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REGRETTED: PART 2 -- Cont'd

by noelle
kduncan@together.net

Xena opened her eyes. She was standing in the dark house of Hades. A chilling breeze ran through her, far surpassing the slight temperature change she had experienced earlier; this air was frigid. Faint light streamed from the windows on either side, and touched the floor gently, lighting her way to the throne where Hades sat in quiet speculation. She met his eyes. He observed her and nodded.

"Thought youíd show up," he said.

The dark circles underneath his eyes revealed his sleepless nights, and stressful days. The ordinary wrinkles of godhood were now deep lines of worry. His heavy head rested on his arm, which was supported by his throne.

"Well," Xena began, "itís not every day you see a bunch of dead people walking around perfectly normal. I could barely tell them from the people that were alive if Gabrielle hadnít recognized them."

Hades nodded.

"Well, Xena," he said, "itís not my fault. Your ex-boyfriend---Jak---killed Cerberus, and now the souls that wanted to be free are leaving." Hades sighed. "Cerberus is the only one that can guard the gates---and I donít own another three-headed dog."

"Isnít there any way to stop them?" Xena inquired.

Hades shook his head wearily.

"If I knew of one," he said, "I wouldnít be sitting here. I asked Zeus for help, but he told me to sort out my own problems."

"Typical," Xena sneered. "Iíll have to figure something out."

"I donít expect that you can round up all the dead souls, and herd them back into Hades," he said, "but if you could somehow. . .restore Cerberus, all the souls would return to Hades, and be kept there forever."

"How can I do that?" she asked.

"Ambrosia," he answered, "but you destroyed the last of it. . ."

"What about the ambrosia on Trisus Isle?" Xena asked, hopefully.

Hades thought a moment.

"Yes," he said, "itís still there, but that entire island is surrounded by huge mud bog----"

"But the ambrosiaís there?"

"Yes," he repeated, "but the chance of finding that little sliver of land with the ambrosia on it in a swamp is impossible. Itís barely an island. . .itís about as long as you are tall."

Xena surveyed the floor grimly. Hades watched large woman hopefully, but when she finally shifted her gaze back to him, there was no change in her expression. She shrugged.

"Iíll think of something," she said, "but that ambrosiaís our only shot."

Hades nodded.

"Good luck," he said. "If thereís anyone I can count on, itís you."

Xena smiled distantly. She looked up to the ceiling.

"All right, Aries," she said. "Iím ready."

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Lila smiled across the table at her sister, who was excitedly reciting a tale about the Horde. After Gabrielle finally pulled it to an end, Lila sat back in amazement. She shook her head, slowly.

"I donít know how you do the things you do," Lila said. "Itís amazing. . .and dangerous."

Her eyes fixed on her sister. Gabrielle shifted her gaze to the table. She shrugged, lightly.

"Things usually turn out okay-----with Xena around and everything," she said. "There was this one time, though, with Princess Diana-----"

"----who looked exactly like Xena, except nothing like her," Lila finished for her. "Yes. Iíve heard that one. You told me it in your letter." Her eyes searched her sister. "Why canít you ever talk about yourself? Must everything have to be with Xena?"

"Well," Gabrielle said, "I travel with Xena. Everything that happens, happens to both of us. . .except in a couple adventures that I experienced alone, but they didnít have as good endings. . .my plans kind of get screwed up a lot."

Lila smiled.

"Not like Xenaís, right?" she asked.

"Right," Gabrielle said. "Xenaís plans always seem to work." Gabrielle studied the tabletop. "Sometimes itís almost irritating. . .but I know sheís not perfect. . .and neither am I."

Lilaís hand fell on her sisterís.

"I think youíre a better person than Xena ever will be," she said defiantly.

Gabrielle shook her head.

"No," she said. "Xenaís got a dark past, but sheís over that now. Sheís done so much good and can do so much good. If you could just look passed. . ."

Lila nodded.

"Youíre probably right," she said, "but I still canít forgive her for taking you away from us."

