AN: well, it's been awhile...lol so sorry about that. I plan to finish this soon since I'm on a break from classes until next month.

Chapter Twenty Two

Xayida and Solan rode through the grassy plains outside of Rome, hoping to reach Macedonia in a few days if nothing else strange happened on the way. Throughout the journey, she noticed that Solan was rather quiet, more quiet than he had ever been. He always very talkative, but ever since he found out that she wasn't really his mother, his biological mother, he seemed indifferent. She understood the silence, but at the same time she wanted to talk to him to let him know that her intentions were good at the time.

She halted the horse near a river and dismounted, smiling up at Solan she lend her hand to him but he ignored it and hopped off the horse on his own. She frowned sadly and walked over to the river, scooping water into her palms she washed her face thoroughly. He sat against a tree quietly and then heard loud church bells from a distance.

Frowning, he lifted his head and saw a huge church bell tower beyond the forest and sighed. Xayida turned and dried her face with her dress, then walked over to him. He turned his face away, casually picking at a long grass stalk. She sat down in front of him, spreading her large dress out around herself.

"Solan..." she began softly, "I know you're angry with me and you...you have every right to be!"

He sighed heavily, "why did you lie to me?"

She hung her head, feeling ashamed of herself. Shaking her head, she answered in a meek voice, "I don't have a good excuse anymore. I thought what I was doing was the best thing at the moment. I wasn't thinking and I'm sorry, very sorry."

Solan turned and looked at the person that raised him his entire life, believing that she was truly his mother. Now that he knew that she wasn't his mother, he didn't know how to feel. He wasn't angry or upset, he was just confused. She smiled at him sadly and he furrowed his blonde thick eyebrows. "My mother –my real mother –did she not want me?"

Xayida's eyes grew in shock and immediately her stomach tightened. "No, no, she loved you a lot. She wanted you, I promise you that."

"Then why am I not with her?" he asked confusedly.

She groaned inwardly, "because I made a mistake and I told her everything. She really wants to meet you."

Solan nodded and broke the grass stalk in half, tossing it aside. "And what about my father? Is he alive?"

Xayida bit her bottom lip and she nodded, "yes he is, but I don't know if he knows about you."

"He doesn't want me?" Solan asked and Xayida smiled, placing her hand on his thigh.

"He does –he will. I know it," she winked and he exhaled. "We should get going. We have a long journey ahead of us." He got up and they both began walking back to the horse together.

Ares appeared in front of the horse, leaning against the animal with a smirk on his face. Xayida's eyes darkened immediately and she held Solan close to her. "Xayida...you made a deal with me and here you are, trying to run away again. What you're best at."

She snarled, "I don't want any part of your deal anymore Ares."

He laughed, "that's not how this works!" his roaring laughter filled the sky and Solan huddled against Xayida's dress, hiding behind her. "You can go confess your sins in your church and forget what you have done. I am the God of War, I don't require repentance. You either submit to me or you suffer." He frowned and walked closer to her and she backed away slowly. "Hand over the boy or you hand over yourself. That was the deal."

She stared down at the young blonde prince and glared at Ares. "I want to take Solan to see Xena. I promised her that I would do that. I have already hurt her so much, I can't go back on this promise."

"He can see his mother, but...you belong to me," he smiled.

Xayida stood in front of Solan, protecting him. "What if I refuse? I can't trust you to deliver Solan to Xena, now can I?"

Ares sighed, "are you really trying to negotiate with me? You're worse than your sister!" he laughed and then waltzed over to her then grazed his finger along her cheek. "I would much rather have your sister, but you're second best. Everything you do you come in second to her, don't you?" he winked and her eyes lowered. "You're very jealous Xayida. You say that you would never hurt Xena, but that's all you do –hurt her. You like hurting her, you enjoy it..." he whispered in her ear.

She lifted her blue eyes, frowning deeply. "You're psychotic."

"I think that's your department, isn't it Xayida?" he smiled and she pushed him out of her way and stormed to the horse, mounting quickly. He growled, "you are making a mistake running from me, Xayida! I will go after Xena!"

Xayida shook her head and rode off with Solan. "Good luck with that!" she called out and he groaned, then disappeared from the area.


Constantinople

Gabrielle just finished packing her belongings as quickly as possible and Xena was hovering over the bed staring at a pair of her sister's shoes for the last ten minutes or so. She leaned over and saw Xena was in a daze, unable to concentrate on anything it seemed.

