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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.
Warning~ Violence. 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*
Spooky Music Disclaimer~ After I posted Part 2 of Passage, I found out that this story is starting to disturb some people. So let's call this the "Spooky Chills Jason Disclaimer". What's happening to our two heroines is not a pleasant day by the beach. If you start hearing spooky music in the background, please...raise your eyes and look at your surroundings. You are safe.
Attention~ Some people have just started reading Passage and have sent me some emails. Passage Into Darkness is the second book in a trilogy called "Sword of War". "A Crown of Laurel" is the first book and contains five parts. This story take place after "Gabrielle's Hope" and before "The Debt". "The Rift" has barely begun (even though in episode time we're far past it now) and the only consequence it has on their relationship is Meridian's death, for the most part.
Passage Into Darkness
For Death we all are nurtured, the greatest and the least,
Like fatted swine for the slaughter, to die as dies the beast.
Palladas of Alexandria
As Gabrielle fell backwards Aphrodite pulled her hand away from Xena's arm, letting it drop to her side limply. Never before had she felt so unclean, but she knew she didn't have time to wallow in guilt. Reaching out with her mind she searched quickly, her immortal presence tracking each and every creature in Hades' realm. She discarded one after another, for she knew the particular creature she was looking for. Not even a heartbeat of time had passed in mortal terms, when she finally found the creature she was looking for.
One of Hades' more unusual creations, it was neither male nor female, and its size was immense yet insubstantial at the same time. It was perfect for the job the goddess needed to be done, and would keep others from finding out she had interfered.
Aphrodite spoke firmly to the creature, relaying her wishes and then watched as it started to comply.
The goddess attention was painfully pulled back into her body from the slap that she'd been given. Holding her sore jaw she opened her eyes, then opened them even wider in alarm.
"What was that for?"
Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt, and protector of the Amazons stood before her, glowing brightly in righteous wrath, but still invisible to Xena who was gazing at her own hand, seemingly in shock.
"YOU BITCH!" The goddess snarled as she ignored Aphrodite's question and drew back her fist to strike again.
Uh oh..Now would be a good time to get out of...
The Goddess of Love had started to disappear, but Artemis' fist still connected solidly with her jaw, sending the blond goddess flying into the Underworld sky like a meteor.
Towards the fiery dark lands of Tartarus Aphrodite careened bonelessly through the air and started plummeting rapidly towards land.
Her body ripped through a grove of petrified tree like spires, then out through the other side.
In tremendous pain, Aphrodite couldn't concentrate enough to will herself out of the Underworld, let alone control where she landed. Her immortal body hit the barren hard ground and kept going digging a long furrow into the soil, until finally she come to rest.
Weakly, the goddess put a trembling arm underneath herself and rolled herself over onto her back.
"Oohhhh...." Aphrodite moaned and started to sit up carefully. Gingerly she opened her eyes, then swayed as wave of dizziness washed over her. "This just isn't my day..ow..ow.."
"Aphrodite dear, this is just the beginning!" Artemis growled as she appeared in front of the other goddess in a bright flash of light.
"Oh my..." The Goddess of Love's words drifted off as she fainted dead away.
Xena watched as Gabrielle fell backwards, her arms flailing about and screaming the warrior's name. At first Xena was frozen, her arm still held out, only her eyes moving as they followed the plummeting form. Everything seemed hazy to her, as if parts of her mind were still asleep. Was this a part of her nightmare? Would Caesar appear before her and laugh maniacally?
Gabrielle's cry finally registered in her brain, jolting Xena fully awake in shock. The image of Gabrielle falling searing itself into her brain painfully, yet still she denied what she was seeing. Only a heartbeat of time passed, then the bard's twisting, screaming body disappeared into the thick bank of fog that surrounded the plateau, cutting off all sound and sight of her from Xena.
"No." She whispered in denial, but the vision of her holding Gabrielle close to the cliff's edge, then taking away one hand, then pushing her best friend off the cliff with the other, was a memory she couldn't deny. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of her still raised hand and turned her head to look at it.
"No..I...I..." Xena gazed at the offending limb in perplexity, then slowly turned it over and looked at her palm. All the tiny scars and minute details convinced her that truly it was her hand, but still she couldn't believe what she had done.
"I...I didn't..I didn't kill her...no."
Suddenly her legs gave out and Xena collapsed kneeling on the ground, the edge of the cliff right under her knees. She swayed forward, unconsciously willing gravity to take her, wanting to follow Gabrielle over.
Then it hit her. The Truth. Undeniable.
"What have I done?" Her head rolled back causing her to lean back away from the cliff's edge. Gazing up into the dark ceiling of the Underworld, with its multitude of bright shining jewels, she started to tremble as the emotions within her boiled and threatened to overwhelm her.
There was no control over what she was experiencing, no way to rein in her guilt and despair. So painful was the rush that her attention was totally absorbed by the sensations within. The gods themselves could come down and war around her and yet she wouldn't have known.
As the harsh emotional tide surged she tried to fight, but the guilt of killing Gabrielle with her own hands trapped her, letting her crime consume her both emotionally and physically. It began with a slight tingling in her limbs until it felt as if her arms and legs were being flayed piece by piece by dull rusty knives. It was a curious sensation and one that she usually felt after an long drawn out battle. Spreading quickly the pain swarmed over her entire body, making her muscles tense in instinctively. Her stomach clenched next in torment, sending bile rushing up into her mouth, causing her to heave in reflex. It became hard for her to draw breath and her heart beat painfully in her chest.
Her mind was no better, as she relived again and again that moment when she shoved Gabrielle over the cliff. What did I do? I...nooo!!! Xena mindlessly screamed.
Ahh...Xena...what have you done? Is that what you wish to ask me? The familiar voice caressed her mind.
"Callisto....damn you!" Xena's body was rigid with strain, sweat drenched her frame as she strove to control herself. She was losing the battle and a large part of her wished to. Without Gabrielle there was nothing to live for. Even the promise that she had once given, that she would not turn into a monster should anything happen to the bard, held nothing for Xena. For she had never thought that she would be the one to harm the bard herself.
Damn me? Too late. I've been damned since the first time we met. Do you remember?
"Leave me alone!!" The warrior roared.
Why? Let you wallow in your guilt, then watch you tumble over the edge? You aren't thinking this through clearly, Xena dear. You pushed her over. What could be the reason? Hmm? Or does there need to be one? Perhaps you're not fit to be around others...at least not as what your bard thought you were. The evilness in you...that blackened heart of yours....you can't deny its existence. Embrace it. You pushed her over, Xena. You wanted to. Why fight what you are?
"Get out of my mind!!"
Hmm...nope. Can't do that. I'm a part of you now, more so than ever before, just as you're a part of me. Connected. Can't you feel it? Can't you just feel the love? The goddess' dark chuckle rumbled in Xena's mind.
Callisto's words brought Xena's unwilling attention to that dark part of her that was vying with the guilt and grief within her. With almost a joyful glee the wild shadowy bond that connected Xena with Callisto surged up under the warrior's attention, bringing with it all the dark primal emotions that it owned.
Madness. Feeding on her guilt and self-hatred. A coil of primal searing cold that wound tighter and tighter around her brain. Like a rabid animal, it devoured her sanity in whole chunks. Reason and clear thought, already reeling from the grief in her heart, slowly receded under the sharp claws of madness.
