The Cost of Victory

Seriana

The order swept through the Amazon troops to fall back to Artemis' temple. They moved in a great wave, stopping their pursuers when they could. It was easy enough; without Kaia or Ares they were chaotic and disorganized.

Seriana forced her way through the mass as everyone fled from Deinus' path. Jadea was helping to get things organized, hunting down the girls who didn't yet understand what was going on.

"Jadea!" she shouted. "Where's Sami?"

"Gone," Jadea answered. "Kaia's dead, and Samsara took off. She has another work to do now."

"What kind of an answer is that?" Seriana demanded. "My sister is missing!"

"She will be back. Have a little faith. Come on, girl; ride. One more battle, and then we can go home. Remember home? Take care of this now. Samsara will come back when she needs to."

The fear-rush that meant the battle was nearing its end was sweeping over her now, and she beat it back fiercely. Not now. Finish your work, and mourn and fear and deny when you can hide in your own hut and no one has to see your Amazon's shame tracing across your cheeks. Fight now. Cry later.

She turned and joined the mass of Amazons moving towards the stronghold of the temple.

It was just then that she saw Thalia, on horseback, come galloping from the woods . . .

Jadea

I'm heeeeeeerrrrrrreee. Thalia's energetic voice sent a message to Jadea, who turned her head long enough to give her Sister a smile and nod.

Seriana rushed past two Amazons on their way to the forest. Thalia rode up to her, seriousness in her eyes but a valiant smile on her lips. "Glad to see me?" she asked.

"We're heading to forest. We have to . . ."

"Regroup for another battle. I know. Ardra told me," Thalia finished.

"There's more. Kaia Kakistos is out of the picture. Samsara must have killed her," Seriana stated in a worried tone. She didn't like the idea that Samsara had killed Kaia. And she liked it less than Jadea seemed to be fine with it. Still, with the enemy approaching, there wasn't time to argue the point.

"One less Goddess for us to worry about," Thalia commented. She spurred her horse and Seriana followed on Denius, all of them heading back to the battle.

Several yards away, the Sorceress Empress Jadea engaged in a tactical meeting with Queen Celosia and Queen Vorgeen. Celosia was torn between wanting to take her Amazons home, and wanting to remain to see the war through. Vorgeen wasn't about to leave with an enemy at their backs.

"All right! Look, we don't have much time. Artemis has always been obsessed with protecting those lands consecrated to her, right? That's why we move the battle there. That gives us all leverage to use. And those of us with powers will be stronger," Jadea stated, looking from Vorgeen to Celosia. The latter had her reservations about the plan. Jadea saw this in the look on her Queen's face.

"Besides," Jadea continued with a glance to Vorgeen, "we have many wounded, and some just recently killed. If we move quickly now, they can be healed."

Queen Celosia stepped from the circle they'd made. She turned her back and thought for a moment. Finally, her feet moved back around and she nodded. "All right. If it saves Amazon lives, let's do it," she said.

The three placed their hands together to form the pact. As they broke off, Jadea overhead her Queen make a silent prayer.

Forgive me, Artemis. We have to save our tribes.

Medea

Charging her mare forward, Medea yanked the reins tight, cutting a tight circle, and also three enemies' throats. Delighted in her victory, she sent a fiery grin to her ever-present escorts, Pelee and Tern, who watched her with stoic expressions. Sniffing haughtily, she tugged the reins again, trotting ahead.

"Like you could have done any better," she muttered irritably and shook her head, sorely missing her former long locks. It used to be quite dramatic to watch those golden locks fly in the air.

Now is not the time to be thinking about beauty, Medea, Tern's voice burned in her mind. The Regent rolled her eyes and sent a dry look over her shoulder. Kicking her mare forward, she settled her mind on the task at hand and let out a low ululation, not unlike a wildcat's scream. Instantly the sisters around her complied with the call and rode up behind her, forming a neat, fortifying line.

Head held high, Medea and the remaining Themiscyra Amazons rode towards the temple.

Jadea

While the two Queens worked on drawing a line in the ground, so to speak, the Sorceress Empress ordered all wounded Amazons to be placed inside Artemis' temple. There were looks of discontent at her order, but no one challenged it.

With her powers intensified, Jadea set about to heal her fallen Sisters. A lieutenant under Vorgeen's command questioned Jadea about the dead Amazons.

