Aftermath

By: Sparrow

Timeline: After the events of “A Friend in Need” parts one and two

Characters: Xena, Ares, Gabrielle, Hercules, Aphrodite all belong to Renaissance Pictures. Just using them for this story.

History: Our duo was frozen for 25 years, but there is no EVE…NO Twilight….

Synopsis: Gabrielle returns to Greece to tell their friends what happened in Japa.

Lyrics: “Remember me this Way,” sung by Jordan Hill, off the “Casper” soundtrack.

Comments: Send em to sparrownightmare@hotmail.com

Now, onto the story


************************************************

Gabrielle could feel the penetrating stares of the villagers follow her as she walked wearily towards the ship, her precious cargo safely stowed away in the pack now hanging from her shoulder. As Gabrielle slowly neared the ship, her right hand brushed against the chakram, which now rested on her hip. Just another one of many painful reminders to her that Xena was gone and not coming back. Although it still felt somewhat odd hanging on her hip, the weight of the chakram also felt strangely comforting to the grieving warrior. Besides the ashes she carried reverently in the small jar, it was one of the few things she had left that was uniquely Xena’s.

Pushing aside her reverie, Gabrielle boarded the ship and headed to the small cabin that the captain had graciously given her. Ignoring the stares she received from the crew, as she walked down into the holds of the vessel, Gabrielle didn’t stop until she reached the small cabin, stepped inside and closed the door. Carefully laying down Xena’s, no her pack now, she tucked it safely into the corner of the bed. After placing her sais on the small table, Gabrielle looked back at the pack, being somewhat hesitant to open it, not wanting the painful memories to overwhelm her again, but knowing she had to look at contents of the pack.

Taking a deep breath, Gabrielle pulled the pack from its current resting place and onto her lap. Carefully untying the laces holding the pack closed, Gabrielle felt the tears welling up in her eyes and let them fall unchecked as she slowly lifted the first item out of the pack and placed it on the table.

Xena’s armor glistened in the candlelight as Gabrielle laid it carefully on the table, shortly followed by the matching grieves, armbands and back armor. Next came Xena’s leather battle dress, which Gabrielle had worn on one occasion so many years ago. Gabrielle continued examining the contents of the pack, fondly revisiting old memories, until she came to the bottom of the pack. Resting at the bottom, in two pieces, was Xena’s sword and several items Gabrielle had never seen before. One of them was a scroll that had been sealed carefully with wax, a small wooden box and a key.

Her natural curiosity got the better of her as she took the scroll out and opened it. It was in Xena’s handwriting

Gabrielle,

If you are reading this, then something must have happened to me and there are a few things, which I need to tell you

First, You are the best friend that anyone could have ever had. You saved me from myself and managed to turn a tired, defeated spirit into someone who learned to believe in herself and what needed to be done. And I will love you forever for that.

Second, Don’t stop living because I am not there beside you anymore in body. Y0u have so much to give Gabrielle, so much to teach others. Don’t’ let that spirit of yours go, ever. Remember this, Gabrielle; even in death I will never leave you. Nothing can ever take that away.

Finally, there are a few things that need to be dealt with. I think you know what they are.

I want you to take care of Argo for me. You are the only one I can truly trust to take care of her. She really does like you, you know.

The box you’ve found by now contains the amulet that was given to me by Ares when I was made his Chosen. I ask that you take it and return it to him. I know it won’t be easy for you, especially given the history you have with him, but please do this task for me.

The key at the bottom of this pack is to a locked box I’ve kept in Corinth. When you go there, go to the palace and show them the key. Hercules will know where to take you. I know you’re probably wondering what’s in there, but trust me on this one. You’ll find out soon enough and there will be another message waiting for you there.

Xena

Gabrielle smiled brightly, despite the tears coursing down her face as she read the scroll. Brushing aside the tears with one hand, Gabrielle carefully opened the small box and looked at the amulet inside. It was breathtakingly beautiful, designed much like Ares’ own amulet. A solid piece of black onyx carefully inlaid with silver ram’s horns and runes. Picking up the amulet, Gabrielle briefly felt the power that was attached to it and carefully placed it back in the box, closing the lid.

‘How am I going to tell them, Xena? How do I tell Ares, Hercules and the others that you are dead?”

Sobs racked Gabrielle’s weary frame as she carefully packed away the precious items on the table. Clutching the bag tightly to her, Gabrielle gave into her grief again and cried herself to sleep as the ship started the month long voyage back to Greece.

Looking out from the palace window in Corinth, Hercules had sensed that something was wrong for almost a moon now. But, being just a demi-god, he didn’t have all the senses full gods had, but nonetheless even he knew something was wrong.

“My Lord, is there something wrong?”

Hercules turned around to face his addresser. He still was not used to being called Lord or King, but had accepted the throne at Iphicles’ request several years ago. Time, and being a demi-god had been somewhat kind to him, for he had aged very slowly.

“I know something is wrong, Dara. But I just can’t place it. It’s like a part of me; a very important part of my life is just suddenly gone. “

Hercules turned as he sensed the telltale presence of a god’s arrival. He smiled to himself as Aphrodite stepped out of the ether in a flash of pale pink light, clothed in her usual attire of barely anything. He was a bit puzzled at the confused expression on her face and took this as confirmation of his earlier suspicions.

“What is it Dite? What’s wrong?”

“So you’ve sensed it too? Everyone on Olympus is aware of something wrong down here. I don’t know what’s wrong. But the balance on the mortal plane has changed somehow. Something is very definitely wrong. “

“Is there anything that you can do to find out?”

“I’ve tried, bro, believe me. I just don’t know what’s wrong. But, I know someone who might be able to find out.”

Hercules looked at his sister as he realized whom she might be speaking of. And while the mere thought of talking to his half- brother riled him, Hercules also knew that Aphrodite was probably right in her assumption.

“You want me to call Ares, don’t you.”

“Chill, babe. You and I both know, if something was really, really wrong, he’d be the one to talk to.”

“For once, I actually agree with you. I can’t believe I’m really going to do this, but will you go with me, Dite?”

