In the time of ancient gods, warlords and kings. A land in turmoil cried out for a hero. Her name was Xena, a mighty princess forged in the heat of battle. The power. The passion. The danger. Her courage would change the world. Except Xena has been dead for three months.
Gabrielle sits within a small camp on the edge of some woods. The light of the small fire barely illuminates her as she stares into it's flames. She glances up and notices the moon is high in the sky. Sighing she picks up the spit from the fire and groans at the charred remains impaled on it. She shakes her head as she tossed the spit into the woods behind her before getting up. The bard walks over to her unfurled bedroll and lies down on it. She pulls an a small black urn over and holds it tight against her chest, more out of habit than anything else, as she slowly drifts off into a dreamless sleep.
Stray rays of sunlight shining through the trees slowly awaken Gabrielle. Trying her best, she wipes the sleep from her eyes as she stands up. She blinks the rest of the sleep away as the looks around here camp. Scratching her nose she takes a deep breathe and cracks her neck before she starts to tidy up. She carefully picks up the urn and wraps it in her sleeping rolls before placing them on a makeshift sledge. Beneath the furs lay a set of leathers, a sword still in its scabbard and a chakram. Once all the items are secure, Gabrielle picks up the leash and continues on her journey dragging her gear behind her.
At noon she stops for a well needed rest at a small lake. After cautiously hiding her gear she slowly undresses, the torment of the past few months evident on her body. She runs her hands over her long, dirty, blond hair. Slowly running her hand down her neck and her chest. Gabrielle seems to become frail as her thumb notices each rib protruding from her abdomen. Her arms fall limp at her side as she stares at the water. She slowly closes her eyes. They shoot open again as a familiar voice calls to her.
"Oh Gabrielle! Come 'ere, I wanna show you something."
Gabrielle's eyes widen as she sees Xena swimming in the center of the lake. She's just about to reply when someone beats her to it.
"Well, you're gonna have to show me from here. This little minx is staying on dry land."
Gabrielle averts her eyes from her younger self, picks her clothes back up off the floor and collects her gear. She glances back at the empty lake before turning to leave.
Within the Halls of War, Ares is lounging sideways on his throne, his right hand resting on his forehead. He lifts up his sword. Giving it the once over, his brow furrows in anger and he throws it hilt deep into a nearby pillar. With a sigh, he rights himself and waves a hand causing a mirror to appear in front of him. Instead of his reflect, he's watching Gabrielle slowly walking along a countryside path. He leans closer for a second and, with a nod to himself, he dematerializes.
Later down the road, the bard is making slow progress, the unworn ground making the sledge more of a burden than usual. She stops for a quick breather when she is suddenly surrounded by four heavily armed thugs. The bard sighs as one of them, obviously the leader, walks up to her.
"Looky here guys. If it isn't 'The Battling Bard of Potedia'" He declares mockingly. The bard sighs at him as his men laugh. The leader leans closer and she can practically smell his breath. "Looks nothing more than a wastrel to me."
Gabrielle squares her shoulders, a look of 'again' on her face.
The leader leans slightly to the side to get a better look at her gear and spots the urn contain therein. "You know, those ashes would fetch a high price to the right people. So," He cracks his knuckles loudly. "why don't you hand them over and no-one will get hurt, OK?"
Gabrielle releases her grip on the leash and runs her hand up her forehead and over her head. Seeing her make no move against them, one of the thugs walks towards their prize. Just as he reaches out to grab the urn the bard spins beneath his arms and smacks her forehead into his face. The resulting crack causes birds to flee from the nearby trees. The thug flies back screaming, his nose almost flat against his face, the gushing blood staining his teeth.
Anger fills the leaders face as he screams. "Get me that urn!"
The rest of the thugs quickly jump into action, spinning swords and maces expertly. The first thug goes down with a broken arm before he can even swing. Gabrielle spins as she ducks beneath a mace bringing her forearm round. The the sudden pain in the thugs ribs causes him to collapse coughing up blood.
Gabrielle stands defiant giving the leader a stare that could yogurt milk as she deftly steps to the side dodging an over head swing from behind. With an expert flip, she kicks the thug in the jaw, laying him out, and lands almost nose to nose with the thug leader, who has the look of someone who has just had a involuntary evacuation. Gabrielle's face remains as expressionless as ever as she grasps him round the throat and lifts him off the ground with no visible sign of strain and tosses him aside like a used parchment.
The bards shoulders slump slightly as she walks back to her gear and, after checking all is there, picks up the leash and continues along the path.
After a couple of seconds a hooded figure emerges from the trees and surveys the devastation before disappearing.
Aphrodite paces up and down in front of her own scrying mirror. Worry is carved on her face. She stops in front of the mirror and looks into it again. Gabrielle can be seen fighting the band of thugs. Aphrodite averts her eyes for a second, when she looks back the bard is collecting her gear. The lack of emotion on her face worries the goddess more than anything. She slowly lifts her hand to the mirror, as if trying to comfort.
"Oh, sweat pea."
As the sun slowly sinks down the horizon, Gabrielle is strolling around a brightly market place of a small town. She's tied her sledge to her back. The bard barely looks at each stall as she heads for the inn, doing her best to ignore the stares and comments that are directed at her.
At the entrance to the inn she hesitates for a second before opening the door and walking in. A minute later she walks back out to many laughs. She shakes her head and walks back out of the village.
Sitting on a small log, Gabrielle is looking at one of her scrolls. She closes her eyes as she scratches her nose. Pulling her quill out, she starts to scrawl on the parchment.
"I can't continue like this. It's been two months since Jappa. I've tries on many occasions to put how I feel into words." The bard pauses for a moment, looking up at the sky line and continues to write. "I haven't dreamnt since Chin. My body aches constantly. I fear my appetite has permanently left me. I've lost so much weight it's scary. I seem to have lost the will to do anything. I fear I'm losing my self." She takes another pause to scratch her head. "I've resigned myself to this existence. I've got no money or anything of value with which to trade. Nature no long holds the same wonders as it once did. I fear I'm becoming numb."
