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DISCLAIMERS: Let's see..Xena, Gabrielle, Callisto, Argo, and any others popping up here, (just picture Joxer-in-the-box..what a birthday present to get! Urk! *gag*) belong to MCA/Universal/Renaissance, but I'm letting them move in with me for awhile, cause it's wintertime and they're tired of sleeping outdoors. So I'm going to shamelessly use them for my own pleasure (getcha mind outta da gutta!). This story is for non-profit, of course, and no infringement of rights is meant. Also, there will be a bit of subtext in this story, unlike "A Crown of Laurel". Last warning~ Violence is present. Xena. Sword. Chakrum. Gabrielle. Staff. Enough said?
Note~ "Passage Into Darkness" is a book two of the trilogy I'm calling "The Sword of War". (I actually thought up a better name, but I fell asleep and forgot it. Doh!) I highly suggest you read "A Crown of Laurel", which is Book One of this trilogy, before even touching this one. After all, it is sorta ridiculous to read the second book in a trilogy and not the first. All I ask is that when you read "Crown" you ignore the glaring technical errors I made in Parts 1, 2, and 3. I had a hard time with the copy from my editor (our systems didn't match well) and I didn't get it right until Part 4. Picture me stupid. I'm a slow learner.
Passage Into Darkness
Evil to choose is easy, of her thou canst find thy fill;
For close she dwells beside thee, and smooth the road to ill.
But the way that leads to Goodness the Gods made full of sweat,
Long is the path, and steep, for those whose face is set
Towards her; and the start is stony. Yet once thou hast gained the height,
Although before so painful, at length it groweth light.
From "World Of Wisdom" by Hesiod of Ascra
The sand was the color of raw silk and caressed the woman's feet with its fine granules. Gentle wavelets washed unto the beach to caress listening ears. Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of Love, stretched out slowly, enjoying the cool taste of the seabreeze on her tongue, the feel of the last sun's rays and the cool breeze both warring across her immaculate skin. With a long drawn out sigh she leaned back against the pile of soft pillows and gazed out passed the blue waters of the ocean, watching as the sun majestically eased itself down into the watery depths. It was an amazing sight, and one that even this immortal woman had never taken the time, or really had the opportunity, to watch.
Ooohh, I've missed doing this. Peace. Quiet. No responsibilities. Now if only I had...ahhh yes...here they come now. The goddess smiled sensually as she felt the presence of the mortals she had chosen to spend her vacation with come near. Well, I needed someone to fetch me drinks and give me a pedicure, she thought to herself.
The goddess' eyes trailed slowly up and down the nearing bodies of the small group of men and women. From every corner of the known world she had brought them to entertain and serve her. Skin as black as ebony, pale as Selene's moon, and every shade in between. Red coppery tresses, hair the color of a raven's wing, the colors of the deep rich earth, and the shades of the fiery sun. Eyes that ranged from almost obsidian black to the sky blue color of a winter's day.
No two of the mortals were alike, but they were all some of the most beautiful of their people. Each and every one of them worshipped and willingly served the goddess that had brought them here. As they saw her look at them, each smiled joyfully, their eyes shining with adoration.
"Ahhh...you always seem to know when I need company." Aphrodite smiled as they settled around her. One plucked individual grapes from a crystal bowl and offered them from her slim fingers. Another gently caressed the goddess' small feet in his large capable hands. Yet another held a sweating glass of chilled sweet wine in case she was thirsty. All had something to offer to relax and pleasure their goddess.
"Yes, Aphrodite, but only for you." The sweet shy smile from the woman with the grapes warmed Aphrodite's heart. Gently the goddess took one of the succulent orbs upon her tongue and gave the slim fingers a soft kiss.
"You're so lovely. Now why don't you..." The blond goddess started to say, but her words trailed away as suddenly a dark wave of energy backlash passed through her. In the depths of her mind a cry of disbelief and pain could be heard, resonating. She shivered in sympathy, knowing instinctively what was happening half-way across the world. Ares?! she gasped silently, her voice unheard by her brother. As suddenly as it came, it disappeared, leaving her panting slightly. What in Hades was that?
Opening her eyes she frowned slightly at the group of people who knelt around her, their faces clearly showing their distress.
"Goddess?" the young grapebearer asked with concern.
"I'm sorry...I think my vacation has just been cut short." Aphrodite smiled sadly. Quickly she gave each one of the mortals a long sensual kiss. "Take care my lovelies," she said as she waved her hand and sent them all back to their homelands.
