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Murder at the Academy of the Performing Bards

by Becky Lutzke (deanlu)

They say stories are born out of ones soul. Perhaps they are right. But to write a story one must know both sides of the soul. Hopefully one never drowns in the wrong side!- The Enforcer

Chapter 1

Gabrielle walks along, excitement in her voice. "You know you didn't have to come along!" Xena looks down from Argo at her friend. These were the moments Xena loved about Gabrielle. When Gabrielle was in her element, happy and safe.

"No! I wanted to come. It will be nice to rest. I'll finally get to meet these friends you talk about so much."

Gabrielle smiles up at her friend. Secretly, inside, she was hoping that Xena wanted to come along. She had grown use to having Xena by her side. The thought of being apart from Xena was not something she relished. When the message had come to her three days earlier that her presence was requested at a Bard contest at the Academy, she had been overjoyed! But she had to contain any thoughts of going till they had dispatched the warlord Aristos. Xena and Gabrielle had wandered into a village that he was threatening. And as things happened most of the time, they stayed to help the villagers. It hadn't taken long. He wasn't as skilled or as agile as Xena. Aristos had openly challenged Xena to a fight to the death. Xena had quickly agreed. The fight didn't last very long. But Aristos had landed a lucky shot to Xenas head with the flat of his sword. Gabrielle shudders. She thinks about what would have happened if it had been the edge. But it wasn't. She pushed those thoughts as far down as possible. Even after Xena had run Aristos through with her sword, the army had still attacked. But the soldiers battled only half heartedly now that there was no one to lead them. Gabrielle had tried to figure out why they had attacked at all.

Enough she thought. I'll wonder on this later. They were only a few miles from the academy. Xena would get the rest she needed and time to heal. She did seem more relaxed than usual. Gabrielle could hear her humming a familiar song. She alway did that when she was thinking of home. Then suddenly the humming stopped. Gabrielle looked up to see Xena had gone rigid. Her eyes were staring down the road toward a stranger. A young man, tall and muscular waited in the middle of the road. He was dressed in normal clothing, but had a sword hanging from his side. He didn't seem to be threatening, but Xena wasn't about to take any chances. Gabrielle looked harder at the young man.

"Stay here Gabrielle!" Xena started to moved Argo forward.

"Xena, wait. It's OK!" A smile breaks over Gabrielles face. Just as Xena is about to ask why, Gabrielle runs forward and hugs the young man!!

"Stallones! How are you? What are you doing here? I thought you were training for the Olympics??"

He hugs Gabrielle back and laughs. "Gabrielle! Always full of questions aren't you. If you must know, I'm here to escort you back to the Academy. As for your other questions, I'll tell you as we walk back."

"As long as it's not acted out!" Gabrielle chides Stallones. Stallones snickers softly.

"Gabrielle, Aren't you going to introduce me to your friend??" Xena has moved up next to the two.

Gabrielle looks over a little embarrassed. "I'm sorry. Xena, this is Stallones. Stallones this is my best friend, Xena."

Xenas eyebrow rises and she gets a smirk on her face. "I've heard a lot about you."

Stallones looks at Gabrielle comprehending Xenas meaning. "Its all true, fortunately." He smiles and places a hand gently on Gabrielles shoulder. "So you are the Great Warrior Princess that Gabrielle has told us so much about. It's nice to meet you finally. Any friend of Gabrielles is welcome to join us."

"So exactly what has Gabrielle told you about me?" Xena asks curiously.

Changing the subject quickly. "Hadn't we better get going? I mean the competition is going to start soon and I need rest if I'm going to be any good!"

Stallones snorts at this. "Gabrielle you would be good whether you had sleep or not! You could charm a warlord out of his army!" Stallones glances up at Xena.

"You're right about that Stallones." Xena chuckles now and the begin walking down the road.

"I'm not that good." Gabrielle mumbles. Both Stallones and Xena look at each other, shaking there heads. Gabrielle would never admit she was great at storytelling. That was another one of the things Xena liked about her. She had a humility that always searched out the best in everyone else first.

"So Gabrielle, What have you been up to since you left the academy? You know Orion was deeply hurt you didn't stay."

Gabrielle laughs. "I'm sure that he got over it. So what is Orion up to??"

"Well, he's helping organize the bard competition. But I know he is looking forward to seeing you!" Stallones smiles knowingly at Gabrielle, who blushes just slightly. Xena doesn't fail to notice. Obviously there was more to what happen last time then Gabrielle told her. Xena listens to the friends chat back and forth as they move down the road. She can see that Stallones is a good man. Gabrielle always seems to have a knack of choosing her friends well. The talk is amicable and more than one or two little things about Gabrielles time at the academy slip out!

"You all conspired to keep me here!" Gabrielle responds to something Stallones said.

"Yes, but still you left! But I think we all knew where your heart was when you got to the academy." Stallones looks at Xena and Gabrielle looks away. Xena looks at her friend and smiles. Xena had knew it was more than adventure that had brought Gabrielle back.

"So what has been going on at the Academy lately??" Gabrielle asks.

Stallones face clouds up. His voice becomes very soft. "One of our newest Bards, Mearus was killed just a couple nights ago!"

"Killed? By whom?" Gabrielle is stunned to say the least.

"We don't know. He was such a promising Bard. Orion thought his skill at telling a story could even rival yours in time."

Gabrielle looks up at Stallones. "What happened?"

Stallones takes a deep breath. Wiping away the worry on his face. "He was found slumped over his desk with a knife in his back. We think he knew his attacker because there was no struggle."

"What have you done to find his murderer??" Xena asks concerned.

"We did a search of the grounds and everyones room. We questioned all his friends and all those coming and going. But it's such a large school, and with all the extra vendors and people for the competition. It's like searching for a needle in a hay stack. And with nothing much to go on..." Stallones trails off.

"But you are going on with the bard competition!!" Xena states, looking more worried now.

"Orion believes that it was someone that had a grudge against Mearus. The Academy's academic board agrees. They say it was brought from outside and that there is nothing to worry about. But Xena if you knew Mearus, you'd know he had no enemies." Xena can tell Stallones believes what he is saying.

"Everyone has enemies' Stallones! Sometimes we may not know they are there, but we all have them." Xena walks along thinking.

"So that's why you are here to meet us. Isn't it?" Gabrielle asks Stallones.

He looks over at her, "Yes. I don't believe the explanation they gave! And it wouldn't do to have our best bard disappear."

"I can take care of myself!" Gabrielle says. Stallones just nods. The Joy of the day has left now, and all three are thinking about what has been said. The road to the Academy is lined with vendors selling there wears. They reach the Academy and Gabrielle stops to take in the view of all the activity. Everywhere there are people. Mostly bards telling stories, studying scrolls, debating with each other and around them move the servants going about there daily chores. Xena smiles at all the young men and women who have dedicated their lives to something other than war. She had never realized how many there were before. Looking now over the courtyard, she knew for sure Gabrielle and those like her would one day turn the world to peace.

Gabrielle pulls away from Stallones and Xena when she sees Twicanim with a younger group of students. "Twicanim!"

Twicanim turns around and smiles. He quickly walks over to Gabrielle. "Well, I s..s..see they f..f..found you!" He hugs her.

A hand touches her shoulder. Gabrielle turns to see Euripides . "Oh beautiful Rose that graces our presence with her loving beauty!"

Gabrielle laughs and hugs him. "I missed you too!"

"Twicanim and Euripides, I'd like you to meet my friend Xena!" Xena just nods her head.

"So do I get a hug?" Gabrielle and the others turn at the sound of the familiar voice. Standing just off to the side of Stallones is Orion. Gabrielles face lights up. She rushes over and hugs Orion.

Quietly he whispers in her ear, "I missed you!"

She pulls gently from his embrace. "I missed you too!"

Twicanim, Euripides, and Stallones just grin. Xena shakes her head smiling. Only Gabrielle.

"Orion this is my best friend Xena. Xena ..Orion."

"Nice to meet you Orion. I see we made it in time."

"Yes, the contest starts tomorrow. But you both must be tired. I have a room ready for you both. This time Gabrielle it's not the servant quarters." Orion's eyes gleam at the private joke.

Gabrielle laughs, remembering the late nights of storytelling. "The servant quarters weren't so bad. I always had more company than I knew what to do with."

Xena eye brow rises, "I'm missing something here." Orion chuckles.

"Let me get someone to stable your horse. Sage, come here." Orion starts to wave a young girl over.

"No, I'll take care of Argo, myself. You and Gabrielle go on" The young girl has arrived and Xena begins to follow him to the stables.

Gabrielle watches her for a moment and the turns to Orion. "So, How have you been?" They both walk slowly toward the guest quarters.

"All right. Better now that you're here." Gabrielle looks over at him and sees the warm smile she enjoyed so much last time.

"Really?" She blushes slightly. "So Stallones says you there has been some trouble here?"

"Yes, but it was a one time thing. Nothing to worry about." Orion quickly moves the subject along.

Gabrielle lays a hand on Orions shoulder stopping him from their walk. "Orion if there is a problem, Xena and I could help."

Orion looks into her eyes. "No, everything is taken care of. It was just a very bad accident. Please Gabrielle, I'd rather not discuss this now." But Gabrielle has seen the worry there and knows it's not all right. She lets the subject drop for now. Xena has caught up to them.

"I thought you were going to stable Argo?" Gabrielle asks.

"Well, Sage, was just very willing to help out. So I left Argo in her care." Xena says.

"Sage can be rather stubborn, but she loves horses. She'll take good care of Argo. Come on, I'll show you to your room. I think you'll like this one a lot more, than your accommodations last time." He smiles and begins to walk off.

"What does he mean by that?" Xena asks curiously.

"Well, last time I was here. I stayed in the servant quarters." Gabrielle says. Xena looks at her friend. "It wasn't important where I stayed, just that I was here." Gabrielle follows Orion into the guest quarters.

Orion leads them through the halls of the guest house. He comes to a door and opens it to reveal a large room with a fire place. Tapestries line the walls and a window looks out into the courtyard. Two beds face the far wall and a table is laden with fruit, drink and fresh flowers. Gabrielle is speechless. This is more than she expected, even Xena seems to be surprised. Gabrielle turns to Orion. "What ...This can't be for us?!"

"It was the least I could do after the way the Academy and my father treated you! Anyway, we wouldn't want the Warrior Princess to be treated badly!" Orions eyes gleam with delight at Gabrielle's expression. "Dinner will be ready in an hour. If you both would join us then, it will be in the Great Hall." He looks expectantly at Gabrielle.

"Yes, we'll be there." Xena says, enjoying Gabrielle being speechless for once. Orion departs and Gabrielle walks over to the window. She stares out at the place she once thought to call home. Not much had changed. The Great Hall sat at the head of the courtyard. The servants quarters were off to the left. The student rooms to the right. The great Library was just beyond the Great Hall. Gabrielle knew she would have been happy here, but not as happy as traveling with Xena.

Xena interrupts Gabrielle thoughts. "A very nice young man."Xena places her saddlebags on a chair.

"Yes" Gabrielle says, not quite in tune with the conversation

Xena comes to stand behind Gabrielle at the window. "He seems to care a great deal about you."

"Huh?!" Gabrielle turns and looks at her friend. "Oh, yeah, Well Orion is sweet . A really good friend." But Gabrielle mind is onto other things. She turns back to the view and a puzzled expression comes over her face.

"What is it Gabrielle?" Xena sees the change of expression.

"It's nothing really? I was just wondering why anyone would want to kill Mearus ? I mean he was a bard. So he wasn't rich, most likely not a fighter, so why?"

Xena looks at the students quarters and ponders her friends' words. "I don't know Gabrielle. But it could have been something personal. It is strange though."

Gabrielle looks back at her friend. "You're right. I'm going to the library before dinner. Want to come along?" Just then there is a knock at the door and two servants step through carrying a tub. Then they are followed by others carrying hot water.

Xena looks at Gabrielle. "Lets see, Go to a musty old library or stay and take a long hot bath. The bath!" Gabrielle laughs and walks toward the door. "Gabrielle, stay out of trouble."

Gabrielle turns and looks at her friend. "How much trouble could I get in here? Never mind, Don't answer that." And she turns and leaves. Xena shakes her head. Gabrielle could find trouble almost anywhere they went!! But perhaps she was right, maybe there was nothing to worry about. But Xena couldn't shake the nagging feeling she had ever since they arrived. Something more was going on at the Academy. She goes to the window and watches Gabrielle head off toward the library.

Gabrielle walks back out to the courtyard. The courtyard is still bustling with activity. She notices a merchant arguing with a student over a bracelets price. She goes on, heading down the street past the great hall and enters the library. She recognizes a friend from last time seated at the desk. He is talking, well actually arguing with a young woman about the relativity of near death experiences in her stories. The young girl shakes her head and walks back to her desk.

"Democratus, How are you?" Democratus rises up from his chair behind the desk and walks around to hug Gabrielle.

"Gabrielle, So Orion lured you back! Used the nutbread to tempt you, didn't he!" Democratus laugh.

Gabrielle chuckles softly. "No, I came for the competition. I'll be leaving afterwards. Who was that young girl?"

Democratus looks at the young girl seated at the desk. "That's Roo. Yeah, a weird name. But an excellent storyteller. She has a wicked sense of humor too. She's a first year student. So what can I do for you?"

"I'm looking for some new stories to read while I'm here. And maybe hunt up some of those scrolls I was looking for last time I was here."Gabrielle eyes shine in anticipation.

"Go on then. I wouldn't want to keep you. If you need anything, I will be at the front desk."He smiles as Gabrielle wanders off through the library. Every once and a while she stops, pulling a scroll from the shelf. So enthralled in one scroll on Eris, that she doesn't notice the time slip away quickly. The torches now give off the only light as darkness has fell. They cast an eery glow throughout the library. She continues to walk between the shelves reading the scroll, not watching her destination. Then quietly from between the shelves hears a cold voice whisper.


She looks up, searching for the source of the voice. "Yes?" But no one answers back. Shaking her head she shrugs it off. She then notices that she is late and must get back to Xena before she begins to worry. She is near the back of the library now. She slowly walks toward the front, rolling the scroll for study later, When she hears her name whispered again by the same cold voice....


"Who's there?" Gabrielle senses begin to warn her of danger.

A harsh laugh echos through the library. "I'm coming for you. You will be taken soon!" She hears a shuffle near one of the shelves. She slowly creeps to the edge of the shelving and looks around the corner. No one is there. She lets out a sigh, and continues toward the front a little faster. She hears her name again, only a little louder this time.


Gabrielle turns and looks. She sees something move toward the back of the library in the shadows. "This isn't funny you know! Who's there?" She takes a couple of tentative steps forward, when a hand clamps firmly down on her shoulder.

Gabrielle jumps and screams. She swings around to punch with her fist. "Whoa! Gabrielle it's me!" Xena catches her fist. Gabrielle looks at her friend and lets out a slight shudder. She shakes her head laughing nervously.

"You sure know how to sneak up on someone."

Xena gently releases her hand. "Sorry, I thought you heard me call to you. What were you looking at?" Xena knows that Gabrielle doesn't frighten easily, but there is fear in her eye's now.

"Nothing, lets go and eat." Gabrielle walks toward the exit. Xena glances back down the aisle the way Gabrielle was looking. Nothing is there, but from Gabrielle expression, someone was there. She turns and follows Gabrielle. As they leave the library a figure steps out of the shadows. The torch light catches on the edge of a knife in the figures hand.

"Next time Gabrielle, next time." The figure disappears into the shadows.

Chapter 2

Xena catches up with Gabrielle. "What's going on, Gabrielle?"

