As the Roman god shimmered out of sight, Xena reflected that it was probably not a very good idea to stay in the temple.
But where, she wondered, should she go? Running from a god was usually pointless unless one had a good idea of where to go to neutralize the bastard.
Then it occurred to her. The scroll of Zeus had instructed her to gather three items, but she had not done anything with them. Were they still at the altar near Olympus?
Xena was outside the temple and halfway down the mountain before she even realized it.
After procuring a suitable horse from a gang of bandits that had attacked her on the road, Xena rode west. The sun was low on the horizon when she met the hearald.
"Dead! Dead! The Empress of Rome is dead! Long live the Emporer!" he cried and started to pass her.
Xena grabbed the reigns of his horse and pulled him to a stop. He looked at her with wide eyes.
"I'm just the messenger, my lady," he protested.
"Yeah, I know. But how?"
"How?" demanded Xena. She looked at her hand. She'd grabbed the hearald's tunic. She forced herself to let go.
"Reports say she was slain by the god of war, Mars, himself," said the hearald in an awestruck voice. "Do you think he has elevated her to divinity?"
"No," said Xena woodenly. She clicked her tongue and the horse galloped off.
As the soft twilight descended a scream of rage and pain tore through the night.
After slitting the throat of Rome's champion, Mars exited the cave. Fists to his side, he ascended slowly into the skies and disappeared. A repeating question in his troubled mind: kill Xena first or first channel the power of the ckakram? Regardless of the answer, he was headed back to the temple.
The Roman god of war fell hard from the night clouds. His body hit the side of a steep bank and rolled to a stop near a small pond. 'Ares did this. No, Ares is dead. Maybe Ares faked his death, and did this to me. Jupiter summoned Ares to eliminate me. They both want the power of the chakram. Kel did tell them about the ritual, I should never have trusted him. I know he told them. He said he wanted the power for his own. Still he or someone told them.' His paranoid thoughts lulled him to sleep.
Now, he caught a glimpse of himself in the still waters. He used a dirty palm to block sunlight from his eyes. 'It's morning. Which morning? How long have I been lying here?' When he sat up, he noticed the blood on his left knee. "No! That can't happen to me!" Hadn't he killed Livia, the deliverer of the Twilight? Shouldn't his powers return now that she was dead?
In his mind's eye, he saw himself slay the Roman empiress as well as the old lady and the small man. What was dite's afro doing there? Wait, did he kill the old lady? Yes, no, was going to, wasn't sure. Chakram! He pounded his palms on either side until he found it. What was dite's afro doing there dressed so oddly? He held the chakram to his face, it sang to him. After a bit, he set it on his damaged knee.
His knee felt warm beneath the weapon. Not just warm- alive. So much debate in his head as he watched the chakram heal his leg. There were other hurt spots on the body of Mars. He placed the chakram on each, he felt the pain recede each time. Smiling, he let the edge of the round killing thing brush against his face where a cut and a large bruise had formed. These scars were soon removed. Laughing, he lifted the chakram the way a king would elevate a crown upon his head. Teetering upon his mass of hair, the metal piece did nothing to rid the sick god of the conflicting voices staking claim to his mind.
Kill Xena first or first channel the power of the chakram- again the choice beat down on him. "Split the chakram, get the power." Mars decided. "Let Jupiter, Juno, Mercury and Diana bow to me. I shall set their souls free. Ha ha ha. One god, only one Roman god needed and that's me. I'll be their twilight."
Standing proved to be difficult and whisking himself to the temple was impossible. The healing device could only do so much at a time, he assumed. 'Walk til I find a horse. Kill for the horse if I must. Kill I must, can't let anyone tell what they've seen.' To that end, Mars slit another throat for the need of a horse.
Iolaus noted the signs that a fight had occured in the Temple of the Chakram. Neither Xena nor Mars were anywhere in sight. The altar that had once contained both the chakram of light and dark was empty. He ran a finger alongside the near bottom of the altar. Something inside it pushed against the surface. If pressed to describe the what the push felt like, the man would have replied 'a snake from tartarus'.
