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Title: "Love and War" Re-edited 1-10/10
Author: Dario Persechino, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rating: PG-13 - NC-17 (Some violence due to war)
Spoilers: Only a brief mention of the episode with the beauty pageant and Xena as Miss. Anphipolous
Summary: Ares has a plan that could destroy the known world \par Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle and co. are property of MCA/Universal not to me :( I'm using them without permission. No copyright infringement intended. Any other characters belong to me.
Archiving: It you want to, then go for it, but keep this stuff with it, and no editing ;) and drop me a message telling me where your archive is :)
Shameless Advertising: Visit my fan-fic site at http://www.geocities.com/area51/dimension/8929/
Dedicated to: The idealists, for every person that still believes in love, and that it can conquer evil.
Comments: Mail me what you think at email@example.com
Author's Notes: Ok this is the longest Fan-Fic story I have written to date so please tell me what you think. Ok I changed the ending (Ch. 9 and 10) because I was not too happy with the original so let me know what you think.
Date Finished: 12/12/98 15:30
That's enough with that. Now on with the story...
by Dario Persechino
Chapter one: "The Prophecy"
"So do you think Callisto is gone for good now?"
"I hope so, but the past does seem to have a way of not staying in the past."
"I know what you mean. By the way it really is good to have you back as you."
"It's good to be back, you know I really don't think I was quite right as a blond."
"Oh I don't know, I think you'd look cute as a blond."
Xena gave Gabrielle a stare that could melt steel. "Cute?"
Gabrielle laughed and hugged her friend.
"Come on it wouldn't be so bad." She said reassuringly.
"Cute?" Xena repeated in mock shock.
"How about we make camp here?" Gabrielle said changing the subject to calm her friend.
"Ok, go and see if you can find some wood to get a fire started, I'll unpack the sleeping sacks and food." Xena said fully recovered from in visioning herself as a blond. "Anything you say Warrior Cutest!" Gabrielle said disappearing into trees.
Xena groaned and started to unpack Argo's saddle bags.
"She's right you know you would be a cute blond." Xena's sword was drawn in an instant and its blade turned to the new comer.
"Ares." She held her sword to God of War, Ares looked down at it.
"Is that really necessary? After all I did give you that fine body back."
"Oh, did I forget to say a thank you prayer. Oops" Xena smirked, but still held her sword in place.
"Don't mention it" Ares paced. "I have something to say to you Xena and I think you'll want to hear me out." He almost seemed humble toward the Warrior Princess, it reminded her of when he was mortal. "You were right. When I was one of you, I planned to change things but just as you said would happen, when I returned to God hood that was forgotten. I didn't forget everything though, I remember the feeling of fearing death and tasting my own blood. I remember the pain of my wounds and the pleasure of your touch. I know how it feels to risk your existence to take away an others, the feel of an others blood on your hands. I know what war truly is now from both sides and it is exquisite."
"What are you trying to say?"
"I'm saying that I am going to make a change. I'm going to teach the world the true meaning of war. Everyone will feel the pleasure of pain and glory of the bloodlust." Xena was taken aback. Being told the world was about to embark on a great war seemed almost unreal to her.
"No. You can't... You can't be serious." Xena said stunned.
"Oh, but I am my dear Xena. You saved my life and I haven't forgotten that either. So in turn I am going to give you a chance to save your own. Soon everyone will taste blood, why not unleash that Warrior Princess. You could rule in this war. All the warlords will mount their armies and you can't fight them all alone Xena. Someone will try to hunt down that pretty little head of yours. You will have to use your skills and lead an army to simply survive. Lead my army Xena, lead it to victory and when this great blood bath is over. You can rule the world."
"There won't be a world left to rule. You've gone insane Ares, the other Gods will never let you do it." Xena was scared now. If Ares did this then the world would have no future, but despite the fate of the world being in the balance all Xena could think of was Gabrielle. She would not be able to protect her.
"The other Gods have no say in this. I AM THE GOD OF WAR, and this shall be the ultimate
war. Even your sweet innocent little bard will have to take lives to survive." Ares laughed at the fear in Xena's eyes. He should have realised earlier that the bard was Xena's weakness.
"I won't let you do it Ares. I'll stop you." Xena determinately vowed.
"No one will stop me. No one can." Xena suddenly swung her sword in attack. Laughing Ares drew his own sword. This could be interesting he thought.
Gabrielle heard the clashing of swords coming from the camp. She dropped the wood she was carrying and ran through the trees scared that Xena might need her and she would not be there.
Quickly she came upon the scene, Xena was fighting with someone but she could not see his face from this angle. She grabbed whatever was at hand, all she could find was a small rock, it would be enough to distract Xena's opponent.
Xena had not noticed Gabrielle but Ares knew she was there and what she planned to do.
Gabrielle threw the rock straight at the strangers head. It flew through straight threw the air until it was within a few feet of the battle where it suddenly changed direction and aimed itself for Xena.
Xena felt something impact her skull, it did not carry enough force to be fatal but it did make her lose her balance and Ares disarmed her sending her sword toward the line of trees.
The sword landed at Gabrielle's feet, Xena was now on the ground and the stranger swung his sword to make the death blow. Gabrielle had no choice she realised picking up the sword she ran for the stranger.
Xena realised what was happening but she was barely holding onto consciousness. Ares must have set it up to try to force Gabrielle to kill.
"..No...Gab..Ga.." Xena struggled to speak trying desperately to stop her friend from attacking.
Although she would not be able to actually kill Ares. If she does not know who he is she will think she is taking life. It will be as if she is, and the next time she is in battle it will be easier to kill without thinking.
Xena could not let it happen. With only a foot between Ares and the sword wielded by Gabrielle, Xena managed to whistle to Argo, who kicked Gabrielle with her hind legs. Gabrielle was probably unconscious Xena though as she neared joining her, the last thing she heard was Ares.
"Good Xena, but she will kill soon. As will they all." He vanished.
Gabrielle was the first to regain consciousness. Looking around the stranger had gone and...
"NO!" She cried seeing her friends body lay where she had fallen, she remembered trying the stop the stranger from killing Xena. Gabrielle crawled toward her friend for after whatever had hit her she did not have the strength to stand. She reached her fallen comrade's body and checked for a pulse.
"Oh, thank the Gods." Gabrielle sighed with relief as she tried to wake Xena.
Xena opened her eyes hearing her bards beautiful voice calling her back to reality. She tried to remember what happened.
"Ares." She said reaching for her sword not finding it in its sheath she looked around. It was a few feet away where Gabrielle had fallen. She remembered it all now. Including Ares warning.
"Rest Xena, whoever it was has gone now."
"No. There's no time. Gabrielle listen to me, Ares has said..." She told the bard everything she had been told. Including his prediction that she would kill. "He's right. When I saw him raising his sword all I wanted to do was kill him."
Gabrielle was stunned by the reality that she had truly wanted to take life.
"You were trying to save life. Mine." Xena tried to help Gabrielle deal with what she was feeling, but it had be a long time since Xena had to deal with her own morality.
"It's not the first time I have wanted to kill though."
"Yeah. Then I had time to think about what I was doing and I stopped myself. I wasn't able to do that today. I didn't have time to think, only to feel. If he had been mortal I would have murdered him. Wait, I remember going to attack but just before I got to him I was hurtled a few feet away.
Why would he of stopped me?" Gabrielle was confused.
"He didn't. She did." Xena said nodding to Argo. "I managed to whistle to her before the sword blade touched Ares."
"That explains the pain. I'm not sure whether to be pleased you stopped me, or angry at the way you did it." Gabrielle highlighted her point by playing up the pain in her back.
"You'll be fine. Argo wouldn't do you any real damage, and I would never have made her kick you if there was any other way." Gabrielle knew it was true, she trusted Xena with her life and knew she always tried to protect her. It was that horse she wasn't sure about.
"I know. So how do we stop Ares?" The all important question, that at the moment had no answer.
"I'm not sure, but I know somewhere we'll be able to find out. Can you stand? We need to move quickly if we're to stop this war before it starts."
"Sure, I've spent enough time licking my wounds." Xena's eyes raised slightly, partnered with a devilish grin. "You know what I mean."
