The tall woman stood on the cliff, facing the sea. The crisp, salty air filled her lungs. She liked to come up here, where there was peace and quiet. She could be absolutely still with herself.
"Tychias, pardon me, Tychias? I am sorry to intrude, but..."
The tall woman turned towards the sound of the voice, a small sigh escaping her lips.
"Tychias, I am so glad I found you here. There is a meeting of the Elders in the Great Hall. Master Scholar, Aristhemes, asked for your presence at the table." The young man stood, catching his breath from the steep climb up the cliff.
"Daemon, of course you knew Iíd be here, where else would I be? Out challenging the gods?" Tychias laughed as she walked towards Daemon.
Daemon smiled, looking down, unable to meet her gaze. His heart always felt like a trapped animal whenever he looked into those ocean deep blue eyes.
"No Tychias, I mean, yes Tychias." He stammered, intently studying the knot work of his sandals. Tychias smiled at him, but he could not see, to look at her with her dark hair whipping from behind her, and those eyes, he felt like a speck before a mountain.
She stepped past him, touching him lightly on the sleeve as she moved back towards the path.
Her voice soft, she asked him quietly,
"Are the Elders meeting for the topics of the upcoming gathering?"
"N n no, Tychias, they are meeting concerning recent reports from the villagers up the coast, reporting an army that has started to arrive."
"Why should we care about an army? We are an academic forum, we have nothing to fear..." She stopped, a shadow flickering across the sun, and across her face. She continued her way down the path, towards the courtyard and the Great Hall.
Daemon fell in step behind her striding figure, their scholars robes whipping behind them as they walked against the wind.
Daemon knew that it was no small wonder why he and all his other classmates clamored for her teachings. It was not so much the first attraction that any of them had felt, but rather, being in her presence was like being with a force of nature. The way she strode with her lioness strides across the field, or hall that they were settled in.The way she had of making her point absolutely clear. Standing absolutely still, fixing you with those eyes, and rebutting your argument as fine and as quick as a fisherman could gut a fish. Why she taught out here, at the edge of nowhere, at this small Forum. Daemon shook his head slightly as he continued to follow her down.
Tychias knew the young student was thinking, and not about the latest point on aesthetics. More than likely, he was going over in his mind again about the stories of her arrival here. She only knew what Aristhemes had told her, when she first gained consciousness. Her entire body was aching, and she was so stiff she could barely move. When her eyes had opened, she saw the halo of white hair, and a grizzled face gazing down at her.
"You are awake, good." He had smiled as her eyes fluttered open.
"Do not speak, you need much more rest. Although, I confess I have ever seen anyone sleep for 5 days before. You are at the Forum, out by the Nyccian cliffs. I am still puzzling how you got here, the closet village is easily half a days ride." He had paused, she croaked out, her mouth so dry,
"Who are" she didnít finish, the last word came out more as an exhalation of breath than a question. "I am Aristhemes, the Master Scholar here. Your appearance caused quite a scene." She had passed out again, after hearing his name.
In the weeks that followed, he would often stop by and speak to her between his duties. She enjoyed talking to the gentle scholar. He told her that she had arrived, one rainy night, in a bloodstained tunic, and breeches that were bloody and torn. She staggered though the courtyard, and as he had approached her, she reached out to him and whispered, "I am..." before she collapsed to the ground, her arm still reaching out.
When she had awakened, she remembered nothing about that night, nor anything else before she opened her eyes and saw Aristhemes gazing down at her.
She was given scholars robes, for she knew much about calculations and strategies, and engaged even Aristhemes in lively discussions.To repay their kindness, as she regained her strength, she helped plan and build several additions, as well as helping to organize the scholars and students to build the Great Hall.
Aristhemes called her Tychias, one who comes by chance.
Daemon followed behind Tychias, knowing from the look on her face that she was thinking about her arrival. It was a story that was passed from student to student. Some of the older boys claimed to have seen the clothes she was wearing, and there was one who said he was there the night she arrived. He breathed a small sigh of relief as he saw that she was heading directly to the Great Hall. What he hadnít passed along was that the Elders were in a state of absolute uproar, all save Aristhemes, who had tried to quietly tell Daemon where to find Tychias.
Tychias stepped off the path into the courtyard, she made her way to the large oak doors that marked the entrance of the Great Hall. She wished she had the time to be able to sing, it always calmed her. She had shared it only once, with Aristhemes, when he was ill 2 winters ago. She started humming now, to quiet the unease that she felt creeping along her spine.
Inside the Great Hall, the Elders debated quietly among themselves, while the scholars were much less discreet in their opinions.
"Tell her who she is, show her the weapons that she came garbed in it is only because of her the army has arrived."
"We dinna know that, and she has shown no signs of recovering her identity."
"She has formed a new one, she is Tabula Rusa incarnate."
"Bah, we have let her stay for too long. We all knew that this day would come. One such as she cannot leave violence at the door."
"She has left it behind, it is no longer hers to know, look at all that she has given to us since her arrival. We have benefited greatly from this arrangement."
"Enough!" Aristhemes stood from his position at the head of the center table, his arms outraged.
The otherís stopped, some in mid-sentence, to turn and face him.
It was into this silence that Tychias strode in to the Great Hall. All eyes turned from the head of the table to Tychias.
"Waiting for me?" She smiled charmingly at the scholars and elders.
Slipping in behind her, Daemon crept along the wall towards the hallway that led to the students dining hall. As he disappeared down the hallway, he turned back, and caught a glimpse of Tychias smiling at him. He turned away quickly and ran down the hall.
Arithemes smiled and motioned her towards his table. She nodded and moved towards him, slicing across the length of the hall with her long, easy stride. He marveled at how it often looked like she was gliding across the floor, with her scholarís robes just brushing the ground behind her.
The scholars settled back in their chairs, some murmuring among themselves. It was not that they truly disliked her, Tychias was funny and always helpful. If she remained a bit distant, no one could say exactly why.
"You asked me to come, Master Scholar?" She tipped her head slightly, a gesture of respect, although Aristhemes loved that there was nothing really deferential about her demeanor.
"Thank you for coming so quickly, Tychias, I know how much you value your walks." He smiled warmly at her as he reached out to take her hands in his.
"We were just discussing the unsettling news that an army has settled along the coast."
Tychias sat down and returned the warm smile to the elderly man. Her blue eyes sparkled as she smiled at him. She harbored a great fondness for Aristhemes, not only for his compassion and patience, but to sit and listen to him speak. His voice soothed her, and his talks of loyalty, truth, and honor struck something deep in her heart. He always told her, as his talks were winding down, "The heart is the greatest healing force on this earth. It will heal everything, if you listen to it." Tychias often felt as if she had heard that sentiment somewhere before, but attributed it to the fact that she had heard it so many times from Aristhemes.
"Is there cause for concern Aristhemes?" She asked him.
"No, I have prayed to Athena, and there seems to be no indication of an impending attack." He squeezed her hands and then turned to address the other scholars.
The light haired woman leaned against her staff. Weariness settled in her bones like a fog that would not lift. How many years had she been on the road? Searching for the whereabouts of her best friend and former constant traveling companion. Every tale or rumor of the Warrior Princess and Gabrielle had set off to investigate.
In some villages she had battled and revealed impostors for their petty tyranny, trying to capitalize on Xenaís former reputation. In others they would swear that they heard her riding through the night, and sometimes caught a glimpse. Xena had been transformed into either a beacon of hope among the downtrodden or a tale to enforce obeying whatever rules were particular to a village. No matter where she went, Gabrielle always took the time to tell the tales of the Xena she had known. It kept Xena alive and bright in her mind, and was a true heroes tale.
She no longer had the look of the young bard who had joined Xena all those years ago, determined to find adventure. Her frame was thinner and her eyes a bit more haunted. The result of the long stretches of time she had spent on the road, her substanence the dried fruit and bread and cheese she would gather at each village. She often walked from before dawn until she could no longer see the road any longer. She believed that if she rested for too long, she might actually miss Xena somewhere along the way.
There were others, their friends, that had joined in the search. She had traveled the road with each of them at one time or another.They had their obligations, and responsibilities. When each of them finally had to go back to their families and duties, they would squeeze her, or hug her, and tell her, once she is found, send word, and I will fly there like the fastest of Poseidonís steeds. Gabrielle understood, for where could Xena be that a legion searching for her could not find? Hercules had tried to find out from the Gods if there was any news. Marcus contacted her in a dream to tell her sadly that wherever Xena was, it was not amongst the dead.
Just a few days ago, Gabrielle had overheard news about Xenaís location. She almost hoped that this time it wasnít true, because she knew the force that was coming to find her. She planted her staff firmly before and began walking again. She had learned long ago to push the weariness and exhaustion from her thoughts and just walk.
She thought about the news she had heard, while sitting at the Inn of Dionysus in Thecily.
Gabrielle had been sitting and eating the dinner she had bartered for tales. As she spoke of the Warrior Princess, she could almost feel Xena standing at the back of the Inn, her arms crossed with that hint of a smile as she heard Gabrielleís rendition of the adventure.
Gabrielle sat alone in the corner, savoring the warmth of her meal. Cooked meals were not a staple in her diet, so she sat relishing every bite. The table beside her had filled up with several large rough looking men. They ordered several pitchers of ale, and then sat drinking sullenly from their mugs.
Gabrielle was acutely aware of them in their silence, even more on edge than if they acted like the typical soldier, boisterous and drunk.
She was soaking up the last of the gravy from the bottom of the bowl with her last piece of hearth bread. The torches along the wall flickered and a gust of cool air rushed through the Inn. She looked up and saw a tall, attractive man standing in the doorway. He turned and then made his way over to the table next to hers in three long strides. She saw his black polished armor, the glistening insignia for Lieutenant, and the blood red seal of Ares.
"Great," she thought as she chewed on the last piece of juice soaked bread, "mercenaries."
