Joxer, Meg, Xena, Gabrielle and the Sovereign all belong to Universal Studios/Studios USA. I'm just borrowing them for this piece of experimental fiction.
This story is not for kids under 16 years of age. Some brutal stuff happens in this piece. My writing's pretty intense.
THE GENESIS OF THIS PIECE:
Yeppers-this is fanfic number 4. And remember this line from my author's notes on A TASTE OF DEJA VU??
"Despite what some of you may say, this really is my final Joxer/Meg story."
There are those-a certain Mary Draganis among them-who would say, "Why am I not surprised by who's in this new piece??" >:-)
Oooookay. Yes, I admit it. I decided to cry wolf. But there is a good reason. I was very angry that no other serious Joxer/Meg fan fic had been written since I did my two stories. I'm sorry-but I just can't see Joxer and Gabrielle together, folks. It's like oil and water. But Iam vindicated by the fact that both Joxer and Meg get married on the show. It makes me feel I was on target with my fanfic!! (gets a smug look on his face ;-) )
Seriously, since I don't know how much longer I'll be doing fanfic, I decided, what the heck-let me do one more story with Joxer and Meg in it. But Joxer and Meg are really only part of the story.
The REAL story here is Xena vs. Hercules' evil twin-the Sovereign. I kept thinking about what a great idea it would've been to have Xena and the Sovereign fight each other. Sadly, due to the scheduling conflicts on both shows, it was not to be. But I just loved the irony of a good Xena fighting an evil Hercules. I had to write a fan fiction piece about this. No one else was going to.
So here it is. Let me know what you think. As usual, send me ANY kind of feedback-positive or negative. You can be as brutal in your critiques as you want. Don't hold anything back.
One final thing-in a sense, A Switch of the Role is a sequel to A Taste of Deja Vu. There are one or two characters in this story that may be unfamiliar to you unless you read Braving the Inner Storm and A Taste of Deja Vu But it shouldn't detract from your enjoyment of the piece.
If you're interested in more of my stories, log onto TRABAL CREATIONS.
Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
June 3, 2000
The burly man stood on the cliff, gazing out at the harsh moonlight above him. He sighed deeply and took a drink from his wineskin, swirling around the contents inside his mouth. He scratched the back of his head. He turned to his right. Another man, smaller in stature, sat on a rock. He was biting into a piece of bread.
"You've got wine?" asked the larger man.
The smaller man nodded.
"I'm good, Galian. Thanks."
The larger man took another drink of the wine. He enjoyed the cool, crisp sensation it created inside his mouth and throat. He lowered the wineskin, looking at it with admiration.
"This is good stuff, Parses."
Parses gave a thin smile.
"I only get the best. With the money I made on those goods I stole, I thought, 'what the heck.' Ya gotta live it up once in a while."
"No argument there."
A few moments of silence passed. Parses spoke again.
"I hope Martus shows up soon."
"Don't worry. He's the best there is. He even puts that dungheap Autolycus to shame."
Parses looked up, raising an eyebrow.
"Yeah, but this is Hades' temple we're talking about."
Galian shrugged, chuckling slightly. He turned towards Parses.
"One thing ya gotta remember. The gods are cocky and self-assured. We've gotta use that to our advantage. They think humans are inferior, just because we lack their powers."
Parses nodded slowly.
"That's true. Boy-how I'd love to just show them what we're made of."
"If our little plan works, you may just get that chance."
There was a rustling of bushes. Galian and Parses dropped their food and beverage, instantly drawing their swords. Another man stepped into view, carrying a small leather bag. He quickly raised his hands.
The other two smiled. They sheathed their weapons and walked over to the third man. Parses spoke.
"So Martus-did you get it?"
The dark-haired man smiled coldly.
He opened the bag, and took out two large blue rocks. They were shaped like eggs, and both had a smooth, shiny surface. Each emitted a soft blue-green glow from their centers.
"Gentlemen, the Hades Stones. Take a look!"
Both men reached out, each taking a stone. They felt the warmth and power that churned though them. The two men studied the stones with rapt curiosity. Martus smiled, full of cockiness and excitement. He spoke again.
"Sooooo-I guess that does it. Parses has the location of the ambrosia, and you've got that cracked Cronos Stone."
Galian studied the stone in his hand.
"Yep, I do. Like I said, we can't time-travel with it, but we can get into the dimension where the Sovereign's remains are."
Parses shook his head in amazement.
"I can't believe we're going to try and revive Hercules' twin."
Galian looked at Parses, raising an eyebrow.
"Well, he's the only one who can get us access to that cave. And as I understand it, the ambrosia in that cave is the last on this earth."
Parses turned to Martus.
"So-how do the Hades Stones work?"
"Well, it's like this, you see. You take one stone and place it in the chest of a cadaver or a skeleton. You hold on to the other one. Now, the stone inside the cadaver generates a power that rebuilds the body and links the soul back with the body. Then you control the revived person with the other Hades Stone. Hades or his soldiers used these for special missions to send the dead on."
Parses raised an eyebrow, nodding his head.
"Aaaaaah...Okay, I get ya. So, that's how yer gonna bring back the Sovereign."
"Yep. And when he's opened up the cave for us, I use my Hades Stone to will his death again. And that's it. We get the ambrosia, and all three of us become gods!!"
Parses chuckled nervously, lowering his head.
"That's it, huh?"
A moment of silence. Galian placed a hand on Parses's shoulder.
"C'mon, Parses. You wanna become a god, ya gotta take some risks."
Parses raised an eyebrow, giving a puckered smirk.
"Okay, that settles it then." said Martus. "Let's get some sleep. We'll get up bright and early tomorrow morning."
His companions nodded. They walked over to their bedrolls, and settled down for the night.
The three men walked into a courtyard.. A large stone temple stood before them. It had considerable wear and tear in it. Galian looked up into the sky. Dawn was becoming more and more prominent. Orange-yellow rays of light pushed back the dark blue-black of night. Galian took a breath of crisp, cool air. He turned to his companions.
"This is the place. Ares' old temple. Place's been abandoned."
Parses looked around.
"Uhhhhh-okay. So-now what? How do we get into this dimension?"
Galian took out the Cronos Stone. The yellowish-green stone began to glow intensely. Galian followed the pull of the stone. It pointed towards the black of night. He smiled eagerly.
"I think this is the way in, boys."
Suddenly, there was a violent flash of lightning. A powerful wind began to blow. The air before the three men began to ripple and bend. Suddenly, a gigantic hole opened up before them. A twisting, churning, glowing vortex roiled inside of it. Flashes of lightning rippled through its walls. Galian turned towards Martus and Parses. They stared at the vortex in awe and fear. The wind tore around the three, ripping at their clothes. They could barely keep their balance. Galian raised an eyebrow.
"Well?!?" he shouted above the howling wind. "Ya wanna be mortals all yer stinking lives, or ya wanna be GODS?!?"
Martus and Galian stared into the churning vortex, twisting with awesome savagery. Their eyes narrowed in determination. They turned towards Galian.
Galian smiled wickedly.
"LET'S GO THEN!!!
The three men rushed forward, leaping into the vortex. They whisked through it with impossible speed, following the vortex's twists and turns. As they looked forward, they saw a glowing light ahead of them. It grew more and more intense. Suddenly, it overwhelmed the three men. They then crashed into hard, rocky earth. They rolled to a stop and lay still, groaning in pain.
"Ohhhhh- damn..." mumbled Parses.
Martus clutched his head and stomach. He slowly sat up. His head and body were throbbing in pain. He shook his head to clear it.
"Whoa...what a trip...!!
He looked around. Martus found himself in a cave. Light shone through an opening in it. He looked along the ground-
And spotted a skeleton. It was wearing a leather outfit. Martus raised an eyebrow.
Galian slowly sat up, rubbing his head. He grimaced in pain.
"Guys, I think we've found the Sovereign's corpse."
Galian and Parses shook their heads. They then followed Martus's gaze. They spotted the skeleton. The three men slowly rose to their feet. They walked over to the skeleton. It was laying face-down in the dirt. Martus kicked the skeleton. It flipped over onto its back.
"So...Ares killed the Sovereign?" asked Parses.
"According to the stories I heard, yeah." said Galian.
"What do you know about the Sovereign?" asked Parses again.
"That he's the total opposite of Hercules. He was a ruthless tyrant in his dimension. One real temperamental son-of-a-bitch. Executed people every day just for fun."
Parses raised his eyebrows.
"My kind of guy."
He turned towards Martus.
"Do you really think you can control the Sovereign? I-I mean, if he's like Hercules, he's a demigod. He's got Hercules' strength."
Martus's eyes narrowed.
"Don't worry. As long as I hold one of the Hades Stones, he has to do our bidding. If he tries anything stupid, he's gonna suffer some major pain."
He knelt down next to the skeleton. Martus turned to his companions.
Both men nodded. Martus then took one of the Hades Stones and placed it inside the ribcage of the skeleton. Martus rose to his feet and stepped back a bit. He held out the other Hades Stone.
"Okay." he said quietly. "Here we go."
Martus closed his eyes, and willed his thoughts into the stone in his hand. It began to glow brightly with a brilliant green-yellow light. As the two men looked at the skeleton, they noticed that the stone inside it began to glow as well. The glow spread throughout the skeleton. Martus opened his eyes. Then something incredible happened. As they looked on, they saw muscle grow out of the bones. Blood vessels threaded their way throughout the muscles. The body began to gain mass, filling out. Skin formed over the flesh. Dark-brown hair grew out of the head, forming a thick mane. A beard and mustache formed on the face. The body before them pulsated with power. Both hands clenched tight. The massive arm muscles flexed with fearsome energy. Slowly the glow subsided-
And the Sovereign's eyes popped open. They instantly darted to the right. A low, inhuman growl rumbled from the Sovereign's throat. A savage snarl formed on his face. He instantly got to his feet. All three men leapt back. Martus held out the Hades Stone.
"Hold it right there."
The Sovereign glared at Martus heatedly, his ice-blue eyes filled with rage and bloodlust.
"I'm gonna rip out yer heart." he growled throatily.
He rushed at them. Martus immediately raised the stone. A savage, blinding pain ripped through the Sovereign's body. He cried out in agony and crashed face-first into the earth. The three men spread out around him. The Sovereign shakily propped himself up on his hands. He turned to his left. Martus still held the glowing stone. The Sovereign's eyes widened in fury.
Martus thrust the glowing stone at the Sovereign. Another vicious explosion of pain ripped through his body and into his head. The Sovereign screamed in agony. He twisted and turned erratically in the dirt as if someone had sent a high-voltage current through his body. Martus kept up the torture for a good few moments. The screams echoed throughout the cave. Martus then lowered the rock. The glow subsided. The Sovereign fell face-first into the dirt, trembling. Martus's face grew hard.
"Now that I've got your attention... listen up."
The Sovereign rolled onto his back, gasping. He turned towards Martus.
"W-W-Who the hell are you?!" the Sovereign hissed. "H-How did you get here?!"
"We're from the dimension of your twin, Hercules."
The Sovereign's eyes widened in outraged shock.
"H-Hercules...?! You're from his...?!"
"I take it you met him."
The Sovereign slowly sat up, his heated gaze piercing the ceiling above him.
"If...I... ever see him again, I'll kill him. And his Ares. I've got a special score ta settle with him."
"Oh I know that. Ares killed you."
The Sovereign turned quickly towards Martus, surprised. Martus raised an eyebrow.
"We know the whole story."
A moment of silence. The Sovereign looked around at his three companions with a contemptuous sneer.
"What do you want with me?!" snapped the Sovereign. "You three went through a lot of trouble to come here and raise me from the dead."
"We're looking for a certain treasure. The only way to get into the cave it's in is to be a god or a demi-god. That's why we got you."
The Sovereign raised an eyebrow.
"Must be some treasure."
"That treasure doesn't concern you." snapped Parses. "The only thing you should be thinking about is your miserable life."
"Here's the deal." said Galian. "You help us get that treasure, and you're free to go. Otherwise-"
Martus thrust out the Hades Rock. Another explosion of pain ripped through the Sovereign's chest. He doubled over in agony. The Sovereign let out a long, strangled cry. Martus hunched on his heels as the Sovereign glared at him in pain and rage.
"Otherwise," said Martus matter-of factly, " you die again."
He willed the Hades Rock to stop. The pain went away as abruptly as it had come. The Sovereign fell back onto the earth, gasping. Galian knelt by the Sovereign.
"You clear on that??" he asked pointedly.
The Sovereign looked at Galian, eyes full of anger and fear. He gritted his teeth.
The blond woman raised her muscular arms above her head, stretching to loosen up some tightness in her body. She stood up on her toes, rocking gently on them. A cool breeze blew through her short hair. She gazed into the clear morning sky. A warm smile appeared on her face.
"Another beautiful day."
She looked to her left, towards some trees.
"Xena??" she called out.
"I'm just about done, Gabrielle!"
The blonde walked past some brush. A tall brunette, dressed in a brown leather skirt, knelt by the river. She was filling her water skin. The blonde walked up to her.
"Filled up and ready?"
The brunette finished her task. She placed the cap on the water skin, stood up, and faced the blond. The woman smiled.
The blond returned the smile. She gazed at the incredible natural beauty around them.
"So-we're off to Meg's place, Xena?"
"Yeah. We can stay there for the time being while we get supplies for our trip to Egypt. We should be able to take care of those three warlords while we're there, now that we know they're in Mirtan."
A pause. Gabrielle's face darkened as horrific memories surfaced. She chewed on her lip a moment before she spoke. Her green eyes roamed the earth.
"By the gods...I-I've seen some viciousness in my time, but these three take the cake."
Xena's face hardened. Her ice-blue eyes scanned the area around her.
"We've been after them a long time Gabrielle. They've been able to allude us before, but this time, we're going to get them. We owe their victims that."
"Gods...by themselves, Martus, Galian and Parses were incredibly ruthless. But together..."