Gabrielle's eyes drop to the floor as she sighs deeply. Not raising her eyes, she scrunches up the scroll and tosses it to the side. She sighs again before looking up at the group of thugs that stand in front of her. They part slightly to reveal their grubby leader.
"Well well well . It seems the rumors are true. The Warrior Princess has died and her little bard is looking after the ashes." A large grin reveals his blackened teeth. "I think..."
He is interrupted as Gabrielle suddenly stands, sai in hand, and dispatches the thugs in record time. The thugs leaders eyes widen at the sudden carnage before him and before he can run his entire body tenses and he falls to his knees as Gabrielle jabs him twice in the neck. She leans down so she's face to face with him and shakes her head.
"I've cut off the flow of blood from your brain." A slight smirk twitches her mouth. "You'll die in about 30 - 40 seconds so listen carefully." She stands up straight, keeping eye contact. "I'm sick of it. I'm sick of this. I'm sick of being alone. I'm sick of seeing myself like this. Most of all, I'm sick of being jumped three times a day by people who think I'm an easy mark. Well I've got news for you." She licks her lips and she leans in again, her ear almost touching his bleeding ear. "I'm worse than Xena ever was."
With that she stands up and walks to her gear, as she does this she plucks a pouch from one of the downed thugs. The thug leader is convulsing violently as blood seeps from his nose and mouth. As Gabrielle walks past him again his right eye starts to bulge as the blood pressure slowly forces it from it's socket.
As Gabrielle walks slowly down the path, an empty look on her face, the thug leader collapses behind her, a large pool of blood staining the ground.
Within a modestly furnished room, a single bed with a small table next to it at one end and a large bath at the other. Within which Gabrielle is soaking, a look of relaxation on her face, illuminated by several strategically placed candles. The water has long since passed it's used to clean, murky as it now is. The dirt and grim washed from the bards body. Her hair restored to it's normal blond colour. Her eyes shoot open just to be rolled.
"What do you want?" She demands.
A rather startled looking Ares materializes behind her. His right eyebrow almost reaches his hairline. "Now that's impressive." He begins to stroke his beard, elbows resting in his other hand at his waist. "The only one who could do that was..."
"Go away Ares." Gabrielle interrupts.
The war god raises his hands defensively. "Whoa. Just, just hear me out OK?"
Gabrielle sinks further into her bath and closes her eyes. "Whatever. Just be quick."
Ares nods, just before he speaks he notices Gabrielle's gear. A small black urn resting on top. He steps towards it.
Ares immediately stops, and takes a step back from it. "OK." He walks towards the tub and kneels down at its edge. "I know you miss her. I miss her." He sighs. "Look we all miss and it. Damn it hurts. I know what you're going through."
Gabrielle snorts at this. Ares nods again. "You're in pain. Feeling empty. Feeling lost in the world." He leans closer to the bard. "I can give you a path. A purpose." He picks up the sponge and starts sponging down Gabrielle's arms. "The offer I presented you with all those years ago still stands. Hmm? The Heir of Xena. My compassionate warrior queen."
Gabrielle scoffs at this as she tries to edge away from him. The god stands up, slightly disgruntled. "Just tell me you'll think about it, OK?"
Gabrielle raises her hand and shoos him away. "Fine. I'll think about it."
Ares takes a deep breath. "Well, that's a. That's a start." He then dematerializes leaving Gabrielle alone with her thoughts once more.
Over the next two weeks, Gabrielle continues her journey. Each step as hard as the last, but each step takes her closer to her goal. Each day she is jumped by a band of thugs. This slowly declines as the trail of corpses increases. Unknown to the Bard, Ares watches each skirmish, each death with interest. Each night she sleeps a dreamless sleep, clutching a small urn for comfort.
One day she reaches the top of a hill, the bodies of the latest attack can still be seen behind her. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. "Greece. I'm finally home." She opens her eyes, re grips the leash of her sledge, and starts down the hill when something makes her stop. She squints into the distance. "Is that?" Anger flickers on her face for a split second as recognizes what she's seeing. "Romans."
A small town is in the grips of the noon rush, mixed with worried anticipation, as Gabrielle enters the main square. Her gear once again tied to her back. As she approaches the town castle, comments about her arrival start to fill the air. Various villagers approach her but the look in her eyes tells them it's best to stay away.
When she reaches the castle gates, a pair of spears suddenly block her path and just as suddenly they are without their spearheads and the wielders are slowly sliding down the wall.
Within the throne room, King Demitus is sitting on his throne, his head resting in the palm of his right hand. He is flanked by various nobles and soldiers. All present within the room are conversing amongst themselves. Suddenly, a loud banging on the main doors seems to remove all sound from the room as all eyes turn in it's direction. After another bang, the doors burst open and Gabrielle stalks in dragging a guard who's holding on to her right foot for dear life. Another guard can be seen dozing happily outside, a large dent in his helmet.
The king stands furiously. "What is the meaning of this?" The demand echos around the room.
Gabrielle gives the guard a spin kick to his midsection, causing him to let go. She looks back up to the king, a smirk covertly appearing on her face. "Just a slight misunderstanding." Wit this, she starts to walk up to the throne, everyone else steps away from her, almost in fear. The king sinks back into his throne.
"Who, who are you?" His voice quakes for a moment before he regains his composure. "What do you want?"
The bard has stopped at the thrones bottom step. She looks up at the king, smiling slightly. "I'm Gabrielle and I believe you have a Roman problem." Various murmurs begin to ripple through the crowd. "And I'm here to help."