"I would have left anyway," Gabrielle said. "It was only a matter of time. Iím not meant to live a life like this. . .I need to be out there, doing stuff."

Lila was just about to protest when both girls heard a disturbance outside. Lila looked to Gabrielle, her eyes questioning, but Gabrielle was already out the door. Lila followed her, and the two sisters looked for the source of the noise. Lila gasped as she caught sight of a huge army at the edge of town. Its ominous leader was already in Potedia, along with two armed men, delivering a swift speech to the aghast villagers. The leader was tall, and clothed in heavy armor. Gabrielle had a strong feeling she knew who he was.

". . .this village," Jak went on, "will be destroyed unless the Warrior Princess is given to me right now." His voice raised above the frantic murmur of the crowd. "Xena! If youíre out there, Iím ready for a fight! Come out wherever you are, you coward! You belong in Tartarus----killing people in their sleep! Killing my sister!"

The last word rang out clearly.

"Youíve got ten minutes, Xena! Ten minutes to show your face, or I take down this whole village, and every single one of their lives will be on your head!" he shouted.

"Wait!" Gabrielle cried out.

Lila seized her arm and jerked her back. Jak turned in their direction.

"Are you challenging me?" he asked them.

"No!" Lila cried hurriedly.

Gabrielle shook off Lilaís grip on her arm.

"No. We just want to talk," Gabrielle said, "with you, I mean."

Jak smiled, amused at the small blonde.

"Talk?"

"Yeah, like a council, sort of," Gabrielle went on, "you represent your army-----" She pointed promptly to herself. "-----and Iíll represent Potedia."

He laughed heartily. It seemed as if he were going to say no, but then he took a surprising turn.

"All right," he said, entertained. "You have ten minutes."

"Ten minutes?" Gabrielle exclaimed. "You canít hold a meeting in ten minutes! At least give us twenty." Noticing the frown on his face, she quickly changed her bid. "Fifteen! Give us fifteen!"

"My meetings only go for ten minutes," he said, "and those ten minutes are just ticking away."

Gabrielle nodded swiftly. She headed quickly in Jakís direction, but Lila caught her arm again. She turned Gabrielle so she could face her.

"Please donít go," she begged.

"Iíve got to," Gabrielle said. "Unless you have a death wish. . .or a better plan."

"We can run from here," Lila said, "we have ten minutes-----"

"Heís not going to let us leave," Gabrielle said.

She became suddenly more aware of the small amount of time they had, and shoved Lilaís hand from her arm.

"Just let me do this," she said, and bolted for Jak.

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"Howíd it go?" Aries asked once Xena reappeared beside him.

His concern amused her.

"It went all right," she said.

She wasted no time, but swung onto Argo. Aries seemed a little offended by her terse answer, and lack of interest for conversation. He stepped up beside the horse.

"You know," he said, "I just did you a favor."

"Yeah," Xena said. "Thanks for reminding me."

Aries glared at her.

"I helped you out," he said. "The least you can do is show me some respect. Iíve got information. . .if you care."

Xena lowered herself off of the horse and faced him. She folded her arms across her chest, and waited expectantly for him to begin speaking.

"Iíve been asking around," Aries said. "I figured the gods would know something about this, and I was close." He focused his intense gaze on her. "The Furies, Xena. They know something I donít. I spoke with them---"

"Seems like youíre trying to make excuses," Xena interrupted him. "The Furies have nothing to do with this."

"Xena," Aries said sternly, "listen to me---"

"I think Iíve listened to you enough," she said. She turned abruptly, grasping the saddle and hoisting herself onto Argo. Aries watched her angrily.

"Iím trying to help you out!" he said. "Why wonít you just believe me?"

She said nothing, but shook the reins lightly. Argo started with a trot down the path.

"Thatís not all!" he yelled behind her. "Your friend in the village----sheís in trouble-----"

The horse stopped.

"Gabrielle?" Xena asked.

Aries smiled as he gained her full attention.

