Some sort of Dialogues

(Xentrya)

Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of Xena: Warrior Princess. They belong to Studio USA and Renaissance Pictures. No profit has been made from this story, damn!

*** The first part of the legend in bold talking about how Ares chose Xena, was written by Saphirableu( The End of the Beggining-*1), she is the rightfull author of that particular fragment, and she did a fantastic job. Thank you, Saphira, I hope you don't feel offended in any way by the fact that I included it in my own story, but you wrote it perfectly in my opinion. Couldn't surpass that:)

Rated: M

"Many millennia had passed with the gods choosing theirhearts from among the mortals, yet the God of War never chose, thinking himself above that which even the lowest of the other gods claimed to feel. For feeling had no place in the mayhem of war and battle and the warriors of the field were better off without it.

...Then came a day, that the God looked upon a mortal woman and found her fair. Dark was her hair and skin golden from the sun, with eyes the color of the clearest skies. A warrior of thefieldwas she, with fire shooting from her mouth with every command *1

It only took one glance for the proud Olympian to know that she was destined to become his Chosen, the Chosen of War itself, the first and the last one he was ever going to have, unwillingly fulfilling what the Fates had long ago foretold, eons before the beginning of time, when the world was still fighting it's way out of the unbearable darkness of Chaos .

That was the day when the God's immortal life thread was skillfully intertwined with his Chosen's mortal one, Destiny itself bounding their souls through a connection impossible to break by Gods or mortals alike.

...The face of the earth was about to change. And with it, the wretched heart of the one who was about to discover that above the brutal power of his slashing sword, stood an infinitely more devastating one, an undeniable force that could easily enslave the Universe itself in the blink of an eye: the power of love..."

FOCUS...

"Will you stop being so freakin' stubborn for a second? For Gods' sake Xena! You'll never learn unless you start admitting your mistakes! You have to be two steps ahead of your opponent! And trust me when I tell you, overconfidence can and will get you killed in a heartbeat. And what's worst about it is that I won't even be able to rub your nose in it! So start blocking properly already!" a now completely cut up rough War God snapped at his young Chosen the moment she accidentally left a wayyyy too wide opening, wide enough for any enemy to take advantage of, eyes closed.

It was as if he was talking to the trees though, since as soon as she ended her flip and landed behind him, adamantly refusing to allow her to launch her attack, he decided to surprise her instead with an incredibly executed spin and a well aimed knee that collided skillfully with her midsection, leaving her breathless for the next couple of seconds.

Minutes later, after more than a few successfully avoided side kicks, and inches apart from an almost deadly blow to her neck, much too preoccupied with following the intricate rhythm of the God's feet rather than his sword, the Warrior Princess rashly left her guard down again.

This time, her mistake was not overlooked , and with a quick, effective slash, Ares grazed her arm with the tip of his sharp blade, while the next well directed clash sent her weapon flying through the air, faster than a lightening bolt, towards the opposite side of their training ground.

Irritated and tired she just visually followed the imaginary arch designed by it's precise trajectory, without any concern what so ever about the rest of the fight, completely missing Ares' next flip and jolt which threw her facedown before she could even realize what was happening.

"Focus damn it! Focus!" he yelled at her, lifting her up brutally, barely restraining the urge to hit her again, thus forcing her to overstep her boundaries, to fight back using every single ounce of strength and will se had left in her.

Her breath labored and uneven, and her heart pounding so loud as if it were about to jump out of her ribcage, not because of fear- she was far to proud to let her mind and soul enshrouded by such cowardly and demeaning feeling- but because of the long, exhausting effort her overly exigent mentor had submitted her to, she lifted her head up to face him...and it was all it took...

As soon s their eyes met, the very second her cold teal irides rested their gaze upon his burning amber ones, he instantly let go of her shoulders, taking a step back defensively as if she could stab his unpierceable, immortal body with one single glare.

A quick look towards the sky and to their surroundings, and there it was! Puzzle solved!

It suddenly hit him. It was way past noon and they had been training from the first break of light. No pause...

Another glance was directed this time towards her sweaty, imperceptibly shivering body. Her every muscle was pulsating with fatigue. She was drained out.

"I'm sorry sweet. Why in the world didn't you say anything?"

She just rolled her eyes disapprovingly, absently wiping out the weak trail of blood trickling down her arm, now reaching the back of her hand.

"Come on." He added closing in the distance between them and firmly circling her waist.

"Let's get this wound cleaned up. And we should get you something to eat too...you must be starving"

A brief smile played on the dark haired Warrior's lips as he placed a tender, protective kiss on top of her head.

"So...what would you like to do for the rest of the afternoon?" he questioned lowly as they began walking away from the training ground right before they dematerialized in a shower of ice blue sparkles.

"What do you have in mind?" she barely murmured in return, on a playful tone, nonetheless.

"Oh, trust me, Princess, you're still far to young for what I have in mind...So...how about we go pay Dite a visit?"

By the time the aether transported them back to Sparta they were done chuckling, but Xena's thoughts were still intensively analyzing his previous comment.

Intrigued by her pensive expression the God silently wondered what was she thinking about. He could have easily read her mind. He hadn't dared though...he was stillafraid to find out...

HAIRPINS...

"I thought we were supposed to train, Ares" a very displeased Xena protested, grating her teeth the moment the God of War faintly touched her shoulders, materializing a simple but outstandingly elegant green dress on her peerlessly shaped body.

And as another ready to burst clamor was about to leave her lungs, to complete the conversation, instead of her trusty sword or at least some decent daggers, to her utter surprise, the fearless Warrior Princess received a couple of craftily engraved silver hairpins and a uniquely designed hair comb, discreetly embellished with three light blue sapphires, that in her dark silky tresses were meant to shine like stars on the clear night sky.

"Hairpins?" she broke out on a high pitched tone, outraged by her God's unusual behavior, and definitely even more disturbed by the fact that she felt completely ridiculous wearing such an extravagant dress. She hated dresses.

As she saw it, Ares was probably in one of those playful kind of moods that she couldn't fully understand most of the time. Or, even more likely, he was just bored to death and playing " Dress the Warrior Princess" could provide him with the perfect distraction he needed.

"Will you cut it out already? I'm not your little dolly Ares, so I suggest you find a different source of entertainment" she added, throwing the lovely accessories away, without as much as noticing that they were by far some plain wooden ornaments that every single village girl had in her nightstand, but on the contrary they were refined jewels, fit for a Queen.

Consequently, with a briskly executed shove she pushed the God away, ready to leave the room, but she didn't manage to get more than two steps away from him though, that Ares had already grabbed her wrist, pulling her forcefully back where she had been standing.

"Always so hostile my Princess...Oh how I love that fire inside you!...Constantly burning, constantly threatening to engulf the entire Universe if needed...by all Gods...I swear it on Styx, I have given up hope to find someone like you" he exclaimed heartily, while tenderly stroking her hair with long sweeps, away from her beautifully sculpted visage.

"Xena, Xena, Xena...What was the first lesson I thought you?" he asked, gazing inquisitively straight into those crystal blue windows of her soul.

"Never trust anyone" she answered automatically, silently wondering what was he really up too, finally guessing that since his every action had a purpose, this too had to have one.

"And the second?"

"Always be three steps ahead of your adversary" she diligently replied, her voice reaching lower and lower levels as she mentally started to curse herself , the awareness of not having applied that basic rule during those particular moments hitting her harder than a perfectly aimed left hook.

"Are you three steps ahead of me now?" was obviously his next question, refusing to spare her the humiliation of having to give him an answer, thus recognizing her mistake.

"No" she monosyllabically responded, adverting her gaze.

"So during your inexcusably moments of inadvertence, I could have as well killed you...am I right?"

No response came. Instead she just eyed him angrily as if caustically jawing him about his bugging attempts to uselessly point out the obvious.

"Don't you dare give me that look. Am I right or not?"

"Yes" she finally mumbled, despite herself, knowing that he was right of course.

"Good. Now, that we got that sorted out, let's move on to rule number three. And rule number three my dear, says that the most powerful weapon on the face of the earth is not exactly the sword...but the mind...There are a lot of ways to end a man's life, Xena." he murmured alluringly against her ear, and he could easily tell that the mere sound of his voice instantly sent electric shivers up and down her spine, effortlessly sensing her energetic charge multiplying progressively way before he had finished his sentence.

"Yeah" she stubbornly bit back, casting a doubting glance towards the beautiful accessories laying on the marble floor, without forgetting to flash him an outraged, insolent smirk before completing her response:

"I'm sure that hairpins are the secret weapons that would magically do the trick"

"They could be." The God of War answered, minding no attention what so ever to her irritating attitude. She was heading for the surprise of her life, and he couldn't wait to see her reaction then.

He who laughs last laughs best, was the old saying, and Ares had learned across the eons that such particular reasoning had the bad habit of never failing nor disappointing.

"I was actually talking about something more subtle than those fancy accessories that you obstinately refuse to appreciate properly. Did you know that looks can indeed kill, darling?"

"'Oh, now I get it...You want me to wink at my enemies until they have a heart attack, right? Well...it should take some serious practice that's for sure, but as you always say, anything's possible,... " she promptly replied, intentionally mocking his every quote, particularly curious about the limit that she needed to cross for him to loose his temper with her.

Seconds later, dexterously moving behind him, she gently gripped his shoulders and squeezing them lightly she added chuckling:

"So...Good thing we got that one settled too. The next time I'll run in some creepy looking fellows, I know exactly what I have to do. I'll just wink at them implyingly, and if that doesn't work wonders, my billion dinars smile will certainly make them wanna regret their devious intentions...Does that sound like the best plan you've ever heard, or what?"

Reading from afar her devilish intents, the incomparably wiser and obviously more clever War God narrowed his eyes thoughtfully as the flicker of what he considered to be one of the most fruitful, and worthy of praise ideas in centuries, rushed inside his twisted mind.

"This would definitely teach her a lesson" he silently told himself , already congratulating his enviable geniality for the mastermind plan that was already being put into practice during their apparently usless dialogue.

Astutely hiding his superior smile, and acting as if she hadn't said anything at all, Ares just turned around in her arms, so that he was now facing her, pleased to notice that she hadn't withdrew her hands form his broad shoulders the moment he changed position.

