"To Ares!" Marcellus
added with another cheer.
Behind the tree line, Hercules and
Iolaus had heard it all. Iolaus shook his head.
"I can't believe
this." he said looking at his tall friend. "We've
gotta do something! We must find that Amazon village and the
princess and warn them."
Hercules looked at the cheering
men "I can't recall an Amazon village near here.
Certainly not within a few hours travel."
Iolaus' gaze fell upon the
taller of the two leaders. "Marcellus!" he whispered
tonelessly. "I thought he was dead after we had defeated him
in our last campaign. He must have nine lives or something."
Hercules stood and followed his
friend's gaze. "Well, the next time, he's not
gonna get away. Artemis is not going to like this."
Iolaus gave him a puzzled look.
"Yes. She does hold a
protective hand over the Amazons. If she finds out about Ares'
latest stunt, she's not going to be happy."
"So, what's the
plan?" Iolaus asked.
Hercules turned to his friend.
"We should go and warn the Amazons and then find Artemis and
ask her to tell Ares to keep his hands off the Amazons."
"Pretty good plan."
"I think so too."
"So, we just have to go to
Artemis and ask her to help the Amazons."
Iolaus crossed his eyes in
despair. "You know, Artemis is not gonna *just walk up*
and defy Ares. You know her better than anyone!"
Hercules smiled. "Ah, but
Iolaus, she always had a soft spot for you, my blond friend. You
know, *favourite hunter* that sort of thing Plus she
owes you after getting you into this trouble over the beauty
contest with Aphrodite and Athena!"
Iolaus gave Hercules a warning
look. "Somehow, I don't think it will be that easy this
Hercules gave him a reassuring
grin. "Well, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.
Let's make sure we find those Amazons and the princess
before those guys down there and worry about Artemis later!"
Iolaus smiled at his tall friend.
"Well, I think our best bet would be to try that valley to
Hercules nodded in agreement
"Yes, I agree."
"I know a shortcut!" the
hunter said and rushed into the bushes.
Hercules shook his head in
amazement and tried to catch up with his comrade.
The deer was grazing calmly and
was unaware of the shadow approaching it from the left. The arms
that raised the bow held a steady focus on their target and the
arrow would not miss. The hunter's blue-green eyes rested on
the animal's features and waited for the right moment. The
muscles were almost ready to relax to deliver the deadly arrow,
when a noise startled the animal and it disappeared into the
"Damn" the hunter
exclaimed, shifting the aim of the arrow into the direction of
Two men walked into view. One was
tall and muscular with dark, shoulder long hair, his companion
smaller and blond. While the taller man carried no visible
weapons, the blonde had a sheathed sword over his shoulders and a
dagger stuck in his belt. The hunter lowered the bow.
"I should have know, I would
run into you two clowns out here!"
Iolaus and Hercules had been
engaged in deep discussion and only now noticed, who they walked
into. In front of them stood the figure of a tall woman, clad in
black leather. Her long raven-coloured hair came just over her
shoulders and was held together behind her back by a leather
band. On her belt dangled a circular silvery-shiny object.
Hercules and Iolaus looked surprised.
"Xena!" Hercules smiled
as they walked towards each other, grabbing their arms in a
warrior's arm shake. Iolaus followed and smiled at Xena.
"Hello Xena. What are you
doing out here?"
Xena gave him an annoyed look.
"I was trying to catch lunch before you guys rumpled through
the forest like a herd of boars!"
Iolaus produced one of his
glorious smiles. "Hey, this was a shortcut. Anyways, that
little thing didn't have enough meat to fill a hole in a
tooth not to speak to feed all three of us!"
The warrior princess stood a full
head taller than the hunter as she looked down at him with a
"Some shortcut! And who
invited you anyways?"
Iolaus pressed his hands over his
heart, covering an imaginary mortal wound. "Oh, oh, I am
hurt, Xena! Is this how you greet your friends? You don't
even invite us to a meal?"
Hercules laughed as he stepped to
Iolaus' side. "That's enough you two and Iolaus
stop thinking about food. You just had breakfast."
Iolaus gave his friend his famous
who-me-would-I-ever look. Then he rubbed his hands together and
looked around the clearing obviously missing something.
"So, where is
Gabrielle?" the blond hunter asked searching for Xena's
ever present blonde friend.
Xena stuck her arrow back into her
box and adjusted her belt. "She is visiting friends not far
from here in a village across the valley. We are planning to meet
up at the festival in Hellaspont."
Hercules and Iolaus exchanged
asked and Iolaus shrugged his shoulders. "There's no
village in the valley."
Xena looked at them both.
"Sure there is. Across the valley, where the river bends to
the South. It used to be a deserted place after Apollo struck it
with a curse and burned it to the ground, but for the past couple
of years, the Amazons have re-built the village and now ..."
"Amazons?" Hercules and
Iolaus had interrupted their friend in one voice, shock and
disbelieve both mixed into their faces.
Xena looked at them in surprise.
"Yeah, it's an Amazon village. Gabrielle ..."
Then she realized, that Hercules
and Iolaus must not have yet heard about Gabrielle's new
"position". Quietly, the two friends listened to the
warrior princess' story of Gabrielle and her new found
connection to the Amazon tribe. As she had ended, Hercules was
leaning against a tree and Iolaus had sat himself down on a rock.
Disbelief played in both hero's eyes.
"Well", concluded Xena.
"And know, Gabrielle is an Amazon Princess with the full
right of succession." She looked into the two heroes'
faces and was surprised at the silence, she found. "What's
with you guys? You look like I just told you the world is coming
to an end!"
Iolaus looked up, his cerulean
eyes meeting her blue-green ones. Then he looked at Hercules.
"You know what this
Hercules nodded. "Yes, it all
makes sense now."
Xena didn't understand
"What makes sense now? What are you guys talking
Hercules pushed himself away from
the tree and walked closer to the black-haired woman.
"On our way here, we ran
across warriors at Ares' temple. Apparently, my dear brother
is sending them to destroy an Amazon village and kill the
Princess, because she has turned the tribe away from fighting for
Iolaus rose to stand next to
Hercules. "We thought it was strange, because there is no
Amazon village near here. But now ..."
Xena swallowed hard. "They're
Hercules nodded "It looks
Iolaus looked from the warrior
princess to the demi-god "We must warn her ... and the
"We will." ensured
Hercules and looked worriedly at Xena. She looked up to meet his
"Gabrielle has learned how to
fight. She can take care of herself."
Iolaus stepped closer to stand at
her side, the image of the small, slender bard imprinted in his
"But, we can't just
leave her ... them. We must help them. We must do
Xena gave him a cold look. "I
didn't say, I wouldn't do anything."
The blonde looked eagerly from one
to the other "Then what are we waiting for?"
Xena collected her things and
strapped them tight on Argo's back. Gabrielle is a good
fighter, she thought trying to reassure herself as she led
Argo onto the road and followed the two men towards the valley.
But it wasn't working.
In the Amazon village, Ephiny
looked across the fire and the food to the red-haired woman
sitting across her as she reaches for another bundle of grapes.
"It is good to see you again,
Gabrielle", she says. "And as usual, the food and the
company is excellent!"
Gabrielle replied and sends a big
smile to her Amazon friend. "It has been much too
It had been a while, since she had
time to visit her Amazon tribe, which she was cast into what
seemed to be an eternity ago. She was now an Amazon princess,
with all the rights and duties of the position. Travelling with
Xena had not made a difference. Her acquired fighting skills,
which the queen had taught her however had proven to be valuable
to her relationship with the Warrior Princess.
"How is Xena these
days?" Ephiny asked.
Gabrielle smiled "She's
fine. Just off to do some hunting. She didn't feel like
having company right now. You know, she gets like this
The blond Amazon laughed
"Yes, I remember the Warrior Princess well and after what I've
heard about your recent adventures, I guess you both deserve some
Gabrielle nods in agreement.
"Yes, it's been quiet busy lately. I wonder whether the
world will ever run out of bandits, warlords and monsters."
Ephiny twinkles her eye cunningly.
"Well, that would be the day, we would no longer need
Gabrielle laughed and threw her
head back. "I guess you're right. Then what would we
do? Can you see any of us in normal jobs? Sure, I always wanted
to be a bard, but Xena, Hercules and Iolaus ..."
Gabrielle's eyes sink to the
floor and a soft smile hushed across her face as she thought of
Hercules' blond friend.
Ephiny looked into her eyes.
"Gabrielle, are you all right?"
The bard shook off her memories
and reached for another grape.
"Ahem, sure, I am all right.
It's just ... well, I just had to think about ... Oh, this
is silly ... never mind."
The Amazon sighed and leaned back
comfortably. "So, who's Iolaus?"
"What do you mean?"
"Gabrielle, I have seen this
look on your face in many faces of our women."
Gabrielle blushed and tried to
dissect the grape in her hand.
"Well, it is nothing really.
He is Hercules' best friend. I met him when Xena and I were
trying to free Prometheus. He was injured in a fight when he and
Hercules helped Xena against some of Hera's fighters. He was
so proud and eager to help, that he didn't say anything,
until I noticed him almost collapse. Prometheus was bound and we
had lost the ability to heal ourselves and he knew, he was going
to die, yet he tried to keep up with us ... when Xena and
Hercules found out, they made him stay behind and rest and ... I
stayed with him, while Xena and Hercules went on to free
Gabrielle paused to sort the
memories and feelings storming through her head. She looked past
her friend into the distance as if she could see the past
replayed there somehow.
"We waited in that cave and I
thought he would die in my arms then. I tried everything to keep
him with me. Talking to him, telling him stories, but he slipped
further and further away from me. I thought Xena and Hercules
would not make it in time."
Tears had started to form in her
eyes, when the memory came back to her. The cold, dark cave as
the gift of fire had perished. Iolaus laying deliriously in her
arms. His blood staining her dress ...
Tell Xena, there are no hard
Sweat pouring from his forehead as
she stroked his tousled blond hair to reassure him, soothe him,
let him know there was still somebody with him...
You're not going to die,
Iolaus. Let me tell you another story...
Ephiny moved over to sit next to
the young bard and put her arm comforting around her shoulder.
"But he made it, didn't
Gabrielle fought back the tears
and nodded. Her voice was thick with emotion
"Yes, he did. It was nice to
meet somebody, who is so very much like me. You know ... normal.
If there is anything like normality in this crazy world. We didn't
have enough time to find out ..."
A smile hushed over her face ...
It was nice getting to know you
The soft kiss ... his lips on hers
It was more than nice ...
She cleared her throat in an
attempt to control her feelings. "In any case, with our
lifestyles, there would never be ... couldn't be ..."
