By Matt Savelkoul
Historians Note: This adventure takes place chronologically between the flashback sequences after "Past Imperfect" and before the flashbacks in "Locked Up and Tied Down." This story is an attempt to justify Xena's title of Destroyer of Nations and also depict how she progressed as a character from her ambivalence and sorrow in "Past Imperfect" towards the unrelenting cruelty witnessed in "Locked Up and Tied Down."
'Good-byes are never easy,' Xena thought as she prepared herself for the intense ritual. She felt as if part of her soul were torn from her body. Giving up her child had been the hardest thing she had ever done. 'He will never know the love of his mother,' the Warrior Princess thought bitterly. She turned her attention towards her next task; 'At least I can make peace with this part of my life...'
Xena face became set with a look of determination. The ritual must consume her and she could not become distracted by any other thoughts. She started using a meditation technique that she had picked up in Chin to rid herself of her anguish.
Finally, she was ready. Xena reached down, picked up the flask of deer blood, and brought it to her lips. She slowly drank the warm blood, feeling the shocking effects coursing through her starving veins...she was crossing over. Xena could barely feel the sensations of her soul leaving her body, slipping into another plane of thought.
As Xena's mind cleared, she looked around, observing the phosphorescent glow of this existence. She mentally willed one word from her breath... "Borius."
Xena waited for what seemed to be an eternity before she felt an answer. She mentally willed herself closer to the source of the disturbance. She could feel her dead lover's presence near her, "Borius, where are you?" Xena needed to reconcile her differences with Borius, make peace with his soul if she ever wanted to come to terms with her own atrocities.
That voice was unmistakable. It had a whispery, raspy quality unlike any voice Xena had heard before, save one.
Xena suddenly saw Borius's lifeless face inches from her own, decaying before her eyes. Xena grimaced, sympathizing with what Borius must be feeling. She continued to hear that voice, driving itself into her mind...
"Xena! This is the fate of those who would betray me. Join him in eternal suffering!"
Xena felt her surroundings change...she was suddenly on a cross near an ocean...her hands and feet impaled to the sharp splintery wood of the cross. She could see a figure approaching with a sledgehammer...it was her, evil incarnate, the one known as Alti!
Xena tried to speak, but her voice was barely a parched whisper, "This isn't real..."
"But it is Xena. It's as real as those stakes piercing your limbs. I promised you the world...and you left me to die at the hands of my own tribe. You sided with Borius and for that, you have to suffer also. You had a choice and you made the wrong one. You have become soft...a pale imitation of what you have the capability to become. Do you understand the consequences of that choice? Do you feel them?"
At that, Xena felt the spikes slowly begin to rotate. She stifled the scream that was trying to escape her lips. She wouldn't give Alti the satisfaction.
The woman floated upwards, a fraction of space between her and Xena. Xena stared into those witching dark eyes; made prominent by Alti's defined cheekbones. "It's not too late Xena. You can repent. You can join me and we will become the most powerful force the world has ever seen. Feel the darkness flowing around you...you can tap into that, make it work for you..."
Xena used what little wetness she had in her throat to spit into the shameness's face.
Alti's eyes widened in surprise and she swooped down deftly, swinging the hammer in a single fluid motion, and, in the process, shattered Xena's legs. Alti grinned as she finally heard Xena scream aloud.
"Brings back memories, doesn't it?" she asked cruelly, "Just give the word and this can end. You know your destiny. This isn't how it is supposed to end, is it? Do you hear that? The silence? That's the sound of your body, your real body, ceasing to breathe. One word and it can end..."
Xena tried valiantly to mentally fight her attacker off, but she didn't possess the inner strength for an extended spiritual battle. Before she lost consciousness, she could hear herself cry out to her tormentor: "Help..." With that, she knew Alti had won.
Xena woke up with a gasp, quickly taking in her surroundings. She was still in the forest near Corinth...where Borius had died. Her campfire she had built to aid in her crossing over was out...she felt the embers. They were cold.
"Rise and Shine!"
Xena spun around at the voice. Standing before her was a haggard old woman whose eyes burned like fire as she stared into the depths of Xena's eyes.