"Yeah. Get my sword. We'll ride south until nightfall, with luck we can get there by then."
The pair rode like the wind, Xena did not like pushing Argo this much but she had no choice.
"What happens if we can't find out what we need to know?" Gabrielle shouted to be heard above the whistling wind which had turned against them.
"Then all the cities of the world will be paved with innocent blood." Gabrielle held onto her friend tighter, scared not for the world but for her warrior.
"You are doing well Ares, but beware the warrior woman."
"Don't worry Hera, soon Xena will realise that there is only one side in this war. Mine." Ares confidant laughter echoed for miles from mount Olympus.
Chapter Two: The Atrocities of war
Argo slowed to a halt as she drew upon an overturned chariot.
"What is it girl?" Xena asked as she dismounted and drew her sword. She walked slowly, there was little light left from the day and she did not want to walk into an ambush. She was now within a few feet when she smelt it. Death. It reminded her of countless battle fields, and countless dead warriors. These were not warriors though. As she got closer she saw them. A family. Parents and two children, slaughtered.
"Xena what is it?" Gabrielle had climbed off Argo and was approaching the scene.
"Stay back Gabrielle!" Xena commanded.
"Tell me." Gabrielle had stopped but she needed to know what Xena did not want her to see. No one else would have seen the change in Xena, but Gabrielle could see behind that stone mask. Whatever was obscured from Gabrielle's view had just made Ares plan more real to Xena. Looking at the family she thought of her past. How innocent these people were. There were tracks near by of about two dozen horses. Probably the first of the armies. There would be more, and they would grow in number. Then she noticed a patch of material fallen by the chariot. It was the symbol of Ares. He planned to be on every side in this war.
There was no time to bury the bodies or more would suffer their fate. She turned and walked back to Argo meeting Gabrielle half way.
"What is it?!?" Gabrielle was not going to let this drop. Xena looked away, not wanting to tell the bard of the scene.
"A sign of what's to come." Xena passed Gabrielle to Argo hoping she would leave it at that, but she did not. Gabrielle ran toward the fallen chariot filled by curiosity.
"Gabrielle, NO!" Xena shouted back in warning but it was too late. Gabrielle froze for a moment with shock and then fell to her knees in tears, screaming curses at Ares. Xena was soon by her side holding her tightly, the bard could not take her tear filled eyes off the scene though. The sheer brutality of it amazed Gabrielle. One of the children throats was slit, the blood covered his clothes. Looking crimson by the now darkness of the sky.
"How could anyone do this?" She asked through the sobs.
"There will be more." The warrior said in an icy tone.
"Not if we stop him." Gabrielle now looked into Xena's eyes with the determination of some one who would give there life to stop this. Unfortunately, that price was too high for Xena. Selfish as it was, she would rather the world go to Tartarus than Gabrielle sacrifice herself. She simply nodded in acknowledgement.
Together they walked back to Argo and continued toward their destination.
Chapter three: Oracles & Riddles
The music and dancing came to a halt as Xena entered the temple.
"What will you give this time?" The oracle asked. The last time Xena came here was to find out how to free Prometheus, she was tested to see what she was willing to sacrifice. She hoped she would not have to go through that again.
"The answer is the same as before. My life if I have to." The oracle gave Xena a curious look.
"You have proven that in the past but now there is more for you to lose. You're friend outside perhaps. Would you sacrifice her to stop Ares?" Xena always hated the way Oracles could see what you did not want them to, and they would ask questions that you did not want asked.
"She is prepared to give her life." Xena hoped it would be enough, it was not.
"That was not what I asked. She has an innocent and loving soul, and would give her life. What I asked was would you be willing to sacrifice her life, would you give her up if you had to."
Xena knew she could not lie to an Oracle. She now wished she had Gabrielle's ability with words. Maybe then she could get out of this. She resigned herself to telling the truth.
"I won't let any harm come to her," She locked eyes with the oracle, not to intimidate but to show she held nothing back. She spoke slowly and truthfully
"If my life is called upon I will give it. If I have to endure an eternity in Tartarus I will, but I will not sacrifice Gabrielle." The Oracle looked surprised. It was the truth and she knew it, she had just not expected Xena to come out with it.
"Perhaps that will not be enough. Perhaps it will, either way you shall find out soon." The Oracle took a step back and stood up straight preparing to tell what must be done.
"Tell me what I came to hear."
"If you wish to stop Ares you must have help. Most of the Gods will be unwilling as Ares does have jurisdiction over war, even if it encompasses the entire world. You may be able to in list the help of Hades however, he will not be able to cope with the volume of souls that will soon come to his domain. Even this will not be enough however, Ares has the help of Hera and you must discover a force to conquer both their powers."
"How will I find this force?" Xena asked needing to know as much as she could.
"As light conquers the darkness of a soul, that same light can conquer the darkness of an entire world." Xena knew that was all she was going to get out of the oracle, and had to restrain herself from arguing about the relevance of cryptic clues with the world in danger.
"Did the oracle tell you what to do?" Gabrielle asked curious about what had happened inside the temple.
"Partially!?!" Gabrielle shouted in astonishment. The slaughtered family had shown Gabrielle the atrocities that may lay ahead for man kind. "What do you mean partly didn't it tell you how to stop Ares?"
"Yes but he has Hera's help. The Oracle was less than helpful about how to stop them both."
Gabrielle stared at her friend for a moment, turned, and strode toward the temple.
"Gabrielle? Gabrielle?!?" Xena shouted but it was too late she had entered the temple. Maybe she could get more then Xena, Gabrielle's talents with words were equal to that of Xena's talents with a sword.
Xena paced waiting for her friend, worried that they were testing her. Gabrielle emerged from the stone building with a look of confusion on her face.
"What happened?" Xena queried.
"I don't get it. Innocent lives are at stake and they're talking in riddles. She told me that light could conquer dark, that we would have to look inside ourselves for the answer."
"Well, that's oracles for you, we'll work it out later first we need to get to Hades."
"Can we still get to the underworld through the bottom of the Alconian lake, like the last time?"
Gabrielle remembered the feeling of fear when she waited for Xena before. The last time Hades had needed Xena's help to regain power, perhaps that would help. Hades owed her.
"I hope so, but it may have only acted as a temporary portal while the underworld was in chaos." Gabrielle looked questioningly.
"If it was only temporary?"
"Then I'll drowned and definitely get to the underworld."
"That's still not funny, and don't you mean we'll drowned?" Gabrielle said sternly.
"Gabrielle no! I'll go alone."
"Like Tartarus you will. You think I'm going to wait on that shore again for hours to find out whether your alive or dead, no way. I am going!." She was not going to back down on this. "If I die and get stuck in the underworld, it's at least better that one of us is up here." Xena hoped that logic would convince Gabrielle.
"Then why don't you wait by the shore and I'll swim to the bottom?" Since when has logic ever
triumphed over Gabrielle's stubbornness Xena wondered to herself.
Xena's comeback was interrupted. "The world is at stake, I'm not just going to sit back and hope you can do this, because you can't this time. Not on your own. No Xena, I'm going and that's the end of it."
Gabrielle started walking in the direction of the Alconian lake not waiting for Xena's approval. Xena thought about what the Oracle had asked about sacrificing Gabrielle and realised she did not have much of a choice, but she would still not loose Gabrielle without a fight.
Chapter 4: Lakes and rivers
They reached the shore of the Alconian lake in a matter of hours, passing several fights between everyone from village people to small armies. Each time they stayed clear knowing that they would have to stay out of it and get to a higher power it they were going to stop this madness. Unfortunately they also passed many results of fights, bodies lay freshly dead, no one had bothered to bury them, everyone had been too busy causing other people's death.
Xena and Gabrielle removed any unnecessary clothing such as Xena's armour. While Gabrielle removed what she could without endangering her modesty she heard rather than felt a thud on the back of her neck shortly before everything went black. Xena had tried to be gentle with the butt of her sword, not very easy. She laid Gabrielle in a more dignified position than she had fallen into.
"I'm sorry Gabrielle. I can't let you do it." She also covered Gabrielle up so that she would not attract any unwanted attention, since everyone was too busy fighting though she her bard should be safe enough.
The splash woke Gabrielle from her induced slumber.