Over the last few years had watched the disintegration of the Warlordís powers, from bad politics, betrayals, in fighting and petty wars give way to something even more frightening, the mercenary bands. They were quick to hire their services to the highest bidder and then turn around and sell out their employer if a higher bid came along. She had heard tales from one too many villagers who had hired a mercenary band for protection only to have whomever was trying to take the town come in and offer more money. Too often, the protectors became the violators. They all wore the crest of Ares on their armor. The God of War was apparently not too concerned whose blood was shed or why.
"Aye ya pathetic group of slags," the lieutenant laughed as he picked up a pitcher of ale and took a long hard swallow. He slammed the pitcher back down.
Gabrielle noticed everyone else at the Inn studiously avoiding looking over at the table. The food, or remnants of food and the bottom of their tankards were much more interesting to them.
"All of you that are interested, we are hiring for an army. The pay is 4 dinars a day, meals and travel." The lieutenant paused, listening to the sound of discontent rumbling below the surface. "Ah, and did I mention the bonus?" He smiled slyly, "5000 dinar for the soldier that brings in the head of Xena."
Gabrielleís blood turned to ice at the sound of Xenaís name.
"Eh? That warrior wench is dead, she ainít been seen fer years." One of the men spoke, then cleared his throat and spat to the floor.
"You worthless son of a pig, you would question the word of Ares himself?" The lieutenant leaned forward and glared at the man.
"Ares hisself? That cannot be."
Gabrielle had sat, stock still, listening hard to every word.
"Ares himself, why now, why after all these years? Had he always known?" Gabrielle clenched her teeth, her blood beginning to do a slow boil.
"Aye, Ares has pointed to, of all things, a Forum, located in a valley on the far side of the Nyccian cliffs. We load up the ship, Temerity tonight." The lieutenant leaned back, then turned and walked back out. He was gone in five strides.
The table had come alive, with all their shifting forms and animated voices.
"By the gods, the warrior wench still alive."
"I owe her for a thing or two, I do."
"Iíd like to show her a thing or two, hehehe."
"There are tales of her everywhere, but they are just tales."
"At the Forum, what is she doing there?"
"Hah! Xena, Scholar Princess."
The table burst into guffaws and more degenerating comments from there.
Gabrielle had pulled her pack together and quietly slipped out. She was wondering the same thing, how had Xena gotten there?
Gabrielleís mind switched back to the road before her. She heard the sound of horses riding hard along the road. She stepped back to the side of the road and watched as two more mercenaries made their way towards Thecily, and undoubtedly, the dock. She thought back, the last time she had seen Xena...
The young girl on the side of the road had been cowering and covering her head when Xena and Gabrielle passed by. Xena reined in Argo and slipped from the saddle. Gabrielle looked around, she leapt into fighting stance with her staff before her.
"What is it? What do you hear Xena?"
Xena looked over and laughed, "I donít hear anything except you stirring up dust. When will you learn to trust your instincts instead of mine? There is a child over there." She pointed towards the side of the road.
Gabrielle smiled sheepishly,
"Oh, I knew that. I was just testing you. See if youíd panic." she began to follow behind Xena as they made their way to the small child.
The girl looked up, and seeing Xenaís armor she screamed and began throwing small pebbles and sticks, whatever she could get her hands on, at them.
"Shhh, shhh. Itís ok. I am not going to hurt you. See, weíll stop here." Xena held up her hands and stopped, Gabrielle stopped behind her.
The barrage of weeds, dirt and sticks continued for a moment, and then abated. The girl looked at them, her eyes huge with terror.
Xena continued to stand completely still, looking down at the girl with sadness.
"What are we going to do?" Gabrielle whispered.
"I donít know, get Argo and put him off to the side of the road." Xena whispered back, her lips barely moving.
"Great, go get Argo, feed Argo. Am I a bard or a horse keeper?" Gabrielle muttered to herself as she walked towards Argo, who was of course giving her that sidelong look.
"I am going to sit here, on the road, so you donít have to strain your neck, ok?" Xena said as she slowly folded her legs beneath her. The girl jumped back slightly, but never took her eyes off Xena.
Xena settled across from the young girl, smiling at her, her arms still in front of her.
"Iím Xena, thatís my friend Gabrielle, and my horse Argo. Who are you?"
The girl didnít speak.
Xena thought for a moment, and then began to hum softly. It was an old childrenís song that her mother had sung to her. The girl cocked her head, as if trying to make out the strains of what she was humming.
Xena stopped for a moment, then started to sing the actual song, softly, towards the girl.
Gabrielle turned towards the sound, astonished. She had heard Xena sing only one other time, and that was at Marcusís funeral.
Xena kept her gaze on the young girl, singing the song for this lost girl that she never sang for Solan.
Maybe it was her singing, or the pain that flashed across her face as she thought of Solan, but the girl inched forward slightly. Examining Xena more closely.
Softly, she also began to sing. Xena smiled across at her and kept singing.
Gabrielle walked Argo off to the side of the road, and then sat down watching the two of them.
Several songs later, Xena stopped and asked again,
"What is your name?"
"Atthis." The girl whispered softly.
"What are you doing here on the side of the road Atthis?"
"I, I ran from the village. We were attacked." Atthis began to cry.
"I bet your parents are very worried about you Atthis. If I promise to protect you, can we go back to the village?" Xena gently asked.
"We canít go back, theyíll kill you, or worse. I couldnít find my parents, I couldnít find them anywhere."
"Iíll find them for you. I promise." Xena said, already her blood beginning to rush through her. ĎCurses on these stupid Warlords, one and all. She felt a pang of regret, wondering if her armies had ever forced a child to sit, cowering somewhere, too frightened to move. Obviously they had, after all Callisto came from somewhere.í
She shook her head slightly, focusing once again on Atthis.
"What happens if they kill you?" Atthis asked between sniffles.
"They wonít, I assure you." Xena flashed a large grin at Atthis. She held out her hand towards the girl.
Atthis looked at the outstretched hand, and then placed her own in the center of it.
"Good girl, now shall we go and scare those attackers back to where they crawled out from?" Xena closed her hand gently on the small hand.
Atthis still looked scared to death, but nodded her head.
"By the gods, Atthis, I will let no harm come to you." Xena spoke solemnly to the girl.
Gabrielle smiled as she saw the both of them walking across the road towards her.
"Gabrielle, this is Atthis, Atthis, this is Gabrielle, and Argo." Xena said as they approached.
ĎAt least I was introduced first,í Gabrielle thought to herself.
They made their way towards the village, Atthis riding in front of Xena as Gabrielle walked along side.
Just outside of the village, Xena stopped, and looked down at Atthis.
"I think maybe I should put you in a tree somewhere, and then come back once I have sent them away."
Atthis looked up, "What if you donít come back? Then what will I do?"
"If I cannot, then Gabrielle will. Wonít you Gabrielle?"
"Huh, of course, Atthis, I promise you." Gabrielle smiled up at Atthis.
"Oh, ok." Atthis shrugged slightly, not wanting to leave Xena, but also not wanting to ride back into the village. She had seen the soldiers cut down some of the bravest men in the village.
Xena placed her in the crook of the large branch and trunk.
"You see from here, youíll be able to see when I have run them off, and then you can start counting, because Gabrielle or I will be back before you count to 100. Can you count that high?"
Atthis nodded, leaning back against the trunk.
"Good. Be right back." Xena smiled at Atthis and then jumped off the tree. She leapt from branch to branch, and then swung down onto Argoís back.
"Show-off." Gabrielle laughed, waving up into the trees at Atthis.
"You say that every time." Xena replied, also turning to wave at Atthis.
"Only because Argo would never stand still for me." Gabrielle replied as they moved on towards the village.
They were met with the chaos and mayhem that accompanied the rampant slaughtering and attack of these small villages. Xena drew her sword and gave her battle cry as she urged Argos into a gallop.
Gabrielle ran into the fray as well, striking soldiers from behind with their staff. All that time practicing and talking to Argo has certainly helped, she thought as she ducked a swinging sword and struck him hard in the gut with her pole, and as he doubled over, she brought it back up and clocked him squarely on the chin.
In little time, the battle had turned, the villagers taking up clubs, pitchforks, anything, and fighting back against the soldiers.
Xena had spotted the Warlord, his face red with fury, calling his troops back. He wheeled his large stallion around and took off into the forest. Xena watched him go, he wouldnít be hard to find, not with a few dozen horsetracks and footprints leading the way to their camp.
She smiled as she turned Argo around, whipping her Chakram off to finish the last few persistent soldiers. She caught it as it arced back through the air towards her. She turned and could see Atthis standing on the branch, leaning forward, but still holding on to the trunk. Argo trotted her towards the tree where they left Atthis.
When Gabrielle turned around again, Xena was already riding back with the small girl settled in front of her.
As she made her way into the village, a womanís voice cried out,
"Atthis, oh by the gods! Atthis!" A woman made her way through the crowd that had gathered around Xena.
"Mommy!" Atthis cried, squirming to get down off Argo. Xena handed her down to the sobbing woman.
Xena turned to Gabrielle, "Stay here. I have to finish cleaning up the woods." With a flash of her brilliant smile, she took off towards the retreating army.
That was the last that Gabrielle had ever seen of Xena. She didnít return by evening, nor the next morning. By midday the following day, Gabrielle had set off towards the camp. She had spent most of the evening telling stories to Atthis, and telling her not to worry about Xena. Now, she was beginning to wish someone would tell her a story, preferably Xena, about how the battle had been won.
Gabrielle found the camp, and when she saw it, she knew Xena had been successful. The entire camp was destroyed, only a few dazed soldiers remained.
Gabrielle stopped one as he was leaving the camp, his pack slung over his shoulder, his armor dirty and bloody.
"What happened here?" Gabrielle asked him.
"Xena." He said, not stopping to look at her. He was a young man, Gabrielle hoped that he would find his way back to his home and return to the life that he had left in pursuit of riches and glory.
"The Xena? The Warrior Princess?" Gabrielle feigned surprise.
"Like a dervish she came through here. We couldnít get any sort of shot at her, she was everywhere at once. The lord and his lieutenants took off, and she laughed and gave pursuit." He said, slowly down slightly.
"On foot?" Gabrielle sounded incredulous, she knew how often people wanted to tell the things they had seen, and survived.
