Ares watched numbly as Ephiny and Eponin attempted to pull a now very hysterical Gabrielle off of Xenas body. Ares, his face still stained with Xenas blood, cast a disheartened glance around the battlefield and saw that the Amazons and Centaurs were dealing with the few surviving soldiers of Zeuss temple. Knowing that only the depths of Gabrielles grief matched his own, and not giving a damn about who was watching, Ares gently brushed the top of Gabrielles head gently and put her into a healing sleep. Looking directly at Ephiny, Ares said, his voice now devoid of any kind of emotion;
"Take Gabrielle back to your village and care for her. She is your responsibility now. I will see to Xena."
The tone of Ares voice left no doubt in the Amazon regents mind what would happen to her if she didnt do as he said. Although rather uncomfortable in the presence of the god of war, Ephiny took a chance and was about to speak, but was silenced by a look from Ares.
"I will see to Xena. She was and will always be my only Chosen. "
With that Ares stood slowly, cradling his chosen close to his chest, her blood slowly drying in the creases of his leathers and disappeared into the aether.
Brushing away tears, Ephiny looked at Eponin who had gathered Gabrielle in her arms and said
"Take the Queen back to Arborea. We have a funeral to prepare for "
Without another word, Amazons and Centaurs, both young and old, flanked Ephiny and Eponin carrying Gabrielle, turned away from the field of battle minus one warrior .
Ares materialized out of the aether deep inside a cave a few leagues away from the battlefield. He walked past the temples carrying his precious burden and into a hidden chamber and didnt stop until he reached the small chamber where his chosen now was to sleep.
Ares sat down in the chair that used to reside in his personal realm and held Xena tight to him for what seemed like ages, but in fact was only a very short time. Never in all of his existence had any mortal affected him like Xena had and the pain that he was feeling over the intense bond that they had once shared was threatening to overwhelm him, so Ares allowed himself the mortal luxury of the chance to grieve. Slowly realizing he had precious little time before Xenas body would start to decay, Ares composed himself and set about the task now at hand. With a wave of his hand, in the middle of the chamber, appeared an altar made out of the purest black marble to match the color of Xenas hair and on top of the altar rested a magnificent blue smoked-glass coffin, the color matching Xenas eyes. Walking over to the altar, he willed the top aside and placed her on a bed of rich brown and golden furs, the colors matching her leathers and armor. Placing a last, tender kiss upon her forehead, Ares slid the lid closed over Xena, sealing her inside. Taking a step back, Ares summoned up all the power he could and placed a protective aura around the coffin. The aura would protect her body from decay until he could somehow; someday find a way to bring her back to him. A single tear now slowly wound its way down his face as he whispered
"You can rest now, my Princess. I swear that I will find a way to bring you back someday, somehow. Until then, I will watch over Gabrielle. And, until you come back, I will keep vigil over you ."
When Ephiny and Eponin arrived back at the village, having picked up the full Queens Honor Guard, with a now unconscious Gabrielle, they found that the preparations were already underway. The word had reached the village almost immediately and the loss of Xena was palpable everywhere they looked. The Queens dais had already been draped with the colors of mourning and the Amazons that were walking around the village square were noticeably subdued. All heads bowed respectfully as Ephiny and Eponin passed them with Gabrielle, and Xenas weapons were clutched tightly in Gabrielles hand. The Nation had suffered a great loss this day and may never fully recover. Eponin laid Gabrielle down on her bed in the Queens hut and left to take care of Argo back at the stables. Ephiny sat down beside Gabrielle, unsure of how to comfort her from a loss such as that. Grateful to Ares for putting her Queen to sleep, Ephiny took Xenas sword from Gabrielles hand, laying it on the table and stood guard by Gabrielles bed until she began to stir a short time later.
Gabrielle awoke with a start, believing the day to have been just a horrible nightmare. Her eyes darted around the hut, settling on the dull glow off the sword on the table and she realized that somehow she had been transported back to Arborea, but didnt know how she got there and she was alone. Finally noticing Ephiny standing by the door, Gabrielle called to her.
"Ephiny, wheres Xena? "
Ephinys reserve began to crumble and her eyes threatened to spill with tears and she walked from her post at the door of the hut and sat down beside Gabrielle on the pallet. Taking Gabrielles hands in her own, Ephiny said
"Gabrielle, Xenas dead. Dont you remember?"
Gabrielles eyes locked on the bloodstains on her clothes and hands and it all came rushing back to her. It wasnt just some horrible nightmare; it had all been too real. Xena was dead and not coming back. Zeus had killed Xena because of Ares love for the Warrior Princess and she was completely alone now. Gabrielles body began to shake with sobs until she sensed the presence of someone else in the room with her.
"Where are you?"
"Here, Gabrielle. "
Neither Gabrielle or Ephiny had seen Ares materialize in the Queens hut and both of them turned around and saw Ares sitting in Xenas favorite chair, his clothes still stained with Xenas blood, and the lines of grief were so deeply carved on his face, that even Ephiny felt the depth of his pain.
"Where is she?"
"Somewhere safe. "
"Bring her back."
" I cant. Gabrielle, I would give anything if I could do that, but I cant. Not even Hades or the Fates could change this now. Dont you understand, Zeus is insane. If I were to bring her back here now, Zeus would find her body and destroy it. I wont let that happen, I owe her at least that much."
The tears began to flow freely again down Gabrielles face and her body shook with heart-wrenching sobs. Xena was gone and not even Ares could do anything about it. Motioning Ephiny aside, Ares stood and strode over to where Gabrielle sat on the pallet, pulling her into his arms, holding her tight. Ares waited patiently as Gabrielle sobbed in his embrace, slowly falling back into an exhausted slumber. As soon as she was deeply asleep, Ares placed his still bloodstained hand on Gabrielles forehead and whispered.
