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Kenneth W. Hannen
"Visionary" (18th June 1998) (Completed 10th April 1999)
© Copyright 1998/99 by Kenneth W. Hannen (WolfKen), Clydebank, Scotland.
Xena: Warrior Princess and the names, titles, and any back story used in "Visionary." are the sole property of Universal.
Merthanon, Sorme and the castle are my creations - Please ask before 'borrowing' them, huh?
The author intends no copyright infringement through the writing of this fan fiction.
This story may not be sold and may be archived only with direct permission from the author.
Any archive must carry this entire copyright statement.
There is your typical level of violence for your average Xena episode, keeping well within the bounds of TV land morality...At least for prime time weekend TV land anyway.
No werewolves or inter-dimensional demons were harmed during the writing of this fan-fic and Athena and Autolycus lived happily ever after....Confused? You will be!!
Visionary continued from here
Autolycus and Salmoneus sat on a crate on board a freighter called the Swift Falcon. She was neither swift nor falcon like. She was in fact a great, lumbering, hunk of wood that seemed intent on taking an age to reach the open sea.
Aphrodite and Athena flashed into place before them. Salmoneus yelped and fell over backwards off of the crate, Autolycus merely shrugged uncomfortably.
"Hello boys!" Aphrodite purred.
"Hello, Aphrodite. Athena." Autolycus nodded in greeting. "What do you want?" He asked a little sullenly.
Athena's lips thinned. "We need your help." She finally said.
Autolycus blinked in surprise. "What could the Goddess of Love and the Goddess of Wisdom possibly need with a thief and a merchant?" He asked suspiciously.
"We...We don't know, handsome." Aphrodite answered worriedly.
"We've been told to take you to a man called Merthanon. Ever heard of him?" Athena asked.
"Sure. He hired me to steal back that diamond I threw at you yesterday. Why does he want to see us?" Autolycus asked eyeing the ships railing speculatively.
"Don't even think about jumping." Athena said absently. "He doesn't exactly want to see you...Not really anyway. We've been ordered by Zeus to take you to him and to stick around long enough to keep you out of trouble."
"Okay, guys. Let's hit it." Aphrodite snapped her fingers as Salmoneus tried to sneak away on his hands and knees.
All four of them disappeared in a flash of white light.
Sorme stared at the swaying dunes below him and tried to focus on what was wrong with the way they were moving. I'm upside down. He thought. How can I be moving if I'm upside down? He lifted his head slightly and a horse's leg came into view. The swaying motion suddenly became clear to him. He was lying on a horses back.
"I think your new boyfriend is waking up." A girls voice called.
"Good. I want some answers out of him." The swaying stopped.
"Hey, kid? You awake?" A woman asked.
"Yeah." Sorme managed to croak from a dry throat.
"Gabrielle, pass me the water bag will you?" Xena asked.
"Here." Gabrielle handed Xena the bag.
"Don't gulp it. You'll make yourself sick." She warned as she held the bag for him to drink.
Sorme drank deeply and held up his hand for her to stop pouring when he was done.
"Thank you." He murmured as he slid down off of the horse.
"Take it easy!" The woman gripped him tightly as his legs almost buckled under his own weight.
"Thank you again." He said.
"So, wolf-boy. What's your story?" The girl asked.
Sorme winced, these were obviously the two travellers from the previous night. Remarkable women to have survived, remarkable for showing compassion to a monster like him.
"I'm sorry if I hurt you, I can't control him." He said looking at his feet.
"Why do you become him at all?" Xena asked.
"Merthanon, my friend, gave me this amulet to save my life. I have to become the wolf for my body to recover from the food I eat. It's difficult to explain, even for one who has spent his lifetime trying to deal with it."
"You've told me enough. You're Merthanon's friend." She smiled to him when he looked up at her questioningly.
"My name is Xena, this is Gabrielle and this is Argo." She gestured to Gabrielle and the horse.
"Pleased to meet you all. " He replied with a bow. "Though I wish it were under less embarrassing circumstances. My name is Sorme." He smiled and pulled the blanket around himself like a cloak.
"Unless I've wandered farther than normal my home should be visible from the top of this next dune." Sorme pointed to a high hill in front of them.
"Let's go then, the sooner I get out of this desert the better." Xena said.
Gabrielle nodded emphatically, pouring a litre of sand out of her boot while leaning on her staff.
They topped the rise and a mile or so in the distance sat a magnificent silver-grey castle. White, puffy, clouds hung over the castle and never moved, ignoring the wind that blew in the traveller's faces. A deep blue river coursed on the right hand edge of the castle for a quarter of a mile, disappearing into the same nothing it seemed to spring from. Lush green grass bordered onto shimmering sand at the edges of the castle grounds.
"Wow." Gabrielle said with awe.
"Wow, indeed." Athena said as she flashed into place beside the bard.
"Yup, that about does it. Wow, that is." Aphrodite agreed as she flashed in beside Xena.
Sorme, yelped and pulled the cloak tighter around himself. Wide eyed he stared at the two Goddesses with disbelief. Two more flashes deposited Salmoneus and Autolycus a few feet above the steep dune the rest of the group stood on. Salmoneus screamed and Autolycus swore as they tumbled down the dune.
"Oops." Aphrodite shrugged.
"That wasn't nice." Athena chided, hiding a smile behind her hand.
"What are you four doing here?" Xena demanded.
"Same thing as you. Visiting old Merth' " Aphrodite said a tad too casually. She nervously twirled one of her long golden curls in her fingers.
"The God's have always stayed well out of his way. Why are you 'visiting' him now?" Xena asked suspiciously.
"We've been ordered to. Believe me I wouldn't be within a thousand leagues of the old wizard if I could help it." Athena muttered uncomfortably.
"Ordered by who, Zeus?" Gabrielle laughed.
