Disclaimer: Characters do not belong to me, they belong to RenPic, et al and I will be making no money from this little endeavor. There is violence ahead, somewhat graphic, so consider yourself warned. Theres also a bit of sex, some of an alternate nature so if its against your religion or local laws, convert and move, silly! Feedback is always appreciated and desired but all flamers will be flushed down the toilet where they belong. You can contact me at The_Tenth_Muse@mailcity.com
Much Thanks and Admiration for my fellow Bards from The Bardic Circle, you know who you are! You all ROCK!!
BATTLES AND BLOOD
Scenes from The Conqueror's Life
Xena rested easily on her battle-steed as a cool morning breeze kissed her face. The field below, soon to be awash in blood and bodies, was a soothing green. Instead of hearing the natural sounds of birds and insects, she heard only the preparations for war. Turning from the quiet area about to forever be changed, Xena slowly rode back to her camp.
She knew it was a futile quest; vengeance never did any good. That's what her mother had always said. Scowling, she shoved away thoughts of her mother and her village. After shunning her for trying to protect them, they didnt even deserve that. The light fading from her dying brothers eyes was etched in her mind; Xena could still smell the blood on his body. It filled her with sorrow and rage. Swallowing hard against the debilitating sadness, Xena forced the sorrow to hatred against the one who had taken Lyceus from her. Cortese was about to get a very nasty surprise.
At least she hoped it was going to be a surprise. Xena had the feeling that if anyone were to lay odds on the coming battle, it would be 100 to 1 and not be in her favor. Forget the fact that she was untried in battle, forget the fact that they were outnumbered, there was always the fact that she was a woman. Everyone knew that women lacked the inclination or will to wage war. They didn't destroy life; they created it.
Her men were making the last of the preparations efficiently, each one saluting with respect as she passed. Xena still wasn't sure how this had all come together, but sensed that someone had been helping her. Ares? But why would he bother with someone like her? Of course it was probably just a foolish whimsy bringing that thought to mind. Sure, she was a good fighter, she had defeated every man in her small band so that wasnt in question. The qualification to join was that the warrior had to at least get a mark on her.
The wind increased almost in conjunction with the beating of her heart, blowing through her long black hair, holding it in a harsh caress before releasing it to fall over her shoulders. The armor she wore felt strange and confining but oh, so right. The heavy metal and leather combination had been hard to get accustomed but it was something she never went without any more.
Voice strong and carrying, Xena called out to her men. They lined the top of the hill together though she was the only one on horseback. Cortese and his men stood opposite, but definitely not equal, to them. His men were four deep where hers were only two deep. She hadn't studies tactics and strategy for nothing, though. As far as she knew, Cortese was a thug. He would waste his men without even thinking twice and that would be his downfall.
A long pregnant moment ensued as everyone stared at each other from the safe distance. The wind stopped and silence reigned as though the earth herself held her breath. Xena spotted Cortese sitting on his horse in the center of his men. She imagined that she could see a sneer on his face. The word exploded out of her in a compelling scream, "Vengeance!"
Both sides rushed down the inclines to meet in the middle. Heat and a red haze engulfed Xena as her sword sliced into her first opponent. She no longer felt her heart pounding in her chest, nor the sweat the dribbled down her neck to make her leather rub uncomfortable against her skin. Her sword was out of the mans stomach and swinging back to cut off the head of another of Corteses soldiers. She kept the bastard in sight through the battle even as the hot, and sweet, metallic taste of blood found its way into her mouth. Forgotten were the lessons her mother had taught her about revering life. Gone was the embarrassment that her tall and powerful frame had produced since girlhood. Erased as though it had never been pressed upon her were the images of what women were supposed to do and feel.
This was what she was born to do: take life, not give it. Pleasure shivered through her as her sword found its home in the heart of a man whose eyes were wide in terror. The blood splattered up and onto her as she yanked the metal free. She took a second to wipe at her face, smearing the blood over her skin and loving the silky feel of it. Spinning her horse around, Xena kicked into its sides, propelling it towards Cortese.
