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Stolen Futures

by Joe Murphy


Ok, disclaimers. The characters Xena, Gabrielle, and Argo belong to Universal. This story is not for profit, and belongs to me.

Though not explicitly so, Xena and Gabby are portrayed as lovers. There are descriptions of men and women engaging in sexual acts. There are several four letter words.

This story is VIOLENT. Very violent. There is some of the kung-fuish sort of violence typical with Xena, and much more graphic descriptions of violence as well.

Some parts of this story are just downright vile. Sorry, had to be done.

Gabrielle finished her story and lay on the ground contented. The meal of roasted rabbit that Xena had trapped earlier that day, and the cider they bought from the last town, was making the bard sleepy. Xena busied herself, packing miscellaneous items into the saddlebags, which needed serious mending, she decided. She would need materials. Too bad she didn't realize it at the last town, they had a terrific market.

"I'm going into the village tomorrow morning to pick up some things. Do you want to come along?"

"No, I was thinking of taking a swim in that lake, the water looked so beautiful this afternoon."

"Ok, I shouldn't be too long anyway. Pack your things up before your swim, we have a long way to travel tomorrow, and I want to leave as soon as we can."

"As always," the bard sighed. Looking up, she noticed how few clouds there were in the sky, letting all the stars shine down. Ever since she was a child, Gabrielle imagined that the stars talked to one another. She imagined they were pompous royal ladies who had to impress everyone they saw, and that they twinkled just to see who could attract her attention the most. She used to talk to them, judging their merit, trying to decide who would win her approval for the evening. Gabrielle sniffed the air fully, closing her eyes. No smell of rain. Tomorrow should be a pleasant day for travel. Gabrielle closed her eyes, enjoying the full feeling in her stomach, and the presence of her lover nearby, knowing she was being watched over.

When Gabrielle opened her eyes, Xena was gone. What had felt like a few minutes of rest must have been hours of sleep. The sky was lighter, and Gabrielle could see the sun low on the horizon. Her first thoughts were of jumping into the blue water, so she dressed and packed her things hurriedly. Taking her staff with her, she headed towards the water.

Near the shoreline, the ground was level, and Gabrielle found an area level enough and clear enough for her to exercise. She propped her staff against a tree and moved out to the center of the clearing. Closing her eyes, she dipped her chin to her chest and rolled her head slowly, first to the left, then to the right. Keeping her eyes closed, she brought her arms up to her chest, and pushed them out in front of her, concentrating on the sensations her body sent her. She moved silently and gracefully, practicing the fighting forms Xena had showed her time and time again. She could feel the stiffness leave her and warmth flow into her muscles. She continued for the better part of an hour. She ended her cotta warm and relaxed, with all the aches of sleeping on the ground worked out of her.

Wiping the sweat from her hands and face, Gabrielle picked up her staff. In her mind's eye, she saw Xena standing before her, a staff in her own hand. She began her attack with a forward thrust. It was blocked easily, as she knew it would. She continued attacking, blocking, and reposting until, after a hard won battle, she swept her imaginary teacher off her feet and to the ground. She dropped the staff to the ground, panting, and bent deep at the waist, waiting for her breath to return. Sweat flowed from every pour, and she watched as the droplets hit the ground. Standing upright, she paced around the clearing, shaking her arms, trying to cool off slowly.

She eyed the lake. She knew she was going to enjoy the water even more, now that she had had a workout. She crossed her arms and grasped the bottom of her green top when she froze. Something wasn't right. Her eyes and ears searched for what didn't belong. She could hear someone approaching from behind. She slipped her toe under the center of her staff and kicked it straight up into her hand. Spinning around, she caught the man off guard, but he was still too far away to cause any immediate harm. He stood looking at the young woman, smiling wickedly.

"By all means, don't let me stop you. Take your clothes off, please. I won't interfere."

"I bet you wouldn't." Gabrielle looked the man up and down, trying to evaluate him swiftly, as Xena taught her. He carried no sword, only a staff, longer and probably heavier than her own. He was not young, but not old by any means, maybe ten years older than she was. He was not weak, not helpless. His muscles were average, the tight, solid look of a man who works for a living. His grin was meant to clearly show he was not there for a friendly chat. Gabrielle was pretty sure she had the upper hand. She smiled.