"Got it in one, she ain't as dumb as she looks is she sweet cheeks?" she asked Autolycus as he came panting up the hill.
"No. She ain't and if you weren't a woman I'd smack you right in your - "
"Autolycus!" Athena said in a firm voice.
"Sorry, 'Thena, your family always did bring out the worst in me. Remember that whole Hades fracas? I thought he was going to explode when he found your...Xena?" Autolycus said in surprise.
"Hi, you didn't think I'd be far away from Gabrielle did you?" She said stepping out from behind Athena and Aphrodite.
"No, I guess not. What are you doing here?" He asked with a puzzled frown.
"Same thing as you apparently, here to see Merthanon." She answered and set off down the dune.
He looked to Athena, Gabrielle and Aphrodite before shrugging and heading off down the hill again.
"Up the hill or down make up your bloody minds!" A red faced and panting Salmoneus wailed as he turned around at the peak and stumbled back down again. His silk robe was stained with sweat and the heat was obviously not agreeing with him at all.
"Shall we sister?" Aphrodite asked, crooking her arm for Athena.
"Let's. Coming Gabrielle?" She asked hooking her arm through Aphrodite's.
"Sure, it beats standing around all day watching my freckles join up anyway." The three women started down the hill, following the trail Autolycus and Salmoneus had cut with their bodies as they had rolled down.
"Sorme!" Merthanon bellowed into the courtyard and immediately regretted it. "Where the devil are you boy?!" He whispered in a dry hiss. He glared at his reflection in the fountain water and stalked off to find the boy. The perfect hangover he'd been seeking had descended into a mere dull ache and that failure added to the others merely irritated him more.
"Merthanon?" Sorme hesitantly called to the gate.
"Ho Merthanon!" Xena yelled, tapping her foot and glaring at the fifteen feet high oaken timbers of the door that would have kept a hydra out.
"Merth! Wake up man!" Autolycus hollered, hands cupped around his mouth.
"Anybody home?" The Goddesses nervously muttered to themselves, shuffling their feet and holding hands. Gabrielle stood behind them, leaning on her staff and smirking quietly to herself at the two Goddesses.
"Outta my way, one side people! Man on a mission here!" Salmoneus growled, shouldering past warriors and deities alike. He put his weight behind the castle gate and the door slowly creaked open. He practically ran into the central courtyard, heading straight for the fountain that sat in the middle of the square. He gratefully plunged into the deepest part of the fountain, steam rising from the only part of him not submerged...the very red and sunburned top of his head.
"Mount Salmoneus just erupted by the looks of things." Xena chuckled.
"He blew his top all right!" Gabrielle giggled.
Autolycus snorted and ducked his head under a spray of water coming from a stone heron's mouth high up on the fountain.
"Argh!" He squealed. "That water is freezing!" He shivered, staring wide eyed at the fountain.
"Yeah, great isn't it?" Xena asked. She dipped her own head under the downpour and shook her hair exuberantly. Droplets of water exploded everywhere before her hair settled back down her back again.
"Not really surprising when you realise where this place is." Athena said to herself.
"A desert?" Gabrielle said in confusion.
"You humans always think so three dimensionally...This castle is nowhere near a desert." Aphrodite said with a frown.
Gabrielle looked back out the gate to the blistering heat waves in the sandy desert morning outside. "If you say so." She said with a shrug.
"You're smarter than that. Don't pretend otherwise." Athena said mildly.
"Thanks." Gabrielle said dryly. "Sorme? Do you have any idea where Merthanon might be?"
Sorme turned to Gabrielle, ready to answer, when Merthanon stalked passed them all. Arms wheeling and muttering furiously to himself he didn't even notice them until he walked face first into Aphrodite's chest.
"Hello there." She smiled.
"Hello." Merthanon smiled back without looking her in the eye once.
"Merthanon." Xena said. He didn't take his eyes off of Aphrodite's chest. "Merthanon?" Xena rolled her eyes and said a little louder. There was still no reaction from the old man. Xena frowned and growled in her throat. "MERTHANON!" She finally yelled.
"Don't yell! I have a hangover that would flatten a Troll this morning!" Merthanon yelled back and winced again, covering his bloodshot eyes with his hands he shuddered to himself. He opened his eyes and blinked owlishly. "Xena? By the grace of the Multiverse it is you!" Merthanon walked over to Xena and enfolded her in a warm embrace. He stepped back from the embrace to smile at her and saw Autolycus standing behind her.
"Hi, Merth'." Autolycus said and nodded.
"Have you recovered the gem?" Merthanon asked bluntly.
"Yes and no." Athena answered for him.
"Who are you?" Merthanon asked suspiciously.
"Her name is Athena, you may have heard of her?" Gabrielle asked. "I'm Gabrielle of Potadeia by the way, pleased to meet you." She smiled to him.
"Charmed I'm sure," he nodded to the two women. "I'm afraid that I haven't heard of your friend though. Although she does seem to have quite a presence about her...There's something familiar about that..." He began stroking his short-cropped beard in thought.
"I have your gem. That is all that matters just now." Athena said primly.
"What is your price." Merthanon asked with a sigh.
"My price is that once you have completed your doorway I get to destroy the thing after you have used it. You created a serious imbalance when you arrived here all those centuries ago. My father told you then that the materials needed to build a dimension gate were not readily available in this time period. It seems you have managed to find those components, regardless of their rarity...an impressive feat for one mortal."
"Mortal? I take it you are what is commonly called a 'God' then?" Merthanon asked politely.
"The term is 'Goddess' honey." Aphrodite said strolling to her sisters' side.
"There is that same...presence, about you too. Miss?"
"Name's Aphrodite." The Goddess of Love said with a toss of her golden curls.
