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Okay we all know the drill. Xena, Gabrielle, Aries, and all the rest belong to Universal Studios, MCA, and who ever else owns all the rights to our favorite show. This story is intended for the enjoyment of who ever chooses to read. No copyright infringement of defamation of fictional characters is intended.
ON THE OTHER HAND everyone whose name you don't, such as Anaria and Brieal, belongs to me. Contact me, the president of Shapoopie Inc. if you have any questions.
WHEN DISCLAIMERS ATTACK
There are a few things that need to be mentioned before you go on: A-Holy Subtext! Yes, that's right,everyone is in love. Some of that love (well, the driving force behind the story at least) involves people of the same gender. Now don't be naughty and read on if you're not supposed to. B-Ooo, feisty. This tale goes back in time some to when Xena was young and evil. There are some violent scenes of both a physical and emotional nature, so watch out. There are also profanities scattered about, so cross them out with a black marker if you don't want the little ones to read them. C-Road map. This is the first part to a group of related stories which will tie in a little to my previous fanfic, Heritage, and will culminate in a cross over extravaganza. You might want to check out Heritage (shameless plug) at some point, but it's not essential to understand what's goin' on. Since I think they are the coolest gods, the Norse gods make an appearance in this tale as part of a pseudo Uber-Xena section.
They had stopped for a brief rest at a small village half way between Amphipolis and Athens for a late lunch. Their search for the young warlord had only been frustrating. The villain had managed to stay one step ahead of them for months now, despite their intimate knowledge of this newest scourge on the Grecian countryside. The nearly constant harassment by bounty hunters and glory seekers hadn't helped much either.
"One last quest and we can retire," the partners kept telling each other. "Soon we can be together on the farm and helping out at the inn." Doing good for so many years had been very rewarding, but the many battles had taken their toll. Although still young in years, their bodies had not remained so. "Better to quit on top than in the grave," the poet had told her long time companion many times on this last adventure.
"Easy for you to say, you'll always be a storyteller" she replied as the pair sat in the corner of the village tavern. Blue eyes laughed merrily and continued to eat. The warrior replied, "What am I supposed to do? Not much use for a beat up old gal like me these days."
"You do have many skills," blue eyes filled with affection.
The warrior laughed, "I didn't think you'd let me share those with just anyone, but if you're feelings have changed...." The warrior began to stand slowly with a wry grin on her face.
The poet grabbed her hand, "Oh shut up and sit down. You know what I meant."
"I know," the warrior picked up her ale, "I'm actually looking forward to starting my own school to train soldiers. I know I can turn out some pretty damn good heroes for Greece." The warrior took a heady swig, "Besides, I can get back to practicing. I sure do miss my horn."
The poet was about the reply when the screams started. The warrior set down her ale and looked into her soulmate's eyes. Even after all these years she still felt that giddy sensation when they looked at each other.
Blue eyes sparkled in return, "Maybe it's finally our elusive warlord." She stood and said in a mezzo, "I'm getting too old for this."
"Me too," the dark warrior replied as she stood. "We should have just settled down when we had the chance."
"I have a feeling that after today it won't matter. Our decision will be made for us, my love."
"Once more into the breech my friends," the warrior said sarcastically in a deep contra alto. She drew her sword and quickly rushed outside. Her companion, with two long knives drawn, right behind her.
Anaria and Brieal were greeted by malicious destruction. Without hesitation the heroic pair rushed into the fray, their skilled weapons making quick work of the mostly inept raiders. The one of the greatest pairs of traveling heroes in Greek history, Anaria and Brieal had been together for ten years. They had met on the outskirts of Amphipolis, Brieal's second home, when she was their visiting her aunt Cyrene. Anaria, near death, had wandered into Brieal's favorite resting spot. The young woman saved the warrior's life, and in the process, they had fallen in love. The famed hero and the renowned poet had been inseparable ever since. Both were skilled in the use of many weapons, including keen intellects which had saved their lives countess times. This was their last mission, a favor to Brieal's family. They were to capture, kill if necessary, Brieal's evil cousin, the warlord Xena.
There she is, Anaria thought as she hacked off the arm of another faceless attacker. Xena shared the same striking blue eyes as her beloved Brieal and carried an aura which was almost supernatural. The country gossip had told Anaria that none, save herself, could defeat Xena in one-to-one combat.
Xena's cool gaze swept across the village. She quickly spotted her two pursuers, Brieal who was rescuing several children from a burning hut, and Anaria. Anaria, Xena thought, you haven't changed a bit. Still as amazing to watch, despite your years. "Too bad you have to die while still in your prime," Xena said to herself as she eased her horse closer to her foe.
Xena spurred the chestnut warhorse into a full gallop. Her goal, crush Anaria, or at least injure her severely. Anaria, busy fighting off five raiders, didn't notice Xena's rapid approach. Luckily for her, Brieal saw the scene taking shape. Xena's older cousin spirited across the battle scene and leaped up behind the warlord. Brieal grabbed the horse's reins, causing the animal to veer to the right, missing Anaria.
Suddenly, everything went into slow motion for Anaria. Xena, furious, swung a vicious elbow at Brieal's head. The poet was able to block the blow partially, but Anaria could hear the crunch of bone twenty paces away. Brieal, unconscious, slumped against Xena's back. Xena regained control of her horse and turned to look at a frozen Anaria. The two locked eyes for an instant. Grief and shock met anger and vengeance. With a yell, Xena turned her horse and rode out of the village.
CHAPTER 1: the price for being a hero
"That was a great story Gabrielle," the young boy said and she sat down next to Xena. "Do you think you'll tell any more tonight?"
"I could probably be coaxed into one more tonight Torres," the bard smiled, "but I need a short rest to catch my breath."
"Great! I can't wait," the young blonde haired boy rushed back to his parents table.
"They love you my bard," Xena said with a smile. The warrior placed a hand on Gabrielle's back and leaned closer, "but not as much as I do."
Gabrielle smiled and leaned into Xena. It had taken them a long time to get past Dahok, Hope, and Chin, but they were finally back to where they had been before. Friends, companions, partners, lovers. They had decided that they deserved a vacation and were on their way to Athens to visit some friends. The pair had stopped for the night in a small village half way between Athens and Amphipolis. Xena had recommended it.
"So how did you know about this little town Xena," Gabrielle asked, taking a sip of water. "This town in more provincial than Potadia."
"I raided it when I was a warlord," Xena replied calmly. "I only rode through, but some of my men lingered. They told me about the file ale this tavern serves."
"Oh," Gabrielle looked down at the table. Xena noticed her companions uneasiness and pulled her closer.
"It's okay Gabrielle," Xena smiled, "I don't think there's a town or village in Greece that I didn't raid at least once when I was a warlord. I learned to deal with that long ago."
"I know," Gabrielle looked up, her eyes full of love, "it's just hard for me sometimes to imagine you as a brutal warlord."
"Even after this past season of traveling?"