"Rest easy, Gabrielle. Your grief will pass. I will come for you when it is time "
"So, then what happened? Did you go for Gabrielle?"
Ares looked down at his audience of three. It had been almost three thousand years since he last told the story, the memories of that day still vivid in his mind.
"Many years later, when her time came, I did. Until that time, I kept watch over her as I had promised. "
Jenna looked at Ares, understanding the attitude that he had first greeted them with, realizing that she would have done the same thing. Knowing that she had made the right decision when she shattered the boulder, Jenna looked the war god in the eye and asked
"What happened to the chakrum? "
Ares was about to answer when the floor began to shake violently and debris began to fall from the ceiling. Before Ares could react, Jenna had shoved her parents and him onto the platform and stood in a defensive posture between them and the door and a voice all too familiar to Ares wafted through the cave wall.
"Oh, the chakrum. I have it "
Zeus stood outside the last door of the chamber, having given Ares just enough time to relate the tale to them before he destroyed the inner door and eliminated Xena once and for all. Zeus had waited for nearly three thousand years for this day to come and he was determined to enjoy every single second of it. The King of the Gods watched as the ground shook violently and smiled as he demolished the last door, not expecting the sight that was before him.
Between him and Ares and his target, stood a young girl, of no more than maybe ten or eleven summers old, by his judgement, with a coldness on her face that he had never seen before. The darkness that rolled off her was quite palpable as he studied the scene before him. This child reminded him of Xena with her looks and demeanor. She stood defiantly between them, almost taunting him to take a shot.
"You are sending children out to fight me now, Ares? You are a coward and a disgrace."
"And you are an asshole, who is just aching to have his sorry ass kicked. And guess what, Im available and in just the right mood to do it."
Zeus stared at the girl, unable to believe that she had addressed him in that manner. He was the King of the Gods, an immortal being, with powers that mortals could only dream about. Ares, he expected that kind of answer from, but not a little girl.
"Girl, I AM ZEUS.
The reply was not what he expected.
"And I am supposed to be impressed? You look more like a psychotic old fart to me."
Zeus had had enough. It had taken him nearly three thousand years to find this chamber and he wasnt about to let this little slip of a girl stop him. Drawing his hand back, he felt the power surge build inside and knew the bolt of lightning had formed in his grasp. With a smile borne out of sheer madness, Zeus stepped forward and threw the lightning bolt at the girl.
Jenna watched as Zeus launched the lightning bolt at her. Not giving an inch, her forcefield snapped on, forming a protective barrier between Zeus and her family behind her. There was no way she was going to let him win this fight. This bastard was going down, and going down hard. She would finish it and deliver on her promise to help.
Bracing for the impact, Jenna felt the bolt slam into the forcefield, nearly knocking her down with the intensity of the bolt, the effect causing her forcefield to glow in a myriad of colors. The bolt had not penetrated her forcefield, but would leave a nice bruise where it had bounced off. Two can play at this game Jenna thought. Lets see if he can take it as well as he gives it. Drawing a deep breath, Jenna looked Zeus directly in the eye and said,
"Not bad for an old fart. In fact, I think Ill return the favor."
With that, Jenna drew back, took aim and fired a bolt of energy of her own back at Zeus. The force of the impact caught the King of the Gods by surprise and knocked Zeus flying backwards through the chamber, and out into the city. The group of men that had been surrounding Zeus fled through the demolished door, stumbling over each other as they swarmed through the passageway.
Ares looked at Jenna incredulously, unable to speak.
"Now, I finish it. My way "
Zeus staggered to his feet slowly, his mind just now coming to grips with what had just happened. A mere girl-child had done this to him, the King of the Gods. He had been in battles with other gods before, but none of them hurt him like this girl had. This was a child, a girl with possibly more power that he had himself. She was a dangerous predator and must be stopped. He looked around and saw that the mortals who had come with him were now just making their way frantically out of the chamber, along with their leader. Brushing himself off, Zeus stood up and called out.
"Youll never get the chakrum, Ares. Its only a matter of time, now."
"Game over, you lose."
Zeus whirled his head around to see the girl walking slowly and methodically out of the chamber, headed directly towards where he stood. The look on her face gave Zeus cause to worry about his own continued existence. As she approached him, Zeus studied this latest threat to his authority a bit more closely. She was quite young, with pitch-black hair; ice blue eyes and demeanor that exuded utter hatred for him. Her overall appearance and utter contempt of him reminded Zeus of a very young Xena. The only thing that was different between the two was the unusual dagger strapped to her leg and the powers she had exhibited. This child must go. I will not have her standing in my way
"Step aside, mortal. Child or not, no one will stand in my way. "
Zeus attention was drawn by a sudden, loud commotion to his right. Both he and Jenna turned and saw that the group, which had accompanied Zeus, was now surrounding a figure, whose identity was obscured by the sounds of gunfire and fists hitting flesh. Occasionally punctuating the gunfire were brief flashes of light, which resulted in bodies hitting the ground. Casting a sideward glance at Jenna, he was puzzled when he saw a smile cross her face, and even more surprised when he heard her whisper quietly
"Ooooh, someones gonna get it now. "
The commotion was over as fast as it had begun and when the dust finally settled, a lone figure came walking over to where Jenna stood, finally coming a stop beside her. Somehow, Zeus sensed, a predator far more dangerous than this girl had suddenly joined them and the first tendrils of fear brushed across his mind. The newcomer was dressed in some kind of white outfit with a very large, red, eight-pointed star emblazoned on the chest. And when this person turned to look at him, he had the same look that the girl had on her face
Astro turned to his side and spoke, brushing his hands off on his costume and said
"Jeez, cant leave you alone for a minute. Just how do manage to find trouble in Greece?"