"Nothing really! I just lost track of time and got involved in the scroll I was reading?" Xena knew there was more to it. Fear had been in Gabrielles eyes and now she was walking as fast as she could. "Come on Xena, I'm hungry!" But Gabrielle couldn't mask the nervous twitch in her voice. Xena sighs, later she would talk with Gabrielle. Orion motions them over to a table as they enter the Great Hall.

"Gabrielle, I never thought you would be late for a meal!" Orion and the others snicker softly. They all remember Gabrielles appetite very vividly. The running joke at the Academy when she was there was that Gabrielles stories were only rivaled by her appetite!

"Sorry, I guess I got a little carried away in reading the scroll I was searching for." Gabrielle immediately begins to fill her plate.

"The Azure Blue of the Ocean depths cannot hold a candle to you Xena!" Euripades smiles appreciatively and Xena shakes her head. That's when Gabrielle notices Xena is wearing a dress, she smiles. This is a rare moment indeed. Xena sees her grin and gives her a sarcastic look. Gabrielle snickers and turns her attention back to her food. But the smile never leaves Gabrielles face.

The Academy is Celebrating tonight for the opening of the Bard Competition. The Hall is gleams in the light. The tables are laden with wine and food. The talk is cheerful and joyous and even Xena finds the mood infectious. Xena glances at Gabrielle and then turns to Orion.

"So Orion, Gabrielle says they call you the blind bard. Why? It's obvious you are not really blind." Orion snickers and looks at Gabrielle.

Gabrielle, you sure haven't told Xena much about your stay here or did you give her the edited version?" Gabrielle knows Orion is teasing, but there were things she didn't think were too important to relate. Mainly anything concerning her helping Orion or the others. The true tale was always about the other person.

"Not s...s..surprising. Gabrielle never s....s...sings her own story." Twicanim responds, giving Gabrielle a soft gently squeeze on her hand. The others nod in agreement.

"Gabrielle helped me to realize the joy again in telling my stories. She helped me to be myself. She is a very wise lady." Orions gaze softens on Gabrielle.

Gabrielle quickly protests though. "Nonsense. I didn't tell you anything you didn't already know." Gabrielle breaks his gaze.

Yes, she does have the habit of doing that for her friends." Xena looks gratefully at Gabrielle. She wished the Bard would for just once acknowledge that she had a great effect on those around her. But Like Twicanim had said, Gabrielle was way too humble for that. One of those things she liked about Gabrielle. While everyone was grabbing for glory, Gabrielle just quietly waited in the background. What she didn't know though was she already had what the others wanted, just by caring and placing others first. Xena thoughts are interrupted as she hears Gabrielle talking to Democratus.

"Democratus. Has anyone ever mentioned seeing ghosts in the library before?"

Democratus snickers softly. "Only the ones in there stories or too much wine. Why?"

Gabrielle looks back at the piece of chicken she is eating. "No reason." But Xena knows better and sees more in Gabrielles question.

"Did you think I was a ghost Gabrielle? Is that what scared you in the library?" Orion and the others lean forward now. Curious as to why Gabrielle was really late for dinner. Orion looks worriedly at Gabrielle. Gabrielle squirms under all of the attention, not quite ready to relate what happened in the library.

"W..What are you talking about Xena?" Twicanim asks.

"When I went to retrieve Gabrielle from the library, she was intently looking toward the back of the library." Xenas eyes hold Gabrielles, demanding an answer. Orion flash fearfully, but no one seems to notice.

"Like someone was speaking in a whisper to you?" Euripades responds. Gabrielle quickly looks at him, searching his face.


"And the voice, was it cold and harsh? Like something from the otherside?" Euripades eyes reflect the fear Gabrielles held earlier.

"Yes, exactly. Like the person knew you. Very haunting and cruel." Gabrielle stares off into space remembering the encounter earlier.

Alarm bells begin to go off in Xenas head. "What did the voice want?"

Gabrielle and Euripades look at each other. Agreeing silently about the same thing. Euripades responds first. "He said he was coming for me? My death I believe." The other faces register shock. But Gabrielle thoughts are beginning to find a thread of commonality.

"Death of the bards", she whispers. "But why?" ponders in deep thought. Orion interrupts there thoughts. "Who would want to kill a bard? We don't harm anyone, we tell stories. No, Your all just hearing things. The library is big and drafty. Voices echo through it. You've caught a piece of a conversation. That's all!" Gabrielles face looks up at Orion. Hurt and puzzlement reflecting there. Xena wonders to herself why Orion would brush this account aside. Even if it's not true, He could weave a story about it. And why did Orions face reflect deep fear.

"Gabrielle and Euripades, is there anything else you can tell us?" Gabrielle looks at Xena. Xena can see she wants to say more, but Orions rebuke won't let her.

"No, just what Euripades said." She looks back down at her plate. Around them tables are being moved. Minstrels are setting up on stage. The group of bards have become quiet and sullen. Around them laughter and talking ring out still. The music strikes up and people begin to dance. The group is forced from it's gloom, by a lone figure that appears next to Orion.

"Care to dance?" Roo asks. Orion smiles and nods to her. Orion looks at Gabrielle, "I'll be back for a dance with you." and off he goes being gently pulled along by Roo. Dianac comes over and asks Euripades for a dance. Then Stallones asks Xena for a dance. The Warrior looks up at Stallones, frowning.

"Go on Xena, you could use some fun." Gabrielle urges.

Xena looks at Gabrielle. It wasn't that she didn't like to dance, it just had been a long time. "All right." Stallones offers her arm and off they go.

Twicanim grabs Gabrielles hand. "This is not a n..nnight for sadness." And he twirls her out onto the dance floor. Well, no matter what they said about Twicanim, Gabrielle decided later, They had better never say he couldn't dance.

As the night wears on Gabrielle watches as Xenas mood lightens. Xena hadn't stopped smiling since the dancing had begun. It was nice to see and Gabrielle wished that smile would never fade from her face. Xena for her part was relieved to see that the fear that was in Gabrielles eyes earlier was now gone. Soon the music is replaced by bards spinning tales of heros and heroines. Gabrielle takes her turn, weaving a tale of her and Xenas encounter with the Thessilian and Mitoan war. Xena listens, barely breathing, as Gabrielle describes the warriors frantic attempts to bring her back and the beauty of the Elysian fields. Everyone watches in silence, hanging on every word of the young bard. All the pain, fear, love and joy reflected in the story. And when the tale ends cheering rises loudly in the hall. Gabrielle shakes her head, unsure of for a moment where she is. She smiles and gets down from the stage.

Another bard takes her place and begins his tale. Soon the audience is drawn into the tale again, but without the wrapped attention given the young bard before him. Gabrielle looks over at Xena, she is talking quietly with Stallones. He seems to be regaling her with a story, as his actions are speaking louder than his words as usual. Gabrielle quietly slips away, not wanting to disturb her friends joy right now.

The moon shines down brightly on the young bard as the cool night air caresses her face softly. She smiles, softly humming as she walks toward the guest residence. Gabrielle hears soft footfalls behind her. She turns thinking Xena has followed her, "Xena I'm fine. G..." But no one is there. She sees some students walking back to there rooms. "Come on Gabrielle, your letting your imagination run." she says under her breath. She continues on and walks though the door of the residence. As she closes the door, the lone light of a lamp in the hallway blows out. Great she thinks, just what I need. She walks slowly and carefully down the hallway toward her room. The in the dark she hears the sound of a boot scraping against the floor.

"Is someone here?" a prickling begins to rise on the back of her neck. In the dark a voice cold and harsh calls out to her...

"Gabrielle, I'm back for you." A hand shoots out and grabs Gabrielle by the throat. Gabrielle steps back and twists trying to free herself, but the grasp of the hand around her throat is too tight. Reacting purely out of instinct her hand shoots up, catching the sharp blade of a dagger. Fire lances through her hand as the blade digs in and in desperation she screams.

"XENA!" She gasps trying to get enough air and tries to keep the knife away. The sickly sweet smell of her assailants breath wafts over her.

"No, you are going to die." The assailant gripes her throat even tighter and pushes forward on the knife with his weight. "Gods Xena where are you?" Gabrielles breath comes in gasps and the spots be fore her eyes start to blot out her awareness. Her grip on the dagger starts to weaken, and she prays that its quick death. The sound of peoples voices and running footsteps can be heard. Desperate she use what air she has left and calls as loud as she can one last time.

"Xena!" It comes out as a ragged gasp. She hears the familiar, " AIAIAIAIAIAYAAAA!" The grip releases from around her throat and she collapses to the ground. Light shines down the hallway, as Xena and Stallones come rushing in. Xena rushes toward Gabrielle, even as the young bard calls her name weakly, "Xena". As Gabrielle slides into unconsciousness she hears Xenas desperate cry, "Gabrielle!", and feels arms reach around her. "I'm here"and blackness covers her.

Xena quickly assesses Gabrielles injuries. Blood streams from her hand and her neck begins to turn black and blue. "Is she..." Stallones asks.

"No, she just unconscious. Quickly help me get her to our room." The rush Gabrielle to the room. Xena checks Gabrielles breathing, reassured she then applies pressure to the cut on Gabrielles hand. "Stallones the saddle bag on the chair, bring it here." Stallones grabs the saddlebag quickly and returns to Xenas side with it. "Here hold this bandage tightly in place." Xena grabs twine and needle and begins stitching slowly on the hand.

"Will she be ok?" Stallones worried eyes watch the even breathing of Gabrielles chest. Anger rises as he sees the bruising around her throat.

"Yes, we got here in time. A little longer though and..." Xena trails off, not wanting to think of what may have happened. "She'd be dead." Stallones voice is flat.

Xena finishes stitching. "Yes, go get the school officials Stallones. I want to talk to them." Stallones looks over at Gabrielle worriedly. "Don't worry, I'll stay with her till you return."

Stallones departs and Xena goes back to examining Gabrielles neck. "You do have a way at finding trouble, don't you?"The bruising is bad, but not too much damage was done from what Xena can tell. She will have to wait and see how Gabrielles voice is when she wakes. Xena lets her head rest on Gabrielles arm, the fear ebbing away.

Stallones returns and Xena has him sit by Gabrielle, while she goes to talk to the officials. She steps into the hall and notices that Only one official and Orion stand there. "Xena this is Madoras, head of the Academy. Is Gabrielle OK?"

"Yes, she should recover fine. But we will have to wait and see about her voice." Xena watches as Orion looks away in pain.

"Xena we need your help. This isn't the first incident." Madoras replies.

Inside Gabrielle wakens, her throat burning and a dull ache in her hand. Fear suddenly washes over her heart and panic sets in. She begins to rise quickly. "No. It's Stallones, your safe Gabrielle."

She relaxes a little. "Xena?" she croaks out in barely a whisper. Stallones helps her sit up and drink a little water.

"She's talking with the school officials. She'll be here in a minute. I'll be here till she returns. Now rest." Gabrielle leans back and closes her eyes. She can hear voices drifting through the door from the hallway. Xenas angry voice, Orions concerned voice, and another trying to remain calm.

"What do you mean this isn't the first such incident?" Staring coolly at Madoras.

Madoras tries to explain under Xenas withering gaze. "Three students have died already. There have been a total of 5 attempts. At first we thought they were random incidents, because they happened so far apart. But now we are not sure."

Xena can't believe what she is hearing. "How come you haven't warned anyone? And Why have a contest when someone is murdering bards??"

"We don't want to alarm anyone!" Madoras says calmly.

"Alarm!" Xena yells, then more quietly remembering Gabrielle in the other room. "Alarm, people are dying! And you don't want to alarm anyone?"

"Xena understand. The Bard Academy is a peaceful place where bards can practice and learn there gift. We hurt no one. We don't want to scare off talented bards because someone has chosen to target them."

Xena shakes her head in disbelief, trying to control her anger for Madoras and the other officials stupidity. "You listen to me. There is going to be more deaths, as long as you ignore this. I suggest you do something now!"

"What do you suggest we do? The assailant attacks without warning. He is quick and quiet. By the time we discover the deaths, he is long gone. Xena there are over 100 students her, not counting staff and servants. How are we to protect them all??" Madoras asks angrily. Xena can tell his anger isn't at her but frustration for a situation he can't do anything about.

"Well for starters, you can have no one go anywhere alone. Have everyone move around in pairs or groups. Secondly, you can try and find out what all the victims have in common, besides being a bard. Third, the assailant obviously knows the academy well. So it's either a student, teacher, or one of the servants. Check it OUT!"

Madoras is appalled. "How can you even suggest that a student or teacher could do this? It's a privilege to come to the Academy. No one would react this way, we are peaceful people."

"Obviously someone isn't! Check on it!" Xena turns on Orion now. "If you cared as much as you say you do for Gabrielle, you would have warned her. I'm holding you, personally responsible for what happened Orion. Don't lie to us again." Orions face falls. Xena angrily she spins around and quietly enters the room. She closes the door and walks toward the bed. Gabrielle is leaning toward Stallones and talking quietly.

"There was nothing I could do. His grip was so tight. And...." Gabrielle words stop as feelings of panic begin to rise again. Stallones quickly responds. "Shhh..Gabrielle, it's ok. We heard your scream. Xena got there in time. No one is going to hurt you, I'll make sure of it." Gabrielle looks up at Stallones trying to give him a smile, but failing.

Xena steps up and lays a hand on Stallones shoulder. "Stallones, I'll take care of Gabrielle now. Meet me back here in the morning and be careful." Stallones looks down at Gabrielle before leaving. Xena bolts the door behind him. Xena sits down in the chair next to the bed. She rechecks Gabrielles hand and throat. She softly swears under her breath. She can't forget Gabrielles scream that echoed into the Great Hall. It had chilled her soul. She had never run so fast in all her life.

Gabrielle watches her friend face. Seeing the anger there, she thinks Xena is mad at her."I'm sorry, I..." Gabrielle's voice cracks and she begins to cough. Xena holds Gabrielle till the coughing passes and then gives her a drink of water.

"No you have nothing to be sorry for." Xena says, softening her look at Gabrielle. "There's more going on here than we have been told. There's a murderer going after the bards Gabrielle."

Gabrielle nods her head. "Yes, I know. I've known for a while now." Xena stares in disbelief at her friend. "You've known?! For how long?!" Seeing that Xena has misunderstood what she was trying to say, she quickly explains.

"Calm down. Not long." Gabrielle rests for a second and then begins again. "While we were at the banquet tonight I figured it out. After hearing about Maerus, then what happened to me in the library, and Euripades account. Then while we were dancing, Twicanim told me about another death that had happened two days ago." Gabrielle rests her voice again. Her throat burns badly, but she must finish her explanation.

"Gabrielle it can wait till tomorrow." Xena helps her take another sip of water.

"No, no it can't. I may not be able to talk by morning and you need to know. They found a bright aspiring young bard named nonamia, pinned to one of the shelves in the library. A sword through her heart. Xena should wouldn't have hurt anyone. You have got to stop this madman." Xenas face reflects horror. Gabrielle starts coughing again. Xena holds her till it passes, then walks over to the table with the saddle bags. She pulls out of purple looking powder and mixes it with the water on the table. She brings it to Gabrielle.

"Here drink this, it will help sooth your throat." Gabrielle looks up quickly searching Xena's face. "No Gabrielle, it will just help your throat, not put you to sleep." Relief spreads across Gabrielles face, dreams where not what she wanted right now. She drinks all of the mixture and lays back on the bed resting. "Now rest your voice."

"How bad is it?" Gabrielle voice quivers nervously.