"Uh-huh...Right. Look I met Zeus when I first teleported here five centuries ago. He was a nice enough entity, even if he did have a serious superiority complex. What is his problem with carbon based life forms? Anyone who prefers corporeal form is a mystery to the man. Anyway, I'm not impressed with the titles ladies...believe me I've met stronger beings over the years. Perhaps not so well formed..." He said and winked to Aphrodite. She grinned and winked back. Athena rolled her eyes and shot her sister a fair imitation of Xena's infamous look. 'Dite shrugged and smirked.
"Whatever. Look we know you've been trying to do a controlled escape of this dimension for a long time now. We've been asked to help you." Athena began.
"Actually we were pretty much ordered to help you by pops." Aphrodite grimaced.
"What it boils down to is this. Will you agree to let us destroy the dimension gate after you use it?" Athena asked, her eyes intent on Merthanon's.
"Of course, this world isn't ready for anything like that...yet." Merthanon blustered.
Gabrielle, Xena and Autolycus blinked in unison and shook their heads in bewilderment.
"This is all just peachy, but what in the name of Zeus' Almighty Gluteus Maximus are you talking about?" Autolycus asked.
"Whoa, there's a mental image I could've lived without." Aphrodite groaned.
"I think I understand." Sorme said quietly. "Once Merthanon leaves, his...our home will be destroyed." He looked into Athena's eyes questioningly.
She nodded sadly to him. He smiled slightly and nodded back.
"Not the first time I've been alone." He murmured to himself, his eyes drawn inward.
"You can leave with us." Autolycus and Xena said in unison. They smiled a little ruefully to one another.
"What's going on?" Salmoneus, dripping wet but still red, asked.
"Salmoneus, meet Merthanon. The guy whose fountain you have just polluted for all time." Autolycus said.
"Hi, sorry about the fountain thing." Salmoneus grinned a little sheepishly.
"Quite alright my friend. It appears I'll be leaving here soon anyway." He looked around the courtyard and a sad glint came into his eyes. "Come, we must have a leaving celebration! Follow me!" He scuttled off into one of the corridors that branched off of the courtyard, the unlikely travelling companions followed.
"I'm stuffed!" Gabrielle groaned contentedly and snuggled up against Xena's back to watch the brilliant white clouds racing in the sky overhead. It was still a little unnerving to see them suddenly disappear at the boundary of the castle grounds, but she was getting used to it.
"Me too. I'd almost forgotten just how beautiful it could be here." Xena purred. She was watching a jet black cat lick clean a small fox-like animal with huge, rabbit sized ears. They seemed quite content to lie in one another's company even though the cat would dwarf most deer and the fox was no bigger than a normal tom cat. The fox stretched exuberantly and rubbed noses with the cat before curling up in the space between its front paws. The cat gave one last lick and lay its head down on the thick green grass they lay on. The sleepy duo lifted their heads slightly as a stray fawn wandered past them. It nuzzled but the cat and the fox in turn before trotting on in its way. Xena shook her head in wonderment.
"The air seems so, so, alive here. Charged somehow." Gabrielle murmured, almost to herself.
"I know what you mean. It relaxes, yet invigorates you at the same time. Scents seem clearer, colours brighter and sounds sharper and more sweet. That's something I didn't notice the last time I was here."
"You're a whole different person now." Gabrielle said quietly.
"Maybe." Xena said, trying not to let her doubt show in her voice. "It seems to be affecting our two Goddesses as well." She nodded to the pair. They were busily having a splashing fight in the middle of a small creek, muffled screams and laughter echoed form the sisters as they played in the warm summer sunshine.
"I guess they don't get much time for play on our world." Gabrielle mused.
"This is our world...isn't it?" Xena asked.
"Sort of. We're in a kind of extension of our world, linked to it but separate. Merthanon built this entire place I think." Gabrielle answered.
"How do you know that?" Xena asked in amazement.
"I don't know. It just fits that's all." Gabrielle brushed her fringe out of her eyes so she could get a better look at the scenery. "It feels like an extension doesn't it? I mean it's real enough...a little too real. Like that impossibly blue sky, bards are used to describing things like that or this incredibly luscious grass." She tore up a handful of the deep green grass and let it fall lazily through her fingers. There wasn't an imperfect leave among any of those that fell. Gabrielle doubted there was an imperfect anything in the entire castle. "I'm used to imagining it but I've never actually seen it. This castle is almost like a dream. A perfect dream that came true." She sighed. "It's such a shame it has to die."
"I once had a friend who wanted to see the Gods." Xena said slowly. "He went to Mount Olympus and scaled the heights by the fastest but most dangerous route. When he got to the top he expected to find the Temple of the Gods. Instead all he found was a mountaintop. He sat down on a rock and cried for almost the entire day. He had convinced himself that the God's weren't real, that everything he'd believed in was a lie and he was ready to throw himself from the precipice." Xena propped herself up on one elbow and absently toyed with a strand of grass. "Just as he was about to jump, Hermes arrived in a flash of light and a thunder of wings. As he appeared so did a large golden doorway, right in front of the rock my friend had been sitting on. Hermes opened the door and entered the Temple of the Gods, my friend could see behind the door and through it at the same time as if the temple were there and not there at the same time. He regained his faith pretty quickly after that. Being told to get your butt out of the way by the messenger of the God's would do that you know." She grinned to Gabrielle.
"I guess it would at that." Gabrielle laughed. "I think this place is similar to that. Here, but not here at the same time. Weird huh?"
"That's not all, I've been exploring the grounds. You can see the edge where the castle and the desert meet but you can't actually cross it. I tried to step out into the desert and all I found was more grass under my feet. As if the castle grounds had expanded just for me, when I turned around to look back the way I'd came my vision blurred and I found myself standing back where I had started, as if I'd been pushed or pulled back there." Autolycus said joining them. He squinted in the direction of the Goddesses. "Now, that is weird." He said pointing to the two sisters playing tag with Salmoneus. He was 'it' but every time he got close to a Goddess she disappeared, usually leaving him to fall into the creek.