"Xena...wha...?" Feeling the pain she realised what must have happened. The bard, however was not about to be stopped that easily. Attempting to stand she found it rather more difficult than she remembered, she kept bumping into the ground until she regained her composure. She knew she could afford a few minutes while she recovered knowing it would take Xena a while to get to the bottom, the lake was known for being unusually deep. Not many people though would realise it went right down to the underworld. When she was confidant she could not only walk but swim properly she put on her satchel, took the deepest breath she could and dived in. She barely made it to the bottom, but not seeing any kind of portal she panicked and looked from left to right, suddenly the green water surrounding her was replaced by a red mist and looking down she saw the bottom of the lake was no longer that, it was red ash covered ground. She had reached the underworld. Breathing again she felt the heat and stood up. She noticed a figure up ahead moving through the mist, it was a figure she would recognise anywhere, a figure she would and was going to follow to Hades and back. She was just about to call for Xena when she thought about getting a little revenge first. She picked up a near by rock, not big enough to do any damage, just enough to pay Xena back.
Xena heard something moving through the air and turned drawing her sword but not in time. It hit her right in the face.
"Oh, Xena I'm sorry!" Gabrielle came rushing through the mist towards her, and gave her a quick examination. It had not done any damage but Xena was not looking happy.
"That hurt!" Xena said coldly.
"You think getting knocked unconscious doesn't!" Gabrielle suddenly felt angry. "You always have to try and do things alone. 'Wait here Gabrielle', 'It's too dangerous Gabrielle'. I can take care of myself you know!" Gabrielle was shouting now, and it probably was waking the dead. "Another thin-"
"I think you've said enough" Xena said only able to keep Gabrielle quiet by putting her hand over Gabrielle's mouth. "I'm sorry about knocking you out, but this is an argument for another time. Think you can control yourself now?" Gabrielle nodded a positive, and Xena stopped using her hand as a gag.
"I'm sorry. I wasn't being quite myself."
"I know, but can you stop it with the rocks? That's the second one in as many days!" Xena said jokingly as they started to walk to the edge of the river Styx.
"Sure." The bard agreed smiling.
Gabrielle looked around in the red mist seeing the underworld for the first time, and then realising most only see it the first time.
"This is the underworld?" Gabrielle stated the obvious in amazement. "Shouldn't Charon be here to take people across to the other side of the river."
"Yes. He should." Xena said it in a distinctly warrior tone, almost paranoid that they might be walking into a trap. Gabrielle read her like a scroll.
"Other than friends with rocks I don't think there is much to worry about down here. Up there's where all the trouble is." Gabrielle looked up for emphasis.
"Yeah, I guess your right." At that moment a movement caught Xena's eye and she drew her sword again. The movement came from quite a distance out in the river. It was hard to tell through the mist but it seemed to be getting closer. Xena's eyes narrowed trying to see what it was. Then she heard what it was.
"All the time back and forth, back and forth. You'd think Hades would give me a break every century or two but no..." Xena relaxed recognised the complaining voice of Charon, she could make the shape of the boat out now. He was paddling as fast as he could it seemed he was expecting a lot of customers.
"So that's Charon." Gabrielle said rhetorically, a little surprised at the old looking creature paddling quickly towards them. "Don't we need a coin so that he'll take us over."
"Probably." Xena was confidant that she could get a free ride again. The boat was just reaching the shore now as Charon looked over and saw the two.
"I know you, your the one that wasn't dead the last time. So this war finally get ya?" He asked more curious as to whether she had brought some money then to how she had got here.
"Nope, actually I'm still alive." She said with a smile.
"What is it with you? Do you get board and decide 'Oh, I'll pop down to the underworld today to see what's happening with the dead'?" He asked still more worried about whether she was going to pay this time.
"What can I say? I lead a dull life. Popping down here is the only fun I have."
"Well thrill seeker, did you bring some coinage this time?? Huh?" He finally said rubbing his hands together.
"I'm afraid not. You'll just have to put it on my tab."
"What do you think I'm running here, a bar? First Hercules promising me that nice juicy pig and louching on the deal. Then you and mister living dead the last time. I'm not running a charity you know this is my lively hood -or deadlyhood depending on how you look at it." Xena groaned at the bad pun, but despite his unfriendly disposition Gabrielle could not help but feel sorry for him.
"Well if you like pig how about this nice ham sandwich" Gabrielle pulled a sandwich from her bag.
I was saving it for a snack but it's yours if you'll take us across."
"Hmm..." Charon's stomach reminded him it had been quite a while since a nice bit of pork. It wasn't a feast but... "You got a deal climb on board. You know I like the way you work, much better that your butch buddy." He nodded towards Xena who just raised her eyebrows at her bard's ability to make anyone like her.
Xena lost herself in thought so she would not have to sit and listen to Gabrielle question Charon about him and his monotonous existence here. In turn though Gabrielle had told him her life story including some of the exploits of Xena. When they reached the other side they watched Charon devour the sandwich with remarkable speed.
"Ummm... Delicious. Thanks, and its great to have a real conversation with someone, most just ask annoying questions like 'what's going to happen to me?' I mean how should I know I'm not Hades. Anyway next time you and butch take a trip down could you bring another maybe with some apple sauce?" Charon asked hopefully.
"I'll make a point of remembering. Take care, and don't work too hard." Gabrielle genuinely had a soft spot for this guy.
"Easy for you to say. Oh, and bring some of your scrolls next time. There's hardly anything to read down here." With that Charon started his trip back to the other side of the river.
"I can't believe you like that guy." Xena said incredulously.
"Come on, he's sweet. He gets treated badly by people everyday, and has to work terrible hours. You should have brought a coin for him." Gabrielle said in an almost accusing tone.
"I..." Xena did not know how to argue with the bard when she was like this. Maybe she was right, maybe she should have brought a coin. She was not going to give in that easily though.
"I wasn't dead therefore I didn't have to pay."
"You got across the river making him work hard and you didn't even give him anything for all his trouble." Xena knew she could never actually win the argument with the bard so she thought a tactical withdrawal was in order.
"When I die you can put a sack of coins with me to take to him. Ok?" Xena had not realised what she had said until too late. She knew Gabrielle hated her talking about dying. She turned to Gabrielle to check she had not taken it to seriously.
"Ok." She said meekly.
They continued there walk towards Hades castle.
Chapter 5: doubting to Hades
The journey seemed longer than Xena remembered, the duo were now passing there second hour of travelling and Gabrielle was already at the point of exhaustion probably partly due to the intense heat.
"We'll rest here for a short while." They both knew the importance of them reaching their destination quickly but it was in no ones interest from them to kill themselves doing so just yet. Gabrielle realised this and just collapsed on the ground.
"Why are we doing it Xena?" The unexpected question surprised Xena.
"What do you mean, we need to get to Hades-" Gabrielle interrupted saying.
"I know we're down here to get to Hades but why the whole thing. People will kill each other now or later. Whether its Ares war or a battle over a patch of ground people will always be fighting each other. It's not the Gods that are to blame for all this, its ourselves. The people up there are choosing to follow Ares into battle, soldiers are always signing up to kill people. What's the point in trying to stop it." Xena was taken aback. In all the time they had spent together Gabrielle had always been so full of hope, no matter what the circumstances. She did have a point though. Xena had in the past often questioned why. She had questioned her own choices in becoming a warlord, in picking which village to slaughter and which not to. She had never found an answer though.
"Gabrielle, I don't know why people do what they do, and you're right maybe its in our nature to destroy ourselves, but I do know that not everyone submits to that side of our nature. Some people join armies, but some people read scrolls. Some lead armies and some become bards."
Gabrielle smiled at the reference.
"There will always be death." Gabrielle said the smile gone from her face, leaving only a look of resignation.
"But there will always be life," Xena was not going to let Gabrielle lose faith, she needed Gabrielle's faith. "You want to know why we're doing this. It isn't to stop the soldiers killing each other, because your right, they'll just do it another day. We're doing this for that family we saw."
Gabrielle remembered the scene all too vividly, the looks of fear remaining forever on their faces.
"We're doing it for my mother, and your sister. We're doing it for the greater good. There will always be evil and darkness in the world but there will always be light. You remind me of that everyday. There are times when I've wondered why, I used to just be doing it to make amends in some small way for what I've done in my past, but now..."