With a casual, almost discreet gesture, he briefly extended his right hand in the direction of the hairpins, and, as if attracted by some kind of giant magnet of some sort , the silver objects simply rose from the ground, levitating a little bit before finding their place into the God's palm.

Having seen him perform this type of paranormal scenes countless times before, and with an even conisderably larger array of weapons, starting with daggers and ending with spears and swords, Xena couldn't say that she was overly impressed by the abnormal event she was currently witnessing.

What really got her attention though, was that special gleam in the God's amber like eyes when he looked at her , the moment their bold gazes connected again, and she couldn't help thinking that his eyes alone could make her breath stop at will.

...No matter how hard she tried, she was well aware that she could have never described the way in which his presence could make her feel, especially during that particular moment, when, as if possessed by some unknown and unspeakable desire, her hands had imperceptibly started to glide underneath his leather vest...-So strange, so overwhelming...

It was as if all over his body, a fine amour of tickling voltage was constantly moving from one cell to another, and to top it all, she could almost feel it penetrating her own skin, infiltrating deep inside her flesh and into her blood the moment her fingers touched the area where his heart was.

"What am I doing?" her reason almost shouted out loud at her the moment she realized that she had been staring at him for Zeus knows how long, probably looking as dumb as a bag of hammers.

As she hesitantly glanced upwards, unable to control the blood flushing her cheeks- she was one hundred percent sure that what she was about to receive as "reward" for her utter stupidity and poor judgment was a look to match her lack of experience, but, to her great surprise, what she actually saw was the transfixed expression of a God entranced by her totally childish behavior .

And though she had began withdrawing her hands from his chest the moment her consciousness started sending those urgent alarm signals, the word "WRONG" literally blinking before her eyes worse than a cheesy LA motel commercial, she soon found out that at least in his opinion, her "wrong" equaled the strongest "completely right" he could think of, the delicate way in which he captured her fingers, placing them back where they had been comfortably resting but seconds before, saying more than a thousand words.

Without breaking his gaze from her lovely face for too long, he skillfully and with infinite care started to put her hair up, strand by strand, using one by one the sharp hairpins which she had so contemptuously thrown on the floor a while back.

And one could surely say that there really aren't enough words in any language on the planet to describe just how powerful was the blaze of desire burning by then inside the Warrior Princess' body and soul, since she hadn't dared utter one single sound all that time...As if under hypnosis, she just stood there, waiting for his next move, almost forgetting that she needed to blink, when, the moment he finished her splendid coiffure, Ares couldn't help whispering:

"By Olympus itself, you are so incredibly beautiful, my Princess...I swear, it would only take once single glance for you to steal the heart of any mortal or God you desire. And with these eyes, sweet Fates...you could claim one victory after the other, days before the war had even started..."

His voice...his voice was unlike any other Xena had heard in her life.

It's rich notes always seamed to hide and invisibly entwine among their harmonic sounds so many meanings and inciting promises, so much devouring lust and at the same time so much control and self assuredness, that she literally had to fight with herself most of the time in order to keep her act together, hardly avoiding to fall to her knees before him the very minute his lips parted to say something.

Did it sound like the ever changing melody of time? Or rather like the deadliest of floods after a long heavy summer rain? She couldn't tell.

All that she could tell though was that when his thumb began to slowly trace the contour of her luscious lips, brushing them tenderly into the process, she suddenly realized that she couldn't care less if she died there and then, as long as the last thing she felt was his body vibrating in unison with her own, just as she could distinguishably sense it during those endlessly long seconds.

"But you see, sweet, to spur the attention of a man, especially the one of a more versatile and experienced one , you'll definitely need more than a set of pretty eyes and a knockout body...You'll need cold blood, attitude, self confidence and a substantial selection of subtlety, mystery and of course, a certain doze of that little something I just know you posses in quite a generous quantity..." the God kept on talking, while leaning closer and closer to her, and it was as clear as daylight that he had wooed her beyond the point of no return.

The moment he yearningly cupped her chin, slightly tilting her face up, despite himself though, the mighty God of War couldn't deny sensing his own blood literally boiling inside his veins...he wanted so much to kiss her, to taste her, to feel that she belonged to him, that she was completely his...to possess her...

Nonetheless, tactics came first, and as the brilliant strategist that he was, his next step was to fully close in the distance between them, leaving her no escape route what so ever in the event that her troubled conscience would have attempted to bring her back from dreamland again.

Consequently, to that precise effect, without her even noticing it , he masterly pinned her body against the wall.

It was time to get that show on the road!

He was now so unbearably close...Only one insignificant inch from her fiery lips...Just one breath away...tempting him out of his mind...He could have had her then and there, crumbling all the remaining barriers with one single touch...

It was not the right moment though...she still had a lot to learn...

"All in do time" he detachedly thought, as if trying to persuade himself not to go any further.

Did he finally manage to bottle up his burning desires , postponing the thrill of owning his Princess body and soul?

Well, he must have had, since while sensuously brushing the soft surface of her lips with the tip of his tongue , despite having sensed her entire body shivering in the anticipation of his kiss, way before she got the chance to come back to reality, he let the spell break apart, murmuring seductively against her portal, an almost ironic smile curving the outer corner of his lips:

"Tell me Princess, how many times could I have killed you during those last few minutes?" he calculatedly asked, intentionally bursting her soap bubble with the cruelty of a lion eating a sick, weakened cub.

She froze...It had been all a game...

"Answer me"

"Countless" she dimly replied, but that single word somehow managed to posses, to her utter disbelief, the surreal ability to slash her inside out worse than any blade could.

"Never loose yourself in your own game, Xena. You are not allowed to. No matter how attractive the idea or the participants. Beauty has sharp thorns" his words still echoed all over the room moments after he dematerialized, leaving her alone in what it suddenly seamed to her the widest and emptiest place on the planet.

Her heart ached, burned and broke at the same time. It took all of her will not to burst into tears...

XXX

The following day, it was training day again. Ares had just brought her a new type of sword, and it was lighter than all the others she had previously used; the metal itself seamed to be different.

Elasticity and rigidity blended in one single weapon? That was surely unprecedented!

Block, parry, kick, defense, attack again, double flip, uppercut, slash, clash... she had been doing great despite the block of ice she was carrying inside her chest from the moment Ares had coldheartedly decided to manipulate her feelings and illusions like that.

No...he had no place in her mind anymore...especially during such a demanding fight...but the sensation of his lips...ever so close to her own, almost touching...

Roughly shaking her head as if wanting to cast away those burdensome memories , she lost focus for but one tiny second- more than enough for the speculative God of War to take advantage of...

Hardly had she managed to raise her sword back up, that, without the necessary swing to partially dissipate the unusual force of Ares' lethal blade, she found herself literally glued to a column, her useless weapon now playing the role of fine thread between his sharp sword and her neck.

As the pride beam of yet another fairly won victory started to fill her patron God's eyes, something spectacular happened though, Xena's clear blue sky ones beginning to spread their own bright rays.

And again, one tiny, apparently insignificant second proved to make all the difference in the world, when, mesmerized by their unmatched serenity and by their gradually changing spectrum, Ares stopped pressing his blade any further, his attention totally diverted by the unseen beauty of his Princess' irides.

Her lips slightly parted, and her breath uneven and ragged, Xena's chest was rising and falling from the effort as never before.

And to top it all, a gaze illegally full of desire and passion and an expertly faked vulnerability started to blend together in what it was to become her own personal payback meant to break down the War God's well built defenses, intoxicating his mind with every single imaginable scenario involving them together, despite the fact that Ares had done his very best to keep their relationship as strictly professionally as possible thus far...

One moment longer and she could see it. A barely perceived, almost perfectly veiled flicker of desire crossed with the speed of light the surface of his chocolate eyes, and despite the fact that he was endowed with an unusually well fructified talent when it came to dissimulation and manipulation, she found out that she could read him like an open book, and taking full advantage of his every weakness was part of her plan.

Just like a spider ready to devour his prey , Xena allowed her body to slightly relax and, gradually rising on the tip of her toes in search for his lips, she almost cursed out loud for having partially allowed herself get lost under the bewitching effect of his cinnamon perfume when he cupped her chin with his free hand.

Luckily, all those scattered images of the previous night's events were still pretty fresh inside her tormented mind, and if that couldn't prevent her from giving in the magnetizing attraction she felt for him , nothing could.

Her soul filled with indescribable rage, as if possessed by a whole new force, the next thing she did, left even the God of War agape the moment when, after a slight shift of position, her knee collided with tremendous force against his groin, making him instantly drop his sword just to find the tip of her own blade grazing superficially his neck.

She had expected a rather violent outburst, either of words or of energy. She was wrong.

What she got in return was a proud smile and even a well deserved praise:

"That's my girl! You're starting to learn...Good."

She was flabbergasted of course.

...Little did she know that Ares had in fact anticipated her every gesture, outguessing her every reaction long before her sharp mind had even started projecting them...

FIRST KISS...

Another day had passed., and for Xena, one might say it had turned out to be a pretty full one too, stained with crimson blood just like many of the previous weeks had been.

She and Ares were in Laconia at the time, the help and advice of the mighty, undefeated, Lord of Battle being constantly begged by the inhabitants of that flourishing city, since they were at constant war with the kingdom of Macedonia, whom he was also the patron of.

War here, war there, strategies to be schemed, alliances to be built, kings to manipulate, and armies to organize, all in all, it was the perfect opportunity to teach his Chosen the inestimable importance of properly using the latent but very much present duplicitous nature of her character when it came to conflicts.

"In order to win any battle, Xena, you must develop the outstanding capacity of being able to put yourself in your opponent's place. As I have told you countless times before, you can't be victorious unless you are three steps ahead of your enemies. And you will never be able to do that unless you have the skills to decipher their way of rationing, of seeing things...

You must flawlessly outguess their every move and always, and mark my words here, always have a well structured plan and a backup plan. While you will use the first to ensure your triumph, the second is likely to save your life if something goes terribly wrong.

War leaves no room for errors, Xena. The slightest mistake could cost you your life, or even worse, your honor. And as you have probably noticed, there's no glory in defeat, as there's certainly no coming back from the dead...So make sure that when you leave the drawing board, you have already won the battle, for every clean victory is decided in front of a map. The rest is just part of the fun..."

