Convert This Page to Pilot DOC FormatConvert this page to Pilot DOC Format

Treasure Seeker
By
Kenneth W. Hannen
Ken.Hannen@Virgin.Net

 

Copyright Statement

"Treasure Seeker" (31st August 1997) {Amended 11th April 1998}

© Copyright 1997 by Kenneth W. Hannen, Clydebank, Scotland.

Xena: Warrior Princess and the names, titles, and back story used in "Treasure Seeker" are the sole property of Universal.

The author intends no copyright infringement through the writing of this fan fiction.

This story may not be sold and may be archived only with direct permission from the author. Any archive must carry this entire copyright statement.

DISCLAIMER:
THIS WORK FEATURES LANGUAGE AND VIOLENCE NOT SUITABLE FOR A YOUNGER AUDIENCE.  TO BORROW SOMETHING FROM THE VIDEO INDUSTRY: PG13?

 

CHAPTER 1

A full moon shone down through the forest canopy of leaves on a thief's sheltered campsite. The rogue's comrade tossed fitfully in her sleep. Concerned, he leaned closer to her. She sighed and her breathing grew steadier. "That's the first time I've had that effect on women." He lightheartedly grumbled.

His name was Autolycus, the self proclaimed King of Thieves. He was tall and strong, but he didn't carry the muscle of a fighter. No, he was as lithe as an acrobat. Dressed all in green and black to camouflage him in his forest domain, he was a natural woodsman.

With a quick scathing wit and the reflexes of a cat he had built quite a reputation for himself back in his native woods. Here, far from home, on an island which as far as his map was concerned, didn't exist. He felt a pang of homesickness.

He had done more than his fair share of traveling in his life but he still felt these momentary desires for the familiar. Autolycus lifted a small leather pouch, took out his tools and began to work. This always distracted him from his depression.

Even by the dim glow of the guttering flames his hands moved quickly and surely as he fashioned a new attachment for his lock pick. A tiny reflective mirror which allowed him to see into the tightest of nooks and crannies.

Half an hour later he took a break from filing the iron shaft of the mirror to throw some more wood on his campfire. The ruddy glow of the flames picked out all the details of his rugged, weather beaten face. Wearily he picked the file back up and with a sigh and a rueful glance at his companion. The young woman, dressed all in white, moaned again, shivering in the night air. He quietly leaned forward and tenderly covered her with his cloak. His black moustache twitched as he smirked and cast an accusing look to the heavens before sitting back to continue his work.

Earlier that day Autolycus had been trying to get into a local monster's treasure hold, the beast was off somewhere near a ruined city. Far enough away for the King of Thieves to make his move. As he was feverishly working on the lock, which happened to be in the worst condition he had ever seen, a twenty-foot tall scorpion had scuttled up the valley. Directly towards the massive bronze doors Autolycus stood beside.

He was about to leave, at great pace, when a distinctly human scream had come from the beast. The thief paused; kneeling in shadow, he scanned the creature. In one of its massive pincers a young woman struggled, beating ineffectually at its chitinous hide.

Autolycus frowned, the hero thing wasn't really his style. The girl screamed again, obviously in pain. That got him moving. Before he knew what was happening he was out of the shadows and running to intercept the insect. He uncoiled a length of rope from his belt and tore off his cloak to give himself more room to manoeuvre. Already a noose was tied at one end of the rope and he twirled it through the air as he ran. In one fluid movement he threw the noose at one of the long spines that covered the insects armour, he missed but caught a long, beam-like structure on its shoulder.

"Ha! Ha!" He cried, throwing back his head to laugh roguishly before yelping as he was yanked up into the air by the now taught rope. Grunting and panting he pulled himself up the rope. Autolycus cursed as he bounced off the monsters legs for the third time in his ascent. He braced himself for the next impact. With both feet together he sprang off of the leg, using the momentum to carry him up onto the back of the insect.

He winced as he realised just how close a spike had come to skewering him. Trying to stand, as the Scorpion's back rose and fell, he stumbled and was thrown to his knees when the creature stopped in its forward track.

Autolycus picked himself back up and dusted his clothes off, glaring at the monster and muttering curses under his breath. The girl was looking at him with a puzzled frown and a question on her lips.

"At your service m' lady!" He proclaimed, giving a wide florid bow. Again he was thrown to his knees as the Scorpion pushed the bronze doors open, revealing golden hillocks of coins and jewels. Temporarily blinded by avarice Autolycus grinned and walked along the scorpions back, entranced by the shiny treasures. He stopped a few feet from the head of the creature. He jubilantly bounced up and down, rubbing his hands together with glee.

The girl squeaked in pain, biting her lip and blinking to keep the tears out of her eyes. Autolycus sighed and drew a long dagger from a concealed sheath in his leg. He gave one last, forlorn, look at the wealth of a thousand kings carelessly scattered around the vaulted chamber. The dark, musty interior of the vault smelt of death to Autolycus. The bones of past meals, scattered among the gold, looked all too human for his liking. Very appropriate, he thought. As he resolutely flipped the knife up into the air, caught it by the hilt and stabbed down using all his body weight.

The Scorpion screamed as he plunged the dagger into one of the unprotected joints in its exoskeleton. It dropped the girl and groped behind its head, trying to catch Autolycus.

"Run!" Autolycus grunted, dodging a claw more by luck than skill. The girl stood dumfounded on the hall floor.

"But the Gods, they will be angry!" She stammered in an indignant voice.

"Would you rather die?!" He demanded, painfully aware that his knife was no threat to the giant Scorpion.

The lady looked a little less indignant and a lot less sure of herself, she edged closer to the door.

The Scorpion bucked suddenly, hurling Autolycus to the ground. Stunned and battered he lay staring at the Scorpion as it advanced, yet unable to comprehend what he saw.

Screaming with rage the Scorpion raised its cruelly pointed tail, a green, hissing liquid beading at the point.

"Hey! Hey, you!" Someone called, a lilting, female voice.

"Mother?" Autolycus groaned. He shook his head trying to clear his vision. Clarity returned to him in time for him to see the girl waving her arms and backing off towards the entrance.

The Scorpion was following her with grim determination.

Reality snapped back into place for the thief. He growled deep in his throat, drawing another knife from a sheath in the folds of his clothes.

As he chased after the Scorpion he stubbed his toe on something large and heavy, he looked down at the object. It was a large, ornate golden shield, the kind that hung on in the halls of Kings. His eyes bulged at the treasure lying at his feet. The girl screamed as she slipped and fell over a pile of treasure, leaving her helpless before the insect.

Autolycus grabbed up the shield and grunted as he hefted its massive weight onto his left arm. A blinding flash of light and a low rumbling throb, like the roar of distant thunder, reverberated through the mountain hall. When the light dissipated all signs of his humanity were gone.

A warrior stood in his place. He stood with an air of calm indifference as he now carried the weight of the shield, with no effort.

Cold and calculating the warrior within Autolycus judged angles and distances to both target and prize with incredible precision. The shield silently pulsed with a pale, inner, light.

Devoid of emotion he assessed the possibilities of victory. Victory - All important victory. The two columns supporting the ceiling of the hall stood to the left and right of the Scorpion. If he could bring them down the insect would be trapped. He looked at the small throwing knife in his right hand and a briefly cocked eyebrow was his only sign of displeasure at the tiny weapon.

The Scorpion was almost upon its victim. Looking briefly to both columns, what had once been Autolycus threw his knife with supreme confidence.

