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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? Ohh..and I forgot to mention the pinch too..and, of course, the bilious green could be viewed as a weapon, but if you've read Part one yet (and I sure hope to gods you have!!) you know she's not wearing it anymore. It's probably mating with that sheer silk gown I...errr..Caesar made her wear. Can you imagine the offspring from that? *shiver*
Passage Into Darkness
Tears come to the eyes of even the Holy Gods.
Mt. Olympus. A towering giant amongst its kind, from the gentle rolling hills of green at its base, to the cold snow covered peak that thrusts up into the heavens. A place where man dares not tread, but cast instead their prayers toward, in hope of finding peace and prosperity. Home of the Gods. The center of Zeus' Kingdom.
A daily reminder to the mortals below of the gods presence, Mt. Olympus' heights are usually clear. The sun or the evening's moon making the home of the gods shine almost blindingly, but not today. Instead of pristine slopes, the world below could see only the darkest gray of clouds enveloping it from base to peak and beyond, to cover Greece and parts of the Roman Empire in a dark malevolent shroud. Instead of the rays of the sun or moon, the mountain was lit by Zeus' fury, as flashes of light raced through the almost black bank of clouds.
The throne room of Zeus quaked under the angry god's violent temper, as he threw bolt after bolt of lightning down from the mountain unto the world below. Since the battle where Zeus defeated and imprisoned the Titans, there had not been such a display.
"HOW DARE THAT IMPUDENT LITTLE...GODDESS DO SUCH A THING!!" the King of the Gods roared, causing a marble statue of his wife to fall and crack in two.
"How could a madwoman, who's years of life are a drop in the seas compared to ours, defeat and kill Ares, my son! HOW?!!" Zeus continued to throw lightning bolts towards the mortal realm, not caring what or whom he destroyed in his wrath.
"ARGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!" the god threw back his head and gave a long roar of fury. Then Zeus fell back unto his throne, his head in his hands. Though he and his son had been at odds since almost the time Ares had been born, Zeus still cared for him, as only a father can. But he was at a loss as to what he could actually do against Callisto. The god suddenly felt old. For centuries he had actually visually aged, which was a rare thing amongst the gods, and this day he felt time especially falling harshly upon him. For an immortal being the span of eternity seemed suddenly his greatest enemy.
Sensing a new presence in his throne room, Zeus growled, "Leave."
"No," came the confident female voice as a consoling hand fell onto his shoulder and squeezed gently.
The god raised his head and looked his daughter in the eye. "I'm not in the mood for company, Athena."
The Goddess of Wisdom removed her crested helm and sat down at her father's feet, setting the helm beside her. Looking up at Zeus, she smiled sadly. "That's a shame. Unfortunately, I've been elected by the others to come and test the waters."
"Cowards," Zeus growled. He could feel the other gods watching, but really didn't care. His mind was on other matters.
"No...not cowards. Just prudent. They know better than to disturb you at this time," Athena replied.
"I'm surprised you don't," the god muttered as he turned his gaze outside to the dark roiling clouds that echoed his mood.
"Ahh..but having wisdom means knowing when the best time is to actually brave the lion's den," the goddess' eyes twinkled as she looked at her father fondly. "And since you're no longer roaring, and we all need to discuss what needs to be done about her..." she let the sentence trail off.
Zeus turned back to his daughter and held a clenched fist before him, imagining it wrapped around Callisto's throat. "I'll tell you what I'd like to do. I'd like to crush her in my own two hands...rip her limb from limb...imprison her in the deepest darkest depths of Tartarus!" The god's knuckles popped loudly as he clenched tighter and tighter, the skin turning white with the strain.
Athena reached up and touched his hand gently. "Stop. This does not help. We must be stronger, smarter, and wiser than her."
"I agree with Zeus," said Hera, as she appeared beside her husband. Her tall imposing figure towering over the seated duo, her stunning almost glowing jade green eyes boring into Athena's. "I think we should kill her now before she causes anymore damage. She has killed our son...she must pay."
Athena stood up and shook her head. "The Goddess of War. That is what she is now. She has her own power as a newborn goddess from the ambrosia, and now she has all..and I do mean all of Ares power also. This is not a battle we must rush headlong into."
"He was the only true son of Zeus and myself," Hera gave her husband a momentary dark look. "She is nothing. Just a mortal."