The bard's eyes sparkled, "Yes, even after all that. Xena I know that if fate hadn't meant for us to be together, we wouldn't have survived that year of Tarturus."
Xena smiled seductively, "If you don't tell that last story now, you might never get the chance to. You wouldn't want to disappoint Torres."
Gabrielle sprung up inspired and headed for the stage. The crowd noticed and began to cheer. The bard's reputation as one of the finest storytellers in Greece preceded her now where ever they went. Not bad for a country girl, the bard thought as she sat on a stool center stage.
When the crowd quieted down, the bard began, "For my final story I sing the song of Hercules son of Zeus and the Golden Hind."
"Boo!" A voice called from the darkness, "Boo! Let's hear about a real hero!"
Gabrielle had grown used to hecklers. Instead of continuing as she normally would, the bard decided to have some fun with this drunken fool, "Okay," she called in the direction of the voice, "how about a tale of Xena."
"That's a villain, I said a story about a hero! Come on blondie you're a bard, think of something!"
Gabrielle was becoming flustered. She saw Xena out of the corner of her eye quietly get up and head in the direction of the surly customer. The Warrior Princess would take care of the loud oaf in the corner.
I need to stall, Gabrielle thought. "Well, how about one about the Amazons. I know a great one with the Regent Ephany and the Centaurs?"
"Better," the voice was now on the opposite side of the room, "but not what I'm looking for. Why don't you ask some of these fine villagers who their hero is?"
Startled by the heckler's sudden change in position, the bard asked the crowd, "who's the hero of this village?"
An old farmer stood and looked kindly at the bard, "Come now lass, surely you know." When Gabrielle replied with a blank look, the old man continued, "Anaria, the greatest hero in the history of Greece. She saved this village from raiders, must be about ten summers ago. Paid a high price she did too," the old man sighed. "I saw it with my own eyes, lost her love to your friend over there." The old man gave Xena a hard look. "I know she's doin' good now, but some sins can't be forgiven." He abruptly sat down.
Gabrielle smiled weakly. She had heard of Anaria, who hadn't, but she never bothered to learn any of the lays of Anaria and Brieal. I have Xena, the bard thought when she glanced through some scrolls at The Academy, why do I need stories about a long dead warrior. She may have been great, but she was no Xena.
"I'm sorry," Gabrielle said, "I don't know any songs of Anaria or Brieal."
"I should have known," the voice from the darkness called. "Xena has done all she can to bury that part of her past, haven't you."
Xena came up to the stage and stood in front of Gabrielle. The bard could feel the waves of anger and tension rolling off the warrior.
"I don't take kindly to hecklers of my friend here," Xena said menacingly. "Why don't you stop being a coward and show yourself."
The pair was greeted with harsh laughter. "Oh Xena, you do that 'big bad bitch' so well now. It's almost as good as mine, but not quite."
A shudder of recognition shook the Warrior Princess to her core. It must have shown because Gabrielle was at her side in an instant, placing a comforting hand on Xena's back.
Another brutal laugh. "Come student, let us talk in private." The door to the tavern opened suddenly. A tall figure in shadow walked though casually and shut the door.
"I knew she wouldn't rest," the old farmer said with a cackle. Gabrielle looked at the man questioningly.
"Who wouldn't rest," the bard asked.
"Why Anaria, of course."
"Tuck, you hush up now," the inn keeper called, "no need scarin our guests with a bunch of kiddie stories."
"No, tell me," Gabrielle said, looking at the old man. Xena was like a statue next to the bard, unresponsive to her touch.
"Well," Tuck coughed, "there's a legend in these parts that Anaria never really died. Seems that you're friend their had something to do with it. When Brieal was taken from Anaria, it wasn't just she was kildt, oh no. She was taken from her for all time. Anaria, half her soul gone, has been searchin for her even since."
Gabrielle recoiled in horror. She looked at Xena and back at the old man. "That still doesn't explain what happened tonight."
"Anaria has come to get what's hers," Tuck smiled, "vengeance."
"Come on Xena," Gabrielle's tone was full of worry, "let's get out of here." She pulled the comatose warrior towards the back of the inn to their room. Xena followed uncomprehending. Gabrielle pushed open the door to their room and shoved the Warrior Princess in. As she did, she heard the old farmer laughing, sending chills down her spine.
"Just have a seat love," Gabrielle said, fumbling in the dark room. "I'll get this fire lighted in just a minute."
The wood in the fireplace burst to life, casting an eerie glow throughout the room. Gabrielle turned around slowly. Xena was where the bard had left her, sitting like a statue in a chair by the table. Gabrielle gasped. A lone figure was reclining casually on the bed.
"You're her aren't you," the bard whispered, "you're Anaria."
"In the flesh," the woman smiled, "of some facsimile thereof." The woman sat up and stood. Gabrielle was surprised. This definitely didn't look like any woesome spirit she had heard of. The warrior was as tall as Xena with jet black hair cut close to her head. Where as Xena was sleek and lean, Anaria was solid and somewhat muscular. Power emanate from her every pore, lightning blazed from her dark brown eyes. The biggest surprise was the kindness and wisdom that was clear on her face and in her features.
"I'm not here to hurt you Gabrielle," Anaria smiled warmly. "My beef is with your stone cold friend there." She nodded at Xena.
"I knew you'd come," the Warrior Princess shook herself from her stupor. "I knew that if I came back here that you would finally catch me again."
All traces of the warmth and kindness that Gabrielle had seen vanished. Anaria's tone was harsh and full of hatred. "Oh yes," she walked over to Xena, "it's time for you to pay for what you've done to me."
Xena turned her cold blue eyes to Anaria, "you couldn't beat me then, what makes you think you can beat me now."
"Xena," Gabrielle said cautiously, "maybe now's not the best time to pick a fight."
"Stay out of this Gabrielle," Xena said rising, "this is between Anaria and me."
"Sit down," Anaria said harshly. "I'm not here to see what you're brute strength can do. Crash and slash was never my way Xena. Only hacks use that method."
Xena reached for her sword. Anaria backed up a few paces to give herself some maneuvering room. Anaria and Xena bristled, ready for a fight.
"Stop this, both of you," Gabrielle forced herself in between the two deadly warriors. "Anaria, I thought you were here to talk, not to fight."
"You're right Gabrielle, I am," Anaria replied with icy calm. "I can't let her get away with her lack of respect any more though.
"And what should I respect you for," Xena asked caustically, "leaving me? Robbing me of one of the most precious people in my life? Giving me a taste of the world and then taking it away? I gave you the thanks deserved summers ago."
"Awe, poor little Xena," Anaria said mockingly, "still has issues." The veteran warrior returned to her serious demeanor, "I'm giving you the chance for eternal happiness Xena, I think you could be a little more greatful."
"What do you mean," Gabrielle asked, intrigued. "Are you talking about death?"
"I'm talking about a guaranteed future with your honey for all time Gabby," Anaria looked at Xena. "The Elysian Fields, for you both, forever. You'll never have to go through what I'd have to endure these past ten years."