The tail of the beast exploded as the knife impacted exactly in its centre. Green, acidic poison splattered every where, burning what it touched, stone and gold alike. Holding the shield high Autolycus dodged between the dancing legs of the insect.

The Scorpion whirled, screeching in pain as it turned. Its ruined tail slammed into the left support pillar sending down a shower of dust and debris onto its armoured back.

With sure-footed precision Autolycus ran between the falling rubble. At a dead run he caught up the girl and propelled them both outside into the late afternoon sunlight. They hit the ground just as the hall doors slammed shut under the weight of the masonry still crashing behind them. Dust clouds billowed and swirled around them.

Deafened and dazed the two humans sat in the middle of the road staring apprehensively at the still shaking building.

During his headlong flight Autolycus had torn the straps that held the shield to his arm, with a clang it fell to the ground. He shuddered and backed away from the shield. Surprise and fear in his eyes.

Autolycus span around as if seeing his surroundings for the first time. Confused he fell, panting, to a crouch beside the girl. He gave the shield a suspicious look. Tugging thoughtfully at the end of his moustache as he tried to piece together what had just happened.

The girl shivered uncontrollably and began to rock herself backwards and forwards, hugging her knees tightly. Autolycus didn't like the colour she was turning, she was far to pale and her breathing was too rapid.

He put his palm to her forehead; she was deathly cold. He grimaced and cast about him looking for his cloak. He found it a short distance from the path and returned with it to the girls side. He gently wrapped her in the thick material and picked her up.

He looked down at the jewel-encrusted shield, kicked some dirt over it and then strode off down the valley.

A thought struck him as he tottered down a steep incline, the Scorpion hadn't unlocked the doors. It had just pushed them open. Which meant he had wasted his time on that rusted lock. The irony of the situation didn't strike him as amusing.

 

CHAPTER 2
 
 

"Oooh, make it stop!" Gabrielle groaned in a small voice.

"I told you not to eat all those berries." Xena chided.

"I think I'm going to--" Her voice trailed off as she staggered to the ships port railing. Xena shook her head and walked over to her side. The ships gentle rolling wasn't affecting her at all.

"Gabrielle, you'll be okay." Xena put her arm around her friend and stroked her hair. Gabrielle lifted her head and gave a weak smile. They both looked out to the rapidly disappearing shoreline of the beach they had left earlier that morning. Gabrielle's breathing grew steadier and she stopped gripping the ships railing in white knuckled apprehension.

"Do you feel a little better now?"

"Yeah, a little. Tell me again what we're doing on this wreak of a boat?" Gabrielle leaned her head on Xena's shoulder and held on tightly to her waist as the warrior tried to walk away. She took another few steps before realising Gabrielle's feet weren't touching the ground.

"Nice try Gabrielle, but I am not carrying you back to your bunk."

"Oh come on! We are nearly there!" Gabrielle wheedled, giving Xena her best lost-puppy look.

"Do you want me to do a somersault with you as a passenger?" Gabrielle turned a little green again and sighed theatrically as she let go of Xena. She laughed and brushed Gabrielle's fringe out of her eyes.

"We are on this boat because I have something to fix on that island up ahead." Her voice had become all grim and business like as she looked out to sea.

"What island?" The young bard asked, peering over the prow into the morning mist. She couldn't see a thing.

"Land-Ho!" A voice called from the upper rigging.

"Oh. Right, that island. Well of course I knew it was there all along." She cast a sidelong glance at Xena. Her friendsí eyes were as cold as ice as she watched the island grow larger. Silently Gabrielle went below to get her staff.

Whatever got Xena that worried had to be plenty nasty.


Argo whinnied a greeting to Xena and Gabrielle as she trotted out of the cargo hold of the ship and down the gangplank to Xena. Xena whinnied back. The sound was so lifelike several sailors nearly fell off the ship in astonishment.

The trio made their way along a disused path from where the ship had beached in a small sandy cove. Gabrielle was growing more curious and more scared by the minute. Xena's face was a torrent of emotion one second then as stiff as stone the next. Gabrielle could see she knew her way around the island so she must have been here before.

The enigma was eating at her, eventually she couldn't contain her questions any longer. "So, what exactly have we come to fix?" She asked, struggling to keep her voice level. Xena kept walking, staring out into the countryside. Lost in thought. Gabrielle walked in silence trying to think of something else to say.

They topped a rise and suddenly they could see what had once been a beautiful city atop a forest-covered mountain. Ruined now, it looked as if an earthquake had struck.

"Wow," Gabrielle said in awe. "What could do that much damage?"

"I did." Xena said quietly before continuing down the road, leaving Gabrielle to stand shocked on the hill. She stared in disbelief at the devastation before her. An entire city had been raised to the ground.

"Hey," she called. "Wait for me!" She ran to catch up with Xena and Argo. Out of breath she fell into step beside them, looking at Xena.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Gabrielle asked gently. Xena was ready to refuse but knew Gabrielle would be hurt by it.

"It was early in my career as a warmonger, this island was part of the mainland back then." Gabrielle balked a little at that but tried not to show it. Xena continued: "You probably noticed the path we are on leads directly into the sea. It didn't always." Xena paused and shook her head. "There were rumours of a fantastic treasure in this city, guarded by a powerful sorcerer. That treasure would have equipped an army for almost a year. I came here to take that treasure."

She kept her gaze on the horizon as they walked. "For over three months my army had been moving south into the territory of a warlord by the name of Genari. Genari had lost every skirmish we had fought, loosing some of his best scouts in the process. In desperation he turned to the wizard who ruled this land for help." Gabrielle was so caught up in Xenaís words she stumbled over a rock in the road. Xena quickly caught her and absent mindedley pulled Gabrielle back to her feet.

Xena smiled to herself slightly before continuing. "A young warrior had joined my army the previous spring. He said his name was Xian but he didnít look like he was serious about it. He didnít look as if he took anything seriously. I liked that. He had risen quickly through the ranks and had come to my attention when he almost single handedly faced down a squad of my men intent on torching a village under my protection. I was impressed but suspicious."

"How so?" Gabrielle queried.

"That boy was fiercely loyal to me. I couldnít have seen him more than twice since he had joined us. That kind of fanaticism always worries me. Besides Aries had his hooks well into my soul then and I suspected Xian was after promotion, wealth or both. He had taken quite a beating keeping my soldiers back from the villagers, gave as good as he got though..." Xena broke off smiling fondly. "Anyway he lived through the attack and I found myself spending more and more time with him. He was an incredible person, Gabrielle! Intelligent, giving and with an inner strength Iíve only seen in a few other people. He was a lot like you..." She trailed off then quickly continued. "He had the heart of a poet. For the first time in a long, long, while I began to feel again. As a real person, as someone who didnít fear things like love and caring. I cared a great deal for Xian. I had drowned under the pressure of leadership, pushing all the good emotions deep down inside for fear of the challenges to my authority such weakness would inspire."

"Xena..." Gabrielle said. Quietly she took her friends hand and squeezed it.

"Itís alright, it just hurts to remember sometimes. Like I said I had followed Genari south to this land. When I got here he already had his troops encamped in the sorcererís city. Or so I thought." Gabrielle cocked her head to one side in an unspoken question.

"Genariís army had all but deserted him. I had chased a rumour to this city and now Genari was all that was left." Xena said by way of an explanation. "My scouts had observed almost half a normal guard on the walls of the city. I thought Genari was gathering the rest of his army for an attack. Which was strange because he was safe within the city, he had always preferred strong defence and a swift counter attack to a frontal assault. So I figured the sorcerer had something to do with this change of character." She sighed. "I was right."