"Hey, I learned from the best. Besides, I didnt start it. This time, anyways."
Astro pointed a finger at where Zeus was standing, regarding them with hostile intent.
"Whos the annoying geezer?"
"Oh, him. Claims hes Zeus, King of the Gods, you know. Yadda, yadda, yadda. "
Astro took a moment to look Zeus over, then asked
"What did he do to piss you off?"
"Went nuts and had the woman, one of his sons loved, killed to get even. Seems he got all pissy that his son was doing anything he could to win over this woman."
"Which kid? He has so many. Talk about not keeping it in his pants."
"Ares. Seems he had a thing for this warrior named Xena "
"Wait a minute. Youre trying to tell me that the Greek God of War had the hots for a mortal?"
"Yep. Seems he figured out, on his own mind you, that the only way he had a chance with her was to change. "
"That coward is an embarrassment to me ."
Zeus didnt get a chance to finish, when he suddenly found himself flying back into the wall of his temple, sliding down the smooth surface and coming to a stop at on the floor, having been on the receiving end of a solid roundhouse punch from Astro. He was more than a bit bewildered and struggled to sit up when he heard
"You know, if I wanted your opinion, I would just beat it out of you. Until then, shut up."
Zeus pushed himself to his feet, his face still stinging from the tremendous impact of such a small fist to his jaw. Zeus body began to shake uncontrollably as the anger welled up inside him to a fevered level. No one, in all of his eons of existence, had ever dealt him a blow such as the one he had just received and no one would again. Both of these mortal children must be destroyed, Zeus thought And after I deal with them, I will deal with that traitorous son once and for all.
With the thought of destroying his son coursing over and over in his mind, Zeus summoned, for the first time in centuries, all the power he could, reveling in its feel as it coursed through his body. He felt the comforting shape of a lightning bolt take form in his hand and the overwhelming desire to let it fly and destroy his enemies. Drawing back his arm, he took aim at the two mortals standing between him and his prize and let the bolt fly.
Both Astro and Jenna sensed the energy bolt before it hit and jumped clear of it as it impacted the ground at their feet, blowing up a cloud of dirt and debris. Astro and Jenna turned to look at each other, then turned to look at Zeus, who was now walking towards them, the madness apparent on his face.
Without turning his attention away from Zeus, Astro said.
"Thats it. Youre toast."
Jenna quickly moved out of the way when Astro spoke, knowing now that this fight would now be between Astro and Zeus. She was somewhat disappointed until she saw a figure sneaking between the temples, trying to make it to the citys exit. Oh, no you dont. Nobody screws with my family and gets away with it. Easing the dagger out of its protective sheath, Jenna, not wanting to damage the artifacts inside the city, waited to throw her dagger, til the figure had cleared the temples and was near the wall of the cave. Taking careful aim, Jenna threw the dagger with deadly accuracy and pinned the figure through his clothes to the cave wall.
Her strides quickly brought her to where the figure had been pinned; a smile crossed her face as she recognized her captive. It was Ed McKinley. The man who had hurt her father. Taking a firm grip on the mans tunic, Jenna pulled her dagger free, placing it back in its sheath. A feral grin crossed Jennas face as she pulled the man down to her.
"Well, lookee what I have here. The rat bastard who tried to hurt my father. "
"You little bitch. You honestly think that you can defeat Zeus? Hell kill that little murdering freak Astro, then you and then finally that bitch Xena."
Jenna looked into the mans eyes and realized that Ed McKinley believed he was the reincarnation of Zeuss temple priest. Thats why he followed us She also noticed something else about the man, through the mans clothes she saw the outlines of an ornate robe and something round slung on one hip. Jenna held her ground when the man attempted to shove her back and rewarded his efforts with a bone-shattering punch to his left hip, smiling sweetly as his face contorted in agony.
"Now that wasnt nice. Such a big, tough man shoving little girls around like that."
Jenna watched as the man, ignoring the searing agony of his shattered hip, ripped his outer clothes away, revealing robes inscribed with Zeuss symbols and her eyes fastened on the prize slung at his right. It was the chakrum that had been stolen from Xena on that field of battle. It was still stained with her blood and Jenna felt a faint energy trace emanating from it.
"What do you think you are?"
"I am Keltos, High Priest of the temple of Zeus. Prepare to die mortal."
Looking at the man, Jenna knew now, that he fully believed that he was the High Priest Keltos, and was not above killing to serve his master. She jumped out of the way as he swung the chakrum in a downward arc intending to slice her across her neck. Using a high block, Jenna managed to knock his arm away and delivered another solid punch to the man, sending him to the ground writhing in utter agony.
"Not a chance, asshole. You have something that doesnt belong to you and I am taking it back. "
"You little bitch . Ill kill you "
"Thats what you think."
Jenna turned just as the gun was fired, the bullet striking her in the upper arm. Damn, forgot rule number 18. Furious, Jenna stared at the man, just now noticing the .45 caliber handgun in the mans left hand. It must have been hidden in the folds of the robes he was wearing. Pushing the pain in her arm aside, Jenna stood her ground.
"I said I would kill you. Now I will."
"You have one chance to live, hand over the chakrum. "
Ed McKinley/ Keltos laughed in spite of the pain and drew a bead on Jennas heart and said
"Youve lost, now you die."
" I gave you a chance, you just blew it. "
The last thought Ed McKinley/Keltos had was that he was going to make his master proud. It was the last thought he would ever have as Jennas dagger sunk deeply into his chest, killing him instantly. The .45 fell from his lifeless hand and skittered to a stop at Jennas feet. Kicking the weapon aside, Jenna walked over to the dead man, retrieved her dagger from his chest, wiping the blood off on the robes and picked up the chakrum from where it had fallen. Sitting down on the bench, Jenna fastened the chakrum to her belt with one hand after securing her dagger. Ripping a piece of her shirt off, she tied a makeshift bandage around her injured arm and watched the battle of wills that was now going on across the cavern.
