The sun had set long ago. Gabrielle barely noticed the lighting fade as she stared into the camps fire. She hated herself more than she thought she could. Not only had she killed countless times in the past 4 months. Not only had she executed brutal warlords. Not only had her and her army been an increasing threat to normal people becoming what they had originally set out to stop. Not only had all this take place, but she had viciously beaten her own best friend. And that's really gets to her. Every time she looks at Xena and the injuries she has.
The bard glanced up at Xena. She was reading the scroll Gabrielle had written a month earlier. A look of pain barely visible on her swollen face. What she was reading really tugged at her insides. She never realised how much Gabrielle depended on her. Well, she never realised how much she depended on Gabrielle until she took a dive into that lava pit. By the Gods, she went into the Amazon land of the dead just to talk to her!
As she finished reading the last of the scroll Aphrodite's crying makes her look up, just in times to see her deposit a thoroughly cleaned bones into a piles at her feet.
"Aw, that's so sad!" She exclaims, tears welling up in her eyes. She reaches for another piece of rabbit and starts devouring it.
Xena looks over at Gabrielle. She's sitting slightly off from them staring into the fire, still wearing the leathers that Ares had given her. "Gabrielle, I..." She looks back down at the scroll, having no idea how to finish that sentence.
The bard takes a deep breath. "I..." She breathes slowly and takes another breath before continuing. "I became convinced I wasn't just carrying around your ashes in that urn." She looks up at Xena, pain shining in her eyes. I was carrying the ashes of my heart."
Xena looks into the green eyes of her companion. It's obvious she's trying her best not to look away. "You were going to..."
The bard nods and looks away. "Yeah. After taking you to your family, I was going to say goodbye to mine and then..."
"I know." Xena interrupts. This is first chance she's really got to get this off her chest. Even after 30 years she still hadn't been able to tell her. "I went through the exact same thing once."
Gabrielle's eyes lock onto her eye again, confusion mixed with shock on her face. "What? You've never..." Realization causes her to stop. "Outside Potedia, you had buried your weapons."
It's Xena's turn to look away. "Yeah. I felt I couldn't go on. That all I could do was harm. I went home with the intent to say goodbye to my mother and..." She pauses to take a breath. Just talking about it is draining. "That night something happened that changed everything."
Gabrielle tries her best to blink away tears as Aphrodite, who had been paying more attention to the rabbit, suddenly perks up. "What? What happened?"
"I was contemplating my last night on this Earth, what Tartarus was like when..." She looks up at Gabrielle, a smile on her face. "Some blonde kid stumbled into my camp."
Aphrodite looks confused for a moment before looking at Gabrielle. She rolls her eyes and gives the tow of them a wink. "Ah. Gotcha."
Xena leans over as best she can and pulls Gabrielle towards her. The bard averts her eyes as she's pulled into an embrace. Aphrodite rolls her eyes as the other two aren't looking, she knows more than she's willing to tell as she doesn't believe her companions are ready yet. She drops the remnants of what she was eating and joins them.
"It's OK sweetie. We're here for you now."
The trio disengage from each other and Gabrielle forces a smile. "Yeah, I know." After a slight hesitation she stands up. "I need a walk."
Xena and Aphrodite watch the bard stroll slowly strolling into the dark woods behind them. The warrior then looks over to Aphrodite as she looks around for more food. Xena rolls her eyes.
"When are you gonna tell her?"
Aphrodite sits back on her log, looking dejected."Tell her what?" She knew what Xena is getting at. Even now she could feel her digestive system working. The blood rushing through her body.
"You know..." Xena points to the small pile of bones lying at Aphrodite's feet. "You current condition."
"Ah. I'll err, I'll tell her when she gets back."
Xena smiles, disbelieving. "OK. I'm gonna get some sleep." She swings her damaged leg from the log and tries to get up. Aphrodite, seeing the struggle, quickly gets to her feet and helps the warrior to hers. Xena, stubborn as ever, tries to push away.
"I don't need your help."
"Doesn't mean I' just gonna sit by and watch."
Xena sighs, defeated, and puts some of her weight onto Aphrodite as she helps her to her bed roll. With a slight grunt from each, Xena is slowly lowered onto her furs. She looks up at Aphrodite with a slight smile. "Thanks."
Aphrodite practically beams. "Hey, no probs Warrior Babe. If I'm to stick around, I might as well make myself useful."
With a smile that seemed to say 'How could things get any worse' Xena laid back and slowly drift into sleep.