"What did you do?" Gabrielle asked.

"I split my force in two and arranged an attack on two places at once. The East and West gates. I gave my commanders instructions to flee to the south and regroup at the first sign of trouble. The forest down there was perfect for an ambush or retreat depending on how it went at the city. I was sure the plan would work." Xena shook her head sadly. "So sure that I added a little enticement to get Genari to follow my Ďfleeingí troops. I stood in plain sight of his archers and pretended to command the army from that position." Gabrielle felt Xenaís hand grow tense and stiff in hers. Worried she walked beside her partner in silence. Xena was staring fixedly at the path, shut off from the world again.

Suddenly she glanced up at Gabrielle and continued her story. "I knew I could dodge the arrows from that distance. I hadnít reckoned on the sorcerer joining in too, however. He fired some kind of green fire at me, I was surprised but I dodged it easily. The fire shot behind me and into the ground. I thought it was safe so I concentrated on dodging the arrows that were now raining down around me. In the middle of a heavy volley I heard feet running behind me, I risked a backward glance and saw Xian bolting towards me. I tried to shout at him, tell him to stay back but before I could open my mouth the green fire erupted from the ground behind me and again shot towards me. I jumped back more by reflex than anything else, I was also trying to avoid the still falling arrows and I could see that the angle of my jump was too shallow. I had no time to move. I thought I was going to die. Before I hit the ground Xian threw himself into the path of the fire and there was an intense flash of bright green light as the two collided."

Gabrielle gasped.

"I was blinded for a second but when I could see again, Xian was gone. And for the longest time part of me was gone too. I remember kneeling in the grass, arrows missing me by inches as I stared at the spot he had disappeared. >From behind be that bastard of a sorcerer was laughing. I could hear him all the way out of the city. I stood up and walked alone into that city. My heart dead again." Xena shook a little even in the bright, warm, sunshine she shivered.

"I donít remember much after that. The next thing I knew I was standing over the body of a dead sorcerer and Genari was no where to be seen. The army from inside the walls were all fleeing in terror from their city. My army was busily rounding up the stragglers. From the bodies that lay strewn around the courtyard you would have thought a monster had carved its way through those men. Part of me was glad that I couldnít remember much. I was still a little numb from losing Xian so I didnít really notice the low rumbling noise coming from all around until it was too loud to ignore. The city began to shake; buildings started to come apart. I got out of there as fast as I could. We ran north, Genariís men, the city people and my army all mixed together."

"What was to the north?" Gabrielle inquired.

"This was a peninsula. Sea to the east and west, this land in the south and the rest of Greece to the north. We were heading home. The earthquake was tearing the ground behind us apart, shattering the city and leaving it looking like that." Xena pointed to the ruins. "To the east a great crack appeared in the earth letting the sea further into the land. In the west a similar crack was forming and the sea was boiling and churning as the ground sank deeper and deeper. We barely made it across in time. The two cracks suddenly joined into a deep rent between the seas. The water rushed in and the land exploded in steam and lava as the cold sea hit the now exposed molten rock. We kept running not daring to look back after the land behind us still shook and tore itself apart."

"What do you think caused the earthquake?" Gabrielle asked in a small voice.

"I have a hunch it was when I killed that sorcerer. He was stronger than any wizard Iíve ever met and I think he was somehow linked to this place." Xena said.

"And now we are back here. Why?"

"There were people left on this island after it broke away from the mainland. I recently heard they are in trouble. I owe these people a lot. Thatís why I am are here." Xena carefully answered.

"Okay, when do we start?" Gabrielle asked. Choosing to ignore Xenaís use of ĎIí.


"Help!" A frantic voice called, "Somebody help us!"

Gabrielle looked at Xena, Xena looked at Gabrielle, Argo flattened her ears and snorted. They ran towards the cry, drawing their weapons as they went.

They crossed a section of ruins and ran behind a high stone wall. An old woman was being held back from a teenage girl by a gang of thugs.

"My daughter!" The crone wept, pushing at the muscled men who held her.

"Why don't you boys just let the girl go?" Gabrielle asked, twirling her staff and trying to sound confident and menacing.

"Yes, come and play with someone who can fight back." Xena purred.

"Strangers!" Several of the men whispered excitedly, "The younger one looks about the right age." A huge bald man said in a deep, resonating, voice. "Take her!" He bellowed to his fellows.

"AYAYAYAYAYAYAE!" Xena cried as she flipped into the air, kicking two of the assailants square in the chest as she landed. Three others rushed her. She caught the first under the chin with the pommel of her sword, swept the legs out from under another and span the third towards Gabrielle.

Gabrielle, caught the spinning thug behind the knees with her staff, he went high into the air before thudding back to the ground. "Hy-aah!" Xena yelled as she punched the man she'd knocked over, in the face. He didn't try to get back up after that.

A short, grubby mugger, charged Gabrielle with a short sword. She deftly blocked his thrust and rapped him on the top of his head with her pole. He grunted, dropped his sword and clutched his head, dancing around in pain. She swept the staff up into his groin and he fell to the ground with a squeak and a whoosh of air. He lay there, curled up into a ball, silently shaking.

Gabrielle watched as the man carrying the girl hurried over to the crying woman and rather tenderly handed her over. The girl had fainted and the man took great care to support the unconscious girls head as he laid her down.

Puzzled Gabrielle knocked out another attacker and dodged the sword of another, giving him the same treatment as his grubby friend. Another squeal, another whoosh.

"AYAYAYAYAYAYAAAE!" Xena somersaulted out of a ring of the assailants, landing nimbly on her feet she quickly rolled under an awkward sword slash aimed at her head. Her roll carried her to the old woman's side, Xena span and flipped back onto her feet, once more facing the warriors.

Suddenly Xena's Chakram swept around the battle, cleaving the remaining marauders weapons in two. Several of them bolted for the woods. "AYAYAYAYAYAYAYAAEE!" Xena called after them, laughing.

The bald man surveyed the aftermath of the attack with rage, before turning and running into the woods.

"He moves fast for a fat guy." Gabrielle noted.

"He'd better keep running, he's not out of range of my Chakram yet." Xena winked at Gabrielle. "How many did you get?" She asked.

"Including the one you gave me..." Gabrielle did a quick head count. "Four, I think."

"Ha! I got nine!" Xena proudly placed her foot on a fallen thugs chest.

"Give me a break! That's a new personal record!" Gabrielle laughed, she nodded at the terrified woman and her daughter. "We'd better see if they are okay." She walked over to her friendsí side.

"Please! Don't hurt us!" The woman begged.

"Whoa! Hold on, we aren't going to harm you!" Gabrielle blurted.

"We are the ones who saved you, remember?" Xena asked in a soft, reassuring voice. She knelt beside the mother and put a hand to the temple of the young girl, quickly she examined the young woman's body. Nodding in satisfaction she wiped a trace of mud off the girls nose. "She'll be fine after a good nights rest."

"Thank you." The old woman murmured, hugging the girl protectively to her chest. "You must be tired after your fight. You are more than welcome to stay the night at our home."

"Thank you, it is getting late. And we have been walking all day." Gabrielle said, gratitude clear in her voice.

"Please, this way." The old woman struggled to her feet and tried to lift her daughter. Xena put a hand on her shoulder, smiled and picked up the girl.

