Xena: Warrior Princess

Dark Hunter
by RangerLiz



Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle, and the ususal suspect Amazons belong to Renaissance/MCA/Universal, and are being burrowed and exercised without the R/M/U folks permission. The Celtic myth stuff is real, though altered somewhat for the tales being told, and Aidan is my creation, the Rangers are a combination of the real world special forces types and Tolkien styled guardians.

Love/Sex Warning: This, and the following tales, show X&G and the other female characters in loving, sexual relationships. If you are too young, shoo for now and celebrate being young. If this is illlegal where you live, please do not read until you have moved to a more enlightenment dwelling place.

Violence/ Sexual Violence: Ahuh, this is a Xena tale. Xena carries sharp thingies, has a fondest to kicking evil's butt and watching bad things run for the hills. The harsher scenes within the story were hard to write, but necessary for the tale being told.

Timeline warning: I have departed from the show in many ways, since I will not be having Xena kill the Gods and Goddesses, so there will be no Eve. Elli will appear, but the story line will not have the heavan/hell arch. I will use the shows that fit my version of the Xena universe where our leather clad babe and her cute warrior-bard with Aidan and the others want to go.

Elli's such a nice boy, and he is settling down to do good. He will help many innocents, and try to help some really messed up folks. He's too nice a boy to kill, and he tells me he's a catch for the right gal.



Chapter One: Town of the Damned


“It’s a demon, I say,” the rag clad old man shouted, stamping his feet as the Ranger tried warming her aching body. Aidan sighed, knowing the old man would not cease fretting until she investigated the strange sightings reported by the towns people.

Her muscles protested movement following the frantic river rescue she had made the day before of three children. It had been a near thing, her hastily shot arrows carrying the rope across the raging river to the men on the other side. They hauled the rope across, securing it, as she tied off her end. She made three trips, carrying each of the children to safety.

She had barely reached shore when one of the women shouted out there was another little on the tiny island. Aidan had blinked in disbelief, certain there had been on three little girls stranded out there. She glimpsed a small figure hunkering on the disappearing islet, and began hauling herself hand over hand over the river.

Half way there she heard warning shouts, and saw the huge tree speeding towards her. The impact had torn the rope loose, and she had found herself being dragged along underwater. She had been battered against the river bottom until she cut herself free with her boot knife. When she broke surface, she clambered up onto the tree and surveyed the wild water for the child.

There was no sign of her anyway, and the roaring of the falls grew closer. Aidan threw herself upwards, snaring the lower hanging branch of huge tree hanging over the river. It had been a near thing, but she had managed to haul herself up into the relative safety of the tree. She spent the night in the wind driven rain wearing half torn garments, her sword, cloak, bow and quiver miles back up the river.

When she awoke the next morning, she had been able to wade through the hip deep water and make her way back to the town. She had been greeted with open arms and praise, and found her equipment carefully bundled to be sent to the Amazon lands. They had thought her dead, they explained.

She had been touched by their thoughtfulness, and asked if the girl had been found. It was then the old man they called Xante began talking about the demon: a creature that assumed the shape of friend and family to lure innocents to their deaths. Aidan listened to what most considered an old man’s ravings, and frowned.

The town had had it’s share of undo tragedies of late, and she wondered if the man’s mind had become unhinged. Aidan wanted nothing more than to rest this night, to get the chill out of her very bones, and journey home.

Home. She smiled. Home was Eponin and Ailsa, their three year old daughter. Five years had passed since the day she had come back to these lands to help fight Dahok. Five wonderful years of love and happiness. She and Eponin had wanted nothing more than a child when Artemis answered their prays.

Aidan carried their child. It had been a gift for Aidan’s unwavering service to the Goddesses, as well as Eponin’s. The Goddesses of the Hunt and Goddess of Love had used their divine powers to engender the child. Ailsa resembled both her mothers: she would be very tall and muscular, like Eponin, though she had Aidan's eyes and coloring. Ailsa had Eponin's lovely amber hair that Aidan loved running her fingers through.

It had been almost two months since she had been with her loved ones, and the beating she had taken yesterday had weakened her. Aidan forced herself onto her feet. She shook her head, wondering why she felt so strange. There was a strange taste in her mouth. Aidan tried focusing her blurred vision, and heard laughter ring out.

“We have a message for you to deliver, Ranger,” one of the town’s men chuckled.

Aidan tried reaching for her sword, but her hands would not obey her. She focused her attention of the muscular man that had told her about the children trapped in the river. He cupped Aidan’s chin, grinning. “Tell them Dahok’s legions will not forget him; he will be free, and soon.”

Aidan gasped, recognizing the man: Theron. Impossible, her mind screamed. He had been taken by the Wild hunt. He grinned. Nodding, sardonically bowing his head. “I escaped: Hope freed me.”

Aidan saw the tavern’s inhabitants for what they were: souls of damned ones. The name of the town echoed inside her mind: Thrane, town of the cursed. The old man transformed, and Hope beamed towards the captured Ranger. These evil ones had been brought back to serve Dahok...she fought the drugs surging through her system.

Cruel hands hauled her backwards, and she was forced down onto a table. Her leather trousers were yanked down, and Theron laughed when comprehension dawned behind her eyes. Slowly unlacing his breeches, he extracted his erect organ with a grin. He cruelly thrust himself inside Aidan, laughing when she feebly tried to fight back.

Aidan endured the sexual assaults delivered on her, determined not to let them see her cry or beg. Blood pooled under her buttocks, and she knew they had done damage. She had been punched, bitten and kicked more times than she could count. Hauled up right, two of the followers of Dahok held her head up and pulled open her eyes.

Aidan saw the black clad man walking forward, holding something bright that he held close to her eyes. Pain ripped through her body, and the Ranger crumbled.


***************************

Xena surrendered graciously to her diminutive captor, laughing when Ailsa captured her. Gabrielle glanced over towards her lover, winking. Xena grinned back. Ephiny, Solari, Gabrielle and Eponin were discussing the events of the last few months, enjoying the stories Gabrielle spun of the couple’s far flung adventures.

Gabrielle laughed when her warrior permitted Ailsa to tie Xena’s hands together. There was so much of the arm’s mistress’s personality inside the child, though there were definite elements of Aidan. Boldness was one of Eponin’s traits, and the amber haired girl declaration that she had captured the great Warrior Princess.

“So, what are you gonna do with me?” Xena asked.

“You have to eat my vegetables,” Ailsa made a face, evoking laughter from the women gathered outside the royal town.

“But if you want to grow up to be a warrior, you need to eat vegetables. Xena and your mother’s eat vegetables,” Gabrielle informed the fierce young warrioress.

A chorus of wolf howls nearby caught their collective attention. It was on the other side of the rolling hill, very close by. Ailsa frowned, pouting. She untied the Warrior Princess, defeated by the truth. “Mommy,” Ailsa cried out, frightened.

The reason for the child’s horror came stumbling down the hillside: Aidan. The Ranger’s travel leathers were tattered, and vivid bruises and welts covered most of the revealed flesh. She cocked her head sideways, listening. Two silvery forms darted back into the forest, leaving the Ranger in the care of her own kind.

“Mommy...” Ailsa ran for the battered woman whose dirt covered face shone with tears.

“Ailsa?” Aidan coughed, groping around until the girl grabbed her mother’s right leg. Aidan went down onto her knees, throwing her arms around her daughter and holding her tight. “Oh, honey.”

Eponin knelt beside her family, frowning when her wife did not look up. “Aidan, love, what happened to you?”

“Ep?” Aidan raised her face and the Amazon had her answer. Once keen eyes that missed nothing stared vacantly out towards where the others stood. Eponin gasped, slowly passing her hand before Aidan’s eyes. The dark grey eyes did not follow the motion of Eponin’s right hand. “Eponin, love.”

Eponin shut her eyes, tears wetting her face when she understood what had been done. She slid her arms protectively around her family, “Here, my heart. Ailsa, I need you to go with Aunt Solari.”

Solari reached out, and gently lifted up the confused girl.

“But Mommy’s hurt, Mama,” Ailsa protested.

“Which is why you and Solari must go tell the healers,” Ephiny said gently to the girl. She inclined her head, and Solari led away the girl. “It’s Ephiny.”

Aidan cocked head, listening carefully, “Who else is here?”

“Gabrielle and I,” Xena murmured, hunkering down beside the weary woman. Her sapphire-blue eyes darkened with fury when she saw the whip marks beneath Aidan’s clothes. “Who did this?”

“Theron. Hope managed to free him from the Wild hunt,” Aidan coughed violently, shivering. “He wanted me to tell you, they will free Dahok.”

A grim hush descended at the mention of the world’s greatest enemy; the worse case scenario was unfolding before their eyes. Aidan told them of the river rescue, of the town where she had been drugged, blinded and tortured. Of being released, of finding her way back home with the help of the wolves.

“There’s no town there...” Ephiny knew the area. “Not for almost thirty years..”.

