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Artemis's Gifts

by Liz Zellner (Goldmoon)

"No, I cannot stay another day," Gabrielle whispered as she again said goodbye to her sister. Every time she left Potadia she felt very sad. But she cheered at the thought that she would see Iolus again very soon.

She and Xena were headed for Corinth, where they would meet Iolus and Hercules to set of to kill a few monsters that were terrorizing the local farmers, normally killing monsters would not be a task requiring all four of them, but rumor had it that these monsters were blessed by Hera and could not be killed by anyone but all four of our heroes. Not wanting to take any chances and maybe also for other reasons, the companions had arranged to meet up in Corinth right after Xena and Gabrielle took care of a particularly nasty warlord near Sparta.

It was late in the evening when Hercules and Iolus reached the tavern. They heard a shrill scream from inside and instinctively rushed in. They found about six armed thugs inside who were terrorizing the bar maid. "Someone needs to teach you respsect for women" lectured Hercules. He then dispatched the largest thug with a roundhouse kick to his mid-section. The remaining five thugs surrounded him. but they had forgotten about Iolus. He snuck behind two thugs and banged their heads together. Hercules easily took out the other three with a few fast punches. Then about thirty armed soldiers stepped from the shadows. Because of their numbers, Hercules knew he had no chance against the soldiers indoors, so he and Iolus thinking the same edged towards the door. Once, they were outside the fight broke free. Hercules and Iolus were both fighting hard to try and keep the odds even. Iolus was in heavy combat with one of the soldiers when another one of them seemed to appear out of nowhere and was bringing a sword down on his head. Iolus prepared to meet Hermes when a staff quickly knocked the sword out of the soldiers hand and proceded to knock the soldier over. "Are you always trying to get yourself killed when I'm not around?" a familiar voice yelled out.

"Gabrielle!" Iolus shouted. "Get back. I'll protect you."

Gabrielle totally ignored him. She tripped two soldiers with her staff and quickly hit another one in the head. Iolus's jaw dropped. It almost allowed another soldier to get him in the back but he quickly recovered and took the unlucky soldier out with a high kick to his head.

Hercules had also noticed that Xena had shown up. By an unseen gesture they both moved to fight back to back. In a few minutes, all the soldiers had run off. Hercules loooked at Xena with a broad smile on his face.

"At least we didn't have to look hard to find you" Gabrielle said teasingly.

"It's a good thing you did, too. You might have noticed we were slightly outnumbered. I see you've learned how to use that thing," replied Iolus looking at her staff.

"Yeah, after Xena saved my life about a million times I decided I might want to have a backup plan if she's not around. Like the time Xena died or when I went back to Potadia-"

"Xena um... died?" Iolus interrupted.

"Oh yeah, uh I did too for a short while. It really wasn't as bad as you might think" Gabrielle continued.

As Iolus and Gabrielle caught up on everything that had been going on lately, Xena and Hercules were doing a little catching up themselves.

"I've heard more about your good deeds" Hercules told Xena. "Everywhere I go it seems when I ask the villagers if they need help with anything, they say that if I had come a week or two before a certain woman had come to the town that they would have been dying for help. It seems as if you've been busy."

"Yes, but it's been a long day and Gabrielle has me all talked out so let's just go for a short walk outside the village, and maybe we'll see a glimpse of these monsters."

So, slowly Xena and Herc walked away from the city of Corinth and their frinds into the quiet woods beyond.

Gabby and Iolus had gone back inside the tavern, and were about to order some drinks when they realized that Xena and Herc were missing.

"I wonder where they went," Gabrielle remarked puzzled.

"They'll be back soon, or at least fairly soon" Iolus replied with an impish smile. "If I know them they can take care of whatever's out there."

"You're right, I shouldn't worry. It's just a bad habit." Gabby said smiling back at him.

They then ordered two drinks, wine for Iolus and cider for Gabrielle. Gabrielle caught a glimpse of herself in her glass, and thought she looked like a mess. Iolus hadn't seemed to notice, then she realized that he was staring at her. Gabrielle suddenly felt that the tavern was very hot and stuffy. She took her last large swallow of cider and then walked outside to get a breath of fresh air. Iolus followed suit, and they sat down under a large oak tree.

Gabrelle was reminded of when they saved Prometheus, actually when Xena and Hercules saved Prometheus. After the adventure, She and Iolus had been sitting under another large tree. That was when Iolus had kissed her, the first time she had felt true passion for another, well, besides Xena and her family and Lilla, but that was different.