 

CHAPTER 3
 

The old woman led them to a dark cottage in the middle of a forest of beech and birch trees. Once inside they put the girl to bed and sat down at a rough hewn oak table to talk. Broth was bubbling in a cauldron over the kitchen fire.

Gabrielle's stomach did an impression of a hydra when she smelled the food. Blushing she apologised and held her stomach.

"You must be hungry," their hostess said. She pulled down three bowls and ladled some of the broth into them. "What brings you to this accursed isle?" She asked cautiously.

"We are here to kill the giant Scorpion that holds you all captive." Xena said simply. Gabrielle gasped.

"Ah, treasure seekers." The old woman nodded knowingly.

"Not quite," Xena said. "I'm here to try and repay a debt."

The old woman looked at her strangely, "You say that with such sadness, child." She paused, and regarded Xena with a piercing gaze. She nodded to herself and turned from Xena and Gabrielle. "Eat up." She said before shambling off to a corner of the cottage, dowsed in shadow.

"Giant Scorpion?!" Gabrielle whispered when the woman was out of earshot.

"It was sent to guard the people of the island by the sorcerer who once lived here." Xena explained. "I heard recently that the creature is terrorising the locals and the only thing that can stay its attack is a woman tied to a stake. Dinner, actually." She paused. "They probably wanted this woman's daughter as a sacrifice. When they saw you they thought they could spare the girl. These aren't bad people Gabrielle, they're just in a bad situation that is forcing them to do these things to survive."

Gabrielle was quiet for a while. "That explains why that warrior tried not to hurt the girl once we showed up, they've probably been neighbours for years." She paused and looked Xena in the eye. "What do you want me to do?" She asked in a clear, unshaken voice.

"Stay out of trouble, you are good with that Amazon staff, but it won't be much use against this monster." Xena said firmly.

"But-" Gabrielle protested.

"No buts, Gabrielle. This is something I have to do alone." Xena's tone brooked no argument. Her eyes pleaded for understanding.

"All right. I don't like it, but, all right." Gabrielle said through gritted teeth, her fingers crossed behind her back.

The old woman returned from her other room with something clutched tightly in her wizened hands. As she grew closer to the fire pit Xena could see it was a small black bag. The woman stopped before Xena and held out the bag.

"This contains a circlet of gold. It is supposed to be magic, if you believe in such things. If not, it has been very lucky for me, won me my dear departed husband it did!" She cackled. "Either way I would like you to have it." Xena started to protest but the old woman held up her hand.

"Please, it is not a payment of any kind. If it really is magic it may be your only chance of killing the Scorpion. The scrolls given to us by our King foretold the wearer of this would kill his pet in a time of strife."

She pinched the muscle on Xena's biceps and whistled. "Maybe you are the one." A look of incomprehensible sadness creased her face.

"Let yourselves out in the morning." She whispered before going to bed.

Xena held the silky black bag and watched her go.


The next morning Autolycus awoke to blackness. "Wha?!" He yelled. His eyes were open yet he could see nothing. "I've gone blind!" He squealed, stumbling to his feet. Hands outstretched before him he stumbled about the campsite. "Waaaahh!" Near to tears he wandered blindly into a tree. He rebounded off the hard bark and toppled backwards, landing with a thump.

Stars sparked before his eyes, then nothing.

"Glug! Grarghhh!" Autolycus snapped his eyes open, caught in a sudden splash of icy water. "Yeargh!" He struggled, slapping at the down pouring cascade of water. "I'm awake!" He choked, coughing through the flood.

"It's about time too! You should have seen yourself wandering around with your cloak wrapped around your face. You looked ridiculous!" A vaguely familiar face smiled down into his. Recognition escaped him.

He sat up, wincing as the trees whirled around him. He felt dizzy, sick and had one of the worst headaches he'd ever encountered. He put a hand to his head and groaned as he touched a large lump that was developing there. "Have I been drinking?" He asked. Autolycus tried to focus on the young blonde girl crouched beside him. She was young, very young. By the Gods she was young! And pretty too, a sweet innocent smile played about her lips.

Autolycus groaned and collapsed back to the earth as he saw she was wearing a night-shirt of some description. "One question. Do you have any older brothers or fathers over six feet ten?" He covered his face with his hands not really wanting to hear her answer. He disconsolately shook his head.

"No, why do you ask?" She pulled his hands from his face. "Are you feeling okay?" She saw the bruising on his head and gasped. "Oh! You are hurt! Why didn't you tell me the Scorpion had hurt you?!"

Memory returned in a flood to Autolycus at the mention of the word 'Scorpion'. He blinked a couple of times before saying: "I'm all right, I just got stunned when I walked into the tree." He looked into her eyes; the gaze lasted longer than was necessary. Both of them turned away embarrassed.

"We had better get you home." He said rising to his feet and brushing the leaves off his clothes.

"No!" The girl half pleaded half warned. "I won't let you take me back!" She saw the surprise in his eyes, "The people of my village tied me to a stake and left me for that insect as a sacrifice." She backed away a couple of steps from him.

"It's okay. You are not going back there, not if you don't want to. But you have to go somewhere." He motioned her to come forward. "Do you have any family you can stay with?"

"My parents were killed in a battle when I was just a child." She eyed him warily. "The people who raised me were the ones who chained me as a gift to the Scorpion." She began to cry. "They were my family! My friends! And they tried to kill me! They even had me convinced it was for the best..." She broke off choking on her pain and her tears.

Autolycus pulled her to him and held her tightly, rocking her gently until the worst of the tears were over.

A grim resolution set within him. Hard and as clear as diamond he had a purpose. Someone was going to pay dearly for hurting this child.

 

CHAPTER 4

 

An hour or so before dawn Xena crept silently from the cottage she and Gabrielle had spent the night in. Gabrielle was asleep in front of the cottages kitchen fire. Xena had no intention of waking her.

She had to do this alone.

Argo pawed the earth as Xena scratched her behind her ears, with a slight jingle and a whoosh of air Xena effortlessly hauled herself into the saddle. She gave a last look behind her at the cottage before she kneed Argo into a gentle canter.

Dawn passed and Xena was rapidly approaching what had once been a beautiful city. Her keen eyesight picked up the drifting smoke of many morning fires. The ruins were inhabited, probably by the same gang of thugs who had attacked the previous day.

She took a slight detour into the woods that abutted the road she was on. Once under the cover of trees she dismounted and slapped Argo on the rump. Argo trotted off to feed on the grass that had sprang up in a small forest clearing. Xena needed stealth more than she needed speed.

The woods came close to the edge of the encampment, the soldier in Xena noted how unprofessional it was to leave such cover near their defences. Dodging from tree to tree she made her way towards the camp.

The early morning sunlight was broken and shattered by the forest canopy. Xena carefully avoided these little pools of sunlight, sticking to the shadows.

There was a rustling behind her, Xena was surprised that she hadn't noticed the sounds before now. She eased the release buckle off of her Chakram as she hurried to a hiding place. She turned around behind a large oak tree and shimmied her way into the lower branches. Not even a falling leaf betrayed her actions.

Lightly she walked along a tree limb, so as to position herself over whoever was rustling around. She crouched on the branch, her balance perfect. Xena couldn't make out any details through the leaves, other than the person was alone.

A glint caught her eye, she peered through the branches. The golden circlet the old woman had given her lay sparkling on the ground. When she had loosened her Chakram she had knocked the circlets bag off of her belt. She dropped down behind the stalker meaning to grab the circlet before they could see it. There was a young girl wandering around aimlessly in the woods in front of Xena.

'What kind of camp is this?' Xena thought as she followed the child.

