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Kenneth W. Hannen
"Visionary" (18th June 1998) (Completed 10th April 1999)
© Copyright 1998/99 by Kenneth W. Hannen (WolfKen), Clydebank, Scotland.
Xena: Warrior Princess and the names, titles, and any back story used in "Visionary." are the sole property of Universal.
Merthanon, Sorme and the castle are my creations - Please ask before 'borrowing' them, huh?
The author intends no copyright infringement through the writing of this fan fiction.
This story may not be sold and may be archived only with direct permission from the author.
Any archive must carry this entire copyright statement.
There is your typical level of violence for your average Xena episode, keeping well within the bounds of TV land morality...At least for prime time weekend TV land anyway.
No werewolves or inter-dimensional demons were harmed during the writing of this fan-fic and Athena and Autolycus lived happily ever after....Confused? You will be!!
"Xena!" A breathless young man skidded to a halt beside the warrior's side as she haggled with a merchant in the marketplace of Corinth.
"Just a minute." She said over her shoulder before returning her attention to the rat-like little trader before her. "FIVE dinars?!" She asked incredulously. "That sharpening stone is obviously worth no more than two!"
"Maybe, but the price is five." The rat said in a nasal twang, rubbing his hands in eager anticipation of receiving Xena's money.
Xena narrowed her eyes at the little man and drew her sword, Gabrielle cast her eyes heavenward then smiled reassuringly at the startled young man. Xena whipped the sword around in her hand, testing the balance. The trader gulped as he watched the brightly spinning blade.
She casually flipped the sharpening stone into the air with the tip of the sword and caught it in her left hand. She fixed the merchant with a chill smile and slowly drew the blade along the stone. There was a distinct, high pitched shriek coming from the stone as Xena sharpened her sword.
The stone sounded as if it was screaming in her grasp.
"Two dinars...And I'll throw in this leather carry pouch for free!" The rat said trying hard to resist the urge to put his hands over his ears.
"Done!" Xena said and re-sheathed her blade.
"I think he has been." The young man commented dryly. Gabrielle stifled a laugh with her hand.
"What can I do for you?" Xena asked, tying the sharpening stone pouch to her belt.
"I was sent by Merthanon." He said, Xena's head snapped up at the mention of the name. "He needs you, right now. He said you'd know how to get to him." He finished and looked at her expectantly.
"Thanks." Xena said and nodded to the young man who gave a slight bow and disappeared into the crowd.
Xena whistled on Argo. An answering whinny and a curse echoed out of the stable to the two friends left. A cracking of timbers and another flurry of swearing came from the stable before Argo trotted out, dragging a railing along with her. The wrangler chased after her, covered in straw and horse manure. He stalked up to Xena and stood, eyes bulging in fury, a mere inch from the Warrior Princess' nose.
"You..." He began through clenched teeth but words failed him in his attempt to express his anger. "You..." He began again, chest heaving and body shaking with rage.
"Look, we're sorry about..." Gabrielle gestured to the horse poop and the hay embedded in it with a grimace.
"This should cover it." Xena said handing the man a small purse. Trying not to gag on the odour, her nose wrinkling and twitching like a rabbits.
"You..." He repeated.
Argo snorted at him as Xena swung up into the saddle. Once mounted Xena held out her hand to Gabrielle and helped her up behind her.
"Let's get out of here before he thinks of something other than 'You!' to say." Gabrielle whispered in Xena's ear.
"You got it." Xena lifted the reins and Argo swaggered off through the market place.
"I have something that will clean that up in a jiffy..." The Rat said eyeing the purse in the wranglers hands. The stable owner's head turned towards the trader. He paused for a second before launching himself over the stall in an attempt to strangle the merchant.
"So who is Merthanon?" Gabrielle asked. As they wandered southwards later that day. She wanted to know who could get Xena moving at the mere mention of his name. Gabrielle had to admit she was feeling a little jealous about the whole thing.
"An old friend. He's a sorcerer of sorts - Although he insists what he does is not magic. He's also one of the few people I know the God's are afraid of." Xena answered as she guided Argo around a rocky patch of ground.
"How so?" Gabrielle queried. Her curiosity rising to the bait.
"He doesn't believe in the God's. It kind of makes him immune to their handiwork. That and the fact that he isn't from around here." Xena smiled tolerantly knowing Gabrielle wasn't going to quit until Xena had told her everything about Merthanon.
"Oh so he's not Greek then?" Gabrielle asked, trying to sound casual.
"No I mean he's really not from around here; as in this entire world." Xena laughed.
"Where is he from then?" Gabrielle asked irritably.
"Even he isn't sure anymore. He came here through some kind of portal when he was younger. He only has bits and pieces of his memory left but what he does remember is remarkable." Xena directed Argo into the beginning of a forest south of Corinth City.
"Oh...So how did you two meet?" Gabrielle tried to keep her voice level. She still was not sure why she was feeling jealous of a man she'd never even met.
"Back when I was Aries puppet I found out about Merthanon's castle in the lands of Egypt. It was rumoured to hold one of the largest gem stones known to man. You can guess why I went there." Xena smiled over her shoulder to Gabrielle and received an exasperated grin in return.
"Anyway I actually found his castle, which was no mean feat I can tell you. I nearly fried in that damned desert..." Xena shuddered. "I hate sand! Especially in this armour - stuff gets everywhere..." Xena plucked at the front of her leather and copper armour. "Like I was saying: I found his castle. It was an odd looking place with a waterwheel and a kind of Gaulic form to it. All granite buttresses and towers, you know the kind of thing. Weird huh?"
"It does sound strange." Gabrielle admitted.
"Strange. You call a granite castle sitting in the middle of a desert, with a river that starts and stops a few meters on either side of a waterwheel strange? Boy, your bardic talent must be slipping Gabrielle...Ow!" Xena sat bolt upright in the saddle as Gabrielle stabbed her in the ribs with her fingers. "Quit it!" Xena laughed.
"Would you like me to give you a poetic rendering of exactly how strange it sounds?" Gabrielle teased, once again hugging Xena tightly.
"Uh, no...Thank you, anyway that wasn't the half of it. Just as I was scouting around the castle I stumbled and fell down a small dune. I wasn't hurt but when I tried to stand I found I was swiftly sinking into the sand. I couldn't get my hands or arms free either and I was going under fast. I thought I was a gonner. Then Merth' showed up and dragged me out of there. I must have been in worse shape than I thought because struggling to get out of the sink-hole had sapped a lot of my strength - I passed out when he finally managed to pull me free." Xena sighed.
"Then what happened?" Gabrielle prompted.
"Merthanon nursed me back to health. I kind of fought him all the way on that one!" Xena chuckled. "I was a little troublesome for my host. As you can imagine I wasn't exactly thrilled about being tied to a bed in a strange mans home."