"Was a mortal," corrected Artemis, as she too appeared and joined in the discussion. "Now she is a goddess. And apparently a very resourceful one. We need to rid ourselves of her, this is true...but we do not need a war." Artemis stood before the dais, her long dark hair and tanned leathers the perfect look for the wild untamed goddess of the hunt.
Zeus frowned. "I've done it before. I took down my father and all of the Titans that were against me. I can do so with this opportunist. She is powerful...but not as powerful as me." The god sat up straighter and thrust out his chest in pride.
"This is foolhardy..." Athena started to say but was interrupted by a new voice.
"Athena is right...as much as it pains me to admit it." Aphrodite appeared across the room in the shadows, her husband Hephestus at her side. "Callisto won fairly, just like you did Daddy."
The assembled gods looked at her with disbelief. After a long moment of silence Zeus finally spoke. "You agree with what she has done?!"
The Goddess of Love shook her head. "I didn't say that. I think what she has done is atrocious...I can't... don't understand it. I do know however, that by our own laws, the laws you set up father for all of us to abide, that she is in the right. She killed him and took his power. She didn't have any help," Aphrodite's voice cracked slightly, but it was not noticed by the others. "We may not like her, but she is the Goddess of War now."
Zeus brows furrowed as he looked at his beloved Aphrodite and contemplated what she had said.
"My sister's words are true...amazingly enough," Athena countered, ignoring the annoyed look cast her way from Aphrodite.
The King of the God's shoulders crumbled in defeat. "If I thought Strife, or any of the others for that matter, could defeat her, I'd advise them to try. But I know they can't...she is too powerful now." Zeus snorted and rolled his eyes. "Even Ares was too powerful for Strife. Besides, the boy is far to stupid to be a good wargod." He paused and looked pensively at Athena.
"No." The goddess raised a slim hand and shook her head, interrupting him before he could even speak. "I will not be a good choice to take his place. I'm more suited to the battlefield than any of the others true, but to take his place? To bear that dark twisted power around and thrive on it?" Athena shook her head. "Give me strategy. Give me wisdom. Not bloodthirst and cruelty. I'll keep what I have."
Zeus tried one last time. "How about a mortal? Could we have a quest and the winner gets ambrosia and the chance to win the sword? Who would be a good choice? Herc..."
"NO!" Hera's eyes flashed. "We'll have mortals coming here in droves to vie for the food of the gods. It's bad enough that her and Veleska won it. We don't need more neophytes running through the halls."
"Then there is nothing we can do," Zeus muttered.
"Except strive to keep her in check," Artemis replied. "We don't need her rampaging around like Veleska." The goddess couldn't keep the harsh snarl out of her voice as she said the name.
"Speaking of Ambrosia. Why not just..." Hephestus started to say, but he was interrupted by Zeus.
"It won't work. His body was mortal when he lost his head, but his spirit..his essence was immortal still I think. It doesn't work quite the same way with us. Believe me...I ordered Hermes to go and try it, but nothing happened. Hades has told me that there is no sign of him in the Underworld either. He is lost," Zeus frowned. "I fear he has moved beyond. To where I do not know."
Abruptly all conversation ceased as another godly presence made itself known. A presence barely known by any of them, though more so by Aphrodite, but which was recognized immediately by its intensity and darkness.
Thunder could be heard in the distance as Callisto's form formed from the red and white ball of light. The blond goddess grinned impishly as she ignored the gods for the moment and gazed around at the throne room. "Sooo...this is it hmm? Big Daddy's throne room? My...my. Kind of bare isn't it?"
Callisto walked over to the broken statue of Hera and looked at it for a moment. Then looking over to the Queen of the Gods she quipped, "Doesn't look like you much. Must be that head that's missing." The goddess grinned at the narrowed eyes of the veiled goddess and winked.
Hera started to step forward, her hands clenched and glowing, but Zeus held out a stiff arm and whispered, "No."
With a hiss of annoyance the Queen stepped back, her gaze meeting Callisto's and promising future confrontation.
Pacing around the room once more, Callisto eyed each one of the disapproving gods. Stopping in front of Artemis, she looked the huntress up and down appreciatively. "Nice leathers. Black might be sexier on you though. Don't you agree?"
Artemis raised an eyebrow, seemingly unfazed by the goddess before her. "Be warned, Callisto. You may be able to defeat almost any one of us one on one, I can't deny that, but together we can crush you. You will be watched."