"Yes, that irritating blonde you travel with," he said. "Her village is about to be destroyed by Jakís entire army. Heís planning on killing everyone."

"Everyone?" Xena echoed hollowly.

"Yep," Aries said, "including little Gabrielle." His amusement prompted her deep dislike for him to rise in her gut. "Guess you better hurry, huh?"

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"Now," Gabrielle said, leaning over the table, and looking across at her opponent, "what do you say you wait----just a day or two to attack the village, so Potedia can build up its defenses and----"

"Even if I waited," Jak said, "my army would still squash this puny village."

Gabrielle waited for a comeback, but none came to her lips.

"Still," Gabrielle said, "it would be more fair----and much more challenging for your well-equipped army to battle."

He smiled a little. She felt enlightened by his amusement, and began embellishing on her original idea.

"Wouldnít it be more fun to have a challenge?" Gabrielle asked, "Look at us----" She spread her arms wide, taking in the whole village. "Weíre nothing now, just a bunch of poor farmers." Her arms returned the tabletop. She leaned forward. "Is that what you want to be known for? Jak the Farmer-Destroyer? Wouldnít it be so much better being known as Jak the Defeater of Mighty Potedia!"

A tense, silent moment settled in while Jak studied the young blonde in suspicion. She averted her eyes, nervous with the pressure. They met those of Xenaís, and surprise and relief alleviated her stress.

"Xena!" she exclaimed.

Xena smiled warmly.

"Xena," Jakís voice echoed coldly.

Xenaís smile faded as she turned to Jak.

"Jak----"

"Donít start with me," he warned. "Iíve got an army here just itching to attack."

He observed her, his eyes passing over her copper armor and leather skirts.

"Youíre looking well," he said. "I would be too, if I werenít supposed to be dead."

She stiffened, but said nothing in return. She forced her eyes to remain steadily to his. He smiled.

"Hard, isnít it? Looking someone in the face knowing you killed him and his sister?" he said amusedly. His amusement faded, and his eyes grew distant. His next few words were bitter, and resentful, lacking any allusion to amusement. "Couldnít stop with me, could you? You had to bring my sister into this---"

"Jak," she said, intending her voice to be immobile, but it faltered weakly, betraying her fear.

She took a deep breath, and started again.

"I donít want to fight you," she said, "I know what I did---it was terrible. I was a terrible person back then, and I probably never will make up for it----"

"No," Jak said defiantly, "you wonít."

Her attempt at an apology died at his words. Her eyes fell under his haunting gaze, and remained on the tabletop.

"You think you can hide it, donít you?" Jak asked. "Hide it like it was a bad dream or something with your heroic tales of good. . .You canít hide the past, Xena. You will never outlive it. . .Youíll take your nightmares to your grave." His eyes lifted, and fixed on her. "And that, may be soon." He stood and spread his arms wide. "My army, Xena, is huge. Thousands of the best soldiers---all dead, of course." He smiled. "You know about Cerberusí little accident, donít you? Well, he just happened to fall upon my sword. Itís a shame, really. But now, look at me. My army may be entirely made of the dead, but Iíve never been so powerful." He focused his eyes on her. "Youíve got one more day to live, Xena. Then my army is going to tear this village apart. Think of this extra day as a gift. Enjoy it because tomorrow morning youíre as good as dead."

Xena nodded weakly. Jak glared at her, then turned abruptly, and called for a retreat. He took one last look at her, and walked rigidly in the other direction.

Gabrielleís hand fell on Xenaís shoulder. Xena shook it off.

"Weíve got work to do," she said.

"Xena, I think itíd be best if you rested," Gabrielle told her. "I can evacuate the village----"

"No," Xena said sternly. "You move anyone from this village, and Jak will attack. Iíll handle the village when it comes time, but until then," she turned from Gabrielle, and tended to her horse, who was standing behind her, "Iíve got work to do."

"What are you going to do?" Gabrielle asked, concerned.

"Itís a long story---"

"Summarize it," Gabrielle instructed firmly.

Xena sighed.