The circlet lay just a few feet to the left of the girl, her back was half to it. Xena didn't want to risk being seen there were too many people in the camp to chance grabbing the golden band so near the girl.

"Anna?" A soft voice called out into the forest, accompanied by a crashing of bracken behind Xena. The girl started to turn around towards Xena, and the crashing grew closer.

Xena silently cursed and flipped up into the air, soaring high into and over the tree branches. She span in mid air, twisting her body so as to land hands first. The girl continued to turn towards the person calling her, totally unaware of the lightning movements of the Warrior Princess. Xena landed lightly on her left hand, grabbed the circlet with her right and put it on her head before springing back up into the air again.

The whipping noise Xena made as she cut through the air caused the girl to turn sharply. Too late, Xena was already perched in the tree with the band of gold in her hair.

"Anna! You'll be late for breakfast! Come here this minute!"

"But, momma, I..." The confused little girl began.

"No buts you've had your father worried sick! What if the Scorpion had gotten you?" The motherís tone was harsh and angry. The child's eyes grew wide and her lips began to tremble. She ran to her mother and hugged her.

"There, there. It's all right, dear. I was just scared for you, that's all." The girl kept sobbing as she was picked up and carried off back to her home.

Xena let out a whoosh of breath, she felt a little strange. Now the danger of discovery had passed she tried to jump down from the branch, the sight of the ground far below her caused a terrible sensation of fear. Panic set in, she couldn't move, couldn't think, couldn't scream. Blind fear made her try and grasp the branch she stood on. She missed and fell with a crash to the ground.

Scared but not really hurt Xena backed up against a tree, her eyes darting everywhere, searching for unseen monsters. Tears welled up in her eyes, but she was to terrified to cry. She stood, tears streaming down her cheeks, shuddering silent sobs.

The circlet in her hair glowed and pulsed slightly with a strange inner light.


Gabrielle tossed in her sleep, she woke with a start. "Xena?!" She cried out afraid for her friend for some reason that she couldn't remember. Sitting up and rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Gabrielle tried to recall her dream

It had something to do with Xena being captured by someone or something. She couldn't get any more than that to surface. She turned to Xena's bedroll to tell her about the dream. Xena's bed was gone. Gabrielle's heart began to pound. She chided herself, Xena was always up before her, she didn't need to worry just because of some dumb dream.

Outside, Argo was gone along with all of Xena's stuff. Now she had a reason to panic. "She takes off and leaves all the time." Gabrielle muttered even as she sprinted back into the cottage. 'Yeah, but she always tells you where she's going and when she'll be back' an inner voice said.

Gabrielle hated to admit it but the voice was right. She violently shook the girl awake.

"Where's Xena?!" She demanded. Blank, sleepy, incomprehension showed on her face.

"Leave my daughter alone!" The old woman advanced on Gabrielle, a large frying pan held tightly in her hands.

"What did you do to Xena you crazy old witch?!" Gabrielle ignored the frying pan and turned to face the woman.

"I sent that murdering creature to her doom!" The woman swung the pan experimentally. "She killed just about everyone in the kingdom. All for the cursed treasure of our King. Pah! Well I gave her that treasure, even now she must have it!"

"Cursed treasure? Xena didn't come here for your treasure! She came here to kill the Scorpion who is destroying your people! Weren't you listening last night?!" Gabrielle's voice was getting hoarse from shouting at the crone. Her patience was growing thin and she knew she had little time to find Xena. "What's the quickest way to get to her?" She begged.

"Via this over your head." The woman swung the pan again.

"Mother! Stop this! You're not going to kill anybody." The girl jumped out of bed and stood beside Gabrielle. "This, Xena, saved me yesterday. Why would she do that? What was her reason to risk her own life for two people who obviously had no money to repay her?" The girls words seemed to be getting through to her mother. The woman shook her head.

"She killed your father, girl! That's all I know." The young woman gasped and turned to Gabrielle. "Did your friend kill my father?" She asked in a horrified voice. Gabrielle looked deep into her eyes, with conviction and utter truthfulness she said: "No. My friend, Xena, did not kill your father. The person she was long ago did. That person is dead, she has dedicated the rest of her life to trying to atone for the damage she has done." Gabrielle didn't break eye contact with the girl. "She is the best person I know."

The woman before Gabrielle regarded her closely, looking first at her then through her as she wrestled with what Gabrielle had said. "Your friend will be about two miles north of here. Hurry, she will need all your help."

"What are you doing?!" Her mother demanded. The daughter turned to her mother. "She is telling the truth. The woman who killed my father is dead."

"No! This witch has put a spell on you..." The mother hung her head, dropped the frying pan and began to weep. Her daughter hugged her and motioned Gabrielle to go. Gabrielle mouthed a silent 'Thank you' as she ran from the room.


Xena, paralysed with fear closed her eyes to shut out the horrible crowd of demons roaring in front of her. She had been stripped of her weapons and chained to a tall stone pillar. Her wrists were securely held by ancient iron bands that were locked shut. She had lost her ability to think her consciousness lost in a nightmare of terror. The hollow shell of Xena cowered from the terrifying images playing around her. The demons were pelting her with gore covered skulls.

The crowd of villagers around Xena pelted her with rotten fruit, yelling and screaming at her, they had chained her for the Scorpion. A fitting demise for the one whom had killed their friends and family.

A large, bald man looked on in satisfaction as the assembled villagers screamed their hatred of her. His name was Yosar. He was the leader of what people remained of the kingdom. He had ordered the captured Xena chained for the beast. His own daughter had been the only other choice after Xena had freed the only other girl on the island. Xena was older than the teenagers they fed the Scorpion were but he was sure it would make an exception. She had been the cause of its masterís death after all.

It was approaching midmorning, the Scorpion would soon come to feed. Yosar had already made plans to get his child off the island; he no longer cared for his own fate or those of the villagers. Let the curse take them all.

When the Scorpion first began its rampage, the pillar had appeared in the Village Square. On it's back read the inscription: "My people, you failed me in my war with the hordes of Aries. For this you must be punished each full moon you will chain a girl of the passing age to this pillar as a sacrifice to me. The treasure I leave behind is well guarded, all who touch it face my will. If one of you tries to leave this land, all those who remain will wither and die. If all leave, all will die. This is the word of your King and God." Yosar remembered that day well, and the screams of the first full moon.

It had been he who had held the people here, stopping them from leaving and the suicide it would entail. Instead he had condemned them to live. Each month they held a drawing of names, all the girls of the correct age were in the draw. It hadn't been accident that his own daughter hadn't been chosen. Now he had killed the remainder of his people that she might go free.

His own death no longer mattered to him, his only joy was in knowing his child would live. His only pleasure was knowing the one who had murdered his wife would die before him.

Suddenly there was a commotion at the back of the crowd, a slow parting of the villagers. A trail of stamped on feet and cries of "Excuse me!" were left in Gabrielle's wake. She got to the foot of the tall pillar and looked up at Xena, suspended by her wrists, high above her.

Gabrielle was shocked at the state Xena was in. Her friend was covered in pieces of rotten fruit and she was crying like a baby. Gabrielle had never seen Xena cry like that. "Xena! Are you okay?" She called up to her.

What remained of Xena recognised her name and she opened her eyes, looking down more through instinct than design. Gabrielle saw horror, terror but no recognition before Xena closed her eyes again. Something was terribly wrong with the warrior.