Screams and shouts from outside
interrupted Gabrielle and both she and Epiphany jumped up and
rushed outside. The square was in chaos. Amazons running around
in and out of houses. Silestra, the queen's second in
command rushed towards them and stopped breathlessly.
"Ephiny," she started
trying to catch her breath. "Soldiers are coming. Hundreds
of them. They are approaching from the north across the valley
... and they are heading straight for us."
Epiphany and Gabrielle exchanged
"Silestra, I want you to take
the children and assemble them in the school house. Have Martenia
stay with them. Then go and check the defence walls and make
sure, they can't break through. Enforce the northern wall
and position double lines behind the defence wall. I also want
buckets of water ready, should they try and burn us down."
The Amazon stood in front of the
two as if frozen. Epiphany stepped forward.
"Move! We don't have
much time." she shouted.
Silestra nodded in understanding
and turned around to rush to comply with the orders. Gabrielle
looked at her Amazon friend.
"What do you want me to
Epiphany looked at her and smiled.
"You are our princess and must be protected. I want you out
and away from the fighting."
Gabrielle stood squarely in front
of the blond woman and couldn't believe what she just heard.
"You must be joking! I am not
going to desert you when you need me most. I can fight. I will
Epiphany interrupted her. "This isn't about fighting
and defence. This is something else."
Gabrielle didn't understand.
"What do you mean?"
Epiphany took both of her hands
into hers. "Gabrielle, we are a peaceful tribe since you
came to us. We have not attacked or harmed anybody and you made
us turn our backs at Ares' teachings. There is no cause for
this attack, unless it is driven by revenge. Revenge from the one
who has now lost us as his weapon, just as he lost Xena before.
Revenge against the one that has brought on the loss. Revenge
against the one, who makes sure his Warrior Princess or his
Amazons don't return to serve him."
"I still don't
"Gabrielle, I believe Ares is
Gabrielle produces a short laugh.
"Me? Why would he ...?"
"Because you were the one,
who turned us away from him. You are the one who constantly
reminds Xena of the importance of doing good over evil. And
knowing the God of War, he doesn't take those things
Gabrielle thought about those
words for a moment. She would certainly not run away and leave
her friends - her new family without her support. On the other
hand, if Epiphany was right and the soldiers were after her, she
could help by leading the advancing army away from the village
... into the nearby forest, where she could hide easily and would
stand a better chance of maybe taking them out one by one. Or she
could go for help. She could find Xena, or Hercules or ...
"There is not much time,
Gabrielle" the blonde Amazon urged.
Gabrielle sighed deeply and
nodded. "Alright, Epiphany, I'll go, but I won't
leave you defenceless. I will go and find help! I'll go to
Artemis' temple and then I find Xena!"
The Queen smiled reassuring.
"We are Amazon! We'll defend ourselves with all means
available! Don't worry about us."
They both hugged each other.
"Good luck, Gabrielle and be
"Good luck, Epiphany. I'll
With those words, Gabrielle turned
and disappeared behind the houses.
Soon the advancing men had reached
the outer defence walls of the village. Marcellus stood in front
of his troops and faced the wall, knowing well, that every hole
in it was covered by a heavily armed Amazon. There was no doubt,
they were ready for them. There was also no doubt, that he didn't
really care. Ares' protection would make them undefeatable
and to take this village full of women would be a piece of cake
i8n any case. He smiled sadistically as he thought of the number
of woman in the village before them. How easy prey they would be
after their defeat and he would make sure his men would have
their fun afterwards. Even though he was looking forward to a
good fight, he thought of giving the Amazons a chance to
surrender. The less they had to kill, the more remained for the
fun and his men. Gardinus had stepped next to him and surveyed
"What are you thinking,
Marcellus?" he hissed through his blackened teeth.
Marcellus turned to look at his
"I am thinking, that we will
all have a nice woman to warm our laps tonight!"
The men around them laughed in
expectation and pre-pleasure.
Gabrielle had used a secret
pathway out of the village and had come up behind the defensive
walls as the advancing army position itself around the village.
The soldiers looked scruffy and deadly and there was no question
that the expression in their faces showed no place for mercy. She
hid behind the tree line to see whether she could catch a hint of
what they might plan. Marcellus stepped forward and stood
towering above the defence wall of the Amazon village.
"Amazons", he shouted
"I am a reasonable man and so I have decided to give you the
chance to surrender."
Into the silence of the street
stepped a blonde woman. Her eyes sparkled at him in defiance.
"I'd rather eat dirt
than surrender to you."
Marcellus laughed sadistically.
"This is your only chance,
Amazon. We have the power and help of Ares. Surrender now and we'll
let you live."
Ephiny took a step forward and
spat on the floor in front of her. Then she looked up into the
eyes of the soldier.
"That's all I have to
say to you or Ares!" she called.
Marcellus shrugged his shoulders.
"Fine. Have it your way, woman!"
He turned to his and Gartenius'
Gabrielle's eyes followed the
flood of soldiers storming down towards the village, their swords
drawn. She shook her head in disbelief. Epiphany was right. Ares!
She had to go and get help. Artemis' temple, was not far and
she could go and seek the support of the Amazon's patriot
goddess. But would she stand up against her brother, the God of
War? Only one way to find out. Gabrielle knew that Xena wasn't
far either and she needed all the help she could get. Yes, that
sounded like a good plan. As she turned to disappear into the
forest, she heard a shout and turned around. Marcellus stood
amongst his men and pointed at her.
"There she is!" he
shouted. "Get her!"
Gabrielle grabbed her staff
tightly and ran.
Hercules, Xena and Iolaus had
almost reached the village. The trio had been walking for some
time as they heard the sounds of battle from the village in front
of them. As they reached the hilltop overlooking the village,
they could see the fighting. The soldiers had managed to overrun
the defences of the village and fighting had broke out all over
the village. The Amazons were desperately outnumbered but still
put on a brave fight.
The fought for their lives.
Several houses were already on
fire. Hercules looked for Iolaus but his friend had already
headed down towards the fighting. The hunter had been after a
good fight since he had heard about Gabrielle and the heavy
fighting in the Amazon village had doubtlessly increased his
concern for Gabrielle's safety.
Within seconds of leaving the
forest and entering the village, the trio found themselves in the
middle of the fighting. The fires were sending thick black smoke
clouds across the market square. Iolaus ran to the well in the
middle of the square and seized a bucket full of water. With a
swing, he emptied it into the window of a nearby house. A burning
torch flew by him and landed on the floor next to him.
"Oh, Great!" Iolaus said
in a low voice, trying desperately to stamp it out as more
torches where flying into the village square.
As he returned to refill the
bucket, he saw two soldiers pointing into his direction.
"Here we go ..." he
mumbled and drew his sword.
The two soldiers walked slowly
towards him, their swords ready to attack. Iolaus smiled. Only
two of them? What an insult.
"Hi guys!" he smiled
The two soldiers started to split
up and circle around him.
"Nice fire you've got
going here!" the hunter continued, following his attackers
every move with an assertive look. "Well, I can see you're
pretty good in fighting against a bunch of women. How about
fighting a real man, huh?" he teased them.
The taller one of his attackers
"I guess that's supposed
to be you then, Shorty?" he hissed as he launched himself
Iolaus saw the attack coming and
wanted to take an evasive step to the side. At the last minute,
he saw the other man standing behind him and right there where he
had wanted to step to, a sword ready. Within the blink of a
second Iolaus changed his battle plan and decided to crouch down
to his knees instead. The sword passed inches above his head and
stabbed into nothing, while the other guys' sword drove into
the sand next to him. Those two where quiet experienced. Not very
clever, but still dangerous. Iolaus let himself fall backwards
and rolled over his back and jumped onto his feet. Launching
himself into the air Iolaus slammed his foot into the stomach of
the soldier to his right and hit the soldier in front of him with
the tilt of his sword straight into his face. The hunter steadied
himself and took a defensive position, waiting for the next
attack. Both soldiers were on the floor, one holding his stomach,
the other wiping the blood from his now broken nose.
Iolaus laughed in excitement.
"Haha, c'mon guys. Is
that all you've got?"
"We haven't even started
yet!" the taller soldier snared from the ground, wiping the
blood from his battered nose.
In one move, he jumped up, pulled
a vicious looking knife out of his belt and launched himself at
the hunter. Even though Iolaus saw it coming, his movement was
not quiet quick enough and the blade drew a bloody line across
The sudden pain led Iolaus to
loosened the grip on his sword and the soldier kicked it out of
his hand, sending it flying across the square. With one move, the
warrior launched himself at Iolaus, his knife raised up. Iolaus
jumped forward defensively and grabbed hold of the wrist of the
soldier's knife-hand, managing to stop the deadly blow. As they
struggled for the knife, Iolaus didn't notice, that the
other soldier had regained consciousness and rose from the ground
to sneak up behind the hunter. With a malicious smile, the
soldier raised a piece of wood he had found on the floor and
delivered a forceful blow to the hunter's back.
The sudden blow drove all air out
of the blond hunter's lungs and he let go of the soldier's
arm as he stumbled forwards to catch his breath. Stars began to
dance in front of his eyes. Another vicious kick from the soldier
in front hit him square in the chest and sent him gasping for
breath down to his knees. Blood started to trickle from the
corner of his lip. The bandit stepped in front of the fallen
"Not so clever now, hum
Shorty?" he smiled. "Time to die!"
More soldiers were now approaching
from all sides and started to circle around the fallen hunter. He
was not only outnumbered but now also on the ground. His sword
was gone. Iolaus' hand went to his belt and closed around
his dagger in a last but most probably feeble attempt to defend
his life. Nine soldiers closed in around him, their swords drawn.
Iolaus' eyes looked at them in defiance as he wiped the
blood from his face with the back of his hand.
He would not make this easy on
He would go down fighting.
Hercules was engaged in a battle with five attackers. Not much to
fight against. As he delivered four of the soldiers onto a nearby
rooftop, he looked around for his friends. He spotted Xena a few
feet away, kicking her way through a wall of soldiers, several
Amazon warriors next to her. Hercules' gaze went across the
courtyard towards the well where he had last seen Iolaus. His
heart stopped for a second and a cold fist punched him in the
stomach as he saw Iolaus go down, his sword fly across the square
and the approaching soldiers surrounding him. He could see the
defiance sparkling in the hunter's face as his hand went for
the dagger and Hercules knew what his best friend was thinking.
He stood no chance.
Not if the demi-god could help it.
Hercules punched his last attacker
carelessly into the stomach and ran towards the group surrounding
Iolaus. With all his strength, he threw himself against three of
Iolaus' attackers just before they could launch themselves
at the fallen blonde, pulling them to the ground. Iolaus had seen
his friend coming and in one motion jumped up, onto his hands and
kicked with both feet out at the soldiers behind him, sending
them flying backwards. Regaining his feet, he punched a soldier
to his left in the stomach and grinned at Hercules, who now stood
next to him, punching out two more soldiers.