"Xena..." she placed her hand on Xena's shoulder, startling her. "Are you okay? You don't seem like yourself."

Xena kept staring at the shoes in her hands and they were exactly her size. Everything she wore was Xayida's size, they were the same height, the same build almost and even had similar features, especially when they had their hair styled the same way. They looked so much alike, but they were nothing alike at the same time. It was hard to pretend to be Xayida, and she thought it would have been easy, but it wasn't. And of course Borias was able to see right through the disguise because he knew what both women looked like, but she was able to fool the sultan, she believed.

"Xayida and I are very different people, Gabrielle. I just wish we didn't drift away from each other like we did."

Gabrielle nodded and wrapped her arm around her friend, giving her a warm hug. "I know, but you can't redo your past. The best thing you can do is move forward and rebuild a better relationship with your sister. I know she feels terrible about what she did and she wants your forgiveness."

Xena frowned, shaking her head. "I can't forgive her." She threw the pearled white shoes into the bag and stuffed the dark stockings into the bag as well.

"I think it would be good for you to forgive her," the Amazon queen said and Xena kept stuffing clothes into the bag angrily. She cringed and then put her hand over the bag, closing it. "You don't have to do it now or even next year, but you will eventually."

The Greek queen sighed, "Borias will never forgive Xayida. He hates her. They never got along when we were living together."

Gabrielle could understand that. From what she saw, Borias didn't like to play games and Xayida was very manipulative at times just as Xena can be from time to time. Though, Xena was different. She didn't threaten, she simply acted upon what she said. Xayida was full of threats and hardly acted on them, but she had a lot of anger and remorse in her heart, which made it difficult for the two women to be in the same room together. Xayida and Xena were both very hard headed and stubborn, which was probably one of the reasons why they began to grow apart from each other. Both wanted more and were unwilling to compromise.

"He will forgive her too, I know he will," she smiled and Xena was unconvinced.

"We should leave soon. I will tell Mehmet that I have received word from Macedonia that I need to return," she grabbed the bags and head out of the room. Gabrielle quickly grabbed her bag and followed her out into the hallway.

As they stepped into the hallway Borias was waiting, leaning against the wall, casually twirling his sword. He smirked at Xena and Gabrielle. "I told the sultan that you are planning to leave," he said.

Xena frowned, "and why would you do that?"

"You need to learn to trust me, Xena, something you were never good at," he sheathed his sword and approached her, standing barely a foot from her. "I will follow you when you're a day's ride ahead," he whispered then briskly walked down a separate hallway.

Gabrielle clung close to Xena, "do you trust him?"

Xena raised her eyebrow as she watched Borias round a corner, disappearing from her sight. "I don't have a reason not to. It's Mehmet I don't trust. Let's go," she turned on her heel and marched down the hall to exit the large Ottoman palace.


Sultan Mehmet stood on the floor that had been demolished hours earlier. The strange phenomenon outside in the skies had ceased and all was calm, despite all the burning buildings and homes in the city. He folded his arms, sighing heavily, looking at the destruction of his lovely large palace.

Ares walked behind the sultan, placing his hand on his shoulder. Mehmet felt his presence and smiled. "Have there been any developments?"

The war god groaned, "we have a bit of a problem. Our disciple has escaped with someone," he mentioned Solan and Xayida. Though, Ares made sure the sultan had no idea who these two were, especially Solan. Mehmet believed that Ares was a Jinn, giving him advice from the Heavens above, though he was being deceived. Solan was to be a sacrifice for the greatest evil to lurk on earth, but any mention of that, the sultan would immediately cut everything off with Ares.

Ares contrived this plan to stick close to the sultan, feeding on his positivity and optimism. He was only using the Ottoman caliph as a pawn in this bigger evil plan he had been keeping a secret. The Ottomans were a growing nation and peoples, spreading across the Mediterranean and near eastern lands. Ares wanted a part in that and make sure that the Ottomans rise to the top and wipe out all of Constantine's holy cities and people that follow the Orthodox faiths in Anatolia. Too bad for the sultan that he was completely naive and had no idea that Xena was right under his nose the entire time and the real Xayida was far away from Constantinople.

Mehmet frowned and turned to face the war god. "Well, hopefully you will find this disciple?" he hoped and Ares smiled.