"What? Athena and Aphrodite playing tag?" Xena asked.
"No. Behind them. I was talking about that Sorme kid, he's flying." Autolycus said in a strained voice.
"What?!" Gabrielle said, startled.
"Oh yeah, I see him." Xena drawled. "What is he doing up there?"
"I don't know but I'm going to find out." Gabrielle muttered. She jumped to her feet and walked purposefully in Sorme's direction. Xena collapsed lazily onto her back now that her backrest had taken her leave. Autolycus held out his hand to her and she smiled before taking it and letting him help her to her feet.
"Sorme?" Gabrielle called.
"I can't feel anything from him. Can you?" Aphrodite asked in a carefully controlled voice.
"No! He's not radiating anything like our signature!" Athena squeaked.
"What are you two talking about?" Xena demanded irritably.
"God stuff. None of your beeswax, so there." Aphrodite said and stuck out her tongue to Xena. Xena stuck her tongue out back at her.
"What the heck am I doing?" She muttered to herself. "I'm getting as bad as her!" She scowled when Aphrodite smiled sweetly in her direction.
Sorme sat twenty feet off the ground on a platform of thin air. His eyes were closed and he hung motionless above the ground, dead to the world.
"Sorme, get down from there." Merthanon said absently as he staggered past the group with a large copper coil held to his chest.
"Did you teach him that?" Aphrodite asked urgently.
"Hmm? Oh no, he learned that himself. I only taught him the meditation technique that let him access it. It was necessary..." He disappeared out of view and out of earshot as he continued his explanation. No one took their eyes off of Sorme.
"He looks asleep." Salmoneus shook his head in disbelief.
"I'd be really worried if he could do that fully conscious." Athena whispered with a worried frown.
"Well he's doing it anyway, and I can't see exactly how he's doing it either." Aphrodite grumbled.
"Why does it worry you that you don't know how he's doing that? There must be lots of things you don't know, even for Gods." Gabrielle said.
"The fact that a mortal is capable of something they can't quantify, measure and explain is frightening to them. We are their creation after all. If we develop into something they didn't anticipate then we might even grow to rival you, yes?" Xena asked calmly.
"We are as much Zeus' creation as you are...And yes your potential is great. Both for evil and for good, you of all people should know that Xena. If you start developing too soon though it could mean not only your races destruction but the death of every living thing on this planet. Now doesn't that frighten you, just a little?" Athena answered.
"Okay, but how can one boy leap so far ahead of the rest of us?" Xena jerked her thumb in Sorme's direction.
"He's had help." Athena cast her eyes in the direction Merthanon had taken. "Been exposed to a myriad of different ideas and ways of thinking. Ideas that the majority of your people won't be able to deal with for thousands of years. Some, like Sorme, are able not only to understand what Merthanon and indeed we God's do. He's even capable of utilising it." She answered.
Sorme slowly began to descend to earth. The group wordlessly cleared a space for him as he floated down.
"Sorme?" Gabrielle shook him gently once he had taken his seat once more upon the earth.
"I can hear you, Gabrielle." Sorme said without opening his eyes. He moved his hands in a curious little gesture that made the two Goddesses jump back in surprise. He opened his eyes and looked around him, smiling at his new friends.
"Okay, kiddo just how exactly did you do that?" Aphrodite demanded, her hands going to her hips in Athena's 'I'm cross with you.' pose.
"Do what?" Sorme asked in surprise. "I was only meditating, from what I know of your life form you can accomplish a lot more with it than I can. At the moment anyway."
Aphrodite's eyes bulged. At the moment anyway? Could he actually do more?! "You were floating off of the ground, a good twenty feet up. That is not what you people call 'meditating'." She hissed.
"Was I? Hmm, interesting." Sorme looked up at the sky speculatively.
"Don't even think about it." Athena said sternly.
"It would be fun though wouldn't it?" Sorme asked with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
"What were you meditating on?" Xena asked.
Sorme looked a little saddened by the question but he smiled to her all the same. "Last night part of me tried to kill you. It's a darkness that I've had to live with almost my entire life. It's always there, waiting to take control, and what's worse is that I actually have to let it in order for my body to reduce the sugar in my food. It acts like a poison, a poison that is just as lethal as any snake venom. I know you cannot forgive me for attacking you, but you must believe me that I tried to stop him. I really did."
Xena arched an eyebrow at the boy. "You let me decide what to forgive, huh? It seems you and I have more in common than I thought." She cast a quick glance to Gabrielle, who smiled faintly.
"Xena wasn't always the little miss goody two shoes that we all know and love." Autolycus explained, he shrugged when Xena turned her gaze on him. "Well it's true Xena, if anybody had a 'darkness' inside them it had to have been you. Another couple of years and every nation would have bowed to you and your army."
"Yeah, but Hercules put me back on the right track." Xena said.
"Humanity has the potential for great goodness and great evil at the same time. It's up to you, for the most part, what direction you choose." Aphrodite said. "When it's out of your control, then it's not your fault." She smiled reassuringly to him.
"Perhaps we can help you control the 'darkness' within you." Athena held her hand out to Sorme, he hesitated but a second before taking it and walking off with her and Aphrodite.
Later that afternoon and Xena and Gabrielle were chatting in the castle.
"Xena?" Merthanon called from a balcony overlooking the courtyard fountain.
"I'm here, Merth'." She answered, stepping out from behind the fountain with Gabrielle.
"I need to borrow you and you Chakram. I'm ready to initiate a test of the gate." Merthanon said.
"We're on our way." She called up to him.
"I wonder where Salmoneus and Autolycus are hiding." Gabrielle thought out loud as they made their way to the tower that housed the dimension gate.
"Probably up to no good, knowing those two." Xena drawled.
They climbed the dark passageway up to the tower door and pushed the iron bound oak to one side with a grunt.