Astro slowly circled his opponent carefully, looking for any weaknesses, and knowing that this fight would be tough. Hed faced a great many criminals and villains in his career, but never one who claimed to be a god. This is gonna be good.
Zeus felt extremely confident, despite the ache in his jaw from where Astro had struck him earlier. He had great confidence in the man he had given the care of the chakrum to keep it safe from his son. Believing this Astro as the mortal boy-child called himself to be easy to defeat, Zeus spoke, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
"Give it up, boy. You cannot defeat me. I am Zeus, King of the Gods."
"Yeah, you said that already."
"You will not stand in my way."
Without a further word, Zeus fired another energy bolt at Astro, striking him harmlessly on the chest. Astro looked down at where the bolt had bounced off his forcefield and found that the starburst on his costume had been singed. Looking down at the singed starburst and then back up to where Zeus stood staring at him in disbelief.
"Do you know how long it takes to make one of these? Oh, you shouldnta had done that."
"What about your little friend over there?"
Astro cast a sideward glance over to where Jenna sat on the bench, her right hand covering a stained piece of cloth tied around her upper left arm. He could smell the coppery scent of the blood as it was soaking up the cloth. A thumbs up sign from Jenna reassured him that it was superficial (for her, anyway) and time for him to kick some godly butt. Turning his full attention back to Zeus, Astro grew very quiet and refused to respond to the gods taunts.
"Dont worry. Ill put your friend out of her misery as soon as I am finished with you. Have you suddenly gone mute, boy?"
It took all of Astros self control not to just tear into Zeus in a blind rage for hurting his friend, but his years of experience as a super-hero had taught him well. Taught him not to fall for an enemys taunts, to put the anger those taunts generated aside and concentrate on dealing with the situation quickly and efficiently.
When Astro spoke, his voice was so quiet, Zeus had to strain to hear him properly.
"This ends now."
Without any preamble, Astro launched a counter attack of energy bolts on Zeus, some shots intended to scare, and others intended to injure or kill. It took all of Zeus eons of experience to avoid serious injury as he returned the shots with his own. While Astro took great care not to aim shots to destroy the temples, Zeus had no such compunction against destroying anything necessary to get at his target.
The fight between Zeus and Astro stretched on for what seemed to be hours, each combatant putting their best shots in and taking the others attacks. What neither of them failed to notice was the shadowy figure slowly creeping up to the battle zone, a lone weapon in his hand.
Jumping out of the way of one of Zeus lightning bolts, Astro somehow caught his foot on a broken pillar and crashed to the cave floor. Zeus saw this and took the opportunity to end this fight once and for all. His face was badly bruised, his left arm was gone, having been blown off by a solid shot from Astro and his robe was burnt in more places than he could easily count. Gathering the last bit of strength he had, Zeus put all his remaining energy into one massive lightning bolt and was about to let it go when he was stopped by a voice behind him.
"No, father. Its over, for you."
While the fight between Zeus and Astro was going on, Ares had crept quietly from the tomb, traveling amongst the shadows around the temples, a spear in his hand. Ares was deeply relieved to see that Jenna had won her fight with the pseudo-priest and had taken possession of the chakrum, having pried it from the mans dead hand. He noticed, with some amusement, how Jenna looked so much like Xena after a fight, her weapons cared for and tending to her wounds.
Turning his attention back to the battle now raging between Zeus and Astro, Ares knew that he would have only one chance to do this and made sure he was ready to take it the moment it presented itself. Pulling a small vial out of his leather vest, Ares poured its contents along the edges of the weapon. I owe that guy one favor he thought grimly as the battle continued.
As soon as Astro had stumbled backwards, falling to the ground on a piece of broken pillar, Ares knew that this was the chance he had been waiting nearly three thousand years for. With grim determination, his resolve firm, he quietly approached Zeus from behind, the spear ready in his hand.
When Zeus heard the voice behind him, it took him a moment to recognize whom the voice belonged to.
"Ares. So you finally decided to show your face. What makes you think you can take me? This boy couldnt and you certainly cant."
"You will destroy no more lives father. Ill see to that."
"With what? You are no match for me. There is no weapon you have that can hurt me."
Ares voice was so quiet, Zeus had to strain to hear it.
"Just one, father. "
Faster than Zeus could react, Ares lunged forward with the spear, plunging it deep into his fathers chest. He watched without remorse as his father crumpled slowly to the ground, clutching the spear. Ares watched as Zeus pulled the spear from his body and the traces of a smile crossed his face as his father recognized the vial that dangled from a chain around Ares hand.
He saw his fathers eyes widen as he recognized the deep crimson stain on the spear and felt the poison coursing through his system. Ares stood over the crumpled form of his father, waiting for him to speak.
"H .Hinds blood?????? Where?????"
"How does it feel? "
"Ares " Zeuss voice was beginning to tremble a bit as he felt his life force ebbing away. "Why?"
"Recognize the spear, Father? You should, you used it to kill Xena. I thought it was only fair that I use it to kill you. Except, there will be no one mourning over you. No one to hold you as you die, to give you comfort. As for the Hinds blood, a very clever person obtained that for me, quite some time ago. "
"It was gone destroyed ."
"And so are you ." Ares said as he walked away, not looking back.
With one final, gasping breath, Zeus, King of the Gods, died.
Astro walked over to where Jenna sat on the stone bench, holding her arm. Looking between her arm to the discarded .45 caliber handgun, Astro said.