Xena places a finger over the bards lips. "I said quiet. It's not too bad. It could have been a lot worse. You should be able to compete in the contest tomorrow, but only if you rest your voice. Your hand will heal with time. Now go to sleep." Xena turns the chair against the wall next to Gabrielles bed. She places her sword across her lap. Gabrielle reaches over and grabs hold of Xenas hand with her good one. Xena glances down, still seeing mild fear in Gabrielles eyes. She smiles reassuringly and goes to blow out the lamp next to the bed.

"No, please Xena. Let the lamp stay lit." Xena looks over and sees panic in Gabrielles eyes.

"All right Gabrielle. Go to sleep, you have nothing to fear." Xena holds her hand tightly, but gently. Gabrielle eventually falls asleep, still holding Xenas hand. Even in her sleep her grip remains firm. "No one Gabrielle, will hurt you", whispers Xena.

Silently in another part of the academy a young bard walks through a hallway. Reading a scroll and not paying attention to what is around him. He enters his room and closes the door. A hand reaches out and the next thing he knows a knife is sticking in his chest. He looks up quickly and utters one word."YOU?" He falls to the floor dead. "Yes Sage, me!" the murderer bends over the body and cuts something free. Then he places the scroll that Sage was reading over his body. "Dead bards tell no tales!" He laughs evilly and disappears through the door.

Chapter 3

Morning arrives too soon. Warm light filters into the room as Gabrielle wakes. Feelings of panic begin to rise in her again till she feels the reassuring hold of Xenas hand in hers. Relaxing slightly, Gabrielle takes a deep breath. Dreams of her attacker had plagued her through the night. Several times Xena had woken her and held her as she had beat the feelings of panic down that made her cry out. Xena sleeps sitting in the chair next to her. Gabrielle knows the slightest sound will wake her. So she stays where she is, not moving and letting Xena get the rest she needs. A soft knock on the door wakes Xena, her sword rising to a defensive position.

" Xena, it's Stallones." Xena rises and crosses the room, unlocking the door. Stallones enters the room. He is in an agitated state. He smiles at Gabrielle and then turns and speaks with Xena. "It's as you thought. All the victims and intended victims were the best of the Academy. Also, the killer is taking a souvenir from each of his victims." He halts here and seems to be mustering his strength for his next words.

"Go on." Xena says.

Stallones looks her straight in the eye. "He is cutting their tongues out and taking them with." Gabrielle and Xenas face reflect horror. Gabrielle gets up and crosses to them. "Why would he do that? He has already killed them."

Xena puts her arm around the bard for reassurance wishing this part of people Gabrielle never had to see. "Sometimes a killer takes something of the victims to remind himself of their victim, of the kill, or other deep emotional things."

"There is one other thing. Another bard was killed last night after the failed attack on Gabrielle."

The color drains from Gabrielles face. "Who?"

Stallones looks at her and puts a hand on her shoulder. "Sage. He was returning from the library. Word hadn't reached him about the precautions."

Gabrielle had met Sage briefly at her last visit to the Academy. Sage had argued with Gabrielle about one of the stories she had told. Gabrielle had finally won the argument and her and Sage had become friends. "It should have been me." Gabrielle says walking over and sitting at the table in the room.

"What? Why would you think that Gabrielle?" Xena walks over and sits next to her friend.

"If he had killed me, Sage would be alive now." Xena grips her shoulder and turns Gabrielles face towards her. "You don't know that. He would have killed you and then killed another. So stop this, you're not to blame in anyway."

Stallones walks over and gently holds Gabrielles hand. "Xenas right Gabrielle. You know he won't stop killing till he's caught."

Determination and courage replace the fear in Gabrielle's face. "You're right. OK! So how are we going to catch this madman?"

Xena smiles to herself. Gabrielle always found the strength deep inside to go forward. She never let her fears hold her back. Zeus knows, she's had enough of them since she started traveling with me. "We are not! You are going to get ready to compete in the competition. Stallones is going to stick to you like glue. I'm going to have a look around and see what I can find out!" Xena can see Gabrielles protest coming even before the words can leave her lips.

"No Gabrielle! And be quiet till the competition starts. We wouldn't want you to lose your voice." Xena chuckles softly. Gabrielle gives Xena a perturbed look, but nods her head.

Stallones shakes his head and smiles. Even without a voice, Gabrielle could communicate so much. Xena rebandages Gabrielles arm and checks her throat again. They have something to eat and then get ready to leave.

"Come on Gabrielle. We need to get to the Great Hall." They all three head out the door and to the Great Hall. The sun has begun to burn off the last of a light fog as they cross to the hall. People are moving about in groups and pairs. Quiet whispers can be heard about Sages death. There is a sense of gloom even in the warm sunshine. Roo, Orion, Twicanim, and Euripades meet them on the steps outside the hall.

"Oh beautiful Siren. Your bravery exudes forth sending our hope soaring to Mount Olympus." Gabrielle shakes her head and reminds herself to get Euripades to loosen up. She flinches as a twinge of pain runs through her neck.

"W..Will you be ok? Twicanim asks.

Gabrielle is about to answer, when Xena interrupts her thoughts. "She will be fine. But she needs to let her voice rest, till she competes. Gabrielle, I need to take a look around. I'll be back to see you compete." Gabrielle sighs and nods her head. Xena turns and looks at Gabrielle friends. "Remember, no talking for her and don't let her out of your sight." Xena gives Gabrielle one last warning look and leaves.

"Come on, Gabrielle." Stallones says, gently tugging her up the steps of the Hall.

"Amazing!" Twicanim says. Gabrielle looks questioningly at him. "I've n..never heard you this quiet b..before." They all start laughing. Gabrielle gives them a look and rolls her eyes. Great, she thinks to herself. It's not bad enough Xena talks to me like she's my mother, but now I have to endure this! Oh well. She quickly picks up the pace. They enter the Great Hall and register for competition. Excitement buzzes through the bards in the room. The bards assemble as a school official stands. "Welcome to all. We appreciate your participation in the competition. The next three days you will compete against each other for the honor of becoming the Best of the Academy. The winner will be decided on the fourth and final day. Five bards will be left at that time to perform before the great Bard Eustacious and one other secret judge. The winning bard will be granted one wish by the Goddess Athena." A ripple of excitement and wonder runs through the crowd. Even Gabrielle is stunned at this announcement.

"Athena?" Gabrielle thinks, "How did they pull that one off?"

"Please..Please. Everyone quiets. Yes, Athena. Now for the rules. You will be divided into groups. You will compete in the morning, afternoon and evening each day. Each story will be judged on the integral parts. Excitement, Compassion, and Depth. No story can be told twice by the same bard." A murmur runs through the assembled bards. This is an unexpected detail for some of them. Gabrielle looks up and smiles. "Competition starts in 30 minutes. You have your assigned group. "May the Blessings of The Muses be upon you!" The bards break into their groups and the competition begins.

Elsewhere, Xena looks over Sages room carefully. What a waste of a talented life. Blood covers the floor just inside the door, where Sage died. She looks over Sages desk seeing only pen, ink, and scrolls. She turns to leave a small piece of cloth with a couple strands of long brown hair attached to it catches her eyes near the door. She picks it up. It has been torn from something, maybe? She takes the cloth with her and leaves. She spends some of the morning questioning students and servants around the residence. She stops and checks Argo. She feeds Argo an apple with the promise of a run later. Argo bumps his Mistress and snorts. She hugs Argo and leaves. Xena heads toward the Great Hall quickly, entering just as Gabrielle takes the stage. Gabrielle sees Xena enter, but keeps her attention focused on the story.

"I sing of Goliath, a most sorrowful tale, who aloud revenge to consume his soul and destroy the Love his family gave him..." Gabrielle goes on, telling of Goliaths great sacrifice, while protecting Xena. Then how he let his sorrow consume him and turn to revenge, spending the rest of his life looking for the one that had cut down his family. Even allowing the feelings of revenge to destroy the one true friendship he had with Xena. "He battled her on the side of evil and lost the last thing he could give..His Life." Gabrielles voice stills and her eyes come back from the event she had witnessed.

The sadness and feeling had been too much for the judges and bards in the room. As stillness remains, tears can be seen among those listening. Even Xena has tears falling down her face, but she remains deeply hidden in the shadows, not seen by any but her friend. Gabrielle did see, and was glad for the tears that Xena shed. It was rare she evoked such a response in her friend and knew that they would only help speed on the healing of her soul. Gabrielle bows and leaves the stage to join her friends. Xena walks toward the group, having composed herself. Twicanim takes the stage and the process begins again. Xena takes a seat off to Gabrielles right, keeping watch over the bard. Gabrielle is quietly speaking to Stallones as Twicanim finishes and bows, when a hand touches her shoulder from behind. She jumps, startled.

"I'm sorry Gabrielle. I didn't mean to frighten you." The young bard said.

"Greenmt! Is it you?!" Gabrielle sweeps the young woman up and swings her around.

" tight, I can't breath." Quickly realizing how tightly she was holding Greenmt, she releases her. "Sorry. It's just. I haven't seen you in a long time."

Greenmt laughs. "Well, you did take off kind of sudden. I heard you went back briefly, saved the town. Lilla told me that if I saw you to say Hi and give you her love." Xena watches this exchange with some amusement. Rarely did she see Gabrielle react to someone like this.

"How is Lilla doing?" Gabrielle asks.

"She is fine. She's in Love. Seeing a young man named Joxer. Funny little man." Gabrielles mouth drops open and she stumbles back like she's been hit.

Stallones grabs her and quickly settles her in a chair."Whoa! Gabrielle are you ok? What is it?"

Greenmt kneels before Gabrielle looking up into her face worriedly. Xena is suddenly by her side. "What did I say?"

"I'm sorry. It was the thing about Lilla. I'm fine now." She looks up at Xena. "Really, I'm fine" Gabrielle looks back at Greenmt. "So what are you doing here?"

Greenmt pulls up a chair. "Getting an education, following my dream like you told me to." Xena looks questioningly at Gabrielle.

"I'm sorry. Xena this is my cousin Greenmt. She uses to follow me everywhere while I was growing up." Gabrielle snickers.

"Yes, Gabrielle and I were quite inseparable. So you're the Warrior Princess who stole Gabrielle away. I have heard of you. Can't say it is all good. But Gabrielle wouldn't travel with you unless you were special." She shakes hands with Xena.

"Stole away Gabrielle. No one steals Gabrielle, she kind of follows you and becomes a pain." Xena chuckles softly. Leave it to Gabrielle to find family at the Academy, Xena thinks.

"Yes, she does have a way of getting her point across" Laughs Greenmt.

Gabrielle looks at the two and rolls her eyes. "We were just going to get some lunch. Would you like to join us?"

"No Gabby. I have to run to my next class. How about dinner?" Greenmt gets up to leave.

"All right!" She tossels her cousins hair.

"Gabby, I'm not a little girl any more." Her cousin says. She runs off quickly catching up with a group of students.

Gabrielle chuckles as she watches her leave. "You will be to me." Gabrielle shakes her head. "Come on, I'm hungry."

Xena laughs, "When aren't you hungry?"

Gabrielle snorts and starts to walk off alone. "Wait up Gabrielle." Xena catches her easily.

"So what did you find?" Gabrielle inquires curiously.

"Nothing much. Whoever it is, is good. Too good. Gabrielle whatever you do, don't go anywhere alone. OK?" Xena and Gabrielle notice Orion waiting off to the side.

"Xena, go on without me. I'll be along in a moment. I need to speak to Orion." Xena stares hard at Orion, then looks at Gabrielle. "All right. I'll be outside waiting, don't be long." Gabrielle watches her go. The Hall is empty now, all accept the two bards and a lone figure, hidden by the marble columns. The bards do not see him. Gabrielle turns and walks over to Orion. "How are you?"

Orions eyes stare at the floor. "I'm fine." He looks up. "How are you?"

Gabrielle sees the guilt in his eyes and wishes she could erase it. "I'll recover."

Orion lets out a deep breath. "Gabrielle, I'm sorry. I should have told you."

"Yes, you should have." Gabrielle sighs. "It doesn't matter now. What matters is you're my friend and I don't want to lose that friendship."

Orion grabs her and hugs her. Relief washes through him as he whispers to her, "It won't happen again." He kisses her softly on the cheek and looks into her eyes. "Come on, lets get you fed. Can't have our winning bard famished?"

Gabrielle laughs and walks with Orion."I haven't won yet!" The shadowed figure follows them slipping from column to column.

Just as Gabrielle and Orion are going to depart, a whisper says... "I know a secret Gabrielle."

The sound of a small bowl hitting the ground echos through the hall. Gabrielle pivots quickly and sees the figure standing there. In a sing song voice the figure speaks. "One by one the bards disappear, replaced by one deserving and near." Laughing coldly the figure runs off.

"Xena" Gabrielle yells, taking off after the figure. "Not this time she says." Orion follows closely behind.

"Catch me if you can Gabrielle." The figure laughs a cold haunting laugh and leaps out the window. Gabrielle follows.

"Gabrielle, what are you doing?" Orion yells, watching the two figures head off toward the library. But Gabrielle doesn't hear him.

"Gabrielle..Orion..??" Xena calls.

"Xena here, quickly. Gabrielle is after the murderer. They headed toward the library." Xena swears something under her breath that sounds like foolhardy bard and then leaps out the window.

Gabrielle has reached the library. Carefully moving forward, she looks around. She sees no one in the library. She moves toward the back of the library where she heard the noises the first time she was there. Seeing the flash of a black cloak go around a shelf, she moves quickly forward. She edges carefully up to the shelf and peers around the corner. No one there, she moves slowly down along the length of the shelf. She stops and listens. A scraping noise comes from a few rows down. Gabrielle moves slowly from end to end. Too Quiet in here, could almost wake the dead, she thinks to herself. Great, why did you have to think that. Get a hold of yourself.

She hears the scraping noise again. Gabrielle slowly creeps forward. I hand poises just around the next book case, a dagger ready to fall on the bard. She goes to step forward as a hand clamps down over her mouth and around her waist, pulling her back. Gabrielle begins to struggle.

"Gabrielle it's me." Xena whispers. The figure behind the book case hears Xenas voice. Gabrielle relaxes as Xena moves past her toward the point that Gabrielle was at. She looks around the corner and sees a dagger sticking in one of the shelves. Looking around and seeing no one, she moves forward slowly. Gabrielle comes to the end and watches as Xena pulls the knife free. There's a loud creek and then shelves start falling like dominos toward Xena. "Gabrielle get back." Gabrielle leaps clear of the falling shelves. Xena leaps forward , sliding on the smooth marble floor as the shelves collapse around her.

"Xena!" Gabrielle calls. But she hears nothing.

Gabrielle scrambles over the shelves, trying to find any sign of her friend. Then she hears a faint muffled voice. "Gabrielle?"Orion and a group of students run through the door of the library. As they enter, a figure slips in among them, unnoticed.

Gabrielle is frantically moving scrolls and trying to lift the shelves up. "Xena? Hang on! ORION! Xenas trapped under the shelves." The group rushes forward.

"We will have to stand up each shelf to get her out, as they are piled one on top of each other."Orion says. A small group works together to clear the scrolls away as Stallones, Orion and two others begin resetting the shelves upright. Roo places a reassuring hand on Gabrielles shoulder, which sends a shiver through Gabrielle. There's something familiar.. She can see Xena now that they have cleared the scrolls away. "Xena, are you all right?"

Xena angrily responds, "Yes, My foot is stuck and I can't get it free. It seems our friend, doesn't like to be pursued." After what seems like an eternity to Gabrielle, the last shelf is set up.

Xena is helped to her feet by Stallones."You know if you wanted to read a scroll on the top shelf there are easier ways to get one down."Stallones quips with a grin. Xena gives him the Look.