Darkness. The absence of morals. Corruption of the spirit. Ever a part of her soul since the day M'Lila died. Shadows that light could not fully destroy. It flowed up through her, bypassing all her controls and wrapping liquid warm arms around her soul, and drowning all the light within.
Passion. In battle and love, both separate and intertwining. A fiery hunger and thirst that never truly diminished. Memories washed over her, of blood on her lip, of slick crimson running in streams down her body as she killed enemy after enemy. Anyone who had ever dared to step in her way died, feeding her passion, her need. Memories of lover after lover in her bed, a multitude of bodies that were as casually thrown away as they had been picked. Still the hunger remained, never sated. It roared through her like a wildfire, burning away all the sweet love she held and leaving only that primal appetite.
"Ohhh...yesssss..." Xena echoed, her voice a low sensuous purr.
Two minds...two souls, one mortal the other immortal, bound and chained together.
Xena's sanity was driven back under the onslaught. The warrior had no choice but to retreat from the mental battle and hide in the depths of her mind.
Callisto, the Goddess of War, had her Chosen.
The creature had lived in the Underworld since Hades had created the realm. It knew nothing else, just the freedom of existing here with no cares or worries. It had no hunger and needed neither dark nor light to survive. Its thirst was quenched by the numerous rivers, streams, and lakes that made up the underground world.
Of all the species of animal and monster that lived here at Hades' command, the creature was perhaps the most unique. Only one of its kind existed and Hades had mused that perhaps it would live such a long life that it might be just be immortal. It had no natural predators and had no prey. It simply, existed.
Its movement and mind were both slow, for there was no need for the creature to hurry. So it was, that when Aphrodite spoke mind to mind to the immense being, that it didn't quite understand all that the goddess had asked of it, but it would do its best with what limited abilities it had.
The touch was almost feather light against her arm, but even so it sent her over the cliff's edge. Time seemed to slow at that moment as Gabrielle fell backwards, away from solid land and Xena's grip.
Gabrielle's eyes, still locked with the warrior's, opened wide in shock and disbelief. Xena, her best friend and companion, who meant more to her than anything in the entire world, had just pushed her off the plateau.
Survival instinct took over, limbs flailed chaotically in the air trying to grasp anything that would halt her fall, but there was nothing.
"XEEENNNNNNAAAAA!!!" The bard screamed, as the warrior's face quickly grew further and further away, until it was finally unrecognizable in the distance.
Then the dark earthen sky of Hades' realm and the dark red rock of the plateau disappeared altogether as she plunged into the thick foglike bank below.
"NOO!!" Arms still flailing helplessly, she screamed in denial. Her death was imminent, nothing could stop her body was impacting on the hard ground below, and yet still her mind rebelled and looked for ways to survive.
"HELP ME! SOMEBODY!" she screamed, but the thick white fog devouring her words, making it hard for Gabrielle to even hear her own words.
The fog seemed thicker somehow, almost like the heavy mist of a waterfall, but even more tangible than that.
Gabrielle curled herself up in a tight ball, needing the contact with her own body. Her heart was the only sound she heard, its beating so rapid and extremely loud in her ears that it completely drowned out the words.
"Help me." She whimpered as she closed her eyes. She felt as if she'd been falling forever, and with the fog cutting off her sight, she had no way of knowing how close the ground truly was.
Gabrielle whimpered again, still not hearing the word that was a whisper on the wind. Falling through the air, she couldn't feel the airy hands that caressed her body, slowly her descent slightly and changing her direction.
The fog moved as quickly as it could, doing its best to move the falling mortal to a safer place. It knew it couldn't stop the descent of it's passenger, but it could slow her down and move her within itself.
Still Gabrielle kept falling. The plateau was the highest of the Underworld's mountains, and yet surely she should have hit the ground about now. Gabrielle opened her eyes and looked around in puzzlement and wide eyed fear, but saw only the white fog around her, thickly wrapped around her body, cushioning her slightly against the harsh wind.
This time the bard heard the sound, the soft whisper almost drowned out by the rush of wind passing by her body. She started to open her mouth and respond but abruptly the fog bank was gone and right below her was...
Gabrielle's body fell into the Styx with a great splash and disappeared into its depths.
The fog watched as long moments passed, with no sign that the mortal was coming up.
Aphrodite groaned in pain as the words exploded in her brain. Opening her eyes, she slammed them shut again, even the diffused reddish light of Tartarus sent of agony through her.
"Get up, Aphrodite!"
The Goddess of Love recognized the familiar voice of Artemis and mentally winced. It wasn't a bad dream. Why me? Wearily she carefully opened her eyes again, this time pleased that there wasn't as much pain.
Artemis, the Goddess of wild things and the hunt, stood over her. Her bow was now strung and held in one hand, a shining arrow readied, but not drawn.
The goddess was beautiful in her own way, wild as the most primal and ancient of forests. When she moved, it was as if every predator in the world was suddenly clumsy in comparison. Her skin, though smooth as silk and clean, seemed to darken in tone in the woods, camouflaging her. She clothed herself in a halter and skirt, made of deep brown leathers and decorated with braiding. Hair, wild and free, with tiny braids that held small feathers and earth toned beads. Eyes, sometimes deep brown the color of rich loam, that can only be found under the canopy of ancient trees, and sometimes the deep burnished gold of the rare black panther.
The colors reflected the huntress' mood and as Aphrodite looked up at her sister, she knew that the golden hue meant Artemis was very angry, but she really didn't need to see Artemis' eyes to tell her that.
"You made Xena push my Queen over the edge!" Artemis stated, her voice low and vibrating with barely suppressed rage.
"No! You don't under..."
Artemis interrupted her. "Don't try your conniving ways on me, Aphrodite. I'm not led by my hormones. I watched you do it! Explain yourself before I wring your pretty little neck! I may not be able to kill you, because unfortunately father dotes on you and will disapprove even though you deserve it, but I can make you suffer and wish you were dead."
The enraged goddess reached down with her free hand and grabbed a handful of Aphrodite's gown and pulled her sister up towards her. "Answer me!" she hissed.
Aphrodite set her feet more firmly beneath herself and tried standing, but Artemis would have none of it. Giving up, the blond goddess let herself hang there partially crouching. "Callisto wanted her dead, but..."
"I'LL KILL HER!"
"And she'll destroy you!" Aphrodite yelled back, then cringed at the ire in Artemis' eyes. "Besides, Gabrielle isn't dead. At least she wasn't when I was trying to help her."
Artemis eyed her sister, disbelief evident on her face. She knew what she'd seen with her own eyes.
"Look. Yes, I pushed Xena's arm and made her shove Gabrielle over, but I had no choice. Callisto and I ...well, I won't go into that right now." Aphrodite shivered. "I was talking with one of Hades creatures when you hit me. It was supposed to bring Gabrielle down safely, or at least that's what I was trying to tell it."
Artemis didn't answer her, instead Aphrodite watched as the other goddess closed her eyes and reached out with her mind. Only a moment passed and Aphrodite was dropped harshly to the ground by Artemis, as the Hunting Goddess abruptly disappeared in a shower of light without a word.
"You're welcome," Aphrodite muttered as she picked herself up off the ground and disappeared, leaving Tartarus far behind and getting as far away from Artemis' vicinity as possible. She knew Artemis would take care of the bard, and besides the Goddess of Love needed a bath desperately.
Gabrielle plunged below the dark surface of the Styx, her body screaming with the pain of impacting with the dark water, the breathe driven from her lungs by the blow.
