Godhood

 
Seriana

Coughing and stumbling, Seriana cleared the dust from her lungs and from the air around her face. It would have nearly driven her mad in other circumstances, but nothing could dampen her spirits now. She remembered her name. She remembered who she was. She was alive to enjoy the remembering.

When she could breathe clearly again she turned to Medea. "You saved my life."

"Don't remind me," the Regent snapped.

Seriana held her hands up peaceably. "Right, right. Forgotten."

"Good."

Thalia, weak with morphing, flopped onto the ground and panted. Seriana knelt next to her and helped her to stay sitting up.

"You okay?" she asked.

Thalia nodded. "I just need a minute to catch my breath. I'll be all right. And you?"

Seriana grinned. "I remember."

"You're also bleeding from the head."

She put her hand against the side of her face and felt the stickiness in her hair. "It'll wash out."

Thalia took a few deep breaths. "Okay. Let's go figure out what's going on and find the Queen."

"And Samsara," Seriana reminded. "And Jadea."

"Them, too."

Valkyra

"Look! Flying right above us! It is a hawk!" Swift Blazer pointed upward to show the other Amazons. "And it is not an ordinary bird."

"Yes, you are right, Swift Blazer. The hawk is unusual. You have good observation skills as well as keen eyesight," replied Valkyra. "All Amazons should be so aware of their surroundings."

Raizlith asked, "But why is it circling us?"

Valkyra answered, "The hawk does seem to have a particular interest in us, especially in Queen Celosia. It watches us as a vulture watches a dying animal. However, I believe that the bird intends us no harm. It is just the opposite; she watches over us in a protective manner."

"Why do you refer to the bird as female?" asked Deflagara.

Valkyra squinted her eyes so as to see through the lingering clouds of dust from the cave entrance explosion. "I say 'she' because that is Ardra, Jadea's guardian hawk. She flew from the direction of Crescent Hill. That is one of Jadea's favorite lookout spots."

"But why are you so interested in Ardra?" asked Swift Blazer.

Valkyra smiled and said, "Sooner or later, Jadea will bid Ardra to fly to her. If we follow the hawk, it will lead us to Jadea and Samsara." As Valkyra continued to study the circling hawk, she thought to herself, That is, if Jadea does not use her magic to prevent us from finding her.

Jadea

Feeling internally exhausted, Jadea rested on a large stone. She looked at her niece, still unconscious, and wondered if she did the right thing by saving her. Rumyna had once told her that each time you save another person, you are saving a piece of yourself. At the time, Jadea had been confused by her mentor's words. It was not until she later learned that each time you take a life you lose part of yourself did Rumyna's words truly become clear.

Ardra is going to flip when she hears that I have Samsara. Jadea made a weak smile, part of her knowing that if Ardra had reached the Amazons, then she most likely already knew. Thalia had not seen her, but Jadea was certain that the Amazon had heard her voice when she spoke.

A muttered groan came from the woman that laid a few feet away. Slowly, Samsara rose to her feet and looked around. Something of a growling sigh followed when she set eyes upon her aunt.

"Where are we?" Samsara demanded in a tone that might have been intimidating, had Jadea not seen the Goddess weakened moments earlier.

"A place where your powers are of no use to you."

Disbelieving, Samsara attempted to strike the Sorceress and failed. Furious, she then tried to vanish. Again, her endeavor failed.

"How much do you know about your mother?" Jadea asked in a softer but still steady tone.

Samsara didn't answer. She began studying her surroundings and after a few minutes she turned back to her aunt. "We're in Cirra, aren't we?"

"Well..." Jadea sighed a little, "That partly answers my question. Here's another one for you. Why would I bring you here?"

The Goddess's eyes fell to the ground. In her mind, she saw flashes of her mother. But they were mere glimpses to what she would come to see in clarity.

Samsara looked up and met Jadea's patient gaze. "What do you know about my mother, Sorceress?"

Her tone wavered, and she cursed herself for sounding even the slightest bit timid. Jadea looked upon Samsara with a gentleness that the Goddess was unaccustomed to. She was far more acquainted with hardened glares or expressions of indifference, and sometimes the occasional glance of sympathy from her sister.

The Sorceress Empress rose to her feet and began to walk past her niece. Instinctively, the Goddess followed. Jadea lead them to the very spot where Cirra had once stood as prosperous town. A forest could be seen in the distance not five miles away. Jadea stared into it with a far-off gleam in her eyes. Not until Samsara spoke did she break away.

"This is where it happened, isn't it?"

Jadea nodded and began to walk in the opposite direction. She stopped about seven steps away the Goddess. Her pendant began to glow a vibrant green. Jadea watched as Samsara's eyes closed.

Somewhere in midst of all her concentration, Jadea heard the voice of Ardra. Despite her focus on her niece, something of a smile appeared on her face.

By the Gods . . . oh by the Gods, tell me you did not take Samsara! Have you lost your smeggin' bloody mind?

While Ardra's thoughts were intended for herself, she knew there was a chance that Jadea would hear them. Knowing that she had Samsara with her, Ardra also knew that Jadea would not respond to Ardra's thoughts. Not until she was ready, at least.

Samsara saw her mother's flaxen hair lying on her shoulders. She shook her head and tried to escape what she saw. For all her efforts, the images became ever clearer as she saw Xena's army engulf the town.

The Goddess saw her grandmother's face, bold and strong, but fearful for her daughters' lives. She saw men defending their families only to be slaughtered by a merciless onslaught of warriors. Samsara soon smelled the smoke of fire. She turned, forcing her eyes open but the images remained with her.

