AN: Thank you guys for sticking with me as we are approaching the final part of the story. I have many plans in my mind after the end of this story, as it will probably have a sequel as well. So again, thank you guys, as if it wasn't for you i wouldn't have done it! I've appreciated all the reviews, as in the end, it's only through them that i'm encouraged to provide the best story possible. So, if you'd like to bear with me some more just let me know! I have a Tumblr account if you have any questions or anything, it's alexander-eolo, and i can answer you there. But enough talking, here's the chapter, and i really hope you'll enjoy. Please leave a review, and i'm sorry for the late update, but i'm working hard to get everything right.
(Host = Army)
The sound of battle drums filled the cold air of the morning as the sky was lighting up above the army marching towards its target, leaving behind a trail of dust and desolation. Before the men, riding alone on her horse, was the Warrior Princess herself, guiding her host through the lands of southern Greece. As she was there with an army behind and the glory in front, just waiting for her to reach it, she had a sudden rush of adrenaline. She needed this, she realized, the sound of drums, the dust, the smell of the men sweating under the weight of shield and swords, amours and helmets. The deafening sound caused by thousands of footsteps hitting the land below in sync, of the men she commanded marching, blindly, step after step, was music to her. This rush of power that she could almost touch, was something she always craved, and now, she could finally have it. She felt invincible, Xena felt like a Goddess, as she seemed unstoppable. She smiled at this sensation and kept moving forward to her destiny.
But with every passing hour her smile was fading bit by bit until only rancor and hate accompanied her. Rancor for trusting Gabrielle and hate for allowing the death of her son. She didn't forget her son, nor did she forgive the ones responsible for it. She marched forward in the pursuit of her dream of a unified Greece beneath one person, her. How many more sons would die because of wars and warlords, she was going to put an end to it, and to do so she needed power and the control of the land, many lives would be sacrificed during the process, she knew that, but it was a sacrifice she was ready to do, as the greater good, she could see it, was much greater than any army.
But it doesn't matter to you, does it, Gabrielle? No matter how much the greater good is big, I will always be evil in your eyes for trying to pursue it this way. Gods I wish you could see it the way I see it, with my own eyes. The Gods knows I tried your way Gab, but how did it end up? Only pain and suffering, I lost a son following your stupid ways of peace, I could have prevented it, if I had a real army back then there wouldn't have been people like him to stand against me. But no more, once I will have a unified Greece beneath me I will put an end to all warlords and thieves and killers or usurpers, all of them, no matter the costs, no one will stand against me. Not anymore.
A sudden screech took her out of her daze, she looked up, to see an eagle flying above her head. For some reasons that unsettled her, as after all, the eagle was the symbol chosen by the Roman folks. How conceited was it for them to compare themselves to such a majestic and elegant creature. It didn't matter, no one will ever stand against her, and once Greece falls under her command perhaps even those arrogant Romans will learn to fear her reign. She let her mind wonder on some possible paybacks to the man that caused her so much pain in the past before coming back to back to Earth, because one of her scouts was approaching.
Silence surrounded the two men upon the road, for both had their fair share of thoughts to deal with along the way. They caught up with each other earlier in the day as they reunited unexpectedly sooner than their original plan. Finally, the shorter man decided to break the silence between them. Silence wasn't comfortable to him as was for the other man.
"I know you Hercules, there something really big going on right now for you to suddenly interrupt your quest and rush to the other side of Greece, tell me" He stopped and raised his gaze to look the other man in the eye.
"Are the voices true? Has Xena gone back to her old self?" partner; who seemed to be thinking. It felt like he didn't really want to give a precise answer. Iolaus decided to press his questions further.
"I know there is something you are keeping from me Herc, come on, it can't possibly be this bad, what is going on?" The tall man refused to give an answer to that as well, only causing Iolaus to worry further.
"I've heard many stories about Xena lately, I did not want to believe them at first. I was so sure they were stories of her old past, I heard them stories many times before so I really didn't pay much attention to them, but then I started to hear more and more of them, and as much as I like to believe them to be fake I'm starting to believe those voices." Iolaus stated, with worry rising in his voice, because the big guy wasn't trying to stop and reassure him.