"Nice timing, Herc" he
shouted over the fighting.
Hercules smiled at him, relieved
to see that his best friend was all right.
"Anytime, my friend!" he
reassured and both continued to fight the rest of the attackers.
Hercules grabbed one soldier by
the arm and, flipped him over his back into the dust, while
Iolaus watched in amazement, as another soldier stepped over his
fallen comrades towards him, frantically wheeling a sword around
his body. The soldier raised it over his head and sent it flying
towards Iolaus. The blond saw it coming and dropped to his knees,
sending the deadly blade over his head and into the wooden beam
of the well behind him. Hercules grabbed hold of two soldiers,
lifted them up and collided them together in front of him. They
both moaned and lost consciousness. Hercules sighed and let them
drop to the ground. It took only a few minutes and the area was
covered with the bodies of unconscious warriors.
Iolaus looked up, retrieved his
dagger from the ground and stuck it back into his belt. "One
would think they'll learn at some point!"
Hercules grinned and brushed
specks of dust off his shirt.
"Yeah, well, that's bad
guys for you! We better check on ... ahem ... behind you."
Hercules said nonchalant and motioned past his friend where
another soldier ran up to the hunter, his raised sword ready to
find a target.
Without turning around, Iolaus
raised his left leg and kicked backwards right into the attacker's
Hercules grimaced. "Uhh, that's
got to hurt."
The soldier gasped with an
expression of surprise and was out cold before he hit the ground.
"You were saying?"
Iolaus smiled at the demi-god.
Hercules shook his head over
Iolaus' eternal enthusiasm. Then suddenly in one motion, Iolaus'
face turned ashen and his hand, still holding his dagger, sent it
flying past Hercules.
Iolaus' aim was true and the
blade buried itself in a soldier's chest, who had come up
behind the demigod with a raised sword in his hand. With a
surprised look, the man froze and looked at the object protruding
from his chest. Then he sunk dead to the ground. Hercules lifted
his eyebrows and turned to the hunter.
"Nice aim, Iolaus!"
"Don't mention it!"
Iolaus replied. "Back to Back as we promised!"
Hercules nodded and pointed at
more warriors rushing towards them. "Doesn't look like
they had enough!"
Iolaus' smile froze as he saw
the oncoming soldiers and realized the action was about to
"Come and get it guys!"
he muttered with increasing excitement as he and
Hercules turned to stand back to
back, their swords ready. Just as Iolaus had turned around, he
caught sight of the archer standing a few feet away, aiming at
Hercules' back. Iolaus' hands automatically went to his
belt, but the knife was gone, used to save his best friend's
life just moments before. If he threw himself forwards at the
archer, the arrow would surely find Hercules, and he wasn't
sure, whether - if Iolaus could warn his friend in time - the son
of Zeus could do that arrow thing again'.
His body was the only obstacle
between his friend's back and the treacherous projectile.
His life for that of Hercules.
The hunter considered it a fair
Iolaus took a deep breath, closed
his eyes and braced himself for the deadly impact of the arrow,
that would pierce his chest and send him to the Other Side.
"Damn!" was the
only thing he seemed to be able to say. It seemed like an
eternity for the deadly arrow to find its target.
But nothing happened.
Iolaus took a deep breath and as
he opened his eyes, found himself looking into the proud face of
a tall woman. She had blond, curly hair down to her shoulders,
pale azure eyes and a rosy complexion. Her leather dress was
decorated with feathers and her left hand held a blood-stained
sword as she towered over the fallen body of the dead archer. She
smiled reassuringly at Iolaus.
"This is your lucky day, my
friend." she said.
The hunter returned her smile and
remembered to breath again.
"Thanks." he said and
retrieved his dagger and sword.
Hercules turned around and only
now noticed what had happened. He looked at both of them.
"Yeah, thanks. That sure was
"No problem. That is the
least I can do to thank you for your help here. And we sure need
any help we can get! I am Ephiny of the Amazons and I wished we
could meet under nicer circumstances!"
Hercules held out his hand.
"Nice to meet you. I am Hercules and this is my friend
"Iolaus." the blond
Amazon cut in and assessed the hunter from top to toe. Iolaus
returned a surprised gaze as she smiled at him warmly. "I
figured. I've heard much about you."
"You have?" Iolaus
Hercules smiled at his friend's
bewilderment. It was obvious he hadn't expected to be recognized.
Ephiny looked into his cerulean eyes.
"Yes, Gabrielle has mentioned
you a couple of times."
The hunter's eyes light up at
the mention of the bard's name. Then a more serious glance
"That's why we are here.
Those soldiers are after her."
Ephiny's eyes sank to the
ground. "I know"
Alarm flashed across Iolaus' face.
"So, where is she?"
The blonde Amazon points towards
the forest. "She's gone, hiding in the forest. I sent
her away for her own protection until the fighting is over. I saw
a couple of soldiers following her trail, but they'll be
surprised. And with you, Hercules and Xena at our side, we will
defeat those warriors."
Ephiny tried a weak smile.
"The gods must be on our side after all."
Hercules shook his head "I am
afraid, the only god involved here is definitely not on our
Iolaus nodded in agreement
"There is no running away from Ares' soldiers,
He paced between the Amazon and
Hercules, looking from one to the other. "We must find
He stopped and stood looking at
Ephiny with an expression of seriousness and urgency.
"Marcenius is gone after her
with one thing in mind. To kill her, and then you and every
Amazon they can get their filthy hands on! And killing isn't
the worst they can do. Believe me, I have seen him in action.
Gabrielle has no chance on her own."
Ephiny threw her head back with a
dry laugh. "Oh, I wouldn't be so sure. Gabrielle is an
Amazon now. She knows how to defend herself. She is probably out
there looking for Xena or making her way to Artemis' temple
to pray for help"
Iolaus didn't look convinced.
Hercules put a reassuring arm on
his friend's shoulder "We'll find her, Iolaus.
First let's find Xena and finish this lot off".
The hunter shrugged his arm off.
"No Herc. The soldiers are already following her trail. One
of us should go after her right now. You and Xena can take care
of the rest here. Looks like there isn't much left to fight
here anyways. You don't need me. I'll find Gabby and
bring her to Artemis' temple. If all goes well, we'll
meet you there."
With those words he turned around
disappeared in the woods, without waiting for any objections, he
knew would be coming.
Hercules and Epiphany just stood
and watching him disappear behind the trees.
"He's got quiet a
temper." the Amazon commented.
Hercules sighed heavily. "You
have no idea!"
Iolaus ran through the forest, his
hunter skills on full alert. Gabrielle was out here somewhere and
Amazon or not - she would still need help. Gabrielle, the soft,
gentle bard was now an Amazon princess? Iolaus could still not
believe it. But it seemed to be true. He wondered how much she
had changed since he last saw her. He could still recall her
face, her voice and her smell, as she held his body embraced in
Prometheus' cave. Even though he was delirious and could
feel death closing in, he clang onto that sweet voice of hers.
Could this gentle person really have turned into a fierce
warrior? His question was soon to be answered, when he heard
fighting noises ahead of him.
A savage scream echoed through the
wood and he recognized that voice ...
He unsheathed his sword and ran
towards the noise.
Gabrielle was in the middle of a
fight. Her attackers where fierce and she was hopelessly
outnumbered. As they slowly surrounded her, she stood squarely
and held her warrior staff defensively in front of her. The
leader of the soldiers stepped forward.
"Well, little Princess. You
fight very brave, but you can give up now. It's ten against
one, you have no chance!"
"Yes, but with ten against
two and with one of the two being me ... you guys better go and
Iolaus stepped out of the bushes
and next to Gabrielle. She gave him a surprised, but relieved
look and grabbed her fighting staff tighter.
"Gabrielle. Nice to see you
again. However I must disapprove of the company you keep. They
don't look too clever to me!"
Gabrielle grinned. "You can
say that again."
The leader of the gang was not
amused. He looked at Iolaus with an expression of surprise and
"Well, well, well, who have
we here? A hero. Who do you think you are, little man? The mighty
Iolaus smiled and shrugged his
shoulders in amusement.
"Who wants to be Hercules,
when they can be me?"
The bandits moved closer.
"Get them!" Marcellus
Iolaus unsheathed his sword and
used it with deadly proficiency. He managed to knock out several
of the soldiers until one blow of his was deflected and the blade
of his sword broke as it struck a rock. Undeterred, Iolaus pulled
his dagger and called on all his Eastern fighting techniques to
fend his attackers off. As he fought, Iolaus noted Gabrielle on
the other side of the clearing was also giving the soldiers a run
for their money.
At one point, he observed her
fighting and was surprised to find that she had some awesome
moves. Iolaus vaulted over another soldier, trying to get to
Gabrielle's side. He was just a few yards away from her when
a vicious blow to his side sent him stumbling forwards. As he
regained his balance, he saw Gabrielle knocking another soldier
out with her staff, but she was slowly being surrounded.
Iolaus knocked out one soldier and
began to rush to Gabrielle's support when he found himself
face-to-face with Marcellus, who had stepped into his path. The
warlord was almost as tall as Hercules and the heavy armour over
his muscled body made him look twice as big as he towered over
Iolaus. Marcellus' face was an expression of disgusted
"I thought I'd
recognized you." he spat. "You're Hercules'
Iolaus smirked "Oh, I'm
"Ah, but the honour is all
mine ... after I finally killed you!"
With those word's he pulled a
hooked knife from underneath his breastplate and launched himself
at the smaller man, kicking after his hand. The hunter was so
taken by the warlords appearance, that the surprise kick from the
massive man's foot sent Iolaus' dagger flying from his
hand. Iolaus grabbed hold of Marcellus' raised arm holding
the dagger. The warlord was so strong that Iolaus was forced to
his knees and the blade paused dangerously close to the hunter's
throat before he could punch his elbow into the warlord's
stomach and roll backwards out of danger. As Iolaus retrieved his
knife, Marcellus had raised his sword above his head, ready to
bring the blade down on the hunter's head. Iolaus dove
forwards and rolled through Marcellus' widely spread legs.
As he rolled between them, Iolaus delivered a strong punch into
the soldier's right calf muscle. Marcellus screamed in agony
and collapsed to one knee.
Iolaus' face brightened in
"Now, that's more like
it!" he smiled and jumped up to stand in front of the
It was Iolaus' turn to kick
the sword out of his opponent's hand. The blond raised his
left leg and delivered a series of kicks into the larger man's
face. Marcellus slumped backwards and remained motionless on the
ground. Iolaus took a defensive stand, ready to continue the
battle, but Marcellus was out cold.
