielle backs away from the guards, knowing that Xena and Angela's short work will be easier with her a distance from the targets. "Come on now, you're grown men, surely you can wait a little bit." As she backs up she raises her already short skirt a little bit more, "There's always a show before dinner at the palace."
Both guards are pretty much drooling like idiots at this point, again their attention far enough from their job to not see the two heads pop up from the murky depth below them. In fact they don't even expect anything until the two grab onto the edge and pull themselves up. Xena stands in front of the guard for a moment, his face goes from surprise to another contemptible smile as he asks, "Is this part of the show?" Xena gives him a disgusted look before decking him with a right hand, Angela doing the same with her guard.
Gabrielle, already returned from retrieving her staff from the same bush in which Xena was hiding, runs up to her hopefully soon to be lover, and her friend. "That thing with your skirt wasn't in the plan ," Xena notes coldly for a moment, then her face warms up, "Think you'll do it for me later?"
All she gets for an answer is a conspiratorial smile from Gabrielle, and a reality check from Angela, "Come on you two, keep your minds on what's important, we have work to do." Xena gave Angela a look that said, "And you think this isn't important? ," before picking up one of the soldiers by the arms, Angela doing the same with the other. Gabrielle grabbed off the guard's belt and opened the door to the guard house. Two more guards were inside, but were immediately dispatched by the two warriors. As the four guards were tied up by Gabrielle, Xena ran forward, the guard house was a small corridor leading to another door at the other end, when she reached the other side she peeked out of the door and discovered her instincts had been correct. The other side was indeed a catwalk, with a series of archers posted at intervals along the wall, it wasn't going to be easy getting to the keep that was still a hundred feet away, in the middle of the courtyard. She looked back around the guard house, knowing that trying to simply sprint the distance would be suicide, they had to find someway to fit in. She spotted a large trunk in a far corner. "Gabrielle, what's in there?"
The bard looked to where Xena pointed, then walked over and lifted the lid, "They look like uniforms, guard uniforms."
Angela walked up to the warrior by the door, "You gonna have us march up to the keep?"
"That's the plan. So we're going to need disguises."
A few minutes pass, and three guards emerge from the guard house. Two rather tall, one a little shorter. One of the tall ones carries a battle stave, the shorter a normal staff. The other tall one has a sword sheathed on her hip. They make the thirty second walk without incident, climb the twisting stairs that lead to the main entrance, and into the palace.
* * *
The darkness of the hallway is partially illuminated by the periodic torches lining the wall. A pair of guards patrol the corridor, in front of the access to their majesty's bedchambers. They turn around, prepared to make another pass when the lights at one end suddenly go out. One looks at the other for a moment, a question in his eyes, he grabs the torch off the wall next to him and the two head down the hall. They reach the end, shine the torch down the right passage, seeing that all that torches along the wall have been extinguished. He looks at this, trying to puzzle through how it could have happened, when he gets his answer.
He heard a muffled gasp from behind him, he turns around fast enough to see a truly horrid sight. His friend has been speared on the end of chains. The chains themselves leading back to a horrendous creature, clothed in black and red. Spawn drops the first guard on the stone floor, his body bleeding from the several holes. And before a scream can erupt from the terrified throat of the other guard, the metal links snap out, once again impaling the unfortunate victim. Spawn lets this guard to drop on the floor, his eyes glow their usual green, but shows calmness, not the rage that might be expected. He takes no pleasure from what he has just done. He knows that it was just business, it had to be done.
He steps from the shadows into the into the lighted part of the hall, as he walked he extinguished these torches the same way he extinguished the others, with but a flick of his wrist. He reaches the bedroom of Deimos, as expected it was locked. But all it took to unlock it was a hand on the knob. A small bit of steam could be seen rising from in between his hand and the door, then it fell open.
Deimos was asleep, his bed was a large ,gaudy looking thing. It had four posts, and a curtain pulled around it, however the curtain was left open because of the heat in the room. Spawn stood at the end of it, his cloak pulled about him in its usual manner. The chains broke from inside the folds, slowly inching up the bed sheet, when they were an inch from Deimos' neck, his eyes came instantly open. The chains snap at once, one wrapping around the king's throat and mouth. He is lifted like a ragdoll, suspended above the bed as he is drawn near. The other chain wraps around his arms and legs, restraining any kind of resistance. Spawn pulls Deimos' head down to look into his eyes, "I could kill you right now with nothing but a thought."
Deimos remained strangely quiet, he couldn't speak through the metal choker if he had wanted to, the odd thing was, he didn't seem to want to. Spawn also notes with some amusement, that there is absolutely no fear in the man's eyes, there was of course surprise when he first woke up, but now, nothing. He slowly uncoiled the chain from around Deimos' mouth. The first thing he does is gulp in a large amount of air, then he says with conviction, "Then do it. Or at least tell me why you are here Hellspawn."
He is surprised by this unlikely turn of events. Still keeping eye contact, he decides to leave the obvious question for a moment. Instead, he answers Deimos, "You killed the parents of a small child, his name was Gelfinus. You ordered their deaths because they couldn't pay your outlandish taxes. That is why I am here. You have this city in a grip of dictatorship. I'm here to make sure you don't abuse your authority anymore. Though at this particular second I'm trying to think of one reason I don't gut you right now."
"There is no reason to wait."
Both Spawn and Deimos turn their heads to a figure in the corner. He is a fat, short, disgusting little man. Deimos knew it was Clown. "He is petty a tyrant, and you're right, he has held this city in a grip of terror for almost a year."
"Clown, what are you doing?" Deimos' voice holds a hint of uncertainty, though he would never admit it.
Clown continues, ignoring Deimos, "He has killed and exiled hundreds that could not live with his decrees. He deserves your judgement Spawn. He deserves death by your hands."
"Who the Hades are you?" Spawn didn't know what to make of this sick little creature, but he did know he didn't like the manipulative edge his voice had.
Clown smiles one of his great smiles, rotting teeth and all. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am called the Clown. You probably know me better however, as Violator!" Spawn stops for a moment, he knows where he has heard that name. Angela had told it to him, Violator was supposed to be trouble, but if he was whom she said he was, he could get answers. "I'm just like you my friend. From a land of burning and fire. But I'm just trying to make it in this crazy world. Just like you."
"If you truly are Violator, then you can tell me what I want to know. Who killed me? Why was I in Athens?"
Clown's smile took on an even more malicious intent, "Oh, I can tell you who killed you... Draco."
At this point Deimos' eyes turn to surprise once again, "Dra... Draco? Tha... that can't be! You're dead! I ordered your death myself, I saw the corpse!"
Spawn looks back to Deimos, his own eyes have went from calm, to complete rage, they were now glowing brilliantly. "You killed me?" That was it, Spawn just snapped. He lost total control of his emotions. Every particle of his being was now screaming to kill this pathetic excuse for a regent. He raised the free chain, readying it to bury in Deimos' skull.
* * *
Xena lead the way down the shadowed hallway, she had a feeling they were getting close to the king's bedroom, she didn't like how all of a sudden all of the torches down the hallways stopped being lit. Of course, it was also probably a good indicator they were on the right track. They had managed to dodge most of the guards in the keep itself, a few had to be dealt with, but they had managed to remain undetected.
Gabrielle's mind was racing right now. From the emotional high she had been on only half an hour earlier, to having to be calm, cool, and collected, it was starting to ride her nerves. An obvious concern kept running through her thoughts, a concern that they all shared. She decided to voice her worries, it was the only way she knew how to relieve the stress she felt at this moment. "What are we going to do if we get there and Deimos is already dead?"
She gets a response from behind her, Angela, who had been bringing up the rear, voiced her own opinions on the situation. "Just pray to your gods that that doesn't happen. If it does, more likely than not we're going to end up having to take him down ourselves."
Xena, her constantly positive self, simply said, "That's not going to happen."
Gabrielle, none of her worries satisfied, just continued to follow Xena.
