No! The voice shouted in his head, nearly deafening him with its intensity.
Gabrielle, momentarily without a match, came up beside Iolaus on the steps. He was watching everything so closely yet not jumping in to help. This wasn't like him. Something was wrong ... and she grew frightened when she saw his eyes, those beautiful blue pools she often found herself getting lost in, turning into blood red orbs of evil.
He's not human..
It came to her suddenly...and with little of the shock she supposed she should be feeling.
"Who are you?" she said in a hushed tone.
"You know me." he whispered back. His voice was chilling, a mockery of Iolaus. Then, an invisible power - shooting sparks - exploded from his fingertips to taint all those in the courtyard.
They were overpowered. Everyone in the circle in front of the temple were knocked to the ground in utter agony. Shrieks of pain took over where, moments before, there had been the clashing of heavy metal weapons and the smacks of fists against flesh.
Only Gabrielle, still standing beside him, remained unhurt. Why she was spared she didn't know. But looking about and realizing what was happening, the young woman cried - "Stop!" to Iolaus. When it did no good she ran to Xena's side and knelt by her friend. The warrior woman was unconscious now, blood streaming from her mouth and ears. The others were likewise inflicted. "Please, stop!" Gabrielle cried again, looking over at Iolaus ... or whoever he was..
Something resembling a smile came to Dahak's lips, "Will you come with me willingly if I spare them?"
Gabrielle glanced over at Hercules. He was conscious, not in as bad a shape as the others, but dazed and not able to get to his feet. Being a half god did have its advantages, she thought quickly and insanely. Fear gripped the bard but there was no choice. She had no time to barter or death would claim everyone here -
"Yes." she said abruptly.
He closed his eyes, slowly lowering his hands, "Come to me, Gabrielle."
And she did, walking to him slowly, watching those eyes return to their natural color when they opened again. She then climbed and sat behind him on a cream-colored horse - an animal which came to him at a wave of his hand. She threw down her staff, praying Xena would see it and realize she was in trouble. They raced off, her arms holding tightly around his waist for fear she'd fall off. Gabrielle caught a quick glimpse of Hercules and Xena as they stood painfully and incoherently to their feet. They hadn't even realized she was being taken away and their eyes were already darting about, checking on the injured and befuddled.
Xena, help me. Gabrielle thought.
A voice in her head whispered back: You're beyond her help now.
Gabrielle, inwardly weeping, knew it was right.
She took the damp cloth Hercules passed to her, gently pressing it to her nose then ears, blotting the already drying blood.
I'm going to kill Iolaus! I'm going to kill him!" Xena shouted at the top of her lungs, a warrior's fury suddenly boiling in her blood.
Stunned by the outburst, Hercules grasped her arms and held the woman still.
"Iolaus is dead, Xena!" He made her look at him, "Dead! I saw it happen." Hercules was surprised at how easy the words sprang from his lips, here in the middle of the temple courtyard.
Bewildered by the announcement, Xena could only stare at him for a few seconds.
"If he's dead ..." Her voice, although anxious, grew lower and less threatening as the information was digested, "... then who is it that has Gabrielle? His evil twin?" Humor was not intended. Breathing heavily, fighting off the last of the pain still coursing through her athletic frame, Xena threw the cloth to the ground, frustrated.
"Whatever it is, it isn't human." Hercules conjectured, gently dropping his hands from her arms. "I think it's a very powerful god. Not necessarily Greek."
Xena shook her head and tried to clear away the cobwebs - "I knew there was something ..." she started. Then, as if an detonation took place in her own memory, she exclaimed: "I'ts Dahak! It's taken on Iolaus'form!"
"Dahak! We fought Dahak, Iolaus and I ... Iolaus warned me of Dahak. Gilgamesh mentioned Dahak also ..." How does Xena know of Dahak? Hercules spoke more to himself than her, avoiding the question in her eyes.
"But this Dahak isn't just impersonating him, Xena, it's taken his body! Iolaus was to be entombed in Sumeria and I received a letter telling me his body disappeared. That body is Iolaus but what's inside is ..."
"A demon!" she finished, "And it's got Gabrielle!" Xena's eyes suddenly spotted Gabrielle's staff as it lay on the steps of the temple.
"A hostage? That doesn't seem ... essential. Not for something as powerful as Dahak, even if he has taken over a human body."
It was a long story and she just didn't have time to go into it.