"Lemme guess. Rule number 18, right?"
"Yeah, Rule 18. Got a spare band-aid?"
Astro pulled a large bandage out of the first aid kit he carried, taking care to examine the wound before tying the bandage on. Could have been worse, Astro thought.
"Youre lucky that it went straight through. It could have been a lot worse, you know. "
"Yeah, I know. Whats next?"
"Well, Im calling the doc. You need to have him check your arm out and maybe he can help with the situation in the cave back there. "
Jenna sighed. She wasnt looking forward to this, knowing the time difference between Greece and New York, but she knew that he was the only person on the planet capable of helping Ares situation, and her arm was beginning to hurt quite a bit more.
"All-right, all-right. Arms kinda hurting a bit anyways. "
"Good. Besides, I already called him. "
"Ill get you for that. "
"Come on. Your parents are gonna flip when they see that arm."
"And the docs gonna flip when he sees your ankle. He just fixed that three weeks ago. "
Astro and Jenna continued to trade verbal barbs as they walked through the city and into the open mouth of the cave beyond.
By the time Astro and Jenna reached the chamber where Xena was buried, Ares had resumed sitting in the chair and Bob and Caroline were laying out some of their provisions.
Upon seeing their daughter walk in with Astro, holding her arm, Bob quickly strode over to where they stood. Relieved to see his daughter wasnt seriously injured, Bob brought the two of them over to Caroline who looked them both over. Her anger dissipated, Carolines motherly instincts took over as she settled her daughter down on the chair, fussing over Jennas arm.
"Jenna, your arm. What happened? And Astro, what are you doing here?"
"Hi, mom. That jerk who had the hots for you did this. "
"And, what happened?" Bob asked, already knowing the answer.
"Seems the rat bastard thought he was Zeus temple priest. Had some funky robes on and such under his clothes. He had a .45 hidden in his robes and the chakrum on his side."
"Jenna! If I had some soap "
"Chill out, mom. You know he was one, you just wont say it out loud. "
"Where is he?"
"Lying on the ground near the entrance in a lifeless heap. "
Ares, who had been sitting quietly in his chair, perked up his ears at the simple, factual comment from Jenna. This child is so much like Xena . Rising up from his seat, he sat down next to Bob and waited for Jenna to continue.
"Was it necessary, Jenna?"
"Yep. Not too hard either. Shattered his hip with a punch, busted a couple of ribs with another punch after he tried to slice my head of with this thing, " Jenna said, indicating the chakrum. "So, after that, I buried my dagger up to the hilt in his chest and took the chakrum from his cold, dead hand."
Caroline closed her eyes a moment, stifling a brief attack of nausea. I should have known better than to ask her that. Her thoughts aside, Caroline turned her attentions to Astro.
"Put your foot up. I can see the swelling already. Docs gonna have a fit if he sees that.
Youve got that right."
All head turned at once and saw a figure emerge from the dimness of the corridor and into the lighted inner chamber. Bob and Caroline breathed a huge sigh of relief as Dr. Bret Henson walked over to where they stood and took in the sight before him. Running a hand through his unruly hair, Bret sighed as he knelt down next to Jenna.
"Do either of you know what time it is in the states? I just got to bed twenty minutes before you called me. I cant let either of you two out of my sight. Not for an instant. "
Bret continued to mutter to himself as he took a couple of small items out of his bag and examined Jennas arm. Taking the utmost care and precision, Bret quickly and efficiently repaired the minor damage the bullet had caused, dressing and bandaging the wound. Turning his attention to Astro, Bret examined his ankle, quickly removing the boot before the swelling burst the leather stitching. Pulling out an ankle wrap, Bret quickly wrapped and taped Astros ankle and after he finished, he glanced over to the altar.
"What happened here?"
"You are a healer, are you not?"
Bret rose to his full height and turned around to face who had spoken to him. Looking directly at the speaker, Bret replied
"I am. Who is asking?"
" I ask. Heal her. " Ares said, pointing to the altar, a bit of arrogance tingeing his voice.
" And you are who?"
Ares looked at Bret, trying to size him up, using his most intimidating manner. He was more than a bit surprised when Bret didnt back down at all, choosing to return his stare with one of his own.
"I am Ares, God of War. They, " Ares pointed, indicating Jenna, Astro, Bob and Caroline with a wide sweep of his arm, " said you are the best healer around. So, mortal. HEAL HER NOW."
Bret ignored Ares request, moving to sit down on Ares chair. Looking over to where Jenna sat next to Astro, Bret asked
"Just who is this annoying little man, Astro?"
Astro looked between Bret and a now fuming Ares. Astro knew about the rather short temper of the God of War and also knew that Ares could not take Bret in a fight. Acting as the peacemaker this time, Astro raised a hand to put a halt to the rapidly building tension.
"Now that both of you are through marking the cave with testosterone, I will try to explain."
"Ares, chill out. Getting all pissy and laying on the attitude will get you absolutely nowhere with Bret. And Bret, Im sorry for calling you at such a bad time, but we kinda needed your help here."
Bret turned his attentions to Astro, ignoring Ares for the moment. Glancing over at Xenas resting place, Bret looked over at Ares, then back to Astro, then at the coffin. A somewhat amused grin crossed his features as he spoke, pointing at the coffin on the altar.
"This is why you needed me? You want me to restore a body? And just why should I do that?"
"I WANT HER BACK, NOW!"
Without even looking at Ares, Bret spoke in a tone that sent chills down the God of Wars spine.
"Do not even think of telling me what to do, immortal."
"You are a healer. Why wont you help?"
Taking in a calming breath, Bret slowly stood up and walked over to where Ares stood by the end of the altar. Locking his gaze on Ares face, Bret placed on hand on the altar and addressed Ares.
