“There’s only one way that could happen again.” Xena said in Hercules’ ear so she didn’t have to shout, “And that’s if a god interrupted the balance to open it.”
“Dahak.” Hercules whispered, “He caused it. Are you telling me even though he’s dead, our worlds are -”
“Unbalanced!” Gabrielle yelled in Xena’s other ear.
Xena stepped back and turned to glared at her.
“Gabrielle! Don’t ever do that again! And what are you doing here? I told you to stay away from the village!”
“Xena, you know me!” Gabrielle yelled, “I never stay put! You can take a girl out of the village, but you can’t take the village out of the girl!”
Gabrielle’s neurotic wit was lost in the rumble of thunder as the vortex widened in it’s blue-lighted glory.
“What are you going to do?” Xena asked as Hercules braved the wind to step forward from behind the wrecked house.
“We have to find out what’s going on over there, Xena. And I’m going.”
Xena jumped ahead of him. Hercules raised a brow. She could even do a flip in a storm like this!
“Not without me.”
“And me!” Gabrielle said, her grip tightening on her staff as the wind’s currents challenged her to let go.
“NO!” Xena and Hercules shouted together. They saw where the path turned and headed towards the faint blue light the gateway to the other world gave off.
“Quick, before it closes!” Hercules shouted. The two warriors gripped hands and Gabrielle ran after them definantly.
She stopped short as they hurled themselves into the blue abyss, and the wind wouldn’t let her go forward. Something was pulling her backwards, like a strong arm, not letting her cross.
Iolaus held his ground, not letting her travel into the vortex with the other two. As the vortex began to shrink, Zarathustra tried to pull Iolaus away.
“No! We can’t leave her here! She’ll just jump in after us - Zarathustra that world - it’s too dangerous for her to go into anymore. I’m not letting her cross!”
“Iolaus, this is your last chance! Show them that you can succeed in what they’ve laid out for you! Gabrielle has her own destinies to fill, you can’t stop her fate, just like your best friend couldn’t stop your own from being fullfilled. Let her go!”
“Gods, Gabrielle, I’m sorry.” Iolaus whispered as he left her standing there.
Gabrielle felt the resistence release her and she ran a few feet, placed her staff on the ground and ran full-force toward the blue funnel. All she could see was the white light, which blinded her view anyway. She heard several voices, Xena’s, Hercules’, and ...Iolaus, too?
“Iolaus?” Gabrielle asked, her voice soft despite the feeling that she was yelling as loud as she could. The name echoed throughout the cavern-like tunnel as she and the other warriors plunged through and landed hard in the middle of a green-patched wooded area.
There was silence as they all got up, brushed themselves off, and stared at one another. Xena looked around where they’d fallen. She’d lost her chakrum. Unaware of the look on his face when she did it, she placed her hand firmly over Hercules’ and the two walked to where Gabrielle had fallen.
“Oh, by the gods...” Gabrielle managed, getting up with the help of Hercules’ free hand.
“You okay?” He asked, gently laying a hand on her shoulder.
“Yeah. It’s just that, back there, in that place, I heard you, but I also heard Iolaus.”
Hercules shook his head and looked over at Xena in concern.
“It wasn’t my imagination, Hercules. I heard him when I called his name. It was like...I could feel his presence around me.”
“This is getting too...weird.” Herc declared and Xena managed a weak smile for him.
“Well, let’s see where we uh - landed.” Gabrielle said, starting out on a curving path. The sun was warm and it gave a little reassurance to the threesome. Maybe things would work out after all. They had to find out what Ares was doing there. And soon.
“Zarathustra, should we follow them?” Iolaus asked, watching Gabrielle walk away.
The three immediately turned at the sound of his voice.
“Iolaus?” Gabrielle asked. Hercules and Xena stood beside her.
“You can hear me?” Iolaus asked. Zarathustra dropped his staff in shock.
“It’s this other world...” He whispered.
“Zarathustra...” Hercules said softly in return.
Slowly, Xena watched as the outline of a smaller warrior began to trace itself in the air. Softly, the image became clearer, as did the other man beside him...
“Iolaus...” Xena said, barely audible.
He smiled in relief. His friends could see him.
“What are you doing here?” Hercules asked.
“That’s how you greet me?”
The two embraced each other a half-second later.
“I thought we’d never get a chance again.” Hercules said, letting his friend go.
“I told you I’d see you around, buddy.” Iolaus replied.
Zarathustra picked up his staff and looked up at the sky, as if he was speaking to some invisible power.
“Well, Iolaus,” he began, “it looks like they’ve let you join your friends for an adventure after, all.”