“What happened to it?” Xena asked, eyes narrowed.

“There were evil rumors about the place; it was town of slavers and bandits. They would kill all strangers that wandered into it. One day there were some war orphans being brought to another village under the protection Amazon warriors and a priestess of Artemis. The river near the town was prone to flooding during spring time storms, but the small group had tried to ford it when the town killed two of the warrior escorts.

The remaining warrior and priestess helplessly watched the youngsters drown when the river swallowed up the small islet...before they were killed by the town’s people. The priestess called upon the Great Huntress for justice. The river overflowed it’s banks, and consumed the town...”

“A ghost town filled with killers and demons,” Xena murmured, shaking her head as Eponin gently lifted up her wife. Aidan laid her head wearily against her lover’s breast, shutting her eyes.

The somber group made their way back into the village, discussing what must be done.

*************************


Xena paced outside the healer’s cabin, waiting anxiously with the others. Aidan injuries had been grievous, but nothing that the Ranger had not endured before. What frightened them was the damage to her eyes. Ailsa had been given over to the care of another mother while Eponin stayed beside her hand fasted mate. Five hours had passed, and the healers had not yet emerged. Nor would they permit the Warrior Princess inside.

Gabrielle and Ephiny had sent word of the events to the other Amazon tribes and the Centaurs. The council of the Rangers had been notified, too. Tomorrow morning the Warrior Princess and the Amazons would investigate the village site, but for now the immediate concern was the safety of the royal village and out laying farms.

Having secured the village against possible attack, Xena waited. Aidan had become a very dear friend, and the warrior disliked feeling helpless. Althea came outside, and met the turbulent sapphire-blue eyes. “You may come inside, Xena. But do no upset her..she has been through much.”

Xena nodded, flanking the silver haired healer inside the dimly lit cabin. Aidan lay resting inside the shelter of Eponin’s muscular arms, looking drained and uncertain. Silent tears of grief slid down the armmistress’s face as she murmured soft words of encouragement.

“How are you feeling, Aidan?” Xena asked softly, touching her friend’s bandaged forearms.

“Very tired...” Aidan admitted, touching the soft bandages covering her eyes. “And very blind.”

Xena flinched. She had been blinded once, and knew how frightening it could feel. Whether or not Aidan’s was permanent remained to be seen. Eponin’s jaw muscles worked, and Xena gathered the odds were not good.

“Rest..we’ll take care of everything...”

Aidan sat up, and groped for the warrior. “No! Don’t go there,it’s an evil place...”

For the first time in the years she had known Aidan, she could hear gut wrenching terror in the woman’s voice. Aidan’s hands trembled with the memory of things she had seen, things that had been done to her. She curled up, fighting the images that would haunt her for the rest of her life. Eponin’s cobalt-blue eyes darkened in anger when she tried to soothe her beloved mate.

Aidan curled into a fetal position, shaking with the onslaught of memory. Of innocents slaughtered, of madness.

“Easy, love,” Eponin whispered.

“Here, give her this draught. It will make her sleep,” Althea insisted, shaking her head. She motioned for the warrior to follow her out of the hut. Once they cleared the cabin, the aging Healer met her eyes. “The blindness is most likely permanent. A hot brand was placed close to her eyes.”

Xena shut her eyes, wanting nothing more than to hunt down Theron and tear him apart. “What else did they do to her?”.

“She almost drown rescuing the three children, from what she said. She has three cracked ribs, and suffered numerous abrasions and cuts,” Althea drew a steadying breathe. “Beside blinding her and beating her, they raped her repeatedly.”

Xena hands clenched into fists, and her blood pumped through her veins. Althea laid a restraining hand on the towering woman. “I have not told Eponin yet...we think she will never be able to convince again..there was much damage.”

Xena stared past the Healer. Eponin had come outside to ask a question, and overhead the last part of the Healer’s revelation. Eponin turned aside, one hand over her mouth when she understood the full horror of what had happened to Aidan. She vomited for several minutes, shaking with rage and disgust.

“I will tear the beating heart out of the men that did this,” Eponin promised in soft voice brimming with rage. The armsmistress met Xena’s eyes, and the two women shared a silent communion.

“Aidan needs you here, Eponin. She has been through something that can shatter the bravest of warriors. You can not afford to be harmed.”

“What you ask is impossible. My beloved has been blinded, beaten and raped! I will avenge her...” Eponin promised, stalking past the warrior princess to make her preparations for battle. She would have Ailsa remain with Phyllis and Elysia, since their twins were of the same age. Elysia would ride with the warriors, while her mate watched over the children. “I will be ready in the morning.”

Xena inclined her head in acknowledgment. If it had been Gabrielle, she would do the same.

Althea knew better than to argue with two furious warriors. She returned to her patient, worried that the Ranger tossed and turned even in sleep. The Healer had lived too long. She had been born when the Amazons had been a mighty nation, when they had possessed lands throughout Thessaly, Macedonia, Thrace and Anatolia.

In sixty-four years the Amazons had become a shattered nation reduced to tiny tribes that were spread too thin. Gabrielle, Xena, Ephiny, Solari, Eponin and Aidan had made her believe the Amazons had a chance. Now, the stain of evil had touched those the Healer believed in. She prayed to Artemis and Athena for her people’s safety.


**********************

Xena dismounted, sending Argo trotting back towards safety. She and the thirty Amazon warriors cautiously entered the area where Thrane had stood. The wrath of Artemis had swept the land clear of the town years ago, and there was no sign of the thriving town Aidan had mentioned.

Xena watched the scouts sweep back towards them, shaking their heads regarding hidden traps. Xena sheathed her sword, and entered what would have been the center of town. Eponin looked ready to explore, half mad with anger and agony. Aidan had suffered violent nightmares most of last night, and become alarmingly withdrawn. Eponin had not be able to get her mate to speak, let alone touch the woman without her curling up and shaking.

It was though she could not hear them. Althea had been worried, especially since the Ranger could not keep down even broth. Feverish, Aidan had been beyond their ability to communicate with.

“Nothing,” Dara frowned. “But I can not shake the feeling something happened here.”

Xena sighed, studying the landscape. She walked back to the river, searching the area with keen eyes. There was the islet Aidan had mentioned, and there were sections of leather rope laying on the ground. But the rope was old. Very old. She surveyed the area with greater intensity.

She retraced her steps back to the village, and froze when she spotted something beneath the rubble of an old building. Almost perfectly blended with the landscape, it had been the wall of a good sized structure. What had caught her eye was the glint of steel. She brushed aside the debris of three decades, and carefully pulled out Aidan’s sword.

The leather and wooden scabbard fell apart, but the magical blade could not be harmed. Aidan’s other equipment lay beside the sword, and rust colored stains discolored the earth. “This is the place.”

“But where did the town go?” Meada demanded, the powerfully built javelin thrower grumbled. She had become good friends with the Ranger, and had never forgotten the way Aidan had forgiven her when the Amazon almost killed her.

“No where, but when,” Xena whispered, frightened by what had happened. “Gabrielle should be able to figure this out.”

Xena handed Aidan’s sword to Eponin. Eponin silently accepted the weapon, touching the blade with reverent fingers. How many times had she watched her beloved slid the unique sword into the scabbard Eponin had had made for her.

“There’s not much we can do here, right now. Ephiny, I think we might want to keep sentries in the area to monitor it. Aidan needs you right now.”

Eponin’s jaw muscles bunched, and the tawny haired Amazon felt Solari touch her right shoulder. She glanced around, finding sympathy and compassion in the eyes of her sisters. Aidan had become one of them, fighting and working alongside them. She had many friends, friends that wanted to avenge her.

Sentries were posted at a safety distance, and the rest went back to the village. When they returned there was a commotion in the center of town. Gabrielle was gently talking to a figure standing nude in the middle of the village. Aidan had awakened, and had apparently fought her way out of the confines of the healer’s cabin. Nude, bruised and bloody, the blind woman must have been driven by nightmarish images. She huddled against the wall of the Healer’s cabin, holding a dagger close against herself.

Ailsa was being held back by one of the young warriors, knowing the Ranger was mad with fever. Aidan lashed out with the dagger whenever she heard someone try to approach her. Blind or not, the Ranger had instincts most wild beasts would envy. She tried rising, but it was apparent she had expended most of her meager energy keeping her enemies at bay.

“Aidan...” Eponin whispered, aghast.

“Ep, you have to go easy. She’s burning up with fever. She attacked Dora; the poor thing has a bad bump on the head, but she should be fine,” Althea knew she would not have survived the attack. “She thinks she is still in the hands of those creatures.”

Eponin’s eyes never left her mate’s as she cautiously closed the distance between them. Xena silently approached from the other side. Aidan heard them, and assumed a defensive crouch that she could use to launch herself out of harm’s way.

“No more,” Aidan choked, shivering with fear and pain. She slashed out with the dagger, warning that she meant business.

