war in rome - part
The two men lay atop the hillock peering down at the temple in the valley below and the several dozen soldiers outside it. The black-leather clad man turned to whisper to the man in the ill-fitting armor.
"Remind me again why the heck we're doing this? Xena's big enough and ugly enough to look after herself. And The Blonde can whine her way out of anything. I don't see the point of you dragging me all the way here just because you have some strange notion they need you to rescue them from some dire evil! Why in Hades I let you talk me in..."
"Shh! I see them!" Joxer pointed to where servants were erecting a scarlet pavilion beside a group of brightly clothed men. Two female figures were distinguishable within the group.
"Oh joy." Jet muttered.
"Well, they don't look as though they're captives..." Joxer's face twisted with confusion,
"Then let's get the Hades out of here!"
"...but they don't exactly look happy either." he continued.
Jett viewed the couple in question. True, they weren't bound or shackled in any way, but then they were in the middle of almost a full company of Rome's finest legionaries - not an easy prospect to fight out of. Xena's head was tracking back and forth, as though she were looking for something - or someone, he concluded as she stopped when she was facing where he and Joxer lay.
"Come on," he whispered to his brother, tugging Joxer's sleeve and backing away from the edge, "I have a bad feeling about this."
"No, no, look it's OK, Xena's waving."
Joxer stood up and waved back down into the valley. Hearing the clash of armored men thunder towards them, Jett turned and sprinted for the nearby copse of trees. Muttering imprecations about the gullibility of his lovable but idiotically naive brother, he disappeared amidst the trunks as the first wave of legionaries crested the hill and grabbed Joxer.
Jett merged with the shadows of the temple, only the liquid flash of his eyes betraying his presence in the gloom. Evading the guards had taken longer than he had hoped, but better safe than caught. He had no wish to decorate the insides of another Roman 'correctional facility' - escaping the last one had been enough of a nuisance.
The sound of chanting echoed from the main hall and he slid along the wall of the inner sanctuary to the doorway between the two. The sound of two men breathing came from either side of the curtain. He paused, thinking, then pulled a long thin pin from his vanbrace. Handling it carefully he lowered himself to the floor and peered through the two-inch gap between the floor and the bottom of the embroidered linen. Ah, good, soldiers with sandal-clad feet. He wriggled closer, then with one quick motion jabbed the man on the left lightly with the pin. The soldier flicked his foot slightly, as though to shake off a mosquito. Jett repeated the maneuver with the soldier to the right of the door. He waited a couple of minutes then stood and eased the curtain away from the wall, peering at the nearest guard. The man stood rigid, eyes open and unblinking, stare directed forward, breathing slow and even. Jett smiled. The Elixir of Endymion tipping the pin cost a small fortune but was worth every penny to an assassin. The absence of the guards would have raised the alarm, but anyone would have to take a second glance or actually speak to the drugged guards now to realise anything was wrong.
He moved past the curtain to the first pillar in the colonnade lining the chamber and cautiously peeked around the marble upright. He was at the back of the main sanctuary, behind the statue of Mars that dominated the room. Before the statue was a large black stone altar and down each side was a row of columns. Weapons and shields hung from the walls, lit by large braziers at the foot of each pillar. Decorating two of the columns were the manacled figures of the Warrior Princess and her bardic sidekick.
*Hmm, seems like war gods everywhere have similar limited taste in decor.*
On the plus side, the main doors at the end of the chamber were barred, making his entry point the only easy egress. On the minus side, not only were the main doors guarded by four legionaries, but in the middle of the chamber were four more soldiers, a decurion, two tribunes, three priests, four members of Caesar's personal guard, and ah yes, Caesar himself.
*Bugger! Joxer didn't mention this little detail to me. This could definitely be a problem.*
Joxer however, appeared to be having problems of his own. Not only had he been stripped of his armor (not that Jett thought the ridiculous ensemble provided anything other than encumbrance), his weapons and his shirt, but he was also kneeling - shackled, bruised and swaying, in front of the altar between two of the priests of Mars. Both of whom held swords to his throat as they chanted some holy dirge.
The odds, Jett decided, didn't look good. Certainly he could get out of this one alive - after all no-one knew he was here. And he had little to no real interest in rescuing Xena or the blond harpy. In fact, it was a rather sweet revenge seeing them in this position. And Jett was a man who not only sincerely believed in the philosophy of revenge, but actively made his living off it.
Leaving his triplet behind however, was not an option.
Although the fate of the vast majority of humanity left Jett cold, the continued existence of his siblings was essential to his mental and spiritual balance.
He knew he was easily the least mentally stable of the three of them, and despite his skills and ruthlessness, probably the most emotionally dependant on the other two. But in some strange way Joxer and Jace just 'being' gave him an emotional anchor that prevented him losing himself in the depths of madness, paranoia and loneliness so many sociopaths drowned in.