Gabrielle shook her head. She grimaced as a wave of grief and nausea surged through her.
"All those women and children..." she muttered darkly, her voice trembling slightly.
Xena walked over to her, placing an arm around her shoulder.
"Hey." she said softly.
Gabrielle shook her head.
"I still can't get the image out of my mind."
Xena tenderly stroked Gabrielle's head. She gazed at her friend with sadness and pity.
"Me either." she said quietly.
A few moments of silence. Gabrielle turned towards Xena.
"So. Now they're here. In the kingdom of Mirtan."
Xena nodded her head.
"Mmmm. We'll set up shop at Meg's for the time being, and track them down."
Gabrielle sighed. She lowered her head.
"I'll be able to be at peace once we stop them Xena."
Xena gazed up into the sky. Icy determination formed on her features.
"They're smart. And they were lucky. But this time, their luck's about to run out."
The two women rode into town. The villagers were busy milling about, shopping. moving carts of goods, assembled in groups, chattering about the goings-on of the day. They continued past a few men guiding a herd of sheep into the center of town. Afterwards the two women rode their horses up a small, winding road. When they reached the top, they spotted a large, sturdy wooden building. It had a fresh coating of brown paint on it. Above the door was a sign that said MEG'S in bright red letters.
The two women got off their horses. Gabrielle's eyes widened in wonder.
"By the gods, Xena! Look at this place!"
Xena stepped up to her friend's side. She gazed at the wooden structure before her.
"Meg has really fixed this up nicely." remarked Xena with a smile.
Xena and Gabrielle walked up to it, leading on their horses. They tied them to posts and went inside. The delicious aromas of steak and chicken filled their nostrils. The pair noticed that the place was nearly at full capacity. Gabrielle glanced over at a man sinking his teeth into a huge, meaty chicken leg. Gabrielle licked her lips unconsciously. Her mouth watered.
Startled, she turned towards Xena.
Xena smiled mischievously.
"Doesn't your appetite ever take a break??"
Gabrielle smiled meekly.
"I have a feeling that you'll want some chicken. And soon."
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow. Her smile grew wider.
"Why Xena! I didn't know mind-reading was one of your many skills!!"
The two women turned to their right. Meg, Xena's twin, approached them. She smiled warmly. Gabrielle walked over and hugged Meg. Xena approached them. She smiled.
"Good to see you again, Meg."
Meg and Xena hugged each other. Xena pulled back, looking Meg over.
"You're looking good!"
"Eh! I'm doing okay."
"From the looks of things Meg, better than okay." remarked Gabrielle with awe and pride.
Meg smiled shyly.
At that moment, Gabrielle's stomach rumbled. Xena rolled her eyes back and laughed. Meg giggled. She spoke.
"Ummm-you sound hungry, Gabby."
Gabrielle blushed a deep rose.
"Ummmm-yep. It's that chicken. It smells so good!!"
Meg smiled with pride.
"Thank my head chef, Francisca. She's got a heck of a talent. And she's taught me and my other girls a few things too!!"
Meg leaned in close to Xena and Gabrielle.
"The best thing is, our prostitution days are all behind us. For good."
Xena and Gabrielle smiled warmly at Meg. Xena placed a hand on Meg's shoulder, rubbing it affectionately.
"I'm so happy for you." Xena said with heartfelt emotion. "For all of you. I knew you could do it."
"It wasn't easy. But we did it." Meg said with obvious pride in her voice. "We did something positive. And we're thriving."
Gabrielle looked around.
"Where's Joxer, Meg?"
"Oh, he's in town nearby, doing some business."
Gabrielle turned to Xena.
"Okay, I'm going into town and check out what they have. While I'm at it, I'm gonna see if I bump into Joxer."
"Sounds like a plan. I'll be sure to get your chicken while I'm at it."
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow, smiling wickedly.
"Yeah, you do that."
She spun on her heel and left the restaurant. Meg turned to Xena.
"Let me show you around."
Meg looked at Xena's belly, and patted it. Xena raised an eyebrow.
"What was that for??"
Meg raised her own eyebrow, smiling.
"We need to fatten you up!!"
Xena rolled her eyes.
"Ha-ha. Very funny. Lead the way."
Meg bowed before the Warrior Princess.
Gabrielle walked around the village, looking at different odds and ends. She hadn't seen anything she wanted as of yet. She looked over the different items carefully, judging their quality and cost. She walked past one tent, and saw a few feet away from her a man wearing an ugly warrior's helmet and equally ugly armor, standing in front of another tent. Gabrielle raised her eyebrow.
She saw him walk into the tent. Gabrielle approached it. When she got to it, she overheard a conversation between Joxer and the merchant inside.
"You've got my engagement ring?"
"Yes Joxer. Just as you requested."
Gabrielle's mouth dropped in shock.
"Engagement ring?!" she gasped.
A moment of silence. Gabrielle strained to listen. Then Joxer spoke again.
"Gosh, it's beautiful. Mitros, thanks. Here's the rest of your money. You've earned it."
"And good luck to you, my friend."
Gabrielle stood there, stunned by what she overheard. Seconds later, Joxer walked out of the tent. He gasped in shock at seeing the blonde.
Gabrielle swallowed hard, forcing a weak smile.
Stunned realization washed over his face.
"You overheard everything, didn't ya."
Gabrielle lowered her head, deeply embarrassed.
Uncomfortable silence. Gabrielle looked up. A grin began to form on her face.
"Y-You're actually going to propose to Meg?!"
Joxer blushed. He smiled shyly.
Gabrielle rushed up to Joxer and hugged him tight. She pulled back. A brilliant smile formed on her face.
"Oh Joxer, that's wonderful!!"
She grabbed her friend by the forearm and dragged him near an alley. Gabrielle looked around, making sure they were alone. She turned to him, her face a mixture of excitement and worry. Gabrielle was concerned about her friend.
"Joxer, are you really sure about this??"
Joxer lowered his head, and sighed. He looked up at Gabrielle.
"Well...if you're referring to the feelings I had for you...well...Gods...I just had ta sit down and do some real thinking for once, ya know?? I mean, I'm not getting any younger. And I gotta admit-I was real torn for awhile between you and Meg. Finally, I decided that this was silly. I couldn't have both of you. And you didn't love me that way anyhow. Funny-I was actually grateful for that. I mean...Meg and I...the more I was around her, the more I realized that we-we just shared so many things in common. And the fact that she loved me unconditionally...gods Gabrielle, do you know how hard it is to find a person like that, who loves you that way??"
Gabrielle smiled warmly. She rubbed Joxer's arm.
"That's true. It's very rare, Joxer."
Joxer lowered his head in silence for a few moments. Then he looked up at Gabrielle.
"I-I can't see myself marrying anyone else." he said with quiet intensity." I-I just can't see myself being with anyone else. Not even you. Meg is my soulmate, Gabrielle. She makes me complete. S-She really makes me whole. I don't want to live my life without her. The thought of that terrifies me. I want to make her mine."
Tears came to Gabrielle's eyes. She shook her head, gazing at Joxer with happiness and pride. She hugged him again, and pulled back.
She chuckled with glee, and raised an eyebrow.
"W-when are going to pop the question to her?!"
Joxer raised his own eyebrow, a mysterious smile forming on his face.
"Soon. Very soon."
"You devil you. C'mon. Maybe you can help me with some shopping."
Joxer bowed before Gabrielle.
"Joxer the Mighty, at yer service!!"
Gabrielle sighed, rolling her eyes.
"Is here okay, Francisca?" asked Joxer.
The pretty redhead nodded.
"Yeah, you can put Gabrielle's stuff on that table."
Joxer placed the basket of food on the table. He turned to Gabrielle.
"You met Francisca, right?"
"Nope, haven't had the pleasure."
Francisca walked up to the blond, extending her hand.
"Wow...the Bard of Poteidaia. I'm Francisca. Nice to meet you!"
The women shook hands. Gabrielle spoke.
"By the gods...the food here smells so good!! You're responsible for this?!"
Francisca blushed, lowering her head.
"Well...I do some of the cooking, but so do the other girls here."
"Oh no you don't."
The three turned around. Meg and Xena walked into the kitchen. Meg waggled a finger at Francisca.
"Don't you play Miss Modest around here, Francisca. You're what's made this place a huge success."
Francisca rolled her eyes.
"C'mon Meg. I had help. And you cook great too!!"
Meg walked up to her friend, poking her lightly in the shoulder.
"Yeah, but you taught me a few things. As well as teaching the rest of the girls here. You're gonna take some credit and like it."
Francisca blushed even further. She lowered her head. Meg put an arm around her. She looked at the others and spoke.
"It's a team effort that makes this place work. Everyone here has pitched in."
Meg then looked at Joxer, and smiled warmly.
"Especially this guy."
Joxer blushed, smiling shyly.
"Aw, stop Meg."
Meg walked up to Joxer, and placed a big wet kiss on his cheek. She put her arm around him, holding him close.
"He's helped me so much around here, I can't tell ya. I don't know what I'd do without Joxie."
Xena and Gabrielle raised their eyebrows simultaneously.
"Joxie??" they repeated, smiling.
Joxer blushed even further, turning a lovely shade of red. He lowered his head. Meg nuzzled the side of it.
"Yeah. My Joxie."
Meg kissed him again. Gabrielle lowered hear head, biting her lip to keep from laughing. Xena folded her arms and smirked warmly, enjoying the tender moment between the couple.
The group turned to their right. A gigantic, muscular woman stood in the doorway, carrying some bags of grain. A mischievous smile was on her face. Joxer rolled his eyes.
"Geeze, Maria!! Lighten up, huh??"
The woman laughed, shaking her head.
"I don't think I will." she teased. "You're stuck with that name."
Joxer shook his head. Maria placed the grain down next to some crates. Joxer walked up to her.
"They should have that new wheel for the cart ready this afternoon."
"Oh, great! Thanks, Joxer."
She looked up.
"Xena!" she exclaimed.
Maria walked over to Xena, and they exchanged a firm warrior's handshake. Maria smiled warmly.
"It's great to see ya again."
Xena smiled in return.
Maria turned towards the blonde.
"And you must be Gabrielle. It's a pleasure to finally meet you."
They shook hands. Gabrielle smiled warmly.
"Joxer has told me some really nice things about you."
Maria turned towards Joxer, and smiled.
"Well, Joxer isn't so bad himself."
Meg walked up to the three. Her face turned serious.
"Maria, Xena is here to find out about Martus, Galian & Parses."
At hearing the three names, Maria's face grew hard. Her eyes turned to ice. She focused them on Xena.
"You after them?" she asked.
Xena looked at Maria with a grim expression.
"Yes. Gabrielle and I understand that they're in the area. We're going to be heading to Egypt, but now that we know they're around, we want to bring them to justice."
Maria's eyes narrowed. She folded their arms.
"If you want my help Xena, you've got it. Those bastards have to be taken down. One way or the other..."
Xena smiled slightly.
"I appreciate the help, Maria."
"All right then. I'll go into town now and talk to my contacts. See what they heard. I'm sure to find out something."
Xena placed a hand on Maria's arm.
Barely controlled rage roiled in Maria's eyes.
"I spoke to survivors of the attack on Ismalan. Some of them had lost whole families to these bastards. And the stories I heard of what they did to children...No. They've got to be brought to justice."
Maria turned to Meg.
"I'll be back soon."
Maria turned and left the kitchen. Somber silence filled the room. Joxer sighed, shaking his head.
"Ya know, ya've gotta wonder about life sometimes. Except I seem to be wondering about it almost all the time now when I hear and see things like this."
Xena nodded grimly.
"I know what you mean."
More uncomfortable silence. Meg finally spoke up.
"You ready to eat, Xena? Gabrielle?"
Both women nodded. Meg turned to Joxer.
"And you, hon?"
"Yeah. Besides, I've got some catching up to do with Xena and Gabrielle."
Meg turned to both women.
"Let me take you to someplace private."
There was a violent flash of lightning. The air twisted and turned. Suddenly a gigantic hole opened in it. Out of it flew four men. They crashed into the hard earth, rolling around in the dust. There were a couple of violent flashes of lightning-and with a loud peal of thunder, the hole sealed up again. Everything returned to normal.
The Sovereign groaned, getting up onto his knees. He rubbed his head vigorously. Slowly, he rose to his feet-
And Martus stood before him, holding the Hades Stone. Galian and Parses dusted themselves off, slowly rising to their feet. The Sovereign's ice-blue eyes roamed the courtyard. He suddenly spotted the temple. His eyes widened in fury.
"That's Ares's temple!" he blurted out aloud.
"It's abandoned." said Martus. "Anyway, you shouldn't be concerning yourself with Ares right now."
The Sovereign raised an eyebrow. He gritted his teeth.
"And what should I be concerning myself with, eh?"
Galian and Parses walked over to Martus's side.
"With the mission at hand." answered Galian.
The Sovereign folded his arms.
"So. You say only a god or a demigod can gain access to this cave, eh?"
Galian's eyes narrowed.
"And how far away are we from this place?"
The Sovereign chuckled, shaking his head. Parses stepped forward.
"What's so damn funny?!"
The Sovereign looked at him, pinning him with an intense gaze and a spiteful smile.
"Gee. I wonder why it is that you three knuckleheads couldn't just ask for ol' Hercules' help. What, he was busy, or sumpthin?? Turned you down?? Hmmmm??"
Martus gritted his teeth. He took a step towards the Sovereign.
"You're a real smart-ass, ya know that?? You're messing with the wrong people."
The Sovereign raised an eyebrow. He chuckled harshly.
"Oh, well, ya see-it just strikes me as reeeeeeal interesting that you brought me back to life and dragged me to this dimension to get this treasure. This ain't no ordinary treasure, obviously. You're desperate to get it. And you need me baaaaaad."
