"The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence." - Jean Lorrah (Author).
He laughed bitterly at those words. He was nobody's hero. Just a man who wanted to grieve in peace. There was a storm coming in ... He half expected to see a small but well built form crawling up the ropes to seek land and safety ahead for them. There was no one. This ship was haunting, quietly cold.... empty.
"I killed him..." Hercules whispered to himself. He could still see the pain in his friend's eyes as he uttered, with his last breath, his "hero's" name...a hero that had no answers for him, no cure for the wound which pierced his heart to steal his soul.
And Nebula ... she was taking it all so calmly. So calculated were her measures of grief ... and only moments before his final fight she'd told Iolaus she loved him. Would he have saved her life if she hadn't? "Yes..." Hercules fought himself in his own argument, "He would've done the same for anyone ..." Iolaus was a true hero.
Hercules looked over the horizon, making himself adjust the sails to prepare for the thunder and wind coming to challenge him. He wanted his mind clear and his friend beside him. Just two simple things....
Not so simple.
"Hero..." Hercules said aloud, "What use am I to any of them now?"
Silently, he fed on the form of the brave hunter-warrior who had given him human existence, feeling the rush of mortal blood make its slow way to the brain and through his body. He lifted his arms - tearing them away from his constrained chest. Life! I want life!
Dahak stretched on the slab, the body covered and bound with white wrappings, and sat up, pulling at the binding, ripping free of a not so metaphoric anchor. The bandages, with his godly strength, tore away easily from the blond head. His blue eyes opened wide to see all that was around him. They hadn't come to take him to the tomb yet. Good. He spat out the coin placed in his mouth. Why was it there? A Greek custom ... Somehow he knew this ... A denar to pay your way into ....
Where was his servant, Gilgamesh? He had died.
A death with honor. Good human.
He saw the sunlight radiating from an open balcony. A breeze pushed in, blowing curtains aside. Light and warmth ... He needed both. He fell from the table to the floor, catching a labored breath, and crawled to where the glow was strongest. It nourished him, gave him energy and cleared his thoughts. He sat up, the bandages in tatters around him, lolling his head back and forth, experiencing what his human senses told his brain was a good thing.
Invigorated, he stretched his body - arms, legs and torso - with all of his might, feeling the gauze that remained loosen, reveling in the feel of the sun on his bare skin, the powerful but compact form in the - oh so weak shell - of this body. This man who called himself Iolaus was agile and strong for his kind. A powerful will as well -- not allowing himself to let go of life before he was certain his friend, the half god, was sound.
And even now, this human still lived. Iolaus. The sacrifice of a warrior's heart...
Dahak could feel him inside of his head. The mortal was alive - his soul still stirred - but not in ways humans could understand. His consciousness lived. His thoughts and memories. But soon, overpowered by Dahak, he would disappear entirely and truly make that journey to the other side, where no one would touch him again. Where there could be no rescue.
But not yet. He still needed him.
If only he, Dahak, could have taken Hercules! The immortal strength of the demigod was what he'd wanted and deserved. Gilgamesh or Hercules. If only ... Still, this body would suffice for a time. It was much stronger than that of the woman - Nebula. Although, he would miss the power of her royal position.
Dahak's mind shifted to other matters.
Hope, his child to a mortal woman, was dead. Killed by its humanistic mother and her friend. His grandson, born of Hope and the Greek god Ares, was also dead. How did he know these things? He, Hope and the beast-child were all connected. A mental link. A physical link and ... Gabrielle. He, Dahak the Master, would avenge all.
And we will start again ... Already the gods are falling. The Sumerians, Druids and now the ....Greeks.
Mistakes had been made the first time. Not by he but those simple minded temporal followers surrounding him. They under estimated the two women. He would take matters into his own hands now ... He would ... What was this? This man knows her. Gabrielle, the mother of his dead daughter. Dahak, placing hands to the blond head, symbolically reaching down to find Iolaus’ memories of the young woman. But the hunter-warrior was pulling away from him, attempting to shield her. Fool. I've chosen her and will not be denied. Dahak was all powerful and wrestled the memories from the human's consciousness.
Another child! He suddenly thought. This could be accomplished. She was still capable and this man had feelings for her -- and suspected those feelings were reciprocated. This time Dahak would do what his followers failed to accomplish. He would use his intelligence and cunning and produce a worthy heir. And this time he would have her consent -- and no one would stop him!
Not Hercules, who was off grieving in an unknown destination, and not Xena, Warrior Princess -- whose friendship would be tested and ultimately sacrificed before she died.
The world was his for the taking.
No ...! You can't ....
No ...! You can't ....Dahak laughed as he heard the anguished cry in his head, "Oh yes, my friend. I can. I will."
"Considering she's suppose to be The Goddess of Love, there are more battless fought over this female than any other in the history of Greece." Gabrielle complained as she and Xena stood at the foot of the temple.
"The price of fame." Xena retorted.
He approached them with his hands raised in openhearted appreciation.
"Thank you so much! I don't know what we would have done if the war between Hephestus and Jenjus escalated. Aphrodite's temple and her worshipers would never have recovered."
If Aphrodite could just be a one-man woman it might never of happened, Xena thought.
Unfortunately, The Goddess of Love had a rather active libido and Hephestus, who thought of Aphrodite as his own, had a horrible jealousy streak. Jenjus of Tartarus, a cute but somewhat cowardly prince, found out about Hephestus temper a bit too late. An army, wearing war gear fashioned by The God of the Forge himself, approached him right after a tryst. Terrified and alone, Prince Jenjus ran to the sanctuary of this, Aphrodite's closest temple. Perhaps hoping the goddess herself would step in and take care of matters.
"As if." Gabrielle whispered to herself, imagining Aphrodite saying those very words.
If not for the verbal and physical intervention of Xena and Gabrielle, Hephestus' army would have destroyed the temple, just to get to the man hiding inside. This would not have only hurt a thriving village, but Aphrodite's own wrath against her lover, Hephestus, would have been devastating. Love or not, the goddess could be as vengeful as Ares when her anger was piqued.
The temple keeper, Neuroticlese, ran nervous hands through his sparse hair.
"It's a good thing you two arrived when you did. I don't know what we would have done, Xena. Excepting you, there are no real heroes anymore."
Agitated, he glanced up into the sky, as if asking the gods forgiveness.
Gabrielle smiled, leaning gently against her staff as they spoke on the bottom stair of the temple.
"Of course there are other heroes." she said in earnest, "What about Ulysses, the Argonaunts, and Hercules?"
The last name caught his attention.
"You haven't heard? Hercules isn't a hero anymore."
The women, who were relaxed and casual until his statement, suddenly tensed.
"What do you mean?" Xena asked, trying not to let indignation enter into her tone.
"Last I heard he's living in Sumeria, having been cast out of Greece by Zeus."
The Amazon bard's brow furrowed, "That can't be true. Hercules and Zeus have had their problems but since his mother died ...."
