"As much as I know you'd love to see Xena dead, that isn't part of the plan. And if you ever..." He approached her, "try to sabatoge my powers again, Discord..." She didn't back down, but knew that she'd gone a bit far in trying to control his actions.
"That's the least of your problems, Ares. I've been tracking our four little adventurers and Hercules' annoying blonde friend, Iolaus...he's aquired some sort of god-like power. I thought he was dead, but Hades claims he's not in the Underworld." She looked up at him. "Is there any other place his pathetic mortal soul could've frolicked off to?"
The god shook his head. "Of course not. There's no time to talk about that now, I can take care of Iolaus, powers or not. I need a secure plan before I use the total strength of my powers to get to my heroic brother again." He turned his back to her and picked up his sword from the side of the throne.
"You wouldn't be so exhausted if you let me pick up the slack for you on that one." She suggested, walking around the throne to face him. He looked up at her, chin in hand.
"True, true...but something tells me you may have your own little agenda going."
She smiled, a sly, mischievious grin that perfectly characterized her role as a goddess. "What makes you say that?" He laughed in return, setting the sword down beside him.
"Don't tell me you're still mad that Iolaus turned you into a chicken! You do remember what I did to him after - "
"No, it's not that!" She interrupted, turning a bit red. "I just want a little piece of the action...you know?" Ares knowingly shook his head.
"Yes, well, I have no choice - you would make the job much, much easier..."
She turned swiftly around, ready to leave his temple. "Good. Then it's settled."
They'd split up, Iolaus taking Gabrielle down the path he'd thought best to follow. The very faint blue-white aura that surrounded him faded in the torche's bright light, but she knew it was there when she'd glance up at him every once in a while. The silence between them became uneasy; Gabrielle cleared her throat.
What do we do with Zeus once we find him?"
Iolaus looked down at her, then quickly ahead. "Keep him safe until I've found a way to...lock him out of this world for good."
Gabrielle nodded. "Iolaus...what's going to happen when this is all over? To you...to us?" He didn't say anything for a beat or two.
"Gabrielle, I don't know." They stopped in the middle of the chilly corridor. She knew he didn't have an answer for her. Instead he leaned forward and gently kissed her on the lips.
"I don't want anything to happen to us." He whispered with a smile. She rested her hands on his shoulders and they kissed once again. They'd been fighting their feelings for each other - and now they were all alone, their friends distanced from them -
"Iolaus, do you ever think about us...I mean..."
"I know." He reluctantly released her from his embrace, "But we can't, Gabrielle. I couldn't take advantage of you like that, and this mission is too important for all of us." She laughed and continued walking.
"Take advantage? Iolaus, I'm not the ignorant little girl that you waved goodbye to when we freed Prometheus! Don't you know that I've always - "
"Loved you." Iolaus finished for her. Funny how he managed to finally blurt it out in front of her like that. She closed her eyes for a second.
"Say it again."
"I love you, Gabby."
"Uggh!" She said in disgust, letting go of him as he giggled. "Gabby? Oh, thank the gods Joxer isn't here! He'd start singing that annoying little song of his." They both errupted in laughter, their happiness warming the dank cavern.
"Someday, Gabrielle," Iolaus told her, "When things are put right, we'll have all the time in the world...for everything." She took his hand as they continued to walk the empty corridor, no longer haunted by its silence.
"Do you think we'll find him?" Xena asked, holding the torch high. Hercules stood beside her. He unexpectedly grabbed her around the waist and pulled her back.
"What is it?" She stood up and nearly gasped. They'd come to the edge of a huge cliff in the underground, the gap across to the other side of the cave in the distance. "How far down do you think it goes?" She approached the outer edge, trying to look into the gap's depths.
"Who knows. This place reminds me of somewhere I've been before..."
"Where you and Iolaus last battled Dahok together?" He shook his head.
"No...Xena, I think it's the netherworld. It's between our world and the other dimension."
"So this palace has its own personal underground passage way to here?" She asked with a half smile.