He had taken her everywhere with him: at the negotiations, in camps, at the daily meetings with his generals, asking her to find weak points in their proposals and defenses, urging her to find better solutions for different problems that had appeared along the way, teaching her everything she needed to know about keeping an army together both morally and physically, sending her on the battlefield amongst the other soldiers, watching her fight and making useful suggestions regarding her technique.

...

It was almost nightfall. She had just finished taking a so much needed bath, changing that heavy armor Ares had commanded her to wear all day long despite the canicular temperatures outside, with a black silk gown, and was heading outside the temple when she heard the head priestess' voice calling:

"My Lady Xena, can I get you anything? "

"No, Karisha, thank you, I'm fine."

"Wouldn't you like to eat something? After today's events, you must be famished. Look! I've just finished baking your favorite pie... " She insisted, showing her the divinely smelling pastry. "It's delicious!"

"No" she simply replied this time, silently hoping the pushy priestess would just go away and leave her alone, since chit chatting was the last thing she needed that very moment.

"But My Lady..." the woman started instead, making Xena instantly turn around and fix her with her famous deadly glare that by then she had almost perfected.

"Lord Ares gave me precise orders to make sure you ate"

"Well... I'm not hungry... so you may as well tell Ares that he can have my share too, if he wants." she snapped at the unfortunate priestess that was about to go back to the throne room and announce the God of War himself that his precious Chosen couldn't care less about his orders, and even lesser about the apple pie, for that matter.

With that, the edgy Warrior Princess just kept walking as if the woman had been invisible, leaving her alone in the main hall, and descending the marble stairs of the grandiose construction, she headed towards the spectacular garden surrounding the area, from which, just like from most of Ares' temples one could see the entire city, the temple being strategically built on top of a hill.

Minutes later, back in the throne room, Ares was rolling his eyes in exasperation, both irritated by Karisha's incompetence and by his Princess' bad temper.

"Maybe she's just tired, My Lord" the priestess added lowly , without daring to raise her gaze from the floor. "Though if I may" she continued " I was under the impression that there was something bothering her...She looked almost sad, I guess"

"Sad?" the God exclaimed jumping to his feet, silently asking himself what might have induced her such type of emotion.

Shaking his head he said nothing more, he just took a piece of pie from the woman's plate and materialized outside, heading towards the garden where he knew it was likely to find that little witch of his.

Following the trace of her fading footsteps he went straight to the furthest corner of the vast shady surface, where he found her sitting at the base of a tree, gazing at the stars.

Without actually hearing him, but rather sensing his presence, she turned around to spot him, and there he was, steps away from her.

The All- Powerful, ever so praised God of War standing in the moonlight with a slice of spinach pie in his hand.

Much to Ares' comfort, she couldn't help bursting into laughter. He looked absolutely ridiculous.

"Hey." he briefly greeted, laying on the fluffy grass besides her. "Watcha' doing?" he affectionately inquired, eyeing her suspiciously.

"Just taking a breath of fresh air" she answered, smiling sweetly.

"Here." he stated bluntly handing her the pie, on a tone as commanding as the one he was daily using with his men. "Eat"

"I'm not hungry." she firmly refused.

"I didn't ask if you were hungry or not. It was an order. Do it"

"Will you be ordering me when to eat now?" she snapped, annoyed by everyone's ludicrous insistence to do something she didn't feel like doing.

"If I have to..." he retorted, a playful smile curving discreetly his lips.

"And if I don't comply?"

"Oh, not to worry. I'll think of something, Warrior Princess"

They both started laughing. With a sigh she took the slice from his hand at ate it. Karisha had been right. It was indeed delicious.

"How about some wine?" he asked, softly caressing her hand.

"Are you trying to get me drunk, My Lord?"she questioned with a chuckle, stressing intentionally that weird sounding formality that she had never used before with him, but which never failed to amuse her terribly each time she heard his priestess or his followers employing whenever they were in his presence.

Seeing her smile, the God just pressed his lips sheepishly, and, arching his eyebrows in what should have been some sort of regretful expression he replied:

"Definitely. I've been looking for a way to take advantage of you for a long time now and this is the best I could come up with. So don't spoil it, will ya'?"

Fascination written all over her face, Xena forgot everything about having to give him a proper comeback for that naughty statement of his, and just silently watched him materialize two empty goblets in his hand.

With perfect manners, after handing one to her, he gallantly asked, slightly bowing his head just like fine bartenders had the habit of doing in the most respected taverns in Athens:

"Would you like red or white wine My Lady?"

"I think I'll go for red" she answered, keeping the same theatrically polite tone he had made use of.

"A perfect choice for this lovely evening, I might add" he whispered incentively, totally captivated by the distinct image of the intricate dance that her long raven tresses had began performing the moment a light breeze started to blow, chasing away the torrid, suffocating mass of air that the sun had brought during the day..

Gently placing a hand over her cup, just like during the fabulous demo of a captivating magic routine, he made an exquisite flowery ruby colored wine fil it to the edge.

Her eyes widened with surprise, she took a sip. She usually hated alcohol, the mere odor of it- which still haunted her from all those years back, while growing up in Cyrene's tavern- making her wanna throw up most of the time, but still, she couldn't help admitting that she had never tasted such great wine in her life. It was like drinking nectar...a pretty strong one for her liking, that was for sure, but absolutely splendid nonetheless.

"I understand you like it?" he inquired taking himself quite a generous sip from his cup.

"...It has a very special aroma...tastes very ...fruity?"

"Indeed it does. The dried cherries, blueberry, clove, mace, rose petals and sweet tobacco seam to have done the trick. And it has quite an elegant, smooth texture too."

"Hmmmmm...for a God, you do know a lot about wines, given the fact that you immortals rarely eat or drink"

"What can I say? Had I been mortal, I would have surely been the most zealous alcoholic to walk on the face of the earth"

And the mere image of a drunk as a fish Ares, barely succeeding to keep his eyes open, fisting repeatedly the table of some crappy tavern asking for some more wine, made her giggle some more, accidentally spilling in the process a little bit of that crimson liquid straight on her chest and silk gown.

Slightly blushing, she looked back at Ares a little bit troubled, and much to her alleviation, no stinging remark followed the incident, on the contrary, on the most suave of tones, he just murmured, his fingers softly touching the upper part of her chest, where a fine trial of wine was still trickling down her skin:

"Allow me, sweet".

In a blink the stains were gone...

As much as he had tried to avoid it, he couldn't help sensing her heart hammering savagely against her chest, ready to burst out, the moment the tips of his fingers lightly touched her skin...She was absolutely charmed by her every gesture, he could see it so clearly...And him...? He was unbelievably terrified about all that unprecedented mixture of emotions she was capable of stirring inside his immortal soul each time those piercing cerulean eyes searched for his own.

For a short moment, there was silence. None of them spoke, and Xena just preferred to nervously take another sip, a longer one this time, from her goblet.

On the other hand, inches away from her shivering form, without even bothering to shift his gaze, Ares kept staring at her as if he had discovered the eight wonder of the world, briefly focusing on her lips before finally realizing he had unintentionally succeeded to make her feel visibly uncomfortable.

"So...care to share what was on your mind when I showed up?" he finally decided to break that awkward iron curtain, a well camouflaged shade of concern on his face.

It was a chance that Xena gladly took advantage of, despite the fact that she hated talking about herself or about any of her problems...The last thing she wanted was for him to think she was weak and unworthy of his attention, still seeing in him most of the time the ultimate model of rigor, equilibrium and coldness.

"I was thinking about Lyceus...It...It's almost an year since...uh..." her voice broke , as she bowed her head, letting a few dark tresses cover her now moist visage.

A warm, delicate gesture the God tilted her chin up, wiping away those two diamond tears that by then had reached her lips.

And there it was, yet another surprise that obviously gave him some serious meditation subject for the night: he couldn't stand to see her cry. It felt like everything inside him was about to burn to a crisp and her shimmering tears were a lot like adding oil to the fire.

Without giving it a second thought, magically making the goblet vanish form her hand, the God just lent forward and protectively wrapped his arms around her, drawing her closer to him and considerably tightening his hold the moment he felt her muscles tensing as if having wanted to break free form his embrace, slightly panicked by his unexpected reaction.

"Shhh..." he comfortingly silenced her before she even began voicing a protest, pausing a little while vainly searching for the detachment he needed.

To his much dismay and awe, he discovered though that he was even more vulnerable than she was, and he was about to let her go and put some distance between them, when he felt her delicate hands gliding gently around his waist, and burring her head into his chest.

She was absolutely adorable. And his arms seamed to have become glued around her.

He couldn't have moved a muscle even if he had wanted to.

"It's ok sweetheart" he affectionately encouraged when he sensed her body convulsing slightly in between sobs.

He had often wondered if she felt alone. She had no friends, and the moment her mother had cruelly kicked her out of the house blaming her for Lyceus' death, she had left everything behind, from her home village to her memories. ...She was an outcast, and as he himself knew so well, that could prove to be a serious burden at any age, especially at hers, when, despite his constant efforts her psyche was still pretty liable.

She had nothing left...but him...Well, him and Dite, who, to Xena's horror, had sworn to dedicate her immortal life to turning her into a real diva, the moment she noticed that "particular glimpse that had never been there" in her big brother's eyes.

Most of the time, if she was not with Ares, she was definitely with the ditsy Love Goddess, who couldn't wait for her any visit no matter the length, to turn her into her own private catwalk model, always asking her to try on dresses, making her up, giving her various tips about reading a man's real intentions...she was practically reinforcing all the lessons that Ares had been trying to teach her, except fighting of course, but somehow, on a more superficial, and fun level...

And although she hadn't stated it often , being rather far from the mushy, sensitive type Aphrodite had wanted her to be, she felt staggeringly comfortable in the Goddess' presence...

That could never replace her family though, Ares couldn't help thinking, while still trying to ease her pain, in any way.

"You miss him, don't you?" he rhetorically inquired. "Your brother...?"

She didn't answer. She just nodded imperceptibly, wiping away her tears with the back of her hand.

"My sweet, beautiful Princess. I wish there was something I could do to fill the emptiness drilling inside your soul. " he whispered lowly, and though it was but wishful thinking, it was enough to make her raise her head, her tormented mind still processing his previous comment.

