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Disclaimers: The characters Xena and Gabrielle are owned by MCA/Universal, and are used here without permission. This is a work of Sapphic fiction. It contains extreme violence and explicit sexual content. If you are under 18 years of age, you may read this only if a parent is reading it with you.
Edited by: Roxann.
The Poems of Sappho. (c) 1966, translated by Suzy Q. Groden.
Setting: Xena and Gabrielle meet under different circumstances than as shown in Sins of the Past.
The forest was buzzing with the sounds of life. Crickets chirped, birds chattered, and squirrels chased each other as they always do during a pleasant afternoon. Then slowly, almost imperceptibly, the chirping stopped. The forest animals stopped in their activities, and then disappeared into hiding. For there was something moving through the forest now, something noisy. Four figures were stomping their way through the forest, and they did not belong here.
"Don't chug all of it, dude!" Hammabola said to his friend, yanking the pottery keg from his hand. "Save me some."
"Hey, check this out." one of them said, pointing to a sign nailed to a tree.
The foursome gathered around the sign, which had emblazoned on it a skull and crossbones.
"This is it." the leader of the group nodded, swaying unsteadily. "It's Ghost Forest."
"Hey, I heard this place was haunted."
"Are you sure it's this way, man?" one of them asked.
"Sure, man." Hammabola replied, taking a swig. "All the women you could shake a stick at. I heard they live up here all by themselves."
"And no men?"
"Yeah, dude." the leader grinned, kicking his way through a thicket. "They're probably so hot and horny, with no real men around. We got it made!"
Laughing to each other, the four young men continued through the brush, deeper into the forest.
"-Urp!-" one of them grimaced, doubling over. "Oh @#$%, I think I had too much."
"Jorgas 's not a real man, that's for sure." one of them laughed as they left him behind. "Stay here and puke, sissy boy."
"Not funny, dudes!" Jorgas called out after them, nearly losing his stomach from the effort of yelling. He lurched over to a tree to begin throwing up. If he upchucked now, he figured, he would be able to catch up with them later to get some, too.
The forest darkened around the three would-be cockerels, and the undergrowth grew thicker as they trudged onwards.
The sounds of the outer forest faded away, and the three nearly jumped as a wood owl began hooting above them.
"I don't like this, man." one of them worried, looking around at the dark canopy far above. "Are you sure this is the right way?"
"Grow some balls." Hammabola chided him. "Our ladies are waiting for us. Come on!"
Hammabola surged on ahead through some deep brush, and his two companions exchanged glances before setting off after him.
"Should we wait for Jorgas?"
"Forget 'im." the other nervously glanced back at him. "We'll get it all, dude."
Jorgas heaved his guts out onto the pine tree. Blubbering to himself, he swore that he would never get this drunk again. He hated throwing up. Propping himself upright, he wiped the greasy drool off his mouth.
"Whatever girl I get," he muttered to himself, "she'd better like my breath. If not, too bad."
Just then Jorgas was hit by another wave of nausea, and bent over to prepare himself for more upchucking. It was then that he noticed something strange. There was something tied around his ankles. Some kind of line. Just as he reached down to the cable, it suddenly snapped tight.
"Whoulp!" Jorgas exclaimed as his legs were yanked out from under him. His entire body whipped around as the line pulled him straight up in the air. To his great surprise, he found himself hanging upside-down.
Flailing wildly, Jorgas' hands clutched at empty air as he sailed three yards up off the ground. As he prepared to cry out for help, Jorgas' stomach had other plans. A flow of vomit surged out of his throat, drowning out his screams.
"Hey Hamma, wait up." Trafalger called out. The two had lost sight of their leader, but suddenly noticed him in the darkness as he stopped and turned.
"You guys are such wusses." Hammabola called out at them. "I'll be gettin' all the tail, you just watch."
"Yeah, right." Phuti responded as they caught up to their leader. He was standing still, and as they approached he held his hand up as a warning.
"What is it?"
"I thought I heard something." Hammabola said in a hushed whisper.
They glanced up at some bird that began calling from above them. It sounded real creepy, and then another bird joined in from the opposite side. They looked around in vain, but couldn't see anything in the dense canopy above.
Hammabola cupped his hands to his mouth. "Jorgas!"
The trio waited in silence for the returning answer. There was none, save for a bird that chattered unseen from far above. Then-
"Ahhh..." a voice cried faintly back in the distance. All three young men turned around at the sound.
"What's goin' on?" one of them fearfully asked Hammabola, but his wide eyes were the only response. Then their leader pointed.
"Look!" Hammabola said in a forced whisper. Something was moving in the dark bushes beyond them. Something large. Their eyes grew wider as they watched the dark shape edge towards them. And then it growled.
"What is it? What is it?"
"There's another one!" Trafalger pointed at another shape. And then another. Then it finally dawned on the drunken youths that there were many more dark shapes moving in around them. They were surrounded.
"What do we do?!" Phuti shouted, shaking him. "They got Jorgas!"
"Man, I told you these woods was haunted!"
"Shut up." Hammabola said dangerously, his eyes narrowing. "Split up. They can't get us all."
The other two looked at him nervously, they were scared out of their wits.
"Ready?" he said. "Let's go!"
Screaming like the hounds of Tartarus were at their heels, the three youths all tore off in different directions, each going deeper into the forest.
Phuti slowed his pace, out of breath. He thought he had lost whatever had been chasing him, but couldn't be sure. Lifting up his torn sleeve, he inspected his arm. He had caught his shirt on a tree branch, and now had a nice gash along his forearm.
A twig snapped. He looked to his right.
"Groar!" a furry monster roared, right in his face.
"Yiee!!" Phuti screamed, tearing himself away from the creature.
He ran for several yards, until another fearsome shape loomed before him. Not waiting to find out what this thing would do, he changed direction. As he ran at full bore over tangled roots and dead leaves, he never noticed that he was being herded to a specific spot.
Trafalger slammed to a halt, slapping his hand against a large oak tree. That was it, he thought, he was totally wasted. He panted in huge wheezes as he leaned against the tree, never noticing the leaves shifting at his feet. By the time he did, it was too late.
"Yielp!" he cried as something grabbed his ankles. He looked down in horror to see two hands sticking out of the ground, grasping him. Then they began pulling him in.
"No, no! Sweet Hestia, no!" he cried feebly as he tottered for balance. Falling down to the ground, he frantically scrabbled into the dirt for purchase, but found none. With his fingers raking tiny trails into the dirt, he disappeared down into the earth with barely a whimper. And then the forest lay silent.
"Guys?" Hammabola called out softly. He twirled around to take in the view, but he was alone. Alone, and totally lost. A sense of desperation filled him. Was he going to die here, alone in the wilderness? The thoughts of passion he was filled with only moments before had fled his mind, to be replaced with wild-eyed fear.
He stood there alone for long minutes, unsure of everything except that he was safest where he was. At least, he hoped so. He caught sight of something running through the forest, something pale. Squinting his eyes, he was surprised to see it was one of his friends, stripped down to his underwear.
"Hamma! Hamma!" the youth cried as he half-ran, half-stumbled towards his friend.
Hammabola caught him as he fell. He saw the dark shapes closing in behind him. Whatever they were, he realized, they had brought him here.
"Where's the others?" Hammabola asked, cowering down with him as the creatures closed in around them. Hammabola was shocked to see their hideous faces. Horrible creatures they were, doubtless conjured up from the nameless depths of Tartarus. They were covered in all manner of matted furs, though whether they were pelts or their own hides, he was too terrified to ask. He looked over at his friend.
Phuti was too terrified to speak, and simply shook like a willow tree. A noise sounded behind them, and they turned to see Trafalger dumped beside them like a sack of garbage. What was left of his clothes were hanging in narrow strips, and he curled into a fetal position as soon as he hit the ground.
"Jorgas?" Hammabola asked. "Where is Jorgas?"
The creatures seemed to confer with each other wordlessly, and then they turned towards him and straightened. Then they floated right up into the air, like creatures out of this world. The demons laughed shrilly as they went up, and the youths covered their heads at the sound. They laughed for long moments, and then the cacophony eventually died out. Soon, the only sound that could be heard was their own frantic panting and haltingly, the youths dared to look up.
"Ooooooo..." a soft voice called from above them, and they looked up to see a figure floating in the air, dressed in immaculate white robes. It was clearly a woman, yet she had the hideous face of a demon. Floating down closer, she stopped suddenly, and hung eerily before them.
"W-What are you?!" Phuti stammered, kneeling on the ground before her.
"I am the ghost of the forest." Gabrielle said as she hovered before them. "How dare you disturb my eternal rest?"
"W-We are sorry, m-mistress." Hammabola said, fearfully keeping his gaze at the ground. "Please, spare us!"
"But why should I spare you?" Gabrielle distractedly asked, trying to get her tone just right. "Have you come to worship me? Let me see your faces. Come now, look up."
The young men looked up into the frightening mask of the creature above them, and quickly averted their gaze, lest they be turned to stone.
"Ew. You are too ugly to worship me." Gabrielle decided, waving her arm. "Go now, and never return to this place, or I will make your manhood shrivel."
The youths shivered together, not daring to move.
"Do you hear me? Go!"
The youths grudgingly got to their feet, shuddering together as one. They started to back away from the apparition, nearly stumbling over each other in the process. Then Jorgas worked up the courage to speak.
"W-What about our c-clothes?" he asked, cringing in terror.
"Begone!" Gabrielle shouted, as an unholy cacophony began echoing from the treetops above.
"C'mon!" Hammabola cried. His friends quickly followed suit, and then they ran like rabbits.
Gabrielle watched with amusement as one of them tripped on a root and fell, knocking his head against a tree. He stumbled up to see his friends had not stopped to help him, and so he ran after them screaming. Gabrielle waited until they had disappeared from sight before letting out a soft chuckle. "Alright, somebody want to help me out here? I seem to be stuck."
The assembled Amazons began cheering as they came down from the treetops. Two of them helped pull Gabrielle the rest of the way down as they dropped, as the others began disattaching their lines.
"Ha Ha Ha!" Dika laughed, slapping another Amazon on the back. "Did you see their faces? I thought they were gonna drop dead, honest to Zeus!"
"Me too!" Timas said, taking off her mask. "The one I had was bawling like a baby when I stripped him."
"Mine was calling for his mother!" Irana boasted, doffing her mask. "That was fun!"
"You bet." Dika agreed, turning to their patrol leader. "That was a great idea, Gabrielle."
Others echoed their agreement as Gabrielle took off her mask. She was wearing an ear-to-ear grin. "Thank you, thank you. I think we can call this a successful hunt, can we?"
"Here here!" Dika called, pumping her fist in the air. "Three cheers for our leader, the Mighty Slayer of Squirrels!"
"Gabrielle! Gabrielle! Gabrielle!"
"Alright, that's enough." Gabrielle commanded, smirking at her new title. She had hoped to be known as something like Speaker for the Past, or Walker of the Winds. But no, she was now and forever to be known as Mighty Slayer of Squirrels. They were never going to let her live that incident down, and Gabrielle sighed in acceptance. She decided there were worse things to be called, although she couldn't think of any at the moment.
"Let's get our gear and head back home." the blonde commanded. "I want to get out of these furs as soon as possible."
"Me too." Anactoria agreed, sniffing hers. "I think mine was stitched out of skunk."
At Irana's amused expression, she raised her hand. "Don't. Not unless you want a boot in the mouth."
"I wasn't going to say anything." Irana lied, shaking her head.
The Amazons began dispersing, some returning to the village, while others went off to recover their gear from their hidey-holes. Dika watched Gabrielle gather up her line, and decided to walk up to her.
"Gabrielle?" she asked, concerned. "You didn't attend the sit-together we all had after the Festival. Is everything alright?"
Gabrielle bit down a smile, but couldn't stop it. She broke out in a bright smile to the other woman. "Oh, couldn't be better. Why?"
"Well, it was a little traumatic for some of the girls, for various reasons." Dika explained, glancing off at the others.
"Yeah, I know." Gabrielle's voice dropped to a whisper. "I heard Timas got a rash."
"Poor thing." Dika nodded. "But I was wondering about you. Did it go alright at uh, the Festival?"
"Oh, yeah." Gabrielle said brightly. "I got @#$%ed pretty hard."
"Oh." Dika looked at her strangely, raising an eyebrow. "Well, as long as you're okay."
"Oh, I'm as loose as a goose." Gabrielle nodded.
Gabrielle marched her patrol out of the forest, and onto the road that led into the village. Reaching daylight, she and the others had shed their heavy furs, and carried them over their backs as they walked.
"Hey Gabs," Irana asked as they crossed the main road, "I think our troop needs a cadence."
"A cadence?" the blonde replied, tapping her staff ahead of her.
"Yeah." the warrior continued. "You know, a marching song."
"Do you have a song in mind?" Gabrielle asked, stopping in the middle of the road. She noticed that Dika was struggling to stifle a laugh, indicating she did indeed have a song.
Irana cleared her throat and began her cadence:
Gabrielle's jaw dropped as the others broke out laughing. She had to admit it was pretty good, so she gave the warrior a smile. "That was very naughty."
"I know." Irana nodded, and then waved out to the other Amazons. "Okay, everyone repeat after me!"
Irana began the cadence again, and the Amazons chanted after her.
Out of respect for Xena, Gabrielle decided that she would not sing the song. She turned around to ask them to stop. It was then that she saw her.
Gabrielle waved at Irana, attempting to point out to her the person that was coming up the road behind them.
"Uh, Irana..." Gabrielle said.
"If she sees you, you are dead!" Irana finished proudly.
"If she sees you, you are..." the other Amazons trailed off.
Irana shook her head at the stares around her. "What?"
A hand landed on her shoulder. "I believe the word you are looking for is... dead."
Irana's face went white, and she cringed at the Amazons standing before her. "She's behind me, isn't she?"
Gabrielle smiled innocently, as various Amazons nodded in agreement.
Irana gulped as Xena turned her around.
"I like it." Xena opined, leveling her gaze at her. "But it's a little tame, don't you think? Make it raunchier."
"Yes, Xena!" Irana said sharply, grinning widely. "I'll get to work on it immediately."
"Good." Xena said, looking out to the other troops. "Dismissed. Except for you, Gabrielle."
"So formal." Gabrielle noted suggestively as the other troops left. "Are we going to try that disciplining thing again?"
"No." Xena rolled her eyes. "Is sex all you think about? And I thought you didn't like playing warlord/slave."
"Well, give me time." the blonde replied, tapping her staff against Xena's inner thigh.
Xena just stared at her, and licked her lips. "Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful."
Gabrielle grinned, feeling a blush coming on. "Why, thank you."
"What a beautiful staff." Xena said, stepping closer. "Where did you get it?"
Gabrielle rolled her eyes, and held the staff up for Xena to see. "Meralda the woodsmith made it for me. Here, watch this."
Gabrielle twirled the staff before her and then slung it off behind her. Then she twirled it again just centimeters from Xena's face, and slung it off to the other side. "Pretty good, huh?"
She started on another display, but the staff was abruptly spun out of her hands, and into Xena's. Before Gabrielle could speak, Xena brought the end of the staff around and gave her a smack on the rump with it.
"Ow!" Gabrielle yelped, exaggerating her injury.
"A staff can be an excellent weapon." Xena said, handing it back to her. "But if you're not careful, it can be taken away and used against you."
"Consider me advised." Gabrielle nodded sternly. Then she grinned wickedly.
"What?" Xena asked.