"No, I think that this isn't part of the other world at all."
They both spoke at the same moment. "Ares." He looked around for another way to the other side. Xena checked the smooth parts of the cave walls.
"No passage ways here. We're going to have to take our chances and climb around." She turned and bumped right into him, not realizing how close he'd been standing.
"Sorry." She said, an inch or two away from him.
"It's...okay." He replied, and then looked up at her in alarm. "Did you just feel that?" Xena shook her head.
"Feel what?" The ground suddenly jerked below them, small cracks forming where they'd been standing a moment before. They jumped to safety and dodged a huge rock falling from above them.
"Do we ever get a break?" Hercules shouted as they ran back to the path they'd come off of.
"I thought this was our break!" Xena said back.
"There must be something happening in the palace! I knew we should've all stayed together!" The next tear into the rock was to wide for him. She stood on the outside edge of a newly formed cliff, not even two feet across, trying to keep her balance while ancient chunks of stone rained down on her.
"Hang on, I'm coming, Gabrielle!" He stretched as far as he could and reached for her with his hand.
"Iolaus, don't! If you should fall -"
"Gabrielle, I'm not the one who needs saving, remember? Take my hand and jump, I'll help you. On three, okay?" She nodded and slowly lowered herself to crawl across the length of the rock. Iolaus gripped her hand. She gasped, looking up at a rock starting to fall from above her.
"THREE!" He yelled, pulling her up from the cliff below. They both landed hard on the other side of the cavern. "Gabrielle, it's safe on this side. I have to up to the palace - it's Ares - he's destroying it!" The ground now only faintly shook. "He's got to rest his powers sometime - it took Callisto and him to open that vortext before - he's got to be exhausted, that's why it's stopped. I'm going to put an end to this while I still can."
She turned to him to protest and gasped instead as she watched him disappear in a glimmer of white and blue, like one of the gods. "Iolaus?" She listened to her voice echo off of the grey stone walls.
Iolaus appeared before Ares, shaking his head. "You just never give up, do you? That passage way, those caves - it was all a set up. You don't know where Zeus is, do you?"
"I can see you're just as annoying as you ever were." Ares said, ignoring the hunter's questions. "What god, Iolaus?" He crossed his arms.
"What god gave you your powers?" Iolaus shook his head.
"No Greek god had anything to do with it. Quite frankly, I'm glad. He reached out directly at Ares in a casual gesture to start off their inevitable battle, but it was deflected by the shimmering silver light that revealed another problem for him - Discord.
“Ares may be wiped out, you scrawny little freak, but I’m not.”
“I always couldn’t stand your relatives, Ares.” Iolaus replied, ignoring her. She stepped forward. “And don’t call me little.”
“Whatever, blondie. Where Zeus? Ares has something he needs to take care of.”
“I saw you that you got attacked by some vicious rocks back there.” He tried to lighten up their tense situation. She smiled.
“You noticed my limp. It’s swollen, but manageable. Iolaus! Gabrielle?” She called out again.
“Xena! Down here!” Gabrielle yelled back.
Xena looked overf the edge of crumbling rock and down at her friend.
“Where’s Iolaus?” Hercules asked, leaning down to lift her up.
“He discovered something else he can do -- disappear - like a god! He was determined to get to Ares, and then, poof! Gone.” The half-god effortlessly brought her up to more stable grounds.
“Thanks.” She dusted herself off and looked around quickly. “Oh, Xena! My staff...” Xena sighed.
“I’m sorry, Gabrielle, but we can’t go back for it now.”
“Zarathustra, where are you when I need you?” Iolaus asked the air.
“Almost there...” Xena said, helping Gabrielle over the rough spots in the rocky path with Hercules in the lead. The destroyed tunnels had reopened the passage way they’d originally entered the cavern from.
“I hope we don’t run into the Sovereign. From what you said, he’s not exactly a Hercules.” Gabrielle said with a grim smile.