The coldness of the water was what shocked her next and in reflex her mouth opened to take a much needed breath. Dank icy black liquid rushed into her lungs, making her cough and inhale again automatically. Her mind screaming at the rapidly increasing pain in her chest, Gabrielle's green eyes gazed up at the faint light of the surface. Her arms and legs, still frozen in agony from the fall, were useless to her, and she slowly sunk into the depths of the Underworld river.
Agonizing pain gave over to numbness.
Bonechilling cold made way for lethargic warmth.
The dim waters became darker still until not even the glow of the skies of Tartarus and Elysia could be seen above and the bard's eyes closed in finality as the darkness wrapped around her and held her tightly.
Good-bye, Xena. I love you.
Gabrielle's mind seemed to float as it let go of it's mortal shell. She drifted, memories both dark and light passing before her, snippets of life. The darkness of the past month weighting heavy on her most of all and her mind, as it rested in the darkness, cringed in guilt ridden pain. The blood on her hands. Meridian's Death. Her lie to Xena. The choice of prophesy she had to make in Rome. Hundreds of thousands of deaths...or just one. As all her deeds, both good and bad passed before her, Gabrielle, Bard and Amazon Queen, judged herself wanting.
If it was possible, the darkness seemed even more black, more heavy upon her. The pain was gone now and there seemed no need to breath. The frigid coldness was replaced by a heat that surrounded her, from the balmy breeze to the warmth that seeped up from the stones under her hand.
Breeze? Stones? Gabrielle opened her eyes slowly in surprise.
The field was wide and full of wildflowers and the sun. Petals and a butterfly here and there, floated upon the warm breeze. Surrounded by tall trees too numerous to count, the glade was a paradise in the midst of a dark forest. The faint sound of a stream could be heard in the distance and the bard knew if she walked toward it, that she would find the cleanest, most refreshing spring bubbling out from between two stones into a small pool. It was a familiar setting and one that she'd seen too often of late.
Standing up slowly, Gabrielle looked down at her body. Gone was the thick silk jade top and dark forest green leather skirt she'd been given on their flight from Rome, instead she was once again clad in her old attire, woven green halter and rust colored skirt.
"Strange," she murmured as she looked back up. She knew this field by heart, having been here so many times since Britannia. Tartarus. This is my punishment. A tear streaked down her face as she realized that she'd been right. Sometimes all it takes is one horrendous deed to offset a lifetime of goodness.
Resigned, the bard looked around for Meridian, for always in her nightmares, the Briton would come across the field smiling and holding her arms out in sisterly love for Gabrielle. This was surely her Tartarus, but where was Meridian?
After long moments a tiny trickle of hope welled up in her. Could this be the Fields? Another part of it that I hadn't seen before and which also lives in my dreams? I know I must be dead, but this...this isn't...but it is...or is it? The bard spun around in confusion.
"I don't underst..." Her words trailed off, as she caught the faint sound of singing in the distance.
Gabrielle froze, the tantalizingly familiar tune growing, until she could swear it was coming from all around her and filling her. She knew this song..and the singer. Only one person she knew sang this funeral dirge with such heart rending soulfullness.
"Xena?" Trying to hone in on the sound, Gabrielle turned and searched for the source of the haunting song. The peace of the glade forgotten as she looked for her friend.
Gabrielle caught a movement out of the corner of her eye and she turned towards it in reflex. Out of the forest an inky blackness billowed thick and malevolent. It hesitated at the edge of the glade, seemingly afraid of the sunlight and the peacefulness of the place. The dark shadows roiled and thrashed angrily and the bard could swear she saw a faint figure in its midst fighting to get out.
"Xena?" Gabrielle took several steps forward, but the figure inside the darkness seemed to motion her to move back. Hesitantly the bard complied feeling helpless and confused. Had something happened to Xena? Had the warrior jumped after her and fallen to her death? Gabrielle had always maintained that Xena's heroic deeds would keep her out of Tartarus when she died, but surely this dark mist wasn't part of the Elysian Fields? She knew it couldn't have been Xena that had pushed her to her death. The nightmares. Callisto's presence within her. It could have been anything, but she knew that Xena would never harm her in that way. Never.
Oh, Xena. This can only be my Tartarus then as I first thought. This field..us separated. Gabrielle's heart ached as she watched as the figure in the mist. After several moments she started forward again, determined to try anything to free Xena, when abruptly the warrior broke free from her dark prison.
Stumbling into the glade, Xena fell unto her knees, one of her arms sheilding her eyes from the warm sun's rays, as if the bright light hurt her eyes. Gabrielle took a hesitant step forward. Is this my Xena? Or a demon come to haunt me?
The warrior's arm fell to her side and she gazed around, blinking rapidly in the sunlight. Spotting Gabrielle she suddenly smiled brightly and stood up in a fluid movement.
The bard's heart nearly burst at the sight of that smile. It was Xena without a doubt. Perhaps this is Elysia then? She thought happily as she moved quickly to her friend, to be wrapped up in strong warm arms. Doesn't matter...this is home, no matter where it is.
The sun warmed skin and bronze armor under her arms soothed her. It had only been just a short while since she'd been with Xena, but with the nightmare and the fall...it seemed like ages. The bard's arms closed tighter around Xena's middle and she just stood there in arms of the one person she felt closest too and felt the need to let everything go.
Perhaps it was because there had been so much pain and darkness lately, that being in this perfect place in Xena's arms made all the pain go away. Not even the fact that this field was always figured in her nightmares about Britannia and Meridian, made Gabrielle nervous now.
Since they had gone to Britannia Gabrielle hadn't felt at peace. Her choices and Xena's weighed heavily on her. Neither one of them had had a chance since to relax really and heal inside. Instead they had been thrust into Caesar's arms again. Nightmares. Days upon days with little or no sleep for either of them. Food tasting bland and dulling further any appetite that might exist. Having to flee the blood soaked sands of the Roman arena and Callisto's mad bid for power, into a pitch black world of decaying bodies. To fear for Xena's very soul from Callisto's grip and to watch her push you to your death.
None of that mattered now. Even if this was Tartarus and Meridian came across that field, being here with Xena was what made this paradise.
"I'm sorry, Gabrielle."
The familiar voice swept through the bard and the words made tears well up in her eyes. She felt Xena's arms loosen around her and stepped back, although not without a small sigh of displeasure. Startling blue eyes caught and held her own, regret plainly visible within them and on the warrior's face.
"It's ok. I know it wasn't you. At least we are here together," the bard smiled wryly, then froze. "Wherever we are."
"Yes. Elysia. I never thought I'd be here...ever," the warrior's words were tinged with awe.
Gabrielle's heart felt like it was going to burst with happiness. Elysia. With Xena. Oh gods..thankyou. She leaned in and gathered Xena in for another hug then stepped back and gazed thoughtfully at their surroundings. Whatever reason the gods chose this field for Xena's and her own afterlife, Gabrielle decided she didn't care. It was peaceful here and beside her was the only person she cared to share it with.
Warm breath tickled her ear as she felt Xena lean close. "But then again...I didn't think you'd be here either."
Gabrielle's heart twisted painfully at the words. "What?" She stared up at her tall companion in shock.
"Well..you did murder Meridian...and lie to me," Xena pointed out.
Gabrielle stepped back from her friend, shaking her head slightly. "But..."
"I...oh gods," the bard moaned. "Ok..Yes, I lied. She's my child. I couldn't let you just kill her. And Meridian...oh gods...I...I..."