“It’s me, Aidan. It’s Eponin...you’re safe. You are in the village. No one’s going to hurt you...” Eponin said, tears sliding down her face as she watched her beloved mate.

Aidan paused, listening. Hope warred with the terrible nightmares besieging the woman’s mind. For a moment the dagger wavered, and Aidan relaxed. She began to lower the dagger, lower lip quivering as Eponin closed the distance between them.

“NO...I won’t be fooled again,” Aidan hissed, anger twisting her features. Aidan sprang forward, and Eponin barely intercepted the blade of the dagger that had been aimed for her chest. She clasped her mate’s dagger wielding hand, wrestling against woman’s fear induced strength.

Xena came up behind the struggling figures, and used the neck pinch to drop Aidan. Aidan collapsed into the armsmistress’s arms, eyes rolling upwards. Xena swiftly released the pinch, tossing aside the dagger that the woman had found.

“We need to get her fever down! We need cold water, and lots of it,” Xena growled. The woman’s skin radiated heat. Eponin hefted her wife and headed for the lake.

Ailsa cried out for her mommy, not understanding what was happening. Xena whistled, and Argo came trotting up. The warrior sprang up on the war mare’s back, and pulled Aidan up in front of her. “Gabrielle, get my medical bag. Eponin, bring blankets and a tent.”

The women scattered, the cries of Ailsa being soothed by Dara and Brina. Whether or not the Ranger would survive remained to be seen. Ephiny handed Aidan’s sword to one of the young warriors, ordering her to place it inside the couple’s hut.

The Regent knew whatever darkness had managed to touch the Ranger would soon spread across the land.
**********************

Xena lowered the writhing Ranger into the cool lake waters, murmuring words of encouragement. Aidan shivered, rambling on about demons and darkness. The thundering hooves announced the arrival of the others, and soon a hasty encampment was being erected. Eponin slid into the chilly water, and transferred Aidan to her lap.

“Will she live?” Eponin asked in a hollow voice.

“I’m not sure...she fighting, but whatever they did to her may have affected her will to survive. I’ve seen more die of fevers like this than survive, Eponin. But you must keep talking to her. Make her fight.”

Eponin blinked away her tears, understanding what it would mean. Aidan showed the signs of one ready to surrender to death. She clutched Aidan close, and said, “It’s me, love. You have to fight to stay with us. I need you. Ailsa needs you.”

Aidan groaned, becoming still inside the shelter of Eponin’s embrace. Her breathing began to slow down, the ashen hue of her skin worsened. “Damnit, Aidan, don’t you go dying on me! You said we would grow old together. Yes, they hurt you. But if you quit fighting, they win. Dahok wins. If Dahok wins, children like Aisla’s blood will fill his wine cups.”

Aidan shuddered, lips forming the name of her daughter. Xena, Gabrielle and Solari had the campsite erected, and a roaring fire ready. Each woman took a turn holding the feverish Ranger inside the chill water, none allowed to remain too long inside the lake. Xena examined Aidan, then signaled it was time to get her dry and inside the blankets.

Eponin insisted on being the one to dry her beloved, and Xena nodded. The familiar touch of the Arm’s mistress’s large hands quelled the tremors. Xena pressed a dampened cloth against the Ranger’s lips, instructing the others how to give the woman water and broth.

It would be long night.



*****************************

Hope laughed, watching the disbelieving faces of the travelers as they were one by one sacrificed to the glory of Dahok. Xena and the Amazons had entered Thrane, but been unable to pierce the veil that she controlled. Theron had proven most valuable in leading astray the would-be settlers, bringing them to her. He would be Dahok’s hound, since the reward was a reunion with his beloved Kraftstar.

Kraftstar had been amused by the man’s devotion, and had enjoyed corrupting the mortal. It had entertained all of Dahok’s dark court members, knowing the once honorable Ranger had embraced darkness out of love. It had been easy for Kraftstar to resemble the lost love of Theron’s youth. Hart. A handsome Celtic warrior whose fierceness in battle became tenderness and passion when with his beloved.

Hart had taken a spear meant for his beloved Theron when they were still in training as Rangers. Hart’s death had been the opening Dahok had needed to bring about the destruction of the Rangers. Theron had begun his downward spiral when he had begun listening to Kraftstar’s well chosen words.

Kraftstar had been awaiting the birth of his true love, Hope. Brother and sister, children of Dahok, the pair had been eternally matched in their darkness. Mortals were playthings to be used, then discarded. Theron’s anguish would be amusing to watch when things came into motion.

For now, he served with the obedience of a well trained hound bent on chasing down the quarry wanted by his masters. Kraftstar squalled inside Hope’s arms, the result of the union between Aidan and Theron. Theron did not know about the baby, having been sickened by the violent rape he had done.

Theron had remembered the friendship he had once felt for the other Ranger, and despite their battle, it lingered inside him. Hope had given him a powerful drug, and it had lasted long enough to complete what must be done. He had left, sickened, by the way the Ranger was assaulted.

He had not witnessed the birth, nor Aidan’s horror when she understood why she had been taken. A child of her bloodline devoted to Dahok would upset the balance between light and dark. She had fought so hard, tried hard to kill the beautiful child of her own womb. The other rapes covered what had happened, and when Theron returned he had used the crystal to blind her.

Aidan... Her father wished to possess the woman. She would be the ultimate prize for his victory. Her blood ran truer than most of Danu’s children did, and she had been triple blessed. Aidan would give him children that would rule the universe.

Her release had been part of the game. Kraftstar’s grey eyes shone with amusement. He would be full grown in another week’s time.


************************

Aidan woke up. She sat up, grimacing at the pain lancing through her body. Images flashed through her mind’s eye, and she remembered everything. She heard the soft breaths of others sleeping around her, and the weight of Eponin’s arm laid protectively over her.

She carefully rose, knowing what she must do. Even Xena would sleep through this. Aidan wished she could explain what she had to do, but there was no time. The hope of the world would depend on Xena, Gabrielle, Ephiny, Solari, Eponin and herself. Ancient memory stirred.

Shedding the sweat drenched shift she wore, Aidan padded silently forward. Her blind eyes did not stop her unerring progress to the lake. She found the projecting overhang that would give her the height she needed. The blackness of the night did not bother her.

She heard the soft pad of paws behind her, and knew the wolves had come. She reached down and affectionately ruffled the silvery mane of the wolves. “You know what you must do. Keep her safe, old friends. Go now, with the blessing of the Great Goddesses.”

The silvery wolves turned and raced for the Amazon village. Aidan listened to the wind, knowing high above the earth a black form with golden wings watched the drama unfolding. Aidan walked forward to the edge of the cliff.

“Aidan....” Eponin cried out.

The Ranger turned, hearing the soft crunch of soil behind her. She caught the subtle scent of leather and sunlight that marked Eponin. It was a scent that she had taken comfort in.

“Eponin,” Aidan said her beloved name softly. “You must go back,there is something I must do.”

“Aidan, come away from the cliff,” Eponin implored her lover, stepping forward slowly.

A raven had awaken the Amazon in time to see her beloved walking away. Xena came up beside the Arm’s Mistress. The warriors were carefully trying to prevent the woman from plunging into the bottomless lake that they had used to break her fever. A hundred feet above the lake, it would be a fatal plunge.

“I can not...try to understand, there is a great war coming. A war that shall shake the foundations of this world and others, that will shatter gods and goddesses alike. To win it, there are prices we must pay.”

“Aidan, it’s the fever talking,” Xena insisted, readying her whip to tangle around the woman as an anchor.

“I am not feverish, but there is a dark fire inside me. It must be doused,lest it consume everything. Xena, Gabrielle has not been the only vessel used by Dahok.”

Xena shut her eyes. The warrior had feared as much. Eponin staggered beneath the weight of those the words, the revelation granting the time Aidan had needed. Without another word, the Ranger spun and threw herself out into the void. Xena’s whip snaked out, but a flash of ebony and gold sent the Warrior Princess and the Amazon sprawling.

Nightbeam’s bellowing challenge awaken the rest of the camp in time to hear Eponin’s anguished wail. Xena held back the brawny woman, not willing to loss another friend so easily to death. It took the combined effort of the other women to haul Eponin off the cliff where Aidan had ended her life.

Sapphire-blue eyes glinting with rage, Xena vowed that Dahok would pay. She and Gabrielle helped hold the weeping arm’s mistress whose world had been shattered. How would they explain what had happened to the couple’s child would be the hardest thing the Warrior Princess could imagine.


****************************

“Oftentimes bodies are never found. There are underground rivers deeper than our best swimmers can dive. Her body may never be found,” Dara announced, drying herself off. She and ten of the best swimmers had been unable to find a trace of Aidan.

Xena herself had dived deep into the lake, finding no sign of the Ranger’s body. Eponin had been given a strong sleeping potion, and was under the watch of Gabrielle and Solari. Ailsa had not been told what had happened, though Xena sensed the girl knew something was horribly wrong.