“Yeah, no problem, bro. Shall I transport us?” Aphrodite appeared ready to transport them both to Ares’ temple in Thrace, but Hercules stopped her with a wave of his hand.

“Let’s try his temple here first. If we can’t contact him there, then take me to his temple in Thrace.

“Sure, bro. Shall we?”

Hercules took his sister’s hand and they walked out of the palace and to Ares’ temple.

Ares was reclining lazily in his throne in his Thracian temple, only half-heartedly listening to the fervently whispered declarations of one of his lesser minions, his thoughts more centered on several small skirmishes currently going on near Athens. Ares had been experiencing a vague, but growing feeling of foreboding for over a moon now. As he reclined in his throne, the feeling of foreboding changed rapidly to fear as became acutely aware of something very wrong on the mortal plane.

Now completely ignoring the ramblings of this minion, he cast all of his senses outward, in hopes of determining the cause of whatever was wrong. Not even his well-trained senses could precisely determine the nature of the problem. All he could tell was that it was very serious, serious enough to attract the attention of the gods, him specifically.

His minion, noticing, for the first time, that his sacrifice and prayers of devotion were not being fully acknowledged, stood up and muttered as he left.

‘Lord Ares doesn’t care for any of us since he lost his precious Xena.’

At the mention of Xena’s name, the source of the unnatural disturbance became instantly and painfully clear as the full force of what was wrong came crashing down on him. His bond with Xena was gone, having been severed completely somehow and that could mean only one thing. Ares’ hands grabbed at his head as he sank to the floor of his temple, screaming two words over and over “ XENA…NOOOOOOO”

***********************************************

Gabrielle watched as the ship sailed into the Aegean, and she could faintly make out the outlines of her homeland in the distance. ‘Not much longer now’ she thought, tucking her coat in a bit closer. On the nearly month long voyage home, Gabrielle had spent much of her time while shipboard, staring out at the water, her hands idly tracing the patterns of the chakram now hanging at her side. Since leaving Japa, Gabrielle had adopted a few more items of her Amazon status to her outfit, taking a great deal of comfort in their familiarity. Most notably, she had unpacked her Queen’s mask, along with the intricate metal and leather arm piece that now covered her right arm from shoulder to wrist and the headband indicating her rank as an Amazon Queen.

The crew of the vessel had, for the most part left her alone during the long trip back to Greece; even they could sense that she was in some kind of great, unfathomable pain. Gabrielle had spent countless hours on the main deck of the ship, practicing with her Sais and the sword she now carried; having picked it up at one of the ports the ship had stopped at to pick up provisions. It was about the size of Xena’s blade, but exceedingly sharp and surprisingly lightweight. The sword rested in the same sheath that had once held Xena’s blade.

Gabrielle turned to face the man who had come up to stand beside her.

“Miss, we’ll be landing in Corinth in a couple more hours providing the wind holds. Is there anything else that I can do for you?”

“No, Captain. Your crew has been very polite and the private cabin has been exactly what I needed. Thank you for your patience. “

The captain of the vessel turned and walked away from Gabrielle and back towards the helm of the ship. Casting a glance back towards the young woman alone at the rail, he thought to himself ‘I hope you find peace, young one. ‘

Just as Hercules and Aphrodite were about to enter Ares’ temple, a scout came running up to them, shouting

“My lord, an army is fast approaching from the south. They just appeared out of nowhere “

Hercules snarled in anger, fully believing his brother had something to do with this sudden threat. Temporarily ignoring his sister, he turned to the scout and asked

“How long til they arrive?”

“Approximately two hours, my lord. “

“Do they carry any kind of banners?”

“Yes, my lord. It appears to be banners of Athena.”

Both Hercules and Aphrodite looked at each other, stunned; each of them believing for a moment, that it was Ares’ army currently marching on Corinth.

“Athena? What is her problem here? Corinth has always welcomed all the gods. Why start now?”

“ I don’t know bro. Sis has had her panties in a bunch ever since Xena kicked the crap out of her on Olympus a few months ago. But why now?”

“Simple, sister dear.” Athena said, appearing in front of the both of them in a flash of golden light. ” Because Xena helped you save the throne, Hercules. And now couldn’t be a more perfect time. Ha ha ha ha.”

Aphrodite and Hercules stared at the spot Athena had just vacated, both of them puzzling over her last cryptic comment.

“Come on, we really need Ares right now. “

Their resolve now firm, Hercules and Aphrodite walked up the steps and into the temple of Ares

As Hercules and Aphrodite entered Ares’ Corinth temple, they passed by various worshippers offering sacrifices and numerous priests and priestesses attending to their various duties. Ignoring the stares they both were receiving, they didn’t stop until they had reached the heavy wood and iron door leading to Ares’ private quarters. Stopping just short of the door, both of them noticed the many battle tapestries lining the walls, all of which depicted a battle Xena had been in, and when they came to the door leading to Ares’ private chambers, they noticed the intricate carvings on the door, which matched the patterns on Xena’s armor.

“ I always knew he had a real thing for her, but this is a lot more than I ever expected.” Hercules commented as they studied the best way to open the heavy door.

“I’ll let you in on a secret, bro. Ares cares more for Xena than his own life. He will never admit openly to this of course, but Ares truly loves Xena and if anything’s happened to her, I don’t know what he’ll do.”

Both of them tried in vain to open the heavy door, each of them meeting with no success.

“Well, that was a waste of time, what do you suggest, Dite?”

“ Why don’t we try the main altar room. “

Hercules proceeded back to the altar room and noticed with some relief that the worshippers seemed to have left. Walking to the altar, Hercules placed both hands upon it and called out

“Ares….”

When Ares didn’t appear after Hercules’ call, Aphrodite was extremely worried. In the past, whenever Hercules had called him, Ares had always appeared less than a second later. Closing her eyes, Aphrodite called out to her brother.

“Ares, it’s Dite. We’re in your Corinth temple. We really need to talk to you.”

After what seemed like forever, Ares appeared in a flash of dull blue light. Both Hercules and Aphrodite stared at him, shocked at his appearance. There before the two of them stood not the fearsome God of War, but a broken man on the verge of collapse. Hercules jumped forward and caught his brother as he slowly slid to the floor mumbling almost incoherently

“…. Can’t feel her…. She’s gone… I can’t feel her….”