"Are you all right?" Gabrielle inquires looking Xena over.

Xena tests the foot that was trapped and nods. "Yes, no worse for wear."Gabrielle lets out a sigh.

"Excuse us for a moment." Xena says to Stallones. He nods and begins to help the other students replace the scrolls on the shelves.

Xena grabs Gabrielle by the shoulder and pulls her off to the side. "What did you think you were doing chasing after the murderer? You weren't even armed Gabrielle!" Anger floods through Xena.

"I am not a child! I don't need to be scolded by you every time I turn around." Gabrielle responds angrily.

"If you haven't noticed, he has tried to kill you twice. If I hadn't gotten here when I did, you may have been dead now or in the least trapped below those shelves." Xena responds.

Gabrielle pokes her finger at her friend. "If! If! You're not the only one who takes chances Xena. I'm tired of being afraid of this madman. And now he has decided to start taunting me. I won't run anymore. I won't be afraid!"

Xena looks worriedly at her friend. "What do you mean he has started taunting you?"

"Just before he ran in the hall, he said something like, ‘One by one the bards disappear. Replaced by one deserving and near.'I won't be afraid anymore. " Gabrielle pivots on her foot and stalks toward the entry to the library. She stops briefly, calling back.."Stallones, lets go. The competition starts soon." She turns and heads out the door. Xena watches and says nothing.

"Don't worry. She's just frightened and angry, but not at you." With that Stallones rushes off to catch up with Gabrielle.

The rest of the afternoon goes by without incident and with no words between Xena and Gabrielle. Gabrielle for her part feels lousy. She didn't get to eat, she made Xena angry, and this madman was now taunting her. She has to get a grip on herself or she'd be out of the competition. She slips away from Stallones while he is not looking and finds a quiet spot in the Great Hall. She sits down, closes her eyes and listens with her body. Things come flooding back to her. The attacks, the taunt, and a feeling she had while Roo was standing near her that they were being observed by the madman. She pushes this all down and concentrates on the story she will tell.

Xena watches Gabrielle slip away and follows. Keeping a discreet distance she watches over Gabrielle as she rests. Thinking to herself, Why did Gabrielle evoke such a response from her? Gabrielle had been in danger before and Xena had never blown up at her? This was different though. This time Gabrielle was the being stalked. The two attacks and the taunting confirmed it to Xena. But Why? Gabrielle gets up and returns to the main hall. Xena follows.

Gabrielle, Roo, Twicanim, Orion, and Euripades make it through round two. The competitors break for dinner and a short rest. Greenmt immediately joins them. Xena follows not saying a word. Greenmt and Gabrielle talk while they have dinner as Xena remains quietly near, listening. Greenmt gets up to get some more wine and nutbread.

Gabrielle takes a deep breath and turns to Xena. "Xena, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have jumped at you. Your right it was a stupid thing to do, but I didn't want him getting away anymore. I don't want anyone else to die."

Xena looks at her friend. Always thinking of others she was. "Yeah. Your right it was stupid. But your heart was in the right place. Just next time, take your staff. I'm sorry too. I didn't mean to treat you like a child Gabrielle. I let my fear for your safety get control of me."

Gabrielle gives Xenas hand a reassuring squeeze. "It's ok! I can be stubborn at times."

Xena chuckles breaking the tension. "You got that right."

A school official comes into the room, drawing the attention of the group. "Attention Everyone. Due to the recent problems here at the Academy, the contest will be held during the day only. There will be no competition at night. This is for your safety and the safety of our guests. Thank You!"

Greenmt returns to the table with the wine and nutbread. "Well your off the hook tonight Gabby." She says smiling.

"I can't say that I'm sorry. I could use a break." Xena sees the controlled mask Gabrielle has put up slip some. Underneath her friend is tired, afraid, and angry. But strangely there is a calm that runs through her too. Xena slides closer to Gabrielle to reassure her. Gabrielle and Greenmt talk about life in Potadeia.

"Hey, it wasn't my fault. You were the one who said that I couldn't climb."

Gabrielle laughs."Yeah, Well I didn't expect you to get stuck in the tree."

"I was fine." Greenmt says defensively.

"Oh Yeah! You were fine. That's why you had me climb up to help you get your foot unstuck." Gabrielle shivers involuntarily at the memory.

"I didn't expect you'd fall out of the tree in the process." Greenmt says looking down at the table.

Gabrielle lifts her cousins chin, "It's not your fault. I was the one who said you couldn't climb. I knew better. I should have learned with Serena!"

"Yeah. Well, at least I learned I could tell you stories while you recovered. I would have never had made it here, if not for that and your encouragement to continue in my dreams. So in a way the tree was a good thing." Greenmt smiled again.

"I had to wake up, so I could get you to shut up. Couldn't stand you disturbing my sleep anymore." Gabrielle snickers as she rises. "I'll be right back." She walks over to Twicanim and the others.

Xena looks at Greenmt. "What happened?"

Greenmt looks down at the table and then back up at Xena. Pain registers in her face. "She came up the tree. It was one of those tall pines. I was about half way up. I could tell she was scared. She had always had a fear of heights. She helped me tug my foot free, but in the process she lost her grip on the tree. She fell." Greenmt closes her eyes as tears run down at the memory. "I can still hear her scream my name as she fell, the sound of breaking branches as she bounced off of them, and the thud as she hit the ground. Then this peaceful silence spread over the forest."

Greenmt opens her eyes and looks toward Gabrielle. "I rushed down the tree as quickly as possible. By the time I got to the bottom she was barely breathing. The village healer did his best, but she wouldn't wake up. She lay that way for a week. I never left her side. I told her every story I knew and then I started making them up. Then one evening a strange lady came and looked down at her. She smiled and told me not to worry. She placed a hand over Gabrielles ribs and then over her heart. She left as quickly as she came."

Xena looks at her friend seeing Gabrielle in a different light now. "The following morning, while I was dozing next to her in the chair, she woke up. I was never so happy to see those blue-green eyes. It took time for her to recover, but she did. I told her about the woman Xena and she snickered about it. But there was something else in her eyes, like she knew already. It was strange."

They watch as Gabrielle laughs and then turns toward them. She walks back, stopping next to Xena. "Xena I'm tired. I'm going back to our room."

"Hold on. I'll walk you back. I need some rest too." Xena rises, and looks at Greenmt. Your right, she is special." Gabrielle looks at the two, wondering what she missed. Xena and her move off, heading toward their room. Greenmt rises to leave.

Stallones waves at her to hold up. "I'll walk you back!" He smiles softly at her. They walk off toward the students quarters.

Another person in the room, dark and evil watches them leave. A smile crosses the madmans face, as the figure goes back to chatting. "So Twicanim, what stories are you going to tell tomorrow." The figure smiles winningly at Twicanim.

Chapter 4

She knew she shouldn't be in the bath house alone, but she desperately needed to clean up and relax. Greenmt let her clothes fall gently to the floor, she entered the steaming water. The smell of fragrant oils in the water swirled around her and lulled her into a light sleep. The warmth of the water works into her muscles relaxing them as her mind drifts. It had been good seeing Gabrielle again. Greenmt had missed her after she left and grown bored. That's why she had come to the Academy, not just for the storytelling, but for excitement. But no with a killer running loose, they all had more excitement than they desired. The sound of the door creaking, as it was opened, brought her awake quickly. She turned, expecting trouble, only to see Twicanim there shielding his eyes.

"I s..saw you leave y..your room and come to the b..bathhouse. I..I knew you s..shouldn't alone." Twicanim says bashfully.

Greenmt smiles at Twicanim. He had been flirting with her for a while now, but she hadn't thought he cared this much. "OK, but can you wait outside till I'm done?" Twicanim blushes and then nods. He bumps into the door and then stumbles out. Greenmt snickers softly and returns to her bath. She washes her hair and then gets out of the tub. She dries herself off and puts on a light shift and robe. She opens the door to the bath house and Twicanim rises from a bench in the hallway. He offers her his arm and walks with her back to the student quarters.

Elsewhere, Gabrielle wakes, gasping for air. She looks around seeing the haze of a dream not yet gone. She shivers as a gentle breeze cools her sweat soaked body. Everything is just like it should be. Xena lays in the bed beside hers sleeping, the room is lit by the low glow of the fire, and all is peacefully quiet. And yet, something is wrong. She rises out of bed and walks to the table. She pours herself a glass of cool water and drinks slowly. Something...She walks to the window and looks out into the courtyard. The moon hangs in the night sky, shedding an eery glow on the fog enclosed courtyard. The sound of the a dog barking drifts on the night air. Gabrielle closes her eyes and listens to the quiet. What is it that keeps nagging at me? Why do I think I know the person who is doing this?

She takes a deep breath and opens her eyes. She smiles as she sees Twicanim and Greenmt enter the student quarters. Then a few minutes later a shadow moves across the courtyard toward the student quarters and enters. A warning goes off in Gabrielles mind, and she turns to wake Xena.

Xena is already awake and has been watching Gabrielle for some time. "What's wrong?"

"I saw someone moving through the fog and enter the student quarters. Greenmt and Twicanim went in just before hand. Xena.." Gabrielle never finishes the sentence.

"Come on." Xena has dressed in her armor and grabs her sword, heading for the door. She stops briefly and looks at Gabrielle. "Gabrielle, stay close and don't take off on your own. Promise me!"

"I promise." Gabrielle grabs her staff and follows Xena. The fog swirls around them as they run toward the Courtyard toward the students quarters. Nearing the building, they hear the sound of someone pleading for there life from one of the windows.

"No, you don't have to do this.." Xena and Gabrielle run with added urgency. As they enter the building a terrible scream rings out in the night.

"Greenmt?" Gabrielle says with deep pain. Xena rushes down the hall, tripping over someone. She looks down and is shocked to discover Twicanim laying in a puddle of blood on the floor. She gently turns him on his back. Twicanim bleeds from a grievous wound in his shoulder.

"Gabrielle, here quickly." Gabrielle rushes up and hands Xena a piece of cloth she has torn from her skirt. Xena applies pressure to the wound, as Twicanims eyes focus. "No, leave me. Get to Greenmt. The murderer chased her into her room. The third door on the left. Hurry!" Twicanim eyes close as he slips into unconsciousness.

"Gabrielle, stay here with Twicanim." Xena takes off down the hall. Students have begun to poke there heads out of there rooms to see what all the commotion is about. "Get back in your rooms. NOW!" Xena yells. Doors slam shut as all heed the warning.

Euripades approaches Gabrielle from behind and receives a staff in the gut for his stealth. "Gabrielle it's me. I just want to know if I can help."

Gabrielle feels bad, but nods. "Here take care of Twicanim."Then she takes off down the hall.

Inside Greenmts room, Xena is too late. "It's amazing you know. How short the span of life can be. I wasn't going to kill you, but your cousin seems to be protected to well. So I need to keep her just off her guard to get her." The murderer plunges the knife into Greenmts heart and lets her fall to the floor dead! "Won't Gabrielle be so pleased when your found." The murderer bends over Greenmt to remove her tongue, when the sound of Xena's voice rings out in the hall.

"D*mn that Warrior." The murderer runs toward the window, stops and waits. The door bursts open as Xena enters. She stops, gazing in horror at the body of Greenmt. Gabrielle enters seconds later and stops too.

The murderer laughs coldly from the window, "If I can't get to you Gabrielle, your cousin will do."

Gabrielle looks at the murderers cloaked figure and lunges for her. "NO!" Gabrielles hand closes on air as the murderer jumps out of the window. Xena pushes Gabrielle off to the side and pursues the murderer. Gabrielle turns back to Greenmt and looks into her cousins cold lifeless eyes. She sinks slowly to the floor and grasps her hand gently. The warmth slowly slips from her cousins body. Scenes from childhood spring from her memory; the stories they would tell by the fire, the gentle loving teasing while daring each other, and many more. Then the stories told by Greenmt come as she lay between life and death. The face of a women who brought her back, so loving and caring. Telling her that she had been chosen to bring life back to a person where only death and destruction had lived. To be strong for the way was long , and difficult. But to trust and never loose the Love in your soul. Gabrielle hadn't known till recently that Xena was the one the woman had talked about. But Gabrielle now understood.

"Gabrielle? Please come away. Please." Gabrielle never heard Xena return, so caught up in her thoughts is she. Gabrielle allows herself to be pulled away gently from Greenmts body. Xena walks her into the hall. Twicanim lays on a stretcher being carried off to the healer. Gabrielle looks at Xena questioningly, "No. He will be fine." Relief washes over Gabrielles face. Suddenly feeling very tired, she leans her head against her friends shoulder.

Orion comes running down the hall. "Xena, they've found another body in the library. There is a note attached to this one. Madoras is asking for you."

Xena looks down at Gabrielle. "Gabrielle, I have to go. I'm going to have Orion take you back to the room. OK?" Gabrielle nods.

Orion comes over and takes Gabrielle by the arm. Xena speaks quietly in his ear to him. "Don't leave her alone. Do you understand!?" He nods. Xena escorts them out to the courtyard, then heads toward the library. Orion walks Gabrielle back to her . The night is waning, but not fast enough to remove the deadly chill that has settled over the Academy!

Xena arrives at the library. Democratus, Dianac, and Madoras meet her at the entrance. A group of students has formed off to the side, watching to see what will unfold.

"What happened at the student quarters?" Madoras ask, pain reflecting in his face.

"Twicanim has been stabbed and Greenmt is dead. What happened here?" Xena asks. Madoras tries to speak, but the words fail him. Xena looks at Democratus who motions her off to the side. Dianac leads Madoras to a chair.

"The bard killed here tonight is Madoras daughter, Margaret. Xena she wasn't killed like the others. It's not a pretty site." Xena glances at Madoras, the follows Democratus. The bard is pinned to a shelf. But she has been stabbed in the heart with a fork. Xena walks closer, no she was stabbed like all the others with a dagger. The fork was used to pin the note that now hangs from her chest there. What sick mind would use a fork to pin a note? Maybe her old friend Avicus would know if he were here. He always had an opinion on these things.

Xena motions Democratus over to help take the bard down. They lay her gently on the floor. Roo comes up behind them and whispers something softly to Democratus. Democratus nods and walks away, as Roo takes his place. Roo kneels down and reaches forward to remove the note. As she does, Xena notices a small stain of blood on her sleeve and wrist.

Xena grabs her wrist. "How did you get this blood on your you?"

Roo is taken aback. "I..I helped them move Twicanim in the hallway. We took him to the healer. It got on me then." Xena stares into frighten eyes. But frightened of what? Discovery? Or the Warrior Princess? There is something there, but...Xena releases her wrist.

"I'm sorry Roo. Too many have died and I'm seeing killers where friends are." Xena looks back down at Margaret body.

Roo takes a deep breath and nods. "Yes, the thought had occurred to me too, about who it could be. You never know what hides in the heart of a bard!" Roo rises slowly, takes one last look at Xena and walks away.

Xena pulls the note free. Two older men approach and look toward Xena. She nods. They reach down and gently remove Margaret body. Xena watches them leave and then reads the note. She figures out quickly the note is written in a language she hasn't seen before. She walks to the entrance and waves over a young bard.

"What's your name?" Xena asks.

He responds nervously, "I'm Martinus, Warrior Princess."

Xena hands the note to Martinus. "Martinus, can you read this?"

Martinus takes the note and looks it over. "No, but perhaps my friend, Rowantree, here can."

Rowantree steps forward and looks over the note. "This is an ancient dialect. I believe it says, "Only three are left. One as blind as night, One bright as day, and one who's words are flowery and light. But more will die before the end of this day." Rowantree looks at her tentatively.