'So', he thought. 'Xena has either eluded or killed Mars. If she were dead, he would be back here performing the ceremony. That ceremony will last an entire day and none of the priests Mars needs to assist him are here. They won't show up until he's called for them.' He cast aside the robe he brought with him. 'Doesn't feel like Mars is dead. No need to play a disruptive priest if Xena has escaped.'
The hero from Greece surveyed the grounds. Unbolted a window, in case he needed a quick escape. Beneath the window on the outside was a wide hammer attached to a long wooden handle. Iolaus laughed, shaking his head, letting out a "No, I can't do that. Can I?"
It was the most important decision he would make in his life. He brought the hammer into the temple. He stared at the altar for several minutes. "Screw it. It's time somebody did something to level the playing field." That said, the man both Xena and Aphrodite held high in their hearts lifted the heavy mallet and laid waste to the hearth of the chakram.
Hera had been correct. Two Indo-European gods, Dyé:s Pté:r and Westya, had created the hearth and the Temple of the Chakram years prior to the coming of the Titans. The chakram was meant to be a symbol of unity between gods of all pantheons and the evolving peoples of the earth. The Titans eventually nixed those plans, but that's another story.
The destruction of the chakram hearth unleashed a minor seismic event to those closely to remotely linked to a chakram created at the temple.
Aphrodite tumbled out of bed, smashing a box of chocolates beside the bed and falling through the floor onto some icky nightcrawlers. 'Xena or Curly or both' she assigned the cause of this quake. 'Let it wait til mornin', she moaned as she clean icky bugs off her.
On his way to Athens, the demi-god Hercules felt the ground shake then slid against a rocky slope to the right of the path. "Now what's this about?" he wondered, shaking away the dirt and pebbles. He noticed other travelers behind and ahead of him showed no signs of having had the earth move below them. So instead of heading on to the city, Hercules turned and walked briskly in the direction of the road that lead to Olympus.
Xena focused on her destination and paid no heed to the crevices opening on the ground near her.
Now miles away from the temple, Iolaus didn't realize he was only hours from catching up with Hercules- if he didn't bump into dite first.
The only other person on earth who expierenced the destruction of the altar was Mars, who had been cast off his horse not far from the temple. Clinging to the chakram, darting and sometimes crawling his way closer, the pain of near-mortality was excruciating. 'All over soon, good as new.' the god promised himself as he entered the darkened temple. He lit a torch and screamed at what he saw. Out of habit, he was rubbing the chakram over his injuries, letting it heal them all a bit at a time. There would be no supreme power now. The altar was down forever, the knowledge to fix it was not his.
"Damn you Xena. You will pay the ultimate price for this. You, then everyone you love. Didn't I kill mommy? No, but I will. Thought I did. I should have. I will. Maybe Ares will give me ambrosia. That could help. I know where ambrosia is without Ares help. Haven't seen Ares in awhile. He's conspiring with Xena. Xena you will die for this! Die!"
Later, he was able to whisk away to the cave where the old woman had been his captive. Mars, securing the chakram to his chest, feeling surges of power throughout his body, rested.
As Xena rode west toward Olympus a string of bodies marked her trail. Had she been thinking about it, she might have taken comfort in the fact that the 13 men and six women that littered they highways behind her were ruthless cutthroats. As it was she didn't care. All she knew was that they had been in her way and were trying to slow her down.
So when she saw smoke rising from the village up ahead, it was all she could do not to ride on through. Why bother trying to save these people? she said to herself. In another few years someother warlord or general or pissy god would just take them out. Why prolong the whole process? Were the marauders any worse than she had been? Any worse than Livia?
She was just passing through. Xena drew her sword and swung at a thug because he was acting as though he was going to interfere with her ability to get through the village as quickly as possible. And then she heard it.
A baby's cry competing with the terrified scream of a young woman--perhaps its mother. A ratty little man in chainmail was holding the mewling infant by it's ankle swinging it in an ever-widening arc. Two other men held the woman against her struggles and laughed openly as she begged them not to hurt the child.
Xena pulled hard on the reigns, somersaulted off her horse and plucked the baby from the not very secure grip of the ratty little man. With her free hand she smashed the child-tormentor's face. Drawing her fist back, she smote one of the pair holding the young woman. He went down without a whimper. The final thug pushed the woman away and Xena handed her the baby.