Suddenly, a scream pierced through the air and cut louder than the other yells and desperate pleas for mercy and help. Callisto struggled against the arms of her mother and ran to find her sister. She saw the commanderess of the army, and an urge to fight the woman swelled up in her heart.

For a brief moment, the two met each other's eyes. Callisto quickly ducked behind and ran toward her sister. A man by the name of Darphus struck the girl on the back of her head and grinned when she hit the floor. He looked around and caught the eye of his superior, who with one steely gaze warned him not kill the girl.

Samsara closed her eyes again and violently shook her head to drive away what she saw.

Jadea's heart went out to her. For she knew all that overwhelmed her niece had once done the same to her.

The strength is inside you, Jadea. Use it to face what you are running from. Rumyna's words echoed in the halls of her mind once again. They often did so on their own accord, acting as a constant reminder.

The Goddess took a couple of steps and opened her eyes. She saw one of the warriors take a torch and throw it into a barn. For some reason, that enraged Samsara and she ran towards him with the intent of killing him. Just as she did, a loud yell was heard as one of Xena's men warned that a fire had broken out. If the men remained, they would be surrounded by the flames in a matter of minutes.

Then, Samsara fell to her knees and put her head in her hands. She began to cry. Jadea walked over to her and resisted the urge to heal her niece. There was one thing left she needed to see.

With her head resting in her hands, her eyes closed, she saw the warriors pull out. She saw a few guilty faces on some of them, the markings of conspirators Xena would later face. The Goddess saw a young Jadea feverishly fighting to find her sister through the chaos and destruction. Tears had stained the girl's face, a bruise a several trails of blood on her body.

Finally, Samsara saw Jadea walking through dead bodies, being respectful enough not to step on any of them as she looked for her sister among them. From a distance, a woman watched as Jadea went inside burnt homes, looked under fallen pieces of wood. Callisto was not among the dead. Or, if she was, her body had been so consumed with fire that she was by now nothing but ashes. Samsara saw Rumyna go to Jadea. Saw Jadea reject the woman and declare that she would find her mother and sister. The Goddess's last vision on that field was of Jadea reluctantly leaving with Rumyna.

Jadea

Silence fell between them. Jadea knew that she had gotten through to her niece. What happened next would be crucial, and the Sorceress could not risk the Amazons hunting the Goddess. She looked at Samsara, and began wondering how much time she had before Ardra's concern for her Mistress outweighed her concern for the Amazons and she would sought out Jadea. Yet before she had the chance to form a plan to evade that possibility, her niece would do something she never expected.

"Jadea, would you take us home?"

In her mind, the Sorceress Empress debated the question. She knew the risks of bringing Samsara to the Amazons, but her answer came when a sudden flash hit her.

A lesson is only learned when it is used, Jadea. I could tell you all the secrets of the world, but unless you live . . . then they are just words, just images. Life is meant to be lived. Never forget that. Rumyna's words filtered into her head again.

"To take you back to Amazon lands would be death. For you and for them. Samsara, I fear it is time that you remember who you are." With those final words, and a tender but confident look in her eyes for the woman before her, Jadea left.

The Sorceress Empress did not go as far as she made it appear. From one of the trees on the outside of the forest, she laid quietly on a thick limb. Only Rumyna and Ardra knew the extent of her powers. And while that may come to change, Jadea had the advantage until it did. She licked a golden paw once and looked up to see the Goddess standing where she'd left her.

Watching her, Jadea could not help but feel a pang of guilt despite knowing she had done the right thing. But when at last Samsara chose a direction and moved, Jadea rose up gracefully from the branch, dropped to all fours on the ground, and followed from a distance.

Seriana

The hawk wheeled around Celosia in a tight ring, never close enough to be touched, but never too far away as to loose the Queen's immediate attention.

"What are you?" Celosia asked it, though not at all sure that it would be capable of any sort of answer.

"It is Jadea's," Seriana announced as she and Thalia showed up. "It smells like Jadea."

Medea nodded, enough to express her agreement without making it look like she would allow Seri to be right. She could still smell magic and the difference between a god and a sorceress was very distinct.

Celosia, who was standing next to her horse, reached into one of the saddlebags and drew out an elbow-length leather glove. After tugging it on, she held up her arm tapped the wrist smartly. "All right, down you come."

The hawk dove and flared, landing neatly on the glove, and began absently to preen herself.

"Thalia, can you talk to it?" Celosia asked. "Perhaps it can tell us where the others are."

Thalia, always anxious to obey, let sighs rack her exhausted body. "Yes, your Majesty. If I take hawk form I can speak with her."

"Please, your Majesty, she's exhausted," Seriana begged.

"I've got plenty of fight left in me, Seriana. You don't have to worry so much."

"But you've just gotten over that wound . . ."

Thalia smiled. "I am Amazon. Rest can wait until my sisters are safe."

"Then for everyone's sake let's hope this gets settled soon. Something always seems to be happening in Themiscyra."

"Keeps life interesting," Medea observed. She stalked off to find her horse in the sea of mounts.

Thalia gathered her strength to change again . . .

Jadea

The Amazons are asking questions, Jade. They want to talk to me.

Ardra's words cut through the Sorceress's thoughts. She had trailed Samsara to the ruined temple of Ares that lay outside Cirra's borders, quite overcome by a sense of amusement at the irony.

They're going to use Thalia? She questioned, being mindful to use light steps while stealthily following.