Gabrielle gasped, shock apparent on her young face.
Xena smiled reassuringly and continued.
"I put the pinch on him when he tried to give me some water - He got out of it somehow, he never did tell me how..." Xena pursed her lips in thought. "After that he tied me to the bed and made me recover from my sunstroke before he'd even let me wander around the castle. He sat up half the night telling me stories to take my mind off of my sunburn and cracked lips. He's a sweet old man, of course back then I was planning to kill him if he didn't shut up." Gabrielle smacked her on the back of the head. "I know! I know!" Xena laughed.
Argo whinnied as they approached a set of standing stones in the forest. "Okay girl." Xena mumbled.
"What is it?" The bard asked.
"We don't have time to skirt around and down to Egypt, so we are going to use one of Merth's shortcuts. Besides there is no way I am trudging through that desert again."
"Alright, but how exactly do you expect to 'shortcut' to Egypt?" Gabrielle demanded.
"Through there." Xena nodded at a large standing stone sitting in the centre of a ring of smaller obelisks.
"What are you..." Gabrielle trailed off as Argo walked through the pillar and vanished. Bright blue energy bounced around the ring of stones and a low pitched hum rose up higher and higher until it passed beyond the range of human hearing. Just when it seamed the sound could go no higher there was a dull whump and the standing stones shuddered.
Xena and Gabrielle arrived in Egypt a short time later.
Merthanon sat in his laboratory and gazed up into the spinning gears and pulleys grinding and moving in the darkness above him. A light blue glow appeared around a sapphire embedded in a large steel doorway. Suddenly a beam of brilliant blue light burst forth from the gem and flew straight to a ruby set into the top of the door.
The tone of the gearing above him changed pitch as the beam found its target. The ruby began to pulse and a smell of burning ozone permeated the room. As quickly as before a shaft of purple light shot from the ruby towards an emerald on the opposite frame of the door. The gearing groaned and began to move even faster. Plaster and dust rained down from the ceiling and walls as the machinery screamed.
Faster and faster the machine's cogs and pulleys turned and slowly the emerald began to glow. Merthanon stared anxiously at a diamond set in the floor in front of the door. The hairs on his neck and arms began to rise, being pulled and charged by the massive energy fields congregating in the air around him. The smell of ozone was almost overpowering now yet Merthanon ignored it as the huge metal beast above him threatened to tear loose from its setting and crash down on top of him.
The screams of the machine became almost deafening as the emerald shot out a beam of almost white light to the diamond on the floor. Slowly the jewel began to charge. The machinery shook and rattled, this time there was no denying it, it was going to fall. Merthanon stood entranced by the diamond as it inexorably started to glow.
A teenage boy burst into the room as the gearing began to rip itself loose from its cage. He yelled something unintelligible over the din of the machine to Merthanon before running past him and pulling hard on a large lever.
"No!" Merthanon shouted in the sudden silence.
"You stupid old fool!" The boy yelled. "You could have pulled the entire tower down on your head!" He was shaking with anger and fear.
"It almost worked! I'm so close Sorme! I can almost see the gate forming..." Merthanon wailed before running from the room.
Sorme sadly shook his head as his friend ran down the stairs of the tower. The gearing slowed and grew silent as the light from the gems died. Sorme drew the gateway a hate filled glare before leaving the room, slamming the door closed as he went.
Merthanon sat in his favourite chair, gazing into the flames of the roaring fireplace set into the thick rock wall before him. The loss of the primary diamond a few months ago chafed at him constantly. He just might have been able to open the doorway with a pure gem instead of the poor quality back up stone. The experiment that had resulted in the Dimension Gate had also transported the primary stone to some random point of the globe. He had recently hired a thief to find it and bring it back to him but he wasn't very hopeful. It could be absolutely anywhere! He grated silently.
In his hand he held a goblet of wine, the amphora it had come from sat in readiness at his feet. Merthanon had every intention of achieving the perfect hangover in the morning. It will never work. He sullenly conceded. The structure is just too unstable for true dimensional travel. He took a long gulp from the goblet. I need Xena here, I can't use the gyroscope without that device of hers - It's unique balancing properties and it's ability to obey her unconscious telepathic commands are ideal for the job. Damn it girl where are you?!
Sorme shook his head sadly as Merth engaged himself in thought, holding his goblet in a white knuckled grasp. He knew how tortured the old man was by his memories of his past. He had heard the screams in the night ever since he was a child. Merthanon was terrified of something or someone but he didn't know what his fear came from. He also knew Merthanon had family and friends on the other side of the portal he had been working on since before Sorme was born. Sorme quietly closed the study door and left his friend to wrestle with his thoughts. Tonight Sorme had thoughts of his own to deal with.
He clutched at the amulet around his neck and felt the familiar tingling sensation. He knew the reason he wore the pendant. Merthanon had explained it a long time ago. Sorme thought back to that day. Sorme your body is a little different from the rest of your peoples. You cannot deal well with the sugar you eat - In fact it can kill you if you don't break it down quickly enough. I can't cure you I'm afraid, but I can give you a method of fighting it. That was when Merth had held out the amulet.
Once a day Sorme had to use the amulet. Had to become the beast in order for his body to recover. The amulet changed his body into that of a monster - A half-man half-wolf creature that had the instincts of the wolf and held Sorme's mind as an unwilling passenger. Unable to control the Wolf but forced to watch its actions. Sorme stepped out of the main gate and into the ice cold of the desert night.
Recently he had been plagued by nightmares in which he watched his wolf persona killing a young woman. Tasted her flesh and blood as the monster cracked open her bones to lick the marrow out from inside. Sorme felt the bile rising in his throat as he remembered the vivid details of the nightmare. A single tear ran down his cheek and he angrily brushed it away with the back of his hand. Once Merthanon was gone Sorme knew what he had to do. He couldn't take the risk of some hapless traveller stumbling upon the castle while he was the Wolf. Sorme drew in a deep shuddering breath and cleared his mind as Merthanon had showed him so many years before. Once he was near trance he bitterly breathed the word: "Change."
He grunted in pain as his body started to pull itself apart from within. Bones tore themselves out of their sockets, changing shape and form as they did so. They slid under his flesh, rippling and in some places bursting through his skin. The pain was familiar and Sorme knew he could overcome it. He slipped into the deepest part of the trance and detached himself from his body, as the pain became unbearable.
A few minutes later the transformation was complete and Sorme groggily came out of the trance to find the Wolf in control of his body. Together they lopped through the desert. A beast, which stood on its hind legs like a man, had hands and arms and the general appearance of a human yet was undeniably Wolf in nature. Thick grey fur covered its body and the elongated snout had a canine's nose, below which the jaws contained the teeth of a deadly predator. The ears, high up on top of his head turned and twitched as they tracked the myriad of night creatures foraging in the cool night. Sorme shifted back into the trance, he hated remembering the Wolf's kills. Better to have the comfort of no memory in this case.