"I'm counting on it. Rebuild that temple of yours yet?" Callisto winked slyly.
The Huntress was silent, refusing to rise to the other woman's bait.
Callisto stuck out her bottom lip and pouted, then giving the goddess of the Amazons a parting smile she moved on. Stopping in front of Hephestus and Aphrodite, she ignored the goddess for a moment, and instead looked at him lustfully. "My...you are a big one aren't you?"
Callisto placed her hand on his chest and pulled at the thick dark hair poking out from above his leather tunic. "I can see why Aphrodite married you." She gave him a quick wink, then turned her attention to the Goddess of Love herself when she saw that he to would not be annoyed easily.
Stepping so close, that Aphrodite could feel Callisto's breath on her face, the wargoddess smiled almost shyly. "What no hug? I heard what you said about me...I think I'd like to thankyou. Not very many people have stuck up for me in my life. Well...that annoying bard used to, but she doesn't like me much anymore. Not since that unfortunate accident when my sword slipped and killed her husband. Such a shame." Callisto's eyes gleamed wickedly. "What shall I do to thank you?"
Aphrodite's hand shook with the effort of standing still. What game is she playing now? The close proximity of the deranged goddess, mixed with the dark powers that made her the Goddess of War, were a trial to her. Far more so than any of the other gods.
Putting her trembling hand on her hip, so that no one would notice, Aphrodite looked the other goddess in the eye and smiled sensually, trying to emit her own powers enough to give her some respite. "Thank me? I wasn't sticking up for you, dear. I was stating a fact. Despite how it may usually appear, I'm far more intelligent than the others give me credit for. Love is more than just hormones."
Callisto's eyes glided over Aphrodite slowly as she listened to the goddess, then back up to her eyes. "Never underestimate. That's my motto now. I learned that from Xena. She was such a good teacher."
Aphrodite almost flinched at the harsh gleam of madness that swept through Callisto's eyes as she said the mortal's name. But as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone again.
"Hmmm..I know what to give you." Callisto started to lean forward, her brown eyes holding Aphrodite's own.
"Callisto," Hephestus growled. "What do you think you're doing?"
The goddess turned her gaze to the smith and gave a quirky grin. "Well..duh..I'm going to give her a kiss. Just a little one, between family. Surely you don't have a problem with that?" she challenged. "Aren't we all brothers and sisters now? Though I must say, some of you seem to be confused about who you should be marrying and all that. It's no wonder half of the kids running around here have two heads or wings. Surely you don't have a problem with that?" she challenged.
At his silence, Callisto gave a little laugh and turned her attention back to the lovely goddess before her. "Now...where was I? Oh yes...a thankyou." She leaned close and firmly pressed her lips to Aphrodite's own.
The Goddess of Love felt Callisto's kiss, but it was a distant feeling compared to the wild rush that roared through her, threatening her very existence. She moaned. She couldn't help it. The darkness, rage, and thirst that was Callisto poured into every pore of her, drowning her.
With a small cry she pulled back, her eyes open wide in horror. Reaching out her hand, she grasped her husband's arm and held on, her knees almost buckling under her.
Callisto smiled. "Did you like that? Hmm?"
The other gods, not realizing what was passing between the two, just glared at Callisto's back. All except Hephestus. He didn't know what was wrong, but he knew his wife. They didn't see much of each other true, and perhaps their love was strained by the fact that Aphrodite loved her work just as much as he loved his own. But he understood her...and he just knew there was something wrong with her. His eyes narrowed dangerously at the wargoddess, as he gently patted Aphrodite's hand.
"Oh please. You can give me a nastier look than that, Hephie. Make that scar work for you." Callisto chuckled then moved on, still intent on meeting Hera and Zeus.
Ignoring Athena and stopping in front of the dais, the goddess gave Zeus a little curtsey and grinned again, before addressing Hera. "You know...I've always wondered what exactly you've got hidden behind that veil. I don't suppose you'd care to reassure us that you aren't a hydra under there or anything?"
"Be careful. You have no idea whom you are talking to," Hera said, her voice belying the anger in her narrowed eyes, her fists still glowing faintly. "You shall pay for my son's life...remember that. I am not to be trifled with."
"Yeah. I like how you've taken care of Hercules," Callisto quipped.