"Alti!" Xena remembered the dream she had on the cross...was it a dream? She glanced down at her hands and saw faint signs of stigmata. "You've been following me ever since Borius had left you on the Steppes to die."
"They say eyes are the portal to the soul, Xena. When I look into yours, all I see are my own staring back at me. You are empty...a vessel...what was once full can be filled again," Alti responded.
"I have nothing. My army is destroyed, my son is gone, Borius is dead." A single tear formed in the corner of Xena's eye but she would not release it.
"Remember what you promised me on the cross...we will become one...The Destroyers of Nations!" Alti whispered, "You need me..."
Xena repressed what little humanity she had as she reached for Alti's hand. As she touched Alti's parched skin she could feel a presence entering her...coursing through her blood. Xena gasped.
"Do you feel the power I command Xena? The more you taste the more you realize what a driving force it is...it's a never ending cycle...a snake feeding in upon itself." Alti knew that she had Xena finally in her grasp. Alti was feeding off Xena's inner strength. She could feel it and sense it whenever she was near the Warrior Princess. Alti needed that energy.
"I want more," Xena whispered.
Weeks passed. Alti was getting stronger, feeding off Xena's inner strength. Alti leeched power from her, but in return fueled the burning hatred that Caesar had left in her. Xena had also been busy. She had lost herself in rebuilding what was left of her scattered army. The Battle of Corinth left her men wondering who really led them. Xena found she again had to prove herself to her men.
Alti looked across over the valley, where Xena's army was going through a regiment of drills led by the Warrior Princess. Satrina had proved to be more of a problem, Alti thought. Xena had trusted her, but Alti saw deeply into her soul, and knew that it was Satrina who had killed that fool Borius. Even though Alti admired Satrina's cunning, she knew that anyone who would betray once would do so again...Alti had entered Satrina's dreams at night, slowly driving her mad. Eventually, Satrina disappeared one day and no questions were asked.
Later that evening in Alti's hut, Xena was pacing back and forth. "It's time to move!" she growled.
"I have many plans for you Xena." Alti leaned forward, capturing Xena's attention.
"What did you have in mind?" Xena's eagerness was obvious.
"The men are ready. Our first conquest will be the heart of the Amazon Nation!"
Diana mentally checked the number of attackers approaching her. Three in front, one blindside, two in the trees above. She took in a deep breath and let out a piercing war cry, "Sshheee Yahhh!" The raven-haired amazon jumped into the air, propelling herself farther by using branches to assist her assent. She knocked the two attackers to the forest floor, each of them landing on an attacker below. She herself landed on the third. One left, she told herself.
Diana quickly glanced around, looking for the last attacker. 'Where did you go?' she thought to herself. Suddenly she looked down, but it was too late. A hand shot up out of the mosses and ferns of the forest floor and pulled the Amazon princess to the ground. Diana quickly rolled away and flipped back upon her feet. The attacker started to advance.
"Stop!" A shrill voice echoed through the forest, sending birds and wildlife scattering.
"Mother, I could have taken her!" Diana pouted.
"Diana, when will you learn? You are not fit to become an Amazon warrior."
"What do you mean?" The uncertainty mixed with a hint of anger was palpable through Diana's voice.
"For starters, look at your attire! You are wearing a pure white simple tunic. Why do you think that Melosa could sneak up upon you like that? She is camouflaged, blending into the harmony of the forest." Queen Hippolyta's displeasure was obvious.
"Mother, white symbolizes peace and clarity of mind! I choose this color because it helps free myself spiritually," Diana retorted.
"It will help free you spiritually, when you stand out in the woods so a sniper can easily pick you off! Which brings me to my next point: you do not carry any weapons. How can you defend yourself?"
"I did quite well in this training, didn't I? The only weapon I need is the one right here," Diana pointed to her head, "and anything else is cumbersome." Diana was getting quite board with all these arguments with her mother.
"You are not fit to carry the name of Diana. Artemis would not approve that her casual namesake was given to one such as you!" With that, Hippolyta turned and stormed off back to her palace.
