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___________________________________________________________________________ Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.

NOTE: All works remain the © copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent.

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WARNING:

This story depicts scenes of graphic violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.

This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.

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A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:

I, and no doubt many others, have often wondered what it would be like to share an adventure with the warrior princess and her companions in their time and world. Well, here is my attempt to portray just that. Please forgive the arrogant use of my name and some of my traits in the male character in this story, but hey - it is my story.

I am very much a believer in Xena and Gabrielle being lovers, and I hope my attempts to portray this live up to the purity of love that they represent to me in reality. Ladies forgive me if my descriptions of female-female love are less than perfect... I am, after all, only a man. Enjoy the story, and feel free to E-mail me with any comments, suggestions, or ideas you might like to hear more about.

Be gentle - it's my first attempt at writing...

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Xena: Warrior Princess

VENGEANCE SPRINGS ETERNAL

by: Fu Bard

fu_bard@hotmail.com

 

 

PROLOGUE

Rick was no hero. He was not a warrior to be feared, nor was he a man of any great importance. No, he was only a man in the right place at the right time (or the wrong place, at the wrong time, if you will). He had no idea of the adventure that awaited him as he booked that flight to Athens, those few short days ago. He only wished to have a relaxing vacation, touring the remains of the Greek civilization he had come to love and admire.

If he had known what the Fates had in store for him, he might well have stayed home, facing life's everyday challenges, hum-drum though they were. He did go, however, and his life would never be the same again.

You should know that he was (and is) a huge fan of Xena: Warrior Princess. He collected the T-shirts, the pictures, and the posters. He recorded her adventures each week with the zeal that only other die-hard fans would understand. He dreamt of sharing in her stories and of living that life of travel and excitement, but never did he imagine that one day...

 

 

Chapter 1: DISAPPOINTMENT

The crowded tour bus rocked and bumped its way along the rutted, poorly maintained, cobblestone street in Athens. "Damn", Rick cursed under his breath. He silently willed the heat to lessen and the bus to somehow shed some of its burden of chattering tourists and noisy kids. The driver seemed more than happy to add to his woes by finding every pothole in the narrow, bumpy streets. Rick's flight had been delayed by fog in Houston, his hotel reservations canceled by some mysterious computer glitch, and an over-eager baggage inspector and his x-ray machine had exposed all of his film. Having endured all these obstacles, he was finally on the way to tour the temples and splendors long past of this ancient land - that is, if his kidneys held up under the relentless pounding they were receiving.

The old, run down bus pulled up to the first stop on the tour, and Rick was again disappointed. Glaring, red signs announced that this stop, the Parthenon, was closed. Men in military uniforms carrying M-16 assault rifles, looking like they meant business, surrounded it. The driver opened the door to admit a haggard looking officer, who addressed the passengers in his heavily accented English. "We are very sorry, but this site and others have been closed due to terrorist threats against them, and against American tourists. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause." Just like that, another of Rick's dreams was shattered. All of the saving and sacrifice he endured to enjoy this trip, and now it was being ruined by these damn terrorists. Curse the fickle fates!

The driver, trying to keep a fuming group from exploding in his face, announced that he would take them to another, recently uncovered artifact. This one, he guaranteed them, was too obscure to make a target for the terrorists. It was, he said, a very important discovery made only this week and they would be among the first to see it for two thousand years. His brother-in-law was the head archaeologist, and he assured them that they would be most welcome to view it. Maybe tomorrow they would be allowed to see the Parthenon, he said, trying again to unruffle their feathers. Then he turned, cranked the bus, and took off at a speed that suggested he knew a lynch-mob mentality was forming aboard his overloaded transport.

 

 

Chapter 2: THE DISCOVERY

After a mercifully short half-hour ride, winding down through a narrow canyon, the protesting vehicle pulled up in front of a gaping wound in the earth. Seeing only a dusty hole with no ruins visible, the passengers immediately began assessing this dubious wonder. "Everybody off ", the driver said, grinning like the Cheshire cat after one too many drinks. They disembarked, most just grateful that their kidneys were still intact. Looking into the pit, Rick saw a large canvas tarp, which appeared to cover some elongated object several feet tall. The ground underneath looked like glassy smooth, obsidian lava. Several diggers, sweating profusely, chipped away at the black lava near the base of whatever this mystery object was. A large tent stood near the tarp and a dark skinned man walked toward them from the entrance, climbing a rickety-looking ladder to gain their elevated position. The still smiling driver whispered something to him as he came near.

"Welcome, welcome my friends! Always glad to show others the wonders of our ancient land. My brother tells me that your visit has run into troubles. Well, do not worry. All is well here, and we have a fascinating object uncovered only this week to share with you. As a matter of fact, it is being removed as we speak. If you will all follow me, perhaps we can witness history being made."

Little did he know how prophetic a statement that was to be…

The tourists all made their precarious way down the ladder and gathered near the base of this unknown item. What wonderful object was concealed here? Rick was trying to imagine what was under the ragged canvas, as all the others no doubt were. Cameras were made ready. Rick, pulling his camera out, uttered another curse as he realized that he had forgotten to replace the ruined film before the tour began. "Oh damn", he grumbled to himself, "It will probably be the next Venus de Milo, and me with no film. Of all the rotten luck". He had no idea how rotten his luck was about to become!

The archaeologist began to speak. "Today, my friends, you will be among the first to see the artifact we uncovered here. This object was discovered only two weeks ago by a small boy, who found it buried in an old lava tunnel. We have only uncovered it fully this morning". He motioned with his hand, and one of the grubby, sweat-soaked men pulled the tarp away, revealing what lay beneath...

"Oh, how beautiful!" exclaimed a middle aged, obviously English woman. "Wonderful workmanship, truly outstanding". Similar remarks filtered through the crowd, as Rick cursed his luck even more than before. Cameras flashed. "Oohs", and "aahhs" filled the air. It was another Venus, of a sort. An incredible statue of a beautiful woman apparently cast from the same black obsidian as the lava flow, reclined, shining in the sunlight. This Venus, however, was sculpted wearing what looked like ancient armor with a sword strapped over her back. Her long, beautiful legs were clad in knee high leather boots and her tunic, open down the front, revealed a glimpse of her shapely bosom through her armor.

Rick, always one to appreciate an attractive woman, couldn't help but admire the goddess-like beauty of this ancient relic. Only two things marred the otherwise magnificent woman's looks. For one - her face was twisted into a look of such fury and rage that Rick couldn't help but wonder what inspired the sculptor to taint such unrivaled loveliness with a look of such unmistakable hatred. Secondly - her fingers seemed to be throttling an unknown, and missing, opponent's neck! Then, without being fully conscious of the thoughts creeping into his mind, Rick examined the statue more closely. The outfit, the body, the face, the pose - they seemed familiar, somehow. The statue looked blurred and somewhat rough on closer inspection, which made the womanís features hard to see exactly, but he seemed to know them...

"Where have I seen this woman?", he thought. "I know I have seen her before... but where? How?"

His questions would be answered all too soon...

 

 

Chapter 3: THE RESURRECTION

The next instant, all thoughts of the mysterious statue vanished, as more basal instincts took over. Rick had always had a sixth sense for danger, and this ability had saved him from many wrecks, plus a few other hazardous turns in his life. Never did it serve him so well, for he somehow managed to catch a blur of motion from above and threw himself to the ground - just as the hand grenades landed among the crowd of oblivious tourists! For, in spite of all the assurances of their guide and his brother, the terrorists had found their next target. A series of thunderous blasts deafened Rick and all the others to who sound still had meaning! Many never heard the explosions, as they died instantly, their shattered bodies hurled in all directions by the horrible concussions!

Rick lifted his head to take in a sight of macabre horror. Around him, bodies and pieces of bodies lay in bloody disorder. A child, screaming in pain, sprawled across the shattered body of the beautiful English woman whose legs Rick had been admiring since boarding the bus earlier that morning. Her legs were now missing - ripped from her once attractive body! Blood covered everything for yards in every direction.

Now the terrorists began firing their AK-47 assault rifles wildly among the remnants of the tour group. They were bent on killing all that had survived the initial attack. As he ducked behind the mutilated body of the woman and the now silent child, Rick noticed something was happening to the statue. Apparently shrapnel from the explosions had knocked off some of the lava, which he could see had only coated the surface. The interior, viewed through the chipped areas, looked very much like - human flesh! Then, as he watched, it began to glow. A blinding, blue-white light streamed from the openings as pieces of lava were exploded outward! An intense flash temporarily blinded him just after he saw the terrorists closing in for the kill, their bloodlust making them oblivious to all but their murderous intentions! A violent explosion occurred in the vicinity of the statue, and he was knocked down by the blast!

Slowly, the dust and debris settled, and once again Rick heard the screams and the gunfire. Now, however, it seemed to be the terrorists who were screaming, and running for their lives. He lifted himself up on one elbow and rolled over to see what was happening. A terrible, crackling arc of what appeared to be lightning passed inches over his head, striking one of the men in the midsection. His body was suffused in a blue halo, as he was burned alive by the heat and energy of the discharge.

"What the hell is going on here?" Rick thought. He craned his neck around to see from what source this sizzling death had originated. That's when he noticed the statue was gone. No, not gone - Transformed! Where moments before a figure of hardened lava had been, now a living woman stood!

As he watched, she raised her hand and another burst of energy fried a man trying to climb the unstable ladder to safety. His body dropped to the rocky soil, and lay smoking and charred. Suddenly, the only remaining terrorist jumped from behind the base of lava where the statue had been. He leveled his AK-47 at the woman's back and fired, point blank, pumping bullets into her, as he emptied the clip. Her body jerked violently as the heavy slugs tore through it, then she fell to the ground and lay still.

Her killer walked slowly to the body, weapon ready, and kicked her over on her back. Satisfied that she was no longer a threat, he turned his attention to Rick. The muzzle of the weapon raised up, and leveled in his direction. He saw the man's finger stiffen on the trigger. This was it! He had nowhere to go...

That's when he saw the woman rise up behind the gunman! Rick's eyes must have revealed the shock of what he was seeing, because the killer slowly turned to look... and he was suddenly raised into the air! The woman, very much alive, had him by the throat and was lifting him off the ground - with one arm! Then, with a quick snap of her wrist, she broke his neck. His weapon fell from his grasp, and his body hung limply, until she tossed it casually to the ground. No life remained in the now quiet excavation, save Rick and the living statue.

Still unseen, he turned his head to look closely at the woman who had just ended the killer's life. That's when it hit him. "Of course!" he thought. "That's where I have seen her before. But how could that be? She's only a TV character". He looked again but his eyes were not fooling him. He quietly uttered the name that he still could not believe to be correct, but was.

"Velasca..."

She turned instantly as if shot and stared straight at him, raising a hand to point her deadly finger in his direction. "How could she have heard me?" he asked himself. But, then he remembered that she had heard Gabrielle's heart beating from 50 yards away on TV. "I shouldn't be surprised that she can hear me whispering", he thought.

"So", she said, her voice booming, god-like. "Someone from this time remembers me. Good. I think I have a use for you, mortal. Come here!"

Rick wanted to run - to escape from this place of death and murder, but he knew running would not save him. "Better do as she asks", he thought. "I've seen what she can do, and I have no chance against a goddess". He stood and walked slowly toward her, warily eyeing her still outstretched finger.

"Don't worry", she said as she chuckled evilly, "I have a task for you. Serve me well and you may actually live. I intend to return back in time and seek vengeance on those who trapped me here so long ago, and you will help me, or you will die. Even though they are long dead, they cannot escape... a GOD!"

Velasca lapsed into maniacal, evil laughter. She grabbed Rick's arm - her grip like a vise! "Come with me now, back in time. I will send you near to where I sense them to be. I will go deal with some traitors first and attend to some other matters, then I will destroy the two responsible for my imprisonment! Your task will be to let them know that I am coming for them. I want them to know that their death is upon them so that I can savor their fear! This time, they will not escape me..." Her voice rose to a screeching crescendo!

"GABRIELLE, XENA... I WILL HAVE MY VENGEEAAANCE!"

A blinding sphere of light enveloped the area in which they stood, a clap of thunder sounded, and the pit was left much as it was when Rick had first seen it - except for the broken and charred bodies littering its floor, and the faint sound of hysterical laughter echoing around the walls.

He felt pain and a sense of vertigo, and then he felt no more...

 

 

Chapter 4: A PLEASANT AWAKENING

She was slowly waking. Something was summoning her from the depths of a wonderful and sensual dream. Or was it? She was in that slumbering, half-dream state - the one where reality and fantasy mix, and one is not quite sure what is real, and what is not. She willed herself to wake just a little more. Yes, she was sure now! As she lay on her belly, a pleasant sensation was sliding up her inner thigh. A slow, sensuous caress was making its way up the tender part of her bottom now, beneath her skirt, rubbing over the soft, supple skin. She shuddered, making tremors ripple through her well muscled behind, down through her thighs, and on into her thick, shapely calves.

"Mmmmmmm... Xena, that feels sooo good", she murmured, still half-asleep. She slid her hand underneath the warm wolfskin, to meet the other one tracing its way up her buttocks. She grasped the source of the gentle caress... and came fully awake in an instant! That was no hand... That was a...

"SNAKE!" ...Gabrielle leapt from her blanket, entangled her feet as she did, and fell forward flat on her face!

"XENA! Help! Gods of Olympus above, HELP! It's a big snake, oh gods..." Gabrielle struggled and kicked wildly, but succeeded only in snaring herself more deeply in the blanket.

"XENAAAA!"

She finally freed herself from the blanket, jumped up and grabbed her staff from the side of the gnarled, old oak they had camped under, then turned to face this hated creature on better terms...

Xena stood there, giving her a crooked grin, and holding the snake in her hands. "Is this what all the fuss is about? Gabrielle, it's not even poisonous... He was just looking for a warm place to sleep. I bet you scared him half to death." Xena couldn't quite repress the chuckle...

"I scared HIM half to death? I scared HIM? I hate snakes! I hate them! Aaahhgg! And he was on my... on my..."

"Yeess?" Xena raised an eyebrow, trying not to smile too much.

"Well, letís just say if he had been a man touching me there, he would have a few bruises now." Gabrielle poked at the snake with her staff. "Go put it down over there - Get rid of it... How come I always get the creepy-crawlies under my blanket anyway?"

"I dunno, I guess you just attract that type..." Xena turned, smiling impishly, as she went to saddle Argo. She bent and let the snake slither away into the brush.

"Oh, ha-ha... you are sooo funny... I am almost eaten alive in my sleep, and you make jokes? Well, I ..."

Xena's shushing motion cut her off mid-gripe... She cocked her head to the side, as if listening to something just beyond her perception.

"Did you hear that?" she asked.

"What?" Gabrielle snorted. "A spider? A rat? What is it this tim..."

The deadly serious glare Xena gave her made Gabrielle pause. Then she heard it. A faint sound ... there it was again... a man - crying out in pain, followed by laughs and jeers...

"That! ...Come on Gabrielle, letís go!"

Xena vaulted onto Argo's back and her mount was running by the time she was well seated. Gabrielle ran behind, her staff held ready, wondering what sort of trouble they would see ahead this time...

 

 

Chapter 5: THE CAVALRY ARRIVES

Through a hazy veil of blood and pain, Rick was distantly aware of another blow to his stomach... He retched, spilling blood and bile on the grimy, already filth stained boots of one of the men that held his arms. They were dressed much as their comrades were in old, faded, studded leather armor and rusting helmets. Some had swords, some carried solid clubs of oak, and one held a bow in his hands and wore a ragged quiver of ill-made arrows upon his bac - No doubt the very man that had sent the arrow through Rick's thigh when he had awakened a few moments ago in this small clearing. He remembered waking up, standing, and then the pain as the arrow found its mark. The men had emerged quickly from the forest at the edge of the glade, surrounded him, and the beating began...

"Where is your gold?" asked the man who had been using him as a punching bag. "From the way you are dressed, you must be rich. Nobody else would dress that stupidly... Right boys?" He pointed to Rick's shorts and T-shirt as he laughed. The men around him all laughed in agreement.

One man was holding Rick's red backpack, trying to figure out how to open the snap, while another prodded a body lying on the ground. Rick recognized the corpse as the man whose neck Velasca had broken. "That body must have been caught in her magic too", he thought. The robber pulled something from beneath the camo-clad figure...

"Hey. What is this thing?" he asked aloud.

Rick squinted the blood from his eyes enough to make out what it was. An AK-47! If only he had it now...

"Ooommmph..." His breath was knocked from him as the iron fist rammed into his guts again! "Well, answer him - What is it?" Rick was fading out, passing beyond the pain now... until the foul-breathed man grabbed the arrow shaft and twisted it sharply!

"AAAAAAHHHHH!" He had never imagined pain so bad could exist, and he almost passed out from the blinding, white hot intensity of it.

"By Ares, I'm through talking! I'll just finish him and we'll take the stuff. We can figure out what it is later when we sell it. Come on boys." The man with the bad breath drew his sword and raised it over his head. By now, their bruised and bloody captive had sagged to his knees. The robber - turned killer - slashed downward aiming for the neck. Rick watched the blade as it began to descend, then closed his eyes...

Ssswwooosshh... CLAAANGG!

The sword fell to the grass - in two pieces! Then, they all heard the unmistakable sound of hoofbeats.

"AYIYIYIYIYIYIEEE" There was no mistaking that cry! Rick knew at once that it could only be...

"XENA! ...It's XENA!" yelled Mr. Stinkbreath. "The warrior princess... GET HER!"