"Thank You Rowantree." Xena takes back the note. "All of you better get back to your beds." The group begins disperse. She watches as the leave, thinking.

Madoras walks over after noticing the look on Xenas face. "What is it?"

Xena looks up at the old man kindly. "Madoras, I'm sorry for your loss. Can you tell me how many other bards made it through yesterdays competition?"

Madoras looks at her puzzled. "There are fifteen left. I can have a list of who is left in the morning. Why?"

"Because all the bards except Greenmt have been in the competition or where going to compete. Also mark which ones are considered to be extremely talented. Madoras, don't tell anyone else about this."

Madoras nods. "Xena we will have the funeral pyre's for Margaret and Greenmt tomorrow evening. The city officials will allow it, but we will be guarded." Xena nods and walks away.

Xena returns to her room. Gabrielle sits staring into the fire, a blanket is wrapped around her shoulders. Orion sits near by holding her hand.

Orion rises and walks over to Xena. "She's been like this since we got back."

Xena looks over at Gabrielle and then back at Orion. "Thank you Orion. I'm sorry that I misjudged you."

"No Xena, I messed up. You showed me what was important. I won't forget that." He leaves and Xena smiles after him. She looks back at Gabrielle. Takes a deep breath and goes to sit next to her friend.

"The murderer killed Greenmt because he couldn't get me." Gabrielle says. "And now more will die if we don't stop him." She looks at Xena. I know how to catch him.

Xena sees the determination in Gabrielles face. "How?"

"We use me as the bait to catch him. I could go into the library tomorrow night alone, while you wait outside. We could finally get him." No fear is in Gabrielle now, only a deep determined anger.

Xena hated this idea. It put Gabrielle at to great of a risk. "No! Absolutely not! It's out of the question."

"Why Xena? Because I might get hurt? How many more have to die in my place before we do something?" Pain washes over Gabrielles face and tears fall softly to the carpet below her.

"Gabrielle, Please give me one more day. I think I've figured out why the murderer is killing the bards and who will be next. Please just don't do anything stupid. One more day."

Gabrielle nods, turning her head back to stare at the fire. "You have one day, because after tomorrow there will be fewer of us in the competition anyway. Then the killer will try for all of us."

"Yes, I know. I want Stallones to stick close to you tomorrow, Ok? And no running off anywhere without Stallones with you. No one else Gabrielle, no one else." Xena can't shake this feeling that they are very close to the murderer

Gabrielle looks at her puzzled. "Why Stallones? Why not one of the others in the competition?"

Xenas worried look returns. "Because I think it's one of the competitors Gabrielle. This way, I know your safe. I trust Stallones." Gabrielle looks at Xena and nods again. "Come on Gabrielle, you need rest for todays competition." Xena stands and begins to remove her amour.

"I'll be there in a minute." Thoughts race across Gabrielles mind. Adding all the little things she knows about the murders. Then she remembers something she hadn't thought about when it happened, but combined with the information Xena gives it points to only two people.

Gabrielle rises and a new light dawns on her face. She is going hunting now, but in broad daylight. She lays down and is quickly asleep. Xena watches her, knowing that expression full well. Gabrielle is up to something and it's going to get her in trouble. She will have to be on her guard tomorrow.

Dawn comes quickly and the competitors assemble in the Great Hall. The Mizaru, the city administrator and the School officials are present. Xena stands next to Mizaru speaking quietly, while Mizaru nods. The Great bard Eustacious and the mystery judge is now present. The mystery judge is a beautiful young woman, not looking older than Gabrielle. Her smile makes the room seem lighter and pushes away the gloom from the competitors hearts.

Madoras takes the stage. "Attention! Attention! The Academy is now sealed from all comings and goings. The city of Athens has posted guards around all the entrances till further notice. No one is to leave the Academy for any reason, except tonights Funeral Pyre in honor of our Dead bards. The competition will continue. Any questions you have will be answered by any of the School officials. Please remain calm and this will soon be over. Let the competition begin."

The bards break into two groups. And the competition starts. Gabrielle and Stallones walk in late. Gabrielle decided to visit Twicanim in the healing ward. Gabrielle had asked Stallones to leave her moment so she could talk to Twicanim in private. Stallones could not hear what they had discussed, but he could tell that Gabrielle was very unhappy when they left. Gabrielle walks determined to the seats near the stage. Xena can tell something is really up. Stallones waves her over and they step off to the side to talk. They never let Gabrielle out of there site.

"I don't know what she is up to, but she spoke to Twicanim this morning and wasn't happy when we left. Twicanim didn't look too happy either." Stallones looks at Gabrielle. She is a study in stone, no emotion betraying the surface. She talks quietly with Orion and Euripades. Roo is listening just a little further away and so are some of the other bards left in the competition. Xena watches this for a while and then goes to sit next to Gabrielle.

"What are you up to Gabrielle?" Xena asks while watching a young bard named Ambrosia sings her tale of the fall of Troy.

"What are you talking about Xena? I'm just getting ready to perform." Gabrielle says without any feeling.

"You know exactly what I mean. You have something planned! What did you talk about with Twicanim this morning?" Xena turns Gabrielle to face her. Not one ounce of emotion shows in the bards face. It is as bare as the new fallen snow. "Ask Stallones he was there."

By the Gods she could be infuriating sometimes. "Gabrielle, please."

Ambrosia finishes up her story. Applause and cheering thunder through the hall. Ambrosia slowly descends the stage. Gabrielle rises, looks at her friend and sighs. Emotion comes to her face and she pulls it into line for the story she is about to tell.

"I promised you the day. Go find the murderer." Gabrielle walks onto the stage and bows. Xena shakes her head and walks out.

Xena walks out heading toward the stable to check on Argo. In all the chaos of the last few days, she hadn't gone for the ride she had promise Argo. Now she would have h*ll to pay there too. She stops by the kitchens on the way to Stables. The kitchens are a bustle with preparations for the noon day meal. Atalanta, the head of the kitchen sees her and scoots over quickly.

"What can I get you Xena?" Atalanta asks curiously.

"I was wondering if I could get a couple Apples and carrots for my horse?" Xena asks. But even now her stomach betrays her as it grumbles loudly. Atalanta laughs and grabs hold of the Warrior. She walks Xena straight to a chair and sits her down. Xena looks at her, and wonders if this woman has a death wish. To grab a warrior in such a fashion. A bowl of hot cereal is set before Xena, along with bread, fresh fruit, and honey. Atalanta walks to the fire and yells at a young servant that fell asleep while turning the roasting ducks for lunch. After a firm verbal berating, the young lad is turning the spit again. Atalanta walks back over to Xena.

She sees the expression on Xenas face. She laughs. "Xena I have been serving people here at the Academy for years. Do you think one Warrior Princess scares me? No. Now this murderer who is killing bards, he or she scares me!! No soul in that one"

Xena eats while Atalanta watches. "Your young friend is in the most danger. I saw her this morning talking to Twicanim as I was serving his meal. Wise she is, She may know more than she has told you. I see things here Xena, know a great deal about the students. If you ever want some information, you know where to find me."

Xena looks into the eyes of this women. Strong and wise they are. They have seen a lifetime of suffering, but still retained an innocence and joy for life. She had seen this same look in Gabrielle. Xena pulls the list she was handed this morning by Madoras from her gauntlet. "Atalanta, Can you tell me about some of these people on the list?"

Atalanta takes the list and looks it over. "There are three on this list who may be what you are looking for. Larin, she is a very rough and brusque individual. Loves to start fights and finishes them easily. But it's hard to believe she would do this. These two though, Imbri and Roo. Troubled are these two. Deep emotional problems there. Imbris parents died shortly after his birth. He was sent from home to home. Till he finally struck out on his own. He ended up here. But he has always carried this chip on his shoulder about how the world owes him a favor. Talented bard. Now Roo, she is quite a different matter emotionally. On the surface she is kind, caring, patient with people. But just below, there is a cauldron of anger that burns. If I where you, I'd keep a close eye on these three. They are very likely who you look for. Well, I gotta be getting back, seems those ducks may never make the table if I keep talking to you."

Xena glances over toward the spits and notices the boy has again fallen asleep. She smiles at Atalanta. "Thank You for your help."

Atalanta hands Xena back the paper. "Gabrielle chose her friend wisely, but then I think in a way you chose her too." She walks back to the spit area, picks up a bucket of cold water and dumps it over the young boy!! The young boy falls off his chair in shock and looks up at Atalanta. A sheepish grin comes to his face. "Now, turn the spit!" He gets up quickly and starts turning the spit.

Xena laughs quietly. She finishes her food and walks toward a door. A servant girl hands her a satchel. "For Argo." she says and walks off hurriedly to finish her work. Xena looks in the Satchel, apples, carrots and two sugar cubes. She looks over at Atalanta, smiles then leaves.

She walks across the courtyard toward the stables. She can hear the buzz about the murders and about the contest. The field is narrowing and bets are being placed now as to who will make it through the afternoons competition. She listens as she walks. All the money is on Roo, Orion or Gabrielle to win. Xena walks up to a young man taking bets. He looks up and nervously swallows.

"What is your name?" Xenas cold warrior mask betraying nothing.

"I'm Scauwen" The young man squeaks out.

Xena almost laughs at the way he responds, but she holds the mask in place. "Who is the favored to win and what are the odds?"

The young man becomes a littler bolder. "Orion is the favorite. 3/1 odds, Roo is next at 5/1, and then that young sprite of a women, Gabrielle at 10/1. Though I don't think she will make then end of the competition!" he snickers.

It's all Xena can do to contain herself from punching the young man. "I'll bet on Gabrielle. She hands him 5 dinars."

He looks up at her and shakes her his head. "Your loss. Money will be paid out at the end of Competition."

She snickers. "My gain" she says quietly as she walks toward the stable. Lasha the stable girl is outside bringing fresh hay into the stable. "Argo's been waiting for you. Seems a little upset this morning." Lasha walks inside as Xena follows. Lasha puts down her load and looks at Argo. "See I told you she would come. But no, you were all worried." Lasha turns to Xena. "I'm going to get something to eat. Don't let Argo bully you into anything." And with that she turns and walks out the doors.

Xena stares after her, very strange she thinks to herself. She walks over to Argo, who turns her head away. "Come on Argo. I have a nice juicy apple for you." She cuts the apple in two and holds a piece in front of Argos nose. Argo sniffs it, then turns away again. Gonna be that way huh she thinks. "Ok, I'll just eat it." She goes to take a bite when Argo turns back around. Xena swears the Argos look says, "Give me the d*mn apple and I need a rub down too!" Xena shakes her head. She laughs and gives Argo both halves of the apple and one of the carrots. She talks softly to Argo and kisses her head. She grabs a couple brushes and begins brushing Argo down.

"I don't know what to do for her Argo. She is hurting inside and I'm not sure how to help. She is also up to something. I know that determined look on her face. I saw it in Talmadeus camp, I saw it when she wanted me to teach her the sword after Pernicus died. I've seen it a hundred times and every time it means the same thing."Argo nods her head silently agreeing with Xena. Xena finishes brushing Argo down and then walks over and feeds her the last of the carrots. "I'll be back later girl." She kisses Argo and walks out the stable door.

Lunch has been served and the students are now returning to classes or the competition in the Great Hall. Xena see's Stallones and Gabrielle crossing the through the entrance and quickly catches up. She wanted to have a few words with Gabrielle before the competition started. She arrives and quickly pulls Gabrielle off to the side. "How are you?"

Gabrielle looks at her friend and smiles. "I'll be ok. Xena, I need a favor."

Xena looks at Gabrielle, a sinking feeling coming to her heart. "What favor?"

"I need you to stay for the competition this afternoon and be ready." Gabrielle turns to walk away.

Xena turns her back. "What do you mean be ready?" Gabrielle is just about to tell her when her name is called for competition.

"Just listen Xena. Just listen, and be ready." Gabrielle walks toward the stage, she takes a deep breath and ascends the stage.

She bows to the judges. "I come to tell you a tale, most cowardly and evil. Of one who sought fame and honor through deceit and murder. Killing under cloak of night and walking in shadows darkness. She thought she was wise and knowledgeable, the best there was in all of Athens. But she was lower than the evil of Tartarus and ignorant of the most important things of life. She wears her shame and evil as badges of honor, while her soul thrives in silent agony of others. She killed the innocent of heart to get her way, a thing that not even the bravest of Warriors would do this day. She sits here among us now, cloaked in her masquerade. She is the murderer of the bards, unfeeling, hard of heart, and without depth of soul. For this she would be named The Best by us here, while quietly causing agony and fear! But she has made a most heinous mistake and made herself the worst of enemies here. For she killed my cousin and then placed her arm around me as friend. Who is this bard you may ask....It's you Roo." Gabrielle stares directly at Roo.

The rage has been rising in the young women since the beginning of the story and now breaks in a torrent of hate aimed at Gabrielle. She jumps on to the stage and attacks Gabrielle. Gabrielle has been waiting for this though and quickly knocks Roo off the right of the stage. Roo jumps up and sees Gabrielle charging toward her and Xena not far behind.

"You can't hide now Roo. You are such a coward". Gabrielle yells.

Roo quickly runs toward the back of the Hall. She literally flies out the entrance of the Hall. Heading toward the library. Gabrielle still in pursuit. Xena quickly passes her, chasing Roo into the library. Roo runs toward the back of the library and lifts the edge of a lamp. The wall shifts slightly and she enters into a tight corridor and slams wall back into place.

Xena enters the library looking around....."Where is she?"

(End chapter 4)

Chapter 5

Xena scans the library. Where did she go? She thinks to herself. She slowly advances forward, till she hears footsteps running up behind her. She quickly spins around grabbing the person's arm and throwing them into a shelf.

Orion looks up at her with a bewildered look on his face. "It's only I!"

Xena shakes her head. She walks over and reaches down, helping him to his feet. "Sorry, I thought you were Roo! Where's Gabrielle?"

Orion takes a deep breath and rubs his shoulder. "I thought she was with you?! She was ahead of you when you left the hall."

"Great!" Xena says, as a wave of anxiety passes through her. Stallones enters the library. "Both of you, go and find her. I passed her in the courtyard. She can't be far away. I need to check the library" Stallones and Orion nod and leave quickly.

Xena moves carefully down the rows of shelves. Careful not get caught in between the rows like last time. The late afternoon sunlight filters in through the windows creating shadows throughout the library. She accidentally bumps into a shelf with her chakrum and it echos throughout the library. Orion was right, everything echos across the library. She can see how a whisper could be mistaken for someone talking. Xena moves slowly to the back. Nothing! Absolutely no sign of Roo. Footsteps echo behind her, and she turns to see Stallones returning.

"There is no sign of her. A couple students say they thought they saw her heading for the stables. But that doesn't make any sense. We have several groups looking for her, but I thought that You and I should check the stables." Xena nods.

"Stallones, is there any other way out of the library that you know of?" Xena asks. She is uneasy at how Roo could just disappear.

Stallones looks around the library and then back a Xena. "There are rumors among the Bards that there are passages behind the walls. But only the Bards accepted to the Academy know this and anyone else wouldn't. Gabrielle would know, but she is sworn to secrecy."

"Come on. We need to find her now. Tell me why only the bards know?" Stallones and Xena leave the library and walk toward the stables.

"I don't know. But Orion and Gabrielle could tell you. I just happened on about it last time I was here trying to be a bard." Stallones looks thoughtfully at Xena. "You think that is where Roo has been hiding?"

Xena nods. "Yes and I think she is going to hold up there till things cool off here." They continue toward the stables. Stallones nods.