"They have a history, Hercules." Xena looked over at Argo who appeared to be waiting patiently for her orders, "I'll explain later. Right now we've got to stop him. He has plans for Gabrielle and if we don't prevent it he'll destroy the world with her involuntary help." And in the process he'll drive her insane. Gabrielle couldn't take it again -- being raped by that monster!
Hercules was about to comment when a nervous looking man in ceremonials robes came to him.
"Son of Zeus, please help us!" Neuroticlese called, "Some women and children are trapped in the temple. We think followers of Hephestus caused a cave in. Or perhaps it was the ground shaking ..." he reconsidered, "They'll die if you don't come!"
Xena ran for Argo, glancing once at the bard's fallen staff.
"You go Hercules! I'll follow Dahak and you can catch up. I think I know where he's going to take her! It's close by ..."
With flourish, Xena made a backward leap for Argo and landed firmly on the saddle. She was then quickly off to rescue her friend.
She slid from the back of the horse, looking about the grassy area he brought her to. It was familiar. A hill with a cliff over-looking a busy river. Yes, she'd been here before. A wooded area off in the distance, the sun slowly setting on the horizon. Then Gabrielle saw it. The temple. It was a place where she nearly lost her life and thought, at the time, she was saving Xena and destroying Hope. It was a domicile of depravity and confusion. She still did not know how she managed to escape the firewell and the flowing lava that she and Hope had been plummeting toward.
Once the temple belonged to Ares (and Dahak) but now it belonged to no one. From outside it looked neglected and ... cursed.
"Do you know who I am now, Gabrielle?" He jumped spryly from the horse to stand in front of her. At this moment he seemed every inch Iolaus, with his tousled fair-hair being blown by the wind, his energy and even his warm smile.
Her expression was impossibly calm.
"Yes." Gabrielle's voice shook slightly as she spoke, "I don't know why you came to me again. I don't understand why you took on the form you have...or how you knew Iolaus was one of the few people I could lose myself in. And I also don't know why you exist - but I know who you are and the evil you represent."
"Not evil, Gabrielle." He moved forward and lifted a hand to touch her cheek.
She avoided him, turning to look over the cliff. Her voice was unruffled - "Yes, evil. A corruption so rooted in hate, deceit and perversion that it blinds your followers into believing you are something far more than the depravity you symbolize. You're an entity and you have powers but you're not infallible. There will always be those who see you for what you really are, who will resist you. They will be the people who eventually destroy you."
"I'm the God, Gabrielle. I am able to consume other gods with a mere wave of my hand."
From behind he passed a hand in front of her face, the finger tips were aflame but he extinguished them quickly, having made his point. The smile, which she could not see, widened and became overbearing. He whispered in her ear - "It won't be that easy to obliterate me, Darling."
He then held Gabrielle's arms a bit too roughly. It was time she learned a lesson in obedience. He would not be evaded this time. "Besides," His expression was calm, sweetly simplistic, as if he were talking with a stubborn child. "humans are easily lead." He roughly turned her about, forcing the young woman to look at him. He was about to slap her but then, as inspiration struck - as he looked at that pretty, innocent face with the closed eyes, awaiting his anger - Dahak leaned in and kiss Gabrielle hard on the lips. He was nearly beaming with contemptuous bliss when the girl desperately turned her face from his, sobbing in fear and disgust. The reaction was far more satisfying than if he had bruised her flesh.
"You can pretend, dear Gabrielle. Pretend I'm him and perhaps this will even be...pleasant for you."
At last a cry of despair escaped her. How could he make this seem like a game? He was ... a demon.
The men women and children were safe, pulled from the rubble just before the ceiling collapsed and were now being tended to by the temple keeper and a few caretakers.
Hercules stared at the figure standing before him, "Are you certain?" he asked.
"You doubt me?"
"I might have known Ares had something to do with Dahak ...."
"He is being severely reprimanded, Hercules. He will not interfere."
"Well, good." The demigod could not help the sarcasm which crept into his voice, "I've got to go." Hercules started to move away.
"Just remember. This evil can be conquered only if it is contained and smothered by the shield of Hephestus, particularly if that shield is blessed by The King of the Gods."
Hercules rolled his eyes impatiently. Where was he going to find Hephestus’ shield? Or was Zeus speaking metaphorically? He had no time for riddles. With purpose, Hercules again turned and walked through the courtyard. However, the demigod hesitated before reaching the outer gate of the temple. The information just received was needed and the old man really didn't have to help them. Yes, the Greek gods were in danger from Dahak but this was personal mission for Hercules. He desired ... needed the destruction of this monster who had killed and cursed his friend. The beast that was growing powerful enough to cause chaos over much of the known world.