"Leave me alone, old man. Go find some other woman to ogle. Who knows, you may get lucky. All you'll get from me is a cracked skull."

"Now that is some pretty bold talk for a little girl all alone in the woods like this," the man said as he started walking towards his prey, smiling. He spun the staff skillfully, trying to intimidate the smaller opponent. Gabrielle was a little too experienced to be impressed with juggling, however, and walked forward herself. Maybe a show of strength will be enough to stop this.

"This little girl carries a big stick, and knows how to use it." Before the man could respond, the tip of Gabrielle's staff found itself in his stomach, knocking the wind out of him. He dropped to his knees, keeping the presence of mind to block her next downward swing, stopping the wood inches from the top of his head. Spinning his staff perpendicular to his body, he thrust upward, pelting Gabrielle in the leg. He stood in a quick, graceful motion and stepped back to a safe distance to catch his breath.

"Not bad for a school girl. I hope you are as good with a man as you are with a stick."

Gabrielle grinned despite herself, "Not that you'll ever find out, but I have many skills."

The man attacked this time, the ends of his staff coming at Gabrielle from every direction. Every blow simply found wood as Gabrielle countered every thrust, every swing, every feint. No matter what he tried, the little bard would not have it. In desperation, he swung his staff over his head, overcommiting himself. Gabrielle took the staff in both hands and raised it over her head, blocking the fatal blow. "Take it easy!" she cried as she planted the tip of her foot into his stomach, knocking the wind out of him for the second time. Enraged, the old man feinted a stab to the stomach, and instead pounded the tip of his staff into Gabrielle's hand, which pulled away involuntarily. The man quickly spun the staff out of Gabrielle's other hand and swept her feet out from under her.

Sensing victory, the man took his staff and gripped it at one end like a club and raised it over the fallen woman. Seeing his whole body exposed, Gabrielle saw her chance. Rolling onto her side, she pulled her knee to her chin and kicked out, pushing her foot deep into the man's crotch. Gabrielle readied herself, expecting the man to fall over onto her in pain.

Instead, he stood there, frozen. His arms swung back slightly and his staff fell to the ground behind him. Gabrielle watched as his face became pale. His lips turned bright red, and blood began to flow from his mouth. Frightened, Gabrielle scrambled back, bracing herself against a tree as the man fell to his knees before her. Gabrielle saw movement in the distance. Xena was riding up at a full gallop. As the old man finally lay prone on the ground, Gabrielle saw Xena's chakrum protruding from his back.

Gabrielle's fingers dug into the grass at her sides and began pulling it out in clumps, her eyes never leaving the dead figure. She could her hear Xena's "Ya!!" and Argo's hoofprints getting louder, and could sense Xena dismounting without looking at her.

Xena approached the bard carefully. She knew the man posed no more threat even if he wasn't dead. "Gabrielle? Gabrielle, it's alright. It's over." The bard kept looking at the man. Her face had gone completely white and she seemed to shiver. Her eyes were glistening, but her face was still dry.

Ignoring the warrior, Gabrielle crawled toward the dead body. "Pelias? Pelias, wake up. Pelias!" Gabrielle rolled the man onto his side and patted his face, smearing the blood onto her hands. Her tears fell in rivers as the bard buried her face into his chest. "Pelias, please wake up."

Xena fell back against the tree when she realized what she had done. Gabrielle stood, shaking, and took Xena's face in her hands, pulling Xena's eyes to hers. "You have to help him! Please, Xena, do something." Xena felt moisture along her cheek and wiped the sweat away. As she pulled her hand away, she saw the blood from Gabrielle's hands that had gotten on her face. Frantically, she pushed her companion aside and ran to the lake, scrubbing the blood from her cheek. She looked down into the water and started to convulse, finally vomiting into the lake.

"Xena, save him!"

Xena looked over at the prone man. His eyes were open, unblinking, hollow. "I... he's dead, Gabrielle, there's nothing to do."

"Xena, please, there must be something."