Martus thrust the stone at the Sovereign. A violent explosion of pain ripped through his body. The Sovereign cried out in agony and quickly dropped to his knees. He folded himself into a fetal position and fell onto his side. Martus took another step towards the Sovereign and leaned towards him.
"I won't hesitate ta kill ya, ya rat bastard."
The Sovereign glared at Martus with pain and rage.
"You...wouldn't....be so brave...without...that stone..."
Martus chuckled. He willed the Hades Stone to stop. The pain subsided in the Sovereign's body. He fell back, gasping. The Sovereign lay on the ground for a few moments. The three warlords walked over, standing over the Sovereign. The demigod glared at the three of them.
"What's gonna happen to me when ya find this treasure??"
Martus smiled sweetly.
"Simple. You're free to go, and wreak havoc wherever you please."
The Sovereign slowly sat up, sneering at him.
"And what guarantee do I have of that?!"
Martus's eyes narrowed.
"You'll just have to trust us."
The Sovereign snorted.
"Don't b.s. me. I'm not stupid."
"You can believe whatever you want. But the bottom line is, we control you, and you do what we say."
The Sovereign and Martus locked eyes for a moment. Then the Sovereign looked away. His eyes narrowed. Already he was formulating their deaths in his mind. And he was planning something slow and very painful.
Gabrielle placed the feed under the nose of her horse. She rubbed its head gently.
"There ya go. That should keep you satisfied."
Gabrielle heard the barn door open. She turned around. It was Xena. Gabrielle smiled slightly.
Xena walked over to her. A troubled expression was on her face. Gabrielle's face filled with concern.
"Xena...? What's wrong?"
Xena sighed. She gazed at the ground. Gabrielle shook her head.
"Dumb question. Eve and Cyrene, huh??"
Xena nodded slightly, not looking up. Gabrielle rubbed her friend's arm.
"Cyrene and Eve are in a safe place, Xena. Autolycus will protect them. He was clever enough to find a way to get her away from the gods' prying eyes."
Xena smiled slightly.
"Good old Autolycus. I owe him one. He's become like family."
Gabrielle nodded fondly.
"Yeah. Him and Hercules."
Xena's smile grew wider at the mention of the demigod. A set of tears came to her eyes. She shook her head slightly.
"I owe him eternally for what he did for Eve. The sacrifice he made..."
Gabrielle chuckled slightly.
"He wouldn't hear of it."
Xena's ice-blue eyes narrowed slightly. She wiped them and snorted.
"Na-uh. I put that to rest. He's stuck with me, like it or not. For the rest of eternity. I'd give up my soul to help Hercules."
Gabrielle smiled warmly.
"So would I, Xena."
Xena and Gabrielle turned around. It was Francisca. She stood at the entrance to the barn.
"Maria is upstairs. She wants to talk to you."
Xena and Gabrielle nodded. They followed Francisca back to the main building. Francisca stopped at the foot of a staircase. She turned to Xena and Gabrielle.
"Up the stairs to your left, three doors down.
Francisca returned the smile. She left. The two women ascended the stairs. The moment they reached the top, Xena and Gabrielle heard loud giggling. Xena turned to Gabrielle, raising an eyebrow.
"Sounds like Meg." she said in a low voice.
The blonde nodded in agreement. They looked around the corner to their left-
And four doors down, leaning against the wall, were Meg and Joxer. They were exchanging a scorching kiss, pressing tightly against each other. Xena raised both eyebrows, forming a lopsided grin. Gabrielle blushed furiously.
"Gods..." she chuckled nervously.
"Don't mind them."
Xena and Gabrielle looked to their right. Maria emerged from the shadows. She had her arms crossed, smirking disapprovingly.
"Ya know," began Maria, "those two just can't keep their hands off of each other. They really can't."
Xena raised her eyebrow in amusement.
"Is that so??"
Maria rolled her eyes.
Maria stepped in front of the two women, and cleared her throat loudly. Meg and Joxer immediately stopped kissing. They turned abruptly towards the three women. Joxer blushed. He smiled shyly.
"Whoops!! Sorry about that guys."
Meg turned towards Joxer. A wicked smile appeared on her face.
Joxer smirked warmly, shaking his head. He placed a hand on Meg's shoulder.
"Okay, um-I'm gonna do a few odds and ends downstairs. Plus I really gotta bring in that firewood."
Meg raised an eyebrow. She clutched Joxer by the shirt. Her eyes narrowed, full of lust. She leaned towards him.
"Save a piece of wood for me." she purred seductively.
Xena chuckled heartily, shaking her head. Gabrielle placed her face in her hand. Maria rolled her eyes again.
"Meeeeeeeeg!!" exclaimed Joxer, blushing furiously.
Meg smirked, totally unrepentant. She smacked Joxer in the rear. He yelped in surprise.
"Get going you. I'll see ya later."
Joxer grew even redder, if that was at all possible. He ran down the hallway, past the other women, and down the stairs. The three women walked up to Meg. Maria couldn't help but smile at her friend. She shook her head.
"You're completely shameless. Ya know that, Meg?"
Meg grinned devilishly.
Maria turned toward Xena and Gabrielle.
"Let's go to my room. We'll talk there."
"By the gods..." gasped Meg.
She lowered her head, her face full of horror. Maria's face was set in stone. But a rising fury was building in the hazel eyes. Xena sighed.
"That's what we saw at Parnos. Not a person was left alive."
Meg shook her head in total disbelief.
"Why children?!" she exclaimed. "Why always children?!"
Gabrielle's eyes roamed the ceiling.
"I wish I knew, Meg." she answered quietly.
Maria stood up. She walked over to the window, gazing out of it.
"I swear..." she said quietly, a heated edge in her voice. "I swear Xena. All I need is a few moments alone with them. I'd have them begging for death."
She lowered her head. A tear ran down her cheek. Xena stood up. She walked over to Maria's side.
"I intend on getting them this time." Xena said, her voice full of determination. "Dead or alive, it makes no difference to me."
Maria sighed. She turned to Xena.
"I'm sure my contacts will turn up something. If they're in the area, we'll know about it. "
Maria folded her arms, looking off to the side. She smirked in thought.
"Hmmmmm...you know, there might be one or two other people I can talk to."
She looked back at Xena.
"Give me a couple of hours. I'm going to see what more I can do for you."
Xena raised an eyebrow. Concern appeared on her face.
"Are you sure these people you're talking about can be trusted?"
Xena regarded her for a moment. The she nodded.
Maria turned towards Meg.
"See you in a little while."
"Be careful Maria. Come back soon."
Maria smiled slightly. She left the room. Xena sat back down beside Gabrielle. Meg slowly shook her head in disgust.
"Amazing...it's just amazing the kind of scum that exists out there. Why does living your life have to be such a pain?!"
Silence. Xena studied Meg for a moment.
"Joxer told me about you and Tsao-Li." she said, finally.
Meg's face darkened. She lowered her head, fiddling with her dress.
"Yeah. At least, that bastard is rotting in a jail cell now."
"He wouldn't be if he had met me." Xena said icily.
Meg looked up at Xena. She saw feral rage surge briefly in the ice-blue eyes. It was replaced by sadness and pity.
"I'm sorry for what he did to you, Meg." she said quietly.
Xena reached out, and grasped Meg's hand, holding it firmly. Meg squeezed back. She rolled her eyes.
"It's not an easy thing to live with."
"You have a lot of courage, Meg." said Gabrielle.
"Courage. Huh. I don't know about that."
Xena smiled slightly.
"I do. It takes a lot of courage to get beyond something like that. And look at what you've done here. You've started a business. And you're helping women who would otherwise be out on the street. They're very lucky to have you as a friend."
"Joxer's very lucky too." said Gabrielle with a grin.
Meg blushed, smiling shyly.
"The other way around, Gabrielle. I'm very lucky to have him." she said softly.
"What does Joxer do for you?" asked Xena.
Meg's smile grew warmer. She sighed.
"Everything. He's helped me so much, Xena. With this place. With myself. No matter how tough things get for me, Joxer always finds a way to bring me around somehow. He listens to me. He cares for me. He cares for me in ways no other men have before. He makes me feel whole. He makes me feel important."
"You must love him very much." remarked Gabrielle, elated for her friend.
Meg blushed, biting her lower lip. She looked down at the ground.
"More than anything on this earth." she said softly. "He's my soulmate, Gabrielle."
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other, exchanging warm smiles. Xena turned towards Meg.
"I'm so glad to see you happy, Meg." she said with affection. "You, of all people, deserve it."
Meg looked up, her face full of joy.
"You're right. For the first time in my life Xena, I'm happy. Truly happy."
The sun threaded its way through the foliage, creating harsh shadows on the forest floor. The four men trudged along at a rapid pace, past bushes and huge boulders.
"Just a little while longer, and we should be beyond the main roads." remarked Galian. "We won't have to chance running into people then."
"Yeah, really. The sooner we get deeper in, the better. That's the only part of this trip I don't like."
He glanced at the Sovereign. His face was set in granite, a look of cold malevolence carved into the bearded face.
Parses leaned towards Galian.
"Besides our present company." he whispered in disgust.
"You're no prize either."
Parses spun towards the Sovereign, stunned. The Sovereign glanced at him, raising an eyebrow. He tapped on his right ear.
"Demigod ears. Remember??"
Parses swallowed hard. Galian chuckled.
"You were saying, Parses??"
Parses glared at Galian for a moment. They kept walking. Martus glanced to his right. His eyes widened in surprise and disgust.
"What?" asked Parses.
Martus grimaced in disgust.
"There are three men coming this way."
The others followed his gaze. Three men walked into a small clearing, several yards from the others. One of them waved at Martus and the others.
The Sovereign growled heatedly at the mention of his twin's name. Galian stepped to his side.
"Just play it cool. Your life depends on it."
The Sovereign shot Galian a heated stare. Galian was unmoved. They looked back towards the three men, who closed distance. They finally stopped in front of them. They were simple villagers. No weapons to speak of. They had a friendly air about them. One of them smiled warmly at the Sovereign.
"Hercules!! It's so good to see you!!"
The Sovereign forced a smile.
"Likewise." he said tonelessly.
The man leaned towards the Sovereign a bit, studying his leather attire and the beard.
"Huh! That's a different look for you."
A hint of annoyance crept into his smile. His eyes narrowed.
"I happen to like the change."
The man's smile lessened a bit. A trace of anxiety appeared briefly on his face. His companion spoke up.
"Um-Hercules, we need a favor from you."
The Sovereign raised an eyebrow.
"What is it??"
"W-Well, we are heading to the village of Hastus, in the kingdom of Mirtan. You see, a festival is being conducted there. They are trying to raise some money for orphans of a terrible attack on Ismalan. The attack occurred over three weeks ago, from what I understand."
Martus, Pareses, and Galian tensed up slightly. The third villager gazed at Parses for a moment. There was something...familiar about him. Parses immediately met his gaze. The villager looked away in fear and embarrassment.
"So Hercules, " the second villager continued. "We'd like you to accompany us to Hastus. The situation is dire, and we need your help."
The Sovereign crossed his arms, and looked down at the ground. He pursed his lips, as if in thought. Then he looked up, and raised his eyebrows.
"No." he said, matter-of-factly.
The three men were stunned. The second villager stepped forward, certain that he misunderstood what was said.
"You heard me. I can't. I have someplace else I have to be."
The villager was shocked at the indifference in the demigod's voice.
"B-But you never say no to such things!! Hercules, these children need you!!"
A dark scowl crossed the Sovereign's face. He approached the villager, who took a step back. His eyes filled with fear. The Sovereign towered over him. He gritted his teeth in barely-controlled fury. His ice-blue eyes penetrated the villager's like daggers.
The three villagers stared at each other. The third villager glanced at Parses again. And suddenly, he recognized who Parses was. That recognition registered on his face but for an instant. Yet it was enough for Parses to take notice. The third villager grabbed the second villager's forearm.
"Let's go, Jemar. We still have a long trip ahead of us."
His friend turned towards him,
"Look, I'm sure Hercules has a good reason for not coming to help us. Isn't that right, Hercules?"
The Sovereign smiled slightly. It wasn't a friendly smile.
"I thought so. So, c'mon you two. Let's go."
"Let's go! We've got a long way to go yet."
The second man looked back at the Sovereign. But this time, his gaze was one of scorn and disappointment. The three men walked off. Parses's eyes narrowed. He reached for his knife. Martus noticed this.
"What are you doing??"
"That guy named Gaspar? He recognized me."
Galain raised an eyebrow.
Parses quickly drew his knife, and threw it. It tore through the air like a lightning bolt-
And slammed into the third man's back. His eyes bulged out of his head. Blood erupted from his mouth. He fell face-first to the ground, dead. His two companions spun towards the four men, horrified.
Galian and Martus drew their weapons next. The two villagers ran off screaming in opposite directions-
And two knives ripped into the backs of their necks. Their lifeless bodies dropped to the ground. Galian grimaced in anger.
"C'mon, c'mon!! We gotta see if they were alone!!" exclaimed Parses.
They ran off. Martus turned to the Sovereign.
"You help us look. And don't try to run off or try anything else. You'll know what'll happen if you do."
The Sovereign growled. Then he ran off into the bushes, after the other men.
The four men searched through a good portion of the forest near where the villagers were murdered. But not a soul was in sight. Finally, they all met back in the clearing where the three corpses lay. Martus turned to the Sovereign, enraged.
He took out the Hades Stone. A savage eruption of pain cascaded through the Sovereign's body like a tsunami. He cried out in agony and fell to the earth. Martus willed greater pain into the demigods's body. For a good while, the Sovereign twisted and turned, screaming in absolute agony. Martus was relentless in his torture. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he willed the Hades Stone to stop. The Sovereign dropped to the ground, gasping. Blood trickled from his mouth.
"I toldyou to be discreet!!You've got the brains of a JACKASS!!"
"No wonder Ares killed him." snorted Parses in disgust. "Hercules has more brains than this idiot."