Xena looked deeply at Gabrielle. "I do it so people like you won't become people like me." Xena turned her head away in shame of what she believed she was, a monster. She hated to let down her defences, sometimes she just hated to feel.
Gabrielle reached out her hand and touched the mighty warriors face, turning it so she could look into those intense blue eyes.
"Like you used to be. You've done so much good. You remind me that there is always hope. A chance to change darkness into light." She reached out and hugged her friend, finding her faith once more. When they had resolved their faith and rested their bodies, they continued, for the greater good.
They were at the beginning of a stone walkway and Gabrielle was in awe at the size of the castle.
"It's huge." She whispered in amazement.
As they continued to walk Gabrielle noticed something odd.
"Shouldn't Cerberus be here?" Gabrielle asked, and Xena had thought it herself the great three headed guard dog should be here but he was no where to be seen. The last time Xena had come here he had also been absent from his post, she had, however, had to deal with some winged Harpies, but Xena had taken care of them.
"Perhaps he's gone for a walk." Xena suggested. They continued along the walkway over the moat of lava and then knocked on the huge doors of Hades castle. They were different than Xena remembered, they had an engraving on them of Hades and who Xena guessed to be Persephone.
"They're...um, cute." Gabrielle said as if it were the only compliment one could give to something like this, which it probably was.
So they knocked again.
Xena tried to force the doors but they were locked.
"HADES!!!" Xena shouted but the only response was an echo.
"We can't have come this far just to be stopped by this." It was more a question by Gabrielle than a statement, asking how would we get in. Xena looked about for a close by window but they were all to far to climb in this heat and there were no other doors. They had to get through these. Xena drew her sword, if they were doors then could be opened. Xena swung the sword straight into the wood doors and chipped the wood engraving slightly. She did it again amazed at the little damage it did. Again, and again she swung until Gabrielle finally made her stop.
"Xena it's not working." Looking at the damage Xena dropped her sword, how could she not have the strength to get through a couple of doors. She sat on the stone ground and put her head in her hands. "Maybe its the heat." Gabrielle suggested, sensing the warrior's doubts about herself. "Or the fact that you haven't slept and your pushing yourself too hard." Gabrielle knew the words were falling on deaf ears. Xena knew how to take care of herself and knew that there were times when that was a luxury that could not be afforded. "What now?"
"I don't-" Xena was interrupted by someone shouting at them from above.
"What did you do to my door!?!" It was Hades from one of the windows. "Wait, wait, I'm coming down." Soon he opened the door that was not damaged and looked at the other.
"Xena! What did you think you were doing?? Do you have any idea how mad Persephone is going to be when she gets back. Oh, she's going to have my head for this, you know she had those made specially? She somehow managed to persuade Hephaestus to carve in wood! It amazed me." He sounded overworked and was pacing back and forth in front of them.
"Look I'm sorry about your door, and when I'm finished I'll see what I can do about getting it replaced." Xena said apologetically, which was not a way she normally spoke but she needed
Hades on side.
"You can't there a one of a kind."
"I'll carve them myself if it means that much to you." Xena's patience was wearing thin of this trivia.
"All right, that sounds good, but why are you here? You're still very much alive as is your little friend. Oh, its about this war of Ares isn't it? He's got me worked off my feet. Charon is complaining more than usual, Persephone was feeling neglected so she took Cerberus for a small trip to somewhere where he could run around for a bit. Where that is I don't know but what's more I don't even have time to think where it might be, because of all these souls piling up" He was sounding frustrated, tired and angry.
"Maybe we can help stop the workload. With your help we might be able to stop this war."
"Don't you think I've tried. Ares won't even hear me, he's too wrapped up in 'teaching the true meaning of war.' I'll tell you what the true meaning of war is, work, work and then more work all for me!"
"Couldn't you talk to Zeus about it?" Gabrielle piped up.
"Oh, king dearest is off dealing with something important so I'm told. You ask me he's probably off looking for some nice mortal woman to-"
"I get the point." Xena harshly interrupted, she had no wish to hear about Zeus's infidelity.
"Well there must be something you can do. Can't you just stop him?" Gabrielle blurted out sounding slightly desperate. Hades seemed to calm a bit as he looked at her.
"I sometimes forget what its like for you mortals. To me death is just work. To you its the end of what you know. Persephone reminds me what its like to care about someone and not want to lose them." He was quiet for a moment. "Ok, I'll help you but you'll need more. I may be able to confront Ares and even stop him from continuing to lead the armies, but that won't stop the war.
People have become too involved now they want to slaughter everyone. You know what it's like Xena." Xena's eyes lowered. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it as it sounded."
"No, your right. I do remember what's its like to fight a war. There comes a point when you just want to kill and be dammed with the consequences."
"The warlords are already thinking like that. Plus we have the added bonus of Hera's involvement, she will try to continue this was even without Ares help."
"Will any of the other gods be willing to help us against Ares?" Xena asked.
"Perhaps Athena will. She is the goddess of war and wisdom after all so I think she may be against this war."
"You will have to talk to her before you confront Ares." Xena told Hades.
"Agreed, I'll do that now. What are you going to do?"
"Find a way to stop the warlords." Xena said confidently.
With a snap of Hades fingers Xena and Gabrielle stood at the shore of the Alconian lake and in the distance the marching of an army could be heard.
"Xena how are you planning to stop all the warlords from fighting?" Gabrielle asked amazed but scared.
"Simple. I'll lead them." The cold tone of Xena froze Gabrielle.
"Your going to lead another army?" Xena heard the fear in the bards voice as it was lowered to an astonished whisper. Xena turned and looked in to the worried eyes of her friend.
"Gabrielle I know what I'm doing. Your going to have to trust me. There is something else though, when I go to fight the leader of that army. I don't want you near by, just in case..." She trailed off as she saw yet again deep sadness in Gabrielle's idealistic eyes. She put her arms around her friend and held her gently.
"Be brave." Familiar words, but the finality was always frightening to the bard.
Sitting, waiting at the river side for her friend to send news of the battle Gabrielle pondered what she could do to help. Despite her earlier following of Xena she had still ended up on the shore waiting for word of her friends life. Xena had warned her to stay here but she felt so useless just sitting here doing nothing.
Chapter 6: Return to darkness
Like a dark cloud the army of Athos swept over the plain. At the head Athos, and his aid Orbirus.
"What's that in the distance?" Orbirus shouted over the galloping hooves. Athos narrowed his eyes in an attempt to see what his second in command was referring to. It seemed to be a small figure a few minutes away on the open plain. Whoever it was just stood now, alone, in the path of the oncoming army.
"Some poor fool probably." Athos shouted back, far less concerned than he should have been.
Gabrielle watched her reflection in the lake wondering if Xena was right. She thought as a warrior and planned to stop the armies by controlling them, but perhaps there was a better way, a safer way for her warrior. A singular tear fell from Gabrielle's eye into the lake shattering the image of the bard. She hatted it when Xena went off alone, Gabrielle wanted to be by her side no matter what the situation, but Xena would not let Gabrielle put her self in that much danger. Typical of her to risk her own life recklessly not realising how much she meant to the bard. Gabrielle knew Xena loved her and just wanted to protect her but sometimes, in fact most times, it was so frustrating to not be with Xena. Gabrielle had often wondered where she would be now without Xena, probably a slave to some warlord.
The reflection had returned to its clarity showing Gabrielle what she was now, because of Xena
being there for her. Their friendship, their love had made her change, do good things, stop bad, both with the world and in herself. Gabrielle had her demons as well, after Perdicus died she needed Xena more than ever. Both Xena and Perdicus had loved her for who she was now, and when she had held that sword to Callisto's throat it was the thought of becoming something they could not love that stopped her.
Love had stopped her.
Gabrielle looked at her reflection and questioned it as an idea formed.
"Could...? Yeah, but how do I...? That's it!" After the brief discussion with herself she grabbed her staff and anything else she thought she might need and headed off, leaving anything unnecessary.
"Whoever it is still is not moving sir." Orbirus shouted. The army was seconds away from the figure now and Athos was beginning to see more detail to the figures appearance now, a leather out fit. A sheathed blade and a chakram...