Demitus shoots to his feet, outraged. "Help? You come in here dragging an unconscious guard and you expect us to trust you?" He's just about to royal guards to him when one of the nobles steps forwards.
"Wait, you highness." The king pauses and the noble hesitantly turns to Gabrielle. "Are you, the battling bard?"
The bard shrugs slightly. "Some call me that." Another murmur fills the air, though more excited than before. The king slowly steps towards her.
"The battling bard? The battling bard of Potedia?"
Gabrielle gives a small roll of her eyes. "The only one I'm aware of."
Hope seems to have filled Demitus' eyes. "Is Xe..."
Gabrielle quickly cuts hims off with a shake of her head. The king takes the hint and decides not to delve further.
Gabrielle scratches the back of her head as she regains her composure. "So, Romans. Obviously preparing for an attack." She notices the rooms occupants become nervous again. "Have they made any demands?"
The king shakes his head. "No. We've sent a couple of people to try and negotiate, but none of them returned."
Gabrielle straightens, seeming to grow a couple of inches, and cracks her neck. "OK." She takes a deep breath. "I'd like some food, a nice bath and then I'll have a chat with our Roman Friends."
The kings face begins to turn red, but quickly catches himself. "Very well" He turns to a nearby servant. "Prepare a bath for out esteemed guest." He turns back to the bard, a pleading look in his eyes. "Please..."
Gabrielle place a reassuring hand on his shoulder and nods. "I'll be quick, I've just been on the road for so long."
Demitus nods. "I understand."
Within Aphrodite's temple, the goddess is nervously playing with the sheer material hanging from her bra as she watches Gabrielle in her scrying mirror. After a couple of seconds there's a sudden shower of sparks from which Cupid appears.
"Hey mom." He looks around at the temple interior as he walks up behind his mother. He peers over her shoulder into the mirror. "Anything interesting on?"
Aphrodite jumps slightly and turns to face him. "Oh, hey Copier." She takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly as she turns back to the mirror. "It's Gabby, she seems so lost."
The two of them watch the image for a moment as a bathing Gabrielle stares distantly into the flame of a nearby candle.
Cupid shrugs slightly. "Maybe she just needs a little loving."
The goddess of love sighs again. "It's not that simple Cupid. They were soul mates. True soul mates." She stares into the middle distance as a shocked look causes Cupid to frown.
"What? True soul mates?" He nudges Aphrodite out of her staring. "Do you know the chances of two halves of a soul actually meeting..."
"I know. The odds are vast. Too vast. But it happened Cupiee and it was perfect." She shakes her head sadly. "Now that it's gone, she's losing herself. I fear what she's going to do."
Laughter fills the air of the Roman encampment. There are many Romans about, clearly enjoying themselves in a pre-battle party. Some have already passed out as Gabrielle strides confidently through. She ignores many jives and leers sent her way. She slowly makes way towards the commanders tent and hesitates at the entrance. After a deep breath she steps inside.
Inside the tent is lavishly furnished. Too lavishly for a temporary housing. The Roman commander is leaning over a center table covered by a rendering of the local area. He's dressed in fine armour with his helmet resting on the table. He stands and turns as he hears someone enter. Gabrielle stands in front of him, an amused look on her face.
The commander raises an eyebrow at her. "Another emissary from the king? Well, I'm sorry but there's nothing you can do." He smirks slightly. "So I suggest you leave before I have you incarcerated like those who came before you."
Gabrielle rolls her eyes and suddenly pounces on him, a sai centimeters from his eye.
The commanders eyes widen as he swallows hard. "If you kill me you'll not leave this camp alive."
The bard doesn't budge an inch. "What do you want here?"
"I'm, I'm just here on orders." Gabrielle shifts from look number 3 to number 5. The commander starts to sweat. "We're to attack at daybreak tomorrow."
Gabrielle pulls him closer, the tip of her sai indenting on his cheek. "How far up has the order come from? The Emperor?"
"I don't know, possibly." He almost chokes on his words.
The bard pushes him roughly over the table and turns to leave. "If you value you're life, you'd leave now."
Suddenly getting courage. "There's nothing anyone can do to stop this attack."
In a hesitant flash the commander un sheaths his sword and brings down on Gabrielle. With a smirk she spins and catches the blade in one hand. The tip an inch from her face, blood trickling down her forearm. She pulls the sword to the side to get a better look at it before twisting it away from the commanders grasp and tossing it to the side.
"And I'd sharpen that sword if I were you." She sneers at him.
With that she turns and leaves, leaving the Roman commander panting in her wake. He straightens himself and mops his brow sighing. He turns back to his table to find a hooded figure standing before him, He has long black cloak with an equally long hood hiding his entire form from view. At seeing this figure the Roman commander visibly jumps slightly.
He suddenly bows slightly. "My lord, Mars." He straightens. "Is, is she the one?"
The hooded figure gives a simple nods.
"And you want her, taken care of?" The figure nods again. The commander takes a deep breath. "Had I known. She would not have left this tent alive."
The figure vanishes shaking it's head.
The King Demitus is seated on his throne once more, looking increasingly worried by the moment. He's holding his crown in his hands, fiddling wit it nervously. After a few minutes he looks up as the main doors are flung open and Gabrielle strides in. She stops in the center of the room, all eyes on her. Demitus stands up excitedly.
"So? Whats the, er." He swallows hard. "What's the word?"
Gabrielle walks towards him, almost nonchalantly. "They're determined to attack this place." She shrugs slightly. "They're just following orders so none of them really know why."
Demitus starts looking more worried. "Doesn't that bother you?"
The bard takes a deep breath. "Not really."
The king starts to panic slightly. "We-we-well, wha-wha-whats the plan?"
Gabrielle slowly walks up to him and places a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "You're worried. I can see that. With Romans bearing down on you, I'd consider you a fool if you weren't." She slowly guides Demitus forward. "OK, first we need to sort out your defenses. Get all those who can wield a sword..."