“I think you spoke too soon.” A voice predictably answered, and before he could reply, Hercules was bolted across the path just treaded by the threesome. Dazed, he turned around to face the Sovereign.
“Will you ever give up?” He asked, rubbing his aching jaw.
“Sure, when you’re dead.” The warrior circled him. Hercules didn’t take his eyes off of him as he addressed Xena and Gabrielle.
“Go to Iolaus. I’ll be there after I finish here.” The two didn’t budge. Hercules looked back at them.
“I want his head,” Discord said, running her toungue along her top teeth. Iolaus gulped, glancing nervously around the perimeter of the room, trying to find a way out. He knew they couldn’t kill him - only exhaust what powers he knew he had - but the mortal fears still manifested within him were starting to knaw at him. He hadn’t been immortal long enough to learn how to let go of them, and he wished Zarathustra would’ve taught that to him before sending him off so abruptly into trouble. His eye caught the high ledge where he’d saved Xena and he slowly began inching toward it, standing as if readying to attack the two gods. He smiled as they stepped into place with the ledge being directly above them.
“What are you grinning about?” Discord asked, irritated (as usual).
Aiming high, he gestured his hand toward the rock. It crumbled and detatched from the wall leaving barely enough time for the two to react. Discord screamed in her typical fashion and covered her head with her hands. Ares vanished just in time. Iolaus turned away as the falling stones hit her, forming a pile on the shiny tiled floor. The ground shook faintly. He closed his eyes, trying to “see” the caves below. When he reopened them, he saw Xena and Gabrielle behind a slab of dark stone.
“What’s happening?” He whispered. Xena jumped at the sound of his voice, flashing out her chakrum instinctly.
“Sorry, Iolaus. I’ll never get used to you being able to do that. What happened up there?”
“I just had a rumble with Discord and Ares got away. He’ll be back. She, I think, gets the point.”
“I’m going in.” Xena said, running up from behind the rock to join Hercules against the Sovereign..
“My staff’s gone, Iolaus. Just as we were about to join you up there, the Sovereign came out of nowhere. This is crazy...I mean, it’s like Ares framed us into believing he wanted to kill Zeus. He’s still after his own brother.”
“Uh, half-brother.” Iolaus corrected her. “And I think he’d rather have us out of the picture first. That’s why the Sovereign’s here. This has to be the netherworld. That’s where Herc trapped him. I remember it...and it wasn’t below this place. Who knows, maybe Ares planned this with Dahok before we defeated him.”
“We have to help them.” Gabrielle said, standing up. Xena was thrown towards her, skidding on the rock trying to stop herself before she’d slam into the rough granite wall ahead of her.
“Hey!” Iolaus shouted to get his attention. The Sovereign turned and grinned when he saw Hercules’ friend. “Fresh meat, right?” The hunter asked. He hid a hand behind his back, envisioning something more painful than a bolt of energy. Gabrielle gasped as she gazed at the ball of fire materializing slowly in his palm. The globe grew there as he approached the warrior. Not today.” He answered his own question simply, the blast of flames sending the roaring half-god into the far wall. “You and Ares are in this together, aren’t you? I’m surprised you two had the intelligence to come up with the netherworld as a trap for us. Of course, bringing Discord in on it didn’t help much, did it?” The Sovereign shook his head, trying to lose the dizzy feeling he had and wondering how the irritating little man did this to him.
“So what? Ares doesn’t lose. Where’d you learn to do that, anyway?”
Iolaus flashed a smile. “What? Oh, you mean this...” He gave the warrior another flight towards one of the grey stone walls. “Well, it’s quite simple, really.” Hercules joined him, knocking his look-a-like out on contact.
“Gods, I thought we’d be here forever. Against your better wishes, Xena, I was just about to join you despite my staff.” Xena whiped the blood away from her mouth, gently tracing the outline of where she’d been hit.
“I’m glad you didn’t, Gabrielle. Iolaus, I see you’ve found somemore of those abilities of yours.” He nodded, looking down at the unconcious Sovereign.