"Well, I could be wrong about Zeus, but it's true that Hercules isn't in Greece. A couple sailors I spoke with just a few days ago said they were on a ship that took he and Iolaus to Sumeria and Hercules was last seen alone and very angry, cursing the gods. Iolaus was no where to be found. Rumor has it they fought over a woman and parted."
"Hercules and Iolaus? A woman?"
Xena and Gabrielle looked at one another. The Warrior Princess felt particularly tense because of her past with both men.
"There must be more to it than that."
The temple keeper shrugged, uncommitted. "Maybe you're right."
Then, changing the uncomfortable subject - "I hope you two will stick around for awhile, just in case there is trouble. That Hephestus ..."
The rest of his comment was lost when, with a swish of his ceremonial robes, Neuroticlese left the warrior and bard to supervise the final clean up of Aphrodite's temple.
Thoughtfully, Gabrielle said: "Do you think we should investigate this?"
Xena sighed, straightening her shoulders. "Hercules and Iolaus? It's just rumor and, if true, it's really none of our business."
That evening, as they bedded down beneath the stars, Gabrielle couldn't keep from pondering. Hercules and Iolaus. Two best friends at odds. She never thought she'd hear of the day something like that would happen. They were so close, a twosome who fought courageously side by side against evil - much like she and Xena. Just like she and Xena! The men had had arguments before - minor disagreements really - but to break up their partnership over a woman? Hadn't they learned anything from their past experience with Xena? How long ago had that been now?
Iolaus, she thought. How was he? The god-like Hercules could take care of himself but Iolaus was so sensitive to the people and problems that surrounded him. He was human. Dear, Iolaus. And she fell asleep thinking of the handsome golden hunter ...
... and in her dreams she saw him, wearing a white robe and being followed by a multitude of people. He was adored and looked so wonderful, healthier than she'd ever seen him. And he was reaching out for something but she couldn't see what it was. She could hear his voice, beckoning her, and there was a look on his face. It was an odd combination of warm sincerity and concern, then sudden fear and worry - "Help me --come to me -- be mine -- Noooooo! Stay away!"
That last cry was heart wrenching, a desperate plea for understanding, but it only confused Gabrielle. Did he want her or not? Then she saw something she could not quite understand. A bandaged form laying on a table ... And atop it rested Iolaus' black amulet, the one he always wore around his neck. A family heirloom ... but sometimes she felt it meant more to him than he was willing to impart. The abstract stone was broken into two pieces.
Awakened, Gabrielle's eyes opened and she glanced over at a sleeping Xena.
Such and odd dream and she tried hard to interpret it. Did Iolaus' broken amulet represent he and Hercules' broken friendship?
With a sigh of distraction and fatigue, Gabrielle turned over on her side and dozed again.
"Go back to Greece -- Go back -- They need to -- She needs you --."
"No, there's nothing there for me ...." Agitated, Hercules rocked back and forth in the bed, his eyes closed. The dream was becoming more than just vivid. It was painful.
The night hadn't been restful. Visions came. Not really nightmares, but
disturbing images. Ireland, Norway, Caesar, battles fought, friends lost,
Morrigan and her child, Thor -- and, as always, he was forced to relive
the death of Iolaus. He was use to it. There hadn't been one night, since
his friend's passing, when Hercules closed his eyes and the vision of his
Iolaus, having been struck by the fatal ceremonial knife of Dahak, lay
dying in his arms. But now, this night, he was hearing his voice ... but
Hercules couldn't understand. What was Iolaus trying to tell him?
What was there in Greece?
"Xena needs you, Hercules. And Gabrielle. Go back to Greece ...."
"Xena needs you, Hercules. And Gabrielle. Go back to Greece ...."
"Iolaus?!" He awoke and stood swiftly to his feet, looking about the dark hut. Where
was he? Still in Norway? It wasn't a dream. He was really hearing his
friend's voice ... But no, Iolaus was dead. He couldn't ... Xena and
Gabrielle? What ...?
"Hercules, please ... Something horrible is going to happen if you don't..."
"Hercules, please ... Something horrible is going to happen if you don't..."
He was wide awake but could still hear him. Gods, was he going insane?
"Hurry, Hercules ...."
"Hurry, Hercules ...."The voice was fading, "Hurry ...."
"Go to Greece ..." Hercules allowed the thought to settle on his mind, "Yes," he murmured, "It's time to go home."
He wasn't far from them now, with his heightened senses, he watched the Amazon Bard and Warrior Princess. He felt their movements, a mental talent Dahak had retained even while in this human form. The longer he continued in this Iolaus husk, reading his temporal thoughts and feeling his needs, the more Dahak's came to know the earth about him; the fragility of humans - those he watched. He liked that. Having the upper hand on his prey. Or no, not prey but potential followers. These senses gave him an edge and he'd need it if he was going to manipulate the women.
Dahak had learned, in a most unfortunate way, that Xena was not a fool. He would eventually do away with her. She couldn't be molded and she wasn't necessary to his plans. As a matter of fact, eliminating her would help in eventual domination.
Gabrielle, on the other hand, was more pliable - and he needed her. The girl was still reaching out, trying to make sense of everything that had happened to her in the past year. Iolaus would be there to understand and soothe her after the death of The Warrior Princess. Poor lost little lamb, he thought with a cruel smile. Eventually, she would serve him without reluctance and, if not, she too would die - after his heir's birth. He might regret that a bit - the death of his chosen human female - but he'd already given her far too much latitude. He had yet to punish Gabrielle for what she did to Hope. Yet, he rethought, once the new child was created it would need its mother ... There could be room for mercy --- as long as she conformed.
A male child this time, he thought. Someone with charisma and masculine power to bring more followers to he and his temples. Slowly, but with increasing frequency, Dahak’s temples dotted the horizon of mountains near and far. Soon his followers and places of worship would eclipse all other gods - Greek or otherwise - for Dahak was the one true god and all would know this! And the blood. It would flow freely. Sacrifices in his name. Followers screaming the name Dahak at the top of their mortal lungs!
His child, the ultimate destroyer, would make it so.
Dahak had work to do.
They were walking calmly down the path, bantering back and forth as they often did, when she first sensed it. A prickly feeling at the back of her skull. Danger. This insight was something that could not be taught. It was instinct. Xena lifted a hand in mime, urging the chatty Gabrielle into silence. Something was up. Then, when the knife was thrown - the glistening blade aimed directly at The Warrior Princess' chest - Xena quickly lifted her hands, catching the dagger with spread palms and dexterous fingers while it still hung in midair.
Moments later, the women saw the warriors. Six big men dress entirely in black, wearing metallic-fur helmets and carrying deadly swords. "Attack! Destroy!" came the battle cry.
Immediately, weapons were lifted and the inevitable physical conflict began.
The clashing of sharp edged metal, Xena's against two warriors, was only slightly more hair raising than Gabrielle's fight. Staff in hand, the girl had succeeded in knocking two of her attacker's down but she was unaware of the mercenary sneaking up behind her. He threw his well muscled arms around Gabrielle, keeping her still and knocking the bard's staff to the ground in the process.