They met with a loud crash of swords. Her shoulder exploded in pain as it cushioned the impact. Ignoring everything but the man before her, Xena slashed and feinted and hammered at him with everything she had. Before she knew it, before she could savor the sight of his fear induced, sweaty face, he was impaled on her sword. She watched as the light left his eyes but it didn't bring the anticipated, triumphant feeling.
As his body fell off her sword and the horse to land with a meaty thud on the ground, a hollow pit opened in her stomach.
Now what was she going to do?
The air changed, waking Xena instantly. She didn't do anything, didn't move a muscle. There was no sound to alert her, no one moving in her tent, but she felt the presence of power. The soft furs making up her bed clung to her sweaty flesh in the summer heat. Someone knelt on the fur behind her, a strong and calloused hand rested on her shoulder before trailing lightly down her back.
Turning over, Xena pressed a knife into the throat of the intruder. The guttering candles gave off scant light but she could see the man was olive skinned with close-cropped dark hair and depthless black eyes. Xena waited.
"I've been keeping an eye on you," he murmured, voice deep and silky.
Changing from instrument of death to instrument of pleasure, Xena slid the blade down his throat to his bare chest, scraping his nipple, which hardened instantly. She nicked one of them so that a tiny drop of blood formed. Then she encircled it with her mouth, tongue playing for a moment before murmuring, "Why should I care?"
He gasped slightly and bent closer to capture her mouth with his own. Their tongues battled aggressively, mouths sucking hard until he pulled away. "Because I can make you a Queen, Xena, the Destroyer of Nations that you were destined to be before you got sidetracked on this little campaign of yours."
Looking up into his dark eyes, Xena felt eternity gather around them as she asked the question to which she already knew the answer. "Who are you to promise me such a thing?"
His hand firmly grasped her waist, pulling her hard against him so they were eye to eye. "Your benefactor. Ares."
I have attained the undying love, or at least need, of a God. Ares is powerful, magnetic, wickedly intelligent and merciless. My equal in every way save one. He is a God. That gives me an advantage, for he will not think of self-preservation as I do. It will not spur him to the intuitive leaps that will bring me all he has promised and more.
He gives me such pleasure that I dont even think while in his arms and I have to stop that. I have to retain enough of myself so that he does not gain the upper hand in our relationship. I have to use my power over him for what I want.
What do I want?
Xena watched the centaur leave with her child and could do nothing but cry. Her soul was torn to pieces, her heart a mere memory. What was life without her son? She could still feel his innocence reaching out to her, small hands tangled in her hair, the smell of him burned into her nostrils. Clutching her horribly empty stomach, Xena collapsed to the ground and wailed her loss to an uncaring sky.
I have to think. I have to get passed this and think about what to do next. Its been so long since Ive done anything more than blindly kill. My mind is thick and fuzzy. To free myself of Alti, that bitch who dared to murder Borius, I have to think! I have to plan.
The madness is trying to overcome me again. The darkness that blankets me with nothing but the most primal of urges: eat, sleep, rut, kill. I cant give in to it! Not if I want to avenge Borius death and the loss of my son!
I have to think.
"Xena! Corinth is ours!"
Finally Xena felt the triumph that should have come with Cortese's death so long ago. The city gates were gone, the defending army bloody spots on the ground and walls. Though she still led every battle, Xena picked her sparring matches. Every time she saw a defender wielding his or her sword with skill, she would ride through the upheaval and chaos that was battle until reaching her newfound opponent. Dismounting, Xena would always issue the command that caused her men to melt away like ice water. "My Kill."
The defender would invariably tense at finding himself alone with only one opponent, not believing the opportunity. And she would explain it to him almost gently. "If you beat me, if you kill me, the battle is over and your city will be free. No one will harm you for killing me. All of my men know my rules and will obey them without hesitation. The only true rule is that one of us will die. There will be no quarter asked, nor no quarter given. Do you understand?"