Athos's eyes widened as he realised who it was.
"Sound the halt!" He shouted. Orbirus was still confused as to who this person could be that Athos would call the entire army to a stand still, but he sounded the signal none the less. The tone of the horn echoed over the plain, and gradually several hundred or so troops slowed and stopped.
Athos himself, dismounted and walked slightly towards the figure. In turn it walked towards him. Soon they were only strides apart.
"Xena?" Athos questioned.
"You've heard of me, I'm flattered." Xena smirked.
"Why are you here?" He knew the answer, but wanted his suspicions confirmed.
"To take that army, are you ready?" Xena drew her sword. A wise man would have retreated, a brave man would have fought. Athos was a bit of both however.
"I have heard of you, and if I fight you I am sure to die, so what if I give my army to you with the condition that you take me as your second?" Xena had not anticipated this, most warlords would have tried to kill her, a few might have just walked away. This man was cleaver, which meant he was dangerous. It would make it easier to ensure the army followed her and she had also been trying to keep the kill count down recently.
"Why should I trust you?" She asked bluntly, not liking tepid questions.
"I will give you my word." Xena walked slowly towards him and looked deep into his eyes.
"Nah." Xena said and knocked Athos unconscious with the butt of her sword. In his eyes Xena had seen betrayal. She removed the army's symbol from his attire and walked towards the mass of soldiers. "In case anyone hasn't heard of me I'm Xena and your mine now, anyone have any problems with that?" There were mutterings and then who appeared to be the second in command started the chant which was taken up by the entire army.
"Xena! Xena!..." It brought memories flooding back.
"NO!" The cry came from behind her, it appeared Athos had woken up, she turned her sword and threw it backwards without ever turning her head. She heard the cry of pain and the fall of the body, another sound which brought back memories. She walked back and withdrew her sword from the still living warlord. She knew the eyes of his army were on her and she had to impress upon them a sign of strong leadership.
"May the gods have mercy on you," Xena raised her sword. "because I won't." She plunged it one last time into his body and twisted the blade until he was still.
Now riding Argo at the head of her new army Orbirus, her second, asked her where she was leading them.
"To the first army that will fall." Satisfied with his new leader Orbirus decided the rumours of her change to good must have been unsubstantiated. "Who is the fastest messenger?"
"See the third man to your right, we call him Hermes because even the gods messenger could not better him."
"Hermes!" Xena called. The face that turned to her could not have been much more that a boy, perhaps seventeen winters old. He looked scared, but came to ride beside her.
"Yes, Oh great Warrior Princess?" He said nervously trying to avoid eye contact.
"Just call me Xena. I need you to take a message to the shore of the Alconian lake. There will be a woman there by the name of Gabrielle, tell her I've taken control of this army and I'll send for her when it is safe. Go now!"
"Yes mighty Xena." With that he swept sideways circumventing the rest of the army and going to find Gabrielle.
He found the lake and slowed his horse. Looking around he saw no woman, so he rode all around the lake trying to find some sign of this Gabrielle. Eventually he found some possessions which where lying for anyone to take. He looked among them, there was nothing of any major value, bed rolls, bowls, not the kinds of thing someone would just leave lying around. Then he spotted a lone scroll. Picking it up he read it, it was a story of Xena fighting to defend a village. The roomers about her may have been true, if they were then why was she about to lead an army into battle? It was too many questions for his young mind so he decided to stop thinking and just serve the leader of his army. Since he could not find this Gabrielle, he picked up the possessions which were lying about and tied them to his horse to bring them back to Xena.
The leader of the first army they came up against had sounded the call to battle before Xena had the chance to challenged. She had intended to simply take control of his army and then join it on to hers. It would have avoided this bloodbath, but at least the army they fought against were now too busy to worry about attacking villages, or killing the innocent. Swords clashed, young warriors screamed in death, among all this the Warrior Princess flourished. She fought as she had not done for years finally releasing the beast within and revelling in this battle. It was over all to soon for the Warrior Princess. She was drenched in the blood of her victims, their bodies lay all around her still and lifeless. All in the name of good? Xena asked herself. Now that the battle was over and the blood thirsty haze lifted she regained her control and felt sick at what she had allowed herself to become once again.
A large group of the opposing army sill remained but their leader had been killed, they no longer had any one to follow or any reason to fight. All of them backed away and then threw down their weapons.
"I speak for my companions. Our leader is dead, we have no one to fight for. Lead us." One of them begged, it was a simple request.
"Orbirus... sign them up." Perhaps the next time it would be easier to take control of another army, now that hers outnumbered most.
A short while later Hermes slowly paced threw the blood soaked landscape. All around were the bodies of men not much older than himself. Most wore the banner that he did not recognise but some wore the same as he. He had known these people, laughed and fought them, but he had never had the chance to fight along side them though. He only joined the army of Athos yesterday when he had felt he just had to fight. Now as he looked at the bodies of friends made only one day ago he felt worse than if he had known them for years. All the hopes and dreams that he would have shared with them only given time were gone.
"Yah!" He shouted and kicked his horse, he had to get out of here. His friends would not die in
vain, when the next battle started he wanted to be there to make his own bloodbath with enemy blood.
The second army they came up against was preparing to attack a village called Memoria.
"Sound the battle cry!" Shouted Landeer, leader of this particularly vile group, but in response to his order there was only silence. "I GAVE AN ORD..." He trailed off as he looked back and saw his army surrounded, at least three enemies to each of his soldiers, it was a fearful quiet that could be heard.
"Wh..Who leads you?" He asked in a pathetically scared voice.
"I do." The voice came not from any of the soldiers behind him but from right by his side, a beautiful, and most probably deadly, woman. "I challenge you for your army." Landeer was clearly terrified and Xena thought he would choose to run.
"Your Xena?" He queried. She smiled and nodded.
"The man that kills you will be renowned throughout the world." His eyes glazed over slightly at the thought. Dismounting from his horse he drew his sword.
"I will be a shame to ruin that fine body of yours wench, but what can you do?"
"It seems you have found stupidity where courage should be, ahwell." Throwing herself into a turn she spun and impaled his sword hand upon her sword. The man instantly fell to his knees in pain screaming. Xena reached down and picked up his sword which he had dropped, its grip now smeared with blood. She drew it to his neck.
"Please... please... have mercy." He was actually in tears now.
She looked to his once proud army.
"This is who leads you. A snivelling little coward. Join me and be led by a warrior."
She had now turned her back on Landeer and was facing the huge blood thirsty rabble.
"I'll show you a warrior." He moved his good hand to draw a boot-dagger, but before he could pull it from its sheath he felt a penetrating pain similar to what he had felt moments ago, looking up he saw Xena smiling down at him. She withdrew her sword and Landeer looked at his hands now able to see through both of them he let out a scream of sheer pain, shortly before lapsing into unconsciousness to bleed to death.
After watching the defeat and actions of their former leader Landeer's army began the chanting of Xena's name. The chant was picked up by the rest and with the size of the army it became a thunderous roar that swept across the planes of Greece all the way to mount Olympus.
"Oh how I've missed that sound," said the grinning Ares.
Galloping up to the great army was Hermes, he rode through the soldiers to Xena. Dismounting he began to speak.
"Xena I did as you asked and went to the Alconian lake but I could not find the woman you spoke of." Xena eyes grew wide "I did find these though," he directed her attention to the possessions he had picked up and then he showed her the scroll. He looked carefully at her not sure if she was the good Xena that the scroll spoke of or the true Warrior Princess. Moving close to her he whispered.
"The scroll makes your reputation questionable, are you the true Warrior Princess?"
"You saw no sign of the girl?" Xena was worried about her friend, but often Xena's worry turned to anger. If something had happened to Gabrielle... what would anything matter?
"Only what I have brought to you. I have seen the plain of the last battle, my friends are dead, I want blood. Will you show your true ways and lead us to battle or are you as the scroll said a changed woman." Xena gave him a look which made him instantly freeze.
"You have failed me, now you question me?" Stepping forward she spoke in a low tone. "You want blood? You want the Warrior Princess? Let me show you what she is like." He did not even see the sword, he merely felt the cold hard steel going through him, looking down he was he blood running down the blade, the hilt and onto her hands. He looked up knowing this would be his last moments alive but all he could think was one question.