The sky is starting to darken, Gabrielle is talking to various craftsmen at one the main gates. She points to various places on the walls holding the gates and makes various gestures with her arms.
"It needs to be strong, otherwise it won't work."
Blackness is slowly becoming the main colour of the sky. On the battlements Gabrielle is demonstrating a bow to various on lookers. Indicating the pouches tied to many arrows and the torches spaced around the wall before pointing over the wall.
"You see, the ale is flammable. It's not as good as Greek fire, but it'll do the job."
Moonlight is flooding the countryside as The Romans sleep peacefully and Gabrielle is inspecting large bracing like constructs being built onto the main gates as people are being taught how to defend themselves behind her. She looks down at the ground.
"Here we go again."
The dark skies are slowly lightening as Gabrielle is explaining the bracing on the main gates to some of the guard as the King approaches.
"You see, these will stop the gates from fully opening. Creating a, er." Her brow furrows as she makes a strange hand gesture, looking for the right words. She snaps her fingers as it comes to her. "A bottle neck! Yeah. You see, yeah, you tip up a bottle the neck of it only lets a certain volume out." She points to the bracing on the gates. "This will only let one or two soldiers through at once, allowing you to dispatch them quickly, before you're overrun."
Demitus clears his throat causing the guards to stand to attention. "And if this." He coughs again, more from being nervous. "If this doesn't work?"
Gabrielle shrugs just slightly. "I rejoin with the other half of my soul early and live the rest of eternity in peace."
This statement brings about many shocked gasps from those in earshot.
"It's like she doesn't care." One of the villagers whispers.
Gabrielle ignores the comment and nods at Demitus. "It's nearly time." She turns to the villagers. "You know what to do. I want you close the gates behind me and I'll try to discourage them."
With this she turns and walked towards the main gates.
More of the villagers are looking nervous. One of the soldiers turns to the king.
"Does she want to die?"
The morning sun is peaking over the distant hills, the low light highlighting the foliage. Gabrielle is standing alone, the town gates behind her slowly close. For a while she just stands there, solemnly, eyes closed breathing deeply.
The sound of marching make her open her eyes to see the Roman legion walking towards her. Her old friend, the commander, at it's head. She walks forward to meet him. His raised fist instructs his troupes to stop.
"Still around here?" He smirks greatly. "This is the first and only time I'm going to mention the possibility of surrender."
Gabrielle looks back at the town behind her. Then back at the commander who instinctively takes a step back. "That's touching but. She shakes her head. "No. You're not getting out of this so easily."
The commander looks confused for a moment before anger crosses his face. "Bring me her head!"
On this command the Romans charge, swords drawn. Gabrielle stamps her foot sending a sai up into her waiting hand. A well timed spin kick catches a Roman on the chin snapping his neck and leaving her other sai in mid air. The bard catches it in time to block a blow aimed for her head. She pommels him in the gut, stands on his back and flips into the oncoming horde.
There is a flurry of action. Gabrielle gives as good as she gets, sending Romans flying, but due to the numbers, she's getting severely beaten. During a small break, she quickly picks up a sword and slashes at five Romans. Hitting the mark perfectly on each as they all fall, grasping their gushing throats.
Some Romans have got past here and are doing their best to open the gates. The archers pop over the battlements firing their flaming, ale soaked arrows at them causing many to catch fire.
Gabrielle is being beaten down again, the fight almost seems lost when a hooded figure, unseen to all, walks up to her and lightly touches her back. A flare of light suddenly appears shocking the figure as the eyes of Gabrielle's dragon flare for a second.
The bard suddenly finds a new strength, eviscerating the nearest enemy. She stands straight, a far away look in her eyes. The nearest group of opponents suddenly hold their ground as a ripple of scales runs across Gabrielle's body. She walks forwards, seemingly unconcerned, almost walking through the ranks coming at her until there's just her, those attacking the now open gates and the commander.
She walks up to him, dropping her sword on the way. The commander recoils slightly before attacking. Gabrielle steps easily out of the way, grabs his arm and kicks his sword away sending it hilt deep into a nearby tree.
She looks back at him and twists his arm. "I see you sharpened your sword. Too bad it didn't help."
With this she suddenly rips his arm out of it's socket. She turns back to city with a creak of her neck as the commander screams in pain. She slowly walks towards the gates as the soldiers turn. Many of them gasp at the carnage before them.
As the commander clutches at his stump, gushing with blood, the hooded figure towards him. He looks up, fear evident in his eye. "Mars! My lord!" He starts to pant. His face beginning to lose it's colour. "Why?"
The figure raises his hands and lowers his hood to reveal Ares. He smirks at the commander. "Why do soldiers never see the big picture? He leans down closer. "This was just a test."
The commander is fighting to stay conscious. "A test? But why? Why test us?"
Ares sighs as he shakes his head. "This was never about you. This was about, her."
With this, the god of war stands so the commander can clearly see Gabrielle standing amongst his fallen soldiers. There is no emotion on her face, only the blood of the dead around her. The commander then falls.
Within the temple of Aphrodite, the goddess is slumped on the floor, still watching the proceedings in her mirror. Cupid is standing behind her, a worried frown upon his brow.
"What's going on?"
Aphrodite shakes her head. "She's gone."
On the battlefield, Gabrielle is still standing, surrounded by the dead. The other soldiers have long since ran. She sighs deeply as Ares approaches applauding.
"That was, magnificent."
Gabrielle turns, impaling her sai in his shoulder. A sneer on her face.
The god winces. "Hey, that tickles."
The bard, almost reluctantly, pulls her weapon out. "What do you want?"
"Well, if it isn't too much trouble, I'd like an answer."
Gabrielle sneers and turns away. Ares places his hands on her shoulders almost weary of the dragon on her back.