"Of course, but I need something from you..." he inched closer and the caliph nodded.

"Anything," Mehmet answered eagerly. He wanted his empire to trump Constantine's and to be rid of all the Christian Orthodoxy in Anatolia for good. He didn't want any more wars with the Church. His ancestors had fought for a long time claiming this territory as their own until the Church believed that this land was theirs and wanted to war to reclaim what they believed was rightfully theirs from the start.

Ares nodded, "you need to keep an eye on Xayida," he smiled. "She is not who she seems to be..." he said and saw the sultan's face contort in confusion. "She is a liar. She is just as devious as her elder sister, Xena. I'm sure you know of her."

Mehmet curtly nodded, "I do, but I have not met Xena. She claims that I gave her permission to take my gunpowder, but there was no such agreement. She's been stealing my gunpowder for years. Every assassination attempt on Xena has failed. She is just as bad as Constantine."

"I agree with you entirely!" the war god wrapped his arm around the Ottoman caliph. "She needs to be eliminated," he said and the sultan smiled. "Let me take care of her for you..."


Gabrielle sat with Xena inside Xayida's large caravan and they left the palace without even speaking to Mehmet, which worried Gabrielle to no end. She looked at Xena, whom was sitting across from her in one of her sister's elaborate dresses and she too looked uncomfortable.

"I have a weird feeling about this," the Amazon said.

Xena pursed her lips and pulled back the curtains, looking at the mountains ahead. There would be checkpoints of course when they reached the rim of Constantinople. She hated that these two arrogant men split the city in half to suit their needs and authority over each other. "Me too," she answered then she began unlacing her tight corset.

Gabrielle frowned watching Xena toss the corset aside then unlace the large skirt of the dress. She was now wearing a white loose tunic and dug in a bag next to her and slipped on some brown pants and knee high boots. Xena took the matchlock off her thigh and placed it in a holster on her belt and Gabrielle folded her arms, cocking her head as she was now dressed like a completely different person.

"What are you doing?" she mused.

Xena grabbed a bag of powder and ripped it open with her teeth then unlatched the gun and began loading the powder. "I don't know if you realized this Gabrielle, but I really hate wearing dresses." She smiled and finished loading the matchlock and placed it back in its holster.

They both felt the caravan swerve to the side abruptly and the horses screeching. Gabrielle held onto the walls inside and Xena steadied herself on the bench, then poked her head out of the window and saw a horde of men, dressed in all black on horseback, firing arrows at the horses and carriage. She frowned and turned her head. "Stay here," she urged and climbed outside the window.

Gabrielle gasped and saw Xena climbing on top of the caravan. She panicked and looked out the window. "Xena! Are you crazy?!" she yelled and then an arrow flew right by her face and her eyes widened, she quickly went back inside the caravan and heard Xena's boots above, walking on the carriage.

Xena pulled out the matchlock and rested the butt stock on her shoulder, then tried to aim for one of the horseman's heads, which was difficult, given that the driver kept swerving from side to side, trying to evade the arrows and attacks from these men. She closed an eye and then shot one of the horseman directly in his head and she smiled.

A few seconds later her smile faded and saw the horseman still alive and headless, riding in front of the horde, drawing his bow and arrow. "What the hell," she muttered. A few arrows were shot and she ducked and saw them fly directly over her head. Growling she aimed again at the same headless man, directly at his chest and fired.

The horseman was knocked back but grabbed the horse's reins and continued riding. Her eyes widened in fear and then she climbed back inside the caravan, startling Gabrielle.

"Something is wrong with those men," she said breathlessly. "I just shot one of them in the head and he is still alive!

Gabrielle's jaw dropped, "that's impossible!" a black gloved arm reached inside the caravan and she yelped. She instantly pulled out Xena's sword and chopped the arm off and it fell to the floor. The fingers were still moving and Xena stomped her boot on the severed arm, crushing the fingers with all her weight. "This...is the work of something evil, Xena." The Amazon kept shaking her head in disbelief.

Xena pulled out the gun and shot the severed arm and it was now in two pieces and still moving. She groaned and looked out the window and saw the horseman riding beside the caravan. Gabrielle looked out the other window and saw more on her side. "They're everywhere!"

One of the horseman pulled up beside the driver of the carriage and swung the large scimitar, slicing the man's head off. The horses panicked and reared off into a different direction, stampeding through the desert plain.