"Have I got something to tell you." Gabrielle said, almost giddy. "We had a great time out on patrol today."
Xena raised her eyebrows, and Gabrielle proceeded to tell her of their encounter with the drunken farm boys.
"The local boys know better than to pull something like this." Xena said, looking off at the forest. "Any idea where they came from?"
"Their clothes looked Greek." Gabrielle said thoughtfully. "I think they were from one of the Scythian villages."
"You know that if Velasca was your leader," Xena said, "she would have had you kill them."
"Your way is better." Xena said, placing her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders. "I like you the way you are."
"But we may have to kill someday." Gabrielle observed. "To defend our way of life."
"Yes, but not today." Xena smiled at her, letting go.
"So how'd your trip go? Did you see the Queen?"
"I saw her." Xena said quietly, glancing off down the road. "But -sigh- she's not well."
"How is she?"
"Not good, Gabrielle." Xena said in that low voice of hers. "It's her lungs. She's not expected to live out the year."
"Oh no." Gabrielle said. "That's terrible."
"Yep." Xena said simply, cleaning a tooth with her tongue.
Gabrielle shook her head, looking off into the sky. "Things like that really make you think."
Gabrielle folded her arms, and looked off towards the sky.
Wearing a bored expression, Xena started to walk past her. Then she stopped and leaned over to her.
"I need you." she whispered to her lover. "Your place."
Gabrielle felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise from Xena's closeness. Then Xena abruptly walked away, and Gabrielle's eyes followed her as she made her way towards the village.
"She certainly has a way with words." Gabrielle muttered to herself, before setting off after her.
Gabrielle opened the door and went inside.
"So what do y-oulp!" the blonde yelped as she was pulled inside, and the door slammed behind her.
Gabrielle found herself turned around, and the reason became clear as Xena felt for her backstraps and undid them. There was no delicateness in her technique, no lingering over the fabric, as Xena lifted the top off of Gabrielle's chest and flung it at the wall.
"I'll need to find that later." Gabrielle pointed with her finger as Xena moved around to her front.
Xena reached for the blonde's belt.
"X-Xena?" Gabrielle stammered as Xena yanked her forward to undo her buckle. "Did you uh, join the Amazons just to get in my pants?"
"No." Xena said in her low voice, whipping the belt off its loops. "But it's the best reason I can think of right now."
"Uh huh." Gabrielle nodded as her skirt fell to the floor. As Xena grabbed the edges of her underwear, Gabrielle reached down to stop her.
"Don't!" the blonde said, holding her hands on Xena's. "They're my best pair."
"Sez you." Xena slurs under her breath. "Fine. Leave it on."
"Get on the bed." Xena instructed, standing up. "Now."
"Hey, I'm not Salmoneus." Gabrielle huffed, walking over to the bed.
"Thanks for that wonderful imagery." Xena chided her, rolling her eyes. "Now you've ruined my mood."
"No, I didn't!" the blonde retorted, sitting down.
"Okay, you got me." Xena shrugged. "Nothing could do that. Although picturing Sal naked is pretty close."
"Great, now you've got me doing it." Gabrielle said, licking her lips.
"Quit it." Xena said, sitting down on the bed next to her. "I want you to lie down."
"What are you going to do?" Gabrielle said, her mouth curving into a smirk as she spoke.
"That's for you to find out." Xena said as Gabrielle laid back on the bed. Xena smiled as she watched Gabrielle's breasts flatten out.
"What?" the blonde asked.
"I was thinking about your cup size." Xena said, smiling at her. "It's very nice. Not my size, of course, but nice."
"If this is some new approach to turn me on." Gabrielle said tightly, hiding her breasts under her arms. "It's not working."
"Uh huh." Xena said, tapping her on the thigh. "Just get all the way up on the bed."
"Yes sir." Gabrielle said deliberately, scooting herself completely onto her bed. Her feet dangled off the edge, and she wagged them at Xena.
"Are you trying to throw my concentration off?" Xena asked, kneeling down in front of the bed. "Cause it's working."
"Sorry." the blonde said, tapping her hands on the bed. "Thrill me with your expertise."
Xena frowned in annoyance. She briefly entertained the idea of stuffing Gabrielle's underwear in her mouth, but decided against it. She looked up along Gabrielle's body again. Anything is worth that, she decided.
"You called it." Xena said mysteriously, leaning forward to kiss one of her toes.
"Kinky." Gabrielle noted, grinning to herself.
"Shush." Xena warned, moving on to kiss her heel. "Don't talk."
Gabrielle felt Xena coolly breathe along her ankle, and then kiss it. It actually felt kind of nice, whatever Xena was working up to. Xena kissed her tanned calf, and ran her tongue up its length. She cupped her hand under Gabrielle's hard calf muscle, and nuzzled her face against her leg.
Gabrielle felt Xena slide her face up past her knee, and her nerves tingled warningly as Xena ran her tongue along her inner thigh. She gasped as Xena kissed her underwear right where it covered the top of her leg. It was distractingly close, and she grew aroused at the thought of Xena's nearness.
Disappointingly, Xena kept on moving up her body, now popping kisses around her navel. Wetting her tongue, she stuck it into Gabrielle's belly button, trailing saliva as she pulled it out.
Xena heard Gabrielle gasp softly, and relished it. She could sense that the blonde's heartrate had increased considerably. Even better, she hadn't made a wisecrack about her navel lint yet, like she did last time. Xena smiled to herself as she nuzzled a cheek against the blonde's belly. Gabrielle still didn't have a clue what she was up to.
Gabrielle tensed and swallowed as Xena moved up to her breasts. She thrilled in the sensation as Xena kissed, breathed on, and caressed her breasts, although she ignored her nipples completely. Gabrielle sighed as Xena moved up to her collarbone. She was in such a state that when Xena's lips touched her neck, she gasped.
Xena responded to her, and reached her hand down between the other woman's thighs. She slipped her hand up between them, as Gabrielle opened her legs to give her wider access. Xena's hand stopped just as it brushed her underwear, and Gabrielle shuddered from the touch.
"Xena, taste me." Gabrielle breathed as she had her neck kissed and licked. "I need you to."
"Yes..." Xena breathed in her ear. "I know you do."
Gabrielle waited in anticipation as Xena's hand slid erotically back down her inner thigh, and then let go. Xena slipped her fingers under Gabrielle's underwear, and tugged at it lightly for Gabrielle to lift up.
Gabrielle lifted her hips up, and Xena slid her underwear down and off her. With her eyes on Xena, Gabrielle reached down to touch herself.
"Ah ah!" Xena warned, pushing her hand away. "Not allowed."
Gabrielle sighed as if irritated, but she was really quite expectant as Xena lowered herself over her waist.
Xena looked down to Gabrielle's soft pubic triangle, and smiled.
"Nice." she observed, leaning down to kiss her body.
Gabrielle writhed under the touch of Xena's mouth, as she popped light kisses around the edge of her vaginal folds. Xena's nearness was incredibly erotic, and Gabrielle felt very edgy.
"Taste me." Gabrielle whispered. "Please."
"In good time."
"You're driving me crazy!" Gabrielle said, putting her knees together.
"Shhh..." Xena breathed. "Live the moment."
Gabrielle sighed deeply and settled down. She luxuriated in the sensation of her lover tasting everywhere but where she wanted it most.
"Here it comes." Xena said.
Gabrielle felt her clitoris touched feather-light, and it was almost more than she could stand. Just as suddenly, the mouth withdrew, and she was left such a yearning that she wanted to grab the woman's head and shove it between her thighs. Then she felt it again, the cool wetness of Xena's tongue against her. The touch electrified her, as did the sensation of her tongue slipping between her folds.
Xena thrilled in the sound Gabrielle was making, it was what she had wanted to hear. "Liked that, did you?"
"Gods, Xena." Gabrielle said, stretching her hands over her head. "How are you doing that?"
"It's all anticipation." Xena said matter-of-factly, fishing a pubic hair from her mouth. "And setting the mood."
"Ooohhh, it's set." Gabrielle grinned, flexing her toes. "Set me some more."
"Mmm." Xena murmured, lowering her head to the most pleasant of tasks.
The first thing Gabrielle noticed was the smoke, which was odd, because she could never smell anything while dreaming. She found herself drifting towards a village, a village in flames. Row upon row of houses were on fire, and she could hear the screams of the people within. The screams were horrible, even though she could not hear them, which was also quite strange. She drifted towards one house in particular, before which was standing a young woman.
The girl was staring at the burning house, and she slowly turned to face the intruder. Gabrielle was shocked to see that the girl only had white pupils for eyes, but she steeled herself and smiled at the girl anyway.
Gabrielle wordlessly greeted the young woman. A ludicrous question anywhere else, but not in a dream. The girl spoke, her mouth silently forming one word. With a shock, Gabrielle recognized the name, as the girl's eyes transformed to flame.
"Xena!" she exclaimed, sitting up in bed. Shocked fully awake, Gabrielle realized the woman in question was already holding her. "Xena?"
"Shhh..." Xena whispered, rocking her bedmate back and forth. "I was wondering if you would wake up. You were having a bad dream."
"Uh hum." Gabrielle replied, trying to think as her senses came alive.
"Want to tell me about it?" Xena asked patiently.
"Umm... There was this village." Gabrielle began, trying to capture the prophecy before it faded completely. "It was on fire. The fire was huge. It was everywhere."
Xena smiled to herself at the imagery her blonde was conjuring. She certainly had a vivid imagination, why not vivid dreams, too? "Go on." Xena prompted.
"There was this girl." Gabrielle continued. "A few years younger than me. And she was repeating your name, over and over."
"But why would she-" Xena started, then cut herself off. She knew what village this was. She had been there. Her, and her army. Could it be possible?
"Cirra." Xena said simply.
"Yes, that was the name of the village." Gabrielle said excitedly in the dark. "Are you a prophetess, too?"
"Excuse me?" Xena asked.
"I have these prophecies sometimes." Gabrielle explained. "My mother said I was born under Hesperus, the evening star. Sometimes I see the future."
"This was the past." Xena said softly, stroking her hair. "My past."
Gabrielle sat up out of Xena's grip, and turned around to face her. Lighting a lamp, Xena slowly told her the story of Cirra, a village just like the many others she had looted.
"Somehow a fire got started." Xena continued in her narrative. "I don't know if it was my men who did it, or an accident. But there was a strong breeze that day. And it fanned the flames, higher and higher. The fires lit up the countryside. By the next day, there was nothing left of the village. Some villagers got away, but most of them..." Xena trailed off. "Women, men, and children died that day. At my hand."
"Xena..." Gabrielle began.
"It was my fault, Gabrielle." Xena said. "Those people died because of me. At the time, I didn't care. They were nothing to me. But now. Yes, I know your dream, Gabrielle. I have it too, from time to time. Except mine is real."
"What?" Xena asked sharply. It was the last thing she expected her lover to say.
Gabrielle reached out and took the warrior woman's hand. "I said I'm glad, glad that you have trouble sleeping at night. You regret the things you did. You've changed, Xena."
"Have I?" Xena asked uncertainly.
"Yes, you have." Gabrielle said. "The warlord who burned that village didn't care about it, or the people who lived there. You do. You care, Xena. And that's the difference. That's all that it takes."
"Is it?" Xena asked again. "You saw how easy it is for me. We've only been here for a few months, and I've already taken over the place."
Xena paused for a moment. "Maybe some things are inevitable."
"No." Gabrielle said, sitting closer to her. "No, you will promise me that you will not become a monster again. I don't want you to change, Xena. I want you to stay who you are now, the woman I love."
"Don't you ever change on me, Gabrielle." Xena smiled at her, reaching out to cup her cheek. "You give me life. You are my life."
"Shush." Gabrielle said, embracing her lover. "Don't get all mushy on me now."
"Perish the thought." Xena murmured, nuzzling her hair.
After saying a prayer to Athena, Xena motioned to the Amazons, and they all sat down at the banquet table. She sat down at the head of the table, and Gabrielle sat to her right. Xena lifted up her mug to take a drink, and then set it back down again. She looked down the table at all the Amazons as they dug into their meals. These were her Amazons, her women, and she smiled to herself. She had never thought five months ago that this is where she would be. No, never in her wildest dreams. Yet here she was, with warriors who loved and respected her. It was quite a change of pace, but she had to admit she liked it.
"Pass me that, please." Gabrielle said, pointing across the table.
"What do you want, Gabrielle?" Xena asked. "The peas or the boar?"
"I'll take the peas." Gabrielle said.
Xena handed her the hot bowl, and began eating her meal. The assembled Amazons ate noisily for several minutes.
"Congratulations, battalion leader." Irana toasted, raising her cup.
"On what?" Gabrielle asked, looking up from her meal.
"Uh... On being named heir to the Queen's mask." Irana finished, looking back and forth at them.
"I didn't know about this." Gabrielle said, looking at Xena. "Is this true?"
Xena nodded, keeping her eyes on the table as she sipped her drink.
"I'm surprised she didn't tell you." Irana said.
Gabrielle looked down at her plate. "So am I."
Seeing Gabrielle's expression, Irana and Dika exchanged glances. Long moments passed, and neither Gabrielle or Xena ventured to say anything.
"Smooth going." Dika whispered to her lover.
"Wow, that's so exciting." Dika said brightly, nudging her girlfriend with her elbow. "We now have royalty in our midst."
"I turned her down." Xena said simply, looking up.
This got a reaction from Gabrielle. "You did? But... why?"
"Because I don't deserve it." Xena continued, reaching for a boar chop.
"But you're a Warrior Princess." Irana said. "Doesn't that already make you some sort of royalty? Ow!"
Irana glared over at Dika, who had just given her another nudge in the ribs. "Someone here is going to get some major noogies if she doesn't quit it with the elbows!"
Xena wiped her chin off with her napkin, and pushed her chair back. "I think I've had enough for tonight. I'm going to turn in."
Xena smiled inwardly that none of the Amazons got up. They were supposed to stop eating when their leader was done, but not any more. She had gotten rid of that silly rule, among several others.
"Xena?" Gabrielle asked as she left.
"You can stay up, Gabrielle." Xena said as her arm trailed along Gabrielle's shoulder. "I'm just feeling a little nappy."
Gabrielle waited until after she left, and then she pushed her own stool back and got up.
"You don't have to leave on our account." Irana waved at her. "I'm sorry about the way I blurted that out. I hope you're not upset with me."
"Oh, I'm not." Gabrielle said, raising her eyebrows. "But I am upset with Xena. I've a mind to go right up there and give her a good tongue-lashing. Good night."
"Good night." Irana said as several other Amazons joined in. She looked over at Dika, who had a curious expression.
"What do you think?" she asked her girlfriend.
"I think they're going to @#$% their brains out." Dika replied, reaching out to a fried crispy.
Irana laughed. "I know. I mean, they're so obvious, with that hand-on-the-shoulder thing. You'd think they did nothing all day but have sex."
"Really." Dika said, biting into her food. "I mean, if they're always doing that, when does Xena have time to run the village?"
"I don't know." Irana replied, getting up herself. "All I know is they've got to let up sometime. I mean, something's got to wear out eventually."
"I wish I knew what that was like." Dika said pointedly, deliberately cleaning the front of her teeth with her tongue.
"Uh huh." Irana said in resignation. "That was subtle. And how can I make it up to you?"
Dika looked around, and whispered to her. "How about some midnight skinny-dipping down at the swimming hole?"
"Surf's up." Irana smiled as her girlfriend got up.
