by Paully Adams
Disclaimers: Xena, Gabrielle and any other characters featured in the actual TV series are copyrighted to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures; just borrowing for this story. The rest of the story and other characters are mine. Please contact me before using any of my stuff. Thanks.
SPOILERS: Season three's Rift arc and a line borrowed from "Sins of the Past."
VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER: This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
I really would like to thank my beta reader Virginia Carper for her time and suggestions. She taught me the difference between a storyteller and a bard: A storyteller tells stories, a bard lets the audience feel like they are there in the story. Again, thanks to my friends at Ex-Guards!
P.S. This is a revised edition of my first fan fiction. As I reread this story, I realized that the characters had taken me places that I did not suspect I would travel in stories I've written since this first one. So I went back and changed some things in order to make the stories flow more smoother into one another. Hope you enjoy the new revised versions.
"Isn't it a gorgeous day?" The petite blond bard sighed and took a deep breath. The sun's rays gently warmed the air that surrounded her as the dancing breeze lifted the perfume of the flowers so that she could smell their fragrance.
"Yeah, it sure is." Xena looked down at her partner, who seemed lost in the magic of the day. She herself didn't experience the magic of the flowers, the sun or of the breeze. No matter long she has known the young bard, Gabrielle never ceased to amaze Xena with that particular skill. Gabrielle always noticed the weather, the fields, the flowers and whatever caught her attention. *How does she do it? She lives each day as if it was her first.*
Gabrielle looked up at her tall dark haired friend, who was now even taller riding on Argo's back. "Hey, why don't we stop and smell the flowers? We don't have to be in any hurry, do we?"
"That is your department, Gabrielle. You know I don't notice things like that."
"I know. But for once, I wish the beauty of the earth would grab your attention."
"Maybe later. Right now something else has peaked my interest."
Gabrielle looked up ahead at the road. There were six men armed with swords attacking one woman dressed in black and red leathers, armed with a pair of daggers and on the ground were two bodies. Xena spurred Argo on, and Gabrielle burst into a sprint. Xena was able to get there first. "Ayiyiyiyiyi," she cried, as she flipped off of Argo.
Her war cry distracted the men, allowing the young woman to plunge a dagger into the chest of an attacker. Two of the men stopped attacking the woman, and turning their attention toward the Warrior Princess while two others attacked Gabrielle.
Xena smirked at the two armed bandits. "Look like you picked on the wrong person, huh fellows? Today isn't your day, now is it?" One of the men managed to get behind her, and tried to attack. Before he could deliver a blow, she ducked and thrust her sword behind her, stabbing him through. The other man saw his chance and charged her. Then he suddenly stopped and his eyes rolled to the back of his head. He fell to the ground, with a dagger's hilt sticking out of his back.
Gabrielle smiled at the two men heading her way. "My, this isn't a fair fight, boys. You are going to need a whole lot more men."
"For being such a little one, you have a big mouth."
Gabrielle smiled. "I guess I should let my stick do the talking." With that she swung low, knocking one man off his feet. Then she came back up, and blocked the swords wide arc swing of the second man and then sent one end of her staff into his gut. Quickly, she connected with hits to both men's jaws, knocking them out cold.
Xena turned toward Gabrielle and seeing that the young bard had everything under control she turned her attention to the young woman they had rescued.
The young mahogany-skin woman bent down to retrieve her daggers from the two lifeless bodies, wiped the blood from them and placed the weapons by her side. She glanced at Xena. "Thanks for your help. Both you and your fri..." The young woman's jaw dropped as she stared at Gabrielle. *It can't be her, can it?*
Xena quirked her eyebrow as she watched the young woman's reaction. "What's wrong?"
"What's her name?" The woman asked.
"Why do you want to know?" Protectiveness and concern flowed from the Warrior Princess' voice.
The young fighter smiled. "She just reminds me of a friend I had a long time ago."
"Well, I'll have to introduce you." Xena walked toward Gabrielle, smiling at the way she quickly disposed of the men. *Gabrielle is becoming more of a warrior everyday. But there is always room for improvement.* "Didn't I tell you, less talk and more swing? One of these days, that tongue of yours is going to get you in big trouble."
Gabrielle turned to face Xena. She was about to say something when she saw the young woman. The two stared at each other for a moment, not believing what was right in front of their eyes.
"It's been ages! Just look at you!" The two young women ran and embraced each other. Sophia, being the taller and stronger of the two, picked Gabrielle up in a big bear hug. They kept hugging, and looking at each other.
Xena smiled. "So I guess you two know each other right?"
Sophia and Gabrielle looked at each other and laughed. "Know each other, boy is that an understatement. Gabby and I grew up together. The trouble we got into...."
"What do you mean we? As I seem to recall, you had a problem with always telling the truth. Your mouth got us in more trouble than anything else. All my mom had to do was ask, and you would spill the beans about everything."
"I can't help that I'm honest, Gabby. Besides, let's not bring all that up again. What have you been up to?"
Before Gabrielle could say anything, Xena cleared her throat. "Huh. Oh, I'm sorry. Xena, this is Sophia. Sophia, this is Xena."
"Nice to meet you, Xena. Thanks again for jumping in and saving my skin."
"It looked like you was doing all right on your own. You are pretty good with those daggers."
"Well, thanks. I learned from the best. So where are you two headed?"
"We are heading for Athens for the festival," Gabrielle answered.
"So was I. I'm going there to visit my mother. Hey, Gabby, why don't you come along. I know she wants to see you."
"Sure, why not? Besides this trip will give us time to catch up." At that the two friends started laughing and talking as they walked down the road.
The Warrior Princess watched as the two started off without her. *Oh great,* Xena thought to herself, *now I have to deal with two walking mouths.*
After three more candlemarks of travel, Xena saw a clearing that was about 40 paces from the road. The clearing was a meadow, and about 12 paces away, on the left was a stream. "Let's make camp here." As usually Xena tended to Argo while Gabrielle took care of unpacking their gear.
Sophia grabbed the saddlebags off of Argo. "Here Gabby, let me help you."
"Thanks. I'll take care of the bedrolls then." Thanks to the extra set of hands, the camp was quickly prepared.
Xena gave Argo a good brushing and set her free, allowing her to graze. Xena noticed that Gabrielle setup her bedroll next to Sophia, while Xena's was placed on the other side of the fire. *How much more time do they need to catch up?*
Xena thought back on the constant chatter and laughter that took place as the two friends caught up on each other's lives. She looked over at the two and saw Sophia giggling and whispering something in the bard's ear. Suddenly a loud rumble was heard and everyone looked at Gabrielle.
The young bard turned beet red. "Opps."
Xena snickered. "So, the monster from the deep stirs again."
Sophia shook her head. "Do you eat like you did when we were kids?"
Gabrielle patted her stomach in an attempt to calm it. "No I don't." She lowered her eyes toward the ground. "I eat even more."
"And where does it go? I'm so jealous. Why I remember..."
As Sophia recalled another story from the past, Xena watched the two friends, not paying attention to the words. *I thought I knew everything about you, Gabrielle. In all your stories about your childhood, you never mentioned Sophia.* Xena glanced again at the bedrolls. *But it is obvious that you two are very close, tighter than bosom buddies. Why were you so secretive about her?*
Xena tried to ignore the slight stabbing pain in her heart. *I might as well have been invisible today. That's what I get for traveling with a pair of walking mouths.* Xena decided to it would be best if she found something to do instead of sulking. "Gabby and Sophia, I'm going to go and catch us a meal."
"Oh no. Let me do it as a show of thanks for what you two did today. I'll be right back." With that, Sophia smiled, got up and took off towards the woods.
Xena watched as Sophia walked away. Something about the young woman seemed very familiar to Xena but she just couldn't place her finger on it. *Maybe I just heard too much about you today.*
Gabrielle decided to busy herself with building the fire. With nothing else to do, Xena grabbed her whetstone and started to sharpen her sword. As her hands sharpened her sword, her mind began to fill with questions about the young warrior from Gabrielle's past. *Where did someone so young learn to fight like that? No one in Poteidaea could have taught Sophia. So who? And why has Gabrielle never mentioned her before?* Curiosity about Sophia got the better of Xena. "So you two grew up together?"