Meanwhile, Gabrielle is gently stroking Argo and talking quietly to the horse. "I had to Argo. I couldn't let her kill anyone else. The way she killed Greenmt and the others." Gabrielle leans against Argo. Argo, as if understanding snorts softly and nudges the bard. Gabrielle smiles. "Hey, we wouldn't want to get all mushy with each other. It would destroy our wonderful relationship." Argo snorts again and nudges the bard softly. "Yeah, I know. Can't fool you, can I?" A hand touches Gabrielles shoulder softly and she spins on her heal.

"Gabrielle, p..please. W..We need to talk." Twicanim says.

"What are you doing here? You're supposed to be resting. Anyway, I talked all I wanted about her. Now she has escaped. She wouldn't have, if you had said something." Gabrielle turns angrily back to Argo.

Twicanim flinches at the verbal assault. "I t..thought about w..what you s..s..said. I'll tell you everything"

Gabrielle turns to stare at her friend. First Orion, now Twicanim. How many more secrets would her friends hold inside that she would find out the hard way? "All right, but I want the entire story now." Twicanim nods and motions for her to sit with him on a nearby bench. He takes a deep breath and for once in his life he doesn't stutter one syllable.

"You know Gabrielle. I loved your cousin. She was wonderful. She never picked on me and she always took the time to listen. There was a gentle beauty in her. I'm really sorry." Gabrielle nods and Twicanim sighs softly. "Roo is my sister. I told you that. She has always been a great bard. But she has always felt that life cheated her at every turn. She believes that you take what you want from life. She is much like our father." Twicanim pauses here and seems to be fighting a small battle within. He looks at Gabrielle with a pained expression. "Our father was the Warlord Aristos."

Gabrielle looks at her friend, shocked by this revelation."but I thought your father and mother lived here in Athens. Aristos."

Twicanim interrupts her. "No. My Aunt and Uncle live here. I went to live with them when I was young. They raised me at my mother's request before she died. My father loved my mother so much that he honored the request. But he took Roo with him. She spent all her time with him before she came here and is much like him.

She can be cruel and single minded when she wants something and she kills without even a second thought. I didn't think she would ever do it here. She always killed in defense before, never for personal gain. After Nonamia died, I suspected it was she. Then after they said that Athena would grant one wish, she bragged that she would win this contest and then have everything she wanted with the reward."

Twicanim leans back against the stable wall. "I have hid who I am for years, so that my fathers shame wouldn't fall on me. But now there is no hiding it any more." The door to the stable creaks and they both look up. Argo shuffles nervously for a moment and then goes back to eating hay.

Gabrielle looks over with understanding in her eyes. "I know how it can be to carry secrets within." Gabrielle thinks for a moment. "She stabbed you, your own sister. Why?" Gabrielle hears the door to the stable creak again and glances over nervously. Nothing but the wind she thinks to herself. Get a grip.

"Because I tried to prevent her from killing Greenmt. A messenger came the morning before you arrived about Xena defeating Aristos in battle. I'm sure she would have tried to kill you anyway, so she could win. She went so still and her eyes grew so cold when she read the message. I didn't see the message till later after you arrived. I knew Xena would protect you. But Greenmt, I tried Gabrielle. I should have known better." Twicanim lets out a deep breath.

Gabrielle catches the smallest hint of movement in the shadows and stands quickly grabbing the pitchfork from the near wall. "Roo, I saw you. Come on out and give yourself up. There is no where to run now. You can't win."

Roo's cold laugh rings through the stable. "Oh, I may not be able to win now, but I will have the satisfaction of seeing you die Gabrielle. Then Xena will suffer as I have."

Twicanim stands and moves near Gabrielle, but not to near as to prevent her from defending herself. "I w..won't let you hurt anyone else s..sister. They are innocent and d..don't d..deserve this."

Roo tauntingly calls to Twicanim. "W..W..would you die in the place? You are such a fool brother. They aren't worth it. Do you know how much I enjoyed feeling Greenmts warm blood on my hands?" She laughs sinisterly, sending a chill down Gabrielles spine. "The innocent are weak. To be preyed upon by the strong."

Gabrielle shifts her stance following the voice as it moves through the shadows. "You're wrong Roo. The innocent are the strong, the evil are the weak."

Roo laughs coldly again. "The warrior bard. Do you think you can stop me before your sweet Orion falls next?"

"I will stop you, Roo. You are too weak to fight openly. You have to hide in shadows." Gabrielle moves forward toward a stall where Roos voice seems to be coming from.

Roo's voice is only a deadly whisper now. "Prove it Warrior Bard. Meet me in The Bards Hold and bring me to justice. I killed your cousin and enjoyed it. Are you brave enough to stop me?" Gabrielle hears movement in the stall and then all is quiet again. She slowly approaches the stall. Suddenly the stable door creaks loudly. She spins on her heal, sensing a presence directly behind her. Her staff flies forward and she catches it right before it strikes the face of .... "Xena?"

She relaxes, knowing Roo is gone. "Gabrielle what's going on? Why are you here?" Xena looks over at Twicanim. He is very agitated and looks away from her.

Twicanim is about to speak when Gabrielle silences him with a look. Gabrielle sees Stallones behind Xena. "Stallones take Twicanim back to his room."

Twicanim looks painfully at Gabrielle, then looks away. She walks over and places her hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently. "I'm sorry, there was nothing you could have done. Twic, I think she loved you too." He smiles and then leaves with Stallones. She watches them go.

After they leave, Xena turns on Gabrielle. "How did you know Roo was the murderer? You should have told me what you were planning! And why didn't you tell me about the passages that are hidden?"

Gabrielle sighs. "I didn't know for sure till I talked to Twicanim. It was just a feeling I had. Xena please, walk me back to the Great Hall. I'll explain as best as I can on the way." Xena nods and they leave the stable. Gabrielle tells Xena about Twicanims confession, and Roo being in the stable. They reach the steps of the Great Hall. She is just about to tell Xena about the Bards Hold, when Euripades and Larin show up.

"Have you heard O eloquent Siren? Our Great and omnipotent judges of fate have made their decisions?" Euripades says excitedly.

"Well, I'm sure I'm out after the little incident this afternoon. Who made it?" Gabrielle inquires of them.

Larin hands her then list of competitors. She looks down and looks up with a stunned expression. Xena quickly takes the list and there at the top is Gabrielles name.

"What? How?" Gabrielle asks.

"It seems the mystery judge and Eustacious were impressed with your story and that you would take such a risk to expose the killer." Larin says smiling.

Xena looks back at the list of bards that have made it to the finals....


"Only five out of the fifteen from this morning. They sure made fast work of the others" Xena says, slightly surprised.

Euripades looks at Gabrielle. "It would seem that the fates are conspiring to bring this contest to an eternal end."

"Euripades, do you know who the mystery judge is?" Larin asks

Euripades shakes his head. " No. I don't know. but her presence lifts my heart to the heights of Mt. Olympus and encourages me to weave a story the starts would weep too." Larin nods in agreement. But a thought occurs to Gabrielle as she sees the far away look on Euripades face.

"Xena, will you wait out here with Euripades and Larin while I go into the great Hall? I need to do something." Xena looks warily at Gabrielle. She is uneasy with this request.

"Gabrielle" But she sees the pleading look in Gabrielles face and gives in. "All right, but don't be long and yell if you need me. Gabrielle nods and heads up the steps, as the others look on. She enters the Hall and heads straight to the stage. She stands on the stage and digs down deep into her heart.

"Born from Zeus's Heart to inspire mans spirit. Opening the way, inspiring the story, abiding in the bard. Seven they are of talent and beauty. Each one cherishing there children in a different way. But to Calliope, I call my Muse!"

The air in the hall stills as a light shimmers softly into being near Gabrielle.

Calliope appears in all her glory. Light shines from her and her voice rings melodically throughout the hall."Well Spoken My Child, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle opens her eyes and smiles. "I had hoped you would come."

Calliope walks over to Gabrielle and gently caresses her face. The touch sends a shiver of warmth through Gabrielle that speaks of stories from a thousand voices. "I have always been with you my child. You have blossomed into a beautiful woman and a great Bard. You have remained true to your heart and saved the Warrior Princess from a life of darkness. I am pleased with you! Ask anything and I will try to answer for you."

Calliope pulls her hand away and waits patiently. Gabrielle sighs, as the effects of Calliopes touch fade. Gabrielle looks at Calliope. "Why are you judging the competition?"

Calliope considers Gabrielles question. "To make sure the right bard wins."

Gabrielle looks thoughtfully at the Muse. Then a thought skirts across her mind. "The wish from Athena. That's why? Isn't it."

Calliope smiles and nods. "My child, you are very wise. Wisdom has always been your friend. Yes, the wish has no limits on it. This can be unfortunate in the wrong hands."

Gabrielle nods, "Roo."

Calliopes smile fades and then she looks sadly at Gabrielle. "Yes, we have tried to keep her on the path. But there was none able to do it."

Gabrielle looks at Calliope. "Why the wish? Athena doesn't just give out things for the fun of it."

"To restore that which was taken." Calliope begins to fade. "Be careful My child, she seeks your death. Do not underestimate her."

Gabrielle nods. "I will Calliope." Gabrielle sits down on the stage, lost in deep thought. One wish to the chosen bard to restore that which was taken. What does she mean? Xena enters the Hall, her sword drawn looking carefully around. She sees her friend sitting on the stage, lost in thought.

"Gabrielle? Are you ok?" She asks, still looking around warily.

Gabrielle looks up and smiles. "Yes, just tired."

Xena hated to bring up the next subject, but it was time. "Gabrielle, It's time for Greenmts funeral pyre." A shadow passes over Gabrielles face. She slides off the stage and joins Xena. Xena looks at her friend and then looks around. "I heard voices earlier. Who were you talking to?"

Gabrielle smiles as they leave the hall, remembering Calliopes touch. "My Muse."

Xena looks at her friend worriedly. "Really?"

Gabrielle nods. Xena looks over her shoulder and then continues on. They join the funeral procession. The Funeral pyres have been set up at the cliffs near the ocean. The breathtaking view of Poseidons dominion as the sun begins seems a fitting send off for the young lives cut short. All the bards killed since Xena and Gabrielles arrival now lay before the Gods, a final send off from their loved ones. As each Pyre is lit with a torch, Xena sings an ancient and haunting song. The song drifts on the cool evening breeze echoing off the cliffs in the setting sun.

Gabrielle watches as the ashes of Greenmts Pyre float away on the breeze. Hoping against hope this is the last time she will have to stand before someone she loves and send them of to the Elysian Fields. But deep in her heart she knows that she will stand before more Pyres and then one day before Xenas. A cold shiver passes over her heart. At least in her heart she knew she would see Xena again in the Elysian Fields. Nothing would change that now.

Xena finishes her song. She looks over at Gabrielle. Each deep pain was changing her friend in small ways. But not like it had changed Xena so long ago. Somehow it was changing Gabrielle for the better. She had become wiser and more caring instead of less. Her heart didn't harden and for that Xena was eternally grateful. Xenas thoughts turn to Roo. It was only a matter of time now before she was caught. The entrance in the library was being guarded now. Xena had seen to that. But Stallones had mentioned there may be other ways out of the cave. He wasn't sure.

Xena's thoughts are interrupted by Gabrielle. "Xena we have to stop Roo. I want to go to the Bards Hold and lure her out."

Xena sighs. Gabrielles heart was always in the right place. But this was such a dangerous idea. "First you tell me everything about the Bards Hold."

Gabrielle nods and takes one last look at the pyre. She whispers softly, "To restore that which was taken."

(End part 5 cont.)

All right, one last chapter all! That will be it! Maybe?

Chapter 6

Gabrielle, Xena, Stallones and Orion sit in the kitchen. Atalanta and a servant girl named Catherine are bustling around cleaning up from the evening meal. Xena patiently waits for Gabrielles explanation.

Gabrielle touches Orions hand gently and speaks softly to him. "Orion I need you to tell Xena about the Bards Hold. She believes Roo is hiding there and we need to stop her before she kills again."

Orion looks at Gabrielle incredulously. "Your not serious Gabrielle." He shakes his head, "No!" Atalanta and Catherine stop what there doing and turn to watch the Bards at the table.

Gabrielle lashes out at him angrily. "So now you would hide this too and cause more innocences to suffer! When will you learn Orion, fame and position will do you no good if it isn't accompanied by compassion." He looks down at his cup of wine, avoiding Gabrielles burning gaze. "Fine! The I will ask Twicanim, at least he is not worried about his position in life." Gabrielle rises and begins to head for the door. Xena and Stallones stay where they are, watching as Orion struggles with his own desires.

Stallones shakes his head. "Orion, Gabrielle is right. I may not be a member of this special group, but as I see it there are no choices. You can trust Xena. You know Gabrielle, you know she would never deceive you." Xena watches this exchange with interest. She had thought bards to be a loosed lip group before, but she was seeing a different side here all together now. Gabrielle reaches the door and goes to leave.

"Gabrielle wait!" Gabrielle stops and turns to Orion. Orion leans forward, his shoulders slumping in defeat. He looks at Xena and slowly the words come. "The Bards Hold is a set of deep underground tunnels that thread into a large Cavern near the ocean. The Cavern opens to the nearby sea and is a route for escape in case of attack for The Academy. Not many know of it, only those here at the Academy. Once a year there is a story round held in the Cavern to induct new Academy students. It is the only time that anyone is allowed there. Gabrielle was to be inducted this year." He looks past Xena at Gabrielle, who is walking slowly back to the table. "Not one warrior has ever known about its existence. It was decided to never tell anyone in a warrior status so that it would always be a safe haven for us. It is considered an honor to be allowed there. The cavern is so beautiful."

Xena pushes Orion about the tunnels. "Tell me more about the tunnels ?"

Orion thinks for a minute. "The tunnels all lead into the cavern. We have explored all of them. They are wide enough for two people to walk side by side comfortably. There are deep crevices along the sides for someone to hide. It takes about 20 minutes at a brisk walk to get to the cavern. The cavern itself is large, with a high vault ceiling. Stalagmites and stalagtites are everywhere around the entrances from the tunnel. But the center is clear of everything. " Gabrielle listens with growing fascination. "The walls glow with this moss that holds light. And when you tell stories, the sound of the storytellers voice echos softly throughout." Orion looks at Gabrielle. "I have always dreamed of what your voice would sound like echoing through the cavern. It would be beautiful I am sure."

Gabrielle blushes. Xena smiles at the thought and hopes that Gabrielle gets her chance when this is all over. "Orion. Go and speak to Madoras and Mizaru. Have them position guards at the exit to the caverns near the ocean. Gabrielle I want you to go with Orion and stay near him till this is over. Stallones and I will go into the caverns and bring Roo out."

Gabrielle shakes her. "No! Xena, you'll never get to her. She will just fade into the caverns, hiding and continue to kill. She wants me and thats exactly what she is going to get."

Xena begins to protest, but Gabrielle cuts her off. "You and Stallones can follow me in and go down a different tunnel. But if I go we can lure her out. Xena, you know I am right. You also know I can take care of myself, Cassius should have proved that."

Xena grimaced. The mention of Cassius still made her stomach knot. Knowing that Gabrielle had a mortal enemy and would have to be on guard all her life as long as Cassius was around did not please her one bit. Gabrielle was right though. She could defend herself. "All right! Gabrielle, don't take any chances and stay alert! Go on Orion, we will wait for you in the library." Orion rises and quickly leaves. Stallones and Xena begin to talk about the cavern, while Gabrielle speaks to Catherine and Atalanta. A figure moves in the back of the kitchen and heads toward the door unnoticed.

Atalanta hands Gabrielle a small pouch with a bright red substance inside. She whispers quietly to Gabrielle who nods and then places the pouch into her bag at her side. Gabrielle walks over to Xena and Stallones. "Xena no matter what happens you must make sure that Euripades or I compete tomorrow."