"This is war?" he asked with his dying words. With that Xena withdrew her blade and he fall to the ground, another victim of the Warrior Princess.
"This is war." She whispered to him, then turning to her army she issued the warning. "This is the price of failure." She now walked to the head of her great army. She knew she needed to find Gabrielle but looking down at her blood red hands she did not know if she could still face the bard.
Chapter 7: Old friends
Gabrielle was hurrying through the Golden forest, so called because in the autumn the leaves all went a fine shade of gold. She rushed hoping to get too her destination before it was too late. She knew that if Xena was commanding an army again she might loose control, so she needed help and she was going to get it from the one person that brought Xena out of the darkness before.
When this had started Xena was meant to stop the armies from killing each other and all the innocents that got in the way. Now thought she no longer knew what she was doing or why.
"What are your orders Warrior Princess? Will we take the village?" Orbirus asked.
Xena looked towards the peaceful village, apparently Ares had not yet reached everyone.
"No. We will leave them be." Xena said, Orbirus shot her a questioning glance.
"We need to find another army. I want this to be the only army, and I want it under my control. Is that understood?" She now shot him a dangerous look warning never to question her.
"Now, I need someone to complete the task that he was set." She looked down at the still corpse of Hermes, and wondered what his real name was. "Do you know what his real name was?"
"I didn't pay it any attention he joined up with many others. It seems every farm boy wants to join an army recently."
"Yeah," Ares' plan did seem to be effecting a lot of people, but not everybody. She hoped that where ever Gabrielle was it had not effected her yet. She had either gone off on her own as Xena had asked her not to do, or something had happened to her. Either way Xena needed to find her.
"Orbirus send out a five troops to find the woman he was sent to." She gave her troops a description of the bard and told them that if she was in trouble send word back to the army immediately. It was odd how commanding these troops seemed so familiar. Not only could she not escape her past, but now she had to relive part of it.
Gabrielle was now coming out into a clearing when she heard fighting from just up ahead.
"How many does this make?" A familiar voice was asking as Gabrielle dodged a flying ruffian.
"Seven fights in two hours. I think that's a record. I wonder what's gotten into people." Replied another familiar voice.
Gabrielle now walked straight into the middle of the fight scene, where two men were fighting half a dozen.
"I know why its happening." Gabrielle said before realising this may not be the best time to interrupt them. The two men stopped fighting for a moment to look at the newcomer.
"Gabrielle!" Iolaus ejected, shortly before being hit by one of his opponents. In return for this Iolaus made it five against two.
"I think you could use a hand." Gabrielle said before joining in with her amazon taught techniques.
The numbers counted down quickly, four against three, three against three... until Gabrielle was left pummelling the last of the attackers. She went at him with a ferocity that rarely accompanied her. She could easily have ended the battle but she persisted in drawing out her enemy's pain, until finally Hercules interjected.
"I think he's had enough." He said putting a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder which she promptly beet off with her staff. This allowed her long suffering opponent to finally fall unconscious. Hercules however was more stunned than actually angry or hurt.
"Gabrielle I only meant to..."
"I know... I'm sorry, its just something came over me."
"The same thing that's making everyone around behave just as aggressively?" Iolaus questioned.
"Yes. I know what's been happening..." As she explained Ares plan. Her audience patiently listened, only one or twice being distracted by one of the attackers regaining consciousness which they quickly remedied.
"So Xena has taken command of an army?" Hercules asked very worried.
"If everything went to plan then she now leads one of the biggest armies ever assembled." Gabrielle replied equally worried about her friend.
"I have to help her." Hercules announced but before he could move he was stopped by Gabrielle.
"No, she has to do this, she is the only person that can stop all the armies from destroying every town and village in Greece. You have to help me stop everyone else fighting."
"Well unless we knock everyone in the world out how do we do that?" Iolaus asked.
"Hades, even with Athena's help may not be able to stop what Ares and Hera have started, but I think I may know what the oracle meant." While Gabrielle explained the riddle and told them her plan. Meanwhile Xena was falling even closer to darkness.
Another battle was over. It must have been the fifteenth. Less soldiers had turned to Xena's army this time and there had been a terrible battle with an awful death toll. Orbirus had been wounded in the battle and now held his sword arm in a sling.
"Warrior Princess there are few major armies left to overtake. Soon you will rule all." The truth of it made Xena's blood freeze, in the name of good she had created a bloodbath and now she was on a threshold of a prize which had been offered to her before. Ares had once offered her an army of the greatest soldiers of all time to rule the world with. Despite her refusal then, now she faced the same prospect. She lead the largest army in existence and soon she would be offered the chance to rule the world. She prayed Hades would soon convince Athena to help stop Ares otherwise she may not be able to keep what little control of herself she had left, or keep control of this army for that matter - a brimming hive of scum and villainy simply waiting to release more anger. They will get another chance to fight soon enough she thought.
"Ares army." Xena whispered.
"My leader?" Orbirus inquired.
"It is the last of the great armies and final army that we must overtake. The army of Ares."
Chapter 8: Ares
The two great armies met across a huge expanse. Xena knew it would be pointless to try to take control via the leader Minus. Although he sat at the head of the army, they followed Ares not him. If he was killed they would carry on regardless. The only way to take this army was to destroy most of it. The remaining few would join her or die. She knew Ares must be watching, loving the slaughter which was about to take place. It was then thinking about her true enemy, that the men she had sent out to find Gabrielle returned to her, without Gabrielle.
"Why have you failed?" She asked coldly, but the question they heard was `Why shouldn't I kill you`.
"We did as you asked my lord and searched every town and village within walking distance of the lake but..." This man who the others must have pushed into speaking for them was terrified but he continued. "well..we found very few women matching your description and...the ones that we did find were already dead." Xena froze, the cold rage in her eyes showed a lethal intent. Slowly she turned towards the apposing army and yelling her infamous war cry she galloped forwards.
"ARES!!!" She screamed. "SHOW YOURSELF!!!"
Her army stayed where it was, Orbirus not willing to move without Xena's explicit order. He did not know what she was doing, but he knew she wanted to do it alone. So the army watched their leader head out alone across the great expanse toward the enemy. Minus saw this as a personal attack against him. He had of course heard of the Warrior Princess and he knew that Ares favoured her to lead this army, but if that's what she came to do she would have to be as good as her reputation stated.
"Wait here, if anything happens to me you know what to do." He shouted to Sandear, his second.
"We slaughter every one of them" The overconfident Sandear stated as he watched his leader head forward to meet the approaching threat.
"ARES!!! FACE ME!!!" Xena was shouting as she speeded towards Minus. She did not want this man she wanted Ares, to answer for Gabrielle. Just as they were only strides apart Xena vanished in a blinding light, and so Minus found himself out and alone with equal distance between his army and their enemy. He turned he horse as quickly as he could and galloped towards the safety of his army but it was to late. He heard an ear screeching whistle and then saw the spears landing all around him but did not feel the one that had already penetrated his armour. Looking down he saw it, it was one of those Spartan javelins, wonderful weapons that could go through three sheets of armour. A pity, he would have liked to face the Warrior Princess in battle.
Orbirus saw Minus' body fall from his horse which continued to run in the direction it had been going despite its lack of rider.
"Nice shot." Orbirus complimented. "Now ATTACK." The signal on the horn need not have been blown, with or without the order to attack the anger and bloodlust engulfing these soldiers would have been too much to keep control of for long.
At the sight of their mortal leaders death, the army of Ares had speed forward ready to send all these opposing soldiers straight to Hades.
Xena appeared facing Ares in his castle. The brightly jewelled walls looked all to badly contrasted with the darkness she felt.
"You called?" Ares asked casually.
"What did you do with her?" Xena asked with a hint of a threat in her voice.
"What? Oh, you mean your little friend, why did you lose track of her? Maybe she is off learning the bits about war you didn't teach her." Ares said enjoying Xena torment over her friend.
"Tell me what you did with her Ares." Xena was in no mood for this.
"Maybe she's right now cleaning the warm blood of her fingers after taking someone's life away."