"Oh Gods!" Gabrielle cried out as Xena ate her. She gripped the bedposts hard, but it was all she could do to keep from scrambling away from Xena's tongue and onto the floor.
Tapping a spot just above the blonde's thigh, Xena lightly parted her folds with her tongue. Xena looked up through the mesh of public hair to see where she was tapping. The pace had to be just right, or the stimulation of her chi juncture would make her nauseous. Lifting her mouth away from Gabrielle, Xena put her other hand right where her mouth had been, to continue the same movements.
Xena smiled to herself at Gabrielle's expression. Her eyes were closed, but her mouth was opening and closing as if she were trying to talk. For once, the blonde was speechless. Xena could tell she was bringing her over, and she thrilled at the change in Gabrielle's face.
"Aaaaaaaaahnn!!!!" Gabrielle moaned, her voice starting soundlessly, and then growing audible as she climaxed under Xena's manipulations. "@#$!!"
"Oh my, cursing." Xena noted, keeping the motion going. "Let's see what else you can say."
Xena licked her lips. If there was anything better in life than seeing Gabrielle come, she hadn't found it. Careful to keep her hands in the right place, she leaned over Gabrielle to plant a kiss on her breast. This had been one of Lao Ma's favorite moves. By sucking on her nipple, Xena thought as she did three things at once, the new sensation would restart her nerve sequence, and start her up the curve again. If experience was any guide, she could bring Gabrielle through this six more times before it started becoming painful.
"H-Holy Mother of A-Artemis!!" Gabrielle stuttered as she came again. She could feel that she was drenching Xena's face with her moisture, but she couldn't help it. She was covered in sweat by now, and she reached up to wipe her forehead off as she came down from her climax.
"I'm impressed." Xena noted coolly, lifting her mouth up from the blonde. "I didn't think I could take you this far. Ready to go for another?"
"Y-Yes." the blonde replied, brushing her damp hair back. "But I think I'd probably pee on you."
"Well, I'm not into that." Xena observed, slipping her dry hand into Gabrielle. The blonde writhed under her touch, she would be very tender there for at least a day.
Xena withdrew her fingers, turning them around in the light to look at Gabrielle's glistening moisture. She put her fingers in her mouth one by one, and licked them clean. "And I certainly like the way you taste now. Let me clean you up."
Gabrielle winced as Xena put her mouth on her again. She waited as her lover licked her genitalia from one end to the other. Then she noticed a new sensation, as Xena licked lower.
"Hey, what are you doing?" she asked.
"Some of you dripped down there." Xena explained. "I know, you're not into that."
"I uh, if that floats your boat, okay." the blonde admitted, looking around. "But I just refuse to kiss you afterwards."
"Oh, well I won't do it." Xena sighed. "Lao Ma never liked that stuff, either."
"Lao Ma?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena got up and laid down in bed next to the bard. For the next hour, she told her the story of how she had met the mysterious woman in distant Ch'in. There she had taught her techniques in inner discipline, and fighting skills that were of the spirit, not of the body. And in doing so, she had also taught her exceptional sexual techniques.
"The forty-two levels of ecstasy." Xena explained. "They were part of my combat training."
"How's that?" Gabrielle asked.
"The levels of ecstasy were intended as a form of torture." Xena continued. "By level ten, most women are in ecstasy. By level twenty, they are willing to tell you anything to keep you going. By level thirty, they are begging you to stop.
"And level forty?" Gabrielle asked, awed.
"At level forty," Xena smiled, "or so I've been told, you relive every moment of your life all at once, and then your attention focuses on a single point of absolute nothingness. Infinity, in a word."
"And then what?"
"Well, then you're dead." Xena chuckled. "Like I said, it's a form of torture."
"Wow..." Gabrielle breathed, turning over to press her chest against Xena's. "And what level did I reach?"
Xena paused for a moment. "Level eleven."
"I reached the eleventh level?" Gabrielle repeated, amazing herself. "Wow, I'm hot stuff, aren't I?"
"That you are." Xena said in a bored fashion. "I didn't want to give you a swelled head."
"I think you've given me a swollen @#$%&."
"Yeah, well. Sorry." Xena said. "At least it was for a good cause."
Gabrielle snuggled up against Xena, and laid there with her for several moments. She relished the sensation of lying against Xena, when a thought occurred to her.
"Xena," she began, "how many levels did this Lao Ma take you to?"
"Here we go." Xena said in annoyance. "If I tell you, do you promise not to be jealous?"
"I promise." the blonde whispered in her ear. "A little."
Xena was silent for several moments.
"Level thirty one." Xena admitted.
"Oh, for Hades' sake!" Gabrielle exclaimed.
"I told you not to get jealous." Xena said.
"Well, how am I gonna top that?"
"I don't know." Xena said, turning over to go to sleep. "You're always telling about that incredible imagination of yours."
"Well, go ahead and think up something." Xena finished.
Xena hammered on the wooden frame, as two other Amazons held the strut in place. She was forced to scrap two earlier designs for a water tower, as she had to make do with the materials they had at hand. But this time, she vowed, they would have a durable water tower. They would need one in case of drought.
"Hand me one of those wooden nails." Xena said as she hooked her hammer on her Chakram clip. It felt strange not having it, but she knew she would get used to its absence. It was part of her past, and it helped not having it around.
Her eye caught some motion off in the distance, and she shifted her perch on the scaffolding to get a better look. Two of her Amazons were hot-footing it out of the southern forest. Xena smiled as she recognized the twosome, probably up to no good. Her eyes narrowed as they made a beeline for the tower, coming right to her.
Xena hopped down lightly as Dika and Irana reached her.
"What is it?" the battalion leader asked.
"It's Gabrielle." Dika began, breathless. This was getting to be a habit for her. "She went out to gather toadstools, and she didn't come back!"
Xena's expression shifted to concern. "Did you go look for her?"
Mnasidika looked at her girlfriend. "I went to get Irana, since she was closest, and we went looking for her."
"We came across a bunch of men, they looked like mercenaries."
"Did they see you?"
"No." Dika answered. "But we didn't see Gabrielle among them."
"How many were there?" Xena asked, as other Amazons gathered around.
"Fifteen." Irana said curtly. "Maybe sixteen."
"Alright." Xena decided, clapping her hands. "I want a raiding party assembled. Suit up and be ready to go in five minutes."
"I'm ready to kiss ass, uh butt." Dika proclaimed.
"This isn't an exercise, Dika." Xena warned, looking out to the horizon. "We're going to war. Now get your weapons."
"But Gabrielle-" Dika began.
"Gabrielle will keep." Xena said tightly. "If they're planning on selling her, that is."
"And if they aren't?"
Dika took a step back from Xena's expression. Her blue eyes glowed fiercely at her, and the young Amazon felt for a moment that she was looking at death herself.
"Then Zeus himself won't be able to save them."
The team of Amazons peeked over the edge of a rotted hill, and from there they spied upon a camp of armed men.
"They're careless." Xena whispered to her women. "They shouldn't have set up camp in such a location."
"Are they here to attack us?" Irana asked, but shushed as Xena held up her hand.
Xena listened. She tuned out the sounds of breathing and heartbeats around her, and focused in on the men down before her. Two were discussing their gambling winnings. Three more were talking about what kind of sword oil was the best. She continued listening for another minute. Someone was describing a female's personal attributes. Gabrielle's attributes. She listened to the men for another minute, and decided she had heard enough.
"Okay, here's the plan." Xena whispered, laying on her back to face her troops. "These men are mercenaries. I don't think they know of the Amazons presence here. They're far too casual."
"And Gabrielle?" Dika asked.
"I think she's with their leader." Xena said, gesturing out. "They're somewhere off to the east. I'm going to go get her, and deal with him."
"We'll come, too." Irana nodded.
"No." Xena said as sharply as she could allow. "These mercenaries must never leave here with the knowledge that Amazons live here. That puts all of our lives at risk."
"What are you saying?" Timas asked, lifting her mask off.
"That means we must eliminate them." Xena said coldly. "Through any means necessary."
Xena surveyed her troops' expressions, and was satisfied with what she saw there. Some were nervous, and others like Irana were expectant, but they all appeared ready, ready to defend their home.
"What do you want us to do?" Irana asked.
"Irana, I'm leaving you in charge." Xena instructed, sliding her way down the muddy slope. "I want you to set up the Omega position around them. When I return, we will attack. "
The warrior nodded at Xena, holding up her short sword in salute.
"Irana!" Xena hissed.
The Amazon quickly lowered her sword, looking around.
"Success, my Amazons." Xena said before slipping off into the brush.
Making a wide path around the camp, Xena found the trail almost immediately. Two sets of footprints, both pressed recently. If the direction didn't change, this would lead off towards the river Theseus.
Xena reached by reflex to her weapon, and then stopped. Slipping it off the clip, she held her hammer up in front of her. In the process of worrying about Gabrielle, she had forgotten to arm herself.
"Must be getting soft." Xena muttered to herself. She twirled the hammer up and expertly caught the handle. "One hammer headache coming right up."
Irana used her claws to pull herself closer to the tree trunk. She was directly over a tent, about twenty yards up on a massive oak. Shrouded in the deep canopy, she could barely make out a few other Amazon in other trees, but most were lost to her sight. She let out a soft birdcall, asking if everyone had reached their perches.
An assortment of chirps and trills sounded out, one after another, and not all at once to avoid arousing suspicion. Irana counted the chirps, everyone seemed to be getting into place. She knew Xena's battle strategy well. They would all wait in the treetops, and Xena would simply enter the camp on foot. Her entrance would be signal enough. It was a simple enough plan.
"Trill-Trill-Trill a-Yelp!" a voice called out some five yards from her, and Irana looked down in horror to see an Amazon falling out of the canopy. She was falling too fast to see who it was, but it was a twenty-yard drop.
Every man in the camp looked up at the noise, just in time to see the falling Amazon. Three yards from the ground she jerked violently, her line halting her fall. There was an audible snap, and she continued falling again, this time landing hard on the ground. The men of the camp quickly got to their feet and drew their weapons.
Irana watched in horror as they crowded around the fallen Amazon, and she realized that it was Dika. She let out a chirp, signaling the other Amazons to remain calm.
One of the men helped Dika stand up, and she winced in pain. She must have injured something coming down.
"Hey Theodorus, we got another one!" the man cried with glee, as the others chuckled around him. "Where did you come from, sweetie?"
Dika didn't speak to him, but instead turned to look at the man he was addressing. He was a very swarthy man, and had a grim face. Lifting off her mask, he broke out in a wide grin.
"Where's Gabrielle?" Dika worked up the nerve to ask. She knew that she was in a very bad position.
"Oh, that pretty?" Theodorus chuckled. "She's with our leader right now. She's quite a treat, isn't she? But you're not so bad yourself."
"What are you going to do with me?" Dika asked, desperately trying to make them think she was alone. She had nearly spoiled it for the rest of the Amazons.
"Oh, a good many things." the man chuckled, running his finger along her chin. "You seem a little broken up, but that's alright. We don't need all your pieces to be in working order, do we boys?"
The men all broke out laughing at that one, and Dika tried to cringe back as Theodorus reached for her chest. But the men were holding her firmly, and there was nowhere to go. As she cringed at his touch, she heard one short birdcall from far above. She recognized it, it was the order for the Death Rain.
There was a sharp sound, and Theodorus' eyes glazed over. The reason for this was that there was the head of an arrow protruding from his throat. His cohorts' gasps of surprise were drowned out by cries of pain, as more arrows fell down around them all.
The grip of the men holding her lessened, and Dika yanked her arms free. Pulling herself to the ground, she rolled into a ball and prayed her fellow Amazons had kept up on their target practice.
The men rallied themselves to alarm status, but by then several of them had already been pinned with arrows. Some wounds were fatal, while others were merely crippling. The mercenaries hurried into what armor they had at hand, and began searching frantically for misplaced shields. But they were too late, as over a dozen Amazons dropped from the treetops, and were suddenly among them.
"Yahh!!" a fighter screamed as he swung at an Amazon, scared out of his wits.
Irana blocked the sword blow, feeling herself buckle under from his strength. Spinning with the impact, she turned out of the way and cut his side open.
The man released his weapon, and reached down to clutch the cut he had. But it wasn't a cut, he realized, as loops of his intestines squeezed out of his belly. They began spiraling out of him, and he tried to hold them in, but it was no use. Falling down to his knees, he choked out a cry for help as his foe moved on to another target. Then he looked up, right into the mask of another Amazon that was standing right before him.
She was pointing her bow at him, and then she fired. The arrow went right through his eye, killing him instantly. As he dropped, his companions struggled to fight off the enemy in their midst.
"Anna!" Irana screamed as she saw a sword cut through the Amazon's shoulder. Running as fast as she could, Irana jumped over the fallen Amazon and stabbed her opponent in his chest. Her sword point glanced off a rib and sank into his heart, killing him. Blood from his aorta jetted along her belly as she yanked her sword free, and she knelt down to Anactoria. The Amazon was unconscious, and her shoulder was bleeding badly. Her wound needing tending, but there was fighting all around them. Saying a prayer for her to hang on, Irana rejoined the battle.
"@#$%!" Dika cursed, fighting off one opponent with her short sword. He was parrying her blow-for-blow, but she believed she was wearing him down. Then her view went white, and she was vaguely aware she was falling to the ground, although it seemed to be very slow. When she hit the ground, her senses seemed to come alive again. She realized she had just been hit with something very hard on her back. Her sword had also fallen out of her hand.
She heard a gurgling cry from behind her, and hoped that it meant he was dead. The swordsman she had been fighting was still in front of her, and he was grinning at her. He brought his sword up, intending to pin her to the ground with it.
Dika looked at his bare legs in front of her, and realized she was still wearing her tiger claws.
"Yee-agh!!" the man screamed in horrible pain. He fell heavily to the ground, accidentally gashing his arm with his own sword. But that was inconsequential compared to the pain radiating from his leg. He looked down in horror at the blood streaming from the middle of his leg. His kneecap had been torn clean off. He could see his exposed bone and cartilage, and blood was spurting out of the wound. The Amazon got back up.
"That's no way to treat a lady!" she huffed, waving her sword up at him.
He collapsed unconscious.
"Amazons, to me!" Irana cried as she held off three attackers. So far she was using their numbers against them, but all they needed was a lucky hit to get her.
She stabbed one man in the gut, and he fell away as his friend moved in. He committed himself to an attack, which she chose not to block. Instead, she stepped to his side and brought her sword down on his mailed gauntlet.
The short sword cut his wrist completely off, and then it was itself shattered against the remains of his gauntlet. This caught them together for a moment, and when the man stumbled away from her, his remaining ally brought his dagger viciously down her belly.
Irana jumped back and reached down to her stinging skin, relieved that it was only a skin-deep cut. She was joined by two more Amazons, who held their weapons in the direction of the battered mercenary.
Seeing he was outnumbered, he flipped his dagger up and slung it hilt-deep into the ground. Then he raised his hands, and dropped down to his knees. For him, the battle was over.
"Ah!" Timas cried as her short sword was knocked from her grasp. Her opponent was a mountain of a man, and his neck seemed larger than her head. He lowered an immense double-bladed axe before her.
"You wanta try again?" he taunted, hefting the axe up.
Timas pulled her chobos from her belt, and begin putting them through a basic display before him.
The brute tried to follow the club movements with his eyes, then seemed to get momentarily dizzy. Shaking his head, he growled and swung his axe at her.
The axe caught her chobos and flung them five yards off. One of them landed in two pieces. Momentarily weaponless, she froze as he lunged forward and swept her into a bear hug.