The defender would nod and the match would be joined. Sometimes it lasted a minute, sometimes as long as ten, but no one had ever come close to beating her. So now she rode into her newly conquered city actually deserving the name Ares had bestowed upon her, "The Conqueror". People, the ones still able to move that is, bowed as she rode passed. Her second in command approached on horseback, falling into pace with her. "Has the palace been secured?"
Maia nodded. "I'm having your rooms prepared now."
"Where is the governor?"
"In the dungeon with his advisors. Did you want them executed now?"
Xena thought briefly then shook her head. "No. First I want a bath and then food. Make sure the palace staff knows that as long as they perform their duties without trouble, I will keep them on. I have heard that Corinth's parties have no rivals and would hate to take the time to replace them. But I will if necessary."
"Understood. Did you need someone to wash your back?"
Xena glanced into sultry brown eyes and a smile almost reached her lips. "Why not? Make sure you don't stink by the time you show up."
"As you wish, Conqueror."
Xena wasn't fooled by the demure tone. One thing Maia wasn't, was demure. Maia was very competent and, though Xena didn't really trust her, Maia did at least have the same interests. This made them not enemies; at least for now. Besides which, the red-head was never dull, especially not in the bedchamber.
Xena's head swung to the accusation. A woman was carrying a child in her arms and crying. It was a boy, probably not yet into his teens, and obviously the woman's son.
"You killed my son!"
Xena waited for the remorse to come but in vain. The hatred mixed with bitter sorrow in the woman's eyes moved her not a bit. "How old was your boy?"
"Thirteen summers," the woman answered, hiking him up in her arms to get a better grip.
"Old enough to fight against my men. Therefore, old enough to die."
The disbelief in the woman's eyes was strong enough for everyone to see. Some of the men shifted uncomfortably.
"My son has never held a weapon in his life!" she cried angrily.
"And now he never will." Xena dismissed the woman from her mind as she turned her horse towards the palace. She heard the woman shrieking insults after her but dismissed them as well.
Was this was power truly meant? Xena wondered silently as the palace came into sight. Having such clarity of mind that no emotion touched you? Will I ever feel anything again? Even rage and blood-lust seem a thing of the past, she thought silently. Xena wondered if she could even be roused to passion. This afternoon's tryst with Maia should prove interesting if only for that.
She dismounted, striding across the still bloody courtyard. The bodies had been removed but the stones hadn't yet been cleaned. Xena went first to the state room, her guards keeping pace. The room was pristine, as though no war had been fought, and that appealed to Xena.
"I told you Corinth would be yours."
A shiver ran down her back at the suddenly close proximity of Ares. His lips pressed against her neck. 'Okay, the physical pleasure question is definitely answered,' she thought in wry amusement.
"As though you could ever be without passion," Ares murmured. "Mind if I join you and Maia in the tub?"
Xena turned and moved into his arms, looking up with a crooked smile. "The more the merrier."
A few hours later, Xena dismissed Maia and now, alone in the large bed, lay the God of War. His long, well-muscled frame took up a good amount of the bed that she had left empty. Dark eyes followed her every movement as she poured wine and then returned to join him, offering him a cup.
He took it, downing it with one draught.
"Thats a very fine wine," she scolded.
"Like you would know the difference," Ares scoffed, tossing aside the goblet to reach for her.
Xena allowed him to pull her closer, feeling his hardening desire for her returning yet again. "I thought you were tired," she commented.
"I would have to be dead," Ares returned.
Xena kissed him hard, running her hands over his body and then pulled away. "We need to talk first."
Ares looked at her, sardonic grin twisting his mouth. "Ive been waiting for this."
"Im sure you have," Xena answered. She hadnt raised herself from the insanity of her almost-animal past with Borius and Alti to return to it now. It had taken far too much of her soul to get where she was now.
"You have Greece, you know. It is yours to rule," Ares pointed out, nibbling on her thigh.
"You told me that I would be the Destroyer of Nations. That hasnt happened, isnt even close to happening with the resistance Im getting from my own people," Xena said, rolling away from him and off the bed altogether.