"I think that's it." After a few more corridors, the warrior spoke again. They had reached a hallway that was darkened, but had light that was on the other side. He had obviously stopped here. And there just happened to be one very large, very ornately carved door in the center of hall. As they made their way to it they could hear mumbling behind the wall, unfortunately it was too thick to make out any words. Xena stood at the door, Angela came up beside her, and Gabrielle stayed back behind the two.
Xena opened the door, leaving her sword sheathed to show that she didn't want to fight if it wasn't necessary. As she entered the room she took in the situation almost instantly. Spawn had someone, presumably Deimos, suspended from his chains, a single cord of them poised to ventilate his skull. She yelled out for him to stop.
Everybody in the room looked around at the newcomers, Clown's face took on a sudden look of annoyance, he had been so close. "What the hell do you want?"
Angela spotted Clown off to the side, her initial reaction to spear him immediately. Though she thought about this for a second, and realized how fruitless a venture that would be. Both for Draco's redemption, and permanency's sake.
"Why Angela, long time no see. What are you doing here? I thought you had better taste in friends." The smile unfortunately returned far too quickly.
Angela knew better than to react to his baiting techniques, and instead focused on Spawn.
Xena took the lead, saying the most obvious thing that comes into her head, "Spawn, put him down." She spoke to him softly, not wanting to startle him into something that simply couldn't be allowed to happen.
Draco looked to Xena, his eyes betrayed nothing, "Xena, this is the guy is the one who killed me. I'm not going to allow him to get away with that." His words were simple, but his mind was set.
Xena wore a look of skepticism, "How do you know that? You have no proof."
Spawn looked back to the now shaking man in his chains, "That little piece of shit over there mentioned my real name. Deimos here recognized it, he admitted to it."
Xena shook her head, the situation was tense, and she wasn't completely sure of what to say to convince Draco. Gabrielle, seeing her hopefully soon to be lover, struggling with the words decided to pitch in, "Even if he did kill you Draco, killing him will not change anything. You have to learn to let go, fight for the future, not the past."
Draco appeared to hesitate for a minute, considering the bard's words. Clown, seeing for the first time that the mortals might present some small threat, jumps in to recover, "Don't listen to her, this man killed you, he ridiculed you before you died, it is your right to exact justice."
"This isn't justice, this is revenge. Actions that are taken out of revenge only further to corrupt the soul. They are based on hatred and anger and can therefore make you lose sight of what is important."
Spawn stops, he senses the trembling in the voice of the warrior princess. To him, it meant she was not totally convinced of what she said, probably from her own experiences. He lowered Deimos just a little bit, in a very distracted fashion, as if he didn't know he was doing it. He looked to the warrioress, an inquiring cast to his face, "Why do I have the feeling Xena, that if I still had my memories I would be calling you a hypocrite right now."
"I talk from experience Draco, this is not the way." She knows that however he sensed her uneasiness before, that he still does, for she is still not comfortable with her own words.
"Listen to her, the truth is the truth, no matter the source. And if you look into your heart you know that what she says is what you need to hear. When we came into the city this morning, you asked me what was worth fighting for. You ended up answering the question yourself. Love, love is worth fighting for, love is worth living for. All you're doing is giving into your hatred, if you truly have aspirations for the future, you cannot do this, it's that simple. You'll be killing yourself all over again." Gabrielle's words struck a deep chord within the soul of the Hellspawn, within the soul of Draco.
He looked deep into the eyes of Deimos, and for the first time truly understood the full implications of what he was going to do. The chains raised the king a few feet higher in the air, before flinging him into the wall. Deimos fell to the bed, several chips from the stone wall coming with him.
Clown now looked extremely frustrated, he begun to rant like a small child, "NO! It's not supposed to happen this way! WHY... god dammit why! It's always like this."
Draco turns to the three women in the doorway, his eyes have returned to calmness, he said, in an even tone "It's time we left."
Xena simply nodded as he advanced, spreading his cloak out full for the first time. The sight was magnificent, like a Roc spreading it's wings. It closed around the group, enveloping them in its darkness. As Clown watched on, his face having taken on indignation, the green energy of necroplasm started to pulse around the red globe, growing brighter, more astonishing, until it simply faded from being, along with the four individuals.
Clown stood there, quiet anger now taking its turn. He looked at Deimos, who was now waking from the impact of the wall. He was rubbing the back of his head as he rose, looking around the room again. Clown continued to stare at him, "You... you were trying to get him to kill me!"
Shock poured off of Clown's face, to be replaced by disdain, "And you couldn't help me with ONE word, could you?" He shook his head as he cursed under his breath and left the room, Deimos looked as if he wasn't sure the last five minutes were real. He then sunk back into his bed, and began to mull over the situation. Everybody took him by surprise tonight, next time, he would be prepared.
* * *
A large ball of green energy gathered in an alley outside of a small inn. When the energy had dissipated, a large red globe stood in its place. It uncurled to show the four heroes. Gabrielle was the image of astonishment, her eyes, wide as coins. Xena wasn't doing much of a better job at hiding her amazement. Gabrielle looked around for a moment, then realized all her scrolls were still up in their room, "Oh, I have to go write this down! ," as she dashed from the alley. All Xena could do was stand there, taking the experience in, she finally found the voice to speak, "How... how did you do that?"
"Angela said I could do almost anything I wanted to. Instantaneous transportation didn't seem too difficult."
He turned to leave, as Angela spoke up, "You're learning quick Draco."
"Thank you." He left the two women in the alley as he headed back to his own adopted home.
Xena turned back to Angela, who didn't appear at all rattled. "You and Gabrielle did good tonight Xena. You managed to stop him from something that would have destroyed him."
Xena let a small grin grow across her lips, "No, that was Gabrielle. He needed to hear something that I couldn't say. She knew."
"Maybe, but remember what she said, 'truth is truth, no matter the source', you spoke the truth Xena, your own conscience wouldn't let you believe it though." Angela could tell that Xena's own soul was very fragile, she hated to think what she would be like without Gabrielle.
Xena simply nodded to herself, knowing that was true, but still not wanting to accept it. "So what about Draco now? He's been tested and he passed. Does that mean he has been redeemed?"
Angela let a small amount of sadness creep into her features, she knew that neither Avengelyne nor Temeris had told Xena or Gabrielle, but she still didn't want to be the one that had to break it to them. "No, Xena. When we say that a Hellspawn has been redeemed, we mean it very metaphorically. The truth of the matter is, that he can't be 'redeemed'. His soul has already been judged, it's too late."
Xena's face became quizzical, "Wait a minute, if he can't be redeemed, then why are we doing this?" She felt as though she had been led on a worthless quest.
Angela simply sighs to herself, it is obvious that Xena truly doesn't understand, "Xena, his soul is going to return to the Darklands when his energy dissipates completely. But that doesn't mean that he can't still do good while he is here. Redemption isn't about the goal, it's about the journey. Redemption is only achieved while you're fighting for it. The moment you stop trying, is the moment you start slipping back, giving in to baser urges." Xena still didn't look convinced, Angela thought for a second, then continued, "I've heard it said, that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Well the same can be said of redemption, redemption has to be strived for, or it means, nothing."
The warrior wasn't sure of how to react, did this mean that she would forever have to be fighting? Angela saw the perplexed look on her face, and responded accordingly, "Come on Xena, that doesn't mean we can't have a little fun every now and then. In fact, I'm a little tired still, so I need some rest. But I think you have somebody waiting for you upstairs!"
This involuntarily brings a smile to the warrior's face, as the two headed inside.
* * *
The morning light broke through the window onto the face of the bard. Gabrielle blinked her eyes a few times, fighting back the invading sunshine. She looked to her right only to see the bed space next to her empty. Xena had probably gotten up early this morning, she was always so anxious if she wasn't doing something to correct a situation. Last night's little raid on the castle was what she probably needed to calm down. Of course, after they returned to the inn she didn't get much rest for awhile, but that was beside the point.
She threw back the covers and got out of bed. She immediately clothed herself and thought about what she could do till Xena returned with some information. Angela had most likely left with her this morning, which meant going to her room would be pointless. Her stomach was telling her to go downstairs and get some breakfast. Though, when she thought back to last night she couldn't understand why she would be hungry, oh well, one of nature's little mysteries.