The search was called off. If her body was found, it would most likely be in a few weeks. It was an unpleasant thought. Xena and the others returned to the village where a somber atmosphere had settled.

If Aidan had fallen, what about the rest of them? They could not imagine how they would battle the forces of Dahok without the Ranger. Aidan had had the blood of a great ancient goddess flowing inside her, she had possessed powers that made her almost godlike.

Xena alone might have a chance of doing damage, but there was doubt she could fight this war without Aidan. Gabrielle had consulted the scrolls of both the Amazons and Nicodemus, seeking clues that might help them this time. The priestess were worried, since neither Artemis or Athena were giving answers, nor were the other gods.

Even Ares had made himself absent. The lines of battle were being drawn, and it seemed the Amazons lay directly in it’s path.

*********************

Ephiny and Gabrielle emerged from the royal palace after night fall, exhaustion evident in their eyes. Xena opened her arms, and Gabrielle settled herself inside the woman’s embrace. Their lips brushed, before the Queen stepped back.

“What have the sentries reported?”

“Nothing, though there are disturbing reports of travelers having vanished in the last few weeks. Aidan must have been one of those that stumbled across whatever is happening,” a lovely, light skinned black woman reported.

>From one of the distant tribes of the lands near Egypt, Cheopta reported with cool detachment. She would one day make a fine leader, and there had been discussions about giving her rite of caste in the evident something happened to both Ephiny and Gabrielle. A brave, noble young warrior, Cheopta had joined Ephiny’s tribe when she had met the Regent during one of her journeys out of Amazon lands.

“I think Cheopta is right,” Ephiny smiled towards the young woman she viewed as a sister.

Solari emerged from Eponin’s hut, looking wan. She, Ephiny and Solari had been childhood friends with the Arm’s mistress. They had learned about love and friendship together, making them stronger for it. Eponin’s loss was their loss.

“How is she?”

“Heart-broken...I have never seen Eponin like this. She refuses food and drink, and just sits holding Aidan’s other leathers close,” Solari raked fingers through her dense brown curls. “She loved Aidan so much.”

“We all loved Aidan..but what happened has happened. We can not wallow in self-pity...” Xena said the harsh words that needed to be said. “Ailsa needs her mother, and we need the warrior she is.”

“How do proposed to make her want to fight?”



***************************

“She did what?!” Hope screeched her rage, reddish blonde hair swirling her sapphire-blue eyes glinted angrily. The scout unwisely repeated his message, and learned that one did not vex the daughter of Dahok lightly.

A mere flick of her hand made the man burst into flames. Screaming, the man dropped and tried to extinguish the supernatural flames devouring him from the inside. A small pile of grayish ashes were all that remained. Kraftstar tottered past his sister-lover, and gleefully played with the ashes.

“Ah, you always did love the smell of freshly incinerated human flesh,” Hope laughed, knowing her father would angry. He would take his anger out on Xena and the Amazons first, then others. He would take Gabrielle once more as his intended bride.

Kraftstar would have some of Aidan’s powers, but there was another vessel. One crafted by the Goddesses Artemis, Athena and Danu: the child, Aisla. Ofcourse, she would be the perfect match for Dahok. She could be raised to a proper bride! Father would have a mate worthy of his lineage, and they would have mother darker than the night itself!

“Ah, Father! I have a better one for you, and her name is Glory! She shall be your mate..” Hope threw the petals of a black Nightrose into the brasier where she made her offerings.

The flames rose, consuming the petals and blood of humans. Dahok was pleased. She smiled. She loved her father dearly, and would see him happy no matter what. Picking up her brother-lover, Hope told him her plans.

She did not notice a pair of black eyes watching her through the wall, the eyes of a Dark Hunter.


**********************

Xena entered the hut. The usual neatly kept structure had been torn apart. Eponin sat beside the pallet she and Aidan had shared. It’s strong wood frame had been shattered, and the leather strapping cut. Aidan’s sword lay next to the bed, the blade undamaged by the rage the Arm’s mistress had vented.

Red rimmed cobalt-blue eyes met hers, and the Warrior Princess knew she would react the same way if she had gone through what Eponin had. But the Amazons needed the woman. “Nice. Feel better?”.

Eponin ignored the towering raven haired warrior standing over her. She pressed her face into the leather that bore the scent of her lost mate. Xena did not leave.

“Go away....” Eponin warned.

“No; I won’t go away. Aidan would not want this.”

“How would you know what Aidan wants? She’s dead. Dead. She killed herself...” Eponin snarled. “I lost the woman I loved...”

“We have all lost loved ones; the challenge is getting past the pain...” Xena never finished the sentence. Eponin unfolded her frame in a burst of fury that sent the two warrior’s flying.

Eponin was a very, very powerful woman. Her strength rivaled Xena’s own, and the impact hurtled the two warriors out of the hut. They hit the hard packed ground outside the hut, and voices shouted for the Regent and Queen.

A balled fist smashed Xena’s flat, hard belly with enough strength to drive the wind out the warrior. Xena ignored the pain, and used her legs to throw Eponin off of her. Xena shoulder rolled smoothly to her feet even as the other woman did the same. Hunkered low, they circled each other in classic wrestling poses.

“Eponin, this is not the way to handle this,” Xena told the raging woman.

“And if it were Gabrielle that had been tortured, raped and made to bear the foul seed of Dahok’s minon’s?”

“Hope was born out the rape of Gabrielle,” Xena hissed, launching herself.

Eponin grappled with the Warrior Princess, driving a knee into her groin. Xena responded with a backhanded blow that snapped the tawny haired Amazon’s head back, breaking her nose. Blood spurted, and the two powerful women rolled about on the ground. Fists connected, flesh bruised and bled.

Those unfortunate enough to try and break up the fight found themselves tossed aside like gnats. Gabrielle stalked across the compound, and the Amazons cleared the way. It was rare to see their Queen enraged, and there was no doubt about how she viewed this battle.

“Xena, Eponin, stop it! Now...” the words were softly spoken, in icy tones that made both women halt.

Dirt covered, and bloody, the two sets of vividly blue eyes met furious gray-green ones. A soft breeze blew the young Queen’s golden blonde hair as she stared at the two warriors. “We have a battle to prepare for, and you two are indulging yourselves in hedonist expressions of grief. You have a daughter, Eponin, that needs you right now. Yes, Aidan is gone. We all loved her, but there is nothing we can do to bring her back.

But if we do not prepare ourselves, we shall have let her die in vain. She came back to warn us. Are you two going to make her death meaningless?”

“But Gabrielle, I was trying---” Xena’s words trailed off when she glimpsed the depths of her love’s anger.

“My Queen...” Eponin found herself also rendered speechless by the look bestowed upon her. She hung her head. Aidan would be ashamed of how her mate had been acting.

Standing, tiny fists pressed against her mouth, was Ailsa. She had seen, and heard, everything. Amazon children knew what death was younger than most other children. Eponin opened her arms, and the little girl raced into her mother’s embrace. Eponin shut her eyes, whispering how much she loved the child.

Ailsa’s arms constricted around the Amazon’s strong neck, and the other knew it was time to leave. Mother and daughter had much to discuss. Xena regained her feet, knowing she and Eponin would talk later. The fight had helped them both expel their rage.

Gabrielle, arms folded across her bosom, shook her head, and said, “Come on; I’ll clean you up.”

The Warrior Princess knew not to question certain orders...

****************************

Hope walked around the tall, handsome form Kraftstar now possessed. It was better than the last one he had worn in this world, and she liked his grey-green eyes. She ruffled his thick, dark chestnut hair playfully. He grinned, “You like, I gather?”.

“Very much...Aidan’s line is very handsome...and endowed,” Hope chuckled, recalling how they had shared this new body. She purred, and nipped his breast hard.

Kraftstar laughed, thrusting his hips upwards. Hope grinned, sliding down her mate’s body to worship his resurrection on many levels.

Black eyes watched the lovers’, understanding what had been happening to him all along. He stepped back. Dahok had been using him. Hope, Kraftstar, and Dahok had been using him. He shut his eyes, knowing what he must do.

The lovers remained unaware of their being observed when the black clad figure stole out of the cursed town. Riding the black stallion given to him by Dahok, Theron rode hard.



**************************

“A rider approaches...” Brina shouted, pointing towards the black figure riding hard towards them.

Six days had passed since Aidan had thrown herself into Crystal Lake’s depths, six days of hard labor. The walls of the village had been stoutly re-inforced, and those living outside the walls had been brought inside for the duration of this crisis. Other Amazon villages were observing similar protocols, and the Centaurs had done likewise.

Amazon patrols increased, and no one was permitted to travel alone. By Royal Decree the immediate area outside Thrane declared off limits to all Amazons other than those assigned the duty. Even the warriors kept a safe distance, not wishing to share the fate of thirty missing travelers.