Aphrodite looked up, her worry slowly showing on her face. Almost everything was going to be a new experience, and that terrified her. Add that to the worry that grips her bones every time she watched Gabrielle try her best to avoid looking at Xena and... She tried to force her worry to the back of her mind as Gabrielle walked back into camp.
She looked up at her, a big smile on her face. "Hey sweetie!" She motions the bard to sit next to her. Gabrielle carefully sits down on the log next to Aphrodite, her arms wrapped around her torso. Aphrodite puts her own arm around her.
"You gonna be OK?" She asked.
"Yeah." She forces a smile. "I think I am." She straightens slightly as she turns to Aphrodite. "Thanks. For bringing her back."
Aphrodite embraces her. "Hey, no probs. That's what friends are for." After 5 seconds they pull away and Aphrodite rubs the bards shoulder. "Now, I think you should get some sleep."
Gabrielle stands up nodding. "Yeah." She walks over to her own bed roll and slowly crawls into it. It's not long until her gentle snores can be heard.
Aphrodite looks over her worriedly. "Goodnight Gabrielle."
The pouring rain pelting her skin made Gabrielle open her eyes. When they quickly adjusted to the dark what they focused on chilled her to the bone. Her hands gripped the handle of the katana that she was holding. Anger suddenly fills her entire being.
"Give me her head!" She screamed at who was listening. Hate filling each word.
A single warrior steps forward from the dark. Gabrielle recognises Narith immediately. Before she can react he charges her flailing his own katana expertly. She parries his blow and deals one of her own. They spar fiercely for a few minutes. Each dodging and parring blows, neither managing to get an advantage.
Then suddenly Gabrielle throws a wild card of a blow, almost shocked when it cleft Narith's head from his shoulders. His body dispersed into nothingness as it fell. The head rolls to a stop at Gabrielle's feet. She slowly falls to her knees, tears streaming down her cheeks, as she looked into the lifeless face of Xena.
She looked up at the sky, her fingers digging into her face. "Nooo!"
She stands as more people emerge from the darkness and begin to attack her. As she dispatches one warrior, another would emerge to take his place. She didn't notice that normal villagers started taken their place.
After five minutes Gabrielle dispatches the final man, looks down at the corpses lying around around her. With a shake of the head she picks up a flaming torch from nowhere and screams at nothing.
"You poisoned my men!"
She throws the torch into the dark, the flame catches on what it connected with. The immediate area is suddenly flooded with light. Gabrielle stares in horror as the building quickly burns and the fire spreads to the surrounding buildings.
Ares appears as the fierce flames slowly close in on her, laughing as she is slowly consumed.
The bard suddenly sits up in her furs screaming.
It had been 7 hours since the nightmare had awoken Gabrielle. It had been three months since she'd last dreamt anything. She'd gotten so used of the dreamless sleeps that the nightmare shaken her more than a nightmare should.
She looks over at Xena and Aphrodite, still sleeping in their furs. Her eyes quickly close as her gaze floats over Xena's face. She slowly faces back to fire, almost dead, and stares into the failing flame. Almost taking solace in the dancing flames.
The sound of Aphrodite waking broke the silence. The bard looks over as she sits up. A smile crosses her face. It slowly falls from her face and almost reaches concern.
Gabrielle was already well aware of the approaching trouble and rolls her eyes. She slowly raises her gaze to the small group of thugs walking towards them.
Aphrodite nudges Xena stealthily. "Xena. There's a bunch of sweaty, dirty men walking towards us."
The warrior forces herself to look at the thugs as Gabrielle gets up to greet them. "Gabrielle can take care of it." With a yawn she quickly fell back into sleep.
Aphrodite looks up again, looking more worried.
Gabrielle walks up to the thugs and a small fight breaks out. Aphrodite's eyes widen as Gabrielle quickly ends the fight and crouches down near one of the thugs.
"What do you want?"
The thug tries to crawl backwards, away from the bard. "We, we heard you were without your army." Gabrielle tries her best not to flinch. "And we thought what better time to get the warriors ashes."
Gabrielle's brow furrows. "So this is all about getting your hands on Xena's ashes? Again?"
The thug nods enthusiastically.
The bard shakes her head as she stands. "Alright." She looks over her shoulder. "Hey Xena?"
The warrior grunts and does her best to sit up. "Yeah?"
"Do you know where your ashes are?"
Xena grumbles some reply and lies back in her furs. Aphrodite looks on, a little confused as Gabrielle turns back to the thug, a shocked look is sitting plainly on his face.