Aphrodite and Hercules exchanged glances as Hercules settled Ares into a sitting position, his back to the altar.

“How long has he been like this, sis?”

“I don’t know, Hercules.”

Hercules knelt beside Ares, concern plainly evident on his face.

“Ares, what is it? What’s wrong?”

Ares looked up at them, the tears long since dried on his face. Making no effort to stand, he replied in a soft, broken voice,

“Can’t you tell? “

“No, Ares. All I know is something’s really wrong on the mortal plane and Athena’s army is marching on Corinth. “

At the mention of Athena’s name, Ares seemed to perk up just a bit. Forcing himself to a standing position, he looked at them, his normal appearance having suddenly taken hold and asked, his voice low and menacing

“Athena?”

“She said something about this being the perfect time and then left.”

A look of darkest rage appeared on Ares’ face and the rage seemed to spark a fire in his eyes. Turning to look at his brother, Ares replied wearily

“You came to ask for my help?”

“Actually, bro. We came to see if you knew what’s going on, but then we were informed about Athena’s army just outside of Corinth. “ Aphrodite replied

“Very well. If Athena’s army is here, Hercules, you will need my help. The Corinthian Army is well trained, but somewhat small.” Closing his eyes for a moment, Ares opened them and continued. “All right, Hercules. My army is now waiting along the northern perimeter of the city. I will lead them in this; they won’t take orders from you, Hercules. I suggest that you mobilize your archers and place them along the southern and eastern walls. “

Ares turned to leave, but was stopped by Aphrodite.

“Why Ares? Why help Hercules like this?”

“I once made a promise to my Chosen, sis. I honor the promises I made to her. That bitch sister of ours is going down, once and for all.”

Without another word, Ares turned and vanished from the temple, his demeanor suddenly all business. Staring at the retreating form of his brother, Hercules said

“Something’s happened to Xena. That has to be it. It’s the only reason he’s helping us at all.”

“But what’s happened?” Aphrodite asked

“I don’t know, sis. Something that I guarantee you neither of us is going to like. “

************************************************

As the ship reached the docks of Corinth several hours later, Gabrielle noticed the army marching on the city and under the banners of a god no less. ‘Which one this time?’ Gabrielle thought wearily. Studying the banners of both sides, Gabrielle noticed that the attacking army was marching under the banners of Athena and more surprisingly, the defenders were under Ares’ banner.

A quick check reassured Gabrielle that all her weapons were in their proper places as she ran down the gangplank towards the stables where they had boarded Argo before leaving. As she entered the stables she grabbed Argo’s tack off the shelf and hurried to the mare’s stall. As soon as Gabrielle entered Argo’s stall the mare turned her head and looked at Gabrielle, gently nuzzling her.

“You know, don’t you, Argo. You know she’s gone. “

Argo shook her head once as if agreeing with Gabrielle then looked at the tack in Gabrielle’s hands, and then looked towards her back. Gabrielle smiled briefly then quickly and efficiently saddled Argo. Leading the mare out of the stables, Gabrielle swung up into the saddle, pulled on her feather mask and headed towards the battle raging just outside the gates of Corinth.

By the time the remainder of Athena’s forces had reached the gates of Corinth, the battle had been raging for several hours, each side not wanting to give the other an inch. Athena had believed this to be an easy victory having not only spent months planning this assault, but having massed her army in secret and transporting them so close to Corinth just before the battle. What the goddess had not expected when she formulated this plan was the sudden appearance of Ares’ army with him commanding his forces and fighting along side his often reviled, half-brother Hercules and the Corinthian army.

As she watched the battle progress, she noticed that her forces were slowly losing ground to the combined armies of Ares and Hercules. Catching a glimpse of her brother’s face, Athena briefly recoiled in fear. Never in all of her eons of existence had she seen the expression currently on her brother’s face. Ares, by the nature of his position as the God of War, was cold and completely ruthless in battle, but this was something else. An expression that was far more dark and dangerous than she’d ever seen was firmly etched on his features. Athena watched numbly as he cut a wide swath of death and destruction through her elite forces in a direct line towards her position.

Steeling her resolve, Athena nodded toward the trees, and then strode forward to meet Ares in battle, grim determination on her face.

As their swords struck, sparks flew everywhere as the combatants drew close.

“So it finally comes to this, brother dear. “

“So it does, Athena. So it does.” Ares replied, his voice utterly cold and devoid of all emotion.

Aphrodite watched the face off between Athena and Ares from a relatively safe distance, knowing all too well, that this showdown was inevitable. With Zeus and Hera both currently incommunicado, the goddess of love feared that only one of her siblings would be walking away from this battle. She also feared for Ares’ sanity upon catching a good look at the expression on his face.

As she watched her brother and sister fight, Athena’s cryptic comment became instantly clear.

‘She knows what happened. Sis knows what happened to Xena. ‘

Aphrodite was about to flash between them when she caught a glimpse of metal high in a tree and pointed directly at her brother’s back.

Just as she opened her mouth to warn him, a whirring, screeching sound ricocheted off the castle’s outer wall and cut the arrow the archer had sent in half and sent the archer falling to the ground, the body rolling to a stop at Athena’s feet.

Both Athena and Ares looked down at the body, and then back at each other, their swords locked together, blocking each other’s blows.

“No, it can’t be. It’s not possible. “ Athena muttered

“What’s not possible Athena? Your little plan to kill me? “ Ares replied, disentangling his sword from Athena’s

“Anything is possible, Athena. “ A voice from behind her replied.

Ignoring her brother for the moment, Athena turned around and found herself face to face with a chakram. Xena’s chakram.

Ares stepped to the side to see who had managed to capture Athena’s attention, only to have his worst fears confirmed.

“Hello, Gabrielle.”

Hercules watched with relief as the few remaining members of Athena’s troops withdrew from Corinth, none of them having been prepared for fighting the army personally trained by Ares. Having noticed the battle raging between Ares and Athena, Hercules almost missed the archer carefully hidden in the tree, who was taking careful aim at Ares’ back.