"Naw, she whistled and this great golden beast came crashing out from the underbrush. She leapt into the air, kicked two soldiers that were running towards her and then landed on the saddle. They were gone before the soldiers she had kicked hit the ground."
Gabrielle walked a small way with him, listening to him tell his version of things. She had all the information she needed.
When they came to a fork in the road, Gabrielle excused herself and took the path that lead back towards the camp. The young man had said good bye, and his momentary animation gone, trudged along the other path.
She gazed at the ground, becoming more and more frustrated. The demise of the camp had ensured that there were no discernible tracks of any kind.
Gabrielle spent the rest of the afternoon circling the parameter of the camp in an ever widening arc. She finally made her way back to the village. She was dusty, dirty and tired. She had a hard time swallowing past the lump in her throat. ĎStop it Gabrielle, Xena is fine. She is a big girl after all, and she knows how to take care of herself.í Except Gabrielle had been telling herself that all day, and it didnít seem to be helping.
As she came to the field at the far side of the village, she leaned on her staff. It was then that she saw Argo, grazing in the field.
From high up on Mount Olympus, Ares sat, chuckling to himself. It was so amusing to watch the bardís torment. Annoying little gnat.The beauty of this was well worth the wait.The anticipation was almost bursting through his chest. Soon, very soon, Xena would be battling for his glory again. Why he hadnít thought of this earlier, after his mild success with the ruse of her father, he did not know.
A bright flash distracted him, he leapt to his feet, sword drawn.
"Put your toys away, Ďbrotherí, and I do say that sparingly." Athena stood before him, tall and regal, her gray eyes flashing.
"Why Athena, the most favored of our fatherís children, how could the rest of us have known that your birth preceded by a headache would be so appropriate for you always." Ares sneered as he sat back down.
She smiled a brilliant smile and then replied, "I did not come to bicker with you Ares, we have more than enough time for that, although I do confess it gets tiresome to have a battle of the wits with someone so poorly armed.
"I came to ask you, what is the meaning of mounting attack against the Academy? The Forum at the Nyccian cliffs. You know they are under my protection, and I would have thought you were tired of being humiliated by me in war games."
Ares smoldered under Athenaís gaze, he finally shrugged and said, "They have something of mine, and I want it back."
"Do tell what the scholars could possess that would interest one such as you?" Athena smirked across at him, folding her arms across her chest.
"Just something I lost awhile ago." Ares replied evenly, smirking right back.
"You want the scholar Tychias, donít you? Why would you want one such as her. A good tacticians mind, sound judgment, so unlike your style Ares. "
"It isnít necessarily her mind that I am after." Ares leered at Athena, and then began laughing at his own witticism.
"You are such a shallow swine Ares. She is of strong form and good grace, but..." Athena stopped, finally putting the beautiful quiet scholar together with her brotherís obsession. "What have you done? You cannot wage war for her, she has turned from your path, she is under my benediction. She was a hero."
Ares snorted, "Hero, Zero, they all sound the same."
Athena was momentarily silenced. She was so incredulous at the sheer level of Ares obsession with his creation. Then she realized that it was Ares, he of the monumental ego and proportionately small brain.
"So you see, my lovely, intellectual, peace loving sister, benefactors of heroes, champion of truth. You are not the only one with brains in the family. I for one am quite impressed with my own brilliance." This time it was his turn to fold his arms across his chest, smug and self satisfied.
Athena was in front of him in a flash, her steely gray eyes boring into his own dark, dark eyes.
"Harm one brick of my Forum, and you will know once again the humiliation of being defeated by me." She whispered to him before flashing back out.
Ares rubbed his jaw thoughtfully. Was it worth risking a war against Athena for her, his Warrior Princess? He would wait and see, but he was certain that this time his plan was foolproof. Not only would he have his Xena back, but he would finally defeat Athena.
Once his Warrior Princess was back, all the blood that would flow from her blade would make him strong again. Her turn against him had its effects. The minor skirmishes the mercenaries managed to incite were entertaining at best. The power hungry warlords and others provided meager sustenance. No, Xena was different. She had burned with fury that drove her to lay waste to everything in her path. And yet saving the women and children. Her rage had feed his heart like the sweetest necter. It was so pure, so unrefined. He hungered for more. She was his wrathful warrior, rage incarnate. Everything was perfect in the world until his do-god half brother convinced her that to do good was better for her and the world. She had fallen for it, and he had to watch her go and undo all the things she had done. He was furious.
Ares knew that his true warrior, destroyer of nations, was still there. Waiting for the chance to quench her bloodlust. He had seen that old spark when she thought her father had returned and then been killed. Another stroke ok near genius. If it hadn't been for that runt of a bard, Xena would have been all his again.
Ares settled back into his chair, picking up the dagger from the table beside him. He smiled to himself as he ran his finger along the edge of the blade. Half a heart later, the dagger struck the map against the wall. It's point buried deep into the small building, settled by the Nyccian cliffs. The sound reverberated through the room, mingling in with the sound of Ares laughter.
Gabrielle continued towards the Forum. She couldnít stop the images that followed after she had found Argo from flooding back. She quickened her pace, hoping to outrun the memories that prodded and poked her.
Upon sighting Argo, Gabrielle began to smile as she rushed towards the golden mare. Argo looked up and reared slightly, then stepped back. Gabrielle dismissed the horseís behavior and thought about going to find Xena.
As she got closer, she realized that Argo was not playing, her large brown eyes were almost white, and she was acting terribly skittish. Argo tossed her head, and Gabrielle noticed the usually fine silky blond mane was matted and the saddle covered in dark stains.
She slowed down, and holding out her hand, began to speak softly to Argo. She interspersed her talk with small clucking noises, inching slowly towards the nervous horse. Argo snorted and reared again, this time kicking her front legs forward. Gabrielle stopped, and stood, with her hand out, continuing to talk to Argo. Argo had finally calmed down enough for Gabrielle to approach, she placed her hand gently on the rough velvet hide of Argosí muscled neck. As she ran her hands along the maresí side, her fingertips stumbled over nicks and scratches. Gabrielle examined the saddle closely. The dark stains mottled the well oiled leather. Gabrielle rubbed at one of the stains, when she looked down at her palm, beneath the slightly brownish shadow that the oil always left, there was a rusty red tinge.
Gabrielle swallowed hard, and then set about unbuckling the saddle. She slid the heavy saddle off Argosí back and onto the ground. The blanket beneath was stained a deeper red, and beneath that, so was Argosí back. She fell back and sat on the saddle. She stared at her hands, as if trying to divine whose blood it was. "It isnít Xenaís, it isnít Xenaís" she muttered to herself through clenched teeth.
"Gabrielle? Is Xena back?"
Gabrielle turned towards the sound of Atthisís voice, the young girl was running towards her and Argo.
"NO! I mean, Atthis, could you please tell the village blacksmith that I need this saddle cleaned and re-oiled? If you could run and do that, that would be great. Iím going to get Xena now."
Gabrielle leapt to her feet, then regained control.
Atthis stopped in the field, confusion on her face, without a word, she turned around and began running back towards the village. Tears streamed down her face, she knew something bad would happen, she just knew it.
Gabrielle watched the figure recede, she didnít mean to sound so harsh. She was unnerved by the sight of the blood on Argo and the saddle. She turned back towards Argo,
"Címon girl, ya gotta take me to where Xena is, one last ride, and then I will leave you here. So you can rest, hmmm? Weíll all be back together before you know it...Argo?"
Argo craned her neck forward, whinnying softly and nuzzling Gabrielle on the shoulder with her soft nose.
"Thank you Argo." Gabrielle said as she climbed gingerly onto Argosís back.
Argo turned back towards the forest and trotted into the lush darkness. How long had they ridden, Gabrielle could not say, her face buried into Argoís neck to avoid the tree branches and to cry.
Argo finally stopped and neighed. Gabrielle slid off the horses back and gazed around.
Xena had been here, undoubtedly, she saw the crumpled body of the Warlord, and scattered about him were 3 men who each wore the insignia of Lieutenant. All dead.
Gabrielle searched the area, it had been quite a battle, but there was no sign of Xena.
"Is she trapped under Perseusís shield?" Gabrielle thought, her anxiety not lessening as she gazed around.
"Xena?" Gabrielle called out, her voice quickly absorbed by the forest.
She bent to examine the mulchy forest floor, here, here were Xenaís tracks. She recognized the mark of the bootmaker on the left heel.Despite herself she smiled, Xena was not excessive in her spending habits, but she did always insist on particular workmanship. Gabrielle followed the tracks, they disappeared into a flurry of horse and foot prints. A little ways up, she saw the leaves tinged with blood, and muddy, much much more muddy than the rest of the clearing.
"Mud?" Gabrielle grabbed a handful of dirt and leaves, heavy and moist against her palm. She stared hard at the ground, the way she had stared at her hands back in the field, something, there had to be something she was missing.
"Ah Xena, I should have paid more attention when you talked about this stuff...Who knew that one day I would have to use it to find you?"
Indents there, the outline of a body, a half moon shape, curled up?
And so many footprints. Gabrielle leaned over and ran her hand along the compressed earth. She brushed against something cold and hard, she dug around a little, and then pulled up a buckle. It had broken off, and like the leaves surrounding it, dirty and rusty looking from blood. One of Xenaís buckles...Simultaneously two images hit Gabrielle, one of her sitting and watching Xena tend to her armor, and then other of Xena curled up in ball, and the who- soldiers mercenaries- who? stood around and...and...Gabrielle could feel it rising, the emotions she had held in check came bursting out.
She knelt in the dirt, holding the buckle tightly, and the tears began flowing down her face, deep sobs racking her body. She felt her entire heart collapse inside her chest.
Gabrielle felt the aching loss flare up again, even now, 5 years later. It had been too much, too many losses. She continued walking briskly, unable to see the road for the tears that returned with the same force as they had that day in the woods so long ago. Gabrielle hoped that she was finally going to see Xena again, she had imagined their reunion, first laughing and then crying. Then she would let her have it, what was the meaning of disappearing so that no one could find her? She nurtured this new image to help soothe the heart break that had been like a worm, gnawing away at her heart.