Gabrielle was spun around roughly to face the crowd by a large, well muscled man. "What have you done to her?!" Gabrielle screamed into his face, standing on tiptoes she was almost the same height as him. He backed away from her, perhaps afraid that she would bite his nose.

"Please! You have got to listen to me!" Gabrielle begged in a stricken voice. "Xena isn't the same person she was-" A tomato smacked Gabrielle in the cheek, it shocked more than hurt her. She ducked the onslaught of fruit and vegetables that rained down on her. Soon she was drenched in rotten fruit juices. She defiantly stood up. Taking the worst of the missiles without flinching.

Eventually the crowd stopped pelting her, a little respect for the valiant young woman was building in them. Xena tossed and cried on the pillar behind Gabrielle. "Xena came here to help you-" More fruit was lifted to be thrown. "Wait!" Gabrielle shouted. "She came here to make up for what happened, she has changed."

"Changed or no, she cannot ever make up for what she did here!" A villager called.

"Aye! What can a craven coward like that wench do to help us anyway? Look she is scared to death!" Another jeered.

"Get away with you girl or we'll string you up beside her!" Yosar called as he made his way to the front of the crowd.

"Are you the one who decides who gets chained up?" Gabrielle asked, relying on her intuition and the way the people parted for this man.

"No, we do that by drawing lots. Our ways have kept us alive these past few months. It's that woman's fault the Scorpion is free anyway!"

"But who makes up the lots? You?" Gabrielle was desperate to buy herself more time to think of a plan. She was trying intensely to sow dissent among the villagers.

Without warning the huge man slammed the back of his hand into Gabrielle's mouth, sending her sprawling. Gabrielle was stunned; blood trickled down her chin. A couple of her teeth felt loose. Yosar spat on the ground, "You don't ever talk to me that way girl." He said with casual malice.

At the rear of the crowd there was another commotion. The noise drew closer.

"All right! I want to know who is in charge of this crummy village! An' then I'm gonna kick his sorry a.... Gabrielle?" Autolycus broke off in astonishment.

A movement above him caught his eye. "Xena?!" He couldn't help but notice the state both of them were in. Xena was still sobbing and trying to twist her face away from the villagers. Gabrielle lay bleeding on the floor. "Gabrielle?" He said again, taking in the blood on her face and the massive man who stood over her.

Autolycus cannoned headfirst into Yosar, fists flailing. The impact sent them both back into the crowd, they disappeared from view for a second then they both rolled back into sight, grappling with one another. The mob stumbled back from the combatants stunned by the ferocity of Autolycus' sudden attack.

A wall of people toppled as the two men crashed into their legs. Both men were buried under the fallen. Chaos reigned in the Village Square; Gabrielle tried to stand so she could get to Xena. But her vision was blurred and she had a strange ringing in her ears.

There was a high pitched scream from the pile of bodies that held Autolycus and Yosar. People struggled to their feet scrabbling to get away from the two madmen.

As the dust settled the scene was revealed. Autolycus sat on the chest of a man twice his height and width. In his left hand he had the front of Yosar's tunic with his right he was repeatedly punching the unconscious giant in the face.

"Autolycus!" A dazed Gabrielle called out. "That's enough! You'll kill him! She stumbled to her feet using her staff to help herself up. Autolycus regretfully let go of Yosar and staggered to his feet. He was bleeding in a number of places and his left eye was darkening with a bad bruise. He limped over to Gabrielle's side. "Are you okay?" He asked in a gruff voice.

"Yes I'll be all right just as soon as I get Xena off that pillar and figure out what's wrong with her." An unreadable look passed over Autolycus' face as he drew a dagger from a sheath and turned to face the regrouping mass of villagers. "Where are the keys to those manacles?" He demanded in a deathly quiet voice. There was silence from the villagers. Autolycus whipped his hand forward, the knife imbedded itself in the sand, half an inch from the unconscious Yosar's head. He withdrew another knife.

"I'm not going to ask again. Where are the keys?" Gabrielle was impressed, she didn't know Autolycus could act quite this well.

"Please, sir! There are no keys! The chains release only when the Scorpion is near!" A villager called, backing away out of range of the knife. The rest of the crowd were beginning to get ideas of rushing the two strangers.

"That could be a little bit of a problem." Autolycus whispered over his shoulder to Gabrielle.

"Why?" She whispered back.

"I buried the thing under a ton of rock!" He hissed.

"You did WHAT?!" Gabrielle whispered incredulously.

"Long story. Look we have to get her down from there, I think I can probably pick those locks. Problem is those guys aren't going to just let me climb up there."

"I'll keep them away from her." Gabrielle's voice sounded strange to Autolycus.

"You can't hold them back forever!" He protested.

"I don't have to. I just need to keep them away long enough for you to get her down. I can buy you that much time. Now shut up and go!" Gabrielle pushed him towards the pillar her staff span menacingly in front of her. Autolycus used his rope to grip an ornate gargoyle at the top of the stake. He quickly made his way up to Xena's side.

"We didn't come here to hurt you people! You have to believe that! But I won't let you harm her, not while I have a breath left in my body." Gabrielle's voice sounded even stranger to Autolycus. He pulled out his lock pick and tried to insert it into the lock. A small spark of electricity burned his fingers.

"Letís get her before he releases Xena!" One of the villagers at the back of the crowd yelled. Several of them moved forward.

"Please! Just leave us alone! I lost her once before." Gabrielle pleaded.

A group of seven burly men charged Gabrielle, cudgels and rusted knives in their hands. The first two advanced on her left and right side.

"I" She slammed the tip of her staff hard into the stomach of the first man.

"WON'T" The second man was smashed in the nose by the opposite tip.

"LOOSE" She thrust the staff forward like a barrier, catapulting the next two backward.

"HER" Gabrielle ran forward, her staff still parallel to the ground, catching the next two in the throat and sending them choking to the ground.

"AGAIN!" She used her staff like a pole-vaulter and launched herself feet first at the last of the men. He hit the ground with a very satisfying thud. Gabrielle twirled the staff high above her head.

"AYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAAEE!" She yelled.

The rest of the villagers ran leaving their wounded in the square.

Autolycus nearly dropped his lock pick when Gabrielle yelled. "Do you mind?" He demanded in a cross voice.

"Sorry, hey! That's the first time I've got the war cry right!" She called up to him. She was shaking, truth be told she'd never been so scared in all her life. She was all too aware just how much she depended on Xena in a fight.

"I am so very happy for you. I'm sure your captive audience were very impressed," he gestured to the groaning injured men scattered around her. He glared at the lock in front of him. "This damn thing has a spell on it or something. I get burned every time I touch it."

"Can't you cover your hands so they don't get burned?"

"Who is the thief here? Me or you? Just you concentrate on your job and I'll do mine." His tone was that of a hurt professional. He silently took out a scrap of leather from his tool roll and wrapped his hands in it.

He experimentally touched the iron of the lock. No spark. "Why don't you cover your hands." He muttered in a fair impersonation of Gabrielle.

Xena was still caught in the grip of terror and the demon straddling the pole beside her was almost enough to make her die from sheer fright.

Her heart was already racing and even her system couldn't take this kind of punishment indefinitely.

Autolycus jammed the lock pick in the key opening and raised it slightly. There was an audible 'click!' then the manacles fell away. He was surprised, he hadn't really done anything yet. Xena plunged towards the ground. He had to grab her wrist to stop her from dropping the rest of the way. There was a wrenching pain in his shoulder as he took her weight. Something was tearing in there, the excruciating agony was telling him this quite clearly.