Yet, he appeared when Hercules needed him most. That didn't happen often. It was a form of family consideration and the halfgod felt momentarily warmed. He turned about -
"Thank you, father ..." he started.
But Zeus was gone.
They left the horse and walked the rest of the way to Ares abandoned temple.
"Why are you taking me here?" Gabrielle demanded. She'd tried to pull free from him but his grip on her slender wrist, as he drug her with him, was vice-like.
They walked up the temple stairs.
"This was the location of our last great reunion, Gabrielle! Don't you remember? I feel like being nostalgic."
He spoke enthusiastically and shoved open the heavy creaking doors with one hand.
"You, myself and our child! She was a beautiful little girl and she looked just like you ..."
"She was inhuman and cruel!" Gabrielle cried as he continued to pull her along, down the dark and dusty aisle.
"And this will be a perfect place to start again -- recreate what was destroyed. I will continue to build my godhood here in Greece, from this very temple. A thousand years from now it will be a monument, to the one true god ..."
His expression suddenly grew very serious and he stopped movement, turning to look at the bard with an authority that demanded obedience. His hands slid gently and seductively up her arms.
"Relax. I can make this very pleasant, Gabrielle, and soon you will find yourself the mother of the most powerful god in the known world. Next to me of course." He leaned forward ...
Aghast, Gabrielle gave a short cry and frantically pulled free from his grip. Panicked, she ran to the front alter then stopped short. Gabrielle suddenly gasped when she realized she was teetering right over the edge of the firewell, where she and Hope had fallen. She could see the lava flow still churning below in the pit.
"I so wanted this to be easy for you." Dahak came up behind her, patronizing. "If Xena hadn’t interfered, if my men hadn't failed me, we would be married and making love. You would be eager for the moment when ..."
"Stop it!" The enormity of what he just said took root in Gabrielle and she wanted nothing more than to crawl away or roll up into a ball and peacefully die. It was so true. She had wanted to be with Iolaus - to believe that he could actually have passionate feelings for her - so much so she allowed the situation, all that had happened in the last few days, to overpower her. Perhaps Dahak had placed a spell on her, but Gabrielle could not deny that she did want the hunter. She favored the peace, security and love he represented, whether it was grounded in reality or not.
"I saved your life that day, Gabrielle." He was whispering in her ear again, speaking slowly and seductively. "Both you and Hope would have died an agonizing fiery death if I hadn't reached out my charitable hand and cloaked you, preventing harm to either of you."
She was thoughtful despite her horror. "I wondered exactly what had happened." Gabrielle said under her breath - looking below - mesmerized by the hot churning earth.
"Despite your treachery, I want to start again. I'm willing to bless you ..."
"Bless me?!" she hissed, turning to look at him again, incredulous.
"You can have the child of God!"
"The God! The only -- Dahak." and his eyes lit on fire. His laughter reverberated through out the entire temple.
With a cry of terror, Gabrielle attempted to run from him again, but he caught hold of her wrist and held her still, pulling the bard close, his powerful arm enveloping the young woman in a crushing embrace. And suddenly, despite her fear and loathing, Gabrielle could feel a sinister stirring in her blood. And, to her astonishment, she could see Iolaus again. His expressive blue eyes were staring into hers, begging forgiveness.
"Iolaus?" She whispered, unsure if her senses were playing tricks on her.
"Forgive me, Gabrielle." he murmured, his lips moving to touch hers..
Briefly, lost in the moment, Gabrielle allowed the kiss. She remembered this. The softness, warmth and beauty of his lips on hers. The passion. This was Iolaus! But no sooner had she thought this than the adherence began to change, to become painful and cruel. Had it all been her imagination? Gabrielle pulled her mouth away from his and cried, "Xena will defeat you! She saw through this disguise. She will ..."
He pulled back from her slightly, "Xena is a warrior and has an impressive dark side. I will so enjoy working on it and bringing her into my realm." He looked away, reasoning. "I hope there will be time."
"She'll never do it. Ares has tried and ..."
"Ares is a powerless fool." Dahak's tone grew cold, "Those who cannot or will not conform will die. She is no exception."
"Oh, but I think I am." Xena's voice rose above the rustling wind outside.
