I lost almost all perception of time; it felt like I had been pulling at that spiritual thread for hours - days - perhaps even weeks, when the alien undercurrent suddenly started to yield. When that happened my own feeling of control started to return slowly and at the same time Ikaton's thread of life begun to snake itself back again, out of the hole, inch by inch. Or whatever it was, I had no clue about how to measure these things. Still I knew I was - winning this. But it was far too early to triumph. Ares had taught me that, told about the importance of not celebrating until the last enemy fortress was taken. Because there might still be surprises lurking out there, concealed secret weapons.
Yet this could be done. I steadied myself and tightened my pull at the thread and began to really haul it in. As the time went by I managed to pull the energies of Ikaton back into this world. Finally, when the last strand passed through the hole, it collapsed with a frightening flash of light which was so strong that I was convinced that it was seen all over the city of Rhembosia. I almost passed out as my body absorbed a large amount of those energies. But most of the force went inside of Ikaton, who was spasming in his bed, screaming out loud in pain. His eye-balls seemed to boil in their holes, his cheek clamped and his hair went static and started to point in all directions. And worse of all, during a short moment my patient went almost completely transparent and I could see the skull and bones inside of him.
Now I could hear the others around me again:
"She's killing him!" Ikaton's daughter Liko was yelling.
"No, she knows what she's doing!" I heard Ares' deep voice.
Once again I forced those perceptions away from me. I was far from done with Ikaton yet. Now I was feeling that heat all over myself, it felt as if I was smoldering on the inside, my ichor boiling and my forehead and neck seemed awfully hot. I guess this was similar to how mortals felt when they had a fever caused by a viral infection. I had cured several of these in my days, but never experienced the discomfort myself since a divine body never let any viral take foothold. Nevertheless my own body temperature would have to be dealt with or I wouldn't be able to finish this well. I reached out for the water I could sense nearby, and some of it appeared as an orb close to my brow. I brought that one down to my mouth and swallowed it. Then I brought up a next and a next and drank those two too and finally I smashed the third against my face, letting the blessed chill run down my features, cooling them. Finally I grabbed an even larger ball, almost emptying the large amphora it came from. That ball I launched over Ikaton and smashed it so I soaked both him and the bed in water. Thus his body temperature dropped considerable.
After that I went on with the tedious work of curing my patient. I pushed the final tendrils of spirit inside his body and ordered it to heal, using my own energies to help it along. At the same time I winded up my own energy thread and collected it trough my crown chakra and down into my own body until it once again came to rest in the spiritual cavity resembling the belly behind the root chakra. Now I was restored. I was also able to help the Anatolian heal.
Working myself inside and out I stopped the decaying process of his body and woke up dormant cells in the marrow, forced them to split and to renew. There were also cells in the brain and in the other internal organs which were in bad shape and needed to be worked on. Because this body had suffered. Almost like a dying mortal. And it was imperative that I got it back to functioning again or it would take a long time until Ikaton would be back to his former self. He was in a lot of pain now but that couldn't be helped. I had to heal him and I had to help his own healing processes to start as well.
At the same time I started to do some crucial research, to find out what really had happened, what or who had started this wicked magic. My first suspect was Ikaton's power hungry granddaughter Chizay. Probing gentle I searched into the mind of Ikaton, seeing all kinds of interaction within his Pantheon, including what had first started this double war against the Hellas Commonwealth.
"Which part of 'no' is it you do not understand?" Ikaton was facing his two sons who were standing opposite of him in the Grand Sitting Room. The shorter and less bulky who was Telkor was looking down on the patterns of the carpet but Taniroth was boldly facing his pantheon head, replying:
"We don't understand any part of it, father. To be true there's no reason in your arguments. The Western Lands belong to US. Not the bloody Greeks. I say - and Telkor says as well, even if he's surprisingly silent here today - that we take those parts back. They should be Anatolian; they should abide by Rhembosia, not Athens."
"Taniroth", Ikaton began "Whatever you might think about these lands, this is how it is these days. The Greeks have been reaching out both to the east and to the west of their mainland, their commonwealth is stretching widely now and..."