Xena burst from the trees with Argo at full gallop! Rick watched her and Argo approaching, and thought to himself, actually chuckling a little through his pain, "I don't believe it - saved by her chakram, just like on TV..." The two men released him to draw their weapons, and he crumpled to the ground.

Xena caught the chakram as it came back to her waiting hand, she returned it to her side and drew her sword. Argo charged ahead as if to trample the first bandit she approached, but at the last second Xena leapt from Argo's back, feet first, and caught the man in his chest with both boot heels. The sound of ribs cracking could be heard clearly as he went down hard and lay still. She landed on her feet, facing the others.

"Why don't you boys pick on someone who can fight back?" she said, grinning savagely. "How can scum like you do against a real warrior?" Xena twirled her sword in an intricate pattern, as the bandits slowly circled her. Feeling secure in their numbers, all of them charged her at once, weapons drawn and yelling wildly! She braced herself to meet the attack. Just as they converged on her, she jumped backwards, spun in mid-air and clamped her muscular thighs around their leaders neck. She allowed her body to continue twisting and his head along with it.

Crrackk...

The dull popping sound left no doubt about what had happened to the robberís spine. He fell - lifeless, as Xena landed on her feet behind him. She spun around leveling a kick at the next mans kneecap. Her boot struck just under the joint, his leg snapped backward at the knee, and he went down screaming in agony!

"Not so tough against a woman are you boys?" Xena taunted.

A sword stabbed toward her from behind and the man to her right hacked at her, aiming low for her legs! She jumped straight up, and let fly with a double kick, catching each man square in the face! Both crumpled backward, spitting up blood and what few teeth they had to begin with.

... Sssshhhhhkkkk

Xena reached around and snatched the arrow from the air just before it entered her back! She turned toward the archer, his face showing sheer disbelief of what he had just seen. "Now that's not very sporting of you, is it?" She smiled wickedly at him, and broke the arrow over her knee.

Behind her, one of the bandits hefted his dagger. While the archer distracted her, he would finish this insolent woman. He drew back his dagger to fling it at Xena...

...And suddenly found himself on his face in the dirt, felled by several hammer-like blows to the rear of his head. He rolled onto his back to see Gabrielle standing over him, staff raised high.

"That's my best friend you were going to stab in the back", she said. Then she brought the staff smashing down on his head once more, and he was out!

She turned and parried the swing of another man's mace before it crushed her skull, then she snapped upwards with the low end of the staff, smashing it into his crotch! He staggered back and fell against a tree, gasping for breath. She then struck low at his legs, catching him in the rear of his calves, and brought him crashing down onto his back! Two more quick blows to his head insured he wasn't going anywhere soon! Three new opponents began to approach Gabrielle, as she spun her staff in an easy circle before her, waiting.

Meanwhile, Xena had been busy. All but two of her opponents were dead, disabled, or running for the woods. After she dodged a swordstroke from the nearest one, Xena glanced behind her and saw Gabrielle fending off three men who were attacking her from the front and sides. She was holding them off easily. Xena had to admit, her friend's fighting skills had really improved quickly over the last few years. She watched Gabrielle deflect a sword thrust, spin, and crack her staff across the mans face, felling him!

"Oooh, good girl Gabrielle; you really are beautiful when you're angry"... Xena smiled. She found herself getting aroused, as she always did, by watching Gabrielle fight. Even in the midst of this battle, she felt the desire for her lover welling up inside, and her body stirred in response to her carnal thoughts. Xena had always gotten an almost sexual pleasure from the intensity of combat, and watching Gabrielle only added to her ardor... Coming out of her reverie, Xena side-stepped her current opponent's sword thrust, grabbed his arm, and knocked the weapon from his grip. Pivoting at the hips she smashed her elbow into his nose, breaking it and knocking him to the ground! Then she used the respite to again glance back and admire her lover.

That's when she noticed the man sneaking up through the bushes... behind Gabrielle!

"Gabrielle. Behind you!", she yelled!

"What?" Gabrielle shouted. "I'm a little busy now Xena, we can talk later."

Gabrielle smacked one man repeatedly in the midsection, her staff a blur of motion, and he fell back with the wind knocked from him and several cracked ribs. Another man managed to grab her staff, and she wrestled him for control. Xena saw the thief behind Gabrielle raise his club and strike her hard on the back of her neck! She fell forward - stunned.

"GABRIELLE!" Xena shouted! She reached for her chakram, raised it to throw and...

CHHIINNG...

It went flying from her hand! The swordsman behind her had managed to score a lucky hit on the chakram, knocking it from her grasp. She spun her sword under her arm, pointed it behind her, and rammed it through his chest! Turning quickly, she ran to help her friend. Two of the men near Gabrielle raced to face Xena and block her path. The third raised his sword high! Xena knew she would never get to him in time!

"GABRIELLE!!!" she screamed...

Gabrielle rolled onto her back, looking up in a daze. She saw the sword come arcing down... Then, as she looked up at the man's face, it suddenly exploded outward before her eyes! A thunderclap boomed, seemingly from nowhere, and the thugís face dissolved in a spray of blood, bone, and brains that spattered all over Gabrielle's prone body and the tree behind her! An eyeball hung on a glistening thread from the ruined socket, as the man fell on top of her. She screamed, struggling to push the mutilated corpse away!

Xena turned to see from where the sound had come... There! The man who had been beaten by the thugs was holding a strange wood and metal object - like a crossbow without the bow - in front of himself, as he lay prone. It was a weapon - a very powerful one at that! As Xena watched he again slumped to the earth. He had used his remaining strength to save Gabrielle.

The shattering noise and the horrific death of their fellow outlaw was more than the other men could take. They ran as fast as they could in all directions for the woods and safety, leaving their dead and wounded comrades in their desperate rush to get away.

Xena helped her friend to her feet and Gabrielle picked up her staff, while trying to wipe the gore from her body. "What happened to that man?" she asked, pointing her staff at the corpse whose face was now decorating the tree behind it - and her clothes. "I thought I was done for."

"So did I", Xena replied. She reached out for Gabrielle and gave her a tight, lingering squeeze. "I couldn't get to you. Thank the gods for that man's weapon - it's what saved you. I've never seen anything like it, or even heard of anything like it. Come on, letís see if we can help him." They ran over to where Rick lay. Gabrielle gently turned him on his back as Xena took the strange weapon from his hands. He came to, still dazed, and began to try to fight her for it.

"Hey... Shhhh ... Be still... We're friends, and we're trying to help", Gabrielle said.

Rick stopped struggling, and tried to focus on her. "Oh man, it really is her", he thought. He could never mistake that face. He had to warn her...

"Gabrielle... Xena... I have to warn you... You are danger... It's, it's... vel...s ...uhhhh....." He collapsed again, this time utterly spent.

"How did he know our names?" Gabrielle asked. "And he looked at me like he knew me."

"I don't know." Xena replied. "Maybe he heard them during the fight. He did say that he had to warn us though. Warn us about what, I wonder?" She began to assess his injuries. "I'll start treating his wounds. He's in no danger, but he needs attention now. You look through his pack and see if you can find something that might tell us who he is or where he's from."

"I've never seen such a strange pack", the bard replied. "Whatever it is made of feels kind of smooth like silk, but is much tougher - and I have never seen a buckle like this. What a pretty red color too." Gabrielle finally got the pack open and started rummaging through it.

Xena broke the arrowhead off and began to pull the shaft back through Rick's thigh. "It's best for him that he passed out again. He won't feel a thing", she said as the arrow slid out quickly. "We both know how much that hurts don't we?" She looked up at Gabrielle. Gabrielle wasn't listening to her though. She had one of Rick's shirts out and was staring at it silently, an amazed look on her face. Xena began to sew the holes closed on his leg.

"What is it, Gabrielle? What is so fascinating about a shirt?"

Gabrielle slowly turned the shirt around so that Xena could see the front of it. On the white shirt, was a colorful, amazingly life-like painting of - she and Gabrielle! They both looked down at the man who had brought this mystery into their lives.

As one, they said, "Who are you?"

 

 

Chapter 6: A PRELUDE TO MOONLIGHT

He awoke to the sound of voices, whispering. What were they saying? He could just make it out, over what sounded like the crackle of a nearby fire. Keeping his eyes closed, he listened to the conversation...

"You be careful out there, please. Remember, we don't know what we are up against yet."

"I always am, Gabrielle." Xena adjusted her sword and slung a waterskin over her shoulder. "You just look after our guest, and I will be back in a few hours."

Rick opened his eyes, and turned his head just enough to see the two women standing on the other side of the fire. Several rocks were arranged in a circle around the crackling campfire, and a pot of some kind of liquid boiled over the flames. Two sleeping pallets were on the opposite side of the campsite from him, and some bags and a few scrolls were scattered around the area. Behind the two women, whom he immediately recognized, stood a large tan horse - Argo! It wasn't a dream. He really was here, with Xena and Gabrielle! He watched them as they continued speaking.

"I know you're always careful, but be extra careful tonight Xena. I have a bad feeling about what happened today. I just don't want anything to happen to you." Gabrielle lay her head against her friend's armored bosom, and wrapped her arms around her waist. Xena gave her a re-assuring hug, and then reached down and cupped her young companion's chin in her hand, tipping it upward. She bent her head down and gently pressed her lips against the sweet softness of Gabrielle's waiting mouth. Gabrielle kissed her back, at first gently, then passionately, desperately... Xena responded in kind, running her hands slowly up Gabrielle's hips, then her waist, then higher... and then she pulled away, abruptly!

"You know", she said, smiling seductively, "If I don't head out right now, I may not leave at all - and I have to get to that village up ahead. We need food, medicine, and information, and I promised Medocles that we would have his ring returned to him first thing in the morning. Besides, we have company tonight and the sleep herbs I gave him are wearing off, so he will be waking soon."

"I know... I know", Gabrielle replied. "Get going. Just be careful, and remember... I love you". She gave Xena one last hug, and then turned and began adding wood to the fire. Xena mounted Argo and she trotted off into the darkness.

"I love you too, my beautiful little bard", Xena thought. "How I do love you so." She rode on, fighting the urge to make an excuse to stay. They would have time tomorrow night. She would see to it...

 

 

Chapter 7: GABRIELLE

"Well, that ends that argument once and for all", Rick thought. "They really are lovers - I knew it." He rolled over and faced the fire, making a pretense of waking up.

"Good morning", he said.

"Evening, actually", Gabrielle corrected, smiling at him. "You've been asleep all day. How do you feel? Are you hungry?"

"Well, considering the kind of day I had, I guess I feel all right. My leg really hurts like... umm... Hades, and the rest of me doesn't feel much better - but I'll live. As far as food goes, I sure would love to have some of whatever you've got cooking there. It smells great." Rick tried to get up, winced in pain, and then thought better of it.

"Just stay there", Gabrielle said. "I'll get you a bowl. It's rabbit stew - compliments of Xena's chakram." She scooped out some of the thick liquid, handed him a steaming bowl, and he sat up enough to eat.

"Mmmmm... Very tasty... Thank you."

"You're welcome", Gabrielle replied with a smile. Then, her face took on a more serious expression. "What is your name, if I may ask? I would tell you mine first, but it seems you already know it, don't you?"

"My name is Rick... and yes, I knew yours - long before today."

"But how? We have never met. Are you an oracle? Do you have the gift of prophecy?" Gabrielle asked.

"Well... no to both. Actually, the truth may be a little hard to believe. I can hardly believe it myself... Gabrielle, I'm from the future."

"The future?"

"Yes. I'm from about two thousand years in the future. You and Xena are both just TV characters - in my time." Rick shifted position, trying to lie where there were fewer rocks poking him through the blanket. "How do these two sleep like this every night? he thought.

"What does TV character mean?" Gabrielle inquired, looking confused.

"Oh boy", Rick thought. "This might be tough to explain." He began to try. "You like plays, right Gabrielle?"

"Oh, yes. I love plays and theater. I also love stories too - after all, I am a bard", she replied.

"Uh, yes... I know. Well, a TV character is like the fictional person that an actor creates in a play. As for what a TV is; well, imagine a box with one side made of glass. People all have boxes like this in their homes. When you look in the box, you see images from all around the world of events that are happening, or, of plays that are totally fictional."

"Oh", exclaimed Gabrielle. "You mean like a crystal ball?"

"Yes, very much like that. We all watch them for entertainment. You and Xena are the two main characters in a play that comes on each week. It's called Xena: Warrior princess, and it's my favorite show."

"Xena: Warrior Princess?" Gabrielle asked. "Not Xena: Warrior Princess and Gabrielle: the Bard, or Amazon Princess, or Amazon Queen?"

"Umm... no, I'm afraid not", Rick replied, hesitantly.

"Hah... That just figures. Even in other times I don't get any credit." She leaned toward him. "Never be a sidekick, unless you like to be..." Suddenly Gabrielle's eyes opened wide with realization! "Wait a minute... You mean everybody in your time can see everything that Xena and I do?"

Rick, sensing her fears, tried to calm them for her. "No, we don't see everything by far, just the main parts of your adventures. We don't see the, uh, ordinary things you do - for the most part." He could see that Gabrielle's cheeks had reddened, but his explanation seemed to help. "We usually don't see you sleeping, or taking care of nature calls, or anything like that... Don't worry, people where I'm from don't want to see that kind of thing (Well, most people", he thought). "The writers concentrate mostly on action and adventure - you know, just the exciting parts", he said.

Gabrielle looked much relieved to hear that. She quickly changed the subject. "The shirt you have in your pack has our picture on it. Why is that? I hope you don't mind that I looked through it to try to find out who you were."

"Not at all... Well, as I said, Xena is my favorite show. Many of us look to you both for inspiration as well as entertainment. I really love the show and - well, I guess I idolize you both quite a bit." Now it was Rick turning red, but he went on. "Where I am from, we wear pictures of things we like on our shirts. Many of us do, anyway."

"Where are you from?" she asked.

"I'm from a place called Texas. It's one of the fifty states in the United States of America, which is the country I live in… kind of like Thrace is one of the states of the country of Greece."

"I see. Well, how far away from Greece is Texas?" she asked. "I bet it's many moons ride from her, like China, huh?"

"Well, it must be at least ten thousand miles from here - across the ocean - give or take a few."

"Ten thousand", Gabrielle exclaimed! "The world is that big?"

Rick yawned. "Oh, I'm sorry... Yes the world is about twenty-four thousand miles around." He noticed that she didn't ask about the round part - But, of course, the Greeks already knew the world was round. That particular bit of knowledge wouldn't be lost for many years to come, in the dark ages. "But it only took me about eighteen hours to fly to Greece from Texas." Rick knew as soon as it slipped out what was coming.

"You flew here?" Gabrielle asked, now clearly impressed. "You have the power of flight? Why didn't you use it to get away this morning?"

"No", Rick said, chuckling. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to laugh at you, but it's so strange to have to explain all these things that I just take for granted... Anyway, I flew here in an airplane, which is sort of like a ship with wings. It can carry people to faraway places very quickly. In the future, most people fly in them a lot." He yawned again. "I'm so sorry... I'm tired, and I slept all day too. I don't mean to be rude, because I really am enjoying your company."

"I am the one being rude", she said. "You were hurt and lost a lot of blood today. You should get back to sleep, and I should get some too. We can talk more tomorrow, after Xena gets back." Gabrielle stood, took Rick's now empty bowl, and placed it with the other dishes. She checked the poultice on his leg, replacing it with one Xena had prepared earlier. Then she stretched out on her blanket across the fire from him.

Rick rolled onto his back. A full moon hung low in the western sky. He couldn't fathom it. It was the same moon he had always known, and yet he was seeing it from a world gone mad. "I'm really here, talking to Gabrielle. I can't believe it." He pinched himself on the arm, but didn't awaken, of course. "I guess it must be real", he thought. "Funny, until I ran into Velasca, I thought magic was all just a bunch of...

"Velasca... Damn!" He had been so taken with actually seeing Xena, and talking with Gabrielle, that he had totally forgotten the reason he was here in the first place.

"What was that, Rick?" Gabrielle asked.

"Well, no sense denying her a good nights sleep", he thought. "There's nothing we can do right now anyway, if Velasca shows up - and she did say she had to take care of something first." What he said was... "The moon is sure pretty tonight."

"Yes, it's beautiful", Gabrielle answered. She was thinking about Xena, riding alone on Argo, in the moonlight. Was she thinking about her lover right now as well? Gabrielle hoped that she was! She watched the fireflies winking on and off, near the woods at the edge of the swampy area below them. They were dancing the dance of creation itself, signaling to a potential mate: I am here, I am ready to join with you. Gabrielle had similar thoughts running through her head about a certain warrior princess. The luminous insects reminded her of another night, when she and Xena had ridden in the moonlight together. The night that they had first made love...

That night there had been fireflies as well - thousands of them! They had ridden suddenly into the swarm as they emerged from the forest on Argo, and were bathed in the light of a full moon and surrounded by the living, flying lanterns. It was one of those rare, magical occasions that occur only once in a lifetime. Even Xena had been enchanted by the moment, forgetting her serious warrior demeanor for one of those few times that her friend cherished so much. She had actually giggled along with Gabrielle, as she had done when she was a child playing with her brothers, allowing the bard a glimpse into the soft, innocent core buried somewhere under all that leather, steel... and guilt. They'd marveled at the beautiful setting around them, and then Xena had turned around in the saddle, and Gabrielle looked into her eyes. Those cold, blue eyes that had witnessed the decimation of thousands of enemies had melted, and stared back into her own with warmth, love... and desire!