"How did it feel on your hands?" Xena asked, grinning at Gabrielle's horrified expression. "Did you enjoy it? The slipperiness of it? The thickness until it slowly starts to dry on your skin, becoming sticky...tacky? Come on, Gabrielle. Tell me." Xena raised an eyebrow, her mouth turned up in amusement.
"Please..." Another step back, but this time the warrior followed.
"You expect to get into Elysia with fresh blood on your hands?"
"Get away from me!" Gabrielle screamed, trying to pushing the warrior away in denial.
Xena leaned in closer, ignoring Gabrielle's strength. "Come on, Gabrielle. You can tell me...did you put Hope in the river to save her from me, or were you so consumed with guilt that you set her adrift hoping that the river would do what you couldn't? Kill your child?"
"No...please...Xena." Falling to the ground, the bard huddled in a tight compact mass, the words flaying her mind and her soul. She could feel Xena's presence follow her down and hover over her, the warmth of her breath caressing the bards neck and sending shivers down her spine.
"You're disappointing me, Gabrielle. I want to hear all the nice gory details. I want to know what it felt like for you when you...thrust," Xena emphasized the word, startling the now sobbing bard. "that dagger into her, and how the blade tingled in your hand when it pierced her ribs. I want to hear how you felt as that woman's warm blood spurted out and washed over your hand."
Gabrielle could feel Xena's breath on her ear again. She felt like running...running far away from this woman that was tearing her apart, but she had no strength. She was weak and just lay there limply on the ground crying, distraught, her mind in chaos.
"See, Gabrielle. We share much more than we ever did before. You understand me now don't you? That blood is tasty...sweet...you just have to have it. Don't you, Gabrielle?"
"No...no..please..go away...please..." Gabrielle begged.
"Oh no, my bard. You and me...here...forever," Xena promised in a sensual whisper in her ear.
"Oh yes. And we are going to enjoy every minute of it," the warrior assured her and chuckled darkly.
Artemis appeared next to the River Styx, her eyes immediately hunting for her prey. Not far above the cold dark river she spotted an unusually thick cloak bank and a quick mental probe told her that this was probably the creature that Aphrodite had used to try and save Gabrielle.
Scowling, the goddess tore her eyes away from the unique being and gazed into the murky waters. Spotting a sudden eruption of bubbles she quickly removed the arrow that she still had loaded in her bow and put it in the quiver at her back, her fingers automatically finding the arrow that she needed instead.
In one swift movement, inborn in her from her conception, Artemis loaded the arrow, drew back the heavy bow without even straining, used her sight and immortal senses to see Gabrielle, and let the arrow fly. Released from the bow, the arrow immediately started to glow, and hit the dank water with barely a splash, continuing down into the depths to its target.
The arrow, now glowing with a bright golden light, passed around and around the still form. Seeing that her arrow had done its work, Artemis lowered her bow and reached out a hand into the air, as if grabbing an invisible rope. Then with a big jerking movement from her arm she pulled Gabrielle from the water.
Artemis quickly walked over to the Amazon Queen and touched the glowing bonds. Unraveling, the arrow fell away from Gabrielle and resumed its natural form. Replacing the arrow in her quiver, the goddess knelt next to the unconscious woman and considered what she should do next. Frowning slightly she touched the wet golden tresses of her queen, and considered using her power to heal. The woman was close to death, but hopefully Artemis had gotten to her in time.
Should she interfere or let Fate decide. But I have already interfered by pulling her from the river without considering my actions, she argued with herself.
"Damn you, Aphrodite!" she hissed as she reached down again and gently touched the young woman's head, sending a healing wave of energy through her.
Artemis spun around and stood up, narrowing her eyes at a dark spot that was rapidly growing before her. "Greetings, Uncle."
Hades, the Lord of the Underworld and Ruler of the Dead, was perhaps the most feared by mortals. Even the other gods tended to stay away from him, his dark kingdom a mere reflection compared to its ruler. But everyone seemed to forget that Elysia was also Hades creation. He was a god of both light and dark. Happiness and suffering. Being the God of Judgment, he had to be both in order to rule according on the souls that passed into his world.
The dark leatherclad god glanced at the mortal at Artemis' feet, than looked back up at his niece. "What is this?"
"I'm surprised you didn't know, Hades."
Hades' eyes narrowed and he looked back at the unconscious form. "Hmm...I'm going to have to check the Gate. Either Cerberus got loose again or he's getting old."
"She didn't come in that way. Gabrielle and Xena walked through one of your old portals. I'm not sure what is all going on, but Aphrodite is up to no good. She made Xena push my queen over a cliff." The goddess unstrung her bow and put it away, only then turning to look at Gabrielle and her uncle, who now was squatting beside her. Artemis knelt down beside the two and studied the sleeping bard.
"Gabrielle?" Hades reached down and gently removed the mass of wet hair that covered the mortal's face. "Hmm....one of the old portals? Xena must have pushed her off of the plateau that my temple rests on." He looked up and spotted the fog bank. "It's not a straight drop from there though, she should have landed in the Bone Plain."
"Aphrodite said something about trying to help and talking one of your creatures into saving her." The goddess pointed up at the immense creature that floated above them and stretched quite a ways out in all directions.
Hades stood up and raised his arm towards the fog and beckoned. A long thick tendril of fog made its way down and wrapped itself around the god's arm.
The god smiled slightly as if to a favorite pet and eased his mind into its thoughts. It was quick work finding the recent memory of Aphrodite's talk with the creature and how it had done its best to save the mortal. Gently pulling his mind back, he turned to look at his niece.
"She was telling the truth. She asked it to bring Gabrielle to safety. This doesn't explain why Aphrodite had Xena push her over the plateau's edge though." The god shrugged slightly. "Aphrodite does tend to go to any length to bring..."
"This had nothing to do with that. I'm sure." Artemis countered and turned away from Hades and his minion.
The dark god looked up at the creature and nodded. "Yes. She's safe. You did well. Thank you."
The god watched as the fog reluctantly pulled away its tendril and slowly floated away. Lowering his arm, Hades looked down at the mortal again. "I won't say anything about you saving her from the river and healing her since Aphrodite was responsible for it happening in the first place, but...I don't have to tell you that you shouldn't have interfered. What are you're plans now?"
Artemis sighed. She would like nothing better than to be able to take the bard from here, but there was more at stake here than just her wishes. She looked up at Hades intently. "It seems you and I have a lot to talk about, but first we need to find Xena. She needs to know Gabrielle is alive."
Hades frowned at the goddess in disapproval, then gave in. Artemis was one of his favorite nieces and he did tend to have a soft spot in his heart for her. "Hardly anytime has passed, so I doubt she's gotten far." Hades said as he closed his eyes and let his mind expand. He knew his kingdom far better than most mortal kings did their own and found the warrior with ease. In what condition he found her was another matter entirely.
He flinched, both mentally and physically, as he gazed down upon the plateau and watched as the warrior abruptly snarled and preceded to demolish the remains of his temple...with her bare hands.
Xena trembled violently, totally enraptured by the sweet fire that raced through her veins and soul. This power...this was what she had been missing.
"Even sweeter than Ares," she purred, her head thrown back, her body still kneeling so precariously next to the plateau edge. "Oh...Callisto...ahhhhhhh...."
Minnneee..alll mineee!! The Goddess of War screamed in Xena's mind.