The Sovereign stared into the earth and grass.. The fury that was inside him threatened to explode out in a full-scale tempest. But he incredibly willed himself to calm down. Martus grimaced in disgust at the demigod.
The Sovereign slowly, and unsteadily, rose to his feet. He turned towards the three warlords, his face an impassive mask. Martus could see the anger and fear in the Sovereign's eyes.
"You remember who's your master." Martus said with a contemptuous sneer. "You do exactly what we tell you to do. Now get your sorry ass walking. Move it!!"
The Sovereign stiffly turned away from them, and began to walk. His fists were clenched so tightly that his knuckles were turning white. The Sovereign had been fantasizing ripping their organs from their bodies. And as time passed, his fantasies had become more and more lurid. This latest episode was fuel to the fire.
The four men soon disappeared into the forest. As soon as they were gone from sight, a middle-aged woman's face popped from some bushes. Terror was roiling through her features.
"The butchers of Ismalan!!" she gasped.
She got up, and rushed off into the depths of the forest.
Joxer paced the room nervously.
He had gone over it and over it in his head. What to say. How to say it. It was easier before in practice.
Now, he was a nervous wreck. This was the real thing.
He walked over to the window, staring out into the clear, crisp night sky. The moon shone brilliantly on the trees and ground below, creating harsh shadows. He picked up a glass of water. Joxer noticed his right hand was shaking. He growled in disgust.
"Stop it!" he hissed to himself. "This is Meg, you idiot!! The woman you love!! Get it together, dammit!!"
He took a quick swallow, and set the glass down on the table. He sighed raggedly.
Then Joxer heard it. Footsteps. Someone turned the door knob. Joxer spun around-
And Meg walked into the room. She closed the door, and smiled warmly.
She ran up to him and hugged him. Meg kissed him on the lips. She noticed that Joxer was tense. Meg pulled back, raising an eyebrow.
"You okay?" she asked with a uncertain smile.
"Oh yeaaaaah." Joxer lied. "I-I'm fine."
Meg's eyes narrowed slightly She had her doubts.
She took his hand, gazing at Joxer intently.
"You said you had something important to talk to me about."
Joxer smiled nervously.
"Yeah, I do. Let's have a seat."
Meg walked over to the bed, sitting down on it. Joxer took a chair, and placed it in front of her. He sat down. Meg raised an eyebrow.
Joxer swallowed hard. He looked down at the floor for a moment. Then he looked up at Meg again.
"W-Well, I-I wanted to talk to you. About us."
Meg stared at Joxer quizzically.
"Yeah. You and me."
Joxer looked out the window for a moment, and took a deep breath. He turned towards Meg. Her puzzled expression grew more pronounced. Joxer took her hand. He smiled.
"We've been through a lot together."
Meg slowly broke into a smile.
"Yeah. We have."
Joxer looked down at the floor again.
"And I wouldn't trade it for all the gold on earth."
A quizzical smile formed on Meg's face.
"Neither would I...Joxer, what on Earth is on your mind?? You're acting strange!"
Joxer chuckled nervously.
"Ehhhhh...yeah, I-I guess I am."
Meg leaned towards him, gazing at him intently. She smirked playfully, and placed her hand on his forehead.
"Hmmmm! You don't seem to have a fever!"
Joxer chuckled again, this time in a more relaxed fashion.
"Nooooo...no I don't."
He looked at Meg again, and smiled warmly.
"Actually, yes I do. But it's the best kind of fever. The kind you have when you're in love with someone."
Meg's eyebrow rose to her hairline. A smile formed on her face again.
Joxer finally sighed, rolling his eyes.
Oh, what the hell's wrong with me??" he mumbled to himself.
Joxer grasped Meg's hands. He gazed deeply into her large, ice-blue eyes.
"Meg, like I said, we've been through a lot together. I meant it when I said I wouldn't change my time with you for all the money on Earth. You're my soulmate, Meg..."
Joxer then got off the chair, and down on one knee. Meg's eyes widened in shock. Joxer took out the ring. It sparkled with gold. He threaded it onto Meg's trembling finger. She stared at him, tears rapidly filling her eyes. Joxer gazed at Meg, his face full of love.
"I want you to be my wife."
Meg quickly raised a hand to her mouth. A strangled sob escaped her lips. Tears rushed down her face. Then she slid off the bed, and wrapped her arms around Joxer in a fierce hug. She raised her lips to his ear.
"Yes!" she whispered forcefully.
Joxer's heart burst with joy. Meg drew back, and placed her forehead on his. A huge smile was on her face. Joxer had never seen her blue eyes radiate so much elation before. Meg rubbed her forehead on Joxer's with aggressive affection. She brushed her lips against Joxer's.
"Yes, I'll marry you." she whispered throatily.
The couple then exchanged a deep, searing kiss. Meg pushed Joxer back onto the floor. They would celebrate for the rest of the night.
"YYAAAAAAHOOOOO!!!!!" cried Maria in absolute joy.
She swept up Joxer in her massive arms and spun him around several times. The she lowered him to the ground and gave him a big, wet kiss on the cheek. Tears filled her eyes.
"By the gods, Joxer!!" she exclaimed.
She turned to Meg, and they exchanged a fierce hug. Maria rocked Meg in her arms.
"My little baby is gonna get married!!" she said, her voice shaking.
Shouts of joy and congratulations came from the other women around them. Francisca stood there, crying. She wiped the tears from her eyes. A friend held her, rubbing her shoulder. Xena and Gabrielle stepped forward, both displaying huge smiles. Meg released Maria, turning to Xena. They exchanged a strong hug. Xena kissed her on the cheek. She pulled back, gazing at her friend with pure joy.
"Meg, that's wonderful!! I'm so happy for you and Joxer."
Meg's smile was brighter than the sun.
"Gods...Xena, this is the happiest day of my life!!"
Gabrielle walked up to Meg, and gave her a strong hug. She kissed her on the cheek.
Meg giggled heartily. She was bursting with joy.
Xena walked over to Joxer. The two friends embraced. Xena grinned warmly at her friend.
"Joxer, I didn't know ya had it in ya." she teased.
Joxer laughed heartily.
"I guess I did!!"
Gabrielle walked over to Joxer, grabbing his forearm.
"C'mere, you. I'm gonna tell Meg what I saw yesterday."
Joxer rolled his eyes and chuckled.
Gabrielle tugged her friend over to Meg.
"Ya know, I got a little story to tell you about Joxer, Meg."
Meg raised an eyebrow.
"Do you know that yesterday morning I saw him walking into this tent?? Little did I know it was the jeweler's. I was just going over to say hi, and I overheard him thanking the merchant for the ring! He walks out, bumps into me, and eventually spills the beans!!"
Meg folded her arms, and walked over to Joxer. A wicked smile was on her face.
"Ohhhhh!! Is that so??"
Joxer blushed. He smiled shyly.
"Well, Meg-truth of fact is that I've been saving up like crazy to get this ring. I saw it about close to three weeks ago. You know Metras, the jeweler! He's a nice guy, and he treats his customers fairly. I put a down payment on the ring, and I went to pick it up yesterday-"
Meg quickly moved up to Joxer, embracing him. Joxer gasped. She cupped his buttocks and tugged him forward. A lustful, feral smile curled her lips.
"You little sneak." she growled seductively.
Meg then gave Joxer a deep, heated kiss. Screams of joy, laughter, wolf whistles and cat-calls roiled through the group of women. Meg plunged her tongue deep into Joxer's mouth. Joxer's knees grew weak, but Meg held him up. Finally, she broke the kiss. Joxer swayed on his feet, staring into space. A goofy smile curled his lips.
Meg leaned towards him, smiling seductively.
"Wait till our honeymoon, stud."
The other women laughed. Maria walked over to the pair and hugged them tight. She kissed each one on the cheek.
"I'm so looking forward to this wedding!!"
At that moment, another woman walked into the kitchen, and over to Maria. She tapped her on the arm. Maria turned to face her.
"What's up Stella?"
"There's a man here to see you." the woman said in a lowered voice. "His name's Darnastos. It's about the warlords."
Maria's smile disappeared. She nodded firmly.
"I'm on it."
Maria turned to Xena and Gabrielle.
"We might have our info. C'mon."
"Good luck." said Meg.
Xena, Gabrielle and Maria followed the woman out of the kitchen. They walked across the dining area to a table in the rear. An old man sat there. His eyes darted left and right. Fear was deeply ingrained in them. Stella walked up to him first.
"Here she is, sir."
Maria turned to her.
"Thanks Stella. You can go."
She left. Maria sat down next to the old man, and grasped his hand.
"Hey!! What's wrong Darnastos??"
He looked up at the Warrior Princess, who stood behind Maria.
He leaned towards the three women.
"My sister saw them!!"
Xena moved closer.
"The butchers of Ismalan!! S-She's waiting in your barn out back. She's too afraid to come in here."
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other. She turned back to the old man. Her eyes narrowed.
"Let's talk with her."
Xena stared at the woman, overwhelmed with shock.
"Hercules?! Hercules was with them?!"
"Y-Yes Xena!! But he was their prisoner!! I-I don't know what they were using to control him, but it looked like some green stone. They thrust it at him, a-and he was on the ground, crying out in agony!!"
Rage began to churn in the warrior's blue eyes. She gritted her teeth.
"If anything happens to Hercules..." she growled to herself.
She turned her attention to the woman again.
"Where did you see them??"
"In the Darshian forest, going towards the direction of Mount Kristos."
Xena raised an eyebrow.
"What's there, Xena?" asked Gabrielle.
Xena began to pace back and forth, her brows furrowed in deep concentration. There was a long moment of silence. Then, as the others watched, a slow, horrific realization came to Xena's face. Her eyes widened in horror.
Gabrielle quickly moved up to her.
Xena turned to Gabrielle, her eyes full of anxiety.
Gabrielle's eyebrows shot up to her hairline.
"The food of the gods?!"
Xena cursed herself, scowling.
"How could I have been so stupid?! Of course!!"
She placed her hands on Gabrielle shoulders, gazing deep into her emerald eyes.
"Gabrielle, it's said that the last bit of ambrosia on earth is located in Mount Kristos. The only way to access the cave it's in is if you're a god or demigod."
Gabrielle gasped slightly.
"So that explains Hercules...!!"
"Gabrielle, we haven't a moment to waste."
"I'll come with you!" said Maria.
Xena immediately shook her head.
"No, you stay here with Meg and Joxer. If those three become gods, you're going to have to help keep them and the others safe. Martus, Parses and Galian will kill every living thing in sight."
"Would you be able to stop them if they became gods??" asked the old woman.
"There are ways to kill a god." answered Gabrielle. "But we don't have those weapons readily available."
"C'mon." said Xena hurriedly. "We gotta get going."
Xena and Gabrielle ran over to their horses, climbing on them. Maria rushed over to the barn doors and opened them. Xena and Gabrielle then rode out of the barn, and soon both horses were at a fast gallop. They rushed off into the forest.
The four men walked into a clearing. Before them was a giant wall of rock, stretching high into the sky. Galian walked forward. He looked off to his right. He could see the massive forest stretched out below them like a giant rug. He took a deep breath.
"Well, we're here. At last."
Parses stepped forward.
"Now, the question is-where's the entrance to this cave?"
Martus turned to the Sovereign.
"Well, you're the demigod. Show us the way."
He raised the Hades Stone towards the Sovereign, who grimaced slightly. The demigod walked towards the wall of rock, the three warlords close behind. Suddenly, he stopped. Martus's eyes narrowed.
"Well, get going!! Why are you stopping?!"
The Sovereign let out a low chuckle. The chuckle soon turned to wild, raucous laughter which echoed all around them. He spun around to face the three warlords, grinning savagely at them. His ice-blue eyes were wild with glee and malice.
"Ooooooooh, you three think you're oh-so-clever, dontcha?!"
They glared heatedly at the Sovereign. Parses stepped forward.
"What in Hades are ya talking about, dammit?!"
The Sovereign tapped the tip of his nose.
"Yer a sloooooooow learner, Parses. I'm a demigod. Demigod nose, remember?? I smell it."
A hint of nervousness seeped into Parses's angry gaze. The other two warlords looked at each other.
The Sovereign leaned towards him, flashing a wicked, toothy smile.
Martus quickly rushed over to Parses's side, lifting his Hades Stone.
"Open that entrance, dammit!!"
The Sovereign's smile turned into a hideous sneer.
"Or what?! Yer gonna kill me?! Yer gonna kill me anyway, the moment I open that cave. Only I stand in your way to become gods. Guess what?? I'm not opening that cave. So kill me then. You ain't becoming gods with my help."
Martus thrust the Hades Stone at him. A vicious explosion of pain ripped through the Sovereign's body like an ax. The Sovereign cried out in agony. He dropped to the ground, writhing in erratic spasms. Martus approached him. His face was dark with fury and malice.
"You... son...of...a...bitch!! I'm gonna make you experience pain the likes of which you've never known!!"
The Sovereign forced himself to face Martus. He opened one ice-blue eye.
"I...c-c-can...t-take...a-any-t-t-thing you-c-c-c-c-ccccan dish out-"
Martus thrust the Hades Stone at the Sovereign again, and it was glowing with a brilliant intensity. The Sovereign let out a blood-curdling scream, twisting into horribly contorted shapes. Martus was going to make the Sovereign pay for his insolence. In a big way.
He barely heard the metallic whooshing sound.
A sharp metal disk smashed into the Hades Stone, knocking it out of his hand. His thumb exploded into pieces. Martus cried out in agony. He staggered back. The three men followed the disk as it ricocheted off the rock walls and back over their heads-
And into the hand of its owner.
She glared at the three warlords with rage and malice. Gabrielle rushed up to her side, sais drawn.
"Forget about godhood, fellas." she hissed. "It ain't happening. Not today, not ever."
Galian and Parses rushed at Xena and Gabrielle, swords drawn. The battle begun.