Gabrielle had noticed a few stray looks before. They had been held a little too long, and quickly averted when Xena had seen her friend become aware of her gaze. She had noticed how, the longer they had been friends, the closer Xena slept to he - at times even draping her arm over Gabrielle in the night. She had often wished that one of those nights Xena's arms would be wrapped around her for a purpose other than sleeping, but she knew Xena would never do that. The warrior princess could have any handsome man, or beautiful Amazon for that matter, that she wanted. What could she possibly find attractive about a simple farmer's daughter from Poteidaia?

Yet, in that moment, surrounded by the glimmering insects, Xena's face was filled with longing - longing for Gabrielle! In that singular moment, the young bard knew that her dreams had come true: The beautiful, worldly, warrior princess wanted her... HER! Xena had seen her desire reflected in Gabrielle's eyes, and leaned back in the saddle, pressing her lips softly against her young companions own, trembling pair. They had both felt their passions begin to overwhelm them and Gabrielle had gasped at their intensity! She had never known such complete desire as lit her body at that moment - burning as bright as the thousands of mating insects around them. The kiss went on and on, and then Xena finally broke away, her tongue tracing a circle around Gabrielle's lips as she pulled back. Xena stopped Argo at the edge of a small pond. She dismounted, and reached up to her soon to be lover...

Rick yawned loudly and stretched, breaking Gabrielle away from her thoughts. She was surprised to find herself aroused to the point of feeling dampness on her underclothes.

"You know in my era, men have actually been to the moon several times," Rick said, sleepily. He expected a suitably excited and awed response from Gabrielle. She, however, had begun to drift back into her passion-filled memories again; barely aware of what he was saying.

What he got was...

"Oh, really... How many times have women been?"

Rick just pretended that he had fallen asleep. "Oh yeah, this is gonna be some trip", he thought. "I just hope I get treated better than Joxer." Then he drifted off into the kingdom of Morpheus and the more ordinary dreams that reside there.

 

 

Chapter 8: A PLEASANT AWAKENING II

Xena rode into the camp just before sunrise. She dismounted, gave Argo a quick pat and draped the reins over the saddle. "You go and graze now girl", she said. "I'll give you a nice rubdown later." She was dismayed to see that neither Gabrielle nor the mystery man had awakened despite no attempt on her part to be quiet.

"Gabrielle still sleeps like she is safe in her bed in Poteidaia", thought Xena. "And he is obviously no warrior. He would have wakened by now too. I wonder who he is?"

Xena couldn't help noticing that as Gabrielle lay on her side, her shapely legs were partially exposed all the way up to her rounded bottom. She moved toward her sleeping friend and lay on the blanket behind her, looking to make sure their company was still asleep. She scooted over to lie next to Gabrielle, not touching her. Then she reached down and began to slide her hand along Gabrielle's right calf. The smooth, muscular feel of it gave Xena a stirring at once. She moved her hand further up, sliding it across the softness at the back of her lover's knee. Gabrielle began to wake, moaning quietly.

"Mmmmm", Gabrielle said, sleepily. "Xena, that feels sooo good." She slid her hand under the warm wolfskin to meet the one that, by now, was making it's way up her thigh. Xena moved her lips in the direction of Gabrielleís neck. Gabrielle reached toward the hand now feeling it's way across her bottom... then clamped onto it!

"Gotcha this time!" she yelled, clutching Xena's hand. "You slimy snake, I'll teach you to..."

Xena reacted instinctively, easily breaking the hold on her hand, and twisting sideways. She straddled Gabrielle from behind, and pinned her to the blanket, face down.

"Gabrielle stop! It's me", she said.

Rick woke with a start. He looked across the remains of last night's fire... to see Gabrielle on her stomach and Xena on her knees - straddling Gabrielle's partially bare butt! "Wow", he thought. "It's even more than I imagined! These two must be insatiable - and with me right here too!"

Xena glanced over to see Rick staring at them, a wide grin on his face. She looked down at Gabrielle, then hastily jumped to her feet! Gabrielle pulled her skirt down quickly and stood also, straightening her hair. Both had looks of acute embarrassment on their faces - especially Gabrielle.

"It… it wasn't what it looked like", she stammered. "You see there was this snake..."

"Yeah, a big snake", said Xena.

"It crawled into my blanket yesterday and I was dreaming about... well, I thought the snake was Xena's han... That is, I mean..." Gabrielle spluttered.

"What Gabrielle is trying to say is that she thought a snake was crawling up her skirt, and I was trying to help her... Right Gabrielle?" Xena nudged her in the ribs.

"Yes, thatís it... Exactly. You see it's very simple." Gabrielle stooped to stir the fire, and began adding wood. Xena bent down to help her.

"It's ok", Rick said. "Don't be embarrassed. I know you two love each other - and I know now that you are lovers, though I had always suspected it. Last night I learned that my suspicions were correct, when I saw you two kissing before Xena left. I wasn't spying on you, I just happened to wake up and see." He smiled broadly at them.

Gabrielle, the redness in her cheeks lessening now, reached for Xena's hand and held it lovingly. She smiled at Xena then turned back to Rick. "Yes, we do love each other, very much", she said. "But, you must admit, if we had seen you and your lover in that position, wouldn't you be embarrassed too?"

Rick laughed aloud. "Yes, I guess I would have at that!"

 

 

Chapter 9: THE TRUTH

Xena addressed Rick now, turning serious. "You said you had always suspected. How long have you known about us. Who are you? Where are you from, and where did you get all those strange items we found with you and your friend?"

"My friend?" he said. "Oh, you mean that guy in the green clothes? Believe me, he is not my friend. He's a killer of innocent women and children. We would call him a terrorist in my time"

"Xena, his name is Rick. He's from the future" Gabrielle piped in. "Tell her what you told me last night."

"I think first I had better tell you why I am here, and how I got to be here, in this time. Youíre not going to like it" He paused... "Velasca sent me here."

Gabrielle gasped... Xena jumped up! Drawing her sword, she stepped between Gabrielle and Rick, covering her lover protectively. She glared menacingly at him.

Gabrielle blurted, "She's trapped in a lava flow. We put her there. She won't be escaping for a long..."

"Time", Xena finished for her. She looked at Rick. "Youíre from the future... after Velasca escapes, aren't you? Did she send you to spy on us?" She pointed her sword at Rick's throat.

"I am from the future" he gulped. "But, but... I don't work for Velasca. She sent me against my will. She said that she wanted you to be warned, so she could enjoy your fear. She sent me to tell you... well, maybe I just better start from the beginning", he said, looking down at Xena's sword.

"Yes, maybe youíd better", Xena said. She lowered her weapon, but did not sheath it, Rick noticed.

"Well, where do I start..." Rick told them all that had happened. Where he was from, when, and how he and Velasca had come to be here. He told them about the terrorist attack, and Velasca's release. He told them of all that had happened until the moment that he saw Xena charge out if the woods on Argo, and save him from the bandits...

"Thank you for that, by the way", he said. "I owe you my life, both of you."

Xena finally sheathed her sword. "You owe us nothing", she said. "You saved Gabrielle too, remember. I can never thank you enough for that"

"Well, maybe I can - just a little", offered Gabrielle. She walked over to where Rick lay, bent down, and kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you", she said, as she smiled sweetly at him.

"You're very welcome... I couldn't let one of my favorite TV characters get killed, could I? They might have had to cancel the show", Rick replied, laughing aloud. They both laughed along with him.

Then Xena broke in. "That weapon you have is amazing - and deadly! Are you a warrior in your time?"

Rick laughed. "Hardly - no, I work in a computer fabrication plant where I operate ion implantation systems that..." He saw Xena and Gabrielle looking at him with blank expressions on their faces... "Uh, never mind. No, I am not a warrior at all, though I do know how to use guns - which is what that weapon is called. Actually, I had never killed anyone, until yesterday."

"You lost your blood innocence to save me?" Gabrielle asked - a shocked look on her face.

He recalled how devastated she had been when she lost her blood innocence. "Gabrielle, don't be upset about it. I know how you feel about killing, and I don't like it either." He continued. "But, I do feel that killing is sometimes necessary, especially to save family, friends, or other innocent people. I have the feeling that before this is over, I will have to kill more than just one man. Velasca will see to that, I'm sure."

Xena interrupted them. "Can you remember anything Velasca said that would give us a clue what her plans might be?"

"I don't know. She just said she was going to get revenge on you two and that she was... Of course! Now I remember. She said that she had to take care of some traitors first. Damn! I can't believe I forgot that. Xena, I think she meant the Amazons - Ephiny and the others who helped you defeat her."

"I agree", Xena said. "Come on you two. We need to break camp and get going. It's over a day's ride to the Amazon village - and Rick is wounded. You will have to ride Argo until you're leg heals some."

"Whereís the weapon I had?" Rick asked. "I also need to search the man with the green clothes to see what other useful items he might have."

"Your weapon is over there with his body and all the other stuff he had, including his pack." Xena pointed to a nearby clump of bushes.

 

 

Chapter 10: READY OR NOT...

While Xena and Gabrielle struck camp, Rick hobbled over to the dead terrorist. He saw the AK-47 propped against a tree. He began to search the body - removing the man's web belt and checking the ammo pouches. "Not bad", he thought. "Ten clips, and all full - That's three hundred rounds." There was also a combat knife and a grenade hung on the belt. "Those should come in handy." He also took the man's sidearm. It was an automatic, with what looked like Russian markings, in a nylon holster. Opening his pack, Rick found three grenades, ten more clips for the AK, and five clips for the pistol. "Man", he thought. "This guy was really loaded for bear. Those terrorists don't fool around. Let's see now, that makes about six hundred AK rounds, and seventy-five for the pistol, plus four grenades and the knife - Not bad at all." He took the watch off the dead man's arm, and retrieved a cigarette lighter and some matches from his pocket, then looked down at his own shorts, and T-shirt. "These won't do", he thought. "I

Xena and Gabrielle were almost finished packing when Rick came limping out of the woods. He now wore the terroristís camouflage clothes, cap, and boots. The green nylon backpack, full of ammo and his other clothes, was on his back. Four grenades hung from his web belt, along with the pistol and clips for the rifle. He had the AK-47 slung over his shoulder. "Glad that guy wore size 9 boots", He thought. "Slightly big, but I can manage."

"We're just about ready", Xena said, as she checked the straps on Argo's saddle. "Did you get what you needed?"

"Oh yeah. I sure did. That guy had a lot of firepower with him. No wonder he and his buddies killed so many people in that pit - mostly women and children too - the bastards!"

"Well, we can't help them", Xena replied. "But, we can try to keep others from dying by stopping Velasca. She won't be satisfied with just our deaths."

Gabrielle handed Rick his red backpack. "Here are your other things. I really love your pack. It's such a pretty color, and feels so smooth, like silk." He opened the pack and took out his sunglasses, extra clothes, discman, and several cd's. He handed the pack back to Gabrielle. "Take it", he said. "I have another one now, and I want you to have it. Itís made of something called nylon, by the way, not silk." Gabrielle's face lit up. "Thank you. I really love red." She began to put some of her things in it. Rick showed her how to adjust the straps, and helped her put it on.

"Lets go", Xena said. She motioned for him to get on Argo, then helped him into the saddle. "We had better hurry. Who knows what Velasca has in mind for the Amazons, or for us."

"What about that man's body?" Gabrielle asked.

"Leave him where he is", Rick said. "Being food for the buzzards is what his kind deserves." He spat back toward the woods.

"We don't have time to bury him, anyway", Xena said. "Lets get going."

As they began traveling down toward the river, Gabrielle took Xena's hand. They exchanged a brief, intense look, which, as always, seemed to convey more love than most people could feel. Rick, seeing them holding hands thought, "If only all people could love like they do, maybe the world wouldn't be such a bad place. I only hope that one day I can find someone to love like that."

Then he came back to reality and chambered a round for the AK...

 

 

Chapter 11: WALKING, TALKING, AND ROCKING...

The day was bright and sunny as they traveled toward the village. Xena had led them down to the river, where they crossed it, and then began following it to the south. Rick was amazed at the pace they were able to maintain. Xena and Gabrielle kept up a pace that he knew he could never have matched, even without his leg wound. His leg, though stiff, was not really hurting as much as he would have thought. Whatever was in that poultice was sure working well.

Gabrielle broke the silence. "Rick, do you think anyone has missed you yet? Won't your family be worried about you?"

"I doubt anyone has figured out that I'm missing", he responded. "Most of the bodies at the pit were blown to pieces by explosions, or burned to ashes by Velasca. They may assume I am one of them. As far as my family missing me - I don't have much family. The ones I do have I am not close to." He ducked to avoid a passing branch.

"Why did those terrorists want to kill all those innocent people anyway?" Gabrielle asked. "Are your people and theirs at war?"

" No", Rick replied. "They're just trying to get attention for their cause. We haven't had a real war in many years. A few small ones, But nothing big since World War II."

Gabrielle walked up alongside Argo, and checked Rick's leg, adjusting the poultice.

Xena broke in now. "World War II?"

"Yes, we have had two world wars. Both in the century I live in. World War I was about eighty years before my time. They called it 'The War to end all Wars' - Until World War II came along twenty years later. They were both unbelievably bloody."

"I'll wager they were, considering how deadly your weapon is", Xena remarked.

Rick adjusted his butt once more in the saddle. "Oh my ass is gonna be sore tonight", he thought. Then he continued. "Xena, the weapon I have is just a small one - All soldiers carry one like it. We have weapons in my day that you can't imagine. Guns so big that each shot from them can destroy a house, or kill dozens of men and armor plated machines, called tanks, that can move around, and have big guns on them. We have planes like I told you about that can fly faster than sound can travel, and they have weapons that can destroy almost anything. But the worst weapons we have are atomic weapons." He tried to think of a way to compare them to something they could grasp.

"Didn't you once fight a battle in which ten thousand men were killed?" Rick asked, looking at Xena.

Her beautiful features went flat. "Yes, it was the battle of Corinth. I've been responsible for many deaths in my life. I will never be able to make up for them all..."

Rick cut her off. "You shouldn't be so hard on yourself about your past, Xena." Compared to people in the future, you are an amateur at killing. There was this leader in World War II named Adolph Hitler - my country fought against his. He is probably one of the bloodiest killers in history because he gave orders that sent tens of millions of people to their deaths - many of them women and children."

"Millions?" They both looked at him incredulously.

"Yes, I imagine thatís more people than are alive in the whole world at this time", Rick said. "And my country is not innocent either. Remember I mentioned atomic weapons? Well, my country invented them. Each one is capable of destroying an entire city, and mine is the only country to ever actually use them. During World War II, we dropped them on two cities in Japan. Just those two weapons almost completely destroyed the cities they were used on and killed at least a quarter of a million people."

Xena and Gabrielle both looked shocked. "Your time sounds very scary", Gabrielle remarked. "Is everything so terrible then?"

"Not at all. Like I said, we haven't had a bad war in a long time. Most people live in peace. War has just become too dangerous, and expensive, to wage full scale", he replied. "We have many wonderful things too. Medicine cures most diseases that kill people in this time. We travel in space, under the oceans, and we have TV and music... hey, that reminds me." He took his pack off and began rummaging around in it, taking out his discman, and popped a CD into it. "Gabrielle. Come here and I'll let you hear some music from our time."

She gave him a confused look, but drew near Argo, and Rick leaned over towards her. "Hold this", he said as he handed her the discman. Then he put the headphones on her. "Now push right there", he instructed, pointing at the play button.

Gabrielle pushed the button. She looked puzzled for a moment, until the music started playing. Then she looked up at Rick. A grin slowly spread across her face and she began to move her head in time to the music. "I really like this", she said, as she walked along. By now she was moving her whole body in time to the music, doing a little dance as she walked. After a few minutes, she moved nearer to Xena.

"Xena, you have to hear this. It's really good!" She took the headphones off and started to put them on Xena, who pulled her head away... but seeing Gabrielle's pleading look, she bent down and submitted to her young friend.

As Gabrielle took the headphones off and was putting them on Xena, Rick could faintly hear the music. 'Give me that old time rock and roll... That kinda music just soothes the soul... I reminisce...' Then Gabrielle had them on Xena. She listened for a few seconds, then took the headphones off and handed them back to Gabrielle.

"Yeah, thatís really nice", she said, unconvincingly.

"Well, some people just don't appreciate the arts like I do", Gabrielle replied. She put the headphones back on, and the trio moved on down-river: One riding, one walking, and one dancing and moving to the sound of classic rock and roll that wouldn't be recorded for centuries...

 

Chapter 12: XENA'S LESSON

The sun was fast approaching the western horizon when Xena finally slowed the pace. They were still following the river, but now snow-capped mountains were visible on the horizon. Rick's butt felt so numb that he doubted he would be able to dismount without help. "Gabrielle must be tired too", he thought. "She isn't even listening to music anymore." She had tried to hand the discman back to Rick earlier, but he told her to keep it, and handed her the other two CD's. "I've had my whole life to listen to that music", he told her. "You have only until the batteries go dead - and there's just one extra set." Then, of course, he'd had to explain about batteries.

"We should camp here for the night", Xena said. "We can get an early start in the morning, and we'll be there by mid-day." She led them over toward several ancient, twisted pine trees, growing at the base of a tall, rock outcrop. The river wound its way through the valley below them, and the sun glinted off the snowy mountain peaks in the distance beyond. From over their heads a shrill cry sounded as a goshawk, disturbed from his perch, let them know of his discontent. He screamed again, then, flapping to gain altitude, he disappeared over the rim of the forest, toward the north.