“He’s not going to stay like that for long,” Hercules said to Iolaus, “What are we going to do with him? He can get out of this place the same way we came in, if that passageway Ares and Discord created is still open.”
Iolaus looked up towards the ceiling. “Discord’s regaining strength faster than I thought, Herc. We’ve got to get back up there.” He threw a hand at the Sovereign, who vanished in silvery light and shadow.
“How did you? - “ Xena began, speechless.
“Just...go with it.” Hercules mused.
“Gather ‘round, everybody.” They encicled the hunter as he spoke. Before they knew it, they were back in the center of the great hall, right where they’d started.
“Looks like we’ve come full circle.” Gabrielle said.
“There you are, you little, irritating - “
“The Sovereign already voiced that general opinion among gods who want to do away with my best friend, Discord.” Iolaus interrupted.
“Now unless you want us all on your back...” Xena began.
“I think you should leave.” Gabrielle suggested, standing next to Iolaus. Discord pulled on her hair.
“Urgh! I can’t stand any of you anymore! Ares!” She said to the ceiling, “You coward!” Iolaus was waiting for her, a brightly glowing ball of blue and white forming in his right hand.
“Oh, Discord...” He called.
“Ahhh! I’m outta here! Thanks a lot, Ares!” Her abrupt exit left the hall echoing along with her last spoken word.
“Is it over?” The bard asked.
“Not until they’re barred from this world.”
“So...this whole thing was a sham.” Xena picked up her sword from the cold floor, “He’s still trying to kill you. He’s more pathetic than I remembered.”
“Much more different than our Ares, of course.” Ephiny said, entering the room. She leaned down to fasten a stray buckle on her gold sandals.
“Ephiny...I’m glad you only just woke up.” Iolaus commented, “It’s been pretty rough down here. You’ve been here because you’re a servant to the gods - do you know where they fled to, or whether or not Ares trapped them somewhere?”
“I don’t know...it’s been like this ever since the one they call Dahok came. It is said that he imprisoned the gods of this world after they tried to flee from the palace to save themselves.”
“He came here, too? By the gods, he must’ve traveled here right before Hercules returned to Greece to...”
“What?” Hercules asked.
“That means...I was ‘with’ him when he was here. How can that be? I don’t remember it at all...” Hercules put a hand on his shoulder.
“You can’t think like that, Iolaus. You had no control over what he did to you.” He turned away from him.
“How else am I supposed to think, Herc? I gave up myself to him because I thought I could help still on earth, and look where it got me?” His best friend smiled.
“You’re standing here, Iolaus, with three of your friends, about to save a world and its gods. Sounds pretty good to me.”
“Believe me, the last thing you want to do is let your past haunt you.” Xena offered knowingly said.
“Yeah, I know.” He answered them. Ephiny bit her lip and looked up at him.
“The god of love - here - said that you had a mission to carry out before you first arrived here. You still have much to do, Iolaus.”
“I know. I think I know where to go from here.” He walked ahead of her. Gabrielle followed.
“What are you going to do?”
“First, find the gods. Then we’ll worry about Ares.”
The other three followed behind them.
“Iolaus, you’re not going back to the netherworld, are you?” Hercules asked.
Ephiny stopped them from walking further. “I can’t let any of you be in danger there because of searching for my gods. If one of you is killed - “
“Well, we don’t have to worry about that, because I won’t let it happen.” Herc said, passing Iolaus. The hunter shook his head and sighed.
“Did I give you your stubborn side somehow?”
“Probably. I think it’s contagious.” The hunter elbowed him.
“Come on. Ephiny, I don’t want to know what would happen to you if one of our delightful gods came back, so you’re going to have to join us.” Xena said reluctantly.
“I’m their head servant. If they need help, I must go.”
Iolaus rubbed his hands together and took a couple deep breaths to relax. “Okay. There’s one more of you now, so let’s hope I do this right.” They vanished from the hall, as if they’d never existed there at all.