"I guess, the pleasure was
all mine!" Iolaus grimaced as he snatched up the fallen
soldier' sword. "Oh, and ... don't call me
buddy!" he added with a voice full of annoyance and dashed
towards Gabrielle who was fighting the two last remaining
Gabrielle was so busy teaching her
attackers some of her moves, that she didn't notice the two
archers standing behind the tree.
But Iolaus did.
He shook his head in dispair. It
was a cross-trap. If one missed, the other would still hit the
He hated archers.
Why did it always have to be
Whatever was happening to good,
old-fashioned and honest hand-to-hand fighting? Out of the corner
of his eye, he saw the two raised crossbows and he didn't
need to look to know who the target was. Gabrielle's back
was turned towards them and the arrows would not miss her. There
was little time. The hunter leaped towards Gabrielle and pushed
her forwards. The force of the push slammed Gabrielle against a
tree and just as she slit down to the ground, dazed from the
impact, one of the arrows struck above her head and embedded
itself in the tree. The second arrow followed its path and struck
where Gabrielle had been standing just seconds before.
But there was a new target in her
Pain exploded through his body and
pushed him to the edge of unconsciousness, as the full force of
the small arrow struck Iolaus in the right shoulder. He had
braced himself against the impact, but a soft moan still escaped
his mouth. He grasped for breath as he managed to stop himself
from sinking to the ground and giving in to a welcoming darkness,
which promised to relief the pain now pounding violently in his
Gabrielle was still sitting on the
ground trying to clear her head, which was spinning from the
impact. The blonde hunter turned around and saw hesitation in the
eyes of both archers. With a look of defiance and disgust, he
broke the arrow by the shaft and threw it in front of them.
"Now you made me really
angry!" he spat and picked up his sword, which had slipped
His eyes were cold as he prepared
to launch himself at the originators of the deadly projectiles.
Gabrielle rose from the ground and looked at the arrow embedded
above her in the tree.
"Yeah," she added,
raising her staff, which she still held clenched in her hands.
"No more Ms Nice Guy!"
Together they charged at the
attackers. It didn't take long and the attackers retreated.
Gabrielle was excited.
"Hey, where'd they
go?" she shouted, waving her staff in front of her body
"Oi, come back here! I am not finished with you lot!"
Iolaus tried to catch his breath,
desperately ignoring the throbbing pain in his shoulder.
"Don't push it,
Gabrielle" he gasped in between breaths. "I am sure
they'll be back with plenty re-enforcements. We better get
out of here before they come back!"
Gabrielle looked at him with an
expression of surprise, the excitement of the fight still in her
"Hey, I am not running away
from a fight!"
Iolaus produced a gentle smile.
"I know Gabrielle, but right now, we have more important
things to do. Or did you forget about your Amazon friends and the
rest of the warriors?"
Gabrielle lowered her head and
shook it. "No," she whispers "Of course not".
Iolaus laid a hand on her
shoulder. "Okay, then let's not waste any more time. I
told Xena and Hercules, that we'll meet them at Artemis'
temple. Afterall, she is your patron and will help. It is not far
from here. I am sure they are already on their way. Let's
Together they left the clearing
and made their way to Artemis' temple.
As Gabrielle heads off, Iolaus
sheaths his sword and takes a deep breath, bracing himself
against the excruciating pain, the movement caused in his
shoulder. The arrow was embedded deeply in his flesh and he knew
that although the best thing for him to do was to find a healer
and have it removed, this was not the time. More was at stake
here than his life. Marcellus and more of his soldiers could be
following them soon enough. They had no time to stop and he knew,
Gabrielle would insist on him resting, if he let her know about
his injury. So he stayed silent. Desperately trying to hide his
agony, he caught up with Gabrielle.
Xena and Hercules had been
wandering through the forest for almost an hour, but had not
found a sign of either Gabrielle or Iolaus. It hadn't taken
long for them and the Amazons to defeat the attacking soldiers.
Those who were not knocked out or taken prisoner, fled into the
forest. Epiphany had suspected that they would be going after
their leader to help in the hunt for Gabrielle. With such a
number of soldiers following their trail, Hercules got
increasingly worried about his friend and Gabrielle. He knew that
Iolaus was an excellent fighter and superb tracker, yet if the
soldiers caught up with them, they would be hopelessly
Xena saw those worried thoughts
displayed on Hercules' face and smiled reassuringly.
"I am sure Iolaus with his
famous hunter tricks had more luck in finding Gabrielle, than we
or the soldiers have."
Hercules returned the smile.
"Yeah, he is unbeatable in the forest. I just hope they can
stay ahead of Marcellus and his men."
A long silence followed. Xena
cleared her throat.
The demigod looked at her
"I was wondering ... you know
... about Iolaus ... and us ... has he, I mean, did he ever say
Hercules looked puzzled.
"Said anything about what?"
Then it hit him what she meant.
"Oh, that. No, not really."
Xena turned to Hercules with a
surprised look. Hercules gave her a grim look.
"Iolaus might portray himself
as a cheerful and open person, but some things, he just buries
inside of him. He has never really spoken to me about what
happened between you two or how he felt. Knowing Iolaus, that
means that he has not yet gotten over it. I remember when Anya -
his wife - died, he wouldn't talk about it for month, and
even now, he never mentions her. Iolaus' feelings are so
well hidden, it takes some shaking to crack the shell he
Xena looked at a point in the
distance. "But you are his best friend. You mean to say, he
doesn't even open up to you?"
Hercules smiled softly "He
does sometimes, when things get on top of him, but our friendship
means, that he doesn't have to if he doesn't want to.
Each of us knows what the other thinks and feels. Iolaus likes
his image of the careless and constantly joking guy, but I know
what sorrows and pains he carries with him. The death of his wife
and child, your betrayal, feelings of guilt for each time he felt
he had betrayed or deserted me ... but it is enough for him to
know that I am there for him if he needs me and that I trust him
with my life."
Xena smiled gently. "You must
be proud to have such a friend at your side."
Hercules returned her smile.
"Yes, I am. Iolaus is more than just a friend. He is like a
brother. His loyalty and friendship has helped my through so
much. Since we were kids, he has always been there for me and he
doesn't treat me like a half god or a famous legend ...
sure, Iolaus likes to tease me about it, but I don't have to
live up to any expectations with him. I can just be myself and
for that I will always be grateful to him."
Xena's glance moved across
Hercules' face and she could see the mixture of emotions in
the demi-god's blue eyes.
"I know how you feel."
she said. "I feel the same way about Gabrielle. Sure, we
haven't been together for as long as you guys have, but I
still feel, we have known each other for an eternity."
Hercules nodded. "Yes,
Gabrielle is an amazing woman." he said. "She is doing
you a lot of good. Not that you couldn't do ... or ..."
he added quickly, but Xena just laughed and waved her hand to
"No, Hercules, you're
right. She is good for me. There have been many occasions, where
I thought, I couldn't stand the accusations and the looks of
people, when they remembered the "Old Xena", but Gabby
was always there to help me through it. I owe her more than just
Hercules cleared his voice.
"Well, I think we are both two lucky people, to have friends
like....." he stopped as he suddenly stumbled over the body
of an unconscious soldier.
They exchanged worried looks and
broke through the bushes into the clearing.
It was obvious, that this had been
the scene of heavy fighting. The forest ground was littered with
the bodies of unconscious or dead soldiers. The grass was
trampled everywhere and an arrow was embedded in the trunk of a
"Looks like Iolaus hasn't
lost his touch!" Hercules whispered in relief as he had made
sure, his friend was not among the lifeless bodies.
Xena lifted a soldier by his vest
to check on the red angry mark across his chest and face,
recognizing the mark left by an Amazon staff. With a shrug she
let's him slump back to the floor.
"And this looks like
Gabrielle's handy work."
Hercules searched their
surroundings until he spotted footsteps leading out of the
"They went this way!" he
shouted over his shoulder to Xena and pointed into the direction
in front of him.
"And it doesn't look
like they're being followed."
"Well, let's try and
catch up with them." Xena stated and rushed past Hercules
down the road.
Somehow the world had started to
spin around him and the road ahead was becoming increasingly
hazy. But Iolaus knew, that this was just his mind and
increasingly weakening body playing tricks on him. A warm, steady
flow of blood from his shoulder wound ran down his side and back,
soaking the top of his leather pants. His gaze was fixed at the
form walking in front of him, as if he could draw his body along
by hypnotically connecting to the form.
Gabrielle was marching ahead, her
Amazon staff leisurely balancing over her shoulder. Many times,
Iolaus had stumbled over a loose rock on the ground and just
barely managed to steady himself at a tree, always cautiously
watching Gabrielle to make sure, she didn't notice anything.
He had to keep going.
"Hercules! Over here!"
Xena was crouched down near a tree
and examined the footsteps in the sandy path. Hercules dropped to
one knee besides her and nodded in agreement.
"Yep, that looks like
His eyes followed the trail, they
have been following for the past half hour.
"Quiet fresh, too. We can't
be far behind them."
He pointed down the road ahead of
them. "This way".
The footsteps continued down the
small path, towards the valley of Artemis' temple. The
demi-god waved over at Xena.
"They're heading for the
temple. We better hurry."
He turned and motions Xena to
follow. The tracks were quiet easy to follow. A little too easy.
Hercules spotted more footsteps with a staff imprint next to
"I think, I found Gabrielle's
tracks." Then Hercules shakes his head. "This is too
easy." he mumbles. "Iolaus is an expert hunter and he
knows they might be followed. I would have though he covered his
"Here are Iolaus'
tracks." the warrior princess comments, pacing along the
other side of the path. "You're right. He is not doing
a good job in hiding where ..."
Xena's eyes caught something
on the tree. She stepped closer and her fingers brush over the
dark red coloured stain on the bark.
The demi-god turned to look at her
hand, which she held up. It was covered in fresh blood.
"There is more over
here." Xena whispered as she pointed at the leaves of a bush
a few steps ahead.
Hercules heart missed several
beats as he realized the meaning of this. Iolaus was wounded.
"Iolaus ..." he
Xena surveyed the area.
"He is wounded and by the
amount of blood here ..."
She couldn't finish as she
saw Hercules' face drain of all colour and his eyes fill
with pain and worry. Xena laid a comforting hand on the demi-god's
"We'll find them. Don't
Iolaus didn't quiet remember the
location of Artemis' temple in this valley, having only been
there once before, but he had no trouble finding his direction in
the forest. Soon, they could see the guard fires flickering on
top of the outer walls of Artemis' temple. The pain in the
hunter's shoulder had grown to a numbing, knife-stabbing
sensation. Every move, every step was pure agony. The blood flow
from his wound down his side and back had not stopped and the
hunter knew, the arrow had pierced right through his body. He
stumbled again in a sudden wave of dizziness and just about
managed not to sink to his knees. He had to take his mind of
things. For Gabrielle's sake.