Xena swung limply from Autolycus grasp. The demon had her hand, she should do something to make the demon let her go, but her fear couldn't tell her what. There was that same familiar noise below her, she turned to see what it was. "Xena! Come on snap out of it!" Gabrielle was frantically waving at her from the base of the pillar.

There was another demon screaming the familiar sound up at her as it danced and slavered below. The terrified creature that had become Xena whipped her head from side to side, tears streaming as she cried. Suddenly the circlet came loose from her hair. It tumbled out of her raven locks, releasing the Xena buried beneath fear.

Like a diver coming up into the pure sweet air Xena gasped and drew in a deep shuddering breath. Instantly her body pose changed. Instinctively she was trying to get her balance even though she still didn't know where she was. Years of training moved muscles and whipped tendons as Autolycus cried out in pain and lost his grip on her. She had somersaulted and landed in the classic en' garde stance before she recognised Gabrielle standing in front of her.

"Gabrielle?" She asked hesitantly.

"You remember me! You're back!" Gabrielle gave a whoop and threw herself into Xena's arms. Xena span under the impetus, hugging Gabrielle and staring at the naggingly familiar scene before her. Disjointed images of demons and sculls came to her. There had been a demon up high somewhere. Xena looked up just as Autolycus blacked out from the pain in his shoulder and fell from the pillar. Xena let go of Gabrielle and caught the falling thief.

"He's out cold." She told Gabrielle. "What's going on here? I can remember this place...Only it was drenched in blood and fire...Demons, there were demons everywhere." The sound of Gabrielle's voice emanating from a demon sent a cold chill coursing down Xena's spine. "I was scared. So very, very, scared." Xena probed Autolycus' shoulder with gently kneading fingers. "All right, Gabrielle, spill it. What is going on around here?"

"Well, first of all you ditched me to come and kill this islands Scorpion. You're developing a nasty habit of ditching me every time there is trouble, you know that don't you?" Xena gave Gabrielle a withering look. "Then you managed to get yourself captured by the villagers who chained you to that pillar." Gabrielle hurried on. "Then I came to save you, but that guy," she jerked her thumb at Yosar who lay embedded in the earth where Autolycus had left him, "hit me in the mouth then Autolycus beat him up." Gabrielle finished.

"Wait a minute. He," Xena pointed at the wreaked Autolycus, "beat up that?" She nodded at the hulking form of Yosar. Gabrielle nodded. "I'm impressed." Xena said. "Why did Autolycus attack the big guy?" She asked.

"I'm not sure, he saw what that guy had done and he just sort of flew at him like a wildcat!" Xena looked down at the bruised and battered man.

"I owe you one." She whispered in his ear before kissing him on the forehead. "All right I think I can piece together the rest, a little strange though it is. You then knocked about those guys while he worked on my bonds, right?"

"Yes! What happened to you Xena? I've never seen you cry like that before." Xena put a hand to her cheek, there were tears still there. The skin around her eyes felt tight and her eyes were puffy.

She was astonished at herself, it was a long time since she had allowed herself to cry. No matter how scared she got she never resorted to that. The circlet lying in the sand beside her caught her eye. It was glowing with an almost malicious pride. Suddenly the pieces of the puzzle clipped together for her, the circlet was magic! It had caused her to give in to pure animal fear, made her see demons instead of villagers. Monsters instead of Gabrielle.

Xena angrily picked up a stick and flipped the circlet into the air. She released her Chakram in the same motion and it flew like a hawk to its target. There was a blinding flash and a rumbling boom as the Chakram sliced the band in two. The circlet fell to the ground, no longer glowing.

The Chakram returned to its mistress.

"Ouch, will somebody please tell the lunatic with the drum to shut up?" Autolycus asked in a small voice.

"What drum? What lunatic?" Gabrielle strained to hear the drum.

"Can't you hear that? Somebody is pounding on a drum!" Autolycus tried to put his hands over his ears but Xena had pinned his arms by his sides.

"Don't move. You've dislocated your shoulder and torn a few ligaments as well. The drumming is in your head." Xena said in a gentle voice.

"Uh, Xena." Gabrielle furtively glanced around. Something was drumming.

"Xena...chains...didn't, Will you puh-lease stop that damn drumming!" Autolycus mumbled.

"Xena?" Gabrielle was getting worried; she was hearing shock waves.

"I told you," Xena hit a nerve behind Autolycus' ear. "There is no drumming. It's your own blood rushing through your ears." She grunted as she popped his shoulder back into its socket. She quickly checked the damaged tendons; they weren't any worse for the operation.

"Gabrielle, hold his arm and shoulder, just here." Xena placed Gabrielle's hands on his shoulder. "Hold his arm tightly, the tendons are still strained but if he doesn't try to use the arm it will heal. Otherwise he may never use it again."

"Xena!" Gabrielle could actually feel the thumping rhythm now.

"Drumming, drumming, drumming..." Autolycus whispered.

"Will you stop saying that? There is no drumming." Xena chided.

"Stupid chains unlocked themselves. Thump, thump, thump, thump. Drumming." Autolycus said in a petulant whisper.

"I'm only going to say this one last time: There is no drumming!" Xena exclaimed in exasperation.

"Actually, I can hear it too..." Gabrielle said in embarrassment, still watching the chains on the pillar jump in time to Autolycus imaginary beat.

"Not you too..." Xena started to say. "Now that you mention it, I've been hearing it too." Xena grinned evilly, drawing her sword. "Here buggy, buggy, buggy!" She called affectionately. "He makes a big 'boom' when he walks don't he?"

She looked around her, this was obviously to close to the village for a battle with something as large and obnoxious as a giant with a hangover.

A quarry off a ways to the north west looked promising, but there was little cover. She wanted lots of things to get in the way of the monster.

There was a forest that ran alongside the road. She was now sure the Scorpion was now following that road. Coming to get its dinner, no doubt.

"Look after him Gabrielle, I'll be back in a minute." Without another word she took off into the bushes at a dead run. Gabrielle thought she saw her skip a couple of times.

"Great! So now I'm the baby sitter!" She sat down in the sandy earth beside the delirious Autolycus.


Xena ran at a tall tree, flipping onto her hands at the last second she silently rose into its branches. Something big was coming down the path. Parting the leaves Xena tried to get a better look at it. The Scorpion was huge, it was at least thirty to forty feet long and was easily twenty feet high.

It's body was black and covered with cruelly pointed spines and ridges. As the Scorpion scuttled closer, Xena could see it had been wounded recently, green fluid covered its tail and one of its legs. It was also covered in small chunks of rock and masonry debris.

She dropped out of the tree, directly into the Scorpions path. It stopped dead in its tracks. Xena stared up into its many eyed, mandible bedecked face, sword poised. The Scorpion regarded her with baleful, red eyes. The insect slowly lowered its head until it was mere inches from Xenaís face. Mandibles as sharp as blades flexed slowly, they were as long as her arm. Xena stood motionless, meeting the hate filled glare of the insect with cool indifference.

"EEEEYAAAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!" The beast screamed. Xena's hair whipped around behind her by the force of the gale the Scorpion emitted. She shook her hair back into place. "Not bad." She conceded. "But not nearly enough." She caught the Scorpion in a savage uppercut that sent it's head snapping back. The Scorpions claws dug two trenches in the stone of the path, where Xena had been standing only seconds before.