Dahak stepped away from Gabrielle, his attention now focused on that voice, but before the bard could make a break for it he lifted a hand. Gabrielle was lifted off of her feet and sent flying across the shrine to land in a crumpled mound in the corner of the room. For good measure, Dahak pirouetted a finger in the air. A ring of fire surrounded the young woman from all sides, leaving her immobile.
"We have unfinished business, Gabrielle." He smiled, "Wait for me, Dear."
Xena stood at the entrance of the temple, her form silhouetted. She stepped forward and light cut across her face, the expression serene. Her eyes darted once in Gabrielle's direction but she knew her friend was relatively safe -- for the moment. Xena's sword was already drawn for the violent confrontation all knew would have to come and she stood ready. Dahak had nearly destroyed both she and Gabrielle. And there were so many others ... He had to die.
Dahak, still smiling his charming Iolaus smile, slowly approached The Warrior Princess, "He once loved you, Xena. Iolaus." The god reminded, "Isn't it just so right that you should be the one who tries to destroy him?"
Then, off handed - "Of course, you're use to that, aren't you? Destroying the men who love you."
The words didn't so much bother Xena than the fact that this god knew what was in Iolaus heart. There was still a small piece of the hunter-warrior in there somewhere, grieving over an incident neither would ever forget. And yes, it would make her annihilation of Dahak all that more bitter-sweet, knowing Iolaus still existed somewhere in his body and brain. Could she really do this? Could she kill Hercules’ best friend, a man she cared for and respected, even if it did destroy an evil that might quite possibly take over the world? Yes, in the end Xena knew what she had to do. She only prayed Iolaus understood. Perhaps one day they would meet on the other side and have a long talk about this situation.
He walked insolently to the middle of the room. "Once and for all, Xena?" Iolaus' voice changed into a deep, nearly inhuman reverberation.
"Once and for all." she agreed. The fingers of her left hand tightly gripped her chakram, hidden behind her back. Then - with a lightening fast motion - Xena sent the round bladed implement of war sailing in the evil god's direction.
If he'd been a mortal man, the chakram would have buried itself in his chest and Dahak would have died instantly. However, using an ability that was much less instinctive than merely a power inherited by his kind, Dahak was aware of the chakram's presence long before it left Xena's fingers. He lifted his own hand to catch the rounded weapon casually in mid flight. Amused, he looked down at it, examining the sharp edges with disdain.
"Quaint." he said to Xena and tossed the weapon casually aside. Then, with flourish, Dahak drew his arms back and threw forward an electrical charge that nearly struck the leaping female warrior. She quickly disappeared from sight and Dahak smiled.
"That's very good Xena. You're quite the athlete." he said, "But come out and play. Don't hide."
Xena crawled on her hands and knees, silently dragging her sword beside her. She rounded a few tall pews that gave perfect cover. Dahak could sense her in the room but he didn’t know where exactly she was. This was an advantage and one she was going to exploit. From where she paused Xena could see Gabrielle, the bard's head raised and looking about through the wall of flames that imprisoned her. She was aware of what was going on and visually hunted for her friend in a near parody of Dahak's actions.
Cupping hands around his lips, Dahak called - "Xena! I'm growing bored."
The woman continued to crawl until she came to an angle where she had a perfect view of the fair haired man-god from the side. He was looking out and about the temple, his eyes searching for her. A god in a human body, she thought, and he has human frailties... There was no time like the present. Xena stood and charged Dahak.
Her sword thrust forward and made hard contact with his ribs, driving itself in deep and breaking bone.
He cried out once and fell to his knees. His hands clutched at the sword as it stuck out from his ribcage. Dahak, agonized, looked up at her, fear and betrayal in his expression - "Xena!" Then he softened. A bloodied hand reached out for her, "Xena ... forgive me ..." he cried.
Iolaus? He was dying and for a moment he looked so much like the man she knew that Xena allowed herself to grow sympathetic. Her own hand reached for his ....
Then he bellowed a high pitch guffaw and reared backward with his outstretched hand.
Xena was sent flying, lifted by an invisible force. Her head hit the solid wall next to the large double doors and she was stunned into near unconsciousness. But she could hear him laughing ... Laughing and pulling her sword from his body. And, of course, he healed immediately. The skin and bone came together as if nothing had harmed them in the first place. She'd been wrong. He was far more deity than human now but she would still fight him with all of her meager power.
"I know what you’re thinking!" Dahak called in a sing-song voice. He then threw the sword at Xena.