Raising himself on his elbows, Ares gave a long-suffering sigh. "What do you want?"
"Ive given you thousands of worshippers, Ares. Fed your temples with blood and decorated them with untold dinars worth of treasure. Ive brought you death and destruction such as youve never enjoyed in your entire existance."
"I want Rome. I want Chin. I dont want to worry about being stabbed in the back by one of my own generals. I want to know," and here Xena moved within his grasp, taking his hand and putting it between her legs, "how to put my own people into such order that I dont have to even think about them questioning me."
Ares eyes closed in agonized pleasure as his finger slipped inside her. "You are my finest student, Xena. My greatest triumph in this world. You will fullfill your destiny as Destroyer of Nations and I will make certain, absolutely certain, that nothing will stand in your way."
Xenas smile was satisfied enough to chill even Ares. "Good. Thats very good, Ares. And as a reward you may have me."
Its a form of insanity that allows me to continue as I do. I see everything with a clarity that frightens most people. I see what needs to be done, free of conscience or morality, and I do it. Or I order it done. Those who dont obey, die.
I can feel the darkness within me, trying to overcome the order I have imposed upon it. It is this order that I impose upon my world. The same order that brought me out of the madness after Solans birth. The same order that gave me the power to destroy Alti. Though now I wish I hadnt been so hasty because I could have used the old witch on ocassion.
There is a price. There must be a price but I havent encountered it yet. Alienation from Mother and my birthplace? I barely miss either. No friends or true allies other than Ares? Fear gives me all the allies I need and Ares gives me the rest. When I die, will I go to the deepest pit in Hades for the masscres Ive reaped amongst my enemies or to the Elysian Fields for giving my soldiers the chance at a courageous death and the security Ive brought the everyday people? I do not know.
I do not truly care. What lies beyond death doesnt affect my judgement in the living world. Its a fear I rid myself of long ago. When the time comes, I will face judgement without regret for the choices Ive made in my life.
Camping out in the winter was one of the least pleasant aspects of war. Especially just before spring when everything was completely dead, not even a hint of green to the bare eyes. The ground had thawed and froze, thawed and froze and thawed again to leave the heaviest of mud clinging to the horses hooves. The men were always cold and complaining except when in the midst of an actual battle. She allowed them their little faults, they were the ones who would be dying soon enough.
After Corinth, as Ares had promised her, the city states had all fallen to her rule. Most only through bitter battle but a couple through negotiation and bribery. Naturally it was the ones she defeated in battle that gave her the least trouble. The ones that came to her through bribery always held unrest and then she had to come down extra hard on the populace since by then the leaders were long gone.
Now was time for expansion. Greece had been Xena's for two years and was, for the most part, stable in her absence. It was time to make her precense known throughout the world and the first set to fall was Rome. Greece's neighbors all knew her and had succumbed to be territories of Greece with little trouble. Nothing would stand in the way of her quest to take Rome.
I cant believe I have him! My heart is soaring in triumph! I can feel his fear, he exudes it as I move towards him. That smug expression is still in place, but barely. I havent felt so alive in years! This pleasure is greater than Ares has ever given me, though Im sure hed hate to hear that, fragile ego that he is. At last I can savor the death of the man who crippled me, who drove me into madness. At last I can butcher his legs and life as he did mine.
Standing so close to him, looking into those dark eyes of his, seeing the fear that he cant quite suppress, it is all the sweetest of nectars, sweeter even than ambrosia. He doesnt truly know whats coming, but I do. Hes not going to escape from me as I did from him.
Hes going to suffer. Hes going to beg for the release of death before Im through with him.
Dressed in a white toga, black hair gleaming in the bright summer sun, Xena stood in the center of the arena. The stands were packed both with her soldiers and the populace. Already hanging on their crusifixes were the senators with their broken legs and pierced flesh. Tied to the prone cross in front of Xena was Caesar. This was one execution she wanted to perform personally, something she hadn't done in many years.
Dark eyes looked up at her with disdain.