"What does he keep in here? The royal treasure trove?" Gabrielle grumbled, rubbing a sore spot on her shoulder where it had gotten bruised moving the door.
"Something like that." Xena said in surprise as she caught sight of a glittering silver doorway embedded in the wall of the tower. A fist-sized gem of different colours but identical cuts was studded into the frame and floor of the door. Autolycus was screwing a diamond out of the floor with a pair of tongs and Salmoneus held another in his hands.
"What are you two doing?" Gabrielle demanded.
"Out with the old." Autolycus grunted as the stone came free.
"And in with the new." Salmoneus said as he dropped the second stone into the hole left by the first. A flash of white light illuminated the room briefly and set the other gems to pulsing faintly before the light dissipated.
"Excellent!" Merthanon exclaimed. "The energy fluctuations have gone, the new stone has synchronised the others."
"So, are you ready to test the gate?" Xena asked.
"Not quite, I still have no way of choosing a destination. I need your Chakram to act as a balance so that I can lock onto my home realm." He answered.
"Okay, what do you want me to do?" Xena loosened the Chakram from her belt.
"Do you see that series of rings spinning amongst those gears up there?" Merthanon pointed up into the rafters.
"Yeah, I see them." Xena said.
"Do you think you could get the Chakram inside those spinning rings without..." He broke off as Xena threw the Chakram. It flew wild and careened backwards and forwards around the gears and pulleys of the dimension gate. Narrowly missing chains and ropes it sliced it's way back and forth across the tower. Finally it sprang off of the wall at an impossible angle and shot straight into the heart of the rings where it suddenly ceased to fly. Although it did still seem to be spinning in its cage of rings. "Hitting anything." Merthanon finished lamely.
Behind them Autolycus and Salmoneus were suddenly catapulted across the room as a discharge of lightning struck the ground at their feet. Xena whirled, her sword leaping into her hand as she searched for the source of the attack. The ruby at the head of the gate discharged again, this time in Xena's direction. She rolled out of the way before the bolt had time to strike the far wall behind her.
Gabrielle rushed to Autolycus side, he had hit the wall with enough force to kill him but he was breathing. However shallow and faint, it was still breath. Gabrielle dragged him out of the way as more red lightning smashed around the room. Salmoneus groggily pulled himself out of the mountain of parchments and books he'd landed it and quickly hid behind an upturned desk as a lightning bolt set the paper alight.
Merthanon ran to the shut off lever but was thrown to the ground as bolts of green, blue and red lightning came from three of the gems. Totally destroying the shut off point.
That was calculated. Xena thought. First it concentrates on me, the only armed person in the room and then it shuts off the only way of stopping it, short of pulling the tower apart that is. What could be controlling the doorway?
The diamond in the floor slowly began to glow, the other stones pulsed in time with it. "That's not possible!" Merthanon yelled. "The diamond is the last point to charge! It can't go first!!"
"Well it is!" Gabrielle shouted from her hiding place.
A red bolt smote the tower wall above her and a blue shot scorched the bookcase Merthanon was crouched behind. It burst into flame at the touch of the lightning.
"Shut up everyone!" Xena commanded and all three beams tried to touch her at once. She dodged with all her skill and barely made it to the relative safety of a stone column.
"It's alive somehow, and it thinks we are a threat of some kind. Keep your heads down and keep quiet." She ordered. Xena tilted the blade of her sword around the column and used it as a mirror to see what was happening to the gate. The diamond was flashing faster and faster and the lightning that had been destroying the tower was now being pulled to the gem in the floor. A small blue ball began to grow behind the lightning bolt cage. It was growing larger by the second. That can't be good. She thought grimly.
There was an explosion of noise and light and the ball grew to the size of the doorway, loose and burning parchment was being pulled into the gates swirling wall of blue fire. A smashed table leg skittered over the floor and disappeared into the vortex. The air began to scream as it was pulled from every corner of the room into the doorway, pieces of destroyed masonry and ruined machinery was slowly being dragged towards the gate too. Xena had to hold onto the pillar with all her strength to keep from being pulled in too.
The table Salmoneus was hiding behind suddenly uprooted itself and crashed into the gate. He too began to slide until Merthanon tossed him a rope that had fallen from the ceiling during the lightning's destruction. He hung on but he was still being drawn in.
As quickly as the doorway had opened it suddenly became silent as a huge black shape briefly darkened the gate. When the shape disappeared the gateway spun on as fiercely as before but it no longer pulled debris into its core.
"Is everyone alright?" Gabrielle called tremulously.
"I'm alive...I think." Salmoneus groaned as he examined his rope burned palms.
"I'm here Gabrielle." Xena called reassuringly.
" Oh I am feeling much, much, better now. " Merthanon boomed. " What a joy it is to finally be free! " He stepped out from where he had been hiding and turned to face Xena. " Hmm, so this is what passes for a warrior here? Pitiful. " He flicked his eyes and Xena was hurled against the rock wall of the tower. Stunned but still conscious she tried to focus on what had been Merthanon only a few seconds before. He was now over fifteen feet tall and his skin was broken in a thousand cuts and burns. From the wounds leaked a thick blackness that oozed over his flesh. A pale blue fire winked all around him and his eyes burned a baleful red. He whirled as Salmoneus made a run for the tower door, he halted the merchant with one upraised palm. Salmoneus shrieked as he was jerked back to face Merthanon. " Ooh, I do like the way these creatures scream! " Merthanon purred.
"Put him down." Gabrielle said, stepping out from her hiding place.
"Or what little one? You'll hit me with that stick? " He snapped her staff in two with a glance and smirked as a splinter scratched her cheek. " I'm terrified. No really I am. " He flicked his eyes and she too was bounced off of the wall.