"Don't you worry about my afterlife," Xena said coldly. "I'll get there on my own thanks."
"Dream on kid," Anaria relaxed some. "I've checked. Trust me, you won't ever come close to living long enough to atone for all of your warlord years."
"Xena," Gabrielle put her hand on her arm, "maybe we should listen to her."
Xena looked down into the bard's eyes and sighed inwardly. How can I pass up a chance with spending eternity with her, Xena thought. "Okay, I'm listening."
SARABANDE: half life
"Well done my young warlord, well done indeed," Aries said looking down at the semi conscious Brieal. "You've really outdone yourself on this one."
"Thank you Lord Aries," Xena smiled. "I know you have a special hatred for this one."
"Yes," Aries kneeled down and grabbed Brieal by the hair, forcing her to look up at the God of War. "Both she and that bitch Anaria not only refused my offers, they killed several of my most promising students." Aries slapped Brieal hard, "But you couldn't stop this one, could you Brieal? Xena will rule the world for me."
"Dream on loser," Brieal choked out. "Anaria will be here to kick your ass....." Aries kicked Brieal in the gut, stopping her in mid sentence.
"What would you like for me to do with her Lord Aries," Xena asked. She was thrilled that she had finally proven herself worth of the God of War's patronage. The feeling of success almost crowed out the feelings guilt over what she'd done to her favorite cousin.
"Nothing," Aries replied. "Just hold on to her for another few days until her bitch shows up. I've got something special planned for this pair." With a poof the God of War was gone.
"I can't believe you've turned into this Xena," Brieal said looking up. The poet struggled against her bonds as she spoke, "We didn't train you to become a killer."
"Save it cousin," Xena replied coldly. "You didn't train me to become anything. You abandoned me before I had the chance to really learn."
"That's not true Xena," Brieal's eyes pleaded with Xena's. "You knew that Anaria was a traveling hero and that I was a bard. We had to leave Amphipolis. A lot was at steak."
"Glory and fame was at steak," Xena sneered. "Hercules was gaining in popularity and that was bad for you two."
"Xena," Brieal's voice was deadly serious, "I pray to the gods that you never meet the reason we had to leave Amphipolis. An evil like that can never be allowed to set foot in our land again."
"Tell it to the bards, Brieal," Xena spun and sat in the make shift throne. "Praxis, come here." A burly guard rushed into the tent and stood at attention. Brieal could smell the mercenary from across the room and almost heaved.
Xena smiled wickedly, "Praxis, this is by cousin Brieal the Betrayer. Make sure you and the boys show here a good time." Praxis smiled, revealing his blackened teeth. "Oh and Praxis," Xena let the predator into her voice, "she has to live. She can be a little damaged, but she must not die. Because if she does, you'll soon be joining her." The man nodded vigorously with fear in his eye. With a wave of Xena's hand, Praxis rushed over and picked up Brieal. He slung her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and entered the night.
It took Anaria two days of little food and sleep to track down Xena's camp. Each passing moment had driven the calm, steady warrior into a manic frenzy. Life without Brieal wasn't life at all, it was death. She had decided long ago that if Brieal left the world before her, that it would only be by a manner of seconds.
The dawn was warm and bright. It would be a perfect late summer day, the kind that Anaria and Brieal loved. This day, however, was the blackest that the warrior had ever known. She had come across Xena's camp two hours ago and had been canvasing the surrounding terrain for a poorly guarded point. Much to her surprise, there wasn't one.
"Okay Xena," Anaria said to herself, "what's the deal." She peered around the large pine tree and surrounding shrubs into the camp. The large tent suddenly opened. Xena strode out in all her glory, looking tired but alert. Behind her was a large brutish man with little hair and bad teeth. Anaria bit down a cry when she saw what the man was dragging.
Brieal stumbled out of the tent. Her face was bloodied and bruised. One of her eyes was swollen shut and her nose looked broken. Her clothing was in tatters and revealing just what kind of fun Xena's men had. As if she knew, Brieal suddenly looked up in the direction of Anaria's hideout. The pair locked eyes over the great distance. Anaria's full of tears, Brieal's full of relief, both with undying love. The poet smiled weakly as she was led toward the other side of the camp, out of Anaria's view.
Anaria took a few seconds to regain her composure. "Can't go in there crying like a baby, you fool," she chastised herself. She wiped the tears on the back of her sleeve and drew her sword. Anaria stood, stretched, and started to jog into the camp.
Surprisingly she made it through the first ring of defenses without much of a workout. Instead of controlling the battle fire, Anaria embraced it. No one survived the warriors attack. Within minutes she had cut a swatch through the heart of Xena's camp. Coated in the blood of Xena's men, she raced around the last tent and screamed.
Aries turned and smiled with is usual arrogant demeanor. Xena was at his side laughing. Brieal was tied to a single post about thirty paces away from the pair, dead. Anaria ignored the evil duo and raced over to her beloved.
"Brieal? Brieal honey speak to me," she felt for a pulse and was relieved to find a weak one.
"'Nar? I knew you'd come for me," Brieal raised her head a little. Anaria kissed her quickly.
"Come on, we're leaving. The farm has been put off long enough."
"I beg to differ," Aries voice was harsh. "You can't just tease me and walk away."
"Fuck you Aries," Anaria spun around and drew her sword. "I'll never work for you. Brieal will never work for you. Leave us alone, we've retired."
"Well congratulations then," the God of War smiled. "You deserve a gift."
The wind suddenly picked up and the sky grew dark. The air around Brieal began to vibrate and distort. Suddenly a swirling, black vortex formed behind the poet. Anaria turned towards her soulmate and swore. The warrior was frozen to the ground, unable to help the fully conscious Brieal only inches away. Strain as she might, Anaria was helpless.
The wind increased in force. The vortex behind Brieal solidified into a gaping black maw. The post Brieal was tied to began to shake violently. The poet was being sucked into the blackness.
"Brieal!" Anaria cried out helplessly. "I....I...."
The poet smiled lovingly at her partner, "Shh, love, it's okay. I love you, I always will. You complete me."
"As you do me, my love," Anaria smiled. "Soon we will be united forever."
"'Fraid not ladies," Aires swaggered in between the duo. "That little vortex there is taking your lady friend to another dimension. Even if you kill yourself Anaria, you'll never be together." The God of War laughed coldly, "it's not nice to mess with the God of War."
"You BASTARD!" Anaria shouted.
Suddenly the post gave way. Brieal and Anaria locked eyes for an instant before she was gone. The vortex winked out, nature returned to normal. Anaria collapsed to the ground in a ball, Aires laughter ringing in her ears.
CHAPTER 2: what to do, what to do
"So what's this great plan," Xena asked sitting back down in her chair. "And why are you offering this chance to me?"
"The Elysian Fields is your payment Xena. You're going to help me get Brieal back so we can rest in peace together."
Xena looked stunned. Anaria smiled, "You never fail to surprise me Xena. If our situations were reversed, it's the only offer I'd expect."