"Gabrielle!" Xena shouted in mid parry but there was little she could do, busy with her own life and death struggle at the moment.
One of the other warriors who had managed to get to his feet after being knocked senseless by the bard, advanced on Gabrielle - "Want to have fun?" he seemed to ask Gabrielle but it was actually for his comrade, who was holding her arms. He touched the girl's cheek in an uninviting manner then slapped her defiant face once. "That's for knocking me down." he said and lewdly eyed the curves of her figure.
Dazed by the blow, feeling the taste of blood in her mouth, Gabrielle was unaware of the crude laughing and the lips that closed in on her to attempt a hungry kiss. Yet, before he made actual contact another voice was heard.
"I don't think so." it said. From out of no where he came, sword drawn and golden hair flying like a wind swept halo about his head and shoulders." As a matter of fact, I think you need to be taught a serious lesson!"
"Iolaus!" Gabrielle cried as the warrior who held her arms suddenly threw the young woman aside.
Xena caught sight of Iolaus just as she dispatched the last of her own assailants.
Iolaus' sword made quick work out of the swine who attempted to have his way with Gabrielle, sending him to Tartarus before he even realized another hero had come to the girl's defense. Iolaus kicked wide for the other, his foot connecting with the goon's belly and sending him sprawling. Another mercenary approached from the rear and Xena was about to jump him when Iolaus managed a backward kick, connecting with a knee cap. He then twisted about to smash the attacker's jaw with a tightened fist. The warrior fell with a groan, sent into a world of haze.
"Let's get out of here!" The remaining warriors grabbed their comrades and took off running down the pathway.
Xena eyed them but let them go. She turned to Iolaus who was helping a shaky but otherwise well spirited Gabrielle to her feet. She crouched, picking up Gabrielle's staff, and noted on her way up to a standing position that the bard was gently hugging Iolaus in greeting.
"Iolaus." Xena approached, "You showed up just at the right time."
She lifted an arm to give the hunter a warrior's handshake. "How are you?"
"Good." He said with a smile and looked from Xena to Gabrielle, "How are you ladies doing?"
"If we can go a day without being attacked by warlords, we'd be fine." Gabrielle sighed but her eyes were bright and she smiled, looking at Iolaus and pondering some rather bawdy thoughts.
"You're alone?" she asked.
Xena noted how his animated grin faded slightly.
"Yes. I'm afraid I am." He then averted his eyes, "I have something I need to tell you two and ..."
"Regarding Hercules?" Xena asked. At his nod, she said - "If rumor is true, then we may already know a little bit about what you're going to say ... but we would like to know more, if you want to tell us."
"Let's make camp." Gabrielle suggested.
It was early evening. The sun hadn't gone down yet but the air had cooled with the anticipation of twilight.
"Where's your amulet?" Xena looked from his chest to his eyes, "I've never seen you without it."
"It broke." Iolaus said simply, going into no further detail.
"Then it's true?" Gabrielle asked, watching his expression. "You and Hercules have parted for good?"
"I'm afraid so."
"Tell us what happened, Iolaus." Xena urged.
The threesome sat around the campfire, fish laying in a pan, cooking quietly as they relaxed.
Gabrielle sat beside Iolaus as he told his dispirited tale:
"It's difficult to talk about. We went to Sumeria at the request of King Gilgamesh. He felt Hercules could help he and his people. Their gods had turned on them, causing all forms of destruction. Gilgamesh, like Hercules, is also a halfgod and there are written scrolls somewhere foretelling of their bond in the face of overwhelming chaos. Or so he said --."
"You didn't believe him?" Xena questioned, looking at the couple over the flames of the campfire, wondering if Iolaus was as skeptical as Gabrielle could sometimes be.
"No. But Hercules did and the two ran off on a quest while I and the king's sister, Nebula, were left to calm their people and rebuild what the gods had destroyed." He had caught the women's attention and, on the inside, warmed at his cleverness. Still, he couldn't get too over confident or Xena would see right through him.
"Gilgamesh and Hercules returned after a few days. The entire quest had been a total failure and both were reeling from their lack of accomplishment. Hercules doesn't fail and he took it badly, striking out at Nebula and myself."
"Physically?" Gabrielle was thunderstruck.
"No, not at first." He looked down at his hands, apparently disturbed.
"He ... couldn't believe that Nebula and I were able to accomplish so much, even restore some hope in the Sumerian people, while he and Gilgamesh could do nothing. What's more, he'd learned that Nebula and I had ..."
Iolaus paused, pain crossing his face. " .. had been intimate. I was even considering not returning to Greece because of my love for Nebula." His voice weakened a moment then grew strong in its resolve, "I should have known Hercules felt something for her. I guess I was blinded by Nebula's and my own attraction. But something took him over. Jealousy, I suppose ---."
"This sounds nothing like the Hercules I know." Xena said, suspicion growing in her eyes.
"Can you imagine how I felt!?" Iolaus suddenly flared, pain evident. "We've been friends since we were children and here was Hercules talking to me like I had done something terrible to him."
Gabrielle reached over and took one of his hands, consoling Iolaus and calming him.
He smiled at Gabrielle, gently rubbing her knuckles with his thumb.
Xena watched them and felt inexplicably self-conscious. She almost felt as if she was intruding on a private moment between the two. Their touch seemed strange and oddly improper. "What happened?" Xena asked, abruptly.
He looked over at her, sensing her skepticism.
"The worst thing possible. Hercules seduced Nebula and she fell in love with him."
Again, Iolaus looked as if he was in pain but, inwardly, was immediately gratified when Gabrielle's arm moved around his shoulders. She, at least, was taken in and he again felt a tide of confidence swell within his human body.
"We had a terrible fight and he drew a weapon. I couldn't believe it was the same man I called my friend ... my hero." Iolaus sat straight and pulled his vest away. He showed the women the scar of a knife wound on his chest.
"I received this. " He noted Gabrielle's quickly in drawn breath and Xena's open mouthed shock.
"Hercules could have killed me easily, but maybe it was all those years of friendship that came back to remind him of what he once was. What we meant to each other." He shrugged, "I don't know. But I knew I couldn't stay. I left."
As hard as she tried Xena couldn't believe it, even though the man sitting before her had no reason to lie. "Did you stop to think that something, a god perhaps, was acting through him in some way?"
If it wouldn't have caused him to reveal his true identity, Dahak might have laughed at the irony of the question.
"Of course! That was the first thought that came to me, but I have to be honest with you, Xena, he started to change long before this. I could see he wasn't content. That was one reason he decided we should leave Greece in the first place. He wanted us to broaden our horizons," he said, "but I got the impression even then that he really didn't want me with him. I should have listened to my brain instead of my heart but I didn't want to accept what my senses were telling me."
Then, he lifted his hands to his face to hide anguish.
Gabrielle, overcome and sympathetic, leaned into him. She put both arms around the man, attempting to soothe Iolaus with gentle words, as he grieved.