"Hereís the thing---Cerberus is dead," Xena said. "Jak killed him, and now souls are running loose all over the known world. If I can somehow restore Cerberus before tomorrow, all the souls will return to the underworld----including Jak."

Gabrielle crept up beside Xena.

"How are you going to restore Cerberus?" she asked curiously.

"By getting ambrosia," Xena answered swiftly. She caught Gabrielleís perplexed expression and nodded. "I know, I know----we thought we destroyed the last of it, but supposedly thereís still some left on Trisus Isle."

"The small island in the middle of all those mud bogs? Xena, itís impossible to find----youíll never get back in time. The village will be destroyed," Gabrielle reasoned.

Xena met Gabrielleís eyes. Gabrielle, wild-eyed and lost, looked for some comfort in Xenaís eyes, but found only a painful desperation.

"I know itís a long shot," Xena said, "but itís all weíve got." She looked around at the fearful villagers, crowded into one section of the town, watching the large army retreat warily. "Do you honestly think I could make soldiers out of them? And where else could I get an army in one day? Chances are, even if I did get a hold of one, we wouldnít be able to hold off Jak. His army is of over a thousand people. I donít care if they are all dead. Look out there----we can never beat them by force."

Gabrielle shook her head, grimly surveying the distant and massive army. Reluctantly, she nodded.

"All right," she said. Her eyes turned, warningly to Xena. "But itís dangerous, you know. Maybe IĎd better go with you."

"No," Xena said, sternly. "You need to stay here----with the villagers. They need you."

"Xena, I donít know how to wage war," Gabrielle objected.

"I know," Xena said, "but you might be able to calm the villagers down."

Gabrielle began to protest, but Lila cut in.

"What about Tyreus?" she asked boldly, "He used to be a man of war---he could handle an army." She said the words with growing confidence. "----and he lives right here in town. I could go get him, then Gabrielle could go with you."

Gabrielle looked at her, surprised. Lila caught her expression, and smiled tacitly.

"I guess Iím finally starting to accept you," Lila said. "I mean, what you do."

Gabrielle nodded.

"Thanks, Lila," she said softly, "but is this Tyreus guy really going to cut it?"

"Yeah. Sure," Lila said. "Anyway, you guys will be back by tomorrow, right?"

"Not if we donít get going soon," Xena said, looking grimly out at the waning sun.

Gabrielle patted Lila on the shoulder.

"All right, then," Gabrielle said. "Itís settled. Iíll go with Xena, and you get this Tyreus guy or whatever, to keep on the watch, right?"

Lila nodded.

"Good luck," she added meaningfully, before she hurried off in the other direction.

Xena shook her head sullenly, the unrelenting feeling of hopelessness stealing over her. She buried the feeling, quickly returning to her usual dour manner, composing herself for Gabrielleís sake.

"Wanna go?" Xena asked.

Gabrielle nodded quickly, grabbing her staff. Xena mounted Argo, and waited while Gabrielle hopped on. She held the horse steady a moment while Gabrielle balanced herself, and settled beside her.

"Yah!" Xena cried, and gave the horse a sharp kick in the ribs.

Argo lurched forward, a trail of dust floating softly behind his light feet; a faint reminder that the warrior princess and her sidekick had indeed been there.

They reached the main road, and Gabrielle turned to look longingly one last time towards her hometown village, fully realizing that by tomorrow, Potedia could be destroyed.

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They rode into the sun for many hours, putting Potedia miles behind them, stopping only occasionally to rest by the side of the road. These rare breaks were short, but long enough for Gabrielle to relieve herself in the bushes, and have a small snack and some water. Xena, being an indefatigable traveler, had an advantage over Gabrielle. Gabrielle tried her best not to complain about the nonstop traveling, but by the end of their journey, she was feeling weary and tired, and occasionally a resentful comment would slip out. Other than that, conversation was sparse. Gabrielle knew better than to disturb Xena when she was focused; an admirable quality that Gabrielle found fascinating. Xenaís focus was narrow, forbidding distractions from every angle, and completely exerted on the object of her focus. She rarely ever lost her concentration, at least not until her objective was complete.