Staring at the thug Xena snarled, "Why don't you pick on someone your own size?"
About an hour later, Hercules came to the village. He noted the still smoking ruins of a few huts and the carefully stacked pile of bodies. He heard a familar voice calling out his name.
"Heya, big guy!"
"Iolaus! What happened here?"
"The village was attacked by a band of marauders and they just had the misfortune-the marauders, I mean--to be in Xena's path."
"You saw this?"
"Nah, I just got here," answered Iolaus. "But the villagers are all agog at the performance of a mysterious woman who came galloping into the village, killed fifteen raiders, then jumped back on her horse and galloped off. Only person I know with that kind of distracted focus at the moment is Xena."
"You know where she's heading?"
"Of course I do. The scroll Zeus and Hera gave her was a palimpsest."
Hercules stared at his friend. Iolaus grinned back.
"Yes, you were the star student, but I do remember some stuff from the Academy. I read between the lines."
"So, it wasn't just a ritual to protect a soul?"
Iolaus' grin grew even wider. "Nah, Xena didn't quite understand the implication when she read it as her past self. She ignored the older faded lines and focused on the fresh ones. I think she knows what it means now."
Hercules suddenly laughed. "The bad old Xena was right. It was going to take all of her life experience to use those ingredients properly."
In his troubled sleep Mars twitched. In a dream state he could roam the universe. His unconcious could seek out the warrior princess who had ruined his plans and humilated him so.
He awoke with a start and sat bolt upright. The chakram fell off his chest and he fumbled to catch it with his right hand. He wasn't quite sure where Xena was going, but he knew how he could search more quickly.
Mars staggered out of the cave into the night. He grasped the chakram in his right hand and threw it toward the west. As it left his right hand, he caught on to it with his left and hitched a ride.
A rough landing, but if he couldn't whoosh on his own at least he could use the power of the chakram to amplify his sapped powers.
"I bet Xena can't do that!" he crowed. "Now, if I could just find her."
Hera and Zeus watched from Olympus as Iolaus smashed the chakram altar with the hammer. The Supreme Greek god leaned towards his wife, marveling at how the corners of her eyes resembled smiles as she watched the golden man below.
"He would have made a fine god." Then noticing her husband studying her, "If Aphrodite had been in on our plan, she might now comment, 'Gotta love it when thingies fall in place'."
They enjoyed a laugh. Then Hera placed the scrolls in Zeus' hand. "I told you I had something to show you. The first scroll is a copy of the original I gave to Xena. The other is the older text copied separate to this parchment. It makes for a much cleaner read."
Zeus unfolded the scrolls. It was easy to see how the texts could be interpreted in different ways, by different people, considering what lines had faded where and other older lines remained near or atop newer ones. It was eerie how it had worked out, miscalculations along the way, then back on track of the original intent.
Thankfully the copied, older text was not written from the blood of a kidney of some false prophet as the original had been. As this writing related to nowadays: Xena represented the love of a mother outraged. It was Mars who wished her ill. Slaying Mars would not just exact revenge but open a door. A door to the age when all gods must leave man to his own devices. If nothing else did, this might give the earth warrior some solace.
"Did you ever discover whose prophecy was transcribed in blood on the original scroll?" Zeus asked.
"No. I tried researching by the history of false prophets to no avail. All I could learn about the scroll was that someone had given it to a priestess of mine. The papyrus is similiar to those found north-east of the Nile valley. There's not a scroll belonging to the peoples or followers of any known pantheon that has the same texture." Hera knew Zeus was catching the drift of her implication: Indo-European.
She continued, "I know you don't believe- yet. My theory was the rogue Titans ruined the purpose of the chakram temple with their disdain of mortals. They failed to yield to the gods when our time came. The madness of Mars was predestined. The other prophecies that the original scroll contained were all fulfilled. All that remains is Xena slaying Mars."
Something took his attention to scanning earth again, then Zeus kissed the cheek of his wife. "So you were correct. The seismic disturbances over the chakram, that couldn't be our doing, or the Romans'." More than that, thought Zeus. To Hera: "We were used in the same way we used Xena and her friends. Xena will say 'damn the gods', and we can say 'damn the Titans'. That does fell good." They grinned in agreement. Like Xena and her companions, the gods had also lost sons and daughters in this race. A race to allow the transition of god-rule over mortals to end, and to hopefully end without one mad god changing what should be his doom.