Sighing heavily the goddess stood and took one last look over the ocean. It'll probably be the end of time before I get another vacation. Then snapping her fingers, she disappeared all trace of her visit to the deserted isle. Resting her slim hands upon her sleek hips she surveyed her handiwork. Finding all in order she frowned slightly as she turned her mind to business.
"Now wha..." she began.
Suddenly she was driven to her knees, the darkness that crashed through her far more powerful this time, full of madness and rage. "Oh damn!!" the goddess gasped in pain, her very self reacting terribly to the darkness. It was alike...but unlike the feel of Ares. More powerful. Familiar, yet terribly alien to her. The blond goddess groaned at the discomfort, Love does not mix well with War and insanity.
A scream of triumph echoed distantly, heard only by the gods. It was not Ares, but someone else. That someone had just taken up the mantle of the God of War...or rather Goddess. I can live with Ares..but..Ow.. Aphrodite laid her hands on her head, trying to drive out the pain and the nausea. She knew who it was now and dreaded the possibilities.
On and on the wave came, until the sun was submerged deep into the water, plunging the world into night, until finally the wave ebbed, then ceased altogether.
Still trembling slightly, Aphrodite gingerly stood upon her feet again.
"Oh..This is not good. Not good at all. Callisto the Goddess of War? Daddy is not going to be happy." the blond moaned. "Ugg...I have headache."
The Goddess of Love gently placed the tips of her fingers on her temples and started rubbing them in small circles, trying to ease the dull ache. With a small sigh she started to glow, transforming into a shower of golden pink light that grew smaller until finally she disappeared.
Soon the tide rose, and the peaceful balmy waves erased the footprints of the Goddess, leaving no sign that her presence had ever been.
* * * * *
Quickly the two women ducked down through the hole, surveying their surroundings as the last bricks were replaced in the wall behind them. The darkness of the crude tunnel broken by the rapidly dimming light from the closing hole behind them and the faint glow before them.
Gabrielle held onto Xena's hand, unwilling to let go. The last few days since they had left Greece had been difficult for both of them, and looked to be not over yet. First they had to get out of Rome itself.
Feeling a gentle squeeze, the bard looked up into Xena's eyes and smiled. "Have I told you yet how glad I am to see you?"
Carefully leading the way, Xena responded, "No. But then I haven't told you either."
Gabrielle grinned to herself, the ache inside her a little lighter to bear. "Well, I am very glad to see you. Alive and well," she emphasized the last.
Xena chuckled. "Julius Caesar. The Roman Coliseum. Thousands of Roman citizens. Several Legions of soldiers. Two gods. Gladiators. Not really much to worry about," the warrior quipped, trying to make light of their situation.
The bard knew better, of course, but played along. Gods, I needed this. To be here with her. But neither one of us can fool the other. I just hope I can keep it together when we finally sit down to talk.
Her thoughts were silenced, as the two women finally reached the faint source of light. Xena, seeing a pile of supplies lit by a small lamp, left there ahead of time, immediately started digging through their supplies.
"Great! He got everything we needed. Some extra stuff also it looks like," the warrior grinned as she pulled out a small bundle and tossed it to Gabrielle. "Here change. Unless you want to wear that?" She raised an eyebrow at the bard's attire.
"Not for a moment longer."
Gabrielle quickly stripped out of the hated sheer gown. Holding up the new clothes in the light, she was surprised to find that they were of the same style that she usually wore, but of better quality. Quickly she slipped on the undergarment, then wrapped the kneelength around her, admiring the high quality forest green, almost black leather. Then she slipped on the top, the thick jade green and gold embroidered silk feeling more sensual against her skin then the hated gown that Caesar had given her. Even the boots were well made and matched her outfit.
Lacing up her footwear, she looked over to Xena. "How did you get all this down here?"
Xena heaved up a bulging sack onto her shoulders, being careful to leave her sword accessible. "I didn't. Atrius did. You ready?" The warrior looked back to the bard and handed her the other sack.
"Just about," Gabrielle grunted as she settled the heavy weight on her shoulders. "He seemed nice. Did you know him from before?"
The warrior shrugged, picked up the lantern and started to lead the way down the crude tunnel. "I trained him around the same time as Darnelle. He was better than most and didn't end up as corrupted. He doesn't hold a grudge, amazingly enough. He offered to help, I accepted. Nothing much else to it"
The pair quickly reached the end of the dug out tunnel. Xena stopped a moment at the passage they had come to, and looked at the map she held in her hand making sure she took the correct way. Gabrielle waited patiently, following as the warrior started off again.