Once again Zeus stuck out his arm to hold Hera back. He looked up pointedly at her raised hand that held a crackling purplish ball of power. "Damn you!" Hera snarled as she turned and hurled the ball outside, to explode upon the mortal plane.
"Seen Poseidon lately?" Callisto grinned when she saw perplexity warring with anger in the Queen's eyes. "Nevermind. Inside joke." She turned to Zeus finally.
"I'm surprised at the welcome committee. No one else bothered to show up?" The goddess asked, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
Zeus frowned even more heavily. "Why?"
"Pardon me?" she raised an eyebrow in confusion.
"Why did you kill him? My son. Ares," he asked.
"Ohhh...that." Callisto raised a slim hand and brushed her wild hair away from her face. "Because I can do a better job than he can...and because it was a whim." She purposefully said, hoping to goad him into doing something rash. She could see the words effected Hera. The goddess was just to easy.
Thunder crashed through the heavens. "A whim?!"
"Oh sorry. Um...whim. Passing thought. Fancy. You know...whim." Callisto smiled innocently, though her eyes laughed at the god before her.
More thunder. Zeus leaned forward on his throne, his gray eyes flashing as they caught the goddess' before him. "Callisto, let's get this straight right now. I don't like you. You're a psychotic maniac with a sword who has grown far too powerful. You've killed my son. And I just don't trust you to not do something else to further yourself. I'd like nothing better than to kill you myself. Slowly," he said the last with a low growl.
"Ah..but you can't can you? Your precious rules. And if you break them you're just as bad as your own father. Right? I'm sure you don't want to be like him," the blond goddess stated with a smug look.
"We need you...for now," Zeus scowled. "But understand this, a single misstep and I'll make the nightmares you have about Cirra seem a pleasant daydream compared to what I'll do to you," the god smiled at the dark flash in Callisto's eyes. "Yes. I know about Cirra. It oozes out of your every pore, making it so easy for me to see. Personally I think Hades didn't get creative enough when he had you."
"Hades couldn't get creative if he tried. Sitting in that chair was a pleasure, not a punishment." The goddess grinned. "Well..don't worry yourself, Zeus...or can I call you Daddy? I'll be the perfect Goddess of War for you. Never you fear." Blowing the King of the Gods a kiss, Callisto abruptly disappeared in a shower of light.
Silence reigned as the small group of assembled gods considered what had just happened. Aphrodite pushed herself away from the confused Smith God and left also, not in the mood for anymore godly politics.
Breaking the silence, Athena looked over at her father and muttered wryly, "That went well..considering."
Artemis raised an eyebrow. "An insane wargod. Are we sure we shouldn't just kill her and put her, and us, out of our misery?"
Zeus ignored them all, his gaze piercing the dark clouds outside, his mind deep in thought.
* * * * *
Darkness swirled around her, wisps of past memories like a fog. It seemed alive to her as its tendrils both caressed and wounded her. It was both a sensuous and painful experience. It had been years since she'd learned how to ignore pain and go beyond it to keep going and not let its sharp edges effect her. But this seemed different somehow...more real...yet not. She couldn't quite push the pain away.
Xena watched silently as the colors swirled and surged in the dark cloud. Watched...and listened. The voice was familiar...but less so then last time. Before it had been her own voice whispering to her, she had finally realized. Now though, the voice had changed slightly..familar..yet not.
You know you want to, Xenaaa.
Bath in it. Rejoice in it.
Dance in the fire with me, Xennnaaa.
"Xena. Come on now..you're starting to scare me." It was a different voice this time, the warrior noticed. But she could barely hear it, even over the dark cloud's whispering.
"Xena," the voice was louder, more insistent. "Wake up. Please."
Miinnneee...you shhall bee minnee...
"No!" Xena sat up abruptly as she made herself make up. She looked around in the almost pitch black darkness in confusion. Am I still dreaming?
The warrior turned her head and looked at the woman beside her. Xena's heart constricted for a moment in relief. Her eyes grazed over Gabrielle, looking for blood or wounds that the woman had in Xena's dreams. Seeing none of these, she closed her eyes for a moment and breathed deeply.
Feeling a soft hand land gently on her forearm she opened her eyes again and smiled into the concerned green eyes of her companion. "I'm fine, Gabrielle."