The Wolf continued to hunt oblivious to his helpless prisoner.
Autolycus grabbed Salmoneus by the front of his robes and lifted the plump little merchant off the ground until he was mere inches from his face. "What do you mean 'I lost it.'?" Autolycus hissed.
"Well there were these three Phoenicians see...And they had this delightful little shell game...It seemed so easy!" Salmoneus' eyes went wide as his feet dangled above the ground. "Uh, it can't be good for your blood pressure to make your face go red like that - " He broke off as Autolycus dropped him back to his feet and covered his face with his hands.
"AAARRRGGGGHHH!" Autolycus yelled in frustration before gesticulating rudely in the general direction of Mount Olympus. "That's what I think of you Zeus! That's for cursing me with this guy!" Overhead a storm seemed to be building out of nowhere.
"He doesn't mean it! He doesn't mean it!" Salmoneus cried as he backed away from the soon-to-be human lightning rod.
"Oh yes I do you little weasel! Do you have any idea what I went through to steal that diamond? My butt is still stinging from the porcupine security system - And don't even mention those spiders." Autolycus shuddered. "What kind of fence are you anyway?!" He demanded.
"I am not a fence! I am a legitimate merchant, I've even got the forged papers to prove it - somewhere." Salmoneus stated indignantly.
"And people say I'm a thief!" Autolycus muttered. "You merchants are all the same you know that? Not an honest bone in your body! Give good thieves a bad name you lot do." He exclaimed.
"Hey! You take that back! Traders are the salt of the earth, we never overcharge more than is necessary!" Salmoneus said, squaring up to the thief.
In the bushes behind their campsite the three Phoenician thieves watched in amazement. The two idiots in the clearing were going to kill each other, doing their job for them.
"Why don't we just rush them and get this over with?" One of them whispered.
"Why work when others will do it for you?" Another answered.
"Okay, but they had better hurry up I think I'm allergic to this bush." He stifled a sneeze.
Autolycus and Salmoneus parried and boxed with one another around the campsite.
"Now?" Hissed Salmoneus.
"Not yet! Just a little closer to the bushes." Autolycus whispered back.
They continued to work their way closer to the Phoenician's hiding place. "NOW!" Autolycus suddenly yelled. He quickly drew and threw a small dagger in one fluid movement. It flashed in the sunlight as it shot into the tree branches above the three thieves. They barely had time to exchange startled glances before the net Autolycus had just severed came crashing down on top of them. Salmoneus ran in and hit them sharply over the head with a lump of wood, knocking the three men out.
Half an hour later and Autolycus and Salmoneus were strolling down the road. Weighted down by a diamond and three heavy purses they were feeling quite pleased with themselves as they headed back into the city in search of new victims.
"You know it doesn't feel like stealing when you take it from thieves." Salmoneus said.
"I know, my work had been kind of bothering me lately - Taking from people with less than you just doesn't seem right somehow. But thieving from thieves seems okay, and far more profitable." Autolycus conceded.
"What are we going to do with the gold we got off of those three?" Salmoneus asked.
"Actually for once I know exactly where those guy's got their money. I watched them steal it from the temple of Athena. That's kind of why I targeted them and got you to loose the diamond to them. By the way congratulations on the fine acting job, it's never easy parting with dinars let alone a diamond this size." He casually tossed the gem up behind his back and caught it as it dropped down in front of his face. Pretending it was just a drop in the ocean was the perfect incentive for those three to follow you back to our campsite." Autolycus said.
"Thanks. It almost broke my heart losing at the shell game on top of giving that hunk of ice over. I never loose at the shell game - I practically grew up on it!" Salmoneus gave a quick glance to the left and right. "You don't think Athena is going to be angry that we have her tribute do you?"
"Nah! We didn't steal it. Those other guys did. She can't possibly blame..." Autolycus broke off as a sudden flash of light deposited a very stern faced little goddess Athena in the road in front of them.
"YOU!" She thundered.
"Us." Autolycus finished lamely. Salmoneus yelped and took a step back from the goddess.
"Hello Athena, long time no see." Autolycus said quietly.
"I might have known it would have been you who raided my temple!" Athena growled.
"Actually..." Salmoneus shut up under Athena's glare.
"We didn't steal the gifts from you Athena - We took it from the thieves who did." Autolycus said. "Look, just give me a second and I'll explain."
"A likely story! You forget I've been on the receiving end of that silken tongue before..." She blushed and quickly continued trying to cover her slip. "You are a liar Auto. You and I both know that and no amount of fast talking is going to get you out of it this time!" She shook her fist at him trying to cover her embarrassment.
"Wait - you and Athena..." Salmoneus started, staring in disbelief at Autolycus and Athena. He shut up again when both of them glared at him.
"You still don't know do you?" Autolycus said in a sudden flash of insight.
"Know what? Stop trying to cloud the issue!" She spat.
"That's why you're so angry. After all this time you still don't know!" Anger suddenly flashed in Autolycus' eyes. He snatched the purse Salmoneus was carrying, ripped his own off and as an after thought pulled the diamond out of its hiding place. He threw the lot at Athena's feet and stalked off past her, livid with anger.
Athena blinked at the treasure at her feet then turned and watched Autolycus' retreating back. He kicked out viciously at a rock embedded in the path. Limping slightly he cursed and continued on down the road to Corinth.
Salmoneus was staring at the diamond at Athena's feet. "Boy, he must have it bad." He muttered and thought about asking Athena for the gem back. The puzzled frown on her face told him he'd better not try it and he silently set out after his friend.
"What in the name off all the Gods was that about?!" Salmoneus demanded puffing slightly as he ran to catch up with Autolycus. Autolycus was muttering something about being so damn smart she's dumb and kicking out at every loose rock on the road.
"She still doesn't get it!" He barked.
"Neither do I!" Salmoneus yelled. "Will you please tell me what is going on here?" He asked plaintively.
Autolycus walked in silence for a bit then he sighed. "When I was younger I had a...fling with Athena."
"This much I figured out." Salmoneus muttered to no one in particular.
"She was sick of her librarian lifestyle and decided she wanted to see a little action. So she came down and tried to hang out with the adventurous types - The mad-bad and dangerous to know crowd. You know the kind of thing most young girls go through."
Salmoneus balked a little at calling a goddess a 'young girl' but he let it pass.
"We met quite by chance." Autolycus continued. "I was taking a much needed break from my new career as a thief when a certain little lady appeared to be in trouble with her father. I thought he was going to hit her so I rode in and kind of saved the day, scooping her up and galloping away from her dad."