"Thank you" she murmured in return, and the mere thought of having her gratitude, enveloped his heart into such a warm and rare blanket of joy and contentedness that he couldn't help but smile at her.

Seeing him smile, for a brief moment she forgot everything about her sorrow, and about the cause of her tears. She just delicately smiled back at him, that pure smile making those dazzling sapphire moons of hers lighten up again.

But, hypnotized as she was by the sight of his astonishingly flawless features, pretty much similar to the ones of the unmatchable "Prince Charming" Cyrene used to read to her about when she was still a child, she couldn't possibly protect her mind from the brutal invasion of yet another similar moment dating from a couple of months back , when, wanting to teach her the value of mind control, he had cruelly tricked her, manipulating the feelings he somehow knew she had for him, toying around with her just to prove a point.

Her entire body instantly tensed at the still very much alive memory of it, and she almost pulled back from his embrace, swiftly decoding her reaction, the God had strategically pulled her closer to him, and, without warning, before she could even realize what was going on, his mouth was on hers, crushing her lips with what had gradually turned into the most intense kiss he had ever shared with any woman in eons of existence.

For Xena it strangely seamed that time was dragging on, that the notion of seconds was progressively fading out from the complex dictionary of reality, a sensation that she had never knew before outside the melodramatic premises of the battlefield right before an important but highly risky attack .

It felt like she had died and gone to the Elysian Fields, and when his tongue began to softly part her lips in search for her own, she could literally feel a volcanic explosion smashing her entire body from inside out, creating the live illusion that she was about to melt into his arms, only to quickly discover that all her emotions and thoughts were in fact being inconceivably drawn inside some sort of impossibly to avoid vortex that was frantically entangling them on the background of a previously unknown heat, a heat that was making her vibrate uncontrollably from head to toe.

She had always imagined how it would feel like kissing him...she had been far away from the truth though...and his soft fingertips brushing tenderly her hair and face in the process, only seamed to multiply the intensity of the moment.

As for Ares, whatever presence of mind he had left, went into breaking the kiss when , the instant her hands eagerly started caressing his chest, he felt the unbearable urge to rip her dress off, slashing through him like a sheet of flame.

By the time their lips had separated a bit though, she was already gasping for air, the sweet violence of his frenzy, taking the breath from her lungs faster than she had wanted it to.

His pulse racing and hands slightly shaking, he opened his eyes for a brief moment , just to close them back again when he noticed that uniqe image of pure bliss brightening up his Princess' statuesque visage, and with the most amazing tenderness that he was capable of, he started planting dozens of short diaphanous kisses on her forehead, eyelids, cheeks and nose.

She chuckled lowly, raptured by his unanticipated consideration.

"So that's how one can make a young lady stop crying!" he loudly exclaimed, squeezing her hand lightly, a trickster ear to ear grin on his face.

"I would have never guessed it only took one fairytale like kiss, you know?"

"Yeah, I'm sure you haven't!" she burst into laughter, cuddling even more into his arms.

...She felt so safe when he was holding her...It felt like home...

LESSONS LEARNED

The raid had been fierce and bloody, and despite the fact that she had expected a clean, fast, unquestionable victory, it proved to be anything but, her "soldiers" still lacking the discipline and passion required to obtain such type of performance.

With almost a quarter of her men fallen, and with the rest shouting her glorious name from the top of their lungs, all covered in blood from head to toe and displaying the most savage expression she had ever imagine seeing on any human's face, Xena couldn't help thinking that, determinate and wild as they were, those half animals that she had before her could never make a proper material for her future army. And if that couldn't give her something to think about, then nothing could.

One tiny question, scratching with it's sharp claws the back of her mind bothered her the most though, and as much as she struggled to find a proper answer to it, she was just not able to do it: were her men to blame for the hardly avoided failure- for not having completely followed her orders- or was it something that she had done wrong from the very beginning?

"Are you all right, Xena?" her second in command asked hesitantly seeing her sunk in thought.

"Yeah. Perfect. Take the others to camp, Andrios" she briefly addressed him, a steely gaze in her eyes. "I'll be there shortly. There's something I need to do first"

"Yes Xena. It shall be done"

"To caaaaaamp!" he roared signaling the rest of the scattered soldiers to follow him.

...

She needed to clear her head, to think things over , to mentally rewind some of the battle sequences and find the source of the problems. Despite the fact that they had fairly won, she didn't perceive it like a victory. Not by far. It tasted like defeat all the way and she hated having to admit it.

And what she hated even more, was the already pictured image of Ares's one of a kind smirk when they were to meet. Strangely enough, he hadn't shown up during the battle as he had the habit of doing, surveying her every move, enjoying the show, hearing her spit out fiery commands, slicing and gutting enemies like fish.

...Straying from her troop she just headed west, without having a certain place in mind, and, as she kept riding, in several hours' time she arrived at the margin of a forest.

There was a small spring there- the perfect opportunity to wash away the blood and sweat scintillating on her skin like armor, and to rest awhile before heading back for the valley.

The perfect plan...and she tended to adamantly stick to it too, which she would have done, if, minutes later, after having finished her bath and cooled down a little bit, right when she was about to mount her horse and advance throughout the thick trees in search for something to eat, she hadn't slightly turned her head towards the hill ahead, and noticed the roof of a temple.

Curiously enough, despite the fact that she knew the area pretty well, having carefully looked for strategic points before the raid, she had no knowledge of any sanctuary having been built there.

Casting one more glance around her, and carefully tying the horse to a tree, she skeptically headed towards what she soon discovered to be one of Ares's old temples.

At least form the outside she thought, it looked as if the legendary war of Troy had taken place between it's walls, words like "crumbling down" and "abandoned" describing it as literary and decently as possible given it's shape.

No one had been placing an offering there for ages, that was as clear as daylight...

A playful smile on her lips, the Warrior Princess gently bent down to pick a few flowers, imagining her God's puzzled expression when he would notice them on the altar.

Nobody ever brought flowers to the God of War. That was something she was about to change...

What she originally meant to be like ten daisies or something, gradually turned into a quite considerable bouquet of course, and, flowers in hand, she entered the grandiose construction, pushing the dusty doors aside, amazed at first sight by the fact that, though it had seamed neglected and falling to pieces, the inside still looked at it's best, dark blue candles flickering everywhere, brightening up the typical darkness labeling Ares' temples.

One swift look around. No servants, no priests, and certainly no worshipers. Deserted indeed, despite the previous impression.

Delicately placing the flowers on the altar, Xena just took a seat on it too, inches form her offering, scrupulously searching her imagination for the proper formula to summon her patron God- the last one with the "Ares get your lazy butt out here already" elements in it, having managed to irk the Tartarus out of him, almost making him choke to death while explaining her why exactly she couldn't publicly ask for his presence with so much disrespect.

"Well I guess I could humor him just this once and use a more formal approach" she said to herself barely holding back a wave of laughter as the words started to pile up inside her mind.

And, right when she was about to voice a highly poetic " Oh My Lord Ares, sacred God of Mayhem and Victorious Battles , please honor your Chosen with the delightful sight of your presence" that she was sure it would to give him a heart attack despite the craftily selected adjectives, the God literally stormed the room, instantly blowing up a column with a fire bolt and but seconds after, a delicate gorgeous woman followed his supernatural appearance, both of them failing to notice the Warrior Princess' presence, the God of War being evidently way to enraged to feel anything else except blood boiling inside his veins, as for the woman, she didn't even bother to look around.

She couldn't care less if anyone else was there or not.

"Eos I thought we 've done chit- chatting for today! I'm busy, I really am, so can you just take a hint?" Ares growled, gesturing widely, obviously dissatisfied with the Goddess' unwanted presence.

"Well I don't know. Was it a hint you were taking when you were screwing that mortal whore the other day?"

"Atlanta? Oh please! Don't tell me you're jealous over that absolutely challenging and stunning mortal now" he retorted, intentionally emphasizing the Arkadian woman's qualities . "Ilya would have made such a better object for your ridiculous feminine outbursts"

"And you still have the nerve to brag about it? You cocky insensitive bastard!"

"Insensitive? Me? Come on Eos! Just seeing you upset like this, makes my eyes all teary and fluffy!" he theatrically replied wiping off a fake tear with his index.

"I hate you!" she yelled in his face, fisting his chest dramatically, but it was obviously enough that her violent reaction only managed to amuse the God that seamed to have no intention what so ever in at least moving an inch from the growing tornado before him.

Minutes later, when the woman's useless neurotic release finally stopped, Ares just watched her coldly before asking, on a very business like tone:

"Are we done, here? "

"You'll pay for this Ares! And you can say bye bye to your little Atlanta cause she's as good as dead!" Eos spited out shooting him an angry, diabolical glare.

"Threaten me again, and I'll reduce you to a pile of ashes, Goddess!" the War God retorted gravely, his muscles already tensing as a faint blue light started forming around his fists. "As for Atlanta, you can burn down the entire Arkadia for all that I care, if that makes you feel better. So see you around" he added waving his hand at her, signaling her to leave.

Still gnashing her teeth, tears trailing down her cheeks, Eos was about to dissolve in a pale rosy light, her heart darkened by hate and sadness, when, as if sent on purpose by the Fates themselves to nag the irritated God some more, almost blasting the temple doors, entered the dimly lighted hall, a tall, fair, extremely appealing Amazon, wearing a provocative short leather skirt and an almost useless top, since her firm voluptuous breast were barely covered by it.

"Ares! " she exclaimed casting the God a glance that would have made any man take three elegant steps back from the raging beauty's direction. "You're here. Good, cause we have a looot to talk about!" she hissed like a cobra between her teeth.

"Oh joy! More talking..." the War God couldn't help mumbling much to the Warrior Princess's amusement, who, from the edge of the altar were she was still sitting ,a childish vivid interest painted on her face, was listening to the captivating dialogues barked out by the three participants , as if she had been the lucky spectator of some sort of Athenian theatre play, and all the others were part of the show, skillfully performing their roles.

"I thought your job description also contained the word honor, War God!" the woman ironically stated stopping but inches from his lips.

"You mean it doesn't?" he questioned in return, staring implyingly at her generously endowed chest.