A wild haired Centaur warrioress stomped her hooves, having delivered a message from her people about strange happenings of late. Penda frowned, glancing towards the women she had come to call friends. The Centaur’s emerald-green eyes and flame red hair added to her wild beauty, and the scant leather halter she wore did not hid her upper torso’s bountiful breasts.

“Is one of my kindred?” Penda inquired, planting her fore hooves firmly in a battle ready stance. The Centaurs were running messages throughout the land, since they traveled faster than human and horses did.

“No; it is man. A man riding a midnight black charger with black clothing,” Brina called out, readying bow and arrow.

“Such a man has been seen whenever the travelers have vanished...” Penda warned, drawing her massive two handed sword.

Xena came striding out of the royal palace where she and Gabrielle had been conference with Selene, Coral, Ephiny, Solari and Eponin. The other women followed the Warrior Princess as the rider drew closer to the walls. He stopped just outside of bow range, knowing those within the village walls would remember him well enough.

“I must speak with Aidan,” Theron shouted, black eyes counting the number, and variety, of weapons trained on him. The Warrior Princess appeared beside the sentries, and he swallowed hard. Even from this distance he could tell she recognized him. “I come under the flag of truce..for the sake of redemption, for the sake of the world itself!”

“Truce? With man that raped my mate?” bellowed a tawny haired Amazon warrior. “My truce shall be your beating heart laid out to Artemis!”.

Theron sighed. How could expect them to believe him? Had he not betrayed everything he and Hart had held dear? Had he not permitted his anger at his loss taint his soul? Had he not done as said?

“I seek to prevent further loss of life! Kill if you wish later on, but let me speak with Aidan! She is the key to this nightmare...”.

“She’s dead...” Xena shouted out. “Seven nights ago; she jumped into Crystal Lake off a cliff...we have not found her body, yet...”

Theron closed his eyes. Madness! Aidan killing herself because of what he had helped do. Ah, Hart, what type of monster have I become, he mourned. “Then you must not let her child be taken...they intend to make her the bride of Dahok.”

The Amazon called Eponin clutched the edge of the wall, horrified at this newest threat against a loved one. She turned to Xena. Xena squeezed her friend’s hand, promising she would not let the forces of Dahok near the child.

“Why are you doing this, Theron? What have you to gain from this?” Gabrielle demanded.

“Peace, Queen of the Amazons. Peace even if I am damned. I was blinded by my loss of a loved one, and Kraftstar knew it. He and his sister Hope. I know it mends nothing between us, there is too much blood for that, but it is the truth of it. There was a time Aidan was a friend. If I had gone to her rather than Dahok, none of this would be!”.

Xena weighed the man’s words. There was a ring of truth to his words that she believed. Still, it was too dangerous to permit him inside the village. Even if he was telling the truth, he could have been followed.

“What is it you wanted to tell Aidan?” Xena called out.

Theron sighed. “It will do you no good; only one of the blood of Danu could get what is needed. And a child can not do what must be done...”.

Dark clouds scuttled across the sky, concealing the sun as the wind picked up. Lightning streaked overhead, and the ground shook with the tremors the thunder created. Pelting rain obscured the distance, but not before the Amazons saw the hell hounds of Dahok charging the fallen Ranger.

Theron spurred his mount, and sped away. The hounds followed him, baying wildly. The Dark Hunter had been found by his former masters. Xena sensed the battle had just begun.

“Keep sharp! They want Ailsa...” Xena shouted, flanking Eponin down the ladder to the ground far below.

The children of the Amazons had been given to the care of several older warriors, no longer young enough for prolonged combat, but still good fighters. There were forty littles ones including Ailsa inside one of the central huts. Mothers cast anxious glances when they heard the screams of battle coming from inside the hut.

Amazons and the centaur raced towards the hut, but reached it too late. A jagged bolt of lightning splintered the hut in half. The entire hut became a flaming pyre that not even Xena could approach. Shock and horror washed over the stunned women, until the Warrior Princess regained her bearings.

Shouting orders, she grabbed a bucket of water and threw it one the conflagration consuming the hut. Penda and the Amazons formed a human chain, passing buckets filled with water, then emptied to be returned to the well. But the wind kept the flames burning long....

Hope diminished before the flames were put out. When the Amazons had the fire under control, they tore apart the charred remnants of the hut. There were no bodies...

The laughter that rose above the wind was familiar to them all: Hope, Daughter of Dahok. Stricken, the Amazons turned their faces skyward, wondering where all the Gods had gone.

************************

Ailsa awoke inside a marble lined chamber, curled amidst the other children. The old warriors were never going to awaken: each one had had their throats slashed by the things that had appeared out of the air.

Berek, the eldest of the Amazon children at thirteen, raised a hand to her lips. Ailsa nodded that she understood what the older girl wanted. The others began stirring, and the two kept them silent. Daughter of Dara and Brina Berek had protested being placed with the little ones, but her mothers had insisted she was there to help, not be watched.

Lithely built like her birth mother, Berek examined the chamber, including checking the dead women for weapons. Whatever had killed them had removed their weapons; the bodies had been left behind to inspire horror. It did.

A section of the wall slid away, and two figures dressed in black entered the chamber. One was male, one female. The young woman reminded Berek of both the Queen and her consort, and she realized who they faced: Hope. The handsome, chestnut haired woman bore a striking resemblance to the dead Ranger, Aidan.

Berek placed herself before the little ones and tried very hard not be sacred. “What do you want with us?”

“With you, your blood. It shall wet the alter of my father when he ascends to wed her...” Hope pointed directly towards Ailsa. “You shall have the honor of being Dahok’s bride, sweet Ailsa. An honor your mother would have enjoyed had she not be a coward...”

“My mother was no coward!” Aisla shouted, tiny fist curling up.

The man laughed, leaned down and winked. “I am your brother, Kraftstar...your little brother, actually.”

Ailsa blinked in confusion. She was the only child that her mothers had had. Then she remembered what she had been told, as best a small child could understand the nature of such things.

Berek swallowed hard, hoping her mothers would find a way to rescue them. Hope and Kraftstar left, discussing the ceremony that would take place very soon. The soft sniffles of frightened little ones became more urgent then what the pair had planned, and Berek tried to offer what comfort she could.

****************************

Theron ignored the anguish of his torn legs, and held the grip of his bloody sword tightly. He faced the remaining hell hounds near the edge of the lake. He had said what prays a man damned by his gods might allow, and readied himself for his own death.

The hounds began circling once more, nipping and slashing at him whenever possible. The torn body of his mount had been savaged by the hounds, too. He inched towards the lake waters, glancing up towards the moonsilver full moon high above him. He spotted the cliff where Aidan had thrown herself into the bottomless lake, and felt a wave of guilt.

“Ah, Aidan, forgive me..I was a mad fool lead astray...” he said out loud, raising his sword.

“I shall...” announced a lyrical voice that he had thought never to hear again. Aidan let fly five arrows without hesitating, the glowing arrows finding each of the remaining hounds. Dressed in white leathers, the Ranger glanced in his direction. “If you want to live, follow me...”

Not one to question a miracle, he did as best as he could. Aidan moved with the unerring grace that was hers alone, leading him back the Amazon village. She bore a metallic bow that hung across her body, and the quiver sat low on her right hip. Safe for the words spoken at the lake, she did not speak to him again.

Shouts rose when the Amazons spotted two figures approaching the walls, one helping the other. Xena and Eponin appeared on the walls, and stunned silence reined when the figures drew near.

“Open the gates,” Eponin shouted, swiftly descending the ladder. Xena jumped down, landing beside the Arm’s mistress just in case this was a trick.

The gate was open only enough for two bodies to enter, and the figures entered the walled village. Theron heard angry voices become ones of disbelief when the white clad figure turned towards the others.

“Aidan...” Eponin gasped. Aidan nodded, grey eyes alert and sad. “Where have you been?”

“Finding answers, purging what had been done to me...” Aidan answered. She let the Amazon woman touch her face that now was wet with tears. “If I had not, I would have become a gateway for Dahok.”

Eponin grabbed the woman close, kissing her hard. Aidan slid her arms around her beloved neck, and kissed her back. There was much for them to talk about. “The children?”

“Taken..” Xena whispered. There was an definite otherness to Aidan now. Whatever had been done made her bloodline run truer. The warrior touched the pure white leather that had not been stained with blood.

Aidan smiled thinly. “Then we must gather our forces and strike this night...for the sake of the children, and the world. Night, the pathways of time have been opened for us to travel. Only those of stout heart may come..it will be a perilous thing.”

“What about him?”

“He is part of this; he must answer for his crimes, and shall. But first, I need my sword. Xena, gather those that you believe can handle this mission,” Aidan strode towards the hut she and Eponin shared, emerging moments later with her sword. She slid it inside a white scabbard that had not existed before.

Xena had selected the best warriors: Eponin, Dara, Brina, Medea, Cheopta, Solari, Ephiny, Gabrielle, Petra and Penda. Aidan hunkered beside the badly mauled man.