“You’re lucky I’m back. It’s enough to just get here. Discord, tell him.” The warrior smiled at the site of the pale young goddess.
“Well...hello...” He began.
“Don’t even!” She huffed, holding up a hand. “See, the “blonde” has powers beyond what we can handle - even both of us! He figured out we’re after Hercules and not his insane father.”
“So?” Discord sighed.
“You’re going to help us trap him here. Once that’s done, Ares will set you free.” The Sovereign crossed his arms.
“No way, no how. First, you almost kill me, then go back on the original deal and now you’re here for more? I don’t think so. As a matter of fact, I’d help them get rid of you at this point!”
“Urgh!” Discord shrieked and pulled on her long black hair, “Why does this have to be so hard?”
“Because, “ Iolaus answered her, “you don’t make deals with people stupid enough to fall for them.”
“HEY!” The Sovereign yelled in protest. Discord glared at the war god.
“Well, just don’t stand there, Ares! Get the little runt!” Iolaus raised a hand and pointed a finger at her. “Oh, gods!” She ran from him, leaving Ares unprotected. Hercules and Xena surrounded him along side Gabrielle and Iolaus. He jumped up, a backflip sending him several feet away, an achievement only matched by Xena.
“Come on, Ares, where’d you hide those pesky gods?” She asked, flashing him a smile just as he took a blow from her sword.
“Dahok trapped them, Xena, not just any god can do it. And not just anyone can retrieve them. You’d need an immortal, and they’re hard to come by these days.”
“Iolaus! A little help?” Xena asked as Ares grasped her arms behind her back, leaving her unable to move.
“Oh, so after you lost out on father Hope’s children, you needed to try to kill Hercules again? I admire your perseverence - “ He took another painful blow from the blade of her sword, “But I think Iolaus may have something to say about that.” The god vanished before she could strike again. She readied her sword just in time to ‘greet’ Discord.
“Just you and me, princess.” The goddess said, grinning wickedly.
“Ares, God of Love! I know where your fellow gods are, and that you were the only one to escape Dahok somehow - I know you know about my mission, too - Please...” Iolaus pleaded, pacing back and forth in the temple. Relief washed over him when a cloud of pink and red roses whirled up in front of him.
“So, you’ve found your way after all.” He said. The hunter nodded.
“There’s not much time, Ares. Are the gods in the netherworld?”
“They’re imprisoned there, in the same manner that yours were before Hercules and your other ‘half’ rescued them.
“Thank you, my friend. But if it takes an immortal to rescue them, why didn’t you do it yourself?” Ares smiled.
“Let’s leave that answer up to the Fates. This is, after all, your mission.” He rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Hopefully next time I see you, I’ll know.” He disappeared to quickly return to the palace.
“Gabrielle!” He yelled above the sound of Xena’s war cry as she and Ares started another round. The bard ran to him. “I see Discord’s keeping Herc busy now. Gabrielle, you have to come with me. They’ll be fine, you’re in danger here - come on, this is their diversion.” She barely had enough time to blink before Iolaus had transported them to the netherworld.
“Well, look who’s here again.” The Sovereign said. Iolaus slapped his forehead.
“Lay off of us, will you?” Iolaus stepped back and nearly tripped over something like a round object and regained his balance to protect Gabrielle. He glanced down, seeing that it was a long, round - “
“Gabrielle, catch!” He tossed the staff high in the air, the bard catching it with ease.
“My staff! Iolaus, you found it!” She barely had any time to celebrate before striking a few blows with the warrior.
“Get out of here before I really get mad!” Iolaus demanded. He didn’t have to. One final blow from Gabrielle knocked him out cold.
“That was too easy.” Iolaus said, almost laughing. She hugged him.
“Thank you so much...I thought I’d lost it forever.” She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and they ran to the nearest tunnel.
“I still don’t understand why Dahok went through all the trouble of doing this to their gods.” Gabrielle commented. Iolaus stopped in the middle of the path.
“Listen for a second...hear the echo?”