"It wasn't really her father was it?" Salmoneus asked.
"Actually it was Zeus...I think the fact that a mere mortal had stood up to her father kind of exhilarated her. At any rate she was very energetic that afternoon..." Autolycus broke off with an embarrassed cough. "Ahem, anyway we kind of hung around together for a while. I had no idea who she was, I thought she was just named after the goddess Athena. It was very easy to fall for those deep, soft, brown eyes and she had the most incredible smile. Ye God's I would have died just to see her smile!"
"So what happened? I mean obviously this fairy tale doesn't have the 'Happily ever after.' ending."
"Athena and I were in love. Something I thought I had lost the ability to do was suddenly back in my life. Was my life." Autolycus shook his head sadly. "Athena finally told me the truth, that she was in fact the Athena: Goddess of Wisdom. I was shocked but I didn't really care who she was I just knew I wanted to be with her. That wasn't the only surprise she had for me though. You see she had talked daddy dearest into letting her quit her job and become mortal."
"Wow." Salmoneus said simply.
"Yeah, that was kind of my reaction as well. When I asked her what would happen if she did leave Mount Olympus she matter of factly told me that not one person on the planet would ever invent anything knew. The quest for knowledge would stop and nothing would ever change." Autolycus belted a rock larger than his head with his right foot and again began limping down the trail. "Later that night I sneaked out leaving the Dear Jane message beside our bed. I thought I'd made it clear why I was leaving, that I couldn't be responsible for humanities stagnation no matter how happy it would make me to be with her." That I couldn't be close to her and not do anything she asked. He thought to himself.
"It's pretty obvious she didn't understand." Salmoneus said quietly. "Hey for what it's worth I'm glad you ditched her. But I still think giving her the diamond was a mistake."
"I couldn't help it. The thing suddenly felt dirty. I was ashamed that I had it when she was standing there." Autolycus mumbled.
"Boy, you really do have it bad." Salmoneus whispered to himself.
Later that evening Autolycus and Salmoneus sat in a tavern spending their few remaining dinars on cheap wine and a place to sleep by the fire that night.
"So whash th' plan?" A bleary eyed and merry Salmoneus asked.
"We got to fin' more fieves." Autolycus said around a belch.
"Great! Good nidea...Howesactly?" Salmoneus asked before passing out, his forehead smacking onto the table sending their amphora flying. Autolycus plucked it out of the air with the reflexes of a cat. He sat staring at his outstretched hand wondering what it was doing in the air with the amphora. His alcohol-numbed mind suggested that he was about to pour himself a drink. He shrugged and did just that, filling the snoring Salmoneus' goblet first.
"I'll tell you in the morg - In th' mon...Tomorrow." Autolycus said before he too passed out.
Athena sat beside the bar arms folded across her chest tapping her foot angrily on the floor. Autolycus had never drunk that much when she had known him. She wasn't sure why she had followed him here. She was sure, however, that she was still angry with him. She quietly walked over and lifted his head out of the pool of wine he was trying to breathe in. He snorted and his eyelids fluttered as she moved his face away from the wine and let his head smack onto the dry part of the table. She smiled as he lay there his face contorted into a half smile half grimace by the fall. Silently she cursed herself as she sat down beside him and prepared to spend the night watching over him.
Gabrielle shivered in the desert night air. "Xena are you sure we should be stumbling around in the dark like this?" She asked. Xena held Gabrielle's hand in one hand and led Argo by the reigns with the other.
"Trust me you do not want to travel this desert when the sun is up. Besides if we keep this pace up we'll be there by morning."
"Okay. But I think we just passed a brass monkey crying his eyes out."
Xena snorted a laugh and pulled one of the blankets off of the saddle roll. She tenderly wrapped the chittering Gabrielle in it. "Better?" She asked.
"Much." Gabrielle said leaning into Xena. The warrior put a protective arm around the little bard's shoulders as they continued their journey.
Sorme blearily came out of his trance. He was still in the Wolf and he mentally shuddered at the sharp metallic taste of blood in his mouth. Most of the desert creatures were nocturnal and the Wolf usually found an abundance of food during its wanderings.
He sighed inwardly and prepared to slip back into the safety of his trance. Suddenly the wolf halted in its lopping gate and sniffed the air excitedly. There was a new scent in the desert. Something large and complex. He pinpointed the direction of the scent on the light night-time breeze and hesitatingly took a step towards the new and intoxicating odour. Prey.
Sorme recognised the scent of leather and horses and perhaps a light feminine sweetness. He froze as he realised the Wolf was heading straight for a mounted traveller. A woman.
With horror Sorme was almost overpowered by a crystal clear vision from his nightmare. A lone girls throat torn out by his teeth. Blood and flesh being savoured by his other half while he was helpless to stop it. The Wolf continued to stalk the new creatures in its domain.
Xena heard the skitter of claws on rough gravel-sand and Argo gave a low whiney and cast a look to Xena that positively screamed WOLF. Xena laid a reassuring hand on Argo's quivering neck and smiled to the horse. Argo stopped shaking and pretended nothing was wrong as they walked in the pre-dawn silence of the desert.
Gabrielle dozed in the saddle, her face buried in Argo's mane she was oblivious to everything that was going on around her.
Cautiously Xena loosened her Chakram and turned her body slightly to give her a better degree of attack on the wolf. She was sure that it couldn't be a real wolf that stalked them. They never came anywhere near this part of the world and they rarely hunted alone. Her ears told her there was only one hunter in the darkness. Xena smiled to herself and span the Chakram with practised ease around her index finger. No there are two hunters tonight. She thought.
The Wolf was puzzled. The prey was far larger than anything he had ever seen before. Instinctively he knew he might be hurt without others of his pack. A momentary grief welled up in the Wolf's mind for the pack mates he had never known. He wanted to howl his loneliness and desolation to the stars but now was not the time for such emotion. Sorme felt a momentary pang of pity for his wolf-half, which would eternally walk the deserts alone. The pity was quickly replaced by fear as Sorme found the Wolf stalking the traveller once again.
Xena listened to the clipped footsteps of the predator and frowned. Argo had definitely said wolf but the sounds from the desert said man. She listened more intently, her suspicions were confirmed. The assailant was moving on two feet not four. Argo's nose very rarely let her down though and Xena was reluctant to dismiss her friend's silent assessment of the danger.
She decided to wait for the attack instead of risking hurting a person. Argo glanced to Xena for reassurance and continued her sedate pace through the desert night, every sense searching the terrain and her muscles bunched and ready for attack.
"Oooww." Salmoneus groggily came to. He suddenly wished he hadn't bothered. His mouth tasted - Well he wasn't sure he wanted to know what on earth tasted as bad as the flavour his tongue had acquired over night. His head felt as though someone had beaten him repeatedly with a blacksmith's hammer. No, actually it felt like someone had beaten him with a blacksmith's anvil.