Gabrielle looked up from the fire she started. "Yes we did. Sophia and I were always together."
"So her mom lives in Athens. Athens and Poteidaea are far away from one another."
"No, her mother lives in Athens. Her mom died a long time ago." Gabrielle caught the confused expression on Xena's face. "Let's just say that Sophia's family is very different. If you want to know more you have to ask Sophia."
"Ask me what?" Sophia came holding two large rabbits. "If I remember right, you can eat one of these by yourself Gabby."
"That was fast."
"What can I say, Xena? The gods have blessed my hunt."
"More likely, a certain goddess, huh?" Sophia and Gabrielle gave each other knowing glances, and then giggled. Xena rolled her eyes, not knowing to what the statement referred.
Xena stared at the daggers as Sophia took the rabbits off of them. "Nice daggers. Never seen ones that look like those." The daggers were larger than most, and seemed to fit Sophia's hands perfectly. The metal was silver in color, and reflected the rays of the moon overhead. The weapons did not show signs of any workmanship, no markings from a blacksmith's hammer, uneven edges, or imperfections.
"Thanks, Xena. My mother had them specially made for me. They are as light as air." To prove her point she flipped one in the air, and balanced the hilt on one finger. "But strong enough to survive anything. And sharper enough to cut through boulders."
Xena smiled. *She embellishes almost as good as Gabrielle. No weapons can do that unless they are made by the gods themselves.* "Speaking of family, I wanted to ask you about yours."
"Oh, my family. It's a long, complicated story." A sad and distant look clouded Sophia's face.
"I'm sorry. If you rather not talk about it..."
"No, that is okay. It's painful to talk about, but it is nice to remember to good memories also." Sophia leaned back against a rock after placing the rabbits on spits. "My family isn't normal to say the least. But I guess that what happens when you're related to a goddess."
"A goddess?!?" Xena groaned to herself. Every time the gods were involved, it always meant trouble for her. A sigh sneaked out from between her lips.
Sophia heard the sound and glanced at the Warrior Princess. "Xena, is something wrong?"
"Oh no." Xena's face showed no emotion. She started to rub the whetstone harder against her sword. When it came to the gods, Xena could barely hide her emotions. Too many times, the gods have used Gabrielle or herself as pawns in their chess games and she had no plans in did not want to be in another game.
Sophia continued with her story. "You see, my mom was named Sophia, and she was the virgin priestess of one of Athena's temples, just three days journey from Poteidaea. My mom loved Athena, and Athena saw the wisdom and beauty of my mom. So she made my mom her chosen one. All my mom wanted was to serve Athena. From what I was told, she planned on staying a priestess for the rest of her days. But then..." She looked over to Gabrielle, and Gabrielle reached out, holding Sophia's hand. "Well, you must have heard about the rivalry between Athena and Ares. Well, Ares lost to Athena yet again. So he sent his best army to ransack the temple. But his men did more than ransack. They looted and destroyed the temple. They also raped the priestesses. One of Ares highest-ranking men, he...."
"You don't have to say anymore. I can guess what he did."
Sophia swallowed away the lump in her throat before continuing. "Anyway, they left all the priestesses for dead. But my mom wasn't, at least not physically. Athena took my mom to a remote island, and took care of her as best as she could, but within weeks my mom was a walking corpse. Before she died, she asked Athena to grant her one wish. She wanted to be sure that the child that she was carrying would make it and would be raised as a child of light, wisdom and truth. Before the moment my mom went to Hades, Athena took the child from Sophia's womb and placed the child inside her own. I was born months later."
Xena blinked back the tears that threatened to fall. "I'm so sorry."
"Luckily, the story gets better. After I was born, Athena raised me for the first three years of my life. Fearing that Ares would find out about me, and that the high ranking official may lay claims to me, she hid me in a small town, to be raised by two devoted servants who could not have children. And she named me Sophia, after my mom. Between Athena and my adoptive parents, I feel like I got to know my mom. I hope that she is proud of me."
"I know that she is, and so is Athena."
No one said anything for a long time, each lost in her own world of thoughts and memories. While she continued to sharpen her sword, Xena thought about the countless lives that Ares had destroyed. She realized that Athena was right in hiding the child. The father may have laid claims to it. Or worst, Ares might have required that the child be sacrifice to him. Xena shuddered as she remembered that she was almost sacrificed to Ares by her own father when she was just a babe. And she had followed in her father's footsteps, serving Ares as a warrior. Guilt racked her mind as she thought about the countless lives that were destroyed during her warlord days.
Gabrielle mindlessly fed wood into the fire while she thought about her experience with Dahok; how he tricked her into losing her blood innocence and then proceeded to impregnate her. She thought about the birth of her daughter Hope. *Only if I had someone like Athena in my life, maybe, just maybe Hope would have been able to fight against the darkness in her soul.* No matter how evil Hope was, there was a piece of Gabrielle's heart and soul that would always love Hope. Pain tore through her heart.
Sophia turned the rabbits over the fire, and thought about revenge. Ares never once answered Sophia's prayers about the identity of the man who raped her mother. She knew he wouldn't and so she dreamed about ways to hurt him too. She knew that Ares was always becoming mortal, whether as punishment from Zeus, or to satisfy his needs. She knew that one day she would find him as a mortal. Then she would proceed to physically torture him until he told her who her father was. Then she would hunt that beast down, and stab him in such a way that he would live long enough so that she would be able to tell him who she was, and retell the sickening way she was conceived. Then he would die with that knowledge. And even though she knew her parents wanted her to be a child of light and wisdom, she knew she could never be that, for she was too aware of the darkness that she possessed. Turmoil twisted in her soul.
The silence was becoming unbearable. Sophia turned to the young bard. "Listen I did not mean to bring everyone down. Gabby, tell one of your happy stories. I have not heard The Three Cunning Roosters in a long time."
"I have come up with much better stories than that one."
"Yeah, but I remember that one. Besides, I bet you never told that one to Xena." Xena raised her eyebrow, trying to remember if Gabrielle ever told her that one. Xena thought for sure Gabrielle had told her every story that she ever known. "No, I believe she hasn't told me that one."
"Okay, okay." Gabrielle started the story. Halfway through the story, Xena guessed that the three cunning roosters were no other than Sophia, Lilla and Gabrielle. Xena sighed, put up her sword, laid on her bedroll, and fell asleep.
Startled by a loud screech, Xena rolled over, grabbing her sword that laid next to her. Ever ready, she crouched low to strike, looking for the danger that she thought was nearby. Then the screech changed into laughter. She lowered her sword and stood up. *Good Tartarus, can't anyone get some sleep around here?* She looked over to the source of the laughter.
"Stop that, Sophia. It is too early to be tickled."
"Then wake up! I already caught fish for our breakfast." Sophia looked up and saw Xena with a sword and a very unhappy expression on her face. "Oh, good morning Xena. Sorry if we woke you up."
Xena sighed. "That's all right," she stated as she lowered her sword. "I never thought I live to see the day when Gabrielle would wake up this early in the morning."
"You want to know what the secret is? Gabrielle has a very ticklish spot right below her… OW!" Sophia pulled back her hand and grasped it. "That hurts!"
"She doesn't need to know where my tickle spot is. I like sleeping in."
"Besides a full water bag does wonders."
"Oh. Anyway, if you tickle her, she will just jump out of bed. I had to learn that as a kid. Otherwise, the mornings would have been spend in bed, or playing with Lila, or talking with her mom and dad. And none of those had any appeal to me whatsoever."
*I don't blame you,* Xena thought quietly to herself.
Gabrielle sat up and stared at Sophia. "You know, if I wanted Xena to know about the embarrassing details of my childhood, I would have told her."
"Sorry, but you know I have to tell the truth."
"Yeah, but not the whole truth."
Xena rolled her eyes to the skies. *The gods must be punishing me for some crime I've committed. Two walking mouth pieces, and one is related to a goddess. How am I going to survive this trip without gagging them both?!?* she thought to herself. Then she came up with a plan, the faster they get to Athens, the sooner they would part company.