"Different. Not crude like the tunnel." Gabrielle observed, her eyes trying to make out anything past the glow of the lantern light. Soon enough she spotted a niche in the wall, with an unexpected exhibit. Then more of the same as they walked on.
"Could I change my mind?"
"About a sewer. I...I think I'd much rather get out that way."
A brief moment of silence.
"They can't hurt you, Gabrielle."
"Well I know that! That's the whole problem."
"Look. I'm sorry, but there really wasn't another way. If I could have found one that was safe enough I'd have taken it."
"I know, it's just that...well how long do you think we will be down here?"
"Two maybe three days, depending how accurate this map is that Atrius left us."
"Two...three days..oh joy. No problem...I can survive..I hope," she mumbled the last, hoping Xena didn't hear her.
"Gabrielle? Is there a problem? Besides the obvious one that is."
"Weelll..." The bard paused a moment, then sighed deeply. "No. Nevermind. I can handle this. It's like you said, they can't hurt me. They're all dead. No problem." Another two or three days with little or no sleep...I can do this, Gabrielle thought wryly.
Xena abruptly stopped and turned, holding the lantern so she could clearly see her friend. The warrior took a good look, assessing her for the first time. After several moments she spoke. "You look like Hades, Gabrielle. Dark circles under your eyes. You look like you've lost weight and you're dragging your feet. Did they...he hurt you?" She had asked that question once before during their visit after her first fight in the arena, but Xena hadn't felt quite comfortable with Gabrielle's answer. She didn't trust Caesar.
The bard winced at the anger in Xena's voice, but knew it wasn't directed at her. "No. No one hurt me. I swear."
"How much sleep did you get?"
"Enough?" Gabrielle gave Xena a little smile.
Xena gave her a intense look and waited for Gabrielle to answer again.
"Ok. Ok. Fine," the bard threw up her hands in surrender. "I haven't slept well since the night before we left on the Jade Dolphin. There was that... umm..nightmare and..."
The dark-haired woman interrupted her. "I heard that." Her eyes soften slightly in memory.
"I know. I hope they didn't hurt you?" Gabrielle frowned slightly, still feeling guilty about the whole incident.
"Not a bit. Let's walk and talk at the same time. The further we get the sooner we will be out of here, OK?" Xena raised an eyebrow, very concerned for her friend, but also concerned for their current safety.
"Sure. Lead on." Gabrielle replied, trying to keep her eyes on Xena's back and her mind off her surroundings as they continued on. "So, how big is this place?"
"You're trying to change the subject," Xena threw over her shoulder and gave the bard a small grin.
"Do you blame me? I don't like worrying you."
"You get me worried when you don't tell me about things, Gabrielle," Xena countered, glancing down at her map again then leading them down another passage.
"Look who's talking." Gabrielle muttered, then paused a moment wondering how to continue without making Xena any more angry at Caesar. "I'm glad we got out of there today though, Caesar had some plans on using me against you...to wear you down."
Silence. Gabrielle watched the subtle signs of Xena's anger as she walked behind the warrior. The tensing of her shoulder muscles, the white knuckled grip on the lantern handle, and the silence. I hate that one most of all, she noted to herself. "Xena? It's over. He didn't touch me and we are on our way out of Rome now. Right?"
A few more moments of silence passed, until finally Xena spoke. The warrior's gaze firmly looking ahead into the gloom. "It would have worked you know. I would have gone...berserk if he would have harmed you in any way. And it would have been all my fault. My anger..my hatred for him is what brought us here," she said quietly, not looking behind her.
Gabrielle sighed, the burden of the last few days heavy again. "No it isn't. It's his. Your feelings may have blinded you momentarily in Britannia, but you were there for me when I needed you. The same goes for here. In fact Xena, though you and I both agree that people out to stand on their own two feet instead of blindly following the gods, I've come to see that we were meant to be here."
Xena stopped and looked down at her weary companion in surprise. "Meant to be here? You're saying that for some reason we were brought here, so that you could be driven close to exhaustion from little sleep and nightmares? And yes, before you ask, I know that's why you look so tired. It wasn't only that one night on the ship was it?"