"The dead don't get deader. I'll heal them soon enough, just keep them separate from the living. The last thing I need is infection and disease to spread."

She turned from the lieutenant to continue her work, but abruptly stopped and turned around once more. "Except one. There's an Amazon outside with the brand of a claw on her arm. Bring her to me immediately," she stated, referring to the Amazon that Vorgeen had defended, then unmasked.

As the Sorceress Empress healed the wounds of each Amazon, she seemed to grow stronger. She overheard some occasional grumbling that she should be out there fighting instead of inside a temple. True, her powers could be used to fight the enemy, but Jadea was more concerned with the wounded and dead than with the able and fighting . . . at least for the present time.

Amazons returned outside for their orders, once their initial shock had subsided and their will to fight came back to them. Around the thirteenth warrior, Jadea heard it.

Jade, they have artillery, Ardra warned. No sooner had the birdís voice spoken than . . .

"INCOMING!" Two scouts, one from each tribe, yelled across the area. A loud, intrusive explosion that blasted several Amazons followed their warning.

How in HADES did I miss that? Jadea yelled so fiercely that Thalia and Medea both heard her thought. The question was only meant for her, though Ardra naturally heard such thoughts from her mistress.

Goods news is that they only have one catapult. Bad news is that we can't get to it. Ardra stated with the voice of one who is only calmed greater as a situation worsens.

"Famous last words," Jadea said.

All right, Angus, you want a shot at proving your heart's goodness? Fine. Show me what you can do, she thought to him.

"Get those Amazons in here, now!" She yelled at two passing warriors.

Jadea busied herself with the wounded. Some had had little sleep before coming to engage the enemy. Those, she allowed some additional rest before she sent them back outside. For all her powers, Jadea still had to use some of nature's own remedies to cure her patients.

So involved with what she was doing was she that Jadea failed to notice a white canine slip into the temple. Still kickin' with your tongue as well as your feet, I see.

Jadea turned and recognized the creature before her. Neeko! Thank the gods! I could use your help, old friend.

The wolf chuckled and strode up to Jadea. Ah, it's good to be needed.

Thalia

Thalia charged into battle, using her crossbow to keep as many men as she could at bay. Arrow after arrow flew into their ranks, but they kept coming. As they neared, Thalia drew her sword and charged at them, yelling a war cry, trying to make them unsettled at the ferocious women coming towards them. She parried thrusts, disarming the men. She hated killing, but if it was to defend her sisters, she had no problem with it.

She let out another cry and continued the battle. She charged around on her horse, aiding any Amazon who was faltering.

Disarming another one and sending him to the cold ground, she quickly scanned the scene. To her horror she saw Valkyra, wounded form one of the blasts, hurt, weak and surrounded by advancing enemies. Yelling a loud war cry, Thalia charged towards her, leaning down and hoisting her onto her horse and charging out of the scene. She had to take her back to Jadea.

She was just past the last few ranks when a searing pain shot through her shoulder. She jerked back, gasping. She felt her shoulder- an arrow! One of the bastards had shot her!

Grimacing, she pulled it out while her shoulder was numb. Throwing it to the side and angrily kicking one of the men in the head while passing, she charged towards the temple. Before the horse had even stopped, Thalia was off and carefully letting down Valkyra. Carrying her in her arms, grimacing at the stab of pain in her shoulder, she quickly took her inside and laid her down.

"She was hurt in one of the blasts," she nodded to Jadea.

"Thank you, I shall see to her." Jadea noticed a hint of a grimace on the scoutís face. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine." Thalia shrugged, quickly heading back out. The deep chocolate colored horse was still outside waiting for her. "Good boy!" Thalia gave him a pat on the nose before hopping on his back. "I hope you're ready for some more battle! Yah!" She took off back to the battlegrounds, yelling a war cry.

She unsheathed her sword, ready to do as much damage as she could. She needed to see the enemies' technique, their style of fighting, in order to choose the right morph to best aid her sisters. "AyiyiyiyiYOH!" She yelled, bringing her sword around...

Jadea

With a steadiness not uncommon to a trained warrior, Jadea worked diligently to heal her Sisters. Neeko was gone from the temple by the time Thalia entered with Valkyra. Despite Thalia's best efforts, she'd failed to hide her wound from the Sorceress Empress. Jadea had allowed Thalia to leave the safety of the Artemis' temple for one reason - she needed Thalia outside.