"You wage war beautifully. Think of what we could do together."
Gabrielle spins on him. "This isn't war!"
"Ah, but it is. There are two sides of war. The attackers and the defenders. Without one or the other, there is no war."
Ares indicates the battlefield around them. "With my help just imagine what you could do. Waging war for those who can't. Don't tell me that doesn't appeal to you."
Gabrielle look down at the ground. Ares lifts her chin and locks eyes with her. "What do you say?"
Cupid does his best to pick his mother up off the temple floor and tries to take her away. "Com on mom, there's nothing you can do."
Aphrodite stops in her tracks and looks into Cupids eyes. "We have to bring her back!" She walks back to the scrying mirror. "For Gabby's sake, we have to bring Xena back."
Two days later Gabrielle and Ares are standing on a hill, overlooking a small encampment made up of about 6 temporary tents and buildings. The sun is slowly setting in the distance. Gabrielle is looking much cleaner, her hair now has some semblance of order, no longer hanging in clumps. Yet she still looks like she hasn't eaten properly. Ares stands slightly behind her holding her sai.
The god is looking marginally perplexed. "And the point of this is? I could amass the biggest army seen in Greece here by the next moon."
Gabrielle rolls her eyes. It's obvious she's explained this before. "There's no point you giving me an army. What would they think?" She puts on a phony voice. "Oh, I've gathered you all here so this woman can lead you all." She gives a small laugh and returns to her normal voice. "Hows that gonna look?"
Ares crosses his arms. "I suppose you've got a point. So how are you gonna handle this?"
The bard give him a quick look. "Well, I'm gonna down there and take over that band of. Band of thugs. Then I'm gonna turn them into a group of soldiers."
"Good plan. It's direct."
Gabrielle shakes her head and starts down the hill.
Ares goes to hold her back, mildly concerned. "You're going there unarmed?"
"Yeah. Is that a problem?" Her raised eyebrow suggests not.
"No, no. Just as long as you know what you're doing."
Gabrielle gives a sigh and says "Gods." as she continues down the hill again. Just as she's disappearing from view she calls back. "I don't need you're help for this."
Within the encampment, various free standing torches illuminate the central area where ten thugs are lounging around, enjoying themselves. A small commotion on the outer edges cause them to stop what they're doing. They peer into the darkness and their eyes widen as Gabrielle walks towards them. Various comments arise as she passes them without a glance.
"Is that? Is that the Battling Bard?"
"What's she doing here?"
"She's heading for the boss!"
"Should we stop her?"
"I'm not gonna try."
Gabrielle stops in front of the guards guarding the leaders tent and crosses her arms impatiently. There she stands, tapping her feet as a couple of minutes pass with the guards looking uncomfortable. She clears her throat loudly. "Well?" She asks.
One of the guards shifts from one foot to the other. "What?"
"I need to speak with your leader."
The two guards are unsure of what to do. One of them nudges the other. "You get him."
The other guard looks horrified. "No, you get him."
"Will someone get him!" Cries the bard, exasperated.
There is sudden spluttering sound of someone choking on their drink. After a few more seconds the thug leader sweeps the curtains that hang as an entrance open and steps out in the way only someone trying too hard to make an entrance can. He strides up to Gabrielle and looks her up and down, obviously recognizing her. "What do you want?" His tone has a hint of mild annoyance.
"Me?" She sniffs slightly as she looks around and looks back to the leader. "You. Gone."
The leader laughs heartily. "Yeah. And who's gonna make us?"
"No no no . You misunderstand me." She leans in close. "I'm taking over this operation."
She stands up straight again and puts her hands behind her back and creaks her neck. "Now, we can do this one of two ways. You can leave quietly or I can kill you."
With a grunt, the leader pulls out his sword and swings it. Gabrielle jerks back quickly, the tip of the blade missing her throat by inches. She ducks under the next blow bringing her knee up to his arm, sending his sword flying.
With another angry grunt the leader begins to rain punches down on the bard but she dodges each expertly. When her opponent tries a kick, the blocks it with her left leg and forces it back down to the ground. A quick stance switch and she brings her right foot down snapping the leaders leg. As he falls to his knees Gabrielle sends another knee his way. This time aimed for his throat, the force of the blow snaps his neck and he slowly slumps to the floor.
Gabrielle watches as she unclasps her hands from behind her back. She gives the corpse a sneer. "Lucky son of a..." She turns to the crowd that had gathered around the fight. "Does anyone have a problem? No? Good." She starts towards the old leaders tent. "Be ready to move out by noon." With that she enters leaving the men looking confused.
The blue marble floor of the Olympian library has an unnatural glow to it, as does the white marble walls and columns. Aphrodite is slumped over one of the tables within the library, a large stack of books nearby. She flicks hurriedly through the book in front of her getting more agitated. With a exasperated grunt she slams the book closed and throws it towards the stack of books turning it into a large pile of books. The goddess turns and leans on the table grasping her head just as Cupid walks in.
"Hey mom. Any luck?"
Aphrodite motions towards the large pile of books before them. "Nothing! No loop hole that could be exploited for this kinda situation!"
Cupid shakes his head, hesitant about the news has. "It wouldn't really matter anyway."
Cupid takes a breath before continuing. "She's not there. As much as Persephone would like to get her hands on her..." He shakes his head again. "She's not in the underworld. Persephone said it might be because she died in Japas domain. Thus their underworld."
Aphrodite slumps at this and Cupid sits next to her. "Just tell me this. Why?"
The goddess leans back on her arms. "She was my friend Copier. I never really knew what that was until..." She grins at a memory. "Remember that time with Jerkster? I said she's doesn't get love at all and you said..."
"Maybe she gets it better than any of us." Cupid nods at the memory.