After running a comb through her hair, she decided to listen to her stomach.
She could tell it was late morning, first because of the how high the sun was, and second, because the common room was pretty empty. The breakfast rush had come and gone. She could see a few people here and there though. As she scanned the room one person caught her eye. A woman sat at a table against the back wall, she had long light brown hair and was wearing a dark blue shirt and pants. Gabrielle knew she looked familiar somehow, but couldn't pinpoint it exactly. The woman looked up from the mug she had at her table and straight at Gabrielle. A smile spread across her face and she invited the bard.
Gabrielle, finding this a little odd, strolled over and took a seat across from her. After taking a particularly long drink, she greeted her, "Gabrielle! It's been awhile! How you been doing?"
The bard let a curious look come over her face as she responded, "I'm sorry, you look very familiar to me somehow, but I can't recall your name. Do I know you?"
The woman lets a playful smile run across her own features, "Yeah, you know me. But last time you saw me I was considerably younger."
Gabrielle continues studying her, what? She leaned forward to get a closer look. No... no it can't be. The color of the eyes, the shape of the mouth and nose, the tint of the hair. How... how can this be? Gabrielle thought to herself. "Blake? Blake is that you?"
Blake nods her head, "Yes Gabrielle, it's me. I saw your and Xena's little run on Deimos' castle last night. You're doing good, pointing Draco in the direction he has to go."
Gabrielle shook her head in exasperation, she couldn't find anything to say for a few minutes, she finds a word eventually though. "How...how?"
Blake shakes her head back at the bard, she was clearly stifling a giggle, "Oh Gabrielle, it's not important. At this point you know I'm not human. But please, we need to speak on a few things. First, do you know about Draco's condition?"
A bit of sorrow came into Gabrielle, Xena had told her last night about what Angela had told her, it was truly not something she wanted to hear. "Yeah, I know about Draco. All of this has to seem pretty futile to him."
"You might be surprised. It's all about identity to him. He has no memories, so he has to create new ones. And since he knows he's going to be here awhile, he'd rather make them enjoyable."
Gabrielle thinks about this for a second, she knows this whole ordeal has to be distressing Xena. Making her question her own drive for redemption. Sometimes it has to seem hopeless.
"It does Gabrielle." The bard looked up, somehow not surprised Blake had been reading her thoughts, "But that's why you're here." Blake paused for a second, seeing Gabrielle was expecting more. "You're more than Xena's moral compass, you're the only bright spot she has in her entire life. She is going to have to deal with grief and her own guilt everyday, for the rest of her life. You're the only thing that makes that bearable. Knowing that you will be there for her."
Gabrielle knows this is true, in her heart if not in her mind. She speaks the next words in a whisper, the words that she knows is true, with every fiber of her being, "I love her."
Looking down at the table, in her own thoughts, she doesn't see the young man and woman that walk through the door. She looks up, noting that Blake is now gone, as the two approach. They each take a seat across from her, conferencing to themselves quietly before speaking to her. The man asks, "Are you Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle is definitely suspicious, there has just been too many weird things going on since all this started. "Yeah, I am." She answers hesitantly.
He nods, as if confirming something to himself. The woman chips in with the rest of the question, "Friend of Xena?"
Ok, now Gabrielle was extremely leery, most people who knew of Xena only knew of the warlord. And that she had told stories in this city, she knew meant nothing. "What do you want with Xena?"
They look at each other again, finally deciding that this is the person they were looking for, "We know about what happened last night at the castle." He said.
She said, "Well, most of it anyway, some of the details are sketchy but we know that you were in the king's chambers." Gabrielle now has a defensive look on her face, how would they know anything about that? The woman, seeing the sudden guardedness in her eyes, explains herself, "We're from an organization that opposes the Deimos. You and Xena, and who ever else was with you two are going to need protection. If what we know is true, then Deimos will have his goons after you as soon as possible."
Gabrielle, still not totally convinced asks, "How did you know anything at all?"
The man answers the question, "We have contacts inside the castle. They relay a lot of information to us." Gabrielle nodded her head, he could see that it was going to take a lot to put her at ease. "Listen, there was somebody here, helping us a while back. He said he knew you two, and you were good friends. Well, you should know that he is dead. he died for our cause, to free the people of this city from tyranny."
"Draco." It hits her like a mallet. They had been trying to figure out what Draco was doing in Athens, she had the answer now almost by pure chance. She also thinks she now knows what has to be done.
"Ah, so you who we're talking about?" The man responded, assuming she already knew. But it was now time to ask the question that he knew needed asking, "Gabrielle, we've got some of the scrolls that you wrote when you were here during the bard contest. We've read the stories of Xena, we know that she is helping people now. We want to know, do you think she would aid us in our struggle?"
Gabrielle snaps out of her own thoughts, she looks at the two rebels with a moment of realization, "I don't think that will be a problem, it's why we're here."
* * *
Gabrielle sat in the common room, glancing outside nervously every few minutes. She was waiting for Xena and Angela to return, but she also knew that it was possible the city guard would show up looking for all of them at any time.
The rebels had left, without Gabrielle ever learning their names unfortunately, but they had agreed to meet at another tavern after she had a chance to speak with Xena.
Speak with Xena? Hmm, that's something she knew she needed to do anyway. She kept asking herself why she never said anything sooner. Traveling with her for two weeks, never a word. And her answer was always the same, she was searching through her own emotions.
Though she knew herself that it hadn't been that simple. Before she heard Xena's words she knew she always felt something for her friend, she just never knew what. It was always written off as the kind of love one would feel for a sister, though she never felt this way about Lila. When it came right down to it, she had to admit that the possibility of anything but friendship had never even occurred to her. Such things were never spoken of when she was growing up, and therefore she couldn't have conceived of it. Such far too common thoughts had however been thankfully dismissed after last night, never to return. She still couldn't stop herself from wondering though, about the dreams that her parents had for her. Which included such things as a family with lots of children. That didn't seem all too likely at the moment. Those dreams she knew had dashed when she ran after the warrior princess almost two years ago.
These thoughts had to be put on hold for the moment, Gabrielle could see both Xena and Angela walking down the street toward the inn, and there was work that needed to be done. As her friends entered the common room, Gabrielle moved to a table away from the window, so as not to be so conspicuous to the outside.
As the three seated themselves around the table, keeping their voices low, Xena was the first to speak. "The only thing we managed to find was that there seems to be some kind of rebellion, or revolution brewing against Deimos. We haven't however been able to attach any names to it except Draco's, it's leaving us without much to investigate."
"Well for once Xena I can't complain about you leaving me behind. From what I learned here, we may have cut the amount of time we have to stay in this city considerably." Xena looked at Gabrielle, waiting for her to continue. "The rebellion that you mentioned? A couple of their members approached me earlier. They offered us sanctuary against Deimos whenever he decides to come after us for our little visit last night."
Xena nodded, she knew that a rebellion needed all the aide that it could get, and anybody who managed to breach the king's walls around his castle was going to be substantial aide in deed. She already had the feeling she knew what the next sentence out of Gabrielle's mouth was going to pertain to.
"But they also asked me to ask you for your help Xena. I told them it shouldn't be a problem. They mentioned Draco by name Xena, apparently he was aiding them before his untimely death."
"Well that's it then." Angela said with no hesitation in her voice, "We have to make sure that this rebellion succeeds. It was what Draco was doing before he died, and it is the direction that the fates are pushing us." She was as sure of this now as Gabrielle had been when she first spoke with the rebels.
Xena nodded again, it was the only choice at this point. "Alright, that means we have to notify Draco somehow." She thinks for a moment then continues, "Gabrielle, did the rebels say how they would get back in touch with us?" Gabrielle informs them about the rendezvous, "Good. I'll go get Draco, you and Angela go and make sure that the rebels know that I have accepted, and to wait for us."
"No Xena. I'll go get Draco. Notifying him is going to require finding him first, remember we have no idea where he's decided to hide during the day. And I'm the only that has any experience as far as to where Hellspawns consider good nesting grounds." Angela countered.