Galian took a vicious swipe at Xena. She leapt into the air and whipped her heel at him. It smashed into the side of his face. Blood and several teeth erupted from his mouth. He flew through the air, crashing into the ground. Xena landed, and shot towards him like a lightning bolt. Galian rolled out of the way as her sword plunged into the earth. He grabbed a handful of dirt and tossed it at Xena's face, blinding her. Less than a second later, Galian got up, lunging at her. Impossibly, she moved out of the way. Galian spun around, swinging his sword. Metal crashed against metal. He thrust out a foot. It slammed hard into Xena's chest. She flew back, crashing into the earth. Galian lunged at Xena again. She moved swiftly out of his way. Galian suddenly felt a sharp, burning pain explode from his side. Blood erupted from it. He cried out in agony, rolling along the ground. He turned to face Xena, who smiled at him maliciously. With a loud, angry cry, he attacked her again.
Parses flew back into the tree trunk with horrific force. Blood erupted from his broken nose. He clutched at it, staring at Gabrielle. She growled fiercely at him.
"Whatsamatter?!" she said jeeringly. "An armed woman too much for ya?!"
Parses's eyes went wild. Gabrielle somersaulted over the warlord as he lunged, ramming her foot into the back of his head. He slammed face-first into another tree trunk. Blinding pain screamed from his shattered nose, rippling through his head and singeing his brain. He staggered back and around to face the blonde. She rushed at him, thrusting a sai.
Impossibly, he dodged the blow. Gabrielle spun to her right-
And a fist smashed into her face. Hard. Blood erupted from her mouth in a crimson stream. She flew back, smashing sideways into a tree. Gabrielle opened one emerald eye-
Sharp, gleaming metal ripped towards her.
Gabrielle whipped her head to the side as the blade's tip burrowed into the bark. She thrust out a foot. Hard. She felt a rib crack. Parses flew back through the air, slamming hard into the ground. His sword remained stuck in the tree. Gabrielle threw a sai at him.
He rolled out of the way as it dug into the earth. Parses drew a knife from his boot. He quickly got to his feet, clutching his right side. Parses growled at Gabrielle.
"You missed, blondie."
Gabrielle sneered maliciously.
"I won't next time."
Martus clutched his wounded hand tightly. He quickly looked up, scanning the ground for the Hades Stone. The he saw it. His eyes widened in horror.
It lay on the ground. Just beyond the Sovereign.
And the demigod spotted it.
The Sovereign rushed towards it, grabbing the Hades Stone. He quickly rolled onto his knee, and faced Martus. The warlord drew his sword, staring at the Sovereign in anger and fear. The Sovereign smiled heatedly at Martus, savoring every second of the growing fear in the warlord's eyes.
"Lookie-what-I-fooooound!!" he sang jeeringly.
The demigod rose to his feet. His cruel, malicious smile grew wider and wider by the second.
"Oooooh-no so tough now, eh??"
Martus growled heatedly. The Sovereign narrowed his eyes.
"Ya know, we have stones like this where I come from too. And there's something that you don't know, sunshine."
"What?!" snapped Martus in rage and fear.
"Once one rock is destroyed, the other one inside the reanimated corpse becomes neutralized. Then that corpse comes back to life."
Martus sneered at him.
"No human can destroy the Hades Stone!!"
The Sovereign raised an eyebrow, chuckling heatedly.
"Aaaaaah-but a demigod can."
Martus's eyes widened in shock. The Sovereign instantly crushed the Hades Stone. A brilliant glow surrounded the demigod. He titled his head back, eyes closed. Bolts of energy shot around him. Then a thunderclap. The glow was gone. The Sovereign lowered his arms. Powdered remains of the broken stone drifted to the earth. The Sovereign waggled his eyebrows.
The Sovereign's feral gaze penetrated Martus's eyes. The demigod's smile turned into an absolutely feral snarl.
"Like I said-I'm...gonna...rip...out...yer... heart."
Xena slammed her foot hard into Galian's chin. The warlord flew through the air, crashing into the ground hard. His body rolled into a ditch.
She spun towards Martus and Hercules.
Martus let out a savage cry, lunging at the demigod. He snapped out an arm, grabbing the blade. Xena saw a wild look of blood lust surge through Hercules' cobalt eyes-
It happened in a split second.
It took a moment to register in Xena's mind. And when it did, shock and horror filled her soul.
Hercules had slammed his fist right into the warlord's chest. And there was an unholy glee on his face. There was an almost orgasmic joy he took in this. Xena could hear the bones popping inside the warlord's chest as Hercules dug around his insides-
Then, with a loud, sickeningly wet sound, Hercules ripped out Martus's heart. And he bit into it. With zeal. He actually began to eat the warlord's heart. The demigod tossed the body aside. His eyes settled on the Warrior Princess. He waggled his eyebrows and raised the warlord's heart in a show of thanks.
Xena was completely aghast. This was completely against anything she had ever seen from Hercules.
It was nothing like him.
Nothing like him-
Outraged realization swept across the face of the Warrior Princess.
"The Sovereign!!" she hissed.
The demigod tossed the heart aside. He walked over to the wall of rock, placing his hands on it. Xena began to run towards him-
And she heard an outraged cry.
Xena ducked the oncoming sword, and thrust her own back. Hard. She felt it dig into flesh and bone with a loud wet sound. She heard a harsh, gurgled cry. Xena yanked her sword forward. She heard the body hit the ground. Xena looked over her shoulder. Galian lay there, a look of horror on his face. Blood erupted like a geyser from his mid-section. Then his eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he was gone.
Xena heard the sound of rock being smashed. She spun towards the source-
And saw the Sovereign smash open a hole in the wall with his fists. He proceeded into it. Xena turned to her left.
The blonde swung a heavy branch into Parses's head. He flew back through the air, colliding with a tree. He fell to the ground. Gabrielle spun towards Xena.
"It's not Hercules!! It's his evil twin, the Sovereign!! I've gotta stop him!!"
Gabrielle heard rustling. She spun towards Parses. He drew his knife and threw it. Gabrielle dodged it, and at the same time, threw her sai. It whistled through the air-
And buried itself in Parses's throat.
The warlord's eyes widened in agony. His eyes rolled into the back of his head. He fell to the ground, dead. Gabrielle ran up to Xena's side.
The two women rushed into the opening in the wall.
The Sovereign ran through the long passageway, following the smell of ambrosia. It grew stronger and stronger.
He ran into a large cave. Hanging on a chain, suspended over a large pit, was a golden bowl.
And inside that was a large cluster of reddish fruit, clumped together.
Ambrosia. The food of the gods. With the power to make a mortal a god.
The Sovereign noticed that there was no way to reach the ambrosia. He hastily looked around. A massive stone pillar lay on the ground a certain distance from him. He ran over to it.
With incredible strength, the Sovereign picked it up and hoisted it onto his shoulder. He carried it to the edge of the pit. He tossed the pillar across the hole. It crashed into the ground violently, the earth shaking below his feet. The demigod looked into the pit. Far below, a river of lava threaded its way through the mountain. The Sovereign jumped onto the pillar. He smiled with anticipation.
"Come to pappa."
The demigod walked along the pillar. He came closer and closer to the ambrosia. He reached out towards it, hoping to grab a handful of the fruit and stuff it in his mouth-
Then he heard it. A metallic whooshing sound, slicing through the air-
And the Sovereign saw a metal disk rip through the chain holding the bowl. His eyes widened in horrified shock.
The demigod leapt for the chain. But it fell just past his reach. The Sovereign stared in outraged shock as the ambrosia plunged into the fiery river below, Then, with a burst of fire, it was gone. The Sovereign's eyes widened in fury.
He spun his head towards the origin of the flying metal disk-
And the Sovereign saw her holding it.
She stood there with Gabrielle. A spiteful smirk was on the Warrior Princess's face.
"Lose something??" she piped with a light air.
The Sovereign instantly rose to his feet. He somersaulted back through the air, landing near the edge of the pit. He turned towards the Warrior Princess. Surprise mixed with the rage in his ice-blue eyes.
"You!! You're... Xena?!"
Xena holstered her chakram. She raised an eyebrow.
"Yeah. And you must be the Sovereign. I thought Ares killed you!"
The Sovereign's eyes narrowed.
"Your little warlord friends used the Hades Stone to bring me back. And now that I destroyed Martus's stone, I'm back- for good. As for your Ares-we have a little score to settle.."
He pointed his finger at Xena, the furor beginning to shadow his face again.
"You took away my chance at becoming a god!!"
Xena snorted harshly.
"We've got enough trouble with the ones we have. And you're the last person who should have a chance at godhood."
The Sovereign growled savagely. He took a step towards Xena.
"My Xena wouldn't treat me like that!! If she did-I'd put her in line."
Xena laughed harshly. She glared at the demigod in spiteful defiance.
"Your Xena is a brainless idiot, from what Iolaus told me. I'd slap some sense into her if I could."
He then looked at Gabrielle.
Gabrielle chuckled harshly.
"Oh, no-no-no. I'm nothing like my counterpart in your universe. Don't even go there."
Xena stepped forward. Her ice-blue eyes narrowed.
"I don't know how those warlords brought you here to this dimension, but you're going back."
The Sovereign smirked.
"Uh-uh. I don't think so. And, if you plan on trying to kill me, let me let ya in on a little secret. I die, your Hercules dies as well."
Xena's smirk disappeared. The Sovereign could see the surprise in Xena's eyes. He chuckled harshly.
"Not to mention, I'm a demigod to boot. And I'm not that easy to beat."
"You don't know me very well." she said with a slow, dangerous purr.
The Sovereign spread his arms wide, a brilliant, sinister smile crossing his face.
"Then let's get acquainted. Too bad it'll be a short honeymoon."
The Sovereign lowered his arms. The smile turned into a vicious snarl. With a furious cry, he charged at Xena. She somersaulted over his head, landing behind him. The two spun to face each other. The Sovereign threw a savage punch at her. Xena side-stepped the blow and rammed a foot with all her might into the Sovereign's face. His head snapped back. Blood burst from his nose. He staggered back. Xena leapt into the air, ramming her feet repeatedly into the demigod's face. She forced him back towards the wall of rock. She dropped to the ground and sent another foot hard into his chest. The blow sent the Sovereign flying. He crashed into the wall.
The Sovereign shook his head. He stared at Xena, a wicked smile crossing his face.
"I like your style!!"
Xena glared at the demigod, a cold sneer curling her lips.
"Ohhh, but I'm just getting started."
The Sovereign charged at Xena like a bull. She somersaulted over his head again, this time ramming a foot into the back of it. He stumbled forward, tripping over a rock. The Sovereign fell to the ground. He quickly rolled over onto his back, and got to his feet. Xena leapt at him with a flying kick. The Sovereign dodged the oncoming foot, grabbing her leg in mid-air-
And he slammed Xena down hard into the ground. The wind was knocked out of her lungs in a flash. A half second later, a massive hand curled around her throat. Xena's glazed eyes dilated as the demigod's fingers began to cut off her air supply. The Sovereign smiled ravenously at Xena.
"Getting started?!" he cackled heatedly. "I'd say you're finished!!"
It came out of nowhere.
A large slab of rock smashed down onto the Sovereign's head. It bounced off, falling to the side. Stunned, he turned to his left-
And a stone club hit him full-force in the face. The Sovereign flew back, crashing into the ground. Xena's eyes widened in terror.
With a furious cry, Gabrielle attacked the Sovereign, swinging her club down at him. The Sovereign grabbed it-
And he rammed a foot into Gabrielle's side. Hard.
Gabrielle's eyes bulged out of her head. A ferocious blast of pain erupted from her side. She felt ribs crack. She flew through the air, slamming into the rock wall. The blonde fell to the ground. Horror filled Xena.
She quickly turned towards the Sovereign, her face filling with an all-consuming rage. The Sovereign got to his feet, club in hand. He rushed at Xena, swinging the club full-force at her. Impossibly, she leapt into the air, the mortal blow just missing her. With all her might, she rammed both feet into the Sovereign's face. The savage blow sent the demi-god cartwheeling back through the air, crashing onto his stomach in a cloud of dust. The club flew out of his hand, slamming into the earth. Xena leapt at the club.
The Sovereign rose to his knees, shaking his head to clear it. He looked up. A massive club filled his vision-
And it slammed full force into the Sovereign's face. His head whipped off to one side, a crimson stream flowing out of it. With a savage cry, Xena swung the club into his head again. It whipped off to the other side. More blood streamed forth. She rammed the end hard into the Sovereign's chest. His ice-blue eyes bulged out of his head. He was lifted into the air. With a piercing scream, Xena then swung the club hard into his chin. The brutal blow sent the demigod cartwheeling back again. He slammed face-first into the earth.
Xena swung it down at his head-
And a massive hand grabbed it. Another massive hand snapped forth like a cobra-
And an eruption of searing pain tore through Xena's shoulder. Her shoulder bone popped out of its socket. Xena flew through the air, smashing down onto the injured shoulder. She cried out in agony. The pain was almost unbearable. She quickly looked behind her-
And the Sovereign was charging full force at her, club raised. Xena's eyes widened in rage.
She grabbed her chakram and flung it at the Sovereign. It ripped across the side of his face. Blood erupted from it. He cried out in agony, clutching it. His eyes darted forward-
And Xena's feet slammed into his face again. The Sovereign flew back through the air, hitting the ground hard, rolling over his head onto his belly. Stunned, he began to rise. He saw Xena rushing at him, club in hand. His ice-blue eyes widened in rage.
He charged at her. Xena leapt into the air, slamming both feet hard into the top of the Sovereign's head. He rammed face-first into the ground. Xena flipped through the air, landing behind him. She looked over her shoulder. Xena was at the edge of a cliff, and a hundred feet below lay an underground river. She spun towards the Sovereign. He rose to his feet and turned to face the Warrior Princess. His ice-blue eyes were wild with bloodlust.
"I'm gonna rip out yer spine." he snarled.
Xena bared her teeth in fury.