The caravan hit a large rock and nearly tipped them over. Xena hung onto the sides of the inside of the caravan. She poked her head out and saw the horses riding with no direction at all. She cursed to herself. "They killed the driver," she began climbing out the window again. "Gabrielle, I need you to steer the horses while I hold these...things off."

Gabrielle breathed in slowly, "are you serious?"

Xena frowned, "do you have any better ideas?" she climbed on top of the carriage again. Gabrielle then decided to climb out of the window and onto the step of the carriage, fearing that she might fall. She saw Xena above, loading the gun, it was too slow obviously. She clung to the caravan and finally made it to the driver's seat and saw the headless driver.

Cringing, she pushed the body aside and sat down, grabbing onto the reins, trying her best to control the horses. Xena shot a few of the horsemen to slow them down, but they were still alive and riding beside the caravan, tempting to knock it over. Xena crouched down and crawled to the front where Gabrielle was.

"There should be a cathedral up ahead!" she yelled and Gabrielle looked at her incredulously.

"A cathedral?!"

Xena ducked her head from the arrows flying past her. "Yes! We should be safe there, I hope..." she stood back up and one of the men grabbed her leg and she growled. "Son of a bitch," she kicked the man in his head and he was unfazed. She grabbed her dagger and stabbed the man's arm and he pulled away, severing his own arm, whilst his hand was still holding onto her leg. "Nothing fazes these things!" she kept stabbing the hand and finally it let go and fell off the caravan.

Gabrielle saw the cathedral and she steered the horses towards the right, riding as quickly as possible. She looked over her shoulder and saw Xena was struggling to keep these dark horsemen away and it wasn't as if they had an abundance of weapons at the moment either. Not to mention, they had no idea what they were dealing with.

She halted the caravan and hopped off, running towards the cathedral. Xena followed quickly behind her. The horsemen rode quickly and the two ran inside, bursting through the doors of the empty church. Gabrielle breathed heavily and the horsemen came to a staggering halt altogether and trotted around the church grounds, unwilling to take another step closer to the cathedral.

Xena smiled and stared at the horsemen and they rode off into the dark. Gabrielle collapsed onto one of the benches and exhaled heavily, slowing her breathing. "Good call," she said and Xena nodded. "What were those things?"

The Greek queen shook her head, "I have no idea, but whatever they are, they aren't from our world."

"I say from now on we carry a jar of holy water," Gabrielle said teasingly, though Xena's face said otherwise. She was quite serious and didn't mind the idea.


Somewhere in Macedonia

Midmorning Xayida and Solan were slowly riding through the mountains. He slept behind her, holding onto her waist. Xayida knew that Solan was upset that he had been lied to his entire life, but she could tell that he was still reliant on her as a mother figure and wanted her comfort.

Solan opened his eyes and groaned. He looked around and his surroundings seemed very familiar. "Are we close to home?"

Xayida smiled, "almost."

He yawned and ran his fingers through his blonde locks. "Where is Xena?" he asked.

She quirked her mouth, "she is in Constantinople right now, pretending to be...me."

He raised his eyebrows in shock and folded his arms. "What?! That's crazy. Why would she do that?"

She sighed, "it's a long story, Solan." She trotted faster through the mountains and saw the sky darken and clouds fold in on themselves. A loud clap of thunder roared across the sky and she frowned, starting to feel uneasy. She rode faster through the mountains, though made sure not to make Solan any more worried than he already was. She then felt a drop hit her hand and she saw it was not water, but blood. "Great," she muttered.

Solan felt a few drops hit his cheeks and he smeared his fingers across his face then saw blood on his fingers. "Blood?" he questioned, then glanced up at the sky and saw blood raining down on them. "It's raining blood!" he wrapped his arms around her taut waist.

Xayida frowned and steered towards the left to find somewhere to hide to wait out this storm. She found an opening in one of the mountains and halted, hopping off the horse. She extended her hand, "come!" she begged and he was less reluctant to take her hand now than he was before. She pulled him off and they ran inside the small alcove, hiding from the rain.

He looked down at himself and saw he was soaked in blood and so was she. Her dark hair drenched in burgundy rain. "Why is it raining blood?" he asked.

She looked out at the grass that was now drenched in blood and the trees violently blowing in the wind. "I don't know," which was an honest answer. She had seen this happen before, but never had an explanation for it.