Xena nodded in acquiescence, "You're right." Xena then looks to Gabrielle, and back to Angela, waiting for possible questions, when there is none... "Alright, then it's settled. Angela, you go get Draco and meet us at this tavern."
The three stand, Gabrielle informs Angela of the address as they leave the inn. Never seeing the innkeeper, Davinus, break into a quiet laugh, then a wide smile, showing yellow rotten teeth.
* * *
Deimos stood in a vast chamber, in front of a podium. Upon the podium sat a rather hefty, black leather bound book. The king seemed captivated by something on the page he was reading. He knew it to be a book of spells, one of several he brought with him to Athens when he came with Clown. He turned the page, thinking back to last night and how Clown had apparently turned traitor. Though he knew how the fat little man thought, or at least he thought he did, and he was certain that it hadn't been that rudimentary. Clown had some kind of plan, no, agenda that he wasn't informing Deimos of. But the king knew that when Clown showed up again, and he knew he would, he was going to get some answers.
And sooner than he had hoped, Deimos thought to himself. As he turned the page of the book again, the large double doors at the back of the chamber flew open, admitting the always welcomed Clown into the room. Deimos looked up at him dismissively, not at all surprised by the intrusion. As Clown marched down the center of the room toward the podium, he wore his ever present toothy smile. Deimos shut the book as Clown approached. "Why am I not surprised that you had the stupidity to try and approach me after what happened last night?"
Clown mocked apprehension and fear at the harshness in Deimos' voice, he quickly ditched that though and returned to his usually charming ways. "Oh come on kingy! Why are you gonna try to threaten me when you know you ain't got the balls to follow through on it!" Deimos swore that Clown could drive anybody to murder. Regardless of how instrumental he was to gaining a throne.
Clown stood up on tip toe and got a better look at the book that Deimos had been reading. "So what you reading there? Wouldn't happen to be '1,001 Ways to Destroy a Rebellion ,' would it?"
Deimos snatched the book off its stand, not saying a word to Clown. Carrying it under his arm he headed toward an inconspicuous door off to the side of chamber.
"Oh, I know what that is. It's one of those damn spell books isn't it?" Clown started to following Deimos is his standard annoying fashion. "You need to learn how to run an empire, not become the next archmage."
Deimos stopped suddenly, twisting around on the ball of his foot he looked at the short man for a second, he couldn't be this stupid, could he? "Do you have any idea the kind of power that is present in these pages?" Deimos' voice was at the edge of frustration. He stared at the smiling Clown for a minute, then turned around and continued to the door. "Not to mention the other volumes that I brought with me."
Clown was starting to feel just as frustrated with this fool, why couldn't mortals act like the mindless pawns that they were? "No I don't. And you know what else? You don't either, if I recall, when I found you in that monastery you were busy trying to decipher the writings. I know you hadn't had much success then, and I'm pretty sure you haven't gotten much more advancement here, or am I wrong?" He let his voice drop a few octaves, if Deimos had managed to decipher some of his work, the results weren't going to be predictable.
Deimos stayed quiet for a bit, he reached the door and opened it into a very impressive sight. The room was almost as big as the chamber that he had just been in, but instead of being mostly empty, the massive walls were lined with more books and scrolls. If anyone else had known about it, it would have been considered easily the largest library in the known world. Only because Deimos had been cautious enough to save all the work from the Academy.
There was a large open area in the center of the room, an intricately designed, and very broad, circle was drawn in some kind of black and red ink on the floor. Clown stopped abruptly, staring at the design. He had seen this before, was it possible Deimos had stumbled upon a power that very few mortals ever even believe existed? Clown's smile just got wider. "As a matter of fact Clown, I think I have." There was a desk beyond the center of the room, on it was piled numerous other books and scrolls, the king walked over to this and placed the book he was carrying on a stack. "And, as much as I hate to say this, I owe you a large amount of thanks, without access to the Academy's own resources, I would never have been able to figure any of it out." Deimos sat behind the desk and removed a quill from an inkwell as he pulled a scroll out from the pile in front of him. He read it for a moment, making sure it was the one he wanted, then asked Clown, "Now I'm sure there was a reason that you wanted to see me, what is it?"
So this foolish mortal now had true power within his grasp, Clown thought to himself. This could end up being more interesting than he originally considered. "First, allow me to congratulate you on your unexpected successes. And apologize for ever having doubted you." Deimos didn't appear interested in Clown's courtesies, he continued writing without acknowledging his words. "But yes, there is reason I am here. I recently came into some information that I thought might appeal to you. Pertaining to Pericles and the rebellion."
Deimos looked up from his work, suddenly very intent on what Clown had to say.
* * *
The alleys were dark, as dusk was setting upon the city. It took Angela a little longer than she had anticipated to locate exactly where Draco would be. After questioning a handful of unfortunate vagrants, she found him on the north side of town. As she entered the enclosure she immediately sensed the aura it had to offer, not one as simple as good or evil, but one of acceptance. The alleys being one of the few places in a society where all are accepted, where no one is turned away for simply being different.
Several people are gathered around fires, burning in garbage cans and on the ground. They glanced up at Angela as she entered the area, turning away once they saw her heading toward the back.
Spawn sat in a huddled, red cloaked mass on the ground. His green eyes barely slits in his mask. Angela could tell he was still asleep as she approached. She bent down, intending on waking him from his slumber, when she noticed something. A small boy, standing away from the two of them. Angela looked at him, he had a sad, anxious look on his face as he was apparently watching Draco. Something told Angela that there was something seriously not right with this. She stood up and walked over to him, bending down to look at him in the eyes. He shied away a bit at her approach. "Hi, my name is Angela, what's yours?" She tried to stay as quiet as possible so as not to startle the youngster.
"My name is Gel." He sounded almost afraid, Angela was sure it wasn't her, but the way he reacted said he was definitely anxious about something.
"Alright Gel. Can I ask you a question?" The boy nodded his head. "Ok, what is it you're so afraid of?"
The boy looked at the woman in front of him, studied her for a moment. After assuring himself that she was honestly concerned, he told her. "The big ugly man." Angela was almost certain of who he spoke of after only these four words, she let him continue however, knowing it would be better for him to let him voice his nervousness. "He came to me yesterday. He wasn't nice at all. He got inside of me, and...and...."
At this point Gel was squirming around in place, clearly not happy with the memories of the situation. Not that Angela could blame him. She reached out and hugged him, holding him in a comforting embrace until he stopped crying. When he stopped she turned around and looked at Draco, seeing now that his eyes were wide open. She let go of Gel and smiled at him, "It's all right, he won't hurt you anymore. I promise." She reached up and wiped a trailing tear from his cheek. To this day she often wondered what would become of him, orphans often led tragic lives, and unpredictable. Gel walked away, still fighting back tears. Angela let a frown come across her face as she watched him leave.
The angel warrior then moved over toward Draco, standing over him as he remained on the ground, staring forward into alley. "I heard everything Angela. Clown possessed that boy just to get at me. He played me like a goddamn lyre." There was no sense of anger in Draco's voice, only a set determination, that said he would have no more of it. "I'm tired of all these games, all this bullshit maneuvering. Innocent people are being hurt. People who have no idea what they have just brushed against. This has to stop, soon."
"Well it's war Draco. It's being fought on a level that is inconceivable to the average human mind. But it is still a war, and in war, bad things happen to good people." Draco simply shook his head, truly feeling the tediousness of all of this. Angela could sympathize, the blade on her battle stave was hungry for blood. And she to missed the excitement of one on one conflict. "I'm sure you're going to be happy with the news that I have. It concerns the business that you were dealing in the last time you were here."
Draco looked up at Angela for the first time since she arrived, his eyes held a question. He rose to his feet, letting the folds of his cloak fall around his armor. "You know what I must do?"
Angela let a satisfying smile play across her features, she looked out of the alley, to the now darkened city. Shining beneath the moonlight. "There is a revolution beneath the Athens. You were aiding them in their struggles over a year ago. You have returned, it is time to finish your work."
* * *
The tavern was a small one, with not many customers inside. The barkeep a short and lanky fellow who always seemed to be wiping the counters down.