"We ought to stop them!"
"Taniroth let me finish. My patience is wearing thin. We've been having this discussion before, bringing in your little brother does not change anything. We can not beat the Greeks. Their armies are too well numerous and well trained. And their gods are far more powerful than any of us."
"Whom?" Taniroth scorned. "Not Ares. He's just a blood thirsty maniac. He charges ahead and listens not to reason. He knows next to nothing about strategy and tactics. Only thing he delights in is to slaughter and maim. He doesn't even care whom he fights for or if his cause is just or not. Trust me; he is a madman but not a serious threat to any of us."
"Mayhap but if they send Athena against us we can kiss ourselves good night. She's some kind of military genius and she has marched off against way larger armies in her days and annihilated them to the very last man."
"And our intelligence says she's off in the west chasing down Visigoths and Carhageans. She won't bother with us. They'll have to send Ares. And we'll destroy him."
"No you will not."
"I forbid you!"
"And if I don't care?"
"Go there then. And suffer the losses! But don't come to me and wine when the Greeks wipe your asses!"
So that was what happened. Taniroth and Telkor had invaded the Eastern Hellas countries more or less against their father's will, and they had faced Ares and lost against him, even if they had managed to grab some lands in the south as a consolidation price. Lands the Greeks had now taken back. Now Ares had chased them off all of the Hellas territory, and he had taken even more of the Anatolian land to prove his point. In the first war he had killed Telkor as well. That has not been part of the original plan but I got to see how it had played out, since Ikaton had seen the event trough a scrying bowl.
The sixteen warriors were about two days ride from the camp when they finally encountered the ones they were looking for. Two dark warriors - and Ares himself, just as the informer had let them know. Ares was riding with his second in command Achilles and a third man which name the Anatolians didn't know. But Achilles' death would be a nice bonus, Telkor figured as he looked down upon the three riders on the valley path. Achilles was almost as dangerous and feared as the god Ares himself and getting both of these in a surprise ambush would be a real boost for the Anatolian army. Probably this would be just what they needed. This would be the event to turn the luck for the Anatolians. With no Ares to lead them the Greeks would be cast down in despair and the Anatolians could retrieve their lost territories and even take what they originally planned to take. All they had to do was slit the troth of that monster of a war god the Greeks had sent against them. Him and that Achilles as well.
Telkor met the looks of his fellow god Remor and the latter nodded slightly and smiled with malice. He would love to take Achilles while Telkor took Ares. The others would just follow to make sure the Greeks became distracted enough to not be able to neither beat their Anatolian enemies nor escape from the trap. And the third Greek would be taken down too of course. Telkor gave the hand sign for attack and the next moment sixteen horses were thundering down the grass clad slope.
Ares looked up only a second after the first noise and pulled his sword from the scabbard on his back. Achilles and the third man did the same, and they readied themselves for the attack which came upon them rapidly.
I was biting mental knuckles with mental teeth as I watched my beloved and his two comrades take on the seemingly superior force. Because even if I knew the outcome, since Ares was standing at attention less than ten feet from me, this sure looked like the three of them were doomed. And sure the unknown mortal warrior was soon outmanned and fell with a sword in his guts.
Ares and Achilles on the other hand were swiftly cutting their enemies down, both of them working as if they had eyes in their back as well, and as if they were able to make out the enemies' moves before they even made them. Ares and Achilles were stronger, faster and impossible to trick. And soon there were just four fighters facing each other on the stony path. Remor was bleeding from a large gash in the shoulder and he looked quite a bit paler than before. There was a short impasse while the four seemed to gauge their opponents. Then Ares let up a war cry and attacked Telkor, who actually fell back in surprise, and was a bit too late in raising his sword. So Ares injured him as well. At the same time Achilles engaged Remor and he was fighting almost as well as Ares. I knew how Ares fought but I became really impressed with Achilles. He sure was a worthy fighter, almost as good as any war god. Still Remor was holding his ground against the Greek and as Ares injured Telkor twice more and forced him to back, Remor and Achilles fought an almost even battle.