If she’d been more on her game, not nearly shattered by Dahak’s power, Xena would have used her customary swift moves. The blade would have missed her entirely. However, this time the sharp edge managed a slight penetration, grazing her hip and cutting through her black leather warrior outfit before it was imbedded in the wall next to her.
She watched as he approached, lifting her hands in a fighter’s stance, but was confused when Dahak stopped several meters in front of her.
"This is so sweet." He spoke condescendingly. His own hands lifted in the same pose and the god suddenly struck out, five quick blows in front of her. None made actual contact but it didn’t make a difference. Xena felt them never the less. Bruises appeared on her face, neck and arms.
She made a grab for her sword.
Dahak was faster. He slapped his own right arm with the fingers of his left hand and listened as the warrior cried out in pain. He’d just broke her arm. Another tap at his own upper body and he dislocated Xena’s shoulder. For good measure he shattered two of her ribs.
“Payback is a bitch." He muttered.
The woman’s cries were a perfect end to a long day and Dahak closed his eyes, a blissful smile appearing on his handsome face, an overpowering calm filling him.
“STOP!” Gabrielle cried over the flames, "I’ll do whatever you want. Please, just don’t hurt her anymore."
"You’ll do whatever I want whether I stop or not, Darling." Dahak called back over his shoulder, his eyes still closed. Then, to Xena, who was slowly sinking into unconsciousness - - “You once fought Hope and she nearly killed you. I’m not her. I’m her father and I’m one thousand times stronger than she was ... What made you think you could beat me, Warrior Princess?" His eyes opened, awaiting her reply.
With the last of her energy, Xena spat at Dahak then collapsed into oblivion.
A moment later Dahak looked over at Gabrielle. With the wave of a hand, he extinguished the flames surrounding her.
"Xena!" the girl cried and ran to her friend.
"I can kill her or cure her, Gabrielle. It’s so easy."
He watched as the bard knelt beside her friend, taking Xena’s head into her hands and examining the many injuries.
“I can gain so much more if she remains alive. I’ve already said Xena is a great warrior and, in that respect, I have a use for her. But also, it will make you happy. I only want to please you."
Gabrielle was not fooled. Xena was Dahak’s bargaining chip. He could forcibly make her go to his bed and conceive his child but if Gabrielle were to go willingly, using Xena’s life as a reward, he would have the mother of his child’s soul.
Besides that, making passionate, consensual love with the pretty blond woman could be quite entertaining. Funny how, until resently, he hadn’t really been interested in that angle of his domination. The longer he stayed in this body the more Dahak came to appreciate human desire. Dahak did, after all, have Iolaus memory and -- in some respects -- his appetites.
“What do you say, dear? Isn’t Xena’s life worth an intimate hour with me?" He crossed his arms in front of his chest and grinned at her hopeless expression.
The shout came from the back of the shrine, an echo bouncing off the building’s high ceiling.
Dahak swiveled about, his arms spread, and watched the demigod approach. He side stepped the firewell, walking confidently if a little too angrily toward the man who was once his best friend. “How long have you been here, Hercules?" Dahak asked, attempting to sound as much like Iolaus as he could. "You’re not going to believe this, but I’m actually very pleased to see you."
“You’re right, I don’t believe you.” Hercules pace slowed as he spotted Gabrielle, tenderly holding the wounded Xena in her arms. "What have you done to her?"
He spoke flippantly, “Nothing especially bad. A few broken bones and a little internal bleeding. Nothing she’s not use to. It was nothing... personal.”
Furious, Hercules leapt at the unsuspecting god, reaching forward to powerfully grabbed Dahak by the throat.
“You are the reason my best friend is dead. I take you very personally.”
Hercules growled with barely restrained outrage. He then lifted the smaller figure off of the ground, dangling him high in the air. "And now you've done this to Xena ..."
"She was trying to kill me. Destruction of one’s own life is a rather bothersome thing, Hercules. Don't you think?"
He smiled with menace, even as he was being choked. Yet, an unfamiliar edge of desperation sounded in his voice. Dahak gasped, “Your friend is alive! He's with me. Kill me, and he can never be free!”
The demigod's eyes narrowed, “I don't believe you. I heard from his spirit ...”
"Can you really take a chance, Hercules?"
Caught off guard, the demigod loosened his hold and dropped Dahak back on his feet.
Dahak stared at him a little amazed and amused. It was too easy.
