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