About to, aye.

Ardra heard her Mistress sigh. Progress never ceased to be hindered just as it is beginning. Samsara turned down a path and stopped abruptly, unsure of which way to go. While familiar with Ares' temples, she knew little of the land she was in and relied solely on her instincts as a Goddess. Her powers had been returned to her once she stepped foot off Cirra's soil.

I need time, and I need Seriana. Ardra, something happened in that cave. I need you to lead Seriana to me.

A silent minute passed, and Jadea feared that Thalia was now listening. When Ardra finally spoke, she used a neutral tone to convey neutral words.

Where do I lead her? She asked, looking at Thalia as she did so. The Amazon would only be able to hear Ardra's thoughts and speech, but caution still needed to be exercised.

Jadea thought for a moment, unsure of her answer. The place would entirely depend on what transpired when Samsara confronted her father. Then, upon glancing to her right Jadea recognized a large stone beside an oak tree. A temple to Artemis not two days ride stood in that direction. If one could say that felines were capable of smiling, then one would definitely have said that Jadea smiled from ear to ear at that precise moment.

Seriana

Do you understand me? Thalia asked, her sharp gaze tracking the movement of Ardra's head. Can you hear me?

Ardra fluttered a bit and did not respond.

We don't mean any harm to anyone. Where is your mistress? Where is Samsara?

No answer.

Seriana, can you hear me? She's not talking. I know she can hear me, but she's not talking.

No reaction from Seriana. Her grasp on powers came and went; apparently, they had gone and she could hear nothing from her friend.

With a groan of frustration and exhaustion, Thalia demorphed to stand wearily on her human feet. "She's not talking."

Groans from several Amazons who had been watching the action.

"Is there anything else you can do?" Celosia asked.

Thalia shook her head. "Hawks can be stubborn when they want to be."

Where do I lead her? Ardra asked, as soon as her mind was her own again.

Jadea was silent a moment before answering. Seriana won't go willingly to a temple of Ares, will she?

I doubt it.

How about one to Artemis?

She's an Amazon.

Good point.

So, you need her at the temple of Artemis at . . .

Cirra. Just outside Cirra.

Consider it done.

Ardra jumped off of Celosia's arm and circled for a minute or so before diving lazily at Seriana. The Amazon threw her arms up to protect her face and abruptly found a hawk perched cheerfully on one.

She clenched her jaw against the pain of the talons. Before she could take any drastic actions to free her arm, Ardra was in the air again.

"All right, you've got my attention," she said calmly to the bird. "What is it?"

Ardra flapped for altitude and headed off, away from the company.

"That's a good sign," Celosia observed. In an instant she and those around her were mounted up, following the hawk.

Ardra perched on a low branch and preened, looking as stubborn as a hawk can. The horses ground to a halt.

Thalia shook her head. "No use. You can just see it; she's not moving."

"But I have to find my sister!" Seriana insisted. She spurred Denius through the crowd until she was almost underneath Ardra.

"Tell me where Samsara is."

Ardra leapt airborne, circled once, and landed back on her previous perch.

"I'm going to see if she'll let me follow her," Seriana said over her shoulder. "If Samsara's in trouble, maybe I'm the one she needs."

Celosia nodded a little. "If one thing must be understood among Amazons, it is the bond between sisters. Be careful."

"I will." Seriana promised. "If I get in trouble, I'll try to get through to Thalia or Medea or Tern. But no guarantees."

Ardra alighted, Denius snorted, and quickly all three of them took off into the distance.

Jadea

Samsara had just reached the entrance of Ares' temple when a sudden pricking sensation sent a chill to Jadea's bones. She crouched low and watched intently as her niece stood outside and glared at the entrance of her father's temple. Strangely, there were no guards standing in front. Ares generally guarded his temples in the manner that Aphrodite counted the number of offerings she had. Yet, if that was unusual . . .what happened next could only be described as . . . entertaining.

Samsara raised her arm and blew open the temple door. She walked in and looked around, half-expecting to find Ares there but not surprised when he failed to be there.

The Sorceress Empress intended to keep watch until that sudden pricking sensation returned. Only one man had ever caused such a disturbance inside her.

Annnggguuusss...I know you're here. Best come out while you still have a pulse.

As though summoned by the highest of kings, a man emerged from behind a tree several yards away. He grinned at the feline before him, a grin that flashed in his blue eyes.

"Good day, my pet. And how are ya doin' this fine lovely day?"

Jadea growled and began to race toward him. He backed up and instantly threw his hands up.

"Wait! Wait. I come in peace."

She stopped and bared her teeth, a low growl escaping her. Whatever he wanted and however he had found her, she neither cared nor wished to find out. The Amazons were her sole priority for the time being, and Angus...a dispensable distraction.

Leave or be killed, Angus.

"I bring word of the Highland Tribe of Amazons, Jade."

She studied his eyes. As stomach churning as his presence was to her, she knew she had to hear him out. He knew this, as well.

"Seems your god of war has incited them to war. I thought you'd want to know."

Again, Jadea studied him. She always knew if he lied. This time, she almost wished he had. Nodding slightly, she replied, I would thank you, but your telling me this was not out of the goodness of your heart.

She turned from him and began to enter the temple.

"How can you be so sure about that?"

Turning her head as she answered, Because you have none.

Samsara

She screamed when she was sure he was not in the temple. She was angry. Somehow her powers as a Goddess had returned to her when she set foot off of Cirra, but she wanted her horse and her staff back.