"Bring it on." she hissed.
With a loud roar, the Sovereign ran at her. He swung his fist at Xena. She barely dodged the blow. Xena swung the club at him with all her might. This time, the Sovereign was ready. He lifted his massive right arm, and the club smashed into it with little effect.
The Sovereign snapped out a foot. It burrowed into Xena's side.
Blinding pain tore through Xena's side like a tsunami. A strangled cry came from her throat. She flew back, slamming back-first into a boulder. Xena fell to the ground. She gasped heavily, her side pulsating in brutal explosions of pain. Xena turned quickly towards her adversary-
And the Sovereign was rushing at her, fist raised, ready to bring it down on her head.
Incredibly, she moved out if the way. The Sovereign's fist ripped into the earth, smashing open a large crater. He quickly looked to his right-
And the chakram ripped across the other side of his face. More blood erupted forth. The Sovereign cried out in pain-
And Xena leapt up, ramming her foot viciously into his chest. He stumbled back-
And fell off the cliff.
As he fell, the Sovereign whipped out his hand, grabbing a rock. His fingers dug into it. Xena reached the cliff's edge, looking over. He glared at the Warrior Princess with ire and hatred.
"I'll KILL you, you BITCH!!"
Then the demigod lost his grip.
The Sovereign fell, screaming in rage at Xena. He tore into the water, and was swept by the rapid current deep into the mountain. Xena grimaced in pain, glaring at the rushing torrent of water.
"Famous last words." she mumbled in disgust.
She quickly turned towards her companion.
Xena ran over to her, kneeling at her side. She took the blonde into her arm.
She slowly opened her eyes, staring at Xena in surprise.
Xena quickly, and carefully, felt around her friend's mid-section. Gabrielle cried out in pain. Xena grimaced at feeling her friend's broken ribs.
"Gods!!" she swore, infuriated.
Xena placed her hand on Gabrielle's face, stroking it lovingly. Tears came to the warrior's eyes.
"Ssssssssssh!! Don't talk!! Just rest."
"Xena, the Sovereign!!"
"We don't have to worry about him now. He fell into Mount Kristos's underground river."
"B-But Xena-that ends up as a waterfall!! He'll end up between Piros and Mergaris!! H-He may go hurt innocent people!!"
Xena frowned deeply.
A sharp stab of pain ripped through her shoulder. Xena grunted harshly. Gabrielle gasped.
The Warrior Princess gazed at her friend with a tired smile.
"Dislocated shoulder. And a fractured rib, I think."
Gabrielle rolled her eye.
"Gods, not again!!"
"Hold on a sec."
Xena released Gabrielle, laying her gently on the ground. She rose to her feet. Xena then slammed her left shoulder into the rock wall. Another vicious blast of pain. The bone popped back into the socket. She turned towards Gabrielle, smiling weakly.
"All better now."
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed. She could see her friend struggling with massive pain, despite the mask of bravado.
"Don't even try that, warrior."
Xena walked over, and knelt down by Gabrielle. She tenderly stroked the blonde's head.
"I'm gonna get the horses."
"Xena, how in the world are we going to send the Sovereign back into his dimension?! And besides, he's a demigod!!"
Xena raised an eyebrow.
"It won't be easy, that's for sure. Talk about the irony."
Gabrielle stared at her, puzzled.
"A good Xena going after an evil Hercules. A little switch of the role."
"Huh. That's ironic, all right."
Maria gently cracked the reins. The horses drew the carriage along the winding road. She looked back at Meg, her face full of worry
"Meg, I don't know about this."
Meg shook her head, her face full of anger and determination.
"Maria, we went over this!! We have a business to run!! We've got to pick up those tables and chairs we ordered from Mitros!!"
"She's not budging, Maria."
"Don't you think this trip to Kratos is a little dangerous under the circumstances??" asked Francisca.
Meg sighed, and shook her head.
"Francisca, I'm aware of the risks. I'm also not going to allow myself to be intimidated by some thugs. I've had to deal with that all my life. Besides, I trust Xena and Gabrielle. I'm sure they'll find a way to stop them."
Joxer placed a hand on Meg's knee, smiling slightly.
"You're brave, kid."
Meg placed her hand on Joxer's. She raised an eyebrow.
"Don't think that I'm not scared too, Joxer. But we've got to live our lives. We can't stop living them because of some thugs."
Maria turned towards Meg, and smiled.
"Yeah. You're right. Anyway, you've got me to protect ya."
Maria turned around, and brought the horses to a stop. Meg raised her eyebrow again.
"Why are you stopping, Maria??"
Maria sighed with disgust.
"I thought you took care of that before we left!!" chuckled Francisca.
"So did I."
The massive woman climbed off the cart, and walked towards some thick bushes. Joxer rubbed Meg's hand affectionately.
"Anyway, we do have a wedding to pay for."
Meg smiled at him with affection.
"That's right, sweetie."
Francisca folded her arms, smirking in amusement.
"Now, what's this about changing the name of the place??"
Meg smiled warmly.
"I'm changing it to Meg and Joxer's."
Francisca returned the smile.
Joxer looked up.
"Hey. Someone's coming."
The three turned forward. A burly man, wearing a leather outfit, walked slowly towards them. Francisca squinted her eyes.
"He looks like he just took a swim in the river!!""
Joxer took a closer look. His eyes widened in joy.
"Hey!! It's Hercules!!"
Joxer jumped off the cart and ran towards the man. But as he took a closer look, surprise crossed Joxer's face. The man had two deep gashes on either side of his face. Blood flowed down them. And more importantly, was the expression on his face. It was not a friendly one by any means. Joxer swallowed hard.
"U-Um-Hercules?? A-Are you okay??"
The Sovereign gazed at Joxer intently.
"I know you!!"
"W-Well, yeah!! I'm Joxer the Mi-"
In an instant, the Sovereign rushed up to Joxer and grabbed him by the throat. He hoisted him into the air. Meg and Francisca stared on in terror.
"Joxer!!" they screamed.
The Sovereign smiled heatedly at Joxer, who squirmed in his steel-like grip.
"Joxer...you're the counterpart of that rebel in my world."
The Sovereign looked towards Meg. His cold smile grew wider.
"Meg...Xena's twin in my world-Meg...that warrior who destroyed half my army..."
He looked back at Joxer, an insane gleam in his eyes.
"And if I kill both of you, that husband and wife team in my world will die. Ahhhhh, vengeance is sweet."
The Sovereign slowly began to crush Joxer's throat. Joxer's eyes bulged out of his head-
And the Sovereign heard a savage scream come from his left. He quickly turned in that direction-
And Maria slammed into the Sovereign with incredible force. Joxer flew out of his grasp, crashing into the earth.
Both the Sovereign and Maria flew across the road. They rolled down the steep hill, landing on the riverbank. Maria threw the Sovereign off her. She quickly rose to her feet. He rose to his. Maria growled heatedly at the demigod.
"I'm gonna pound you silly." she snarled.
The Sovereign smiled heatedly.
"You've got a surprise coming, tall, Amazon, and butch."
He charged at Maria, throwing a vicious punch at her. Maria sidestepped the blow and rammed her own fist hard into the Sovereign's face. His head snapped back. Maria then grabbed his shoulders and head-butted him twice with all her might. He staggered back. Maria threw a punch at the Sovereign-
And something hit her face. Hard.
Maria went airborne. She felt a gush of warm fluid cascade out of her mouth. She saw several of her teeth fly out with a large stream of blood-
Then she crashed into the earth.
The Sovereign lowered his fist, smiling ferally.
"Oooooh, yeaiiiiah. Some good ol' fashioned woman beating."
At the top of the cliff, Meg, Joxer, and Francisca stared in horror at Maria.
"Oh my gods!!" cried Meg in disbelief.
"Has Hercules gone crazy?!" exclaimed Francisca.
Joxer rubbed his throat vigorously, staring at Maria, who struggled to get to her feet. He thought about what the demigod had said. Suddenly, he remembered a story Iolaus told him...
About another universe. ..
Joxer's eyes widened in shock.
"The Sovereign!!" he gasped.
He turned to the two women.
"That's not Hercules!! It's his evil twin from another dimension!! The Sovereign!!"
Meg and Francisca stared at him in disbelief.
"I'm serious!!" exclaimed Joxer. "It's a story Iolaus told me! He was in another universe, where there's a duplicate of everyone here!!"
Joxer grabbed Meg's arm.
"Meg, we gotta get outta here!!"
"I'm not leaving Maria!!" shouted Meg angrily.
"Meg, listen!! The Sovereign said that if he killed you and me, our counterparts in his universe would die too!! They're warriors who used to give him trouble!! He wants to kill us so that they die too!!"
Meg's eyes grew wide with shock.
"Look!!" shouted Francisca.
Meg and Joxer quickly looked down onto the riverbank. Maria had just gotten to her feet. Blood was dripping from her mouth. A look of pure rage hideously twisted her features. The Sovereign cracked his knuckles.
"Time to put ya in yer place, woman. I'm gonna break ya."
The demigod's eyes widened in fury and bloodlust. With a harsh cry, he charged at Maria. The Sovereign threw a right. With incredible speed, Maria dodged the blow. She rammed her own left with all her might into the Sovereign's face. His head whipped to the left. Blood burst from his mouth. With a hideous scream, she grabbed his leather outfit and rammed her head repeatedly into his. Maria rammed her knee full force into his groin repeatedly. Finally, a vicious right cross. The powerful blow sent the Sovereign flying through the air. He crashed into the sandy earth. Maria picked up a massive wooden branch. She flew at the Sovereign, the branch raised high above her head.
The Sovereign got to his knees-
And Maria brought it down full force into his head. The branch splintered into kindling-
And a savage explosion of pain erupted from Maria's stomach. Blood burst from her mouth. Her eyes dilated in agony. She saw a massive forehead fill her vision-
And her face exploded in white-hot pain. She felt her nose snap-
And something smashed into her face. She went airborne-
And Maria collided violently with the earth face-first.
She lay there, moaning in agony. Tears streamed down Meg's face.
"Maria, GET UP!!"
Maria trembled erratically. The Sovereign approached her. Maria clutched a large stone. Her grip on it tightened as the demigod got closer and closer. With her other hand, she grabbed a fistful of sand-
And she threw the sand into the Sovereign's eyes. He shrieked in shock, blinded by the sand-
And Maria rushed at the Sovereign, slamming the rock with all her might into his face. His head whipped back, blood bursting from his mouth and nose. He fell onto the ground, and Maria was on top of him.
She slammed the rock full force into the Sovereign's face, over and over again. She wouldn't stop until he was dead-
Then a hand grabbed her wrist, stopping her. Maria's eyes widened in horrified shock. The Sovereign glared at her, a hideous smile crossing his face. Bloodlust roiled in his ice-blue eyes-
And he rammed a fist into Maria's face. There was a loud crack as her jaw snapped. A huge explosion of blood and teeth flowed out of her mouth like a raging river. She flew off through the air into a cartwheel. Maria slammed into the earth in a huge cloud of dust and sand.
Meg's eyes bulged out of her head.
Joxer grabbed Meg's arm.
"Let's go Meg!!"
Agony surged across Meg's features.
"MEG!! LET'S GO!!!"
Joxer got to his feet, tugging Meg up with him. He looked back at Francisca.
"Fran. let's go!!"
"Get outta here, Joxer!!" shouted Francisca. "I gotta keep an eye on Maria!! GO!!"
Joxer nodded once. He pushed Meg into the cart, and he climbed aboard after her. Joxer grabbed the reins, and cracked them across the horses' backs. The cart tore off down the road. Francisca ran over to a boulder, hiding behind it. She looked back down at Maria. Tears rushed down her cheeks.
The Sovereign walked towards the fallen warrior. Maria slowly propped herself onto her hands. Blood flowed from her almost toothless mouth. Her bruised eyes narrowed in rage. The Sovereign smirked coldly at Maria.
"Ya should've stayed at home in the kitchen where you belonged." jeered the demigod.
Maria's eyes widened heatedly. With a furious cry, she got up and rushed at the Sovereign. Maria threw a deadly right at him-
And he caught her fist, crushing it.
Maria screamed in agony as the bones popped and cracked inside her hand. The Sovereign threw a savage right into her belly. Red-black blood erupted from her mouth and nose. She was hurled up into the air by the blow. As Maria landed, the Sovereign grabbed her and lifted Maria high above his head. The demigod smiled wickedly.
"I said I was gonna break ya."
The smile was replaced by a hideous snarl. With a bloodthirsty roar, the Sovereign slammed Maria down onto his knee. There was a loud crack as Maria's back snapped. He then tossed her off his knee. She crashed into the sand, rolled onto her back, and lay still. Francisca dove out of sight. She let out a strangled sob, overwhelmed with grief.
She ran off into the bushes.
The Sovereign glared at Maria's broken body. She stared into the sky, her eyes dilated . He then looked up at the cliff. Taking a run, he leapt high into the air, his body twisting into a tight somersault. He landed on the road. The Sovereign quickly looked around. No one was in sight. The Sovereign snarled in disgust.
He looked down the road. His eyes narrowed.
"I'll take care of Meg and Joxer later. It's time I ruined Hercules' spotless reputation."
He walked off the road, and into the forest.
Maria lay in the sand, staring up into the bright blue sky. Puffy clouds went past her line of sight. She tried as hard as she could to focus on them. But the pain that was tearing through her body was greater than anything she had ever experienced before. She didn't know how long she had been laying there, but it seemed like forever.
Then Maria heard it.
Footsteps, approaching rapidly. Her eyes darted left and right in terror-
And Francisca's face popped into her vision. Tears streamed down her face.
"Maria!! By...the... gods!!"
Maria gave the barest trace of a smile.
"No-no-no- no!!" Don't talk, honey!! D-Don't talk!! Just rest, okay sweetie?? J-Just rest. J-J-Just take it easy."