"It's not possible. Aries told me..."
"Aries?! Aries is involved in this?" Gabrielle shook her head, "Great."
"I'll let your teddy bear tell you all about what they did," Anaria smiled with delight. Let's see how your soulmate likes what you did to mine, she thought. "Anyway, it is possible. I have spent the years since that day searching for my love. I've finally found her and a way to spring her."
"I'm not going to die to help you," Xena said flatly.
"I'm dead enough for the both of us," Anaria plopped down onto the bed. "Well, dead really isn't the best word. I'm more of a solid spirit who moves from place to place by sheer power of will. That's how I was able to learn Brieal's location and how to get her back."
"So Xena never really killed you," Gabrielle asked, somewhat confused.
"She certainly helped to by taking Brieal, but no, not fully."
"So how does Elysia come into all of this?"
"Well Xena, in my travels, I have made powerful friends. These friends need me to complete a series of tasks in return for the information they've given me. These tasks will, in turn, take us to where we need to go. The last and most important favor I own is in the same dimension that Brieal is in. We spring Brieal, take care of that final task, and everyone gets what they want. Brieal and I get to live out eternity in peace and you and Gabby get to join us in the Elysian Fields fifty years from now. Your greatest atrocity as a warlord with be forgiven."
"What's the catch?"
"The catch, Gabrielle, is that we only get one shot. If we fail at any point, the whole things a bust. At death, Xena goes to Tarturus, you to the Elysian Fields, and I'm doomed to wander the world alone for all eternity."
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other uneasily. "We need some time to decide," Xena said.
"I'll be back in the morning for your answer," Anaria said standing.
"What happens is we say no," Gabrielle asked.
"We all suffer, me now, you two later. Let me put it to you this way. I've traveled through Tarturus and nothing that place has to offer comes close to what I've gone through in losing Brieal. If you to love each other even half as much I we do, then Tarturus might as well be the Elysian Fields. The pain will be just the same." Anaria smiled and faded out of sight.
"Not much of a choice then," Gabrielle said moments after the ghostly warrior had disappeared.
"I don't trust her Gabrielle," Xena began to take off her armor. The bard sat down on the bed and stared into the fireplace. "I don't think she's telling us the entire story. What are these so called tasks we have to complete? Why does she need my help? It doesn't make any sense."
"But Xena, if she can guarantee forever for us, isn't it worth the risk?"
The Warrior Princess turned and looked at her partner and smiled. "Of course my love. You're the other half of my soul and I desperately want to know that we'll always be together. I just can't shake this feeling that somehow that means that we're going to spend the rest of this life apart."
"You think Anaria is going to have you take Brieal's place in that other dimension don't you?"
"I would only be fair," Xena finished taking off her armor and joined Gabrielle on the bed. "I still have nightmares about that day Gabrielle, the day I destroyed Anaria. Killing her would have been kinder."
The bard leaned her head against Xena's shoulder, "You were a different person then."
The Warrior Princess wrapped her arms around Gabrielle, "But not so different my love. It's my darkness which helps protect us. I've learned to control the fire, but it will always be a part of my soul."
They sat and watched the fire in silence for a long time. Gabrielle didn't remember falling asleep wrapped in Xena's arms. She only knew that was safe, warm, and loved. Xena smiled when she felt the bard cross over to Morbus's realm, but sleep would not come to her. The past, always part of her, weighed especially heavy on her tonight.
"You don't trust me," Anaria's voice said softly.
"Why should I? I don't deserve happiness, I don't deserve her." Xena looked down at Gabrielle. "If I was in your place, all I would want is to see your head on a pike."
"I'm not you, Xena, I could have never followed the path you chose to take." Anaria materialized next to the fire place. "That doesn't matter to me now Xena, it was another lifetime. You still don't get it do you? The first step I had to take in order to find Brieal was to forgive the ones who took her away from me."
"It's only words, Anaria."
"Xena, get this through your thick head. I forgive you totally, completely, and mean it. I couldn't just say 'oh it's okay now' and poof, there's Brieal. Believe me, I tried that countless times. I had to feel it down to the core of my soul, and I do."
"Then you're a better person than I."
"No, just smarter," Anaria laughed. "Look, why don't you get some sleep. I already know what your answer is."
"It's that obvious."
Anaria began to fade out, "It should be so obvious to everyone."
Xena leaned back onto the bed, the bard never leaving her arms, and welcomed sleep.
Mid day had come and gone with no word from Anaria. After much deliberation, the pair decided to continue their journey to Athens as planned. If the ghostly warrior was as strong as she claimed to be, Xena and Gabrielle would be easy to find.
At dusk, the companions stopped for the night. Xena found a small glade not far from the road. Gabrielle set up camp while the Warrior Princess went to catch dinner.
"Hey their Gabby. What's shakin'?" Anaria winked into sight, starling the bard.
"Geesh! Do you have to do that? You're worse that the gods."
"Sorry, sometimes I forget how jumpy mortals can be." Anaria sat down on a near by log and began pulling objects from a large bag. Gabrielle stopped what she was doing and sat down next to the warrior.
"What are those supposed to be," Gabrielle asked as she picked up a piece of cloth. "Is one of our tasks going to a costume ball?"
"Actually, that one is for Xena," Anaria took the garment from the bard. "This, I think, is more your style."
"Yikes! How awful." Gabrielle examined what looked to be some sort of shirt. It was made of what felt like linen with short sleeves and a hideous design on the front. There was also some sort of what appeared to be language on the shirt. "What does this say," the bard asked, pointing to the back of the shirt.
"Those are tour dates Gabby."
"What's a tour date? Where exactly am I supposed to wear this?"
"For our first task, we have to go incognito. You're current outfit might work, but Xena's defiantly will not. Mine isn't the greatest either." Anaria smiled wickedly, "I've actually been looking forward to this mission Gabby, it should quite amusing."
"For who," Xena asked from across the camp, dinner in hand. "I won't be laughing if I have to wear that hot, uncomfortable, looking thing."
"This is a classic, Xena! Do try to show more respect. Do you know how hard it was for me to find a war era bomber jacket? It took me months! And I don't even get to wear it." Anaria stood. Her clothing shimmered and changed.
"I didn't think you were into leather," Xena asked smiling.
"These pants are comfortable and can hold quite a lot."
"Excuse me," Gabrielle stood up and put her hands on her hips, "Save the passion for fashion for later. I didn't catch where we're going."
"Our first task ladies is to return a certain spear to it's rightful owners. They needed someone who could understand the, shall we say, special circumstances surrounding this theft."
"My dear bard," Anaria turned to Gabrielle with an incredulous look, "you're about to come face to face with the future of mankind. The quite distant future."
"How distant," Xena didn't like the sound of this.
"Oh, I don't know, maybe a couple of thousand years. Give or take a decade." Anaria could tell that Xena and Gabrielle were hardly thrilled with the idea. At least the concept of time travel doesn't seem to bother them, she thought.