She nodded. “Sounds like different voices...being muddled together. Do you think it’s them?” They entered a room with a large circular pillar in the center, grey, cold, and to Iolaus, probably unforgiving if it was booby-trapped. Above it, a glistening spinning globe, reflecting bright light from the opening in the cavern hovered quietly. He gestured for Gabrielle to stay put and slowly walked up to the pillar. The voices grew louder as he lifted it from the invisible forces causing it to hange in mid-air. He looked down at Gabrielle.
“Too easy.” They began to walk out, looking back every step. The bard shrugged. “Maybe there’s nothing left to guard it because Dahok’s powers don’t exist anymore.”
“Think again, geeze, two irritating blondes! Can this get any more tasteless?” Discord asked, materializing before them. Iolaus couldn’t resist.
“I think it just did. Gabrielle, stay right there.” The cavern began to rumble slightly, stone shifting.
“Not again!” Gabrielle groaned, it’s the floor, Iolaus, it’s caving in!”
“I’m gone, gods or not!” Discord said, quickly disappearing.
“Hold on!” He put a strong arm around her and a moment later they were brought back from the netherworld.
“Hercules, how do I release them?” Iolaus asked, dodging a punch from Ares. Herc looked up just as he was about to let Xena jumpstart a flip off of his hands. Discord, for the most part was done for, as the goddess was groaning in pain on the floor. Herc looked up from his fight with Ares.
Smash it! He yelled above Ares’ shouting. The hunter shrugged and threw it hard to the ground. The flash that followed was blinding and all the fighting in the room stopped. Dozens of glowing forms sprang from the broken object that had imprisoned them. They traveled collectively to the high ceiling and then broke up into groups, finally materializing - Aphrodite and Cupid were among the first.
“Where’s that miserable excuse for a god of war?!” Cupid shouted, breaking through the crowd of freed immortals. Hercules grabbed Ares by the hair and turned him in the other gods’ direction.
“Looking for this?” He asked.
“I want a piece of him!” Aphrodite said. Herc wasn’t used to seeing his sister - even if it was her other half - looking so...covered up. She ran towards Ares with Cupid. “You’re mine!” She shouted.
Amid the sounds of Ares’ helplessness, the foursome reunited. Ephiny was already pampering the gods that weren’t interested in beating up Ares as best they could. They were all out of breath and exhausted, standing there looking from one face to another. Iolaus held up a finger. “Just a sec...”
He rushed over to the brawl. “Guys, guys! stop for a second! We need a way to keep him out of this world for good if you never want this to happen again!”
Cupid finally stopped punching Ares in the stomach. The war god moaned in a voice an octave above his usual. “Let’s do it. What are you a god of, anyway?” Iolaus laughed.
“It’s a long story, Cupid.” He nodded.
“Let’s do it.” He slammed Ares into a wall for a touch of finality. The gods stood at the center of the hall. Aphrodite kicked Ares into the circle they’d created. The hunter held his hand out and closed his eyes. One by one, they put their hands on top of his. Aphrodite and Cupid were the last, smiling at each other with satisfaction at knowing what was now in store for their captors. Ares tried to scramble away, but one god against an immortal army was unescapable. Iolaus dragged Discord into the circle as well, despite her very vocal protests.
“NOW!” He shouted determinedly. The sheer force of all their strengths combined knocked all three of his friends down. They were left to watch in awe as the familiar blue swirling gateway opened up in front of Ares.
“This isn’t over, you little scheming, power cra - “
“Ares, get over it!” Discord snapped at Ares. Cupid and Iolaus rather enjoyed throwing him into the vortex with her, their cries of revenge and repulsion fading. They kept the tunnel generating for Iolaus’ friends to return to their world. Iolaus released his grip on it to rejoin them.
“It’s like a punishment that can never be broken, Gabrielle. All our powers as one, you could say, makes quite an impact on any other one god. Like a promise to a punishment that can’t be broken. I think...I think...it's time to go home.”