"YES!" the warrior screamed in admission. There was no denying it anymore...she was Chosen. Body and soul. Not a slave to the Goddess of War, but an extension. To a lesser degree Xena knew that Callisto was the same for her.
With a dark chuckle, Xena reached down inside herself and raked mental nails along on their dark bond.
Oohhh...quick learner, Callisto echoed Xena laugh. Mmmmm.
Xena opened her eyes, the dark roof of the Underworld far above her. Its sparkling stars catching her eyes. Hades had set diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and many other different precious stones into the rock ceiling above as a gift to his wife Persophone, to remind her during the long winter months she lived down here with him, of the night sky.
The warrior sneered. "What a waste. Hades is a fool."
As are the rest of them. Ares was the only one who viewed the world the same way you and I do. Pity.
Xena grinned. "Yes...pity." In one fluid movement the dark warrior stood up. Hard cold blue eyes surveyed her surroundings. Below her, white fog seemed to stretch almost all the way to the lands of both Tartarus and Elysia, blocking out her sight of the ground far below.
"Long drop." She found the comment funny and giggled a bit.
I should have watched her fall, but I was just enjoying myself with you soooo much, Xena.
Xena could feel the amusement of the goddess rippling down their connection. Its dark thrill sending yet another shiver up her spine. "Stupid bard. I told her long ago to go home, its not my fault she didn't listen."
Well...she entertained me a time or two. Too bad you didn't feel the same way as I did at the time.
"Peridicus," the warrior replied with a dark chuckle as she turned away from the edge and strode to the campsite, her eyes scanning the plateau for anything that might be an enemy. Her gaze brushed over the ruins of Hades' first temple and stopped as she looked intensely into the numerous shadows.
Yes...poor Perdi. The goddess paused a moment, then continued. He bled like a stuck piglet...and squealed like one too. Ahh..this is just soo much fun, I'm looking forward to you getting here. Mmmm...
Xena felt the presence of the goddess lessen within her, though their connection was just as strong and delicious as before. She knew if she called, the goddess would immediately come to her, but that obviously wasn't what Callisto wanted.
"Bone plain. I've got to get to the Bone plain." the warrior muttered, her eyes still trying to pierce the dark shadows in the temple ruins. "Bone plain. Home plain. Coming soon to you plain." Xena giggled, then tore her eyes from the temple and looked down at the campsite she had so recently shared with Gabrielle.
"Hmm..don't need this." Xena tossed a small boot over her shoulder, then its mate. "And this..and this. This. Don't care for nutbread right now. How about this? Nahh..err..hmmm..oh heck.." the warrior rummaged through all the items, tossing most of it aside, keeping only those things that were most useful to her.
"Warlord tip number ...hmm...what number was that? Oh yeah. Warlord tip number 52...Keep it simple stupid." A mad giggle rippled through her, making her blue eyes shine. Xena finished putting together a much smaller pack and quickly armored herself. Rolling her shoulders a bit, to settle the weight, she took a look again at the camp.
"Hmm...pretty obvious someone was here. Damn. Oh well...only one thing to do."
Once again Xena started picking up items, but this time she started tossing them over the cliff. After everything but her own essentials had disappeared over the edge, she grinned, most pleased with herself. Turning back, her eyes caught the stone ruins again.
A flash of memory washed over her.
M'lila in her arms, her dark, almost black eyes gazing up at her in pain. Then her only true friend slipping from her, dead.
White hot anger roaring through her body like a flash flood, leaving behind emptiness and warm fiery darkness of the soul. Pain ignored, put aside, as she erupts in a violent display. Broken legs don't stop her, as she leans forward to stand on her hands and kicks two of the soldiers away, then flips back to sit on the table again.
Teeth barred in an animalistic snarl as she kicks one of the Romans into the fireplace, his screams making her shiver in pleasure. One of the soldiers recovers and comes after her with a bared blade. She hits him hard, than takes his swordhand in her own, kicks him again causing the pathetic excuse for a soldier to fall to his knees with her behind him hovering over his body. She punches him again then using the Roman's own sword, she drags the sharp blade across his throat, her hand holding firm his grip on his sword. As a tingling rush of pleasure surges through her, she smiles, enjoying the feel of his blood spurting out on her hand. Almost absently she flings the sword from the now dead soldier's grasp and hears the satisfying thud as it silences forever the burning man by the fireplace.
One last Roman faces her, but he even he is doomed. She whips her hair into his face, blinding him, then reaching out a long arm, she pulls the soldier closer to her, then slams her head into his. She pulls the swaying groaning soldier close to her and makes him sit down before her, his back to her. Then two swift strikes to the Roman's throat and she is free to talk, free to tell him he is about to die.
"You'll be dead in thirty seconds. But know this..you won't be the last," she assures the struggling soldier. "Tell Hades to prepare himself. A new Xena is born tonight, with a new purpose in life..death."
Her hands descend and grasp the Roman's head, snapping it cleanly.
A shiver pleasure runs up Xena's spine as the memory passes. "I lied. It didn't take you thirty seconds to die after all." White teeth flash in the eerily glowing light of the Underworld, her eyes narrowing slightly as she walked toward the abandoned temple. She felt drawn to this house of worship for some reason and was curious to find out why. With every step she took towards the stone building, she could feel the hate and darkness within her rise higher.
In ancient times, twelve pillars, signifying the twelve major gods, held up the roof along with huge white marble blocks. Carvings of sacrifices, mortal and immortal daily life, and friezes decorated wall and pillar alike. Xena hopped over a fallen pillar and entered the temple. The roof had long ago given in to time's influence and now only seven pillars had managed to stay upright. With no ceiling, the light reddish glow that mixed with the white light of Elysia brightened the interior of the temple, but barely. The walls still stood, cutting off most of the light source, leaving the rest of the building in deep shadow.
"Hades. Lord of the Dead they call you." Cold eyes pierced the shadows easily and locked on an ancient altar, still piled high with offerings from the last day this temple had been used. A low chuckle filled the ancient stone building, the first sounds heard here in centuries.
"How can you rule over something you can't possibly understand?!" Xena's voice rose, as if yelling at the god.
Looking at the ground, she strode over to a huge chunk of fallen masonry. Bending down, she wrapped her strong hands under it and slowly heaved it up her body, until she held it above her head. Her arms trembled under the immense strain, but she refused to bend. The rock was nothing to her. Steel was nothing to her. She was more than mere flesh and bone...Chosen.
"I! AM! DEATH! HEAR ME, HADES?! Lord of the Underworld. Ruler of nothing! I have killed hundreds with my barehands! Thousands with my sword!" She roared and with a great heave she threw the boulder across the width of the temple. The great stone slammed into one of the remaining pillars and exploded on impact, sending the tall pillar crashing down into another, and it crashing into yet another.
Not even bothering to move, Xena stood amidst the falling pillars and laughed. Laughed at death. Life. Hades. They were nothing to her.
The laugh finally trailed away as the dust cleared. Xena stood in the only clear spot left where the temple had stood, the building now a true ruin. No pillar, no wall stood. Hades' altar was broken, smashed into pieces. The First Temple of Hades was no more.
"What have you done? Have you held a life in your hands? Have you died? Have you crossed back to life again? Have you spilled blood?" She asked, her voice the only sound once again in the empty ruins. "What right did you have to judge me when I died?! You haven't even lived!! Sit on your throne. Decide who is good and who is evil? You haven't lived to know what is evil!! Judge me!? I think not," Xena hissed as she leapt over stone rubble and made her way outside. Walking to the Eternal Stairs, she paused only to pick up her pack and throw one more warning to the rubble pile that represented Hades power long ago. "No god judges me! And to prove it...I'm going to make what I did before look like a Solstice party, Hades. THEN you'll know what death really means."