"You beckoned, my sweet?" he said as he appeared.

"Don't you sweet talk me," she created a fireball. "I want my horse back and I want my staff back."

He pulled on his collar. He knew Samsara was livid. He knew she could fight. He knew she would be even angrier if she found out the Highland Amazons were at war because of him.

"You also lied to me."

He shrugged, unconcerned. He lied to everyone.

"I want Prince back and I want my staff back," she toyed with the pendant as a threat. "And I want to know why you wanted to stop me from going after my ambrosia . . . without telling me that Artemis had plans."

He snapped his fingers and Prince appeared in the temple. He snorted and trotted to his mistress. She took the reins. "Now you really shouldn't kill me . . ."

"Or else what? The Olympians will come down and kill me? Very nice threat, Father, but I have the only remaining hind's blood and you can't do a damn thing about it. Now tell me why you lied about Cirra!"

Jadea heard the shouts of her niece and padded inside. Hiding in a corner of the temple, she watched as Samsara seethed.

Jadea

Watching warily from a dark, obscure corner, Jadea bit down on her tongue to keep herself from snarling. Temples generally made any sounds echo inside them, and the risk of being detected early was too expensive.

The crossing of paths between herself and Angus had also put Jadea in a lethal state. The mere idea of him provoked her stronger emotions. She set her eyes on Ares and locked them, neither fearing nor caring if he could sense he was being watched.

Only one thing pleased the Sorceress Empress at the present time - Samsara's anger. At last, her niece's anger was directed at the deserving source. Yet a feud between Ares and Samsara was not precisely what Jadea had planned, but it could no more be prevented than a truth from being revealed . . . as Ares had just learned.

Come on, Ares. Tell her. Tell her who the warrior was that burned Cirra to the ground. If you don't tell her, Seriana will.

In her mind, Jadea provoked and taunted the God of War. He could not hear her, but something powerful had entered his temple and Ares wondered if his rebelling daughter had brought company.

No, she's much too like her mother for that. He thought to himself, as he tried to conjure up a believable lie.

Ares was right in his thinking. Samsara was unaware of her aunt's presence, and she'd no idea that her sister would soon arrive. Jadea's plan depended on Seriana's bond with her sister, Ares' desire to keep his hold on Samsara, and Artemis' own fondness for the Amazons which had long since resulted in her sacred protection of them.

"Now, I know you're angry . . ." Ares began, but his daughter cut him off.

"No, Father. I am far beyond angry. So you had better start talking. And make it good."

Ares looked into the eyes of his daughter and saw what once flickered in the eyes of his beloved Xena. He saw betrayal written across her face. And he recognized the same willingness to avenge in Samsara that he had seen in Xena. One major difference came in to play, however. Xena chose to avenge what Ares had crafted her to do by atoning.

Samsara . . .well, simply put . . . she intended to kick her father's butt until he told her everything, and then kill him. She hadn't thought much beyond that, except for one vague idea of going after the other gods once Ares had been dealt with.

Enter Seriana into Jadea's plan. The latter tried patiently to bide her time, waiting for the fight to begin, and waiting for Seriana. Jadea loathed waiting.

Ares slightly shrugged. "Okay." He drew and then raised his sword at his daughter. "But you'll have to fight me, first."

Samsara

"You want it?" she said. "Come and get it," she slapped Prince on the side and the steed maneuvered out of the way. She had her staff in hand and stood with her feet shoulder width apart. Her powers were stronger now that she had her talisman in hand. She could not wait for her father to strike first. She was ready and able to kill him, and she would do it the first chance she got.

"Fine," he responded. He conjured up a violent force in his hands and threw it at his daughter. The worst in his eyes was a child who refused to recognize his hold over them.

She swung her staff and deflected the blow, knocking down a bust replica of the God of War. She smiled as the marble statue shattered on the floor.

Ares turned around to see one of his prized possessions fall to the ground, then turned to face her. "You . . . That was from Criton!"

She laughed. "Yes," she responded. "I know" She winked at him, pleased to destroy a gift from an enemy of the Amazon. She lifted her finger and brought down a lightning bolt. She pointed her finger at her father and shot from it. He created a force field and deflected the shots easily.

"Petty."

She remembered back to when he last said that word to her . . . Seriana had run off after Samsara forbade her from leaving camp and he attempted to take her with him. She had come to her sister's aid, not wanting her to go to Olympus. This was partly out of concern for her, mostly of jealousy. Now the feelings were different. She didn't trust the gods at all. She was no longer envious of her empty sister Kaia Kakistos.

Samsara was now truly passed livid. She threw fireball after fireball. The foundation began to shake as it did during godly battle. Jadea sat in the corner, wondering when to spring to action. Should she wait for Samsara's sister or should she stop them?

Samsara was glowing. Her staff was beginning to glow as well. Only one was coming out a respected god. The question was who.

She threw her staff down. Ares pulled out his sword. "How about we fight just as you always wanted to?" he said. "You always wanted to beat me in hand to hand combat."

"My pleasure!" she seethed, pulling out her weaponry. Hephaestus had blessed her blade as a reward for when she had cured his lame leg. He had promised her a black steel sword, much like her dagger: the most impenetrable and deadly steel in existence. One swipe and the black steel could turn a mortal into ashes. Her arm guard and thigh guard were made of the material, felling man after man whose blacksmith was not blessed by the God of Metalworking.