"And how are we supposed to get there, ride Argo?"
Okay, maybe not. "Look I can't go into details about how. This spear is being kept in a large city called Washington. The person who originally owned this spear doesn't have anyone in that time who can get it for him. Our task is to slip into the building where the spear is being displayed and replace the real spear with an exact, yet powerless, copy. Once that is done, you two will return to this exact spot. I'll return the spear to it's rightful owner. It's as simple as that."
"I guess that doesn't sound too bad," Gabrielle relented. "I've always been curious to see what my descendants would look like."
"One more thing before I forget," Anaria smiled weakly. "You have to let me do all the talking." Xena began to protest, but Anaria cut her off, "It's only until you understand their language, which won't exist for another thousand years or so. It only took me a couple of days to sound like I belonged in that time. It'll take us that long just to get a feel for the place the spear's at."
"When do we leave," Xena asked angrily.
"As soon as you two change. I've got us a dwelling called an apartment not far from the spear. Don't worry, this will be fun. You guys will love late twentieth century America, trust me."
CHAPTER 3: "in the year 2525...."
"See," Anaria said smiling, "the future's not so bad now is it?"
"I've been thanking the gods daily that we died centuries ago," Xena said dryly. The trio had been in Washington three days. Xena and Gabrielle had been trapped in Anaria's "apartment" listening to something called "books on tape". Yesterday they had watched "tv" for the first time. It was quite an eye opening experience.
"This place is far better than most, oh sour Princess," Anaria replied. "I've actually grown fond of this time. I wouldn't mind living in it, as long as Brieal is with me."
Xena stood up from the chair she was sitting in. Anaria could tell by her expression that Xena had crossed over to the dark side, "Look, either you tell us what's going on, and I mean what is REALLY going on, or Gabrielle and I are leaving. I don't see what how having the two of us along on this 'task' or what ever the hell you want to call it, is helping your situation one bit."
"And how is it that you came by this place," Gabrielle gestured towards a nearby wall. "You're money is worthless in this time. Who's behind all of this?"
Anaria pointed to the tv screen, "Take a look for yourself." Xena and Gabrielle turned to watch the newscast on the 24 hour information channel. Anaria upped the volume with the remote control. A middle aged man with dark hair was discussing a new development....
"Another new wrinkle to the hostile takeover of the Norse Corporation. Norse Corp, once a power in the information and electronics industry fell on hard times last year when Simon Baldner, son of founder and CEO James Odin was killed in an automobile accident. Baldner, a well respected and innovative software mastermind, headed the most profitable subsidiary of Norse Corp, Lightening Industries. Sources say that it is the Vice President of Lightening, Derick Loki, with the support of an anonymous Asian conglomerate, who is spear heading the unfriendly take over. More on this developing story tonight on Moneytimes with Dan Simms."
Anaria turned down the volume on the tv and waited for the eruption. Her internal countdown had only reached 8 when Xena began.
"You mean to tell me that we are here to steal some lousy piece of wood for this Odin guy? Give me a break! I've had enough of this," Xena motioned to Gabrielle. "Come on, we're leaving."
"This Odin guy isn't just some corporate barron, he's far more Xena," Anaria kept her voice calm. "He's the one who brought us here pal, he's a god."
"What kind of god," Gabrielle asked.
"He was, well still is, the leader of the Gods for the peoples of what is now Northern Europe. To us that includes Britannia, Gaul, and most of the lands what are under barbarian rule. How can I explain this," Anaria looked out the window at the afternoon Sun. "Our gods have lost almost all of their influence in this time. People think that they are only stories made up by their ancestors to explain why the rain falls, or why the moon disappears. Some of the gods have just retired so to speak and don't interfere with the lives of men. Others just observe and meddle from time to time. The Greek gods fall into that category. A few gods, like Odin, have assumed human form to help society and prevent mortals from destroying themselves."
"What does all of that have to do with us?"
"All of the division heads and company heads in Norse Corp are northern Gods. Baldner, for example, was the god of peace and wisdom. Another one of Odin's sons, Peter Thor, heads up their entertainment division, Freia Jones, his sister, runs marketing, and so on. Loki was created by Odin from fire eons ago and has caused trouble ever since. He's responsible for Baldner's death but has been able to escape punishment because Loki stole and hid the only thing Odin could control him with."
"Correct Gabby. Odin needs the spear back so he can trap Loki and punish him. It's also a very powerful weapon in it's own right. Lucky for him, no one believes in real magic or supernatural power anymore. Otherwise someone else would have stolen it already."
"How did Loki get the spear away from Odin," Gabrielle asked. "I wouldn't let something that strong just wander off."
"I'll tell you later, great story," Anaria smiled. "What matters is that we get it back before Loki is able to take over the company. If he does...."
"He becomes head of a family of gods and brings destruction to the world," Xena finished Anaria's sentence darkly.
"And they say Greek girls aren't smart."
Xena gave Anaria a 'watch it' look and continued. "So when can we see the place that has the spear?"
"Put your shoes on ladies and say hello to mass transit."
Xena and Gabrielle had seen a lot in their many years of travel around the ancient world. They had grow accustomed expecting the worst in most situations, especially if traveling over water was involved. Xena mentally patted herself on the back for her pessimism, because it saved her the shock of the DC Metro. Gabrielle wasn't so lucky.
"I think I feel sick," the bard said clutching her wrist. Xena's pressure points didn't have much effect in this underground tunnel to Tarturus. "How much longer?"
"Not much, just another five minutes or so," Anaria smiled. She leaned closer to Xena and whispered, "Is she always like this?"
"Let's just say she doesn't travel well unless it's by foot." Xena replied. The Warrior Princess wasn't enjoying herself much either. The long, cylindrical cars which moved through dark tunnels underneath the city made her feel nervous and vulnerable. The car the trio was traveling in was quite crowded which increased Xena's tension. Anaria tried to lighten the mood with a story.
"So I bet you're both wondering how I was able to become aquatinted with this time," Anaria looked at the unhappy pair. Despite the bluish look of Gabrielle and the caged animal glint in Xena's eye, she continued. "I discover that time moves differently in the land of the pseudo-dead. For some reason I'm not limited to just hanging out in Greece or Rome or anywhere in the old world. My search for Brieal wasn't going anywhere, so I thought, maybe fifty years from now I'll find something. Suddenly, there I was, hanging out in Greece fifty years to the day after Brieal was taken. That's how I know how long you two are going to live."
"If I survive this train," Gabrielle mumbled.
"I still don't see why this involves us," Xena said. The train began to slow for the next stop. "And why you have to come 2,000 years into the future to do something you could have done much sooner."
Anaria looked out the window and smiled. "This is our stop ladies. I'll have to answer your questions later. Hurry up now Gabby, you don't want to get trapped riding the Metro forever."
The bard quickly got up from the stiff plastic seat and barreled through the doors of the car. Anaria looked for the nearest stairway to the outside and motioned for the pair to follow her. Moments later, the threesome was looking at the late afternoon sun on a lovely spring day. Xena felt some of the tension release from her body. It was bad enough she had to travel unarmed, and wear a hideous outfit of Anaira's choosing, but the subway had almost made her loose control.