A wide predatory smile, then she is gone, running down the stairs into the Underworld below.
Callisto stretched languidly across the huge thronelike chair. It's dark hardwood and grim carvings made it one of the goddess' favorite reminders of Ares' reign, it was also a lesson to any who came here that it was she who was now the Goddess of War and Ares was but a cold body laying on an equally cold slab of marble in one of Rome's temples. A visual token of a power that she both disdained and craved. Callisto hated to be counted amongst the Gods of Mt. Olympus, but she would use any and all means at her fingertips to get what she wanted.
And I am much more closer to that goal then ever before...thanks to Xena. Callisto smiled in contentment as she swung her body around to sit upright in the throne. A wild shiver rocked her, causing her to throw back her head in pleasure as she basked in the bond that held Xena and her together.
Any more of this and I'll never get any work done...Xena you are such a treat. The goddess made herself sit up straighter and pay attention to her surroundings instead of the sweet chaotic emotional rush that passed back and forth between the goddess and her Chosen.
Shuddering one last time Callisto then turned her thoughts to the next stage of her plan. Her army..or rather her Chosen's army when Xena joined it. That moment wasn't far off, but in the meantime expanding the core group was a high priority. Unfortunately not even the powerful Goddess of War could be in two places at the same time, so she had to count on others. That was her reasoning behind making Discord and Strife follow her as they had Ares.
"Strife! Come here! NOW!" Callisto called, her voice only filling the huge black tent but heard nonetheless by the annoying nephew of Ares halfway across Greece.
In a flash of light, Strife appeared immediately before her, the arrogance and individuality that he had shown only a few days ago in this very tent was now gone, leaving behind his usual slimy buttkissing self. Callisto attributed his earlier temper to grief over his uncle, but planned to watch the minor god closely.
Strife bowed slightly, sweeping his arm out in what he considered a gallant gesture. "You called?"
Callisto looked at Strife with disdain, not caring for him in the least. "I've been expecting news from you, Strife. Now why is it that I haven't heard anything?"
The god swallowed nervously. "I've been busy doing what you asked. It's not easy you know."
"Don't whine. It's annoying." Callisto sneered. "Where's Draco?"
Strife's hand absently rested on his swordhilt, as if the familiar gesture gave him courage. "He's not coming." The dark-haired godling shifted his eyes quickly to the tent flap, even though it would be faster to just will himself elsewhere than try to escape the tent of the wargoddess on foot. His completely black leather clad body twitched subconsciously, as his mind screamed to be elsewhere other then squirming under the baleful gaze of Callisto.
Callisto stood up slowly and with casual grace, stepped down the small dais and walked right up to Strife, her eyes boring into his shifting ones with angry intensity. "What do you mean he's not coming?"
Strife took a step backwards in reflex and almost fell into the huge firepit that took up the center of the goddess' tent. "He won't come...I..I tried, but he kept saying something about how he had to prove his love and that he had no time to waste on the petty squabbles of gods."
The blond goddess stopped in front of the pathetic sweating god, her lips peeled back in a feral smile. Like a striking snake her hand snapped up and grabbed Strife by the neck, her long slim fingers wrapping around his throat like a vise. She leaned in closer, her brown eyes piercing his.
"I want Draco and you're telling me he isn't coming?!?" she hissed.
"Errkk..." was the only recognizable sound to come out of Strife's mouth.
Callisto grimaced and released the tension of her fingers slightly.
"Cupid's and Xena's fault," he gasped.
"It was about a year ago, you were..umm...not available at the time...errkk..." Strife's voice squeaked under the brief flexing of the goddess' fingers."
"Ok..Ok. Anyway, Cupid's son Bliss escaped from Mt. Olympus and took his father's bow. He caused a little havoc between Xena, Gabrielle, Draco, and some other guy whose name I can't remember..Jitter? Boxer? Jerkster? Errkk..."
"Joxer. An idiot with amazing amount of luck to have survived this long intact. Go on," Callisto ordered.
"Yes. Joxer. That's it. Xena sent for Cupid and had him take off the spells from everyone except for Draco, because she thought he was a better person with it."
Callisto sighed. "Love. Figures. What else?"
"That's it, except that ever since Draco has been trying to prove himself to Gabrielle by doing good deeds. Right now he's got a group of about twenty men and women, and they help runaway slaves start new lives. He calls it the 'Underground Road' or somesuch thing." The gods face was completely red now with the effort to speak.
Callisto turned her head away slightly, ignoring Strife for the moment, instead gazing into the hypnotic flames of the firepit and thinking. Getting bodies for an army was simple, but getting loyal captains was much more difficult. Warriors, especially of the warlord variety tended to be distrustful of each other and it wasn't unusual for even the best of armies to have rumors of mutiny and dissension. Draco was one that she wanted though. Although she didn't particularly care for him, she knew Xena considered him fairly competent and thought of him as somewhat of a friend.
A low almost insistent gagging noise caught her attention, and Callisto turned back to Strife, smiling feraly as she watched him try and struggle for breath. Being a god, he wouldn't die from lack of air, but it was definitely uncomfortable for him. With a great heave, she lifted him up and threw the god across the tent to crash into a large pile of weapons.
"You're useless. I don't see why Ares let you hang around," She taunted him, then pointedly turned her back towards him, missing the look of hostility he gave her. "I'll be back after I deal with this little problem personally. Make sure you're gone by then. Go help Discord with gathering my worshippers. I want at least half of the army gathered before Xena joins them."
Callisto didn't look back but strode towards the tent wall, erupting into a burst of flame and disappearing before she came close. An eyeblink...a heartbeat of time? For the gods time doesn't matter. Either way she arrived at her destination, Draco's camp, but kept her presence a secret.
It was a clean camp, much more organized than most warlords' and definitely a change from any of Draco's camps in the past. Ten tents of various sizes were set up in almost precise rows, most only slightly out of alignment due to the tents blending in with the foliage instead of trampling or uprooting any of the vegetation. Campfires burned low and smokeless, with roasting meat and stews being readied for the next evening meal.
Callisto's eyes scanned the camp, stopping only to idly look over this or that warrior. She evaluated each and everyone of them by the way they carried themselves as they moved, the condition of their armor, or how much attention they paid to their surroundings. The Goddess of War was both pleased and disgusted. Each one of the men and women she spied on within the camp was a competent warrior, it was only their minds and the purpose of being that each seemed to exude, that made her turn away from them. Just like Xena and her precious little redemption phase. Well that's all over now, the goddess chuckled to herself.
Spotting what must be Draco's tent, Callisto walked through the open flap, her eyes immediately searching for the dark warrior within. In a flash of light she made herself visible and walked over to the startled warrior.
"Hello, Draco," she purred as she slowly walked around the seated man, reaching out with a long finger and running it along his shirtless shoulders. "You've been a bad boy."
Draco's almost black eyes looked his female visitor up and down appraisingly. "And you would be?"
"Callisto." A small smile spread across her lips. "I'm sure you've heard of me."
"Yes, especially lately." Draco abruptly stood and walked over to his bed, picking up a shirt and putting it on before turning back to the blond goddess. "I'm surprised you sent Strife for me, I thought it was well known that I'm out of the warlord business. I help other people now...not myself."