"This is fun," commented Xena, "but we do have to get going." She pointed at Gabrielle. "Sophia and I'll break camp while you cook the fish. Let's get cracking."
They finally arrived at Athens early in the afternoon. The city was busier than ever, with the start of the festival just two days away. Wagons and carts lined the paved roads as mobs of people walked up and down the streets. Through all the hustle and bustle, Sophia could see her mother's temple. "Come on, I better say hi. She would kill me, if visiting her was not the first thing I did while I was here."
Xena smiled. "Whether human or goddess, all mothers expect that from their children. You two better get going. I'll take care of Argo and our lodging."
"Don't you want to come Xena? You are invited."
"No thanks, Sophia. The gods and I don't get along too well."
"Okay, see ya. Come on Gabby." Without looking back, Sophia grabbed Gabrielle's hand and walked off.
"Ah, peace and quiet."
The scent of incense hit them as they pushed open the cedar doors of the temple. As they walked through, the white marble floors echoed their footsteps to the marble ceiling above their heads. Dozens of lit beeswax candles stood on the altar and the rising, adding a sweet smell to the scent in the air; their lights danced to a piece of music that human ears could not hear. "This temple is truly magnificent, Sophia."
"Nothing but the best for my mother. And she deserves it, Gabby."
"Sophia, you're home. It is so good to see you."
Surprised, Sophia whirled around. "Agena!" Glad to see the older priestess, Sophia greeted her with hug. The regal Agena gently kissed Sophia on the cheek. Turning to Gabrielle, who was quietly watching the reunion, Sophia said, "Agena, I like to introduce you to Gabrielle. Agena is the head priestess at this temple."
"Nice to meet you Gabrielle." She turned back to Sophia. "Your mother is waiting to see you. She saw you come in. You know, you should really visit more often."
"Now Agena, you know that there are tons of temples I can visit my mother in. Besides, I don't need a temple to visit her."
"Yes, but we priestesses don't get to see you enough. You have grown so much since the last time I saw you. Now, I have to look up to you. Like mother like daughter. Now give me a hug."
Sophia gave Gabrielle a This is SOOOOO embarrassing look as she hugged Agena. "Now go visit your mother."
They enter the inner sanctum of the temple, which was just as beautiful as the sanctuary. Dark gray marble walls, floors and ceiling enclosed the inner sanctum. Small olive trees stood in each corner of the sanctum and beautiful artwork hung upon the walls. On the far wall hung a silver spear along with silver and leather armor. Gabrielle was mesmerized by the great beauty and yet simplistic feeling that engulfed the area.
Athena stood in the center of the sanctum. The goddess wore a white silk gown that flowed to the floor. On top of her dark curls laid a small silver tiara. She smiled at her daughter and opened her arms wide. "Agena better not have stolen the first hug from you."
"Mother." Sophia ran into her mother's embrace.
"Let me take a look at you." Athena inspected Sophia, looking up and down
Sophia's leather clad body. She started to check behind Sophia's ears, when Sophia wiggled away. "Mother, I just saw you last month. Is it really necessary for you to do this every time you see me?"
"And in a month's time, you have gotten into how many fights? I just want to make sure you were not hurt or scarred up, that's all."
Sophia decided a little distraction was in order. "Mother, you remember
Gabrielle, don't you?"
Athena glared at her daughter, then smiled at Gabrielle. "Of course I do, come over here Gabrielle, let me give you a hug." The hug then proceeded to another inspect, this time of Gabrielle. "It seems my sister is doing a fine job of taking care of you. Come, sit down and tell me what you have been doing with yourself Sophia."
Sophia rolled her eyes. "Why would I do that? You already know what I've been doing. I can feel your presence around me. Sometimes I wonder when you're going to let me grow up."
Athena ignored Sophia's last comment as she turned her attention to the bard. "So Gabrielle, tell me what you have been doing lately."
Gabrielle started telling of the adventures Xena and she have had during the past few months. Soon, she relaxed and began to embellish her report. With her smile, her actions, and the love that showed through her eyes her stories became alive. *It is no wonder you're favored by ssome many of the gods, little one.*
After the third adventure, Athena abruptly stood up. "Excuse me, but my Father has called us together. It was nice seeing you again Gabrielle. Sophia, I expect another visit from you tomorrow. Good night." With that she gave Sophia a kiss, and vanished before their eyes.
*How long does it take to visit a goddess?* Xena ordered her third port and continued to tap her fingers on the table as she scanned the warm and friendly crowd. She knew that this was no ordinary visit to a temple. Athena's daughter, Sophia, went to see her mother, and took Gabrielle, a bard and a favorite of Athena's with her. *They might be there all night. I hope Gabrielle is not telling any embarrassing stories about me.*
Just when she finished her thought, Gabrielle and Sophia walked in. They looked around and finally Gabrielle spotted Xena sitting in the back corner of the tavern, scanning the room. *Should have known, always sitting in the corner, with her back to the wall. Always in warrior mode, aren't you Xena?*
"Sorry we are late, but Gabrielle just had to tell her stories to Mother." Xena looked at the bard and wondered what Gabrielle could have told the goddess in the span of 4 candlemarks. "Nothing too embarrassing, I hope."
"Hey, we were lucky we got out that quick. If Zeus had not called a council together..."
"A council? The gods are having a council? What would you guys say if we leave Athens and go somewhere else?"
"Why, we just got here? I want to see the festival."
"Now Gabrielle, you know how I feel about the gods. No offense meant, Sophia. But every time the gods get together, Gabrielle and I always seem to get into trouble."
"Relax, Xena. I'm here. The daughter of Athena. My mother will see that no trouble comes to you, as long as I'm with you."
Sitting on his golden throne, the King of the gods studied the assembled
Olympians sitting on silver chairs. He stared at his unruly children, his unconcerned brothers, and his bored wife, Hera; Queen of the gods. Tapping his fingers, Zeus signaled for silence.
"I have gathered you together to help decide the punishment for Ares, for his latest set of crimes. My son, the god of War, refuses to learn from his mistakes. I hoped that previous punishments would have reform him, but obviously he likes playing the part of a fool."
"Maybe we should make him dress the part," suggested Dionysus, the god of wine and parties. "I know someone who can make him a fool's costume."
The black hair god squirmed in his seat. Ares took great pride in his appearance and image. His hair, beard and oiled black leathers marked him as the God of War. He very much doubted if people would fear him if he had to wear bells and brightly colored tights and shirt.
Zeus turned to Ares. Disappointment showed through his eyes. "You have refused the council of the gods, you have turned your back on us and taken up with foreign gods, you have interfered in the lives of your half-brother Hercules and his friends, and your barbaric ways have turned many against us. Why can't you just behave yourself?"
"Like your daughters Athena and Artemis? Or maybe like your son Apollo. Sorry, but that's not my style."
Zeus' eyes flashed like lighting. "Remember to whom you're talking. You may be the son of Hera, Queen of the gods. And I may be your father. But I am also the King of the gods, and you will talk to me in an appropriate matter. IS THAT UNDERSTOOD!?!!" The wide-eyed look on Ares' face and the way his knees knocked together stated that he understood perfectly.
Athena loved to see her half-brother squirm. She couldn't stand him. And her disgust seemed to grow with each council meeting that dealt with his actions. *Why doesn't Father just hit him with a lighting bolt and put him out of his, and our, misery?*
"I know a perfect punishment for him Father." Apollo rose to his feet and smiled mockingly at his half-brother. "Make him mortal for three days, and send him to the festival at Athens. Have him participate in the activities of the festivals, including the adoration of Athena. And let the whole city see. If he does a good job, then make him a god again. Otherwise he has to stay mortal until the next festival, and try it again." Apollo saw the look of daggers that Ares gave him, but the Sun god did not notice that the same look was given to him by Artemis and Athena also.