The bard gave her a wry look. "Just like me."
Xena chuckled, "You're right. Happy? This place really doesn't let a person get a good night's sleep."
"Well then. The sooner we get out of here the better. I'm all for that," Gabrielle grinned.
"First things first." Xena reached out a long finger and touched the silver slave collar around her friend's neck. "I don't like that on you."
"No? I thought it was kind of bulky myself. Not my style, and neither is the one you're wearing either," the bard pointed out, as she touched her collar. Her first gift from Julius Caesar and not one that she wanted to keep.
Xena grinned wickedly, "What? I don't make a good slave?" The warrior looked closely at the locking mechanism of Gabrielle's collar. Then removing one of the wire clasps from her armor, she started to pick it.
Emerald green eyes tried to watch her hands, but she was informed to keep her chin up and out of the way. When the warrior's fingers brushed against her throat, she did her best not to gasp, though she couldn't quite suppress a shiver.
"Cold?" Xena looked at her in concern.
"Just thinking." The bard gave Xena a quirky grin. "You make about as good a slave as I do. Do you know how hard it was to keep my mouth shut when they told me to?"
The warrior's fingers shook as she laughed. "I can imagine. I suppose they had as much luck keeping you quiet as I usually do." Xena waited until Gabrielle stopped chuckling before continuing maneuvering the wire in the small lock. After another twist or two, the lock opened, and Xena took off the collar.
Rubbing her neck with relief, Gabrielle eyed Xena's own slave collar. Xena had an quicker time with her own and soon there was two collars laying on the floor between them.
Gabrielle grimaced, "Now that I've lived it...I can honestly say that slavery is not for me."
"It isn't for anyone, Gabrielle."
"I know that. That's why I feel...guilty about Brutus. On one hand, thousands of men will die, but Roman slavery will slowly die out. On the other hand, the Empire grows and slavery will continue." The bard sighed as she stood up and started packing, refusing to look at the symbol of Roman rule anymore. "I'm either a murderer or a slaver."
A strong hand turned her towards her friend. Xena's eyes were sad as she looked into the bard's own. "The lesser of two evils? You're not responsible for their deaths or the slaves brought here. Just as I... I'm not responsible for having to defend myself in the arena." Nope. I'm just responsible for killing them, she thought wryly.
Gabrielle rested her hand on Xena's, and shook her head. "Maybe, but that doesn't mean we don't still feel guilty about it. Does it?"
"I've lived with guilt for years now. What's one more burden?" Xena pulled her hand away, and helped get the rest of their supplies ready. Refilling the lamp once again, she waited for her companion to settle her pack. "Ready?"
Gabrielle nodded. "Yeah. Now..you're sure you know the way out of here?"
Xena shrugged. "I have a map. So far everything's been on course. Don't worry, Gabrielle. We'll get out of here. Even if I have to dig a new passage."
* * * * *
Aphrodite collapsed unto her bed, exhausted mentally. This can't be worth it? All this because I couldn't live without a vacation? The goddess rolled herself over and looked up at the ceiling, tears starting to blur her vision.
I should have just told Daddy. It's not my fault she tricked me into helping her. He'd understand...he'd have to.
The Goddess of Love, usually a carefree woman who enjoyed helping bring lovers together, most of the time, was now bordering on a breakdown. The constant pressure that she felt from Callisto's power, which effected her so uniquely, and the mental pressure the goddess was putting on her, was driving her close to the edge. And now she was bound by her own deeds to Callisto's cause.
Oh...Xena. I wish I could help you..but I can't even help myself, the gentle goddess sobbed. There was no witness to the falling of the goddess tears. If there had been, they too would have cried.
* * * * *
"So a dark cloud surrounded you and was talking to you? That was your dream?" Gabrielle asked. It wasn't a surprise to her that the warrior's description had been so simple. But then, Gabrielle was used to having to draw out more detail. Much to Xena's annoyance at times.
Walking a few feet ahead and holding the lamp high enough for both of them to see by, Xena's eyes scanned the darkness beyond. It didn't help much. The darkness beyond their little light was complete, giving no clue as to what may be only a few feet ahead. Xena's other senses though, especially her hearing, were working overtime. The sound of rats and the other living inhabitants of the catacombs could be heard to her sensitive ears, echoing down the tunnels. Of course, this was besides the talk the two women were having. A talk that Xena didn't feel comfortable about. Her nightmares were a subject that she always tried to keep away from her companion. Not that she succeeded.