"Why?" Xena asks curiously.

Gabrielle looks pleadingly at Xena. "It's very important! Just promise me that if something happens to me that you will make sure the competion goes on as scheduled and that Euripades competes."

Xena watches her friends face, trying to discern why this is so important. "Nothing is going to happen to you, but I will make sure."

They all rise and head toward the library. Gabrielle prays to the Goddess that all will turn out OK! But she has this nagging feeling of dread inside she can't put down.

Meanwhile Orion has reached Madoras residence. He speaks in hushed tones with the School official who nods and then sends a messenger to Mizaru. "Your sure about this Orion?" Orion nods but says nothing. "All right, I trust your judgement. Xena has proven herself since her arrival. Tell her that the guards are on there way."

Orion nods and quickly leaves heading toward the library. As he passes the Great Hall, a hand reaches out and grabs him quickly. A knife flashes in the pale moonlight and a muffled scream resounds in the night. Then no more. Quickly a shadow moves toward the library.

The two guards on duty, in the library, move slowly out of the way when they see Gabrielle and the two warriors arrive. Gabrielle walks to the back of the library and moves a lamp on the wall. The wall slides open with a rasp of stone against stone. Xena and Stallones look at each other. It had been right in front of them all along. The guards have turned at the entrance and moved forward to get better look. They never see the shadowed figure moving out from behind a column and slipping into the library behind them. Roo moves quietly down the rows of shelves and stops, watching the three friends near the entrance to the caverns. Xena looks at the Guards. "Keep watch! Don't let anyone enter that you don't know. Orion and Mizaru will be here soon."

The guards nod and turn back to keep watch. The shadowed figure smiles and turns her attention back to the entrance of the caverns. The three friends enter and begin down the tunnel. They hear a grinding noise and look back to see the wall has shut behind them. The only light is from a torch down the tunnel. "Great! I have nightmares like this." Gabrielle comments. Xena smiles and urges her friend forward with a quick strong squeeze to her shoulder.

"At least you can wake up in your dreams." Stallones comments. Someone has been here recently. Footprints cover the floor of tunnel and torches are lit every several feet down the tunnels. But they only increase the shadows around them. They come to a break in the tunnel with four separate tunnels branching off.

"Well, I guess this is where we seperate." Gabrielle looks at Xena, holding her staff a little tighter for comfort.

Xena nods. "Don't worry. Just lure her into the open, so that we can take care of her." Gabrielle nods. Stallones hugs her quick. She smiles and then heads off down one of the tunnels.

Stallones looks at Xena and sees the look of worry in her face. "Come on, she will be ok!" Xena nods and they take off down a different passage. Roo emerges from the shadows and heads off down the passage Gabrielle went through. The tunnels are cool and damp. A great place for a deranged murderer to hide, Gabrielle thinks to herself. The dim light doesn't allow much visibility for Gabrielle and so she walks along carefully. The caves smell of salt water and something else. Gabrielle can not tell what the other thing is. It is then that she hears the whisper in the tunnel. "Gabrielle."

"I'm here Roo. Where are you?" She tries to look into the deep shadows of the tunnel, but it is impossible to see anything.

"I'm here. Glad you kept your date with me. I am dissappointed that you brought the Warrior Princess though." Roo replies sarcastically.

Gabrielle continues to move forward slowly. "Sorry to disappoint!"

"No matter, you have already paid the penalty for your mistake." Roo moves through an opening in the side of the tunnel and approaches Gabrielle very quietly from behind.

"What do you mean Roo? What have you done?" Gabrielles heart clutches in fear. Then she hears the slightest sound behind her and spins around. Roo stands only four feet from her, bloodied knife in hand.

"You know, I think he loved you!" She smiles wickedly, as a single drop of blood falls from the knife. He struggled so wonderfully, but he was no match for someone use to fighting to stay alive. Gabrielles face turns from horror to deep anger. "Yes Gabrielle, I killed Orion. I enjoyed taking another friend from you! You and Xena will pay for what you have done to me. And then everyone will pay, when Athena grants my one wish." Gabrielle can barely contain herself. "You won't get to wish Roo. You're out of the contest! Soon you will be in chains and behind prison doors."

"Oh, you really think so? With Orion out of the way, that leaves only you and Euripades in my path." Roo smiles and approaches Gabrielle. Gabrielle circles Roo, keeping a safe distance between them.

"I think you have miss counted Roo. You have forgotten Larin and Imbri." Gabrielle has now come to where Roo was standing before.

Roo smiles evilly. "Really? What if I told you they were going to grant my wish for me?"

Gabrielle is caught off guard by this announcement. "What? Why would they do that?"

"Because I hold there families with my fathers army. They will do anything I ask, or there families will die." Roo chuckles softly. "So now my only worry is to eliminate you and Euripades. Then everything will change with one wish!

"Do not underestimate Roo." The words Calliope spoke come back to Gabrielles mind and she now knows that this is not some deranged killer, but a well thought out plan. "You'll never win. Xena won't let you."

"Oh, I already have won Gabrielle. Xena can do nothing now." She lunges toward Gabrielle. Gabrielle spins, sidekicks and knocks Roo to the ground. She leaps over Roo and heads toward the cavern. She hears Roo behind her and runs as fast as she can. She enters the cavern and spins around to defend herself. Roo enters the cavern and circles Gabrielle. "It's too late for you."

"XENA!" Gabrielle yells out. Roo attacks again. Gabrielle thrusts her staff and lands a blow to Roos stomach. Roo recovers quickly and begins to taunt Gabrielle with the knife. Its then they hear the sound of running feet and voices approaching the cavern. Roo glances up to look. Gabrielle foolishly looks away for only a second, but it is all Roo needs. She thrusts the knife forward, deep into Gabrielles chest, just as Xena and Stallones enter the cavern.

"NO! Gabrielle!" Xena yells. Gabrielle looks at her friend and drops to the floor of the cave. The sound of Xenas War cry rings out as she leaps forward and lands in front of Roo. Her friends body lays still on the ground.

Roo laughs. "Too late Xena! Too late!" and Roo begins to back away.

"Oh No! You aren't getting away now." Xena lunges forward with her sword as Roo leaps out of her reach. Xena quickly advances, her rage totally focused on Roo. It is then that the Gruesome discovery is made. Roo jumps over a table that she has placed in the cavern. There lay the tongues of each bard she has slain. Roo retrieves a sword she has behind the table. She moves quickly to attack the Warrior Princess. Xena sword clashes with Roos sword. She quickly disarms the less experienced Roo. Roo now stands, with the point of Xenas sword at her chest.

Roo grasps the blade of the sword and lets the blood flow off her hand. "Kill me Xena! Go ahead and kill me! I have killed your friend." Xenas rage begins to boil over and just as she is about to plunge the sword deeply into Roo's chest she hears her name spoken weakly. "Xena." She glances toward Gabrielle. Roo knocks Xenas sword aside and lunges forward tackling Xena. Xenas sword falls to the ground. Xena grabs Roo, falling backwards and throwing Roos fullweight overhead. Roo quickly recovers. Xena rolls sideways recovering her sword and thrusting forward as Roo charges. Impaling Roo on the end of her sword.

Roo looks at her. "I still win, your friend is as good as dead!" Roo smiles dropping to the floor. Xena pulls her sword out of Roo and crosses quickly the cave to Gabrielle.

Xena quickly kneels next to her friend taking her hand. She looks at Stallones. He just shakes his head. Xena whispers silently, " Gabrielle".

Gabrielles eyes flutter open and she looks at her friend weakly, speaking. "Euripades to restore that which was taken" and grips Xenas hand tightly. The Gabrielles hand falls and she breathes her last.

(End chapter 6-cont.)
Am I doing ok??

Chapter 7

Xena cradles Gabrielles lifeless body gently into her arms. She leans her head against her friend's face as tears fall softly. The echo of falling drops of water is now the only sound in the cave. She had failed her friend again. This time there is nothing she can do to bring her back. The Pain and rage she had taken out on Roo for what she did, now only left a deep unsatisfied empty hole in her soul. Her voice is just a low rasp of controlled pain as she speaks to Stallones. "Stallones, gather up Roos body. We need to go back. I have a promise to keep to Gabrielle."

Stallones watches as Xena tries to keep a tight control on her emotions. How could this have happened? Why would it happen? "Xena.."

"Just do it!" Xena replies bitterly. Stallones nods. Xena gently removes the knife from Gabrielles chest and flings it violently away. Xena feels her muscles shake as she holds the lifeless body of her friend. So many thoughts crash through her mind, like waves upon the ocean. Only one thought manages to rise to the top...she must maintain control. She rises with Gabrielle in her arms and heads down the tunnel toward the library. Stallones watches as she leaves, his heart gripped by an undescribable weight. He looks at Roos body and picks it up, throwing it carelessly over his shoulders. The sun has begun to rise and its shafts of light now filter through the windows of the library. The guards swing around hearing the grate of stone against stone as the secret door now opens. They draw their swords, ready for any trouble that should come.

Xena and Stallones emerge with the bodies of the two bards. Mizaru and Madoras stand near the entrance and quickly move forward upon seeing Xena. They back away carefully upon seeing the expression on Xenas face and the body of whom she carries.

Xena walks up to Madoras. "Where is Orion?" Her voice is controlled with only a hint of pain slicing through her carefully erected defenses.

Madoras looks at Gabrielles now lifeless body with pain. " He was attacked last night. He is in the infirmary with Twicanim." Xena eyes register shock. But she nods.

"It's over. Roo is dead." She says glancing at Stallones bundle. Madoras nods and motions two guards to relieve Stallones of Roos body.

"Xena we owe you a great debt. Ask anything and we will pay it." Madoras says nervously.

"I don't want or need anything you have." Xena voice settles into an icy calm as she fights against the anger that builds inside her, the need to blame. Xena carries Gabrielles body out past the soldiers into the courtyard. Euripades and the others have been waiting on the steps to see what would happen. They now look up and all around hold their breath in shock.

Euripades comes to stand by Xena. "Oh Gently song that is carried on the breeze, no more to sing of lifes grand adventures." His tears fall quietly onto Gabrielles face as he gazes down at her.

Stallones comes up behind her and gently grasps her shoulder. "Please, let me take her. I'll move her to somewhere quiet. You can be with her after you after you take care of her wishes." When Xena doesn't make a move, he stands in front of her and looks her in the eyes. "Please. Gabrielle had something she wished for you to do. Take care of her last wish." Xena looks at her friend's face, not wanting to relinquish her to anyone. The thought of her not being there is like a crushing weight and for a moment it almost engulfs the Warrior Princess. Her body shakes as she nods to Stallones to go ahead. She turns away as he carries off her friend, leaning against a nearby column to control the shaking in her hands and body.

Stallones gently takes' Gabrielles body away, walking through the crowd of students. The crowd parts in silent affirmation of one who would risk all for the safety of others. The specter of murder is removed, but the loss is devastating.

Xena turns to Euripades. She begins to speak then stops, not able to choke out the words at first. Then she looks at the young bard and remembers that Gabrielle thought this was important or she wouldn't have used her dying breath for it. "Gabrielle told me that I was to make sure you competed in this last day of competition. She also told me to tell you, "To restore that which was taken." Do you know what she meant?"

Euripades looks at Xena for a moment. Then gets a far off look in his eyes. "Perhaps. This angel of tales has spoken words of life." He looks at Xena, speaking for the first time without the flowery speech. "Yes, I know what she was trying to say. But I cannot explain to you. You must come to the competition and see."

Xena begins to protest, the flood of bitter emotions churning just below the carefully controlled surface. All she wants to do now is to remove herself from this place. To find a place alone and scream at the Gods for their inability to help, to release the pain of the hollow emptiness she is feeling.

"She asked you to stay! You will honor her request." With that Euripades turns away and walks quickly toward the infirmary. He catches up with Stallones and starts speaking animatedly to him. Xena watches this. Xenas careful control over her anger and pain starts slipping. She heads toward the infirmary, wanting only to see her friend. She wishes in some small way that she would see that warm smile of Gabrielles again and hear the bards droning voice she had so grown accustom to hearing. She bursts into the infirmary almost half expecting Gabrielles admonishing look for worrying about her, but all she sees is the shroud-covered body of her friend. Orion is crying softly, his eyes bandaged from Roos brutal attack. Twicanim and Stallones are holding him as shudders of painful loss rack his body. He sits next to Gabrielles shroud-covered body, holding her hand. All the anger seeps away as a feeling of overwhelming loss again replaces the anger Xena feels.

She steps back outside and leans against the cold stone walls. Closing her eyes and wanting so much to shut out everything she is feeling. "Gabrielle, Why?"

Stallones steps outside of the infirmary and walks over. He sees the defeat in Xenas face. She looks questioningly at him. "Orion will live, but he has lost his sight."

She shakes her head, an icy fist clenching her heart. "It's not supposed to happen like this. Gabrielle was supposed to live a long and happy life. Not be killed by some vengeful warlord's daughter. All she has ever had since she came into my life is pain and fear. Now because of me she is dead!"

Stallones grasps her shoulders hard. "No! Your wrong! Gabrielle has lived a full and complete life. She has enjoyed her life with you and wanted to be with you! That is very evident. Xena she could have been married and living in Potidaea with a family. She could have been here at the Academy and then been a renown bard. She could have woven her stories to Kings and Queens. But she chose you. And by choosing you she got the family she wanted. The adventure she craved, and the chance to tell tales, making a difference in those around her. Especially you!"

Xena nods and smiles weakly. Why was it the bards that came into her life exasperated her more than any warlord or God could ever do? "Maybe." Xena responds as the controlled mask of the warrior falls into place again.

Stallones says this with as much encouragement as he could muster. He knows Xena will never let him in, so he prays to the Gods Xena can make it through the long lonely days ahead. "You know so, inside. Now come on, the competition is to start soon. Orion and Twicanim are going too. Nothing will keep them from her last wish. Nothing should keep you either."

Stallones returns inside and comes back guiding Orion. Twicanim walks next to him, silently, glancing at Xena in fear. Xena walks over and hugs the young man. "It wasn't your fault Twicanim." Twicanim knows this deep in his heart, but somehow he can't help but feel he is to blame in someway. They all head toward the Great Hall. When they arrive, the Hall is filled to capacity. The restrictions on the Academy have been lifted. Some people have come to gawk at the bards who would have been victims, others to see the spectacle that will unfold from Athenas wish and still others to see if the bards can truly go on with life after this loss.

Xena and the others take seats that have been saved for them toward the front. Eustacious and Calliope sit near the front. Madoras walks onto the stage and the crowd quiets. "Attention. You all know of our Great loss and capture of the murderer last night. We honor Xena:Warrior Princess for her help and we are forever in her debt. She is always to be welcomed here at the Academy! After talking with each of the contestants left and the judges, it has been decided the contest will go on to honor the memory of those bards struck down. It has also been decided that the rewarding of the wish will take place in the caverns below the school after the winner is announced." A murmur runs through the crowd. "Yes, all will be invited down to the cavern for this event." Madoras looks at Imbri. "Imbri, if you would take the stage and begin."

Imbri stands and walks to the stage. He begins to weave the tale of Hercules and his defeat of the beautiful evil She-Devil. But his story lacks the normal enthusiasm. Polite applause is heard while he departs the stage. Next comes Larin, weaving a tale of the three fates. She is flawless in her delivery and the audience applauds when she is finished. Xena glances over at Euripades. This was going to be hard for him to beat, especially with his flowery speech. But he takes the stage and begins to tell a new story. One no one has heard before, but one Xena has lived!