"The museum is only a couple blocks away," Anaria pointed down the busy street. "We can do a little sight seeing as we go. This is the capital of the free world you know."
"Great," Xena was unimpressed.
Anaria took Xena's tone to mean 'shut up or I'm going to pummel you' and decided to save her useless knowledge for another day. She had hoped that they could check out the museum in peace, go get some dinner, and plan strategy, but fate deemed it unnecessary. The Grecian trio rounded a corner and found themselves face to face with six burly men who didn't want to show them the sites.
The seventh man was about Gabrielle's height with bright red hair pulled back into a pony tail. He was slight of build and looked young. He had grown a sharp looking goatee to help him look older, but it hadn't worked.
"Good day ladies," the red haired man said. His voice was smooth and light with a sing song quality. "My name is Derick Loki."
Xena tensed herself and spoke before Anaria, "What do you want Loki? We don't have time to play games today."
"You must be Xena," Loki smiled, revealing a perfect set of dazzling white teeth. "You travel with a bard, Gabrielle isn't it?" Loki extended a hand to the bard. Gabrielle took it and shivered as the god kissed the back of her hand.
"And oh yes, Anaria," Loki turned his dark eyes to the warrior. "I had hoped that we wouldn't have to meet again."
"Yes well," Anaria raised her shoulders and gestured with her hands, "what to do, what to do."
"That is the question now isn't it," Loki cupped his hand in front of him at his waist. "It's sad that is has to end like this. You had so much promise, especially since Wolf had taken you under her wing."
"Why doesn't that surprise me," Xena said looking at Anaria. "I should have know that you two would get together and swap stories about your most infamous pupil."
"How pleasant," Loki grinned again. It was easy to see how he was the God of Fire. "The three of us had quite a little adventure together, but that's the past and this is now," he sighed and shook his head. "Our greatest hero isn't here to save you Anaria."
"I guess I'll have to just do that job myself then," Anaria bristled. The six men around Loki began to walk menacingly toward the group. Xena moved closer to Anaria and assumed an attack stance. Gabrielle was right beside her doing the same.
"I hope you guys like pain," Xena said coldly, "because you're about to get a lot of it."
"Don't let my boy's looks throw you Warrior Princess," Loki hissed. "Remember who you're dealing with." The Norse God of Fire laughed harshly and vanished with a burst of flame.
Anaria looked frantically around the small alley for a means of escape. "Xena, these aren't the normal brute squad, these are Loki's top men."
"So," Xena said. She was growing tired of Anaria with holding information until the last minute.
"So," Anaria looked at the Warrior Princess, "these guys are fire in a human form."
"So when we hit them...."Gabrielle started
"They burn us. Or even better, they more likely explode," Xena finished the bard's sentence with aggravation.
"Exactly. We need to get out of here pronto."
ALLEMANDE: "break on through...."
Brieal's heart cried out in agony. Anaria had never looked worse, even when the poet had found her on the river's edge that brisk fall day ten years ago. Her champion was frozen, helpless, thanks to the God of War's power. As the wind picked up, Brieal could only watch as Anaria crumbled in front of her. Suddenly the post gave way and Brieal was ripped away from the woman, the world, she knew and loved. The weight of her grief causing her to pass out as she traveled through a long, dark tunnel to the unknown.
Brieal awoke with a start and sat up quickly. The poet surveyed her new surroundings. She was alone in a field, much like the one she had just left. It was mid morning on what felt to be a mid summer day. Looking down, Brieal noticed that her clothes were repaired and that she possessed all of her gear. Her two long knives were sheathed and tied to her waist, her scrolls were in a pouch strapped to her back. Everything was as is should be.
The ground beneath Brieal began to vibrate slightly. "At least there are horses in this other realm," she said to herself. She quickly got up and headed for the tree line. The savvy poet-warrior wasn't about to get friendly with the unknown inhabitants of this world. As predicted, a few moments later two riders on horse back came into view. Brieal swallowed hard when she saw them.
"That was the best yet," Anaria said with a laugh. "Did you see those pathetic villagers? They made it too easy. It's no fun unless they put up a fight."
"Oh, I don't know," another, second, Brieal said with a seductive smile, "Sometimes I like my prey docile."
The two women dismounted and embraced. After a time, the pair broke apart. Anaria reached into her saddle bag and pulled out a blanket.
"Shall we attend to business," the warrior asked with a crooked smile.
"Oh don't worry lover," Brieal number two replied, "we'll get to that soon enough." The poet scanned the area, "I can't lose this feeling that we're being watched."
"You're so paranoid sometimes," Anaria said laying out the blanket. "Come on, who would be stupid enough to attack the two most powerful warlords in Greece? If Hercules couldn't stop us, then who can?"
"That whelp," Anaria said with disgust. "Please. Just because she defeated that idiot Draco doesn't mean she can handle us."
"I've heard that she has some help now Nar," Brieal said looking down at the warrior. "She liberated some slave girl who united several of the Amazon tribes. They all now follow Xena."
"She's also has Callisto in her camp," Brieal sat down next to Anaria on the blanket.
"Great," Anaria said with disgust. "As if one crazed kid isn't enough, now Xena's got that psycho bent on vengeance tagging along."
"You did slaughter her entire village in front of her," Brieal said with a wicked grin.
"That was fun wasn't it," Anaria said moving closer to Brieal. "All Callisto had to do was give herself up to us for a little three way but no, she had to be squeamish. That's what she gets for having a puritan mind."
Brieal number two leaned back, pulling Anaria with her. "She'll never know what she's missing."
Brieal swallowed hard and pushed farther back into the dense foliage. What kind of place is this, she thought. Ares has certainly outdone himself on this one.
"Finally you appreciate my talents," the God of War said.
Brieal turned to look at a smiling Ares sitting next to her. "Where am I?" she asked bitterly.
"Why don't you know, you're in Greece."
Brieal spat. "I think not."
"Oh yes it is. It's the future of Greece my dear Brieal, the way it should have been," Ares leaned back onto his hands. "You see I've done a little exploring around Mount Olympus which has paid off nicely. I was able to find a spell to open a portal to this alternate reality. In this world, you and Anaria both work for me, and work for me well. I never had to approach Xena."
"You lie," Brieal interjected hotly.
"You know it's true. You heard them," Ares pointed to the pair writhing in the middle of the field. "Your own self righteous arrogance helped me pick this world, Brieal. A world where you're the most hated, the most feared, the blackest warlord ever to walk the civilized world. A world where you can't show your face because if they see it," Ares motioned to the field, "you'll be killed. And if Xena and her band of merry followers sees it...."
"They will think I'm evil," Brieal said flatly.
"Ex-actly," Ares smiled. "Oh, and one more thing. I've spoken with this Ares and he's loves my punishment for you, so don't bother appealing to the gods."