Tychias awoke before dawn, as was her habit. The cold floor a welcome reminder that she was still here. She padded across the small monastic room, only slightly larger than the ones assigned to students, and pulled out an old scholars robe that she had alternated slightly. She slipped into the frayed and comfortable garment, exited her room to the washbasins, and then out towards the cliffs in the blue gray haziness of pre-dawn.
She made her way up the trail by memory, up the gentle curves and slopes. Until she was standing, in the same spot that Daemon how found her a few days ago. She breathed the cool morning air deep into her lungs, surrounded by the sound of the ocean crashing against the craggy rocks below. She gazed out across the ever roiling waves, this was not the calmest area to sail into, but there was good fishing out in those waters. The villagers would load up their small craft and maneuver their way through the waves. She could already see shadows moving out across the water, as the sky continued to lighten.
She began her morning routine, first stretching, and arcing to touch the ground before her, and then leaning back to touch the ground behind her. She concentrated wholly on her body, her breathing, her movements. She was a vision of kinetic grace, her arms weaving intricate designs before her, lunging slowly, kicking towards the sky.
Gabrielle came over the last crest of the sloping hill and saw the graceful figure, robe flowing around and behind each movement, lit by the now rising sun. Her eyes were arrested by the fluttering luminescent figure moving against the backdrop of the cliff, and the brilliance of the sun.
Gabrielle slowed her steps, squinting against the brightness. The closer she got, the tighter her heart clenched in her chest. She was breathing short shallow breaths. Her throat constricting, the movements of the person on the cliff, superimposed against the shadow of her memories, and she knew that it was Xena. Tears welled up in her eyes, she wanted to run up and tackle her, and hug her. To feel the substance of Xena in her arms, to make sure she was real, and not another dream that she would wake from with the dew of tears already settled across her face.
Gabrielle continued her slow measured steps, past experience having taught her running up and leaping on Xena from behind was not always a prudent move. She was trying desperately to rein in the emotions that were racing through her, like wild horses stampeding. She pursed her lips together, knowing that if she parted them, and the questions, accusations, sadness, and anger would come spilling out, now that the agonizing was at an end.
Tychias continued her movements, slowing down imperceptibly. Someone was approaching, quietly. She knew it wouldnít be any of the Elders, or even the Scholars, and the students couldnít move that quietly no matter how hard they tried. Tychias took a deep breath, and turned around in one fluid motion. She found herself looking at a golden copper haired woman, lean and tired from a long journey apparently. A very long journey, as Tychias took note of the frayed and dusty clothing. The traveler was gazing at her intently, tears brimming in her soft blue eyes.
Tychias smiled, and the woman smiled back, looking as though she were about to collapse.
"Can I help you traveler?" Tychias asked the woman gently. This woman needed a meal and some rest, she could certainly provide that at the Forum.
Gabrielle stared at Xena, smiling one of those rare warm smiles, overjoyed at seeing her friend again. Just as she was about to speak, Xenaís words hit Gabrielle like a blow in her gut.
"W-wh--what?" was all she could stammer out. Peering more intently at her friend, burning her gaze into Xenaís own startling blues eyes. Even as the rampaging force of her emotions abruptly stopped, and her heart folded in on itself.
"You look tired and hungry traveler, come, I offer you sanctuary at the Forum, a respite from your travels." Tychias held out her hand, waiting for the woman to take it. Although the woman did look terribly confused.
Gabrielle numbly accepted the offered hand, and followed Xena down the cliff.
Tychias led them swiftly down the trail, before too long, they were entering the courtyard of the Forum.
"Good morning Scholar Tychias!"
"Beautiful dawn isnít it Tychias?"
"Back so soon?"
Several students and Scholars called out their greetings as Tychias moved through the courtyard. She nodded, and smiled at the others as she passed, laughing out loud at the last comment.
Gabrielle felt like she were drowning, but she didnít know in what. Xena? Laughing, smiling, speaking so warmly to these scholars and students as they passed and entered into a long corridor.
Tychias turned and smiled again at the traveler,
"Come, I will take you to a room, there is a bath down the hall from it, if you like, and I will go and get some porridge and fruit?"
The corridors were like a maze, each interconnecting with the other. In what appeared to Gabrielle as a series of random turns down various corridors, they stopped at a door, that looked like any other door they had passed.
Gabrielle finally found her voice again,
"How long have you been a Scholar?"
Tychias smiled again,
"I donít actually know that I am a true scholar. I arrived here one day, they cared for me, and once I was better, they allowed me to stay. I have been a Scholar here for four years? The other year was spent re she is, relaxed, comfortable, and content." Gabrielle kept meshing the Xena she knew with the woman she had just met. Maybe it isnít her? There was Princess Diana, and others along the way. They were dead ringers for Xena. Except for Tychias having no memory prior to five years ago.
"Were you speaking to anyone?" Tychias asked as she stepped into the room, holding a platter with two wooden bowls and various fruits.
Gabrielle looked up at her,
"No, just thinking aloud, thatís all."
Tychias settled the platter onto the wooden trunk and swung it around so that it acted as a table. She settled onto the floor, and looked across to Gabrielle.
"I find I do my best thinking without talking."
Gabrielle smiled again, "Some things never do change." She thought as she reached for the wooden bowl Xena offered to her.
When her hands felt the warmth of the bowl, and the smell of the porridge, Gabrielle realized she was ravenously hungry.
Tychias picked up her own bowl and began to stir the mealy porridge. She watched as the woman began to eat heartily, and then laughing, said,
"There is always a pot on in the galley, if you need more later."
Gabrielle gulped, and then started to eat a bit more slowly.
"So traveler, what brings you this far out?" Tychias asked as she lifted the spoon to her mouth.
Gabrielle chewed slowly, what should she say? What could she say? Hi, Iíve been worried sick about you for the last five years, and searched all this time for you. She swallowed and spoke,
"I am Gabrielle, a bard, and I am following a tale in progress."
"Ahh. Now tell me, what kind of tale would bring you out to these Nether lands?"
"Have you ever heard tales of Xena, the Warrior Princess?" Gabrielle asked cautiously, her meal forgotten.
Tychias thought for a moment, then shook her head.
"I cannot say that I have, but itís true that the only stories I know are the ones I woke up with. Mostly traditional tales, the ones that everyone knows."
"You really do not remember, not anything prior to the moment you woke up here?"
"Not one detail. As I said earlier, I was wounded, and I collapsed in the courtyard. This I know because that is what I have been told." Tychias looked down at her cooling bowl of porridge, she knew it was a bit odd, but she had come to accept her life at the Forum. There had been numerous times, especially after she awoke, but it was still to painful to move much, when she would look at the wounds healing across her body. She knew how to take care of them, that was not memory, that was something instinctual. Like the other things, her morning rituals, the taste of certain foods, and her almost preternatural sense of things around her. She looked up from her bowl, and caught the traveler, bard-Gabrielle, gazing at her intently again.
"You are here because of the Army- Will your Xena show up because there is a battle?" Tychias asked softly.
"The Army is already here?" Gabrielle was startled for a moment. Thatís a very good question my friend, will Xena show up because there is a battle? Or will you be slaughtered, because you are not Xena, the Warrior Princess, but Tychias, the gracious gentle Scholar?
"You know me, or rather, knew me, didnít you?" Tychias asked.
"I, I," Gabrielle struggled for words, at least her forthright manner was consistent.
"You are either here as my friend or my enemy. I believe you are one of the former, because if you were the latter, you could have killed me on the cliff." Tychias spoke calmly, as she waited for Gabrielle to respond.
One dark sculpted eyebrow arced as she waited.
Gabrielle wanted to laugh, the woman sitting across from her looked so very much like the Xena she knew at this moment. What had happened to her?
"I am your friend." Gabrielle replied.
Tychias rose from the floor, "Perhaps it is time to visit the Master Scholar and speak to him."
She moved towards the door. Gabrielle scrambled to her feet, and followed her out back into the maze of corridors.
Tychias did not speak again as they made their way through the cool dark hallways.
Athena sat looking at the scrolls before here. She had to find something, to make Ares pay. Attack her Forum would he? She knew she hadnít really paying attention when the woman had arrived, but knew upon sight who she was. There were very few on Olympus that were not familiar with Ares obsession, the Warrior Princess. Athena had been furious, even though she had been watching the womanís struggle to turn away from Ares. She even witnessed the womanís refusal to him, whenever her brother went to earth, she always kept on eye out on him. Athena waited and watched the woman. Once it became clear to her that this woman did not know who she was, and how easily she adapted to scholarly life, Athena went on her way.
Except now, Ares was brewing something in that boil he called a brain. Athena smiled, she would help the bard, Gabrielle. First things first though, she had to narrow down what could cause such a compete memory loss.
Ares was enjoying a good chuckle, as he watched the two women from the heights of Olympus, walking towards the old fools room. Ares was laughing at the look of terror in "Tychias" eyes. Gabrielle could not save Xena. There was only one thing that could restore her memory, and no mortal would dare be brave enough to ask for it.
This was too wonderful, Ares could hardly contain his glee. The rivers would run red with the blood that his Warrior Princess would soon spill. Ares laughter rolled like thunder from Olympus.
Athena heard the echo of Ares arrogant laughter, she grimaced at the sound. She set the scroll she was reading down, there was only one thing so far that could do what was done, and there was only one thing that might restore the womanís memory. She did have to begrudgingly admit that this was a clever scheme, especially considering that it came from Ares. She could tell the Bard about what was needed, but would good would that do? There was little time and it was quite the task. Who would gather the tears of a god?
Hermes! Of course. If there was any one who could procure this item, it was Hermes. God of thieves, and her compeer when it came to heroes. He loved a challenge. Athena smiled, even as Ares laughter was finally fading.
She knew he would arrive quickly, he always did. Hermes stepped into Athenas foyer.
"Hello Athena, what cause could you have that you would need to call upon me?" He smiled as he entered the room.
Athena walked across the room to greet him, she clasped his hand firmly in hers,
"I am glad you came. I need your assistance."