"Xena?" Gabrielle asked quietly.

The words seemed incredibly loud to Xenaís ears after they had adjusted so nicely to the silence. She turned, and glanced back at her companion quickly.

"Yeah?" she asked.

"How much longer? I mean, until we get to the bogs."

"Not much longer," Xena said. "Weíre almost there."

Xena felt her relief. Gabrielle suddenly became animate realizing the trip was almost over. She looked excitedly ahead, peering through the darkness.

"Where is it? I donít see it----"

Suddenly Argo jarred. He neighed, and tried desperately to free his legs from the thick mud. They were slowly sinking further into the depths of the dark mud bog. Argo bucked, nearly knocking Gabrielle off the horse, but she gripped Xenaís shoulders tightly, and refused to let go. Xena steered the horse towards the path, urging it onto dry land. Argo managed to pull himself back onto the path, and out of the mud. She gave Argo a moment to recover, then shook the reins. Argo simply whinnied, and refused to budge.

"Fine," Xena said, dismounting the disgruntled horse.

Gabrielle followed her example, and quickly took her place beside Xena. She eyed the vast swamp ahead of them worriedly.

"Guess weíre there, huh?" she said.

"Yes. Weíre there," Xena said grimly.

They looked out at the swamp. A faint mist had settled over the swamp, discouraging vision ahead any further than ten feet. The swamp itself was disgusting; stagnant mud settled around twisted, black trees and dark ferns. Gabrielleís stomach turned at the thought of entering them, but reminded herself the fate that weighed upon her; if they didnít get this ambrosia, and restore Cerberus, Potedia would be destroyed. Xena turned from the swamp, and rummaged through a sack on Argoís back. She returned to Gabrielleís side with a coil of rope, which she promptly took one end of, and handed the other to Gabrielle.

"Tie that around your waist," she instructed softly.

Xena tied her own end firmly around her waist. She watched Gabrielle do the same carefully. She hesitated for a moment, but then tested Gabrielleís knot with her own hands, tugging from either end. Gabrielle rolled her eyes.

"I think I can tie a knot by myself, Xena," she sighed.

Xena said nothing. Judging Gabrielleís knot secure enough, she gestured towards the swamp.

"Weíd better get started," Xena said.

She moved towards the swamp, and Gabrielle followed her closely. The rope dangled between them loosely. Xena grabbed it, and held it firmly in her fist.

"No matter what," Xena said, "always keep moving in the same direction." Her eyes fixed on Gabrielle, and demanded attention. "If we lose our bearing, weíll never get the ambrosia, and weíll never get out of here."

Gabrielle nodded. Xena studied the first bog, and managed to find a strip of dry land extending over it. She led Gabrielle over the band, turning once to make sure the girl was still behind her.

"Thereís some dry land around here," she said, testing the soil with her boot. It sank a little, but stopped when it hit sturdy land. Her boot returned covered with wet, black mud all around the outside. Xena cringed. "Well, sort of dry."

They moved forward warily. Gabrielle watched Xenaís feet carefully, and placed her own in the large footprints. The mud was getting slicker, now; jet black and oily with the moonís faint light. Gabrielle imagined that Argo was probably getting pretty anxious onshore. She smiled lightly with the thought of a horse waiting up for them. She miscalculated her next step, and lost her footing, plunging deep into a mud bog.

"Xena!" Gabrielle exclaimed.

The rope jerked with Gabrielleís sudden movement, whipping Xena back. Xena fell hard against the wet swamp floor, narrowly missing the bog. She quickly regained her balance, mud slicking off her backside, and pulled on the rope. Gabrielleís head was still above the bogís surface, and crying loudly for help. Gabrielle clawed frantically at the rope, attempting to get a good grip, but the slippery mud provided for an impossible hold on the rope.

"Hold on, Gabrielle!"

