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"Ok. We've got the mine secured and all the Athenians have been rounded up" Antemas said to himself. "Now all we have to do is sit tight and wait for the offers to come pouring in".
He laughed aloud and paced the floor, confident that his army could hold off attacks from both the Athenians and the armies of Corinth if it came to it. His men were highly trained, ruthless and his position near the mine was on a mountain pass, easily defensible by only a handful of warriors.
He smoothed his well-groomed beard, "and I have nearly a thousand bloodthirsty warriors at my disposal".
A noise startled him and he turned to face a tall, well-groomed warrior in dark studded leather armor.
The Dark Lord smiled and spread his hands, "It's true! You've been blessed with my presence this day Antemas! Feel free to bow at anytime".
The Warlord scowled and dropped to one knee, "I'm honored my Lord".
Antemas hated this. He kneeled before no man! But what could he do against a god but swallow his pride and comply?
"Not a whole hell of a lot" Ares chuckled and gazed at the man as a serpent regarding it's prey. "You forget, I can read your mind as well. But fear not.... For today is your lucky day"!
Antemas' eyes narrowed, expecting a trap, "My lucky day"?
Ares motioned him to stand and walked to the entrance of the Warlord's tent.
"Of course. You've got a pretty cool little enterprise here, what with you seizing the mine and double-crossing King Gilos"!
Antemas' mind was racing as he pondered the god's words, "Yeah? So"?
"So, I can see to it that you are able to hold your position here until both Pericles and Gilos accept your demands. I can increase your wealth tenfold! You can be the most powerful Warlord in the land"!
"Sounds great! But what's the catch"? Antemas like the prospect, but realized that all dealings with Ares carried some risk.
The God of War walked to the tent wall and hefted a jeweled sword that Antemas had placed there, "Oh, nothing that you can't handle". He traced a finger over the intricate ruins on the sword's blade, "Damascan Steel. Very nice"!
Antemas was getting impatient with this cat and mouse game, "So what is it that you want of me oh Dark Lord"? His tone was dripping with sacrasm. He was already powerful. He took what he wanted, when he wanted it and felt that Ares offered little that he could not take for himself.
Ares gazed at the warlord and sapped "Have a care maggot! You forget yourself. I'm the god of war and will not tolerate insubordinace from the likes of you"!
The warlord quickly backed down, "Forgive me My Lord. I mean no disrespect. I'm simply curious as to what you would have of your servant".
Ares knew that Antemas was lying. He knew that the Warlord hated being put in a position of inferiority, and loved to watch him squirm. But he decided to accept the insincere apology for the moment.
"Yes, well, as I was saying, I have a simple task that I'm sure you can handle".
He waved a hand and the wall of the tent shimmered as the purple fabric dissolved into a detailed map of the region.
Antemas was not impressed, but he was curious. He stepped forward to gaze upon the image.
Ares continued, "There is Corinth. On the other side are Attica and Athens, with you caught in between the two. Now, though this path you now hold is easily defended by a few men, you still have one very serious problem".
"And that is"?
"Xena. She's on her way and she plans to kill you".
Antemas scratched his head, "I see. That is a problem".
Ares grinned, "I thought that would grab your attention. But I can help you, for a price".
Antemas waited for the Dark Lord to continue.
"I want you to march on Corinth and lay waste to the land. I want you to burn and loot and pillage everything you see"! He shook his fist, "The royalty are to be enslaved and you will assume the throne of Corinth"!
The Warlord considered the proposal, "That's asking a lot. How am I to accomplish all of this with only a thousand soldiers"?
The God of War laughed, "I'm glad you asked! It's quite simple really. I will be with you. And that's all you need! No force will be able to stand against you and after a victory of two, your ranks will grow soon enough".
Ares said, "After you have established yourself and secured your borders, you will build a series of temples for me and declare them the state religion".
Now we come to the heart of the matter, thought the warlord, "My Lord, if I may be so bold as to ask what your reasons are for all of this"?
The god scowled, "Your task is not to ask foolish questions of which are no concern to you! Your task is to obey me completely"! Ares' eyes glowed like hot coals, "or should I give your army to another? One who can follow my commands without question and receive my blessings humbly"?
Antemas grew nervous, "No my Lord! I will do as you ask. But what about Xena"?
Ares allowed a faint smile to appear. "Xena is coming here tonight. However, I'm sure I can stall her long enough for you to capture her companion Gabrielle".
The Warlord was truly curious now, "Gabrielle? Who is this Gabrielle"?
Ares rolled his eyes, "Just some irritating blonde that Xena has a thing for. She should be no trouble for your men. But if you capture her, you can use her as a hostage. This will force Xena to tread lightly and you can force her to surrender to you. After that, well, you may do what you like with the two".
"Why not take Xena out yourself"?
"Why not take Corinth myself and let Xena slit your throat like she did the last warlord she went up against"? Ares laughed.
Antemas, realizing the position he was in, bowed, "I see your point my Lord. I shall do as you ask".
"I knew you would see it my way" He turned and pointed toward the shimmering map. "The girl is there, in Myleah. If you send you lieutenant now, you can grab her before Xena arrives".
"I thought you were going to stall Xena"! Exclaimed the warlord.
Ares roared with laughter, "Yes, but Xena is a woman with many skills. There is the possibility that she eludes me long enough to rip you open with that pig sticker of hers"!
Ares thought to himself, everybody wins here! Antemas wages war on a kingdom and I am more firmly secured in my position on Mount Olympus! He had no intention of letting Antemas take the throne of Corinth. That would be reserved for another.
With that, Ares faded out of view. The map fading away with him; leaving Antemas pondering his dilemma. He had to capture the girl quickly, before Xena arrived!
Antemas shouted for his Lieutenant, Leonas"!