"Don't play me for a fool, Ares. I've heard you had the uninspired idea to pick some lousy spoiled brat to be your Chosen. And just when exactly were you planning to tell me that you don't consider me worthy of your attention except for the times when you're in the mood for a quick fuck? Just a couple of days ago you certainly "forgot" to mention anything on the subject. On the other hand, I suppose that you were too damn horny to utter anything else beside "Oh baby you are sooooo good!"? Why In Tartarus did you still came to me? Doesn't the harlot you chose for yourself satisfy you properly?" the Amazon snapped at him ready to jump at his throat, when, as if having set him on fire or even worse, Ares slapped her across face so hard that the woman literally crumbled at his feet.

"Do not make me send you to the Underworld faster than the Fates have ordained it, Otrera!" the God roared like a wounded savage beast, his sword pointing now the brave Amazon's neck. "Cause there is absolutely nothing on this planet that could make me hesitate to slice you to pieces. "

"Is that so? How about if I told you we are to have a child?"

"You could bear a legion of my children, and that still wouldn't save you from death if I hear you one more time offending the sacred name of my Chosen."

"I can believe I actually gave myself to you! That I was so blinded with love that I couldn't see what kind of despicable monster you really are!" she uttered in disbelief, looking at the handsome man standing in front of her as if he were a complete stranger.

"Join the club darling!" Eos replied breaking the silence that was soon threatening to install.

Back on the altar, Xena was barely holding back her tears.

"A child?" she thought.

Apart the fact that in less than ten minutes she had found out everything she had never imagined about the prince of her dreams- he had the bad habit of sleeping with various women whom he would later treat like garbage, he was constantly wooing her with his charm but at the same time he was doing the exact same thing with dozen others, he had promised her the world and he was genuinely expecting her to even breathe in his name while he was planting his seed throughout the entire Greece...and .- to top it all, she had just discovered that despite the possibility of being a father , he would have easily killed the mother of his child in a heartbeat.

"Shut up Eos, and just get lost already!" a very edgy War God addressed to the ever so fragile Goddess of Dawn, directing his blade towards her.

"I'm immortal Ares, remember?"

The God's eyebrows instantly came together into a highly dangerous frown that Xena knew far to well.

"And I trust you'd hate to spend the rest of eternity into five pieces, am I right?" he insisted, on the most serious tonality ever.

It was all it took, Eos was gone in a blink.

"Now. Where were we? " he restarted casting a contemptuous gaze at the Amazon still laying at his feet. "Oh Yeah. At my job description" Ares stated clenching his fingers into the woman's long tresses, lifting her up as if she were a rag doll.

"Now...according to those precise rules that you are so very found of, I should slid your throat and leave you to bleed to death for having dared to question my motives- the motives of an Olympian- which I will, so no need to worry about that one - .

But first, I just wanted to let you know that Sherda will be the one to rule over the Amazon Nation in your long, very much replaceable absence." he said grinning widely before lifting up his sword to finish her off.

Still flabbergasted at the unconceivable thought of him taking not only Otrera's life but also the life of his child , Xena almost jump to her feet, eyes burning brighter than ambers.

"Ares?" she hesitantly murmured his name, knowing that even in the middle of the bloodiest war, in his head, her voice had the ability to echo even louder than Zeus' deafening thunders.

His hand still up , he stopped in mid action, trying to locate his Princess's whereabouts, and to his utter surprise, turning around, he spotted her but steps away from him, next to the altar.

"Xena? What are you doing here, sweet?" he asked, completely in shock, totally taken aback by here unexpected presence.

"Sweet?" Otrera couldn't help bursting into laughter, hearing the unusual appellative her brain had just registered as coming out from the God of War's mouth.

"Oh please! This is too much!" she kept on laughing, taking a good long look at the dark beauty stepping in the middle of the room.

"Whose the bitch that had you so worked up as too make you wanna improve your slangy vocabulary to this extent?" she exclaimed totally indifferent as to what was about to happen to her.

She had been sentenced to death, and, knowing Ares as she did, there was no way out of that kind of mess, crawling and begging for forgiveness or mercy being completely out track when it came to him. Consequently, she could at least afford the luxury to keep on stinging his worldwide known pride before being given a bon voyage card straight towards the iron gates of Hades.

"My Chosen" was all that Ares still had the patience to reply before lifting his hand up again, ready to cut the woman's throat and he would have done it, no doubt about it, if Xena hadn't seized his arm, stopping his blade but two insignificant inches from the her neck.

"Don't" she commanded on a soft but very sure of herself tone, capturing his gaze with those hypnotic cerulean eyes of hers.

In return, a quite puzzled Ares just looked at her blankly, still trying to decipher why in the Universe would she intervene for a second hand Amazon Queen she didn't even knew.

"Is this the pitiful wretch you picked as Chosen? " a remarkably scandalized Otrera started, unable to imagine what might have possessed the God's mind when he made the decision.

"Is this the one meant to lead your armies to glory, Ares? Come on! I could wipe the floor with her a hundred times before she could even get the chance to draw that sword from the scabbard!" she added spitting the God in the face.

Her outburst didn't remain unpunished this time though, as the very next second, a knee firmly collided to her neck, blocking her windpipe, and, as if disgusted by the sight of her, the angry God just threw her now convulsing body a few feet away, her back hitting a marble pillar while she was still uselessly trying to inhale some air into her lungs, choking to death before his eyes.

"Ares, she's dying!" Xena couldn't help exclaiming watching the half past woman clenching her hands around her throat, desperately opening her mouth in search of the air that simply refused to fill her lungs.

"Yeah, she is. " the God replied with the most relaxed and satisfied expression ever, on his face.

"She's carrying your child!" she added, tightening the grip on his arm, still refusing to believe that he would actually kill his own flesh and blood, while being so serene about it too.

For a moment there, Ares's eyes seamed to flicker with interest as if having unraveled the mystery of a very challenging, antique enigma.

Tilting his head to the side, a small, discreet smile on his lips he simply answered, not bothering to look at the seconds away from death woman.

"Is that of any importance to you?"

"It's you the one for whom it should mean something!" she retorted almost holding her breath, unsure of the game he was currently playing with her.

"Well...it doesn't. As far as I'm concerned, she's as good as dead. So...do you want me to take you back to camp? I have some pretty urgent matters to attend to up on Olympus " he inquired curtly , wasting no more time with the former subject they were debating. "Shall we?"

"Wait. " The word involuntarily slipped Xena's lips, and that was all it took to get his attention again.

"Yes, my Princess?" he faintly replied, not showing that he was getting rather impatient.

"Is she good?" she questioned impassively, but almost choked after having uttered the sentence, quickly realizing the lumpish way in which she had phrased it.

Nonchalantly licking his lips, and staring at her in disbelief, Ares complied, giving her an answer to fit the stupidity of her question.

"Pretty decent for a mortal. A little noisy but, on the other hand that can turn out to be quite stimulating if..."

"I was talking about her fighting skills, Ares"

"Oh...those skills. She's very ...gifted in that department too" he said with a chuckle.

"Perfect. Cause I want to fight her. Let's see what she's capable of. It would make a good workout. If she wins, you let her live" . Xena cunningly challenged, a visible tension in her jaw giving away the fact that she was unsure whether Ares would accept her offer or not.

As calculated as she had wanted to be though, for a moment there she forgot all about the fact that she was addressing a God that had been around for eons on end, and that he was actually possessing the psychological capacity to see right through her as if she were a piece of glass.

She was trying to save the woman.

Pensively arching an eyebrow, the War God just eyed her briefly before finally heading towards the almost passed out Amazon. One well executed twist was enough to unblock her windpipe, allowing her to breathe again.

"Fine. Have it your way. But the rules are a little bit different from what you've initially cooked up in that devious mind of yours, sweet"

He was up to something...Xena could sense it from a mile away, she just couldn't place her finger on it.

"Otrera..." he started, a hardly controllable smirk, slightly curving his lips. He was enjoying himself, one had to be blind not to notice.

"... fight Xena. Win, prove yourself to me, show me you have what it takes to be my Chosen, and you will become just that."

Xena's pupils dilated imperceptibly, hearing the first part of the game. He had offered the Amazon her title...and such event could only happen if...if she died. The bastard was planning to have it his way and force them to fight to the death, after all!

"Xena...!" his resonant voice brought her back to reality.

"...win, and you may stay alive. Lose, and uh...well, if you loose, me and my Amazon girl here, will have a biggg problem, cause we'd have to decide who's gonna strike the deadly blow: me or her."

"A fight to the death? I thought you hated to see potential go to waste, Ares."

"I do. But you see, Xena, losers die because they have no potential. Thus, my offer is...quite an honorable one, isn't that right Otrera?" he asked without actually expecting an answer, allusively making reference to the Queen's previous statement regarding his lack of dighity.

"Are you afraid, Chosen of War?" the Amazon mockingly queried , closing in the gap between them, examining Xena's body posture, already looking for possible flaws in her defense or attack.

"Are you hoping I might be?"

"I don't have to hope for anything...you have every reason in the world to be..."

"Right..." Xena hissed ending the unnecessary discussion.

"Choose your weapons" Ares commanded.

"Quarter staffs" Otrera replied before Xena even had the chance to open her mouth.

"Perfect!" Ares exclaimed materializing the weapons requested by the Amazon Queen. "This will be a pretty interesting show, I might add. Several deadly strikes possible. Couldn't have chosen a better scenario myself."

Swallowing dryly, Xena tried not to panic, thinking worriedly that if she had to name one particular weapon she would have never chosen, no matter what, that had to be it, no second thoughts...And Amazons were like naturals when using it for both protection and offensive...while she was more for the cutting and slashing part.

"Ok, let's get this show on the road!" Ares yelled impatiently, urging the women to pick up their weapons and fight. "Don't disappoint me girls! I want to see some serious action, here!"

And that pretty much said it all... cause at least during the next ten minutes or so, all the images unfolding before Xena's eyes, except for the short moments in which the utter darkness blinding her every time she received a quick blow to her stomach, were reduced to Ares holding Otrera's baby between his arms, and if that didn't prevent her from applying several terminal blows straight to her opponent's midsection, than nothing could.

The mere idea of him having a child with somebody, could rip her heart out instantly, and to top it all, this was not some lousy village girl with whom she could compete any time any place...The woman was an Amazon Queen, to be more precise...a stunningly beautiful woman who looked ... divinely...