"Yes. That was my dream," Xena replied. Oh..and I forgot. The cloud was whispering to me. What? I didn't tell you about that? I didn't tell you that I think I'm losing my mind and my control? Some friend I am. Sorry Gabrielle, I should have told you that I was stupid and tried to figure out why my connection to Ares is still there, and that I almost went insane. So what do you make of all of this? What do you think it means? Unseen by the bard, who walked behind her, Xena rolled her eyes at the thought. No. She was not about to share her nightmares yet. Never...if she could get away with it. She'll probably tell me that it has something to do with my mother. Or my horse. Time to change the sub...
A new sound came to the warrior's ears, and Xena abruptly stopped, holding up her hand to signal Gabrielle to be silent too.
Closing her eyes, the dark-haired warrior concentrated on the sounds, blocking out all other distractions. Can't tell how far. To much echo. Singing? Xena opened her eyes and turned to a curious and patient Gabrielle.
"Funeral. At least I hope it's a funeral. I hear singing, though I can't make out the words. I'm sure they're not down here for a performance."
"You can hear singing?" Gabrielle asked as she turned her ear toward the passage, trying to hear what her partner heard. After a long moment, she shook her head.
Xena grinned. "You have to clean them out sometimes, Gabrielle."
The bard chuckled and swatted her arm. "So what are we going to do? How far away?"
"Well...I can go find out." Xena offered. "In fact I think I should. The passages in here are making it hard for me to tell distances, and I don't want us bumping into them unexpectantly. They probably don't have guards...but I don't want stories about the walking dead to start circulating roam the city."
"Oh great. Just feed my imagination why don't you?" Gabrielle muttered as her eyes were drawn to one of the burial niches in the rock wall.
"Look. I really think I should go, and I don't want to leave you here, but we only have one lamp, and since I don't want them to see us coming, we'd have to put it out and I'm not sure we could get it lit again."
"You mean you're planning on going out there without a light?" Gabrielle eyebrows crept up her brow to hide in her blond bangs.
"I won't get lost," Xena assured her. "I'll count my footsteps and memorize the layout as I go. If I do get lost, which I doubt," she grinned, "I'll wait until I'm sure the others down here can't hear me, then I'll call for you. Is that acceptable?"
"So. I'm just supposed to sit here and wait?" Alone. The only company being moldy and dusty bones? Gabrielle thought silently. Ok..get a grip. You can do this.
"I won't be long. I doubt they're that far away really. I just need to make sure they aren't coming our way. If they are, I'll come immediately back here and we can find an alternative route."
"Fine. Just make sure you come back," the bard frowned, not pleased with being left behind, but understanding the reasons.
Xena smiled reassuringly. "Never fear. I'll always come back."
Xena set down the lamp and her pack, then with a quick wink and grin she went off into the darkness, her footsteps silent.
"You'd better," was the bard's whispered answer as she watched her friend's armor glint in the lamplight, until too soon she disappeared.
* * * * *
Another stupid idea. Yep...definitely not one of your brightest, Xena, the warrior muttered to herself, as she walked, her hands brushing the walls of the passage. Absently she counted yet another turn, only pausing momentarily to get her bearings on the now more audible mourners.
Funerals. Dead people. I'm sure Gabrielle, is about to run up the walls by now and her nightmares haven't been helping. Gods. If only I had known. Xena berated herself. Finding out about the content of her friend's current nightly terrors had been an education. I owe Caesar sooo much for this. I hope Brutus kills him. It'll save me the trouble.
The warrior inwardly winced as the memory of her own crucifixion surfaced. No one should have to go through that. Let alone her. At least...at least I got there in time. Then there's that damned child. Perdicus. My death. Callisto. Veleska. Ares. Man, when Gabrielle gets nightmares she doesn't do things by halves. We need to just get ourselves out of here and away from all this madness for awhile. Maybe if I took her home? No...she doesn't really relax there. Amazons? No. Baddd idea. Ephiny will make her work and it'll wear her down. Besides..I want to get her to stop having nightmares, not remind her of them. Amphipolis? Hmm..now there's an idea...
Xena spun around in the dark at the voice, then froze in horror as she realized that it had come from within. From her own mind.