Aphrodite slumps back into her chair with a sigh. "You were right." She stands up. "But now she's lost that and I can't bear to see her like this."
Silence fills the library. The two Olympians are in quiet contemplation.
"It seems a trip to Japa is on the books." Her face scrunches up at the thought. "But it's so dirty!"
This brings a silent laugh from Cupid, happy to know his mom is still there, beneath the grief.
Within the leaders tent, Gabrielle is standing at one side looking around at it's decorations. It's almost too well decorated for a small bunch of rowdy thugs. She walks over and starts going through her predecessor equipment, throwing various items across the room. She picks up a decorative sword and studies it for a moment before tossing it over her shoulder.
The bard turns, a slight smirk on her face, to find Ares. The sword stuck in his shoulder.
He sighs slightly. "A little help?"
Gabrielle gives him look number 3. Ares sighs again and pulls the sword from his shoulder. "You know, that's the fourth time you've impaled me this week."
"I'm sure you've earned it."
Ares rolls his eyes and produces Gabrielle's sai. She takes them of him and places them in her boots.
"How did it go?"
"As well as could be expected. Weren't you watching."
"I was and I'm very impressed."
Gabrielle gives him a look. "Sure. Do want something in particular? I'm a little busy."
He backs away defensively "OK, I can take a hint." As he disappears one of the thug politely coughs at the tents entrance.
"Come." At her command the thug takes a hesitant step inside and swallows nervously.
"Yes, err" She revolves her hand, trying to coax him.
The thug shifts from foot to foot nervously. "Err, Magnus ma'am."
"Magnus!" She exclaims, then turns serious. "Don't, don't call me ma'am. The name's Gabrielle."
Magnus bows slightly. "Gabrielle."
A couple of seconds pass before Gabrielle continues the conversation. "Is there something you wanted?"
"Oh yeah! Some, err, some of the lads were wondering..."
"Why?" She gives a slight sigh. "Does it really matter?"
Magnus coughs nervously. "Well, some of them have heard of you. And what you do to groups like us."
The bard nods. "I see where this is going." She points to the large pile of equipment. "Hand these out to the troops, hopefully that'll get me started with some loyalty." And she says to herself. "Not that it matters."
Magnus walks to the pile and picks up the sword that had been in Ares' shoulder a few minutes before."This is good quality stuff. Do you not want it for yourself?"
Gabrielle takes the sword off him and looks at it closely. She indicates the decoration. "It's too ornate, hardly worth it's weight in bad cheese." To prove her point she taps the flat of the blade against the tents center pole and shows the resulting bend to Magnus. "See?"
She suddenly removes Magnus' sword from it's sheath and repeats the motion causing the entire tent to shake. She inspects the blade and is quite pleased there's barely a dent in it.
"Good sword." The bard then quickly slides the blade across her palm producing a small dribble of blood and then hands the sword back to a gob smacked Magnus. "Needs sharpening though."
Magnus stammers at what he just witnessed. "Yes, yes. Of course." He quickly sheaths his sword, awkwardly grabs the pile of equipment and hightails it out of the tent leaving Gabrielle staring at everything else in the tent. With a sigh she begins packing it all up.
Most of the equipment has been sufficiently packed away and the men that aren't finishing up have gathered around Gabrielle. The bard is seated atop a black mare that has been provided for her.
"You've never named your horses?"
The man she's talking to looks a little confused "Not really."
Gabrielle nods slightly to herself. "That's something for me to think about."
Magnus rides up to and along side her. "All equipment is packed and ready to go."
"Good." She scans the crowd and points to someone. "You. Name."
The man she has pointed to instantly drops the scowl he's been wearing through most of the day. "Er, Narith"
"OK Narith, pick a direction."
Narith looks around nervously before pointing north-west. Gabrielle looked in the direction and nodded.
"OK then. Lets move out!" After she turns the scowl returns Narith's face.
Aphrodite appears with her usual sparks and hearts outside a traditional looking Japanese tea house. She is dressed in a pink wafuku (kimono). She hesitantly walks up the steps of the tea house.
"I hate 'pop-lag'."
She stops at the door and takes a couple of deep breaths. She then puts on her best smile and slides the door open.
Gabrielle and her band of thugs have arrived at the first town they came across. The men are loitering, some are with Gabrielle, leering, as she talks with the towns representatives.
"Look, we heard you've got a warlord problem. Me and my..." She is unsure what to say. "...mercenaries are here to help solve problems. All I ask is supplies for my men and we'll take care of this warlord."
The townsmen look at each other nervously before nodding at Gabrielle who smiles at them sweetly in return. She then turns to her men calls them on as they ride away.
Gabrielle stands amongst many corpses. She drops a bloodstained sword to the floor and turns to watch her men, who are basking in the post-battle victory and she smiles at a job well done. Magnus and another soldier drag someone up to her. His armour is dirty and blooded.
Gabrielle looks at him with a raised eyebrow. "And who is this?"
Magnus tosses the soldier on the floor. "This is the leader."
"Really?" The bard leans in closer, face to face with the leader. "And what kind of man preys on helpless people I wonder."
The man spits at her. Gabrielle, with shockingly quick reflexes, catches it in the palm of her hand and smacks him across the face with it. She then stands up and scans the area.
"Hang him from that tree." Magnus looks to where she's pointing and starts to drag the warlord away. "By his ankles."
This catches him off guard slightly and he hesitates. He turns to her.
"And smear him with the blood of his soldiers."
Whatever politeness Magnus had is overrun by shock. "What? Why?"
The bard steps up to him and points to the nearby woods. "Tell me Magnus, do you know what animals live in those woods?"
"Yes," he suddenly realizes what she's getting at and a smirk crawls across his face. "wolves."
The warlords eyes widen in fear and he struggling fiercely. "No! No, you can't!" A swift kick from Gabrielle causes his protests to stutter to a coughing stop.