Then Ares and Telkor came up close, their blades locked. The next second Telkor fell forward and thumbed off his horse, blood sprouting out of a wound in the belly. Ares had stabbed him with an Adamantine dagger. And as Telkor fell Ares was over him in a heartbeat and finished him off with a short sword made out of the same metal.
Now Remor turned his horse and fled like the wind. But Ares was faster. He grabbed bow and quiver from the saddle and in a second I saw the tip of the arrow he chose. Adamantine as well. Within a heart beat my beloved aimed and shot, from an angle that looked impossible to produce a hit. But it wasn't. Not for Ares. The deadly arrow flew faster and further than any arrow shot by a mortal man and it soon buried itself in the back of Remor who fell from his horse and rolled around in the dust among the cacti. Then he ended his days on the Anan planes as soon as Ares was next to him with his lethal blade.
And then I finally saw the most scary of it all what had really happened to Ikaton. Why he was dying now...
The dawn was almost breaking when I finally made the last adjustment to Ikaton's body and made sure he would receive a much needed sleep, the first of that kind in almost a week. The Anatolian god had been victimized for about seven days, and during almost all that time he had existed in a kind of trance state, somewhere between being awake and sleeping and not really resting. But now he would be sleeping again. Dreaming. Healing. Both body and soul.
Finally I let go, slumping almost into fetal position on top of the bed, feeling drawn and worn, as if it was my energies which had been sucked away. Which they almost had, even if it had been my own doing.
In an instant my beloved was there and held me in his strong arms. Caressing me and comforting me. Feeding me of his own waste, Olympian energies. At the same time his main attention was on the Anatolian women in the room:
"Narinda is done with her work now." he informed. "Your Ikaton is asleep; when he wakes up he will be weak but well. Give him a lot to eat and take care of him! Now the three of us will leave this place as agreed."
At those words Chizay let out a husky laughter:
"Did you really think we would let you leave? When we have you all here inside our pantheon so neatly collected. Then you are even more stupid than I thought, Ares of the Greeks." Then she uttered a kind of order in her own language and once more we found us selves surrounded by silvery Semlis. This was starting to feel quite repetitive now. Ares gave me one last energy boost as he lifted me out of the large bed of Ikaton and guided me in the direction of my frightened friend:
"Guard Xena!" he ordered. Once again he held his big sword in his hand.
And as my love let out a horrid war cry and engaged the Semlis I pulled Xena behind my back, because not even Ares could hinder some of the Semlis to come around him and attack the two of us. In response I grabbed one of those burners and began to use it as a tall war club, swinging it against the advancing Semlis, echoing Ares' war cry. My ferocious motions made the burning coal fly across the room and where it landed upon combustible material little fires started. Those coals which landed on the Semlis burned them as well, with a hissing, smoking effect and emitting strange, foul smelling smoke. The burned beings backed off, tried to ward themselves as parts of them melted by the heat. The other Semlis who drew near were taking hits from my makeshift weapon and flew across the room. I had really no idea about how to fight then, I was acting upon pure instinct and some kind of recollection of what I had seen Ares doing so far.
Somewhere I could hear Liko scream:
"Stop this now Chizay, make your beasts stop! You're mad! You promised to let the healer and her escort go!" But her niece was not listening; she was still calling in more Semlis to replace those incapacitated. More Semlis to be butchered by Ares' fast-swinging sword and battle axe. (Where he had got the latter I had no clue, probably grabbed it trough the dimensions from somewhere.) And in the middle of the pandemonium Ikaton was still sound asleep, lulled by those powerful enzymes I had let loose in his brain. He would not wake up until due time no matter what went on around him.
I kept on swinging my iron staff, hitting Semli after Semli and noticed with a fraction of my mind that parts of Ikaton's bed was on fire, while most of it still was too wet to burn after my water exercises. I also understood that we needed to get Xena out of here before she became hurt by all the smoke; she was already coughing hard, holding a part of her dress to her mouth.