As he'd suspected, Rick had to be helped down from Argo. Xena assisted him. He pulled her aside and said, "I want to show you how to use my weapons before it gets dark. It won't take very long, and you need to know. If something happens to me, they could really help you against Velasca. I'd show Gabrielle too, but..."

"She wouldn't use a weapon that kills and maims like that gun", Xena finished.

"Yeah, I thought as much. Lets go over to this rock, and I will show you the basics." Rick sat down and showed Xena how the rifle and pistol worked, explained a little about bullets, and instructed her how to reload and aim. Then he asked Gabrielle to set some pinecones up on a rock about thirty yards away. When she returned, he raised the rifle, aimed, and fired.

BANG...

Gabrielle jumped, Argo snorted, and even Xena flinched, a little, as the report sounded. One pinecone was blasted to smithereens!

"I hate that thing", Gabrielle said. "It's so noisy."

"And deadly", Xena added.

"OK. Now it's your turn, Xena." Rick handed her the rifle. She mimicked the stance Rick had used, and raised it to her shoulder, as he had shown her. He reminded her about the safety, warned her about the recoil, and showed her again how to aim. She sighted carefully, squeezed the trigger slowly, and fired...

BANG...

The bullet hit the front of the rock, bounced off and ricocheted to the left, whining as it sped through the air! It struck a boulder, rebounded and screamed over their heads - hitting the tall outcrop behind them and ricocheting back in their direction. It's momentum mostly spent, it slowed further and fell toward the ground - striking Gabrielle in the back of the head!

"OUCH!" Hey, be careful with that thing", she yelled. She reached down and picked up the bullet. Walking over to Xena, she held it up to show her. "You missed", she smirked. Not used to seeing Xena be less than expert with a weapon, Gabrielle was trying to rub it in.

"Give me a break", Xena snapped. "It was my first shot."

Gabrielle walked up to Xena and put her face right in front of her friend's, grinning in triumph, her nose crinkling in that cute little way she had. "It's nice to know that there are some things that the Warrior Princess just can't do." She was really enjoying this!

Xena again raised the rifle to her shoulder, sighted carefully, started slowly squeezing the trigger...

"Hold it! Hold it", yelled Gabrielle. She walked over to Argo, reached up behind the saddle and unhooked her frying pan from the horse's back. She put it over her head, grinning devilishly. "Now go ahead", she taunted.

Xena's eyes narrowed, as she gave Gabrielle her trademark stare... She turned, raised the rifle to her shoulder, sighted carefully, and squeezed the trigger...

BANG... BANG... BANG...

All three of the remaining pinecones were shattered!

THUNK...

Gabrielle's frying pan fell to the ground, as she stared, open-mouthed at the now barren boulder.

"She must be a natural", Rick thought. "I bet she's like that with any weapon." Xena turned and handed the rifle back to him. "You were right", she said. "It is very much like a crossbow." She walked up to Gabrielle, who still stood, mouth agape. Xena leaned close in to her face and gave her a quirking grin.

"Remember", she said. "I have many skills..."

 

 

Chapter 13: CAMPFIRE STORIES

Rick showed Xena how to fire the pistol, and he explained to her about hand grenades, making sure she knew that, after pulling the pin, she had only a three count to get rid of it before it blew. Then they set up camp.

Xena let Argo graze in the fields around their campsite, and began to collect firewood in the nearby forest. Gabrielle set up three sleeping rolls, and started gathering kindling - shaving some down to tender - in preparation for making a fire. Rick helped gather wood closer to camp, at Xena's suggestion. She said it would be good for his leg to walk some, as it would keep it from stiffening up too much. After gathering wood, Xena walked down the hill to the meandering river, to fish for their supper.

When Xena returned shortly with six fat trout, still flapping their tails and squirming inside the bag she carried, she handed them to Gabrielle, then moved over toward Argo and gave her steed some berry covered branches that she had found on the way up the hill. Gabrielle lay the bag of fish down, opened up her scroll pouch and rummaged through it, the last of the things she had been digging through for a while now. "Oh, that's just great", she said. "I must have lost my flints while we were crossing the river earlier. Sorry, I guess it's raw food tonight."

Rick looked over at the bag of still moving fish, and got a sick look on his face. "I don't think so", he said. "I'm not eating any raw fish. Here, let me." He pulled the lighter from his pocket, struck it, and lit the tender and kindling wood Gabrielle had prepared. Within seconds, the twigs started crackling and burning, and the early evening darkness was pushed back a little. He stuck the lighter back in his pocket, looked up, and saw Gabrielle staring at him, her eyes wide!

"That was amazing", she said. "How did you do that?"

"You know I never thought I would actually meet someone who doesn't know what a lighter is." He pulled it out and handed it to her. "Just strike it like I did, with your thumb." He showed her, and she struck it. Her eyes were filled with child-like wonder.

"Look Xena", Gabrielle said, showing Xena the flaming lighter as she walked up. "Portable fire. Isn't it great?"

"That is good", she replied, taking it from Gabrielle. Gabrielle showed her how it worked, and Xena struck it. "A very useful tool." She handed it back to Rick.

"Oh Xena, you are always so practical... I really wish you would try the music again. Maybe another song?" Gabrielle asked.

"Not right now, I have things to do." Xena walked back over and began rubbing Argo down. Gabrielle cooked a really wonderful dinner of trout and some wild tubers she had found growing near the campsite. She fried the trout in some kind of oil from a bladder in her cooking pouch, and seasoned them with what appeared to be herbs and spices she kept in tiny leather bags. She boiled the tubers, poured off the water, and seasoned them from a different bag. The meal was really very tasty, and they all ate heartily, Gabrielle eating three trout and several tubers herself. Xena ate two trout and some tubers, and Rick ate just the one fish and only two of the potato-like bulbs. Even so, he was very full and marveled that Xena and Gabrielle could keep their figures while eating like that. After they ate, Xena pulled a piece of stone from her saddlebag and began honing her sword with it., Gabrielle pulled a fresh scroll from a pouch full of them, and began to write the days events down, muttering quietly to herself whi

Rick looked over toward Xena, as he wiped down his rifle. "Do you think the three of us have a chance against Velasca?" he asked. "I know you defeated her before, with Callisto's help, but she's had two thousand years to plan this out now, if she was able to, during her entrapment. Who knows what powers she's learned in that time. The three of us against a goddess who can't be killed? What can we do to her?"

"I don't know yet. I'm working on it", Xena replied, without looking up from her work.

"Well I hope you're working fast", Rick said. "I think the last time the odds were this bad, was at the Alamo." He laughed to himself.

"The Alamo?" Gabrielle questioned. "What's that?"

Rick snapped the bolt shut on the AK. "Well, it's a long story..."

"Oh, I love stories, as you know. Please tell us." Gabrielle moved over by Xena, sat down and folded her legs under her. She lay her head against Xena's thigh and draped her arm around the warriors calf. Xena reached down and stroked her lovers hair gently, enjoying her closeness. "We'll listen to one story, my lovely little bard", she thought. "But then you and I have plans." She looked over to Rick, "So what's this Alamo?" she asked.

"Well, it was a battle a long time ago, I mean a long time from now... well, in my past." He began telling them about events leading up to the story. He told them a little about how the new world had been discovered and explained that Texas was part of it. He told them about the country of Mexico, the revolution against it by the Texans, and some of the events that led to the historic battle. He continued up to the final fight...

"When the Mexicans surrounded the Alamo, they had about four thousand troops", he said. "The Texans had only one hundred, eighty-eight men. Even so, they held off Santa Anna's army for thirteen days."

"Brave men", Xena commented. "They must have fought like Spartans."

"I like that they were fighting for freedom", Gabrielle added. "It makes a wonderful story. The people, desperate for freedom, struggle to throw off the yoke of tyranny... So then help arrived just in time, and the Texans won their freedom - right?"

"Ahh... actually, no", Rick replied. "On the thirteenth day, the Mexicans overwhelmed the fort and slaughtered the Texans to the last man."

Gabrielle's face dropped.

"But, their sacrifice gave our people enough time to organize an army, and we later won the war. In the final fight, they say our men were screaming 'Remember the Alamo' as they charged into battle. It's the most historic site in our state now. Well, I mean it will be."

"That story is sad", Gabrielle said. " But the final ending is happy anyway. Thank you for sharing it with us."

"No problem", Rick said. "Looks like I'll be here for a long time. I guess we can share many stories. You know, I've been thinking. It's strange that I can even talk to you at all. You should be speaking Greek, which I don't understand. So how can we talk to each other?"

Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders, and looked toward Xena.

"Velasca", Xena answered. "She said she wanted you to warn us. Hard for you to warn us if we can't understand you. She must've given you the ability to understand and speak our language."

"You must be right." Rick lay back on his bedroll.

Xena grabbed a bag off Argo's back. "I'm going down to the river to bathe", she said. " I'll be back before long."

"Wait up, and I'll go with you. I need to get some of this trail dust off too", Gabrielle said. They gathered some things and started down toward the river. Just before they got out of sight, Rick saw Gabrielle reach over and take Xena's hand. They drew close together, just visible now in the moonlight. Xena's dark hair and tall frame were a beautiful contrast to Gabrielle's blond, compact figure.

"Have fun girls", Rick thought. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

He lay on his back and looked up at the moon for the second time since he was brought to this bygone era. "Still looks the same", he murmured. Then he thought of Velasca... "But I wonder if I'll see it for a third night?"

 

 

Chapter 14: A MOONLIGHT BATH

"I like Rick", Gabrielle said, as she and Xena drew close to the river, still holding hands. "He seems like a really nice guy, don't you think?"

"Yes, he does", Xena replied, as she hung her bag on a tree branch. "But can we try to skip some of the talking for a while? Between that minotaur two days ago, and now Rick, it's been three days since I've had you, and I don't want to waste a minute of our time tonight."

She turned and opened her arms to Gabrielle, who came willingly into her embrace. Xena bent down and pressed her lips against Gabrielle's while her hands traveled down the small of her lovers back, and then traced their way across her firm buttocks. Her tongue beckoned at Gabrielle's lips, and as soon as they parted, slid inside. Their tongues entwined wetly, sliding across each other and moving from one mouth to the other as they kissed.

"Xenaaa... Mmmmmm", Gabrielle moaned, breaking away from her. "Lets get in the water. I feel like getting wet, don't you?" She began to unlace her top, staring into Xena's eyes as she did so.

Xena returned her young lover's stare, and began to unbuckle her armor. "I don't have to get wet, Gabrielle, I already am... You make me that way every time I look at you, or touch you." She dropped her breastplate to the ground... By now, Gabrielle had her top loose, and slowly took it off, turning her back to Xena as she did. She hung it on a low branch and looked over her shoulder at Xena, smiling playfully. Then, she put her booted foot up on a moss-covered boulder near the waters edge, bent forward over her thigh, and began to unlace the leather boots, slowly. Her shapely leg was exposed almost to the hip, and her body was silhouetted against the silvery moonlight reflected from the surface of the water.

"By the gods, you are a beauty!" thought Xena. "How did I ever get so lucky as to find you?" She bent to remove her leg guards, her eyes never leaving Gabrielle's body. Gabrielle had both boots off by now, and slowly lowered her skirt down, careful to keep it from the dirt. She turned and hung it on the branch by her top, then moved toward Xena who, by now, was clad only in her thin shift. Gabrielle moved behind her and began to run her nails, gently, up and down the warriors back, beneath her garment.

"Mmmmm... Gabrielle, you know how that turns me on", Xena said.

"You want me?" Gabrielle asked, clawing just a little harder now, and gently nibbling Xena's earlobe.

"Yeeesss", Xena moaned softly.

"Then catch me!" Gabrielle spun, laughing, and dove into the water. She swam as fast as she could out into the river.

"Oh, you want to play, huh?" Xena thought, watching her swim away.

Gabrielle swam all the way to the middle of the river, then stopped and looked back for her lover. She wasn't swimming after her, and Gabrielle didn't see her on the riverbank.

"Xena... Xena, where are you?" she said.

"Xena?" "I know you're just hiding, trying to trick me", she called. "It won't work this time... I know that one - You can stop playing." She scanned the bank, straining to see into the shadows.

"Xena... This is getting old, come on out!" she yelled... Nothing moved.

"Xena, please... You're scaring me now!"

"Is Xena hiding, or has something happened to her?" thought Gabrielle. "Oh, no... What if Velasca has come and taken her, while we were all separated? We should never have been this foolish, just to have time alone." She started swimming quickly for the shore... As she swam back toward the shallows, Gabrielle tried to think what she would do. "I'll wake up Rick and we'll start searching around here. Maybe she just got lost... Yeah, right, and maybe I'm the Goddess of Mercy..."

"Bblurpp!"

Gabrielle disappeared under the surface! She felt herself dragged down, choking on a mouthful of water! Some horrible creature had her by the legs and was spinning her around, dragging her toward her death in its gaping maw! She saw the shadowy outline of it as it pulled her near... and kissed her, hard, on the mouth! She broke free and shot to the surface, Xena by her side!

"Xena!" she screamed. "You scared me half to death! Why did you do that?"

"Caught you", Xena replied, laughing. She pulled Gabrielle into her arms. "You should know by now that I always take a challenge seriously... and you did challenge me."

Gabrielle wrapped her legs around Xena's waist, and beat her fists against the beautiful warrior's shoulders in mock anger. "Do you always have to win, Xena?" she yelled, in a half-mad, half playful tone.

"Yes. Always", Xena answered. To prove her point, she squeezed Gabrielle tightly, trapping her arms against her sides. She wrapped her long legs around her lovers shorter ones, and clamped on tightly. Then she again pressed her lips to the bards own warm, inviting pair and exchanged a long, passionate kiss with Gabrielle as they slowly sank beneath the surface. After a moment, when their air was exhausted, the lovers rose once more. They swam back toward the shore, leaving a pair of shimmering, moonlit wakes behind them. Reaching shallow water, they waded the rest of the way to their clothes, arms around each others waists. Xena reached into her bag and pulled out a thin blanket. She spread it out on the soft sand of the riverbank, then lay down and beckoned Gabrielle to join her.

"On one condition", Gabrielle said, hands on her hips.

"And what would that be?" Xena asked. She was noticing how the moonlight shimmered on Gabrielle's wet hair.

"I get to win this time", Gabrielle challenged.

Xena shot forward, grabbed Gabrielle's hand, and pulled her to the blanket. She wrapped her arms and legs around her lover, and twisted her body, pulling Gabrielle on top of her. The young bard straddled the beautiful warrior at the hips, her palms resting on Xena's strong, yet soft shoulders. Xena raised her hands over her head in the classic sign of surrender, smiling seductively.

"You win", she said.

 

 

Chapter 15: THE WELCOMING COMMITTEE

They made love for over two hours, then bathed, got dressed and slipped back into camp. Rick was sound asleep when they returned. They crawled into their bedrolls together, and curled up, exhausted. Both were asleep in minutes...

"Rise and shine, you two", Rick said. "Rise and shine! We're burning daylight." The early morning sun shone in Gabrielle's eyes as she peeked out from under her blanket at him. "Just ten more minutes", she said, looking up at him sleepily.

"I'd be careful about using that phrase if I were you", Xena said, a half-serious scowl on her face. "It once got Joxer my chakram in his chest."

"It's not my fault you didn't get much sleep", Rick replied. "Just how long does it take women of this time to bathe anyway?" He smiled mischievously and winked at them. Gabrielle pulled the wolfskin blanket over her head.

"As long as we want it to take", Xena answered, as she threw off her blanket and began to get dressed. Rick was shocked by her lack of modesty, even though he had seen it on TV, and after a second of admiring her fantastic, warrior physique, he turned his head and pretended to concentrate on something important down by the river. "I'll go along with that" he replied, embarrassed.

Xena had everything on but her armor now, so Rick turned back around toward Gabrielle. "Well, it's my turn" he said. "I'm going to go take my bath, though I'll wager mine is not half as much fun as yours was", he taunted. Gabrielle reached out from under the blanket, grabbed a pine cone, and heaved it at him. He retreated out of range, laughing, and began limping down the hill toward the river.

Within thirty minutes, they were packed up and once again on their way to the amazon village. As they traveled further south, the woods began to get more dense, and darker. Bird calls filled the air, and the wind whistled gently through the trees. Rick noticed that they seemed to be following a path through the forest - a well used one too. A few minutes later, Xena stopped. "We're here", she said, pointing up ahead of them. A large, circular totem hung by the side of the path. "That's the border of Amazon territory. We'll be at their village within the hour."

"Good", Gabrielle added. "I hope Ephiny and the others are ok." They continued on up the worn path, weaving between large trees and thick areas of impenetrable undergrowth. As they traveled, Rick noticed they seemed to be climbing into the foothills of the no longer distant mountains.

"It's just around that bend ahead", Gabrielle said, breaking the silence. "I remember now."

Xena reached over and grabbed Argo's bit. "We should go in on foot", she whispered, looking up at Rick. "Do you think you can manage?" she asked.

"I think so", he answered, looking up the road. "As long as we don't have to do any running."

"Can't promise that", she answered, looking at him questioningly.

"I'll be fine", he said as he slid from Argo's back. Xena noticed a grimace of pain as his injured leg hit the ground. "I'll just stay to the rear if you don't mind. You two are the close in fighting experts. I can cover you." He gave the AK-47 a pat... "And, besides", he added, flashing them a smile. "A gentleman always lets the ladies go first."