She waited until Gabrielle reluctantly nodded before continuing. "And...we are here so that I can kill at the whim of the Romans?" Her eyes narrowed as she gazed into the bards green pools intensely. "So that Ares could have his hand and his head chopped off by a lunatic? So that Callisto could be the Goddess of War? You do know that don't you? That she is the Goddess of War now? Even more dangerous than before?"
Gabrielle rubbed her forehead, the tension and fatigue getting to her. "Let's not argue right now. We can talk about all this later. I'm tired and I'd say you are too. Let's get going so that we can find a less," she gave a quick look at their surroundings, "ghastly sleeping spot. We can talk then. Please."
Returning her eyes to Xena's, she put as much emotion as she could into her gaze. Her worry for both of them. Her depression. Weariness. Everything.
"Ok." The warrior pulled her close and gave her a warm hug, then turned and started down the corridor again, this time keeping an arm across Gabrielle's shoulder, neither one of them wanting the contact to end. "One thing is for sure. I dislike Rome now more than ever."
Gabrielle smiled weakly, "You aren't the only one. I don't suppose we could have a vacation?"
The two women walked together, needing the comfort of each other in the darkness of the Roman Catacombs.
* * * * *
Aphrodite made a very quick trip to Rome on her way back from the island. Still invisible to the few mortals that were left alive in the Coliseum, she walked over to her brother's mutilated body and knelt down beside it, unmindful of the blood that seeped unto her gown.
She was shocked to the core at the butchery, the Goddess of Love being unused to blood and gore, especially seeing it on another god. Feeling helpless, she gathered up the body, hand, and the remains of his head, that had exploded in the stands, and restored the corpse of Ares as much as she could. She couldn't bring him back to life, but she could restore his body in death. Then after taking Ares where he could be laid in state in one of his temples, she gladly left Rome behind.
* * * * *
The sun shone down on the vast plain like a baleful eye. Scene of countless battles, it was a monstrous graveyard where warriors from a hundred different armies had fallen in battle to be slowly reclaimed by the earth. The bones of the soil in this great expanse were made up of the real bones of men, and armor and weapons made up its mineral wealth. Water was rare here, but still the plants survived. With the amount of blood that had been spilt throughout time, surely the razor sharp grasses, thorny bushes, and black twisted trees would live for a thousand years.
Even animals lived on this plain of death. Crows and birds of prey ruled the skies, and a variety of blood red deer made the open land their home. But the true rules of the plain were the wolves. Black and huge as ponies with glowing red eyes, they preyed upon all they encountered, animal and man alike.
But even the great dire wolves whimpered and groveled before the one that was master of this expanse. Even the fiercest of predators was powerless and in awe of the Master.
The tent was huge. Made of thick black fabric to keep out the howling winds of winter, its entrance was heralded by a pathway lined with skeletons raised and propped up by wagon wheels, spikes and other implements.
Death and blood seemed almost a permanent stench around the tent. Ravens, grimmer and larger than any of their kind were silent watchers on the tops of the tent pole, sentinels to all upon the plain.
Inside was enough riches to ease even the most jaded of a warlord's tastes of greed and lust. Gold and jewels were the least of these treasures. Weapons, great and small, from nations all over the world. Swords. Crossbows. Spears. Daggers. Javelins. Enough to supply a immense army twice over.
Trophies of the vanquished prominently lined the walls as if these were more precious to their owner then any amount of gold.
In the middle of the tent was a great pit where the remains of a fire, that seemed to have been cold for ages, was watched.
A young man stood in the midst of all this, staring coldly at the ashes in the pit, his fists clenched at his side. His thoughts were dark and would have sent any mortal fleeing, but this was no mere mortal that came.
A bright flash of light heralded a new arrival to the tent and brought the dark man around, his hand automatically going to the weapon at his side.
The woman was tiny compared to him, dressed in revealing black leather, with a great mane of wild black hair that matched her jet black eyes.
Discord grimaced at Strife until he took his hand away from his sword.
"Are you insane?" the minor goddess asked.
Strife grunted and turned his back to her to once again look at the cold ashes. He did not like the small goddess, but he had worked with her for ages on behalf of Ares and respected her talents in his own way. "Insane?"
Discord reached out a slim hand and rested it on his shoulder. She forcefully turned him towards her. "You...we shouldn't be here," she said with concern.
Strife's lips peeled back in a twisted grin. "Why? You scared of her coming?"
The obsidian eyes of the goddess gleamed with malice. "No. But neither am willing to stand up to her on this ground."