Now there was silence in the throne room. Followed by a sound of light scampering, heard only by the ears of immortals. Zeus peered into the hallway, seeing a few fading whooshes, returned to Hera's side.
"My daughter, the eavesdropper. Insurance that Xena lives to kill Mars. Too bad it has to be mortal hands that brings his fate. I could easily do that with a lightning bolt."
Hera stood by his side now. "Let's go watch this new era arrive, togather."
"Shut up. There she is. Now shut up." Mars argued with himself, knocking the chakram against his head in hope it would quiet the voices within. Though he was feeling much better now, the littlest of things were giving him grief. The gray skies made him a bit dizzy. The smell of a campfire nearby flooded his mind with unnatural hunger pains. A muddy road ahead of Xena should have been dry dirt, then it was, then it was mud again, then not and again. Nobody inside him spoke as he walked closer to his meeting with the destroyer of his supreme dream nation.
"Denim? Blue denim trousers? My sister?"
"Would I lie to you, buddy?"
The demi-god shook his head then laughed, "Has she changed that much?"
Iolaus stopped in his tracks. Waited until Hercules looked back at him with a look that read- 'What?'
"Yeah, she's changed a lot. In fact, I wouldn't put it pass her if she was ahead of us now, waiting."
The two read each other clearly and quickened their pace on the road to Olympus.
Unseen to all eyes except those who watched from high above, Aphrodite marked the approach of Xena with a smile. The deity shifted on the thick tree branch as she noticed Mars gliding forward, levitating inches above the ground, a short distance from Xena, her chakram at his side. Dite was so engrossed with the figure of the insane god that it blocked her from hearing the breathing of two men, a few hills back, trying desperately to reach Xena. A dull altar now came into view ahead of the warrior princess.
Sol was at the highest point in the sky. High noon on the road to Olympus. It was time for a showdown.
Xena built a large fire on the altar. The flames climbed high into the gathering night. In the flickering light Xena scoured the area looking for a cloth bundle.
"Xena!" came a whispered exclamation.
Xena whirled around as Aphrodite crept out of the shadows. She resumed her search.
"Mars is coming! He'll be here any second."
"Aren't you like worried? Don't you need a plan or strategy or something?"
Xena stopped her search and straightened up.
"I'm going to kill Mars. I need those kidneys!"
"Ewwww, grody," At Xena's glare Aphrodite said, "I'll look over there."
Mars grinned as he saw the fire. It was a beacon. Destiny had set off a beacon for him. He hurled the chakram toward the fire keeping tight hold of it.
"Did you find it?" asked Xena perfunctorily.
Aphrodite had in fact just smooshed her hand into one human kidney. The others were still in their bundle. "Is there anything else that gross?"
Xena's took hold of the decaying organs. She quickly drew her sword and tossed the kidneys into the air. She neatly skewered them on her sword then quickly ran over to the fire and plunged it in.
Aphrodite felt her divine tummy protesting. "If you eat that, I'm so gonna ralph!"
She heard a whoosh enter the altar circle and twisted her neck to see the arrival of Mars via chakram. Xena, was intent upon the fire and seemed not to hear.
"Uh...Xena..." said Aphrodite.
"I'm he-ere!" announced Mars. "Now it's time to gather materials for my new boots made from the skin of of a warrior princess!"
Xena did not turn around to face the Roman god, but her lips curled in disdain.
"You really need to work on your lines. Snappy is better."
Mars was speechless for a moment. Xena's back was rather unresponsive so he turned his outraged glare upon Aphrodite.
She shrugged at him and tried to smile soothingly. "You may get there, little--um, big guy."
Mars bellowed, "Xena! Meet your Destiny!"
"Oh that was better," said Aphrodite encouragingly.
Mars grinned a sickly little grin and hurled the chakram at Xena. He'd kill the bitch with the chakram that she had ruined for him--and everybody else.
The chakram nearly sang as it cut through the air. Finally Xena whirled around, her sword gleaming from the heat of being in the fire. The chakram was heading directly for her throat, but instead of knocking it away, Xena dropped her sword lower.