"Hades, I won't do it. I refuse to worship the like of HER! Besides, what happens if someone tries to kill me?" Ares knew he had made lots of enemies who would love to get their hands on him. And he had no doubt that Athena would sell him out. *She wouldn't even sell the information, she would give it away for free.* He looked over at Athena, and noticed the way she looked at Apollo. He also saw the way Artemis looked at her twin. *There must be a reason, they don't want me to go. That almost makes me want to. Almost.*
Artemis, the goddess of the hunt and of the Amazons did not want him to go because she knew that Gabrielle, her chosen one and Queen of the Amazons, was there. She knew Ares would love to hurt her in anyway possible because Gabrielle's light and love enabled Xena to suppress her darkness and to spurn Ares' constant coaxing. She looked at Athena. Athena read the question in
Artemis' eyes, and nodded. *Gabrielle will be under my protection until she leaves the city.*
Athena had other concerns as well. *Sophia, my daughter. I can feel you darkness grow day by day. I've seen some of it when you battle. If your darkness is fully unleashed, I fear what you may become. What depths, my child would you go to find your... the creature who raped your mother?*
Athena was so lost in her own thoughts that she missed the vote. This was not lost on Ares. "Well, sister. Looks like I get to see what secrets you're hiding in that splendid city of yours." Athena looked up at the sound of Ares' voice and saw the wicked smile upon his face. Then she disappeared without saying a word.
The room was barely enough to fit three people in, but it was the only room left open because of the festival. All three women were sound asleep when a bright light filled the room, waking them up. Out of the bright light, Athena appeared.
"Xena, Gabrielle, Sophia, wake up. You must go quickly. Gabrielle, get up!"
Xena looked over at Sophia. "Don't worry, you said. As long as the daughter of Athena is around, we'll be okay, you said. Maybe now, you understand."
Sophia rubbed her eyes and looked at Athena. "Mother what's wrong?"
"I'll explain later, you three need to leave town. Your lives are in danger."
"No time to explain. Just get dress."
Xena shook her head. "No, Athena. I want to know. Whose life is in danger? The three of us do not have a common enemy."
"Xena, if you want to know the truth, it is your bard, Gabrielle who is in danger." Gabrielle's head peaked out from under the covers. Xena looked at Gabrielle and gently but firmly gave her a reassuring squeeze. Xena then returned her attention to Athena. "From whom?"
Athena sighed. *I should have just whisked them away.* "It is Ares. He's coming here."
Gabrielle finally crawled out of the covers. "But how, a god cannot come into another god's land."
"They can if their being punished, Gabrielle." Athena looked over at Sophia. "He's been turned human for a punishment of his crimes. He is being forced to come here for the festival, and to join in the adoration of me."
Xena would have laughed if she wasn't worried about Gabrielle. She looked at her bard and then back at Athena. "What does this have to do with her?"
"Ares would like nothing better than to harm Gabrielle. He said so himself on numerous occasions. That is why we have to get her out of the city."
Sophia reached for her armor and daggers. "No we don't. Xena and I can protect her mother."
"I don't want there to be bloodshed in my city during the festival. The easiest thing to do is for the three of you to leave."
"Okay. I understand why Gabby has to leave. And Xena would leave with her. But why are you insisting that all three of us leave?"
"I thought you wanted to spend more time with your friends. And after all, you said that you wanted to protect Gabrielle."
Sophia moved closer to Athena. "I don't think her safety is all you're concern with. You don't want me to confront Ares. Well, too bad Mother, cause I'm not missing this opportunity. I want to find out who the bastard is who raped my mom and spawned me."
"I promised Artemis to protect Gabrielle. And I want to protect you too Sophia. No good can come from you confronting Ares. He is evil, and he might not tell you the truth anyway. He would love to see you kill an innocent man."
Sophia's anger was rising. She pointed at the goddess. "Any man who was in the temple that day is not innocent. They all participated in the destruction of your temple. They should be punished."
"By me, not you."
"I'm not leaving Mother. Sorry."
"I'm sorry too. Please, Xena and Gabrielle, try to talk sense into her." Athena looked at Sophia as if this was the last time she would ever see her. She gave her a hug and a kiss. "Please go for my sake." Athena vanished from the room.
Xena watched from the corner as Gabrielle tried to talk sense to Sophia. But she could tell it wasn't working. *She's stubborn. But so is Gabrielle. If anyone can talk her into leaving, it is Gabrielle.*
"Please Sophia, let's get out of here." Gabrielle gently squeezed Sophia's shoulder. She just wanted to calm her friend, but Sophia pulled away. "Gabby you just don't understand. I have to find out the truth."
"You know all the truth you need to know. Athena is your mother. That is all that matters."
"Listen Gabby. This is my life and my decision. You have no idea of what I'm going through. Do you know what it feels like to know that your mom was raped, and that you're a child of a rapist? Do you? I can feel the darkness rise up, and I need to ease my pain. So spare me the every cloud has a silver lining speech okay?" The words were out before she had a chance to think about them and she could see the pain reflected in Gabrielle's eyes. *My gods, what have I've said?* She ran her hand over her slicked back ebony hair. "Gabby, I'm sorry." She reached out to her, but Gabrielle pulled back.
"Excuse me will you?" Gabrielle hurried out the door.
Xena had seen enough. She did not even try to hide her anger as she spun Sophia around to face her. "Listen, Sophia. I know you and Gabrielle have been friends for a long time. But you haven't seen her in a while and in that time, a lot of things have happened to her. She is not the same young girl from Poteidaea. She has been through Tartarus and back and she doesn't need any crap from you about pain and suffering. She knows about it and has experienced it." Xena headed for the door.
"Xena, wait. Tell her I'm truly sorry. The last thing I want is to stir up those bad memories again." Sophia cast her eyes down toward the floor.
Xena headed out the door. At the stair landing, she hesitated, and returned to the room. "Sophia," Xena growled, "let me give you some advice. I have lost a number of friends because they could not let go of their anger. They thought that if they could avenge their families, the pain would go away." Xena's tone became softer, "Even I thought that. But the pain doesn't go away. It increases and then you look to nullify the pain with more blood. But instead, the darkness inside grows, until it swallows you whole." She paused. "I don't want to see Gabrielle have to add another person to the list of friends we have lost."
Gabrielle was sitting at the bar, staring off into space. She walked up to her best friend. "Hello stranger."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, ever since Sophia has joined us, you have said less than 10 sentences to me. Am I being replaced?"
Gabrielle reached out and grabbed Xena's hands, all the while smiling at her friend. "No one can replace you Xena."
"That's good to know." Xena smiled at her. "It's just that you never mentioned her before, and the two of you seem like really good friends."
"I'm sorry about being secretive about Sophia. It's just that I made a promise to someone a long time ago never to reveal to anyone who Sophia was, for fear that someone would use that information to harm her."
"Let me guess, you promised Athena."
"How did you know?"
"By motherly instincts. I felt the same way about Solon, remember? I understand Athena's point of view. It would be just like Ares to hurt Athena through her child. She would probably be dead."
Gabrielle looked away, and began to stare into space again. Xena could tell that Gabrielle was bottling something up. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"Talk about what?"
"About what happened in the room. You looked pretty shaken up after Sophia spoke."
Gabrielle thought about it for a moment. *No, I can't talk about it.* "I was worried about Ares. But he is probably more worried about his safety. He has some enemies you know."
*Sophia did not mention Ares. What has really upset you?* thought Xena. She wanted to push her friend further on the topic, but decided against it. "I really doubt if Ares is any threat to you at this moment, but it is better not to take chances especially when we consider the state that Sophia is in. She wants to hurt someone really bad. If she finds and attacks Ares, he is going to react like a cornered animal, which means no one is safe; especially those who Sophia cares for."
Gabrielle shook her head. "I have never seen Sophia so upset. I can see the bitterness and anger eating away at her soul. When she first found out, she was horrified and very angry. I thought that maybe, given time, she would have been able to deal with the pain. But she has gotten worst than better. The other night, I looked into her eyes after she told you about her family. I could see the blood lust right in her eyes."
"Listen, I don't want you to get hurt because of her desire for revenge. I'm packing up our things and we are leaving." Xena started to leave when Gabrielle grabbed her arm.
"I'm not leaving her. She needs someone to talk her out of this. I just wish I knew the right words to say."
"There is nothing you can say Gabrielle. Sophia needs to work through this one on her own. She has to learn that some things are impossible to change and we must learn to live with them." Right now, she feels like she is the only one who ever felt like she does."