Callisto crossed over to the table he'd been sitting at and looked maps and scrolls with interest. "Yesss...I can see that. Helping the poor and downtrodden. How very...good of you."
"I do it because I need to. It fills me with hope that someday Gabrielle will accept my change of ways and believe that I truly love her."
"I think I feel ill." The goddess muttered to herself as she rolled her eyes. She turned and looked back at the warrior. "Sorry to ruin your day Draco, but you'll be waiting a very long time for Gabrielle."
"I'm a patient man," Draco assured her confidently.
"Well I hope you don't live a long and healthy life then, because Gabrielle...well..let's just say that she took a long step in the wrong direction." Callisto grinned evily, having fun drawing out the news.
"What do you mean?"
"She's deader than a weak old fish and probably starting to smell like one. Stiffer than a Titan statue. Flatter than a pancake. Dead," the wargoddess watched with glee as Draco's heart broke before her eyes.
"Noo..." he whispered in denial, tears already starting to well up in his eyes.
"Yes. It just happened in fact, but at least she was already in Hades' realm when it happened...saved her a long walk." Callisto smiled in consolation and started to move towards him. "But...it's not the end of the world, Draco. There's someone else who needs you. Maybe not in the way you wanted with your little bard, but...Xena and I need your arm. Your mind. Your loyalty."
Draco frowned at the advancing goddess. "Xena?"
"Yes, Draco. Surely you've heard that I'm the Goddess of War?" At his nod, Callisto continued. "Well let's just say that Xena and I see eye to eye on many things now. She's given up trying to save the world. Now she's going to take it for me."
"It doesn't matter. Gabrielle...the love of my heart...may be dead, but I still have to show her that I can be what she wants me to be. I have people to help.."
Callisto stopped in front of the dark-skinned warrior and reached up with her hand and caressed his check, interrupting him. "The problem we have here is that you're not being yourself, Draco, but I think I can help with that."
The goddess pulled Draco's head towards her. Brown eyes locked with Draco's as she kissed him thoroughly and therefore ending whatever words he was about to speak.
She pulled up the dark essence within her and used its power to overwhelm Cupid's arrow's influence. After a few moments, Callisto pulled away and stepped back, watching as the affects of the kiss changed Draco.
Like a drunkard he swayed, his eyes closed as his arms hung limply at his sides. Then abruptly he stood up straight and opened his eyes. He blinked. Once. Twice. Then focusing on the goddess before him, a predatory grin spread on his face and his dark eyes flashed keenly.
"When do you need me?" He asked simply.
Hades grimaced as he turned his attention back to Artemis. The God of the Dead was not pleased with what he had seen. "She's destroying my temple!"
"What?!" The goddess' jaw dropped in surprise. "Xena? I know she doesn't care for us, but destroying a temple? She hasn't done that since..."
"That was a long time ago, but apparently she's back to her old ways," Hades hissed. He waved a hand in the plateau's general direction. "That is not Xena though."
Artemis rose a thin brown eyebrow. "You just said.."
"She's gone mad. I could feel it radiating off of her and...I could see Callisto's aura on her." Hades rested his hand on his swordhilt in reflex. He'd stayed away from Mt. Olympus when Ares had been killed, so had missed the little scene with Callisto and some of the other gods. Even so, the fact that an upstart had killed his nephew and stolen his sword to become one of the most powerful gods, didn't set well with him. He knew Callisto. In fact he had had the distinct displeasure of having her as a resident in Tartarus for a time. She had proven such a problem that the only way to keep her out of trouble was to house her in the depths of his castle and strap all her limbs to a sturdy chair. He had been extremely displeased to find out she had escaped. When she had become immortal he had had a fit that this monster had slipped from his grasp for eternity. When she had eaten ambrosia and had become a goddess, a shiver of fear had rushed through him. And when he felt Ares die and Callisto take up his mantle of power, he decided to stay in the Underworld, where his power was strongest. He didn't trust this mad wargoddess not to start taking other god's heads.
And now Callisto had Xena. If there was one mortal or immortal that had ever lived that possessed the ability, will, and determination to destroy everything...it was Xena. If it hadn't been for Hercules, Hades knew that the known world would have been ground under her bootheel by now. Now, with the two of them together...the world was in more dire striates.
Artemis took a step back in shock from the god's words. "Chosen? But that's impossible. Ares..."
Gabrielle sat straight up, the horror in her mind still alive and real to her. Her hands covered her head and face, and as the scream died out she sobbed wretchedly. Artemis immediately dropped to her knees at the mortal's side and reached out a hand to the small queen.
"Don't touch me! Please! Just leave me alone, Xena!! Go away!! Demon!!" the bard yelled, still huddled in a small ball, refusing to look up at her tormentor.
Artemis spared a quick glance up at Hades, but he only shrugged in response. He wasn't good with dealing with mortals. The goddess sighed and looked back to the shivering wet woman.
"Gabrielle. It's ok. Calm Down. You're safe," she tried to reassure the bard.
Hearing a different voice than Xena's, Gabrielle hesitantly looked up, her eyes filled with tears and looked around. Even seeing that the field was gone along with Xena, she still sobbed. Great heaving breaths shaking her body as the tears continued to fall. "It's never safe. Never. I'm in Tartarus. Damned."
Hades' eyes widened in surprise. "First I've heard of it."
Gabrielle blinked up at him several times. A confused look crossed her face and she looked at the woman in leathers that kneeled next to her who looked concerned for her. After a long moment, she wiped the tears from her eyes and looked closer at her surroundings. A wide dark river was only a few feet away, its banks bare and made of black course sand. Dark barren hills covered with gray sickly grasses and bushes blocked her sight any further, as did the heavy fog that obstructed the roof of the Underworld from her eyes. She looked back up at the man that stood near her and tilted her head slightly. "Hades?"
"Hello, Gabrielle. Been awhile." The god smiled slightly.
Gabrielle blinked again in confusion and turned to look into the woman's face next to her. "Artemis?"
The Goddess of the Hunt smiled. Obviously her queen wasn't quite awake yet. "Yes." She reached out a slim hand and combed Gabrielle's wet hair back from her face. "You've had a hard day."
"That's an understatement," Gabrielle muttered automatically, then blushed. "Sorry."
Artemis smiled indulgently. "I understand."
Gabrielle looked down at herself, taking in her wet clothes, her bootless feet, and the black sand that coated her body. "I'm alive?" She ran her hands down her arms, then her legs. She couldn't quite believe it. She knew she should be dead. She swallowed nervously and looked back up at the two gods. Considering the field and thinking that she'd been save there too with Xena, she wasn't sure if she was really alive or not. Another punishment? I'm still in Tartarus...because there's just no way I could have survived that fall. I died. I know it!
The bard's look of disbelieve and mistrust must have been evident on her face, for Hades' frowned slightly and leaned down. He took her cold wet chin in his warm hand and forced her to look at him. His eyes looked deep into hers. "You are alive, Gabrielle. Not dead. Understand? Alive. Artemis saved you from the river. She really shouldn't have..but.." Hades' let his hand drop and shrugged as he straightened back up. He wasn't one for interfering with mortals.
"Then it was just a nightmare?" Gabrielle asked.
"You mean just now? Yes," the god replied.
Breathing a sigh of relief Gabrielle felt a great weight lift off her shoulders. The guilt of Britannia was still there, and still freshly painful due to the dream, but at least Xena didn't know yet of her lie. At the thought of her friend, the bard abruptly stood up. "I have to find Xena." She looked both upstream and downstream, but she didn't know where she was..or where her friend was.