He had to think back at the scene
of the fight earlier. What awesome moves she had displayed.
Iolaus would have never believed it if he hadn't seen it,
but Epiphany and Xena had not exaggerated. The blonde bard had
really learned how to fight. She was no longer the defenceless
little friend, who constantly needed saving. A smile crossed his
face as he remembered their conversation in Falafel's tent
when he came looking for Hercules. She had asked him then, how he
could just stand and watch, while Hercules did all those heroic
"I don't just stand
there ... I am right there, fighting by his side"
"Maybe I'll try
She really had done it. What it
must have taken her to ....
"What are you smiling
Gabrielle's voice suddenly
shook him out of his thoughts. She had dropped back to walk next
to him and studied his face. He straightened his body carefully
and looked at her.
"Oh, nothing ... well,
actually ... you. I was just thinking about you."
"Me? What about me?"
"Well, that was some
impressive fighting back there," he said, nodding into the
direction they just came from. "You have learned a lot since
I last saw you. I am impressed."
Gabrielle smiled shyly. "I
just had the opportunity to learn and I took it."
She brushed a stray strand of hair
out of her face "You know how I always wanted to help Xena,
fighting by her side and not be somebody who constantly needs
protecting. I didn't want her to face everything alone all
the time. I wanted to help - like you do with Hercules. By the
way, I haven't thanked you for saving me from that arrow.
Iolaus smiled at her genuinely.
She had changed. The last time he had seen her, she wore a long,
blue dress, which comforted her blue-green eyes. Now, she had
changed the almost maiden-like outfit for a more suitable short
skirt with a more revealing top. Her slender hands had a strong
grip around the Amazon warrior staff, which she now carried.
Gabrielle's new look complimented her new way of life, he
thought, but deep down he could feel, that she was still the same
Gabrielle, a soft and gentle bard, who detested violence and
constantly looked for the good in every person. He could tell,
that many fights since her institution into the Amazon tribe have
given her experience in fighting, but she hadn't lost the
expression of pure innocence and her eternal believe in good in
her eyes. There was a story in and about everything and her
enquiring mind would never rest.
Gabrielle's eyes focused on
He returned her gentle look.
"Gabrielle, I know that we haven't known each other for
a long time. Still, I am proud of what you have achieved. And I
know, Xena values this as well."
Gabrielle laughed. "Xena! I
have the feeling, she doesn't know what to think about me. I
think, she sometimes would prefer to still have to take care of
me and to have to rescue me all the time."
Iolaus shook his head.
"I don't think so,
Gabrielle. When Herc and I met her outside the village, she
sounded pretty proud when she told us about you and the Amazons.
She said, you could now take care of yourself ... and she was
right! Xena isn't the only one, who is proud of you!"
She smiled at him graciously and
they continued to walk in silence.
Gabrielle suddenly stopped to look
at the temple, which had emerged in front of them.
"There it is, Iolaus."
She turned to look at him and didn't
notice that his smile wasn't quiet reaching his fever-glazed
"There is a river not far
from here." he noted, steadying himself as darkness again
threatened to claim him. "We should rest there for a while,
fill our water flasks and I could use to ... clean up a
Gabrielle looked down at herself
and only now noticed how dirty and exhausted she was.
"Sounds like a good
idea." she replied and they headed off down to the river.
They could hear the relaxing splashing sound of the water.
Gabrielle started to collect some firewood while Iolaus headed
down to the river.
The water of the stream was
crystal clear and Iolaus could see the dark shapes of the trouts
hovering in its depths. He stepped closer to the banks and
uncorked the lid on his water flask. As he bend down to dip it
into the fresh, cold water, pain shot through his entire body and
a sudden wave of dizziness caught him off guard. A moaned escaped
his gritted teeth and he tumbled in a desperate attempt to regain
his balance, falling against a nearby tree. Iolaus' fingers
buried themselves into the bark and he hissed painfully through
his teeth. His mind tried to control the ever increasing pain in
his shoulder. Sweat stood on his forehead and he knew it was not
only from exhaustion. He needed to rest, if only for a little
while. Iolaus took several deep breaths and slit down the bark of
the tree to sit down.
The blond took a painful breath.
He reached into the sack hanging from his belt and found a piece
of cloth. He carefully soaked it in the cool water and, moving
his vest aside, placed it over the pulsing wound. An almost all
consuming wave of pain shot through his upper body and down his
right arm as his fingers touched the piece of the arrow. His
shoulder felt like it was on fire and the hunter knew, the arrow
was tearing more and more into his muscles with every move he
made. He wanted to pull the arrow out, but he knew, that the
bleeding would only intensify. The loss of blood so far had
already made him disoriented and it took all his willpower to
keep him from giving in to the inviting comfort of
unconsciousness. But he was about to face a fight, which would
require his every sense. And he would not desert Gabrielle, when
she needed him most.
Iolaus heard footsteps and turned
to see the inspiring image of Gabrielle striding towards him. He
quickly moved his hand away from the wound and straightened his
"Iolaus, are you all right? I
was wondering what took you so long.", she inquired as the
hunter stood up.
"I am fine. Just a little
tired. It has been a long day." Iolaus said earnestly, his
eyes trying not to betray the mind-numbing pain he was in.
"Well" he said,
carefully balancing his voice "We better keep going. We don't
have much time."
Ares was watching in annoyance. He
didn't like the latest developments.
It was him again.
That blond, best friend of his
detested half-brother Hercules.
His moralistic, always helpful
half-brother had done it again.
Well, she had betrayed him before,
what did he expect? And he had had such plans for Marcellus and
Oh well, if you leave divine
revenge business to brainless, stupid mortals, nothing gets done.
But Ares still wanted his revenge.
The Amazon must die and Artemis never had to know. He enjoyed the
calmness in their siblery relationship lately and couldn't
face his sister's screaming and raging and running to their
father to complain about Ares escapade with *her* Amazons.
And he certainly was not in the mood of explaining himself to the
King of the Gods ... again.
A devious smile ran across Ares'
face. Iolaus was wounded and weak. It would be satisfying to
watch him die ... and Gabrielle with him.
It would need a little help, of
Something to amuse him.
With the two dead, Hercules and
Xena would be left alone. The loss of his best friend would drive
Hercules insane and Xena would certainly return to Ares'
side. He also had to make sure, they didn't find comfort in
each other. Ares smiled. He just loved a challenge.
Iolaus and Gabrielle had left the
forest and walked towards the temple. It was quiet and no
priestesses were in sight.
"It is strangely quiet here,
don't you think?" Gabrielle noticed, searching her
Iolaus nodded in agreement.
"Yes, a little too silent. I wonder ..."
But he didn't get any
further. Suddenly a dark, black mass broke through the bushes and
slammed against Iolaus, pulling him brutally to the ground.
Gabrielle screamed out in alarm and took a few steps back out of
reach of the animal, raising her warrior staff defensively in
front of her.
"Iolaus!" she shouted in
panic at the hunter, who was struggling against the heavy mass on
top of him.
With a powerful kick from both of
his legs, he delivered the beast a couple of feet away into the
bushes. Suppressing the tormenting pain in his shoulder, Iolaus
staggered to his feet and drew his sword. With stubborn
determination and strength he didn't know he had left in
him, he stepped protectively in front of the blonde bard and
searched the bushes in which the beast had disappeared.
Gabrielle looked at him worriedly.
"Are you all right?"
Iolaus took a deep breath and only
managed a weak, exhausted nod.
"What in the name of Hades
was that?" Gabrielle asked, looking around her.
Iolaus gripped his sword tighter
and took a defensive stand. He, too looked around.
"Where in the name of Hades
did it go?"
Gabrielle stepped next to Iolaus.
He looked at her.
"Stay back, Gabby." he
hissed "I don't know ..."
His sentence was interrupted by a
growling noise from the bushes to his right and before he could
turn his battered body, the beast jumped out and threw itself at
Oh no!' Iolaus thought
and gave Gabrielle a hard shove and she fell backwards out of the
creature's flight path.
With his sword raised in front of
him, the hunter stood, unsteady from the loss of blood and pain
in front of the creature. He was now able to see what it was. Not
that he would have recognized this form. The creature's eyes
were blood-shod and red and its body was covered with thick black
hair. It could have been mistaken for a wolf, if it weren't
for his size. It was almost as large as a grown cow and had a
ball-like shape. White foam dripped from his mouth and when it
cleared momentarily, Iolaus could se the set of horrible and
deadly teeth. More like fangs, he thought.
And what was that smell?
"I'd rather be at the
festival!" he whispered as he tried to steady himself and
focus on the demonic creature in front of him.
This would not be easy. His first
fall and the impact of the creature's body on his, had
drained him of all energy and he had almost passed out under the
weight. His eyes tried to focus on the beast, but he could almost
see two of them. He took several deep breaths as he circled the
creature. Then it attacked. With a terrifying growl, it launched
itself forward. Iolaus had hardly the strength to stand up and
the impact pushed him backwards. He lost his balance and stumbled
under the weight of the impact. As he fell backwards, he could
hear a voice shouting
She had risen from where Iolaus
had pushed her and ran towards the creature, her staff raised.
The beast turned its head to stare at the bard, but before it
could do anything, Gabrielle brought her staff crashing down on
the creature's head. An agonizing howl escaped the beasts'
foaming mouth and it staggered backwards, moving away from the
fallen hunter. Iolaus sat up and shook his head. His body was
ready to give up, but he wasn't.
"I can do this." he
gritted through locked teeth.
He tried to push himself off the
ground, but it proved to be more difficult than he thought.
Suddenly there were hands, helping him, supporting him as he
struggled to his feet. Gabrielle looked at him in concern.
"Iolaus " she
started but he waved her off. "I'm fine, Gabby, just
need to catch my breath."
It was a lie if he ever told one.
His head was spinning and he couldn't tell top from bottom.
A wave of dizziness almost drove him to be physically sick. He
felt terribly weak, the pain in his shoulder was all consuming
and moving his right hand drove tears of agony into his eyes. He
looked into Gabrielle's eyes and could see an examining
glance there as he tried to focus on her.
Suddenly, a shadow moved up behind
Iolaus' pain-numbed mind
registered it, but was not able to react in time. The beast had
risen from the ground and with a violent slap from his front paw,
hit Gabrielle across the head. She flew through the air and
crashed to the ground a couple of feet away. Iolaus could see a
thin line of blood trickling from her temple, as she laid
motionless on the ground.
screamed and his voice sounded like that of a raging animal.
Ignoring his own pain, he jumped
to his feet and held his sword steady.
"C'mon you ugly beast.
Give me your best shot!"