As Xena and Gabrielle entered the tavern, the bard immediately recognized the two rebels seated at a table in the back. She motioned to them so as to inform Xena. The two then took seats across from them.
"So you are here. I take it that means you are ready to accept your destiny?" The woman on the left asked. As a feeling of deja vu swept over Gabrielle, Xena immediately recognized it. The word usage, the somehow eternally condescending tone of the voice, even if the voice itself was drastically different. She felt a lot more comfortable at this point, they needed all the help they could get.
Gabrielle, not quite able to figure it out as quickly, voiced her question. "You sound very different, yet somehow familiar. Have we met before today?"
"Yes Gabrielle, you do know us. We just looked very different last time." The young man on the right said.
"Gabrielle, two friends of ours have returned."
The bard immediately gets the idea of what Xena said. Though it takes a moment to convince herself of it. Temeris and Avengelyne have returned.
"I apologize for the deception earlier. But we had to put on an act because someone could have been listening. And if Violator gets even the slightest hint that we are in this city, he will push Deimos to attacking the rebellion. Right now Pericles can't afford that." The young man, Avengelyne, announced.
Temeris looked at Xena, eager to get down to business. "So have you decided that you will aide Pericles?"
Temeris nodded her head, acknowledging the warrior's curt answer. "Good. Now unless you didn't figure it out, we're not actually members of the rebellion. But he is ," indicating the barkeep, "In fact he is a very influential member, as you shall see. You simply need to go inform him of your identity Xena, he will show you the final act in this play."
Gabrielle shook her head, once again trying to process information and keep up with what's going on. "Wait a minute, you two aren't coming with us?"
"No, you Angela and Spawn are doing a fine job. Besides we can't get involved again now, it's too late. Our interference beyond this point would only cause chaos." Avengelyne informed her.
The four look around at each other, silence filling the air. Xena asks if that's it, if there is anything more that needed to be spoken of.
Gabrielle decided that there was. "I've still got one question. What we're about to do, it's going to send this entire city into chaos. How do we know that Athens can survive a revolt? Is this the right thing to do?"
Temeris, in her infinite wisdom, with dark overtones, answers the bard. "We don't know young one. But it doesn't matter. Deimos is holding this city in his iron fist. This uprising will happen, it must, and shall. People cannot live under totalitarian rule. It is against the very nature of humanity, to grow, to thrive on their own. So despotism must be destroyed at all costs. even if that cost is their home. Fate can be a damnable thing."
* * *
Angela and Draco came upon the tavern shortly after sunset. The darkness was upon the city again, Draco could feel the power begin to thrive, to pulsate within his armor. It was always a liberating experience for him.
Angela looked toward the sky, at the black clouds that had started to roll in, "Great, looks like its going to storm soon."
They reached the doorway, Draco wearing the same disguise he had when they first entered Athens fortunately, and stepped inside.
Looking around and not finding Xena or Gabrielle made both of them think they had gotten their early, until the short barkeep approached them.
He leaned on the counter and spoke to angel warrior, "What is your name stranger?"
Angela shot him a look of curiosity, "Angela, why?"
"So that be Draco?"
A very hard stare from the Hellspawn was his very apparent answer.
"Aye, then." The look burrowed into the barkeep's head, leaving him very uncomfortable with himself afterwards. He felt as if he had just announced every sin he had ever committed his entire life to a town crier. It was a very easy effect to achieve, Draco recently discovered. It was one of many quirks that he would uncover about his powers.
The barkeep came out from behind his counter to shut and lock the door. He then returned to behind his bar and retrieved a key from inside a hidden compartment beneath it. Heading into the backroom he stepped up to the side of one of the many barrels of ale lining the wall. Opening the lid, a false bottom was revealed, pulling away into a set of narrow and steep stairs.
Turning back to Angela and Draco, the barkeep said, "You'll find your friends downstairs."
As first Angela, and then Draco climbed into the barrel and descended the steps, they both knew there was no turning back at this point.
* * *
Xena and Gabrielle stood in a small, cramped room with about ten other people. Their leader was a man in his mid-thirties. He had long red hair and an unkempt beard. Wearing common clothes with light chain mail underneath, his face told stories. Stories of an unfortunate soul who did not know the pleasures of a blessed life, let alone the last year. This was Pericles.
Xena and Gabrielle had spent the last ten minutes discussing the current state of the rebellion with Pericles. As ecstatic as he was to have Xena and Gabrielle aboard, he wasn't sure about these other two. Not that he didn't trust Xena in that they were trustworthy, it was simply a matter of the more people that knew about them, the more that could end up getting the information tortured out of them. In the business of revolution, less was definitely more.
Xena knew that they were no where near being able to announce their existence to the populace, though a great deal already knew they existed. They simply didn't number enough in solid members. Fortunately the members they did have were in very influential standings. In fact, the only reason they had yet to be discovered, was that the captain of the guard was sympathetic to their cause. As were many inside the royal court at the castle. They knew the threat that Deimos served. And many wouldn't allow it.
"So tell me more about these two friends of yours." Xena honestly hadn't told Pericles much about Angela or Spawn. And she was careful to call Draco simply Spawn, because both she and Gabrielle agreed that it would be better for Draco if his true identity wasn't revealed before he wished it to be. Xena knew how hard a reputation was to run from, and how harder it was to keep it from showing up when you didn't want it to. Especially in front of friends.
Pericles however didn't have to wait for an answer. There was suddenly a knocking at the small door across the room. Everybody except Xena, Gabrielle and Pericles jumped at the sound, drawing various weapons from sheaths and scabbards. Pericles stood up and crossed the room, "Relax everybody, I'm sure if it was guard they wouldn't have knocked." He opened the door, revealing a tall, red headed woman carrying a battle stave, and a man behind her, with short blond hair and simple clothes. He didn't appear to be carrying a weapon.
"Pericles, this is Angela and Spawn." Xena introduced the two, walking over to stand between them.
"It's good to meet you." Pericles shook hands with both of them, keeping an eye on Spawn, seeming to study him for a moment. "Spawn. I don't believe I've ever heard a name quite like that before."
"You haven't, I'm not from around here." Pericles looked straight into the man's piercing gaze. He could have swore for a split second, that he saw a green lightning bolt shoot across his pupil. Pericles blinked his eyes a few times, rubbing them to make sure there was nothing in them. That couldn't have been right....
Pericles walked to a small desk that sat at the back of the room. "Well I suppose this means it's time to get down to business." He opened a drawer on the side and brought out a rolled up scroll. "We just got an advance copy this morning of an edict that Deimos apparently is interested in instituting soon. Gabrielle, I believe you especially would be interested in this." He said, handing the parchment to the curious bard.
She unrolled it, took a few minutes to read through it. It took a moment to cut through the red tape, and to realize what was actually being said. But when she had, her face was a mixture of disbelief and disgust. "He's going to outlaw reading and writing? ," she said with incredulity. Xena took the proclamation from her friend to read it herself. "How can he do that?"
"He's the king, if the lords don't object, there's really not anything he can't do. Nobody ever thought he would actually disband the Academy either." Pericles explained.
Xena nodded her head as she read through the law herself. "He's a tyrant Gabrielle. All he cares about is keeping the public ignorant to the issues. Makes his job a lot easier." Xena placed the scroll back on the table.
"Well what are we going to do about it?" An obviously very irate Gabrielle asked.
"To be honest, I'm afraid there isn't much we can do at the moment. When the edict is passed we will still offer classes to those who want to learn. Besides that it will take at least a generation for this mandate to take effect, he can't just tell everyone alive right now to forget everything they know. After it is passed I can use contacts within the royal council to...."
Pericles is interrupted, when suddenly everybody can hear a loud banging from above them, sounds like footsteps. Xena, Angela, Spawn, and Pericles look to one another. Soldier's instincts kick in as they all recognize the sound of a unit above them.
Xena and Pericles drew their swords, the rest of the room followed their lead. Angela and Gabrielle look at the staves in their hands, then to the very close walls and the multitude of people in the room. They both know that the space was too confined down here to use their weapons efficiently. The angel warrior places her stave against a wall, then cracks her knuckles preparing herself. Gabrielle just clutches her staff tighter, not really having a choice. Xena glanced back at her lover, giving her a knowing look that assured her she knew.