"Sorry." She shrugs. Then with a flash she puts the pinch on the thug. "OK, 30 = dead. Now, I want you to leave here and tell all your little thug friends to leave me alone! OK?"
The thug coughs his reply. "Ye, ye, yes ma'am."
Gabrielle smiles. "Good." She quickly undoes the pinch, picks him up and throws him at his dumbstruck friends. The group scramble over each other to get away. Gabrielle slumps her shoulders and turns back to the camp. "I hate thugs."
"I think you did alright."
The bard looks up to see Xena sitting up in her furs. She quickly hops over to help the warrior get to her feet and just as quickly looks away.
"Are err, are you OK?"
"Yeah, I'm good."
"OK." She starts to walk away. "I'll go get breakfast."
Aphrodite sits straight up. "Did someone mention breakfast?"
Gabrielle calls, from just in earshot. "Why do I get the feeling it's going to be one of the those days?"
The morning was slowly progressing as Gabrielle and Xena were walking along at a leisurely pace. Gabrielle's black mare strolling in-between them. The bard has still to think a suitable name for her. She didn't really think she'd have to. The mare was left with the remnants of her army, but the beast had followed her after...
She stopped the thought right there. She quickly glanced behind them to check how Aphrodite was doing. As far as Gabrielle knew, Aphrodite hadn't done this much travelling the mortal way. She smiled at Aphrodite's slower pace at returned her attention to the journey in front of them.
Aphrodite was enjoying herself for the most part though her left foot had started to go numb. A whoosh sound makes her stop in her tracks and she turns to see Ares.
"Are you happy?" He asks, an eyebrow cocked to it's fullest.
A thoughtful look crosses Aphrodite's face as she mulls it over. "Yeah. Yeah I am."
"This is the second time you've done this to me." He rising voice has no effect on Aphrodite.
"Second?" Her eyes widen slightly. "Whoa. Herc sent Xena down the other path, not me."
"But you got" He points at Gabrielle and Xena, slowly heading away from them. "those two together."
Aphrodite shrugs slightly. "Well."
"And then you bring Xena back, behind my back I might add, and ruin my plans again!"
"Chill bro!" She tries to wipe the frown of her brothers face. "All this anger can't be good for your skin."
The war god swats her hand away. "What ever, I've got some business to attend to." He leans closer. "Just remember, this was your decision. Now you have to live with it." At this point Aphrodite burps, almost on cue. Ares raises his eyebrow again. "Literally."
With a snarl Ares vanishes. A loud rumble fills the air and Aphrodite holds her stomach as she burps again. She looks towards her companions, almost out of site. She starts running to catch up. "Err, Xena!"
Gabrielle was crouching alone by a stream, watching the water trickle by. She was slightly annoyed that she was to catch lunch. Well, it's not like Aphrodite knew how to catch fish, or that Xena was in any condition to hunt. She glanced over her shoulder at the two of them. She couldn't hear what they were saying so she returned her attention to the stream.
Aphrodite was holding her hand more urgently against her stomach and Xena was almost looking amused.
"I thought you've been mortal before."
Aphrodite hopes from foot to foot. "Hey. The first time was only one day. And the time with Caligula. He was sucking my godhood!"
Xena gave her a calming look. "OK OK. Calm down." She takes a deep breath. "So you've never. You know." She couldn't bring herself to say it. The very idea was ridiculous.
Aphrodite's face was almost pleading. "What?"
"You know." She motioned her head to some nearby foliage. "Used the bushes."
"Used the bushes?" Confusion was breaking out on her face.
"Yeah. The John. The little girls room." She shakes her head. "You have no idea what I'm talking about do you?"
Aphrodite shakes her own head worriedly. Xena grabs her arm and starts to hobble away. "Come on you."
A couple of seconds later Xena is leaning on her crutch next to an amount of bushes. Of all the things she's done over the years, this has to be the strangest.
"Right, now pull your trousers and undies down."
A horrified voice emerges from within the bushes. "What? What if someone sees?"
"Aphrodite." Xena says, an amused look on her face. "What you're about to do will scare most folk away."
Aphrodite was apprehensive. "Well if you're sure." A couple of seconds pass, then. "OK, now what?"
"Now you need to crouch. Make sure everything is clear and."
Meanwhile, Gabrielle's concentration is at it's most concentrate. Her eyes staring blindly into the water. Her coiled muscles suddenly flexed and her hand shoots into the water returning a moment holding a haddock. She holds it up and looks into it's eyes.