Iolus easily saw the resemblance between the two scenarios, too. It worked then it'll work again, he thought to himself. He took Gabrielle's face gently in his hand and then moved his own face towards hers. They embraced each other and rested under the tree for a short while.

A loud cry from overhead brought Gabrielle and Iolus back to this world. Instinctively they pulled apart and grabbed their weapons. Lokking up they saw a three huge dragons in the sky. One was red. One was blue. And the last was black. To signal their arrival, the red , the largest of the monsters breathed fire and roared, "We will be your deaths, I am Flame, the blue is Lightning, and the black is Acid. We will be glad to introduce you to Hades. The three swooped down on our heroes. Iolus slashed at one with his sword, and Gabbrielle hit another with her staff."Relax, if we wished to kill you, you would be dead. But now is not the right time. Tell your friends of our majesty, tell them to fall to their knees and worship Hera, as the greatest goddess of them all, or it will be the right time and we will kill you."

Before they could reply, the dragons had already flown off and were small specks against the moon. Xena and Hercules rushed into the clearing just as the dragons left. They too had heard Flame's words even from deep in the woods and they had caught a fleeting glance of they great beasts who had threatened them.

"Now I see why the local farmers were scared. Those creatures were uglier than a hydra and a sea monster combined," said Gabrielle, being as usual the first one to speak.

"They are probably also twice as deadly," noted Hercules grimly. "No wonder the locals need all of us to defeat them. Even with all of us fighting them it will be very hard to defeat such powerful creatures as those."

"Hercules is right," Xena added. "We should try to eliminate them one by one. It will probably be hard to-"

She was interrupted by the growling of Gabrielle's stomach. "But maybe we should eat first and get a good night's sleep," she said, much to Gabrielle's relief since they hadn't eaten since early that morning and the sun had been gone for hours now.

An short while later, the companions had eaten enough to make them want to burst, but they had to get to their room in the inn. Gabrielle instantly fell over on her soft bed and almost fell instantly asleep. but then she remembered her plan. She waited until she heard steady breathing from the other three beds in the room. Then, she sat up, "Oh glorious Artemis," she prayed. "As an Amazon princess, I call for your help. Help us defeat Hera's minions, so that she may not call herself the greatest goddess, but that we may cry out your name whenever that title is given."

Artemis materialized beside her. "Gabrielle, I cannot stand in open defiance of Hera without incurring the wrath of my father, Zeus. However I will try to help you, my pure-hearted Amazon, and your friends, my half-brother, his faithful companion, and the warrior princess, by granting you each an enchanted weapon. You will find them when you wake up." And with that, Artemis was gone as mysteriously as she had come.

Gabrielle woke with the dawn the next morning, wondering if it had all been a dream, when out of the corner of her eye, she saw something sparkle. She turned to look at it. What she saw was the most beautiful warstaff she had ever seen. There was gold tips on both ends of it. The grip on it was secured on to the staff with thin bands of gold and silver. Intricate metal-work adorned the bands, pictures in all the precious metals of she and Xena's heroics. Two of the bands were simpler than the rest. They simply said "Gabrielle, Amazon Princess, one of Artemis's Chosen" on one and "Xena, Warrior Princess" on the other. The two bands were side by side and they seemed to be the most beautiful of all to Gabrielle.

Xena slowly aroused from her deep slumber and sat up. "You're up early,"she said observantly. Then she caught sight of her own weapon. It was in the same level of quality as Gabrielle's staff and she gasped in awe. The blade was double edged without a chip on the whole thing. The hilt sparkled with detailed silver and gold work inlaid with valuble stones, but the one that caught her eye was a huge emerald on the end of the handle. Ingraved on it was "Xena : Warrior Princess, Best Friend of the Amazon Princess, Gabrielle". "Where did you get this?" she asked Gabrielle.

"It's a gift from Artemis. After you went to sleep last night I prayed to her. She came to me and told me that she would give us all magical weapons, and she made true to her word."

Xena twirled the blade a few times to test it. The sword was perfectly balanced and the metal-work showed no sign of breaking or cracking. "She certainly did," replied Xena as she admired her sword.

Meanwhile Hercules and Iolus had woken up. Hercules's battle axe and Iolus's long bow and arrows were of the same craftmanship as the women's weapons. "Well, my sister certainly outdid herself this time," Hercules murmured. "She must have gotten Hephaestus to forge these for her." After testing their weapons for about ten minutes, it would have been longer but they had no time to spare, the heroes walked to the tavern to get breakfast. They ate heartily, knowing that they would need all the energy they could get to defeat the huge dragons that they had seen the day before.