Running into the circle of light cast by the fire came Hercules and Iolaus. They tried to shout at Xena to save herself for they could not reach her in time.
The chakram divided the halves went around Xena's head. They spun around and arced back to rejoin in front of the warrior. She grasped at it and held it out in front of her.
Aphrodite cheered. Hercules and Iolaus looked bewildered.
"We should have known the chakram wouldn't hurt its mistress!" crowed Aphrodite.
Mars screamed, pulled out his sword and charged. In one fluid motion Xena had dropped the chakram onto the hook where it usually resided. She allowed herself a grin and held her own sword at the ready.
The battle itself was a bit of a letdown. Mars thrusted, Xena parried. They danced and lunged at one another for a few moments. Mars began to let loose another bellow, but it was drowned out by Xena's warcry. Lifting her sword, she charged and plunged it into the chest of the Roman god.
"You can't kill me that easily, mortal!" he hissed at her as he tried to pull himself off her blade. By the Titans, that hurt! The fire had lent Xena's sword a special sting...the fire and something else.
Xena kicked at his legs and suddenly Mars was on his back. Holding him down with one foot, she pulled her sword out of him only to plunge it in again in a slightly different spot.
Leaning down she put her face close to Mars'.
"You killed my daughter, you know."
A sputtering laugh escaped him. "Yes, I did. You know why? Because I can and you can try to get revenge, but it won't do you any good! You can't kill a god."
Xena smirked. "Then I guess you won't be needing your heart."
Reaching in to the opening she had carved into his chest she yanked out the still beating heart.
"I'm gonna have nightmares," moaned Aphrodite looking slightly green.
Xena left her sword in the Roman god and returned to the fire.
"I'm not dead yet!"
Gasping and rasping, Mars struggled to stand up. "Give it back to me, Xena. Give it back and we can rule the world together! I can bring your girlfriend back. I can bring your children back!"
Xena turned to stare at the god who lumbered toward her. Almost unconciously she had grabbed her chakram with her free hand.
"You can have my heart, but give me the chakram--"
Xena glanced down at the chakram, then at the heart of Mars. The blood had dripped onto the weapon that had been her trademark for so long.
"You really want it?" asked Xena.
"Yes," gasped Mars.
"Then it's all yours."
The chakram flew through the air. Mars had not expected it. As it severed his head from his body, he still hadn't realized that it had even left her hand. Before the body of Mars had fallen, the chakram had returned to Xena's hand.
The earth shuddered and was still.
Xena stared at nothing for a long moment. Then with an exclamation of disgust, she tossed the heart of Mars over her shoulder into the fire.
|Chief Chesty Forlock|
'You know one of them has to go. Aphrodite and Xena are being far too pesky, at the moment. Between them they've just killed Mars. They may just bring about the Twilight, if we're not careful.' Hera was pacing up and down the grand hall of Olympus.
'Yes, but who should it be?' Zeus frowned. 'Maybe we should just get rid of both of them, and be done with it. Something embarrassing. Let's have them French kiss and get their tongues caught in each other's mouths, or something.'
Hera laughed. 'Always the joker.' She paused. 'Always with the lesbian fantasies too, I've noticed.'
Zeus bowed his head. 'I was only trying to please you, my dear. You know I only chase after earthly women to try to stop myself falling for you. I'm powerless in your arms. Not the best image for the king of the gods to have.'
Hera smiled at her husband. 'OK, that's settled. We'll kill both of them. Now kiss me.'
'As you wish.' Zeus floated towards his stunning wife and planted a smooch on her soft lips.
They spent several moments locked in embrace and then Hera went to move away. Unfortunately, the godly suction of Zeus' kiss was too strong. She found that she could not separately her lips from his.
Too late, Zeus realised what was happening. Hera's embrace was as strong as his own. His eyes widened as he slowly began to run out of breath.
Fighting for survival, the rulers of the Greek Pantheon slowly slid to the floor, flapping like fish. They tried to prise their heads free of each other, to no avail.
Soon, with only a few remaining seconds left alive, they realised their fate and gave in. They gave it their all and went out with a kiss the like of which will never be seen again.
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