Maria rolled her eyes. She groaned slightly. Blood flowed from her mouth.
"B..Back-k-br-brokan..." she uttered in a hoarse rasp. "C-Can't rrrrmmove..."
Francisca suddenly heard horses galloping rapidly towards them. She looked up. A sob of relief escaped her mouth.
"It's Meg and Joxer!! Thank the gods!!"
Joxer brought the carriage to a halt. Meg and Joxer jumped out of the carriage, rushing over to Maria. They knelt at her side. Meg gently picked up Maria's head, cradling it in her arms. She was overwhelmed with grief. She trembled erratically.
"Maria!! Oh by the gaaawwds...Mariaaaaa..."
Meg's eyes roamed erratically over her friend's body. She saw Maria's crushed, mangled hand. A loud sob burst from her throat. She slapped a hand over her mouth. Maria grasped Meg's arm with her good hand.
"Mrreg..." she croaked.
Meg instantly looked down at her friend. She bent over and tenderly kissed Maria on the forehead. She rubbed her head against Maria's.
"P-P-PPPlease... don't die!!" she sobbed. "Oh sweetheart, please...oh gods, please hold on!! Please!! Hold on, baby!!"
Maria sighed slightly.
"Brack-b-broken back...b-bad...won't...mrrake it..."
"No!! You're NOT gonna die!!"
Maria began to cough. Blood burst from her mouth. Joxer quickly took out a rag and wiped Maria's mouth as best he could. Tears streamed down his face.
"Oh gods... "
He swallowed hard, and spoke again.
"L-Listen! N-N-Now you listen to me, ya hear?! M-Meg and I are gonna get married, and-a-and you promised that you'd be at our wedding!! I-I'm not gonna let you get out of that!! You got me?? You've got a commitment to follow through on, dammit!!"
Tears began to flow down Maria's cheeks. She placed her hand on Joxer's face.
"I-Irrl be therrr-innn spirrit Jerx."
Maria looked at Meg, then at Joxer. She managed a slight smile.
"Irrrrove you Mreg an Jerrxer. Yerrmmmmy brether an sistur..."
Meg cradled Maria's head closer, kissing her forehead gently. Meg tenderly stroked her head.
"I love you too, ya big lug." she said softly, her voice trembling. "Ya got that?? I love ya. I don't want you to go! I need you Maria!! We need you. We need you here with us! You're part of the family!"
More tears flowed down Maria's cheeks. She rubbed Meg's head affectionately.
"M-My famery...Y-Yer...my..lirrle sisser. Don cry....sweeheerd...don wan you to cry."
Meg kissed Maria's forehead, caressing it with her lips. She rocked her gently. Joxer grasped Maria's forearm, rubbing it with affection. Tears streamed down his cheeks. Maria looked at him, and saw his overwhelming grief. She placed a hand on Joxer's face again.
"Don cry Jerrxer...sweeheerd...don wan you to cry too."
Francisca moved close to Joxer. Agony overwhelmed her. She began to sob. Maria's eyes narrowed in pity.
She stretched out her hand to Francisca. She kissed it, holding it against her face. Maria's hazel eyes turned towards Meg.
"I-I gorra go..."
Meg shook her head heatedly.
"Like Tartarus you are!!" she growled heatedly, her voice filled with rage and grief.
"I wranna sssdday, buu Iaaam sllippennn...."
"You're staying HERE!!"
Maria gave a slight, tired smile.
Then she closed her eyes. Her chest stopped rising and falling. Meg's eyes widened in horror.
Joxer quickly grabbed her left wrist, feeling for a pulse. There was none. Immense grief darkened his features. Joxer choked back a sob. He placed his hand over Maria's eyes, and closed them. Meg's lower lip trembled. She grimaced in agony. Her grief was so great that it made her shake.
"Oh nooooo...ohhhhh nooooo...oh no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-nnooooooooooooo...."
She lowered her head to Maria's and wept softly. Then slowly, the sobs grew louder and louder. And finally, Meg threw her head back and screamed at the top of her lungs. Francisca lowered her head, sobbing uncontrollably. Joxer came over to Meg's side, and took her into his arms. They held each other tight. Meg burrowed her face into Joxer's neck, crying hysterically. Joxer let out a few sobs of his own. He gazed at Maria's body. A rage he had never known before swept through his soul like a hurricane.
He gazed at the sky, his brown eyes filling with bloodlust and hate.
"He won't get away with this, Maria." Joxer growled harshly. "I swear it."
Xena had finished her song.
She stared at the funeral pyre, the yellowish-orange flames licking at the twighlight sky. Her insides were roiling with rage, grief, and guilt. She looked at Meg and Joxer. Joxer held her tight. Meg had burrowed her face into Joxer's neck. She was crying hysterically. Joxer stared at the funeral pyre, tears streaming down his face. Xena saw all the other women from the diner surrounding them, crying and wailing in grief. Xena's rage rose to almost uncontrollable levels. She clenched her fists so hard that her knuckles were turning white.
Xena looked down at Gabrielle. The blond gazed at her in sadness and pity. A tear ran down the Warrior Princess's cheek.
"This is my fault." she said in a hoarse whisper.
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed in anger.
"Don't even go there, warrior." she said in a threatening tone. "You had no way of knowing. And even if you did, you can't be everywhere at once."
Xena stared at the starlit sky erratically.
"I-I should've....I-I should've stopped him-"
Gabrielle clutched her friend's arm, gazing intently at Xena.
"Xena, look at me. Look at me."
Xena hesitantly looked down at Gabrielle. The blond spoke again.
"How could you have stopped him??"
Xena stared at Gabrielle, totally at a loss. The blond nodded her head slowly.
"Exactly. You couldn't. And that is not your fault. You're only a human being Xena. Not a god. You can't take responsibility for the Sovereign's actions. He killed Maria. Not you."
"I-I still feel responsible."
"Xena, I know why you didn't kill him outright. That would've meant Hercules' death as well. Xena, your hands were tied. There was nothing you could do!!"
Xena squinted her eyes shut. She gave a heavy, ragged sigh. Xena opened her eyes and looked towards Meg and Joxer. Slowly, she walked over to them.
"Meg..." Xena said softly.
Meg slowly looked up, turning towards Xena. Her eyes were bloodshot from excessive crying. Xena held out her arms to her. Meg moved away from Joxer, and into Xena's arms. She held Meg close, kissing her on top of the head.
"I...am... so ...sorry." Xena whispered, her voice trembling.
"S-S-She...was o-one of my closest friends..." Meg whimpered. "S-She had a heart of g-gold. She-s-s-she was a sweetheart...Sh-she never hurt anybody...!! Why?!"
Joxer glared at Xena, his face full of rage and hate.
"When are we going after him, Xena?!" he growled with a fury she never heard before. "I wanna piece of that son-of-a- bitch."
Xena pulled away from Meg. She placed a hand on Joxer's shoulder.
"No Joxer. It's too dangerous. I'll handle it-"
"Maria was MY FRIEND!!!" Joxer yelled in an all-consuming fury. "She died like a DOG!! NOBODY deserves to die like that!!"
Gabrielle quickly rushed up to Joxer, clutching his arm.
"I WANNA PIECE OF HIM, GODDAMMIT!!"
Joxer yanked himself away from Gabrielle. He drew his sword, and rushed at a tree. Screaming at the top of his lungs, he swung his sword repeatedly into it. Meg stared at him , horrified.
"I'm a good-for-nothing SHIT!!" Joxer screamed. "I should've done SOMETHING!! I'M WOOOOOORRTTTTTHHLEEEEEEESSSS!!!!"
He took one final vicious swing at the tree. The blade buried itself deep into the trunk. Joxer yanked at it and yanked at it. His hands slipped off the handle. He fell hard onto the ground. He covered his face, and wept bitterly. Meg rushed over to him kneeling down and taking Joxer into her arms. They held each other and cried. Xena walked over to them, kneeling next to the couple.
"Joxer, I'll stop the Sovereign. I swear it."
Joxer glared at Xena through tear-filled eyes.
"I'm coming with ya."
"No!!" exclaimed Meg angrily.
Joxer turned towards Meg, stunned.
"NO!!" Meg screamed in rage and terror. "I'm NOT going to lose another person I love to that monster!! I WON'T LET YOU GO!!"
Meg wrapped her arms around Joxer in a bone-crushing hug, refusing to let him get up from the spot. Joxer grimaced in pain. Meg held him, staring out the ground in anger and fear.
"I won't let you go..." she mumbled fearfully. "I won't let you go. I won't...I won't...I won't...I won't..."
Joxer slumped his shoulders in defeat. Xena placed a hand on Joxer's face. Her own was set in heated, feral determination.
"I swear Joxer. I'll take him down. He won't hurt anyone ever again."
Joxer sighed, Xena rose to her feet. She walked over to Gabrielle. The blonde grimaced in pain. Xena's eyes narrowed.
"You're staying put, you know."
Gabrielle's eyes widened in anger.
"Oh no you don-"
"You're staying put! Those ribs of yours are in no shape for traveling."
"And what about yours?!"
"Mine are just bruised. Nothing broken."
Xena looked up.
Gabrielle growled heatedly.
Francisca ran up to the two women.
"Help Gabrielle back to her room."
"Xena, I can help!!" exclaimed the blonde angrily.
And at that moment, a sharp stab of pain ripped through her side. Gabrielle grunted, doubling over in agony. Xena quickly grabbed her.
She looked up at Xena with anger.
"Damn you Xena."
Xena's eyes narrowed.
"Give me the Cronos Stone."
Gabrielle sighed harshly. She took from her belt pouch the broken Cronos Stone, placing it in Xena's hand.
"So-you're gonna lure the Sovereign back to where that gateway is? By Ares' abandoned temple?"
"Yes. And once the both of us are in that dimension between worlds, I'll kill him there. Then, I'll come back."
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed.
"You'd better come back. For me and Eve."
Xena swallowed hard. She regarded Gabrielle for a moment, gazing at her with love.
She hugged Gabrielle, holding her close. Xena kissed her on the forehead. The Warrior Princess looked at Francisca.
"Take care of her."
Xena released Gabrielle. She ran over to her horse, leaping onto it. The warrior rode off into the night.
The fires raged out of control. They consumed all matter of building, animal, and man.
People screamed and ran for cover.
And in the midst of it all was the Sovereign. He strode through the town square of Piros, his arm muscles pulsating with power. The reflection of the fire glowed off of his leather, hair and beard, illuminating him as if he were a demon. A dark, feral expression of glee and maliciousness roiled in his chiseled features. His ice-blue eyes surveyed the destruction and carnage he had caused. Dozens of dead, men, women and children, lay scattered about him. Suddenly, the demigod heard an enraged cry-
And he turned to his left. A man rushed at him, carrying a large ax.
"YOU KILLED MY FAMILLEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!"
He swung it hard at the Sovereign. The demigod snapped out an arm, grabbing the blade. The man's eyes widened in shock. The Sovereign gritted his teeth in rage.
"Now you can join them." he growled.
The Sovereign threw a savage punch at the man. His fist smashed into his face. The powerful blow blasted a hole through the center of his head. Blood, brain and bone exploded from the rear of it. He went flying through the air, crashing into a house that was on fire. The flames consumed his flesh, adding to the smell of death in the air. The Sovereign turned to his right-
And five men, armed with swords, faced him. The demigod smiled coldly. He raised his arms.
"Bring it on."
The five men let out furious cries, charging at the Sovereign. He somersaulted over their heads, landing behind them. The five turned around. The Sovereign swung his right fist back at the three nearest men. It smashed through each of their faces. Blood and teeth erupted from their mouths. They flew through the air, crashing into the burning buildings. The remaining two charged at the demigod. The Sovereign snapped out both arms, grabbing the blades. Both men struggled to pull them free from his grasp. The Sovereign suddenly yanked both blades forward. As the men were pulled forward, the Sovereign grabbed their faces in his massive hands. He then smashed their heads together with all his might. They exploded in a shower of brain, bone, and blood. The two corpses fell to the earth.
The Sovereign looked around again-
And spotted a little girl, frozen in terror. His ice-blue eyes narrowed. He strode with deadly purpose towards the child-
And a woman, armed with a crossbow, jumped out from behind some carts. She stood in front of the child, and aimed the weapon at him. She glared at the demigod in a tearful rage.
"I'm not gonna let you hurt my child, you bastard."
The Sovereign snorted.
"Try and stop me."
The woman fired the crossbow. The Sovereign's hand snapped out like a cobra, snatching it from the air. Then with a flick of his wrist. he threw it back. It embedded itself in the woman's shoulder. She cried out in agony and flew back against a carriage. She dropped to the ground. The little girl's eyes widened in horror..
The Sovereign strode up to the injured woman, who lay on the ground, trembling in fear. The demigod eyed the little girl with a cold smile.
"Say good-bye to your mommie."
A hideous snarl formed on the Sovereign's face. He raised his fist, preparing to hit the cowering woman-
And the Sovereign heard a savage cry from his left. He spun in that direction-
And Xena slammed into him like a battering ram.
They flew through the air, smashing through the wall of one house. They hit the floor. Xena rolled off the Sovereign. She was armed with steel knuckles, studded with spikes at the end. She also wore boots with steel tips and heels. The Sovereign quickly got to his feet. His eyes widened with rage.
He took a vicious swing at Xena. She ducked the blow and with a harsh cry, rammed her fist with all her might into the Sovereign's face. His head snapped back. Blood burst from his nose. Xena executed a vicious whirling kick. Her heel rammed into the demigod's jaw. The violent blow sent him crashing through the wall, onto the ground outside. He shook his head, staring at Xena in shock. The Warrior Princess hissed with fury.
"You... bastard." she growled dangerously. "I'm gonna make you pay for what you've done."
The Sovereign snarled at her with defiance.
"You're just like that milk sop Hercules!! I know your history!! I was watching you from that dimension between worlds!! You could have ruled this world!!"
Xena's ice-blue eyes widened in rage.