"Ha! When does Athena need my help? It must be quite a challenge indeed. Obviously in need of a quick mind and quicker feet."
"Do you remember the Warrior Princess?" Athena asked as they walked towards the table.
"Ares creation. Yes, the one who," Hermes burst out laughing, "turned against him. Heroic, I do. Although not much has been seen of her, I have heard the prayers of the traveling bard many a night."
"I know where she is, and I think I know what happened."
"My thoughts are that Ares has destroyed Xenaís memory. She has been living the life of a scholar at one of my Forums. At first I did not realize who it was, and by the time I had, it was obvious she did not know herself."
Hermes shook his head slightly,
"How could that be? She has such a strong mind, and such strong will. She defeated Bacchus on the earthly plane by becoming Bacchae, and not succumbing to his will."
"It was not Ares will. I think he forced her to drink from the River Lethe."
"The river of oblivion? He wouldnít have dared! I escort those that are dead to itís shores." Hermes exclaimed.
"I donít know how, but I am sure thatís what happened."
"There is no way to reverse that. She will never remember who she was. It might even be a blessing, she was so tortured by the pain and destruction she caused. Now, she does not remember..."
"But there is a way, and that is why I need your help." Athena clasped Hermes by the shoulders.
"What is this thing that would reverse oblivion."
"A drink made with the tears of a God."
"Have you lost your sense of reason! What a day when Athena, Goddess of wisdom, loses her infamous reasoning skills."
"Hermes! You are the ultimate trickster. If any one among us could accomplish this, it would be you."
"Flatterer." Hermes winked at Athena, "But why go through all this trouble? If she doesnít remember anything, why not let her be?"
"I believe Ares is trying to recreate the series of events that led to the original transformation. Xena has lived a scholarís life for 5 years. All that she knows and loves is at the Forum. Her entire identity is grounded there. Destroy the Forum, kill those she loves, again, and it is possible that the bloodlust would descend upon her, again...And Ares wills have his Warrior Princess back."
"Do you really believe that Ares came up with this all on his own?" Hermes laughed again.
"Surprising isnít it?"
Athena joined in the laughter.
Tychias stood before Aristhemes door. Her heart was pounding so hard against her chest, her ribs were beginning to feel bruised. She took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
"Enter." Aristhemes voice called them in.
Tychias pushed the heavy door open and stood to one side to let Gabrielle step inside.
Gabrielle made her way into the Master Scholarís chamber.
Tychias allowed the door to swing shut, and moved to stand beside Gabrielle.
"Good morning Tychias! What brings you by so early today?" Aristhemes smiled as he stood from behind the table scattered with scrolls, maps and other items.
"I have come to introduce you to the traveler and bard that I offered our hospitality too. Her name is Gabrielle." Tychias did not look at Aristhemes, feeling the heat of embarrassment flush beneath her skin.
Aristhemes continued smiling as he turned towards the bard. If Tychias had been paying attention, she would she have noticed the slight tension that now held Gabrielleís smile in place.
"Welcome to our Forum. Tell me, what brings a bard this far out?" Aristhemes began walking towards Gabrielle.
"She knows who I am, who I was." The words had exploded from her mouth of their own accord. Tychias cleared her throat, then said, "I, I am sorry Master Scholar, for speaking so abruptly."
Aristhemes stopped before the women, Tychias had not referred to him as Master Scholar when she came to visit for many years.
"Is this true, young bard? Do you know Tychiasí from before?"
Gabrielle saw the tension mounting in the room, filling the way a creekbed fills to become a river after the snow melts.
"I believe that I do." She answered simply, keeping her voice as affectless as possible.
"Tychias, do you remember anything about her? Does it rekindle any memories?"
"N, no. There is something about her that comforts me though. I believe that she did know me."
Gabrielle saw the emotions warring over Xenaís face, her face caught in the morning rays, revealed it all itís pain.
"We can wait. There will be time later to talk." She said, touching Xena/Tychias, lightly on the arm.
Tychias looked at Gabrielle and gave her a small, not entirely sincere smile and said,
"No, I am fine. I want to know about this now, later will not be any different."
She moved between Aristhemes and Gabrielle, she had never felt this lonely in her life.
Aristhemes and Gabrielle followed the tall graceful woman to the mats that lay scattered about the floor before the hearth.
"I could not have been a horrible person, to have one such as she to care about me, even now." Tychias thought as she settled on a mat and watched the other two settle in.
Gabrielle looked at Xena, and then to the Master Scholar, now was not the time for small talk.
"Did you know who she was when she arrived?"
Aristhemes looked over at Tychias, saddened by the palatable anxiety as she strained for his reply, while sitting completely still, her face only barely hinting at her desire to know.
He turned back to Gabrielle and replied very softly,
He felt Tychiasí blue eyes piercing through him like blades of ice.
"There was very little confusion as to her identity when she arrived here."
"You never told me..." Tychias voice was so quiet, her eyes blazing at her friend and mentor. One by one, she could feel every belief she knew begin to crack and crumble away from beneath her.
"You didnít know anything. I spoke to you often, and you were completely void. You did not even recognize your own armor."
"You have her weapons and armor, and you never told her!" Gabrielle was beginning to get impatient. What madness was this? Everyone here knew who Xena was...
"You didnít even send word!!! I have traveled for five years searching for any news of her health and her whereabouts."
Aristhemes shook his head, wishing he could say something, anything, to soften the situation.
"We did not think she would live, you have no idea what state she arrived in. Bruised, broken, and bleeding. She was only recognizable by her armor and her eyes. Even then, we thought it could be one of the others that look so much like her. Perhaps caught in a situation...I agonized over what to tell her while she was recovering. I prayed, and studied scroll after scroll to find out what could have caused this. I still donít know.
"The tales of her quest, the new journey she had set upon, to try and change the world with her courage."
Tychias struggled to catch her breath, she felt like she was drowning under the sound of the voices speaking around her. She felt a gentle squeeze on her arm, and saw Gabrielleís hand resting on her forearm.
"Are you sure you donít want to wait?" Gabrielleísí voice settled through the waves to float lazily by Tychias.
"How could you not let me know!" The voice that came from Tychias as she addressed the Master Scholar was cold, distant.
Gabrielle cringed at the tone, she had heard that tone before. Xena was going to destroy a village because she believed that they had killed her father.
"Xe, Tychias, It is of no matter now. I am here, and you have no recollection of me. All the memories I hold dear donít mean a thing to you." Gabrielle squeezed Xenasí hand.
Tychias turned and glared at Gabrielle, Gabrielle held the other womanís cold blue gaze.
"Tychias, I was telling you the tales of your own life when I spoke to you of battles, and the questions of Ethos." Aristhemes spoke up.
"You have an excellent mind, and a pure heart. At your very core, you have always been as you are now."
Tychias sat, struggling to keep a semblance of calmness. Waves of emotion crashed over her, pummeling her. She did not know who she was. In a morning, everything had been taken from her, again.
Gabrielle felt for her friends pain and confusion. Despite the stillness in her body, her eyes spoke volumes. Gabrielle did not know what to do, why she had never considered this as a possibility, she did not know. Were it not for the fact that Xena no,Tychias, was in danger, could she just turn around and walk away? Leave Tychias to this peaceful life, where nightmares did not trouble her dreams? People did not spit at her feet or to her face as she walked by. No one would ever recognize her and run up to her, screaming "Murderer! Butcher!"
Maybe this was a reward and the Gods were allowing her to live her life out in peace.
Gabrielle rose, squeezing Tychiaís hand as she did.
"Iíll leave you and Aristhemes alone- I am sure that there is much you need to discuss. Iíll be back at the room you showed me. We can talk later."
Tychias did not yet trust her voice, so she nodded her agreement.
Aristhemes could see how troubled the Bard was, and the distress in Tychiasí face, he couldnít help but wonder what sort of forces were at work to break such a bond.
Gabrielle stepped outside the room and began to walk the way they had come-
"Great." She thought, "Now Iím lost."
She decided that by error or by chance she was bound to make it somewhere that she knew and kept walking. She had walked the land over for her friend, she could walk a little more.
Aristhemese looked over at Tychias,
"Forgive me Tychias, once I realized that your memory was totally gone, you deserved this chance. Was it from the Gods? I cannot say, but I never meant to harm you." He could not meet her gaze as she lifted her eyes to meet his.
Tychias gripped the table so hard her knuckles were turning white. As long as she had been, she had never known such uncertainty or felt so wholly abandoned. How could she begin to speak to this man? Whom she loved like a father, her friend and confidante for her entire perceived existence.
"You have to tell me what you know of who I was." Tychias finally choked out, the words struggling past the turmoil that roiled like Poseidonís fury in her chest.
Aristhemes wanted to loosen the fingers clamped on the table, instead he answered-
"I will tell you what I know, but you must promise to ask the bard this same question."
Tychias nodded her head, still clutching the table, for it was the only solid thing that was holding her together. If she let go of that, she may never come back.
Gabrielle continued to twist and turn through the endless corridors, becoming more and more frustrated, if not by the maze of the same corridor, then by the rising despair she felt. She had mourned the loss of Perdicus, and held him precious in her heart, but Xena had been there, Xena had gone through Tartarus and back for her. They had become closer for the gaze they each had to take within themselves. It had helped that the other was there to offer a different reflection from what they feared they saw.
Gabrielle stopped, she wasnít in a corridor any longer. She gazed about, she was in a small chamber, one of the shrines of Athena. She started to turn around, but walked towards the small alter instead. She lit a candle on the alter, and murmured a prayer that she had learned from her time at the Bard Academy. The most referential one she knew, and asked Athena to watch and protect her friend.
She closed her eyes, and when she reopened them, everything seemed a bit blurry. She turned to go, but was stopped-
"Not yet young bard, I have heard you." A calm silky voice murmured in her ear.
Chills ran down Gabrielleís spine, even as her first thought was "Young" bard?
"I cannot stay long, nor even really materialize, Ares is watching the Forum very closely-It is easier to spot an Olympian once they Ďtouchí the earthly plane. The Warrior Scholar has my protection, but that does not dissuade Ares arrogance." Gabrielle jumped slightly at the clipped tone spoken in that luxurious voice.