They slowly climbed the mountain that they had seen the dragons fly up yesterday. The heroes weren't worried about finding the dragons. They knew that the dragons would probably find them. So, they were on edge. Every little sound made Gabrielle jump. She was wondering how the staff was enchanted. It certainly was beautiful, but how would it help her?

Iolus was the first one to spot the monsters as they rose above the steep cliff right in front of the heroes. The entrance was impressive, but when Gabrielle's staff started to glow, Iolus could tell the dragons were slightly wary of their adversary.

Gabrielle was just as suprised as every one else. She had felt the staff begin pulsing with energy the second she spotted the great beasts on the horizon. Then she felt the essence of Artemis well up inside her. She was not aware of it, but her whole body started to glow with the power of the great goddess. Her body took over, and she knew exactly how to fight the dragon. She knew their weaknesses and their strengths. She felt wisdom beyond her years creep into her soul. She struck out at the first dragon with a ferocity that amazed her friends. This couldn't be the same gentle Gabrielle that they knew and loved.

The power affected Xena next. It had the same effect on her as it had on Gabrielle. Xena had felt the effect of a god before, when she had been Ares's. This put a distrust between her and Artemis that weakened their bond. The intention had been evil then , but she felt the good in Artemis's heart now. So Xena put her full trust in the goddess and let Artemis's spirit guide her. She also was filled with the knowledge of how to kill the beasts and she put it to good use, quickly attacking Lightning.

Apollo, Artemis's twin brother filled the two men with his spirit. It would be too hard on Artemis to help four people at once so she asked had asked her brother for help. Apollo, always eager to help his sister that he adored, had instantly agreed to Artemis's request. It was also incredibly easy for him to guide Hercules, because of their relation in blood. Iolus and Hercules filled with the knowledge and strength of the God of Light quickly set upon Acid the smallest of the three beasts.

Hera ,realizing that her step children were thwarting her plans, tried to guide her minions and overpower the two lesser gods. But, it was too late. Her great creations, the most deadly monsters yet had gone into a panic at the sight of their shining enemies. Hera couldn't bring herself to watch the battle. She had already seen too many of her minions killed at the hands of Xena and Hercules. But, now it was not them she was concerned about. It was the young bard Gabrielle that had her puzzled. She had always seemed so soft, so easy to Hera. Now Hera realized that Gabrielle was not weak. Her heart was stronger than anything the goddess had seen before. But, Hera would not give up. She would find a way to weaken this girl, even if it took her forever.

After the fight, the heroes returned to the tavern. The barkeep offered free ale to the companions. All of them accepted, except Gabrielle. "I'll just have a cider, if you please," she said.

"Glad to see that you're back to your ordinary self, never satisfied with what anyone offers," Xena joked. The barkeep ,though, was happy to give her the cider she asked for. As the heroes sipped their drinks, Hercules asked Xena where she was planning on going.

"I'll think I'll head back to Athens. Gabrielle really wants to go to the bard festival that will be there in a couple days. I think after ,what she did today, she desrves to have a break," Xena said. "What about you?"

"We're going home to visit my mother, Jason, and "King Ephicles," Hercules said, suddenly realizing that this was going to be good-bye again.

"I'll miss you," Xena said, betraying no emotion.

"And I you," said Hercules. "But we won't be parting until tomorrow, we still have today together.

Once again Xena and Hercules started walking towards the privacy of the nearby woods.

As Gabrielle said good-bye to Iolus the next day, they embraced again for the last time on that particular journey."Until we meet again," Iolus said, holding in his emotions.

"Until we meet again" she replied, also trying hard not to make a scene.

"Come on, Gabrielle, we have to get moving if you want to make it to Athens in time for the festival," Xena called to her friend.

"Coming!" As Gabrielle was walking to where Xena and Argo were patiently waiting for her, she noticed a new picture on her staff. It had her fighting a horrible looking beast, but the way it was crafted the gold seemed to make Gabrielle look as if she was glowing. Gabrielle's smile broadened as she noticed Xena, Iolus, and even Hercules in the background, glowing with the same strange light.

"By the time we get to Athens the festival will be gone" Xena reminded Gabrielle.

"Oh yeah, you're probably right, wait for me" and Gabrielle hurried to catch up to her best friend.

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