“Is your desire for redemption true, Theron?” Aidan asked softly.

Theron’s black eyes met those of the moonsilver, and he gasped at the power reflected there. “Yes; it is...”.

Aidan uncapped a white skin of water. “Take a drink..just a mouthful.”

Heeding her orders, the Dark Hunter did as he was bidden. He cried out when the wounds burned, searing out the poison of the hell hounds, and the flesh sealed itself. Aidan said nothing, capping the waterskin she rose and turned towards the gateway. Aidan murmured words none of them could understand, but the results were immediate: the moon light formed a gateway of it’s own.

Whispering about the things that might lay on the other side of the gateway, the Amazons and the Warrior Princess followed the Rangers. Aidan and Theron strode forward, side-by-side, into the swirling tunnel of silvery light.


*****************************

Hope had arranged the young girl on the alter brimming over with Nightroses. Aisla tried to undo the crimson bonds of silk binding her hands before her. She had been washed and anointed with rare oils, and the other children had been similarly washed and anointed.

They would be sacrificed when Dahok came across the opening this night permitted. He would claim his bride, who would become a fully grown woman the moment he claimed her, and the children would be slaughtered for the meal.

It would be a lovely affair, all in all, Hope thought. Theron had been a disappointment, but he would be fun to hunt down and torment. Kraftstar beamed his agreement, thinking how much fun it would be when they could start raising a family...

“Soon, brother-love, we shall have this world...” Hope laughed, knowing the spell of binding they had used would hold the other gods and goddess at bay.


There was a ominous peal of thunder, and the sibling smiled. Father was beginning to make his crossing! He would claim a vessel out of the first child he and Ailsa would bear, though he would mature faster than his children did.

The gathered servants of Dahok became more excited, discussing what their lord would do for them. Hope and Kraftstar beamed, wondering how the damned souls would react when they, too, were sacrificed for the One God’s delight. Evil and Innocence dying side by side!

A swirling red light began surrounding the room...soon, Dahok the Great God would be here! Hope clapped her hands, and turned to her brother to find her smile fading. Aidan stepped through a portal no mortal could form, the Bow of Light held high. She raised the bow, and fired off six arrows with the accuracy only one Goddess could claim.

Each target was hit with deadly accuracy as Theron and Xena sprang forward in unison. Aidan shouted out the name of the Warrior Princess, and threw her the blade of her ancestors. Xena snatched the wondrous blade out the air, beaming dangerously. The others engaged the villagers that Dahok had brought back, his servants all those years ago.

“Mother...” Hope hissed when Gabrielle faced his hell spawn child.

“Hope..” Gabrielle murmured, seeing what her heart had not allowed before: how evil the girl was. Gabrielle hefted her war staff, blinking when she saw the moonsilver glow surrounding it. “I am sorry that I must do this...”.

“I am not,” Hope laughed, kicking her mother.

Theron planted himself between the children and his ex-lover, the demon lord Kraftstar. He raised his own sword, saying, “I’ll see you in Tartarus before you harm them. No more...”

“You fool! How easy you were to lead astray! Poor, heart broken wretch, missing his beloved Hart!”

“Say his name with care, for it is the name of Grace and truth itself!”

Xena joined Gabrielle, knowing Hope was the most dangerous of the group. Warrior and Bard attacked together, launching themselves forward.

Aidan turned towards the shadowy form emerging from the tunnel, and misshapen being that towered above the white clad Ranger. Dahok frowned, pointing a taloned hand. “Clever..using this one as a vessel of your powers...”

“We thought so..” came the voices of three Goddesses: Artemis, Athena, and Danu. “Now, about your plans to destroy this world: forget them.”

Dahok’s laughter became a bellow of agony and fury when the Goddesses lowered the bow and fired. Each arrow made the form of the demonic god burn, creating holes inside its putrid flesh. It swung it’s massive arm outward, lashing the white clad form against the wall. Absorbing the blow, the Ranger rose despite the blood trickling out of her nose and mouth, and aimed the bow once more.

Xena and Gabrielle had Hope cornered, each one landing a telling blow before backing out of harm’s way. Eponin’s massive sword sliced through the resurrected towns people of Thrane, as did the others.

Ephiny and Solari were busy freeing the children, while the fearsome centaur kept the hounds at bay. The battle lines were drawn clearly...

Hope landed a hard blow that sent the bard flying backwards into the wall, and the way she hit was bad. Gabrielle’s right arm hit wrong, and there was snapping sound. The bard yelped, and hugged her broken arm against herself. Distracted momentarily by her mother’s cry of pain, Hope gave Xena an opening.

Xena slashed the Goddess’s bare midrift with the glowing, moon silver blade of Aidan. Hope screamed in pain when the blade’s tip scored her flesh, vanishing in a ball of white light. Kraftstar shouted out his sister-lover’s name, and launched himself forward with a wicked, recurved black blade.

“Your back!” Theron shouted, throwing himself between Xena and the black blade. Xena whirled, saw Theron’s own sword shatter beneath the blow that bit deep into the man’s side. Theron’s eyes widened in disbelief before his knees gave out. Kraftstar grinned, laughing out loud. “Sorry, lover...”.

Kraftstar did not have long to gloat. Xena came thundering forward, using her chakrum to dispatch three hounds trying to get to the children even as she whirled Aidan’s sword in one hand. The blade cut the grinning man across his right cheek, and the flesh burned.

Cursing, Kraftstar delivered a kick to the Warrior Princess’s hard belly. She absorbed the blow, flipping back up onto her feet, blocking a blow meant to disembowel her. Eponin distracted Kraftstar by throwing the severed head of a hound at the man’s head. It hit him hard, staggering him long enough for Xena to regain the advantage.

Aidan/ Artemis/ Athena/ Danu kept moving around the bi-pedal horror that was the god Dahok. Both figures bore staggering wounds that had been gotten during the battle. They continued battling each other, heedless of the mortals surrounding them. Eponin forged a path through the minions of Dahok, determined to rescue her daughter.

Penda’s wicked blade sang out a song of death, cutting through the ranks of the citizens of Thrane and other devotees of Dahok. Petra intercepted a hound intent on savaging the Centaur’s rear legs, exposing her own back to hazard. The black haired, brown eyed warrior cried out when one of the citizens of Thrane thrust a spear through her back.

Penda turned, saw her lover falling, mortally wounded. “Petra! No....”. The Centaur reared up, bringing her hooves down on the man’s skull. He died instantly, but not before he drove his sword up through the Centaur’s chest.

Penda collapsed beside her dying lover, and managed to reach out to draw Petra close. She cradled the semiconscious woman inside the shelter of her arms, whispering words of love. The lovers died in each other’s arms as the battle raged on.

Aidan raised her bow, and fired one more moonsilver arrow that hit Dakoh’s chest. Dahok wailed, tumbling back into the tunnel. Aidan pressed the attack, loosening glowing arrow after glowing arrow into the wounded God of Darkness.

A greenish crystal fell out of the God’s hand, and Aidan aimed and fired. The arrow shattered the crystal, and the chamber heaved violently. Dust fell out of the celling, and the towns people cried out.

“Xena, get everyone out of here!” Aidan/Artemis/Athena/Danu shouted, pointing towards the silver tunnel created by the Goddesses. “Now, while we can maintain your exit..”.

Kraftstar vanished, leaving a badly wounded Theron sprawled on the ground. Xena knew there was limited time, and shouted for the children and Amazons to run. Eponin refused to leave. Xena shoved the woman forward, grasping the badly wounded Dark Hunter’s tunic. She hauled him behind her, sparing a final glance towards the dead lovers and Aidan.

Aidan held back the town’s people and hounds seeking to enter the collapsing silver tunnel. Xena ran after the others as the tunnel sealed itself behind her. Aidan never looked back as she and the goddess pressed the attack on the reeling god of darkness. Where Hope and Kraftstar had gone the Warrior Princess did not know.

The group emerged inside the Amazon village, the fading moonlight giving way to the first blushing rose hues of dawn. Xena lowered Aidan’s sword, noting most of the warriors bore wounds, but the children were unharmed. Ailsa threw her small, chubby arms around her mother’s neck and buried her face against Eponin’s bosom.

Theron coughed, one hand clamped over his deep wound as he watched children being embraced by parents. He smiled. How had he forgotten the simple joys of life? Xena hunkered down beside the man, and began examining his wound.

“Dara, give me a hand getting him to the healer’s cabin...” Xena motioned the fierce warrioress to help her heft the grievously wounded man up.

“Ep, you need to have that wound treated...” Gabrielle touched the Arm’s mistress right arm gently, noticing the nasty gash above Eponin’s right eye.

Cobalt-blue eyes diamond hard the towering warrioress stood up, lifting her frightened daughter into her arms. “Yes, My Queen...”