Jadea placed her hand softly on Valkyra's forehead. The Amazon's eyes closed as she gave a weak wince. Shaking her head, Jadea asked if Valkyra could walk. The Amazon shook her head with a slight motion, a gesture that sooner or later every Amazon warrior learned to perfection.

"Sabine!" Jadea called to a Highland Amazon, serving as a nurse. The Amazon was immediately at Jadea's side.

"I need you to help Valkyra to the side. Get her some cushions to support her. I can't heal her right now and the best thing for her is to stay off her feet." The Amazon nodded and took Valkyra's arm around her neck. She gave a yell for another Amazon to aid her.

The casualties were too many, most from the first initial attack. The good news was that no more blasts came from the catapult. Yet, all was not nearing the end.

Jade, Queen Vorgeen wants you outside. Ardra's voice carried to her Mistress' mind. When Jadea's footing faltered with her first step. Ardra sensed it. What is it?

Samsara . . . something has happened to her. Ardra, find her! Reserving her strength for her Sisters, Jadea chose to reach Vorgeen the mortal way. This took her several minutes to accomplish, for which she received a vexed look.

"This is how it stands. They've sent their front men into the forest, but only shallow. The rest are out there waiting for us to come out. Like vultures waiting for their prey to die, they're waiting for us to keel over," Vorgeen's voice was as harsh as her feelings for the men she spoke.

But Jadea's mind wasn't on the battle. She'd caught one word Vorgeen had used. "Vultures. Why didn't I think of that?" Jadea's thoughts completed her question. "Vorgeen, all the men that enter this forest and die . . . send them back out. I don't care how you do it, just don't get any of ours killed."

"Wait, what is that going to do?" Vorgeen grabbed Jadea's arm and searched her eyes.

"It's a trick I learned from the Romans once," she answered before turning to leave.

A few minutes later, Jadea ran across Thalia in the midst of battle. A growling sound, eerily identical to that of an angry lioness, burst forth from her lungs. The man Thalia was fighting turned and saw Jadea. Hers was the last face he saw before he collapsed on the ground. Thalia moved her eyes up from the fallen man to Jadea.

"I had him. What was that for?" She asked, disappointment in her voice.

"Shock value." Jadea said and smirked before moving on. As she walked, she tested the integrity of her mental powers. We need to force them to us or convince them to leave.

As she reentered the temple, she saw Hades standing beside the altar. His eyes looked down onto the face of the Amazon there. Jadea glanced around and saw that no one else noticed the God's presence.

Hades looked up, sadness in his eyes. The God of the Underworld had a reputation for being all business. He'd made the unintentional mistake of showing his softer side to such warriors as Xena and Jadea and even Hercules a time or two. "You know, I think this is the first time I've been in my sister's temple before." His comment was spoken lightly, perhaps to bring what humor it could to an otherwise grim and dire situation.

"Hades, why are you here?" Jadea asked, surprised at the calmness of her tone. Her powers, though strong, were being drained with their excessive use.

"Relax. I'm here to help."

Seriana

"It's been said before," Seriana said with a shake of her head, "And I will repeat it. Men just cannot take shocks."

Thalia smiled at her friend. "So you're saying you wouldn't run for your life if an army of walking dead came running after you?"

"Not if I had two tribes of Amazons behind me."

"But they don't have two tribes of Amazons. They have one leaderless army of injured men."

Seri nodded. "Point taken."

"Come on," Thalia said. "One more fight. Let's take out the catapult and then we'll go home."

"Have a feast?" Seriana asked hopefully.

"Maybe."

The Amazons had been warned about Hades' offer to help, which was very helpful to keep people from panicking. As one, the bodies that they'd left upon the field rose up, working the kinks from their necks. It was a startling sight for all concerned.

"For the Amazon Nation!" shouted a fallen commander, and the troops roared back his command. They charged directly on the hiding soldiers, scattering them in all directions.

"Now," Thalia said cheerfully, "We hunt."

She and Seriana turned their mounts into the mess, pursuing the soldiers and driving them hither and thither. There was no more threat of casualties; the men were too terrified to attack.

The battle was nearing its close.

Jadea

"Ares meddled with the Amazons, Hades. Be wise, and do not repeat his mistake," Artemis' voice filtered through the halls of her temple. She was at Olympus, but keeping a rather close watch over what was happening.