Just as he was about to call out a warning, Hercules was nearly knocked to the ground as a familiar cream-colored warhorse thundered past him, the rider’s features obscured by a leather cape and feathered mask. He watched as the chakram flew from the rider’s grasp, splitting into two parts, each part ricocheting off the castle wall, one part angling to cut the archer’s arrow and the second part eliminating the archer and finally flying back to it’s owner’s grasp intact.

Hercules watched as the rider effortlessly slid down from the warhorse and stopped a mere foot from Athena’s back, the chakram never wavering in the rider’s grip. The color slowly drained from Hercules’ face as the rider pushed back the feather mask and spoke

“Anything is possible, Athena.”

Hercules’ worst fears were confirmed as he recognized the voice of the masked rider. If Gabrielle was in possession of the chakram, then something very bad must have happened to Xena. Issuing a signal to the captain of the Corinthian army, Hercules quickly reached Gabrielle’s side and stood beside her.

Athena stared at the chakram, poised just mere inches from her throat. Not moving, she turned her attention to its wielder, letting her eyes travel up and down the warrior. A hint of fear made it’s way across the back of the goddess’ mind as she studied the expression on the wielder’s face. Green eyes blazed at her, filled with a combination of fire, hatred and utter loss.

“Back so soon, Gabrielle, is it?”

“Leave Athena. Now. “

“And who do you think you are, little amazon.”

“Your death, if you stay.”

“The chakram can’t hurt me, since Xena fused it. You have nothing that can hurt me, bitch.”

“Look down.”

Athena looked down to find a dagger less than a hair’s width from her stomach. The goddess’ eyes widened as she identified the bloodstain on the weapon.

“You wouldn’t dare….”

“Wouldn’t I? You set her up, didn’t you, bitch. You knew if she went to Japa she wouldn’t come back. “

“So what if I did. There’s nothing you can do about it now. Tell me, Gabrielle. What was it like to find her the way you did in that samurai’s camp?”

Athena watched as the expression on Gabrielle’s face darkened further. Determined to make all those suffer, Athena continued

“How many arrows was there, Gabrielle? Six, seven, eight perhaps? Oh, and what did you say to that samurai? ‘You’re not a samurai, you are a fraud’ was that it?”

Athena looked as if she was about to continue, but her eyes suddenly rolled up in her head and she slumped to the ground unconscious.

“Bitch. She had that one coming.”

Aphrodite stepped forward innocently and dropped the hammer she had used on Athena, and then motioned with a finger as chains appeared, thoroughly binding the unconscious goddess. Turning to face Gabrielle, Aphrodite said

“Can you tell us what happened?”

Gabrielle’s eyes traveled around the group, finally settling back on Aphrodite, as she secreted the dagger and settled the chakram back on her side.

“Not here.”

Looking back to where Argo stood patiently, Gabrielle nodded and the warhorse came trotting forward quickly, nuzzling her.

“Let’s go to the palace.”

Hercules, Ares and Aphrodite watched as Gabrielle mounted Argo and headed off in the direction of the royal stables. Ares, Hercules and Aphrodite were weary from the battle and the confirmation of their worst fears, they followed slowly behind her.

After making sure that Argo was safely nestled in the royal stables, Gabrielle trudged wearily to the throne room, sinking deep into one of the chairs, the pack carefully tucked beside her.

A few moments later, the doors opened and admitted the king of Corinth and two gods, all of whom looked emotionally exhausted. Sitting down heavily in the throne, Hercules dismissed the guards, looking over at Gabrielle with sad, compassionate eyes.

Seeing the confused expression on her companion’s faces, Gabrielle cleared her throat and began slowly, her voice soft and clear.

“It all started several months ago. Xena and I had made camp for the night and were about to turn in when we felt that we were being watched. Xena ducked out and picked up our spy and brought him into camp. He said he was a monk from Japa. He then told us he had a message for Xena from Akemi. “

“Who is Akemi?”

“Someone from Xena’s time with Borias when she was in the east. Akemi was supposedly being held for ransom by some warlord in Japa. Xena had heard about the reward for her return and decided that she would be the one to get the reward. After ‘rescuing’ the girl from her captors, she begged Xena to teach her.”

“Teach her what?”

“How to fight. More specifically, Akemi begged Xena to teach her the ‘pinch’ after seeing how effective it was. Although Xena was somewhat reluctant at first, she eventually taught it to her. Akemi also told Xena about a sacred sword, a katana. “

“What’s a katana?” Hercules asked

“It’s a samurai’s special sword. “ Ares replied

“To continue. After Xena had obtained the sword, she traveled with Akemi back to her father’s house. “

“Was her father happy to see her?”

“I don’t know. Before Xena could stop her, Akemi jumped forward and immobilized her father with the pinch. Akemi stared into her father’s face as he died, and said that she was avenging her mother, brothers and sisters by killing him.”

“How did Xena react?”

“She felt utterly betrayed by Akemi and her actions. Akemi asked Xena to do one final thing for her, to restore her honor. “

“Like, how could she do that?” Aphrodite commented

Ares closed his eyes then replied

“By taking the katana, beheading Akemi and then burning her remains.”

“Uggghhh, gross….”

“It may be gross, but it’s what Akemi wanted. And Xena complied with Akemi’s wishes. “

“Then what?”

“Xena attempted to put Akemi’s ashes in her family’s shrine, but she was stopped by the mob of angry villagers. They had heard about what Akemi had done and they tried to stop Xena from placing the ashes in the shrine. “

“How many villagers?”

“The whole village tried to stop her. They tried with torches, rakes, just about anything they could get. Xena had managed to get ahold of one of the torches while stumbling thru the village half-drunk. She took a swig of alcohol and sprayed a stream of it just above the torch, creating a stream of fire. “

“And then?”

“Xena never made it to the temple. The villagers knocked the urn out of her hand and Akemi’s ashes spilled onto the ground, blowing away in the wind. A fire started burning in the village. It spread so quickly, that no one escaped it. Forty thousand people died that night in the inferno that claimed the village and something of unbelievable evil was created as well. ‘The Lord of the Dark land’ he was called.”