Xena, Angela, Spawn and Pericles stood to either side of the door in two pairs. With dead silence hanging over the room in anticipation, everybody can hear the lid on the barrel above them being ripped off violently and flung across the room upstairs. Grips tightened even further on hilts, fists clutched in anticipation of the inevitable.
* * *
Clown sat silently for once, his attention rapt on the scene before him.
Deimos completes the finishing touches to the magical circle, book in hand to guide him. As he steps away, examining his work, Clown waddles up to him, the fat little man had figured out awhile ago what Deimos was attempting to do. His only question was, did Deimos know? Because if he did, then he was even more asinine than he originally thought. "So, ya ready to begin the casting procedures yet?"
"Almost Clown, almost..." Deimos answered him absent mindedly, not even sparing a glance. He set the book down, still open, on the table. He then retrieved a small bottle with some kind of red dust in it. Deimos threw a pinch of the over the circle, chanting in an ancient language, not heard outside of a monastery in an absurd amount of time.
Clown went back to his little chair and sat down, the wood complaining about the weight. He just smiled to himself, and chanced a look up at the ceiling. He noticed for the first time, that there was a glass dome encircling the roof.
Oh this was going to be fun indeed.
* * *
The fighting was furious, in the back room of the tavern, the main room, and even spilling into the streets.
The city guard had sent only one soldier down the stairs to the door. Which allowed Xena to subdue him quickly and easily. A split second after that Xena, Angela, Spawn, and Pericles had pushed the fight upward into the building, allowing for more room to battle. Gabrielle then led the rest out of the hole. Staff twirling in a dance of combat.
There were far more than anyone would have expected. Only a small detachment had actually entered the tavern, a larger division waited outside, much to everyone's dismay. But that changed nothing, the rebels fought tooth and nail, their small number dwindling slowly.
Xena's familiar battle cry rang through the cool night air. Cutting down uniforms left and right. Angela's battle stave swung in impossible arcs, cleaving flesh left and right, a satisfied smile resting on her lips. Pericles fought with accuracy, decent with a sword, but far from the caliber of everyone else here. Spawn fought in his disguise, using an impressive array of punches and kicks to subdue his foes. Had anyone time to pay attention, they would have noticed small amounts of green energy exploding from his fists and feet each time he made contact.
As most battles do, minutes stretched into an eternity. But the fighting was soon over, Xena, Gabrielle, and Pericles coming through with an assortment of cuts and scrapes, nobody noticed that Angela and Spawn appeared unscathed. Unfortunately, all of the other rebels had fallen to Athenian swords, they had just became martyrs to the cause.
The five stood among a pile of bodies out on the street, some friend, and some foe. Blood washing the dirt. The rusty smell and taste hung in the air.
They looked at each other, they all knew what this meant.
"Well?" Xena looked directly at Pericles. It was his rebellion, it was his call.
Pericles looked down at the bodies of the men and women on the ground. People he had known his entire life, people he had grown up with. He then turned his head up, toward the moonlight silhouette of the castle in the center of town. "It will happen tonight, Deimos must fall."
* * *
It was quickly decided that giving Deimos warning of their approach would not be a good move. It was also agreed that Deimos wouldn't be stupid enough to be in the same room tonight as he was last night. Which meant some searching was in order. Spawn had agreed to use his power to transport the group into the main hall of the keep. After that they would split into three groups, well, two groups and Spawn would go on his own of course. As much as it pained Xena, she knew with Violator running around in the castle, Gabrielle would be safer traveling with Angela. So she agreed to team with Pericles.
There was still however the small problem of informing the rebel of Spawn's true power. Which after a bit of gawking at his transformation from townsman to Hellspawn, wasn't all that difficult.
The group stood outside the tavern in the middle of the street. Nobody cared about the multitude of people who were looking out of windows at them, the street itself having cleared during the battle. Spawn, now in his true guise, spread his cloak out again, encircling the four, plus himself. The necroplasm crackled about the costume, erupting into a small explosion as they teleported.
* * *
Clown was racing down a torch lighted hallway, still in his disgusting image, which he knew he wouldn't hold much longer. He had felt it the moment it occurred, about five minutes ago. The usage of a substantial amount of necroplasm. Spawn, Angela, and probably those mortals who didn't know when to leave well enough lone, were now inside the castle, he knew it. They were going to ruin everything. Deimos had been in the motions of casting for at least twenty minutes now, he wouldn't need much longer to complete the conjuring, that was if Clown could keep Spawn and Angela busy long enough. He still wasn't giving human their due.
* * *
Xena lead Pericles down the corridor. They had already tangled with a full regiment of guards and their swords were stained further with blood. But Xena couldn't help thinking back to what had happened when they first arrived inside the keep.
The first thing she had noticed, beside Spawn ditching them again right under their noses, was a look of familiarity on Angela's face. After asking her what was wrong the angel warrior had informed them that she sensed magic in the air. A strong mysticism drifted on the wind, and a malevolent one at that. Angela couldn't put her finger exactly on what it was, but she knew it wasn't good.
After each group went it's own way, Xena and Pericles had climbed several sets of stairs, they knew they had to be several floors up by now, and luckily they had stopped running into patrols. So here Xena was now, standing at the end of yet another passage, sword in hand, bracing herself for whatever was behind the next door. She expected almost everything but what she saw.
Opening the door, she saw that the room beyond it was very large, with white washed stones serving as walls. But the room was completely empty, save for a single, simple chair. In it sat the same fat little beast that had been in Deimos' bedchambers the other night, the one that was trying to get Draco to destroy the king.
As Xena and Pericles entered the room, Xena knew immediately who else this being was, and how futile it would have been to try and fight him physically.
Pericles however, wasn't privy to such information. An enraged look came over his face, he only recognizing probably the most grotesque human he had ever seen. He stepped forward and demanded that Clown move from their path. "We have business here stranger. Move and allow us to continue." It wasn't a smart move.
Xena started to try to move forward and stop Pericles from making the biggest mistake of his life. It was too late however, before the warrioress could get even one word out, Clown had stood up, grasped the back of the chair he had been sitting in, and with laughter in his voice, pitched it at Pericles. Xena barely had enough time to jump back and cover her face as the chair shattered against Pericles' head, splinters bouncing off her arms. When she looked back she saw the rebel with a large gash on his forehead, thankfully, not much else.
She looked back to Clown, who still had a broad smile on his face. "He spoke out of turn Xena."
She grasped the hilt of her sword, a look of determination upon her brow.
"You know, I'm getting really tired of you and Angela and that little bitch Gabrielle ruining all my fun. I mean first you stop Draco from killing Deimos, and you want to stop Deimos to? Don't you know how hard it is to set this stuff up? No matter, because I'm just going to end this little problem now." Clown fell to floor, a smile still on his face, appearing to writhe in pain for a moment.
Xena took a few more steps back, and watched one of the most abhorrent scenes of her life.
First, a series of spikes could be seen protruding from Clown's back. These didn't last long however, as soon after that all of his skin fell to the floor in a bloody mess, and standing in the place of Clown, was now the Violator. A tall creature, easily ten feet, it had a gangly body, and what appeared to be a black exoskeleton, some kind of armor undoubtedly. A large mouth, with rows of razor sharp teeth, and red eyes that appeared to be thirsting for blood.
Xena was now grasping her sword so tightly that her knuckles were white, refusing to admit any fear. Preparing herself to die.
* * *
Angela and Gabrielle slinked through halls of the palace, beneath the alternating light and darkness that the torches created. The moment she had entered the keep she had sensed the magic, resonating off the stone walls surrounding them. She had not even imagined the possibility of Deimos being a mage. But apparently it was true, she didn't think he would allow anyone to keep necessary studying materials, spellbooks. And she didn't like the idea of someone like Deimos wielding the basest powers of nature. They had decided earlier to split up, cover more ground in three groups. But she already found herself doubling back several times to follow the direction in which she felt the power going. She had a feeling she had already stumbled on the path that Xena and Pericles had been exploring. She still couldn't identify the exact nature of the magic at work. It was like placing a lighted and an unlighted candle under a piece of cloth, then trying to identify which side the lighted candle is on. It was so foggy to her own senses.