Gabrielle tried to hide her tears, but failed. Her arms wrapped around Iolaus and he held her, listening to her cry.
“Gabrielle, I knew we’d get a chance to -”
Iolaus leaned closer to her, and Hercules sighed. Xena almost laughed as she glance knowingly at the hero.
Gabrielle noticed the exchange of looks that Xena and Herc were having, and pulled herself reluctantly from Iolaus’ gentle grasp.
“If you’re really able to be here now for us,” she said, “Then let’s not waste a minute.”
Iolaus smiled at Zarathustra.
“You always seem to get your way with even the highest of powers, don’t you?” He asked the hunter.
The blonde warrior grinned again.
“Let the games begin.” He said.
THE WIND CARRIES YOU
THE WIND CARRIES YOU
He looked up at her. For the first time, she noticed the sort of glow that surrounded him, a warmth of some kind. He smiled at her, waiting for her to continue.
"What is it, Gabrielle?" He offered when she didn't speak. She hesitated, suddenly not able to think of her question.
"Um...nevermind. It was about how they let you come back to help us."
"Actually, I don't understand it at all myself. Zarathustra's taught me so much about what I can do now, and all the things ahead of me, but I just feel so...empty, Gabrielle. He can't answer what I'm looking for."
She leaned on her staff for a second or two, gazing into his eyes. "And just what are you looking for, Iolaus?" He leaned closer to her, and for a moment she actually thought he was going to kiss her, but he turned abruptly and looked up towards the hills ahead of them.
"Uh, we'd better catch up with them. They're going to start wondering what happened to us." Dissapointed, Gabrielle nodded and they quickened their pace to catch up with Xena and Hercules.
"So you're telling me that if Ares can't kill Zeus in our world, he'll come and do it here?" Xena asked Hercules, shaking her head. "This is getting old. Can't he just get a life?"
Gabrielle laughed at the uncharacteristic remark Xena had made. When she and Hercules teamed up together, her friend seemed so much happier, filled with so much more warmth than without him. Gabrielle had often wondered if the two would ever fall in love again, or whether they'd fallen out of love with each other at all.
"I don't know, Xena, but you make a good point," Iolaus said, now walking beside her. "Zarathustra said that in this place, Zeus is - "
"A little nuts." Hercules supplied, "Like father, like son, I guess. Look, Gabrielle, Xena...I have to tell you all something about this world. There's one of us - each of us - in this world. We've got to try to stay together no matter what. Let's try our best not to run into our - other selves - okay?"
The three nodded. Xena looked up ahead. "What is that?" She asked.
A white stone temple, adorned with statues and flowers, stood in the distance ahead of them. Hercules sighed in thought.
"Ares is God Of Love in this world, and that's where his temple stood where we're from, so..."
"Let's pay him a visit. Maybe he can get us all to Mount Olympus." Gabrielle said, starting ahead of them. They were greeted by music and seated on plush red pillows with flower petals strewn all over. Servants of the God Of Love offered them wine and threw flower petals over them. Xena was picking some daisies out of her hair, mildly annoyed, when he appeared in a shower of rose petals and pink smoke.
"...Ares?" She asked, trying very hard not to fall into the laughter she knew was building up inside her.
"The great Xena." He replied, straightening the collar of his white and gold-lined vest.
"We've come to stop the Ares from our world from killing your Zeus." Hercules said, getting the problem out of the way first.
"I know. Our worlds are still unbalanced, dispite the death of Dahak, am I right?" Ares lowered his head as a servant put a ring of flowers around his neck and kissed him on the cheek. She giggled when he smiled at her and returned to where the others were on the other side of the temple.
"How can you be so casual when there may be no tomorrow?" Gabrielle asked in disbelief.
He shrugged. "If that's to be, then it'll happen. Where is the love in this room, Gabrielle? Your soulmate stands before you, yet you've got nothing going on! Just relax, it'll all work out in the end."
Gabrielle blushed and glanced at Iolaus, who was fighting the urge to laugh. "We need your help." She said honestly, putting her staff down on one of the pillows. He smiled and turned to them.
"What can I do for you that Iolaus can't?" He asked. They all looked at the hunter, who shrugged.
"Can you get us to Olympus, as soon as possible?" Xena finally asked.
"Can do." He said, snapping his fingers. In what seemed like no time had passed at all, the four found themselves on a path with perfect sunlight shining, and a great set of stone steps before them. "That's all the fates will allow me to do for you. And remember," Ares said, "Keep the love."
"Gods, I thought he'd never leave." Xena said in a huff, only breaking into a smile when she heard Iolaus' familiar boyish giggle behind her.