"Tell me or I will teach you the one lesson you didn't learn when you we're mortal. The lesson about death." Ares laughed at Xena's treats.
"You think you can kill me. I'm a god again Xena or has that little mortal mind of yours forgotten. You can't kill a god." Ares started biting into an apple, just to emphasise his lack of interest at Xena's threats.
"I can try." Xena said in a cold tone drawing her sword and cutting the apple from Ares hands.
"Now where is she?"
"You seem to have lost your manners Xena. Perhaps it's time for me to remind you of who warlords worship." Xena had still denied that in her struggle to stop the fighting she had yet again become a warlord despite her hidden agenda. Ares drew his mighty sword given to him by Zeus, the symbol of his godhood, and swung it in attack. Xena deflected the mighty blow and a battle ensued. The clashing of swords echoed from mount Olympus.
"Face it Xena you cannot defeat me. I made you and now yet again I own you." Ares said in that self righteous attitude that most of the gods seemed to posses but it was especially potent in Ares.
"You made me what I was. Gabrielle helped me become what I am. You own nothing." With that Xena threw her sword at Ares and when he used his to deflect it Xena dived forward standing on her hands she used both feet to kick the sword from Ares hands, and flipping forward she caught the blade of godhood and held it to Ares throat.
"Remember the feeling of fear you felt when you we're mortal. Are you feeling it again?" Ares and Xena both knew that since she now possed the sword she could actually kill the god. "You didn't want to speak to Hades. How about I send you to him?" She drew back the sword preparing to attack. Ares backed off like a scared animal that hears the wheels of a chariot coming along a road.
"Where is Gabrielle?!?" Xena asked.
"I don't know." Ares said almost pleading.
"I'm not going to ask you again." She said looking into his eyes.
"I don't know! I didn't pay any attention to the girl after you started to lead my armies." Xena knew she could not trust him perhaps he himself killed Gabrielle. Her dark side was beginning to imagine the worst, the taught of Gabrielle killed enraged her so much that all she could see in front of her was another enemy to be killed. She swung the sword and sliced into Ares. It was not a deep wound but it glowed, his godhood was fading with Xena's possession of the sword. Now she could wound him, and watch in rapture as the pain showed on his face.
Chapter 9: Questions of Godhood
"Do you like that pain, isn't it 'exquisite'?" Xena smiled at the quote. Ares now felt as he had promised others would feel. She swung again this time cutting into his stomach he fell to his knees before her, his defiant eyes looking up at her as she swung the sword a final time preparing to end a plague that had invaded her since she first drew the blood of another, a plague that had turned her into a monster. Memory struck her like one of Zeus's lightening bolts.
"Monster..." She whispered not to Ares but to herself she remembered sitting by a campfire with Gabrielle...
"You promise me that no matter what happens to me you will not become a monster."
She heard Gabrielle's voice in her memory as clearly as if she were here. Perhaps she was in part. The part that had touched Xena's life so much that now as she looked at the pitiful sight before her. The once mighty god of war knelt and bleeding she could not strike the blow. She could not let herself become evil, or else Gabrielle truly would be dead. She lowered her arms and presented the sword to Ares. He took it and in a flash of supernatural light his wounds were healed and he stood proud before her but giving her a questioning look.
"I... I don't understand." He admitted.
"It's simple. Mercy, and compassion are also part of the true meaning of war."
The words did not come from Xena but from a woman who had just appeared with Hades.
"Athena." Ares whispered.
"You may be the god of war but you do not understand it Ares, maybe you never will, but I want you to stop this war now. You cannot teach the true meaning of war if you do not know it yourself. War should be left to the warrior."
"What am I if not a warrior?" Ares asked, but not in a pound confidant tone, more like that of a confused child.
"A god with a lot to learn. About mercy, honour and humility."
"Then what good am I? A god of war who doesn't understand it."
"Xena is you finest warrior, you helped to make her to become what she is the rest came from experience and a good friend she has. You can make other fine warriors but first you must understand more of war, you must see all that you have been blind to, and this I will help you do."
"Then teach me." The moment he said the words the castle around him disappeared and they we're at the site where Xena and Gabrielle had found the chariot and the dead family, a moment after that they were in a village that had been attacked by an army. Dead innocents lie at their feet. Again the scenery changed and they looked upon two warriors, one on his knees, his wounds staining the stone floor beneath him with blood. The other warrior throwing his sword away and then helping his enemy to tend the wounds. They passed through dozens lands, each featuring parts of war, mercy and slaughter, honour and cowardice, pleasure and pain. It went on showing so many others, ideals and truths that Ares had never imagined. He looked upon things he had never seen. Simple farmers kissing their loved ones goodbye then grasping anything that could be a weapon and launching themselves toward oncoming armies to protect the lives of others. He saw courage that he had only heard spoken of in legend.
"These people are more worthy of being called a warrior than I." Ares closed his eyes finally seeing how little he knew and how wrong he had been. The visions stopped and the group found themselves standing before a doorway of light. Ares looked around scared, turning to Hades and Athena.
"Why have you brought me here?!?" He said, fresh fear in his eyes. Xena looked around seeing near blinding light from every direction.
"What is this place?" She asked the gods, who had ignored Ares frightened question.
"We are on Mount Olympus. This is the doorway of justice, beyond which all the other gods are waiting." Athena looked down, worried that the other gods would not be happy a mortal was brought here.
"Why? Why have you done this!?!" Ares shouted with so much fear that Xena shuddered.
"You know why Ares. You have gone beyond your role in this war. You have thrown man-kind into chaos. You must accept the judgement of the gods." Athena said not with malice but with the coldness of fact. Ares sunk his head into his hands which were now seen to be manacled. The manacles were of such darkness the light from around seemed to just fall into it. Xena was confused and turned to Hades.
"I though you said the other gods would not interfere?" She asked. Hades turned to her.
"I didn't think they would but something has caused Zeus to return and he summoned all the gods to this trial. All that is except Hera, when we came for Ares she had dissappeared." Hades explained. "Now Ares, it is time."
The great doors now opened fully and Xena stared amazed at what lay beyond. Every god was there. They formed two great lines at either side of a great walkway. The gods and goddesses looked down at the entering figures, who began walking down the long walkway that the gods stood on either side of. It led to a magnificent thrown on which sat the king of the gods. Zeus.
When the group reached the end of the walkway Hades and Athena each stepped to the side and joined the lines of gods. Xena was mesmerised by the site. The great warrior princess felt humble, which she was not used to. In her life she had worshipped a god, which now stood in front of her about to be punished by the others. In front of that god however was Zeus, her breath quickened as she looked upon the great king of the gods. His thrown towered above the lines of deities and the figure that sat on it was just how she had heard described. An old, but wise looking man who at this moment was staring down at his son who had fallen from grace.
"Ares, God of war. You are charged with recklessly using your power and causing great destruction to man-kind." The great voice of Zeus boomed in this great hall.
"How do you plead?" Ares now knelt before the great thrown.
"I am guilty father. I thought I understood war, I was wrong."
"Yes, and now countless mortals have been paying for that mistake." The great voice of Zeus sounded truly saddened. Either at the failure of his son or at the fate of man-kind, Xena did not know which.
"I release my hold on this war. I set mankind free from their anger" Ares declared.
"That is not enough. The souls that have already died cannot benefit from your declaration now, and the souls of the living have been so fulled by your anger that this war has taken on a life of its own. You cannot stop it now." Ares lowered his head in shame, he had lost control.
"But it can be stopped." The voice was not of Zeus, but another of his sons, who had appeared from behind the thrown. It was Hercules. Xena had to stop herself from running over to him, but he saw her eyes and smiled warmly.
"Hercules brought me back to find the chaos that you caused Ares. He also knows how to stop the mortals blood lust."
"Because he is one." Ares muttered with resentment at his half-brother. Hercules heard the remark.
"Yes brother, I am a mortal, which has let me see what you have done to them by invoking this carnage." He said sharply to Ares.
"Aphrodite step forward." Zeus commanded. From the lines of gods one stepped forward and approached the thrown.
"You will go with Hercules and help him to stop this war." Zeus said to his daughter. Hercules stepped forward to Aphrodite, but just before reaching her he turned to Xena and whispered.