Gabrielle, in the meantime, was just looking around nervously, watching for guards. They had already been attacked twice, both times Angela ended the encounter rather swiftly, and messily. The bard could swear that the look of ecstasy on the angel's face when she fought rivaled Xena's own, and Gabrielle never thought she would be able to say that. But what she marveled most at was how Angela was able to swing such a large weapon as her battle stave, in such an enclosed area as the hallway. She was certain the only reason the angel had dropped the weapon at first back at the tavern, before the fight was pushed outside, was because there were too many friends around.
Angela stopped suddenly, throwing her arm back to stop Gabrielle in her tracks. The bard leaned forward nervously, expecting an ambush at any moment. "What is it?" She whispered to the woman in front of her.
"Voices. I hear Pericles talking. I can't make out what he's saying though." She stopped for a second, a look of disgust spreading over her face, "And Clown."
Angela paused again, her eyes squinted, trying to figure what it was she was listening to now. But by the time she figured it out, it was too late. A resounding crash could be heard all around the castle, Gabrielle had no problem hearing this one. The sound of something sharp, and most likely made of metal, scraping against stone.
Angela and Gabrielle's eyes opened wide at the sudden noise. The angel cursed to herself as she bolted down the passage toward the sound, Gabrielle right behind her. "Dammit, lets hope it's not too late for Xena."
* * *
Deimos stood at the foot of the circle. Inside was now the clear image of a pentagram, painted in red. With many different symbols inside the six points, painted in black. There were thirteen candles surrounding the circle. He lit each of these in turn, whispering an incantation as he did so. That done, he retrieved the spellbook, and standing once again at the foot of the circle, raised his right hand in the air, and bellowed out the beginnings of the spell in the same ancient language. "Wakasha!"
He looked up at the glass dome, just in time to see a lightning bolt flash across the night sky.
* * *
Xena was pinned against the wall, held at least at least four feet off the ground. Violator's massive hand was wrapped around the warrior's throat. Looking her straight in the eye. Xena, amazingly, was able to keep her eyes in an ice cold mask, a sneer upon her lip.
Ah Xena, defiant to the end, somehow I'm not surprised. You hero types are always the most enjoyable to break.
Her head, he was inside her head, invading her thoughts, speaking to her with some kind of telepathy.
Before I kill you, I want you to know something. He paused for a moment, more for effect than anything else. She doesn't love you, she never did. She pities you, the same way she did Perdicus.
At this point Xena opened her eyes wide at Violator's words, how did he know about Perdicus?
She feels like a burden, she always has, that's what she's always been, you know that. Besides, you know how prone she is to hero worship. She has no real emotions for you. You pushed everything on her. She is pleasing you for no other reason than to quench her own guilt.
No, no none of it was true, was it? Xena's fragile soul was beginning to show itself again. And Violator was playing her for everything he had.
It was at this very fortunate that both could hear a screaming from outside in the hallway. It was only a split second before the door flew off the hinges, and sailed across the room, bouncing off the far wall. Angela entered with a look of utter rage on her face. Gabrielle entered a few seconds later, collapsing to one knee trying to catch her breath.
Angela immediately spotted her target, and flew at him. The point of her battle stave traveled up, through the base of the neck, into the brain cavity itself, and out the top of the skull. The blade imbedding itself into the stone, a mere inches from the top of Xena's head. Angela turned around and dropped to her knees to create the leverage she would need. She pulled down on the shaft of the stave, pulling Violator from the wall, arcing over her head, to send him crashing down on his own. As the body fell flat, the head snapped forward, pulling the stave with it. Angela just twisted the grip that she had on the shaft and went with it. The stave was pulled into a vertical angle, Angela slid down and stood on top Violator. Her upper lip was still trembling from the blind fury that she felt.
Gabrielle rushed over and embraced her love. Checking the cuts that were put all over Xena's neck and chest by Violator's hand. They held each other, just glad that they were still able to.
Oh, how touching. Violator's voice rang into each of their heads.
Angela twisted the blade that was in his head, viciously. "I didn't say you could speak dog!"
But Angela, I believe you will find this interesting. I know you have sensed the magic at work here. Have you not?
The warrior angel simply stood with her hands on her weapon, waiting for him to continue.
I know you're gonna love this. Deimos is trying his hand at summoning.
Angela already didn't like where this was going.
For his first trick, he will attempt to summon, an archfiend!
Xena and Gabrielle, still in each other's arms, looked to Angela quizzically. Angela simply shook her head, then looked back at her two friends sadly. "Go, you have to stop Deimos before he destroys this entire world. The fool." The last bit under her breath.
Xena and Gabrielle wasted no time in heading for the door.
Angela removed the battle stave from Violator's head. As she backed up, he crawled to his feet. With a look that mixed unbridled anger with a set determination, Angela spoke, "Xena has found her path to redemption, she has found true love. I won't allow you to take that from her with your twisted lies."
The demon snarled at the warrior angel, they ran at each other, two titans, ready to battle.
* * *
Spawn lurked across the darkness of the top of the palace. He to had felt the magical resonance inside the keep when they arrived. He however was able to pinpoint the exact location of the power. He of course had no idea that it was magic that he was sensing, all he knew was that someone was manipulating some serious amounts of power, which led him to assume it was Deimos. The reason that he was able to figure out the exact location was because his current state of being was much closer to the energies being used, than was Angela.
Looking up as another bolt flashed across the sky, he saw a glass dome ahead. His senses were telling him that Deimos was beneath it. Which meant that was where he was going.
He made his way to the dome and peered down through. He indeed could see Deimos. He was in some kind of black robe with a book in his hand. he stood in front of an oddly designed circle, appearing to be reading from the book, chanting in some unknown language.
Looking at the rest of the room, it was definitely a library of some kind. There were shelves all over the place, even books scattered on the floor. Looking back even further, he saw Xena and Gabrielle enter the huge chamber from a door, on the other side from where Deimos was.
* * *
Xena was racing down the corridor, Gabrielle finding it hard to keep up, still breathing hard. Gabrielle yelled for Xena to wait, "Xena, wait, please, just let me catch my breath."
The warrior stopped and turned, and saw her lover doubled over, leaning on her knees, heaving air in big gulps. Her face softened for a moment, her mind still on what Violator had said to her. She had to know. "Gabrielle... you do love me, don't you?"
Gabrielle looked up at her lover, her eyes a mix of concern and curiosity, her patience however was running thin. "Xena, that is the stupidest question you have ever asked me. Of course I love you. Why would such a thing ever enter your mind?" A little smile graced the warrior's lips, not being able to help being amused. A sudden realization hit Gabrielle. "Violator.... That's why Angela stepped up our pace so fast wasn't it?" Gabrielle paused only to suck in another breath, "Xena, whatever he said to you, you know that I love you. There's no reason to doubt that. And I will always love, no matter what. And it's because you make me complete."
Xena let her smile spread even farther, sharing another embrace with her lover before turning around and continuing down the corridor.
* * *
The spell was almost complete. Deimos could feel the power coursing through his veins. The electrical storm outside had reached its peak, flashing many times across the night sky. He raised his right hand to the heavens, prepared to accept the energy crackling in the air, he could feel it. To channel it into the circle before him, imbuing it with what it needed. The power would soon be his. He turned the page of the tome in his hand, about to speak the final words of the incantation.
It was at this very timely moment that Xena and Gabrielle finally arrived. The warrior threw the door across the chamber open, and yelled at Deimos, "DEIMOS! YOU HAVE TO STOP! YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING!"
But alas, it was too late. Deimos spoke the final words, opening the gateway, seeming to doom the world with his ignorance. "Lusana, Dores!"
Raw, unchecked power blasted through the chamber, knocking all three mortals from their feet. Xena looked at her arm, the skin had turned red from the heat. Looking around the room she saw that books and scrolls had been knocked from their shelves, scattered about the floor. Some were now burning in small fires from the intense heat. Which didn't seem to be lessening at all.