She jumped up and cartwheeled in the air, landing before him. She swiped at his head and he ducked, avoiding the blow. He attempted to stab her in the gut -- a useless move in a godly fight -- but she turned slightly and kicked his knees in, pulling his feet out from under him. As she pulled her sword high in the air, sending it crashing down to his navel, he rolled out of the way. Her blade slid through the marble and deep into the floor. The force of her attempted blow made it difficult to pull the weapon out.

Ares laughed. "You think you can defeat me?" His voice boomed in the temple. "You think you can defeat the God of War?"

She looked up from her hunched state and watched as he created a transparent purple force in his hands. He intended to knock her out, but what he was to do to her next was only in his sick mind. She pulled out her breast dagger and quickly stained the edges with hind's blood. It's either him or me, she thought. These acts occurred in the span of mere milliseconds.

"I know I can. I am the Great Destroyer, Goddess Kakistos of Destruction. You created me and now I will destroy you!" She twirled in her position, throwing the dagger just as he threw his force.

Jadea watched in horror . . .

Seriana

Hawk, horse, and human seemed to fly as one through the woodlands. Denius was a warhorse, but he could move when his mistress required it. She was demanding it now.

Artemis' temple, Seriana saw the markers for it. That was were they were going. As an Amazon heading to her patron goddess' temple, she could be almost guaranteed safe passage. There was no need for slow caution, so she flew.

She's coming, Ardra told her mistress. She's coming. But she's on horseback; it'll take forever.

Jadea had to start concentrating on two things at once. Stop her, and I'll bring her as close as I can.

Thank you! Ardra's wings had been getting exhausted from the pace. She landed on the pommel of Denius' saddle and took a breather.

Seriana almost jumped off of Denius when she unexpectedly found herself in another area of woodland. One moment they had been pounding through the forest, dodging tree trunks and low shrubs, the next they were galloping down a worn road. Denius himself shied, and it took a moment for everyone to calm down.

They were on a road now, next to a signpost marking the destination of the trail. One marker pointed forward, and the crescent moon was carved on it. The other one pointed down a branching road and bore the symbol of the sword.

She turned Denius straight down the road and urged him forward. "Come on, come on! We've got to hurry."

Ardra alighted from the pommel and screeched to wake the dead. This girl has got to learn to speak hawk, she muttered, half to herself and half to her mistress.

Seri pulled Denius to a halt again and watched Ardra wheel towards the branching road. "Are you insane?"

Come on! Ardra practically shouted.

Denius was now tugging towards the other road too, if only because he had caught Prince's scent and wanted a fight. She tried to force him back, but he would have none of it. She finally gave him his head and bent low on his neck as he took off towards Ares' temple.

Once she could see the low stone building, Seriana forced him to stop and tied him securely to an oak. "You stay there," she ordered. "Come on, Hawk."

Ardra settled comfortably on Seriana's shoulder and the young Amazon crept quietly through the ajar door of the temple.

Thalia

Not far from the temple unbeknownst to the Amazon, horse or hawk, a falcon lay hidden in the bushes, watching them with keen eyesight.

Keep an eye on Seriana, Celosia had told her, knowing Thalia could follow Seriana without being seen and could warn Celosia if there was trouble.

She stood quietly perched on a branch, not making a sound. She watched the scene intently, knowing that she mustn't interfere unless there was an emergency. Seeing Seriana enter the temple, she quickly morphed into a mouse and followed her in as the door shut behind her.

Samsara

Jadea watched in horror as Seriana walked into the temple in the direct path of the force Ares threw at Samsara. The Goddess managed to maneuver out of the way. Prince was too far away to be affected, as he growled at the presence of Denius outside. He trotted out as soon as Seriana ran in. The force enveloped the breast dagger and continued on its murderous flight.

The action was in slow motion. Samsara watched as her weapon seemed to be eaten up by the force, and saw her father's face as he realized who was in the way.

I suppose it's all for the best, he thought. If the Amazons come and find Seriana dead, they'll surely blame Samsara and when they do, either they'll fall in line or they will go to war against her . . . He internally smiled.

He knew the loyalties. If the Amazons blamed Samsara for another Amazon's death, they would attempt to kill her and she would most likely flee to her native tribe. They would side with her and therefore go to war. The other tribes would probably take sides and the Amazons would be so caught up in civil war that they would most likely annihilate themselves. Ingenious, he thought. INGENIOUS! She will then turn dark!

Samsara turned toward her sister, her still loose hair turning crossways about her body. Oh, Gods, if she dies . . .

She saw as the force traveled toward Seriana and as her sister's body flew back toward the stone wall . . .

Samsara

Her sister's body flew back toward the stone wall and crashed into it, crumpling onto the floor. Thalia and Jadea were stunned.

Samsara turned to Ares and growled. Tears began to stain her cheeks. I vowed never to cry again after Ishtar's death, she thought angrily to herself. She pulled her sword from the stone floor and hind's blood was soon on its edges. With a violent battle cry she ran to her father and almost swiped at his head, but she stopped, thinking better of her act.

"No," she said. "I won't kill you like this."

He looked at her, stunned. "You won't kill me like this?"

With her powers, she gathered the blood from her sword, lifting her hand up along it. She knew that Ares' tolerance of the blood was different than the other Gods'. If he were stabbed by a dagger stained by it he would die, but if he ingested it . . .He however, had no idea of this.

"No," she responded.

She had gathered all the blood into a semi-solid ball in the palm of her hand. She shoved her hand onto his face and made him swallow the poison, then pushed him down onto the ground. He still had to tell her the truth about Cirra and she was ready to make him sweat. "I'll make you suffer first." She sheathed her sword and went to her sister.