“You fool!” he scoffed, “I often wondered what I'd do to you, Hercules - how I would destroy you. And you've now made it very easy.”
He lifted a hand and punched outward. As with Xena, the physical blow never struck the half god, but it sent him flying across the room, to land flat on his back near Xena and Gabrielle.
A ring of fire suddenly appeared around Dahak and all the doors, including the large wooden entrance, slammed shut. There would be no escape for them now.
“I've had enough!” Dahak shouted, nearly with glee - "You will all die fiery deaths - your skin scorched to the bone --”
"Why did I know he was going to say that." Hercules whispered, getting cautiously to his feet.
Dahak’s attention focused on Gabrielle, a finger pointing at her accusingly. "I could have given you everything... but no more! I’m done with you!"
His hands and entire body reared backward then sharply flung forward. Fireballs sprang from his fingertip to explode in various areas of the temple. The dry walls aflamed quickly.
Hercules clenched his teeth. He'd been deluding himself. There was no Iolaus anymore, Dahak had destroyed him. Hercules would destroy Dahak.
“No Hercules, wait!” Gabrielle had left Xena’s side and stood beside the demigod, pulling at his muscular arm with her slender hands.
“Please wait...” She was thinking deeply and quickly. Her expression suddenly took on a puzzlement as she tried to remember something. She could feel Hercules staring down at her as if she’d gone mad. Gabrielle moved forward, towards the flames surrounding Dahak, pulling at something from the small pouch clipped on the inside of her wrap around skirt.
“Stay back! Gods Gabrielle, don't go near him!” Hercules shouted, pushing the bard back. Her sundrenched hair was withering from being exposed too close to the flames. But she didn’t seem to notice, her eyes were focused on the object of Hercules greatest pain. Furious, thinking the young bard had somehow been taken in by this monster, Hercules leapt past her, through the flames, and once again, grabbed a hold of a shocked Dahak, shaking him and strangling him.
“No more!” Hercules shouted, losing control. He was going to do what Xena couldn’t Dahak was going to die! He spotted the firewell as he shook the smaller form ... Zeus said something about containment and Hephestus ...
Then he saw it. A Hephestian shield laying in the coroner of the room. Of course Ares would have had one of those! Dahak was going into the well. If he couldn’t kill him he’d be restrained, never to be seen again. Yet, in this form, he could kill him ... He was partly human...wasn’t he?
The fire ring about Dahak and Hercules died away, as did the flames that were igniting the entire temple. The evil god lost concentration. He’d been fighting too many things, expending too much energy, and now this halfgod was besting him. Dahak couldn’t focus. He needed time to reenergize. He struck out at Hercules but it barely had an effect. How could this be happening? What was preventing him from ...? Iolaus! Damn him! Iolaus!!
"Hercules ... please!" Gabrielle sobbed. Hope had said before that no one could stop his coming... But she also knew such a god could not possess the body of a soul that had been so strong and noble. Iolaus, however small a degree, was still in there, fighting for control. She’d seen it. If Hercules defeated him...if he was thrown to his final death ... “Hercules! STOP!” She screamed, rushing forward to grasp his arm -- tearing at him as he held Dahak but unable to get through to him. “Don't you see??”” Gabrielle yelled, her utterly desperate tone rang clear in the air. Tears streamed from her eyes, but she wouldn't let her emotions overtake her. She had to get through to Hercules.
“Hercules! Iolaus is in there! If we can get to him - if we can talk to him -”
Hercules tore his arm away from her and looked at Gabrielle with an acid glare.
“No, Don't you see, Gabrielle? Iolaus is dead. I watched him die. I saw them preparing him for burial. Gabrielle, Salmoneus even delivered his amulet to me.”
The bard nearly gasped at that. “The amulet!”
She’d nearly forgotten. Reaching up she showed him the broken piece of black obsidian stone.
“The other half....” Hercules whispered, suddenly calm, loosening his hold on Dahak. He took it from her.
Gabrielle nodded. "He claimed it got broken during the last time you fought together."
Dahak broke away from Hercules and flung himself to the floor. “Stop!” He shouted, but it was to neither halfgod or human female. He was talking to something inside himself. An individual that was desperately trying to break free. A ring of fire, not quite as threatening as before, surrounded his body.
Hercules and Gabrielle stepped back.
"He's still in there...Iolaus. " The bard whispered as if the thought occurred to her for the first time. "He’s trying to break free."
“Gabrielle, go see if Xena's all right...”