Xena tugged harder on her end of the rope. Gabrielleís upper body erupted from the bog, entirely covered in mud. Gabrielle grasped the rope, and tried to pull the rest of her body out. Xena pulled even harder, using her weight as an aid. Gabrielle wriggled her legs free from the bog, and scrambled quickly beside Xena. Panting, she fell against Xena. Xena felt the cold, slimy mud against her bare skin, but still she hugged the girl tightly to her. After a moment, she pushed the girl lightly from her, and looked into her eyes.

"You be more careful, okay?" she asked softly.

Gabrielle nodded.

They pressed onward. This time, Xena took more frequent glances back, assuring herself that Gabrielle was right behind her. Gabrielle concentrated on each footstep, imitating Xena exactly.

It was not long before they found themselves trudging through knee-deep mud. Still, any alternative to the bogs was desirable, even if the stale mud clinging to their legs was extremely unpleasant.

The fog was getting thicker, and Xena found it growing increasingly harder to make out a clear path ahead. Several times a tree branch snagged her armor or scratched at her legs, and often she found herself nearly in a bog. Still, Xena insisted upon going first, not wanting to take the chance with Gabrielle.

Suddenly, Xena felt her legs go out from under her, and she slid down a bank, and into a deep pile of mud. The rope straightened, and moments later, Gabrielle came falling behind her, tumbling head first into the mud pile. Luckily, it wasnít a bog, and Xena easily freed herself from the mud. She smothered a laugh as Gabrielle pulled head out of the pile, drenched in mud. Xena offered her a hand, and pulled her from the pile.

"I hate this," Gabrielle said, between clenched teeth. "I really do."

Xena chuckled. She moved to the other side of the depression, and attempted to climb the other bank. The mud was incredibly slippery, and she found it hard to get enough of a grip to pull herself up. Finally, she managed to swing her legs over the top of the bank, and stop herself from sliding back down. Gabrielle waited, expectantly at the bottom of the pile. Xena helped the young girl up, stopping her falls several times. Eventually, they both sat panting on top of the bank, looking down at the mud pile below. Gabrielle turned to look ahead. She gasped.

"Xena! There it is!" she shouted, pointing excitedly.

Xena turned, and immediately noticed the jelly-like ambrosia sitting modestly on a small island ahead of them. Her blue eyes flashed through the dark mud around her face. Xena got to her feet, Gabrielle standing up beside her. She moved swiftly forward, with the young girl at her heels. She reached the ambrosia, and wasted no time. She picked it up, and placed it in a sack at her hips. Patting the sack, she turned to Gabrielle who waited behind her.

"Got it," she told her.

"Great," Gabrielle said, "now letís go."

Xena nodded, heading back in the direction of the shore.

The mud had settled all over her, fitting tightly like skin against her own. It clung to her armor, hiding the metallic luster of the copper. Her chakrum was coated with the mud, and she thought grimly about the chore of washing it later on, and more importantly, the tarnishes it would leave.

They progressed further through the swamps, confidence growing with each step. Gabrielle still regarded each footstep warily, and followed Xenaís every move; the weight distribution as she shifted from side to side, exactly where she chose to place her foot, and the way she used her arms to balance herself. She kept closely behind the warrior, and held a steady grip on the rope, not wanting to repeat past mistakes.

Finally, Xenaís foot touched solid ground, and she turned back to smile at Gabrielle. Gabrielle saw her expression, and climbed up beside her. Relief closed all around her as she met hard ground. Her foot did not sink, nor did the ground shift one bit as she put her full weight down. Argo was there waiting for them, neighing at the sight of his master.

Gabrielle sighed happily.

"We did it," she said. "We really did it."

"Yeah," Xena said, but little satisfaction was in her voice. "We did this much of it. Weíve still got to get this to Cerberus in time----assuming it even works."

Gabrielle frowned.

"Xena, you had to ruin the moment, didnít you?" she asked resentfully.