"Gabrielle's fine." Then vanished with his sister.
"Thank the gods." Xena breathed with a sigh of relief before she realised what she was saying. Looking up she saw Zeus looking down on her and smiling. At least now she knew her friend was safe.
"Now Ares, you have committed a grave injustice to man-kind and you must make amens.
For every soul that has been lost in this war you will give the world a time of absolute peace, during this time of healing for man-kind you will go with Athena and learn about your duties, and how to govern your power." Then he looked to the court listening for any objections, all the room was quite so he closed this trial.
"This court stands adjourned." In yet another blinding light Xena found herself on a hillside near the site of one of the largest battles in history.
Swords clashed, men on horseback rode over fallen comrades. Arrows, spears and javelins flew through the air and the screams of dying men could be heard above the roar of the battle.
"How are they going to stop this?" Xena whispered to herself.
"Xena!" Turning Xena saw Gabrielle, who ran into her friends's arms.
"What happened to you? I was so worried." Xena asked never loosening her grip on the bard.
"I understood the Oracle's riddle. I needed to find Hercules to make it work. I'm sorry I couldn't get word to you."
"It's all right, but how are we going to stop this?" Xena asked her friend, again looking at the carnage below.
"By understanding that riddle." Hercules said from near by, Xena released Gabrielle and hugged Hercules.
Down on the battlefeild below, Orbirus' horse had been killed by an enemy javelin and he now stood in the blood soaked earth and fought for the sake of fighting. His injured arm was still useless to him so he fought with the other. No shield, weakened armour, but unwilling to die. He had to keep fighting, no matter what he had to keep fighting. He could not remember why, he no longer felt the urge to fight being imposed upon him, it was his choice now. He wanted kill. He withdrew his sword from another fallen enemy.
"Kill them all!" He shouted above the death screams of a hundred men.
"I still don't understand what the oracle meant." Xena admitted letting go of the half god and returning to Gabrielle's embrace.
"The oracle told us that...'As light conquers the darkness of a soul, that same light can conquer the darkness of an entire world', and that we were to look inside ourselves for the answer."
"They meant us?" Xena sounded amazed, and then thinking about it she finally understood. "Of course, after Hercules had helped me turn away from Ares, I was still unsure of myself but you..." She looked deeply at Gabrielle. "You showed me how good can overcome evil. Your love has been the light in my soul." Xena explained it more to herself that the others, then she just held Gabrielle tighter. "So that's why you brought Aphrodite here, but why hasn't she stopped them yet?" Xena looked around and finally found the goddess of love sitting on the ground looking at the on-going battle.
Orbirus heard his armour crack and felt the steel of a sword penetrate his back and push through his belly, it was not cold steel but warm. Warm with the blood of his comrades. Reaching behind him he grabbed the blade and blocking out the pain he swung round pulling the sword from the grip of his enemy.
"Die with me!" He shouted and threw himself towards the shocked soldier.
Sandear watched in disbelief as this old warrior used his impaled body as a weapon. He felt his own sword penetrate his armour and his stomach as the opposing warrior embraced him. Falling back to his death he looked up and saw the enemy alive, still unwilling to die, then all went black.
"Aphrodite what is it?" Hercules went over to his sister sensing that something was wrong.
"I don't think I can do it. You may think that love is easy and I can just wave my hands and make all these people fall in love but its not that simple. What people love is part of who they are. They are so angry and messed up with Ares' blood lust thing that only true love can bring them out of it." She was upset, lives were depending on her and she could not do what she had to. She looked at the battle raging on beneath them, watched as men were cut down and she could do nothing.
"Can we find them true love?" Gabrielle asked simply.
"There are thousands of people down there Hun, by the time we had found out what some truly loved the other half would be dead, its no use." She buried her head in her hands believing that just as Ares had failed with war she might fail with love.
"I've never really known much about love," Xena piped up, the lighter emotions had never really been Xena's forte but she had an idea. "but I know these people, I am one of them, and the one thing that I had fought for more than anything had been my home, the people I loved. Can't you use that?"
"That's it!" Gabrielle shouted. "Aphrodite can't you give them all a vision of their homes, their loved ones?" She asked.
"Yeah...Yes I can!" Aphrodite stood and looked at the progressing murder that still ravaged on. Closing her eyes she began to emit a yellow light which shone onto the battle field.
Pulling the sword from his back he fell to his knees, finally feeling the incredible pain of the wound.
"Orb? Orbirus??" A women's voice called from behind him. Turning he saw he was no longer in the battlefield, he was home kneeling beside an old plant he had watched grow since the last summer.
"Orbirus will you leave that tomato plant alone it can't take anymore attention!" The woman said to him.
"Sara... Oh Sara my beloved wife." He stood without pain or wound and wrapped his arms around his wife.
"Who else would I be." She laughed. Looking around he saw the farm he had built the crops he had planted, the cattle he had raised.
Across the battlefield the light shining from Aphrodite had enveloped every warrior. An eerie silence had spread across the land, no more swords clashed and no one cried in pain. It was as if every person on the battlefield had suddenly ceased to be there. They were all in a place known to them, a place with the ones they loved.
"Father!" A little boy shouted and ran into Orbirus' arms. "Father why won't you come home??"
"But..." He looked at his wife and child. "I am home." Suddenly he dropped to his knees in pain and was once again on the blood soaked ground of the battlefield.
"Will this work?" Xena asked Hercules, knowing he could not know the answer.
"We can only wait and see." He replied.
"I know it will work." Said the idealistic bard.
Looking up he saw his wife looking down at him.
"Orbirus why won't you come home?" She reached her hand towards him but as he reached back to grab it she vanished and all that he could see was the men he was about to slaughter, but he could not remember why.
The light slowly dissipated and Aphrodite opened her eyes, and released a tear.
"Did it work?" Her brother asked. She nodded a 'yes'.
"Then why are you crying?" Gabrielle asked.
"For everyone down there who returns to their loved ones, thousands that are already dead never will." The people on the battlefield were dropping their weapons and picking up fallen comrades, and fallen enemies. Tending to wounds and heading to their homes, going to attempt to pick up the pieces of this insanity.
Chapter 10: Epilogue
Later after hours of walking in silence Gabrielle turned to Xena.
"While I led those armies I became something that I have suppressed for years. I killed and felt pleasure in the feel of it." She admitted.
"You were under Ares' spell."
"No Gabrielle that's not it. I was evil. When I came back to myself later I was ashamed and disgusted but it reminded me that I will never be free of the Warrior Princess." Xena said turning her head ashamed to look Gabrielle in the eye.
"For every bit of warrior inside you there is a bard that loves you. Whatever darkens there is in your soul will be outshone by that. What we have just seen shows that love can conquer evil. I love you Xena and I will never let that warrior rule you while I am here." Gabrielle promised, letting a tear fall. Xena looked back at her bard.
"Gabrielle, the thought of making you ashamed of me. The thought of losing your love made me stop what I would have done. You are with me always." She put her hand against her heart. "I just hope that you will never let me think you dead again, because I want you to be with me in your all." The friends held each other for a long time. Finally breaking away smiling.
"Are you planning on going down to the under world soon?" Gabrielle asked trying to get onto a lighter subject.
"Why would I?" Xena asked unsure of the question.
"Well you did promise Hades you would fix that door." She said smiling.
"He doesn't want it fixed, he said it was too cute for the underworld." Gabrielle started laughing.
For a time after Xena and Gabrielle helped towns, villages and families come to terms with their losses, helped rebuild that which had been destroyed, and every solider that had died, every man woman and child that were slaughtered had a burial or funeral pyre. Whatever was the custom of their home. The battlefield that were smeared with blood eventually grew with fresh grass brighter than had ever been seen before. Showing as the people healed the Earth healed.
Weeks later Gabrielle was finishing writing her scroll but not wanting to end what had happened on a low note she mentioned Xena's appearance as Miss. Amphipolous a few weeks later and Gabrielle noted she had made a cute blond, but she still preferred her as she was. Looking over Gabrielle's shoulder Xena read the last lines pertaining to her, and kissed her bard knowing that without Gabrielle Xena could not be the person she is.
No fictional characters were harmed during the making of this story but one writer was throughly exhausted and a little deranged by the end.
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