"Before I answer your question, let me pose one to you."
"What do you think would happen to the planet if no one ever grew old and died? "
Ares pondered this for a moment before replying
"Pestilence, disease, famine, no where for people to live?"
"Correct. How do you think people would react if the technology was available?"
"Governments would take control of it?"
"Exactly. They would make themselves forever young and completely corrupt and those who really needed it would never get it."
"Why do you ask?"
"Because I HAVE the technology to do just that. "
Ares was thunderstruck. Right before him stood a mortal with the ability to heal his chosen, and he was asking all kinds of weird questions, which seemed to make sense, but he had made no move to help him.
"Why should I help her?"
"She didnt die an honorable death. She was murdered by my father."
Bret looked at Ares with a bit more understanding. He now realized the reason for the Gods rather petulant behavior and took a moment to study the coffins occupant.
"Looks like she suffered some kind of severe cardiac and thoracic damage. What did this?"
"A spear, guided by my fathers hand." Ares spat out with obvious disgust. "He had her death planned because he was insane and angry with some things that Id done."
The last statement from Ares piqued Brets curiosity. His expression now softened somewhat and his mood changed from anger to curiosity.
"And just what did she do?"
"Originally, she left my guidance. Changed her ways, started helping people and foiled more of my plans than I could count. I tried everything to get her back, but she refused each time. "
"And just what did you do?"
"Helped people once I realized how I felt about her. They never knew it was I. I changed outcomes of battles if she was involved. But the last straw was when I actually defended her back when the Persians attacked. She was about to get cut down and I showed up just long enough to hold them off, then I left."
Bret looked at Astro, then at Jenna, then back to Ares. They might be worthy.
"I knew Zeus would be upset, but I didnt know hed do that. Id built this city myself, sort of my way of appeasing his anger. It didnt work. He kept me prisoner while his troops attacked Xena and Gabrielle. It would have been worse, if my sister hadnt transported help to the battlefield. It was the most she could do, every god and goddess on Olympus was living in fear of Zeus. I could only watch as the spear struck her. "
"You were held?"
"You could call it that. As soon as the deed was done, I was released and materialized on the battlefield. I held her as she died, then I brought her here. This, " Ares indicated with a sweep of his arm, "was the only safe place I knew. I brought her here, made this resting place and have stayed here since. I have left this cave only twice in nearly three thousand years."
"Perhaps you and she are worthy. But what happens here goes no further than this cave. Otherwise, " Bret pinned Ares with a stare, "there would be no safe place for you to hide in any plane. IS THAT UNDERSTOOD?"
Something in the look he was receiving from Bret told Ares that there was more to Doctor Henson than he was seeing. A feeling of being in the presence of someone more powerful than Zeus pierced Ares senses and he knew that the doctor would carryout his promise.
"All I need to do now is see my uncle and ask for him to release her spirit."
"That wont be necessary. Lets say that Hades and I have an understanding. "
Ares looked at Bret, confusion evident on the Olympians face. How could this mortal have an understanding with my uncle?
"Lets just say that he owes me. Besides, her spirit isnt there."
Ares looked horrified. Hed waited nearly three thousand years for someone that could heal her and rejoin her spirit with her body. Ares had been ready to beg his uncle to release Xenas spirit and now he had been told that Xena wasnt in the Underworld.
"Where is she?"
"In this thing, I think."
Jenna, who had been quiet throughout the whole verbal exchange between Bret and Ares, stepped up, holding the chakrum.
"I noticed some kind of funky energy coming from this thing when I pried out of putzballs hand. If shes not downstairs, could she be here?"
Bret looked at Jenna, a grin slowly forming on his face. From what he knew of Zeus and his abilities it would be like him to do something like this. Taking the chakrum in his hands carefully, Bret closed his eyes for a moment, and then opened them again. Walking over to the bag he brought, Bret pulled out an object, which was approximately the size of a medium briefcase. Setting it down on the cave floor, he pressed a button and stepped back.
Ares watched in fascination as the object unfolded into some kind of floating table with some kind of tablet with lighted buttons on it. He watched as Bret walked over to the altar and placed his hands on the coffin. Stunned, Ares watched as the sphere of protection he had placed around the coffin dissipate and the lid just seemed to move aside on its own. Ares noticed the great care and tenderness Bret took as he picked up Xena from inside the coffin, walking over to the floating table, and gently placed her upon it.
His fears aside, Ares watched with great curiosity as Bret stood at the keypad as he called it and watched Brets hands fly over the keypad.
"Begin diagnostic cycle. Full regeneration."
"Enter security code."
"Authorization code fifteen alpha zero nine delta shade."
"Code accepted. Beginning diagnostic cycle. Do you wish full display mode?"
"Display diagnostics, then full regeneration cycle."
Bret sat down on the nearest rock and watched as the regenerator began its diagnostic cycle. Bret turned and observed Ares, who was staring at the regenerator with great interest as it did its work.
"It will take a bit for the regenerator to work. There was a considerable amount of damage to her body. "
"What about her spirit? How can you put that back?" Ares asked, not looking at Bret
"This unit is different from the others that Ive built. It will take her life force from this item and reinfuse it into her. Fortunately there wasnt a great deal of DNA damage and her RNA is intact."
"RNA? What is that?"
"Oh, sorry about that. RNA is what ingrains memories, knowledge in the brain. Hers is still intact, so she will remember what happened, if you want that."
Ares looked to Bret then to Xena, then back at Bret as the flood of memories washed across his face. He was going to get her back, but did he want her back with the memories of her remembering her last moments. Ares knew Xena better than she knew herself and realized she would want her memories intact, regardless of they would cause her pain or not. Taking a calming breath, Ares looked at Bret, then said.