Autolycus staggered to his feet and mutely pushed away from the table. He expertly dodged and weaved his way past the stationary tables and chairs before falling through the doors and out into the street. Athena stifled a laugh as Autolycus landed face first in the dust.
A horse trough a few feet in front of him seemed to be giving the sirens song. His head felt terrible and his body craved water. Like a zombie Autolycus moaned and dragged himself closer to the water trough. He painfully hauled himself up onto his elbows and stared down into the stagnant pool before him. Some kind of pond weed, green and slimey, covered most of the surface. Strange, long legged, insects skimmed around on the water. Autolycus splashed headfirst into the water and sat there for a long time blowing bubbles.
Salmoneus cursed as he stepped out into the bright morning sunshine. His bloodshot eyes blinked and streamed tears as the sunlight stabbed into them. He staggered forward then gave a small shriek followed by a hiccup with aspirations of becoming a burp. It took him a couple of seconds to figure out the dripping monster before him was Autolycus - Covered in brown and green slime.
"That's better. Sort of." Autolycus mumbled as he scraped the worst of the muck off his shoulders. He was steaming slightly in the hot sunshine. "Why?" He asked Salmoneus who seemed to be preoccupied with the complex art of standing still without swaying.
"Don't know. Seemed like a good idea at the time." Salmoneus answered, still trying to stand up straight.
"Never again." Autolycus said vehemently.
"Right." Salmoneus dubiously agreed.
Athena, invisible and silent to the world of mortals, rolled around in front of the tavern killing herself laughing at the ooze covered Autolycus.
"Athena?" Aphrodite asked as she strolled up behind the giggling goddess.
"'Ditie?" Athena yelped as she jumped to her feet and dusted off her once brilliant white gown.
"Little sis' you really ought to take better care of yourself." Aphrodite, clad in a barely decent leather hunter's outfit, smiled and snapped her fingers, bathing Athena in a pure white light. Suddenly Athena was dressed in exactly the same fashion as Aphrodite. She gave a startled little yelp and covered her almost naked body with her hands for one brief moment before she remembered that no one but her sister could see her. Anger flashed in her eyes and she snapped her fingers, once again clad in the ivory gown she balled her fists and put them firmly on her hips.
Aphrodite imitated the gesture and stuck her chest out in a fair imitation of Athena's pose. Unfortunately the leather of her ensemble was held in a little to tightly and her breasts almost escaped the outfit's tenuous hold on them.
"Oops," she said with a little shrug that almost completed her bosoms bid for freedom.
"Why don't you ever put normal clothes on before you leave the house?" Athena asked in exasperation.
"'Cos it drives pops nuts. And you of course." Aphrodite started to laugh almost breaking whatever grip her bustier had left. Athena quickly put a hand over her mouth and told her to breathe out. Slowly.
"So whatcha doin'?" Aphrodite asked, her eyes twinkling with laughter.
"Nothing." Athena said quickly.
"Something is going on around here. I can feel it. Something big." The goddess of love sniffed the air experimentally. She looked critically at Athena then shook her head as if dismissing some notion. Slowly she moved passed the little Goddess and cautiously sniffed her way closer to Autolycus. Suddenly she clapped her hands in delight as she found Autolycus.
He yanked off his shirt and hosed the green ooze off his face and torso with the aid of a water skin supplied by the still staggering Salmoneus. His muscular frame glistened in the bright morning sunlight.
"Well helloooo, there!" Aphrodite sang. "My, he's a big one isn't he?" She asked over her shoulder.
Behind her Athena rolled up her sleeves and popped her knuckles, glaring at the back of her big sisters blonde curls.
"Down girl. He's spoken for." Athena growled.
"Don't be silly." Aphrodite said casually. "He's in love with someone certainly but it's nothing I can't get past." She said it matter of factly.
"I don't think you heard me, dearest sister. Let me rephrase it. BACK OFF HONEY!" Athena hollered and span Aphrodite around to face her.
"What?!" Aphrodite's surprise at being bodily yanked around quickly turned to an even more profound shock. Her eyes went wide and she slowly looked over her shoulder to Autolycus then she seemed to trace an invisible line between him and her still fuming sister. She suddenly burst out laughing.
Athena glared at her for a minute then she too laughed a little helplessly. "It's not funny, 'Ditie! I can't help it. And it's all your fault!"
"My fault?! But you know I can't affect the other God's. Well, not for long anyway. This is all down to you kiddo and maybe equally down to him." Aphrodite was still laughing but she was looking at her bookish little sister in a whole new light. "I guess there's more of dad in you than I thought...Ow!" Athena punched her on the arm and absently moved a rock out of the path of Autolycus.
"Why'd you do that?" Aphrodite wailed, rubbing her stinging arm.
"He's developed this habit of kicking rocks recently and I'd rather he didn't break anything." Athena mumbled as she followed Autolycus with her gaze.
"That's not what I...Oh, forget it! Why are you following him in stealth mode any way?" Aphrodite asked petulantly.
"Stealth Mode? That's just about the dumbest name I've ever heard for what we do!" Athena said with heavy derision.
"Stop evading the question! How come we're invisible?" Aphrodite demanded.
Athena gave her a pained look. "Because he jilted me." She said quietly.
"No he didn't." Aphrodite could quite clearly see the line of energy crackling between Autolycus' heart and her sisters'. "At least I don't think he did. Did he?" She was getting confused signals from both of them.
"Yes. He did." Athena said in that same quiet voice.
"Why?" Aphrodite asked bluntly.
"I don't know. He gave some pretty lame excuses in the letter-" She was interrupted by a gasp from Aphrodite.
"He used a letter to break up with you? With MY sister?! Oh he is TOAST!" Aphrodite whirled on Autolycus, arms raised in a gesture that spoke of lightning bolts, or worse.
"No 'Ditie! No!" Athena jumped between her raging sister and Autolycus.
"Let me hurt 'im. Just a little...Please?" Aphrodite hissed through clenched teeth.
"No! Just leave him be." Athena said firmly.
Aphrodite powered down and enfolded her sister in a hug with a sad sigh. "Why haven't you just, you know, pulled the reason for his stupidity out of his mind?" She asked, stroking her sisters reddish brown locks softly.
"I didn't want to do that 'Ditie it seems kind of like an invasion or something. I don't know, it just doesn't seem right to do that to him." Athena gazed up into her big sisters beautiful, azure blue, eyes. Her own golden brown eyes pleading for understanding. Aphrodite was not the dumb blonde she often pretended to be. She understood, probably better than any of the other Gods what was going on in Athena's heart. She glared at the back of the retreating Autolycus. You hurt her again and you'll regret it for the few seconds of life that will remain to you - and then I think I'll tell Hades what you've done. The afterlife won't be very pleasant for you either mortal.