“Who was called that?”

“Akemi’s father. Yodoshi was so evil when he died, his spirit didn’t cross over, and it turned into an eater of souls. He devoured the souls those who died in Higochi that night. “

Ares’ eyes widened as he realized what happened.

“Akemi sent the monk for her didn’t she?”

“Yes. She asked Xena to come and free the trapped souls.”

“How could she do that?” Hercules asked

A lone tear wound it’s way down Ares’ face as he replied.

“The only way she could. By becoming a spirit herself.”

Hercules and Aphrodite looked at each other, anguish rising rapidly on their faces.

“You mean she….”

“Xena’s dead” whispered Gabrielle.

“That’s not the end of it.” Gabrielle paused as she felt the tears falling freely from her eyes once again, her voice somewhat hoarse. “ There was a samurai and his forces working for the dark lord. Xena sent me out of the battle zone so she could face them all alone. By the time I realized what she’d done, I turned back to help. When I finally got there, all I found was a great deal of blood; bodies lay everywhere and the chakram, lying on the ground, covered in blood. “

“Where was Xena?” Hercules asked

“Nowhere to be found. I searched the countryside for hours, but I didn’t find her. I walked for a while then I caught a glimpse of movement in the brush. Following quietly, I managed to catch up with it. I nearly took her head off with the sword, but it was Xena.

She was dressed in some kind of flowing red outfit and she looked beautiful. She told me that she was going to kill the lord of the dark land and the only way she could do it was to become a spirit. I tried to give her the chakram, but her hand passed right through it.”

“And then?”

“She told me there was a way to bring her back. I had to retrieve her body and bring the ashes to the fountain of power on Mt. Fuji before the second sunset after death. “

At that statement, Hercules looked as if he’d been stabbed himself while Aphrodite looked as if she was about to pass out. Ares just sat where he was, the lone tear on his face the only sign of his pain.

“I went in search of her. After tracking the samurai back to his camp, I made my way through quietly, only having to take out two guards. I looked everywhere for her, then I found her hanging between two posts in the rain, her body riddled with arrows.”

“Hanging?”

“Only part of her…” Gabrielle choked out, the tears spilling down her face.

“What part of her?” Hercules asked, the bile starting to rise in his throat.

“The samurai had behea…beheaded her. I took her body down and wrapped it in cloth, and then I went searching for her head. I screamed out for it to be given to me. As I finished wrapping her body, I felt a presence behind me. I got up slowly and turned around, coming face to face with the samurai who had killed her.

He said that taking her head for the dark lord was the greatest trophy he could have ever had. In front of his troops, I called him a fraud, and then accepted his challenge to a fight, the prize being Xena’s body. I didn’t kill him however; I left him unconscious in front of his troops, without honor. I then claimed Xena’s head and took off into the woods. I built a pyre, placed her on it, and then lit it. I waited until the fire was completely gone, then I gathered all the ashes, and placed them into an urn, then headed to Mr. Fuji.”

“So it was in combat?” Ares asked quietly

“Yes. Xena went up against thousands of troops. There was some kind of explosion that took out a great many of them, then she fought them with the katana, until the samurai came and….”

“What happened when you got to Mt. Fuji?” Hercules asked, standing up from the throne and coming to crouch next to Gabrielle, taking one of her hands in his.

“Xena appeared at Mt. Fuji, chasing down the lord of the dark land. They had lured Yodoshi to the teahouse, where Xena, Akemi and a couple others had laid a trap for him and tried to destroy him there, but they failed. He had apparently been drinking from the fountain of power, which is how he was able to escape that trap. Upon Xena’s arrival at Mt Fuji, a fight ensued between them and during the process, he nearly destroyed her. I took some water from the fountain and gave it to her so she could regain her strength to fight him. “

“Then what happened?”

“The samurai reappeared and demanded that I give him an honorable fight. I told him that he didn’t deserve any kind of honor after what he’d done to Xena. My hand had slipped down to the chakram. I lifted it off the hook and told him that the only reason Xena was dead was because she let him kill her. I then took the chakram and threw it. I watched as it bounced off two rock outcroppings and then as it sliced him across his forehead. I followed its trajectory as it returned back to me and I caught it. I don’t know how, but I caught it. “

“Did she win?” Aphrodite asked, tears coursing down her face.

“Yes, Xena destroyed the lord of the dark land. She beheaded him with the katana and released the trapped souls.”

“Why isn’t she here now?” Hercules asked

“I rushed over to the fountain and knelt beside it, taking out the urn with her ashes inside. As I took the lid off, prepared to mix her ashes with the fountain, a hand reached out to stop me. Xena’s hand.

She told me that in order for those souls she freed to find peace, they had to be avenged. Akemi’s spirit had told her that in redeeming them she had redeemed herself. But the only way they the souls could stay free and find peace, was for her to stay dead.”

“NO! I WON’T ALLOW IT! NOT HER!!!!” Ares stood up from the chair, his face a mixture of rage and loss.

“Ares…” Dite moved over to her brother’s side, wrapping her arms around him, “I don’t think that there’s anything we can do about it…”

“Dite…. there has… to be something….” Ares’ voice trailed off as he sank back into the chair

“Ares. “

Gabrielle stood up and walked over to where the war god sat slumped in a chair. Kneeling down in front of him, she took one of his hands in her own. Unable to bear the pain any longer, Ares pulled Gabrielle close and buried his head on her shoulder, his powerful body racked with grief. Gabrielle clung to Ares as well, finally allowing herself the chance to grieve fully.

“I…I never…never got the chance…. to tell her…that … I loved her…” Ares choked out.

“ Ares, I think she knew somehow. I think she knew how you felt about her.” Gabrielle whispered back. “ She left me a note in her pack. In the note, she asked me to give you something”

Ares pulled back from Gabrielle, forcing himself to sit up in the chair. Gabrielle returned with the pack in one hand. Setting it down, she reached in and pulled out the box that contained the amulet.

“What’s that, Ares? It’s beautiful.” Aphrodite asked, brushing away tears with one of her hands.