"Don't...you... dare mention Hercules' name!! He's a million times more man than you'll EVER be!!"
The Sovereign quickly grabbed a plank of wood and threw it at Xena with all his might. Incredibly, she leapt out of the way, crashing through the top of the roof with a piercing war cry. Xena flipped through the air, landing behind the Sovereign. He got to his feet, and rushed at her. The demigod threw a right. Xena ducked the blow, rolling off to the side. Xena knew she had to be careful. Even one of the Sovereign's punches could kill her. Matching his superhuman strength would not be possible. She had to outthink him, outmaneuver him.
Xena picked up two large metal pipes. The Sovereign charged at her again, throwing a left. Xena knocked the oncoming blow off to the side with a pipe. She rammed the other hard into his abdomen. The demigod grunted loudly, doubling over. Xena then swung both pipes hard into his chin. His head snapped back, blood bursting from his mouth. Xena leapt into the air, ramming her feet repeatedly into the Sovereign's face. She drove him back across the town square. Xena then somersaulted, landing on her feet. She swung the pipes at his face-
And two massive hands shot out, grabbing them. The Sovereign thrust out a foot. Xena flung herself up and away from the kick. She grabbed the Sovereign by the hair and rammed her knees hard into his face. The violent blow sent the demigod reeling. She released his hair, landing on the ground. Xena then executed a whirling kick, hitting the demigod squarely in the chest. He flew through the air, crashing into a wagon. The wagon was ripped in two. He fell to the earth.
Xena stood there, laughing harshly.
"You're pathetic!! No wonder Ares beat you!! Hercules is a way better fighter than you are!!"
The Sovereign quickly rose to his feet, his ice-blue eyes wild with rage.
"I'm gonna rip ya in TWO!!"
Xena grinned at the demigod heatedly.
"Ya gotta catch me first!!"
Xena whistled for her horse. It ran into the square. Xena somersaulted onto it. She rode off. The Sovereign quickly looked around, spotting a black horse. He ran towards it, leapt onto it, and followed Xena out of town into the forest.
The demigod followed Xena down the long, winding road through the forest, cracking his reins with a frenzied hysteria. But her horse was faster. He followed her up a hill. The Sovereign noticed that Xena disappeared around the bend. He followed her path-
And the Sovereign suddenly discovered he was in a courtyard. A large temple was nearby. He dismounted, walking away from the horse. The demigod suddenly realized where he was.
"This is Ares's temple...!! Where is she-oh no..."
The Sovereign suddenly realized he'd been tricked-
And there was a tremendous flash of lightning. The air behind the demigod rippled and churned. Suddenly, a gaping hole opened in it. A twisting, churning, glowing vortex roiled inside of it. Flashes of lightning rippled through its walls. The Sovereign's eyes widened in fear.
Suddenly, the demigod heard a savage cry. He looked directly in front of him-
And Xena slammed into him. Hard. They both were swept into the vortex.
They whisked through it with impossible speed, following the vortex's twists and turns. As they looked forward, they saw a glowing light ahead of them. It grew more and more intense. Suddenly, it overwhelmed Xena and the Sovereign. They then crashed into hard, rocky earth. The Sovereign got to his feet. He stared at his surroundings. The eerie gray clouds, the barren, desolate landscape.... He was back in his prison, between worlds. The Sovereign stared heatedly at Xena, his eyes wild with fury.
Xena growled at her adversary.
"Now that we're back in your world, I can kill you. "
With a furious cry, she drew her chakram and threw it at the Sovereign. He instantly dodged it. It burrowed into the rock. Xena drew her sword and swung it at the demigod. His right arm snapped out, grabbing the blade. With incredible strength, he whipped it off to the side, sending Xena flying back-first into the wall. The wind was knocked out of her lungs in a flash. Xena saw a massive fist filling her vision-
And she ducked, barely being missed by the fist. It burrowed into the wall. Xena quickly drew a knife and buried it in the Sovereign's side-
And something hit her face with horrific force.
Xena sailed through the air, slamming back-first into a boulder. She fell to the earth. Blood flowed from her mouth. Dazed, she groggily looked up. The Sovereign yanked the knife from his side and dropped it. He ran at Xena, his fist drawn back.
She rolled out of the way. His fist slammed into the earth, creating a large crater. Xena whipped out a foot. The heel of it slammed into the side of the Sovereign's face, whipping it sharply to the left. He staggered back. Xena got up. Another quick kick to the chin. His head snapped back. Xena thrust her foot at the Sovereign's chest-
And the demigod grabbed her foot.
With a furious cry, he swung Xena through the air, smashing her face-first into the ground. He yanked her up and slammed her into a boulder. Her left shoulder bone popped out of place again. The Sovereign whirled Xena overhead and released her. She went flying into a rock wall with incredible force. Xena fell to the ground and lay still.
Huge waves of pain cascaded through her body. Her head throbbed with each heartbeat, feeling as if it were about to explode. Blood flowed from her mouth and nose, and from numerous cuts on her face.
Her eyes fluttered open. The Sovereign advanced towards her.
Xena silently cursed herself. She had grown overconfident. Xena remembered her fight with Hercules long ago, and the fact that he had defeated her. But Hercules had shown mercy. The Sovereign was a completely different kind of animal. The resemblance on the outside was frightening. Inside, the two demigods were as different as night and day.
Xena thought about Maria. It was trying to confront the Sovereign strength for strength that killed her. Xena was trying to figure out how not to make the same mistake. But she could see that the Sovereign was learning her moves. And that he had no intention of going down without a fight.
The demigod yanked Xena's chakram out of the rock. He studied it for a moment, then looked at Xena.
"I'm gonna take your pretty little head off with this, Xena."
The Sovereign's lips curled in a snarl. He ran towards the Warrior Princess, swinging the chakram down at her. She quickly rolled out of the way as it embedded itself deep into the ground. Xena grabbed a handful of dirt and tossed it into the Sovereign's face. He cried out in anger and pain as the dirt blinded him. He released the chakram-
And Xena jumped up, ramming her right foot hard into his face. The demigod flew back, crashing into the ground. Xena yanked up the chakram. She saw the demigod wiping his eyes furiously. Her eyes widened in rage. She flung the chakram at his head-
And incredibly, the Sovereign grabbed a rock and deflected the chakram. It ricocheted off a couple of boulders, heading back towards Xena. She grabbed it-
And something tore into her abdomen. Hard.
Xena felt the wind knocked out of her lungs. She looked down just in time to see the rock bounce off her stomach. A vicious explosion of pain threaded its way out of her abdomen, into her head. She flew over a cliff.
The fall lasted a few seconds-
And her back slammed into the earth.
Xena almost blacked out from the pain of the impact. But her fierce will kept her from doing so. She could barely move. Every single attempt at movement was an exercise in agony. But one thing kept repeating itself, over and over in Xena's head:
If she did not move out of sight, she would die.
With unbelievable effort, Xena rolled onto her stomach and crawled behind a boulder. There was not one part of her body that did not hurt. Some places hurt far worse than others. And this time, Xena definitely felt a rib moving. She looked beyond the boulder-
And saw a shadow on the ground, which grew larger by the second-
And the Sovereign landed on the spot, crouching like a spring. He quickly rose and looked around him. He spotted the boulder. The Sovereign did not waste a second. He charged at it, smashing his fist into the boulder. Xena leapt into the air at the last moment, somersaulting over his head. She landed behind him. With a piercing screaming, she flung the chakram at the demigod as he turned around-
And it buried itself deep into his chest.
The Sovereign's eyes widened in agony. Blood flowed from his mouth. He staggered forward. Xena drew a knife from her boot. The Sovereign's eyes widened in fury. With a savage cry, he rushed at Xena-
And she somersaulted over his head, slamming both feet into the back of it with punishing force. The Sovereign tripped over a rock and fell face-first to the ground. The chakram buried itself deeper into his chest. Red-black blood erupted from his mouth in giant globs. The Sovereign struggled to his knees-
And Xena jumped onto his back, wrapping her legs and arms around the demigod. With a hideous scream, she buried the knife deep into the Sovereign's throat. His ice-blue eyes dilated in utter agony. Xena's face twisted in fury.
"This is for Mariaaaaa." she hissed.
She savagely ripped the knife across the Sovereign's throat. A huge fountain of blood exploded forth, raining down the earth. The demigod made a harsh, gurgling sound. His eyes rolled into the back of his head. Xena released him. The Sovereign dropped to the ground, dead.
Xena fell back onto the ground, gasping heavily. She winced in agony at feeling the broken rib and dislocated shoulder. Xena slowly got to her feet. She limped over to the edge of the clearing. Far below her was a river of lava. Xena turned back towards the Sovereign's body. Her eyes narrowed.
"Just in case someone else gets any ideas about bringing you back..."
She walked over to the demigod's corpse, kicking it onto its back. Xena yanked the chakram out of its chest, tossing it to the side. She grabbed its arm and dragged the body to the edge of the cliff. Xena pushed it off with her foot. The Sovereign's body fell, hitting the river of lava with a large splash. In seconds, the molten lava consumed flesh, bone, and all.
Xena watched in grim satisfaction. She turned, picked up her chakram, and walked off.
Joxer and Meg sat on a rock, gazing at the setting sun. He held Meg close, tenderly stroking her head. Joxer kissed the top of it. Meg snuggled deeper into his embrace.
"You okay?" he asked softly.
Meg nodded slightly.
Joxer rocked Meg gently. Inside, they were in agony. Maria's death had ripped away part of their souls. And they needed each other more than ever to get through this pain. Neither wanted to be alone. The grief and pain was too difficult to bear alone.
Joxer heard footsteps. He looked to his right.
It was Xena and Gabrielle. They walked up to them.
"You're leaving?" asked Joxer.
Joxer and Meg got to their feet. Gabrielle sighed, eyeing the pair sadly.
"I understand why you postponed the wedding."
Meg's eyes lowered to the ground, wandering over it. Joxer placed an arm around her.
"This...this hit me very hard, Gabrielle." said Meg quietly. "And Joxer too. I-It's going to take a lot of time to get over this."
"Maria meant so much to us." said Joxer darkly, his voice shaking slightly. "I...I...I-It's..."
Meg turned towards Joxer, gazing at him with sadness and pity. Joxer gazed at the sky, searching for words.
"It's...I...how can we go on without her??"
Xena walked up to the pair, placing her hands on their shoulders. She gazed at Meg and Joxer with deep sadness. She wanted to alleviate their pain in the worst way. But there was little Xena could really do, except offer one small bit of consolation.
"The dead can hear your thoughts. They will live on in your hearts. Keep thinking of Maria with love."
Gabrielle walked up to Xena's side.
"Joxer, Meg," she began, "Maria would not want you to postpone your wedding for too long. She wants for both of you to be happy together, to live long lives and have children."
"If we have a girl, we'll name her Maria." said Joxer with a slight smile.
Meg turned to Joxer, frowning deeply.
"Joxer, I can't get pregnant!! How will we ever have kids??"
Joxer grasped her hand.
"Meg, no offense, but you're not a doctor. And I wouldn't just take the words of one person either. Maybe that woman who told you that didn't know what she was doing. You've got to get a second opinion."
"Joxer's right, Meg." said Gabrielle. "There's a close friend I know, who's an Amazon. She's treated similar problems in women, and has had a lot of success. I'm going to contact her. You should give her a try."
Joxer turned towards Meg again.
"C'mon. We've got nothing to lose and everything to gain."
Meg looked back at Joxer, smiling slightly.
Meg turned to Gabrielle. They exchanged a hug. Meg pulled back.
Meg turned to Xena. They embraced. Xena kissed Meg on the cheek. She gazed at her twin, her eyes full of warmth and affection.
"You take care of yourself." Xena said softly.
Meg smiled gently.
"Where are you headed now?" asked Joxer.
"Egypt." answered Xena. "I'm going to meet with Cleopatra."
Meg nodded her head slowly.
"The Queen of Egypt...that should be interesting!"
"I agree. I'm looking forward to the trip."
Xena turned to Gabrielle.
"Let's get going. We've got a long journey ahead of us."
Xena and Gabrielle turned to Meg and Joxer, smiling.
"Good-bye." said Xena warmly. "We'll see you both soon."
"Have a good trip." answered Joxer.
Xena and Gabrielle walked over to their horses, climbing onto them. They rode off into the forest. Joxer turned to Meg. He placed his hands on her shoulders.
"You and I are going to have several kids. You hear me??"
Meg chuckled slightly. She smiled at him, shaking her head.
"Joxer, we don't know that yet."
"C'mon, hon! It doesn't hurt to think about it, and hope!"
He folded his arms, gazing at the starlit sky. His brows knitted together.
"Hmmm-what will we name our first kid if it's a boy?"
They paused for a few moments in thought. Then Meg smiled warmly. She looked up at Joxer.
"I've got a boy's name."
"Okay! Let's hear it."
Joxer thought about the name. He rolled it over and over in his mind. A smile formed on his face.
"I like that name!!"
He put his arm around Meg, and kissed her on the forehead.
"You and I are going to make beautiful babies together, Meg. I promise. Just have faith. That's what Maria would've told us."
Meg smiled sadly.
"Yeah. She would've said that. That's just like her."
A moment of silence. Joxer's face darkened. He lowered his head.
"I really miss her." he said quietly.
Meg embraced Joxer, holding him close. She placed her forehead on this.
"Gabrielle's right, Joxer." Meg said softly. "I miss her too. But Maria would want us to go on. "
A pause. Joxer sighed. He gazed into Meg's large blue eyes.
"You're right. She would."
He placed an arm around Meg.
"C'mon. Let's go home."
Meg and Joxer walked off towards the large wooden building. They would spend the rest of the night talking about their future together...
While the Warrior Princess and the Bard of Poteidaia headed off for their next adventure together, unaware of the dangers that awaited them in Egypt.
Two more dramas that would play themselves out on the world's stage.