Jett had once been told by a foreign priest that those who shared a single birth also shared a single soul. Of course he had killed the man for the insult, but afterward he had often wondered if there hadn't been some truth in what the cleric had said. That maybe Joxer and Jace completed him and if they were gone he would be emptied of anything remotely resembling a soul.
Just because he was an assassin didn't mean he were a liar. And Jett never lied to himself. His brothers might be his touchstones to sanity and humanity, but they were also his Achilles heel. Losing either of them would be catastrophic to him.
So leaving Joxer to be slaughtered by Mars' priests was just not going to happen.
Scanning the room once more, the outlines of a plan began to form. Risky, but then this wasn't exactly a low risk situation. He stepped backwards, becoming a shadow on the wall edging its way around the room. And began to pray.
Jett slithered around the bottom of Xena's pillar and slid his hand towards the heap of weapons piled there. He heard a sharply indrawn breath above him, but refrained from looking up. Every unnecessary movement increased the chances of a hostile spotting him. He carefully and silently extricated her chakrum, inch by inch. He felt Xena's gaze in a crawl over his back, sweat trickled down his neck and he couldn't remember the last time he had experienced this much trouble breathing quietly on a job. He prayed sincerely to Ares that Xena's idiotic bard would stay silent. Some deity must have been listening, as not only did neither woman say anything, but the Romans' attention remained riveted on the altar and his brother's kneeling figure. Gods, he hoped this would work. He'd heard that Xena's weapon was made of some rare star-metal or that is was made by Hephaestus himself. Either way, he was gambling on it being able to do - this!
He stepped into the main chamber, aimed, and let the chakrum fly. With a loud crunch it broke the chains holding Xena's manacles to the wall and the woman rolled forward, grabbing her sword as she did so. The chakrum screeched off the opposite marble pillar with a riff of white sparks, drove in the helm of one of the tribunes, rebounded, then bounced into the breastplate of a soldier, tearing out the decurion's throat on the way, ricocheting back to the assassin who caught it and tossed it the warrior princess. He spent a split second gloating at the look of amazement and chagrin on Xena's face as she realised the assassin knew how to use her chakrum, then turned his attention to the remaining soldiers.
*No shit, genius!*
"Come on, Jett!" Xena demanded, "HYIYIYIYIYIYI!"
The Warrior Princess' famous war shriek (or yelp thought Jett uncharitably) echoed through the temple as she ran towards the guards charging them from the main doors. Had the woman never thought of letting him stand back and pick them off? Gods, that was the whole point of being an assassin - death from a distance! If you ended up in an actual hand-to-hand fight that meant you'd screwed up. In which case you probably deserved to die. And considering the huge fuckup this entire mission had been from day one, he probably really really deserved to die.
*And I'm not even getting paid for this stupidity.*
Jett sighed mentally. He flicked his wrists and throwing knives fell into his palms. The two priests on either side of Joxer had turned towards the commotion, posing themselves perfectly for him. He threw. The knives struck. The priests fell.
And then every hair on Jett's body stood upright. There was a wave of crimson and oh yes, just whom he'd been expecting.
Ares watched his sister pace across the floor in front of his throne, turn, and then pace back again. It was almost mesmerizing, like watching some captured black feline pad up and down its cage, tirelessly patient, endlessly vigilant for the chance to escape. He didn't need to ask what she was thinking of. He knew. Just as she never asked what he was thinking of when he went on one of wordless rages, tearing his temple apart with fire and lightening and sending his priests fleeing for their lives in terror. She knew.
And he knew that one day, some day, the cage would be left unlocked and then the gods themselves would regret it. But until then she would wait.
But right now she needed distraction.
He snapped his fingers and grinned at the item that appeared. He tossed it at his sister and she caught the object from reflex rather than because she was paying attention to him. She looked at it and a smile that was close to a promise passed between the two before Eris sank sharp white teeth into the golden fruit.
"I understand Demeter has been harassing Daddy dearest again."
"Seems she thinks her baby girl should be underground for winter only."
"Yes, not quite sure how she came to that conclusion myself," he grinned again and slid further backwards on his throne, "though when she came over for dinner the other night she agreed autumn was a time o.."
Ares abruptly broke off as a rarely heard voice, so like another more beloved one, caught his attention amongst the murmur of prayers and vows and appeals that ran like a wide stream through the background of every god's mind.
"...ver ask favors of you but this is urgent! Your daughter Xena is helpless and about to die at the hand of Mars and needs your help. Please Lord Ares, most puissant of gods, hear my prayer and aid us! I know you would not have your child slain by the Roman war god. After all she is of Greek divine blood. Forgive her foolish transgressions and..."
It wasn't the prayer, an entertaining mixture of appeal to divinity and vanity, which riveted his attention however, but the low desperate murmur that underlaid the prayer;
*My brother is about to die. My brother is about to die. My brother is about to die.*
A familiar word and voice caught Ares' attention from the weave of prayers.