Touched, Xena was silent. Watching Iolaus, his obvious suffering, she bit her lower lip and thought - Poor man. This isn't the first time this has happened to you .... You loved me. Then Hercules came and I also ...."
Xena, while not entirely convinced, felt for Iolaus. Something was not right here and the unfortunate hunter-warrior had paid the price. A lot of soul searching must have come to pass during the voyage back to Greece. How he must have blamed himself before finally coming to the realization that Hercules was the man who had problems - whatever they might be - and for an instant Xena felt truly sorry for Iolaus.
How could Hercules have done this to his best friend?
He watched the women turn off the stone paved road to walk together into the woods, returning to camp, complying with his wishes to be left alone for awhile. Recalling the story had been a strain, he told them. He needed to walk alone and sort a few matters out in his mind. He allowed himself time to remain motionless until they, the women, could see his mortal self no more. He then moved in the opposite direction, where his followers would be waiting.
There were five men, rough and impressively muscled, awaiting him by the lake and Dahak listened to their conversation as he approached.
"The rest of us are having doubts!" Philleus, an unshaven and fierce young warrior, said to an older follower. He fingered the hilt of his father's sword - "Baxius is already dead, killed by Dahak himself for no other reason than he dared to touch the girl -- and with that warrior woman and the rest of us watching!"
"We were warned." A warrior called from near their campfire.
"But what if he's just pretending? What if this is a hoax? We could end up burned at the stake and who knows what else? I know he's suppose to be all powerful, yet ..."
The young follower of Dahak stopped in mid-sentence as he was suddenly lifted from the ground by the neck.
Dahak looked up at him, "You dare doubt me, Philleus?" he asked with a growl that was so unlike the voice of the mortal he possessed. The warrior took one look into the fiery red eyes and quickly shook his head. The god dropped him on the ground and turned to the others, his voice deceptively calm after such a show of force.
"Listen to me, my children..."
Humbled, the men - all seasoned warriors and afraid of no one - gathered around him on their knees. He promised a better life, a world where they would be kings. They were only too willing to help him achieve his goals.
Dahak hid his smile. They were more pathetic every time he turned around. Still, he needed them and would use them. He glanced at the young man who was scrambling to join his brethren; to be an obedient disciple like the others. "I have a mission for you, Philleus. Since you doubt me so ..." - he scoffed at the word.
Philleus brushed the brown hair out of his green eyes, "Yes, our god. I am listening." but he could not hide sarcasm. It was as natural on him as chastity was on a Hestian virgin.
"In order for me to complete my task, I need you to kill someone for me. She is in the way. She will die. And her blood will be on your hands."
"Who is it you speak of?"
Dahak licked his lips. Even smiled. "Xena, Warrior Princess."
Philleus got up, ignoring the gasps from followers around him. They had all felt her sword, the power behind her jabs, in the earlier confrontation. As a group they could do nothing but if he was smart and quiet, if she didn't sense his approach ... "At once."
"And Philleus..." The god turned to him.
The warrior met his eyes.
"Since you've lost your confidence and can be lead to feel I am not who my followers believe me to be...if you do not do this...your blood will be on my hands." He allowed the threat to hang in mid air for a few moments before he continued, "And don't harm the mortal girl, Gabrielle. She may prove useful...go now. While they're alone. Take Xena's life."
Philleus hesitated, "Shouldn't I wait until Xena is alone? The other one will clearly see -"
"I know that!" He set his jaw and aimed a finger at him, an invisible power sending the man flying across the clearing. Philleus hit the ground far from them. Hard.
"Do what I tell you! I will worry about the girl!"
He scrambled up and found his sword next to him.
"Go, go!" The other followers shouted.
Dahak winced. The mortal Iolaus was screaming in the back of his mind.
Stop! You can't...can't...
He still had control, but the mortal's cries were gaining strength.
With Xena dead, Gabrielle would be vulnerable. It was all too perfect. And it was working. Hope - his beloved offspring - had failed and paid with her life. He would not fail. Not while he possessed this body. He sensed Philleus' footsteps walking slower, nearing the woods where Xena and Gabrielle were resting. The girl ... He would have to do something about that ... He smiled, his mind reaching out to her. Planting a suggestion.
Only minutes now ....
He eyed the warriors who knew something was happening, but weren't sure what it was.
He heard the bard call out from a distance and silently waved a hand, indicating his followers need to quickly depart. Dousing the fire, they did so without hesitation or comment. And he walked to the lake, standing calmly. Dahak, looked out at the water, seeming to contemplate something deeply.
Gabrielle approached and watched him. The moon was full and the light turned Iolaus hair into pale-gold. His expression was passive and he obviously was contemplating. But she could have sworn --
"Iolaus," she approached him, "I thought I heard voices."
"No," He smiled mildly, almost dreamily. "No one here but me. I was talking to myself. Maybe that's what you heard."
"Maybe." She looked out on the lake then back at him, "I'm sorry to interrupt. I know you want to be alone but I'm so worried about you, Iolaus. The things you must be feeling ..."
He took her hand and pulled gently, "Walk with me." he said, simply.
Perfect. She was out of harms way. Xena was probably back at camp. Now, there was a possibility. Philleus could do the deed and not destroy Dahak's future plans. But now this girl ... No time like the present, he thought. They walked near the river's edge, hand in hand.
He suddenly asked, "Gabrielle, do you think about me?"
She was a bit puzzled, "Think of you?"
"When you and Xena are traveling, do you ever think about me?'
She smiled, recalling her bizarre dream the evening before. "Sometimes, when it's late and I having trouble falling asleep, I'll look up into the stars and begin to think of things."
"Me, being one of them?"
"Yes." she confessed.
"What do you think about when you think of me?"
Curious but amused, Gabrielle stopped walking. "Iolaus, what's all of this about?"
"Let me tell you what I think about." He took her other hand, drawing her closer to him, the couple now face to face in the soft moonlight.
"I think about your hair, your eyes, your sweet face -- your mouth." Slowly, he leaned in closer, "And I think about having you close to me ..."
Gently, with much care, he placed his soft lips on hers. He watched her eyes close and felt her kind-hearted response to his kiss.
Gabrielle drew back ever so slightly. The intimacy was lovely but also a bit different than she remembered from the past. Despite the skilled pressure, there was an almost surreal determination in the touch. It seemed practiced rather than natural. Still, Gabrielle smiled.
"That was...unexpected." she said, not quite looking at him.
"Why? Hasn't a man ever kissed you in the moonlight before?" he whispered, seductively.
"It's not that ..." she cleared her throat and tried to get her thoughts in order, "I ... I just never thought you were thinking the same things about me that I was thinking of you."
The grin on his face, visibly appealing, was secretly triumphant. If she had been looking deeply into his blue eyes Gabrielle would have seen the cold calculation which did not match his gentle tone, "I've always felt we belonged together Gabrielle, just like the story you once told me about one soul being torn in two and searching for its mate. I think our souls are urging us to do the right thing. I think we should be together as lovers."