"She wouldnt want her memories tampered with again. Its happened a couple of times before, and she was rather angry. As much as it may pain me, I know she would want her memories, good or bad."
"Very well. What of her friend?"
"Friends", corrected Ares. "There are several that Ive rescued shall we say. I couldnt do as much for them, but they are safe."
Both Bret and Astro regarded Ares in a new light. Here was a god who was the physical representation of war, death and destruction, gloried in the pain it brought others, yet he had done selfless acts all because he had fallen in love with a mortal woman. He had been willing to give up everything he was just to win her heart and discovered his own humanity in the process. He had learned to look past the glory of war to see the other side; people dying to protect what they had worked so hard for, innocent people dying because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, disease, famine and loss of spirit. War wasnt so glorious anymore as he saw the price of surviving.
"Once the regenerator is finished, it will be a short time before she wakes up. She will be weak for a bit, but with rest and care she will be fine. "
"And her friends? Will you do the same for them? "
"Are they important to her?"
"Yes, one in particular. Gabrielle. She kept Xena on the path of the greater good much to my dismay. " Ares recalled with an amused grin. "Gabrielle became quite an accomplished fighter on her own. I tried to get her to take Xenas place once. She turned me down flat. My sister was wise in picking Gabrielle as her chosen."
"Sister? Which one?"
"Artemis. Patron goddess of the Amazons. Gabrielle was queen of the amazons, and ruled wisely for many years. Artemis took a great chance that day by sending her amazons to the battlefield and all I could do to thank her was to take care of Gabrielle like I did for Xena. "
"All-right. I will help them. " Bret said.
Looking at the readouts on the monitor, Bret said
"Are you ready?"
"Ready for what?"
Ares watched as Bret took the chakrum and placed it on the small shelf, pressing a button on the side. A clear covering surrounded the chakrum, sealing it inside the bubble. He watched with great fascination as a very vibrant blue-violet haze filled the sealed chamber. Ares eyes widened as his senses identified the energy sealed inside. It was Xenas life force, still strong and vibrant after all these years. His father had trapped her spirit in her signature weapon and had kept it from him all these years. Thats why my uncle never saw her in the Underworld.
Bret smiled as he studied the readings on the regenerators view screen. Looking at Ares facial expressions, he knew he had made the right decision to help. Noticing the strength of the life force and its color, Bret smiled and activated the life force infusion mode. The regenerator had done its job well, having repaired all physical damage, not only from the injury, but also healed a multitude of physical reminders of injuries from the past. And as an added bonus, when she awoke, she would be at her physical peak. A soft chirp from the console caught Brets attention. Turning to look at the monitor, Bret was mildly surprised by the readouts. Hmm, thats interesting.
Ares had rather nervously kept watch throughout the entire process and was instantly by Brets side.
"What? What is it?"
"Calm down. Theres nothing wrong here. The process is going smoothly. Just some interesting readings, thats all. The machine will be finished shortly. Just one question, though. Do you want her waking up in blood-soaked clothes?"
"I never thought of that. "
"How about this?" Jenna said, stepping forward and handing Ares a small, folded bundle.
Taking the offered items, he asked; "What is this?"
"Something like shed be used to. Its a lot like one of my favorite outfits, except bigger. I keep a spare outfit in my bag all the time. "
Ares unfolded the wrapped bundle carefully and laid out the contents on his chair. It was a two-piece outfit, made from some kind of black, leather like material. Ares tested its strength and was pleasantly surprised when it didnt rip apart in his hands.
"This will work. Thank you. "
"No problem. Umm, one other question. Where are all of you gonna stay when were done? Its not like you can go back to doing what you were doing here."
"Maybe they could come to the states with us. Certainly safer for them over there, than here. "
"And where would they stay? "
"Could they stay with us, mom, dad? You wanted to know more about ancient Greece and rather than study some musty old relic, you got a couple of people who have lived it. "
Bob and Caroline looked at each other, then at the pleading look on their daughters face. Knowing they had already lost this particular battle, they both acquiesced gracefully, also realizing the truth of their daughters statement.
"All-right. They can stay with us for a time. It will take a bit to acclimatize them to the twentieth century anyway. "
"Thanks mom, dad. "
A beep from the regenerator got everyones attention.
"Regeneration complete. Life force infusion complete. Patient stable. Do you wish to remove stasis?"
Bret looked at Ares, who was staring at the regenerator, a look of confusion and fear on his face.
"Look, shes fine now. What are you worried about?"
"I I never thought that this day would happen. I was prepared to wait here until time ended to be with her and You see, what happened to her, us, seems like it happened this morning and not three thousand years ago. I I dont know if she will still have any feelings for me ."
"You wont know until you talk to her. Find out, youve waited long enough."
Pressing a button on the machines keypad, Bret released the stasis field. Ares stood still for a moment, gazing down at his princess. With the new outfit safely tucked inside of his vest, Ares gently wrapped Xena in some of the furs that had lined her coffin and slowly lifted her into his arms. He felt the bond between them that had been shattered so long ago and he noticed that she was much younger physically after this treatment and no longer had the scars from many previous encounters. Ares walked over to where a large bed had been set up in one corner of the cave and with utmost care, he lowered her onto the bed, tucking the furs in around her. A flick of his wrist and she was wearing the outfit that Jenna had provided, and Xenas blood-soaked leathers were in a pile at the end of the bed. Ares watched with great anticipation as Xenas eyelids began to flutter. In a low voice, tinged with anticipation, he said
Xena inhaled slowly as her senses slowly returned to her. She became gradually aware of the presence of several other people nearby and was distinctly aware of Ares presence beside her. She cautiously opened one eye and then the other, waiting impatiently for them to focus so she could see her surroundings. When her eyes finally came into focus, she noticed that she was in some kind of cave, and lying in a large bed and Ares was sitting next to her, a worried look on his face. As her consciousness became more aware, her hands shot down to where she remembered having a gaping hole in her chest, only to find that it wasnt there any longer. Xena tried to sit up, but was held firmly in place by Ares. He put a finger to her lips and quieted her with one of his infamous looks.