Artemis stood up gracefully and laid a restraining hand on the mortal's shoulder. "You can't go to her right now, Gabrielle. It's not safe."
"What do you mean not safe? She wasn't the one who pushed me over..I just know it." Gabrielle said forcefully.
"I know she didn't. That was Aphrodite."
Green eyes blinked rapidly in shock. "Aphrodite? Why would...wha.." The words trailed off in confusion, then she shook her head. "Doesn't matter, I still need to find Xena." She said with determination.
Artemis looked over at Hades. "Show her."
"Show me what?" Gabrielle asked, but the two gods ignored her.
"Is this wise? I don't think we should interfere anymore. Just send her up to the surface and be done with it." Hades wasn't pleased with having a moral, let alone two, roaming around in the Underworld. It just wasn't done. This place was for the dead, not the living.
Artemis nodded. "I understand your concerns, uncle, but with Aphrodite mucking around with things and Callisto more than likely behind it, I don't see my interference as being so bad. Evens out."
Gabrielle grimaced, she didn't like people talking about her as if she wasn't there. Even if it was two gods. "Excuse me. I know your both gods and all, way above us mere mortals, but what about Xena?"
The goddess chuckled, then sobered. "Show her, Hades."
The God of Death sighed heavily, but relented. "Fine."
Hades walked over to the water's edge and held out a long leather clad arm. With a slight twitch of his mouth to show his concentration, he willed and used his power against the River Styx.
Gabrielle gasped in astonishment as a long thick arm of black water rose up, towering above the two gods and one mortal. Curving the ropelike force of water bent shallowly, the tip easing back into the sluggish river. A black watery arc stood before them, three times an average man's height and six times the length. Before Gabrielle's eyes, the arc started to drip water. Quickly the sparse droplets became a sheet of water that fell constantly.
At first all Gabrielle could see was the other side of the water, the far bank partially blurred by the dingy water. But then a picture formed...a moving picture, and the bard stepped forward unconsciously.
"Xena." The whisper fell from her lips as her eyes filled with the vision before her.
The warrior was flying, or at least seemed too. Almost too fast for the eye to follow, Xena was running down an immense flight of stairs, her feet barely touching one of the gray marble steps before it was airborne again. A look of determination, purpose, and something else the bard couldn't quite make out, on the familiar face.
"Those are the Eternal Stairs?" She asked, her eyes not wavering from the scene before her.
"Yes. I'd say she's about a quarter of the way down. Moving very fast," Hades replied.
"Well then, all I have to do is meet her at the bottom." Gabrielle turned her head away, her piercing green eyes confronting Artemis, then Hades. "Which way?"
Artemis stepped up beside her and shook her head. "It's not safe, Gabrielle. Callisto has her now."
The bard's green eyes veered back to the goddess, Callisto's very name making them hard as jade. "Callisto? I knew she was inside Xena. She said something about the bond between her and Ares having changed, that Callisto had it now, and that ..that woman was trying to make Xena her Chosen. Is that what you're talking about?"
Artemis nodded, not pleased with the news. If Xena had told Gabrielle that the Chosen bond had switched hands, than it was more than likely true that Xena was Callisto's Chosen now. This was not good news.
"But she was fighting it." Gabrielle argued. "She wouldn't give in to Callisto...it's not like her."
"What if she thought she'd killed you? What if it drove her mad?" Hades interrupted. He waved a hand at the pool of water absently. "I can feel it from here, Gabrielle. That is not Xena."
"Mad? As in insane?" Cold washed through Gabrielle's heart. "Oh gods...no." Her eyes sought out the vision in the water again, taking in every detail of Xena's body, noting the body language. After many long silent moments she turned back to the two gods. "What can we do?"
Hades looked away, unable to meet the mortal's eyes that threatened him with their heartbreaking sadness. Artemis too, wished to look away, but this mortal was partially her responsibility. She was the goddess of the Amazons and this was their queen. Deep brown eyes gazed into the tear washed green of the bard's and almost flickered away unconsciously. What is it about this mortal that moves so many others, so effortlessly? the goddess asked herself silently. But she had no answer.
"We can't do anything. She's Chosen. It's a permenant bond. Not even death can break it," Artemis answered her.
"She did before..Ares was always trying to..."
The goddess interuppted her, shaking her head. "Refusing to use the powers the gods give you and not following the gods or their plans, is one thing. Xena was still Ares' Chosen. She knew it. She didn't agree with his philosophy of war anymore, but she was still his...and he hers. Now...it appears she's Callisto's."
"OK..then I show her I'm ok. That I'm not dead. Will that help?" Gabrielle asked, refusing to give up.
Hades spoke up. "She's insane, Gabrielle. The part of her that cared for you, the hero, the friend, is buried deep within her...if not destroyed. Ares particular brand of power is one thing...but Callisto's madness and thirst on top of that?" The god's face clearly showed Gabrielle his opinion.
"She'd more than likely kill you as look at you. She's an animal..rabid," Artemis put in.
Gabrielle had had enough. "STOP! That's Xena you're talking about, damn you!" Both gods raised an eyebrow at the curse, but the bard ignored it. She was angry. "I won't give up on her! I won't!"
Silence descended as the two gods looked at her. Gabrielle fiercely bore their scrutiny but didn't back down. Xena wouldn't give up on her and damned if she was going to.
Artemis looked at the bard closely. There were only two ways to save Xena that she could see. One was extremely drastic and would start a war among the gods. The other was a choice that she hadn't made in centuries. How far should she interfere? After several long torturous moments Artemis made her decision.
"Gabrielle. There is no mortal alive that can win against Xena. But you would have a chance...if you were my Chosen."
The End of Part Four
Continued in Part Five
Sorry it took so long to get this Part out. I wasn't really happy with the content (Calliope and I have been arguing back and forth), but I worked things out and am much more happier now. I have a rough outline in regards to where this story is going and what's going to happen, I'm just not sure what's going to happen until I put pen to paper (yep..I rough rough rough draft first). So, if things seem rather confusing to you, don't worry...I don't know what's going on either. Hehe..
Blame this note and this part on spending a month writing "Fate's Choice" then two weeks off (when I really needed more), writing 1/3 of it, then coming down with a really really bad chest cold for the second time this winter (I had the flu once this year too...rough year on me. I rarely get sick usually). So this Part is brought to you by...Nyquil (cherry formula, of course), the coughing sneezing err...blah blah so you can rest medicine. Aspirin...because you've coughed so hard and for so long your ribs ache and you feel as if you have whiplash. And Missy Good...because there really is nothing better than on a cold day when you're feeling miserable than to pick up "Warrior By Any Other Name" and start from the beginning (hehe..read all the way through to the newest "Darkness Falls").
As for Passage Part 5, next one ought to be a real sizzler in some aspects, but I don't know if it or another story I'm working on will come out next. *shrug* sorry.
Lastly~ CB Script Copier Extraordinaire~ Thankyou once again for you staunch support and help. And a special Thankyou goes out to Yellowjacket~That is the nicest thing a Xenite has ever done for me, thankyou;}
Member of the Warlord's Union
Katiepult Handler. Guess what? She had kids...don't ask..hehe..long story. I'm a proud grandma though.
About that village I said I'd pillage for a lady fair...still no word from the lady yet, so the village is safe...for now. Think I should put out an APB?
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