"Emperor until the end, is that it Julius?" Xena murmured, hefting the large hammer into her other hand. "You don't know how long I've waited to show you the elegance of this kind of execution first hand. You can't truly appreciate it unless you experience it."
Placing the spike at his wrist, Xena drove it through in one blow. Though he didn't cry out, Julius' body convulsed. She leaned forward, feral smile on her lips and said, "One down, three more limbs to go, Julius."
Walking around the top, brushing her fingers softly through his sweat-soaked hair as she moved, Xena approached his other arm and put the spike into place. Wanting to play it out a little, Xena barely struck the spike enough to go half-way through Ceasars wrist. He cried out though he bit his lip bloody trying not to. She moved the spike around, relishing every gasp and groan of pain coming from his mouth. Another solid strike and it was through. This time Julius did scream and her smile broadened. The men closest to her flinched.
"I'm sure you'll be thrilled to know that you and your senators will be the last souls ever crucified. Quite an honor when you think about it," Xena commented, walking slowly down to his legs. She caressed them before looking back up at Julius. "I was going to give you the choice of which leg to break first but I forgot they'd be tied together. It's probably going to take me several tries to get them both broken but I'll give it my best."
Standing up, Xena made another complete circle, holding the hammer in the air with both hands. Before bringing it down with brutal strength, she shouted, "This is what happens to all who oppose me. I am The Conqueror!"
His screams filled her heart, soothing like a balm.
"You're as beautiful as I remember," Xena murmured softly. Her hands ached to touch the inky black hair that fell softly over silken robes but they were in full view of the entire court. It had been so long since she'd seen Lao Ma, so long since she'd been with someone honest. Brown eyes, darker and oh so much warmer than Maia's, gazed at her with a smile.
"As are you," Lao Ma replied. "I see you got my letter."
A reluctant smile crossed Xena's face, carried all the way to her eyes by the ironic tone of Lao Ma's voice. "You said you could use some help with Ming Tien."
"I did indeed. I didn't expect you to come with five thousand soldiers, though perhaps knowing you, I should have," Lao Ma commented quietly.
"You always said I would never learn the art of subtlty. Aren't you glad to be proved right?"
"I am glad that you are here," Lao Ma said.
"Ever the diplomat," Xena observed with real affection. "Shall we get on with the ceremony? Then we can really talk."
Lao Ma nodded and sat on the chair forward and to Xena's left.
"Bring the prisoner," Xena commanded, voice flat with contempt.
A young man was brought out, his bearing straight and defiant. He was forced to kneel at the base of the stairs to Xena's throne.
"Ming Tien. I see that you haven't changed since last we met," Xena said, voice dripping with derision. "Still the spoiled boy who thinks he can have whatever he wants. I thought that I taught you better than that."
"No woman teaches me!" Ming Tien spat.
The guard backhanded him. "Show respect to The Conqueror."
"For conspiring to commit murder, against your own mother no less, I would have you put to death after a long and thorough torture. However. As your mother, Lao Ma begged for your worthless carcass and I have agreed to spare it. You will be sent to work in my newly acquired lands. For the rest of your life. Working might teach you to respect your betters though I tend to doubt it. Take him away."
Ming Tien screamed insults at her as the guards dragged him away. The doors shut with a solid thunk, cutting off the noise immediately. Xena signalled and soft music filled the room as food magically appeared via silent servants. The rest of the evening was a long state dinner, the culmination of an alliance between Chin and The Conqueror.
Throughout the affair, Xena wanted nothing more than to take Lao Ma's hand and go somewhere private. But Xena had learned the hard way that more times than not, graceful acquiesence to traditions paid off more than gold. So she suffered through the boring dinner and somewhat entertaining acts at the end before taking her leave. Xena knew that Lao Ma would find her way to Xena's quarters without anyone seeing her later.
"Thank you for this gracious dinner and wonderful entertainment. I find that I am wearied by the day's events and require rest."
It seemed like forever before Lao Ma slipped into Xena's room via a hidden tunnel almost two hours later. Xena took the slender woman into her arms and held tight, breathing in the soft scent of jasmin from Lao Ma's hair. After a long moment, they walked to the bed and sat on the edge.