Suddenly I saw Ares jump up high in the air where he somersaulted over the lion part of the Semlis bound to attack him. Instead they crashed into each other, creating a total disorder. Now Ares used his axe to chop off the large chandelier which hung from the ceiling. I hadn't noticed that one until now, probably because it was not being used. As the lamp fell it crashed down right in the middle of the melee of Semlis, rendering most of them useless or trapped beneath the heavy metal structure. At the same time Ares landed on his feet behind Chizay and now he had somehow traded his ax and blade for a small but lethal dagger, shining with blue Adamantine. He soon held that dagger pressed against the troth of Chizay, while he had grabbed her raven hair with his left hand, pulling her body backwards in an arching, painful-looking pose.
I felt my troth contract. Adamantine! The god-killing metal. I should have known Ares had brought at least one weapon like that, still it scared me. That matter was almost as dangerous as the magic I had seen at work today. One slide, combined with the right kind of soul-manipulation and you could send a god down under faster than it took to kill a mortal the same way.
"Liko! Call off the beasts! Now!" the war god bellowed. And there was no mistaking the order in his harsh voice. Still, he didn't look maddened. Far from it, he was ice cold and so totally in control I could hardly believe it, as he held Chizay in an iron grip. And Liko obeyed out of fear mixed with a kind of relief. She gave an order and those Semlis still standing froze as if they had turned into the silver statues they so resembled. The next second they were all gone, as if they had never existed. Even those broken/injured disappeared in a blink of an eye.
"Narinda! Xena! Over here, quick. We're out of here!" Ares went on. I was not late to obey, Xena thought was nauseous from the smoke and I had to carry her in my arms over to Ares, something I was able to do because of the power Ares had fed me physical strenght was after all not a trait of mine. At the same time Xena's medic bag and other stuff appeared in my arms as well. Ares had even bothered to remember their location and brought them to us.
That moment the fires around us stopped. That too was Ares' doing. And as I walked up next to him with the coughing Xena in my arms Ares gave one last order to Liko:
"Don't try to follow us because then Chizay dies. And I know that no matter how much you hate her you fear Damak even more. And he is hers and will not hesitate to harm you if you let anything happen to his allied."
"Smart play" I mumbled under my breath and Ares gave me a quick glance. Then he turned and started walking out of the room. Ares did obviously judge the situation safe enough to not having to back away from Liko. And I couldn't help directing two last sentences towards Ikaton's daughter:
"I hate saying this, but you guys suck at hospitality and common sense. Had you just asked I would have come and help your Ikaton in an instance and you'd spared all of us all this trouble."
After that we exited the chamber of Ikaton and heavy doors banged shut behind us. Ares lead the way across the hallway and up to a window which closed blinds he smashed with but a nod of his head. Then we jumped out of the pink palace, me with Xena in my arms and him holding Chizay with that Adamantine blade still pressed against her troth. And all her stupid bravery seemed to have seeped away like wine from a broken amphora, she was trembling in the grip of Ares and her eyes were wide, her face gray as ash.
We took in the air fast and headed westwards, the sky turning orange behind our backs, heralding the rising sun. Hardly more than a day and a night had passed since I had had my nightmare about Xena. It almost seemed hard to believe. I cast a glance over my shoulder and down at the palace of the Anatolian gods. Smoke was still billowing forth from the window we had broken; otherwise nothing could be seen of what had taken place down there, the divine island was so utterly calm and tranquil in the early morning light it almost looked like a fantasy painting.
We didn't stop until we had left Rhembosia way behind, and during that trip no one said anything. Xena had been coughing for a while until I had healed her damaged lungs and then she had fallen asleep in my arms, my poor friend being exhausted after all ordeals she had been put through.
"It's time" Ares said then and begun to descend, and I followed him.
I had hardly uttered the question before I spotted him. A spirit standing on the ground, dressed in a long, hooded cloak. Ares landed in front of the spirit with the trembling Chizay still in an iron grip, although he seemed to have sheeted that dagger now. I landed next to the god of war, gently putting the sleeping Xena down on the dry grass of the Anan prairie, covering her with my cloak.