Gabrielle shook her head. "I won't let you fight him alone... Hercules, he could still kill you." She looked at the rapidly weakening form. Dahak was deceptive. This much she knew for a fact. Did Hercules?
“Hercules...I love him, too. In a different way, but just as much as you do. We're at the same risk. Xena was almost killed by him. We can't let him take Iolaus away from us forever.”
Hercules shook his head. “No, this is my fight.”
He suddenly ran down the aisle of the temple and jumped full force into the burning temple doors. Sparks flew as wood splintered. The doors split open.
“There’s no more time, Gabrielle. There's a cave near the trail we followed. Take Xena there. Stay there until ...”
“Hercules, I can’t - - “
GO!" Hercules uncharacteristically shouted, “Or I’ll pick you up and throw you out!”
Gabrielle swallowed and closed her eyes for a second. “Hercules...” Their conversation could no longer be carried on, Gabrielle knew, because in a matter of seconds Dahak would be at his full strength again. She nodded and started toward Xena.
“Gods, help me!” Dahak cried out in Iolaus' voice. Iolaus' form was writhing on the floor.
Frightened, Gabrielle turned about and Hercules held a breath.
“Wait a second...” Hercules said aloud. Gabrielle, who had been approaching Hercules to get to Xena, watched as he again walked up the aisle, coming to stand beside her but looking at Dahak. "He's losing strength...what's happening?" He looked down at her.
Gabrielle bit her lower lip.
Hercules moved closer to the flames.
Suddenly an invisible forces grasped him and threw him back from the fire, and at the same time Iolaus screamed, as if a unmerciful force had unexpectedly let him go from a deadly imprisonment. He crumpled to the floor but beside him was the disassembled figure of a beast.
“Hercules! He's been forced from Iolaus' body!” Gabrielle shrieked.
Dahak looked down at himself. “Noooo!” He shouted. The red misshapen form, an abomination, fell to his knees and looked at Iolaus, already with his powers, attempting to get back inside of this shell.
And at that same moment, realizing the god’s intent, Hercules also shouted, “Noooo!” And ran full force into the monster, picking him up and carrying him to the firewell. He then dumped him and watched as the god fell backward into the lava pit. He could hear his shrieks of fury and terror as he plummeted downward.
...But how to keep him there ....! Hercules thought desperately. Dahak was a god and wasn’t going to stay put unless he had Hephestus’ shield.
“Gods!” Gabrielle lifted a hand to her mouth and watched as the shield floated on its own from beside the blistered wall and moved to the well, covering it.
Then Hephestus appeared. No announcement. No fan fair. He just appeared. The scarred yet somehow handsome God of the Forge said nothing. He glanced at Hercules and proceeded to fit the shield tightly over the well. He pounded it taut with bolts and a hammer.
Zeus ordered him to do this. Discipline for his actions at Aphrodite’s temple, Hercules thought.
“Gabrielle...” A gasp came from behind. Xena stood, spindly legged, but appeared otherwise well. There were no signs of bruises or broken bones.
“Zeus came to me in a dream ...” she said, leaning weakly on the girl when she came up beside her, “He ... healed me.” Then, she looked to where Hercules knelt beside Iolaus.
The hunter did not move. He did not look like he was even breathing.
“Iolaus ....” Hercules spoke brokenly, in a mummer. " ... Iolaus ...." Had they come this far just to lose him? Had he sacrificed himself yet again? "Please talk to me, Iolaus." Hercules covered his face with his hands. "Oh gods ... " he whispered, “I can’t go through this again ...”
Xena held Gabrielle now. The girl was sobbing against her.
Then he stirred.
Iolaus coughed once and lifted a weak hand to his forehead.
“Hercules?" He croaked, opening his eyes and watching the grief -stricken man. “Are you all right?"
Hercules raised his head and looked at his friend. This wasn’t a trick. He knew it.
The man laying before him really was Iolaus. Tears he’d managed to keep hidden for so long suddenly pushed to the surface. Hercules pulled Iolaus upward and into his arms.
“You’re alive!” He exclaimed, deeply effected. “Oh my gods, you’re alive!" And he laughed. What more could he do? The past few months had been utter Tartarus!
The grip was bone crushing, but oddly comforting. Iolaus hugged him back, “Yes... yes I am...” He said with another cough, “My friend .... You never really gave up on me. Not even when you thought I was gone from you forever.”