"…ife, your nephew i only just found out from iolaus and i just wanted to tell you how very sorry i am i mean i never met him but i'm sure he was a nice guy, uh, i mean god, and even though though you’re my god i figure he looked after me sometimes cos everyone always says i'm always getting into trouble but at least i get out of it as well i know you must be pretty upset about him being killed in that awful way i hope your sister is all right and please pass on my sympathies to her and sa..."
A prayer for Strife. And a genuine one too. Pain overwhelmed the War God.
"OUT! GET OUT!" He screamed at his priests.
They froze, then as if with one mind fled for the main doors. Their lord had alternated between homicidal rage and apathetic melancholy for the last few weeks. More than one mortal had paid the price of his mood swings. Even though few of them had genuinely liked the mischief god, for he had pranked and mocked them too often for that, as one they wished he had never died. Or that the Sky Father would allow him to return. Anything to draw Lord Ares from his frenzies and depressions.
Ares slumped in his throne, dark curls tilted against the chair back, eyes closed.
So all the mortal realm now knew of his nephew's death. Three months had passed and it was clear to him that neither Zeus or Hades would release Strife from Asphodel. And this was probably the only truly deeply felt expression of condolence any of his worshippers had given him. And who was it from?
Not his daughter, who knew how much he'd cared for Strife.
Not his half brother, who was partly to blame for Strife's continued death.
No, it came from Joxer, who'd never even met him.
Ares laughed bitterly.
Joxer, the wannabe warrior.
Joxer the hopelessly martially inept.
Joxer the blood innocent.
Ares wanted, no, needed a diversion, something, anything, to divert him from his grief. He sat up, flexed his powers and a polished silver mirror with an iron frame that wreathed around it like poisonous metal ivy appeared. Ares waved a hand over the surface and the greyish reflection flickered and dissolved, displaying in it's stead a stream trickling beside a green meadow. With a bird's eye view the mirror's vision swooped down through the leafy strands of a willow tree to center on the man quietly seated beside the water...
"No!" Ares exclaimed, surging to his feet.
"'Res, what's wrong?"
"Joxer. Mars has him." his face twisted in a dark snarl, "But not for long!" He drew power in.
"It could be a trap."
"I don't care!"
Eris was unsurprised by his reply. Maybe this would be the drop that filled the cup to overflowing?
"Wait! I'm coming too!"
Ares impatiently opened a conduit of power to his sister and as soon as she connected, vanished them in a rush of bright red sparks.
*...ish they'd at least let me die on my feet this is really uncomfortable though i guess not as uncomfortable as xena and gabrielle are at the moment gods i hope they manage to pull one of their last minute miracles and escape at least jett got away i wouldn't want to drag him down with me i really feel bad about getting him involved in this it's almost as bad as that time with the border garrison and the herd of goats man did we smell and he ranted about it for weeks and speaking of ranting what was xena going on about she thought she was saving me from i'm not sure didn't she know i came here to save here not that i'm doing that great a job <sigh> it would have been nice to die doing something heroic like saving a child from a runaway chariot or villagers from a rampaging horde of ban...ouch!*
One of the priest's swords dug a little deep and sliced him. The sting drew his attention back to the temple, and the ache in his knees. His head still swam from the blow that had rendered him unconscious at his capture and the strong pine incense the priest had thrown on the fire added to his disorientation and mild nausea. The brazier flames threw a flickering glow upon the altar and statue in front of him, the sharp dark shadows giving an evilly demonic cast to the god's face.
*..so odd to die in the temple of a war god i wonder if He'll know when i die? if He'll care no don't go there there's no point in thinking about something that's so ridiculous oh shades i don't want to die i don't want to leave Ares i'm sorry i didn't mean to abandon you too...*
Xena's war cry broke through Joxer's reverie. The clash of weapons and cries of pain behind him meant the warrior woman had broken free of her shackles. He didn't dare turn to see however as the priests hadn't moved their swords from his neck. Staring straight ahead the statue seemed to swim in his gaze.
*gods i feel so dizzy even the statues are swayi...*
Joxer was startled into exclaiming. The effigy had moved! Not just swayed, but moved. One of the priests beside him stopped chanting and cuffed him around the head, fortunately away from the sword blades.
*maybe the incense is making me see things? no it's definitely moving*
Both priests suddenly slumped, swords rattling to the ground. As one of them spilled in a fall of red robes beside him he recognised the thin black-hilted dagger protruding from below the lax face and empty open eyes. He gaped, shocked into inaction for a moment or two, then struggled to his feet, about to turn when a horn resounded throughout the temple. His eyes were drawn back to the effigy of the Roman war god. The statue's eyes flashed, there was a ripple of crimson light down it and then the sculpture was gone, and Mars himself stood in its place.
*oh dear i didn't think this could get much worse but i think i was wrong...*