Lao Ma's hand cupped Xena's face. "You look tired."
"Yes and no," Xena answered.
"Ruling carries unexpected burdens."
"It does," Xena agreed. "You tried to tell me that before but of course I didn't listen."
A gentle smile lit Lao Ma's face. "You weren't in the mood to listen back then."
"Like I said, ever the diplomat," Xena repeated with a grin. "I was worse than a two-headed hydra with a pole up my ass."
Lao Ma shrugged slightly. "I don't recognize the creature but the description sounds accurate."
Xena brought Lao Ma's hand to her lips. "It's so good to see you again."
"Will you do something for me?" Lao Ma asked.
Self-consciously, Xena half laughed. "That, I'm not so sure I can accomplish."
"You rule half of the known world and you can't relax?" Lao Ma asked. "What good is that? Come, lie down and I will help you to relax."
"Now that sounds like fun," Xena said, wriggling her eyebrows.
"Not for that," Lao Ma scolded. "I am going to give you a massage."
"That sounds like fun, too."
And yet, it wasn't. As Xena lay naked on the bed, Lao Ma's hands probed every part of her, every muscle, demanding and questioning more than soothing. When Lao Ma's skillful fingers moved deep into her shoulder, Xena had to bite her lip to keep the tears from coming. "Stop! Please, stop!"
The hands ceased, resting on Xena's back. "You are going to have to face yourself sooner or later, Xena. Something will have to give if you are to be a woman and not just The Conqueror."
"Maybe I don't want to be a woman," Xena mutted, wiping at her eyes.
Lao Ma lay flush against her, bare skin pressing hot to Xenas back and kissed her old lovers neck. Her hands gently massaged where she had just kissed. "If you were a woman, I could be with you again. I love you Xena but I will have no part of The Conqueror."
"I can't separate myself like that, Lao Ma," Xena said after a long silence. "I am The Conqueror. That's who I've been for almost a decade."
"You were Xena longer than that," Lao Ma pointed out.
Turning her face into the pillow, Xena said, "I cant, I'm sorry."
Lao Ma sighed, resting her cheek against Xena's shoulder. "So am I."
She is so beautiful. I wish I could be as she wants me to be. She is as close to someone loving me as I will ever get, Im sure but even for Lao Ma, I will not change. I will not shrug off my role as Conqueror for many reasons. The most important being, of course, that if I let it go, what will be left? Will the madness return? Will I be left a quivering coward or raving lunatic who succombs to any urge entering my mind?I will not risk losing control. I will not let go my armor for anyone.
Though I wish I could. For Lao Ma.
Xena looked at the man occupying her bed, a faint frown marring her striking features. The candlelight glimmered in her black tresses and reflected off cold blue eyes. He was smaller than she, though of course most people were, with golden hair and a ready smile. It was his laugh that had first captured her fancy. She had been walking through the city a few months ago, cloaked and hidden from her subjects like Hades' shadow, and just as deadly. He had been laughing with a friend, the rippling quality of his voice stopping Xena in her tracks.
It had been a very long time since she had heard anyone laugh like that. With real humor and no taint of fear or currying favor present. She remembered her mother laughing like that before her brother's death, before Xena had gone for retribution and transformed into The Conqueror. So she had stopped and watched him for a while in the tavern to which she had followed him and his friend.
Eyeing his supine form in her bed, Xena traced the outline of his muscles and the length of his frame. He was strong, almost as strong as she, sometimes even gaining the advantage in their lovemaking to pin her down. She enjoyed their time together; there was no question about that. He was funny and sincere and not at all afraid of her. He knew that she could order his death with the snap of her fingers but it didn't seem to matter to him.
Perhaps he knew that she would never do such a thing.
Perhaps he simply wasn't afraid to die.
In either case, he was safe from Xena. Iolaus had somehow become almost a bodyguard to her over the last several months. They shared a bed most nights and he trailed after her during the day, fully armed and present during all her meetings with those not so fond of her company. She still wasn't sure how that had happened but Xena was glad to have at least one true ally.