Melosa slowly approached Diana. "I'm sorry, Diana. Your mother is just being hard on you because you choose individuality over the well being of the tribe. It's not an easy choice to make." She smiled at Diana, trying to convey a sense of encouragement, "She's only doing this to help you. We all know that your talents far exceed anyone else in this tribe. Artemis has personally given her blessing to you, something she has never done with any other Amazon."
Diana blushed. "Melosa, you are a dear friend, but I don't see how I can continue to follow her when she always points out my flaws."
"She is only making you stronger through this treatment. In the end, you will see past that. The Queen is your mother. Above all else, you have to remember that. I do not agree with her leadership. Someday, I foresee a point where I might break off, create my own tribe, under my leadership and direction."
"Don't talk like that, Melosa. You are my Queen's first Regent. Your loss would be devastating to the tribe."
"As would yours, Diana." With that, Melosa silently leapt into the trees, quickly catching up with and guarding the Queen silently from above.
Diana grinned as she took in Melosa's wisdom. She would never leave the tribe, would she? Diana walked wistfully towards her favorite meditation spot, high above the Amazon valley, a crop overlooking the whole countryside. When she got there she gazed out over the horizon and her jaw dropped. In the distance, she saw a shimmering upon the far fields of the east. A dust cloud was rising. She counted legions of mounted horses being led by two figures on horseback. Diana could instantly tell that the two were women, just by how the horses were being ridden. She closed her eyes and under her breath muttered an ancient prayer to Artemis, protector of the Amazons, "Artemis, it is I, your namesake. Grant me the eyesight of the gods that I might know who these creatures of destruction are..."
Diana gasped sharply as she felt her spirit enter that of a bird flying over the countryside. Diana didn't have time to marvel in the ability of flying, she had a task to complete. She, in the body of a white dove, swept down close to the advancing army. An old woman wearing the garb of the Steppe Amazons was riding next to a fierce woman, much like Diana, but her eyes were cold, hard set against her high cheekbones. She glanced at the army. They were flying purple and black banners, the colors of the Warrior Princess, Xena herself. Diana had heard much about the Warrior Princess, but last she heard, Xena had left with the Warlord Borius for conquests in the East. That had been over two years ago. Something made Diana glance back at the other woman, the older one. She was staring intently at Diana, following the bird's every motion. Diana had been spotted!
Diana willed herself back into her own body. 'Luckily this old shameness hadn't been able to do anything on the spiritual plane,' Diana thought. She had been too quick for her. Diana quickly ran down the mountainside, gliding effortlessly over the well-worn trail. She knew she had little time to warn her tribe about the advancing army. Every second she wasted could be a deciding factor in the survival of her tribe.
Far above the horizon it stretched...looming over the known world yet invisible to the human eye. Mount Olympus in all it's grandeur, silently watching the passage of events...of time. A lone figure stood near the entrance of Zeus's palace. Dressed in simple black, he stared quizzically at the air in front of him, willing images to form and coalesce. They showed a windswept plain...two women on horseback leading a massive army...approaching the land of the Amazons and setting up camp not far from the line of trees that marked the start of the Amazon nation.
Ares smiled. He liked the woman he saw before him...strong and fierce with an underlying calmness that suggested cruelty...acceptance of her fate. Ares had chosen his champion. 'To think it was a woman!' he thought.
He then noticed the woman traveling with Xena. She was old and frail beyond her years, yet she commanded something. A presence of darkness. She tapped into an evil that was not yet ready to enter this world...not yet anyway. Ares knew she called herself Alti.
Ares shuddered. He could sense pure evil in her, no redeeming qualities. She would have made a perfect champion, but Ares knew Alti would only use him for his power. Nothing more. He turned his attention back to Xena. She was making her way into her tent, alone. "About time she left Alti's side," he said. With that, he disappeared, willing himself hundreds of miles and into another plane of existence, appearing before Xena in her private tent.
Xena spun around at the sound of air being displaced. In one fluid motion she had thrown a dagger right at the intruder's head. Ares deftly caught the weapon and crushed it in his hand, dropping it to the bare ground.
"Xena, I presume?" The God of War asked.
"And who are you?" Xena's tone was menacing enough to send chills down Ares back if he were mortal but he didn't have to worry about that.