"Iolaus, what did Ares mean when he said, 'What could I do that Iolaus can't do already?'" Gabrielle asked quietly. He sighed.
"I have...certain powers, I guess, Gabrielle, but Zarathustra hasn't taught me anything about them yet. I mean, I imagine their similiar to the powers of the Greek Gods, but Zarathustra wouldn't tell me. He said I'm not ready yet for the discovery of what I can do."
"Oh. But maybe he wanted you to discover them yourself. He wouldn't let you come on a mission like this, with your friends, not expecting you to try and learn about them."
He nodded and smiled at her. "You always do that." He said.
She stopped and held the staff in the crook of her arm. "What?"
"You always manage to turn things around and put them into a perspective that...that just makes sense. I've never known anyone else that could do that with words." Gabrielle knew as she drew closer to him that they shouldn't have been doing what they were about to do, that when this was all over, he'd be gone again. Still, as his lips met hers, and she felt the warmth he'd always brought to her with his kiss, she thought that maybe it was meant to be. For just a little while, they could be together. He pulled her closer, and she nearly forgot the fact that Xena and Hercules where almost to the stone doors of the great structure, waiting for them.
They parted, and Iolaus cleared his throat and looked up at Hercules and Xena. "They're um...waiting for us."
"I know. Let's go." Gabrielle said. "Iolaus, about those powers...I think you just discovered one of them."
"We've been through this before, Ares. You know Hercules always wins."
"NOT...this time." Ares growled, making a fist around one of the stone carved dragons that adorned the throne of his temple.
"Let's go. We have to get there before they reach Olympus in the other world."
In a flash of silver light, the two deities where gone.
"How insane, exactly, is he?" Iolaus asked, catching up to question his best friend.
Hercules shook his head. "I don't really know. You said - the other Iolaus - said that he's pretty much out of his mind. He still rules Olympus, he just has those who help him."
"Am I one of them?" Gabrielle asked. Iolaus shook his head.
"Sorry to tell you this, Gabrielle, but...you're the executioner." Gabrielle winced.
"Don't feel bad," Xena said, "Hercules just informed me that I'm the Sovereign's mistress."
Gabrielle shivered. "By the gods, I hope there's not another world like this somewhere. Who knows, I may be Discord in another dimension." Iolaus laughed.
"Gabrielle, that's just not possible."
"Here we go." Hercules said, quieting down the group. He soundlessly opened up one of the monstrous doors. It was almost completely dark inside, with just a few torches lit here and there in the great room. A long hall extended away from the back walls of the room, which most likely lead to the throne room. It looked exactly like the place where Hercules had once met with his father, and where he decided to see what it would be like to rule as a god. It had been hard enough to save his father from Ares in his own world - how was he going to do it again, here?
"Looks pretty quiet to me." Iolaus whispered.
"Can I help you?" A young blonde woman asked, dressed in a light blue flowing robe and gold sandals. She looked so familiar to Gabrielle, but she just couldn't place her.
"Ephiny?" Xena asked in disbelief.
"Yes?" Ephiny's other world-opposite asked.
"We have to warn the king about something."
"You're from that other world, aren't you? Ares, God Of Love, informed us that you'd be coming. I assure you, we're well prepared for combat with your Ares."
"I don't know about that," Ares said, appearing before them.
Ephiny wrinkled her nose in distaste. "Blecch, Ares, basic black?"
Ares raised a hand and blasted the helpless servant of the gods across the hall, knocking her unconscious.
"Welcome back." Hercules said, stepping forward ahead of Iolaus.
"Hercules, wait!" Iolaus said, but Hercules blocked him. "Stay back, Iolaus."
Iolaus shook his head. "Herc, I can't die again, remember?"
Hercules lowered his hand and looked down at Iolaus' comical expression. "Oh, yeah...forgot."
A bolt of power thrown from Ares' right hand blasted the two backwards. "He's worse than I remembered," Iolaus shouted above the noise from the explosion, "It's almost like he's more powerful in this world than in our own!"
"Who knows," Xena said, readying her chakrum and looking above at the carvings in the ceiling, then back down at Ares, "He may be just that. Duck, I have an idea." But Ares was too fast for her, and knew how she thought. He vanished and reappeared next to her just as the chakrum flew out of her hand.
"Nice one," He said, actually handing the chakrum back to her, "Did I teach you that?" His sarcastic question, to Xena, was a cue to finish the job. She swung around, a rightleg kick knocking him to the ground.
"CHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIA!" Her warrior cry filled the hall as a backwards flip landed her above the room on a small ledge carved out of the top two doors.