Xena stiffened at the question. Iolaus had an uncanny knack for knowing when she was troubled by something. It wasn't a talent that she always appreciated, being one to gravitate towards isolation. "Nothing."
"Insolent. I could chop your head off for insulting me like that."
"You could," Iolaus agreed. Blue eyes several shades warmer than her own regarded her solemnly. "But then who would you have to make fun of your generals with?"
"Brat," Xena scolded, shoving him playfully away. She rolled out of bed and grabbed her robe, walking to the window. He walked over behind her, bare feet padding quietly on the stone floor. An arm wrapped around her waist, pulling her against him.
"Are you going to tell me about it?"
"It's pointless, you know," Xena answered absently.
"This. My rule. Everything. Before I'm even buried, whether of old age or a battle wound or treachery, it will fall apart. The generals will vie for power, gather the armies into their factions and split the world apart in their madness."
"The legendary Conqueror talking about other people going mad for power. My, my, this is a change," Iolaus observed softly.
"I didn't mean it like that, Xena," he pressed a kiss into her shoulder. "You know how much I admire you. I simply meant that this shows you as human, probably for the first time since I met you."
Xena knew from his tone that he truly meant every word. Which made him all the more dangerous to her. What was she going to do with Iolaus? That was part of her problem. She had the feeling that when she figured out the answer to that, the rest of her life would follow suit.
"Come back to bed. The vision of the Fates' tapestry is not within your grasp tonight, Xena."
"In a few minutes. I just need to think awhile," Xena replied. He kissed her shoulder and left her.
There was something coming on the wind, Xena could feel it. Times of uncertainty were on the way and she had to be prepared for them. Xena crossed the floor and crawled back into bed with Iolaus, curling up in front of him. His strong arm went around her waist and pulled her tight. He kissed the back of her neck. "Sleep well, Xena."
As answer, Xena squeezed his hand and closed her eyes. Maybe tonight the nightmares would not come.
Utter and complete fury encompasses every thought, shredding whatever decency had begun to grow within me. My heart is screaming in despair even as my sword is out and into the gut of the assassin before he can finish getting his out of Iolaus. Iolaus is on the floor, curled into a ball around the death-wound. I slam the assassin in the face with the heel of my boot and he flies across the room to land unconscious against the wall. I know he wont die because even as hard as it is to think, I was careful in his wounding.
Someone is screaming and I realize its me so I stop, choking back the one outlet left to me. I drop my sword and rush to Iolaus as the guards enter the bedchamber. They will all die very shortly but for now, I have to help Iolaus.
Warm eyes stare up at me with a smile of all things. And something else I havent seen since Borius.
"Dont go back," he manages to gasp, blood trickling out of his mouth as he coughs.
I know hes talking about not returning to the darkness but now that hes leaving me, how can he ask such a thing? "Iolaus, dont leave me!" I cry out, unable to help myself. Tears flow unchecked.
"Not even the Conqueror beats Hades. Love you so much."
With those words, his life slips away and I howl my grief once more to an uncaring world as I cradle his body to me. His blood pours over my white gown, glaring in its contrast, hot and slick with the metallic smell I am all too familiar with. Those responsible were going to be drowning in blood before I was through with them. Every single person related to those responsible were going to die in a massacre such as the world has never seen!
His dying request reverberates in my mind like a chant. Dont go back. Dont go back.
I have no choice. Rage swirls over me, demanding and enticing in its quest to gain hold of me. I succumb gratefully to its welcoming embrace.
"She's in a foul mood today," Crocius commented with a scowl.
"She has been since her pet bodyguards death," Loman retorted.
"It's a good thing neither of us were the poor bastards who let him die," Crocius said with a shake of his head, remembering the screams of agony from the torture room. Not to mention the hideous vision of the corpses ravaged and thrown for the ravens to consume.
Loman shuddered. "Thank the Gods for favors like that. If I'd been on duty that night I sure as Hades wouldnt be standing here today!"