"Some friend you've got out there. She'll be the death of you, you know."
"I don't have time for games. Who are you?!?"
"Ares." The word rolled off the God of War's tongue.
"What do you want with me?" Xena asked nonchalantly, as if the God of War showing up in her tent were an everyday occurrence.
"Let's make a long story short, shall we? I know you are on a path right now, a path that will leave much destruction in it's wake. I'm just here to move the process along," he reached behind his back, "First of all, you need to ditch the witch."
"I trust her," Xena said matter of fact.
"Do you? Have you let your guard down so easily? Did you trust Lao Ma?" Ares noticed Xena's sharp intake of breath at the mention of her mentor, "Yes. I've been keeping my eye on you for quite some time."
Xena turned, ready to walk past him outside.
"Wait. I come bearing gifts." He held out his arm. Gripped in his hand was a round, circular object.
"What do I want with your little trinket?" Xena spat at him.
"Watch." With that, he threw the ring right at Xena. She quickly ducked and it kept going, cutting a hole in the fabric of her tent. Outside, she could hear men screaming, one after another. A few seconds later, she heard another whoosh of air and turned, seeing the ring cut back into her tent. Her arm flew up and barely caught it in time before it decapitated her. It was dripping with blood.
"Do you like it?" Ares asked.
"From the sounds of those screams, it killed seven of my men. You owe me."
"Trust me. You'll kill ten times what those seven could have in battle with that weapon. I'll be seeing you around, I'm sure." With that, he vanished.
Xena looked at the weapon in her hand, admiring the designs on each side. She had never seen anything like it before. She looked up and saw Alti in the doorway, astonished.
Back on Mount Olympus, another figure was watching the events unfold. She made note of Ares' interference and turned towards her father's palace, intent on securing a few objects for her Champion, the Champion of the Amazons. Artemis already had someone in mind for the job.
Near the Amazon valley, Xena emerged from her tent, weapon in hand. She let out a fierce battle cry and surveyed the bodies around her tent. "Hmm. Eight," she said quietly. Alti moved to her side, intent on getting a closer look at Xena's weapon.
"The Dark Chakram!" Alti gasped, "How did you get it?"
Xena simply smiled and walked past her. She had a war to wage.
The peaceful serenity of the Valley of the Amazons was constantly being interrupted by sounds of metal sharpening, barricades being erected, and fierce women preparing for the worst - a battle to the death to fight for their homeland.
Diana stood proud and tall next to her mother, watching the battlements being put into place around the Queen's palace, the Temple of Artemis, matron goddess of the Amazons. Diana's raven hair blew in the wind, and she glanced at the horizon, noticing the clouds of dust approaching. Xena's army was drawing near.
"Thank you daughter." Hippolyta said.
"Mother, you can stop thanking me. The worst is yet to co-" she was abruptly cut off by the sound of lightning in the distance. Fierce thunderheads stretched heavenwards in the distance, framing the approaching onslaught in an eerie light.
"Without your advance warning, we'd be ripe for slaughter."
"The Shameness troubles me, mother," Diana's lip trembled, "I sensed her power, like nothing I ever felt before...dark...evil...controlling..."
Hippolyta nodded knowingly. Even at this distance, she could feel the dark forces that Alti commanded approaching. Suddenly the Queen glanced at the entrance to the palace. She looked at her daughter. Diana looked up, her hairs on her skin standing straight up, "What is it?"
Hippolyta made towards the entrance to the palace but stopped in her tracks before she reached the door. She turned towards her grown daughter, with a look of pride in her eyes, "She wants to see you," the Queen said simply.
Diana took in a deep breath and walked towards the palace doors opening them. She bowed out of habit as she entered the temple of Artemis, the doors swinging shut silently behind her of their own accord. She looked up and was shocked to see a woman tall in stature looking down at her. The woman spoke in a powerful and commanding voice, "Diana."
Diana fell to her knees. "My Goddess!" She had never before laid eyes on the one she worshipped.