Did he feed this line to all of the girls? Gabrielle thought. She looked down at the ground and started to chuckle. Yes, he had to be joking. Iolaus just didn't think of her this way ...
His smile faded and he realized she wasn't taking him seriously. "Gabrielle ... I am sincere."
The laughter stopped. She looked up into his unwavering focus, taken aback. Could it be? There was so much he didn't know about her. He didn't know what happened in China or about Hope or Dahak or even Hope's child ...
"Iolaus, I need to have a long talk with you before we go anywhere near ...."
"You don't have to tell me anything. I don't care. I only care about the here and now."
Gabrielle was amazed but he really did seem so earnest.
"But I need to tell you about something that happened awhile back. It could be very important to any sort of relationship we're hoping to start ...That is, if that's what you're thinking about...a relationship, I mean."
His hands released her fingers and placed themselves on her slender shoulders.
"Tell me later, Gabrielle. Tell me when we're safe in our wedding bed, holding each other close."
"Wedding?" The breath caught in her throat. Oh, gods ... this can't be real!
"Yes, I want to marry you, Gabrielle. When I returned to Greece you were the only person I could think about. Despite what happened with Nebula, or maybe even because of it, I know who I want to spend the rest of my life with. That's the real reason I've been looking for you and Xena. I needed to let you know how I felt -- and I could only hope you were feeling some of the same things."
The words were so sweet, but it seemed odd to her that Iolaus should be speaking them. Such eloquence from a hunter and one time warrior ... Yet, she always felt he possessed the heart of a poet.
"But we --" she couldn't believe this was happening, "- we hardly see each other. Before now we never even ..."
"The last time we were together, when you were so kind, I knew how I felt. I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you. You didn't feel the same way?"
"It doesn't matter." he inserted quickly, "Tell me you love me now. Tell me, Gabrielle."
He fixed his eyes on her's and held her arms firmly. Even in this human form he could send signals to a human's brain that might not make a person act or say what was truly in their heart. She was torn and confused but he needed her and she would be his or die as a result. He stared into her eyes, willing her to tell him what he wanted to hear. Be in my power ... He demanded silently, Be mine ...
"I can't. I don't know, Iolaus. I ..."
Then, he leaned forward, taking her body in his arms and kissed her passionately. He could feel her weakening in his embrace, her lips parting beneath his, and again he chuckled inside. Frail humans. He pulled away, ever so slightly.
"Tell me, Gabrielle." He breathed into her ear, "Tell me what I want to hear ..."
Gods, what was he doing to her?
"Iolaus ..." She could feel emotions, thought long dead, bubbling up inside. "I want to, Iolaus. You have no idea." and Gabrielle felt nearly on the verge of weeping. Why was he making this so difficult? "But Xena and I have been through so much. I just can't leave her."
Xena! Damned, Xena! He felt like breaking the young woman in two, angered over her strong will, but continued to speak charismatically,
"She wouldn't want you to be happy?" he asked.
"Yes, of course." The bard, feeling suddenly awash in love, pulled back and looked dreamily over at him, "Will we be, Iolaus? Happy? You without Hercules and me without --"
Yes, this is more like it. Good girl.
"I will do everything in my power to make you the happiest bride in the known world." He hugged her close.
And suddenly she believed he would.
"Yes ... Okay, yes. Let's get married."
Over her shoulder, Dahak's eyes turned a burning red and he smiled. He could hear Iolaus in his head.
STOP! She's just a girl ... You can't do this .... You can't...
Then, he was gone.
Then she heard a noise from behind. It was metallic, as if a sword was being slowly drawn from its scabbard. A highwayman or ...
With a speed and dexterity that would astonish those who didn't know Xena better, The Warrior Princess sprang backward, leaping high into the air and landed face forward in front of her assailant.
"Can I help you?" she asked the stunned young warrior as he lifted the sword mutely.
"The will of Dahak!" he cried and lunged at the woman, attempting to strike her full force.
Xena tumbled out of the way and pulled her own sword. She parried his blade.
"Dahak?" She asked, suddenly alerted. A follower of Dahak!
They fought brutally, but Philleus was young and entirely outmatched. Xena quickly knocked the sword from his hand and sent him sprawling onto the damp ground. She then straddled him and, with a mind numbing swiftness, thumped the pressure point at his neck.
"I've cut off the flow of blood to your brain. You will be dead in thirty seconds if you do not answer my questions ..."
"Xena!" Gabrielle called. She and Iolaus had heard the commotion. "What is this?"
"He attacked me." she said, "And he mentioned Dahak."
Gabrielle immediately tensed.
Dahak stared at the frozen man on the ground, the warrior's eyes riveted on the form that stood above him, a little to one side.
You fool! It was not the warrior woman Philleus needed to fear. You failed.
Dahak spoke to his mind.
Now, if you talk to save your worthless soul I will visit every torture imaginable on you, my friend. You know what you must do.
"Talk or die." Xena instructed.
But he wasn't vocalizing. The warrior just stared straight ahead. Xena cursed and once again pinched his neck, to release the pressure. They would never get any information from him if he let himself die.
"Listen you ... You mentioned Dahak. What did you mean?"
"I've failed." The young warrior murmured, a dazed and somewhat tragic look in his eyes.
"Yes, you have." Xena agreed, "Now, save your soul and ..."
But it was too late.
Xena never expected it and he caught her completely off guard.
The warrior pulled a small but lethal dagger from a hidden scabbard under his tunic and plunged the blade deeply into his own chest.
He died without uttering another word.
The tradeship Akania picked up the slow winds toward his home, towards a place where there was nothing left for him. And yet he'd found himself right back where he'd started. Except for one thing.
"Iolaus..." Hercules whispered to himself. He turned his head towards the breeze, trying to shake the thought of his best friend.
Dahak, Hercules ... Watch out for Dahak.
Iolaus voice sounded in his head.
Dahak. Gilgamesh had told him of Dahak ... Too many lives had been lost to this demon-god. Too many innocents had been corrupted, too many friendships destroyed by it. And it would end. Hercules had thought when he left the strange countries he'd visited, that he'd never have to face Dahak again. By getting rid of Gilgamesh, he thought Dahak destroyed ... But something had gone wrong and he was being warned about Dahak yet again .... The sacrifice of a warrior's heart ...
Had Iolaus himself asked him what was wrong right then, he would've shrugged and said, " It's a half-god thing..." And the blonde warrior would've laughed, that little nutty giggle that Gabrielle found infectious and Xena found so irritating.
Hercules smiled. He hadn't thought about them in a long time... Xena ... Gabrielle...
He wondered how Gabrielle was, fighting along side Xena against the same type of gods he'd just defeated. Was Ares still giving them a run for their money?
Something was calling to him...The sacrifice of a warrior's heart ...
Not a voice, but a thought in his mind. "That half-god thing". He smiled. Something, too, he realized that he also hadn't done in a long time. He knew that memories like that would always warm his heart, but nothing could replace the emptiness he felt. Iolaus ....