Argo thundered on the path leading up toward the Quarry where the mine and Antemas was located. Anyone watching would have had only a fleeting glimpse of a leather-clad warrior on a golden mare; the woman's black mane flowing out on the wind. She twisted and turned on the crooked road, causing a shower of sparks to light up the path beneath Argo's hooves. At the top of a rise, a lone dark figure stepped out on the path as the rider barreled down upon him. Xena started and jerked the plunging mare back on it's haunches, bringing her to an abrupt halt.
"Hello gorgeous" cooed a smiling Ares.
Xena sighed, "Ares. I should have known you were here. This has your signature all over it".
Ares feigned disappointment, "Oh Xena. Do you think that every massacre of innocent victims is my doing"? He paused and chuckled. "Of course, it did have a certain flair about it didn't it"?
Xena didn't find Ares' joke amusing, "what do you want Ares? I know you aren't up here just to chat".
The god reached up to stroke Argo's neck, who in turn flinched and shyed away at his touch. He smiled, "Xena, I know why you are here and I know what you intend. And I want to help".
The Warrior Princess leveled her gaze upon him, "You? Since when have you ever wanted to help anyone"?
Ares smiled and glided around to her side, " You know I can't let anything bad happen to my favorite warrior. I.... favor you".
Xena laughed, "Yeah, I'll bet you do. So how come I feel as if I'm about to taste the sweet kiss of a crocodile"?
"Xena, you can say what you like. But the truth is that I've always favored you above all other warriors. You're just so good at what you do! If only you would come back to the fold; embrace me! Why you could rule the world"!
Xena rolled her eyes, "Uh huh. Ares, I don't know why you even try anymore. You already know what my answer is going to be. Why make a fool of yourself"?
The Dark Lord slid a hand across Xena's thigh, smiling at the warm silky feel of her skin, "Because you're worth it Xena. And because of that, I'll ignore you're last remark".
Xena kicked Ares full in the face with her boot! "Don't get any ideas you Kur"! She wheeled Argo back toward the Quarry "I've no time for your games this night".
Ares grinned, "You don't know what you're up against Xena. Antemas knows you're coming. He'll be ready".
Xena pulled up, "He knows? How"?
Ares shrugged, "I could find out if you like".
She turned Argo again, "Don't do me any favors".
Xena rode on, descended the other side of the ridge and made for a bridge that spanned a deep gorge. Just as she reached it, the bridge disappeared! Xena cursed and pulled hard on the reigns, bringing Argo to a halt right on the very lip of the gorge.
"You're going to need help Xena" Ares said as he appeared just behind her.
Xena sighed, Ok. What have you got"?
"As soon as Antemas spots you, he'll use his powers immediately to destroy you. He won't give you time to do much of anything but die".
Xena nodded, "I know about that already. He's got this lightning or something that he uses to fry his enemies".
"Yeah. Well, what you don't know is that it's not an inherant ability. Antemas holds in his possession a little item which was created by the same Cyclops that gave Zeus his lightning bolts".
She regarded him with curiosity. This was something she could use! "Go on".
Ares grinned. He knew he had her right where he wanted her. "And this little item is what gives him all of his power. Without it, he's just another maggot with a bad haircut".
Xena rubbed her temples, "Ok. What's it gonna cost me"?
He shrugged, "What's it worth to you"?
Xena shifted uncomfortably in her saddle, "Ares, I'm not going to lead one of your armies on some defenseless village. Nothing is worth that! If that's what you're aiming toward, then I'll damn well do without"!
"Oh no Xena! Nothing so grandiose".
"Then what"? She was getting tired of Ares little game. Sometimes she wondered if he used this 'cat and mouse' thing as an excuse to talk to her.
Ares chuckled and regarded her as if he knew her thoughts. Then he turned away, "Get rid of the blonde".
He tossed a pebble into the gorge, "Yep. Send her packing. Kill her off. I don't care what you do , but get rid of her".
Xena was stunned! Why did Ares want Gabrielle out of the way? Was she that much of a threat to him? She looked around, "I don't know".
Ares turned and threw up his arms in exasperation, "Xena, I don't have all night! Theres a nice little skirmish taking place in Persia and I'm already an hour late for it".
He turned to face her, "Now Xena you know that if that little girl keeps hanging around with you, she's just going to get herself killed. Or worse yet, get you killed! You'd be doing both of you a big favor by dumping her".
Xena thought for awhile on it. Ares was starting to make sense; which usually meant that he was up to something.
"I'm waiting Xena" he said half-singing the words, "It's the only way you'll get the information".
Xena sighed, "Ok. But you have to promise that you won't harm her".
Ares smiled and spread his hands, "Oh, I won't touch a hair on her pretty little head".
Xena nodded, "Allright, spill it. What this item you are talking about"?
The god held out a hand. In his palm glowed a bright light. "Look"!
Xena watched as the light swirled and changed colors, eventually manifesting itself into an image of the warlord. "There, see what he wears"?
Xena saw an amulet hanging from Antemas' neck and nodded, "That's it"?
Ares grinned evilly, "that's it. Take that little toy away from him and he's putty in your hands".
Ares closed his hand causing the image to disappear. Nodding at the gorge, the bridge reappeared and he gave Xena a look that reminded her of a viper enticing it's prey closer. That look still gave her chills when she thought of it and she wheeled Argo and rode across the bridge. Then, turning around again, "Remember Ares, if you harm Gabrielle, there'll be hell to pay"!
Ares nodded, "Sure, I promised didn't I"?
Xena's eyes bore into him. Something wasn't right about this deal, but there was precious little she could do about it at the moment. She pointed a finger at him, then rode away.
"I won't harm your little friend", Ares chuckled to himself, "But someone else might".