"I've always found that works best anyway", Xena responded. She whispered something to Argo, and her mount trotted off into the woods across the road. "I want her out of the way, in case of trouble - and this place reeks of it." She turned and began walking down the path, Gabrielle close behind. Rick followed, glancing all around them. They turned the corner and the Amazon village came into view - What was left of it. Most of the buildings were burned to the ground, pieces of them scattered as if by powerful explosions. Many of the trees around the area were blackened, or shattered.

As they walked through the ruins, they noticed a few bodies, here and there around the compound. Many of them were scorched beyond recognition, limbs twisted in the agony of their death. Fire seemed to have charred everything in the area, leaving little behind but ashes. There were a few huts remaining and one undamaged statue of an amazon warrior, about twenty feet tall carved in stone. At the base of the statue, was a large, horizontal wheel, with a body strapped to it. They moved nearer, and the wheel shifted in the wind, turning the body toward them...

It was Ephiny! She was tied spread-eagle on the wheel. Naked. Her mouth was gagged, and her skin was sunburned, indicating that she had been on the wheel for some time now. She looked at them wide-eyed, and began shaking her head from side to side, mumbling something through the gag.

"You two stay here", Xena said. "I'll go and get her loose. Keep your eyes open." She moved slowly toward Ephiny, looking around as she went. Xena reached the wheel, and began to untie the gag. It slipped off...

"Look out! It's a trap!" screamed Ephiny. Even before she had yelled, Xena had already leapt backwards. She flipped in mid-air and landed on her feet, sword drawn.

BOOMMM....

The crash echoed around the clearing as a huge, stone hand smashed the ground where Xena had been standing only a second before. The statue had come to life before their eyes! Moving amazingly quickly for something so large, it had tried to smash Xena before any of them could react. After Xena had leapt out of the way, Rick raised his rifle and fired, capping off three rounds.

BANG... BANG... BANG...

Chips of stone flew where the bullets struck, but other than that had no effect on the leviathan. "Damn! I can't hurt something made out of stone", Rick yelled. "Even a grenade would be useless!"

Xena rolled to the side as the statue again tried to smash her, this time with a giant foot. She sprang to her feet and ran around behind it. Gabrielle rushed forward to aid Xena. As soon as she approached the statue, it turned and moved toward her. A huge hand swung downward, barely missing her as she dodged out of its way. Xena pounded on the back of its leg with her hands. "Back here you overgrown rockpile!" she yelled. The stone behemoth ignored her, and continued to try to smash Gabrielle. Xena ran around its legs, grabbed Gabrielle by the hand and they took off running in the direction they had come. The statue stomped after them for a short way, but as they outdistanced it, it turned and headed back toward the wheel - and Ephiny...

Rick had worked his way close to the Amazon Queen while Xena and Gabrielle distracted the stone monster. As it chased them, he slipped up to the wheel, drawing the combat knife he had acquired from the dead terrorist. He moved up to cut the Amazon loose - and then stopped... He had never noticed Ephiny much on TV. He had never really seen how beautiful her body was, so muscular and strong, yet feminine. He lingered for a moment, taking in her lovely face and curly, blond hair... "How could I not notice this woman?" he thought.

"What's the matter?" Ephiny screamed at him. "Haven't you ever seen a woman before? Cut me loose!" Rick broke from his admiration, and began to cut her bonds, the razor sharp knife slicing through the rope easily. He was almost through the last one...

"Look out!" Ephiny yelled. It was too late... Even as he moved to avoid it, a huge hand struck Rick a glancing blow, knocking him to the ground. Ephiny saw the stone giant raise it's fist overhead. She rolled to the side, and jerked to a stop... Her foot was held fast by the last, uncut rope!

SMASH...

The wheel was shattered from the impact of the stone hand! Ephiny struggled to free herself from the debris. Her foot was still tangled in the rope. The statue loomed over her! It raised its fist once more...

BABABABBABABABBABAM...

Rick, still on the ground, began firing full auto at the statue. Chips of stone flew everywhere, but it still wasn't being harmed. It did turn toward him, however, and walked over where he lay... He popped the empty clip out of his weapon and rammed in another, though he knew it was useless. He couldn't run. He couldn't hurt it. "Looks like this is it", he thought. The huge fist raised in the air...

CLAAANNGGG...

Xena's chakram bounced off of the back of the statue's head, knocking a large chip of stone loose. It turned to confront her. "That's right, rockhead. Over here. I'm the one you want!" she yelled, as she caught her chakram.

Gabrielle ran up and threw a rock, smashing it against a huge, stone leg. "Yeah" she added. "Pick on someone your own size." As soon as she got near the hulking giant, it began to move quickly toward her. She turned and ran. Xena moved nearer to the statue, trying to draw it's attention from her friend, but it kept pursuing Gabrielle.

"Wait a minute", Xena thought. "It should have come for me. I'm closer." Then it hit her... "Gabrielle", she yelled. "I think Velasca has animated it to try to kill you first. It will attack anyone who gets too close, but it's you that it wants.

"Oh. Great", she thought, running ahead of her relentless stone pursuer. "Now what do I do? Think, Gabrielle. Think! How can we smash this hunk of... Smash it! That's it - The garbage!" she screamed aloud. "Xena, I have a plan!" Gabrielle turned - and ran toward the approaching behemoth!

"What are you doing?" Xena hollered as she saw Gabrielle making her apparently suicidal rush. But, at the last second, Gabrielle turned and ran around the stone figure, heading down a path in the woods. "Trust me, I have a plan", she called out as she ran by, the statue right behind her.

Xena saw that Rick was still down, and Ephiny had just untangled her foot from the rope that bound her. Gabrielle disappeared into the woods, followed closely by her giant pursuer. "See if Rick is OK", Xena called to Ephiny. "I'm going after Gabrielle. What's down that path, anyway?"

"Just the garbage dump", Ephiny replied.

Xena turned and ran down the wooded path as fast as she could. "Garbage dump?" she thought. "Gabrielle, I hope you know what you're doing..."

 

 

Chapter 16: TAKING OUT THE TRASH

Ephiny moved over to check on Rick. "Are you alright?" she asked.

"I think so", he replied. "Nothing seems to be broken, anyway." He still couldn't seem to take his eyes off of her lovely, if sunburned, body and her beautiful face.

"Well", she said. "If you don't quit staring at me, I promise you something will be broken! And next time cut the ropes quicker - You almost got me killed!"

"Yes, ma'am", Rick replied, sarcastically. "I'll be sure and do that."

"I'm going to get a weapon and some clothes", Ephiny told him. "Wait here for me, and then we'll go help Xena and Gabrielle."

"I'll be eagerly awaiting your return", Rick said. He finished the statement silently... "Like a recurrence of athlete's foot... She's a beauty, all right, but what an attitude... and after I risked my life to try and save her."

Gabrielle ran fast enough to stay ahead of the stone Amazon, but kept it close enough to continue chasing her, as she followed the sandy path to the dump. She could hear the statue stomping after her through the trees, bashing them aside like toothpicks. Suddenly, she came out of the woods at the brink of a huge cliff which fell away precipitously to a dizzying depth. A large, wooden platform was built out over the side.

"This is it", Gabrielle thought. "I sure hope I know what I'm doing." She moved out onto the platform, and stood near the outside edge. Then she turned to face the giant statue, which was now emerging from the woods. It moved toward her, striding quickly. "Thatís right you dumb hunk of rock!" she yelled. "Come and get me!" She braced herself. "I can do this, I can do this..." she thought. "May the three Fates protect me."

The statue stepped onto the wooden platform, raising its hand to smash Gabrielle to a pulp. It moved out toward her, the wood groaning in protest. Something snapped and Gabrielle felt the boards sagging under her. "One more step", she thought. Just as the giant fist was about to come down, Gabrielle darted between the statue's legs and scrambled for the ground. Suddenly, the platform gave way with a groaning roar! It began to pull away from the cliff, timbers snapping and breaking! The stone amazon toppled over and fell from the platform. It tumbled end over end, then shattered into pieces as it hit the rocky bottom. Timbers and rocks crashed loudly to the chasm floor around it.

Gabrielle leapt as hard as she could for solid ground as the platform collapsed beneath her... She just did catch the edge of the cliff and clawed for a handhold! The rock was crumbly and the sand-covered edge sloped down toward the abyss. She couldn't hang on... She was sliding backwards, going over the edge... She lost her precarious hold, and fell...

Two hands closed around her wrist, just as she started falling. She looked up, and saw Xena on her belly, reaching over the cliff. "I gotcha", she said. "You don't get away from me that easily." Gabrielle smiled in thanks up towards her friend. How many times had she been there for her now, at the last second?

Xena began to slide now, slipping in the sand! She tried to dig her toes into it, but it was no use. She kept sliding. She looked for a projection or a rough spot, but there was nothing. "Gabrielle, can you grab something", she asked. "I have nothing to hold on to and we're slipping further." Gabrielle looked around frantically. "No, Xena. There is nothing here, the rock is too smooth, and I don't see any roots or anything." They slipped several inches. Xena's breasts were over the side now...

"Xena, let me go! Gabrielle screamed. You can't do anything. Save yourself!"

"Trying to get rid of me, huh?" Xena grunted. "Well it won't work." She struggled to keep a grip on Gabrielle, and somehow slow their forward motion. They were sliding faster now!

"Xena, let me go. Please!" Gabrielle begged.

"Where you go, I go!" was her answer. Xena lost her toehold and started sliding over the edge...

She stopped... Looking back, she saw Ephiny holding one of her boots, and Rick the other. They both smiled at her. "Well, It's about time you got here", she said. "What took you so long?" Xena began pulling Gabrielle up.

"Don't look at me", Rick replied. "Ephiny is the one who decided to change clothes first."

"What!" She glared at him. "If you hadn't run so slowly, we would have been here much sooner." They had Gabrielle up on the top now. She sat down beside Xena, hugging her tightly.

"Hey! I got shot through the leg with an arrow two days ago. I think I am doing pretty damned good, considering", Rick retorted.

"Well, that makes one of us", Ephiny snapped.

Rick began, "I don't know who you think you..."

Xena cut them off. "Can we continue this later? We need to get back to the village. Ephiny, I want to know anything you can tell us about Velasca's plans. So let's get going!" She helped Gabrielle to her feet, and the pair began to walk back the way they had come. Ephiny glared at Rick, spun on her heel, and followed them. He turned and started back, following Ephiny, but not too closely.

"Damn... What an opinionated, ungrateful, B..." He looked ahead at her, "...eautiful, strong, and impressive woman!" His conflicting thoughts continued as they made their way back to the village.

 

 

Chapter 17: A QUEEN'S DILEMMA

"So how did you come up with that idea, anyway?" Xena asked Gabrielle, as they walked back toward the village. "It was very gutsy." Gabrielle smiled at her friend's tone of genuine admiration. She was used to it being the other way around... "Well", she started, "I just happened to remember a day when Ephiny was showing me around the camp and, as we walked onto that platform, some amazons threw a bunch of cracked pottery over the side. I remembered how it smashed, and there you go." Xena was really impressed with Gabrielle's quick thinking and bravery. It made her so proud of the little girl she'd met in Poteidaea - though now that girl had become a strong, young woman... It also turned her on tremendously! She had always been attracted to accomplished warriors, and now her lover was becoming just that, in her own way. She gave Gabrielle a squeeze as they walked, arms around each others waists.

Back at the village, they set about the gruesome task of preparing the dead amazons for ritual burning. They gathered the scorched bodies together, and built a large funeral pyre from the remains of several huts. When they finished, the sun had set, and the western sky glowed red and fiery against the approaching black of night. They stood behind Ephiny as she raised a torch high over her head.

"These brave warriors gave their lives for the Amazon nation, and now they will be released to soar!", she yelled. She threw the torch into the resin-soaked woodpile. It caught quickly, flames crackling and growing as smoke curled into the evening sky. "And I swear", she said quietly, "As Queen of the Amazons, I will avenge their deaths, or die trying."

Gabrielle put her hand on Ephiny's shoulder. "We will avenge them, Ephiny - all of us. Won't we Xena?" she asked, looking over at her friend.

"Yes we will." Xena's eyes were cold as she watched the fire burn.

"And just how are we supposed to do that?" Rick inquired. "You happen to have any Hind's blood? Last time I heard, it was the only thing that can kill a god."

"You and your TV don't know everything", Xena replied, her face grim. "There is at least one other thing that can kill an immortal - the sword of Kronos, father of the gods. It is said that it has the power to kill another god - if thrust into their heart, and I know where it is. First, we'll go rescue the Amazons. Then we will go get the sword and finish that goddess-bitch Velasca, once and for all!" She turned and walked toward one of the remaining huts. They all followed her - Ephiny last to leave.

Inside the hut, they ate some bread and cheese that Gabrielle had found in the remains of the cooking hut. As they ate, Ephiny told them about the attack on her village. She told them how Velasca and a large army had decimated the Amazons, killing many and capturing all the rest. They were to be taken east, to her new temple, and sacrificed to the fledgling goddess! Not only did Velasca intend to kill Xena and Gabrielle, she intended to wipe out the Amazons and, eventually, destroy Artemis as well.

"Well how do we stop her?" Gabrielle asked. "Where is this weapon? Rick is not the only one that's never heard of it." They all turned to look at Xena.

"It's in the mouth of a volcano, less than a days travel from here", she answered. "It is hidden in a cave, near the lava lake in the crater. Hercules put it there, after he recovered it from the underworld years ago. He knew mortals might have some use for it one day." Xena walked over and leaned against the thatched wall of the hut as she spoke. "As it turns out, he was right too..." She suddenly turned, punched right through the flimsy wall, grabbed something, and pulled back hard! A man, clad in black leather, came shooting inside and landed in a heap on the floor. He rolled over to get up, but Xena struck out quickly with her fingers and hit him at the base of the neck. He collapsed to the floor, gasping!

"Cool", Rick thought. "She put the pinch on him."

"I've just cut off the flow of blood to your brain", Xena told him. "You have thirty seconds to live, unless I release you. Anything you feel like talking about?"

"Aahh... ahh... I... have nothing... to say..." He gurgled.

"Fine. Well, we'll just be going now", Xena said as she started walking toward the door.

"W... wait..." He said, struggling to speak. "What do you... want to know?"

"Are you working for Velasca?" Xena inquired.

"Yes... she sent us... sent us to spy on you." his face was turning red now, blood coming from his nose.

"Us?. Well, I thought I had been hearing more than one person sneaking around. She will know of our plans soon, no doubt." She looked back down at him. "You tell your goddess that we're coming for her... and that we are going to kill her." She reached out and pinched his neck, releasing him. Then she punched him in the face, and he slumped to the floor. Looking up at Gabrielle, she said "Tie him up". Gabrielle took some old leather straps from the wall and began tying his arms and legs. "At least we know she can't be spying on us personally" Xena said. "If she could, she wouldn't need men to do it. Some of her powers are not very mature yet."

"It is said that the gods have to use and practice most of their skills, just like humans. Some of their skills take time to master, others are bestowed at once", added Gabrielle. "I've read that in ancient texts."

"I've heard that too", said Ephiny.

"Her powers were limited before", Rick said. "When Velasca came after you the first time, she couldn't travel instantly from place to place, but she could travel slowly as a tornado. She was able to travel back in time and take me with her, but she can't teleport? That seems odd. She is powerful in a fight, but can be worn down, so she is not unbeatable. Do you think we can kill her, Xena?" Rick asked.

"You said that a man shot her in your time, and she took a few seconds to heal, right?" Xena looked at Rick.

"Yes, several seconds, then she rose up", he answered.

"That might be all we need. Apparently, her healing powers were not able to mature during her entrapment. Maybe the gods have to be injured, and healed to perfect the process." she looked out the window, watching the fire burn down. "We better get some sleep. We have a long ride to catch the men who took the Amazons, and we leave in three hours." She walked out the door, followed by Gabrielle.

Rick started to follow them out the door, but Ephiny blocked his way. "I will speak with you", she said.

"I'm not one of your Amazons that you can give orders to", he replied, trying to go around her. "Get out of my way."

She put her hand on his shoulder, blocking him. "Please?" she asked.

Rick stopped, shocked! It was the nicest word she had said to him yet. He looked down at her, noticing how beautiful her eyes were. She looked away quickly.

"I need to tell you something, though I wish I didn't have to..." She turned her back to him. "You saved me from that statue today, and risked your life doing it. By ancient Amazon custom, anyone who saves the queen's life must be granted one request. Normally, it would be another Amazon, but in this case... Even though I think it's pretty obvious what you want, I am asking you according to our custom." She turned and looked into his eyes, her best proud warrior face on. "What would you request of me?"

Rick walked toward her, looking her up and down. He walked behind her and ran his hand over her smooth back - noticing her flinch as he did. She turned her head to see him looking at her muscular, rounded bottom.

"Men are such dogs. Why doesn't he just get it over with?" she thought.

Rick walked around her, still admiring her body. He stood in front of her and stopped - a huge smirk on his face. "OK. Here's what I want from you..."

She stiffened, waiting for him to say it.

The look on his face suddenly became serious. "Teach me how to fight with the weapons from your time", he said. "My weapons will be useless soon, and I need to know how to protect myself."

Ephiny couldn't believe her ears. "Done", she replied.

Rick grinned at her, walked out the door, and headed over to join Xena and Gabrielle as they were brushing Argo down.

As Ephiny watched him walking away, she smiled to herself and thought. "I can't believe that he didn't want me to..." What was even harder for her to believe was that she now felt a little disappointed that he hadn't asked...