“I…had this made for her…when she became my chosen one…it was supposed to be a symbol of our bond…it was supposed to be…” Ares whispered the last word “…forever.”

Gabrielle opened the box and carefully removed the amulet from the cushioned interior of the box, handing it to Ares.

Ares closed his eyes for a moment; a trace of pride crossed his face as he remembered the day he made the amulet and gave it to her. He remembered all his hopes and dreams of that day and the feelings he had begun to realize that he had for her. Opening his eyes again, Ares looked at Gabrielle, and made a decision.

“I have to find another Chosen, at least for the time being, the pain of the broken bond is almost unbearable. At least until I can…”

“Until we can find a way to bring her back. “ Hercules finished, looking at Ares

“Until we can find a way to bring her back, then. Gabrielle, oh are you going to think that is this strange, especially coming from me. You have shown nothing but courage, spirit and honor befitting a warrior since we first met. I ask you, in front of my sister, Aphrodite Goddess of Love and brother, Hercules, King of Corinth as witnesses, will you, Gabrielle, Bard and Queen of the Amazons, take her place? Please? “

Aphrodite and Hercules looked at each other, stunned. In the past, Ares had always considered Gabrielle a big nuisance, a large thorn in his plan to get Xena back and now he wanted to make her Xena’s successor.

“Are you sure about this, bro? I mean, you and Gabrielle haven’t exactly been the best of friends in the past.” Aphrodite said

“I know that, sis. Despite all the problems we’ve had in the past, I have watched, with some pride mind you, Gabrielle mature into an honorable warrior when she needed to be. I can teach her whatever else she wants to know. Skills only a God’s Chosen could know.”

Ares turned back to face Gabrielle, who stood there motionless, stunned by Ares’ request.

“Will you take her place, until we find a way to bring her back? “

Gabrielle could see the pleading look in Ares’ eyes and his desperate need to be near someone who had loved Xena as much as he had. Gabrielle could sense nothing but complete sincerity in his offer and recognized the same need in herself as well.

“Are you sure about this, Ares, Gabrielle?” Hercules asked

“Then in front of these witnesses, to honor Xena, my best friend, I, Gabrielle, bard of Potedeia, Queen of the Amazons, do accept your offer to become your Chosen. “

Ares took the amulet from its box and stood up to his full height in front of Gabrielle. He held the amulet over Gabrielle’s head and said in a loud, commanding voice.

“Let it be known in front of these witnesses, that I, Ares, God of War have offered the role of Chosen to Gabrielle, bard of Potedeia and Queen of the Amazons and the offer has been accepted. I give to her, this symbol of our bond as God and Chosen.”

As Ares placed the amulet around Gabrielle’s neck, she felt a charge of energy surge through her entire body, her senses were now incredibly sharp and she could feel Ares’ presence all around her. Blinking her eyes, Gabrielle asked

“Is it supposed to feel like this?”

“It did for me…”

Everyone’s head turned to see who had spoken. The color drained from Aphrodite’s face as she leaned heavily on Hercules for support as everyone recognized the speaker. Ares’ face was displaying a wide range of emotions ranging from shock to relief as he took a tentative step forward, his outstretched hand shaking

“X…Xena?”

“Yes…it’s me…”

“But…you’re…you’re dead….” Hercules said

“I was allowed some time to say goodbye…”

Ares moved forward hesitantly, both hands now shaking as he slowly stroked her hair. The tears flowed down his face as he drew Xena into a fierce embrace.

“I’ll…I’ll call in all my favors…he’ll release you…we…we can finally be together…”

Xena took Ares’ head in her hands and gently moved his face so she could look directly into his eyes. Brushing away his tears with one hand, she replied

“I asked him…Hades said it wasn’t possible…he would do it willingly, if it was at all possible for him. He tried…he really did…He could only give me a little time…”

“Doesn’t matter…I can tell you now…Xena…I love you…I always have…I always will…”

Xena didn’t try to stop the tears that were falling from her eyes now as she replied.

“It took me a long time to realize this, but I love you too, Ares…”

Ares drew Xena into a fierce embrace and held her close for a few moments and they were joined shortly by Gabrielle, Hercules and Aphrodite. They held each other tightly for a few minutes, and then slowly broke the embrace.

Gabrielle looked at her best friend and asked

“Are you upset that I accepted his offer?”

“No…I couldn’t have found a more worthy or honorable successor. “

“Xena...”

Xena turned to face Hercules, his own eyes still wet with tears. Stepping forward, the demi-god pulled Xena into a fierce embrace of his own for a moment then released her.

“Hercules…first, thank you. Thank you for putting me back on the path I was supposed to be on. I have no regrets, except that I can’t be with the ones I love in body any more. But I will always be beside you in spirit. Take care of Dite, she’s probably one of the truest friends I’ve ever had. And be sure to take care of yourself as well.”

Hercules leaned forward and whispered in Xena’s ear

“I will watch out for Gabrielle as well…”

“Thank you. “ Xena turned to face Aphrodite, the goddess’ usually perfect face was tear-streaked and her cerulean eyes were red-rimmed with tears. “Aphrodite. Thank you for being such a close friend to the both of us and confidant to Gabrielle. I know that if Gabrielle should ever need you, you will be there for her. “

“I will, Xena. I swear on Zeus’ name, I will be there if Gabrielle needs me.”

Xena tuned around to face her best friend. Taking a moment, Xena studied Gabrielle, recalling how much she had changed from the naïve farm girl she had first encountered, to the confident warrior, now Ares’ Chosen she was today. Xena reached forward and pulled Gabrielle into a fierce embrace, holding her close for several long minutes.

“Gabrielle, you have been the light in my darkest hour. You pulled me back on the path that I was meant to be on and showed me that I could make something out of my life. You have matured so much over the years, having learned and taught me so much. I am honored that you accepted Ares’ offer. He will teach you everything he taught me, but how you use the knowledge is up to you. Don’t ever change, my friend.”