"Come here, child." Artemis motioned for Diana to approach. "I have chosen you. The moment has been prepared for." Diana raised her wrists in the customary Amazon salute towards her goddess out of respect and Artemis reached out and held her arms still in that position, putting gauntlet-like bracelets on her wrists. As they snapped together seamlessly, they crackled with energy. She continued bestowing the gifts of the gods on her chosen champion. A tiara for the princess's mind, a belt for her body, and a long golden rope for her soul. All the while, she was whispering in Diana's mind, giving her the knowledge she needed to make a stand against the Warrior Princess. Diana stood, swaying as she felt new energies enter into her body.
Later that evening, Melosa made her way towards Diana who was perched on a lookout post, near the village center, noticing the approaching lightning reflecting in her deep blue eyes. She glanced at the horizon, making out individual figures on horseback, riding towards the start of Amazon territory. Diana stood clothed in a simple white tunic, the cold wind chilling her, making her feel like hardened steel. Melosa noticed her new adornments...a tiara, bracelets, a golden belt, and a brilliant lasso that gave off it's own incandescent light.
Melosa broke the silence, "Are you ready?"
Diana looked out at all the troops she had amassed from neighboring tribes for this battle, looked at each woman, saw into their soul. She looked up again at the horizon, a tear in her eye, which she refused to let fall. She did not answer the first lieutenant. The night was so cold that Diana could see her own breath in front of her as she slowly exhaled.
Melosa tried again. "There's a storm approaching," she said.
Diana saw the two women on horseback in the distance, riding like the wind in front of a massive army. Their approaching torches lit up the barren landscape between the forest and the edge of the mountains. "I know," she said simply.
Xena and Alti rode side by side. The Warrior Princess was surprised that the old woman could keep up with her on horseback, but quickly turned her attention back to the valley they were now reaching...the heart of Amazon territory. Xena smirked as she felt the comforting weight of her new circular weapon at her side, given to her by the God of War himself. The Amazons didn't stand a chance against her, especially since she slaughtered most of their leaders while they were in council. 'They could have forged an alliance with the Centaurs,' Xena thought, 'But the likelihood of that was just as likely as me taking up the mantle of peace and justice.' Xena scoffed at the thought.
Xena slowed her horse down and let her army penetrate the perimeter of the woods first. Alti clung to her side, out of habit, not fear. The dark shameness was feeding off Xena's rage, fueling her own path towards conquest.
Xena noticed light glinting in the trees out of the corner of her eye. "Archers!" she screamed, trying to warn her advance guard, but it was too late. The first volley of arrows struck their targets and bodies flew off horses everywhere. Xena reached for her Chakram and threw it towards the treetops. It veered upwards, almost as if it had a mind of it's own and took out all the archers perched in the trees in the vicinity, bouncing off the branches, hitting each and every one of it's intended targets. Xena heard twelve bodies hit the ground hard, above the din of the fighting, and deftly caught her Chakram a fraction of a second later.
By now, other Amazons were springing from the trees on ropes, and from pits hidden in the ground, dressed in full battle regalia, complete with masks and a full complement of spears, crossbows, and swords. They were prepared and not caught unawares, as Xena had hoped. The female warriors descended from the trees.
Xena relished the moment as she rode with her horse, slaughtering the headstrong women right and left. She saw one Amazon knock Alti off her steed, and was about to assist when she saw the old woman wasn't so helpless after all. Alti gracefully landed on her feet and confronted the raven-haired warrior before her. The shameness carried no weapons save one. Peering into the warrior's mind, she summoned up the Amazon's greatest fears and Alti's eyes blazed, lighting up the night with an eerie glow. "Melosa..." she rasped. Alti's body made a slight jerky motion as her hands curled like a skeleton's. Melosa flew back twenty feet, hard, landing into a tree and cracking her head against the tough trunk. She immediately passed out from the overwhelming pain. Alti's evil laugh could be heard over the sound of Amazons as well as Xena's men screaming in the heat of the battle.
Xena eyed Alti carefully. She didn't realize how powerful the old Amazon really was. Xena knew she would have to keep her guard up at all tim...