 

 

Chapter 18: REMEMBER THE ALAMO

They all got a few hours sleep, then arose and broke camp. Ephiny found a horse, missed by the raiders, wandering in a nearby field. Xena mounted Argo, and helped Gabrielle up behind her. "We need to move quickly, so we all have to ride", she said. "The men who took the Amazons have a days start on us, but I know a shortcut. We can head them off before they get to Velasca's temple."

Rick looked up at Ephiny, already in the saddle of her horse. "Well, your highness", he said, "I guess that leaves you and me. That is if you can stand me riding behind you." She looked down at him. "That is exactly where you belong - behind me", she said in a smug voice. "And you hold on to me only as much as necessary... Got it?" she said, patting her sword for effect. "I got you", Rick replied. "I promise to restrain myself, since you've been so nice to me." He smiled charmingly up at her, and she returned a glare. She helped him up behind her, and they followed Xena as she urged Argo down the road.

"I guess they aren't getting along any better", thought Gabrielle, looking back toward them. But she could swear that Ephiny had cracked a smile, just for a second, as Rick had gotten up behind her.

They rode hard all day, cutting through a high mountain pass, and by late afternoon they stood on a cliff overlooking a narrow valley. Off in the distance, they could see a dust cloud, and the front of a large column of men. As they watched, the caravan came fully into view. Four covered prison wagons were visible, along with three carrying supplies. "There should be about one hundred Amazons in those wagons", Ephiny remarked, watching them come closer. Men marched behind and beside the transports and in front was a small contingent of cavalry. They were heading for the wooded ravine below.

"Looks like about three hundred men", Xena said. "And fifty on horseback. This is not going to be easy."

"Look how many of them there are!" Rick exclaimed. "Remember that story I told you about the Alamo? Well, the odds were much better for them!

"I'll say", Gabrielle said. "Do you think we can do this, Xena?"

"We can ambush them in the ravine below us. The element of surprise, and Rick's weapons may just give us the edge we need", she replied. She called them all together, and they made plans for the attack...

Commander Penoleus swatted away another pesky fly, and tried again to shield his nose from the ever present dust. They had been riding for the better part of two days, and his backside was beginning to get a little saddle sore. "I hope the reward Velasca promised us is a big one", he thought. "A few days in the fleshpots of Athens will take care of lots of dinars quickly." He jingled his coin purse, already fat with advance money from the goddess, then laughed to himself, and looked around at his men. They were riding close together as they started through the narrow ravine. He didn't want them bunched up like this for the journey through this canyon.

"Space in the ranks!" he shouted. Just as he said it a small, oblong, green object came flying from the direction of a group of boulders in the path ahead and landed on the ground beside his horse. "What in Ares' name is that?" he asked. Those would be the last words he would ever utter...

The next second a tremendous blast cut through the ranks of close-packed horses and men. Penoleus fell from his saddle, his broken body landing in a large pile of just-deposited horse dung. The dinars meant for his pleasure spilled from his shredded pouch to mix with the dung - and his blood. The blast killed or wounded about a third of the cavalrymen, and most of the rest were thrown from their terror stricken steeds. Soldiers were trampled, and wounded horses and men alike cried out in fear.

Rick clicked off the safety of his AK-47 after he threw the grenade and heard the shattering explosion. He was in between three large boulders, where Xena had suggested he should wait. He raised up to look over a boulder and saw that most of the men and horses were either dead, maimed, or running in confusion. Several men ran toward him shouting a fierce battle cry. He raised the rifle and cut each one down with a single shot. "Better use one shot when I can", he thought. "I've got to make this ammo last."

An arrow bounced off of the boulder he crouched near, and he ducked behind it. Peeking around the side, he saw the archer sheltering behind a small tree. "Not big enough buddy", Rick thought. He fired at him and the bullet hit the tree, then penetrated right through the trunk and the man's armored chest. He fell to the ground and died, a surprised look on his face. "Gotta love those Russian bullets", Rick muttered. Now more arrows began to fall around him. The archers were moving up the wooded sides of the valley, trying to flank him. A mass of foot soldiers charged up the ravine. "He's only one man!" their leader yelled. "Even with his weapon, he will fall to our numbers!"

Rick noticed the leader was in the rear of his men. He clicked the lever to full auto on his weapon. "OK you assholes, come and get it." He raised up, just peeking over the top of the boulder, and pulled the trigger.

BABABABABBABABABABBABABABAM...

He emptied the first clip, spraying the first rows of men with bullets. The tough Russian slugs wreaked havoc among the ranks of tightly packed troops. Bullets passed through two and even three men. He reloaded quickly, and fired again, and again. Scores of troops fell in the awful spray of lead. Even so, more appeared to his sides and now to the rear. He fired short bursts at groups on all sides. Dozens more men fell, but still they tightened their ring around him, ducking behind rocks, and moving in. Flocks of arrows began to rain down on his position as he ducked inside the boulder pile. "Anytime now Xena", he thought, as he shoved a fresh clip into his weapon. "I wonder if this is how the guys at the Alamo felt?"

Gabrielle slipped through the bushes toward the last prison cart in line. She peeked out from between two fern fronds, and took stock of the situation. "Just two guards - all the others have run up front", she whispered to herself. "If I can handle a giant statue, I can handle these guys." She waited until they were looking in the direction of the battle, then slipped out of the bushes and ran to the rear of the cart...

"What in the name of Zeus is that noise?" the soldier asked his fellow, as they stood near the Amazon-laden cart. Being in the rear, they could not see the battle up ahead, but had heard the grenade's explosion and the automatic weapon firing. "I don't know", replied the other, "But I think I'm glad we're back here, where it's safe." He turned around to grab the waterskin he had just laid on the seat - and received a smashing blow to his face from the end of Gabrielle's staff! He fell backward, unconscious and streaming blood from his broken nose!

The other soldier spun to face her, drawing his sword. He swung it in a vicious arc, making Gabrielle jump back! As he swung again, Gabrielle ducked under it and smacked him hard with her staff on the fronts of his calves! Between the force of the blow and his momentum, he fell forward against the side of the cart. Delicate, but strong hands reached out from inside the barred window and caught him, as several more grabbed him around the neck and twisted! He fell to the ground - dead! The Amazons had begun to take their revenge...

Gabrielle searched both men for keys, but finding none she grabbed one of the fallen men's swords. It took her several hits, but she managed to break the lock on the cage. Two dozen Amazons quickly emerged, and Gabrielle was relieved to see Solari among them. They grabbed what weapons they could from the men and cart. Solari took the sword from Gabrielle. "We need to free the others", Gabrielle told her. "Xena, Ephiny, and a male friend of ours are ambushing the soldiers up ahead, but they need our help." Solari signaled to the Amazons, and they spread out, moving quickly into the trees. "Don't worry", she said. "We know exactly what to do. These men will answer for the deaths of our sisters!" They moved to the treeline and began to slip up toward the next wagon, along with the other Amazons...

Rick raised up and fired at a group of men to his right, felling three. He saw a mob of men rushing up the ravine. He raised up to fire again, but ducked back down immediately as an explosion shattered the right rear section of the group! Body parts and blood flew through the air, as men screamed in agony! Immediately after the first, another detonation occurred in the left rear! Several score men fell from these twin blasts.

After seeing Epheny's grenade go off, Xena had hurled hers into the troops ahead, watched the explosion from a safe height, then jumped from the canopy of the ancient oak she was in. The warrior princess landed on top of a huge boulder behind the throngs of soldiers, chakram in hand. She launched the weapon at a group of precariously perched stones, near the top of the far side of the ravine. It bounced off of a small rock, knocking it loose. The small rock dislodged a larger one, and then another one fell, releasing several more. In moments, a huge avalanche of rock came thundering down on the hapless troops below, crushing many of them under tons of debris! Giant blocks of stone flattened men and many were buried alive under rains of smaller ones, as a choking dust cloud blinded most of the rest.

Xena caught her returning blade, then she surveyed the death and destruction it had caused. She hurled her deadly weapon at five soldiers charging toward her position. The razor sharp circle sliced through two men's throats, hit a rock and bounced back to slice the other three as well! All five bodies fell, spouting blood and jerking spasmodically. She caught the returning blade once more, then charged into the rear of the melee, sword in one hand and chakram in the other - both dealing death as she went...

Ephiny had caused the first of the two explosions. She watched Rick shooting, waiting until the bulk of the men were jammed in the narrow defile, as Xena had said. Then she pulled the pin, counted to three, and threw the grenade. She ducked back behind the tree she was in, and watched it go off. Men were shredded and blown apart before her eyes! She saw the detonation of the grenade Xena had thrown, with the same results. "Gods of Olympus!" she thought. "Even Ares thirst for blood must be quenched by the death and destruction in Rick's era." Then she saw the avalanche come hurtling down and decimate many of the remaining troops. After the dust had cleared somewhat, she drew her handbow and fired, hitting a soldier in the back of the neck. He clutched at the arrow and fell to the ground as blood poured from his punctured jugular! She killed several more men before she was noticed, then dropped from the tree, drew her sword, and charged into battle!

The double explosions and the avalanche had crippled the attack coming toward Rick, and the savage assaults that Xena and Ephiny were unleashing diverted much of the pressure off of him. He stayed low, firing single shots from among the boulders and trying to keep anyone from getting too close. He dropped down and slapped another clip into his rifle. "Ammo is getting low girls", he said to himself, "I sure hope Gabrielle can get to the Amazons, or we may be in trouble." He raised up, looked around, and saw that the men were retreating - or maybe they had just turned to meet Xena and Ephiny's attack. Either way, he was almost out of targets. He shot two men that were still in view and then started moving down, ducking behind boulders as he went, toward the bend in the ravine where the others had disappeared...

Xena sliced through a soldier's throat with her blade, and gutted him with the back swing! She pivoted to her right, using her sword to block a vicious thrust from the side, then spun her body back to the left and sliced out with her chakram! Her opponents head, severed from his body, went flying and bounced to a stop near Ephiny's feet. They were trying to get back to back now - about to be overwhelmed by the sheer crush of men in the narrow canyon. Xena knew they couldn't hold much longer. "Come on Gabrielle. We need you to come through for us, lover!" she thought...

Ephiny thrust her sword into one man's chest, and blocked the swing of another with her dagger. She pulled her sword from the dying man's body, and spun on the ball of her left foot, kicking up at the man whose sword she had blocked. Her boot caught him in the chin, and he fell back, blood and bits of teeth spraying from his mouth. She flipped backwards through the air, landing astride another soldiers shoulders. Her dagger cut across his throat, slicing it from ear to ear, then she flipped backwards again to the ground. More men rushed her, and she crouched to meet their attack...

Rick rounded the bend and ducked behind a rock. He saw Xena off to his left. She was backed against the base of a boulder, battling a large crowd of soldiers. Ephiny fought another big group to his right. More men were running up from the direction of the carts. "We are in trouble!" Rick thought. He raised his rifle and cut down several men who came charging at him. Apparently the archers, fearful of hitting their own men, had all gotten into the melee now. No more arrows had came flying at him. He began shooting at the group of men attacking Xena, careful to avoid hitting her when, without warning, the AK-47 suddenly quit firing. It was jammed! He worked frantically with the bolt, but couldn't get it to budge! Several men were now running at him, having noticed his problem. He dropped the rifle and scrambled to grab his pistol from the holster. A huge man was right on him - raising his sword to strike...

Xena had managed to fight her way toward Ephiny and they stood back to back - weapons cutting down men left and right! Xena whirled her sword in an arc before her, felling several men and driving the rest back a few steps. "I think I may have underestimated the number of men in this army!" she yelled. She ran one man through and savagely kicked another - crushing his testicles! He fell back and began to spew the remains of his lunch on the ground, mixing it with the blood already there. More men rushed up to replace them...

"Maybe they had men that we didn't see behind the main group!" Ephiny screamed. She stabbed a man through the neck, and blood spouted freely as she withdrew her blade. Glancing toward Rick's position, she saw him drop his weapon. Several men were rushing at him as he clutched at his belt, apparently trying to get his other weapon out. He was not going to make it! She reached quickly over her shoulder and grabbed her handbow from her back - loaded and ready. Xena saw what she was trying to do and moved to cover her. After Ephiny parried her closest opponents sword thrust, she took aim at the man nearest Rick and fired...

Rick fell backward, still trying to get out his pistol. The huge, bearded soldier raised his sword and it came down - along with the rest of him! He crashed heavily onto Rick's chest, partially knocking the breath out of him, just as he got the pistol clear of its holster. He shot two other men as they ran up to him, swords held high. Looking over the big man's shoulder, Rick saw an arrow sticking from his back. Looking further, he saw Ephiny, her empty pistolbow in one hand, sword in the other. She shrugged her shoulders, gave him a sly smile, and turned back to the battle. "Oh, boy", Rick thought, as he crawled out from beneath the dead man. "I am never going to hear the end of this."

Suddenly, an overwhelming shriek split the air. As Rick watched, women came flying out of nowhere! Jumping from the trees, from behind rocks, and running up the ravine, they swarmed over the troops that were battling Xena and Ephiny. The Amazons had arrived at last! Having freed their sisters, they now set out to destroy the men who had imprisoned them. Gabrielle came charging up the ravine with an Amazon Rick recognized, but he couldn't remember her name.

The women fell on the soldiers like lions on a wounded hyena! They were out for revenge, and they fought with no mercy. Men were cut down without being given a chance to surrender and wounded men's throats were slit as well - for the Amazons intended to take no prisoners! These men were guilty of murdering their sisters, and the women intended to carry out a death sentence on them all. Rick could see men trying to run, fear in their eyes. He didn't blame them! "I sure hope the Amazons know I'm on their side", he thought, as he watched them decimate the men fleeing around him. He reached down and picked up the AK, then began to try to free the bolt...

Gabrielle and Solari fought their way to where Xena and Ephiny stood. The battle was pretty much over by now. Amazons were chasing the remnants of their former captors through the wooded hills around them. Dead men lay everywhere in the canyon, several groups of bodies marking the sites where grenades had exploded.

"About time you showed up", Xena remarked, as she hugged Gabrielle. She reached out and gripped Solari's wrist in the Amazon way. "You girls saved our hides."

"We owe you all of our lives", Solari replied. Then she bowed her head to her queen. "Ephiny - thank the gods. We didn't know if you were still alive. Velasca said you were to be the first sacrifice."

"Thanks to Xena and Gabrielle, that didn't happen." She watched Rick walking up to the group. "Oh, this man had something to do with it also." She glanced briefly toward him. Looking back at Solari she said, "Once the women have finished off the remaining troops, have them set up camp. We will rest, and discuss plans for dealing with Velasca."

"Yes, Ephiny", Solari replied. She bowed slightly and disappeared into the woods.

Ephiny turned her attention to Rick. "It seems that, in spite of your superior weapons, you still need a woman around to watch your back, don't you?" She spun quickly and walked down the valley toward the wagons...

"I don't believe her! Of all the... Who does she...?" Rick spluttered. He looked at Xena.

She shrugged her shoulders, put her arm around Gabrielle, and they followed Ephiny down the hill.

Rick stood there a few seconds, watching them go, then started down behind them - muttering something about crazy Amazons...

 

 

Chapter 19: EPHINY'S SECRET REVEALED

They had set up camp, and the Amazons began to dance, in ritual celebration of their victory. Some danced madly around a roaring bonfire while others shouted and sang, ate and drank. Xena and Gabrielle occupied a dark corner formed by two of the supply wagons. Rick couldn't see from his position, but when he'd passed them a few minutes ago, they had been locked in a passionate embrace, not even noticing him. He was talking to Eponin, the Amazon who had helped teach Gabrielle how to staff fight. He was very glad that she had survived. He remembered thinking how strong and beautiful she had been on TV, and she was even better in person. Having found some full wineskins under the seat of one of the wagons, he poured them both a cup as they discussed the day's battle and the events of his time.

Ephiny walked out of her captured tent toward the fires below. She had told Solari to post watches while the other women celebrated their victory. As she walked toward the circle of women below, she glanced around the area, looking for the only man alive here now.... There he was, talking to Eponin. He was gesturing and laughing, obviously enjoying her company. Several other Amazons sat by him, listening and laughing as well. She saw Eponin watching Rick as he spoke to one of the other women, and she recognized the look on her face... "She is sizing him up for mating", Ephiny said to herself. She stalked down the hill, her face stony as she approached the laughing group.

Rick had just told the punchline when Ephiny walked up.

"Queen Ephiny, join us", said Eponin. "Rick was just amusing us with another tale from his time..."

"I need all of you to report to Solari for guard duty right now!" Ephiny said. "We must make sure our position is secure."

"Yes, Queen Ephiny", they all responded. The Amazons stood and walked quickly up the hill toward the command tent. Eponin gave Rick a smile as she passed - and grabbed his butt! "I have got to find her later", he thought... He turned to Ephiny and said, angrily, "I hope you're happy now."

"I don't know what you mean", she replied stiffly.

"You just sent them away because you don't want me to be fraternizing with your Amazons." Rick raised his voice. "I have just about had it with you! I saved your life and this is the thanks..."

"I saved your life today as well!" she cut him off, turned, and walked up the hill.

He followed her and grabbed her arm. "Oh... I see. You save my life today so now I guess your request is that I leave your Amazons alone? Well, you listen - we're even now, and I will talk to or do anything else I please with whoever I damn well please!"

Jerking her arm from his grip, she spun and stared straight into his eyes. "Did you ever stop to think that I might have sent them away because I want to make love to you?" Rick stood there staring at her, unable to believe what he had just heard...