Xena danced around under the Scorpions body, narrowly missing legs as the creature tried to find her. As far as it was concerned she had disappeared. It was all so dangerous and deadly Xena just couldn't wipe the grin off her face. She kicked at a leg that came too close to hitting her. The Scorpion stumbled, off balanced by the blow. She quickly changed position randomly chopping at another leg, her sword rebounded off its armour. Again the Scorpion stumbled, Xena ducked another leg and slammed her shoulder into the joint of yet another.

The Scorpion screamed. "Ha! That got your attention!" Xena grunted as she rolled away from the leg. Suddenly the Scorpions knees all buckled and it sank low to the ground, almost pinning Xena. She lay flat on the ground, her nose nearly touching its underbelly. As quickly as it had dropped the Scorpion suddenly sprang high into the air before crashing to the ground, some distance away from Xena. She flipped off her back and onto her feet as the Scorpion charged her, claws snapping in anticipation.

Xena watched it come, twirling her sword. When it was almost upon her she launched herself at its head. "AYAAAAEEE! Hup!" She shouted as she dodged its claws and landed on the insectís forehead. She stabbed down at its neck with all her strength. But it raised its head and her sword clanged off its tough hide. The Scorpion flicked its wounded tail at Xena, she automatically raised her sword to protect herself.

The sword reopened the wound Autolycus' dagger had made. The green poison splattered everywhere. A small drip of it hit Xena's exposed leg. She bit her lip, and threw the tail off to her right, ignoring the burning agony the acid left; she tried to roll off its head. The Scorpion made a clumsy grab for her and Xena had to force the claw away from her, putting weight on her injured leg made her stumble and the insect smashed her into the air with its other claw.

Xena landed with a thump beside the tree she had been standing in a mere minute before. Winded and dazed she tried to stand, the pain in her leg was getting worse. She wiped at the poison with leaves she pulled from nearby branches.

The wound wasn't deep but it was open to the air, if she didn't get it cleaned and covered soon she risked infection. As a quick fix she tied a length of cord at the top of her thigh to reduce the flow of blood. That was dangerous, she had to beat this thing quickly now.

A tree was uprooted by the Scorpion as it devastated the forest in its attempt to find her. Xena tested her balance and slowed her breathing. She tilted her head sharply to the right and was rewarded by a click! Squaring her shoulders she advanced on the Scorpion.

The Scorpion was swatting at the brush with a young tree it had pulled up. A clearing of destroyed vegetation was forming around the insect as it smashed away at the woods. Into the clearing stepped Xena. The tree whipped through the air as the Scorpion tried to flatten her beneath it. Xena watched the tree arcing down towards her and took half a step to her left. The Scorpions club hit the earth harmlessly to her right.

Once the flurry of leaves and dirt, which had been stirred up by the impact, had subsided, the Scorpion stared intently at the end of its club, hoping Xena was under it.

Xena leaned against a tree several yards off to the left of the Scorpion. She whistled at it. It snapped its attention from the club to her. Bellowing it swung the tree at Xena, she barely dodged the blow, the tree she was leaning against was shattered at the base, snapping like a rotten twig. It fell with a crash on the Scorpions head. The Scorpion shook its head violently, trying to shake loose the branches and trees that covered it. Xena was still in pain from her leg but she moved further away from the insect, selecting a heavy oak this time.

Again she whistled, again the Scorpion swung, she dodged and the tree hit the Scorpion. Over and over they did this until they had almost worked their way back to the Scorpions lair.

Xena was tiring, the Scorpion was fast and the tree club was becoming harder to dodge. The pain in her leg was driving her to distraction and she was having serious trouble walking.

The Scorpion was beginning to show signs that the constant bombardment of lumber was hurting it. Xena leapt away from the club and stumbled back into a clearing. Suddenly she was out of trees and out of time.

She backed off away from the monster until she hit the cold stone of the building the Scorpion lived in. The lair was actually a room carved into the hillside, the sheer walls of the hill blending seamlessly with the buildings construction.

The Scorpion emerged from the woods, staggering slightly. It screamed at her in rage and frustration and hurled the tree at her. She didn't have enough time to dodge so she ducked as the tree exploded against the wall above her head. Xena was cut by the myriad of flying splinters, but she ignored their sting as she knocked away a blow from the Scorpions claw with her sword. "AYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAAAAEEE!!" She screamed at it and knocked away another blow.

The Scorpion feinted with its left and punched at her with its right, Xena was catapulted in front of the open bronze doors by the impact. Bleeding, bruised and battered she spat in the dust and angrily tried to stand. She ached all over and was having trouble seeing out of her left eye after the last jolt. The Scorpion stabbed at her and she deflected it's thrust with a swipe of her sword. It swung at her again and she ducked the attack and slowly rose to her feet, leaning on her sword for support. Panting, she grinned up at the Scorpion.

The Scorpion screamed and raised both its claws to the heavens before slamming them down in a two handed blow at Xena. Xena rolled away from the splash of green acid that spewed from the gash her sword had left in one of the claws. Again the Scorpion screamed.

A geyser of the acid soaked one of the bronze doors, there was a hiss as the acid began to eat away the metal door. A cloud of thick green smoke emanated from the door, enveloping Xena and the Scorpion.

The Scorpion was still screaming, Xena could hear it stumbling about the area in front of its lair. She followed the direction the scream was coming from and limped towards it, almost dragging her wounded leg now.

A leg appeared in the mist and Xena carefully sought the joint before she slashed at it, severing it completely. Surprisingly little acid came from the wound, but the Scorpion toppled and screamed even louder as it fell.

The undamaged claw swept out of the smoke narrowly missing Xena. A black bulk loomed in front of her, she ducked as the claw swept back. She staggered through the mist, the harsh acidic bite of the smoke was almost choking her. As quickly as her pain wracked body would allow her she advanced on the Scorpion. Suddenly its wounded tail struck down into the earth beside her, sending up a fresh shower of acid.

Miraculously she wasn't hit this time. Xena gritted her teeth and continued to approach the rounded bulk of the Scorpion as it weakly struggled to stand.

Xena could just make out the red glowing eyes of the Scorpion. The fumes from the still dissolving door were taking their toll on her. She could barely stand. Xena knew it was now or never, there was a brief flash in the fog as the Scorpion raised its good claw to strike. Xena drew her Chakram and fell to one knee, almost overcome by the effort.

Above her the claw reached its zenith. With all her remaining strength Xena hurled the Chakram at the Scorpions head, passing out from the fumes as she released it. The claw sped down towards her prone body.

Autolycus' young charge had watched the battle between Xena and the Scorpion with awe. When the smoke of the disintegrating door had finally subsided she gasped at the sight which was revealed.

The Scorpions head had been severed, a deep rent cut through the armour of its neck. Of the woman who had killed it only a still arm could be seen lying amongst the hissing remains of the insect.

Gingerly, as if fearing the monster would reawaken the girl crept closer to the body of the fallen Warrior Princess. Wisps of green smoke still drifted about the bodies and neither showed any signs of life.

The girl rounded the Scorpion at a distance, still fearful. She could now get a better look at Xena. To Xena's left side the point of a claw had embedded itself in the pathway, its other 'finger' likewise embedded to her right.

Xena stirred, the acrid smoke was clearing from her lungs. The girl rushed forward and helped Xena into a sitting position, shouldering the dead claw away from her. "Do me a favour?" Xena asked the girl in a hoarse voice.

"Anything!" The girl enthused. "Don't ever let me underestimate a bug again." Xena sighed before passing out into a gentle slumber, a strange smile on her lips.

 

THE END


Fan Fiction
Return to the Fan Fiction area