Finally, he spoke, "Iolaus look, I don't know what is going on, but my heart is telling me something is wrong" He looked down to the shorter man before trying to cheer him up.
"I understand you're worried for Xena and Gabrielle, but that's why we're here, we'll try to help, as we always do, ok?" He simply said, as his words already affected the other man, leaving in him a small smile of hope. But it wasn't meant to last, as he quickly stated his new doubts
"And what about the voices of an army?" He said, causing a short laugh to escape the from the bulkier man
"then we will have a lot of workout to do!" he laughed as he reassured his companion once again, so sure as he was, of himself. Unfortunately to him his good mood wasn't shared by the shorter man, who kept his remaining doubts to himself.
Iolaus tried to remain quiet for a while, but only managed around forty seconds of silence before voicing his thoughts once again. He was just about to say something once again when a distant cussing of a man reached his ears. He silenced himself as the colorful words peeked his interest and apparently the big guy's as well, as he was looking for the source of that sound. They went off the road for a dozen paces before spotting a shadow hidden in a bush. They quietly got closer to the man as he was offering his back to them and from their point of view it looked like the reason of his earlier rage was something he was holding in front of him, although they didn't have a clear visual.
Hercules decided to step forward, not really feeling comfortable at sneaking on someone and stated his presence with a fake cough.
"Ahem, can I help y…" He stopped mid-sentence as the mysterious man in front of him was turning around revealing his face to the couple of guys. Immediately Hercules felt a sense of Deja-vu as he looked at the man's eyes, sure to have seen him already somewhere. To his concern the man's expression drastically changed from a surprised to a horrified one when he realized who the two newcomers were. He started to gather up his things frantically, muttering some indistinguishable words under his breath, only intriguing the big guy more. He tried to step forward, trying to calm the frightened guy when Iolaus decided to step in, pointing a finger at the man.
"I know you!" He exclaimed, stepping forward "You are Draco, aren't you? You were with Xena once!"
Iolaus was trying hard to recall more information about the man when he suddenly noticed something glinting in the man's hands.
"What is that?!" he asked, pointing at the item concealed by his hands. Instead of answering, the man rushed to the side of his camp and picked up the sword hidden behind his bag and pointed it at the shorter man.
"None of your damn business!" he spat at Iolaus, brandishing his sword.
Hercules decided to step in the middle of the two men, successfully cutting Iolaus off. He raised both his hands trying to calm the other man when he launched forward slashing at the big guy. Luckily, despite his bulkiness, he managed to jump back, narrowly missing the tip of the blade which only encountered air in its way, and a small piece of cloth. After Draco was launched forward from his failed strike, he tried to regain his balance, but in a blur, he saw the other man's arm moving in the air and realized too late the final destination as in a heartbeat he felt an immense pain for an instant, when the knuckles met his face, and after that only the darkness that was clouding his mind before he lost his senses.
The man fell hard on the ground, unconscious, letting out of his hand the item he was hiding earlier, a green stone which escaped his hands, rolling on the grass beneath.
Iolaus and Hercules exchanged a brief glance with each other before collecting the stone.
"Absolutely not! You are not leaving us again!" Ephiny was screaming against Gabrielle as she was packing her bag with clothes and food for her quest. She did her best to convince their Queen to stay among her people, but Gabrielle's stubbornness and her desire to act had taken over any common sense in her. And so there Ephiny was, almost screaming at the top of her lungs, trying to inject some sense in the Queen's head.
Ephiny could see her words passing by the Queen with none of them being listened to, Ephiny thought about restraining Gabrielle for a couple of times, but really didn't see an advantage in the long term. Reasoning with her was quite the question itself, and surely, she wasn't succeeding in it. Gabrielle had decided to merely ignore her while preparing for the trip. Ephiny was almost going to punch some sense into her Queen, when a knock on the door distracted her from her fit of rage. She went on to open the door only to be run over by a young Amazon who entered the hut without permission and went straight to the Queen, completely ignoring Ephiny, who had to show some serious self-control to not murder the young woman. And the Queen too, while she was at it.
"My Queen Hercules has arrived" the young woman said, causing Gabrielle to stop her packing.
"When? Where is he?" Gabrielle asked, reaching the Amazon, and started shaking her shoulders while asking the questions.