"Aha! I gotcha now, sweet-cakes!" the brute chuckled as he held her tight. "You and I are gonna be good friends."
Timas struggled mightily, but it was no use. He had her tight.
"After I'm through with you," he taunted, "I'm gonna sell you to the most diseased brothel in Athens!"
"Been there... -ugh!-" Timas grunted as she reached into her leather wristband. "Done that!"
The mountain that was holding her crinkled his brow in confusion as she wrapped what looked like a necklace around his neck. He briefly wondered if she were trying to bribe him, but then she snapped the razorwire tight.
His eyes bugged out of his head as he realized what she was doing to him, and he squeezed her into the bear hug all the harder. The Amazon's face turned beet-red, but still she continued drawing the garrote tighter.
"Aghk! No! No..." he pleaded with her as he felt it cut through his skin. He let go of her, desperately hoping that she would do the same.
Timas looked at him in horror as she continued tightening the line, it was now cutting through his arteries. He was staring at her in terror, his gaze burning a hole in her mind. Then suddenly his eyes seemed to dim, and then looked off into nothingness. Shocked by the violence of what she had just done, Timas barely noticed the hot blood from his neck gurgling onto her shoulders and down her back.
The man began falling down, and Timas perversely slowed his descent, lowering him gently down to the ground. It seemed a strange act of compassion for someone she had just murdered, but she didn't know what else to do. Standing back up, she just stood and stared at his body, as his blood dripped off her in slow runs. A hand landed on her shoulder.
"Hey, easy!" Dika said, backing off at the other Amazon's expression. "It's uh, it's over. We're alright."
Timas nodded at her numbly. Her mind seemed to be in a haze as she realized what she had done. She knew they had been preparing for this, training for it, but it had never really hit home. Until now. She had really killed someone.
"Yeah, that's great." Timas mumbled. Then she put her hand to her mouth and doubled over to vomit.
Dika reached out to tap her hand on her back, but then noticed the huge swollen area she had there. That'll leave a nasty bruise, she thought. Dika decided to walk back over to Irana, who was tending Anactoria's wounds.
"Keep pressure on the bandage." Irana instructed, standing up. She looked over at her main cluster of warriors, who were standing around the surviving mercenaries.
"What do we do with them?" Doricha asked, her sword hanging in front of one prisoner's face. His eyes crossed as he watched someone else's blood drip from the point.
"We'll hold them until Xena decides what to do with them." Irana decided, sighing. "We'll wait till she returns with Gabrielle."
"But our orders..." Atthis broke in.
"Your orders are to wait for Xena." Irana retorted, glaring at her. "I've got enough on my conscience today, thank you."
Xena closed in on her prey. She was about to clear the forest and reach the riverbank, but she wasn't sure of what she'd find. Striving to keep her thoughts clear, Xena emerged from the canopy and into daylight. She was surprised to see two people walking along the riverbank, and was relieved to see that Gabrielle was one of them. Closing the distance as rapidly as possible, Xena noticed that the other person was also a woman. A blonde woman.
"Gabrielle!" Xena called, and the two turned to her.
"Xena." Gabrielle smiled. "What are you doing here?"
Xena looked from her to the other woman, who smiled sweetly at her. "I uh, we thought you had been abducted by mercenaries."
"Oh no." Gabrielle laughed, looking over to her walking companion. "They were just passing through. This is their leader, Callisto."
"Hello." Xena said curtly, clasping her hands behind her back.
"Hello, Xena." the words dripped out of the stunning blonde woman. She held out her hand. "I've so wanted to meet you."
"Really?" Xena said, reaching out to accept her handshake. "And what exactly has Gabrielle been telling you about me?"
"I've been telling her about our lifestyle." Gabrielle beamed. "The Amazon Nation. And how we sisters look out for each other here."
"Is that what she is?" Callisto asked the blonde beside her. "Your sister?"
Gabrielle and Xena exchanged glances. "In a metaphorical sense." she explained.
Callisto raised an eyebrow at her, but caught Xena's expression. "I see."
"Is that all you talked about?" Xena asked, amused and relieved at the same time.
"No." Gabrielle admitted. "We also came out here to watch the swans."
Xena looked to where Gabrielle was pointing, and saw a number of birds floating in a backwater. "Oh. I've never been much into bird-watching."
"You should try it sometime, dear." Callisto offered. "It's so relaxing."
"Anyway," Gabrielle continued, "I've managed to interest her in joining us."
"The Amazons?" Xena asked. "What about her men?"
"I'll send them on their way." Callisto shrugged. "What Gabrielle has told me about your way of life sounds very appealing. Certainly better than a life leading them."
"Uh huh." Xena frowned, thinking. This complicated things, she thought. "That may be a problem."
"I thought I told you to wait until I returned." Xena chided Irana. They were standing amidst broken weapons and dead bodies, as the surviving men cowered in a row before them.
"There was an accident." Irana said, looking her in the eye. "They forced us to attack. We adapted to the situation."
"Report." Xena said, as Gabrielle drew alongside her.
Gabrielle covered her mouth at the scene of carnage all around them.
"Twelve enemies killed." Irana began. "Four injured. No Amazon losses, although there were some injuries."
Xena nodded, and placed her hand on the Amazon's shoulder. "You did well. I'm very proud of you."
Gabrielle went over to check on Dika, who had twisted her back, but was otherwise alright. Then her eyes caught Callisto, who was walking around the dead. She decided to go over to her. Callisto had knelt down in front of one man, and Gabrielle saw that he had been shot through the throat. As she got closer, she heard a raspy groan come from him.
"He's still alive!" Gabrielle exclaimed, shocked.
Callisto leaned over his face, and gave him a kiss. His eyes shot wide, and as she leaned up from him, Gabrielle could see the reason. Callisto yanked her dagger out of his chest, and stood up.
"Goodbye, Theodorus." Callisto softly noted, wiping her blade off on her leather skirt.
"So what do we do with them?" Dika asked, pointing at the four survivors.
"I can have them dig graves for the dead." Irana suggested.
Xena scowled as she mulled over what to do with them. "No, that's our job."
Gabrielle and Callisto came over to her. Xena looked at Gabrielle, who had a questioning look in her eyes.
"Let them go." Xena decided, walking over to them. "All of you can walk, more or less. I suggest you start moving. And if any of you come this way again, or direct others here, need I say more?"
The frightened mercenaries shook their heads, although two of them darted glances at Callisto.
She blew them a kiss, an amused expression on her face. Her face grew passive however, when Gabrielle turned back to her.
"Is that alright with you, Callisto?" she asked.
"Personally, I'd kill them all." Callisto shrugged. "But it's your bailiwick, Warrior Princess."
Xena looked at her sharply with that, and then softened her gaze. "Alright. Well, this solves the problem of what to do with your army, Callisto."
"Quite." Callisto said as she watched the focus of her life step towards her. She smiled at the Warrior Princess.
"You're welcome to stay with us, if you like." Xena finished, signaling Irana. "Our village is a refuge for those seeking a new life."
"From what Gabrielle has told me," Callisto said, smiling at the blonde, "I think I will find the solace I seek here."
"Good." Xena nodded. She was vaguely uncomfortable about how much Gabrielle seemed to like her, but put that thought out of her mind. She had to admit that she certainly was beautiful. She just didn't look like much of a fighter.
One of the men painfully rubbed his hand where the Amazon had just smacked it with her club.
"No provisions!" Irana said coldly. "Be glad you're leaving here with your life. For what you were trying to do to my girlfriend, I ought to..."
The mercenary's face went white at her expression, but he nodded vigorously and dropped his bundle of things. Irana watched as he and his friends then departed as quickly as their injuries would allow.
"What were you going to do to him?" Dika asked as she came up, walking awkwardly.
"I... I don't know." Irana said to her mate, turning to hold her. "It was all I could do when I saw you down there not to jump from the tree and tear them apart with my bare hands."
"My protector." Dika smiled, nodding her forehead against the other woman's. "Xena's right, you did good."
"Yeah." Irana nodded, sighing heavily. "Just don't ask me to do it again anytime soon."
"AyYiYiYiYi!" Xena cried as she somersaulted away from Callisto's sweep.
The blonde warrior grinned deliciously, and gave her sword an expert twirl. "Do you always do that?"
"Do what?" Xena asked, circling again.
"Yell like that."
Xena easily deflected Callisto's swordblow. "It gives me motivation."
The other Amazons drew back as the combatants began moving their way, Gabrielle included. They had been fighting each other for over ten minutes now. It had all started when Xena talked about beginning her training to be an Amazon. Callisto had said she didn't need any training, and Xena asked what she had in mind. Callisto wanted to spar her, and she agreed to it. And here they were, Gabrielle thought, still fighting. Worst of all, Xena seemed to be having the time of her life.
Xena met Callisto's grin as she laid out a dizzying attack with her sword. Any normal swordsman, save maybe Draco, would have been bleeding in a dozen places from that. Yet Callisto matched her, blow for blow. She was truly enjoying herself in combat, for the first time in months. Suddenly, Xena noticed an opening, and seized it. She nearly succeeded in disarming her opponent, then realized too late that it was a sucker move.
"Yieeeee!!" Callisto cried. Raising her leg, she gave Xena a good kick in the stomach.
Xena moved with the blow, but it was still enough to make her lose her balance. She landed unceremoniously on her butt.
The assembled Amazons cheered Callisto's feat. For up until that time, they had never seen anyone even come close to beating Xena before.
"Ready to give up?" the blonde jeered, waiting politely for Xena to get up. Despite her calm appearance, she was almost in ecstasy at what she was doing. She was fighting Xena, and holding her own. She realized that she really could defeat her.
"You're good." Xena said, getting to her feet. "I'll give you that."
"Better than you?" the blonde asked, raising her eyebrows.
"Don't count on it." Xena replied, her pride hurting her more than her stomach. "But I think that's enough. You've made your point."
"You need about as much training to join the Amazons as I did." Xena said, sheathing her sword. "This contest is over."
"Oh." Callisto said in disappointment. Her swordhand twitched as an unarmed Xena stepped closer to her. Then Xena held out her hand.
"You've proven yourself to me." Xena said, as Callisto accepted her handshake. Then she let go, and Xena turned to look at the warriors. "Behold our newest Amazon warrior, Callisto!"
"Callisto! Callisto! Callisto!"
Callisto drunk in their adulation, quite pleased with herself. It was what she had enjoyed hearing her men say only days before. But they were dead now, as their usefulness had come to an end. Her time with Xena was just beginning.
Callisto pushed her way through the brush, looking up at the dense forest canopy for some sign of direction. In the darkness of night, there was none. However, she was on the right path. Stepping off the trail, she walked down into a hollow. Her feet sunk into the soft loam, and she briefly wondered if she was heading out onto quicksand. Her footing grew firm though, and she continued on her way through the trackless forest.
From the trees ahead she could see soft moonlight trailing. Breaking through some nettlesome branches, she reached a small clearing. There, someone was waiting for her.
"I thought you'd never come." the silhouette said.
"I haven't." Callisto said lightly, closing the distance between them. "Yet."
"Well, I'll see what I can do about that." Velasca said, stepping into the moonlight.
"Everything is going according to plan. Xena-"
Velasca shushed her by placing her fingertip up to the other woman's mouth.
"I'm sure you will taste your vengeance." Velasca noted. "Right now, the only thing I want to taste is you."
"You and the dirty talk." Callisto said, taking the other woman's finger into her mouth. She sucked on it gently.
Velasca felt her fingertip grow wet, and very warm. It gave her a rush of desire as popped her finger free from Callisto's mouth.
Callisto roughly seized the other woman by the hair, and lunged forward for a kiss. She kissed her for long moments, and then separated, her breath visible in the cool night air.
Velasca licked her tongue along the outside of her lip, tasting her own blood. "So, you like it rough?"
Callisto smiled deliciously at her in the moonlight. "Pain is very close to pleasure, is it not?"
"You took the words right out of my mouth." Velasca intoned. "Are you into giving... or receiving?"
"I'm more of a giver." the blonde replied, moving in for another kiss.
"You surprise me." the red-headed woman said, tracing her finger along the other's breast.
"The first time I @#$%ed you," Velasca continued, "you were like a cold fish."
"I've never had sex with anyone before." Callisto replied, inspecting her nails.
"You haven't?" the Amazon asked, incredulous.
Callisto shook her head.
"Great Hera." Velasca shook her head. "And I thought Dryads were rare."
They laid together in silence for several moments, and then Velasca thought of another question.
"Not even, you know, touching yourself?"
"Oh yes." the blonde replied, reaching down to Velasca's area in question. She began giving her a demonstration.
"I think I like your technique."
"I've had practice." Callisto replied.
"Did you just make a joke?" Velasca laughed, then convulsed as Callisto's fingers dug into her roughly. "Easy. Like I was saying, you started out cold, but you were incredible tonight. I mean that."
"Thank you." Callisto replied, not meaning it. "You're almost as good a lover as Xena."
"Xena? Don't tell me you've had sex with her already?"
"In a way..." Callisto trailed off, taking her hand away from Velasca. "She's been in my thoughts for the last five years. I dream of her. I need her. I need to kill her."
"She's a different person than the warlord who burned your village."
"Yes, I know." she replied. "Yet she's all I have."
"Can't you think about anything else?" Velasca interjected. "What about after we kill her?"
"After?" Callisto asked, cocking her head in an odd way. "That's funny. I've never thought about the future. Xena is all I've ever wanted to be, she is my whole life. Why?"
"After she stole my command," Velasca explained, "I returned to the area I fled as a child, where my Siberian village once was."
"So you can go home again." the blonde laughed.
Velasca glared at her.
"Sorry." Callisto apologized, not really meaning it.
"Anyway, I was surprised to find a ragged group of Amazons living there. One of them recognized my description of our favorite warrior. Xena had been there several years ago. She had assisted a shaman named Alti to seize control of the area. Together, they nearly wiped out the Amazons."
Velasca looked up in surprise as the blonde woman started laughing again.
"So... Xena has come here to make amends for the wrongs she did long ago." Callisto laughed. "How quaint."
"Once we kill Xena," the Amazon continued, "I will lead the Amazons to Siberia to kill that evil witch. And I want you to help me."
"But first we kill Xena?" the blonde asked, trailing her fingertip across her tongue.
"First we kill Xena."
"Xena's trying to help people now, to reform." Callisto said with glee. "She can reform in Tartarus for all I care."
"Agreed..." the Amazon trailed off. "Still, I can think of a worse fantasy to have. I know I wanted to have her in my bunk when she first joined the village."
"And did you ask her?" Callisto teased, her eyes flashing in the darkness.
"No." Velasca said sullenly. "She only had eyes for little miss perfect, Gabrielle."
"Gabrielle is the key." Callisto said, resuming her technique on Velasca's anatomy. "You feel it too, do you not?"
"Yes..." Velasca said, writhing under the other woman's touch.
"Kill her..." the blonde noted, heightening her touch. "And Xena will have nothing left."
"Ahn!" Velasca groaned. She was very close, now. "No!"
Callisto stopped her ministrations. "Yes?"
"I have no love for the little bitch." the Amazon said through gritted teeth. "But that's not in the plan. We have to plan this carefully."
"You may want to rule this miserable band of Amazons," Callisto intoned, "but I just want Xena's head on a stake."
"And you'll get it!" the Amazon said. "But we'll do it my way."