He had made love to this woman... she must have slept on his chest-just like she had the habit of doing from time to time- he had kissed every inch of her skin-whereas she and Ares had hardly passed the barrier of kissing and caressing each other's faces, and even that type of event that was as rare as the dinosaurs...

And with this woman he was going to have a baby? ...

"Maybe he just doesn't feel attracted to me..." she said to herself, aware that she shouldn't completely exclude the possibility. "I might not be his type...he's probably more into blonds or something..."

Whatever it was he liked, one thing was sure though: she desperately needed to clear her head. Those images were driving her crazy.

Almost automatically, as if sensing the fight taking place inside the walls of her shattered soul and not at all in that run down temple, Xena dodged yet another one of the Queen's well directed thrusts, her staff missing the Warrior Princess' neck by only an inch or two.

Two steps back and a light bend to the right and she nearly hit her adversary's temple in return, making her shriek.

Xena smiled...had she wanted, she could have killed her in les than a blink, her technique, as rough as it was, being undisputedly superior than the one employed by the proud Amazon Queen.

Ares hadn't probably insisted on her practicing the staffs during their long training hours because she was obviously good at it, after all.

"Ares"... a furtive look in his direction and she caught his gaze. He wasn't looking at her...it was Otrera he was studying, his eyes lingering a bit longer than they should have on her sweaty breasts and abs...

...And that was all she needed to see...Progressively, she began loosing focus big time, and the Amazon Queen obviously took advantage of her acute lack of spirit as soon as she noticed her slightest hesitation.

Her mind was drifting elsewhere- a lethal mistake in any fight, of course. For an enemy...that was pure gold.

A swift throw and a quick blow professionally directed to her liver, shortly followed by a very efficient flip and another surprise bonus to her kidneys, and the Warrior Princess was on her knees, almost kissing the ground.

She barely restrained the human impulse to scream, the purple color of her lips and those widely spread fingers being all the proof any doctor would have needed in order to prescribe her some decent dose of morphine.

"Focus, Gods damn it, focus!" Ares couldn't help screaming at her, his every muscle tense as if it was about to snap, and, had he been the one fighting her that very moment, he could have sworn that he would have kept hitting her , until, humiliated and desperate to stay alive, she would have gathered those supernatural resources he knew she kept hidden within and rose to her feet to tear him to pieces.

Hearing his voice, as if it had been miles away, but at the same time feeling it burn like a funeral pyre somewhere deep inside her , Xena gradually began to mentally shake her haze, slowly coming to her senses, ordering her body to move again, to react properly.

"So Ares? How about it? Do you want to be the one to finish her off or would you be generous enough as to leave me the honor?" the Amazon inquired mockingly, already fixing her staff right in the middle of Xena's spine, ready to brake it as soon as Ares granted her his approval.

She barely managed to finish her sentence though , that she paid dearly for her brief moment of glory and inadvertence, when, craftily pulling her feet from under her, Xena forced Otrera to land straight on her back, slamming it hard against the cold marble floor faster than the Titans themselves, straddling the woman's hips with an enviable easiness, a staff aimed flawlessly towards her windpipe again.

Much to her patron God's despair, she refused to apply enough pressure into it as to crack it, though.

"Kill her!" Ares commanded, seeing that she wasn't planning to do it soon.

"Game's over, Ares. Just let her live, will ya? It was a clean fight. Entertaining enough even for your own twisted tastes." She sneered back at him, ignoring his previous order.

"Are you suicidal?" he literally barked at her, still bewildered about the nerve she had in her, to contradict him like that, in a way that no mortal on that planet had ever dared.

"Maybe. But I'm certainly not your little puppet on the strings to command as you wish." She simply retorted, bouncing back to her feet, turning around to leave the room, throwing the staffs on the floor, with no interest what so ever to read his reaction too.

To her misfortune though, Otrera was not exactly to woman to accept defeat lightly, so, only several seconds later, she was the one laying on her back this time, silently cursing the moment she had decided to spare that lunatic's life.

"Bad choice Warrior Princess!" the Amazon yelled, pinning her to the floor with all her bodyweight , and it only took a miracle for Xena to successfully avoid a crushing strike to her chest, catching the staff with both of her hands the very instant it touched the pale surface of her skin.

"Otrera! Release her!" Ares ordered calmly touching the Amazon's right shoulder. "That would be all ."

"Yes My Lord Ares!" the woman promptly answered, to Xena's unspeakable amazement bowing her head slightly as if nothing had happened during the past half an hour, rising back to her feet and intently avoiding to look him in the eyes.

"Go back to the village, get some rest. I'll need you up and about tomorrow at dawn. We need to plan the attack on those Thracian tribes. The've started to become quite a drag lately, and if we don't take care of them properly they'll be squashing the entire Amazon Nation like bugs in three months at max.

"Of course, My Lord, Thank you for your eternal consideration for our Tribe's welfare.

Is there anything else you need?"

"No. You may leave"

"My Lady Xena" the Amazon saluted respectfully before finally heading towards the entrance.

"What was that all about?"

"What was what?" Ares inquired absently, while still doing his best to control the blind fury that he could still feel rising inside his chest.

"You staged this! You sick bastard!" she yelled at him, suddenly managing to see the bigger picture.

"Shut up and sit down!" he growled in return every single trace of placidity he had displayed while talking to Otrera melting away from his visage like snow at the beginning of spring.

Abruptly snatching her arms, and almost dragging her to the altar he planted her on top of it, as if she were some naughty student that had deliberately disobeyed his teacher, and was about to be lectured and punished accordingly.

"Are you crazy?What in Zeus' name is wrong with you? Is that what you call a fight? Is that what I've taught you, Xena? Is it? " he started gripping her shoulders brutally, just to release her with a shove the following moment.

"That woman is not as half as good as you are, and still, sadly, I don't have enough fingers on both of my hands to count the number of times you could have become a corpse, had she had the brains to take advantage of your every weakness!"

"It's a good thing she's brainless then...And you could start using your toes any time...you'll find it quite useful I'm sure" she bit back satirically, but discovered that she should have kept her mouth shut the moment he twisted his fist into her midnight- black tresses, pulling her forward with so much force, that she didn't even have the time to react, and before she knew it, he had already parted her legs, annihilating completely any remaining distance between them, his other hand cupping her chin so hard that it hurt.

She couldn't have said another word even if she had wanted it too. It was physically impossible.

And his mouth was now so close to hers that it burnt...

Still visibly boiling mad, he continued his speech , while she vainly tried to push him away with her palms.

"Will you stay put already? Cause you're not going anywhere any time soon, Xena!"

The rhythm of her breathing was quickening by the minute, but she finally stopped struggling, aware that he had meant it, and that she was uselessly wasting the last amount of energy she still had in her.

"You were so damn preoccupied by everything else than the fight, that you couldn't even see the trap you were blindly and foolishly stepping into! Eos and the women, Otrera and the child, our dialogue...is that all it takes for you to loose focus? Have I already seen the best of what you can do? Is that all you've got?" he kept growling against her lips, perfectly aware of her discomfort and sensing in the mean time the rip of pain and disappointment drilling inside her heart.

"Look at me! "

"Look at me!" he repeated loudly this time when he noticed that she had shifted her gaze, struggling not to let tears fill her eyes. She felt like she had let him down, and she couldn't stand the thought.

"You can't afford to loose focus during a fight, Xena no matter how hard the pressure. Do you understand what I'm telling you here? The moment you snap, you're history! History! Your mind must be as strong and as balanced as your body. You can't have one without the other! On the battlefield you'll find in time extremely insidious enemies that will drain you mentally, that will play with your mind, using your own weaknesses as weapons against you. What then, Xena? Huh?"

For a few moments it was silence, and, taking a good look at her face, Ares noticed that her sapphire moons were covered with a thin watery layer of tears that she had been stubbornly holding back for some time now, and they were already slightly injected and red.

She was not scared of him. There wasn't any trace of fear on their glistening surface, but a faint shade of sorrow. And shame. That was a good sign, Ares thought.

Letting go of her hair, he sighed deeply and placed a loving kiss on her forehead, when, meaning to grab a hold of her hand to transport them back to camp, he accidentally touched to flowers still laying inches from them. He hadn't noticed them till that very moment .

Slowly picking the bouquet he looked at her inquisitively.

"Um...they were for you...The temple looks pretty awful. I thought they could cheer the place up a little bit" she replied dryly, cursing herself silently for having brought them in the first place.

He didn't say anything. He just reached for her hand and , during the following seconds, everything became a blur as the temple walls began dissolving into a whirlpool of sparks and shimmering lights.

As she opened her eyes, she had expected to see the fire torches burning in the valley where her men where gathered, and to hear the unmistakable clamor caused by what they proudly referred to as being "war songs".

Instead, as she looked around her , much to her surprise she discovered that they were in a room- not a very ordinary one to begin with, but, unlike any other she had seen before, this was filled to the brim with colored strings that were genuinely everywhere, like some sort of giant cobweb: on the floor, on the walls, on the ceiling, moving without interruption, and definitely without any sort of human logic like restless snakes, back and forth.

"What is this place?" she questioned, her hand squeezing lightly the God' fingers, trying to find a valid explanation for that unfathomable mingle-mangle unfolding before her eyes.

"The temple of Destiny" the three Fates answered, instantly materializing by their side, craftily spinning a thread between their long, slender fingers.

"Xena" Ares's voice echoed throughout the large hall. " Meet Clotho, Lachesis and Atrops-, daughters of Ananke- the implacable ladies that govern over life, chaos and destiny. These are the ones you'd have to annihilate if you want to enjoy a long, prosperous existence without having to worry about Celesta's ax hanging above your head from the minute you entered the mortal realm. " the God joked, winking seductively at the three women that didn't seam the find his humor very appealing."

"What is it you're searching for, God of War?" Clotho, the youngest one questioned, staring at the Olympian with her child like eyes.

"Show my Chosen her thread. I want her to see it" he commanded, advancing toward the center of the room, and to her utter amazement the Warrior Princess saw the strings keeping out of his way, changing direction as if they were indeed alive.

"Certainly", Clotho replied, obviously displeased with the God's cocky and commanding attitude.

Moments later, Xena was making her way throughout the weird, colored shaw, and she literally had to cross that immense chamber in order to reach the place where her life thread was slowly spinning.

It was crimson red, and it was pulsating with life.