She stalked past Xena, awarding the woman an icy glare that made it clear she blamed the Warrior Princess for Aidan’s not being with them. “You grabbed him, and left Aidan behind...”.

“She was covering us...” Xena said softly, not wishing to argue in front of Ailsa.

“Again, we are asked to accept that Aidan must be the necessary sacrifice...” Eponin snapped, tears sliding down her face unchecked.

“Aidan did what had to to make sure we survived...” Ephiny told the distraught Amazon, touching her childhood friend’s shoulder. Solari stood beside her own lover and met the tormented eyes of the Arm’s mistress.

Mothers held their restored children close, knowing what price had been paid for this bittersweet reunion. Many stared darkly towards the bleeding man, recalling how he first revealed himself. Theron had not doubt there were some of them that would finish him off if they could.

But he was under the protection of the crown, and therefor beyond their touch. The Amazons parted, permitting Xena and Dara to half carry, half drag the man towards Althea’s cabin. The aging healer and her assistant were prepared for the injured warriors’ return, and began the work of mending torn flesh and bruised spirits.

A gentle rain began, washing away the filth of battle, and the world seemed somehow less threatening.

****************************


Theron strode out the cabin where Althea had tended him the last twenty-one days. His black eyes had a gentleness that had been lost of many years, and his hair shorn to collar length. His black leathers had been replaced by the green and brown leathers of a Ranger, and Selene watched him.

He had been granted a second chance, a rare thing, by the Goddesses. If he failed this time, he would be hunted down and slain like a mad animal, his remains left to nature. He carried a new sword and bow, moving with the grace of a leopard. In these last days he had come to respect the young Amazon Queen, and respect her warrior mate.

He found that he and Ephiny shared a similar, dry sense of humor, and that Solari’s hot temper concealed a loving heart. Althea he called Old Mother, a sign of respect in his culture, and the Healer liked him as much as she could any man. Selene would escort him back to Thebes where he would learn where his new patrol area would be.

“Good luck, Theron,” Xena offered her hand to the tall, black man.

Theron clasped it firmly, bowing his head, “Warrior Princess, I am forever in your debt, and all the Amazon Nation. Should you ever need me, call, and I will come. Queen Gabrielle, never a finer monarch have I met...”.

Gabrielle colored at the man’s compliment. Before the death of his beloved Hart, Theron had been know for his lyrical tongue. He took his final farewells, noting the brooding Arm’s mistress observing him. He sighed. “Eponin, I know you shall never forgive me my part in the vileness done to Aidan; I may never forgive myself, but do not let hatred and anger rule your soul. It leads down a very slippery path to darkness, one that can be impossible to turn aside from.

Aidan would not want you living like this... She loved you and her daughter...”.

Eponin had lost weight these last days, and been torn by grief. Dara and Brina had taken Ailsa in, fearing the state of mind the woman was in. The usually well groom warrior had not bathed in more days than her sisters cared to think about, and she had been drinking hard.

Xena had tried everything to break through the shields her good friend had erected, but had been unable to reach her. Losing Aidan a second time had been too much for the woman; she had loved the Ranger with her entire heart and soul. Eponin swayed unsteadily on her feet, and began cursing the man in the most vivid way possible.

Xena squared her jaw. Enough was enough. She strode forward, Ephiny, Solari, and Gabrielle at her side. The Rangers watched with worried eyes the confrontation that had been building since the battle.

“Ep, you and I have been friends for almost eighteen years, and I will not permit you to kill yourself like this. You have a daughter, someone that needs you! If you ever loved Aidan, then you will do the right thing, and yourself together,” Xena said softly, reaching out to touch the woman.

Wine soaked breath made Xena draw slightly back when the drunken warrior cocked back her right arm and drove a fist forward. Made sloppy by weeks of drinking, and too little food, the blow missed it’s intended mark and caught Gabrielle. It was purely an accident, but the results were instantaneous.

Xena’s right fist connected with the Amazon’s strong jaw, followed by two more strikes to her belly. Eponin crumpled, and the Warrior Princess turned her attention to dazed young Queen laying on her back.

“Gabrielle?”

“I’m fine, Xena. It was my own fault, not hers...” Gabrielle winced when she felt her right eye. She would have one wonderful black eye.

“This is getting ridiculous...Solari, give me a hand... I think a good, old fashion dunk in the lake will get her sobered up. Dara, come on..” Ephiny motioned for the women she indicated, having four mounts brought forward.

They would toss the woman inside the now relatively warmer lake, then they would wash her in one of the bathing huts a couple of hundred yards from the lake. There, warm springs filled tubs hewn out of the bedrock, one of the hidden treasures of their lands.

“We’re coming, too...” Gabrielle insisted, determined not to lose this woman, too.

Selene and Theron took their leave, and the Amazons began discussing the terrible state of their best warrioress. Eponin had always been one of their strongest members, a woman with a definite sense of self.

They worried about what would become of her, and of the daughter she and Aidan had been given. Poor Ailsa still insisted her Mommy was alive and well, just somewhere else for the moment. It had been the girl’s constant belief that her Mommy would soon be back that made Eponin’s anguish worse.



There were twenty young Amazons playing around, and inside the huge lake measured a half league by a half league. None swam in the area where Aidan had jumped, uncertain what powers had been unlocked by Aidan’s plunge twenty-one days ago. The Goddesses had remained mute, not answering the entreaties of the priestesses. The Gods and Goddesses were oddly silent, though they were present.

Ephiny and Xena hauled the semi-conscious warrioress off the mount, grimacing at the woman’s ripe smell. They hauled her between them to the edge of the lake, and laid her down. Stripping off their garments, they dragged her face forward into the still brisk waters. Xena plunged the woman’s head underwater, held it under of a brief count, then hauled it up.

Eponin’s eyes were wide opened, and furious. Another dunking made her struggle against the powerful women holding her firmly, but the combined strength of the Warrior Princess and the Regent was too much for the weakened warrior. She began weeping. Not the silent tears of grief locked firmly away from the light of hurt, but the type that brought healing.

Gabrielle waded between the two warriors uncertain how to help her grieve, and firmly embraced the wailing woman. “Let it out,” the Queen whispered, soothing the broken hearted woman. Eponin buried face against the monarch’s moderate bosom. “I loved her so much.....”.

“We know you did, Ep...and she loved you,” Xena murmured, squeezing her friend’s shoulders. “But she’s gone...and Ailsa needs her mama.”

Eponin slowly nodded her head, standing up on wobbly legs. Solari and Ephiny were sniffling and offering gentle embraces when the dark eyed, dark haired consort of the Regent spotted the roiling waters. “Look...” she shouted, pointing towards the place where Aidan had taken her dive so many days ago. Wolves howls rose in a wild chorus, as a golden stag strode out onto the cliff. A silvery owl hooted from the branches of ancient tree, and the women felt the surge of power crackling around them.

The stag leapt down into the swirling waters that had become moon silver, vanishing beneath the turbulent waters. A lithe form burst to the surface, and the Warrior Princess launched herself into the lake. She and Dara were the strongest, and swiftest swimmers of those bearing witness.

Xena reached the semi-conscious form a mere moments before Dara did. Nude, but healed, Aidan floated on the surface of the radiant water. Xena felt watery hands release the gentle grasp they had on the Ranger floating on her back. Together, she and Dara carefully towed the unmoving form back to the shore where the others waited.

Eponin quickly joined the pair hauling Aidan onto the bank. Her flesh felt chilled to the touch, and Xena glanced towards the bath houses. “Come on, she needs warmth...”.

Too weak to carry her beloved, Eponin entrusted her to the Warrior Princess’s arms. They rushed her inside the well built stone and wood structures, clearing it of the Amazons lounging inside. Dare jumped inside the chest deep, heated waters and accepted Xena’s burden with care.

“Ep, get inside...you need to hold her, talk to her...” Xena did know how she knew this important information. “And you need to give her air...”

Eponin did not question this miracle, and did as she was told. With utmost tenderness she held her mate and whispered words of love and hope, letting the healing waters do their work. Dara clambered out of the water, and they waited.

“Ep, pinch her nose shut, and breath hard into her mouth twice..” Xena instructed.

Eponin did what she was told, and drew back. Aidan coughed, spewing up clear water. A hesitant breath shuddered inside the woman’s chest, and color returned to the pale flesh. Aidan’s eyelids fluttered opened, and focused on the beaming woman.

“Aidan...” Eponin stammered her lover’s name, claiming her lips for a heated kiss.

“Ep..” the hoarse voice whispered, communicating the depth of love and trust the Ranger had for her mate. “What’s wrong..you have been sick?”

“Nothing is wrong, love. I am fine...” Eponin laughed, pressing kisses on the woman’s weary face and lips. “You are my soul...”

“Ailsa?” Aidan found she could move only slightly, and sighed. Her eyes closed and she slept inside the shelter of mate’s arms.