Autolycus shuddered and shook in the glorious, warm, sunshine as Aphrodite bored holes in the back of his head with her eyes.
"What's up with you?" Salmoneus asked as Autolycus looked furtively around him.
"I don't know. It felt like someone just walked over my grave." Autolycus said with a slight nervous glance at the place where the invisible goddesses stood.
Aphrodite smiled evilly to herself.
Autolycus shuddered again.
Sorme threw the total of his will at the Wolf, trying desperately to stop it from attacking the rider. The Wolf didn't even notice his attempt as it paced backwards and forwards behind Xena's trail waiting for the right time to attack.
There was a pale grey glow lighting the sky to the east and the Wolf knew dawn was less than an hour away.
If there was ever going to be a hunt this night it would have to be soon. Time was running out.
Sorme followed the Wolf's thoughts. At dawn the transformation would reverse and once again he'd be in charge. I only need an hour. Just one hour. He pleaded silently of whoever or whatever had created him.
Xena could hear the pacing become more anxious and disjointed. The attack would come in the next few minutes. She placed her hand on Argo's shoulder and the horse turned to face her. She fixed the horse with piercing blue eyes and looked meaningfully at Gabrielle. Argo understood. She had to get the little one away when the predator came. Argo snorted her assent. Xena smiled thankfully to her friend and moved her hand to the hilt of her sword.
The Wolf was loosing time. But the prey was so big he couldn't think of any safe way to attack it. Beside the largest of the group what appeared to be it's young walked and another smaller one lay on top of the leader of the group. He decided to try and pick off the one walking beside it's mother. It was just possible that he could scare the mother into fleeing with its other child. Sorme began silently screaming as the Wolf tensed and ran forward, lunging to the kill.
Xena heard the moment of the Wolf's decision. It was only the slightest of pauses in its stalking gate but it gave her time to draw her sword and slap Argo on the rump. Argo took her cue and bolted. Gabrielle, suddenly awakened by the bouncing run, clung to the horse in fright. "Whoooooaaaaaa!" She yelled but Argo ignored her. She had other orders.
The Wolf sprinted for the trio and almost fell over himself when he saw the young one turn and slap the big leader, making her run faster than the Wolf would have thought possible. It was too late to stop the attack now though so he fastened his attention on Xena and gave a soul-piercing howl before leaping at her face.
Xena calmly watched the Wolf spring at her. She quickly grabbed a handful of the thick chest fur and slammed her knee into his gut as she rolled backwards under the attack. In the middle of the roll she threw the Wolf with all her strength. He howled again, this time with surprise as he sailed headfirst into a sand dune. What is that thing? Xena thought as she lay on the sand.
Flipping off her back and onto her feet again, she whirled to see him shaking a cloud of fine sand off his pelt before turning an appraising gaze on the Warrior Princess. It's shaped roughly like a man but it's definitely part wolf. Argo was right. I guess we both were. Xena thought. The Wolf kept his head low as he advanced on her. Slowly this time, carefully keeping out of reach of the woman.
Xena favoured the canine with a chilling smile and span her sword expertly around her body. All the while boring into the golden eyes of the predator with her own shining blue eyes.
The Wolf kept glancing from the bright blue eyes that seemed to be constantly seeking his to the whirling blade of steel that sliced through the air with a sound that hurt his ears.
Sorme was panting heavily in his silent prison. If the warrior killed the Wolf, he too would die. He was planning to end his torture but not until he had seen Merthanon safely back to his own world. The old man needed Sorme to keep him grounded. He would have destroyed himself years ago if Sorme hadn't been there to place a restraining hand on his more exotic experiments.
He noted that the light was getting brighter as the Wolf stalked the wary warrior before him. What is a warrior doing out here? Where could she possibly have been going out here, in the middle of nowhere? He asked himself. There was only one thing in this part of the desert, Merthanon's castle. The cold smile the warrior gave him did little to allay his fears for his friend's fate. Especially as the other one had escaped on a horse and was heading straight for the castle.
The Wolf really only wanted to make her stop the noise as he snapped at her then darted back out of range of the sword. He easily dodged the lightning fast movements Xena made with the weapon. Xena betrayed no sign of the surprise she felt at the speed of the attack. She steeled herself for a difficult fight. The Wolf looked strong and was probably even quicker than she was.
The noise was still irritating the Wolf, distracting him almost as much as those hypnotic blue eyes. The prey began to back away from him. Slowly, the Wolf kept pace, not chancing anything until he was sure he knew what this quarry was doing.
The hunt was not going well, he conceded. But perhaps the night might still prove fruitful. He only had a few precious minutes before the dawn, yet he felt that he could indeed win this fight. Sorme hoped with all his heart that he could not, he again re-lived the nightmare of the Wolf's kill.
The Wolf attacked and was beaten back by a calculated slash of the sword. Again he lunged past her defences only to be tripped and sent crashing to the sand. He rolled out from under a sword stroke that would have cleaved his skull in two.
The Wolf and The Warrior Princess appeared to be evenly matched as the battle continued. For every scratch drawn by claws another was cut by the sword. Minutes passed as they stalked one another in the steadily growing light of the pre-dawn desert.
Xena retreated to a large triangular slab of sandstone jutting out of the desert sand. If she could get on top of the rock she had an even better chance of keeping the Wolf, or whatever it was, at bay. Like the minnotaur? She mused as she barely dodged a swift slash from the Wolf's clawed hands.
She whipped the blade at the face of the creature and caught an involuntary blink as he dodged backwards. She quickly kicked him in the gut before he had time to re-open his eyes. He grunted even as he side-stepped a downward blow from the sword, crouched and snapped at the legs of the Warrior Princess.
Xena back flipped away from the attack and carefully fixed the position of the rock in her mind as she came to earth and flipped again. Twice more and she had enough momentum to launch herself to the top of the ten foot high boulder. The Wolf swiped at her stomach as he ran after her. Xena twisted slightly in mid leap and avoided the claws. Before the first swipe was complete the Wolf slashed at her with the other hand. But Xena was already high in the air and out of range of the Wolf.
The Wolf's attack cut through thin air and then crashed into the stone. Sparks flew, as his claws cut through the rock like a hot knife through butter. Four deep rents had been sliced into the spot where Xena had been half a second before. Ouch. That must have hurt. Xena thought as the Wolf absently licked at a small cut on his index finger.
He glared up at her with those almost human eyes. Xena drew in a sharp quick breath, those eyes were a lot more human than she had first suspected. She had learned a long time ago to always look into the eyes of your opponent. Given time you can tell everything you need to know about a person from that one glance into their eyes. Into their soul. Person. Yes this is a person. At least there is someone inside there...Somewhere. Question is can I reach them? Xena carefully began to note the details of the wolf-man. He was taller than she was; it was something that had registered the first time she had seen him. More muscular too.