"I think I'll call you" She pretends to think. "Chowder!" She looks quite proud of herself when a voice pierces the air.
"By the gods! What in Hades!" Aphrodite screamed hysterically.
Gabrielle slumps and looks at the crushed fish in her hand.
"Gabrielle!" Came Xena's voice. "Can you fetch the spare bush scroll?" Her voice seemed to gain an edge of amusement. "Aphrodite seems to have over eaten!"
The bard shakes her head as she shakes the fish gunk from her hand. "Over eaten." A thought suddenly caught her off guard. "Wait a minute. Gods don't need to eat." Another, more lower, thought catches up. "They certainly don't need to use the bushes."
Aphrodite was certainly beginning to regret eating all that rabbit. There was an immense uncomfortable feeling in her...
She didn't want to think about it any longer, though each step reminded her of it. She looks up at Gabrielle's confused face and Xena's amused look. She shook her head in defiance.
"Never again. I swear, on." She thinks a moment. "On my temples, I'm never doing that again."
This statement brings Gabrielle out of her thoughts. "That reminds me." She catches up to Aphrodite nonchalantly and walks along side her. "Why is it that you suddenly need to use the bushes?"
Aphrodite tried her best not to panic and changed the subject. "Say, isn't it nearly lunch time?"
Gabrielle looks slightly annoyed, well aware that she'd just been brushed off. "I had lunch in my hands, till someone screamed!"
"Well you try doing..." She quickly catches her self. "I could really use some chicken right about now. Or maybe some..."
Xena decided it was time to force the issue, though she was curious how often Aphrodite could push it aside. "Aphrodite." She used the tone of voice as well as the look.
Aphrodite's will crumbled. "All right, all right."
The three of them stop. Xena and Gabrielle almost radiate eagerness. Aphrodite sighs.
"Look, it's like this. You were all down and depressed. You were, how did you put it?" She thinks for a second. "'Losing the will to do anything'?" She smiles slightly. "Well, I couldn't bare to see my favourite mortal going through such heartache." She pauses to stroke Gabrielle's cheek. "So I set about bringing Warrior Babe her back. Easier said than done though. I couldn't find her anywhere. Persephone hadn't received her. She wasn't in the Japa underworld." She sighs deeply. "I had ran out of options. So I." She takes another deep breath. "I asked Eve to pray."
Gabrielle looks shocked. "You asked the God of Eli for help?" An Olympian God asking for help?
Aphrodite looks crestfallen. "Yeah. I then had a visit from a nice angel." She catches her self quickly. "Sorry, archangel."
"Yeah, that's him." Aphrodite nods. "Anyway, he asked what I'd sacrifice and I said..."
"You gave up your godhood?" Interrupts Gabrielle, horrified. "Do you remember what happened last time?"
"Whoa, take a chill pill Gabby. I gave up my Olympian godhood." She clarified.
Gabrielle looks confused. "What in Hades does that mean?"
Aphrodite takes a deep breath. This was it. It was once thing live it, but once you acknowledge it... "I'm a demi-goddess."
"A demi-goddess. I'm in service of..." She points upwards. "Him."
Gabrielle looks unsure of what to say? "Well, that's." She gives up and embraces Aphrodite.
The demi-goddess welcomes it with a big smile.
"Thanks for bringing her back."
Xena leans in, getting slightly exasperated at all the mushy stuff. "Hey hey. Can we get this moving again? I'd like to sleep in an actual bed tonight." With a sigh she turns to continue down the path just to walk into Cupid. "Cupid! What a pleasant surprise."
Aphrodite immediately jumps into action. "Cupiee!"
The celestial archer smiled brightly. "Hey mom."
The two of them embrace and Xena slumps further onto her crutch.
"How are you coping?" Cupid asks.
Aphrodite gives him a look of 'you know'. "I'm doing good." The look changes into one of discomfort. "Though these mortals have a strange way of getting rid of waste."
Xena pretends to scratch her chin. "Maybe next time you won't eat so much."
Aphrodite looked over. "What was that?"
Xena instantly adopts a look of mock innocence."Nothing. Nothing at all. Can we get moving here?"
It wasn't long before lunch had been caught and cooked. Xena is leaning as best she can against a large tree, her leg propped up on a nearby log and a piece of rabbit in her hands. She looked over at Aphrodite and shook her head. The demi-goddess was sitting closer to the cooking fire and her face was practically covered with indescribable juices.