Ares blasted the stone below her feet and sent her plummeting to the ground. Iolaus turned in horror to see her dropping quickly to where Ares had more in store for her.
"XENA!" He shouted, rushing towards her, expecting to be able to catch her before she hit the hard floor. He turned to shout for help from Hercules, who was now in battle with his half brother. He held his arms out, ready for the impact she would bring upon him, when his hands began to glow and force him to point upwards at her. Ares stopped to watch as Xena gently landed on her feet just ahead of Iolaus. The glow disappeared and Iolaus was left to stare, astonished at his hands, turning them over and over, in search of explanation.
"Iolaus...I think you've found another one of those powers..." Gabrielle said, breathless.
"By the gods..." Xena almost whispered.
"You're outmatched, Ares, admit it." Hercules said, not afraid to approach the god.
"You're wrong about that, brother, I - "
"Half brother, Ares." Hercules reminded him. "Go back to Olympus. There's nothing for you here. You know you can't win."
Ares growled angrily and shook his head. "I'll be back. And when I am, even your, shall we say, - enlightened friend - won't be able to help you."
"Is she..." Gabrielle began, letting her staff fall to the ground. Hercules stood ready, half-expecting Ares to reappear. He glanced at Xena, who'd already stopped waiting.
"He's a coward..." She said, shaking her head, "He's even afraid of..." She noticed Iolaus was still frozen in the spot where he'd 'caught" her, staring up at the ledge where she'd fallen.
"Xena, help me with Ephiny." Hercules put a hand on her shoulder. She nodded, knowing full well that he could carry the Amazon - or whoever she was in this world - by himself. She leaned down to give him their patient's diagnosis.
"She'll be all right. We should find someone or somewhere to keep her safe for now." She looked up at Hercules as he lifted her off the cold stone floor, "She's lucky...I know what he might've had in mind for her."
"What do you mean?" Gabrielle asked, although she probably knew the answer.
"He didn't kill her, Gabrielle. It could mean something."
"...That he's saving every possible last ounce of energy to reappear here." Iolaus spoke up, coming towards them. Hercules nodded and gestured to Xena to follow him. He was just about to tell the others to come, but Xena quickly reached for him.
"Not yet...let Gabrielle talk to him. Come on, we'll find a room for her until we can straighten out this mess with Ares."
He smiled back at her, starting up a long flight of ivory colored steps. "Of course. Besides, taking Ephiny with us would only slow us down. We have to find Zeus here before Ares does."
"Iolaus?" She asked, approaching him, immediately feeling the warmth that surrounded him closely.
"Gabrielle...I don't even know what I'm capable of. How can I be any used to you and Herc - how am I supposed to stop Ares? I can't do it alone."
She smiled as if she knew everything in the world and looked into his eyes to reach him. "Iolaus, you've done it before, and you were mortal then. Nothing has changed so much that you can't do what you've always been able to. You're worse than I am! Give yourself a chance, will you?"
He faintly smiled and shook his head. "You're asking me...to be mortal again, to think like I always did before, because that's all I really know, for now, anyway, right?"
"Yes." She softly answered, taking his other hand. He clasped it and led her further in the hall up the stairs where their friends had gone.
"Gabrielle," he turned to her, "I don't know how I'd do this without you."
The bard grinned. "Good, because I'm not that easy to get rid of. Come on, we've got a god to find."
"It's like they just all...got up and left, like the gods in our world did when Dahok came to Greece. Could Ares have trapped the gods in this world?"
"No, he's not powerful enough to do that." Iolaus answered Gabrielle quickly, walking slowly around the room, studying it. "There is no Dahok here." He said. Hercules knew not to question his friend's word for a second.
"There's only one god of darkness like him." Hercules replied.
"And only one of light." The hunter turned to them. "Maybe everyone just...fled, like Xena said. The balance of our two worlds was disrupted when Dahok took power. Maybe this world never recovered. Which means Zeus may not even be here."
Xena shook her head. "Oh, no, he's here, all right. Ares isn't smart enough to lead us on the wrong trail, even if he's getting help from other gods." Gabrielle mused at that, picking up her staff from the bed.
"Then let's search the entire place, top to bottom. Besides, if Zeus is as crazy as Hercules thinks he is here, he won't have enough sanity to realize somebody's trying to kill him." She stepped back and leaned against the far wall opposite the large floor-to-ceiling windows, resting her left foot up against the paneling. She pushed off of it a second or two later, saying, "Well, I hope Ephiny -" The paneling gave away, the three not being able to react fast enough to grab her from falling. "Xena!" She yelled, her voice fading fast.