"At least we're getting back into battle. I'd never seen the Conqueror so complacent as when Iolaus was around her. I was starting to think she was going soft or something," Crocius said.
"True enough," Loman agreed.
Both men shut their mouths at the distinctive sound of the Conqueror's boots against the marble floor. They had worked long and hard to become guards to the Conqueror's private chambers and neither would risk jeopardizing it. Sure enough the tall, incredibly strong woman was striding down the hall, her escort keeping up with her obvious impatience. If they failed to maintain the Conqueror's pace, chances were they wouldn't keep their lives never mind their posts.
The Conqueror strode passed them without so much as a glance and her door slammed shut behind her. One of the guards remaining on the outside let his mask slip and Crocius saw a brief, relieved look before the guards turned and left. He often wondered what went on in The Conqueror's rooms when no one was watching. What was the woman like inside the ruler? Was she as cold and remote as she appeared or was there someone else waiting to get out? Those were things he shared with no one; that would be a fast way to get oneself killed.
I didnt completely revert to type, that much I can at least give you Iolaus. If you can truly hear my thoughts than you know blood had to be shed. Deaths had to be taken for yours. I limited myself to those directly responsible; I hope you can be satisfied with that.
One thing I will never allow myself to do again though is care for anyone else. I will never let another soul inside me, as I did you. You accepted me as I was, didnt care that I demanded everything of you to be subordinate to my needs. I hadnt felt that since Lyceus. It hurt too much this time, almost broke me a third time. First my brother, then MLila and now you. Those I love die so horribly. I will not love again.
It hurts too damned much.
The noise of battle called to Xena, setting her blood to singing in a savage joy. Her arm raised and lowered repeatedly, cutting into and through bodies, severing limbs in her fury. That these women would dare raise arms against her was something to which she could show no mercy. That they had almost done it successfully was an anathema to her. She needed, no, she wanted to obliterate them until not one was left alive.
When the only ringing in her ears was that of her own men shouting her praises, Xena came back to reality. She was covered in blood, sweat and innards, a messy harvest reaped by her own sword. Taking a moment for self-inventory, Xena was rewarded in finding no injuries save minor cuts and bruises.
She had respected the Amazons, had desired them as allies, but there was no way she could let them remain independent. Xena had thought that being a woman, they would be able to accept her rule. But no. They would be ruled by none save their own queen, Ephiny, or not at all. Xena strode through the bloody field in search of the golden head. She had tried to engage Ephiny in personal conbat but the woman had denied her the pleasure. Upon seeing her women slaughtered, Ephiny had fallen upon her own sword. Xena had seen that stunt from across the way, unable to do anything except clench her fists in impotent rage.
Finding and destroying the remaining bands of Amazons who had not joined in the fray would be difficult. They would go into hiding and try to rebuild their numbers before doing anything of importance. She wondered what they would do without their queen. It was on that thought that Xena found Ephiny.
Lip curled up in a snarl, Xena hacked off the woman's head and picked it up, staring into sightless eyes. "Is this what you wanted, Ephiny? Your women are dead almost to a one and the Amazon Nation lies in ruins. Your pride has done this and I hope you burn in Tartarus for killing all these women in your futile cause!"
On the last word, she flung the head as far as she could, hopefully denying the Amazon any rest in her afterlife, whichever one in which she believed.
This is what I was born to be. I am Xena the Conqueror, Destroyer of Nations. I rule Greece, Rome, Egypt, Macedonia, Chin and all the land between. The world is safer because of me; the world has order because of me. I have bestowed prosperity on the populace. There is freedom from the arbitrary massacres of past warlords.
If my rule is harsh, it is because people need fear to keep them in line. If my rule is filled with blood it is because people do not follow my rule. I have a God as a consort. I have an army that would fall upon their own swords happily at my command.
The madness is gone. The darkness that has time and again overwhelmed me has disappeared. I am in utter control of everything and everyone; myself at long last included. I would trade none of this and yet something is missing.
Return to Main Page