She picks up another piece and starts devouring it. When she pauses to catch her breath she notices the looks Gabrielle and Cupid are giving her. She offers some.
"Are you sure you don't want any?" She then tries her best to hide a burp.
Cupid shakes his head. Naturally, he's looking terrified. "err, no thanks." He gives a frown, unrelated to the current topic and turns to Xena. "Xena? You're a fighter for the greater good right?"
Xena's left brow shoots straight up. "Yes." The suspicion in her voice adds more syllables to that single word than should be possible.
"How soon do you want to get back into the swing of things?" He asked.
The warrior could feel something was up his sleeve. "Why?"
"Well," Cupid adopts the usual smug look that people get when imparting information. "it seems Ares has a small army converging on a town not far from here."
Xena instantly shoots to her feet, ready for battle. Though, in reality, she just sat up more and groaned some. Aphrodite dropped her food and hopped over to help the warrior up as Gabrielle just looks away.
"Maybe you should sit this one out?"
Xena gives her look number 3 cranked to it's fullest. It almost has the desired effect but Aphrodite manages to stand fast. "I've got a broken leg, I'm not an invalid!" She pushes Aphrodite away and turns to Cupid. "How far and which way?"
He frowns slightly. "Two leagues..." His hand waves around a couple of times looking for the right direction. It finally makes it's mind up. "that way."
Xena cracks her knuckles happily. "Time to get a proper work out." She hobbles over to Gabrielle. "You ready to start?"
The bard forces her self to look up. "Start what?" She asks, accepting the helping hand up.
"It' took me six." She smiles slightly when the truth hits her again. "Thirty years to reach a point where I could forgive myself.
"Yeah. The sooner I start yadda yadda." She looks down and takes a deep breath. "Alright, lets head out."
Cupid also stands. "Well, as much as I'd like to join you on this little quest, I've got business to attend to."
Aphrodite give him a brief, but worried, hug.
"Don't worry mom. I'll still pop in ever now and again."
"I'll remember that." Declared Xena. "Having a god around could be advantageous."
"Hey." Cupids points at her. "I won't be here for your benefit." With that her disappears in a puff of gold sparks.
Aphrodite looks a little sad for a moment but quickly cheers up. "Oh, an adventure!"
Gabrielle and Xena groan.
Xena looked over her shoulder at Gabrielle. The bard was almost dragging her feet, occasionally being nudge by that horse. The black mare seemed to like her. But this wasn't Xena's current concern. She looked at Aphrodite, who was practically skipping next to her. She was happily munching on an apple. Where and when she got it was a question that was quickly subdued in Xena's mind to make way for a more important one.
"I'm worried about Gabrielle." She stated.
"Hmm?" Came Aphrodite's unconcerned reply.
Xena carried on. "She can't bring herself to look at me for some reason. Sure, she broke my leg but..." She shook her head.
Aphrodite grabbed her arm and they both stopped. "Have you seen your self recently?"
"Well no, but it's kinda hard with one eye permanently closed."
"Do you know why?"
Xena found this to be a silly question. "Some sort of injury." Her entire face stung but it couldn't be as bad as some slight bruising.
Aphrodite raised an eyebrow, she'd been practising all morning and it was quite impressive. She then puffed out her cheeks and closed her right eye, generally trying to look as bloated as possible.
Xena almost looks horrified, then raises a hand to explore her face. Once she's thoroughly explore the swelling she slumps in her crutch. "Every time she looks at me. She doesn't just see an injured woman. She see someone beaten mercilessly by her own friend." She shook her head. It all made sense to her now.
Just then Gabrielle joins them and looks around. They were top of a hill over looking a small town. The very sight of it makes the bard's blood chill.
"Are you OK?" Xena asks, concern filling her voice.
"Gabrielle thinks quickly. "Err, yeah. I err. I just need to use the bushes."
She walks into some nearby shrubbery and sits down running her hand over her face. It's obvious she trying to hold back tears. It takes her a couple of minutes to compose her self. She stands and rejoins her companions.
Within the town many of the townsmen are milling around hurriedly as the trio enter the main gates. Gabrielle is trying her best to hide behind Xena. The warrior looks around at some of the burnt down buildings. She is slightly disturbed by the destruction.
"What happened here?" She asked a passing citizen.
The man in question starts to answer but spots Gabrielle. A look of fear radiates from him. "By the gods! It's her!" This attracts more people and another voice calls. "It's the Dragon Warrior!"
By now a few townsfolk have started to approach looking mean. Gabrielle tries to slink back further as Xena Lifts her hands up.