Before she could finish that thought, a flying kick from above suddenly sent Xena flying off her horse. Xena rolled out of the fall and when she aptly flipped to her feet, her sword was drawn at the ready. Before her stood a proud warrior, who could almost double for Xena herself. Double sets of piercing blue eyes sized each other up. The woman's dark hair hung down her body, and she was adorned in a simple white tunic. A golden belt, bracelets, and a rope that gave off a phosphorescent glow were all that adorned her. Xena rolled her sword along her wrist as she anticipated the kill, licking her lips. The woman spoke, quietly but with an air of confidence, "Xena. I am Diana of the Amazon Nation. Leave this place and recall your army and you may live. Stay and suffer the consequences."
Xena paused, humoring the woman before her for the smallest of moments. She let out a blood piercing battle cry and lunged at the Amazon princess before her. Diana anticipated the move and sprung out of the way. Xena recovered and deftly brought the sword down above Diana's head. Diana brought up her gauntlet-like bracelet and the sword hit it with a splitting clang that echoed through the forest. Xena looked at Diana in shock as her sword broke in two. She expected the blow to sever Diana's arm, or worse, but the Amazon was intact.
Xena scowled. In one fluid motion, she ducked out of the way of Diana's onslaught of kicks and punches, reaching down into her boot for the dagger she kept there. She thrust it stealthy at Diana's abdomen. The belt she wore deflected the sharp blade a little, but it still pierced her side. Xena drove the blade further into the Amazon, twisting the instrument slowly. Diana held in a scream and smacked the Warrior Princess's head so hard her teeth rattled. Diana gasped as Xena rolled out of arms reach and Diana painfully pulled the dagger out of her side. She knew what she had to do.
As Xena reached for her Chakram, intending to end this annoying Amazon's life once and for all, she watched audaciously as Diana began to spin in place, her arms extended. Xena pulled her arm back, ready to throw, when she heard Diana utter the name of Artemis. Xena was blinded by a bright flash of light, and the energy from the blast rippled across the forest-cum-battlefield, knocking both men and women off their feet. Xena held her ground and as the radiance faded, she saw Diana in a new light. Diana was wearing a strange garb...blue, white stars, a red top, and a majestic eagle with wings unfolding on her chest. Xena lowered her guard for a second in amazement as Diana advanced on her. For the first time in her life, Xena truly felt fear wash over her.
Xena quickly focused
on the target in front of her. ‘Diana’s
change of clothing would do nothing to delay the inevitable,’ Xena thought.
The Warrior Princess brought her arm back and let the Chakram fly from
her hand right on target. Diana,
momentarily distracted by the impact of her transformation and the new powers,
courtesy of Artemis she felt coursing through her, looked up to see Xena’s
weapon of destruction hurtling towards her.
into the battleground that once was an Amazon village, Alti strode with
confidence toward her target...the Amazon palace.
Her revenge would be excruciatingly delightful.
As Amazon warriors rose to attack her, she would send them flying with a
glance from her piercing eyes, making them relieve the worst experiences of
their lives. ‘Their minds are so
simple,’ the shameness thought.
on instinct, Diana brought her hand up and caught the Chakram.
She paused as Xena looked on astonished and examined the weapon before
letting it fall to the ground. By
now, the soldiers around her were recovering and she realized she had act fast.
She noticed that Xena was trying to retreat to a stronger defensive
position on the outskirts of the village.
advanced into the palace. The royal
guard was useless against her and finally she came upon the woman who cast her
out of the tribe years before...Hippolyta.
The queen glanced up at her visitor, taking in the old woman and
preparing her mental defenses for the onslaught she knew would follow.
Alti dove into her mind and balked.
‘It was surprisingly strong,’ she thought but it wouldn’t keep her
from her revenge...
jumped into the air silently, cutting through the space between her and the
Warrior Princess effortlessly. She
landed at Xena’s feet and picked her up with one hand by the throat, thrusting
her into the air with superhuman strength.
Xena kicked and squirmed, reaching for her boot dagger when Diana became
distracted by a scream from the royal palace.
It was the opportunity Xena needed and she seized it.
Using her powerful legs, she ran up Diana’s body and flipped backwards
several yards before running off.
didn’t seem to notice. “Mother!”
she cried as she leapt into the air towards the source of the scream she had to
endure moments earlier.
The Destroyer of Nations will continue ...