"he's here just…" as she was speaking, Gabrielle was distracted by something above the woman's shoulder, she suddenly walked past by the woman, still speaking, and rushed outside. She saw the man they were talking about just outside her hut. With a giant smile on his lips, she launched at him with a hug as his smile infected her as well.
"Hey!" the man shouted, as the blonde girl, barely half tall as him, almost made him fall. She then went to the other man, Iolaus, and shared a warm hug with him as well. For a brief moment the two established an eye connection but it was quickly broken.
"It's been so long, look at you!" Iolaus exclaimed as he looked carefully at the blonde girl before him, a hint of love briefly appearing in his eyes as he watched Gabrielle, "you look so different, you look…" he stopped to think about the right words but Hercules had found them on his behalf.
That was the word that described better Gabrielle, but underneath all of that she was still the young girl from Potidaea, and she knew that well. The Queen simply smiled at their words and went on to discuss the situation.
"Autolycus is here as well" she started, "and Joxer, and now that you both are here we could leave and maybe we could do something all together to stop Xena once and for all before it gets too late." her green eyes shown bright as they hadn't in days. she finally saw a chance to stop Xena and to end all of this madness. She saw hope, and now that they were all reunited she allowed herself to dream a bit over the future. She looked back at the two men before her, who simply by standing there gave her the strength she needed to act.
"Thank you so much for coming" she found herself saying as Hercules smiled at that while Iolaus simply waved it off.
"Gabrielle, I believe there's much to do before we go, perhaps is better if we talked inside first."
Gabrielle stepped aside, allowing the two men to enter inside, and after sending words for the other guys to reach her, she closed the door shut behind her. Leaving her alone with her two friends.
As soon as they entered her smile faded a bit as she saw the concerned expression on her companions faces.
"We've heard Xena's marching south with a host at her command, is that true, Gabrielle?" Hercules asked, starring at her in the eyes. The Queen let her sight wander around the room as to search an answer in the items and furniture neatly placed in the hut. She confirmed his friend's fears by simply nodding her head, which caused a sigh of disappointment from the big guy, while Iolaus stepped forward, with a hint of rage in his eyes and grabbed Gabrielle's arm.
"Gabrielle" He said softly, placing one hand below her chin and raised it slightly, to look into green eyes.
"What happened?" He asked. Gabrielle was about to answer when someone opened the entrance door and stepped inside. The Queen turned to see Autolycus and Joxer as they entered.
"We've heard the big guy was hear" yelled cheerfully the king of thieves, as he pointed to the bulky man "hello Hercules…" he said shortly after, a little less cheerfully, as he remembered all the time he ended up in trouble because of the very man before him. Behind him and Joxer two more man stepped into view. The bigger one immediately started to study Hercules and after a quick scanning seemed to be approving his counterpart. Macro went to his friend Cato and raised his arm around his neck and while talking to him pointed to the walking legend in front of them "See my friend? That's what the perfect soldier should look like!" He said gruffly, but with a smile on his face. Somehow Cato managed to free himself from Macro's grasp and went to the other big guy and shake his hand.
"So, you must be the legendary Hercules, I'm Cato and this is Macro." he made the presentation and watched as Hercules reached for the handshake.
"My pleasure, and this is Iolaus." he said, pointing at the man standing next to him, who immediately reached for Cato's arm as well.
"And I'm sorry to disappoint your friend there but I'm anything but a soldier." He laughed, as he too seemed to study the roman soldier.
"As long as you can properly fight!" Macro said, as a little part of himself wanted to provoke the big guy to see if he was as strong as people says. Gabrielle decided to stop this and stepped in the middle, taking the attention back where it was most important.
"ok, now that we're done with the presentations we've got a lot of things to discuss, what you've heard about Xena is true, she's got an army and is supported by the Macedonians as well. She's marching towards Athens as we speak, we know she has just left Larissa, she'll reach the city within a week."
"That's impossible, you're saying your friend just left Larissa, right? From there, with a whole army behind, it will take at least one fortnight to reach Athens, if not longer" Macro inferred.
"You don't know Xena, if she set her mind to something she will have it, nothing can stop her." Gabrielle explained.
"Then what's the point for us being here?" asked Autolycus, who, as soon as he saw an opportunity to get out of trouble tried to take it.