"Let me guess, in this realm, he's their king."
"Hail to the king baby!" Ares laughed and disappeared.
Brieal leaned against the base of a nearby tree, put her head in her hands and silently cried.
CHAPTER 4: smoke and mirrors
"Look Xena, I'm not going to say this again," Anaria hissed. "Take this and run."
"I won't leave you to fight these demons alone," Xena replied. She looked around for anything she could use as a weapon. Unfortunately, the alley was empty except for the six fire demons who where rapidly surrounding the trio. Anaria had taken the point position in an attempt to protect Xena and Gabrielle.
"You'll be killed," the bard said, "we can't leave you."
Anaria thrust a medium sized bag in the bard's hands, "Look I'm already dead. I can last much longer than you two mortals. Go! All the information you need is contained in this," she looked at the bad. "I'll see you soon."
Gabrielle nodded and looked at Xena. The Warrior Princess nodded and clasped hands with Anaria.
Anaria turned to face Loki's henchmen, "Here we are again boys," she drawled. " Shall we?" The warrior rushed the men, flinging herself at all six. Xena and Gabrielle used the distraction to duck out behind Anaria and slip into the open street. Without looking back, the pair ran away from the fight.
After a few blocks they stopped. Much to their relief, they hadn't been followed.
"What do you want to do Xena," Gabrielle asked. "We can't just let Loki capture her."
"I know Gabrielle," Xena replied, worry in her voice. "It's now more important than ever that we get the spear. We can give it to this Odin ourselves."
"Then we he captures Loki, we can save Anaria," Gabrielle sat down on a bench. She looked up at the stoic Warrior Princess. "How did we get ourselves into this one Xena?"
"I don't know, but we're going to finish it."
"Okay, okay, put me down already," Anaria said. The three fire demons who were holding her up complied quickly. "You didn't have to make it so realistic."
Loki flamed into view, "You said they had to believe it."
Anaria gave the god a hard look, "I think you enjoyed this a little too much Derick."
"Don't call me that," Loki peeked around the corner. "You know I hate that name." He turned back to Anaria, "They're gone."
"Good," Anaria leaned against the nearby building. "I want to thank you again for all your help. Xena's a hard one to trick."
"Anything to erase my debt to you," Loki replied. "You helped me steal the spear in the first place, I only think it's fair I help you return it."
"But what about Odin, and Baldner's death?"
"Come come my dear Anaria," Loki smiled, "you've become to susceptible to this culture's ways. Baldner is a god, he couldn't be killed by a mere auto accident."
"You two set the whole thing up didn't you?"
"Let's say a undesirable element is trying to infiltrate our business," Loki ran his fingers through his hair, readjusting his pony tale. "We cooked up this ruse to flush it out. It's just between Baldner and myself. No one knows about this, not even Odin."
Anaria shook her head and laughed, "You gods and your intrigues. So Odin really doesn't need the spear back."
Loki became very serious, "You are quite incorrect in that statement Anaria. Odin may not need the spear to discipline me, but he will need it to combat the corruption in the family. The king of the gods may not know that, but I do."
The pair shook hands, "Good luck Anaria, I hope you and Brieal are able to find each other."
"Thanks Loki. Good luck to you as well. I know that Xena and Gabrielle won't fail."
"For all our sakes I hope not." The God of Fire and his henchmen disappeared. Anaria dusted herself off and shimmered out of view. Due to her prior involvement with stealing the spear, she couldn't help steal it back. If she did, she would be pushed out of exsiantce thanks an agreement she had with Loki. "So what if Odin didn't know that I was the one who stole it from him in the first place," she said to herself. Now invisible she would be able to observe Xena and Gabrielle and make sure they were able to get the spear. "That doesn't mean I can't help him to get it back, along with helping myself in the process. Besides, Xena owes me." After a few minutes she came upon the warrior and the bard sitting on a bench at a bus stop. Whatever it takes, my love, she thought, whatever it takes to feel you in my arms again Brieal.
"Let's see what we have in the bag Xena," Gabrielle said to her now seated partner. "I hope it tells us how to get to this Smit-ths-son-ion place."
"I'm sure it will," Xena replied opening the bag, "Anaria was never one to leave anything to chance." The Warrior Princess reached in and pulled out a piece of parchment. On it was a hastily scribbled note in Anaria's hand.
"What does it say Xena?"
The warrior's brows furrowed as she read the note, "So I've gone at gotten myself captured I see, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this now Xena." She smiled to herself, "This is from Anaria all right." Xena continued, "Try not to dwell on the fact that I've just left you alone in a totally foreign environment. I'll by you a big glass of fizzo in the Elysian Fields later kid. Anyway, don't worry about me. In this bag are directions to and from the Museum, including the Metro."
"Great. Can't wait to ride on that again," Gabrielle interrupted.
Xena gave the bard a quick smile and continued reading. "The joint's free to the public, so just walk in. I've left a little money in this bag and hidden around the apartment for you. I know Gabby can't go without food for long." The bard mumbled something Xena wasn't about to repeat. "So ladies, take care. If things get tough call up my buddy Ty Adams. He's an old friend of Odin's and mine and knows all about this caper. Remember, what ever you do, don't get caught. The law in this town isn't very friendly towards thieves, especially the kind who steal ancient artifacts from the worlds most famous museum. Good luck. I'll see you soon, Anaria."
"Here's the map Xena," the bard said, pulling a beat up old city map from the bag. "According to Anaria's directions, the museum is only a few minutes away by foot."
"Let's get going then," Xena looked up at the Sun, gaging the time. "My guess is that the Smithsonian closes at dark. We better hurry."
The companions got up and headed down the busy street, an invisible Anaria close behind.
COURANTE: the truth, the tempation
"This is impossible!" Xena replied, "Even for you Brieal, what you're saying is crazy."
"Look," Brieal replied. She sat docily in her tight bonds, "I'm not from this....this....place, where ever it is. I'm not the destroyer of nations. I'm one of the good guys."
"Right," Gabrielle said, "and this is supposed to make me forget what you did to Lyla?"
"Or what you did to my family," Callisto leaned down and spat in Brieal's face. "I don't understand, let's kill her and be done with it." She looked back at Xena.
Brieal was starting to feel that maybe this hadnt' been such a good idea. It had been a hard six months in this other Greece. The poet had managed to avoid major towns in the hopes of not being spotted by either of the sides in this conflict. From what Brieal had seen and heard, there wasn't too much a difference between Xena's crew and her evil twin. Both were ruthless, cunning, and devistating. For every two villages the other Anaria and Brieal sacked, Xena destroyed two which followed the evil duo. The war was at a standstill. After seeing what Xena had done to Amphipolis, Brieal decided it was time to make her prescence felt.
Brieal leaned back into the chair she was tied into and watched the the arguement unfold in front of her. She had never heard of Gabrielle or Callisto, but she felt sure they existed in her Greece in some form. By the looks of Xena, she guessed that she must now be in her twenties. Ares hadn't lied when he said that this was the future of Greece. It just wasn't the one Brieal had imagined.