"Don't touch it!" Ares warned, placing a soft kiss on her shoulder. "Trust me, you don't want to see the rest of your life unfolding like a canvas before your eyes. It will make your daily existence too predictable and boring"

"I can see my life?"

"One possibility out of many. It's a pretty shocking experience, just take my word for it, ok?"

She smiled.

"It's so thick!" she exclaimed despite herself.

"You're young" he retorted laughing. "As you grow old, it will become thinner and thinner, until the day Atrops decides to use her scissors on it. "

"I can't really picture myself growing old and rocking my grandchildren to sleep"

"No mortal can. But don't worry, in our line of work, the lifespan hits around 40, so...I won't actually get to see you all wrinkly and decrepit. " he mirthfully underlined, caressing her right cheek, but had she seen his eyes, she would have noticed a shade of pain and torment briefly flickering on their mirror like surface.

"What's so bad about being old?"

"You mean except the obvious changes of your presently to die for body?"

"Is that all you think about 24/7 ?" she asked on a pretty high pitched note, somehow disturbed by the God's superfluous attitude.

"Not exactly...I always leave a few hours for practice...I have to keep fit, you know!" he replied laughing, while gently biting her neck .

"So that's what you usually do when you're not by my side God of War!" she answered throwing him a bemused look.

Still laughing he tightened his embrace, bringing her even closer to him, burying his face in the darkness of her long silky tresses.

"This other thread" Xena inquired curiously as she noticed an equally thick one curling around her own, dark blue in color but casting a faint fluorescent light all around it."Who does it belong to?"

"Touch it" he invited, guiding her hand towards it.

As if it burnt, the moment her skin brushed it's surface, the Warrior Princess withdrew her hand staring at it in disbelief.

"It's yours! It's your life thread!"

"You are my Chsoen, are you not? Our lives were bond in front of the Fates the moment you pledged yourself to me, remember? My one and only?"

"Your one and only..." Xena repeated rolling her eyes, exasperated by the irony of his statement, despite the fact that Ares hadn't been more sincere than that in ages.

...She couldn't have known.

"Yeah." He murmured again as he slowly began caressing her shoulders, breathing hard against her neck as he restarted trailing short hectic kisses on the surface of her creamy skin.

"You see my Princess, you are important to me. You are so important that I prefer to wait for you to be ready for everything I have to offer to you...You are not some cheep harlot whose name I would forget the minute I'd slid out of her-assuming I knew it in the first place- so do me the favor and stop comparing yourself with them , ok?"

Hearing him utter those words, Xena's blood literally froze inside her veins...How could he have known? Was he reading her mind or something?

"No.." Ares chuckled softly, turning her around in his arms, so that he could see her face. "But your thoughts were too aloud during the fight. It was impossible for me not to hear them."

And she hardly got the chance to feel her cheeks turning blazing red, that Ares was already nibbling gently her lower lip, making her whimper, tantalizingly liking and biting their slightly chopped surface before he finally inserted his tongue into her burning portal, blowing her mind with a long frantic kiss that silently made her wonder if she was dreaming or not.

By the time the kiss broke they were somewhere near her soldiers' camp. It was almost midnight.

"Have a good night sleep, sweet" he seductively whispered against her ear, his hand still brushing her back lightly "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Ok" she murmured in return, still lost in his loving gaze, and as she finally turned around to leave, the brightest smile playing on her lips, she nearly missed the sound of his voice that barely registered somewhere in the back of her terribly dizzy mind:

"Motive Xena. Your men lack a proper motive to fight. They need a goal. Give them that and you own them"

"Thanks" she simply replied, as her heart almost skipped a beat.

...He had seen the fight after all...

Minutes later, when she entered her tent, her jaw almost dropped to the floor: the place was literally buried in white, delicate daises.

IS EVERYTHING A TRAINING GROUND TO YOU?

The sun was getting ready to set when Xena reached the tavern where Ares had said she was supposed to wait for him to pick her up when he had finished discussing whatever needed to be discussed with his generals.

A vigilant scan of the premises. Nothing out of the ordinary to begin with.

The tree line was close enough to ensure a clean escape if it were the case, it's labyrinthic brushwood providing the perfect shelter in the event of any unpredicted situations that might have ended with the unfortunate consequences of her body receiving such serious injuries that could have made a proper defense impossible.

Another long look at the wooden hovel before her...She sighed

The place seamed to faithfully respect the common pattern of the six dinars taverns that could be found at every crossroads in Greece.

It certainly appeared shabby enough as to fear that it would fall about one's ears before they even get the chance to finish a cheap, bitter ale, and the recently covered hole in the roof kinda gave it that homey, rustic type of image.

No noise coming from inside.

"Peace and quiet. Finally!" she mumbled to herself the moment she opened the door and noticed that the tables were almost all empty, except for two of them that were closer to the bar, and where about five half shot villagers were talking about that year's crop and about the tribute they needed to pay to some local warlord that was "kindly protecting" the area.

Silently, she headed twards the stand where she ordered something to eat, and couldn't help rolling her eyes when she noticed the salacious up and downs that the pig looking counterman gave her before he finally decided to move his large amount of body fat towards the kitchen to bring her the food, still grinning widely and turning his head twice to analyze her some more, the moment she began walking towards one of the free isolated tables in the furthest and darkest corner on the room.

Surprisingly, the others said nothing, they just kept chatting as if she wasn't there.

Minutes later, the beefy, sweaty, extremely smelly guy was back with her order though and he just couldn't help himself take a seat next to her, licking his lips disgustingly while pathetically staring at her breasts as if he wanted to take a bite out of them.

"So..." he started on what it must have been his "charming" tonality.

"What's a cute girl like you doing here, at this late hour of the night? Are you lost or something?"

"No" she simply replied, wasting no more words and definitely trying to ignore the repulsive smell of his breath- a nauseating, absolutely putrid mixture of liquor and rotten teeth.

"How old are you , again?" he kept on asking, not at all bothered by her monosyllabic response, but definitely entranced by the sight of her piercing eyes, sighing deeply the instant she raised her head to face him.

"What's it to you?" she answered coldly, but on a level tone that somehow managed to veil the unspeakable sensation of wanting to throw up instantly at the mere thought of having to put up with that purulent stench till she finished her meal.

"You do have a big mouth for your age, young lady."

"Yeah. It runs in the family" she bit back caustically, silently hoping that nonchalance would magically make him get up and leave already.

Except the fact that she wasn't quite the talkative type, it had been a veryyy long day...

She and Ares had been walking for miles on end throughout that damn forest. He had been teaching her about medicine plants, trees and various roots, showing her how to leave a false trail and how to built efficient traps...

They even built a bow and some arrows together, using some branches that the War God himself had craftily selected for her, along with the vines of a few creepers . He said it was important for her to be able to provide for herself anytime and at anyplace, with as less effort as possible, especially if she was compelled to preserve even the last ounce of energy for more important things.

She was a fast learner. And he was a good teacher.

Consequently, the last thing she wanted was to be forced to teach that annoyingly persistent apple knocker a lesson. She was so not in the mood...but, all her her ideas regarding a placid, undisturbed night seam to fall apart faster than a house of cards, the moment he placed his murky hand on her leg, asking her if she had a place to sleep for the night, offering her a room in exchange for "a small favor".

If there was one thing she hated in the whole world, was being touched when it wasn't the case, and the abominable feeling that the guy's touch gave her, instantly made her skin crawl.

Without knowing, he had just signed his death sentence, cause the next second, she literally felt her temperature rising along with her stomach and she was ready to pour the stew on his head and make his nose gush blood in the most painful way possible, when a group of eight or nine soldiers entered the room, drawing everyone's attention, thus making the bartender jump to his feet faster than if he had seen the King of the Gods in person.

"Oh joy!" she said to herself , aware of the fact that the night was just about to get better and better, fairly predicting that it was but a matter of time before all Tartarus was going to brake loose, her alert brain already elaborating the most effective strategies to mop the floor with every living and breathing things in that place in the shortest amount of time possible.

"This is going to be quite a chore..."

Contrary to her gloomy expectations though, the roistering men didn't seam to detect her distinct presence, and just walked forward and sat down at a table in the center of the room asking for foods and drinks, while explicitly specifying, to the shivering leviathan standing now just steps away from them just how happy they were to find out that during that particular night everything was on the house.

The host had no other choice but to gnash his teeth and agree, rushing to serve his potentially dangerous guests...

...All in all, no substantial threat thus far. Maybe, just maybe, Xena thought, the night had no intention of turning wild, and for once, she could enjoy her dinner in blessed peace without being forced to make use of her lethal combat skills, kicking some windbags' sorry asses just for the fun of it.

Focusing back on her own plate, grateful that even the stinky barman was off her hair for a while, the young Warrior Princess almost choked though, when, in between snatches of conversation about ripped villages, blooded swords and hundreds of decapitated dead bodies , she clearly heard one of them stating in between waves of laughter:

" ...to top it all, you'll never guess what I've heard!"

And despite the fact that no answer came, the inquisitive glances of a few of his mates, pressed the mid aged soldier to just go on presenting what it appeared to be some valuable piece of information.

"The God of War has finally picked a Chosen!"

At first there was silence. Shortly after, as expected, outcries, ox eyes and a series of pretty indecent interjections filled the room.

Much to her amusement, the next thing Xena had the chance of hearing, was an entire list of sonorous names, almost alphabetically ordered, belonging to warlords, thieves or fierce murderers, hastily presented to the bearer of the news, meant to shed some light on the identity of the lucky bastard that had receive the privilege to become the War God's first Chosen.

A bunch of fierce soldiers, nearly playing "Guess the warlord"...absolutely ridiculous...

"Well, then spit it out!" one of them ultimately roared, his patience wearing thin after minutes of useless attempts meant to find out what for them seamed to be a scandalously important detail.

"Yeah, who is he?" another one snapped, curiosity gleaming in his eyes.

"Well, first of all, it's not a "he", it's a "she" "

Complete silence, followed by a wave of interminable laughter.

"A cunt?" one of them broke out in disbelief, obviously indignant at the possibility.

"Impossible!"

"Yeah! That's ridiculous!" another one added, backing up his fellow's incredulous attitude. "Ares would never look at a bitch twice after having properly fucked her. And except getting them into bed, everybody knows he finds no use for women."