But he knew, that this was one
monster he could not wrestle to the ground. It was not from this
world. It was of the Gods. He had to protect Gabrielle, and if it
took his life to do that, so be it. He launched himself at the
creature, his sword raised high to deliver a stab into the
monster's body. The black beast was taken by surprise and
Iolaus' sword buried itself deep into the black, hairy mass.
The creature screamed out in pain and grabbed hold of the small
hunter in front of it. Iolaus felt his body lifted into the air.
The powerful paws of the monster closed around the hunter's
shoulders and the pain from his wound shot through his entire
This time, he could hardly feel
how he was thrusted through the air and crashed against a tree.
This time Iolaus did not rise from
Hercules and Xena had heard the
noise and ran towards the temple. As they broke through the
bushes, they stopped dead at the scene in front of them.
Gabrielle was on the ground, blood running from a gash at her
temple as Iolaus stood to face the dark creature. Then the beast
launched itself forward and with it's powerful paws, took
hold of the hunter's body. The powerful jaws closed and with
a shake of its massive head, the creature threw the hunter
through the air. Iolaus crashed against a tree and slit down.
Hercules saw his friend collapse and he could almost feel the
force of the impact himself. With a scream of anger, he stormed
at the beast, lifted it over his head and smashed it against
another nearby tree. The animal growled in agony and suddenly
dissolved in a silver shower of sparks.
Hercules and Xena exchange
"One of Ares' pets, no
doubt." Hercules hissed angrily.
A groan from Gabrielle led Xena to
rush to her side.
"Easy Gabrielle. I'm
The demi-god sank down next to the
lifeless form of his friend and gently lifted Iolaus' head.
A painful moan escaped the battered body of his best friend. The
hunter was only semi-conscious and his glazed blue eyes tried
desperately to focus on Hercules' face. His voice was heavy
"Herc ... I ..."
"Shhhhh, I know, Iolaus, don't
try and speak."
With gentle hands, the demi-god
pushed Iolaus' vest aside to reveal the angry wound in his
friend's shoulder and his heart missed a beat when he caught
sight of the arrow still stuck in his best friends shoulder.
"Oh, Iolaus " was
all he managed to say, his voice heavy with concern and
Hercules could only imagine how
much pain Iolaus was in. Blood was still oozing steadily out of
the wound. The demi-god turns to look worriedly at Xena, who has
been examining a recovering Gabrielle and now helped her up.
"A piece of the arrow is
still in him."
Xena rushed to Hercules' side
to examine the wound in Iolaus' shoulder.
"He shouldn't have
fought this thing. What in Hades was he thinking?"
Gabrielle steps close and turns at
both of them. "W-what ... arrow?" she asks.
Then her gaze fell upon the hunter's
body and for the first time she saw the broken arrow protruding
from her companion's shoulder. She sinks to her knees
placing the blond warrior's head into her lap.
"Oh, Gods, Iolaus ... why ...
why didn't you say something? Why didn't I see?"
Tears started to roll down her
cheeks as she remembered another situation when the hunter had
sustained a serious injury and tried to conceal it for the sake
of the others and the cause. It was in Prometheus' cave,
when she noticed he was hiding something.
We have lost the ability
to heal ourselves. This small scratch can kill you!
How could she not have noticed
Iolaus' eyes focus determined
on Hercules. He took a deep breath and reached for his friend's
"Herc ... I am fine, I
...just ... needed a minute here ... wanna help me up?"
Hercules and Xena exchanged
confused expressions as Iolaus struggled to get up.
"What do you think you're
doing?" Hercules gaspsed.
Iolaus gave him his most innocent
"Getting up! I can't
just lay around here. We've got things to do!"
The demi-god is speechless.
"Iolaus, you've got an arrow stuck in your shoulder!
You can't just walk around as if nothing happened! You need
to rest, a healer ... at least let us have a look at it."
Iolaus shook his head stubbornly.
"There is not time, Herc. Artemis' temple is just
across that hill ... I can make it."
The hunter suppressed the
excruciating pain as he rose to stand swaying next to his tall
friend. He braced himself against a wave of dizziness.
Not here, not now, he
Sweat formed on his forehead from
the strain of his efforts and his face had lost all colour.
Gabrielle had risen and put a supporting hand on Iolaus arm. He
returned her worried expression with one of his golden smiles ...
Not when the whole world's
at stake. Please, Gabrielle, I want to help ...
Hercules shook his head at his
"Iolaus, I don't think
..." he began with a low voice, but Xena cut into his words.
"It's late and it is
getting dark" she commented, hoping the hunter would listen
to reason. "There is no point to continue today. We are all
exhausted. I suggest we rest here and continue tomorrow
Hercules looked at Iolaus and
Gabrielle and nodded in agreement.
"We can all do with some
rest. We have a difficult task ahead of us."
Iolaus nodded in agreement.
Secretly Iolaus was glad to be
able to lay down and relax. Some sleep would do him good and
everything would be better tomorrow. But he knew, he was kidding
As they had all settled, Xena sat
down next to Iolaus and soothingly brushed a blond strain of hair
out of his face. She could feel the heat emanating from the
warrior's body and knew he was running a high fever. Iolaus'
cerulean eyes turned at her as he felt her hand touch his body.
His eyes searched hers for any emotions, and the hunter was
surprised to find worry and compassion in the Warrior Princess'
green eyes. It had been a while, since she had looked at him this
way ... touched him this way ....
"How are you feeling?"
Iolaus looked at her with a brave
smile, pushing away the memories, her touch had woken in him.
"I have felt better. But don't
worry. I'll be fine in the morning."
Xena took his hand in hers and
locked her gaze in his.
"You know, that's not
Iolaus started to protest, but
Xena waved him off.
"Iolaus, I want to help you.
Let me remove the arrow, this will at least give you a better
Iolaus shook his head. "No,
Xena, I know what this means. You're gonna put me out and I
wont be able to ..."
"Iolaus, there is no other
"Sure there is. We wait until
this is over and then ..."
"Iolaus, you could die."
Hercules had stepped up to Xena
and was looking worryingly down at the pale face of his best
friend. The hunter went silent.
"I am fine", he replied
Hercules exchanged a worried look
with Xena and shook his head.
"No, Iolaus, you are not
fine, and if you want a chance of fighting with us, you should
let Xena remove that arrow ... now!"
The demi-god's voice had
adapted a firm sound, which allowed no argument. Iolaus was
silent for a moment and then looked up to his friends. He knew he
was not on a winning street.
"All right, Herc." he
sighed "Let's do it."
Xena stood up and walked over to
Argo. She reached into her saddlebag and retrieved some herbs,
salves and bandages. Hercules laid a comforting hand on the
hunter's good shoulder.
"Don't worry, Iolaus.
You'll be fine."
He turned to Gabrielle, who had
been tending the fire.
"Gabrielle, we need some hot
The bard nodded, and placed a
water bowl onto the fire. Hercules and Xena started to take
Iolaus' vest off and set him up. Xena started to examine the
"You're lucky, the arrow
has gone straight through. With a little luck, I can just pull it
Iolaus' pain-filled eyes
looked at her questioningly.
"It's going to hurt,
Iolaus, but I'll try and make it quick."
He nodded in understanding, took a
deep breath and closed his eyes. Gabrielle set the bowl with the
now hot water next to Xena on the floor. Then she crouched down
behind the hunter and placed his head in her lap. For a moment
she could feel him relax in her embrace and his cerulean eyes
gave her a soft, gentle look. Xena produced a soft rolled piece
of cloth and placed it in the hunter's mouth.
"You can bite on this."
she said with a compassionate smile.
Then Xena closed her fingers
around the shaft and prepared to pull the arrow out of the blonde's
shoulder. Iolaus stiffened as he felt Xena getting ready.
"On three." she said.
Iolaus' breathing became
staggered as he readied himself for intense pain.
"Three!" Xena said and
with all her force, pulled on the arrow.
She wanted to make sure, there
would not be the need for a second try. The force pushed her
backwards and she fell on her back, her hands holding the bloody
shaft. Gabrielle whispered soothingly into the hunter's ears
as a moan escaped his mouth. Iolaus' heartbeat was racing
and his breathing was staggered as he tried to relax.
"It's all right, Iolaus.
It's out!" Hercules said reassuringly and rested his
hand on the blonde's chest. Iolaus produced a weak smile and
squeezed Gabrielle's hand.
Xena reached for some clean cloth
she had prepared earlier and placed it over the bleeding wound.
"We have to stop the
bleeding." Xena shook her head "There is still too much
She pressed stronger on to the
cloth over the would, which was quickly soaked with the hunter's
blood. Iolaus was laying very still.
"Xena", Gabrielle said
She looked down and the warrior
princess and Hercules followed her gaze. The bard's skirt
was soaked in fresh blood.
"Oh no ..." Xena
whispered "Hercules, give me a hand here"
Together, they turned Iolaus on
his side. An ice cold knot formed in Hercules' stomach as he
saw blood pouring from where the arrow had exited the hunter's
back. Xena's face was as pale as the demi-god's.
Gabrielle gave her friends a desperate look.
"The bleeding wont
stop!" she whispered. "One wound I can stop, but two
... I stop one and it will bleed out of the other ..."
Gabrielle looked at her friend in
desperation "You must be able to do something"
Hercules ashen face looked at
Xena. "There is only one thing....."
Iolaus squeezed the bard's
hand tighter and released an laboured sigh. "Oh no. Not this
Xena placed a calming hand on the
hunter's chest. "I am afraid, there is no other
Looking up at Hercules, she
continued "He'll bleed us to death otherwise. He has
already lost too much blood."
Hercules nodded. "I'll
Gabrielle looked from the warrior
princess to the son of Zeus. "Ready for what
...?" she started to ask, but stopped in her tracks, when
she saw Hercules take Xena's knife and place it into the
"We have to close the wound
to stop the bleeding."
An invisible hand squeezed
Gabrielle's throat and she swallowed hard. Xena turned the
knife in the flames to check it was heating up enough. Hercules
looked into his best friend's eyes, but could not see beyond
the expression of pain and panic.
"Iolaus ..." he started,
waiting for the hunter's face to turn and those sky-blue
eyes to look at him.
But there was no response. Iolaus
kept staring at the knife, his breathing irregular and shallow.
Sweat was pouring out of every part of his body and feverish
chills shook his form every few seconds.
Finally his friend's eyes
turned to look at him. The look was that of a desperate, wounded
animal, fearful of what was to come. The demi-god closed his hand
strongly around the blonde's good shoulder and squeezed it
reassuringly. He wanted to hold his friend, to comfort him, to
say that there would be no pain, that it wouldn't be so bad
... but all those words would be a lie and he knew it and he knew
that Iolaus knew it. So he stayed silent, his eyes conveying all
he wanted to say. Iolaus took the words out of Hercules'
eyes and his pain-filled eyes produced a reassuring smile.