"Look," Brieal said, interupting the trio's arguement, "I can prove that I'm not from this Greece." She looked at Xena, "where are Anaria and the other Brieal now?"
"As if you don't know," Callisto said snidely.
"I don't," Brieal remained calm, "but I'm sure you do. Tell you what. Why don't you go and see for yourself if the other Brieal is there. I can't be in two places at once, right? And Xena can vouch that I'm an only child, no twins or no siblings that look anything like me. If I'm lying, then do what you will. But if I'm telling the truth, then let me go so I can help you."
Xena looked down and Brieal, "All right," she said coldly. "We'll do what you ask." Gabrielle and Callisto started to protest, Xena silenced them with her hand. "We have nothing to loose. Either way, we'll get what's good for Greece." With a dramatic flourish of her cape, Xena strode out to the large tent. Gabrielle gave Brieal a death look and followed quickly behind Xena.
"If you're not who you say you are," Callisto drawled, "I'm going to enjoy gutting you for your beloved Anaria. I think I'll send her some care packages," her eyes grew glassy, "yeah."
Callisto laughed and sauntered out of the tent.
Brieal shuttered. If the real Callisto was anything like this one, no one would ever be safe. Breial noticed that one person remainded behind.
"Don't you have something lovely to say as well," the poet asked to the remaining woman.
"No. The Amazon's don't waste our breaths on idel threats. We're more into action first, talk later."
"So I've seen," Brieal smiled. "You know, when I was studing at the Academy for Performing Bards in Athens, I spent several months with an Amazon tribe. It was very enlightening. Of course," she quickly added, "that was another Greece."
The woman stepped from the shadows. Brieal's eyes widened in amazement. "It can't be," she stammered. Her heart beat like a hammer in her chest.
"You know me," the woman asked. "How is that possilble?"
"We were....let's say friends....in my Greece," Brieal said, trying to control herself. "It was a long time ago. It has been a long time Velaska."
"So you do know who I am," Velaska replied. Something inside her liked the way Brieal said her name.
"You could say that," Brieal said with a small smile. "So how is it that you've joined up with this crowd?"
"It's a long story," Velaska said with a bigger smile. The Amazon pulled her chair closer to the poet. "Melosa, my foster mother and the Amazon Queen, died leaving no heir. Somehow Gabrielle, with Xena's help, was able to obtain the rite of cast. I was with another village when this all happened. Gabrielle's an Amazon princess you know."
"So I've heard."
"Anyway, Gabrielle didn't want to stay with the Amazons. She was too caught up in Xena's propaganda. She named another Amazon, Ephany, as regent." Velaska smiled. "Ephany was in charge when I returned to the village. She was a good woman and one hell of an Amazon."
"So what happened?"
"Ephany was killed about a year ago in a raid by Anaria's men. The great demon had heard that the Amazon's had decided to enter the war on Xena's side. You and Anaria were not about to let that happen smoothly."
"I'm sorry, truely I am," Brieal smiled, warmth in her eyes.
Velaska sighed, "With Ephany dead, the Amazon's needed a new regent. Since Melosa was my foster mom, Gabrielle named me. I've been here ever since."
"You make it sound more like a punishment than an honor."
"In some ways it is," Velaska stood and paced. I can't believe I'm opening up to the enemy like this she thought. But for some reason, I can't picture her as evil. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I want Anaria and Brieal wiped from the face of Greece just as much as the next gal. No offense."
"It's just that the alternative, Xena, doesn't seem much better. We're about the same age you know, Xena and I. Somehow though, Xena has a lot more to learn. I'm afraid that she might turn out just as bad as those warlords."
"It's possilbe," Brieal said from experience. "Power can corrupt even those with the best intentions. Once you get all of those emotions in a furror, they can be hard stop."
Velaska and Brieal locked eyes for a moment. Brieal quickly looked down.
"I know what you mean," Velaska said meakly. The Amazon mentally shook herself and headed for the door.
"If it means anything Brieal, I believe you." Velaska smiled and left the tent.
Brieal watched the Amazon leave. "Come on Brieal," she said as soon as Velaska was out of earshot, "you've only been seperated a few months and you're already lusting after someone else. Just because you had a fling with a Velaska when you were a kid doesn't mean that you can now." As hard as she tried to picture Anaria, all she could see was Velaska.
It was dark when Brieal's captures returned. The poet had dozed off and awoke with a start when she felt hands release her from her bonds. She looked up into the smiling face of Velaska.
"It seems that you're telling the truth," Brieal swung her head around to look at Xena. "Our spies reported that Brieal and Anaria are together and haven't been apart for weeks. They swear that she's the real deal."
Brieal stood and stretched, "I'm glad to see that we are able to work things out."
"It's not that easy ducky," Callisto hissed. "You may not be the Brieal, but you certianly share some of her traits. You'll have to prove yourself worthy to join us."
"I'm sure that won't be a problem," Brieal replied confidently.
"We'll see," Callisto turned and left the tent.
"I'm going to leave you in Velaska's charge," Xena said calmly. "She is a superior Amazon and warrior for our cause. You are to travel with her until further notice." Xena crossed the tent. She looked down and Brieal, with a voice full of menace, "If I find out that you have betrayed me in any way, you're going to wish that it was Callisto who killed you."
"Don't worry," Brieal replied showing no fear, "I won't disappoint you."
"Good." Xena turned and left the tent.
Brieal and Velaska watched Xena go. Brieal quickly went through a few calming excercises Anaria had learned from their friend Wolf. After a few minutes she turned and looked at Velaska who was still standing behind the chair.
"So," Brieal said akwardly, "where to now?"
"I wasn't able to secure you quarters of your own for tonight," the Amazon smiled nervously. "You can either stay with the other Amazon's in the main tent, or...." she paused and looked at the ground,"...you could stay with me in my tent?"
Brieal swallowed involuntarily. Staying in a crowed hut with a bunch of strangers didn't sound very inviting, but staying with Velaske posed other problems.
Velaska saw the moment of indecision in Brieal and quickly spoke, "It was just a thought. I'm not asking for anything, really. I thought you just might like some peace and quiet."
Brieal calmed herself again and replied, "No....that sound's great. I'd rather not stay in a tent full of strangers."
Veleska smiled broadly, "Great!"
"There's just one thing you should know before we go any further," Brieal stopped Veleska from leaving the tent. "I know you weren't offering anything like this, but I feel I need to say it." Why is this so hard then, she thought. "I'm in love with Anaria. My Anaria," she quickly added, "the one from my Greece. We've been together ten wonderful years. I have to remain faithful to her. I know that she won't stop until she finds me."
"Okay," Veleska replied nonchalantly, "I assumed as much. I know how much this Greece's Anaria and Brieal love eachother. Don't worry, I'll be a good girl," she added with a smile.
But I don't know if I will, Brieal thought as the Amazon and the poet opened the tent flap and entered the predawn light.
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