She lay in a heap on the ground. The force Ares had thrown made a large indentation in the wall. The dagger was imbedded there as well and Samsara pulled it out. Don't want to lose my uncle's gift, she thought. Her mind was still on acquiring more black steel for her army. "Seriana," she whispered.

Seriana stood up as easily as she had fallen. Thalia was relieved, Jadea was impressed, and Samsara was surprised.

"How..."

"Another trick Xena taught me," she responded. "I managed to gauge the speed of that and react accordingly. Great optical illusion, don't you think?"

Samsara smiled and blinked rapidly. "Ingenious."

The daughter of Ritani turned to her writhing father. Somehow she knew about his quirk. "How about we watch him suffer for a bit... Time for some answers."

Jadea

Jadea had fought back every impulse her Amazon instincts were driving. Remaining hidden held the one advantage she still needed. Yet, that was soon to change. As Samsara neared her father, his eyes left her and rested on an area past her. Jadea followed his line of view.

Angus. She clenched her teeth.

She lunged forward and raced across the floor, ignoring the exasperated expressions she received. Her sudden appearance and the force of her leap knocked Angus down. As he hit the floor, his power to cloak himself lifted, revealing a man sprawled on the floor. Jadea rose up and turned around. She took one look at the unconscious man before shifting her gaze to the poisoned god of war.

Tell her, Ares.

He answered with silence, though he groaned every few seconds.

"Samsara?" Seriana's voice sounded as surprised and fearful as the Goddess felt. The latter looked at the huge cougar with a thoughtful interest. Neither sister moved. Not until it donned on Samsara as to who the feline was.

"Say hello to our aunt, Seriana." She returned with a smile. Her voice was strong but lightened by her amusement for the truth she'd just spoken.

Seriana shot her sister a bewildered look. She looked at Jadea, who began to walk toward Ares and tried once more to persuade him.

Tell her, Ares. Tell her...and I will heal you. Do it not, and I will let Artemis know you seek to destroy us.

Again, she received nothing more than a grunt from him. But Samsara was now over the surprise of her aunt's presence. She kicked her father, disgust for his weakness written in her face.

"My mother was right, Ares. You are weak," she said and raised her sword, preparing to plunge it into him.

Last chance, Ares. Jadea warned.

"I told her everything!" He yelled. Samsara exchanged a confused glance with her sister.

The Sorceress Empress threatened him with a high-pitched cry. He buckled under the intensity at the last moment.

"All right! I did it! I started the fire."

Both sisters held their eyes glued on the black-leathered god.

"Very good, Ares. Now keep talking." Samsara held the point of her sword against his chest.

Meanwhile, still hidden from view, Thalia remained and watched. She couldn't decide whether to leave and report to Celosia or stay and see what would happen.

Seriana

"I saved Callisto's body so I could destroy her soul, so I would have a fall back in case Xena got out of hand. I killed everything she knew the same way I had Lyceus killed. The same way I let Ritani die of that illness. And I don't regret it, because look what it has created! Callisto, Warrior Queen. Jadea, Sorceress Empress. Xena, Warrior Princess. Samsara, Great Destroyer. Seriana, Fire-Demon. A whole army of manipulatable fighting women."

"Don't call me Fire-Demon," Seriana told him, flipping her dagger threateningly. "You were responsible for more suffering than any mind can possibly comprehend, and if that was our price than you were ripped off."

Jadea made a cat-like snorting noise of assent.

"Samsara," the girl continued, "do you realize what this means?"

"Your mentor and my mother never had reason to be enemies. It was all a misunderstanding."

"All a deception. Let's kill him."

"Okay."

Have you two thought about what would happen then? Jadea demanded.

The two glanced at one another.

"He would die," Samsara said, as if this should have been obvious.

And then who is God of War?

"Me, obviously."

"I see the problem," Seriana sighed. "Samsara, you can't. Please, leave it alone. It would do nothing but eat your soul. Let's just forget it and go home."

Samsara's eyes flashed. "When the power is in my grasp?"

"Let it go. Please, let it go."

Seriana knew full well that she was next to powerless before her sister. Whatever Samsara wanted to do, she would do. And if she chose to take the Sword of Ares that lay with its master on the floor, then she and Jadea would just have to run for it.

But Samsara was her sister . . . surely that meant something, even when so much was at stake.

Just in case, Jadea and Seriana both glanced at the doorway, ready to sprint if their niece/sister reached for that sword.

Jadea

Glancing back, Jadea saw Angus coming to, a slight moan as his head slowly came up and was met by his hand. A short-lived smile flashed on her face. She'd knocked him down hard, she knew.

Mornin' sunshine, she managed and turned her head back to Ares.

"You said if I told her the truth . . ." The God of War spoke to the Sorceress, already feeling the hind's blood weakening his godly powers.

I know what I said. And unlike you, Ares, I keep my word. She looked at Samsara whose eyes were still gleaming with the possibility of her new promotion. Jadea shot Seriana a look. The latter nodded and took a wary step back, turned and walked across to the stranger. Samsara's eyes were resting on her father in a debating gaze as she weighed the pros and cons of taking his throne. But Jadea's thoughts broke in.

Ares, it's time.

"Time for what?" Samsara demanded suddenly. Before she could decide what action to make, Jadea disappeared.