"Unfortunately I know all too well what she is feeling."
Xena looked away from her friend. She knew exactly what Gabrielle was talking about. Part of her did not want to bring up bad memories from the past. For almost two years they have carried on with their lives since the death of their children. In fact, even though Solan's name had come up numerous times, neither spoke of Hope. There friendship barely survived the birth, lives and deaths of Gabrielle's daughter. Even now, her stomach turned as she said their names.
"Hope and Dahok."
The bard just nodded. She relived the memories in her mind: the loss of her blood innocence, Dahok's flames engulfing her whole body, her confusion and sense of loss and emptiness. In a span of a few weeks, that pain was replaced with joy, after she gave birth to a little girl. And then Xena was able to add put two and two together; figuring out that somehow Dahok had impregnated her, and Hope was his child. The young woman could still feel the harsh coldness she felt after Xena rescued her from Dahok. Gabrielle wrapped her arms around herself, her eyes reflecting the same look they had back in the room.
*So that is what is bugging you.* It became crystal clear to the warrior.
Sophia's situation had struck a nerve with Gabrielle. "Maybe if you tell her that you do understand, that you went through a similar experience with Hope, maybe she'll be more open to listening to you. Besides, it may do you so good to talk about it. You really never had before..."
"Maybe I don't feel the need to talk about it."
"Come on, Gabrielle, you talk about everything. But you never..."
Gabrielle turned her back to Xena. "I DON'T want to talk about it, okay?"
Xena could feel Gabrielle shutting down her emotions and building the walls. She walked around Gabrielle so that she could see her face. Xena could see the pain in Gabrielle's eyes, but only for a split second before Gabrielle's face became stoic. *And I thought I was the one good at hiding my emotions.* "You're getting too good at building walls around yourself." When Gabrielle did not respond, Xena continued. "You know what I love most about you? Your ability to let people into your heart and soul, and allowing them see the real you: your joys and your pain. Please don't ever change that about yourself." Xena walked to the stairs and headed back up to their room.
Sophia paced the floor of the small room. "How could I have hurt her so? I didn't mean it. Me and my big mouth. Just once I wish my foot could get between my lips before they start wagging." She picked up her daggers and placed them in their holders. As she gathered her things, Xena's words replayed themselves in her mind. *No Xena, I don't know everything,* she glanced over to Gabrielle's bedroll, *but I do know enough.* She sighed as she thought about her predicament. "If I go after Ares, he'll go after everyone I care about, and if Mother is right. I don't need to give him any more reason to go after Gabrielle." She smirked to herself. "Besides, I'm a child of truth, wisdom, and of the light. How hard can it be to control this desire to hurt Ares?"
Sophia was about to go downstairs and beg Gabrielle for forgiveness when she saw the lightening and heard the thunder. She ran to the window and saw a human form falling to the ground. She recognized the person and realized that his punishment had begun. Pure rage and hatred filled her heart. "ARES!!!"
He turned around and smiled. Then he waved and ran. *Don't know who that was, but she did not look too happy to see me. So Athena already let my enemies know I was coming. She'll pay for that.*
Sophia ran through the door, but she did not make it far.
THUD. Sophia realized that she had ran right into the Warrior Princess, but she didn't have time for manners. "Will you get out of my way?"
"Where are you going?" "The truth can wait until morning."
"Xena, this is none of your business! Move!"
"Sorry but a person I really care about cares about you. So I hate to do this but...."
THUD. The next thing Sophia saw was a bright light as Xena's fist connected solidly with her jaw. Sophia slammed back against the wall and slid down to the floor.
Xena looked at the unconscious woman and shook her head. "Once again, I'm playing chess. I hope your mother appreciates the trouble I'm going through to keep you safe."
"I guess I deserved it." Sophia cracked a grin as she rubbed her jaw. "You sure do pack a wallop. Next time warn me, okay?"
"Sorry about that. Had to make sure it was strong enough to knock out a
Gabrielle glanced over at her two friends from across the tavern table. She was very upset, but she did not know at whom. Was she mad at Sophia for the hurtful words, Xena for bringing up Dahok and Hope, or at herself for allowing the pain and memories of her past still haunt her?
Sophia looked over at the bard. "Gabrielle, I owe you a huge apology. I shouldn't have said what I said. Please forgive me. I wasn't thinking." Both women traded knowing glances.
Gabrielle nodded. Sophia reached out and squeezed her thanks. "So when are you two leaving?"
"We are not leaving."
Sophia looked at Gabrielle, glanced over towards Xena and back at Gabrielle; reading the silent words spoken between them. Xena scowled at Gabrielle's words. Gabrielle for her part had a very determined look on her face. The tension in the room was growing with each passing second. *Hopefully, I won't be around when they decide to talk about this,* she mused.
Sophia decided to break the silence. "Listen Gabby, I appreciate what you're trying to do, but..."
"No buts about it." The conversation was cut short when the barmaid arrived with their breakfast. Gabrielle ate her serving of goose eggs, bacon and sweet rolls, and a part of everyone else's breakfast. Sophia watched in sheer awe as Gabrielle ate. After Gabrielle was done, Sophia chuckled and said, "I feel real sorry for the person that ever manages to marry you. The poor fool is going to have to work every candlemark just to keep you fed."
"I wouldn't worry about that if I were you," Xena rang in. "Anyone who watches her eat would change their mind about proposing to her."
"Ha-ha, guys. Very funny. It's not my fault I have a healthy appetite."
Sophia chuckled. "I wouldn't call your appetite healthy. Call it enormous, huge, strange, and unnatural, but never healthy."
They were having so much fun at Gabrielle's expense that they didn't notice an old woman sitting at the table next to them, who was listening to their conversation.
"Okay, all kidding aside, It's time to get serious." Sophia eyed her two friends. "Are you staying or going?"
"That depends on you. Are you staying or going?"
Sophia's jaw tightened. "Gabrielle, I have to confront Ares."
"No you don't."
"The man I'm looking for was in Ares' army, following Ares' orders. He must know who my father is."
"That man is not your father. He is a disgusting, inhuman..." Gabrielle was struggling to find the right word, but the only word she could come up with was demon and she refused to say it.
"Whatever he is, I need to find him. And make him pay."
Gabrielle looked at Sophia. "Fine then. If you're staying, we are staying."
"Why? This isn't your fight."
Xena broke into the conversation. "Because friends stick with friends no matter what. That what friends do." Xena smiled at Gabrielle, knowing she stole those words from her beloved bard. Gabrielle smiled back.
Sophia shook her head. "That was beautiful. Crazy, but beautiful. Well, if you guys are planning on staying, all I can say is...thanks. Let's get over to Parthenon. The festivities are about to begin." With that the three friends headed out the door.
The old woman knocked on the door of her spare bedroom. "Ares, have I got news for you."
Ares stares intently at the old woman. He knew he could trust her, she had been his worshiper for years. *A god may not enter another god's territory, but no one said anything about spies.* And from the look on the old woman's face, he know that she was worth the price he paid. A smile started to appear on his face. "What do you have for me?"
"I've found the young woman you describe to me. It seems that she's a friend of the warrior woman and her little bard."
"Really?" *Why would Xena and miss goody-too-shoes be around? I know that Xena would love to have my head, by the bard wouldn't stand for it. Sometimes she is too good.* His smile grew. "Well, did you find who she is and what she wants?"
"It seems that she is a relative of yours, Ares. She said that her mom was raped, and that her mother's temple was destroyed. This man who committed the rape was in your army. She is looking for you, so that you can tell her who this man is."
"How old was this woman?"
"Hard to say, but she looked around the same age as the bard."
Ares thought back. Those years had been tough years for him. His army cared more about destruction than following orders. That caused lots of bad blood between him and the other gods, not that he really cared. But because of their actions, he found himself being punished more often than not. Especially after his army totally destroyed... "She said her mother's temple was destroyed?"
"And her mother was raped?"
"Yes. But then she left and said that she needed to visit her mother's temple. And from the direction they went, I would say that they were heading for Athena's temple. But that temple has never been destroyed. I don't understand."