"That was a mistake." Autolycus and Xena growled in unison as they painfully pulled themselves to their feet. Both of them charged and leapt at once. Autolycus slammed his foot into Merthanon's neck and Xena rammed her sword into his back at the same time. The sword bounced off his skin like it was made of steel. Autolycus landed lightly and rolled out from under a rock balustrade that suddenly tore itself free from the wall and tried to crush him. Xena sliced the sword into the tendons at the back of his legs and darted out of the path of a piece of the wall that flew at her head. The sword hadn't even drawn blood.
Salmoneus tried to run in mid air, trying to get away from the flying debris that was attempting to kill the thief and the warrior. But he was held fast, momentarily forgotten by Merthanon.
"I feel so alive!" Merthanon screamed to the ceiling.
"We'll soon fix that for you." Xena growled.
Autolycus bounced off of the wall and back flipped over a rock that followed him into the wall. It had been moving with such force that it exploded upon impact. He pulled a dagger from a sheath up his sleeve and took aim on one of the oozing cuts on Merthanon. He twisted out of the path of another rock and threw his dagger. He grunted as a smaller stone caught him in the ribs, he ignored it and dodged another larger piece. The dagger hit it's target and Merthanon screamed as it plunged into his chest.
The blue fire surrounding him increased a thousand fold and the dagger disintegrated, though he clutched at his chest as if it was still there. He glared at Autolycus and suddenly the thief found he couldn't move. Autolycus screamed as thin, whip-like bolts of lightning from the gems struck him spitefully all over.
Xena rolled out of the path of another boulder and threw her sword at Merthanon with all her strength. It span swiftly through the air and embedded itself in the centre of an oozing wound on Merthanon's back. It slid home all the way to the hilt and Merthanon screamed again. Lightning raked the room wildly as he gripped the blade and drew it out of his back with a scream that shook the walls. He slowly turned to Xena.
"You will pay for that." He hissed.
Xena found herself unable to move, she shook and struggled but she was as captive as Autolycus and Salmoneus. All three of them screamed as the lightning began stinging them all over, covering them in multihued fire. Merthanon laughed as they jerked and convulsed under the onslaught. "I really do love the way these things scream. It is just so entertaining!"
"My, you're an ugly one aren't you?" Aphrodite laughed as she appeared behind Merthanon. He whirled and held up his palm to capture her. She waved it aside and continued towards him, he raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Puh-lease. I was doing that before I could walk." She chided. "Now let them go. Or am I going to have to get rough with you?"
He hit her with a ball of blue light that made her disappear for a second then it threw her into the column Xena had been hiding behind. Aphrodite screamed in pain as a beam of jet black energy shot from Merthanon's upraised palm it covered her in liquid night, pulling her apart under its cloak of darkness.
" 'Dite?" Athena asked in alarm as she flashed into place beside her sister. One look at the blackness and she pointed her own palm at her sister. A beam of brilliant white light covered the blackness forcing it to retreat. Athena turned, forcing the beam back with her own. Sweat beaded on her face and her muscles strained under the effort of holding the beam away form Aphrodite. Her sister whimpered behind her and Athena blinked away a tear. She glared at Merthanon and ground her teeth, the beam of light grew brighter, forcing the blackness back further. She levelled both hands at Merthanon and a second beam joined with the first pushing the dark power back to its source.
Suddenly Xena, Autolycus and Salmoneus dropped to the ground as Merthanon put all of his power into holding off the beam of light. He too pushed with both hands and the beam of light halted, able to go no further. He growled and the beam of darkness began to creep back to Athena, she moaned slightly and pushed back with everything she had left but it wasn't enough to slow the darkness.
Aphrodite could barely think the pain was so intense. She could feel her sisters fear. Could feel the darkness getting closer to them both. She wouldn't go back in there. Not ever. She wouldn't let Athena go through that either. Her hands raised themselves, shaking violently. She shot her own beam of incandescent light to Athena, illuminating her sister and protecting her from the night. She groaned at the effort it took to maintain the beam. The darkness slowed but didn't stop. The Goddesses were not strong enough to stop him.
Xena stood up, her limbs protesting at being used at all after what they had just been subjected to. She ignored the pain and ran for her sword. Autolycus pulled himself up using a chain that hung from the ceiling. He tore at a dagger that hung from a sheath at his back and hurled it with what strength remained to him. It struck and he pulled another, but never got a chance to throw it as a lightning discharge struck him in the back. Smashing him to the floor and pinning him there.
Xena painfully gripped her sword and ordered tortured muscles to move. She charged Merthanon and dodged the lightning with a dancers light footed skill. She flipped off the ground, testing her reactions and body to the limit she dodged bolt after bolt as she whipped through the air. She threw the last of her strength and all the momentum of her spin to slam the sword into one of the oozing fissures in his neck.
"Yearrghhh!" Merthanon shrieked. The light beams from the Goddesses began inching back to him but he continued to push out his darkness and the light soon shrank back. Xena was thrown back against the wall and held there by an unseen hand. Salmoneus hadn't stirred since he had been released.
"Sorme! We need you!" Athena grated through clenched teeth.
A flash of green fire appeared in the air above Merthanon and Sorme calmly stepped out of it. He floated slowly to earth, severing the shaft of black energy with his body. He was completely enveloped in the darkness, it swirled and boiled around him. The darkness began to solidify despite being pummelled by the combined strength of the two Goddesses. The dark shield suddenly exploded outwards, Merthanon staggered back in shock from the recoil.
"Merthanon? If you are able to hear me in there, everything is going to be alright." Sorme said softly.
"You are weak boy! You cannot reach what is not there. Your love for this being will be your downfall." Merthanon bellowed.
"Wrong. If Merthanon is no part of you then I have no reason to hold back." Sorme whispered. A green cloak of fire sprang up around him and he levelled his palms at Merthanon. Two green pillars of fire struck him squarely in the chest, lifting him up and slamming him into the wall behind him. Athena and Aphrodite stood side by side and added their own beams to the attack, holding Merthanon against the wall and keeping his arms pinned to the rock. Sorme's fire grew brighter and brighter, until it became almost blinding. Merthanon screamed once then hung his head. Moving no more.