"They say that beauty, passion, adventure, and dreams are found within the bards. Well, I know that is true. Gabrielle was a bard in the truest sense. Following her dreams next to the Warrior, Xena , she called friend. Never letting fear, pain, or anger dissuade her from her journey. Let me tell you a tale of might, bravery, compassion and honor...The Tale Of Gabrielle, Warrior Bard." Euripades spins his tale. Recalling Gabrielles salvation from slavers by Xena, there many adventures together, their lessons in life, and finally her tragic death to save those around her she loved.

Xenas controlled mask stays firmly in place, not belying the emotions lying just below the surface. To those around her she looks cold and unfeeling, the warrior they have all feared. Deep inside though, Euripades accounts of their adventures shatters her heart piece by piece. All the pieces coming to rest in a pile of bitterness and blame. His Tale comes to an end. How long had it been since he started? How long had those in the Hall held their breath? No one knew, but complete silence now greeted the ending of his tale. And then the hall breaks into grand applause and joyful hollering. Euripades looks at Xena, and bows. Xena barely acknowledges him, but knows Gabrielle would have approved. For a story it had more depth, compassion and excitement than any she had ever heard. For her life it foretold an emptiness that would only be healed if she made it to the Elysian Fields to see Gabrielle again. He leaves the stage and all attention turns toward the judges. Eustacious nods toward Calliope and they hand their decision to Madoras.

"The winner is..Euripades!" Madoras looks up smiling and thunderous cheering resounds through the hall. Euripades returns to the stage and bows.

Madoras looks over the crowd. We would ask that you all file into the library and head to the cavern. Xena stands to leave.

Calliope calls out to Xena. "Hold Xena. Your promise to Gabrielle is not done till the wish is made."Calliope now stands near Euripades.

Xena turns back to argue, but decides better. She nods and walks over to Euripades. "I didn't know she had told you all those stories. She truly did become all she wanted." Calliope shakes her head. "No, not all. Not yet!" Calliope disappears.

Xena looks stunned. Euripades only smiles. The others approach and Euripades looks at them. "Come my most noble weavers of life, to the cavern of life we go." Euripades walks off with a small grin on his face. Xena and the others watch him go, unable to fathom how he could be so chipper with what has happened. They shake their heads and follow.

The cavern is so much different then when Xena was here last. It is now lit up with torches and the walls glow with the phosphorescent moss. The table containing the grisly discovery is nowhere to be seen. There is an inviting, warmth in the cave that wasn't there the last time. The crowd is quiet as Calliope appears before them. "Euripades, come stand before me." Euripades moves forward and stands next to Calliope.

Calliope looks out over the crowd and addresses them. "I am Calliope, daughter of Zeus, and muse to those whom I claim as my children. We are here to call on the Goddess Athena, to bestow the wish of Euripades. Athena, I call on you to appear."

Athena appears. Beauty glows from her and her words tell of the Wisdom of the ages. "She looks over those assembled and then back to Euripades. "You have woven a tapestry in your words for the warrior bard and now won. I will grant you anything riches, kingdoms, fame, immortality. You may have anything that you desire, but choose wisely. For the wish can not be changed once it is granted."

The crowd watches expectantly. What would he choose? Euripades smiles at Athena. Then looks at Calliope. "All these are what man craves and I thank you for the offer. I ask though that you restore that which was taken from Calliope!"

A murmur runs through the crowd. Xena watches with curiosity at what this could mean. Calliope smiles. "Thank you my son! You have chosen well."

Athena shakes her head. "Yes Euripades, you have chosen well. So be it. I have restored that which was taken." And right before their eyes all the bards murdered by Roo appear. All except one! Gabrielle is no where to be seen.

Xena approaches the stage, looking for her friend. She sees Greenmt, Sage, Nonamia, Margaret, Mearus, and the others taken before their time. "Calliope, where is Gabrielle?" Xena asks fearfully.

"Behold, your friend and her enemy." Xena turns to look toward the far corner of the cave. In all the excitement and buzz no one had noticed two bards locked in combat. Joy floods Xenas soul, but quickly it turns to fear as she sees the deadly game continues to be played out. The two bards haven't noticed they have returned. They all watch, mortal and immortal, as a battle continues.

"You know, Hades was wrong Gabrielle. We can battle for all of eternity!" Roo sneers.

"Fine with me. You still lose! I should have dumped you into the river Styx when Charon had his back turned." Gabrielle sweeps Roos feet out from under her.

"I would have taken you with me." Roo locks her feet around Gabrielles legs and yanks her down. It is then that Roo spies the knife that Xena had flung away from Gabrielles body earlier.

Xena moves quickly, trying to push her way through the crowd toward the bards. A sickly feeling begins to run through her as she watches over the heads of the crowd, the ensuing fight. The crowd has surged forward to watch this deadly game. Xena can not push through. She quickly uses her whip snagging a stalactite and swinging toward Roo and Gabrielle. Roo grabs the knife and turns to plunge it into Gabrielles heart once again. But this time is different. Xenas war cry echos through the cave. Aiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiy! She slams into Roo, sending Roo into the cavern wall to fall unconscious to the floor. She quickly runs over and ties her arms and legs together from behind. She turns to find Gabrielle picking herself off the ground and dusting herself off. Gabrielle looks up, just as the Warrior Princess sweeps her up in a Great Bear Hug! The crowd cheers wildly, until a voice booms over all of the noise.

"HOW DARE YOU INTERFERE IN MY REALM!" All eyes turn toward where Athena and Calliope stand. There before the entire assembly appears Hades in a cloud of smoke.

(End of chapter 7..continued)

So is this what you wanted???

Chapter 8

"You dare interfere in my realm! Take Souls you have no right to claim!" Says Hades to Athena. The Goddess stares impassively at the fuming Lord of the Underworld. "Zeus will hear about this. You have over stepped your bounds this time." Hades turns and raises his hand toward Gabrielle. Gabrielle clutches her chest and her face turns' deathly pale. Gabrielle looks at Xena with plaintive eyes and falls forward. Xena, terror stricken, grabs Gabrielle as she collapses forward.

"NO!" Athenas voice thunders through the cavern. And with just a look from Athena, Gabrielles color returns. She begins to breathe easily. "You, brother Dear, are the one interfering here! The wish has been granted and not even your Godhood can reverse it." Athena walks steadily toward the fuming God, a tiny smirk covering her face. "You know you had better learn to control this anger of yours. It seems to be getting out of hand! What's wrong, Persephone mad at you again?"

Seething with anger, Hades lashes out at Athena. " Persephone and I are fine. I don't care about the others, but I want their lives! These two," he says pointing at Gabrielle and Roo, "have turned the entire Underworld upside down. They fought all the way to Charons boat! Half way across they tipped the boat and I grabbed them, bringing them to my castle. I figured to judge them quickly, but NO! They started another fight. My castle is in a mess, the harpies won't even come near them, and Charon says he won't guide either one of them across Styx again. They both are going to spend their eternity in Tartarus for that!"

Xena looks at her friend in admiration. This was a side of Gabrielle she had never seen. Xena wished she had been there to see this exchange. It would have been great to watch the High and Mighty God of the Underworld, who judges the vilest Warlords and Madmen in the world without fear, totally vexed by two young women.

Calliope begins to laugh. The sound ripples through the cavern as a sweet melody! Hades, Athena, and the entire assembly turn to look upon this beautiful Muse. "My daughter, you have definitely come a long way since you left Potadeia at my urging." Calliope shakes her head, and turns toward Hades. "Do you really want me to tell Zeus and the entire Godhood assembled on Olympus, that these two mortal women could not be controlled by the Mighty God of the Underworld? Look Hades, see the two that stand before you, a bard and a murderer! You may choose one to take back!"

Gabrielle steps slowly forward, away from Xenas protective stance in front of her. "Hades, I am truly sorry. I didn't mean to cause you any trouble. There is no excuse for my insolence toward you or your realm. Do as you wish with me!"

Fear clutches Xenas heart at these final words. "Gabrielle, No!" She moves forward to protect Gabrielle from Hades deathly touch.

Gabrielle looks compassionately at her friend. "No Xena, Hades is right. It's his realm, once before he sent me back at my pleading. He didn't have to, but he had compassion. Twice is too much to ask for." A tear slides down Gabrielles cheek and she moves forward toward Hades again.

"You are pitiful Gabrielle." Roo yells at her, "Do you really think this God will care for your apology? Do you think he can't see through that goody two shoes act of yours? He knows your trying to get out of going back."

Gabrielle turns back to Roo, her voice steady and even. "Unlike you, I don't fear death Roo. It is just a different path to travel. But I can see why you would fear death. You would try any deception to save yourself. If he chooses to let you stay, you will be punished for your crimes here too. Xena will see to that."

Calliope looks at her brother calmly and with the tiniest of smiles. "Choose now brother, or leave now." Hades looks at the two; Roo, who seethes hate from every pore of her being and Gabrielle, Whose light has changed hundreds of lives without her even knowing it.

"Very well." Responds the Lord of the Underworld. "It is done!" A blinding light flashes throughout the cavern. The light recedes from the cavern and as Xenas eyes adjust, she can make out the faint figure of her friend standing next to Calliope. Hades and Roo are nowhere to be seen.

You knew he would choose Roo?" Gabrielle tired, curious voice asks Calliope.

Calliope shakes her head. "No, but when he saw both your hearts and weighed them both, I hoped he would choose you. Hades is not a spiteful God, he does the best he can. But he is ruled by something deeper inside and there was a chance, he would take you."

"So now what?" Gabrielle asks Calliope as Xena comes to stand near her.

"Now my dear, you will tell stories till you and Xena are old and grey." Calliope reaches out and gently touches Gabrielles face. "Many will try to claim you, but one you have already given your heart to and there you will find the adventures of a lifetime!" Calliope shimmers away and Athena calls out next.

"Well you have chosen Euripades. Wisdom is hard to find and discern. But you have done both. Call on me when you have need." Euripades smiles and nods. Athena fades away.

And then a rising cheer and applause comes from the audience as the greatest story they have ever seen comes to a close before their eyes.

The following morning Xena is saddling Argo in the barn. Lasha walks in and hands her extra grain and several apples for their journey. "You know Argo is the most stubborn but loyal horse I have ever met. You choose her well."

Xena turns to look at the young girl. She is tall, muscular from the hard stable work, but there is the face of one with knowledge beyond years. "You know a lot about Argo. How?"

Lasha smiles. "Argo was foaled on my father's farm. She is from a grand line of war horses. She chose you as much as you choose her. The bond can only be broken through death, and she has chosen a successor already if that should happen."

Xena looks stunned for a second and then thinks about what Lasha has said. "She's chosen Gabrielle, hasn't she?" Lasha nods and walks out of the barn, humming a joyful tune.

Xena turns back to Argo, gently stroking Argos neck. "You chose well my friend, just don't let Gabrielle know. She needs the testing." Argo snorts her agreement and Xena smiles. She grabs Argos reins and leads her out of the stable. They walk across the courtyard toward the Great Hall. The carnival atmosphere has returned. The many merchants have been allowed to set up inside the school area, tales of great exploits are being told everywhere, jugglers and sword swallowers abound. Near the entrance of the Hall, Euripades and Twicanim stand with a group of students. As Xena draws closer she snickers, there, dancing before them is GG the belly dancer. Xena stops for a moment to search for Gabrielle, and watch. Twicanim is receiving a lot of attention from the young beautiful lady, and a lot of teasing. "Excellent muscle control Xena hears from one student." Which causes an outbreak of laughter to run through all assembled.

She chuckles quietly and moves off in search of her friend. She ties Argo near the Hall and ascends the steps. Upon entering she sees three lone figures near the stage. One is Orion, another Stallones and the last, Gabrielle. Gabrielle sits on the edge and is talking softly with the other two. None have noticed Xena enter.

"You will be fine. You never used them before. Remember you have to see the story here," Gabrielle says as she touches the top of Orions head softly. "within your mind and feel it here," Gabrielle says, touching his heart, "within your heart. They will all see what you see then."

Orion sighs, pain of loss clearly evident on his face, he grabs hold of Gabrielles hand still over his heart. "Yes, I know." A shudder escapes his lips. "The healers say that I will only see hazy shapes anymore, but never clearly."

Stallones grasps his friends shoulder, wishing that he could change the outcome for his friend. "I'll stay for a while and help you."

Xena comes near, gently touching Orions shoulder. He startles, but then relaxes feeling her firm grip and the soft voice he recognizes. "We could stay if you would like? For a while longer." Xena says quietly.

Orion turns toward her voice. "No, you and Gabrielle have things to do. I will be fine. I have a new story to write and a new heroine to write into it. Though I will never do her justice as Euripades has."

Gabrielle shakes her head and hops down off the stage and hugs Orion. "Stay safe my friend."

Orion smiles at her words, "You should talk." He pulls gently away. "Promise me, no more dying. You've done enough of it for a life time."

Gabrielle smiles. "Yes, I think I can manage that one." She walks over and hugs Stallones. "Remember your promise."

Stallones looks at Gabrielle. "I would never forget a promise to you. Not ever!" Stallones grips her shoulder and watches as she joins Xena and leaves the temple. They descend the steps to where Argo waits. Gabrielle glances over to see Twicanim receive a most passionate kiss from GG. He blushes crimson red and quickly backs away. The other bards laughing.

Greenmt comes running across the courtyard. "Gabby, I didn't think I'd catch you." She says, out of breath from her run.

Gabrielle laughs, "I wouldn't have left without saying Goodbye." She hugs her cousin quickly and then turns to Euripades and Twicanim who have joined them. "You'll take care of Orion for me?"

Euripades and Twicanim smile, "Only if he will let us my fair maiden." Euripades responds.

"Gabby here, You could use these. Remember to come and visit again. Life is never boring when you are around." Greenmt hugs her cousin and walks over to Twicanim. "I want to talk with you." And they wander off. Euripades smiles and gently kisses Gabrielles hand and leaves.

Xena looks at her friend. "Think we can leave now?"

Gabrielle looks back at Xena. "Huh, Oh Yeah." And they leave through the gates of the Academy. Gabrielle turns for one last look and sees Stallones and Orion standing on the steps of the Great Hall. She waves and returns to her steady walk next to Xena and Argo.

"Xena?" Gabrielle asks after a while. The cool crisp air causing steam to rise as she speaks.

"What Gabrielle?" Xena looks down at her friend. Xena smiles with relief at the presence of her friend next to her.

Gabrielle looks up at her friend, a tiny smile on her face. "Thank You for trying to protect me!"

"You're Welcome Gabrielle. Gabrielle?" Xena looks forward again. Gently stroking Argos neck for comfort as she walks.

Gabrielle notices Xenas uneasiness and patiently stops her friend with a hand to her shoulder. "What?" Gabrielle asks inquisitively.

Xena stops with Gabrielles touch and turns back and looks at her friend. The in a very steady voice she says, "Don't you EVER die on me again!"

Gabrielle squeezes Xenas shoulder and chuckles softly, "Yes, Xena." They continue down the road. Warrior and Bard, forever joined in the tales of time.

The End?

To Toxic and Sage who encouraged me with an idea I had but didn't act on till they suggested it. Keep sending me more ideas.

To The following Xenites: Dianac, Sage, Roo and Nonamia(Emartin), Please forgive me using your names. I wanted a story that I could work some of you into and this story works for it. To Sage and Nonamia(Emartin) sorry about killing you off. This in no way reflects my feelings toward you. Just my chaotic feverish mind from my illness this last week!!*VBG*

Xena Forever
Becky(A Soul is a terrible thing to waste!)
TXM Enforcer/Bard/CUFFS!

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