"Haven't you done enough damage here?" Another voice.
"Now wait a minute. We're only here to help."
One of the crowd almost erupts. "Help?!" He points accusingly to Gabrielle. "Last time she helped us, she burned half our town down!"
Xena turns to the sheepish Gabrielle, a horrified look on her face. "Gabrielle?"
The bard nods. "It's true. I, we." She takes a breath. "Me and my army offered to help with a warlord problem these people were having. We solved their problem and they payed us with bad food."
"Bad food?" Xena couldn't see how this was so much of a problem.
"Yeah. I nearly lost two men because of it."
"So you burned the town down?"
"No! I. I burned the stores." She looks down, ashamed. "But the fire spread." The bard steps towards the crowd who were three steps away from being a mob. "If you want to arrest me. Execute me. I won't stop you."
Anger jumps up to Xena's face. "But I will!" She declares. This causes the crowd to move back a step, but all it needed was one man...
He stepped forward. "Get her!"
The crowd surges forward, Aphrodite starts to edge backwards and Xena goes for her sword. Gabrielle raises a hand to stop her.
The warrior shoots her a look. "Gabrielle!"
"Xena, please." With that, she lets the villagers take her away.
A bemused, and a little scared, looking Aphrodite steps forward again. "What's she doing?" She asks.
"Something stupid." Was the only reply Xena gave before walking after them.
Aphrodite carefully stepped across the mucky jail floor. She could sense the guard amusement as he stopped in front one of the cells. He slowly unlocked the big wooden and smiled as politely as he could as the creaked open.
"I'll be out her miss. Just call if you need anything."
Aphrodite had never been called a 'miss'. It irked her. "Thank you. She smiled brightly as she walked in and the door was quickly closed and locked behind her.
It took a couple of seconds for her to get adjusted to the darker gloom in the cell as the only light came fro a small barred window.
In the centre of the room stood Gabrielle. If she was, in fact, standing of her own accord, chained, as she was to the sides of the room. She's dressed only in her under shift. Arms and legs spread slightly with a shackle on each wrist and ankle.
"Hey Gabby. Eugh, you don't look so good." The demi-goddess concentrates hard as she waves a hand. She was unsure whether to look away as she did so. This was the first time she tried anything like this since she became demi-ed. A proud smile appears as Gabrielle suddenly seems fresher, as if just from a nice bath.
"Sorry sweetie, best I can do."
The bard forces a smile. "Thanks."
"Why are you doing this?"
Gabrielle slumps in her chains. "Have you seen the state of this town? I did that. Me. 17 people died in that fire. I..."
Aphrodite's hand stroking her cheek interrupts her. She tries to pull away.
"Those people deserve justice."
"But that wasn't you. You forget, I was a goddess. I could see into your soul."
A grumble from outside the door fills the room.
"I should be going. Visiting times are quite strict around here." Aphrodite smiles again before knocking on the door. It creaks open and she exits, leaving Gabrielle alone in the dark stone room. The bard closes her eyes.
Xena was getting annoyed. She was happy when town took up the defensive, and she didn't mind if they ran away, but when they did nothing. Just waited for the approaching storm wide eyed.
"In the state your town's in, you could not stand another attack!"
The official she was practically shouting at shook his head. "We're only in this state because of your friend."
"That isn't the issue here!"
Aphrodite put a calming hand on the warriors shoulder, if only to stop her exploding. "She's right. If you do nothing you're gonna get wiped from the map."
"Just give me ten men and I can get and adequate defence going." She gave the official one of her looks, which Aphrodite does her best to imitate.
The man begins to waver under the combine looks. "Alright. Ten men." With that he walks away.
Xena gives a relieve look as she glances at Aphrodite, who is practically beaming.
Aphrodite shifted her weight again. Xena seemed apprehensive to teach her how to defend her self. She didn't understand why of course, she was immortal. Well, she hoped she was. She didn't really want to test the theory out any time soon. It wouldn't be a problem if Xena taught her how to fight. Look what happened to Gabrielle. She's probably faster than Xena, maybe even stronger.
Aphrodite shook her head. Xena still hadn't visited the bard yet. There must be a reason but... She stood up and walked over to Xena. The warrior was putting some of the men through their paces.
"Xena?" She asked quietly.
"You still still haven't seen her yet have you?"
"I've got more important things to take care of right now.
Aphrodite gave her a look, it wasn't quite up to standards but. "More important than your own friend?"
Xena slumped in her crutch. "She made her decision."