Xena accepted a plank handed up to her by her newest Amazon. Barring catastrophe, these support beams would make the water tower last at least thirty years. She had never thought about the future before, certainly not like Caesar did. She grimaced at the memory of him. He had boasted that he would someday rule the world. Maybe that was her goal at one time, too. But for now, all she wanted to do was to live out her life here, with Gabrielle.
"Dinar for your thoughts?" Gabrielle asked, dipping her brush into the bucket. She drew it up with a thick glob of tar, and began slopping it on the tower roof.
"Gabrielle, are you familiar with the Graces?"
"Are you kidding?" the blonde laughed. "I'm an expert. Let's see, the three goddesses of Grace lend beauty and charm to life."
"They're also called the Charities." Xena continued, wiping her forehead. "I've been thinking about how nice it would be to dedicate my life to them."
Gabrielle bit down a smile. Xena had just covered her forehead in tar.
"Well that's okay, I guess." Gabrielle nodded. "I can guess who your patron was before."
"Ares." Xena said, her expression growing grim. "You could say we were joined at the hip at one time. But I never saw what he looked like. In fact, I'm glad I don't know."
"Do you have family?" the blonde asked, pressing a tile into place. Now that she thought about it, the topic had never come up. They were too busy doing other things.
"In Amphipolis." Xena replied. "But they don't want anything to do with me."
"I miss my family." Callisto said, offering a board up to Xena.
"Where are they?" Gabrielle asked, peering off the edge at her.
"With my ancestors." the blonde replied, looking wistful. Then she smiled. "But I'm over it, now."
Gabrielle watched the blonde woman walk away, and smiled. Xena was watching her.
"See something you like?" Xena asked, looking down at her board.
"What?" Gabrielle shook her head. "Oh. No, I was thinking about how all of us have come from such diverse backgrounds. Why? Are you jealous?"
"Not if I don't have reason to be." Xena said smoothly. "Why, was she looking at something more than swans the other day?"
"Xena!" Gabrielle laughed, scooting over to her. "You know you're the only woman in my life. I would never do something like that."
"Oh. Good." Xena said, forcing a smile at her. "It's just that she makes me uneasy, no offense."
"Uneasy?!" Gabrielle responded. "This from the woman who flies through the air? And she makes you uneasy?"
"There's something about her." Xena explained. "I can't put my finger on it."
"I could." Gabrielle said, licking her lips suggestively.
"Sorry." the blonde said. "Now that I have this hold over you, I'm reluctant to give it up. But you can have peace of mind. There will never be anything between me and Callisto. Even if she does have the body of a goddess."
"Well, you've got me there." Xena raised an eyebrow. "But she's just not my type. Her legs are too skinny, not like yours."
Gabrielle's expression fell, and she just stared at Xena with her mouth open.
"Well, I didn't mean it like that." Xena said quickly.
"Are you saying my legs are fat?" Gabrielle asked tensely.
"No, it's just that for your build..." Xena trailed off, seeing she was digging herself deeper.
"For my build?!" the blonde huffed, nodding.
"Now you know what I mean." Xena corrected. "I hope. I mean that your legs are perfect for your body type."
Gabrielle folded her arms. "Really?"
"Really." Xena agreed, waving her hand. "I could run my tongue up and down them all day, promise."
"Here, feast yourself." Gabrielle said, bringing her legs around.
Xena looked at the blonde's legs. They were covered with sawdust and spots of tar.
"Uh, maybe later." Xena frowned. "Much later."
"Uh huh." Gabrielle nodded. "I bet Callisto would lick them."
Xena snapped her finger.
"Let's find out." Xena said, standing up.
"Uh..." Gabrielle began, unsure whether Xena would actually do it. Then she remembered, Xena would most definitely do it.
"Callisto!" Xena yelled from the top of the tower.
"Xena, quit it!" Gabrielle hissed, smacking the other woman's leg. She made sure it wasn't hard. After all, she didn't want to knock her entirely off the tower.
"Gabrielle wants you to come up here and lick her legs!" Xena yelled, only to find herself falling through the air.
Gabrielle waited until she heard a thump, and then peeked down over the edge. Xena had landed fine, just as expected.
"You fight dirty." Xena said up to her.
"When I have to." the blonde replied. She scanned the village from her vantage point, but Callisto was nowhere to be seen. Thanking Olympus for small favors, Gabrielle slid herself onto the ladder to rejoin her mate.
"When we're together tonight," Gabrielle said, slithering down the ladder, "guess who I'll be thinking about?"
"Who says you're getting any tonight?" Xena replied, folding her arms.
Gabrielle hopped off the ladder, and pointed her finger in the warrior woman's face. "Oh no, don't try that with me. That's an act of desperation."
"It's not desperation." Xena said, ignoring the finger in her face. "I'm just not in the mood."
"And why is that?" Gabrielle said, lowering her finger. Catching a glance from a passing Amazon, she lowered her voice as well.
"Well, I didn't want to tell you this before, but-" Xena began, looking off to the sky.
"I never told you why I was so reluctant to start a relationship, Gabrielle." Xena explained. "It's just, you were a virgin."
"What, was it written on my forehead?" Gabrielle asked. "Well what does that have to do with anything?"
"Virgins bore me." Xena shrugged, attempting to look as disinterested as possible. She had to play this perfectly, or it would all be ruined.
"Well excuse me for not having your vast area of expertise." Gabrielle huffed, putting her hands on her hips.
"I don't need expertise." Xena said, drawing closer to the other woman.
Gabrielle looked up into her eyes, and there was no mistaking the expression on her face. "Oh. What then?"
"Surprise me, tonight." Xena said softly.
"I don't care." Xena smiled at her, placing her hands on her shoulders. "Just surprise me."
Gabrielle closed her eyes as Xena lolled her head against hers. Then she blinked her eyes open.
"Mmmm." the warrior woman murmured, her forehead against her mate's.
"I forgot to tell you," the blonde whispered, "but your forehead is covered with tar."
Xena kept her head rock-steady against the other woman's. "And just when were you planning on telling me?"
"Soon." Gabrielle replied. "Uh, how are we going to do this?"
"Fast and easy, like a bandage." Xena said, swallowing. "Now prepare yourself. One... Two... Three."
"Is it alright? Is it alright?" Gabrielle asked, touching her hand to her forehead.
"It's fine." Xena said, rubbing her own forehead. "Just smudged."
"You know," the blonde began, "when I read about romances in the stories I had, I never imagined it would be like this."
"But I like it all the same." Gabrielle replied, touching Xena's nose. "My Schnoopie."
"If you ever call me that again," Xena said calmly, "your romantic fantasy will come to an abrupt end."
"Oh Gods, that felt good." Gabrielle exulted while astride Xena's face. Xena reached up and played with her nipples, and Gabrielle lifted herself up off of her mouth.
"-Smack-" Xena smacked, licking her lips. "I'm glad we're doing it up here. You've got more nerve than I do."
"What, the big bad Warrior Princess afraid of falling off the water tower?" Gabrielle mocked, crawling off of Xena onto the roof. "Give me a break."
Gabrielle lifted up Xena's wrap-around thong, revealing her closely-trimmed dark public hair.
"You ready?" the blonde grinned, her head between Xena's raised knees.
"Oh, I can't wait." Xena said as casually as possible. "My nipples are practically exploding with delight."
"Ha Ha." Gabrielle said sarcastically. "You wanted a surprise, well here it is."
Xena watched Gabrielle lower her head down, and relished the sensation of her cool breath on her. It was true that Gabrielle was not the most fantastic lover she had ever had, but she was very attentive. She would ask what felt good or what felt better, so what more could she ask for in a lover?
Gabrielle tapped her tongue against Xena's thick public folds. She liked running her tongue along their texture, and just generally playing with them. Slipping her tongue inside her vagina, Gabrielle began eating Xena out to the pattern she had been practicing. As soon as she finished that one, she went on to the next one. And the next one, and the next.
A minute passed. Xena was feeling waves and waves of enjoyment flow over her, just from her lover's tastings. She could see Gabrielle eating up a storm, but aside from that, she couldn't tell what she was doing. It was nothing she had experienced before, however she was eating her.
"Mmmm...." Xena murmured. She lifted her hips up in response to Gabrielle's efforts.
Gabrielle felt Xena buck her body up against her mouth, so she knew she was doing something right. Reaching the end of her patterns, she started over again with the first one.
Xena's breathing increased, and gave way to short, jagged pants. She shifted her shoulders as Gabrielle reached up and squeezed one of her breasts.
Sensing that Xena's flow of moisture was increasing, Gabrielle swallowed it down and kept on tasting the Warrior Princess. Suddenly Xena grabbed her hair with her hands, and Gabrielle realized that she was very close to it now.
"Oh. Oh........" Xena said softly, her voice growing lower. Then her expression grew sharp, and she winced as if in pain. "Ahnn!"
At the change in Xena's tone, Gabrielle decided to stop with the patterns, and just go with some full-bore lapping.
Xena was feeling her tensions rise when she heard the loud sounds of Gabrielle eating her. As soon as she formed the thought of that sound, that was all it took.
"MMmffph!!" Xena murmured, climaxing hard.
Gabrielle paused for a moment to take a breath, and continued again, even though her tongue felt like it was going to fall off.
"-Phhhheewwwww-" Xena exhaled slowly, letting go of the blonde's hair. "Ohhh... my."
Gabrielle lifted her head up, and smacked her lips. She carefully studied Xena's face, wondering if maybe she had pretended to come for her benefit. No, she decided. That expression was real. She had just given Xena a good one.
"Happy?" the blonde asked, scratching her fingers across Xena's pubic hair.
"Huh? Oh, yes." Xena replied dreamily. "Very happy. You get a gold star."
"-Whew-" Xena exhaled forcefully. She yawned as Gabrielle scooted up to lie beside her. "That was, is something. I'm still feeling that."
"And you deserve it." Gabrielle said, leaning over to kiss her on the mouth.
Xena let her kiss her for several moments, tasting her own essence, and then they separated.
"Oh, I see." Xena remarked. "If you do that, it's okay. But if I try to kiss you afterwards, it's No, yucky. I don't want to taste that."
"I'm just feeling really plucky."
"When you were eating me," Xena asked, rubbing her neck, "what were you doing with your tongue there?"
"Oh, I wouldn't want to give away a secret."
"You can tell me." Xena prompted. "Honest. I've had anyone do it like that before."
"The truth?" Gabrielle asked.
"The truth." Xena breathed, exhaling in a slump.
"Well, I was talking with Irana about impressing you with some new technique." Gabrielle explained. "And she said, Oh, I have the perfect thing for you! And so we went into her hut, and we uh..."
Xena waited as Gabrielle trailed off. She turned over to look at the younger woman, who held her serious expression for a long moment before breaking out in a grin.
"Had you goin' there for a minute, huh?" the blonde beamed, only to have Xena turn over in disgust.
"Not for a second." Xena said, pulling the blanket up around her. "Besides, I'd have smelled her scent on you. And I think I gave you a thorough inspection tonight."
"That you did." Gabrielle laughed.
"Okay, so what were you doing?"
"Ah ah!" Gabrielle said, giving Xena a light spank on her bottom. "Some things are best left a secret."
Gabrielle pulled herself around a gnarled root of a great oak, and sat down to inspect her bounty. She pulled a fluorescent red mushroom out of her bag, and sniffed it. Xena had said the toxins in this fungus could alleviate muscle aches, or stop a heart if concentrated.
"Now there's a pleasant thought." the blonde said to herself. Back in Poteidaia, she had always been discouraged from talking to herself. But Xena didn't seem to mind. But then Xena was carrying so much baggage around, she probably didn't worry about her companion's quirks.
Gabrielle reached up in surprise at the stinging insect which had suddenly landed on her neck. She grabbed the offending creature, it felt huge, and flung it onto the ground. It was covered in feathers, and she abruptly realized that it was a dart.
"What is it with you and toadstools, anyway?" Callisto laughed, lowering her crossbow. "They will be the death of you, you know."
Gabrielle stood up, clasping her neck, as Callisto walked purposely towards her.
"Why?!" Gabrielle asked. It sounded stupid, but she was too shocked to say anything else.
"Why not?" Callisto responded, tossing her weapon aside. "Because Xena cares for you, loves you. You are the most important thing in her life."
"Why?" Gabrielle asked again, her heart pounding. "What did she ever do to you?"
"Questions, questions." the blonde said, shaking her head. "You should be more concerned with your own health. The poison works fast."
Gabrielle stepped back as the woman walked towards her. It felt like ice was shooting through her forearms.
"Killing you will kill her." Callisto continued, a sick look on her face. "And her hope to build a new peaceful life. Can you feel it?"
Gabrielle shuddered, nearly tripping over a root. "F-Feel what?"
"Your life slipping away." the blonde responded. "You should relax. Falling asleep is one of the easier ways to go."
Gabrielle tried to work her mouth, but couldn't. The cold had spread up her arms and across her chest, and her view of her attacker seemed to blur and blacken.
Callisto clucked her tongue as the Amazon crumpled to the ground. "You may be willing to wait for your revenge Velasca, but I'm not."
The first thing Gabrielle noticed was the wind. She could hear it rushing through grass, and it sounded pleasant. She opened her eyes to see thick bunches of tall grass swaying in the breeze. She briefly wondered if she had reached the Elysian Fields. Then she realized that this field felt particularly bumpy.
"Wakey wakey." a familiar voice said, and Gabrielle looked up to see it was Callisto.
"What the-?" she asked as she tried to move her arms, but they were firmly tied to stakes. Her ankles were also tied down, she was laid out spread-eagled on the ground.
"Do you know where you are?"
"Why are you doing this?" Gabrielle asked, tugging desperately at her bonds. No good, she was stuck tight.
"Did you know that every year the farmers out here on the plain have to prepare for the next planting." Callisto said, ignoring the question. "I went and asked them, by the way. They seem like such nice folk."
The warrior woman paced around the prostate Amazon, and kneeled down next to her chest.
"Anyway, they set off brush fires from two directions to burn off their fields." the warrior continued, reaching out to trace Gabrielle's chinline. "As the fires race across the grass, the farmers follow afterwards to beat out the flames. A pity they won't be here in time to save you."
Gabrielle yanked her chin away from her touch. "Why would you do such a thing? What did I ever do to you?"
"Nothing." Callisto replied. "But then, my family did nothing to deserve their deaths when Xena came to our village."
Gabrielle was silent for a moment. "Cirra." she said simply.
"What?" Callisto said, caught off-guard. "How did you know that?"
"Uh, Xena told me." she replied.
"Yes, of course." the warrior nodded, her expression growing wistful. "Xena, the Destroyer of Nations, has developed a conscience. Who would have thought it possible?"
"Callisto." Gabrielle began. "Anything's possible. I know that Xena was a terrible person in her past, but she's changed. She was able to overcome the darkness within her, and begin helping others."
"Spare me your tired platitudes." Callisto mocked. "I suppose now you're going to tell me that if only I would let you go now, I could learn how to be nice, too. It doesn't work that way, sweetie."
"Something like that." Gabrielle admitted. Callisto was not only crazy, but very smart, too. This wasn't going to be easy.
A waft of smoke drifted through the air, and Callisto dramatically inhaled the scent. "Ah, nothing like a good roast! But you've given me an idea."
Gabrielle gulped as Callisto drew her hip dagger, and brought it down to her chest.
Callisto slipped the blade underneath the fabric of the Amazon's top, and then roughly yanked it upwards. Gabrielle's top came apart, and Callisto then went to work cutting through the shoulder stitching. With the garment in tatters, Callisto pulled the rest of it out from under Gabrielle and flung it into the grass.