"By the gods," the whisper came from Xena's lips without her knowledge.
Turning her gaze inward she looked into that dark place within her and made sure the tight reins she held over herself were ironbound. What she saw made sweat suddenly bead upon her chilled brow.
"By the gods," she repeated, stunned at the implications. This can't be right. Damnit!! Noooo!!
Yessssss, the voice answered. Now more clear, the voice was much more recognizable to the warrior.
"Damn you! How did..."
The voice cackled inside her mind as Xena could almost feel fingers gently touching that thick cord that bound them together. The faint vibrations tingled through her and shook her control.
You think I let you go because I was being niccce? I let you go, because it was the plan...all allonngg. I knew it would be like this. Whattt?? Don't you like it?
"I can fight you just as easily as him. I am not your pawn!" Xena hissed.
The voice trailed away, leaving the dark-haired warrior standing rigid, trying to control the dark emotional storm that threatened to escape.
* * * * *
Gabrielle bit into the date, the sweet meat of the fruit a pleasant taste compared to what she had been eating in the palace only yesterday. Was it only yesterday? This eternal dark down here...I can't even tell what time of day it is.
The bard sighed, and stretched out her legs a bit crossing them at the ankles. Picking up another date, she tried hard not to think of her eating companions that rested in the walls around her. Thankfully the lamp only lit a small area, instead of the whole passageway. Only two of the countless number of burial niches could be seen by her.
Two is two too many. Gabrielle chewed slowly thinking about that sentence a moment. Two too many? Far too many. Much better. Two is far too many. Hmm...maybe not.
The darkness wouldn't have been so bad on her, if she hadn't been alone. She knew that she was a strong person, she had to be in order to have seen, and survived mentally intact, some of the things the two women had witnessed over their journeys. But Gabrielle also knew, that she leaned on her companion heavily sometimes. Using just the warrior's presence as a crutch in order to go on.
Not that I don't like her presence. Oh noo.. Gabrielle grinned to herself as she took another bite. Quite the opposite in fact. I wonder when that happened? Oh...Marcus. I wasn't that jealous of him...only perhaps jealous that he knew her and had her love. Something I don't think I'll ever have. At least not the love that I...
The bard's hand stilled, the fig still halfway to her mouth. Suddenly she felt lonely...very lonely. Ignoring the fear that washed through her, she gazed out into the darkness, willing that familiar tall form to come into the light. Needing it.
Come on, Xena. Please don't be lost.
As she looked out, she tried to ignore her rapidly beating heart, and listen for any sign of Xena. Long moments passed, then...what sounded like bones rattling came to her ears. The bard almost screamed as she stood with a rush being careful not to tip over the lamp. She cast about for a weapon, any weapon. It was just this kind of situation that made her want her staff in hand. Her fingers itched to wrap around the familiar wood. But the Amazon staff was gone, and she had no replacement.
Again, the sound came to her ears, this time seeming nearer and louder...and coming from the wrong direction. Gabrielle spun, her eyes darting into the pitch blackness. Definitely bones that time...and we know that the only bones down here are human, and that bones don't move by themselves. Right? She asked herself silently.
Then another sound come to her, from the same direction, and when she heard it Gabrielle collapsed on her knees in relief. Never before had the squeak of a rat made her feel so good. It's just your nerves, Gabrielle. Nothing knew. Although I probably don't want to thing of what a rat is feeding on down here, she paused as the image came unbidden to her mind anyway. Ewww.
"Xena?" the bard smiled in relief, as she stood up and waited for her friend to come out of the shadows. She could just barely see the warrior's outline in the distance.
"You ok?" Xena asked.
"Yes. I'm fine. I just scared myself over a rat though. Nothing unusual." Gabrielle grinned, then frowned as she realized her friend wasn't coming any closer. "Xena?" she took a step forward.
"Don't come any closer!" the warrior said sharply. "Please...Gabrielle."
"What's wrong? Are you hurt?" The bard squinted, trying to get a better look at her friend, but the warrior was too far back in the darkness to see well.
"No. I'm fi..not hurt."
"Ok. Then come over here and get something to eat," Gabrielle instructed.
"It's not safe for you. I'll lead you out of here, but you have to stay back. I can't explain it...well I could..but I don't think I want to..."
"You'd better! Damnit, Xena. Don't scare me like this. What's wrong?"