"It's all right, Herc, I'll
Hercules fought back tears and
Iolaus braced himself for more
excruciating pain as the warrior princess took the knife out of
the fire. He didn't register Gabrielle's soothing voice
and her gentle hands stroking his face, Hercules hand holding his
shoulder gently. All he could see was the red, hot glowing knife
in Xena's hand.
All he could see was the red, hot
glowing knife in Xena's hand and thankfully, unconsciousness
claimed him and he sank into a soothing and relieving darkness.
Gabrielle said and tenderly stroked Iolaus' face.
Hercules smiled gently. "It
is better that way" he whispered, his voice heavy with
To see his best friend in such
pain almost tore his heart apart. Xena looked at both of them.
"Let's get this over
with while he's out."
Hercules and Gabrielle nodded and
both held on to Iolaus' body making sure, the hunter would
not move as Xena applied the glowing knife onto the oozing wound.
The smell of searing flesh filled the site and a soft moan
escaped Iolaus' mouth, but he did not stir. Gabrielle looked
at Xena and was surprised to find no emotion in her face, as she
had finished her work. The bard looked back down at Iolaus and
gently wiped the sweat from the blonde's forehead. Iolaus
was deeply unconscious.
"It stopped bleeding"
Hercules said and looked at Xena.
She looked at Iolaus and her face
took a gentle expression "Yes, I think he'll be fine
now. Just let him rest."
Gabrielle lifted Iolaus' head
up and placed her bag underneath his head. Xena had pulled a
blanket from Argo's saddlebag and handed it to the young
"Here" she motioned and
looked gently at the unconscious warrior. "We need to keep
him warm to bring the fever down."
Gabrielle nodded, took the blanket
and tucked it tightly around Iolaus' body. Then she stood up
and walked over to sit next to Hercules and Xena at the fire.
"So, what's the
plan?" she asked.
Hercules stared into then flames
of the fire in the centre of their campsite. Xena had started to
polish her sword. She looked over to the sleeping hunter.
"Iolaus needs to rest. He's
seriously wounded." She looked back at her friends. "We
must get to Artemis' temple and get her to break Ares'
crusade against the Amazons and Gabrielle and we are
running out of time."
Hercules nodded in agreement
"Iolaus is in no shape to travel let alone fight."
"We can't leave him
behind." Gabrielle protested.
"And you know what he's
like." Xena countered. "He wont just give up and let us
do this without him."
"Then one of us has to stay
with him." Hercules nodded.
"Why don't we see how he
is doing in the morning." Xena suggested. "I am pretty
beat and I think we all should get some sleep."
Hercules yawned and nodded.
"You're right." he said. "We can still decide
what to do then."
As they all had settled for the
night, Hercules lay awake and stared at the star-sprinkled night
sky above him.
He was worried.
Iolaus lay on his side, his back
turned to his friends. He had awoken and was in too much pain to
actually go back to sleep. The hunter had been listening to his
friends' conversation and was determined not to become a
burden. He had to do something.
Nobody would stay behind for him.
As dawn set in, he slowly raised
himself up into a sitting position and looked around the camp.
Hercules was laying on the other side of the slowly dying fire
and was deep asleep. To his left was Xena, her back turned to
him. Gabrielle was also sound asleep in her bedroll. Iolaus took
a deep breath and struggled to his feet. It took an awful long
time for the world around him to stop spinning and as he finally
managed to focus again on his surroundings, exhaustion had driven
pearls of sweat onto his forehead. He took several deep breaths
and followed a well-worn path down to the nearby river. Slowly,
he squatted and dipped his hands in the frigid waters. Then he
held his cold wet hands against his hot face and gingerly wiped
his body clean. His shoulder felt as if thousands of needles were
piercing into his flesh. The wound where the arrow had exited his
back had already started to heal, but the wound where the shaft
had entered, had started to bleed again.
Iolaus sat on the ground and let
the cool, refreshing water run over his hot body and hoped it
would make a difference.
When Hercules awoke, he looked
over at Iolaus' space and was immediately fully awake when
he saw, that it was empty.
whispered and jumped to his feet.
He started to nervously pace a
round the campside looking for any sign of his comrade.
"Iolaus!" he called
louder, the fear in his voice waking Xena in an instant.
On the other side, Gabrielle
raised her head with a sleepy expression.
called again, this time, panic was obvious in his voice. Xena
stood up and Hercules turned to look at her.
"Where did he go?" he
asked, not actually expecting an answer.
Gabrielle was sitting up.
"What's going on?" she asked, still half asleep.
Then she saw Iolaus' empty space. She looked at her friends.
Hercules had finished his search
around the camp. He turned at the Warrior Princess.
"Could he have walked off in
his feverish state?"
Xena shook her head and kneeled
next to Iolaus' bedroll. "I don't think so. His
fever wasn't that high and there was no reason for it to
raise during the night. We would have heard something. He would
have been delirious, would have had nightmares ..."
She placed her hand on the blanket
and looked up at the son of Zeus.
"It's cold." she
said. "And his sword is missing. He's been gone for a
couple of hours."
Gabrielle had risen as well.
"Where could he have gone?" she asked mirroring
Hercules worried expression.
Hercules shook his head and
brought his hands up to his hips. "I don't know, but I
hope he is not planning something really stupid again."
"What do you mean *again*?"
They all turned around at the
originator of the voice and saw Iolaus marching into the camp,
his sword balancing over his good shoulder.
"Hi guys. I hope you weren't
looking for me!" he smiled brightly.
"Iolaus ..." Hercules
started and rushed towards his friend, an expression of concern
plainly in his face. "Are you al lright? You had me worried.
Where have you been?"
Iolaus shrugged his shoulders in
played innocence. "Nature was calling."
Xena and Gabrielle examined him
The hunter turned at them and
grinned. "Actually, it was screaming!"
Xena didn't respond to the
old joke and stepped forwards. "You have been gone for a
Iolaus looked at her "Yeah,
well, I felt I had to clean up. I went down to the stream and
He looked at her, then Hercules,
then back at Xena.
"Hey, wait a minute. What is
this here? Are you guys keeping track of me?"
Hercules stepped forwards and put
his hand on the hunter's shoulder. "Of course not,
Iolaus. We were just worried about you. That's all. It hasn't
even been a day since Xena removed that arrow and you were
running a fever "
Iolaus looked into his tall friend's
eyes. "Well, I had a good night's rest and I am feeling
much better today. Ready to slay more of Ares' little
His face adapted a big, reassuring
Gabrielle moved up to him.
"Are you sure, you're all right?"
Iolaus shrugged nonchalantly.
"Truthfully, I've felt better, but I'm fine enough
to finishing this. So, how about it? Are we gonna get this over
Hercules shook his head at the
smaller man's enthusiasm. But he was still worried. He knew
Iolaus better than anybody. He knew him better than he knew
himself. The blond would do anything to be there for the fight
and his health was the last thing he would worry about. Yet there
he stood looking healthy with a big grin on his face.
Hercules could see, that Xena was
following a similar pattern of thought. They exchanged serious
looks and the Warrior Princess walked to stand in front of
"Iolaus, I want you to sit
down for a minute and let me have a look at you."
Iolaus shied away uncomfortably.
"Xena, I am fine I there is no need
Hercules stepped supportively next
to the Warrior Princess. "Iolaus, it will only take a
minute. You know we are concerned about you. We just want to make
sure, the wound is healing all right. Let Xena have a look at
Iolaus sighed in defeat and seated
himself. Xena squatted down in front of him and gently moved his
vest aside. The bandages looked clean and as she removed them,
she could see, that no infection had set in. The wound in the
hunter's back had started to heal nicely. However the wound
in his chest had started to bleed slightly, probably from the
strains of Iolaus morning activities. Xena reapplied the
bandages. His body felt cool to her touch, indicating the fever
must have broken.
"You are a very lucky man, my
friend." Tthe tall woman said to Iolaus. "I have seen
men with less serious wounds taking much longer to recover."
Iolaus smiled and pulled his vest
back around him and hissed slightly at the pain the movement
"You just can't keep a
good man down!" he smiled at his friends.
But his smile was laboured at
best. He didn't feel at all lucky. The hunter didn't
mention the minutes he had spent in the ice-cold water of the
river to bring his temperature down and some colour back into his
face. He was not sure, how long he could keep this charade up,
but he would at least try to make it to the end. He would not
desert Gabrielle when she needed her friends the most. Xena stood
and turned at Hercules. They both knew, that they could not stop
Iolaus from moving on. He had his mind set and all they could do,
was to keep a watchful eye on him.
"It all looks fine. I still
think he should rest, but I guess, if we try and take it easy
Hercules knew what Xena was
getting at, still he was serious. Looking at his friend frankly,
he said, "Iolaus, are you sure, you're up to
Iolaus paced up and down, looking
from Hercules to Xena and back.
"I'm fine, I swear. Just
a little sore, that's all. C'mon guys. Let's
Xena shrugged her shoulders.
"As he said: You just can't
keep a good man down!"
Hercules swallowed heavily and
followed Iolaus, who had shouldered his sword again and started
to walk on. Xena and Gabrielle followed silently. Hercules didn't
trust his blond friend and decided to keep an eye on him.
Soon after they had cleared the
forest, they could see Artemis' temple down the hill. As
they reached the entrance, Hercules stood and looked at his
friends. Gabrielle turned at them.
"It has to be me. I should be
Xena nodded. "I'll come
with you, Gabby."
Hercules took a deep breath.
"I'll walk you to the main cave."
He turned to look at Iolaus, who
had started to look exhausted and pale.
"Iolaus, you stay out here
and keep guard. We don't want Ares showing up right now. I'll
be right back."
Iolaus nodded and took his sword
from his shoulder.
"Don't worry, Herc.
Nobody get's by me. Give my regards to Artemis!" he
grinned, but the smile didn't quiet reach his eyes. Hercules
could see a shadow of pain behind the hunter's eyes. As he
followed the women into the temple, he threw a last, concerned
look at the hunter and saw him leaning heavily on his sword.
The inside of the temple was dimly
lit. The dark grey walls were covered with bows and feathers and
somebody had placed gifts of hunted pheasant onto the altar,
which decorated the far wall. The trio stepped up to the altar.
Hercules took a deep breath.
"Artemis!" he called,
his voice echoing through the tall building.
Gabrielle looked around and then
also took a step forward.
"Artemis," she called
with a somber voice. "I'm Gabrielle of the Amazons and
I request your help."
But there was only silence. Xena
looked up at the high ceiling.
"She doesn't seem to be
home." she said dryly.
Outside, Iolaus leaned dizzily
against the temple wall and closed his eyes. He took a deep
breath and tried to relax, taking in deep, cleansing breaths of
fresh air. With his left hand, he wiped the sweat off his
"Just hang in there!" he
thought to himself. "You can make it".