Gabrielle steamed as Callisto eyed her breasts appreciatively.
"Well, now I know what she sees in you." the blonde said, nodding. "But there's more to you that meets the eye, isn't there?"
Gabrielle closed her eyes as she felt the woman's delicate hands tug at her belt, and untie it. Her fighting skirt fell open, and she opened her eyes again as it was taken away from her and tossed away.
"I'll just leave your underwear on." Callisto decided, standing up. "For modesty's sake, you know. You might be wondering why I took off your clothes."
"It's bad enough you're going to kill me." Gabrielle said through gritted teeth. "Do you have to talk me to death, too?"
"So brash!" Callisto said in delight, applauding with her hands. "I love it. But no, I didn't disrobe you just to leer at you, although you are easy on the eyes."
The mad woman leaned over Gabrielle's face.
"No, when the flames are approaching, clothing restricts that heat, limits it until it is nearly upon you. That's not enough. I want you to see the flame coming, to feel its distant kiss on your bare skin. Long before the flames arrive, you will feel them. This is my gift to you."
"You're insane!" Gabrielle seethed.
"Perhaps." Callisto nodded. "But I am what Xena made me. I wonder what her expression will be when she finds your lovely charred body."
Callisto lurched back at that, as Gabrielle's spittle drooled onto her lower lip. She licked her tongue out and swallowed it. "A taste to remember you by. How sweet."
"You won't get away with this, Callisto!" Gabrielle said, more out of bravado than anything else.
"And why not?"
"Because I know of your evil!" the blonde replied.
"Good for you." Callisto softly laughed. "Everyone should take a secret to their grave."
Gabrielle strained her head to watch the woman leave, and cursed her silently. Then she cursed herself for being a fool for trusting her, and for setting Xena up for this.
Gabrielle laid her head back on the dirt, and just rested for long moments. A pall of smoke was trailing across the sky, the fires were on their way. Should she just relax and wait for them? No, that wouldn't be right.
"Alright Gabrielle, think." she said to herself. "We've got to think of a way out of this. Okay. Maybe the fires will set the ropes on fire, and uh, I can snap them free."
She thought about that for a moment. "No, cause then the flames would be all around me by then."
She laid her arms flat against the dirt, and then noticed that her left arm was wet. She looked over. She was laying at the edge of a mud puddle. Wriggling around, she could feel the wet mud against her bare back. Looking over to her hand, she strained mightily against her bond. But the stake was planted so far down in the ground that she had almost no leverage.
Her fingers scrabbled uselessly at the ground. Gabrielle stopped. She scrabbled with her fingers again, making a little trench in the mud. With a grin crossing her face, Gabrielle began scrabbling furiously at the ground beneath her wrist.
"Hey Xena, catch!"
Xena whirled and caught the object that was being hurled at her. It was some garment, and she looked up at the person who tossed it. "This supposed to mean something?"
Callisto shrugged innocently. She was staring at Xena intensely.
Xena frowned, and held up the soft leather. Her eyes flashed in recognition.
"Go ahead and sniff it if that helps." the blonde laughed. "She smells nice, doesn't she?"
"Where's Gabrielle?" Xena asked slowly.
"With any luck," Callisto said, drawing her sword, "her ashes will be floating through the sky soon."
"You're going to tell me where she is." Xena said with deadly purpose, drawing her Amazon sword.
"Or what?" Callisto asked, raising her eyebrows. "You'll kill me like you murdered my family?"
"Your family?" Xena repeated, not understanding.
"Remember Cirra?" Callisto asked.
Xena's eyes widened in recognition.
"Yiiee!!" the blonde screamed, charging Xena.
Xena brought her sword up in time, and the sparks hit Callisto's neck. Callisto brought her foot up to kick her, but Xena knew this moved and blocked her. Then Xena realized it was a decoy, and the blonde warrior spun with the blow and brought her sword pommel against Xena's back. Xena fell over with the blow, and kept going to avoid getting hit again.
She turned around to face the blonde swordswoman, who gave her sword an expert twirl.
"Distracted?" the blonde asked. "How fortunate for me."
Xena moved in to attack her again, but she realized that Callisto was winning. For every minute she spent fighting her was time that Gabrielle didn't have.
Gabrielle flung off the last of her bonds with disgust, and stood up. Her situation was not good. The huge field she was in was on fire all around her. The flames would close in on her in minutes. There was nowhere to run. She looked down at the ground.
"This was what's left of the last rain." she said, walking over to where the mud was wet. "But it's just a little puddle. I can't hide in that."
She paced around the mud a bit. The smoke was really thick now, it smelled kind of nice actually. Gabrielle shook her head, realizing she was the cookout.
Looking back to the mud, she got an idea. Retrieving her skirt that Callisto had flung off, she dropped it into the puddle and began scooping with it.
She scooped the mud in a narrow trench for several minutes, knowing that the flames were very close now. The smoke was so thick that it teared her eyes, yet still she continued digging.
She was having trouble breathing, but suddenly the smoke cleared. Looking up to see it swirl away, she realized the wind had picked up. She had even less time now.
Rolling into the trench, she covered herself with the piles of mud she had dug up. She took a last look around. The flames were only several yards away, and were nearly as tall. Whispering a prayer to Athena, she covered her head with her mud-soaked skirt and settled in.
"You're crazy!" Xena said. "You mean you sacrificed your own men just to get to me?"
"They were good men... and disposable." Callisto shrugged. Then she smiled sickly. "But you are my life, Xena."
"Glad to hear it!" Xena replied, intending to carve the other woman's head in half. The blow didn't happen, but Xena pressed her advantage, forcing Callisto back.
Callisto kicked the other woman's blade out of her grasp, and followed up with a spinkick. The blow connected with Xena's jaw, and the warrior went down to the ground. Callisto then stepped forward to finish her off, which was a mistake.
"Yip!" Xena yelled as she swept her leg underneath Callisto, knocking her off her feet. Callisto tried to get up, but found her face shoved down in the dirt, and her arms being pinned behind her.
"Nooo!" the blonde screeched, but it was no use. Xena has wrestled herself on top of her, and was rapping her swordhand against the ground.
"Release it." Xena instructed as she continued slamming her hand against the ground. "Or I will break it."
"She'll break it." another voice said. "Trust me."
Xena looked up in shock at the voice. "Velasca?!"
"Seems my lover couldn't wait to settle an old score." the deposed Amazon said, walking up to them. "She just has no sense of timing."
"So, you two are working together." Xena said, not releasing her hold on the blonde. "This is some pathetic trick to get your command back."
"Oh it's no trick." Velasca said with a grimace. "Cause I know your dirty little secret. I went home, to Siberia. And I found out that you were responsible for the destruction of my tribe. It was you all along!"
Velasca smiled at Xena's expression, and her whitening face.
"Small world, huh?" Callisto said from underneath Xena.
"What are you going to do?" Xena asked, already knowing the answer.
"I'm going to expose you to Queen Agrippa." the redhead coldly replied. "Once she finds out, she'll throw the entire Nation into hunting you down. You were a fool to return to the Amazons!"
Xena got up and off of the blonde, who flipped herself up to her feet.
"One more time." Xena said evenly. "Where is Gabrielle?"
"I might as well tell you." Callisto shrugged, grinning at her. "The flames should have reached her by now."
"The sowing..." Xena whispered. Then she whirled away from them and began running as fast as she could.
"You can't run from your past, Xena!" Velasca yelled after her.
"Ooo, good phrase." Callisto cooed. "Are you alright? You look a little flushed."
"Just seeing her twist your arms while sitting on you." the Amazon replied. "It was pretty... interesting."
"Do you want to @#$% her or kill her?" the blonde asked, sheathing her sword.
Callisto looked off in the direction that Xena had run, but she was long gone. "I know what you mean. Well, let's go see your Queen, shall we?"
"Man, how'd we get stuck with this crap?" Jorgas asked, swinging his stick at the blackened grass.
"Shut up." Hammabola replied, stomping a burning stump. "Least we didn't get caught downwind when the wind shifted."
"Yeah!" Jorgas laughed, knocking down a cluster of flaming weeds. "Those losers 're gonna be sick."
"Just like you were last month, remember dude?" the youth laughed.
"Hey, your knees were knocking pretty loudly, if I remember right."
"I'm gonna knock your head if you don't shut up. @#$!" Hammabola cursed as an ember jumped up and bit him in the leg. He knew this was the wrong day to wear shorts.
"Hera's teats!" a voice growled from behind them, and they whirled to see a warrior woman.
"An Amazon!" Jorgas exclaimed, only to be smacked by his friend.
"Uh, hi." Hammabola said, taking in the sight of the raven-haired woman. What a beauty, he thought. "What do you think of our harvest? Pretty cool, huh?"
"Hamma." his friend said, pointing.
Hammabola turned around just in time to see the flames sprouting to life again at his feet. He quickly began beating out the dying fires.
Xena watched in horror at the walls of flame sweeping across the vale. She could see villagers far on the other side, either beating the flames out or kindling them. But in the center, the flames were still raging. She pictured Gabrielle in that.
"Well, if you'll excuse us. We've got to get back to work." Hamma said, smiling.
With the flames only yards away, Xena watched them walk up to the fire's edge and begin beating out smoldering grass.
"Man, do you see the jugs on her?" Jorgas whispered to his friend. "Maybe we shoulda kept going through Ghost Forest."
"Forget it." Hammabola replied, stepping forward on the smoldering earth. "I don't wanta anger the forest spirits again. I like it out here where it's safe."
His foot touched down on the heat-cracked mud, and it gave way slightly. Then the mud cracked apart, as something burst out of it.
"A-Whoulp!" the youth exclaimed as he was knocked over by something.
"Hama, look!" Jorgas exclaimed, as something freed itself from the ground. The thing slowly stood up, with huge chunks of dried mud crumbling off of it. It wore the body of an attractive woman, a figure out of their dreams. But it was made out of mud.
"An earth spirit!" Jorgas yelled, pointing at the horrible creature.
"Run!" Hamma screamed, scrambling up to his feet. His friend was already going, and he took after him as fast as he could go.
Xena walked up to the mud-covered woman, scarcely believing her eyes. The apparition blinked her muddy eyelids, and then looked at her.
"Don't you ever wash?" Xena asked.
"Yeah, very..." Gabrielle trailed off, and then began to fall.
Xena quickly moved forward to catch her, and picked her up to carry her.
"Gods, you're heavy." Xena whispered, gratefully looking at Gabrielle's muddy face. "But you never looked more beautiful."
"Put your hands here." Xena instructed, raising Gabrielle's hands up to her chest. "Perfect."
Xena slipped her last pin through the fabric, and let go.
Gabrielle lowered her hands, and her top managed to hold itself together.
"Looks good." Xena remarked, giving her an appraising look.
"I think this is all a plot to get me to wear less." Gabrielle remarked, looking over her ruined top.
"Yeah, listen." Xena said, taking her hands. "Now that they know of my past, Callisto and Velasca are probably rallying every Amazon warrior in the area to hunt me down."
"Maybe we can go to the Queen, tell your side of the story." Gabrielle offered, seeing the look in Xena's eyes.
"And do what, lie?" Xena said. "Velasca knows the truth, and nothing can hide that now. I killed the Amazons leaders in Siberia, knowing that without them, their tribes would wither and die. And they did. It's that simple. There's nothing to explain."
"So that's why you decided to start over here..." Gabrielle nodded, understanding.
"Yes, and you can see how well that went!" Xena said, letting go of her. "My skeletons have danced out of my closet. I'm just sorry that you were caught up in all this."
"Yeah." Gabrielle said, smiling to herself.
"Oh, I was just thinking that same thing a while back." the mud-blonde explained. "That you must have a whole graveyard in your closet, not just a skeleton or two."
Xena smiled at that, and then her expression grew serious. "I'm sorry I lied to you."
"About this?" Gabrielle asked. "I'm not surprised. I don't think I'd have liked to have met this other Xena."
"No, probably not."
Gabrielle was silent for several moments, and turned away from the warrior.
"Please tell me what you're thinking." Xena asked. Of all the things she had dreaded, this was the absolute worst.
"What do you want to know?" the blonde retorted, spinning around. "That I'm repulsed by the things you've done? That I'm sickened? I am."
Xena's chest felt tight, and she was sure it was the sensation of her heart freezing over. But still, she kept her gaze on the younger woman.
"But I also know that you changed your life." Gabrielle continued. "You made the choice. A choice for life. That's the person I fell in love with, and don't you ever forget that. As for this warlord, this other Xena. I never knew her, and I hope I never will."
"You won't." Xena said. "I promise. I'm going away."
"Then I'm coming with you."
"Gabrielle..." Xena said. "I'll have the entire Amazon Nation chasing me. I don't want to see you hurt, too."
"Like I'm safer back at the village with Velasca and Callisto?"
"Good point." Xena admitted, raising an eyebrow. "Okay, you can come with me. But we have to start moving fast."
"Okay." Gabrielle readily agreed. Then she frowned. "I just wish I could this mud off of me, first."
"Well then, we'll kill two birds with one stone."
"What did you say?" Velasca asked.
"I said we won't do it." Irana replied to her former leader. "Xena is our commander. We won't track her down and maybe kill her."
"But she has already killed!" Velasca screeched. "She has killed Amazons! Good Amazons. And she must pay. We will-"
The Queen raised her hand, and Velasca fell into silence.
"I have already anticipated this, Velasca." the Queen said. "The hunting party will consist of my personal Amazons, not Xena's warriors. And you will accompany us."
"Alright." Velasca acquiesced. This had been easier than she had thought.
The Queen turned to address the villagers. "We will bring Xena to justice. She must be held accountable for her crimes against the Nation."
Callisto sighed with great exaggeration. The Queen looked at her.
"And what of your companion?" the Queen asked Velasca, indicating the blonde.
"I don't play well with others." the Callisto said sulkily, stalking off. "Pray you find her before I do!"
The Queen started to speak, but Velasca waved her off. "Let her go. She's very good at tracking people down."
"Apparently so." Queen Agrippa nodded, looking at the former battalion leader. "But mind your place, dear. You are still officially exiled from my territory, and remain here only at my pleasure."
"Yes, my Queen." Velasca said with formality. At least she didn't have to kiss up to her anymore.
The Queen made a face, and pulled out her handkerchief to cough into it.
Velasca watched her cough deepen, and allowed herself a mental smile. Perhaps leadership was closer at hand than she thought.
"Got the dirt out of your britches, yet?" Xena asked, standing on the riverbank.
Gabrielle wrung the water out of her underwear. "I think so."
"Good." Xena said, sitting down to put her boots on. "Cause we have to climb that."
Gabrielle jumped back into her underwear, and then looked at what Xena was pointing to.
They were right in front of a huge cliff face, which edged the riverbank for as far as the eye could see.
"That?" Gabrielle said, astonished. "You'd have to have wings to climb that! It's a sheer face."
"Oh, I can see some handholds." Xena said, getting dressed. "Why, you chicken?"
"Yes!" Gabrielle readily admitted. "Us chickens can't fly, you know."
"If we had any rope," Xena explained, "I'd climb up and lower it down to you. But we don't."
"So what then?" the blonde asked, putting on the rest of her clothes.
"We'll climb up together."
"Why can't we just go along the riverbank?"
"Because we have to be where the Amazons won't find us." Xena said. "And we don't want to be slowed down."
Remembering that she was the chief cause of slowing the warrior down, Gabrielle simply nodded.
Seventy yards up, Xena took Gabrielle's hand in hers and guided it to the rock.