Suddenly a bird fell from the sky right in front of the alcove and Solan jumped back. The bird flinched and then his wings relaxed. He frowned, approaching the bird and knelt down, touching its black wings. "Is it dead?" he asked sadly.

Xayida grabbed his arm and pulled him away to sit down with her. He stared into her bright blue eyes and she sighed heavily. "Solan, do you remember what happened in Rome?"

He raised his eyebrow, "what do you mean?"

"You mean...you don't remember what those cardinals did to you in the church?" she asked and he shook his head. "Nothing at all?" she asked once more and he shook his head, completely clueless. "This is a mess..." she muttered.

Solan scooted closer to her and tried not to touch his clothes, as he was disgusted by all the blood. "What happened? Did it have something to do with me?"

Xayida smiled and grabbed his hand, "I don't know, but whatever they were doing to you was not good Solan." He pulled his hand away awkwardly and she cleared her throat. "I know you're upset and it's okay to be upset. I just want you to know that I have always loved you and I'd do anything for you." She looked to him for a response, but he stayed silent and watched the rain. "I know I'm not your real mother, but I've always taken care of you like you were my son."

Solan lowered his eyes, unsure of what to say. She continued, "I'll always love you, no matter what happens. I know your real mother loves you a lot."

She saw his eyes light up and he looked towards her with hopeful eyes. "Really?" Xayida nodded with a subtle smile on her lips. "Does she sound like you?"

Xayida shrugged, "not really."

He frowned, "is she older than you?" and Xayida nodded. "Are you both the same height?"

She smiled, "yes, we're very similar, but we're not the same. You remind me of her."

Solan grinned from ear to ear. "I look like her?"

"A little bit, but you're sweet like she is," she said and by his smile, she hoped that he was at least happy to hear that about Xena. After all, he had never seen her and didn't know anything about her, until now. He was probably still in shock about this entire situation and when they finally would meet, she feared that he might shy away from Xena. It was nerve-wracking to meet someone who was not only your mother, but to be raised by someone completely different, only to find out you've been lied to your whole life. She felt even worse that she had to tell Solan this way, but he needed to know and Xena had to know as well. She had lied for a long time, a very long time. Lied and betrayed.

He asked, "she's a queen too, right?"

Xayida nodded, "yes she is. Queen of Athens," she winked and Solan sat in silence, thinking to himself. "She loves you."

He smiled weakly, "she does?"

"She loved you before you were born. I was there," she said warmly and his smile grew, happy to hear her say that. "Don't be nervous to meet her. I'm sure she's far more nervous than you." She paused for a brief moment and the rain slowly began to subside. "I hope you can forgive me one day, Solan. I never wanted to hurt you and I still love you a lot, I always will."

Solan nodded his head slowly and stared at Xayida with a blank face. "I really want to meet her," he looked outside and stood from the cold ground. "It stopped raining," he ran outside and his boots sank in the blood soaked grass. "We should keep going, right...Xayida?" he said her name for the first time instead of calling her his mother and she smiled, making her way over to him.


Borias rode to the outskirts of Constantinople the next day and saw tracks of the caravan that Xena traveled in. He followed the tracks and saw that they were once straight, but then zigzagged through the grass, going right and left.

He rode further into the forests and saw the caravan outside of a large cathedral and dismounted the horse then opened the large door. Peeking inside he saw Xena and Gabrielle sitting on one of the benches, talking among themselves.

Xena stood up as soon as she saw him and he folded his arms. "What happened?" he asked. She sighed and looked to Gabrielle for help, she didn't know how to explain any of this but figured that there have been a lot of strange things going on around here so it couldn't sound that odd.

"We were being chased by horsemen," she began and he kept listening, waiting for more. "I tried to kill them but...they wouldn't die, no matter how many times I shot them."

Borias raised an eyebrow and stared at Gabrielle for clarification but she smiled weakly at him, giving him no answers. "Where...are these men now?"

Xena shrugged, "we came in here and they left last night. I need to get back to Athens. I don't need any more distractions."

He nodded, agreeing with her. "We will get there," he said and she smiled softly. "Are you going to tell me what is really going on between you and Xayida?"

Xena folded her arms and averted her eyes. He kept gawking and she felt his eyes on her. "I will tell you when we meet up with her. I swear."

He rolled his eyes, "Xayida is trouble Xena. Every time you two are together, something is wrong. I don't trust her."

"That makes two of us," she muttered.