Hercules pulled him back and looked into his eyes, drinking in his expression. His best friend in all of the world was alive!
“How could I? Your my family. My brother." ...And my hero, Hercules thought.
Without fear, Hercules held him yet again. His reason for living, that which gave him his own heroes heart, was back. Thank the gods!
Gabrielle and Xena walked behind Hercules and Iolaus as they traveled to the caves. No one spoke. They probably could have stayed the night in the temple. Hephestus assured them there would be no further problems. Yet, all four heroes wanted to be as far away from Dahak as possible. It was still breezy and raining lightly on them but no one really seemed to notice.
Xena was limping. Although her injuries had been healed, she was still exhausted and needed to mend. Sleep would be a great curative.
Iolaus was also in desperate need of recuperating. He’d fallen twice as they walked, still fragile from his ordeal, and Hercules finally just lifted his friend up in his arms and carried him to the shelter.
The cave was dark and dank, but luckily Gabrielle had found her bag on the way. Its contents, withered and scattered on the path, some of its scrolls black and singed at the edges, could come in handy. She wordlessly picked them up as they continued on their way.
Some dead dry grass was strewn across the cave from the wind, and Xena gathered it while Hercules set Iolaus down to take in the comfort of the fire Gabrielle had started.
No one said anything for a short time, but to Hercules, who wanted so much for Iolaus to look into his eyes and tell him once again he'd be all right, it seem like hours.
“Herc...I...” Iolaus began, looking into the flames. Gabrielle tended to the cuts on his arm from the biting grip of Dahak's fire.
“I know.” Hercules simply said, settling himself across from his friend. He knew Iolaus was asking for forgiveness, for the agony Hercules had been put through, but the demigod could never have him do that. It was not Iolaus' fault. But he knew his friend would never be the same again. He’d been touched by an all encompassing evil and had let it in for a time. Could he really go back? Could he forgive himself?
Iolaus looked at Xena, at her thoughtful expression.
“Xena, are you all right? Can...I get you -?”
Xena turned to the hunter-warrior, smiling slightly, and did something she had never - well at lease without honest intentions - done before.
“I’m so glad you’re all right, Iolaus.” She hugged him. “I really thought you were gone,” she revealed, “I thought he'd taken you with him when he went into the well. I thought he'd won.”
In his blue eyes she could see he knew she didn't blame him for her injuries. But Xena knew Iolaus felt guilt heavy upon him. She move to stand beside Hercules. Xena then touched his shoulder and mimed that it was time to sleep, to leave Iolaus and Gabrielle alone for their own private talk.
Reluctantly, Hercules nodded and moved off with her.
“He didn't win... Iolaus whispered, exhaustion clearly overtaking him. He turned the two broken pieces of his amulet over and over in his hands. Hercules had given them back to him. It was a family charm. It was supposed to have protected him....perhaps it had.
Gabrielle, sitting close, gently took them from him.
“Hercules says he can put it back together for you. Something that belongs together and gets broken apart, always can find its way back to the other piece...”
Spoken like a true bard, he thought -- “To its other half that it had been searching for...” Iolaus murmured sleepily, with a smile.
Gabrielle found a smile of her own for him. So he knew that story too... She looked over across the cave and noticed that Xena and Hercules had fallen asleep as they laid on a soft mound of grass and dirt. Xena, had pillowed her head against his shoulder. In Hercules' arms, Gabrielle knew, she would be well taken care of.
Iolaus laid back and Gabrielle held his head in her lap, stroking a hand absent-mindedly through his golden curls. That wonderful hair that always seemed to get in his eyes when the wind blew just the right way...
“Gabrielle...” Iolaus whispered.
He opened his eyes lazily and looked up at her, raising a hand to touch hers as it stroke his face and hair. Now he was barely conscious. "I want you to know something. I do love...I... love ..." He drifted then, unsure and exhausted -- finally finding peace through sleep.
She ran her fingers through the blond tufts again, and looking down at the handsome warrior resting in her embrace, she recalled a story she'd told him long ago...
"...And, long ago, the gods sent a bolt of lightening down and separated them, and they spent the rest of their lives...searching for the other half of their soul...”
Iolaus was back. Would they be able to keep him this time? They could only pray.
Gabrielle bowed her head ...
(Written November of 1998)
This is fan fiction, written for entertainment, and was not meant to infringe on any rights given to Renaissance, Universal or the creators (or writing staff) of HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS or XENA, WARRIOR PRINCESS.
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