The trio: Ares, Samsara, and Jadea...appeared inside Artemis' temple. Ares was cured, or he certainly gave that impression. He held his sword in his hand. Jadea reverted back to her human form. Samsara was dazed for a moment. She quickly regained her senses and charged for an attack against Ares. This time, Jadea made no intervention. Inside the temple, neither Ares nor Samsara had their godly powers. It was forbidden for one god to use their powers for purposes of destruction inside another god's temple.

"You made a good run of it as an Amazon, Samsara. But this is the end," Ares' sarcastic and confidant tone had returned. There was now no doubt that he was somehow cured of the hind's blood.

"You know what your problem is, Ares?" She seethed, her sword raised. "You talk a better show than you fight."

As they fought, Seriana approached the entrance. She smiled when she heard the sounds of battle.

"Are you sure about this?" A man behind her and slightly to her left asked. Seriana couldn't place the origin of his brogue, but she nodded.

"I am. I have to be." After one moment, the two entered the temple of Artemis. Neither one of them realized they were being watched by a silent Ardra. And neither one of them realized that a band of Amazons were on their way. Jadea's plan had been modified some, but it remained on a smooth course. The trick was to force Ares to reveal the whole truth . . . including what he thought he'd cleverly hidden from the Sorceress.

Samsara

For the first time there seemed to be no definite winner in their fight. Swords clashed, punches were thrown, and grunts heard as the two gods fought. Samsara still contemplated taking his Godhood for good. She may be forbidden from using her powers, but no temple was sanctuary against hind's blood.

Ares knew what his target was. He had to get that pendant away from his supposed daughter.

Samsara was as agile as she was furious. "You taught me well, Father," she said. "All those fights. The Second War against the Centaurs, Velasca. Everything was just a test of my skills . . . You had Ishtar killed didn't you?"

He laughed. "Just as I had Lyceus and Callisto and Jadea's family . . ."

Tears came from her eyes at the realization. She never thought it true. "You . . ."

In her moment of sorrow, Ares sought his opportunity. He swiped with his sword and cut the chain that held the pendant to her neck. Stunned still by what he said, she couldn't reach for the hind's blood as it fell from her. He caught it before it shattered on the ground and laughed.

"Now, I have the power to keep the gods in check."

What seemed to be a stunned Samsara was only a cover. She used his momentary feeling of victory to spring to action and high kicked his head sideways. He dropped his sword but held fast to the hind's blood. He was damned to lose that now.

Samsara sheathed her sword as soon as she landed. She picked up his and snarled as she glowed even brighter. "Samsara the Great Destroyer, Goddess Kakistos of Destruction, Goddess of War!" She cackled. "How do you like those apples, Father."

Stalemate.

Ares fell to the ground. He was quickly becoming mortal. He had been around for so long and the cost of the battle and the hind's blood in his body took its toll. His hair began to turn white, his skin began to wrinkle. Would Ares die?

Jadea watched. Should she spring to action? She knew Samsara was sent to Themiscyra to learn the Acts and Labors, the Teloqian Amazon's road to becoming a Queen. Other tribes had trials by Shamaness. Regent Ephiny and Chief Elder Serena thought it best that Samsara take this route as soon as Kaia Kakistos was exiled. They knew she could turn if she failed to learn what she needed to learn.

You have to choose, Jadea sent to her. You have to choose which path to take. Seriana's right, becoming Goddess of War will only eat at your soul and Ares will win.

Samsara breathed heavily. Her godly health kept that from becoming a necessity, but because of her lineage, she needed to breathe. She looked at her father and sighed. If he dies, not only will Greece be safer, but the Amazons will have few enemies and I will still be Protector of the Blood, she sent back. She was learning how to communicate with her mysterious aunt and she was loving it.

She knew Medea had some connection to Tern, but she could never decipher what they said to each other. She sensed it when she walked into the Medic hut despite the looks from other Amazons who were unsure of how to treat her. This may be the only way to rectify what I've done. If the God of War dies, they'll see it as the ultimate sacrifice and forgive me for leaving and taking Seriana.

But are you prepared for what may happen? Jadea argued.

Seriana merely watched the exchange, waiting. She was half-excited at the possibility that Ares may no longer exist and she could move on.

Jadea cast a spell. She needed for Samsara to stick to her plan somehow. Images passed through the young Goddess' mind.

Images that the Sorceress wished she had never had to show her niece . . .

Samsara

Foresight.

War. Blood. Strife. Dead Amazons.

A dead again Phaedra. Body parts littering the landscape. The Mark of the Destroyer becomes a common reality.

Samsara shook her head. She wanted the images out of her mind. She only lay the Mark of the Destroyer for those she felt deserved it. For villages who allied against Teloq with the Renegade Centaurs and Criton.

I would prevent all this! she yelled to her aunt.

You remember how you were as an Olympian. You even thought of killing Artemis.

I would unite the tribes!

Perhaps it's best they be separate for now?

GODS!

Xena's dead and crucified body was Samsara's only conciliation. She knew she and Callisto had no reason to hate each other. It was just a sad tragedy. But in her eyes Xena murdered Callisto, and there was no excuse for that.

She needs to learn foresight, Ardra sent. How are you going to make her realize this?

I'm trying as hard as I can, Jadea responded. To her niece she continued on. She sent more images of the dead and of Ishtar's disappointed face. Perhaps the sad look of her guardian would jar her.

I would resurrect her . . . take her away from Elysium and bring her back to where she belongs, Samsara said.

But she would only die in your crusades.