"I don't want to hurt you, Gabrielle, but I can't trust myself right now...I...I..." the warrior paused a moment, suddenly uncertain. "I've told you before that Ares and I ...that we shared a bond right?"
"Yes. From before. You told me about it once or twice, and how it makes it difficult sometimes to fight him, what you were, and what he is," the bard replied.
"It's still there."
Gabrielle took a few moments to think about what Xena had just told her. What does she mean it's still there? Of course it is, unless he released her... Her mouth abruptly opened in a soundless "Oh." And her eyebrows rose high. "He's still there? He's alive?"
"No. It's not Ares anymore."
Gabrielle could hear Xena in the darkness as the warrior took a deep breath, as she waited for her to go on.
"I'm no longer Ares' Chosen, Gabrielle. I'm Callisto's...and it seems as if she plans on claiming me. Rather ironic isn't it?"
The darkness of the catacombs seemed to creep in closer at those words, and Gabrielle shivered in reflex.
"You can fight it. You have with Ares."
The dim figure shrugged. "I know...but Callisto seems more...powerful than Ares, and more, much more, insistent."
"By the gods, Xena!" Gabrielle sat down in shock.
"Goddess. Definitely goddess."
Gathering herself together, the bard shook her head. "I don't care. You think I'm in danger don't you?"
"Yes," Xena replied simply.
"You're stronger than you think. I don't think she'll win...she can't. You're much saner than she is."
"I can't take that chance. I don't want to hurt you. If something happens..."
Gabrielle interrupted her. "Stop. We're a team remember. We'll deal with this together." How, I don't know, but we will. "Don't you dare give up and leave me now. You promised you'd always come back. I take that as you won't leave either."
A long moment passed, then a dry chuckle came out of the dark. "How do you ever put up with me?"
"A wise woman once said, 'One day at a time.'", the blond woman grinned impishly at the warrior who had finally come to stand beside her out of the darkness.
"Perhaps she should have said, 'I've got no other choice, besides Joxer.'" Xena smiled back, the uncertainty pushed aside by the bard's charm for a moment.
"Hmm..you or Joxer. Do I have to chose now?"
Once again the catacombs rang with the calming sound of laughter, as the two friends packed up and continued their underground journey.
* * * * *
Callisto leaned back in her chair, a monstrous affair that towered above her and was wide enough for two. Poking the tip of one of her fingers in her mouth, she focused on the scene in front of her with glee.
"Xeennnnnaaa." The goddess threw her head back and cackled gleefully at the memory, then brought her gaze back to the model in front of her.
An exact replica of the Roman catacombs, the model was huge and would have taken up the entire floorspace of the tent, if Callisto hadn't done some redecorating and enlarged the tent itself. The goddess eyed the model looking for any imperfection. Strife and Discord had worked all through the night to obey Callisto's wishes, and so far the Goddess of War was pleased with their work.
"As if I'm going to tell them that," Callisto grinned as she looked into one of the burial niches. Though the model was made by the two lesser god's magic, it was obvious they hadn't skimped on any of the detail.
Finally her gaze fell on two equally detailed figurines. One made of obsidian shot through with veins of silver. The other made of almost pristine white marble, with far fewer veins then the other, but of dark gray. Each figure was an exact duplicate of the mortal. From Xena's little silver and gold chakrum. To the items of miniaturized food in the bard's pack.
"Oh, Xena. Have I got such plans for you." Callisto grinned as she reached out a slim hand and moved one of the walls of the catacomb.
To be continued in "Passage Into Darkness" Part Three
comments are welcome and replied to (except for flames and then you can just bite me. Please?*g*)
Umm...I got sorta an urge to write more of this instead of working on those two short stories I promised, so this part is coming out sooner than expected. I'd also like to thank CeasarsBad (CB), who's been keeping me... err... straight on all the facts and stuff in this story so I don't mess up. Come down off that cross dear and take a bow. *S*
I also found that I was able to insert the feeling from "A Crown of Laurel" (I'm talking about the good natured ribbing and joking between our heroines), much more easily this time. Hope it works. *S* Stay tuned...more to come.
Come then, dear goddess, and release me
From my anguish. All my heart's desiring
Grant thou now. Now too again as aforetime,
Be thou my ally.
Warlord in training
"Bard? Where? *Rude noise* Go away, I'm just here having fun." ;}
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