Aphrodite was getting slightly irritated. "So now you're gonna leave her alone in there?" She grabs Xena's arm and turns to face her. "Go to her."
"Look, I need..."
"Alright! Alright." With a sigh she starts walking away, mumbling as she does so. "Damn ex goddess thinks she knows..."
Within the damp dark cell, Gabrielle has barely moved. She looks up as the door slowly opens, pouring bright light across the floor. Xena hobbles in sheepishly.
"Hey." She forces a smile. "There's my bard."
Gabrielle looks away. "Hey Xena."
Xena walks up to her, unsure of what to say but her mouth decides for her. "Gabrielle, why?"
This was it. Gabrielle had thought long and hard about what she was going to say, somewhere along the way though it got mixed up, confused and angry. "No! Don't you talk to me about 'why'!" It was coming now and she couldn't stop it. "You died on me in Japa! You promised you wouldn't again! I had a chance! A chance to bring you back, but you chose to stay dead! "She took a quick breath. "And after the bull about never leaving me, even in death you went! Three days after Beijing I was all alone!" Tears were pouring down her face now. "You chose and look where it led me."
Silence fills the room as Gabrielle words sink in. Both occupants shocked by her out burst.
Gabrielle, now composed, interrupts. "How are the preparations going?" Xena looks confused for a second and Gabrielle smiles at her. "I know you well."
"I'm beginning to think you have too many skills." She smirks. "They're going well. These people should be adequately defend themselves when that army gets here."
"Hows Aphrodite coping?"
"She's doing well. Slightly miffed I won't let her pick up a weapon."
"That's. That's good. Now go. Don't you have more important things to be doing?"
Xena grins brightly. "That's what I said." She starts towards the door. Just before she leaves she turns back. "I'll be back for you later."
"Sure sure." She watches as Xena hobbles out the cell. She takes a deep breath. All that uncontrolled spouting actually made her feel better. Like a huge weight off her shoulders.
"Now this seems familiar." Gabrielle looks shocked as Ares stands in front of her. "Now where was it?"
"Yeah. I decided to change my cologne." He walks around the bard as the cell shimmers into a lavishly decorated war tent. Yet Gabrielle is still chained to something.
"Look at you. Chained up for just a little vengeance." He arrives back in front of Gabrielle, shaking his head. "I could have given you everything. Now look at you." He says the last bit with a smirk.
Gabrielle simply shakes her head. "I didn't want everything."
"What? Xena? I could have brought her. In time."
Gabrielle's brow furrows for a second before one of them raises in realization. "Wait. This thing about you and your 'chosen'. It wasn't just about conquering the world. It was about conquering the other gods."
The war god looks impressed. "Hmm, you are a smart one. Yes, when the world was conquered in my name, and every city, town or village had a temple in my honour then yes. I would have been top god. The only god!"
He sighs deeply as their surroundings shimmer back to the jail cell and four angry looking townsfolk enter.
"But why am I telling you this?"
One of the townsmen steps up to her. "You're trial is coming up tomorrow but we don't think we're going get the chance for justice with that army coming." The four of them produce blunt objects, the intent clear on their faces.
Ares look slightly amused. "Chained up, about to be beaten by a bunch of pathetic mortals." He shakes his head. "I don't think you'll live to see tomorrow. If these fools don't kill you, then this army will finish the job when they raze this town to the ground." With a smirk, he vanishes in his usual blue light.
Outside, the towns inhabitants are all watching the main gates, ready for the invasion. Xena is standing, propped up by her crutch, at the front. Aphrodite is standing in the window of a makeshift infirmary. Suddenly there's a loud banging at the gates. Archers posted along the main walls start to fire down upon the enemy.
It's only a couple of minutes before the gates are breached and the soldiers start to slowly pour in. The townsfolk and Xena start to engage the enemy but they fight well and many go down. Xena is barely holding her own.
The four men in Gabrielle's cell are looking very menacing.
"Looks like it's started." One of them states. "We best be quick."
With that he raises his arm and strikes Gabrielle across the back. The bard barely flinches her attention more focused on the sounds out side. Another blow in the side almost makes her cough as a scream comes from outside.
"By the gods." She says, barely a whisper. "I need to get out there. I need to help." She starts struggling against her chains to the amusement to her tormentors.
"Oh no. You won't be leaving this room for a while." One of them smirks.
Another blow catches her off guard, winding her. "OK, I just need to." She clenches her teeth and tries to pull against the chains again. The feeble attempt ends with another strike across her back.