"That's not a handhold!" the blonde said nervously, trying to clutch at the surface.
"It's a handhold."
"It's... more like a scratch on the rock." the blonde retorted as she hung on for dear life. She knew that with Xena alongside her, she wouldn't be able to help her if she fell. So she concentrated on staying alive.
"We've only got a little ways more." Xena said, looking up. "Listen... I wanted to... thank you."
They creeped up the cliff face another meter.
"For wanting to come with me." Xena said. "I know it wasn't all because of Velasca and Callisto."
"Who... says?" Gabrielle forced out, setting her foot on a narrow ledge. "We were just... traveling the same way... honest."
"Is that so?"
"You know I'm... kidding." Gabrielle replied as Xena guided her hand again. "Where you go, I go."
"Glad to hear it." Xena said. "I like to... have you along for another reason."
"I get to... hug every bit of your body as we go up." the warrior said as they neared the top. As long as she kept her talking, she wouldn't try to look down.
"Yeah, I noticed that." Gabrielle said. "We've got to stop having sex in dangerous places."
"Right with you." Xena said as her hand reached over the top. "Be ready to go over when I tell you."
"Oooohh, I'm ready." the blonde responded very quickly. "The sooner this is over, the better."
"Then you should be thrilled, dear." a voice said from the top. "Because it's over."
Both Xena and Gabrielle looked up in tired recognition, to see the blonde woman who had so radically interrupted their lives.
Callisto carefully lifted her foot up and placed it on Xena's hand. She thrilled at Xena's expression as she ground it into the gravel.
"Callisto, this is between you and me." Xena spat out the words as her hand screamed in pain. "Let her go."
"Oh, nonononono." Callisto tut-tutted. "You see, she's your better half, I think. And that makes her part and parcel of the package."
Xena whispered a silent prayer to Artemis. Without Gabrielle there, she could get herself up on the cliff and kill Callisto in any number of ways. But with her, she was helpless. Xena looked up at her face, Callisto seemed to be in sexual ecstasy. And this was the person she had created, she thought.
"Callisto!" a voice called out from the cliff.
Callisto kept her foot firmly planted, and turned behind her to look. The Queen had arrived with all of her honor guard, and someone else, too.
"Velasca, stop her." the Queen commanded.
The warrior glanced disdainfully at the Queen as she walked past. "I'm no longer one of your Amazons, remember? Don't address me as such."
"Come to join in on the fun, my love?" the blonde warrior called over her shoulder.
"Sort of." Velasca said as she walked up. She stepped up to the edge of the cliff and peeked over. "What a pretty sight you two make."
"Don't they?" Callisto agreed.
"Let them up." Velasca said.
"I said let them up." the Amazon repeated. "You can have your vengeance back at the village."
"Are you mad?!" Callisto snarled, turning to glare at her.
Velasca was taken aback by the look in her eyes, but held firm. "Oh, I'd be happy to see them both drop off right now, but think of it. Xena will get off the hook if you do that."
Callisto's eyes went wild, and she looked back down at the dangling pair.
"But if she returns to the Amazons she led, it will be in disgrace." Velasca continued. "Every one of her protégés will see her as the monster she truly is."
Xena listened helplessly from below. She was actually quite right, curse her. It would be easier for her to die here than at the village.
"Why are you making sense?" Callisto said in exasperation, looking back to her potential victims. "-sigh- Alright. We'll do it your way."
Callisto lifted her foot off the Warrior Princess' hand and stepped back. Xena wasted no time in urging Gabrielle up, and with some clambering, the blonde managed to scrabble onto the cliffside.
"AyYiYiYiYi!" Xena cried as she flipped herself up onto the cliff in one somersault. It was an impossible feat, yet she did it easily. Upon seeing this, all the Amazon honor guard surged forward, their weapons at the ready. Velasca drew her sword.
Gabrielle looked over at Xena, expecting her to fight. But Xena was already looking at her, a sad look in her eyes. Then she smiled.
"I surrender." Xena said, holding her hands in front of her.
Gabrielle watched as the Amazons roughly seized her. When they slapped the handcuffs on her, Gabrielle could tell that going back to the village was the last thing Xena wanted to do.
Xena calmly walked pass the warriors that were assembled around the platform. She tried to meet their gazes, and while some returned it, most just looked away. She stepped up onto the stage, knowing it would probably be for the last time.
"Hear me, my Amazons!" Queen Agrippa proclaimed, struggling mightily not to cough. "Many winters ago, Xena was -cough- part of an army that ransacked the territories of our northern sisters. When they left, the Amazon leaders were dead, and their tribes were laid waste. -ahem- Velasca here was one of the survivors."
Xena looked over at the Amazon warrior, who returned her look with disdain.
"Some years later, Xena had assumed command of an army all her own. During the sacking of the village of Cirra, her army looted and burned the village to the ground. Many -cough- excuse me, men, women, and children died, all because of her. Callisto here was one of the survivors. And I've been told she had dedicated her life to tracking her down. She also has a personal grievance with Xena."
"Well I have one with her!" Gabrielle said, jumping up on the stage. "She tried to kill me!"
Callisto gave a glance at the younger woman.
"Velasca has told me of how Callisto's quest for the Warrior Princess has unbalanced her." the Queen quietly noted. "She has assured me that she will vouch for Callisto's conduct from this point on, and nothing of the sort will happen again."
"You've got to be kidding!" Gabrielle exclaimed in amazement. "Doesn't assaulting an Amazon count for anything here?"
"Yes it does." the Queen agreed. "Which is why we are here. For Xena is not charged today with her crime against the Amazons. If you recall, I had already forgiven Xena for her past deeds when she assumed leadership. That is still the case, and I believe I made the right decision. However, there is still the matter of the blood grievance between her and these two women. -cough cough cough- It was Xena who made these women what they are today, and she must be held to account for that."
The Queen paused as one of her Amazons came over to steady her.
"Thank you. So, Amazon law is clear in this matter. Velasca has a blood grievance with Xena, which can only be answered with blood. Her claim to fair combat with the Warrior Princess is hereby... granted."
"No!" Callisto exclaimed, stepping up to the Queen, whose honor guard crossed spears in front of her. "I deserve the right to fight her. She killed my entire family!"
"You will be silent." the Queen commanded. "Indeed, you both have equal claim to the right to fight her. But there is another consideration, -cough- her considerable strength."
The Queen leveled her gaze at Xena. "She has the strength of ten men, and can commit feats of skill that would be unbelievable -hack- for anyone else. In light of these circumstances, I have decided that you will both fight Xena... at the same time."
The crowd gasped and murmured at the implication of this. It had never been tried before.
Callisto and Velasca exchanged glances.
"Only in this way can any fight with the Warrior Princess be called truly fair." the Queen intoned. "Xena's trial by combat will take place at noon tomorrow, and may Athena have mercy on her soul."
"I brought you some nutbread." Gabrielle said as the guard closed the door behind her.
"There's not a file in it, is there?" Xena joked.
Gabrielle just looked at her wistfully.
"Hey, come on." Xena said, taking the bread. "You're supposed to be here to cheer me up, remember?"
"Sorry." the blonde apologized. "It's just. I've seen them fight you. I know you can handle them individually, but at the same time?"
"The funny thing is," Xena said, "yes. I can. Easily. Don't get me wrong, they stand a chance to kill me, like anyone else."
"But they're not you." Gabrielle completed for her.
"They're not me." Xena agreed. "That's what bothers me. There's no justice in this, Gabrielle. They can't beat me. I'll kill them like I did their villages."
"I'm missing something here." Gabrielle said in confusion. "This is bad?"
"Don't you see?" Xena said. "The Queen was right. I made them who they are today. It's my fault Callisto is crazy, and Velasca is a mean shrew."
"You were right before." Gabrielle said. "Now you making me depressed."
"Well, it's the truth."
"There's got to be more to it than that."
Xena was silent for a moment. "There is."
She sat down on the floor, and motioned for Gabrielle to do the same.
"Cirra was an accident, that's true." Xena said. "But what I did to the Siberian Amazons wasn't. It was a well-planned strategy."
"There were a number of fat villages in Siberia, and they were there just for the plucking." Xena explained, her eyes flashing. "I was traveling with a warlord named Borias at the time. He's a whole other story. Anyway, this area had a number of Amazon tribes. I imagine they had some kind of mutual defense arrangement with the regular villages like Agrippa has here."
Gabrielle tore off a hunk of the nutbread she had brought Xena.
Xena stopped in her narrative and stared at her.
"Well, I don't want it to go to waste." Gabrielle half-apologized with a mouthful of bread.
Xena continued. "Borias had worked out a deal with the Amazons that we would simply pass through their territory, he had no intentions of tangling with them. But Alti and I had other intentions."
"She's a shaman, very powerful." Xena explained. "We came up with a plan to destroy the Amazons. I would lure the leaders of the four Amazon tribes individually to the forest, and murder them. Then Alti would work her magic on them as they died, and greatly increase her power."
"And did you... kill them?"
"Yes." Xena admitted. "I remember one in particular, her name was Cyane. I impaled her on a tree branch, and left her hanging there to bleed to death. Alti came over with a bowl, and collected the blood that was pouring out of her."
"Gods, that's gross." Gabrielle winced. "What for?"
"She was going to work her magic on it." Xena slowly said. "By absorbing the life essences of the Amazon leaders, she would greatly increase her magicks."
"Uh huh." the blonde nodded. "Then what?"
"Afterwards, when she was performing her rituals, she offered me a sip." Xena admitted. "It would greatly increase my fighting abilities, and build on what M'Lila and Lao Ma had given me. If I drank the magicked blood, I would become invincible."
"What did you do?"
"I became invincible." Xena said quietly, averting her gaze. "And a monster."
This time, there was no disagreement from Gabrielle. She swallowed her last bit of nutbread, and stood up.
"So that's it then." Xena said wretchedly, knowing that there would be no comforting over this crime.
"You're not planning on winning, are you?" Gabrielle asked, her eyes tearing.
Xena shook her head.
"You can't just give up." the blonde urged. "You have to fight."
"Justice must be served."
"Whose justice?" Gabrielle asked, her tears rolling off her cheeks. "Callisto's? Xena, she tried to murder me, and they're not even going to charge her with anything!"
"She became like that because of me."
"No!" the blonde insisted. "Somewhere the cycle of hatred has to end. Callisto threw her life away to become the person she hated most. At some point, there has to be personal responsibility."
"You make it sound like I deserve to go free." Xena said. "Coming from you, that makes me feel sick inside."
"It does?" Gabrielle said. "Well yes, if you must know. I think you do deserve to be punished for your crimes. But not killed. I don't believe killing is the answer, Xena. Not for you, and not for Callisto."
"So we're the same now?"
"Again, no." Gabrielle said. "A lot of people made you who you are today, Xena. It might be expedient to simply send you off to Hades, but it's not that easy."
"What do you mean?"
"You have a Debt to repay. That's why you came here, to this village. To repay your debt to society. And it starts with stopping Callisto and Velasca."
Something seemed to change in Xena's eyes. She sat rock-solid for a moment, and then stood up.
"You're right." Xena said sharply.
"I don't deserve to die." Xena said, staring off past her. "That's too easy. One lifetime may not be enough to undo all the things I've done, but I've got to try."
"Alright!" Gabrielle said confidently, smiling. "Not exactly the message I was trying to convey, but as long as you won't simply give up."
"Right." Xena agreed. "You are my conscience, Gabrielle. I mean that."
"So now what?"
Xena thought for a moment. "Go bring me a quill and parchment."
"Okay..." Gabrielle said, raising an eyebrow. "You want to make out your will?"
"No." Xena said. "I'm going to draw you a map. It will lead you to where I buried my weapons before I came to this village."
"What are they?"
"An unbreakable longsword." Xena explained. "And my Chakram."
Xena handed the fresh map to Gabrielle.
"Hey. This is near my home village." Gabrielle observed, chuckling. "You buried them outside of Poteidaia."
"Coincidence." Xena said.
Gabrielle drew close and gave her a kiss. "I'd like to call it fate."
Xena swept her into an embrace. "Be careful."
"I will." the blonde replied.
"Before you go," Xena said, "I want you to promise me one thing. If I'm already dead when you get back, I don't want you to blame yourself."
"You know I will."
"I know." Xena nodded in acceptance.
"So you'd better not die." Gabrielle said, reaching for the door. Then she stopped.
"Uh, it was the alphabet." Gabrielle said.
"Back on the water tower." the blonde explained. "You wanted to know what technique I was using."
"Yes." Xena admitted, thinking back.
"I was spelling out the Greek alphabet with my tongue." Gabrielle admitted with a smile.
Xena nodded wryly, then she returned her smile. "Come back soon."
"Promise." Gabrielle said, knocking on the door for the guard to let her out. The door opened, and she went outside. The guard locked the door after she left, and took up position again outside the entrance.
Gabrielle was surprised to see Velasca walking up, mask in hand.
"What do you want?" Gabrielle asked suspiciously.
"I'm here to watch over the prisoner." the redhead smiled darkly. "Wouldn't want her to get away, would we?"
"She's not going anywhere." Gabrielle said.
"Giving her the last meal?" Velasca sneered, lowering her mask into place. "My tip to you would be to find someone else while you still can."
"Would you like a tip?" Gabrielle replied. "Keep that mask on."
Velasca steamed as she watched the other Amazon walk off.
Xena smoothed out her kneepad and adjusted her leather straps. She gave her armor a final adjustment, and then drew her Amazon sword. It wasn't as good as her battle sword, but it would do.
The door unlatched and swung inwards, and she sheathed her weapon. Irana stepped into the doorway.
"It's time." the Amazon said, trying to look stern.
"I'm ready." Xena replied, walking forward carefully so as not to startle her. Just days ago, she was Irana's trusted commander. Now she was a killer of Amazons, someone to be reviled. And she deserved it, too.
As Xena stepped out into the daylight, she looked around for a sign of Gabrielle. But she was nowhere to be seen. Xena sighed. She would have to do this battle alone, as always. She walked to the center of the village, where they had cleared away the various carts for the battle circle. Waiting for her there were Callisto and Velasca, and Xena stepped into the circle.
"Amazons!" Velasca shouted. "I am here today to claim vengeance for my family, and my tribe. Against this criminal, the Warrior Princess Xena."
Velasca drew her sword, as Callisto paced around both of them.
"I've been told recently that my speeches aren't the cat's meow." Callisto said, drawing her longsword. "So I'll just have to let my blade speak for me."
Xena drew her own weapon. She instantly perceived Callisto to be the greatest threat, and locked her eyes on her. At the same time, Velasca moved behind her.
"Aiieee!!!" Callisto shrieked as she charged Xena. She brought her sword down in an overhead strike, which would force Xena to block.
But Xena was already one step ahead of them, and rolled off to the side. Xena could hear Velasca curse, she must have planned to gut Xena while she parried Callisto.
"You'd have to be pretty stupid to think I'd fall for that." the raven-haired woman said as she went on the attack.
Velasca was forced back by the ferocity of Xena's attack. Xena had her heavily on the defensive, that is until Callisto moved in from the side.
"Ha!" Callisto exulted. "You can't fight us both at once, Xena!"
"Glad you think it's so funny. Hyah!" Xena shouted as she spun away from her to punch Velasca with her free hand. The punch knocked her over, but it allowed Callisto another strike.
Xena brought her sword up without looking, and expertly caught her sword-point with her hilt.
"That's impossible!" Callisto said in disbelief, withdrawing her weapon.