His eyes closing momentarily, Strife shuddered. "I know, but I just can't believe..." He stopped, not able to say the words.
"Neither can I, and those that hold the reins of power on Olympus seem to be doing nothing about it. Though Zeus' temper is obvious for anyone to see."
"Zeus is a fool. Ares often said so." Strife growled. I should have Ares' sword if anyone. Let alone...her!"
If she disagreed with his view of who should have inherited the mantle of Ares, Discord did not express it. Instead she withdrew her hand from his shoulder. "They all are, but..."
The goddess' words were interrupted as a pulse of red and white light flashed behind them.
"Ah...children," came a woman's voice.
Discord and Strife spun, their hands drawing their weapons in an instant and their eyes wide in shock.
"Callisto!" cried Discord in disbelief.
The newest goddess and now the wielder of the Sword of War, stood before them, her blond hair cascading down upon her shoulders chaotically, her vibrant brown eyes gleaming with menace and with a light of their own.
Looking pointedly at the two drawn weapons before her, Callisto gave them a wolfish smile and waggled a slim finger at them with her left and drew her sword with the other.
"Do you really think the both of you could take me? I'd be willing to let you try if you wish." The blond goddess spread her arms leaving herself open to their weapons if they dared.
Strife's eyes narrowed. "Your an abomination!" He glanced over to Discord for support, but she kept quiet, her weapon in a defensive position.
"Abomination. Hmm...can't say that I've been called that yet. I must say you two know how to make a girl feel at home though," she said. Callisto looked around the tent that Ares had recently called home. "He doesn't...err..didn't have bad taste did he?" She winked at the two, grinning even more widely at the deep red flush rising in Strife. "With a little touch here and there of my own, I'll be more than happy to call this my...home."
Seeing Discord's thoughtful expression and Strife's struggle to contain himself, Callisto decided that she'd had enough playing around. Turning towards them fully and resting the blade of her sword against her shoulder, her expression grew serious, from playful to dangerous.
"I'm going to tell this to you once and only once. Yes, I was a mortal, then an immortal. You both knew me when I was favored," she sneered at the word, "by Ares. Then I became a goddess. Now I've taken Ares' place, his head....and all his power on top of my own. You don't have to like me...but you have to accept that I am now the Goddess of War and that I'm far stronger than Ares ever was...and far more crazy. If you think you can take me...try. But if you fail..I'll destroy you...bit by bit."
"Slowly just so I can hear you scream." The goddess' eyes gleamed wickedly. "You were two of the most powerful of Ares' cadre. You helped him create tension and disagreement between people until they raised armies against each other. All for Ares."
She tilted her head down slightly, grinning again, but far more feral. "Your now mine..or your dead. Any questions?"
At their silence, Callisto released some of the pent-up power within her and chuckled as Discord and Strife jumped, the once cold firepit at their back having erupted in flame that needed no wood to burn and never would as long as the Goddess of War claimed this tent and plain as her own.
The dark-haired goddess looked back at Callisto again, then sheathed her sword. Strife caught the motion out of the corner of his eyes and turned to her in fury.
"What are you doing?!" He demanded.
Discord's eyes met the flashing orbs of Callisto. "I'm following the power, Strife. I suggest that you do the same."
Strife was silent, only his dark eyes and his white knuckles showing his inner struggle.
"Poor Strife. So used to having Ares think for you?" Callisto asked. "Just make up your mind..I've got plans to implement. I've only just begun to have fun." The blond goddess feigned boredom and yawned, her eyes still twinkling in merriment.
The dark god sheathed his sword violently. "Fine, but this isn't over."
"I wouldn't have it any other way." Callisto threw back her head and cackled maniacally.
* * * * *
The altar, made of a huge single piece of ebony black marble, drew all attention in the vast room. Nothing else in the temple of Mars was as spectacular or as prominent. Weapons of every type, shields to please any warrior, suits of armor of all kinds lined the walls, but none could draw the eye away from Mars' altar..and its burden.
The High Priest of strode slowly up to the ebony slab. He was an older man, far past his prime, but could still hold his own in practice bouts. Like all of Mars' priests, the man had been a warrior and though he knew the next battle would more than likely bring his death, he would go gladly knowing he had served Mars well.
Reaching the edge of the altar he stopped and bowed stiffly, then rising up again he paused suddenly unsure of himself.