Just then Xena's voice fills the room. "Aphrodite!"
"Aphrodite?" Worry plasters across her face. "I need to get out there." She closes her eyes and grits her teeth again. With an almighty scream, and to the horror of those beating her, she wrenches the chains from the walls.
The town centre is swarming with soldiers, Xena is doing her best to fend them off, but her broken leg is impeding her somewhat. Aphrodite is doing her best to help, it's obvious she's trying not to damage her nails.
The four who were beating Gabrielle suddenly burst out of one of the buildings. A few of the soldiers suddenly hesitate.
"By the gods, it's her!" One of them shouts.
"It's the Dragon Warrior!" Exclaims another
More the soldiers pause at this and look, almost worriedly, to the other end of the square. Xena takes the momentary lull to see what they're looking at. She sees Gabrielle standing defiantly, still in her undershift. The shackles are still around her wrists and ankles with a small amount of chain on each.
During this pause, Xena takes a couple more of the soldiers down before the rest turn on Gabrielle.
"We can take her."
"Yeah, get her."
Now all of the enemy soldiers, about three of them now, turn and head for the bard. Xena suddenly look very worried.
"Gabrielle be careful! These guys are well trained!"
Gabrielle seems unconcerned. "I know, I trained them."
The soldiers swarm round her and begin their assault. The bard is dodging sword strokes expertly while slowly taking the soldiers out, one by one. Eventually only the bard is left standing.
Aphrodite looks shocked "By the gods. Gabrielle?"
A final soldier walks up to Gabrielle. The both nod at each other in respect.
He looks at her bloody and bruised body. "You're looking well."
"As are you. I see you're in charge now. How long did it take Ares to give this suggestion?"
"How did you?"
She waves the question off. "I know Ares. He wants to get back at me. You do know he's sent you to your death?"
Roxen laughs the comment off. "Yeah, sure."
"Come on then."
With a sneer Roxen swings his sword up and swings at Gabrielle. The bard dodges the sword and stamps the ground popping a sword into her hand. She didn't expect the kick that intercepts with her ribs. She stumbles back a couple of steps.
"OK, OK. I can see this could take a while."
The two of them fight fiercely. Blow after blow is thrown parried or dodged. Neither seem to get the advantage until Roxen gets an opening and kicks the sword from Gabrielle's hand.
Her right brow goes up. "Oh."
Roxen gives another laugh and brings an over head swing. Gabrielle smirk as Xena calls out her name. The bard shoots her hand up and catches the blade. Blood starts to trickle down her forearm. A loud creak echoes around the square as the sword slowly begins to bend. Roxen's eyes widen as his sword is tossed out of his grip and hand lifts him off the ground by the throat.
"By the gods!" He struggles to exclaim.
With her own sneer, Gabrielle pulls sharply downwards sending Roxen face first into the floor. A shocked look spreads on Gabrielle's face as she sinks to her knees. Xena hobbles up behind her and puts a hand on her shoulder.
"You did what you had to do." She says.
Gabrielle shakes her head. This wasn't how it should have ended. She didn't want more blood on her hand. In her palms. She slowly opens her hand to reveal a large piece of Roxen's throat. Aphrodite suddenly looks sick.
Gabrielle looks up. "Xena? I want to go home."
"By the gods!" Shouts Aphrodite as she reclines against a tree. "That's better." She'd been on her feet practically all day and the pain was intense. Add that to another bush experience and a lie down was just what she needed. She looked around the camp. Gabrielle was cooking again, but she seemed distant. Shame really, she was looking forward to a fishing lesson.
Xena shuffled over as best she could and put an arm around the bard. "It's OK. It happens. In the heat of battle reflexes can just take over."
Gabrielle looks at her and nods. "I know." She wasn't convinced though. Something was poking at her and she couldn't put her finger on it. "I'm going to bed."
"Already?" Asked Aphrodite.
"Yeah. You know, early to bed, early to rise." Gabrielle forced a smile. "And we've got a week to Potedia." She gets up and makes her way over to her own bedroll.
"Xena?" Aphrodite asked, fetching her food.
"When you're able, can you teach me how to fish?"
Xena sighed. "Sure, why not." She looked over at Gabrielle, slowly falling into sleep. "Good night Gabrielle."
The pouring rain pelting her skin made Gabrielle open her eyes. When they quickly adjusted to the dark what they focused on chilled her to the bone. Her hands gripped the handle of the katana that she was holding. Anger suddenly fills her entire being.
"Give me her head!"