"Take him." She watches, with a frown on her face as the leader is dragged away.
Back at the tea house, Aphrodite emerges from the double doors. A solemn look on her face. With a wave of her hand she shimmers into her usual attire. She visible slumps, almost looking frail.
"That was, like, a total waste." With another wave of her hand, she disappears completely.
In Gabrielle's tent, she is reclining back in a chair. Her legs crossed atop a table. She takes a large gulp from a goblet. After a couple of seconds she rolls her eyes.
"I wondered when you'd show up again."
Ares materializes behind her with a shake of the head. He perches himself down on the table. "I'm a busy god."
"Too busy to check on your chosen? I could be offended." She takes another gulp of her drink.
"Ah, but I have been. And so have you it seems. It's only been a week and you've already made a huge impact. Leaving that warlord hanging upside down for the wolves. Beautiful. You should see him now! And that small river village the day after."
Gabrielle Swings her legs off the table and stares right into the war gods eyes. "They knowingly gave us bad food, I nearly lost 2 men!" She reclines back in her chair again. "They got what they deserved."
Ares looks pleased. "Indeed, and I believe it's time you got what you deserve."
With that, Ares lightly grabs Gabrielle's forearms and pulls her out of the chair. As they slowly spin the interior shimmers into one of Ares' temples. He gently lowers Gabrielle into his throne and walks off to one side.
Gabrielle wiggles from side to side, testing the throne. "Comfortable but, why are we here?"
Ares turns to her, holding leathers and some armour. The breastplate is basically a large, symmetrical, dragon motif. "Just a small present for my chosen. I had these specially made for you."
Gabrielle climbs out of the throne and steps towards him. She takes hold of the leathers and holds it against herself, an impressed look on her face. "Very nice."
The bard turns her back to Ares and brushes her hair aside. "Do you mind?"
"Certainly." Ares carefully removes Gabrielle's top, she doesn't notice that the god takes extra care not to touch her dragon tattoo, before slowly dressing her the fineries he procured for her. Once dressed Ares waves his have producing a full length mirror in which Gabrielle admires herself.
"Very, very, nice."
Ares steps up behind her and puts a hand on her shoulder. "I thought you'd like it. And it goes so well with this."
Ares pulls a sword from thin air and hands it to the bard. She looks at the blades dragon motif, almost in awe, and spins it expertly before sheathing it.
"And here I was, thinking you didn't care."
Ares looks hurt. "Of course I care. Now go, make me proud."
Gabrielle is just about to respond when a voice calls to her. She turns in the direction the voice came from to find herself back in her tent. She takes a second to get used to her surrounds before spinning onto her chair again.
A soldier enters nervously. "Sorry for intruding but, some of the men want to know if we can dispose of Narith's body yet. The smell is beginning to effect some of us." As he says this last sentence he swallows uncomfortably. Gabrielle stands up and starts to wander around the tent.
"Sure, I think we've been dragging it around long enough." The bard stops in front of a casket, reaches in and pulls out Narith's head. "Just as long as the men know I won't tolerate disloyalty." She takes a deep breath. "And with Magnus gone. That's two of my best warriors gone." She puts Narith's head back in it's casket and turns to the soldier. "Get the men together, I'm going to drill them."
Gabrielle rolls her eyes, almost exasperated. "Please, don't call me 'ma'am'."
The soldier bows slightly before leaving. Gabrielle slumps back into her chair and picks up her goblet again.
Aphrodite strides in to the Halls of Olympus and collapses in to Zeus' throne. Cupid steps out from behind a column.
"Hey mom. How'd it go?"
"Oh, you know gods." She shakes her head. "Talking in riddles, never answer a straight question." The goddess sighs. "That and she's not there. I've ran out of options."
Cupid steps up to her. "I'm sorry mom."
"It's not your fault Cupid. I'm supposed to be a goddess but I can't even..." She suddenly sits up straight, a look of hope on her face. "Wait. There might be..." She stands up. A renewed sense of purpose. "There's one more person I can try."
Aphrodite shimmers into existence within a small encampment. Two fires are burning nearby. The larger one has a number of people sat around it. The smaller is somewhat off to the side with only one person by it. With a determined look. Aphrodite approaches the smaller fire.
Eve stands up, interrupting. "Aphrodite, I remember. What brings the goddess of love amongst the mortals?"
Eve sits again and, after a moments hesitation, Aphrodite sits down next to her.
"It's about your mothers. You've heard what happened in Japa?"
"Yeah." She shakes her head as she looks down. "It doesn't seem like her to just go and die."
"Yeah. Gabby's taken it pretty hard too. She's." The goddess hesitates to take a deep breath. "She's joined up with Ares."
Eve looks horrified. "Ares! The Gabrielle I know would never join him."
"That's just it Eve. She's not herself. Not since..."
Aphrodite looks down at the ground as silence fills the air. She looks up at the fire as determination creeps on her face. She waves a hand and another, unlit, fire appears next to the original.
"Look, its like this." She points to the unlit fire. " Think of this as Gabrielle's soul before she met Xena." She points at the lit fire causing it to burn more fiercely. "And that as Xena's soul. Burning uncontrollably. Her dark side adds fuel to it but something keeps it burning faster then it can cope." She takes a pause to let this sink in.
Eve nods. "If she carried on, she would have burnt out."
"Yeah. Then they met and..." She picks up a burning log from the lit fire and places it in the unlit. "They started sharing the flame but..."
"But the fuel from her dark side piled up too fast and Gabrielle's fire started to burn out!"
"Yeah. Which is when Gabby started to take the edge off, as it were." As she put two logs into the large fire, she takes another out and puts it in the smaller. "Now that the balance has broken before their time Gabby has..." She shakes her head sadly. "Ares took advantage of this."
Eve takes a deep breath as she processes this information. "What can I do?"