Gabrielle watched the woman search her mind, then stare back at her blankly. Then Gabrielle witnessed something for the first and only time in her entire life with the warrior princess. She saw the woman break. Xena's eyes watered, and the tears flowed. Her breathing became erratic. She lay her head on the ground by the water and balled uncontrollably. Suddenly, she screamed, all her rage and guilt coming out in a sharp blast. She beat the ground with her fist, and then started beating it with her head.

Gabrielle ran to Xena and wrapped her arms around her, pulling her up from the ground. The warrior woman thrashed violently as the young bard squeezed her arms to her sides. The fury in her screams terrified Gabrielle, but she wouldn't let go. Xena's whole body bucked and they rolled in the grass, Gabrielle trying to keep Xena on top, where she couldn't do any harm to herself. Her shins ached as Xena kicked against them wildly.

A few minutes later, the wave ended. Xena lay on her side, Gabrielle's arms still around her, crying softly. The bard let her go and went to the water's edge. She slowly took off her clothes and waded into the freezing water. As the water came up to her waist, she dove out of sight. She skimmed the floor of the lake, swimming out until she felt her lungs would burst. She twisted as she rose, and emerged facing the shore. Xena was sitting now, looking at Gabrielle's dead friend. Gabrielle curled her body and forced her head below her feet and swam back underwater. As she swam, her legs felt the heat as Gabrielle let her bladder loose. She was glad she didn't wet herself when she held Xena, though she thought she would several times.

As she emerged, her eyes went back to where she last saw her lover. The spot was empty. Scanning the area quickly, she saw Xena's back as she rode over a crest, and disappeared. Looking back at Pelias' body, Gabrielle's tears broke through again. She stayed in the water and cried for a long time.

Chapter II

As the sun reached it's zenith, men came up over the crest. Gabrielle walked a few steps away from the camp, staff in hand. The men slowed a little when they saw her weapon. Trained fighters wouldn't be afraid of a "little girl" with a stick, Gabrielle thought to herself as she walked into the open. The men watched suspiciously as she tossed her staff several yards ahead of her and placed her hands on top of her head. She eyed the party, trying to assess her safety. There were four men, two with clubs, one holding a length of rope. The last man pulled a donkey behind them. On the donkey's back she saw a large, white, plain piece of cloth. The rope in the first man's hands was too thin to be for hanging, more than likely to be used for tying her up. They approached until they were a little more than arm's reach away.

The man holding the length of rope spoke first. "Are you Gabrielle?"


"You're Xena's friend?"


"Xena is in our town right now. She came to us saying that Pelias is dead, and that it was her fault. Is that true?"

"Yes. Pelias is dead." Gabrielle nodded in the direction of Pelias' body. The rope bearer jumped back when he saw it, and Gabrielle winced. She used to have the same reaction to death, but that had been a long time ago. The chakrum was no longer in his back, and Gabrielle had straightened out the body. Several feet away, the man saw the women's things packed and ready to be taken. Two of the men took a long cloth from the horse's back and went to wrap their fellow villager.

"But it wasn't Xena's fault. She thought she was protecting me."

"What do you mean, 'she thought she was protecting you'?" the man with the rope asked, trying desperately to keep his voice from breaking. His face had grown paler, and he was decidedly more nervous.

"Pelias and I were sparring with our staffs while Xena was away. She came back to see him winning, and thought I was in danger, so she killed him. She didn't know."

"Well, she's been arrested. She's in jail. Our jail, I mean, and well, and we've got orders to arrest you, and take you there too. So, don't fight or anything, cause were aren't going to do nothing like hurt you or rape you or anything. Ok? We're just going to take you to jail."

Why did they send this poor, timid man to do this job? "Ok, let's go then." Gabrielle held out her wrists and the man fumbled with the rope, wrapping it several times too many around her wrists, none of the turns tight enough. He pulled out a knife and startled himself a little.

"Just to cut the rope."

"I know."