A noise brings him to open his
eyes and reach for his sword. He paid for this quick movement as
the world around him started to turn and the hunter stood
swaying. A supporting hand reached for his arm and helped him to
steady himself. When Iolaus had regained his balance, he looked
up into the familiar, green eyes of a woman.
Not a woman - a goddess.
She wore a short leather skirt
with a matching top and had a bow and arrow hanging from her
shoulders. In her belt, he spots a silver hunting blade, pretty
much like his own.
The goddess smiles at him and in
recognition, he whispers "Artemis".
Artemis had stepped out of the
shadows of the trees and stood now in front of Iolaus.
"It has been a while,
Iolaus." she said.
"Yes it has."
She hadn't changed, but then,
she's a Goddess, he thought to himself. Artemis took a step
closer towards him.
"I know why you came."
"Then you will help us?"
The goddess of the hunt smiled at
him sadly. "I wish I could, Iolaus, but it is not that easy.
Ares' powers are as strong as mine, and no matter how much
it upsets me to see him treat the Amazons this way, my only
choice is to take it up with Zeus himself."
Iolaus sighed and leaned heavily
against the wall.
Artemis gave him a concerned look.
The hunter waver her away.
"Artemis, if anybody needs help, it's Gabrielle. Ares
is hunting her down. You can't just stand there and watch
him kill one of your devoted servants."
Artemis turned and looked across
the valley. "What do you expect me to do? Let *you*
challenge Ares? In the shape you're in? Not enough that you're
She crossed her hands in front of
her chest in determination.
"Out of the question."
"Oh, but I think, he would be
a worthy challenger."
Both turned at the new voice and
noticed Ares had appeared behind them.
"Ares!" Artemis hissed
at her brother and stepped in between him and Iolaus. "I
heard what you have been doing to my Amazons."
Ares shrugged his shoulders and
paced in front of his sister. "Oh, Sis, I was bored and
wanted to have a little fun. Plus, I wanted revenge. Give me a
little leeway here."
Artemis laughed sarcastically
"Ares, I am sick and tired of your games. When will it get
into your thick skull? The Amazons are mine. What will it take to
settle this once and for all?"
Ares turned a cold eye at Iolaus,
his plan of using the hunter's death to get to Hercules
still in his mind.
"A warrior's life."
Iolaus knew what the God was
playing at and straightened his body. He looked into Ares'
face with pride and defiance.
The God of War.
But at this moment in time, Iolaus
couldn't care less who or what he was.
"Whatever it takes, Ares. You
and me – now – here!"
Ares laughed out loud.
"Oh, such impertinence. No,
little man. It is my challenge, my revenge. I chose."
"Fine by me!"
Iolaus moved around Artemis to
stand in front of the God of War and put his hands on his hips.
His thoughts circled around the black haired beast he fought
earlier ... and which had almost killed him.
And now, he was about to take on
the God of War.
Hercules' voice thundered
from the entrance of the temple, the expression of his face
reflecting, he had heard everything. Xena and Gabrielle were
right behind him. They had given up searching for Artemis in her
tempe and returned to the hunter. The son of Zeus pushed Ares
aside and moved to stand in front of Iolaus. He turned at his
comrade-in-arms, the seriousness of the situation plainly showing
in his eyes,
"Just what are you planning
to do, Iolaus?", he demanded angrily.
Iolaus opened his mouth to speak
but Hercules cut him off.
"This is Ares you're
talking to. He is a God and stronger than you ... and you are
wounded. You will never survive whatever challenge he is
planning. I know you know that. What are you trying to prove
It had been a long time since
Iolaus had seen his best friend this enraged. Nevertheless, he
knew the risk he was about to take and despite Hercules'
obvious disagreement, he thought it was worth it.
"Hercules, I'll accept Ares'
challenge if it will save the Amazons and Gabrielle." he
said with calm determination and drew his sword in a slow move.
Iolaus' free hand adjusted
the bandage on his shoulder and he looked at his worried friend
with undeviating commitment.
"I don't care what happens to
me as long as Ares' threat to Gabrielle dies here and
"Yes, together with
you!" Xena said and stepped to stand next to Hercules.
She looked at the hunter in
determination. "I wont allow it."
Gabrielle also moved up to look
pleadingly at Iolaus. "Neither will I. I don't want you
to sacrifice your life for me."
Hercules thought for a moment and
then said "Iolaus, Ares will not give you the chance to
survive his challenge ... you are a mortal and it is not
you he's after."
Iolaus followed Hercules' train of
thought instantly. "Oh, no, no, no Wait a minute,
Herc. It may be suicide for me, but there is no way I'll let
you do it."
Iolaus' stubborn mind was
irreversibly made up and not even his long-time best friend would
be able to change it. He looked passionately into Hercules' blue
"The world needs you
..." he turned at the Warrior Princess and smiled at her
gently "... and Xena. It will certainly survive without the
likes of me in it."
Hercules' hands grabbed
Iolaus' right arm firmly and turned him, so he could look
into his best friend's eyes.
"You might think you're
expendable, Iolaus, but I sure as hell don't!"
He took a deep breath as he
loosened his grip and placed his hand on his brave friend's
"You are incurably
honourable, my friend," he said. "But there is no need
He turned and looked at Ares
"Nobody will be accepting any challenge ... because, there
will be no challenge."
Ares raised his eyebrows in
Angrily, Hercules turns around
fully and stands in front of his divine half brother, who was
giving Iolaus an assertive eye. The hunter's eyes were
filled with open hatred and ready defiance. Hercules stepped in
"Ares, I know what you're
up to. And there is now way, Iolaus is accepting whatever
pathetic challenge you had in mind. We have defeated your
soldiers. You have lost. So leave the Amazons alone and stop
pulling my friends into your dirty little games!"
Ares opened his mouth in amazement
"Oh, my dear brother is getting all emotional. Well, I've
got news for you, brother. You might have defeated my warriors,
but I am not through with that little Amazon yet. I demand my
Gabrielle had stiffened at his
words and Xena moved protectively in front of the blond bard.
Outraged, Artemis abruptly stepped forward to stand next to
"Back off, Ares." she
hissed. " The Amazons are under my protection and I will do
whatever it takes to keep you away from them. If you like, we can
take this up to Mount Olympus, I am sure father would be
interested to hear about your interference in the business of the
Ares took a step back. "Oh, I
am sorry, Sis, but those Amazons were mine, just as Xena was. I
want my loss replaced. Blondie here accepted my challenge and I
am eager to take it. A warrior's life for my loss!"
Hercules' eyes showed his
growing anger. "You can't fight someone who does not
willingly accept your challenge, Ares".
He turned over his shoulder and
looked at Iolaus, who stood, still holding his sword clenched in
"Throw down, your sword,
Iolaus, you are not going to fight him."
Turning back at Ares he added
"Nobody is going to fight here."
The blond hunter hesitated, then
as Hercules' words sunk in, he threw his weapon onto the
ground. As the sword crashed into the dust, Ares shrugged his
shoulders and looked at Gabrielle.
"Maybe not today, but mark my
words: this isn't finished!" he snared and disappeared
in a cloud of sparkles.
Gabrielle sighed in relief and
squeezed Xena's arm. Iolaus tried to sheath his sword as his
body finally gave in to the exhaustion of the past days and he
suddenly swayed dangerously. Hercules rushed forwards to catch
his friend before his knees buckled and he would have sunk to the
"Easy, Iolaus ... It's over,
my friend." he whispered as he steadied the hunter and
gently pushed him down into a sitting position. "We should
get you back to the village. You need to rest and we should have
another look at your shoulder."
Iolaus looked at Hercules. His
eyes were haunted by exhaustion and pain, but there was something
else in those blue orbs.
"Well, this surely has been
one adventure I am not going to forget!" he said under
Hercules smiled compassionately at
his friend's pain-stricken face and nodded.
"We sure have been through a
Iolaus turned and looked
expressively into Xena's eyes, who stood next to Gabrielle.
"I never would've made it if
not for you." He said with a voice saturated with
seriousness and emotion. "I owe you my life, Xena."
Xena kneeled next to him and placed her hand on his shoulder
"You owe me nothing, Iolaus. We are friends, remember?"
she said sincerely. Gabrielle also kneeled down next to Iolaus
and smiled at him tenderly. She took his hand in hers.
"Iolaus....." she started and her eyes glistered with
tears of gratitude. Iolaus put a finger over her mouth to stop
her from going any further. "I know, Gabrielle. You don't
need to say it. I would do it again any time. Without any
hesitation. I have no regrets and you shouldn't have any
Iolaus hand gently caressed her
cheek. "I meant what I said, Gabrielle. We're all proud
He smiled lovingly. "I'm
proud of you. You can fight by my side any time, Amazon!"
Back at the Amazon village, Ephiny
welcomed them in her tent. The soldiers had been defeated and the
women had managed to extinguish most of the fires. As they all
seated around a large table, where food had been prepared to
celebrate their victory, a mixture of emotions played across
everybody's face. Hercules had told Epiphany and the other
Amazons about Ares rage, the threat against Gabrielle and the
challenge to Iolaus.
There was anger and guilt in
Gabrielle's face, because Iolaus had been wounded in
protecting her life.
The hunter had staggered back into
the village, leaning heavily on Hercules' arm and even now
as he had managed to get a couple of hours rest, his face was
still pale and lined with the evidence of the strains of the past
couple of hours onto his weakened body. But it was also full of
pride for the young bard and the unbelievable courage she had
shown in fighting the warriors.
She was truly an Amazon.
And for now, the battle was over.
After a few days of rest, Hercules
and Iolaus said their farewells to Xena and Gabrielle and left
the village. As Hercules and Iolaus slowly walked down the path
leaving the Amazon village and Xena and Gabrielle behind them,
Iolaus had a strong feeling it would not be long until they would
meet those two amazing women again. Iolaus stifled a yawn and
took a deep, contented breath. He was still exhausted but he was
happy. Gabrielle was safe.
His shoulder was still not
completely healed but it had been an adventure worthwhile. Now
that he had time to reflect, it began to settle in, that he had
actually raised his sword against Ares. And all because of
Gabrielle. But for the second time after their first meeting in
Falafel's tent, he couldn't find words to express how
he felt about her.
As he and Hercules reached the
hilltop overlooking the Amazon village, Iolaus stopped and looked
back. He took a deep breath, leaned against a tree and smiled in
content. He didn't know what the future would bring for either
him, Hercules, Xena or Gabrielle and whether he would have a
chance to spent more time with the beautiful young bard, who now
more than ever held his heart in a loving embrace.
But Iolaus didn't care.
All that mattered was that they
were all alive and well.
With a bright, golden smile, he
ran to catch up to Hercules.