Laying upon the cold marble was the body of Ares, known to the Romans as Mars, cold and pale in death. His head and right hand had been reattached to his body and his muscular form cleaned and dressed in fresh leathers. The priest had recognized the goddess who had brought the deceased god's body here, but he had been rather surprised about it. Venus and Ares where not known to have gotten along well.
For the first time since his birth long ago, the god looked tranquil. The priest sighed. It is said only children and the dead sleep so peacefully, but I wonder if he is at peace now? This shell doesn't hold his soul. His spirit has flown or I would sense it. Could he have gone on to the Underworld? Passed the Great Gates? Does he now stand before his uncle in judgment?
The questions remained unanswered and finally the man turned and walked away.
* * * * *
Sighing softly, Aphrodite appeared in her private quarters, solely in need of some quiet before she faced her father. She knew that already Zeus' temper was in full swing, just by the violent weather that surrounded Mt. Olympus, most of Greece, and a good portion of the capital of the Roman Empire. It had been a long time since she'd seen her father this upset, but in this case she didn't blame him.
Quickly changing out of her blood soaked garment, she stood there debating whether to actually take a long hot bath or just will the gore away. The goddess felt drained, unsure of what to do about anything, let alone her appearance. She was the Goddess of Love. Powerful, yes. But her powers dealt with the heart. Passion, desire, longing, and heartache being her weapons of choice. Not steel and blood.
The blond goddess whirled about in surprise, her heart started pounding wildly at the familiar voice. "Callisto?"
The new Goddess of War leaned up against the far wall of Aphrodite's chambers and eyed the other woman curiously. "Aren't you a bit...chilly?" Callisto grinned evily.
Aphrodite actually blushed, though she tried not to show it, and willed the blood away and a new gown upon her body. I can't let her intimidate me. This upstart... The goddess stopped that thought, she knew that though this goddess was still new to the ranks of Mt. Olympus, that Callisto was far more devious, and now more powerful, than anyone had given her credit for.
Covering her discomfort, Aphrodite smiled sensually and posed, putting her slim hands on her hips. "Congratulations are in order I hear."
"Hmm..yes. Ares just wasn't doing a good enough job in my opinion, so I decided to take a chance and get ahead in the game." Callisto giggled at her own joke, then winked when she saw the frozen smile on the other goddess' face.
"And what game would that be?" Aphrodite asked, trying to be nonchalant, but knowing it wasn't working. The very presence of the other woman putting a strain on her. That darkness that Ares used to emit, was far more powerful now, and made it hard for Aphrodite to concentrate. Her own aura of sexuality and love wasn't making a dent in the other goddess' madness.
"Now that is a good question. What do I have planned?" Callisto tilted her head to the side, as she removed herself from the wall and started walking around the room, absently touching a random object or two. "Well...I'll let everyone find out together...as it happens. I hate to spoil a surprise. But..I'm sure you're wondering why I'm here?" The blond goddess turned and gave Aphrodite a quick grin.
"Actually..." The Goddess of Love started to say, but was interrupted.
"Good. Let me see...oh yes." Callisto walked up to Aphrodite and stood in front of her. "Zeus is angry, this I already know...and expected. He's going to want to kill me, but unfortunately he can't. Oh..not that your daddy isn't capable...we've all heard of the old man's exploits against the Titans when he was much younger, but that isn't what I'm saying. He can't touch me...he can plot, yell, and storm about, but he can't touch me. Do you want to know why?"
Aphrodite paused and considered the words. I don't think she's totally wrong...but at the same time, she's underestimating Zeus. He's not King of the Gods for nothing. "Go ahead."
Callisto smiled, her eyes partially closing as she leaned closer to the other goddess. "He needs me. He needs a God..or in this case, Goddess of War, and there is no one to take my place. Besides, just like him and his father, I took Ares fair and square. In front of witnesses even. I made sure of it. All according to plan."
Her smile turned predatory, making Aphrodite shiver. "And you know what else? I enjoyed myself immensely."
"You're getting off the subject Callisto. What do you want with me? Besides gloating that is."
"Patience...I guess you needed a little more time on that vacation don't you?" the goddess quipped.
Aphrodite was silent, waiting for Callisto to continue.
"All right...as I was saying, Zeus is very upset. Now, he can't kill me, but he will plot against me with the other gods. It would be a shame for him to find out one of his beloved daughters is partially responsible for Ares death now wouldn't it?" Callisto's eyes burned into Aphrodite's, challenging her to deny it.