"I don't pay you to understand, just to deliver information." Ares eyes reflected confusion as his mind processed this new information. The old woman could almost hear the wheels turn in his head. *How could it be? My army did destroy one of Athena's temples, and I thoroughly enjoy watching them. And I enjoyed seeing the fear in Athena's special virgin priestess' eyes. Wasn't her name Sophia? Yes, I very much enjoyed her. But how?* Then he remembered Athena disappearing for almost a year. In fact, Zeus thought she needed some time to grieve for her favored one. But after months, Zeus became concerned that she maybe was grieving too much. Then after one visit with her, Zeus announced that everything was all right. In fact, Zeus seemed kind of giddy, with a sparkle in his eyes. And then for the next few years how little he and the other gods saw of Athena. And then, the fear and concern in Athena's eyes when Ares latest punishment was discussed and decided upon. It all made sense. With every passing revelation, Ares' smile grew larger and larger. He jumped up and gave the old woman a hug and a kiss.
"Not to insult you, my lord, but I prefer dinars."
"And you shall receive. Ha-Ha! They want me to adore my sister in public. So I shall. This will be a celebration that will be talked about for ages and ages to come. Dear sister, your secret will be out. And I'll have a new heir and warlord by my side."
"Agena, are you sure about this?" Sophia twisted around in her oiled black leathers regal armor as her floor-length black and red silk cape flapped gently. "I hate pomp and circumstance." She adjusted her pendant Athena had given her during her seventeenth summer. One half of the pendant was green, the other half brown. Each half was separated from each other was a silver bolt. She looked down at her pendant and placed her hand around it. *I'll always remember that day. I had to make a choice, my love or my destiny. I made the right choice, but still...* She sighed to herself as she felt the sting in her heart.
Agena walked up to Sophia. "Yes, Athena wants you to stand up front, to the right of her statue. After the sacrifices and gifts, she will appear, go to the courtyard and give a blessing to her people, and she wants you there by her side. And she wants Gabrielle and Xena on her left."
"Is this about pomp and circumstance or is this about her keeping an eye on us?"
"Both." Agena looked around. "Where is Gabrielle and Xena anyway?"
At that moment Xena escorted Gabrielle into the sanctuary. "We're here. Sorry it took us so long."
Sophia mouth dropped open. Xena's armor polished and shine as if it was new. She also had on a black cape. She looked every bit of a princess warlord. But Xena was not the cause of Sophia's expression.
Gabrielle was dress in soft beige deer leather. Her halter styled sleeveless top bared her shoulders, abs and a little peek of cleavage. The matching skirt was short and adorned with fringes that ran down the sides and the bottom. Around her neck was her necklace adorned with feathers and a wooden pendant that had similar markings to the ones on her staff that identified her as Queen of the Amazons.
Agena walked up to Sophia, and lifted her jaw, closing her mouth. "Don't let the flies in," she whispered.
Sophia ignored her and walked off the rising. "Wow!!! You look great Gabby."
"Well this is a very formal event, and since I'm the Queen of the Amazons and
Artemis' Chosen One, I figured I better look the part."
"And you truly do." Sophia bowed down, and touched Gabrielle's hand to her forehead. "My Queen." Gabrielle shook her head at her friend as Sophia back up. Sophia glanced over to the Warrior Princess. "Oh, you look nice too Xena."
Xena rolled her eyes. "Thanks." She still did not think that this was a good idea, but there was nothing she could do to stop it. Sophia knew Ares was coming and she was determined to be here, and Athena was determined to keep an eye on her child. *I have a bad feeling about this.*
"Well, it is time for the ceremonies to begin." Sophia moved to Gabrielle's left side and made a sweeping motion towards the rising with her arm. "After you, my Queen."
The opening ceremony was very beautiful. People from all around the world marched in, bringing their gifts and sacrifices to be offered to Athena. The flowers, the animals, the spices, and expensive tapestries came flooding in. And as each one dropped off their gift, they left; but there was another person to take the spot. Gabrielle tried to memorize every detail, her eyes sparkling with excitement. *This will make a great story.* Even though the gifts impressed the bard, what really impressed Gabrielle was the look of love that everyone seem to have for the goddess. Some people looked like they were really in love with Athena, with puppy dog eyes looking at the statue. Others refused to look upon the statue, but instead cast their eyes downward, as a sign of submissiveness and respect. And still others prostrated the floor before the statue. All except for the last person who arrogantly stepped to the altar. He had no love in his eyes, but excitement.
Ares made sure he was last. He thought about bringing his gift in front of an audience, but he decided against that. *I want to enjoy this all myself.* He looked at Xena, Gabrielle and lastly at Sophia.
Xena silently gasped to herself. No one could ever see the similarities unless one saw them together. Both had their black hair slick back. Both had dark intensive eyes. Their stances were similar. Her mind flashed back to the scene at camp, when Sophia went hunting. She remembered the way Sophia smiled that night as saw the same smile on Ares' face. *It can't be.*
Ares smiled at Sophia. *A perfect combination, if I do say so myself. Sophia's mahogany skin and full lips, Athena's stubbornness and strategic know how, and my darkness and chaos. She will be perfect."
Sophia looked at Ares. Her hands started to shake, both from anger and nervousness. *How dare he come in here with that smug look upon his face.* She decided he needed to be humbled. "Bow down and adore Athena, the goddess of Wisdom, Truth, Arts, War and Industry."
Ares smirked. "What is your name?
She growled out her response. "Sophia."
"Ah, Sophia. A beautiful name. I know it well. Sophia, you forgot one adjective. Not only is Athena the goddess of wisdom, art industry and war, but she is the goddess of kidnapping as well."
"ARES!!!" The statue, which was once cold hard marble became flesh. Athena appeared and her gray eyes shone the cold and the hardness that was reflected in the marble. She gripped her daughter's arm, forcing Sophia to stand still. "Get out!"
"I have to be here remember? Besides sister, don't you want your daughter to know the truth?" He looked at Sophia. "The truth is your mother kidnapped you and never let your father know that you existed. Athena was afraid that you would find out who you really are-- a child of chaos, of violence, and of bloody war. You want to know who your father is, child. I'll tell you. You're looking at him." He smiled.
"NO!" Sophia jumped off the rising and down upon him. She knocked him to the ground as she punched him in the jaw. "YOU LIE!" She picked him up and punched him again, striking his nose. A small trickle of blood flowed from it. "LIAR!" To everyone's amazement, Ares did not fight back.
Xena tried to pull Sophia off of Ares, but Sophia's anger was too hot. Xena grabbed Sophia's arm to pull her off Ares. "Ow!" Xena jumped back when Sophia threw the back of her head into her chin. Sophia then went after Ares again, punching him in the gut. Ares wobbled but remained standing. Xena grabbed Sophia in a bear hug from behind, pinning Sophia's arms to her sides. When Xena lifted her up, Sophia kicked Ares in the ribs. He went to his knees.
Xena tried to get through to Sophia. "You must calm down. This is not doing any good."
But Sophia wouldn't listen. "Mother, strike him down!"
Confusion swept over Athena's face. "It can't be," she whispered. "It just can't be." Sophia turned her head to her mother as she heard the goddess' words and saw the fear in her eyes.
Ares gingerly rose to his feet, holding his side. He looked Athena straight in the eyes. "No matter what you wish, sister, you know I'm telling the truth. Look in my eyes. You know I'm telling the truth!" Athena looked at Ares and her skin turned into a pale sickly color.
Sophia had enough. She broke out of Xena's bear hug, and lunged at Ares. She kneed him in the stomach, and he doubled over in pain. She kicked his feet from underneath him and watched as he fell forward unto his knees. She took her bloody hand and reached for her dagger.
"No, stop! Don't do it!" Gabrielle yelled.
"Why not, he's lying! I want the truth! Who is my father?!" She raised the dagger above his head.
"HE'S YOUR FATHER! He's your father," cried Athena.
A bolt of lightening struck the rising and Zeus instantly appeared. He looked at his daughter and grabbed her hand. "I felt the pain in you heart."
"Well, isn't this a SWELL time for a family reunion?"
"Hold you tongue Ares before I cut it out for you. You have caused enough trouble for today my son."