Turning again, Xena looked directly into the eyes of the man she had, at long last, declared her love for. Taking his large, muscled hands in her own, she said

“Ares. It took me a long time to realize how I truly felt about you. I wish I had realized it much, much sooner, but I do love you. I want you to always remember that. Take care of Gabrielle, do this as my last request as your first Chosen. Teach her what she wants to know and be there if she needs to just talk. My…My time here is almost gone…”

“Xena…wait…please…”

Ares pulled Xena into a final embrace, lowering his lips to hers, capturing her in a last kiss. Ares stood there holding Xena until she slowly faded away into nothing as sunset wove its pattern across the sky.

Ares stood there for several long minutes afterward; his arms still circling where Xena had stood. Gabrielle stepped forward and gently shook his arms and waited for him to finish.

“I’m…I’m sorry… its just…”

“I understand, Ares. We all do.”

Ares looked down at Gabrielle, his new Chosen. He could see his own pain reflected in her eyes and took her hands in his.

“We’ll find a way, somehow. We will find a way to bring her back, okay?”

Gabrielle nodded at Ares and asked

“May I ask a favor?”

“Go ahead.”

“I’m worried about the amazons. I’m afraid that Athena might try to do something to them.”

“Do not worry. The amazons have just reacquired their first patron god. Me.”

“Thank you. “

“They will be safe. A promise from me.”

“Come with me, I have one last place to go to here. I don’t want to go alone.”

“We’ll all go with you.” Hercules said, standing up from his throne. “I know where the box is.”

Gabrielle nodded and took Ares hand, following Hercules out of the throne room and into the depths of the palace.

“Here we are.” Hercules said, stopping at a rather non-descript door in the palace. Pulling out a large key, Hercules opened the door and ushered Gabrielle and Ares into the room. After rummaging around the shelves for a few minutes, Hercules pulled out a medium sized chest and placed it on the wooden table in the room.

“I think this is what you are looking for, Gabrielle.”

“Thank you. “ Gabrielle replied as she looked at the chest. It was ornately carved and inlaid with brass in the patterns of Xena’s armor. Taking the key out of the pack, Gabrielle inserted it in the lock and turned until she heard a click. Flipping the latch, Gabrielle pushed the lid back and took her first look at the contents inside.

Standing up from the chair, Gabrielle gaped in awe at the contents. Resting on the very top was the finest armor Gabrielle had ever seen. She took the armor carefully out of the chest and laid it on the table.

“I had that made for her.” Ares whispered. “For her first major campaign. “

Gabrielle nodded and continued her exploration of the chest. At each of the four corners of the box, she found a bag of precious gemstones along with carefully wrapped mementos of the different periods of her life. It took Gabrielle nearly half an hour to comb through the contents and when she came to the bottom of the chest she found four scrolls. After handing the scrolls addressed to Hercules and Aphrodite, Gabrielle took out the last two scrolls, one addressed to her and the other addressed to Ares.

Ares took the scroll from Gabrielle with shaking hands and sat down in the small chair.

“I…I want to read this, but I…I don’t know if I can.”

Gabrielle turned to face Ares. Putting her own scroll down, she walked over and knelt beside him. Taking one of his hands in hers, she said.

“You can do it. She wanted you to read it; otherwise she would have never left one for you. “

Ares nodded and unrolled the scroll, a small smile on his face as he began to read.

Ares,

I know this must be hard for you to read, especially since the only way you’d get this scroll is if something’s happened to me. But I had to write this, in case I never got the chance to actually tell you how I feel.

I know I don’t have to tell you it’s been an extremely long road for the two of us. First, we started out as God and Chosen, then we grew very close and later we grew far apart. I think that the time we spent going at each other was the best thing that could have happened to us. It allowed me to see a different side of you and for you to see that things could be done a different way.

The last couple of years have been the best I could have hoped for, given my stubbornness. It took me a very long time to finally realize that I do love you. With all my heart, I love you. I wish I could have said it sooner, but at least you finally know.

I have a final request. As my last request as your Chosen, take care of Gabrielle. I know that you and she will be hurting for a very long time. But Gabrielle is stronger that anything that even Hephaestus could make. Treat her with respect, and you’ll have the best friend that anyone could ever want.

I know that you’ll not stop looking for a way to bring me back. Rest assured, I’ll be waiting.

I love you

Xena

When Ares finished the scroll, a tear wound its’ way down his face. Brushing it aside, he motioned to Gabrielle

“Read yours.”

Gabrielle nodded and took the scroll from the table. She unrolled it carefully and began to read.

Gabrielle

My friend, I can’t even begin to imagine how hard this must be for you. I need you to know a few things I didn’t tell you earlier.

Meeting you was the day my whole outlook on life changed. I went from a tired, soul weary ex-warlord, to someone who fought for the greater good. I learned to find the good in people and by helping where I could, I was able to live with myself and make amends for some of the things I’d done as a warlord.

Besides being the best friend anyone could have ever asked for, you have also been my conscience and confidant. I will love you for that forever.

I have a last favor to ask, my friend. I don’t know how, but I need you to watch over Ares for me. I know it’s kind of ironic, but I love him, Gabrielle. Despite all the things he’s done, he’s tried to make up for them. It took me a long time to realize that fact, but I love him Gabrielle.

Be his friend, if nothing else. My Bard, I thought of this for you.

Every now and then you find a special friend
Who never lets us down, who understands it all?
Reaches out each time you fall, you're the best
Friend that I’ve found.

I know that you can't stay, but part of you will
Never ever go away, your heart will stay

I'll make a wish for you, and hope it will come true
That life will be kind to such a gentle mind
If you lose your way, think back on yesterday
Remember me this way, remember me this way

I don't need eyes to see, the love you bring to me,
No matter where I go, and I know that you'll be there
Forever more a part of me, you're everywhere
I'll always care

I'll make a wish for you, and hope it will come true
That life will be kind to such a gentle mind
If you lose your way, think back on yesterday
Remember me this way, remember me this way

And I’ll be right behind your shoulder, watching you.
I'll be standing by your side, in all that you do,
And I won't ever leave, as long as you believe, you just
Believe

I'll make a wish for you, and hope it will come true
That life will be kind to such a gentle mind
If you lose your way, think back on yesterday
Remember me this way, remember me this way

Xena

Gabrielle brushed away the tears with one hand as she stood up from the floor. Looking around the room, Gabrielle noticed that Hercules and Aphrodite were in about the same shape after reading their own respective scrolls.