Xena then jumped in the air with a cry. Spinning impossibly in the air, she laid out a series of kicks at Callisto, kicking her in the chest, neck, and face.
"Yiieee-yip!" Xena yelped as she somersaulted to the ground. Callisto hit the ground hard, just as Velasca was getting up.
"Impressive, Xena." the redhead sneered. "But how many times can you do that? There's only one of you, but two of us."
"I'll just have to even the odds, then." Xena replied. She suddenly sensed a pressure wave at her back, and twirled out of the way. Something hard hit her forehead, glancing off. Sweeping her sword in a protective shield, Xena stepped back as her entire head felt like it was on fire. She reached up to her forehead, and it came away wet.
"First blood, Xena." Callisto said, picking up her sword. "Not a good sign."
The blood poured down Xena's face, and she cursed. Scalp wounds always bled profusely, and it would impair her vision.
"Poor Xena, all alone." Velasca mocked. "Where did Gabrielle run off to? It looks like she's left you."
"Looks that way." Xena said, wiping her hand across and slinging off the blood. "But looks can be deceiving."
Callisto and Velasca exchanged glances.
"What say we kill her?" the blonde asked.
"What say." Velasca repeated.
They charged Xena simultaneously, one striking high while the other went low. Xena jumped up over Callisto's strike at her legs, and managed to block Velasca's swing. But being in mid-air sent Xena falling backwards. Callisto and Velasca lunged in for the kill.
Dropping her sword, Xena planted her hands on the ground and swung her legs up. She kicked Callisto's sword out of her hand, and then Velasca's. Her two attackers stopped in shock to find themselves weaponless at the moment of victory.
Xena grabbed her sword and flipped herself up to her feet. Her left eye was clogged with blood, but there was nothing to do about that now.
"Waiting for us to get a breath?" Callisto asked, retrieving her sword. "That's not the Xena I heard about."
"I'm getting soft." Xena said breezily. "Quiet living, you know."
Xena parried Velasca's sword-swipes, trying to keep an eye on Callisto. The blonde warrior only needed a hair's-breath opening to get in, but sometimes, that is all one needs.
"Ah!" Xena exclaimed in pain as Callisto slashed along her ribs. Her armored leather took the brunt of the blow, but it still hurt like Hades. Velasca took the opportunity to take a stab at Xena's back, but all she got a few slivers of hair.
Xena wiped more blood away from her face. Her chest wound was seeping blood also, and it would be just a matter of time before she was taken down. She had to end this, quickly.
"We're carving her into cutlets!" Velasca thrilled.
"Truly I wish I could preserve you like this." Callisto laughed, giving her sword an expert twirl. "But the fight is going our way."
"Don't get used to it, cause now it's my turn!" Xena snarled. Throwing her sword up in the air, she hurled herself at them.
Despite their skill, Velasca and Callisto stood there in surprise as she tackled them. She took them both down to the ground, and kicked Callisto over.
Callisto opened her eyes just in time to see Xena's sword falling right at her face. She turned her head at the last instant, just as the sword sank halfway into the ground.
Velasca drew her hip dagger, intending to sink it into Xena's throat. But Xena was already in front of her, and her fingers lashed out.
"Uuukk!!" Velasca choked as her nerve points were pressed.
Seeing Xena commit herself to an attack, Callisto grabbed her wrist and kicked out with all her might at Xena's elbow.
"@#$%%!!!!" Xena cursed, freeing herself. She rolled away and got back up, cradling her broken arm.
Callisto got up, and with a glance at Velasca, turned towards Xena.
"You lose." the blonde smiled, twirling her sword.
"Callisto!" Xena said, backing away. "You can end this. Surrender, and I'll release her pressure points."
"Your time is up, Xena." Callisto said with enthusiasm. "Begging doesn't suit you."
"But she'll die if I don't release her!"
"Then she dies." she replied. "Any price is worth getting you."
Velasca did a slow burn as she began shuddering involuntarily.
"Is it?" Xena asked, still stalling for time. Without two hands, she couldn't slap the pinch on Callisto as well. "Look at yourself, Callisto! Is it worth becoming me to beat me?"
Callisto didn't deign to respond, but instead stalked confidently up to her victim. She closed the distance between them, and stood before her. "Now it ends."
"Xena, catch!" a voice called from the crowd.
Callisto looked up at the sound, as Xena caught whatever was hurtling through the air.
Xena brought her Chakram up against Callisto's throat, and viciously raked it across.
The crowd gasped.
"Ahhh!!" Callisto exclaimed in utter horror. Clutching her throat, she dropped to her knees, astounded that she had been defeated so easily.
"I'm sorry for what happened to your village, Callisto." Xena said softly. "I hope you find the peace you seek."
Callisto choked as she held her bleeding throat. It was over, her life was over. Xena had won. Her throat stung with the pain, and Callisto took her hands away. But her hands were only slightly bloody. Puzzled, she touched her throat again.
"I only cut through the skin." Xena said, inspecting her Chakram. "You'll live."
"Why?" Callisto asked, shuddering in shock.
"You are here because of who I used to be." Xena said, turning to Velasca. "But that Xena is dead."
Xena walked over to the frozen Amazon. Blood was trickling from Velasca's nose, she wouldn't live much longer. Hooking her Chakram on its clip, Xena quickly hit the sides of her neck with her one hand, hoping it would work. She never had to release a hold one-handed before.
Velasca sagged at her touch, and took a deep breath.
"The easiest thing to do would be to kill you." Xena said to both of them, as Callisto got back up. "But I can't do that."
"You can't change who you are, Xena." Callisto said, wrapping her handkerchief around her neck.
"I have." Xena replied, stepping back so that she could keep her eyes on both of them. "And you can, too."
"I've dedicated my whole life to killing you." the blonde said hesitantly. "I won't rest until that's done."
"Then you will die." Xena said simply. "And you will give the warlord one last victory. Don't give her that!"
Velasca got up unsteadily, and walked over to her partner.
"Well said." Callisto applauded. "But how can you truly believe that. I am what you made me. Vel, too."
"No!" Xena exclaimed. "At some point in your life, you have to take personal responsibility. You can't spend your entire life blaming me for who you are."
"Are you hearing this?" Callisto asked. "She really believes this."
Callisto glanced over at her lover, only to see something different in her eyes. "Velasca?"
"She's right." Velasca said quietly, wiping her nose.
"What do you mean?"
"If we die here, now." the Amazon continued. "Xena wins. And my tribe dies."
"I can't believe you're siding with her!" Callisto snarled, turning her back to the Warrior Princess. "You're making me sick!"
"No, I'm making sense." the Amazon said. "Don't throw your life away on her. I need you."
"Love is for the weak." Callisto responded, uncertainly this time.
"Who said anything about love?" Velasca smiled. "I need you to liberate my Amazons from Alti."
"And nothing else?" the blonde sneered.
"Okay, so you're a good @#$%, too." Velasca smiled at her. "But I can't do this without you."
"She killed my family!" Callisto snarled, whirling back to Xena.
"Killing Xena won't bring your family back!" Velasca said. "But you can help me save mine."
Callisto turned to look at her, and stared for long moments into her eyes. Then she spoke.
"Alright." Callisto relented. "I'll help you save your tribe."
"And Xena?" Velasca asked.
Callisto gestured at the Warrior Princess. "You're right. I am you. What you were. I don't know if I can change who I am, but... I will help Velasca kill Alti."
"One step is all it takes." Xena said, hope in her eye.
"Don't... speak." Velasca said slowly. "Just go. Go before we change our minds."
Xena nodded in acceptance. She wanted to give them some advice on fighting the shaman, or even offer to accompany them, but she realized that that would be impractical.
"This battle's over!" Velasca shouted, retrieving her sword. "Let's get the Hades out of here."
Callisto blew a kiss to Xena, and turned to accompany Velasca. As she and the Amazon walked past the stunned crowd, she caught sight of Gabrielle. Callisto gave her a wink.
Feeling like someone was walking over her grave, Gabrielle tore her eyes away from the madwoman and raced into the battle circle.
"Xena, your arm!" she exclaimed, opening her sack. She had anticipated Xena's injuries, and had brought an assortment of bandages.
"Don't touch." Xena said, stepping back. "It's broken."
"Oh, your armor." Gabrielle pointed.
"Yeah, they got some good licks in." Xena admitted. "But they can wait."
Xena indicated behind Gabrielle, and she turned around. The Queen was approaching them with her honor guard surrounding her.
"Xena." the Queen intoned. "You have won your freedom. Because you spared the lives of those who fought you, -ahem- we shall let bygones be bygones."
"Thank you, your Majesty." Xena said, bowing slightly. The effort caused her chest wound to scream out in pain, but she did it anyway.
"However, for obvious reasons, you cannot remain in the Nation any longer." the Queen continued. "And that goes for your companion as well."
"Me?" Gabrielle said, touching her chest. "What did I do?"
"By -cough- interfering in the sacred rite of combat." the Queen explained. "We take our traditions very seriously, and they -hack- must not be tampered with."
"Oh." Gabrielle said. She had to admit, she had a point. Then she had a thought. "Hey, don't I get an exemption for almost being roasted by the psycho blonde there?"
"In a way." the Queen nodded, giving her a smile. "I can tell you those two will never be allowed into my territory again, if I can help it."
"Good." Gabrielle nodded, looking back to Xena.
"Unfortunately," the Queen began, "the same goes for you, Gabrielle. You must gather your things, and leave this village, as soon as possible."
She indicated over to her guards, and two of them stepped forward to escort Gabrielle away.
"Thank you for your hospitality, Queen Agrippa." Xena said. "I'm sorry we never got to rebuild your kingdom together."
"As I do, Xena." the Queen allowed her a smile. "But it's -cough- time to go. May Athena give you wings on your journey."
Gabrielle stood at the edge of a village, and took a last look back. Xena was walking up to join her. She was wearing a bandage on her head, her sword arm was in a cast, and her chest was taped up. If she was under any pain, she sure didn't show it.
"Xena, you did it!" Gabrielle exulted, sweeping her into a hug with all her belongings.
"Yeah." Xena replied, wincing at the embrace, even though Gabrielle kept it light.
"Do you think your advice to those two will last?"
"Probably not." Xena responded. "But I wanted to them to stop blaming me for what they are. What they do with their lives is up to them now."
They started to walk off down the road together. Xena's packings were light, but Gabrielle was lugging a huge backpack of belongings.
"Velasca was just jealous of you." Gabrielle "But Callisto. -brrr- I don't want to meet her again."
"Me neither." Xena agreed. "Still, I can't help think of her as that horrified child, watching her village burn."
Gabrielle didn't respond to that, and they walked on in silence along the dirt road.
"So where are you off to?" Gabrielle asked.
"Oh, I was wondering where you were going."
"Why, you want to follow me?" Gabrielle coyly asked.
"Yes." Xena said.
"Well, good." Gabrielle nodded. "I could use the company."
"So where are you off to?"
"Oh, nowhere in particular." the blonde said.
"Why, did you want to go somewhere?" Gabrielle asked.
"Actually, yes." Xena replied. "I'd like to visit my brother in Amphipolis."
"Your brother?" Gabrielle asked, smiling. "I'll bet he's handsome."
"He was." Xena noted softly.
Gabrielle nodded to herself, not really understanding. They continued along the outskirts of the forest.
"Duh!" Gabrielle said, stopping.
Gabrielle rummaged around in her backpack, and then extracted a sword.
"My battle sword!" Xena exclaimed, taking it. "You brought it, too?"
"Well, yeah." Gabrielle said. "I was wondering why my pack felt so heavy. Anyway, you didn't need it. You had your shamrock."
"Whatever." Gabrielle shrugged.
"I'd like to thank you." Xena said.
"For the Chakram?" Gabrielle asked. "My pleasure."
"No, I mean for my life." Xena explained. "You asked me before if I had something worth living for."
"It was you." Xena said softly.
"I feel a mush factor coming on." Gabrielle joked, then saw the serious expression in Xena's eyes. "Really? Wow."
Xena smiled, and offered her good elbow to her. Gabrielle took it, and they resumed their walk along the road.
"Are you sure you want to travel with me?" Gabrielle asked. "I talk in my sleep, you know."
"I look forward to it." Xena said, bopping herself against the blonde as they walked.
"Oh my gosh!"
"What?" Xena asked.
"I just remembered." Gabrielle said. "You were going to be Queen Agrippa's heir."
"Not anymore, I'm not."
"Well, who's going to replace her when she's gone?" Gabrielle asked.
"Oh." Xena said, thinking. "I heard them talking about it as I left. I think they've got that taken care of."
"Will you miss them?" Xena asked.
"A little." Gabrielle responded, hugging Xena's arm. "But I've got my Amazon Queen right here."
Xena patted her bottom. "And I've got my honor guard."
The elderly woman skipped a bit as she made her way down the well-trod path. Spinning her rake like a baton, she flung it up in the air and did a little pirouette, reaching her hand out at just the right moment to catch the garden tool as it landed.
"I've got a lover-ly bunch of coconuts..." the old woman sang to herself, hefting the rake up to give it another throw. Her singing faded to a whisper though, and she whistled the remaining notes of the song as her eyes darted around suspiciously. "Who's there?"
"Ha!" she exclaimed as she hurled the rake at a nearby branch, shattering it. As the branch fell, so did the person standing on it. Feathers and limbs went flying as an Amazon warrior flopped to the ground, her natural agility forgotten in utter surprise.
The aged woman gathered her bearings as another figure dropped from a nearby tree. Then another, and still another, until she was ringed by a large circle of fearsome, masked warriors. She looked at each of them in turn, carefully noting one mask design after another. Then her eyes settled on the crouching figure she knocked from the tree.
"Whoop!" she cried as she rolled herself down to a handstand, and then continuing the move, flipping past several stunned Amazons towards her target.
The Amazon in question saw the aged-yet-agile woman flip head over heels towards her, and so hastily scrambled to her feet.
On her last flip the old woman deliberately stepped on her rake, flipping its handle up into her grasp. Spinning the tool, she brought the flat end of the rake up against the chest of the Amazon before her.
Irana found herself planted smartly on her butt, her chest stinging from where the unlikely implement had struck her. She quickly clasped her hands together and raised them above her head, panting as her adrenaline raced through her.
"The Amazon peace gesture..." the old woman said slowly, nodding her head. Perspiration was beading on her forehead, although she did not seem out of breath which was remarkable, considering what she had just done. "I see manners are not entirely lost on this young generation."
"No, Ma'am." Irana said.
"Am I to believe these feather-headed hooligans are truly Amazons after all?" the old woman lectured, tapping her rake down on the ground. "What right do you have going around frightening frail old women, hmmm? You nearly made my heart a flutter."
"My apologies, grand lady." Irana said slowly, warily getting to her feet. "We did not mean to startle you. We are looking for someone."
"Oh? And who might that be, buttercup?" the aged woman asked impertinently, as she suspiciously cast her gaze over the other Amazons.
"We are searching for the sister of Agrippa, Queen of the Amazons." Irana finished, lowering her hands at last.
"Well then. I think you've found her." the old woman nodded smugly. "How is my sister, by the by?"
Irana quickly exchanged glances with the other Amazons, and suddenly knelt before the old woman.
The woman in question looked around in confusion as the other Amazons followed suit, all kneeling in homage to her. "What?"
"All Hail the New Queen of the Amazons!" Irana shouted, her fierce eyes gazing up at the woman who was standing before her.
The Widow Twanky fluttered her eyelids, a modest smile spreading across her face. "Me?"
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