Oh my...this is not good, Aphrodite thought to herself. A cold wave washed through her. Fear. It was an unknown emotion to her, the Goddess of Love having never felt afraid in her entire life. Uncertain, yes. Dread, yes. But never fear. And at that moment, looking into Callisto's eyes and seeing the dark madness, rage, and hatred that dwelt there, Aphrodite felt fear.
Callisto laughed, a shrill cry that echoed in the room, causing Aphrodite to shudder. "Blackmail. Such a fun word. I tend to like butcher, bloodthirsty, and destroy more, but blackmail is nice too. And yes dear, I am blackmailing you, but then...when I came to you, you didn't bother to find out why I wanted your help, so you get what you deserve."
Aphrodite grimacing, wishing at that moment that she could slap the young goddess and get away with it. She probably could, Aphrodite doubted the goddess would dare kill another god so soon, but then Zeus would find out that she had inadvertently helped Callisto against Ares, and that would not be a good thing. Zeus and Ares might have been at each other's throats for eons, but that didn't mean he wasn't a proud father, and protective of his power. Callisto taking the mantle of War threatened that power now.
"What do you want me to do?" Aphrodite asked in defeat. And to think that when this day began, I was happy. I should have known it wouldn't last.
"Do? Well...I have a few things in mind." The Goddess of War grinned as she saw the look of worry that Aphrodite quickly hid. "Don't worry dear, nothing major. I just need you to help Xena."
* * * * *
Xena stretched out her leg, trying to shake out the stiffness before a cramp set in. Satisfied, she gazed into the darkness past the low glow of the lantern, feeling uneasy about their surroundings, but trusting her senses which told her they were alone.
Her eyes swept their small camp, gliding over to Gabrielle's still form laying next to her and stopping there. The warrior sighed quietly as she watched the bard's eyes flicker rapidly under her eyelids. They had talked for candlemarks, as they rested and ate before Gabrielle had finally fallen asleep from exhaustion. Xena had hoped her friend would pass out sooner, but their surroundings made her nervous and kept her awake. Unfortunately being awake meant that the bard had talked...and made Xena talk.
Sometimes traveling with a bard is really annoying. Xena rolled her eyes good-naturedly at her slumbering friend, then frowned as her thoughts turned to their talk. I don't know if I quite believe in Distra's visions, but Gabrielle seems pretty affected by them. Even more guilt on her soul that I'm responsible for.
Xena had actually told the bard that, and had been stunned at the almost violent response from her friend.
"You can't take responsibility for my actions, Xena! You should know that by now. I told Brutus those words, not you. Your not responsible for us being here. You weren't responsible for...for the temple in Britannia. You aren't responsible for Hope," Gabrielle had stumbled over that part, Xena feeling the pain that her friend felt for her child's death.
"Aren't I?" Xena had countered. "As a friend...aren't I supposed to be there. Help you? I wasn't there to help you when you needed it most, and yet it was my past that brought you there each time. Putting you in danger. Putting you in those situations."
Gabrielle had looked into Xena's blue eyes for a long moment, the frustration of not getting through to her friend evident. "I care for you Xena, but let me say this. I don't take your responsibility when you kill...I don't blame myself when you call Ares' na..." The bard had suddenly stopped, thinking about what she said. After a moment she sighed, and lowered her eyes, but not without Xena having seen a tear run down her cheek. "We do hold ourselves responsible don't we...for each others pain, even when we know we can't possibly be to blame?"
Xena hadn't had much of an answer for that, but now, as she watched Gabrielle sleep, she knew the bard was right. Both of them, cared so much for the other, that they tended to try and help shoulder the others burdens.
She's so much a part of me...if...if she hadn't been here, even separated like we were, I don't think I'd have survived. That dark part of me that still belongs to Ares... Xena froze, her eyes no longer seeing Gabrielle, but instead focused inward. That dark part of her was still there, almost like a thick oozing cord of hate, anger, bloodlust, triumph, and everything else that was the wargod, was still intact. That can't be. I saw him die.
Xena frowned as she closed her eyes, willing herself to slightly loosen the tight control she had over herself and that shadow part of her. I've got to see if...
The warrior's thoughts ceased as the flood of dark emotions cascaded over her, sending her into a dark spiraling whirlpool. Her back arched as she bit back a soundless scream, her eyes darkening to an almost deep sapphire in the low light.
Down into madness.
Taste the thick blood on your lips, came a low sensuous voice in her head.