"Land! Look! Greece!" He heard the trade ship crew yell. Hercules smiled, embittered. If they were that excited to get to Greece, then by the gods, they'd never been there before.
The shock of the warrior's attack and suicide was quickly overshadowed by Neuroticlese, who sought Xena. The clean up at Aphrodite's temple was taking longer than expected and he feared Hephestus was preparing another act of aggression. The God of the Forge wasn't convinced that Jenjus was long gone and he wanted to gain access or have the temple torn down.
Xena agreed to intervene, but not before she and Gabrielle had words.
"You were watching us? Spying on us?" Gabrielle couldn't hold back the contempt in her voice.
"What did you think we were going to do out there, Xena? You didn't think you could trust me to go for a walk without ...?"
Xena expected this. She told Gabrielle that she had spotted them, she and Iolaus, standing together by the lake and it disturbed her that he seemed to be hanging onto Gabrielle like some sort of emotional cure-all.
"I trusted you, Gabrielle, but Iolaus has always been easily led by his hormones ... and his heart. He's hurting right now. I didn't know if ..."
"That is so unfair, Xena! Iolaus is a strong and honorable man. Just because he's been through some bad times doesn't mean he's gone to pieces. Besides, he would never hurt or take advantage of me."
"You;re right." she relented, "I'm sorry."
"Apology accepted." Gabrielle almost smiled but she couldn't let her guard down yet because she knew what she was going to say next would only start another round of arguments.
"Xena ... Iolaus and I are going to marry."
Xena's eyes widened as she stared at Gabrielle.
"How could you possibly come to a decision like this so suddenly?" She asked.
"It's something I've been denying in myself, but I've loved him for so long, Xena, and ...."
"Gabrielle - you never see him!"
"That's how I know it must be real. How could I possibly have these feelings by just suddenly seeing him again? I've always felt giddy but comfortable around Iolaus. We've always shared an affection. But this time ... Oh Xena, I've never felt this way before."
"And you're sure he feels the same way? It's not just a crisis he's going through because of his break up with Hercules?"
"I just want to be certain you're both not making a bad mistake, Gabrielle. If this is what I suspect it is then Iolaus can eventually shake his misery off. But if you two marry and he suddenly decides he liked the days when he was single and women fell at his feet ... If he were to hurt you ..."
She didn't need to finish the sentence. Gabrielle knew what Xena would do if she ever caught word that Iolaus had crushed little Gabrielle's heart. Xena would have to kill him. Sometimes an irrational protectiveness still pumped, along with fire-blood, in those warrior veins.
"We're in love, Xena. Nothing like that is going to happen. Besides, I think I can be woman enough for Iolaus."
Xena sighed, understanding that Gabrielle suddenly felt as if she was being personally attacked. "I'm sure you are, Gabrielle. But is Iolaus the faithful husband type?"
"Yes, he is and don't patronize me!" Gabrielle gritted her teeth, furious with Xena's unwavering suspicions. "Why don't you want us to be happy? Why is the thought of Iolaus and I marrying so repugnant to you?" Then she exploded, "Is it because he was once yours, although you never appreciated him, and you don't want to see me pick up where you failed?"
"Gabrielle." Xena, stricken, looked at her friend with open-mouthed puzzlement. Where was this coming from? "I do want to see you happy."
She moved forward to place a hand on her friend's arm, "I just --."
Xena was further shocked when Gabrielle pulled angrily away.
"Iolaus said you might react this way."
"Did he, now?" Xena’s suspicions glowed red hot once more.
The ship docked and the traders scrambled off to overcrowd the streets to the market stands. Hercules took a deep breath and took his first step back onto the most familiar territory in his life. His home.
"Hercules!" Salmoneus shouted, hurrying over to him. He was bright, cheerful and held a small bundle in his hands. He also looked anxious.
That usually meant only one thing.
"Salmoneus, I am not buying anything from you and I'm not going to lend my name to your next venture!"
"Okay, okay! I was just going to say welcome home and ..." He paused, unsure how to continue, "Well, the villagers say you've been gone a long time. Say, where's blondie?" He looked about as if the absence had confirmed something in his mind, "Hercules, I heard you guys split up over some woman who's practically a goddess..."
Hercules rolled his eyes, suddenly eager to step back onto the trade ship.
"Look, Salmoneus, I'll talk to you later, I have to find someone."
"Really? Who? Is she cute?"
"Is she cute..." Hercules echoed sarcastically and shook his head. The voice his conscience had recently taken on was heeding him. He walked on, leaving Salmoneus without a clue.
"Well? Is she?" Salmoneus followed Hercules like a puppy might his master.
"It's not just a woman ..." He corrected himself, "I mean, yes .... It's Xena!"
Salmoneus suddenly stopped walking, his expression impassive and his body language tense.
"Salmoneus?" Hercules turned and stared at his friend, concerned over the unexpected change of character. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"Nothing really wrong, but ..." he looked down at the ground then up again at Hercules, a flash a fear on his face. "I'm here for a reason, Hercules. I had a dream a few days ago ... A voice told me that you would be here, at this dock, and I should meet with you ... to take you to Xena."
"You know where she is?"
"I know because the voice told me. I've made a map."
"Salmoneus, that makes no sense."
"I know! I thought I was just having an incredibly detailed dream or had gone nuts -- but it seemed right to come here and the directions given to me just wouldn't fade away, so I wrote them into a map and ...."
The entrepreneur paused, knowing what he was about to tell Hercules was even more bizarre than what was already said.
"I think the person talking to me was Iolaus. That's one reason I wanted to know where he is."
Stunned, Hercules could only stare at Salmoneus. He had heard from Iolaus too .... "He's dead."
"What? Did you say dead?"
Salmoneus gulped and his voice quivered. "I know I should be asking for details and I probably will when I get over the shock -- but right now I'm inclined to give this to you."
He placed a sealed parchment pouch into Hercules' hand.
"A messenger was here to greet me when I arrived, and said to give this to you as soon as I saw you."
"Messenger? From where?"
"I don't know. He left fast and didn't tell me and, no, I didn't ask. This whole thing has sort of freaked me out, Hercules. And now you tell me Iolaus is dead --"
He shivered as his voice faded, "Just read it and let's get out of here."
Unsure and eyeing Salmoneus incredulously, Hercules tore open the parchment and caught the stone and leather string as it fell from the envelope.
Iolaus' broken amulet.
Hercules - overwhelmed - his heart beating like that of a marathon runner - clutched it in his hand, almost as if the dark stone were sacred. And, in a sense, it was.
"What's that?" Salmoneus asked, then it dawned on him and he watched Hercules, worried. "My gods ... What's going on here?" he whispered.
Hercules then lifted the parchment and read:
Iolaus is missing! I can't explain it. His body has disappeared. We were
preparing to entomb him when my ministers informed me that his body
was no where to be found. Who could have taken it? I fear something
strange and other-worldly has happened, Hercules, but I don't know
where to find answers.