At the same time Ares had greeted the spirit and in turn the shorter man folded back his hood. As Ares called him by name I found I couldn't recognize him for the man in the bed at all. Ikaton. Pantheon head of the Anatolians. This spiritual rendering showed a tall, strong man - although he was a far cry from Ares' size. After all Ikaton was no warrior, he looked more like a scholar and an athlete, with his hair in a short cut and slicked backwards, showing his comely face.
Upon recognizing Ikaton I saw how Chizay drew in breath, her features showing consternation, confusion - and alarm. Understandable, she seemed to dread her pantheon head even more than she had feared Ares. Still she said nothing, she was probably too petrified.
A few mandatory politenesses were exchanged then Ares said:
"I'll hand her over. I'll put her to sleep here where you can watch over her and then you better make sure she returns to your island." The next thing I saw Chizay's knees give way and she slumped down in the grass next to Xena, the fear, hatred and confusion in her face suddenly disappearing. And in the calmness of sleep the goddess was almost beautiful, something I had failed to see until now.
"She will want to revenge her father and I will want to revenge my sons, you must understand that, Ares." Ikaton replied. "Still" now he turned towards me. "If it wasn't for her I would be dead now. No, more than that. I wouldn't even be able to find the lands your associate Hades controls. Narinda, you came to me and did the impossible. I knew nothing until almost the very last part of the healing you gave me. I was so badly off I didn't even comprehend I was dying. My mind was already walking those strange lands down under and I was more than terrified. No one should ever have to experience that. I owe you for that remedy. So even if you are my enemies I will refrain from striking out - and not only because I am not able to do so at the very moment."
"Do not forget, Ikaton" Ares replied "That your sons Taniroth and Telkor acted on their own when they attacked Greece. You could have chosen to stop them and spared me the trouble. And they would have been alive by now."
"I know" Ikaton bowed his head. Even though he as a spirit was colourless - or rather slightly blue-green - and kind of transparent - I could see that his cheeks were burning with shame. "Still a father loves his sons. You, who are a father too, must know that as well, Ares. Now I have only one more - Saion. And only the all seeing faithes know where he dwells these days."
"There's more you need to know" Ares said and turned to me: "Tell him, Narinda! Tell him who brought down these dark forces upon him!"
My eyes widened. Ares knew! How could he...
"The magic - which almost killed you" I begun, looking at the sprite form of Ikaton. "That magic was deployed by your son Taniroth."
"What!" Ikaton bellowed, his control wavered obviously, and so did his form which started to flicker as if it was about to dissolve. "What are you saying, woman?"
"It is the truth, Ikaton." I detested the way he had called me 'woman' and I felt that he lacked in gratitude, after all I had almost risked my own life healing him. With a sudden feel of harshness I went on:
"Taniroth feared that you would try to harm him for his disobedience after he had attacked the Hellas commonwealth. So he bound you to himself by magic, making sure that in case anything would happen to him it would affect you too. Little did he know that it would not be your hand slapping him but Ares who finished him off."
"That's... preposterous" was the only thing Ikaton could say.
"Still it is true" Ares replied. "Narinda saw it when she searched the dimensions for the last parts of your remedy. And I saw it too because she was almost transmitting it so shocking did it feel to her. You know in our part of the world we don't do this to our kin." The last thing was not said entirely without sniding.
Ikaton remained silent for a while, then he spoke again:
"I do have mixed feelings for you, Greeks. You kill with one hand and heal with another. What is a man supposed to believe."
"Believe me when I say this then!" I looked with challenge in my eyes at the spirit. "I am no warrior like Ares or your sons. I am a medic and a healer. My enemies are neither Anatolians nor Greek. They are virus, bacteria and injuries. As well as magically inducted maladies like what you suffered from. And them I fight wherever I encounter them. The last one I healed before I left the hospital upon the Greek arrival was actually an Anatolian. A veteran who had gotten an arrow trough his cheek."
When Ikaton failed to reply Ares said:
"We're leaving now. Stay here with your granddaughter if you so desire. Then head my caveat and make sure that no more of your family come against the Greeks again. Because then you're going to lose them too."