"Gabrielle!" Iolaus shouted, immediately rushing towards the shaft. "Gabrielle!" He yelled again. His eyes grew wide at the empty silence that answered him. He squinted, trying to see how far down the passage way went, ancient black stone steps crumbling a few feet into what looked like a large cavern.
"Gabrielle!" She heard Hercules call faintly. "We're coming!" She stepped back an inch or two, wondering if she'd landed on a ledge or if the ground beyond her was solid.
"I'm here." Iolaus said, running to her. Xena and Hercules looked around the dark cave, wondering how much more crazy the day's events could become. The faint, almost nonexistent aura that surrounded him let her see his face, etched with concern for her.
"I'm okay. Maybe this is a good thing, Iolaus. Zeus may be trapped down here." He put a hand on either shoulder, Gabrielle sensing he was about to scold her like a child. That thought was dismissed when he smiled that warm, open smile that always comforted her.
"Gabrielle, I know this is the worst time, under the worst circumstances, but I don't know if I'll ever get another chance unless I tell you before I have to go..."
"What?" She asked, turning her staff in her other hand slowly.
"Gabrielle," She looked into his eyes. Whatever he was about to tell her was going to take a lot of strength for him. "I have to tell you, that no matter what happens to me, or you, or any of us, that I'll always be in lo - "
"It's like tartaurus down here." Xena interrupted, coming to them. Iolaus let his hands fall from the bard's shoulders, a sigh accompanying them. He'd come so close to telling her everything, that he regretted not seeing her more often, that he had the guts to fight the gods, yet couldn't tell a woman how he felt...
The Warrior Princess patted Gabrielle on the shoulder as she passed the two. "You had us all scared there for a minute." She stopped and looked around. The path that they'd taken and the light from the passage and back into the palace was gone. "Looks like another piece of planning from Ares."
"Anything to stop us, right?" Hercules asked, looking around for something they could possibly used to spark a fire and light their way. "Looks like the gods' own personal underground city. The best thing to do is split up. If Ares trapped the gods of this world down here, we'll find him better that way."
"Yes, sir." Xena said, picking up a stray piece of wood from the floor. Gabrielle was, despite the situation they were in, glad to see her and Hercules together again. He always seemed to bring out the sparkle, the beautiful side of her that had been ravaged by war, that she let few people see.
"Oh, I forgot." Hercules said, filling in the silence. He reached into the small leather pouch on his left side and lightly handed Iolaus the obsidian stone amulet that Nebula had given him last he saw her. "Nebula wanted me to keep this after I um...last saw you." He said uncomfortably. Iolaus gently turned it over in his hands, retying the leather that bound it and hanging it once again around his neck.
"Thanks, I thought I lost it for good after that. How is she...Nebula?" Hercules sighed, brushing his hair back.
"She's okay. She's ruling her kingdom now, although she says she does miss the high seas...and you." Iolaus nodded, smiling at the memories.
"I can remember pretty much everything from that day before we fought Dahok for the first time together. Herc, I thought I was falling in love with her."
Hercules glanced at Gabrielle searching for stones to spark the wood they'd found. "Are you?" He asked quietly. Iolaus shook his head.
"To tell you the truth, I don't know. There's always been this voice in my head, telling me there was someone I knew that I should be with."
"Gabrielle. Yeah, I knew that from the moment you met her. You two clung together every time you saw each other. Xena and I could tell something was happening between you."
Iolaus nodded, turning around to help the two women. "Come on, Herc. We've got a lot of work ahead of us. And I um...think that the tunnels off to the right may get us somewhere."
"Are those the voices you were telling me about?" Hercules teased. Iolaus rolled his eyes.
"Herc..." Iolaus took the piece of wood in his hands, running his fingers over the end of it. "Maybe if I can just..." He jumped back in surprise as the wood lit up unexpectedly in a blast of flames. He lowered his hand and the intensity of the flames immediately lessened. Iolaus look up at the three, grinning.
"I knew you'd figure it out." Xena said, lighting another piece of wood with the new torch. Scraps of armor, wood, and metal were strewn out across the floor of the cavern. "And whatever this place is, there were people down here at one time or another." She handed Gabrielle one of the torches and gave the other to Hercules.
"So, which tunnel do we take?" Hercules asked Iolaus. The hunter shook his head.
"I don't know...I think the ones to the right, like I said before, but now I think it would be best if we split up and searched as two teams." He pointed to the cave opposite Xena. "Come on, let's find Zeus before I light up something by accident."
CONTINUE THE JOURNEY!