Perhaps you can -- and Iolaus amulet is a good start. I don't know how I know...but it is a key of some sort ... And it's yours. I
know you gave it to me with all of the best intentions but, Hercules, it
belongs to you. Iolaus would want you to have it and - I don't quite know
how to explain it - he told me to send it to you. In my dreams I see him
sometimes and last time he reached out to me and told me you needed it.
How, I asked him, can I do this? I don't even know where you are as I
write this, Hercules, although I have heard reports that my ship was
spotted wrecked just outside of Britannia. Then, Iolaus said the name
'Salmoneus' and gave directions. I can only hope this will reach you in time. I fear something unspeakably awful is on the horizon.
One more thing, I cannot find the other half of the broken amulet. It's as
if it too has disappeared off the face of the earth. I feel this all ties
together in some strange way so please look into matters, Hercules.
Please take care and ... be a hero. Be Hercules.
Iolaus is missing! I can't explain it. His body has disappeared. We were preparing to entomb him when my ministers informed me that his body was no where to be found. Who could have taken it? I fear something strange and other-worldly has happened, Hercules, but I don't know where to find answers.
Perhaps you can -- and Iolaus amulet is a good start. I don't know how I know...but it is a key of some sort ... And it's yours. I know you gave it to me with all of the best intentions but, Hercules, it belongs to you. Iolaus would want you to have it and - I don't quite know how to explain it - he told me to send it to you. In my dreams I see him sometimes and last time he reached out to me and told me you needed it. How, I asked him, can I do this? I don't even know where you are as I write this, Hercules, although I have heard reports that my ship was spotted wrecked just outside of Britannia. Then, Iolaus said the name 'Salmoneus' and gave directions. I can only hope this will reach you in time. I fear something unspeakably awful is on the horizon. One more thing, I cannot find the other half of the broken amulet. It's as if it too has disappeared off the face of the earth. I feel this all ties together in some strange way so please look into matters, Hercules. Please take care and ... be a hero. Be Hercules.
Physical contact was important to these humans, he discovered. The touching and kissing of companions spoke of an intimacy he neither understood or appreciated but, to keep the charade going, Dahak took the required steps to convince Gabrielle of Iolaus' earnestness. Yet, she pulled away from him this time, uncertain and somewhat disturbed.
"I have to talk with her. I said some things ... " she murmured.
"She's a big girl, Gabrielle. I really wouldn't worry about her."
He tried to keep the impatience out of his tone. These mortals, Greeks especially, were far more complex than he had been led to believe. They never seemed to take things at face value. They were always searching for a deeper meaning, a more complex emotion. A hidden secret.
Gently, Gabrielle pushed herself away from him. This just did not seem like the man she had had a crush on for all these years. The Iolaus she knew would normally encourage her, tell her to make amends. Yet, now he appeared bitter and changed. Much of it had to do with how he and Hercules parted, she was sure, but there were other things - a general disposition that made Iolaus seem somehow - wrong.
Sensing her uncertainty, he came up behind Gabrielle and placed what he expected were reassuring hands on her shoulders. He could feel the tense muscles in her shoulders and decided he needed to remedy this hindrance quickly.
"Gabrielle, I have something for you."
She turned to look at him, unsure. "Something for me?"
"I know it's proper to give your fiancee a token .. a ring, or a trinket ... as an engagement gift. But I only have one material thing that I hold dear, and right now it's not worth the stone it was carved from. But still ..."
He removed it from a pocket on the inside of his vest.
"Iolaus!" Gabrielle gasped, her eyes growing wide.
It was the broken piece of his father's amulet.
"I'm afraid it's all I have left, the larger half having gotten lost during ..."
Dahak paused and reconsidered what he was about to tell her.
"But you know how I feel about it and ..." He put it in her outstretched hands, holding them gently, "... I hope you'll take it from me as an example of our eternal love."
Gods, sometimes he could be such a poet. With a grateful sob and acutely embarrassed by earlier doubts, Gabrielle jumped forward. She put her arms around him and held the man she loved as closely as she could. "Iolaus ..."
Dahak smiled over her shoulder. No doubts now, he thought, but there was no sense in taking a chance.
"I also understand about Xena ...." he said softly.
She pulled back to look into his eyes, brushing her own tears away with trembling fingers.
"You need to set matters right with her before the wedding. It's important to you." He smiled warmly. "I'm sorry if I've caused trouble between you two. I haven't been myself since -- well, you know. I suppose the term "best friend" sticks in my throat. But that's no reason why you and Xena should part on bad terms. She's a good woman. Go find her and make up. I'll be waiting for you here when you return."
Her heart felt heavy and Gabrielle was warmed by his tenderness. She leaned forward to place a gentle kiss on his cheek, "Thank you, Iolaus. I won't be long. Maybe I'll return with Xena and we three can travel to Athens together? I so want her in the wedding."
She smiled. Everything was going to be fine.
"Of course!" he chuckled and let her go. Then, when Gabrielle turned and began to walk, his expression cooled and an eyebrow raised, "No fears young one," he whispered, "but she won't be at the wedding. And you'll be back here very shortly. It won't take that long to witness your friend's death."
He watched her move off and make a sharp turn on the pebble strewn path that led to the temple of Aphrodite. When she disappeared from sight, Dahak allowed himself the unique luxury of relaxation. Matters were progressing smoothly, despite the girl's reluctance to step blindly into a future with the man she thought she loved. He smiled arrogantly. Just let him work on her a little longer and --
No sooner had Dahak let his mental defenses down than Iolaus made his presence known. He could feel the human's thoughts crawling inside of his brain, likes flies on carrion.
You won't get away with this! Hercules will stop you!
"He can do nothing! He isn't even in Greece!"
Leave Xena and Gabrielle alone. You've already put them through enough!
"Ah, you've been reading my thoughts, have you? You don't know the half of it ..."
I'll make you stop...I have to warn...
A burning sensation overcame Dahak. He could feel it in his head and chest -- then something totally unexpected took place. By sheer will alone Iolaus was able to break through the god's control of his body, mind and soul. The hunter looked down at his hands, realizing they were a part of his own anatomy, in shock. Then, as full understanding of the extraordinary moment dawned on him, Iolaus lifted his head and attempted to cry out Gabrielle's name. He hoped and prayed she hadn't moved too far away. Iolaus suspected his control wouldn't last long and he was right. The burning returned.
In sudden pain he fell to his knees and sobbed for air - Nooo! Iolaus screamed, but it didn't come from his mouth. It was in his head.
With an effort, Dahak got to his feet and exhaled. With nearly all of his might , he exerted control yet again. How did he do that? How was it possible? Iolaus was only a mortal! He was Dahak, the invincible god - ruler of all - and he wouldn't allow it to happen again.
Dahak suddenly tensed.
Xena approached him from behind.