Sorme released him and he slumped to the ground, once more an ordinary man. Sorme's knees buckled and he stumbled forward, caught just in time by Athena. "Thanks." He whispered. She smiled a little sickly and cast a worried glance to Aphrodite. She winced when she tried to shrug.
Xena staggered over to Salmoneus and turned him over. He was breathing but a darkening bruise on his temple explained his lack of movement. "I think he'll be alright." She said gently lowering him back down. "Gabrielle? Did any of you see where Gabrielle fell?"
"Ow. My head, what hit me?" Gabrielle whimpered.
"That wall behind you." Autolycus groaned and tested his ribs with his fingers, wincing at the light touch. "What just happened here? I mean how did you beat him Sorme?"
"I...I...I'm not sure. I just suddenly could feel what he was doing, feel it like it was a part of me. I know that doesn't make much sense but it was like a door opened in my mind. I could see a way to stop him, he showed it to me himself." He stammered, a little in shock by what he had done.
"We still couldn't feel you, or see how you did it. But I'm glad you showed up when you did." Aphrodite smiled.
"It is not over, yet. Not by any means." Gabrielle, covered from head to toe with dark, oozing, cuts rose up from her position against the wall. "Did you really think that you could defeat me? " She snorted derisively. "Two pathetic excuses for an energy life form and a hybrid that cannot even control his own power? Hah! Your world will make a fine edition to those I have already consumed! " She levelled her palms at the group. Twin bolts of pure darkness were met by a triumvirate of green and white, sparks filled the air as the green and white energy was slowly pushed back.
"We beat you once! We will do it again!" Aphrodite spat.
"Gabrielle." Xena whispered.
A concusive blast of energy knocked the group flying in all directions and shook the tower to its very foundations. Sorme hit the wall and fell, his cloak of green fire extinguished as he hit the ground.
Athena and Aphrodite stopped themselves from hitting the wall and pushed back with all their power from two corners of the tower. Gabrielle shifted so that she could hold them both off at the same time. She laughed to herself as the darkness pushed them back faster than it ever had before.
Xena flipped off of the wall she had been hurled at, her muscles felt as if they were on fire and her hands shook as she landed a little heavily on the stone floor. Gabrielle. She wailed inside.
Autolycus had fallen unconscious under the beating he had taken and he lay still and unmoving at the base of a pillar. His breathing was ragged and shallow, he had pushed himself past all his boundaries and now he had nothing left to fight with.
Athena found herself backed into a corner and out of the side of her eye she saw that her sister was in the same predicament already. She was drained and even the extra concentration it kept for standing up right was tiring her. The blackness would find her soon, it was close and she had no way of stopping it. It never occurred to her just to leave and let the mortals deal with it. She was as much a part of this world as they were.
Sorme groaned as he came too. He could see the sun setting to the west through a rent torn in the tower wall. He had to change soon or he would never have the energy to help. But if he changed he wouldn't be able to help at all. The Wolf might even attack his friends. There was only one way to do it. He had to remain in control of the Wolf. He'd spent all day with the Goddesses and he'd learned a lot but he still hadn't dared try and control the Wolf. It meant holding onto the pain, not avoiding it. Sorme watched the darkness creeping closer to Athena and Aphrodite. "Change" he breathed and clenched his laws against the pain, If Gabrielle saw him awake she might kill him before he had a chance to help.
Xena saw Sorme twitch out the corner of her eye and saw his bones tearing themselves loose from within. Watched as his nose became that of a wolf. He looked to her with pain filled but utterly human eyes as his entire face changes and a tear streaked its way down his fur lined face. She thought she understood. He was trying to control the wolf. Hoping that that would be enough to tip the balance. Xena stood up quietly and walked straight into Gabrielle's line of sight.
Gabrielle flashed a quick smile as Xena stepped out to face her. "My, my, you creatures certainly don't give up easily do you? I like that!"
"Gabrielle, I don't believe you would hurt me. Not if you can help it. And I know you, you've got the strongest heart I've ever seen. If anyone can beat this thing it has to be you." Xena advanced on Gabrielle calmly.
Gabrielle punched forwards with both hands, knocking the Goddesses to their knees and cutting off all the beams of energy at one stroke. Blackness covered them. She eyed Xena lazily and walked forward to meet her. Abruptly she stopped and lifted her palm up to face Xena, a sadistic little smile played about her lips.
Xena stopped and looked deep into Gabrielle's eyes. She couldn't see anything that was her friend in there. A build up of energy cascaded down Gabrielle's arm like liquid fire. The energy flickered and danced around her fingers, building until a ball of energy sat in her palm. "Xena, move." Gabrielle whispered. "I can't stop it...No!" Her arm shook as she tried to lower it, her face half snarl half fear.
"Gabrielle?" Xena tore her gaze off of her friend long enough to see Sorme's reflection stand up in a large brass panel. He was completely Wolf now but he moved like a man as he crouched and ran for the cover of a pillar. "Hold on Gabrielle!" Xena punched at her friends gut with all her strength and speed. Gabrielle caught her fist in hers and held her there. "Your little friend is stronger than I thought. But no matter, she will not be bothering me again."
Sorme watched as Xena was forced to her knees in Gabrielle's vice like grip. His claws dug a rent in the pillar stone he was hiding behind. His nightmare played again, a lone girls throat torn out and savoured by the Wolf. Only this time he was the one in control and he was the one to take her life. No! I won't kill! I WON'T! He screamed internally. A movement behind Gabrielle caught his eye. It was Merthanon, alive and unhurt despite the beating he had taken. Wait, I saw Xena's sword go right through him! Merthanon rolled over, showing the slice in his shirt where Xena's sword had pierced his neck. There was not a mark on him. If I can drive the, the, whatever it is out of Gabrielle she will be okay. I can't worry about hurting her, that could get us all killed. He stalked his prey with a wolves deadly concentration and instincts, yet he was still a man.