Deimos rose to his knees, looking at the magic circle he had drawn earlier. Wherever he had outlined in ink, was now glowing red and black. The stone inside the circle itself had turned the color of pitch. He crawled to the side, peering into the abyss. Neither Xena nor Gabrielle was close enough to see whatever it was he saw, but it scared the hell out of him. Deimos jumped back, a look of horror upon his face. He snatched a book off of the table behind him and frantically began looking for another spell.
Xena and Gabrielle both rose to their feet, uncomfortable with the foreboding silence that fell over the room. The silence was short-lived however as the glass dome above them shattered, tiny particles falling to the floor. Everyone looked up as Spawn unfurled his cloak, gracefully floating to the ground.
His entrance was just in time see the archfiend rise from the gate on the floor. The archfiend was large, easily twice the size of Violator. And twice as ugly. It did not have the gangly body of the other demon however. This thing's body was muscular and robust. A pair of large wings sprouted from his back. His skin was black as night.
Xena, Gabrielle, and Spawn encircled the archfiend, all intending to give their lives before allowing him to leave the library. The demon raised his head and looked to Deimos, who was still flipping through the pages in his tome. A quick flip of the archfiend's wrist instantly disintegrated the book in Deimos' hand. The king looked up from the ash he was holding, his face had miraculously regained its composure.
Xena grabbed her chakram immediately and readied it to throw. Taking advantage of the small distraction. She was far from fast enough however. The archfiend simply swiveled his head again, placing his attention on the warrior. Xena's arm twisted back into an impossible position instantly. A scream of pain erupting from her throat, she instantly grabbed her now limp arm and pulled it back to her chest, she knew it was too late for that however. Gabrielle ran to her lover's side, just as Xena fell to one knee, the pain too much at this point.
The archfiend then looked to Spawn. "Ah, a Hellspawn, are with me or against me?"
It was a simple question, Draco figured these demon types must not all have the loud mouths that Violator did.
Spawn's eyes narrowed in determination, it was his turn. His answer was just as simple as the question. He spread his cloak again, encompassing the archfiend in his shadow. "I'm sending you back to hell." Spawn jumped on the demon, blanketing him the cloak.
The floor was now solid once again where the circle was located. It was not to be that way for long. Xena and Gabrielle looked up from the warrior's injury just fast enough to see the necroplasmic energy in Draco's costume begin to fluctuate around the cloak. They could hear blows being traded beneath the cape, as the two began to sink into the ground. Draco had reopened the gateway beneath, and was pushing the archfiend back through. Xena could tell that Spawn was using a lot of energy to do this, bolts of necroplasm began being thrown off of the cloak, striking the walls and ceiling. The two lovers looked around above their heads, everywhere a bolt struck a considerable amount of stone was broken from the architecture. The library was literally coming down around their ears.
When Draco had the demon all the way through the gate, a sudden pillar of more green energy shot through the portal. The light was blinding, Xena and Gabrielle closed their eyes against it. When they opened them again, all was quiet. The circle was now nothing but a blackened mark upon the floor. Spawn had managed to seal the gateway.
The two stood up to there feet, rubble lying all around them in piles. Deimos they noticed was gone, where, they had no idea. They knew they would see him again one day.
The two quickly fell onto a rather large piece of debris, which served well as a bench. They were breathing heavily, the stress of the night running roughshod over their nerves. Just glad to be able to rest for a moment.
However, they both jumped to their feet again when they heard someone crawling through the wreckage. They relaxed when they realized who it was. Her face and hair looked remarkably different, just as it had when they spoke earlier, but someway she had managed to get her hands on another black robe and red headband.
"Temeris." Xena acknowledged their friend. "What are you doing here?"
Temeris traversed a bit more of the rubble, to get closer to the warrior and bard so that they make speak. She paused, and looked at Xena's arm, "Rough night?"
The warrior just shook her head at the woman's comment, "Yeah, you could say that." Xena and Gabrielle sat back down on the piece of debris.
Temeris nodded her head, "You did well, Draco completed his mission. I couldn't have done any better myself."
Gabrielle looked up at what Temeris said, the questions were there again. She couldn't understand why Draco did what he did, it seemed like a waste of life to her. "Why? Why did he do it? There had to be other ways to stop that thing."
Temeris, for the first time, let a soft look cross her features. "Gabrielle, Draco sacrificed himself. He sacrificed himself for the only reason that he should have. He saved the lives of his friends. It was about love, he knew that Gabrielle, because of what you told him."
Gabrielle thought she knew, but there was still one question that both she and Xena had. "What happens now? He went back... there. Does he have to stay?"
Temeris looked at the bard with a sad look on her face. "He has returned to the Darklands. At this point, it is up to our master there what will be done with him. But he won't be happy with what he was doing here."
The bard nodded her head, a slight tear dropping her eye. "He deserved redemption."
Xena, quiet up till this point, answered her lover before Temeris could. "He found redemption Gabrielle."
It was about a week later and Xena's arm was healing nicely, fit in a sling. Her and Gabrielle were finally leaving Athens, in capable hands at that. Deimos hadn't returned, so Pericles had presented a solution to the royal council for the problem of no heir. It was a system of government that he had apparently been working on for sometime now. He called it Democracy. Xena had never heard of anything quite like it before, but she knew what she heard now she liked. The rulership of the city was pretty much placed in the hands of the citizens.
As a senator now, Pericles had been revising many of the laws, new and old, and was planning on passing them through the council for approval. The Academy had already been reopened, and bards from all around were being invited back, to act as instructors and as students.
Gabrielle had to say that all in all, the city was on its way to recovery from Deimos' rule. The future looked bright. And she made Xena promise that they would return soon to check out how things were going. Xena was just glad to be back on the road again.
The stopped early that night, setting up camp as usual in a small clearing away from the main road. Both were eager, as this was the first time in a while that they would have some time alone with each other. Especially to explore their recently admitted feelings.
Gabrielle was searching through one of Argo's saddle bags, looking for some spices to add with dinner. But first she pulled out an item that both had forgotten they carried. It was the disk, the disk they had picked up over two weeks ago, when all this was first starting. "Hey Xena, I forgot we had this. "When they first picked it up, they had no idea what it was. Though now the design was unmistakable. The face was a rendition of the mask of a Hellspawn.
Xena stood up from her seat in front of the fire, she walked over to her lover and examined the disk. "We should keep it. I have a feeling, none of this is completely over."
The bard slowly nodded her head slowly as she replaced the disk. She then retrieved the spices and headed toward the fish cooking in the fire.
* * *
Angela and Avengelyne had returned home. It was often called the city of glass and light, the city of Elysia. The home of all angels. The two stood in a public lobby, looking much the same way that the lobby in a palace, an extravagant palace, might look. An old friend of theirs had asked to meet with them here. They knew she was involved with the recent Hellspawn dealings, and with the mortals Xena and Gabrielle. It didn't take long for their friend to arrive. She was clothed in a long blue and white gown, glowing with a radiance that only goddesses could. She had introduced herself to Gabrielle as Blake, Angela and Avengelyne knew her as Athena.
The three embraced in a comforting group hug for a second. They then made their way to an office where they could speak in private. There was much that needed discussing as far as the future went.
* * *
Temeris stood in her home, her castle overlooking the fourth level of the Darklands. The scenery outside was dark, and endless as it always was, a red disk dotting the sky. She knew not whether it was supposed to be a star or moon. But it didn't really matter, it never moved.
She stood over a cauldron, boiling water inside. Reflecting on the events that had occurred recently. She waved her hand over the cauldron, an image appeared in the water. It was Xena and Gabrielle, they sat beneath a tree, the bard cuddled in her lover's strong arms, just enjoying their closeness to each other. Temeris didn't think she had ever seen two people so pleased as they seemed now. A small amount of warmth penetrated itself into her otherwise dead heart. She knew the future looked promising.
The warrior began placing soft, warm kisses down the neck and collarbone of her bard. Temeris, not wanting to be a voyeur, waved her hand over the cauldron once again, giving the couple their well earned privacy.