"I swear it on Zeus's lightening bolt, it's true! Her name is Xena. My brother serves his army- the forth legion. She'll be their new commander. He heard Ares himself talking about it with his generals today. They were all pretty pissed about his decision. He turned two of them to ashes. In a blink! "

Thick, endless silence again. Only the labored breaths of the exhausted bartender, constantly moving back and forth supplying foods and drinks, and the maddingly irking barks of the dog outside could be heard.

"Say that again!" Xena's commanding voice slashed the air like a blade through flesh and guts, making all eyes in the room turn towards the corner where she had been sitting for some time now.

The men's reaction as she stood up, stepping into the light for them to see her better was this time the normal, logical one, a noisy wave of macho exclamations and appreciative remarks echoing throughout the dimly illuminated room.

"Well looky here! " one of the soldiers broke out. "Hi there cutie! Well don't just stand there all by yourself! Come! Join us! Let's...chat a little bit" he addressed her while brazenly analyzing her from head to toe, lingering lecherously on her long legs and firm breasts.

Ripples of laughter literally shook the room when the soldier patted his knee invitingly, for Xena to take a seat.

It goes without saying that in spite wearing a pretty suggestive warrior leather outfit, those poor wretched souls couldn't possibly guess that underneath that seductive girlish smile and those mesmerizing baby blues the dark haired beauty possessed, there were veins and arteries filled with blood as cold as ice and as deadly as the most venomous poison known by mankind.

Generously endowed with a mind as sharp as a steel trap, Xena cunningly accepted the soldier's offer , and, much to the amusement and utter surprise of the rest of the men she

gracefully approached the unbelievably lucky guy, doing exactly what he had so willingly invited her to, while as some sort of bonus for his mad courage, starting to caress his nape, and not one single par of eyes in the room was able to decipher the fact that that illegally naughty look she was throwing him in the process had absolutely nothing to do with the excitement of being in the limelight, on the contrary, it was the faint halo of death she could sense forming around him that got her so worked up.

But first thing's first...they knew something she had no idea about...And she needed to find out more...

"So...You were talking about the Lord of Destruction himself having picked a Chosen? I cannot believe it! My Daddy served his army for a long time and he always said that he was not the type of God to dedicate his precious time to a mortal!"

"Your daddy was right, sugar!" an older soldier yelled from the opposite side of the table. "These are worthless rumors. It's said that in eons of existence Ares has never had a Chosen! He's not about to start now, is he? And to top it all, a worthless bitch to command his army! "

"That's right!" another voice cut in. What to command it with? With her pussy? She'd be a pretty busy lady if she'd have to regularly fuck seven legions on daily bases, I tell you that!"

"No time for war there!" the misfortunate fellow holding her broke out, laughing his head off too.

"Neither for Ares!" the bulky bartender joined the conversation while placing another pit of beer before one of the men.

"But never mind that doll", the soldier interrupted for a moment his mates' interesting debate, redirecting his attention to her and her alone, his eyes glued to her chest again as his gnarled, dirty fingers already began making way under her short battle skirt.

"Nice outfit. Are you from around here?"

"No" she briefly answered, a hint of regret in her voice, discreetly implying that she was in desperate need for some proper company.

"No problem. We could give you a tour of the place later, right guys?"

A choir of affirmative responses almost split her ears.

"Oh you boys are far to kind" her lascivious response came out with no delay, playfully

placing one hand on the soldiers' chest, before she slowly started to draw a couple of

invisible circles on top of thick amour.

The others just swallowed dryly, anxious to get the same kind of treatment as their privileged friend was , and they were literally drolling the moment he started to become more and more cofident that his his lady killer techniques were fabulously working becoming even more pushy, cupping her chin with his other hand to make her look at him.

"Didn't tell us your name, babe"

" Oh. Right. Forgot about that. Name's Xena"

...Xena....The mere resonance of the name was all it took to convince her that, if she thought she had fully understood and experienced the meaning of the word "quiet" during those previous, awkward seconds when she had asked them to repeat the particular piece of intel she was interested in, now she had been dead wrong.

There was still another level of silence-the graveyard silence- that usually only the dead could enjoy, but as much as she loved hearing nothing at all, it didn't last though, for the minute the soldier in the lap of whom she had been sitting decided to laugh in her face, uttering a tremendously uninspired remark like :

"Hey guys, whaddya know? We'll have the sacred honor of screwing Ares's hoe tonight.", his head hit the table so hard that everyone was able to hear the sound of his skull cracking under the impact.

As she slowly rose from the table, contentedly contemplating the other men's shocked faces, the former playful, ditzy expression of a naïve village girl particularly interested in having a good time no matter the company, changed in the blink of an eye into more intriguing mask, intriguing for the five spectators and the bartender that is, one displaying nothing more than indifference , self assuredness and the worst part of all, a visible disponibility to kill, the most ironic smile on her gorgeous visage embellishing her every move.

"Come on boys..." she growled savagely . "Let's play!"

Nothing more needed to be said.

As if awaken from a deep trance , after having heard someone snapping their fingers at the end of a long hypnosis session, the soldiers were back to their senses, and, a perfectly executed war cry later, arms, necks , legs and other vital body parts started to be cruelly

chopped off ,to the undescribable horror of the five peasants witnessing the scene.

It didn't last long until the smell of fresh blood filled the tavern with the unmistakable aroma of pain, horror and death.

Agile flips, unmatchable focus, strength, flawless technique and balance, and most of all a superhuman capacity to outguess her adversary's next moves- this incredibly beautiful bringer of doom pretty much had it all, and it's safe to say that it took less than five minutes of sword clashing, slashing, screaming and useless begging from the last man left standing, before the fight was over.

At the end of the live performance she had detachedly displayed, the agape villagers still glued to the tables next to bar were shaking worse than leaves in a windy autumn day .

A seventeen years old girl mercilessly taking lives without the slightest hesitation, slaughtering like a butcher but wielding her sword with the infinite grace of the most skillful of dancers? That was a rare sight to see. Scary, but rare.

A furtive glance towards the window, and Xena grimaced imperceptibly. It was getting darker and darker and still, no sight of her patron God.

Suddenly though, before managing to finish that thought, right when she was about to wipe her blade clean from the back of one of the bodies laying on the floor, a bright blue light , made the hearts of everyone in the room except Xena's skip a beat or two.

Even the mutilated corpses speeded about everywhere seamed to bore a more frightened figure.

A cocky smile on his lips, the War God headed straight to his Chosen, and taking her right hand in his, full in blood as it was, he placed a short, respectful kiss on top of it,

squeezing it lightly in the process.

"I see you've been keeping yourself busy..." he uttered contemplating the lake of blood bathing the floor.

"I was getting bored. You're late" she underlined raising an eyebrow.

"Business" he retorted.

"Convenient excuse" she bit back, without as much as looking at him, focusing on the tip of her blade instead.

It was his turn to arch an eyebrow.

"Anyway. I'm here now, aren't I? " he gravely answered, searching for her eyes.

She just defiantly shot him a "Don't make me start" glance and put the sword back in her scabbard.

Tenderly tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear, obviously ready to make amends, he simply restarted their conversation, as if having just materialized into the room.

" I see you've been keeping yourself busy..." he began, clearing his throat. " This is definitely a sight that I'd enjoy seeing every day. And that jump you took when you slashed that poor loser's throat? I got to tell 'ya, it was one of a kind! Absolutely marvelous!"

...His comments as well as his unusual approach seamed to have instantly hit their target, just as he had expected it, undeniably captivating Xena's attention since the very next second she was eyeing him in utter amazement.

"Did you see that? The fight. Did you see it?"

"You are my Chosen darling." he replied, affectionately caressing her cheek.

" Watching over you is part of my job description, as I accurately recall."

Silence.

"Just one small remark if I may...?" he added courteously.

She nodded.

" 'See those timbers holding the roof?"

Curiously, she looked up and back at him inquisitively.

"They could prove to be quite in handy if used properly. Both for refuge, escape routes, traps and special effects. It only takes a high enough jump and right out of the blue you have a variety of other possibilities. In a room as small as this one this is vital"

"Is everything a training ground to you?"

"Yes. And it should be the same for you, unless you want to end up like one of these bleeding morons when a faster blade or a more experienced warlord decides to permanently close that pretty eyes of yours."

She was speechless.

"Now...are we done here? There's someone I want you to meet."

"Who?" she couldn't help asking.

He didn't say anything for a moment, just bit his lower lip as if wondering if he was doing the right thing. Then, he smiled.

"Your second in command. Starting tomorrow, you have an army to train-my personal army to be more precise, and that man's knowledge and experience might prove to be valuable. Still, if by any reason what so ever you do not trust or like him, kill the scum.

Spare him the torment of having to die by my sword. The same goes for your generals. When it comes to war, everyone's expendable"

"Everyone, huh?" she questioned rhetorically, an all-knowing smile on her lips.

For the second time that evening, the God of War was quiet. But in his silence, Xena could easily decipher his answer. She was definitely not included in the category.

"I know I'm good Ares, but...your army?" she simply continued, without bothering to dissimulate her surprise. "Isn't that a little bit...?"

" Soon? " he cut in, finishing the phrase for her. "No." he added, very sure of himself.

"You're my Chosen. You're more than capable to do it. Time to get this to a whole

new level. Ready?"

"Yes"

"Perfect. Cause just like I promised you a while back, under my guidance you will change the face of the world. Together, we will rewrite the pages of history, Princess.

So show me what you're made of. Make me proud. In less than one year, I want to hear your name on the lips of every man, woman and child form Cythera to Thessaly and back."

By the time Ares finished his speech, a fiery, undeniable connection could be seen in their eyes as they looked at each other for a moment longer. Fascination, lust, ambition, adoration, passion, and that special something that neither of them was ready to admit yet, it was all there...

Slowly, very slowly, the inexorable Destiny was taking it's course, waving undisturbingly it's golden threads just as it had been doing from the dawn of humanity,

and while the legendary Warrior Princess was being born, the War God's implacable heart was progressively losing-without even realizing it-yet another territory in the favor of the one that, in their infinite wisdom the Fates have decided to become his Enyo, his consort.

Moments after their departure, the visibly staggered but alive and well villagers were still

thanking all Gods and Goddesses for having been spared to tell the story...and what an amazing story that turned out to be...