"Xena does not know who or what she is any longer, or who she was." Gabrielle found her voice hiding beneath her ribs.
"Nor will she unless we succeed- You must tell her who she became, tell her of your love for her. I am trying to find a way to receover her memory."
Before Gabrielle could open her mouth to ask another question, she felt the air in the room settle, as though it had been holding itís breath and she knew she was alone again. She couldnít shake the chill in her spine, despite her encounters with Titans and Gods alike, she never really could get use to when they were in close proximity.
Gabrielle took a deep breath and stepped back out into the corridor, across from the small shrine she saw her staff leaning against the trunk.
"I donít remember leaving the door open? Hmm. The food is gone as well." Gabrielle stepped into the room and saw the slouched figure of Tychias sitting on the floor. Her head held in her hands, that night black hair falling like silk to cover her face.
"Hello Bard, I am glad that you found your way back." The body did not move, the voice was broken, sad.
"Tychias?" Gabrielle knelt down before the scholar, gently lifting the curtain of night away from Tychias face.
The deep blue eyes that Gabrielle knew better than her own gazed back at her. Her heart ached at the tears that brimmed, magnifying the agony in those eyes. She gently cupped Tychias face and tilted it up towards her.
"My friend, my dearest companion. I am sorry. You had found your peace, and the rest of us canít let you go." Tears slipped down Gabrielleísí cheeks. Tychias couldnít reply, the anguish in her heart flooded every fiber, pumped in to every cell. Not quite a day and her world had disappeared, or rather, she had disappeared from her world. The visions of the stories that Aristhemes told her burned into her mind. She was a monster, slaughtering innocents, the blood of nations on her hands.
"Tychias?" Gabrielle asked again, stroking that noble face.
"Tell me who I was. Tell me all." The dreaded question came from a cold dark place, Tychias could not remember speaking it.
"You were Xena, Warrior Princess, friend and loved companion. You started as my idol, and then made me your equal. Strong, courageous, brave, skillful in so many things, ingenious, and compassionate." Gabrielle smiled a bit, "Loyal, fierce, gentle, hurt, proud, defender of the weak, destroyer of evil, a champion for the greater good.
"You loved me fiercely, and saved my life more times than I can count. Risking your life time and again for not just my safety, but the safety of others. You taught me to defend myself. You taught me to be stronger, and I taught you about trust. We were family to one another, and I would not have done anything differently. I would walk the world over searching for you again. Youíre my best friend, youíre a part of me, youíre in my soul." Tears ran down both womenís faces as Gabrielle hugged Tychias tightly to her.
"But I was a monster, I slaughtered hundreds, thousands. I am going to drown in that sea of blood." Tychias cried softly, her despair only slightly muffled against Gabrielleís shoulder.
"No!" Gabrielle pulled away, staring once again into those tormented eyes.
"You were a young village girl, living with your family. You had a good life, and loved your family deeply. You loved your village and felt safe within itsí borders. Until it was attacked by a vicious warlord-Cortese. Your friends, your neighbors, people you had grown up with were being slaughtered before your eyes. Your village destroyed. You would not run for the hills, you were going to defend your village, save who you could. Your brother Lyceus fought by your side. He agreed with you, better to die defending what was right than turn and run into hiding. You saved the village, but it cost you the life of your brother. You saw him struck down by an archer from the retreating army. You held him as he died in your arms, and vowed to never let such a thing happen again. The loss and rage fueled you, you formed an army, and then the guilt you felt for your brotherís death fueled your rage. You went and took the neighboring villages, to create a buffer between your village and the possible return of Cortese.
"At some point, you had only hatred and your desire for revenge in your heart. So you took more and more villages, until you had become a mirror image of the Warlord that destroyed your village. But even then, you never took the lives of women or children. You forbade it."
"Then I am a monster- I am drenched in the blood of lost fathers and sons, and those that could not escape." Tychias moaned to herself.
"No! Those are the stories I heard. That is not the woman I knew. I never saw you take a life out of anger. The woman I met had put her armor and weapons away, but saved my village and myself from slavers. It was the first time I had ever seen you in action...And you were in your chemise no less." Gabrielle couldnít help but smile at her first impression of the Warrior Princess.
"You realized that it was not enough to walk away from what you had done or been, but to go back and make it right, or better if you could. I traveled with you. I saw you protect innocents, heal wounded, intervene in wars, unite kingdoms, and never once turn away from what responsibility was yours to bear when you came across those that had lost everything to you.
"You never asked for forgiveness, but earned it in many cases. You were harder on yourself than your detractors. But every thank you I think you heard, and the acknowledgment that you had changed, made your step a bit lighter for a little while. I always believed in you. You were not a monster, you were all too human. You battled for and against Gods, you stood up to Ares himself. Hercules saw the heart in you, and would not give up, even as you tried to destroy him. You finally heard it, when an act of compassion turned your forces against you. The heart you had buried for so long was beating again, and you felt how painful it was. You had lost your way in the darkness but you were making your way back."
Gabrielle stopped, a bit amazed at the torrent of words that poured from her lips. But not at the content. Gabrielle began to realize after Perdicusís death just how ferociously and to what lengths Xena would go to to protect Gabrielleís innocence. She saw the struggle Xena had gone through with Callisto, bearing the burden of the deaths caused by Callistosí rage, and then letting it go.
Tychias did not know what to think. The bard, Gabrielle was so impassioned in her love and admiration for who she had been. The two images presented before her crashed against one another, pounding against her temples.
Athena paced furiously back and forth across her atrium. She glanced down and saw Ares army growing stronger by the hour. Her own army was on itís way, most of it already assembled. She hoped that Hermes would return before any blood was spilled.
Ares reveled in his armies bloodlust, by this time tomorrow, Xena would be back in his fold, or dead. If his Warrior Princess would not return to him, then he would destroy her once and for all. He did not think that the second option would become a necessity. From the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of Hermes flitting around Olympus. Ares chuckled as he remembered the time that Hermes stole Apolloís precious ĎOxen of the Sun.í Golden boy had deserved that one. He quickly turned his attention back to the Forum below.
Hermes raced from one haunt, estate, and field to another. Nothing! His last hope was Apollo, one of the more sensitive Gods. Hermes had thought about tears from Atlas, but wasnít sure if that constituted the same thing as tears from a God. Now as not the time to guess on the specific details.
Hermes came over the rise to Apolloís fields of the sun, where his Oxen grazed. He saw Apollo and Hyacinthus wrestling in the lush green grass. Hermes stopped, there would be no tears from Apollo today. He thought for a moment longer, there was always Hades, but he was more of a brooder. All he needed were tears, either from laughter or sorrow. His thoughts raced through his mind like quicksilver, time was running out.
An anguished scream pierced his concentration. Hermes looked down, and saw Apollo cradling Hyacinthusís body in his golden arms. Hermes rushed down to Apolloís side,
"Brother, what has happened? What is wrong?" Even as he saw the blood flowing from the wound on the side of the boyís head.
Apollo gazed up at Hermes, his golden eyes shimmering with tears.
"I killed him, I killed the beautiful Hyacinthus. I flung the discus and struck him down."
Apolloís tears began to flow like liquid gold down his cheeks.
Hermes put his arm around his older brother. Could he do this? This was his brother and his friend. It was either that or a war on Olympus. Hermes began wiping the tears away, each drop running into the other, pooling like liquid sun. Hermes held Apollo even as Apollo held Hyacinthus.
Hermes slipped the tears into the small pouch at his waist. He stayed until Apollo was less aggrieved, and watched as his brother touched the blood soaked ground. Flowers sprang up, marked with Apolloís grief, "AI AI" on each petal.
Hermes raced back and found Athena pacing in her study. Battle plans and maps scattered on the table before her.
"Tell me you have succeeded!"
"Through no skill of my own, I confess."
Hermes handed the pouch over to Athena.
"This is brimming-" she said as she opened the pouch slowly.
"Apolloís tears? These are Apolloís tears- How did you come by these?" Athena gazed up at Hermes, the tears from the source of light himself?
"The Fates cut short the thread of his beloved Hyacinthus. I happened to be near."
"And Apollo, how is he?"
"He is well enough now, although- I did feel..." Hermes stopped himself.
"I know," Athena replied softly. "There is not much time left, I must still make this drinkable for mortal consumption." Athena closed the pouch and touched Hermes lightly on the arm.
Tychias settled onto the floor in her room, as she prepared to meditate, she realized that she still wore the old scholarís robe from this morning. She was so exhausted, between this morning and this evening...She had listened to Gabrielleís vivid stories with rapt attention, but try as she might, she could recall nothing. Gabrielle had been so patient, answering her questions, and more concerned about Tychias than herself.
Tychias wondered what it must feel like, to see someone you trust and love so much, sitting before you, a complete stranger. No recognition for the memories that took both of you to build.
Gabrielle could not sleep, she gazed into the darkness above her. She was so exhausted, but could not put her mind at rest. Somehow, she felt personally responsible. She had not envisioned a reunion like this. Now it was she who must protect Tychias.
Tychias closed her eyes and began meditating. There would be no sleep tonight.
Aristhemes sat before the dying fire, his heart heavy with the events of the day. He had hoped this day would not come in his lifetime, and yet it did. It brought with it an army, a bard, and the look of betrayal in Tychias/Xenas eyes.
Daemon laid on his cot, his eyes wide open in the darkness. The stranger had arrived with Tychias this morning, they ate, spoke, and then disappeared into the Master Scholarsí study. Then met again, and spoke through evening meal and beyond. Something was going on here, Tychias had missed all her lectures, and that had never happened in the time he had been at the Forum.
Tychias measured her breath, focusing on stillness, bringing the calm into her mind. She heard very soft footsteps moving down the hall, barely audible. They stopped outside her door and stood there. Her eyes whipped open, adjusting to the dark. She took a long slow breath. Her door began to creep open.