Zeus looked at his only grandchild from his favorite. He saw the fear and disbelief in her eyes. "He's lying, right grandfather? Tell me he is lying."
"Do you really want to know the truth my child?"
Sophia ran and kneeled down at Zeus feet. "I need to know," she whispered.
Ares looked at Sophia. "You ALREADY know the truth. I'm your father."
Zeus eyed his least favorite child. "Ares, the only thing we know is that you believe that is the truth. If you're telling the truth, that means you were at the temple that day. That means you did not try to stop the men from destroying the temple or from attacking the women. It also means that you raped a priestess...."
"Yeah, yeah, I confess."
"I'll deal with you later. Athena, I will look into her body, into her very essence and find the truth. Are you ready for that?"
"I hope that you find that he is not the father. But I fear..." She could not finish her sentence.
Zeus touched Sophia's head. A tear fell from each of his eyes as the shocking and unwanted truth reached his heart. "The blood that flows through you comes from 3 sources; one from a human, two from gods. One is from Athena, the other ..." He paused, and tried to hold back a sob. "Ares."
"No! It can't be! She's my daughter."
"Come on sister, don't tell me you never suspected."
Zeus sent a bolt at Ares' feet. Athena reached out to Sophia, but Sophia drew back, as if her mother's touch was a hot flame.
Sophia stared at Athena, Zeus and Ares. Her emotions shone through her eyes, horror, doubt, anger and bitterness. She took her two daggers and dropped them to the floor. Then she pulled her pendant from her neck, and threw it on the floor. "I don't want to have anything to do with any of you ever again." She turned to Xena. "You were right, Xena. When the gods are involved, it means nothing but trouble." Sophia ran from the temple.
Athena attempted to run after Sophia. All she wanted to do was to wrap her arms around her daughter. Athena did not care about the truth. In her heart she knew that Sophia is her child. But Zeus stopped her by grabbing her arm.
"She doesn't need to see you now. She is too angry."
Xena looked at Ares, the hatred pouring from her eyes. "I didn't think you could get much lower, but you always seems to prove me wrong. Why Ares? Why do this to her? Why couldn't you just keep your mouth shut?"
Ares wiped the blood from his mouth. "She's my daughter. And as such, she should be ruling by my side. The potential darkness in her is great, greater than I've ever seen. She's a daughter of Ares, NOT a daughter of Athena. Besides, this opportunity could not be wasted." He looked at his sister and father. "So, you want to humiliate me? So my family thinks of me as the dark horse? Want to cause me pain, huh? Well, who is suffering now?"
"So, revenge is what this was about Ares? There were so many other ways. You have destroyed a life, the life I have tried to protect with all my being. You don't love her, you just want to destroy. Did you even notice the pain on her face? You call yourself her father? A father does not cause that kind of pain. She is my daughter. MINE!!!"
Zeus wrapped his arms around Athena. "Ares, you're a disgraceful example of a god. I can't even bear to look at you. Do not show your face to me for a while, for if you do, that day will be your last. And if Sophia does not come back, and the relationship between her and Athena is not restored, do not ever come to
Mt. Olympus again. You are not welcomed there." With that, another lightening bolt struck the rising & Zeus and Athena disappeared.
Gabrielle glared at Ares, and shook her head. "I hope you realized Ares you may have started something that you cannot finished."
Ares gingerly rose to his feet. "Thanks for the warning bard. Now let me warn you. My daughter will come to accept the fact that I'm her father. She will come to accept the fact that she is a child of darkness. She will rule by my side and lead my armies. And the first thing I'm going to do is have her get rid of you."
He walked to the cedar doors and turned back to Xena and Gabrielle. He smiled, preparing to deliver a dart to Gabrielle's heart. "You should have learn from your own experience that darkness always triumphs. Good day ladies." He walked through the door and into the streets of Athens.
Gabrielle and Xena searched for Sophia. In two days time, they had received a few leads, mostly from people who accidentally ran into with a very angry half-god. The first few looked like they barely escaped with their lives. But as the days drew out, the injuries became less severe. They finally ran into a man who saw Sophia less than two candlemarks ago.
"Yeah, I saw her. She looked really bad off. She wanted to fight, and I tried to get away. I was so afraid, and she wouldn't listen to reason. So I had to use this." In his hand was a dagger. "I wanted to help her, but she ran off. She was heading South."
Xena nodded. "Thanks for the information."
As the two friends headed South, the flowers nor the sun had any appeal to Gabrielle right now. All she could see was the events that took place in the temple two days ago. "Xena, I'm really scared for Sophia. Her eyes looked so empty and dark. I could almost feel the coldness coming from her heart. I'm afraid of what she might do. She looked so alone, so abandoned. I felt the same way too, after..." She stopped herself. Instead of talking, she silently thanked the gods for Xena. Even though she did not talk about it, after the rape, Xena was there to comfort her. Not so much with words; that was not Xena's style. But with her actions: the hugs, the kisses, the touches, taking care of her when she couldn't or didn't want to take care of herself. And over time, some of the coldness, fear and feelings of being alone and abandoned went away, but not all of it. And what remained could be seen in her eyes. Xena looked at her and saw the pain.
Xena feared the worst for Sophia. Death was the least of Xena's worries. *If she does survive all of this, she still has to deal with the darkness.* And from the way things looked, Xena thought that Sophia was losing that battle. But she didn't tell Gabrielle. *If it wasn't for Gabrielle, I might have let the darkness take over again.* She hoped that somehow Gabrielle could help Sophia. *After all it was Gabrielle's light that helped me. She gave me a light of my own.* They were both lost in their thoughts, when they heard the sound of fighting up ahead.
One man was holding Sophia while another was kicking and punching her. Sophia smiled as the man punched her in the stomach. "Come on, my grandmother hits harder than that." Of course the men did not know that her grandmother was Hera. The thought of Hera as her grandmother sickened her.
For the past two days, Sophia hasn't missed an opportunity to fight. Of course, she had been on the losing end of the latest fights. She would taut and tease enough to get her opponents mad, and then let them wail on her. When it look like they were about to stop, she would put up a fight long enough to make them mad again.
She dropped to the ground after a punch connected with the stab wound she received earlier. "Will you please stay down this time? I don't know why you're in such a hurry to go to Hades, but if you keep this up, that is where you'll be." Sophia lunged at the man standing in front of her. The man at her back gave her a sharp blow to her left kidney. "Stay down!"
"Oh boys. We'll take it from here. The men looked at Xena, and then at Gabrielle. They quickly left.
Sophia heard the voice and knew who it was. "Go away."
"Sorry, can't do that." Gabrielle rolled Sophia over onto her back and gasped. "Xena, bring me that water skin and the healing herbs. It looks like someone used you as a punching bag and a daggerboard."
All Sophia could do was groan. As Gabrielle tried to undo the fastens of her armor, Sophia slapped her hand away.
Gabrielle eyes flashed in anger and concern. "You want to die? Fine," Gabrielle picked up Sophia's hand and placed a dagger into it, "but be brave enough to do it yourself, instead of trying to trick others into killing you."
Sophia looked down at the dagger and noticed that the dagger was one that Athena had given her. Her anger rose, and she threw it into the trunk of a nearby tree. "I know you think you understand..."
"I understand more than what you think. I understand the pain you're feeling. I understand that the darkness that is inside of you what forced upon you, you didn't have a choice. I understand that you feel dirty and that somehow you must deserve this. But it is not your fault." Gabrielle glanced up to Xena. Xena placed her hand upon Gabrielle's shoulder and squeezed, giving Gabrielle the support and strength to go on.
"Did I ever tell you that I had a daughter? I named her Hope." Gabrielle took a deep breath and told Sophia everything: the rape by Dahok, the birth of Hope, the hope she had for her child, and the despair and disappointment that followed when she realized that Hope's darkness was too powerful to overcome.