Xena was shocked at the strength in Gabrielle as she was pushed to her knees with a twist of her wrist. She could only see a little of the panel she had been using as a mirror behind Gabrielle, but it was enough to see Sorme's stalking gait. He was working his way behind her. Xena put the last of her will into one supreme effort and she fell backwards, pulling Gabrielle with her and threw her. She rolled and flipped in mid air, landing lightly, facing the prone Xena.
Sorme saw Gabrielle turn away from him in mid-leap. He knew this was his chance and he attacked while her attention was still fastened on Xena. They crashed together in a chorus of noise and green and blue fire. They fought on the physical and using the energies they had been throwing at one another previously. Wolves claws raked skin and drew dark black blood, a kick to the ribs sent him liming out of her way. She threw something unseen at him and he shielded it with something he couldnt name or even stop and think about. Apparently the wolves instincts knew how to defend him even if he was unsure how it was happening. He shattered the floor beneath her with a flash of green light. She flipped out of the destruction and launched a series of blows at him from mid air. He blocked and parried with his hands as well as his shields. Gabrielle seemed able to block what he hit her with too and for the most part they seemed evenly matched. Gabrielle's skill and knowledge pitted against Sorme's instincts and strength.
The battle raged on but Xena's energy was spent and she couldn't find the energy to stop Sorme from harming Gabrielle. She couldn't believe he would kill her. He was a good man, no matter what he looked like in his Wolf body. Her head dropped to the stone floor stones and she began to black out, her body finally acknowledging the punishment it had taken at the hands of whatever had control of Gabrielle. Before she closed her eyes she saw something that made her understand. Merthanon slowly got to his feet and began to glow with a pale green fire.
Sorme saw Merthanon glow and he watched as a beam of pure green light leapt from him to Gabrielle. She screamed and staggered back from the blow. Sorme hit her from behind with a beam just as bright as Merthanon's and together they pushed her back against the wall. She was desperately trying to shield herself from their attack, so desperately that she released the Goddesses. They lay where the darkness had felled them, shaking and whimpering. Slowly they realised they were free and that Gabrielle was trapped. Athena and Aphrodite flashed to Sorme's side and hit Gabrielle with their own energy. She screamed once and then fell. Limp and lifeless to the floor.
Quickly Athena ran to her side but stopped short, holding Merthanon back from the girl too. "Look!" She pointed at a shadow like oil crawling away from Gabrielle. Merthanon raised his hands and a cage of fire erupted around the dark. It screamed in its fiery prison. Sorme pointed to the gate, unable to speak in his new body. The gate began to charge at his unspoken command, the diamond was the last gem to charge.
This time a pale green mist appeared like summer rain in the doorway, a scent like wildflowers filled the room from the gateway. Athena spitefully kicked the cage of fire into the doorway, it disappeared without a sound, the darkness' scream cut off as if by a switch.
"Where did you send it?" Aphrodite asked tiredly.
Somewhere it can never escape from, somewhere where there will never be anything for it to hurt. He thought before he realised she couldn't hear him.
You'd be surprised what I can do. She thought to him and winked at the canine look of surprise that flashed across his face.
"We have a problem." Merthanon said as the gateway shut itself down. Taking with it the only light in the room now that the sun had finally set. He gestured to the candles and torches in the room and they immediately burst into flame.
We certainly do. Sorme agreed.
"Well you two certainly showed that you are stronger than us. What do you plan to do with it?" Athena asked.
Sorme and Merthanon looked clinically to one another and then the gate reactivated at their joined command. The green mist was brighter this time. Silently they both knelt before the gate and touched the diamond set in the floor. Both of them shuddered and the green flames surrounding them died out.
"What did you just do?" Aphrodite asked suspiciously.
"We gave up what we had learned from that...Well whatever our visitor was. We weren't ready for it, I don't think we ever will be." Merthanon answered.
That kind of power was not meant to be wielded by mortal men. Human's are, at best, flawed, we have passions and fears that control almost our every move. Ultimate power is linked to ultimate responsibility. I don't want to be responsible for anyone but me. Sorme thought.
"You feel different now." Aphrodite said with pursed lips and a little frown.
"I don't know if I could have done the same." Athena said slowly. "But I'm glad you decided not to keep what you learned from it. Although I'm curious why you humans were closer to it than we were. I couldn't feel or sense a thing about what it was doing yet you two saw enough of what it was about to copy it."
"You were opposites of the same thing. Sorme and I were a kind of grey area in between, you can't sense much from us at all can you?" Merthanon asked.
"No, not really and when you were throwing that green fire around I couldn't sense anything at all." Aphrodite confessed.
"I think I see. Great potential for good or evil, huh?" Athena asked.
"Ow, what hit me...this time?" Gabrielle groaned.
"They did." Autolycus coughed as he propped himself up into a sitting position. "Oh, boy do I ever need a vacation." He muttered and fingered his ribs delicately.
"I hear Gaul is nice this time of year." Salmoneus whispered as he groggily sat up.
"Count me in." Xena growled as she dragged herself up onto her elbows.
"Gaul? You got it." Merthanon, pulled on a rope hanging from the ceiling and the desert night outside suddenly became a view of a lush mountain landscape.
"Nicely done." Athena congratulated him. "Now, why don't we see about healing the worst of these injuries, sister?"
"Okay, handsome, c'mere." She crooked a finger to Salmoneus.
"Hey, ladies first!" Gabrielle chided and pulled Xena to her feet.
"Whatever, honey, whatever." Aphrodite rolled her eyes. "As if that idea is ever going to take hold!"
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