"Come on we gotta help Gabrielle, she can't do this alone" Intervened Joxer, trying to help the blond girl. Hercules decided to step in as well, immediately silencing any more protest from the King of Thieves.
"I've stopped Xena once, together we have a chance to do it again." he spoke, "I believe Gabrielle is right when she says we have a week, which means we are running out of time if we want to help Athens and avoid another massacre, we need to move now." He decided, as he was looking time at the bigger of the two Romans, the whole time. Who then raised his hands in the air in defeat.
"All right, let's do this." Autolycus finally agreed.
"Yeah let's go!" almost shouted Joxer, to which Autolycus sarcastically answered with "yeah" although he didn't sound convinced at all.
"So, what's the plan?" the King of Thieves asked with a slight hint of sass in his words.
Silence fell as the question was spoken.
"All right that's a start, so what are we waiting for?" The thief asked again, and this time he saw some sort of reactions.
"He's right, we should get ready, I'm sure we will come up with a plan later on, just take what you need."
"All right!" Cato stated, and started to move towards the door, followed by the Centurion.
"I'm gonna…I'm gonna get ready too" Joxer blurted out and made his way on the tail of the two Romans.
"Autolycus, I'm sure we will come up with something, don't worry, ok?" Gabrielle spoke softly and squeezed the thief's shoulders to infuse some courage, and after a nod he was gone too, leaving Gabrielle alone with Hercules and Iolaus once again.
"I'm sure everything will be all right Gab, we will get the old Xena back" Iolaus smiled, trying to cheer Gabrielle up, and took her hand.
"Don't give up on her yet." He whispered, before looking at the other person in the room.
"Well I guess we are already good to go." he smiled and then looked back to Gabrielle.
"I'm sorry I'm doing this to you, maybe we should wait a bit for you to rest, after all you just got here and there we are leaving already." Gabrielle apologized, but was quickly reassured by a warm smile.
"That's what we do, we are used to it, don't worry about us." Hercules smiled at the blonde girl standing there.
"We'll just wait outside." he said, and left the room, Iolaus with him. As he went out he saw the two Romans talking while heading down the road, towards one of the huts, but couldn't quite understand what they were bickering about. Their conversation picked his interest, so he started to causally walk in their direction, trying to pick up some pieces and bits of the discussion. As soon as he was within hear shot he motioned for Iolaus to keep it quiet.
"Cato, all I'm saying is, is this really worth it?" Macro seemed to be asking to his friend, probably a little bit worried for their imminent quest, Hercules figured.
"You know what's at stake, this is our best chance, besides, we still have time before the Legatus will send someone searching for us."
"We've got the eagle back, that was our job, we're done here, there's no point in dying in someone else's war." The bulky man argued, as they stopped walking in the muddy road.
"You need to trust me on this one Macro, we have a golden opportunity here, we would be fools not to take it." He tried to reason, and looked around himself suspiciously before continuing.
"Listen…" as he was about to go on he spotted the big guy getting closer and immediately stopped talking, then glared at his companion before walking towards the newcomer.
"You know this Xena, right?" Cato asked, changing the conversation. Hercules laughed nervously at the question but luckily Iolaus went in, to help and answered for him.
"If I had to describe Xena in one word I would say unstoppable." Iolaus joked, although nobody seemed to be laughing.
"We cannot stop a whole army, even for someone with your reputation." Cato stated seriously, and pointed at the two men before him.
"Aye we can't," Iolaus agreed, "but we can stop Xena nonetheless."
"It's not gonna be easy," Hercules added, "but if we want to avoid a bloodshed we must try."
The two Romans nodded at his words in silence. They separated from the two men and continued to walk towards their hut, silence accompanying their steps.
Shortly after a small group was gathering at the entrance of the Amazon village, six men and a woman. Gabrielle was the last one to arrive as she saw her fellowship divided in three smaller parties, one with the two romans, one with Hercules and Iolaus, and then a little bit further away was Autolycus, as he was doing his best to ignore Joxer, who seemed to have been talking with the King of Thieves for quite a while. As Gabrielle reached the group they all got closer and without further ado followed Gabrielle outside the village and on to their desperate quest to stop the Warrior Princess.