Something shiny winked in the pre-dawn silence. A metallic chain hung from the Wolf's neck. Xena strained to see what the object was. The Wolf began to circle the rock. Never taking his eyes from the Warrior Princess. Once he was on the western side of the rock Xena could clearly see the silver amulet that hung from his neck. It was a very plain looking thing with no gem's or any decoration. The sort of bauble you could pick up in marketplaces all over the world.
A shaft of pure illuminating sunlight stuck Xena as she crouched on the rock, bathing her in the golden gift of Apollo. Xena stood up quickly as the Wolf growled and collapsed to the sand. The amulet mirrored the sunlight then grew brighter still until Xena had to avert her eyes from the impossibly bright light.
When the light died a teenage boy lay crumpled in the sand. Naked, except for the still glowing amulet locked around his neck, Sorme passed out from the pain of the transformation. He had been totally unprepared for the return to his own shape, so enwrapped was he in the fight with Xena.
Xena stared down at the young man with total disbelief. Then she shrugged; she'd seen weirder things than this recently. Cautiously she leapt from the stone and landed nimbly beside the unconscious boy. Sword in hand she advanced on him.
Salmoneus eyed a beautiful young woman as she struggled under the weight of several bags and totteringly made her way through Corinth Marketplace. Even bogged down with the baggage the girl had a dancers grace and an unconscious elegance that was plain in every movement she made. He whistled softly to himself as she staggered past Autolycus and nearly fell over the small pack he had just...borrowed.
Autolycus felt the girl stumble behind him and he turned and automatically reached out to catch her. She fell into his arms and slumped into the embrace as she totally lost her footing. Autolycus winked at her and set her back up on her feet again. The girl blushed and gave him a smile that was positively dazzling. She cast a look of wickedness out from under her thick, dark lashes. Autolycus smile was practically a leer as the girl walked with a slow, sensual, strut into a tavern a few feet away from him. He started to follow and suddenly found himself knocked to the ground by a frantic little trader.
A horse manure covered man bellowed with rage as he crashed through stalls and booths in his attempt to catch the merchant.
The trader quickly stumbled to his feet and gave a little yelp as he saw how close his pursuer had come to catching him. He bolted around a corner, the fragrant wrangler hot on his heels.
Athena and Aphrodite gave each other a high five as Autolycus painfully got to his feet.
"Nicely done, 'Ditie." Athena laughed.
"Thanks. I always try and use the materials on hand..." She broke off as the merchant and wrangler completed their circuit of the tavern and once again crashed into Autolycus.
Autolycus suddenly found himself entwined with a smelly wrangler and a terrified merchant. Today, he decided, sucked.
He grabbed the manure caked man and lifted him off of himself. Getting the guy as far away from his nose was suddenly a big priority for Autolycus and he hurled the man into the watching crowd. The little trader cowered behind him, clutching onto Autolycus' leg, pointing to the wrangler with a shaking hand he gibbered something about a discount. Autolycus paused then threw the little pest after the wrangler. A cry of triumph and one of chagrin came out of the crowd as the two met.
"Feel better?" Salmoneus asked politely.
"Feel like joining them?" Autolycus growled.
"Not really. How are the supplies coming?"
"Slowly. It's hard to find everything you need in a marketplace this size."
"What do you mean? Corinth market is one of the largest in Greece." Salmoneus said in a perplexed voice.
"I know. It just seems like there is something better to steal only a few stalls away. And something better than that another booth over and so on and so on."
"We are in kind of a hurry you know. Time and tide and all that stuff."
"Alright but I still don't see what good going to the islands will do. They don't have anything to steal but goats."
"Well if somebody hadn't gone and thrown away a diamond as big as my fist, which we have already been paid a hefty deposit for I might add, we wouldn't be reduced to hiding in the island villages anyway!"
"I take your point." Autolycus mumbled and glanced appraisingly at a fat purse hanging from an equally fat merchant's belt as he cheered on the impromptu wrestling match in the middle of the market. Autolycus casually walked up beside the man and began bawdily cheering on the two combatants.
He slapped the plump merchant companionably on the shoulder and grinned down at the little man as the fight raged on. The fight abruptly broke apart as the little trader struggled free of a headlock and sprinted into the crowd. The wrangler beat the ground in frustration then took off after the merchant.
"Nice fight." Autolycus said as he waved good bye to the now purse-less merchant and disappeared into the crowd.
"Where'd you go?" Salmoneus asked of the space Autolycus had been occupying only moments before.
A hand placed itself firmly over his mouth and dragged him backwards into an alleyway.
"Mrrmf?" Salmoneus managed before he was spun round to face Autolycus.
"Let's go." Autolycus hissed and crept silently down the alley to the harbour.
Salmoneus heard a cry of: "Thief!" Behind him and he suddenly found himself jogging after his friend.
Hermes dodged to one side as a frantic merchant bolted straight towards him. He turned to watch the little man's attempt at the land speed record and shuddered slightly as a smelly horseman ran straight through him. Hermes grimaced, he hated it when people walked through his astral form.
It was a profoundly disturbing sensation and one he tried to avoid at all costs. He spitefully tripped the wrangler with a snap of his fingers. The luckless man sailed headfirst into pile of fertiliser being shipped from the cattle market. He smirked as the man came up for air, spitting straw...and worse.
"Yuck!" Aphrodite made a face at the man's predicament as she flashed into place beside her brother.
"I don't think what he just said began with 'Y' but the rest of it sounded pretty close." Hermes chuckled.
"So what are you doing here bro?" Dite asked.
"Looking for you and Athena actually. Dearest Dad's got a message for you here." He patted one of the many scrolls that filled his bag.
"Athena?" Aphrodite called to the sky.
"What's up?....I'm busy..." Came the distracted reply.
"Un-glue your eye's from his butt for two minutes and get over here. Hermes has a message from Pop's for us."
Athena muttered something unintelligible and suddenly appeared in a flash of light beside her siblings.
"Whose butt?" Hermes inquired sweetly.
"Never mind!" Athena answered, her ears flaming.
"Lil' Athena's got a crush on a...Ow! That's twice today you've hit me Athena! I'm gonna tell Dad on you!" Aphrodite rubbed her numb arm and glared petulantly at her baby sister.
"Please, Dite! Let's just keep this between ourselves shall we?"
"You mean like a secret?" Dite perked up immediately, ignoring her stinging arm. "Just between you and me?"
Athena nodded. The Goddess suddenly caught her in a hug and giggled girlishly. "Just like sisters!" She said in a voice choked with emotion.