Jadea, meanwhile, went ahead with her task. She seemed to ignore the God of the Underworld and only he knew that she was tolerating his presence for a reason beyond her duty to her Sisters.

A groan from the side led Jadea to temporarily leave one Amazon whose leg had been struck. She kneeled beside Valkyra and laid her hand over the Amazon's heart. Within a few moments, Valkyra stood of her own power. She gave Jadea an Amazon tribute to thank her before departing from the temple to rejoin the fight.

As the Sorceress Empress turned, Hades stood in front of her.

"You cannot avoid me forever, Jade," He stated softly. Her eyes met his for what seemed like the longest time. She finally broke away from the gaze and walked past him.

"I don't need forever, Hades," she replied with a greater degree of her former self.

Elsewhere at that precise time, a woman smirked in utter satisfaction and pride.

"What do you think is happening to you, Sorceress Empress? Each Amazon you heal, each life you save . . . is killing you," He walked around to stand across from her.

"I don't know what you're talking about." She immediately responded.

"I think you do. By allowing Samsara to do whatever she did to Ares and to Kaia Kakistos, you condemned yourself. Only you're too proud to admit it to your Queen or the others," he stated rather blatantly.

She looked up from a dead Amazon, a dead Themiscyran Amazon. "You think you know what you're talkin' about. But you don't," she declared, her eyes beginning to glow.

Jadea placed her hands over the Amazon, palms flat. With her eyes closed, she began to utter an incantation. The pendant around her neck changed colors, alternating from a blood red hue to a deep green. Soon, the Amazon's eyes opened, looking up at Jadea above her.

"I-I failed," she whispered.

Jadea shook her head, taking the Amazon's hand in her own. "No. You live."

"The others? They know?" The Amazon asked weakly.

Again, Jadea shook her head. Her hand received a gentle squeeze. "No. They know not," She answered with a softness Ares might have clenched his stomach to witness. The Amazon turned her head and saw Hades.

Jadea noticed the Amazon's reluctance. "They need your help, my Sister." The Sorceress Empress brought the attention back to her.

The Amazon nodded, and Jadea placed her left hand upon the Amazon's forehead. She disappeared, reappearing on the outside of the temple.

Jadea looked at Hades, who had seen the whole episode.

"You take a risk in sending her back." He said with a low tone.

"No greater a risk than she took in saving a Highland Amazon's life," Jadea replied with a biting strength that the God of the Underworld could not counter.

Exiting the temple, the Sorceress Empress gave a loud whistle. The nearest Amazons gathered up around her.

"It's time for the last dance of this party. Let's do it!" A loud cheer followed and Amazons immediately mounted and took up arms. Jadea gave the temple one last look before she mounted a horse.

"Thank you, Artemis."

Jadea

The sight of over a hundred Amazon warriors storming out of the forest was overwhelming to the men who stood on the battlefield. Some began to desert and flee. Others yelled orders and still others gave cries of encouragement.

Most of the Amazons that emerged from the woods were on horseback. Three lines of archers were deployed at various positions. All in all, the battle was most entertaining. A mass confusion of one of the divisions provoked Jadea to use a barrage of fireballs.

High above, large birds of prey . . . indistinguishable to most on the grounds . . . hovered about. Occasionally, one of these creatures would dive down and attack a warrior or two. Always the men, oddly.

Yes, had Ares been there to see it, he'd have been most impressed. Disappointed that the Amazons were kicking ass, but impressed nonetheless.

The undead men simply advanced toward the standing reinforcements. Every now and then, one or two would fall, then they'd rise and continue on, relentless. True, these undead warriors could not kill, could not harm . . . could not even take a wound meant for someone else. But they could, and did, scare many witless. Even some Amazons felt their skin crawling and their stomach churning at the sight.

The Amazons had their victory, but at a price. The living men attempted to retreat, but were cut off by Thalia and Seriana and a rather large catapult. The undead men fell to the ground as the battle ended, returning to the afterlife they were due. Hades was happy to show them road to Tartarus.

The Sorceress Empress standing among the warriors at the front of the Amazon army collapsed to the ground as the menís army surrendered. She had dismounted earlier in battle, and had used a great deal of her powers. As she closed her eyes, her pendant began to lose all hue and became as clear as a pure crystal. Jadea heard Amazon cheers and enthusiastic howls of victory.

The last sound she would hear would be the soft brogue of the Highland Amazon Queen.

 

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