Xena and Gabrielle broke from a long, passionate kiss and turned to look up at the source of the shouting. "I wonder if Rick and Ephiny will ever get along?" Gabrielle asked. "I don't know", Xena replied. "Some people just can't seem to stand each other." She stood and pulled Gabrielle up behind her. "Come on", she said. "It's a full moon and I feel like taking a ride. I know just the place we can go too." She smiled naughtily at her lover.

Gabrielle started running for Argo. "Race you", she challenged.

"Gabrielle, you never learn", Xena said, as she took off in pursuit...

"What did you just say?" Rick asked, still not believing what he had heard. "From the way you've been acting, I thought you hated my guts."

"I said that I wanted to make love to you", Ephiny repeated. "But I think now that I've changed my mind."

"Oh, no you don't", Rick said, grabbing her shoulders, and pulling her to him. "You've been playing with my emotions long enough. I've wanted to do this since I first saw you, and now I'm going to do it." He leaned over to kiss her.

"Don't you dare kiss me!" she warned, pulling back from him.

"I am going to kiss you", he said, pulling her close again.

She grabbed his wrist and twisted it back painfully, bringing him to his knees. "I could have you flogged for just trying to kiss me", she hissed.

"If you would do it yourself", Rick said through clenched teeth, "I might even like it."

"No one kisses the Queen of the Amazons", she said, letting him rise. "I kiss them." Ephiny grabbed Rick's head in her hands and pulled his face to meet hers. She pried his lips open with her tongue and he willingly opened his mouth to let her in. Ephiny pulled him to her roughly, and forced her tongue as far into his mouth as she could get it. Rick actually found himself trying to pull back, but she overpowered him, making the kiss to go on, and on... Finally, she pulled away. He gazed with awe at the beautiful warrior, as he took in a long, slow breath... "That was some kiss", he said.

Ephiny gave him an imperious stare. "What else did you expect from the Amazon Queen?" She laughed, and pulled him to her, more gently this time, for a second, slower kiss. Her hands moved down his back and she reached inside his pants, caressing his butt. Then she pulled away from him and grabbed him by the hand. She began to walk towards her tent, dragging him along behind her. "I think it's time we started your physical conditioning. You need to get in shape for weapons training later, and I know just how to get started." She smiled back at him, still leading him along.

"But I will have you know, as queen, I always get to be on top."

"This place just gets better and better", thought Rick. He followed her inside the tent...

 

 

Chapter 20: A RIDE IN THE MOONLIGHT

Xena and Gabrielle rode slowly down the valley, away from the encampment. The moon glowed bright and full as they made their way through the open woodland, heading for the river. Soft hooting floated down from the hills, as a horned owl summoned his mate to join him in feasting on a kill. Gabrielle had her arms around her friends waist, but soon dropped them down and began rubbing the insides of Xena's legs, beneath her armor skirting.

"You had better stop that, or we may not make it to the waterfall", Xena said, softly.

Gabrielle continued rubbing, moving even further up Xena's thighs, brushing her fingertips lightly across the front of her undergarments on each pass.

"I mean it", Xena said, grabbing her hands and holding them. "If you don't stop, I may just have to take you right now." She held her lovers hands to her lips, and nibbled on her fingers and the sides of her open palms.

"Xenaaa..." Gabrielle, moaned."I don't know if I can wait for the river. Two nights ago, I was thinking about the first time we made love. Remember the night we were riding in moonlight just like this and..."

"I remember", Xena said, cutting her off. "How could I forget that night?"

"Well anyway, I am really wanting to be with you right now", Gabrielle replied. "The moonlight just does something to me."

"If you are in such a hurry, I can speed Argo up a little, and help you pass the time too", Xena answered. "But first, you have to remove your underclothes."

"Hmmmm. Sounds fun", Gabrielle said, giggling. "Stop Argo and I'll get down and take them off for you."

"Oh, no. Uh-uh. Part of the game is that you have to take 'em off while we are riding", Xena told her. "Then I'll take mine off, and show you how to make the ride more fun."

"I can't take them off while we are riding", Gabrielle said. "Just stop and let me..."

"Either we do it right, or we don't do it at all", Xena said, cutting her short.

"OK. You win", Gabrielle replied. "I'll try. But if I fall off and break my leg, it's your fault." She held on to Xena and moved her leg over Argo's back so that she rode side-saddle. Then she leaned over, grasping her undergarment and trying to pull it down, while at the same time holding on to Xena.. She shimmied and squirmed, and almost fell off, but after a short struggle, she managed to get it done. She threw her leg back over Argo, and wrapped her arms around Xena. She ran her undergarments softly down the side of her lovers neck, caressing her skin with them. Then she promptly stuffed them inside Xena's armored bodice! "Well", she said, "That's a convenient place to keep them." She giggled and gave Xena a tight squeeze. "Your turn now."

Xena pushed Gabrielle's arms away from her and said, "Sit back a little, please."

"Oh, I see. The warrior princess needs extra room - I didn't have to have any!" Gabrielle gave her a proud smile.

"I just don't want you to get hurt", Xena replied. "Now sit back!"

Gabrielle sat back. "Get hurt? How could I get hurt from you taking off your...?" Gabrielle didn't get to finish.

"AYIYIYIYIYIYIYIYEEE!"

Xena leapt up and forward from the saddle, spinning high into the air. As she reached the apex of her jump, her hands slid down and pulled off her underwear, while still tumbling. Then she twisted around and came back down to land in the saddle, facing Gabrielle now. "Here you go", she said, stuffing her underpants inside Gabrielle's top.

"You are such a show-off", Gabrielle's remarked, laughing. "How did you happen to learn to do that?"

"I had never done it before", Xena replied. "I made it up just for you."

"Always thinking of me first. I like that", Gabrielle said, leaning forward to give her lover a kiss...

Xena made sure her feet were securely in the stirrups, though backwards. Then she reached down and pulled Gabrielle's legs over hers. "Hold on to me with your legs", she said. Then she steadied Gabrielle's hips with her left hand, and began to explore her opening with the right. "Good", she thought, "She's already wet." Xena slowly slid a finger into her lovers moist canal. Gabrielle inhaled sharply, and the muscles in her legs tightened... Xena slid another finger into her. The squirming bard clamped her thick legs tighter over the warrior's thighs. Xena moved her fingers in and out in slow, measured movements. She bent her fingers slightly to touch the spot that Gabrielle loved so much. There! Gabrielle moaned loudly as Xena's long fingers teased her in that special place.

"OK. Now we speed up." Xena gave a quick whistle, and Argo, who had been walking slowly, broke into a trot. Gabrielle had been moving slowly against Xena's fingers, but now she began to bounce up and down with the rhythm of Argo's movements.

"Oh, yes... Ohh, Xena... Mmmmmm.... Gabrielle moaned and clutched at her lover as Xena began timing her movements to augment the steady motion from Argo's trot. After a few minutes, Xena gave another whistle and they sped up again. Now, Gabrielle began bouncing in a quicker rhythm and Xena timed her fingers to match it, thrusting in with each downward bump. The bard moaned and twisted, her hands now gripping Xena's shoulders tightly, hanging on.

"Ooooooooohhh, yessss...", Gabrielle screamed aloud! "Oh gods, Xenaaaaa Mmmmmmmmm..." She grabbed Xena tightly and held on, shuddering and bucking her way through a wracking orgasm! She clutched at her lovers hair, pulling it painfully before she realized what she was doing, and released it. Finally, she relaxed. Xena whistled sharply and Argo again slowed to a walk. Gabrielle leaned against Xena's chest, her breathing heavy, but slowing. Xena held her close, running her fingers through the younger woman's hair, and kissing her shoulders. The bard shifted back, and looked into Xena's eyes.

"That was wonderful", she said. "I've never done anything quite like it before."

"Glad you enjoyed it", Xena said. "You know how I like to be creative in everything I do. Look. We're here already. I told you it would make the time pass quickly." She stopped Argo, and got down. Then she reached up and helped Gabrielle slide down beside her.

"We got here too quickly", Gabrielle said, reaching out to gently caress Xena's face. I didn't get to do it for you."

"There's always another horse ride", Xena replied, as she hugged her lover close.

Gabrielle looked around her to see where Xena had brought them. To their right, a small stream flowed, its calm surface reflecting the moonlight. Below them, it became a shimmering waterfall, cascading down a rock face, before joining with the larger river beneath it. Each drop of water in the falls caught the moonlight and reflected it back, causing the whole thing to glow white against the dark rock face.

"How wonderful!" exclaimed Gabrielle. "Xena, it's beautiful!" Gabrielle's face was lit by joy, and the pale moonlight.

"Well how about we get out of these clothes and cool off?" Xena suggested. "Then we can enjoy ourselves for a while, and get some sleep before we go back. We need to make plans early tomorrow."

"Do you really think we can defeat Velasca?" Gabrielle asked, a worried look on her face now.

"I think we have a chance," Xena replied. "But whatever happens, I want to spend as much of tonight with you as I can." She pulled Gabrielle to her and they kissed softly, at first, then with increasing passion. As they kissed , they began to slowly undress one another. When the last of the armor, leather, and cloth finally hit the ground, they clasped hands and walked down into the falls together. As they passed through the shimmering veil of water, it split in two briefly and then rejoined to cover them from the view of all but the goddess of love.

 

Chapter 21: WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT...

Rick rolled over and put his arm across Ephiny's waist from behind her. He began to run his hand down her stomach, savoring the softness of her skin, and the strength of the muscle beneath it. He started rubbing her thigh, admiring her smooth, yet powerful legs. Ephiny reached down and took his hand. "Ready for more so soon?" she asked. "I would have thought you would be exhausted now." She bent her head around to smile at him and give him a soft kiss. "It doesn't matter though. We need to get up and make plans in a few hours. Sleep must come before pleasure, if we are to fight well tomorrow."

"I'm not sure I could survive more tonight, my queen,", he replied, giving her a smile and kissing her hand. True to her earlier statement, Ephiny had been on top all of the last two hours. Rick didn't think he'd be able to walk straight later, much less continue with more love-making. "She is absolutely incredible", he thought. Then he remembered what he had been meaning to ask her. "If you wanted to make love to me, why didn't you just say so? You don't really strike me as the shy type", he said, laughing inwardly. There was nothing shy about this woman!

She rolled to face him. "I was angry with you", she stated.

"Angry?" Rick was puzzled. "What did I do? You were mad at me from the second I saw you..."

"Yes I was", she answered. "I was angry that you had risked your life to save me. She paused... "I was married once. My husband was a..."

"Centaur", Rick said, cutting her off. "I know."

"Yes, he was", she continued. "But what I was about to say was that he was a very brave warrior. He fought to save my life while I lay pregnant and helpless - and he died doing it! When you risked your life to save mine, it just brought all that back. I swore after Phantes' death that I would never let a man protect me again - and then you did. When I thought you would want me to sleep with you as a reward, that angered me even more. By the way," she asked, "Why didn't you want to take me when I offered? Were you not attracted to me as much as I thought, or did you just hate the way I treated you?"

"Actually, neither", he replied. "It's just that I don't want a woman because of some ancient, Amazon custom. I want to be with a woman only if she truly wants to be with me. Call me old fashioned, but..."

"I thought it was very honorable", Ephiny said, smiling over at him. "I knew that you liked my body and my looks, but, though you could have, you wouldn't take advantage of me. It made me respect you." She leaned over and pulled him to her for a long, slow kiss...

Xena and Gabrielle had made love for a long time behind the waterfall, then fallen asleep on blankets near its soothing melody. They had wakened, gotten dressed, and rode quickly back to camp, heading for the command tent at the base of the ravine. As they rode by Ephiny's tent, the flap opened up, and they saw someone backing out...

Rick finished dressing and grabbed his weapons from the corner of the tent. Ephiny stopped rummaging through the maps on the table, and walked over to him as he slung his rifle and started out. "I will join you at the command tent in a few minutes", she said. "The others should be there by then, and we can plan our attack against Velasca."

Rick watched her as she walked over to him. "If we survive today, will I be welcome back here again tonight?" he asked.

"No", she answered. Rick looked confused, then hurt.

"We won't be camping here tonight", she said. "We will be a days ride from here by nightfall but, wherever we do camp, you will be welcome to share my blanket." She pulled his head down to kiss him as he backed out of the tent. "Now go. I need to gather some more materials." She looked over his shoulder and smiled, then went back into the tent.

He turned to see what she was smiling at...

Xena and Gabrielle looked down at him from Argo's back. They had watched Ephiny kissing him as he backed out of her tent.

"Well", Xena said. "It looks like you two are getting along a little better."

"I'll say", Gabrielle added. "Just when did this start going on behind our backs, anyway?" She smiled sweetly down at him.

Rick turned and began to walk beside Argo, toward the meeting site. "Believe me", he said. "This was a much bigger shock for me than it was for you. Until a few hours ago, I thought she was the biggest bitc..." he clamped his mouth shut before completing the word.

"Yeess?" Xena inquired, raising her brow. Gabrielle giggled behind her.

Looking up at Xena and Gabrielle, and glancing at all the Amazons sharpening weapons and practicing swordplay around him, he reconsidered his statement. "You know", he began, abashed. "I think that word has just been permanently struck from my vocabulary..."

 

 

Chapter 22: DESCENT INTO HADES

They met with Ephiny, Solari, and Eponin in the captured command tent and began to make plans for their attack on Velasca. The Amazons, still angered over the loss of so many of their sisters, favored a direct assault on Velasca's new temple.

"It won't do any good", argued Xena. "Without the sword of Kronos, we have no way of killing her. She will also have even more followers there than were in the army we destroyed yesterday."

"What do you propose then?" Solari asked.

"I think that Gabrielle, Rick, and I should go get the sword, then meet up with you back here before going to attack her temple. If we launch a surprise attack with all the Amazons, the sword of Kronos and Rick's weapons may be enough against Velasca. She has obviously strengthened some of her powers and learned a few new ones, but hopefully her healing ability is still not fully in place."

"What puzzles me is how her followers knew she was coming, and how did she gain a temple and an army so quickly?" This came from Ephiny.

Eponin answered her. "I overheard some talk among her followers while we were held by them. They said a prophecy foretold her return, and many were waiting for her when she came back. They said that when her powers are fully mature, she intends to destroy Artemis and maybe the other gods too."

"She won't get the chance", Xena said. "We are going to stop her first! Gabrielle, Rick - lets get going. We have a hard ride ahead if we want to make the volcano before sundown."

"I will be coming too", said Ephiny. "Solari will keep the other Amazons here, and await our return."

"All right then, we four will go. The rest will stay, and we'll link up with you here in two days." Xena began walking for the entrance to the tent - Gabrielle and Rick behind her. Ephiny clasped hands with Solari and Eponin, they wished her good luck, and she walked out to mount her horse. The others were waiting for her - each on their own animal this time. They all urged their steeds on toward the rising sun and the volcanic peak just visible through the forested hills ahead...

They rode hard all day, stopping briefly at noon to eat and rest the animals. Gabrielle noticed that Rick and Ephiny always seemed to be riding near each other, laughing and talking together. "I'm glad they are getting along so well", she thought, watching them as she rode. "Ephiny has been isolating herself from men since Phantes' death, but she really seems to like Rick, and he obviously likes her too. Maybe the two of them have found their tree in the forest..." Gabrielle smiled and looked over at Xena. "Like I found mine."

By late afternoon they had reached the base of the volcano, and began to make their way up to the smoking crater. They had to leave the horses behind about half way up, as the lava became too jagged and rough for the animals to negotiate. They walked some, and climbed more, on up toward the summit, finally reaching it just before sunset. Staring into the mouth of the volcano, they saw a bleak landscape. The crater was several hundred yards across at the bottom. Jagged hills and spines of lava dotted the floor and a huge lava lake took up most of the left hand side. It seethed and bubbled like a witches cauldron, lava welling up in some places, and sinking back down in others. Huge bubbles of gas broke through the surface and sprayed glowing shards around the lake as they popped. An eerie, reddish glow illuminated the area, and shadows danced against the rocky background.

"The sword is in a cave in that spire", Xena said, pointing toward a large protrusion by the molten lake. They began making their way down the slope across an old lava flow, being careful not to cut themselves on the razor sharp rocks. It was as if they were insects trying to negotiate a sloping surface covered with shards of broken, black glass. Gabrielle noticed Ephiny helping Rick cross the more difficult areas. His leg caused him to limp, and he'd had trouble on some of the climbs getting up here. Xena came to a solid wall of solidified lava about ten feet high. She studied it a moment, them jumped up, flipping to the top of the escarpment. Reaching down, she hoisted Gabrielle to the top, and did the same for Rick and Ephiny.

They found themselves on a flattened area of smooth lava rock, littered with boulders, right at the edge of the seething, molten, lake. Ahead of them was a tall spire and to the right was a sheer wall of stone. The bubbling lake was to their left and a narrow ledge led around the edge of it, running along the flank of the spire. Xena headed for the ledge with Gabrielle and Ephiny behind her. Rick brought up the rear, his rifle held ready.

They were approaching the ledge, and the heat was becoming intense as they walked closer to the hellish, glowing pool. Rick was sweating heavily as the temperature became near unbearable. "If I ever do go back to Texas", he thought, "I will never complain about the summer heat again." Just then a cool breeze sprang up, drifting down from the side of the crater. It began to blow harder, and they were all thankful for the respite from the heat. The wind continued to intensify as they walked closer to the trail leading around the rock outcrop. By the time they reached the ledge, it was becoming hard to walk against it. It became even stronger, threatening to blow them backwards now. They struggled to stand as it buffeted them and began to drive them back...