"You know I wish I had someone like Athena. Don't you realize how lucky you are? Athena knew what happened to your mom, and instead of looking at you with hate, and looked at you with love. She placed you inside of her own womb, so that you would survive. It was her blood that ran through your veins. She is the one who raised you. It was on her knee that you sat and it was her voice that told you stories about your mom. When you were hurt, who was it that took care of you? It was her words, her thoughts, and actions that taught you how to love in this world. You had 3 mothers and 1 father who loved you with all their hearts. Athena is still with you. She is your mother, your parent. Ares is nothing. If he deserves anything it is your pity." As she continued to talk, Gabrielle began to dress Sophia's wounds.
"Are you going to throw all of that away because you found out the truth? That darkness was inside of you before you knew Ares to be your father. Now, all of a sudden, you're going to let it take over your life? Are you going to let it destroy the light and goodness that is inside of you? If you do that, then he wins. Is that what you want? Your mom did not ask Athena to raise you in order for you to throw your life away. Be the person that she would want you to be."
Because of Sophia's condition, they had to travel slowly; taking them three days to get back to the outskirts of Athens. During that time, Gabrielle and Sophia had more talks. But this time Xena was included in the conversations, mostly for support for Gabrielle. Lots of tears fell from both of the younger women during this trip, and a number of wounds were starting to heal. Even Xena found herself weeping at times.
Sophia looked up at the blue morning sky. "The first thing I want to do is talk to the gods."
"Are you sure?" Concern shone from Xena's eyes. "I'm sure everyone would understand that you need your rest."
"Positive, I need to get something off my chest. But I can't do in Athens. Ares punishment must be over by now. He can't be in Athens. So Athena and Ares if you hear me, come down now." Both Gabrielle and Xena noticed that she used Athena's proper name.
Athena appeared, but she did not look like herself. Her eyes were bloodshot, and she looked pale. Ares, on the other hand, looked cocky as ever.
"I need to talk to you both." She slid off of Argo. "First, neither of you will interrupt me. Second, neither of you will say a word to me after I'm through, unless I give you permission. My decisions are final on this." She looked at the woman who she used to call mother. "Now then Athena. You must have suspected someone. You knew who the leaders were in Ares' armies. You kept information from me that I wanted. And I don't know how I'm going to deal with that right now. When I entered this city, we were as close as a mother and daughter could be. When I left your temple and city, after finding out the truth, I decided we no longer had a relationship. I can't lie to myself or to you; nor can I be everything you want me to be. I have this darkness inside of me, and for me to continue to try to live this image of me being the child of wisdom, truth and light would be wrong. I have this darkness, and I have come to accept it. And to claim it as my own."
With each passing word, the smile on Ares' grew larger and larger. He glanced over at Athena and saw the pain and turmoil in her face. *Say goodbye to my daughter Athena.*
Gabrielle looked over at Athena. She could tell that Sophia's words were breaking the goddess' heart. Gabrielle knew she should hold her tongue, and keep still but she couldn't. She was about to grab Sophia and ask her what the Tartarus was she doing, but Xena stopped her. "This is her life. She has to decide for herself. We've done all we can. If she decides to end things with
Athena, she has the right to do that."
"She is making a mistake," Gabrielle whispered.
"It's her mistake to make."
Sophia turned to face Ares. She saw his smile, and her anger began to rise. *Not yet.* "You are right Ares. I do have your darkness. I didn't ask for it, but it is a part of me, surely as these trees are part of the earth. And as your child, I could rule by your side. I could give in and let the darkness envelope me. It would be so easy to do, since every time I think of all the pain my mom experienced before her death, I can let that darkness take over, and make people hurt because I hurt. When I think of my mom and what you did to her, I can feel the darkness overwhelming me."
The smile started to fade from Ares face as Sophia continued. "Ares, do you really think that I would rule by your side as your daughter? You will never be my father. You are a pig." She turned and smiled at Gabrielle and Xena. "A friend had to remind me how lucky I am. My mom loved me enough to let me be taken away before she died. Athena loved me enough to see me not as a child conceived out of hate and evil, but as Sophia's daughter. She then loved me enough to give me a good home, where I would be safe. And all of my parents loved me enough to teach me that I do have light and goodness inside of me. If it were up to you, Ares, I would wallow in the darkness. But I can't. The light that my family gave me has overcome that darkness. Athena is my mother."
Sophia walked up to the God of War. "But you Ares, are nothing. I left home to find out my destiny. And then I let revenge and anger take me away from my path. I can't believe I've wasted all this time looking for you. Now, that I've found you, do me a favor." She moved forward until she was nose to nose with him. "Get lost!"
Ares jaw dropped to the ground. His sure victory ripped from his grasp. "You cannot deny yourself or me."
"I'm not denying myself Ares. I know who I am. More importantly, I know to whom I belong." She turned to the bard. "Gabrielle, do you still have my daggers and pendant?"
"Give them to me."
After receiving her items, Sophia slowly tied the pendant around her neck. She placed the daggers in their holders and walked to Athena. "I do know that our relationship won't be the same as before. But I want it to be better. You are my mother. Your thought, your words, your actions, your love is what makes me."
Athena grasped Sophia. "I love you, my daughter." They hugged for a long time. Ares looked on horrified.
Sophia looked over towards Ares. "You still here?"
"You think this is over? This is just the beginning. Don't you think I know who to blame for this?" He stared at Gabrielle. "One of these days you are going to stick your pretty nose in my business and I'm going to break your neck." He realized he said the wrong thing. Both Xena and Sophia were in his face.
Xena and Sophia looked at each other. "May I Xena? Just this once."
"Okay," Xena stepped aside, "but just this once."
"Thank you." She turned her full attention to Ares. "Let me tell you something Ares and I want to be sure that I'm making myself clear: If you even touch one hair on her, or send any trouble her way, there will be not place safe for you. Whether you're a god or not, I'll hunt you down and I won't leave one shred of evidence that you ever existed. I'll skin you alive and use your hide for sails, your bones as drum sticks, your flesh as cattle feed, and your teeth as a necklace for Stryfe so that he can keep you near his heart. Now, if you don't believe I would do it, test me." A familiar smirk came upon her face as she stared at Ares. "Remember, I have your darkness inside." Everyone was surprised at the venomous tone Sophia spoke in. After a few moments of silence, Sophia turned her head towards Xena. "How did I do Xena?"
"Maybe a little over the top. But sincere."
Ares looked at each of them. He realized that if Sophia did not make good on the threat, Xena would. "You win, for now." He disappeared.
Xena looked down at her partner as they were leaving Athens. "This has been one eventful trip. I for one am glad its over."
"Yep, it was nice to see Sophia, but I'll be glad when we go. I can't get a word in edgewise with her."
"Now, you know how I feel."
Gabrielle licked out her tongue. "Just for that remark, I may never be quiet again."
"And what would be so different?" Gabrielle was at a lost for words. Xena chuckled.
"Hey guys wait up." The ebony beauty ran to the departing couple.
Xena jumped off of Argo. "Hi Sophia, I thought you wanted to spend more time with your mother."
"I do. But I needed to give you guys something." She pulled three items from a sack. She gave one package to Gabrielle, one to Xena, and an apple to Argo. "Open them."
In Gabrielle's package was a pair of daggers that looked similar to the ones that Sophia used, but the blades were thinner and longer. "They are just as strong as mine. And see, There is a Tiger's Eye stone in each of the hilts. So that you can remember me." She pulled out her own set. "And look, I have added emeralds to my hilts, so that I can remember you. To help us remember our friendship. I love you Gabby." Gabrielle looked at Sophia and wrapped her arms around Sophia in a fierce hug. Sophia clasped her arms around Gabrielle, returning the hug.
Xena opened her package and pulled out a pendant that was strikingly similar to Sophia's, pendant, except her gift was green and blue with no silver bolt dividing the colors. Instead, the blue and green intermingled with each other in the center of the pendant. "Thanks Sophia."
Sophia smiled at the Warrior Princess. "Thank you Xena, for everything you did." She stuck out her forearm. Xena clasped it in a warrior handshake. As she clasped Xena's forearm, Sophia pulled Xena closer and whispered, "Take good care of her, she is very special."
"Don't I know it."
The adventures of Xena, Gabrielle and Sophia are far from over. Read "Sophia's Choice" to find out about the next adventure.
Written and ©Copyrighted by: Paully Adams