The goddess looks apprehensive. "I, err, I need you to ask." She coughs slightly. "I need you to ask Him something."
The rain is pouring hard, the ground is muddy. Bodies are strewn around. Gabrielle pulls her sword out of a sudden corpse and looks around. Spotting the opposition commander she takes a couple of steps towards him before spinning and disemboweling someone behind her. Following through the spin, she kicks another soldier in the face.
Another few minutes and a few more disfigured corpses and the bard is standing in front of the commander. She sticks her sword in the ground as she faces him.
"You should have listened to my proposal."
The commander reaches for his sword and Gabrielle swipes at him out of instinct. The commander starts to choke as blood gushes from his neck. Gabrielle looks at her arm as a ripple of scales shoots up it. A large cheer distracts her and, looking around, she realizes the battle's won. The bard sighs, almost in disappointment.
The goddess pops in to her temple looking distraught. With a sigh she walks over to her scrying mirror. In it she watches as Gabrielle take on a small group of men. From the look on her face she is clearly relishing the fight.
"What's happening to you?"
A sound from behind her catches her attention and she spins to see Archangel Michael inspecting a vase.
With a raised eyebrow. "Interesting design, though I don't think that's physically possible."
"Hey. Be careful with that!" She quickly walks over to him and takes hold of the vase. "It was a gift from my brother." She gently places the vase back down and gets a good look at her visitor. "What brings an angel to my humble little temple."
Without thinking. "Archangel!"
"OK, OK. Touchy."
Michael ignores the comment. "I believe we have something to discus. Involving a certain warrior princess."
A look of realization appears on Aphrodite's face. "Oh an Archangel! Yes, yes we do!"
Michael circles her slowly. "Xena sacrificed herself to avenge 40 thousand soul that were avenged long ago." The archangel stops in front of her and leans close. "What would you sacrifice?"
Back in the Elijian camp, Eve is still sitting off by herself. She's staring into the remnants of the two fires. A sound makes her turn to see Aphrodite approaching nervously.
"Aphrodite? Two visits in as many days? I must really need more love."
"This is a special visit." She steps aside revealing Xena.
Eve is instantly up and racing to her."Mother!"
They embrace each other. Eve steps back and notices Xena is dressed similar to Aphrodite. She glances at the goddess.
Aphrodite looks a little sheepish. "It was all I had laying around."
Xena walks up to Aphrodite and gives her look number 7. "Aphrodite? What's going on?"
Aphrodite sighs. "You better sit down."
A couple of hours later and Xena is sitting, staring into the camp fire shaking her head. "Three weeks and she's turned into..."
Aphrodite nods slowly. "You understand now? Why you're needed here?"
Xena sighs nodding. A grim look of determination sets on her face and she stands up.
Eve stands up with her. "What are you doing?"
"I'm going after her. The sooner we leave, the sooner I find her."
"You might want to..." She points at what Xena's wearing.
Xena looks down at herself. "Ah. Do you have anything spare to wear?"
7 hours have passed. Aphrodite, Eve and Xena are gathered around a tree. Aphrodite turns, a grim look on her face. It's obvious she's trying her best not to throw up.
"That's just disgusting."
Eve just shakes her head. "I've never seen anything like it. She just left him?"
Eve also steps away from the tree revealing a corpse hanging by his feet from one of the branches. The top half of the body is basically skeletal the flesh ripped from it's bones, one of its arms laying nearby.
Xena also turns from the corpse. "She needs to be stopped."
With a collective sigh, the trio turn and continue their journey.
Late in the afternoon, Gabrielle is sparring with four of her men. The rest of them have gathered around to watch. The bard quickly subdues them and shakes her head disappointed.
"No no! When ganging up on single opponent you have to work as one." She helps the four stand. "Never attack one at a time. Work as a team, attack as one." She raises her sword. "Again."
The small group attack her again, this time it takes longer for Gabrielle to disarm them.
"Better. Now, as a group you have to pay just as much attention to your comrades as to your opponent. When one of you forces an opening, another takes it." Once again she raises her defenses. "Again."
The group attack, this time they surround her and synchronize their attacks. After five minutes of blow, parries and dodges, Gabrielle calls them off.
Looking pleased. "Good. Much better." She shoos the soldiers back and cracks the neck. "OK, now for one on one." She looks around. "Do I have a volunteer?"
A familiar voice calls from the crowd and Xena steps forward.
Gabrielle stares at the warrior, her mental defenses that she had put up suddenly crumble and all emotion floods her all at once. "You!"
Gabrielle rushes forward to greet her and starts a flurry of blows. Xena refuses to press any advantage and does her best to block Gabrielle's blows but many get through.
"You left me! You just left me alone!"
The force of Gabrielle's blows are beginning to break through the blocks that Xena get up but she still refuses to go on the offensive.
"Why! How could you just leave me?"
Xena quickly brings up her leg to block Gabrielle's kick, but she underestimates the force, causing her to stumble. Gabrielle takes the opportunity and brings her foot down snapping Xena's leg. Xena falls to her knees as Gabrielle starts to pound on her face. Rage burning in her eyes.
"Why won't you fight me!"
Another fist to the face. Blood mixed with saliva pools on the floor.
She throws another mighty punch. Xena practically collapses on the floor. Seeing her opponent on all fours Gabrielle pauses, panting.
Xena looks up at her soul mate. The damage clearly visible on her face. Her nose broken, her right eye swollen shut. Blood dripping from various cuts. The blue of her good eye standing out. Even through all the injuries, one emotion shines through.
"Because I love you."
Gabrielle suddenly stops breathing. Horror suddenly on her face as her hand moves to her mouth. She stumbles backwards and falls to her knees, tears streaming down her face.
"Oh gods. What have I done? What have I become?"
Xena drags herself over to the bard and embraces her.