Xena laughed a little, but her laugh was short and clipped. She turned to Argo who was standing beside her. She climbed on top of the horse, and beckoned Gabrielle to do the same. The horse snorted at the feel of the gross mud against his flank. Xena urged the horse forward as she felt Gabrielle settle in behind her, and the horse started away from the swamp.

She stopped the horse abruptly as a man stepped out in front of them.

"Xena," Hades addressed her. "Did you get the ambrosia?"

Xena nodded.

"Yes, I did," she said.

"And it wasnít easy either," Gabrielle added.

"I knew I could count on you. Where is it?" Hades asked eagerly.

Xena touched the bag on her hip softly.

"Here," she said.

She removed the bag from her belt, and tossed it to Hades, who snatched it in his fist. He observed the sack, and nodded.

"Then letís get down to the Underworld and see if it works," he said. His eyes were hopeful. "It had better, because if it doesnít---well, I donít know what weíll do."

"Me neither," Xena said.

She turned quickly to Gabrielle.

"You go with Hades to the Underworld, all right?" Xena asked. "Heís going to need help restoring Cerberus, and if this doesnít work, Iíll need someone to report back to me, so I can think up something else. I should head back to the village, just in case this really doesnít work. Someone will have to be there to protect the village. Otherwise it doesnít stand a chance." She studied Gabrielleís fearful expression. "Youíll be all right, wonít you?"

"Going down to the Underworld you mean?" Gabrielle asked weakly.

"Yeah," Xena said.

Gabrielle hesitated.

"Why couldnít I go back to the village?" she asked worriedly.

"You said it yourself, you donít know how to wage war," Xena said. "Besides, Iím what he wants. If Iím not there, heíll wreck the whole village searching for me." She ruffled Gabrielleís hair. "Do this for me, okay? I know you can do it."

Slowly, Gabrielle nodded. With growing confidence, she turned to Hades.

"All right," she said, "letís go."

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Xena walked through the temple, observing the tables full of offerings and tawdry jewelry used as bribes to the gods. She ran her fingers over the tabletops as she advanced further into the temple. She took in her surroundings, the high ceiling, and elaborately painted walls. She saw no sign of an immortal.

"All right," she said. "I need to speak with you. Come out."

"What for?"

Xena turned, startled by the voice, and immediately noticed the three women standing behind her. She felt a little relief at finding them. The chances of getting a hold of the Furies were usually impossible. She regarded the three scantly clad women with a critical eye.

"I need to know something," Xena began.

"I suppose we could help you," Alecto, the Unceasing said. "That was quite a little show you put on with Aries."

"Very nice work," Megaera, the Grudging chimed in. "Especially for a crazy person."

Xena smiled a little at the comment. That had been quite an adventure.

"I came for---"

"Answers," Tisiphone, the Avenging finished for her.

Xena nodded.

"Yes, in a sense."

"Donít be surprised, Xena," Tisiphone said. "The Furies watch over certain mortals more carefully than others. I knew Jak was an old. . .acquaintance of yours, and I expected this to happen. Iíve been watching you, Xena. I know how this affects you."

"Then tell me," Xena began, "why exactly did you do this?"

"Do what, Xena?" Tisiphone asked. "I merely fulfilled my duties. . .avenging the deaths of loved ones."

"What are you talking about?" Xena asked. "Jakís dead, his sister is dead, also. Avenging deals only with the living."

"Who said I was dealing with the dead, Xena?" Tisiphone asked. "As far as I knew, I was dealing completely with the living."

"Well, I wish someone would fill me in," Xena growled. She looked to the other Furies. "Alecto, what is she talking about?"

"Iím sorry, Xena," Alecto said. "We are bound to silence." She smiled vaguely. "Youíre smart---youíll figure it out."

The Furies disappeared, leaving Xena to sort out the conversation. She cursed angrily, pounding her fist down on the tabletop, and causing all of the ornate offerings to the Furies to tremble with the impact. She pushed the table back in frustration, and a large vase came crashing to the ground. It shattered as hit the ground, shards of porcelain scattering across stone floor. Xena headed out of the temple, slamming the heavy doors behind her.


Continued