"Just rest for a bit, my princess."
"Where am I? What happened to me? I was injured, and dying. I know that much. I remember talking to Gabrielle and you and then nothing. "
Ares fought to keep the tears from falling down his face as he replied
"You did die In my arms .I brought you here afterwards
Xena looked at Ares and noticed the tears that had welled up in his eyes. With one hand, she reached up and brushed away a few that had fallen as her memories of her last few moments came rushing back to her.
"You said something to me."
"What was it?"
"I said I said I loved you, Xena. I meant it then and I mean it now."
Xena was stunned. She thought she had heard him say that right before, but wasnt too sure. She also realized that her injuries were gone completely and she felt like she had just before she had met Ares for the first time. Xena pulled herself to a sitting position, despite Ares attempts to keep her lying still. She saw for the first time, her leathers, now lying in a pile at the foot of the bed and saw how severe her injury had been. Xena also noticed the dried blood on Ares vest and hands.
Xena noticed the presence of several more people in the cave and looked to Ares for answers.
"Who are these people? Wheres Gabrielle?"
"Princess, I will answer all your questions. It has been nearly three thousand years since that day in the forest. "
"THREE THOUSAND YEARS?"
"Yes. After you died, I brought your body here and placed it in a sphere of protection to preserve it. I swore an oath that somehow, someday I would find a way to heal you, to bring you back to me. These people helped me to do just that. "
"And what of Zeus?"
Ares looked away, towards the mouth of the cave. In the distance, Xena could see the shape of a body, dressed in ornate robes, lying lifeless on the cave floor.
"I killed him."
"But how? All the weapons that could kill gods were gone."
"There was one left. I just had to locate someone who could steal it for me."
"The Hinds blood? "
"I stole it for him."
Xena looked and saw an old man walk towards them and sit down on the edge of the bed.
"It was the least I could do for you, Xena."
Xena looked closely at the old man, settling her gaze on his face. While the face was old and wrinkled, the eyes still held the same spark she had come to know on many occasions.
"It cant be, but it is. Autolycus, is that you?"
The old man flashed a genuine smile at Xena and pulled off his outer clothes, revealing a faded, well worn, but familiar outfit.
"Ares came to me a short time after what happened and offered me a deal. I would steal the hinds blood necklace from Zeus and he would see that I survived long enough to see Zeus downfall."
"Thats not all of it."
"Oh, yeah. I also promised to keep this location secret until someone came along that was worthy and could help. That guy standing over there, with the woman and two kids, found this place a few years ago and came to me, hoping to find some information on the underground city. I felt I could trust him, so I told him the story of what happened and gave him a scroll for safekeeping."
"And I owe you this. "
Ares stood up from his place next to Xena and took hold of Autolycus hand. He closed his eyes and his body began to glow softly. The glow traveled down Ares arms and over Autolycus. Xena watched in amazement, as Autolycus quickly grew young again. The glow continued until Autolycus had been changed back into his youthful self. Finished, Ares sat back down next to Xena, somewhat exhausted by his gift.
"The debt is now paid. What you do with your life is entirely up to you."
Catching a look from Bret, Ares sent Autolycus over to the doctor with a different scroll.
"Doctor, on the scroll are the locations of the others Ive mentioned. Autolycus will show you where to look."
Ares turned his attention back to Xena who was now looking at him rather curiously. He could see all the questions she had written on her face and put a finger to her lips to keep her quiet.
" I know you have a great deal of questions. I will try and answer as many as I can for you. Yes, the amazons took care of Gabrielle for you. Ephiny and Eponin kept their promise they made to you. I came for her, when it was her time. She will be restored shortly along with certain other people. "
"You stayed with me all this time?"
"Because you love me?"
Xena suddenly realized who had been behind the rebuilding of towns ravaged by war, sudden deliveries of medicines to help disease stricken areas, food just appearing overnight in areas of famine. Ares had been trying to win her back, honestly, not through deceit and he had kept a three thousand year vigil over her while she slept. He had risked his own existence for her, admitted his feelings for her in front of others and killed his own father just to get her back.
"You were the one who helped all those villages."
"Yes. After a time, I realized that the only chance I had of truly winning you back was to change my ways. I still did the job as you called it, but I also traveled to these areas afterwards and saw things as you saw them. It finally dawned on me, why you left me and once I was able to admit to myself how I felt about you, I realized that I needed you. I couldnt live without you. And the only way I might stand a chance was to change things, beginning with myself. "
" Ares "
"You dont have to say anything now, my princess. All I ask is for a chance to win your heart honestly."
"You already have "
Ares slowly pulled Xena to a sitting position on the bed, his eyes never leaving hers. With a trembling hand, he slowly traced a path down Xenas face, his fingers coming to a stop under her chin, his eyes locked on hers. Ares could feel his own heart hammering wildly as he gently pulled Xena close and brushed her lips lightly with his own. Ares nearly fainted as Xena returned his gentle kiss, as his emotions ran wild, feeling the bond that they had once shared stronger than it had ever been. Not breaking the tender embrace, Ares whispered into his chosens hair
"We have forever now. "
Unseen in the shadows a lone figure watched the scene unfold between Ares and Xena. Satisfied with what had just transpired, the figure smiled and whispered as it quietly vanished;
"My vigil is now over. Take care of my daughter ."
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