Gabrielle heard the steps passing her door. Heading towards where? She was just down from Tychiasí room. Would Ares really try to send an assassin? She rolled off the bed and grabbed her staff from beside the bed. She slipped out after the footsteps, moving as those she were walking on clouds. She prowled after the footsteps, only catching glimpses of the tall figure passing through moon shadowed corridors. They stopped, where? Outside whose door? Gabrielle stopped as well, what if she were stalking someone on their way to a lovers dalliance. Time stood suspended, three figures poised. Gabrielle and Tychias separated by the intruder and a wall.
The door opened slowly-Tychias caught the faint shadow against the usual darkness- she did not move as the shadow approached- she saw a hand reaching out, towards her. Her right hand shot up and clamped onto a wrist, she heard a startled gasp, and caught flash of a second figure racing into the room. With a hard yank she pulled the first figure off balance and sent it tumbling onto her bed, her left hand catching the force of an on-coming blow. She wrapped her fingers around a staff? and clenched it in her grip.
"Tychias?" She heard from the bed.
"Daemon! What are you doing sneaking in here?" Tychias asked, still holding firm to the item in her hand.
"Tychias?" This time it was Gabrielle.
Tychias released the staff and rose to her full height.
"I am here, and I am safe." Tychias moved and lit a candle then turned back around.
Gabrielle and Daemon blinked at the light.
"Isnít it a bit late for visiting?" Tychias asked lightly. trying to slow down her pounding heart. How had she done that!
"Who are you?" Gabrielle turned to Daemon.
"I am Dae...Wait, who are you?" Daemon asked, staring defiantly at Gabrielle.
Tychias moved between the two.
"Daemon this is Gabrielle a bard, Gabrielle this is Daemon a student here."
The two looked suspiciously at each other, and then back towards Tychias.
"Daemon, what were you doing? Tychias asked, trying not to be aware of their gazes on her.
"I I was concerned Scholar Tychias. I just wanted to make sure you were all right." Daemon replied haltingly, his face flushing.
"I heard the footsteps past my door, I grew concerned."
Tychias laughed- struck by the absurdity of it all- here stood her past ready to defend her, and her present lying crumpled on the bed. They were like two children fighting for her attentions.
Daemon smiled at the sound of Tychiasís laughter, she was all right. His eyes began to close, as Morpheous pulled him quickly into sleep. He flopped sideways onto the bed, snoring softly.
"I apologize Tychias, that must have seemed out of order ..." Gabrielle said softly, turning to go.
"Gabrielle, wait." Tychias grabbed Gabrielleísí shoulder. "I may not know what to believe about who I am, but I beleive you came to my aid because you love me."
Gabrielleís heart leapt into her heart as she turned back around.
Tychias smiled, drawing Gabrielle closer.
"You were not sleeping?" She asked softly.
"Nor were you." Gabrielle replied.
Tychias wrapped her arms around Gabrielle and held her tightly. Gabrielle hugged the scholar back, listening to her heart beating against her ear.
They remained embraced in a hug for a few moments longer, then Tychias pulled back and gazed down into Gabrielleís eyes. Gabrielle amazed by the beauty of her friend in the flickering candlelight.
"Come, let us leave Daemon to his dreams. The cliffs beneath Artemisís chariot are beautiful."
Gabrielle nodded her head slowly and followed the light of Tychias candle as they stepped back out into the corridor.
Dawn was breaking over the ocean, the sky lightening and then exploding in brilliant reds and pinks across the sky.
Aristhemes pushed himself out of his chair, his body aching from the cold and the chair.
Daemon rolled over, then jolted awake. He rubbed his eyes and then glanced around the empty room. He leapt up and raced back to his own room.
Ares had awoken before dawnís light, invigorated and refreshed. He glanced down at his camp, bustling away. He snorted when his gaze traveled over to Athenaís camp-it was a hotbed of activity. "Athena, Athena, Athena." he shook his dark maned head, "No matter how prepared your troops are, victory is mine today." He stretched and then caught sight of Xena and Gabrielle sitting at the peak of one of the cliffs, speaking intensely to one another.
Ares dark eyes narrowed, that annoying little bard again. She was going to be out of the way soon, by his own hand if he had too.
Athena had heard Apollo readying his chariot to prepare his journey.
It had taken all night but she was almost done. Just a few dews of morning fog and...Her fingers dipped into emptiness.
She glanced over at the golden bowl. it was empty, not even a few drops left along the side.
"Hermes, I need morning fog. It is the last ingredient, it is essential, it attaches to and helps dissipate the fog that clouds her memory."
"Canít you just whip some up?" Hermes grinned over his shoulder as he raced out the door.
Athena sat the vial down and gazed out the window. Her gray eyes flicked from her army to the lightening figures of Tychias and Gabrielle talking earnestly to one another and then on to Ares semi bustling army.
"At least I know I have some time, Ares armies can never get organized enough to attack at first light."
Hermes raced back in,
"Morning fog from the local market?" He laughed.
"I hope you got it on sale."
Athena winked at him as she stepped back towards the table with the fog.
She poured the fog into the vial and swirled the mixture around. The golden liquid shimmered with streaks of blue and green hues with sparkles of red. She watched for the light bluish gray to weave into the mix.
"Athena!" Hermes exclaimed from the window, "Ares forces are attacking."
"How could that be?"
Athena rushed to Hermes side and gazed down at the Forum. There they were, a swarm of soldiers in Ares signature black and red armor, pouring out of caves located right next to the Forum.
Athena glared down at Ares camp, those were servants! Bustling about dressed in black and red tunics, cut to look like armor.
"Oh ho ho. He is getting better, finally." She muttered as she signaled her own army to defend the Forum.
Ares laughed gleefully, oh to see the look on Athenaís face right now!
He had the upper hand now, his army mowing down the panicked scholars and students, and Athenaís shining army thundering across the plains to reach the Forum.
Gabrielle and Tychias heard the first screams, and then the others that followed. They felt the ground beginning to tremble from the force of pounding hooves.
Gabrielle was almost blinded by the brilliant wave of Athenaís army as it came over the rise and poured into the valley.
Tychias had leapt up at the first scream, she caught sight of the first plume of smoke rising and began to race down the cliff. "Nooooooooo!"
Gabrielle began racing after the scholar, she had no weapons, what was she thinking?
Aristhemes heard the confusion and the screams coming from the courtyard, the Great Hall and the outer corridors. He had to get the weapons to Tychias, he opened his side door and peered into the hallway.
"Daemon!" He called out. Daemon stopped, looking around, and then saw the Master Scholar beckoning him.
"Master Scholar, come quickly, we must get out, we are under attack."
He rushed up to the old man.
"Donít worry about me, it will take them some time to get this far in. That is why the corridors are designed the way they are. You must get these to Tychias. She is at the cliffs, Iím sure." Aristhemes thrust a sword in a scabbard and a intricately ornate circle of steel.
"Mater Scholar..." Daemon began to protest.
"There is no time, now GO!" Aristhemes pushed Daemon down the corridor, and closed the side door quickly. Daemon stood for a moment, what should he do? He looked down the corridor the Master Scholar had pushed him towards, he could smell the ocean. He heard the door click shut behind him, and took off racing down the damp corridor.
Aristhemes moved to the far side of his study, his fingers dug into the stone, until he felt the slight indentations. He pressed his fingertips in and turned them to the right, the wall slid open, and Aristhemes could also hear the wall outside the huge doors sliding into place. He removed his hand and scurried down the dark steps, grasping a torch as the wall began to close shut behind him.
Tychias came over the small rise, and stood, stunned by the carnage she saw. She gazed in horror as the soldiers chased scholar and student and elder alike and hacked them down, one after another. Laughing and calling out to each other.
They were falling like sheep! Red flashed across her vision and she tore down the hill again. "NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!"
Athena glanced down, "ARES!" She held the vial up, liquid smoke swirled, a kaleidoscope of colors sparking through it.
"To the Bard! I pray it is not to late." Athena said as she raced past Hermes, one hand snatching her helmet, and the other thrusting the vial into his hand.
"She is fast!" Hermes exclaimed as he raced out of the room after her.
Gabrielle stopped behind Tychias just in time to see the bloodbath below. Bile rose in her throat at the sudden realization of Ares plan. Gabrielle swallowed it down and raced after the frantic Tychias who was flying down the trail.
Gabrielle caught sight of a figure bursting from the cliff side heading towards Tychias. ose to her feet and glared at Gabrielle. Blood soaked her robe, her eyes grew wild.
"Tychias, no!" Gabrielle moved her staff into a defense position.
"Do it Tychias, kill her. She was the one who led the way." Tychias and Gabrielle both turned at the smooth low voice of Ares.
Tychias snatched up the sword from Daemons side. She turned back towards Gabrielle, snarling.
"Tychias, no, the army was here days before I got here.
Tychias swung and Gabrielle deflected the blow, barely. A huge gash appearing in her staff, splitting the wood. Gabrielle saw the look in Tychias eyes and stepped back. She lowered her staff, her heart breaking at the bloodlust in those startling eyes. She knelt to the ground.
"I would rather die by your hand than see you kill in the name of Ares again." Gabrielle said.
Tychias raced forward, and then stopped. Her sword held above her head.
"Donít dally, be done with her, and then you can take your revenge for the scum that shot the boy." Ares smiled charmingly at Tychias.
Tychias couldnít move, Gabrielle would not lower her eyes, she gazed up at the face she had known and loved for so long.
Ares sighed and then drew his own sword. "I would have preferred that you do it rather than me, it would have been so much more delicious." Gabrielle saw the indecision in Tychias eyes.
As Ares bought his sword down, Tychias moved to block it. "No."
Ares gazed at Tychias, "Did you say no?" He clenched his fist and backhanded her away from Gabrielle. He moved Tychias again.
"She said no Ares. What did I tell you about her being under my protection? Step back brother and let her choose her own path. If she resists you, she is free, if she is consumed by blood lust, then she is yours." Athena stood above the stunned form of Tychias.
Ares snarled at Athena then stormed back towards the Forum.
"Then the blood of your entire Forum is on her hands."
Athena glanced first at Tychias and then Gabrielle, who was walking over towards the fallen scholar.
"You heard, if she is consumed by her own fire, then we cannot interfere." Athena flashed and disappeared from the cliffside.