Suddenly, a clap of thunder broke - deafening in the confined crater! The wind gusted even stronger as a swirling, lightning filled funnel appeared from behind the rock pinnacle in front of them. It dropped to the ground and thunder sounded again as a huge gust of wind blew them all off of their feet! Then, the wind disappeared...

Xena raised up and looked toward the ledge where a smiling, female figure now stood!

"Velasca", she said, her eyes narrowing...

 

 

Chapter 23: THE TURNING POINT

Velasca spoke, her voice resounding around the crater. "Xena, Gabrielle... how nice to see you, it's been such a long time. I'm glad you survived my little trap at the Amazon village - you too, Ephiny. Now I can have the pleasure of killing you all at once. You didn't really think I would allow you to get a weapon that could harm me, did you?"

Xena drew her sword with one hand and chakram with the other. Ephiny raised her sword and dagger, while Gabrielle readied her staff. Rick pulled back the bolt on the AK, chambering a round.

"Oh, you intend to make a fight of it, do you?" Velasca laughed aloud. "Well, before you try, maybe you should look behind you."

"That's the oldest trick in the book", Xena said, smiling grimly. "I would have thought a goddess would be more original..." She stopped speaking as she heard movement behind her, and slowly turned her head around - to see Rick pointing his rifle at Gabrielle's back!

"Drop your weapons", he said, an evil smile on his face. He pressed the muzzle of the AK-47 against the back of Gabrielle's neck, and clicked the safety off. "Now!"

Xena dropped her sword and chakram, motioning for the others to do the same. As they did, she turned and glared at Rick, a look of hate, and betrayal on her face. "Why?" she asked...

"Don't bother asking him", Velasca said. "It's not really his fault. You see, I placed a spell on him when he was captured that would only take effect when he next saw me. I had hoped to use him to bring you to my new temple, where you could be proper sacrifices. I suppose this will have to do. Yes... Think of it. You are betrayed by one of your greatest admirers, become your friend, and now your executioner..." She lapsed into evil laughter.

Gabrielle turned her head to the side and began to speak to Rick. "You don't want to do this", she said. "Rick, think. We are your friends and we want to help you." A glimmer of uncertainty passed across his face and the gun pulled back from her neck a little. "That's right", she continued, "Fight her. You know you don't want to do this." Gabrielle turned to face him, her hands outstretched.

Velasca began to stare intensely at Rick, her eyes seeming to bore into his soul...

Suddenly, the evil grin returned to his face and he struck out with the butt of his gun, smashing it into Gabrielle's face! She fell - her nose streaming blood, and landed heavily on her back. Velasca laughed mockingly.

Xena let out a blood curdling war cry and sprang at Rick, but before she could reach him, Velasca motioned with her hand and lightning shot from her finger, striking Xena! It didn't burn her, but seemed to hold her in its grip. She struggled to break free - the tendons in her body standing out with her efforts - but to no avail! She was held fast. Xena glared at Rick and Velasca in turn, still trying to free herself. Gabrielle rolled over on her side, pressing her hand to her broken nose to stop the bleeding. Rick stood over her, pointing his weapon at her head.

Ephiny suddenly reached down and grabbed her sword! She rolled to the side and then leapt at Velasca, her sword aimed at the goddess's heart! Velasca pointed her free hand at the Amazon Queen and lightning arced out, trapping her in mid-air. She struggled and strained against it, but had no more success then Xena.

"You mere mortals really are so predictable", Velasca began. "I purposely sent this man to be attacked by those bandits, knowing you would come save him, and befriend him. I knew you would go to the Amazon village, then try to rescue them. I have known your plans all along... Well, now I am putting mine into effect." She looked at Rick, then nodded toward Gabrielle. "Kill her", she said. Rick reached down with his left hand and grabbed Gabrielle roughly, by the hair. He pulled her to her knees, and put the gun against her head again, just behind her right ear.

"Rick don't do this", Gabrielle pleaded. "I know you are not evil and that Velasca is controlling you. If you do this, you will regret it the rest of your life. Please listen to me..."

"SHUT UP!" he screamed, his finger tightening on the trigger.

Xena redoubled her efforts to escape, and actually got one arm free of the field...

Ephiny spoke now. "Rick, don't hurt her. I know you are a good and gentle man inside. Gabrielle is right: If you do this you will never forgive yourself. You said today that you felt like you were falling in love with me. I feel that way too. Rick... I love you. Please, don't let Velasca beat your goodness inside. I LOVE YOU...

Rick looked at Ephiny, then turned toward Velasca, who was staring intensely at him again. He smiled savagely, looking down at Gabrielle - and pulled the trigger... as he spun the gun around to point it at Velasca!

BABABABBABBABABBABABBABAM...

He released Gabrielle and grabbed the gun with both hands, firing until the clip was empty, then slamming in another and firing again. Velasca was staggered by the barrage of powerful bullets. She was forced back by the impact, and her lightning fields collapsed, releasing Xena and Ephiny. They fell to the ground, drained by their fight against the magical energy. Gabrielle crawled over to help Xena. As she did she looked from Ephiny, to Rick, to Velasca. "Only love can break the cycle of hate", she thought. "It really is true."

Rick continued firing, spraying Velasca's torso with bullets, driving her toward the lava pit. She stayed on her feet, but was forced back, closer and closer to the edge with each shot. "She must be able to heal better than before", he thought to himself, as he slapped the last clip into his weapon. He kept shooting, and walked right up near Velasca, firing into her chest at point black range. Velasca stepped back again, shuddering with the impact of the slugs. Her right foot touched the rim of the pool - and then the AK-47 quit firing! It was out of ammo!

SMACK!

Velasca lashed out with her fist and knocked Rick backwards through the air. The gun went flying from his hand, and he landed heavily against a rock - shaken and barely conscious. The goddess walked forward to stand over him. "You fool", she said. "I could have made you a king and given you all that you ever desired - and you throw it away for love. You are pathetic! And now", she said, pointing her finger downward at his head, "You are dead!" Lightning crackled from her fingertips, arcing toward him... then fizzled out - as her arm dropped to the ground, severed below the elbow!

Xena reached up and caught the whirling chakram when it returned to her. She looked mockingly at Velasca.

"Need a hand?" she asked.

 

 

Chapter 24: FIRE IN THE HOLE

Velasca screamed in rage, and raised her left hand, sending a bolt of lightning streaking in Xena's direction. The warrior flipped to the side and avoided it, then drew her sword and ducked behind a large boulder. Gabrielle sheltered behind another rock and Ephiny dove for cover as well. Rick seemed to have lost consciousness, and lay near where Velasca stood. The goddess reached down, picked up her arm, and held it to the stump below her elbow. In seconds, it began to re-attach itself.

She raised her arms over her head, and motioned to the sky. Bolts of lightning fell in a jagged line, striking the ground and crashing down through the brittle surface. The earth shook and began to split apart, steam hissing from the bottom of the glowing fissure. The crack continued opening across the barren, black, ground - separating Ephiny and Gabrielle from the others, as lava poured into the rift and filled it nearly to the rim, making it impossible to cross... Xena and Rick were alone against the goddess, and he was still unconscious. Velasca slowly lowered her arms and slumped forward, drained from the expense of energy.

"Now is my chance", thought Xena. She rushed at Velasca, sword in hand, and flung her chakram as she ran. The chakram buried itself deep in Velasca's chest, only half of it still protruding, and she sagged to her knees. Xena raced up and sliced down with her sword.

KA-CHIINNNGG...

Her sword met Velasca's as the goddess drew it quickly, and blocked the warrior's swing!

Gabrielle and Ephiny looked on from the other side of the fiery rift, helpless to assist Xena. They began to look for some way to get to the other side. Rick still lay unmoving near where the goddess and the warrior princess were battling. Velasca slashed at Xena's midsection, and she had to flip backward to avoid the blow. The goddess reached down and pulled the chakram from her chest, dropping it to the ground.

"You can't kill me Xena - you have no immortal fighting with you this time, and your friends can't help you. I am going to kill you, and then Rick, and then Ephiny. I will save Gabrielle for last but, believe me, she will die a horrible death." She raised her arm and threw a lightning bolt at Xena, charging at her as she did. Xena rolled to the side and avoided the blast - but Velasca was expecting it, and sliced toward her with her sword. Xena dodged the blow - almost. Velasca's sword left a bloody gash across Xena's left bicep, cutting deep into the muscle! She ignored the burning pain from the gaping wound and flipped forward, over the goddess's head, landing on the edge of the lava pit. She struck out quickly and thrust her blade completely through Velasca's body!

Velasca spun around, ripping the sword from Xena's grasp. She pointed downward and sent a lightning bolt into the rock at Xena's feet, blasting it apart and causing her to fall down toward the deadly, glowing pool below. Velasca pulled the sword out of her back, then flung it over her shoulder. Xena had managed to grab the crumbling rim as she fell and she hung by her fingertips over the lava. The goddess looked down at her from above - a triumphant look adorning her beautiful, but evil face. "Now Xena - you die", she said, as she cruelly brought her boot down on the fingers of Xena's left hand.

"Ahhhrrgg." Xena's hand slipped loose, and Velasca shifted her boot to the right one.

"NOOOOO..." Gabrielle screamed, from across the lava-filled chasm.

"Goodbye, Xena", Velasca said, laughing...

Her laugh was strangled, as blood, flesh, and teeth erupted in a grotesque spray from her mouth! She spun around to see Rick standing behind her, firing at her with his pistol. She screamed in rage, as well as she could without a tongue, then began to raise her hand...

Rick fired again and again, aiming for her head. The hollow point slugs blew huge parts of her skull away with each shot. After the clip was empty, her head had been completely shot to pieces, and only a bloody neck stump remained. Velasca's body sagged to the ground, not moving. Rick put a fresh clip into his pistol and limped up to the fallen immortal. He fired the entire clip into her heart and lungs, then reloaded again and fired up and down the length of her spinal column, blowing the vertebrae to splinters. Finally, he used the last clip to shatter her hipbones, elbows, both knees, and her ankles. Satisfied that she would not be moving for the moment, he turned to go help Xena. Even as he did so, she pulled herself over the rim, and walked to meet him. She looked down at Velasca's mutilated corpse.

"I think you got her", she said, smiling grimly.

"I just wanted to make sure", he replied. "I've seen too many scary movies where the killer gets up again, after being shot. I know she's immortal and she will get up again, but not this second I'll bet."

Xena bent and grabbed Velasca's feet. "We need to get her into the lava pit. Grab her hands and we'll throw her over the side." Even as they had been speaking, Velasca's body had been regenerating at an unbelievable rate. Her body was mostly healed, and her head began to rebuild itself, from the neck up. They could see the muscles, bone, and nerves growing out from the bloody stump.

"Hurry, lets get her in!" Xena shouted. Picking her up, they moved toward the pit. They reached the side and threw her body over the edge - when suddenly her hand shot out and grabbed Rick's arm! It caused him to overbalance and he toppled to the ground, as her body pulled itself up from the pit. Xena tried to grab her and toss her into the pool, but she received a vicious kick in the groin from the nearly headless corpse, and she fell back, almost into the lava!

Velasca's body smashed a fist into Rick's face, several times, and he lay still. It rose and turned to face Xena, who had already gotten to her feet. She looked at Velasca as the head began to fill out. Already one side of her face had reformed, and the other was healing rapidly. Velasca gave Xena a half smile, laughter gurgling from the still unfinished throat. "You should know... you can't kill ... a god", she said. Xena rushed up and threw a punch at the grotesque, half finished face. She connected and Velasca fell back, but grabbed Xena's arm as she did, and they both went down together. They rolled around, punching and kicking each other. Xena was stronger, but Velasca gained strength with every passing second. She had to do something quick. But what? Struggling with the wounded goddess, she frantically looked around for a weapon. They rolled over against Rick - that's when Xena noticed the grenade still hanging on his web belt...

She looked up into Velasca's eyes - one still only partially regenerated. Xena reached over, trying to grab the grenade off of Rick's belt. She managed to close her fingers around it and plucked it off, just as Velasca's hands clamped around her throat and began to squeeze, maniacal laughter issuing from her reformed mouth. Xena pulled the pin with her teeth, and shoved the grenade down between Velasca's breasts, deep inside her armor.

"You know the trouble with being the new goddess in town is that you don't know all the history yet", she said. "There is no sword of Kronos!" Velasca looked confused for a moment, then enraged, as realization set in... Xena grabbed her by the shoulders, pulled hard as she kicked her knees up, and flipped the immortal backward over the lava lake. Velasca screamed in fury from her newly formed lips, struggling to reach into her armor as she fell toward the furnace below her...

There was a muffled detonation, and her mostly regenerated body blew into hundreds of bloody chunks, which rained down over a wide area of lava. They didn't burn, but each piece slowly sank out of sight into the depths of the glowing, molten rock...

 

 

EPILOGUE

"So", Gabrielle said, "You made up that story about Kronos' sword, knowing that Velasca would be spying on us somehow, and that she would try to stop us. That was your whole plan all along - to get her to the lava lake, where she could be trapped in it, just like before."

"Not just like before", Xena replied, smiling at her young friend. "This was an original way to do it. In pieces like she is, it should take her much longer to escape."

They stood in the middle of the Amazon village, watching the warriors rebuild the town. In the last few days, the women had done a great deal of work, and the village was already well on it's way to being restored. Gabrielle looked around for Rick and Ephiny, but didn't see them. Probably they were doing some weapons training, or helping rebuild the ruined huts, or maybe... Gabrielle smiled as she thought of the last possibility. "They have spent every moment together", she thought. "It must be serious." She was happy that her friends were alive - and in love. She looked over at Xena and thanked the gods that she and her dark-haired warrior were still together too. (Well, she thanked most of the gods.)

Every time Rick had seen Gabrielle the last few days, he had apologized for hitting her, over and over again. She told him there was no need, as he was not responsible for what Velasca had made him do, but he had still continued - until she smacked him solidly in the face with her staff right in the middle of his last apology. He had gotten up, smiling in spite of a bloody nose, and felt much better after that. "Men are such strange creatures", Gabrielle thought.

Rick and Ephiny came walking toward them from the opposite side of the village. By the way he was gesturing with his arms, giving the impression of something large and fast moving, he was telling her another story about the future. Ephiny greeted them as they approached. "He talks almost as much as you do", Ephiny said. She laughed and continued, "But I think I'll keep him anyway. He's fairly brave, and seems OK - for a man."

"Now just a minute", Rick started, "I..."

"Xena - Is Xena here?" a voice called from across the square. Two women - by their dress and build, obviously not Amazons - came running toward them. Xena stepped forward to meet them.

"I'm Xena. What's wrong?" she asked.

"We need... your help", one of them said, gasping for air. She bent forward putting her hands on her knees, until she could catch her breath, then continued. "A blind cyclops kidnapped some children from our village, and said that he is going to eat them, unless we give him all of our cows and our gold. Can you help us?" They both looked at her pleadingly...

"When I told him to get a new career, this is not what I had in mind", Xena thought.

"The blind cyclops!" Rick exclaimed. "I can't wait to see him! A real cyclops. What are we waiting for girls? Lets go!"

"Just one minute", Ephiny said. "Xena and Gabrielle can deal with one blind cyclops. You have duties to perform here. You said you wanted me to teach you how to fight, now that your modern weapons are out of bullets. Well, the only way a man can stay here in our village is to be chosen as the queen's consort. I chose you. Your combat training has already begun" she said, rubbing an obvious bruise on his face. "You will have many duties to perform here", she said - as she brazenly reached into the front of his pants! "And I know one that needs fulfilling right now". She flashed him a challenging smile. Gabrielle turned her head - rolling her eyes to the side, Xena flashed a big smile toward Ephiny, and the two village women gasped in shock... Rick - his face turning red - leaned forward and kissed his new queen, or was it the other way around? He didn't care - he was happy!

"Well girls", he said, turning to Xena and Gabrielle, "I guess you will have to go without me. Maybe I can catch you on the next cyclops?" He gave Gabrielle a big hug, being overly careful to avoid her nose. He turned and started to give Xena a hug, thought better of it, and decided to clasp wrists with her, in the Amazon way. Ephiny hugged Gabrielle, kissing her lightly on the lips as she did. Surprisingly, she did the same with Xena! "See you soon", she said to them both. Rick wondered about that kissing thing. He was going to have to ask Ephiny about it later. Maybe this world did have a few differences from the future TV show after all? He and the Amazon Queen turned and walked toward her newly finished quarters - Ephiny leading the way, of course...

"Show us the way to your town", Xena said, addressing the peasant women. They smiled gratefully and began walking back the way they had come. Xena bent down and gave Gabrielle a kiss, before mounting Argo, and following the women. Gabrielle walked along beside Argo, moving quickly in the fading light.

"Xena, do you think Velasca is gone for good this time?" she asked, as they headed west, following the two women into the setting sun.

"I don't know", Xena replied. "Only time will tell..."

Miles away, a brave little rock squirrel bounded down from the rocky cleft he knew as home, and climbed atop a blackened boulder, near a seething, lava-filled pit. As he sat there, warming his body against the chill of the night air, the earth began to shake, and a loud rumbling resounded around the crater. Frightened by the tremor, the squirrel ran quickly away, bouncing from rock to rock, and scampering into a narrow crevice...

He hadn't seen the glowing ring of bubbles forming at the center of the molten pool......

 

 

THE END?