“She thought of everything didn’t she?” Aphrodite said

“She was always prepared for anything, sis. “ Hercules replied “ Gabrielle, what are your plans now?”

Gabrielle turned and faced Hercules, taking a deep breath, and then she sat down in the chair closest to her.

“I…I’m not sure yet…I have to find a way to get her back, somehow.”

“You’ll need to spend some time with me in Thrace, Gabrielle. There are some things that I must teach you.” Ares stated quietly.

“And then?” queried Gabrielle

“We go from there…”

“Um, gang. What are we supposed to do about Athena? I know miss bitchy has got loyal followers everywhere. They could cause trouble.” Aphrodite said

“Aphrodite’s right. Gabrielle, you should go with Ares. Sis, come with me and we can check on Athena.”

Gabrielle carefully repacked the contents of the chest and relocked it. Taking the chest from the table, Hercules placed it back on the shelf and locked the room. Once everyone had left the room, Hercules locked the door, pocketing the key.

“Are you ready, Gabrielle?” Ares asked, taking her hand in his.

“I guess so. I’m…I’m a bit nervous, that’s all…”

“Relax, sweet. Bro will take good care of you…”

Before Aphrodite could finish, they heard a soldier shout

“My lord…she’s gone…”

Hercules turned around to see an out of breath soldier skidding to a stop in front of them. Hercules took the soldier and sat him down in the chair and waited for him to catch his breath

“Who’s missing, soldier?”

“The woman wrapped in the chains, sir. We were keeping close watch on her as you ordered, but she just disappeared.”

“It’s all-right soldier. You can return to your duties, now. We’ll handle it from here. “

Nodding, the soldier turned and left, leaving the foursome alone in the hallway.

“Now what? If Athena’s escaped, we’ve got problems.” Hercules said.

“You are correct, Hercules. You do have problems now…”

All four turned to face their addresser. When they turned around, they found themselves face to face with Athena.

“What do you want Athena?”

“I have what I want, brother dear. Xena is dead, and there is nowhere or no one who can help you now.”

“We’ll just see about that, Athena. You do realize that you have violated the rule between God and Chosen, sister dear. “

“My dear brother, Zeus and Hera are incommunicado. Who do you think you are going to call? “

Gabrielle jerked her head around as a memory rose to the surface. Turning to face the goddess, she replied, her voice heavily laced with hatred

“You will pay for this Athena, I will see to it.”

“ I doubt that, little amazon. And now, you have all run out of time…”

Before Ares or Aphrodite could do anything, Athena disappeared in a shower of golden sparkles.

“What did she mean, there’s no one who could help. Ares, do you know what she was talking about?” Aphrodite asked

Ares and Gabrielle turned to face each other as Hercules said

“And what did she mean by run out of time?”

“Do you think she knew?”

“Knew about the encounter with…” Ares’ voice trailed off

“Knew about what encounter, Ares, Gabrielle? What are you two talking about?”

“We met some people a couple of years ago. Their ship had crashed some distance away and they were repairing it when we encountered them. They are extremely powerful people, with technology, abilities and weapons unlike anything I’ve ever seen. And their captain, a warrior unlike any I’ve ever seen… “

“Do you think that they…?”

“Would help us? I don’t know, but I have to try…we have to try.”

“How can we help, Ares?” Hercules asked.

“We need to find the Chronos stone, first. Then I’ll need your help to open a vortex, sis. I can take it from there.”

Ares looked at Hercules and Aphrodite, both of whom were staring incredulously at him.

“Chronos stone? Why do you need that?” Hercules asked

“After we open the vortex, I need to use it to open a door to the future.” Ares continued excitedly.

“Future? Ares, what are you talking about? “ Aphrodite asked

Gabrielle turned to face Aphrodite. Taking one of the goddess’ hands in her own, Gabrielle replied

“The people we encountered are from the future. They are the only ones who might be able to help us.”

“Who are you talking about, Ares?”

“Her…” Ares replied, his voice trailing off as a vivid memory rose to the surface.

“Her? Ares, Gabrielle you both are making no sense.” Hercules replied.

Ares turned to face his half-brother. Placing his hands on Hercules’ shoulders, Ares continued

“You don’t understand, Hercules. The captain of that vessel was unlike any warrior I’ve ever seen, Xena included. I can’t put it into words, brother. But she is the only one who could possibly help us. She could take Athena out easily. And I have to find a way to contact her, somehow. “

“And you need the Chronos stone to do that?”

“I need it to open up a temporal vortex, so I can send a message thru to her somehow. We’ve got to find it.”

Hercules looked at Ares, he could see the determination in his eyes and knew that Ares would go looking for the stone with or without his help. Hercules also looked at Gabrielle who seemed to share the same need as well.

“All-right. I’ll help as much as I can.”

“Excellent. When do you want to leave?”

“Whoa, brother. Ares, don’t you think you might be asking for too much? What makes you think that they will help? And just how far into the future do you need this message to go?”

Ares looked at Aphrodite, understanding her concern. Looking directly at her, he replied

“ Sis, I know I’m making a lot of assumptions here. But don’t you see, Dite? I have to try and make this work. I have to. I need Xena more than I’ve ever wanted or needed anything in my whole miserable existence. Xena is the best part of me and I will do anything, take any chance I have to, to try and get her back. “

Aphrodite looked at her brother and could see the truth written in his eyes. Ares had learned to love someone completely. Looking at Hercules, Aphrodite replied:

“All-right. I’m in, Hercules are you going to join us?”

Hercules looked at his brother, sister and Gabrielle, noting the determination on their faces.

“All-right, I’ll help as well. One word of caution, though. We all need to watch our backs, especially with Athena out there. She’ll do anything to stop us. “

Ares looked at his brother and felt, for the first time since Hercules’ birth, the beginnings of a brotherly bond forming.

“I know, Hercules. I’ll be ready. Now, where do we start?”

…To be continued….





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