Athena was a little confused, she knew the relationships of the God's were a little more obscure than the simple terms of 'Sister' and 'Brother' allowed for but she had always taken the situation for granted. It appeared that the Goddess of Love however felt a lot differently about their family situation.
Athena hugged her sister fiercely and whispered: "We are sisters and that is never going to change." She looked into her big sisters shining blue eyes and rubbed noses with her. They both stepped back from one another laughing, still holding hands.
"Very nice you two. That was so sweet my teeth are aching just looking at you!" Hermes said pretending to stick his fingers down his throat and began mock throwing up in the street.
The girls grabbed him and kissed the top of his balding head....Several times.
"Gerroff!" He yelled, laughing and struggling to get away from his apparently quite mad relations. "Catch!" He yelped. He quickly clicked his heals together and rose off the ground, tossing a scroll to them as he went.
Aphrodite caught the scroll and passed it to Athena as she chased after Hermes, giggling and blowing kisses to the portly messenger of the Gods. Hermes was doing some gesturing of his own, although a little less sweetly.
Athena unrolled the scroll as Aphrodite gave up the pursuit and returned to her side.
"What's it say?" She asked.
"I'm supposed to give Autolycus back the Diamond he gave me..."
"He proposed to you?" Aphrodite said with wide eyed innocence.
Athena gave her sister a withering look and continued: "We are also supposed to get him and that deplorable little merchant to Egypt by night fall. The normal rules have been suspended...We are to use all the means at our disposal to link him up with Merthanon."
Aphrodite gasped at the mention of the Lost One's name. "Do we actually have to go near him? I mean, does he say we need too...well you know what I mean!" She floundered helplessly with her unease.
Athena knew only too well. Every God was, at best, wary of Merthanon. He was the one mortal on the planet that their powers had absolutely no effect on. He was also the only mortal whose destiny was totally hidden from them. The Fates did not hold any sway over the man who had come from another universe.
"I think I do." Athena said quietly.
The two Goddesses looked to one another for re-assurance, then they both vanished.
Gabrielle's butt was now thankfully numb after the frenzied whacking it had taken during Argo's gallop. Years of being around the horse had lessened her fear and she considered Argo a friend but right now Gabrielle was seriously considering kicking her all the way back to Greece.
Argo shot her an apologetic glance which the bard loftily ignored as she trailed back through the desert. Wincing with each step she followed the hoof marks which were now becoming easier to read in the early morning sunlight.
The horse whinnied sorrowfully to herself and started plodding along behind Gabrielle. Gabrielle glared at her over her shoulder and stalked off down a dune, filling her boots with sand as she did so. The grating sensation around her feet did little to improve her mood.
Argo nudged her hopefully in the back, trying to get her to re-mount. Gabrielle stumbled from the push and turned to let Argo have a piece of her mind. Argo flattened her ears to the sides of her head and bore the worst of the insults, blinking only at the most blistering shrieks of the tirade. Gabrielle was a bard and a whole wealth of material sprang to her lips as she told the shame-faced equine exactly what she thought of her.
Not far away Xena scrambled up a dune with the young man slung over her shoulder. The sun was already becoming hot and she still had a long way to go. Sleeping Beauty is only going to get heavier too. Xena thought. The boy-man was only slightly shorter than Xena and he was not exactly an easy burden to carry. She wiped the sweat out of her eyes and stumbled up yet another dune in the seemingly never ending ocean of sand.
Snatches of conversation were carried to her ears on the hot, arid, morning breeze. Xena thought she could hear Gabrielle screeching like a Cretian fishwife at somebody. Hallucinating. The word "Donkey!" carried more distinctly than the rest, possibly because Gabrielle's voice almost cracked with the scream. Xena squinted suspiciously at the sun. Sunstroke? Already?
Gabrielle sat at the base of a dune and tried to catch her breath. She had been yelling at Argo for almost half an hour and although she hated to admit it she was too tired to shout at her anymore. In fact she'd used up all the anger and worry she felt at being separated from Xena in her outburst. Her rear end was no longer stinging and she was sorry she'd hit Argo with all her fear and anxiety.
Argo waited until she was sure the bard wasn't going to start up again, she shook her ears and rolled her eyes heavenward as she nuzzled into the girls neck. Gabrielle started a little at the touch but she soon settled. She stood and hugged the horse's neck, apologising into her mane.
Argo whinnied comfortingly. Xena's scent came to her on the breeze, she was carrying the Wolf thing but it smelled a little differently now. More like a tame dog. Argo still wasn't sure she liked Xena being close to that wolf but it was her decision.
"I'm just worried about Xena, you know? I don't know what came over you, running like that and all. But you've never ran from anything unless she asked you too..."
"That's right. I did ask her to. Which begs the question, what she's doing back here?" Xena asked the horse acidly, her left eyebrow arched expectantly.
"Xena!" Gabrielle cried. "What's that over your shoulder? Wait a minute, don't tell me. You just happened to find the only guy dumb enough to go wandering around the desert at night. Naked I might add."
"Something like that." Xena said. Argo shuffled her feet apologetically.
"How did you get back here so fast? I told Argo to get you out of here." Xena asked.
"I jumped off her when she slowed down to climb a hill." Gabrielle said. She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "You told her to run like that?"
"Uh-huh...Ow!" Xena broke off as Gabrielle punched her in the gut.
"Don't you ever do that to me again. I thought we'd gotten past that whole: "Protect little Gabrielle" kick of yours. C'mon Warrior Princess drop nature boy and I'll show ya just how tough I can be!" Gabrielle growled, spinning her staff expertly around her body.
"Enough already. I'm sorry, I just didn't want to wake you and risk scaring him off." Xena sighed and lowered Sorme to the ground.
"Scare who off? The terrifying naked guy...Ooooo I'm scared!" Gabrielle hugged herself and pretended to shake with fright.
"Knock it off! He was some kind of wolf last night. He's faster than me and stronger than both of us put together, in fact I wouldn't be surprised if he's as strong as Hercules. He only changed into the "Terrifying naked guy" this morning when the sun hit that pendant around his neck." Xena pulled out the blanket she had used to cover Gabrielle the night before and wrapped the boy in it.
"He was a wolf?" Gabrielle asked incredulously.
"Yes, ask Argo if you don't believe me." She picked him up and slung him over the horses back.
Gabrielle turned to Argo. "Was he really a....what am I saying?! She's got me talking to the horse!" Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders and loosened her grip on the staff.
"And you wonder why she doesn't talk to you?" Xena asked scratching Argo's ears. "You won't even talk to her!"
"Let's just get to this Merthanon's Castle of yours. And before I burn to a crisp. I'm lighter skinned than you, I'll be redder than a very, very, red thing soon." Gabrielle muttered.
The Visionary continues here...
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