When he was finished, Gabrielle figured she could be free in under a minute if she wanted to be, but it didn't matter. Escape wasn't going to help anything, and besides, she wasn't about to leave Xena alone now. The man then cut a longer piece and tied one end around the bard's waist, tying the other end around his own. The men had the donkey loaded with the white sack and the women's gear by the time he was finished. Blood had already soaked through the material covering the body, showing bright red against the white background. She hoped that she would be able to walk in front of it, she had no desire to see the carcass for the whole trip.

"What about Argo?"

"Who's that?"

"Xena's horse. You don't think we just drag that saddle along do you." she said as she pointed to the saddle hanging on the donkey's back.

The man looked back to the empty camp and seemed to notice the mare for the first time. He nodded at another man, who went and unhitched the warhorse, and gently pulled her along.

Gabrielle's eyes began to glisten again as she looked over the abandoned camp site. She couldn't shake the feeling that this whole thing was somehow her fault. She knew that there was no one to blame, and she didn't do anything to Pelias herself, anyway, but it didn't help. She felt a light tug at her waist, and she and the timid man lead the way back to the village. I guess he doesn't want to see the body either. They walked the entire distance to the village without incident and without words.

Entering the village, Gabrielle began to fear that she might not even make it to the jail. She could feel the hatred's presence in the village as surely as if it were a living thing. It reminded her of the hate Callisto poured out on Xena. But no one made a move to take her, no one spat. Every eye glared at her briefly, then turned away to hide their pain from her. She struggled to keep her head from falling, from looking away from their faces. Xena still encountered this from time to time as they traveled, and she was finally beginning to understand it. She always thought the people unfair, that they weren't giving Xena a chance. Now she wasn't sure anyone deserved a second chance.

As she entered the jail, Gabrielle sensed the confusion and unfamiliarity the people felt with the whole situation. The jail consisted of one barred room with two cots. Xena lay in one, looking intently at the ceiling. Almost like the room was expecting us. An older man, the leader of the town council or at least on the board, was watching in the background. Gabrielle saw the wetness in his eyes and the unsteadiness of his lip as she was gently untied and placed in the cell.

Gabrielle faced the old man, feeling the pain she saw in his eyes. "Hello, Proetus."

"Hello, Gabrielle. Is it really true? Is my Pelias dead?"

The old man watched the young woman's face grimace, a tear forcing its way out and rolling down her cheek. She turned her head away from her friend, putting her face in her hands, and her back along the rough iron bars, hoping that when she opened her eyes, he wouldn't be there.

"I'm sorry."

"What happened?" the old man begged, but it was no use. The bard slid down the bars to the floor, sobbing uncontrollably. Xena lay on her cot motionless, silent, unable to look at her friend. The old man left, walking slowly, accepting the fact that he now had to go and bury his son.

Xena and Gabrielle lay in silence for a long time. Gabrielle's crying had been over hours, and she wanted nothing but to sleep, preferably for the rest of her life. She startled as a man approached the cell.

"Um, excuse me. I have your dinner for you." Gabrielle turned and saw the man whose earlier assignment had been to tie her wrists poorly. He had a platter in his hands with two plates and two mugs. He set it on a nearby table and handed them through the bars to Gabrielle, who realized that she hadn't eaten all day. She set Xena's dinner on the floor by her bed, and sat on her own cot, facing the young man, trying to eat slowly. The young man smiled at her reaction to the food. "My wife made that, you can have more if you like."

Gabrielle stopped and looked at the man with curiosity. Why are these people being so kind? "What's your name?"


"Hello, Justus. I'm Gabrielle."

The man looked at her quizzically. "I know."

"Hmm. I guess you do." Gabrielle nibbled her food, trying to think of something appropriate to say.

"Are you the sheriff in this village?"

"There really isn't a sheriff. Several of us are volunteer deputies, and the town council deal with most matters of law. But there really aren't that many problems. In fact," the man added hesitantly, "we've never really had to deal with a murder before."


The man shrugged and shook his head in an odd gesture. "Not that anybody can remember."

"Do you know what's going to happen?"

"I think you two are going to meet the council tomorrow to explain what happened. They are talking to Tobias right now, hearing his side of the story."

Gabrielle stopped mid-bite and stared at the young man. Xena spun up and around to face him for the first time.

"Someone saw what happened?" Xena asked. