The first rays of light were ready again to dissolve the thick darkness of that velvety night when Xena finally realized that she had spent the last few hours staring blankly towards the horizon, to the point where she knew the forever covered in snow peaks of Mount Olympus were watching protectively over the Greek lands. She hadn't even felt the unusual chill of the night air, her body stiff and numb to everything connected to reality, while a stream of rather disturbing memories invaded her mind...

"For a moment there I thought you wouldn't come...Defying Ares like this...I must say Xena...I'm surprised...He'd be a bit upset if he knew that you're plotting against him at night with his worst enemy...And he can become rather violent when he's upset as far as I know..."

"Save it Athena and get to the point...I don't really have much time for flattery and girl chat..."

"You do know you were followed..." the Goddess made sure to add, a subtle smile stretching the corner of her lips in what soon turned into a rather malicious grin.

"Nice of you to point it out...but I do actually...I'll take care of the problem once I get to camp..."

"I wouldn't advise it..."

"Oh?" came the short but effective inquiry of a sneaky Warrior Princess that was more than aware of the lethal effects that that such type of tremendous mistake would have brought on herself..

"So you're not only bold and beautiful...you're also smart...a pretty rare combination in these parts..." Athena replied swiftly analyzing the rapidly changing shades on the aquarelle blue surface of the Chosen of War's eyes. "Don't worry Xena...I'm not trying to set you up... I have bigger concerns at the moment...We both know that leaving that poor Monkey headless you'd only confirm what Ares will most likely find out anyway, with or without his faithful servant breaking the news..."

"Don't say...!" Xena exclaimed on a mockingly surprised tone, an equally irritating grin painted on her features, just as the one that her overly satiric interlocutor had the nerve to display just seconds before...

After a few tense moments of eying each other in utter disgust, the Warrior Princess asked again, this time on a quite obvious business like tone that urged the proud daughter of Zeus to leave aside any other differences and start talking about their "common interests" as she had phrased it in the message brought to Xena by one of her priestesses.

"So...you had a proposal "for me to hear and hopefully agree upon, that will indisputably benefit us both?" I believe you said?"

"Indeed...How would you feel about changing your title from Warrior Princess to Goddess of War?"

"And having you as a sister in law? No thanks Athena, I'd rather pass..."

A highly bemused laugh broke out of the Goddess' lungs, making Xena frown involuntarily while doing her best to decipher that kind of unexpected reaction.

"Oh please, I wouldn't offend you to that extent. What I meant was getting Ares out of the picture...for good...you could take over...-the job evidently suits you, you have pretty much everything it takes to rule over mortals in this department..."

"And just what does it take Athena?" came the one thousand dinars question that was meant to hit the Goddess like a tone of bricks, obviously hinting to her so called unstained morality...Nonetheless, Athena didn't seem moved by the earth shattering nonchalance of that brash insinuation that no mortal in his righteous mind would have dared address to the one of the most vengeful Olympians Greece had ever seen, on the contrary...

"Ruthlessness, a dirty enough consciousness so that at the end of the day one could still sleep without the fear of closing their eyes, an inhuman desire to see blood, a bitter inclination towards tragedies and genocides but also a certain dose of equilibrium and wisdom, things that Ares seems to have lost, Hades knows when..." she finished the phrase, her green irides scintillating with mischief and spite.

"Is it me or you've just described your own ratty character?" the Warrior Princess' voice stung this time like a poisoned needle.

Once again, completely ignoring her interlocutor's challenge the Goddess went on speaking, her tone expertly maintaining the same level of calmness as before, without allowing not even the slightest sign of aggravation break through her inflexions.

"My Brother can't offer you much, Xena, and being the smart Lady that I can clearly see you are, you do realize that he'll drop you like a nasty habit-one of his favorite lines by the way- once you are of no use to him, once he screwed you enough to get bored or once he finds some more interesting distraction ...maybe some new hot wanton Amazon Queen ready to spread her legs for some godly favors..."

Imperceptibly even for immortal eyes, the Chosen of War held her breath...Athena was dead right and she knew it ...but those words, the way in which she'd said it...they

were like boiling acid pouring over her soul...She could barely restrain a loud gasp...

"What I'm offering you, is in fact what I suspect you've always wanted: power...unlimited, ultimate power...the chance to command a large part of the Greek armies, temples built in your name, worshippers, legions of men screaming your name in battle, a place amongst the other Olympian Gods- my kin...All I'm asking in return is for you to kill Ares..."

"Do I really look that naïve Goddess of Wisdom?! What in the name of Gaia would ever possess you to actually keep your end of the deal once you've got what you wanted? Why not keep Ares' energy to yourself? And who says that Zeus won't turn me to ashes the instant he finds out that I've killed his Son?"

"A Son he's always despised...A rebellious Son that has never obeyed his Father."

"But a Son nonetheless..."

"Zeus knows about the plan, Xena, and he's agreed to stay out of the way...As for the power of War...I don't care about it...It involves to many sacrifices that I'm not willing to make, to many risks that aren't worth the effort...It starts by engulfing one's soul, you know...But on the other hand, you wouldn't have to worry about it given the fact that you have none..."

"I don't know about that Athena...when it comes to power you're craving to have it...it's written all over your face...You're always in our way...we haven't attacked Athens yet and somehow, we always seem to stumble upon your legions ...Why is that? Is it precaution or is it that quenchless thirst ceaselessly burning your throat...the desperate need to conquer...to own...the same that ravishes any decent Warrior inside out? "

"For me it's all about stopping Ares...If he gains control over the entire Greek territories mark my words it will all turn into a bloodbath...An endless slaughter, of a cruelty that the world has never seen thus far...Plus, he'd be more than capable to turn against his own Brothers and Sisters in order to proclaim himself King of Olympus..."

"So...is that what the almighty Zeus fears? That history might just repeat itself? Like father like Son...?"

"Maybe...The point is that my Brother is far from being responsible enough to own such tremendous power...He needs to be stopped. And you're the only one in ages- well except for that useless airheaded mannequin which keeps him company from time to time- that he had allowed to get close enough to him to...well...to kill him..."

"And just how do you see that possible, may I ask? Common weapons are of no use when it comes to him, Athena, he's immortal, remember. Or what? Should I fuck him to death?"

"There are weapons that can kill even Gods, Xena..."the Olympian Goddess responded harshly, still a bit taken aback by the sudden revolt present in the Warrior's tone.

"What?! The ribs of Chronos?! Please! I'm sure Zeus is not that stupid as to just hand them over to any promising mortal that might or might not do his bidding..."

"The Dagger of Hellios..."

"...A mere legend as far as I know..."

" I swear you mortals are the funniest creatures at times...No...it's as real as your horse...Ares knows where it is..." Athena made sure to specify, stressing her Brother's name in the process.

"Even if he does...what makes you think he'd give it to me? He knows what I'm capable of, Athena, he doesn't trust me as far as he can throw me..."

"That's your problem, solve it..."

"And what then? Why in the world would I need the dagger for? I do need a good enough reason to ask it..."

"To kill me..."

"He's not that crazy...He knows that would equal oblivion any day. Zeus would never forgive him...Plus, he'd most certainly try to protect me by refusing to hand over the blade... "

"I can take care of that...You're planning to conquer Kalamai, aren't you? "

"What's it to you...?"

"I can use the event to prepare the stage..."

The Warrior Princess just raised an eyebrow questioningly as a shade of doubt crossed her face...

"Don't worry, he won't suspect a thing...You just have to let your guard down during the fight...I'll try to make it as painless as possible, I promise...It will be quick..."

"He wouldn't let you get that close. He'd blow you to smithereens way before you could even raise the sword..."

"Not if I can help it...he will have no choice...Look at these hills..." the Goddess added pointing towards the map covering the table. "Leave an opening for my armies , here...or here...Either way is fine with me...I'll take care of the rest...What do you say Xena...?"

"I'll think about it..."

"Don't think to long...We're running out of time..."Athena added, arms folded across her chest while her gaze turned once more towards the map of Greece.

"Do you really hate him that much?"

"Believe it or not, I'm only trying to do the right thing..."

"I'm sure you do..." Xena uttered on a rather accusing tone, scanning the Goddess from head to toe, shaking her head in disapproval.

A light breeze caressing her flawless face, brought the Chosen of War back to reality...She bit her lips nervously...