"What about her memory!!" Gabrielle screamed at the spot the Goddess had stood.
"Iím glad you asked Bard. She must drink this." Hermes slipped the vial into Gabrielleís hand. "Sorry for the delay, but Zeus called, itís all rank ya know." He winked and disappeared as well.
Gabrielle stared at the vial, and then down at Tychias. She walked towards Tychias.
Tychias looked up, the form coming towards her fuzzy. She tried to shake her head to clear it. Then she caught a glimpse of the vial reflecting the morning light.
"She is the enemy! Sheís coming to poison me." Tychias fought to clear her head and get to her feet.
"Stay away from me!"
"Tychias, this is to help you." Gabrielle paused, puzzled by the panic on the others face.
Tychias stumbled and fell back to the ground, "Iím warning you, I will gut you next time."
Tychias could not sort her thoughts, who was telling the truth? Gabrielle leapt onto the disoriented Tychias.
She popped open the vial, and forced it between Tychias lips. The sensation of the liquid filling her mouth sent Tychias into a panic, she tried to spit it out, but Gabrielle grabbed Tychias neck and lifted quickly. Her neck arced and the fluid slid down her throat. It burned her lips and froze her tongue. Her mouth stung like a thousand needles exploded, and yet her throat was completely numb.
Tychias tore at Gabrielle, and hurled her away from her. Gabrielle tumbled, rolled, and then leapt to her feet.
Tychias stood, and looked at Gabrielle, the scholars eyes were black, her pupils huge.
Gabrielle gazed at her friend, she could see the vein on Tychias neck racing like a chariot.
"What is going on." Gabrielle felt helpless before the sheer terror in her friends eyes. Tychias turned and staggered towards where her sword had fallen.
She was reaching down to grasp the hilt when the world exploded behind her eyes and the onslaught began. The torrent of memories flooded through the broken dam that had sealed her away from herself. Burning villages, the smell of terror and smoke and blood. Lyceus- Bodies, by the Gods, more bodies sliding off her sword. Ares! Blood to her elbows. Hercules- Gabrielle-GABRIELLE!!! Marcus- Epipheny- Barius-Solan-Perdicus-CALLISTO- Solan-Argo- Mother! Atthis- the little girl Atthis!
She stumbled, her body convulsed at the memory of the brutal ambush. The Warlord dead his lieutenants as well. Riding away, back to the village, to Gabrielle and the child. Instead a flash and furious wind. Salt in her eyes, blinded by the burn, struck from four sides, Argo rearing, kicking, her sword slashing- more blows, feeling her leg breaking beneath one blow- a rope around her neck and being pulled off of Argo, the blows still coming, no chance to recover, feeling her own blood flowing as the blows kept coming. Pounding her in to the ground. Argoís frightened whinnies, still trying to fight back to her side. Finally, tears clearing the salt from her eyes, red, swollen and burning still. Laughing mocking eyes, dead eyes looking down at her. Her head yanked back by her hair, ribs broken, arms wrenched and tied behind her back- Knife cutting into her throat- her legs throbbing, crushed between two large boots standing on each calf. And the water, water pouring into her throat, in her nose, filling up and spilling over and they did not stop. She couldnít breathe, the water just kept pouring over her face, filling her throat until she had to swallow to gasp a breathe. The water burning down into her lungs.
She screamed as she fell to her knees, dry heaves shaking her body as the two worlds of Xena and Tychias exploded into one another.
Gabrielle rushed to Tychias side, the sound of more of Athenaís army thundering past them swift archers picking off the regiment racing up the hill to collect their bonus for Xenaís head.
"Gabrielle?" The woman sobbed, kneeling in the grass, her hands digging into the soil.
"Iím here." Gabrielle held the shaking form.
"Gabrielle!! What have I done?"
"Xena?" Gabrielle asked tentatively.
The woman turned and looked up at Gabrielle, "Yes, and no. I remember everything, but it isnít helping." Xena laughed weakly.
Ares had watched the struggle from the Forum, he saw them battling, and then he heard that scream. The sound of it made everyone on the battlefield stop for a moment. It chilled something deep inside. Even Ares was unnerved. He saw the Bard rush over and hold the kneeling figure. "Annoying little brat!" Athena or no, Ares was going to have the head of either Xena or the Bard.
"This was Ares doing wasnít it." Xena pulled away from Gabrielle, "Yes it was." Gabrielle crying, happy that Xena knew her, yet overwhelmed by the last five years and the last 24 hours. Ares rushed towards Gabrielle, Xena grabbed the sword and scabbard and rolled back wards and came up with the scabbard held high over her head. Ares sword crashed against the barrier, splitting the scabbard and cracking the blade.
Xena grabbed hold of the hilt of Ares sword and swung up, kicking Ares in the face, not once, but twice.
"Did you miss me Ares? All this needless violence for me! sometimes a card can say it better." Xena laughed as pushed off to flip away. This was not funny though, but she couldnít let Ares know her weakness right now.
Ares snatched one leg before she could flip away, he squeezed her ankle in his fist.
Xena felt the bones beginning to crack, she slammed one fist into his groin, and the other directly into his stomach.
Ares dropped her in surprise.
Xena landed with her arms outstretched, and somersaulted away from Ares, then turned to face him.
"Oh, Xena! It is so nice to have you back."
"ARES! What did I say before?" Athena stood behind Ares, her sword poised above his neck.
"Athena!" Ares spat on the ground.
He stayed bent over for a moment longer, and then thrust his sword backwards. It slid off her shield as she laughed.
"You must stop being so predictable brother dear. Maybe you could win against me once in a while then."
The sky darkened and rumbled, Athena looked up-
"I think Dad got my message, looks like he wants to have a talk with you about this latest episode and use of certain associates and other items."
Ares eyes blazed, his strong jaw clenched tightly. Gabrielle looked away, the visage of the God and Goddess of War seared into her memory.
Xena looked at Ares, her head was pounding, her ankle throbbing, but she never broke the dark raged gaze of Ares. He finally broke the gaze to look up towards the roiling clouds. Xena looked at Athena, gazing into those gray eyes, the power and intelligence that radiated from them, she felt her breath catch in her throat.
Athena smiled her radiant smile and winked at the Warrior Princess, or maybe Warrior Scholar?
"Time to say good-bye brother-" Athena laughed as Ares snarled, and then they were both gone.
Xena leaned against Gabrielle as they watched Athenaís forces drive the mercenaries that posed as Ares army back up the shore.
She glanced over at the still form of Daemon, her eyes shadowed by sadness.
"Are you going to be OK?" Gabrielle asked, one arm around Xenaís waist as they began their way down the remainder of the cliff and into the courtyard.
"Iíll be fine." Xena replied with a shaky laugh, her arm around Gabrielleís shoulder as she limped along. Integrating Tychias into herself was going to be interesting. Or maybe not that difficult at all.
"Gabrielle, you look thin, tired."
"Oh, thatís because of this new program Iíve developed I call it ĎRoam the countryside chasing down every Xena sighting and live off bark and berries. A frugal guide to action adventure.í Think the titleís too long?"
Xena laughed, then stopped as they made their way into the courtyard. Gabrielle saw tears in the warriors eyes as she gazed at the destruction.
"This was going to take some getting used to." She thought to herself, knowing that it was Tychias who was crying for her home.
"YOU!" One of the Scholars screamed, racing towards them. Gabrielle flicked her staff out and sent him sprawling, and officially breaking it in two.
The milling students and scholars turned at the sound of his cry.
"I did not know." Xena said, a combination of the distant, Ďdeal with ití voice, and the softer tone of the scholar.
"The blood of these people is on your hands." He shook his fist up towards her as he spat at her feet.
Guilt, that feeling that she had been free of for five years, began to uncoil itself and wrap itís tendrils deep into her gut.
"Enough." Aristhemes came out from the cellar door. "We knew who she was, and we accepted her with Athenaís blessing. She was a pawn. Our brothers and sisters are in the Elysian Fields by now, talking with the greatest of them. We will rebuild, honor our slain, and grieve them."
Gabrielleís heart skipped a beat, she knew how hard it was to move forward and keep living.
Aristhemes smiled across at the tired Warrior, still leaning on the bard in her blood soaked robe. Xena smiled back, for whatever it was worth, she knew she would always be welcome here.
Gabrielle squeezed Xena slightly, and guided her into the Great Hall. The scholar could not deny the vision of Athena defending the warrior.
Inside the Great Hall, Xena leaned on a table as Gabrielle fashioned a splint from the destroyed chairs and set about wrapping Xenaís ankle tightly. Xena smiled at the sight of Gabrielle wrapping her ankle with as much concentration and focus as she had the first time Xena taught her.
"Gabrielle, why did you search for me?"
Gabrielle looked up, knowing the question couldnít possibly be real.
"Because I told Atthis you would come back and teach her how to flip the way you do. Iím not sure if sheís still interested, but I know she wants to sing with you again."
Xena laughed out loud, as Gabrielle lightly tightened and then ties the wrap in place.
Athena gazed down at the two figures traveling down the road. She had been amazed at Xenaís fortitude. She had built Daemon a pyre on the cliff, and helped to transform an shed that was mostly destroyed into another pyre. She, Gabrielle and Aristhemes had stood by Daemonís pier, the torch raised high in her hand. Below her other torches flickered, as she touched the torch to the pyre, the others mirrored her movement. Xena faced the ocean, and began to sing.
Xena had helped them plan their repairs and help them clean up in the aftermath. Her ankle healed, but Athena was not so sure about the rest. There was a certain calmness and grace that she had developed as Tychias, but Athena also knew of the dreams that startled the warrior awake, gasping for air.
News was sent of her to their friends, Argo was dispatched immediately, prancing like a colt around her.
Hermes stood beside Athena-
"There they go, just like old times I see. How long do you think they will travel?" He asked as he followed the tall figure on horseback, and the thinner one with the staff walking along side.
"Until she is comfortable in her own skin again- She and the Bard have much to rediscover about one another. Neither one is as they last remember."
"May they journey then only so far as they need to find peace."