Eponin looked up, beaming. She could feel her lover’s body returning to life. There were no dry eyes amidst the small group, especially when Eponin insisted she wash them both. Dara slid inside the water to help, leaving the others to get things ready back in the village.

***************

Aidan lounged against Eponin, watching her daughter chase butterflies with the other children. The Queen had declared a day of feasting seven days following Aidan’s restoration to the tribe, and celebration was grand indeed. Theron had been assigned Aidan’s region for a year, giving time for the Ranger to recuperate from her battle with darkness.

There were definite marks left on the woman from this experience. Streaks of pure silver had appeared in her lush hair, and her eye sight had been restored. Her eyes were now a luminous silvery-grey that missed nothing, including the love of her family and friends.

She would not speak of things she had seen, not even with Eponin, for she had no words to describe it. Her gift with wild things had become stronger, and the otherness had become more apparent.

Eponin stroked Aidan’s hair, teasing her beloved about the silver highlights that only added to her beauty. Aidan silvery eyes met the Amazon’s, and Eponin leaned down to kiss her lover. It was a kiss promising passion. Eponin drew back slowly, her heightened color indicating how much the kiss affected her. Aidan seemed equally distracted, and Brina offered that her family would watch Ailsa for the night. Aidan gave a consenting nod, and Eponin rose.

The Arm’s mistress hunkered down beside her daughter, speaking softly with the girl. Ailsa listened, and gave her mama a hug. Amazon children were raised with honesty and openness about human sexuality. Ailsa raced over and hugged her mommy, planting kisses on her face before joining the other children.

“My Queen, Aidan and I thank you for this marvelous celebration, but we would like some private time...” Eponin informed Gabrielle, the hunger behind her cobalt-blue was very evident.

Gabrielle blushed, but gave her word. Both women had been too weak to share what lovers share until tonight. Eponin bowed formally, ignoring Xena’s good-natured teasing as she passed her. Aidan had risen, wearing a new set of Amazon leathers given to her by Xena and Gabrielle.

Eponin lifted Aidan up, and bore her back to their hut. She laid her wife down on the new pallet Ephiny and Solari had bought them. She dashed back, securing the door, then darted back to the bed. It had been three months since they had last made love, and Eponin trembled with desire.

“Are you sure, love?” Eponin murmured, disrobing. She stood proudly naked in front of Aidan. The weight had lost would be slowly regained, but she still made a powerful figure. Her full breasts were tipped with large, dusky rose hued nipples.

Aidan’s silvery-grey eyes tracked down the woman’s golden length, resting on the tawny patch of hair glistening with moisture. Eponin carefully lowered herself onto the pallet, claiming Aidan’s lips. She darted her tongue inside Aidan’s mouth, demanding full access.

Kneading Aidan’s smaller breasts through her evergreen halter top, grinding her soaking mound along Aidan’s muscular thigh. Aidan groaned, reaching up to twist and pinch the Amazon’s swollen nipples. Eponin panted heavily, throwing her head back in ecstasy as molten heat throbbed between her legs.

Aidan sat up, clamping her teeth on the Amazon’s right nipple while one hand slid between Eponin’s slick thighs. Her deft fingers found Eponin’s engorged clitoris, rubbing it with her thumb while three fingers plunged deep inside her lover’s vagina.

Eponin rode Aidan’s hand, clasping the woman close as she orgasmed. Aidan continued strumming Eponin’s dripping sex until another tremor shook the woman. Eponin felt the gush of fluid spill out of her mound, and sighed.

Aidan smiled softly.

“I began this seduction...and you bring me release..” Eponin withdrew Aidan’s long fingers. Raising the Ranger’s right hand, Eponin licked her own juices off her fingers. Leaning forward, she let Aidan taste her nectar on her lips. “Hmmm...you are so wet...”.

Aidan whimpered when she felt the Amazon’s fingers playfully touching her wet mound. “Let’s get this off...”.

Aidan raised her hips, laughing when Eponin almost ripped off the skirt. Raising the dark brown leather skirt to her nose, inhaling the musky scent of desire that had dampened Aidan’s skirt. A honey glaze of juices had soaked the interior of the leather skirt, and Eponin’s tongue licked the juices off.

“Hmmm...tastes like honey..” Eponin whispered, inhaling the scent with a wicked smile. "Come here...".

Aidan did as bidden. She slid her arms around the towering Amazon, laughing when Eponin growled softly. Eponin nuzzled her way down Aidan's lithe frame, nipping, licking, and suckling until she paused above the juncture of Aidan's thighs.

Eponin kissed and nipped Aidan's toned inner thighs, ignoring the woman's sex until firm hands guided her head. Smiling, the Amazon buried herself greedily into her lover's mound. Aidan screamed in pure rapture.

The lovers' would spend the night sharing themselves....

****************

It was midday the next day when the couple emerged from their cabin, arms twined around each other's waists. Berek and the older Amazon children were watching the little ones play in the green space in the center of the village. Most of the warriors were busy in weapons drills, including Xena, Gabrielle and Ephiny.

"Mommy..." Ailsa shouted, running into the open arms of Aidan. Aidan lifted her daughter, holding the sweet smelling child close against herself. "You and Mama had a good time playing?"

Aidan blushed, and smiled slowly when Eponin chuckled. She nodded, letting her daughter down to join a rousing game of hunted and hunter. It taught the little ones tactics that would keep them alive, emerging into the training the girls would receive when they were Berek's age.

Berek now was being her training as a warrior, making her mothers very proud of their daughter. Aisla chased the older girl, determined to capture her.

"Aidan, Eponin," Gabrielle lowered her warstaff, beaming when the lovers joined them. Xena gave her mate a playful swat on the butt with the end of the war staff she wielded. "Ouch...".

Xena whistled, trying to look innocent as the monarch rubbed her bottom. Ephiny and Solari finished their set, then joined the other women. Aidan leaned on the railing of the wooden fence enclosing the practice ground. "Good morning..." Ephiny intoned, pleased how her two friends looked.

"Good morning," Aidan murmured, sighing when Eponin fitted herself behind her lover. Eponin cushioned her chin atop Aidan's head, arms encircling the woman's waist.

"Seems to be...a good afternoon," Solari commented drolly. Ephiny gave her mate a quick elbow in the ribs, shaking her head. Solari grinned wickedly. "There's some fruits, cheese and bread left over from last night...in case you two have not eaten enough today."

"Solari..." Ephiny admonished, trying not to burst out laughing. The sounds emerging from the couple's hut had been very enthusiastic and loud. Even the most lusty of the tribe had been abashed by the pair's joyous reunion.

Eponin awarded her friends slow grin, licking her lower lip in jest. The two other couples began laughing heartily, discussing their plans for the night. Xena and Gabrielle would return to the road in another few days, and the friends wished to spend time together.

"Aidan," a husky voice echoing with power pronounced the Ranger's name. The women turned to find Artemis and her beloved Britomartis standing behind them. The two Goddesses of the Hunt smiled towards the silvery-eyed Ranger whose efforts had freed Britomartis. "If not for you, my love would have been held captive for eternity....".

"It was my honor, Lady of the Hunt," Aidan bowed her head.

"She freed a Goddess?" Gabrielle asked, her bardic instincts in overdrive.

"Yes; we she permitted us to use her as a vessel for our essences, she gave us the advantage. During the final hours of the battle between the universes and time, in void that Fates have not yet spun, though it is woven, we were able to free her and the other gods Dahok's foul magics had ensnared.

Athene hold council on Olympus with all the Gods and Goddesses set against Dahok and his royal house. Danu, Odin, and others attend..." Artemis paused, letting the weight of her words sink in. "This was just another battle; the war still rages on this world and many others. Dahok's banner has many of the darker gods and demonic entities joining his alliance; beware, Amazons, the battles shall become worse before they become better."

Eponin held her beloved closer, and did all the lovers. Artemis held forth a magnificent bow of gleaming silver and bone with a quiver. "A gift of gratitude. It was forged by Hephaestus with the help of Danu's tribe. It will serve you, like your sword, Aidan of the Rangers."

Aidan accepted the bow, thanking the Goddesses. Artemis and Britomatris smiled as they faded away. Aidan caressed the bow with reverent fingers, knowing this bow would survive whatever battles lay ahead.

"Aidan, what did she mean about the battle after we left," Ephiny phrased the question carefully.

"Ephiny, I can not tell you what it was that I saw; so much of it was beyond my comprehension. It is a place where Gods and Goddesses tread with care."

"Aidan, I can not take losing you again," Eponin whispered, clasping her beloved closer.

"Nor I you, but the universe will do what it will, without regard for mortal or divine hopes. I fear we are all pawns in this war, whether or not we desire to be," Aidan pronounced.

"Let's worry about it when the time comes, otherwise, Dahok wins. I think a celebration is still in order, don't you?" Xena smiled, determined to shield her loved ones with her body, mind and soul.

Cheers rose at the Warrior Princess' suggestion, and the assembled Amazons began planning a proper feast.

The End


 


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