Feel it...slick, yet sticky on your hands, covering them in crimson.
Taste it..you want too..you have to..it's what you live for.
It calls you, when you're on a battlefield. Why resist? You tasted it in Caesar's Coliseum and enjoyed every moment of it, though you tried to deny it. I know...I was there, the voice taunted her.
Xena...pick up your sword.
Growling Xena stood slowly, a part of her fighting against the seductive voice, but the voice...the emotions were too strong, drowning her. Picking up her scabbard, she drew her sword and she took a step back into the darkness, feeling it wrap comforting arms around her.
Yes, Xena. Darkness...madness...you are mine, the voice insisted, Forever..."
Suddenly a familiar noise broke through that thick shadowed wall before Xena's eyes and mind. A whimper. A very familiar whimper, that broke the hold that was over the warrior like a shattered piece of steel.
Panting slightly, Xena forced the darkness back, controlling it and herself with an almost animalistic ferocity. Then sheathing her sword and dropping the scabbard where she had placed it before, she knelt beside Gabrielle.
Gently she pulled the bard to her and caressed her face.
The bard's whimpers turned into twitches and moans, as her nightmare quickly progressed.
Usually when Xena tried to comfort Gabrielle when she was having nightmares, the woman would calm down, and either wake up confused in Xena's arms, or drift back into a more pleasant sleep. This nightmare though didn't seem to be affected by Xena's presence as usual.
"Damn. Gabrielle, come on...wake up," Xena whispered softly to the bard as her concern grew.
The now thrashing and screaming woman was becoming more and more difficult to hold onto, even for Xena. Frustrated at her inability to help her, Xena just held on for dear life and tried to wake her.
With a final long drawn out scream, Gabrielle pulled violently away from Xena's arms, her eyes wide open and unseeing as she screamed into the darkness, "XEEEENNNNNNAAA!!!"
Wrapping herself around the trembling woman, Xena held her close once again. "Shh..it's ok. I'm here, Gabrielle. It was just a nightmare. Shh..." For long time, the two lay there, Gabrielle sobbing in Xena's arms as she trembled from the terrible dream, unable to talk, only able to clutch desperately to the woman holding her.
Finally the bard feel asleep, her arms still wrapped tightly around Xena. Sighing, the warrior gave the woman in her arms a wry smile and lay down, being careful not to wake Gabrielle. Gently brushing back the honey gold hair from her friend's face, Xena closed her eyes suddenly very weary. Nightmares for her and darkness for me. Gods I hate Rome, the warrior thought silently as she slowly drifted off to sleep.
A dark chuckle echoed deep within her mind unheard by the slumbering woman.
To be continued in "Passage Into Darkness" Part Two
comments are welcome
The style..or feel of writing this story has changed a bit (you may have noticed it..or not). I say this is because, the story has changed, becoming more dark in Part Five of "A Crown of Laurel". Although I tried to keep the same time of "feel" that the first part of this trilogy had, I found it impossible and so continued to write as I deemed the story's emotion to lead me. (Yes..stories do tend to have a sense of life to them, IMHO, and their emotions effect what I type. I'm odd..what can I say. Hey...at least the computer doesn't talk back to me. Much.)
Also, for those of you who might be interested, I'd like to explain why I'm including subtext in this story, whereas before in "A Crown of Laurel" there was none. Crown was my first endeavor into the world of writing fanfiction, and at the time I didn't feel comfortable writing at all, let alone including within the story the feelings that some of believe the warrior and the bard have for each other. When I finished Part 5 of Crown, I took a long break and got several ideas for short stories that I just had to get out of my system. (Still haven't gotten it all out yet...but that's the addiction for ya.*G*) As I wrote some of these stories, I grew more self confident and slowly included subtext, bit by bit, in the stories. Now, starting Passage, I feel much more comfortable writing subtext,(though not totally..I'm kinda shy that way.) and feel that the plot I'm playing with could use a little of it. It won't be explicit in anyway (I don't feel the story needs this...not that I couldn't do it, but I don't want to in this one.), so fans of general fiction can hopefully still enjoy this.
Anyway...enough of my babble. Stay tuned for Part Two. A couple of short stories will be coming out before it will, but don't worry I won't wait two months this time before getting Part Two out;}
Death is our evil. The gods believe this,
or else by now they would be dead.
Warlord in training
Catcher of wild Katiepults
"Bard? Where? *Rude noise* Go away, I'm just here having fun." ;}
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