The Great Destroyer knew Jadea would never lie to her. She looked at Ares and saw as he grew frail yet kept a tight grip on the pendant. She knelt down and violently turned him over.

"Pendant for the blood."

He quickly agreed. The switch was made and as she was tying the pendant back on, he jumped at her again.

Rejuvenated.

"Weak."

Thalia

Thalia blinked, bewildered as the figures in the temple suddenly disappeared. Where had they gone?

Desdion, can you find them? She sent to the mystical wolf.

You'll find them at Artemis' temple, Desdion answered. I imagine Artemis will not be pleased. Ares and Samsara are in battle.

Thalia took flight and swerved out the door. Should she go to the temple, or should she warn Celosia? She was heading towards the temple when she decided it would be best talk to the Queen, and then return if her help was needed.

She turned around and was starting back when she was suddenly hit by a force that felt like a load of bricks, sending her crashing into a tree. She crumpled to the ground, still in falcon form, unaware of who or what had hit her . . .

Jadea

I think you need to see this. Ardra interrupted long enough for the Sorceress Empress to see Thalia on the ground.

Angus? Jadea quickly asked.

No. He is there. Ardra returned, her tone becoming quiet.

What have I been accused of doin' now? The thoughts of another broke in with just a hint of humor in his tone. Jadea ignored the question, her attention shifting back to Samsara and Ares.

"Tell you what I'm going to do, Ares. I will leave you and your daughter to kill each other in your sister's temple. That way, if either of you is still standing when the fight ends, she can justly kill you for your crimes. Meanwhile, I shall go attend to Thalia. By the way, Ares . . ." Samsara cut Jadea off sharply.

"What is wrong with Thalia?" the Goddess questioned in a demanding tone that was meant for her father.

"She's hurt," Jadea stated simply and continued. "That was some work you did with the Highland Amazon Tribe, Ares. 'Tis a pity that your manipulation will not work."

Ares scoffed, and shot her an expression that attempted to convey ignorance of what she was speaking about. "Sorceress, I think your powers are screwing with your senses."

"Well...you would be the one to know about screwing, now wouldn't you?" She returned with a triumphant smirk. The only way he could contest what Jadea said would be to spill the beans. And he wasn't ready for the aftermath that would cause. However, Jadea was.

What are you talking about? Samsara asked Jadea, unsure of what was happening. Her train of thoughts was derailed by this sudden obscure discourse.

Ares knows, Jadea stated pointedly.

"As I was saying . . .you two go about your indulging battle against each other. I'm going to go stop a war," her words were precise and effective. She turned and began to walk away from them, catching Seriana's eye along the way. Seriana nodded slightly. She understood Jadea more than she had ever thought she could.

Samsara

Seriana stood for a moment and watched as Jadea passed, knowing precisely what she had done. What are my sister's priorities? she thought. She knew hers was to get to Thalia as soon as she could. She followed Jadea out.

"Jadea!" she called. "I know you have some kind of power. Take me to my friend." The Sorceress Empress peered at her niece's sister and nodded. She mentally took them to the scene.

Meanwhile Samsara eyed her father. "What did you do to the Highland Tribe?"

"What would I do?" he responded, on guard in case his daughter would attack. "I'm the God of War. I have to incite battle or else what would my use be?"

"Fair enough," she said. "But you forgot one little thing," she walked up close to him until she was inches away from him. "You tried to call my bluff. Now I will make your life unpleasant until the end of time."

He leaned in for a kiss.

Disgusted, she swiftly kneed him between the legs and stalked off. "Sick." In that second of rage, she realized a power she never knew she had. She had reached into the War God's mind and extracted the information she needed about what he had done.

He doubled over in pain. Wow, she has spark, he mused. Too bad she thinks we're related.

She turned and as if she still read his thoughts she said, "If you think that by making my sisters turn against me and ruining everything I love you'll make me cross over, then you're most certainly wrong. If you think you have any power over me because you sired me, I'd like to see when you have none." At that she walked out of the temple.

Just then, Artemis appeared. She was displeased. Her arms were crossed as she inspected the fetal position of her brother. "What did I tell you about your ugly head, Ares? When will you understand that I don't appreciate your attempts on my blessed women?"

He looked up at her and smirked. "So smug, aren't you?"

"With reason. Samsara, although the supposed result of your supposed affair with Callisto, still knows where her loyalties should lie . . . even if she diverges at some points." Artemis knew the truth. She was the only god who did. Ares was not Samsara's father and she knew that as despicable as Ares was, knowing the truth would crush her irreparably. This was not coming out anytime soon.

Samsara stood outside the temple and raised her hands high. Suddenly, the wind blew up, raising her still-loose hair, but before she could teleport her younger sister Kaia Kakistos made an undesired appearance.

"What are you doing?" she said. "Why do you care about these Amazons? They do nothing for you and they attack you when you achieve what you were destined to achieve!"

"They are my sisters. You feel no affection for them," Samsara responded. "Just like your mother, you are devoid of all emotions but anger and jealousy. You, my dear younger sister, are jealous of my connection with the Amazons."

Kaia laughed. "You'll come to realize one day that they aren't worth the trouble. I did and I am much better off. I'm a true Goddess, unlike you."

At that Samsara vanished, much to Kaia's surprise. Soon, she reached the scene. She observed from the bushes nearby, noting that her aunt knew of her presence. Seriana knew something was different, but she could not quite grasp what it was.

All Samsara could do was watch and wait. The action was coming soon.

 

Ambrosia Angst

Allies and Enemies

 

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