"Gabrielle has gone off to look for you." He told her, genuinely startled, his voice quivering ever so slightly. The woman was supposed to be near Aphrodite's temple. That was where he'd seen her go, and that was where he told his men, who had managed to acquire reinforcements, to be stationed. Xena would die this time. There would be no questions and no mistakes.
"I'll be leaving in a minute, but I really want to talk with you, Iolaus. Now that Gabrielle isn't here, I think this is the perfect time."
He turned to look at her. At least she hadn't witnessed his take-over by the human or suspected anything was amiss. Dahak visibly relaxed.
Troubled, Xena spoke lowly, yet articulately, "You have to try to understand how I feel. You come here, after a bad experience with Hercules and suddenly decide you're in love with Gabrielle. For some strange reason she suddenly decides that she is also in love with you and you two plan on running away together. And were not talking a quick fling - It's marriage! A lifetime commitment!"
"We wouldn't want it any other way." he said almost too casually.
She watched him, scrutinizing his mood.
"Look, it's commendable. I'll say that. You two want each other and you're willing to do right by Gabrielle. But I know you, Iolaus. I know how quickly you fall in and out of love. I've seen it."
"You've experienced it." There was quite nearly a smile on his face.
Xena inwardly recoiled. He didn't seem visibly upset, but there was a vindictiveness present. Iolaus almost seemed cruelly amused at her expense, as if he enjoyed seeing her squirm. That was -- weird. She had hurt him badly and Iolaus never quite forgave Xena for it, but that was in the past. After The Warrior Princess' change from bad to good, when matters had been settled, neither spoke of it again. So much had happened and their history together was almost an insignificant footnote in two rather bizarre and active lives.
"I wish I could say I approve of this I but I just can't." Xena looked down at her leather booted feet, "I'm sorry, Iolaus."
"You love Gabrielle and are protective of her. That's expected. But, it doesn't matter whether you give us a blessing or not, Xena. Gabrielle is not a child. She has her own mind, as do I."
Xena turned to move away, not looking at him. "If you hurt her, you'll have to answer to me, Iolaus."
"I'll keep that in mind. But Xena," His tone turned deadly cold, "Don't mess with me. I warn you."
She stopped short and slowly raised her eyes to look at him, "Are you threatening me, Iolaus?" she asked, the inquiring anger and amazement barely concealed.
"If that's what it takes. Yes, I am. You will not interfere -- Gabrielle is mine now, Xena."
The last sentence was said in a voice that did not sound at all like Iolaus. And there was something so wicked, frightening and familiar about that last comment.
Xena could feel her blood grow cold.
Salmoneus left him at the crossroads between Taterus and Athens. He told Hercules he had a lucrative deal going down in a nearby village and if he didn't act fast, some other wily entrepreneur might take the plunge before he was able to even eye the merchandise.
Hercules told him he understood. Salmoneus had already gone far beyond the call of duty, traveling this far with the sullen hero. They shook hands and Hercules waved a not so cheery farewell.
He wished he could have been better company but coming back to Greece, walking by many of the very scenic spots where he and Iolaus traveled before had been painful. Everything reminded him of his lost companion. The trees, grass and lakes. Even the wind. But there had to be a reason for all of this. Why did Iolaus, if it really was Iolaus, call out to him from beyond? Was it really him or were there darker forces at work here?
Maybe Xena did have answers. Everything seemed to point to her. Iolaus wanted him to go to her, Salmoneus had given him directions and even Nebula ...
You're doing fine, Hercules ... Don't ponder it. Just do it ... and hurry, son.
But this time it wasn't Iolaus urging him forward, but another voice.
It had been awhile since Hercules heard from Zeus.
"By the gods! Stop this!"
Neuroticlese cried as he watched the soldiers of Hephestus' army and other warriors, he did not no where from, battle each other in front of Aphrodite's temple. The warriors, Dahak's minions, had been hiding - waiting for Xena - but saw Gabrielle first. This confused some and, unsure, they allowed themselves to be discovered by the bard.
Gabrielle instantly recognized the men from their attack of she and Xena outside of the village. She didn't know what to think but they were obviously looking for someone. The bard could only assume it was Xena. Especially when she considered that the young assassin who killed himself referred to Dahak by name. These were quite obviously followers of the demon god in warrior disguises -- and they were here for reasons she could not even fathom. Then, when Gabrielle saw the soldiers - Hephestus men - walk into the temple courtyard she knew there was only one thing to do. These men, warriors and followers, had to meet and she would be the instigator.
"Look!" She cried, as if informing the Dahak followers of a miscarriage of justice, "It's Hephestus' soldiers. They've come to take Aphrodite's temple. Do you know what you're being paid for?"
This was enough for the Hephestus entourage. Prince Jenjus had evidently sent for reinforcements. Paid thugs. Warriors to do battle with over what Hephestus considered a grand undertaking -- the claiming of his love goddess and her temple.
The battle began and Gabrielle quickly skirted out of the way. She would feel guilt about this later, placing men in danger, but - after all - they did start it by attacking she and Xena, clearly meaning to kill them in the first place, right?
"Please, it's blasphemy! Do not sully this temple by your unthinking actions!" Neuroticlese cried.
But it was already too late.
Men were fighting, throwing fists and clashing swords before his last few words were uttered.
Xena appeared shortly thereafter, watching the scene with amused interest and a little confusion. Unexpectedly, one of Dahak's men spotted The Warrior Princess and ran at her, the woman's murder clearly on his list of things to do that day. Xena drew her sword and they collided into battle.
That was when all Tartarus broke loose.
A Hephestian soldier suddenly came after Gabrielle who lifted her staff. She battled the brute the best she could.
Hercules, never expecting to see such a sight - the battle of warriors in front of his half sister's temple - walked into the square. Puzzled, but quickly adapting, he watched all that was happening, noticing both Xena and Gabrielle, and knowing his help was needed. He fought all who attacked him, not really certain who were the bad guys and good.
Then Dahak, in his guise of Iolaus, moved into the circle. Unsmiling, fists clenched by his sides, he walked to the temple steps and turned to watch all that was happening around him. His followers were battling the warriors of another god - a Greek god. An insignificant entity that had no meaning, especially when one considered Dahak would eventually be the master of them all. He had destroyed the Sumerian gods and the Druids. He would do the same to the Greeks -- but they had to know what they were facing first. He was Dahak - the all powerful God!
His human blood boiled as he watched them -- punching with their hands, swords drawn and clashing. A battle without Dahak as the focus. This could not be tolerated. Men cursing one another and wanting blood but not in his name -- Did they not understanding what was at stake?
Dahak suddenly wanted it done. This thought overcame him at the exact same moment Hercules spotted him, as he watched over the violent scene -- not helping or hindering. Their eyes met between the falling bodies and clashing armor. The look on the half mortal's face was unmistakable. Shock, coupled with - what? Longing? He saw Hercules mouth the name of his friend - `Iolaus' - in a question, as he deflected the blow of a warrior.
Then Dahak lifted his hands and smiled, not in greeting but in resolution and domination.
He would kill them all.
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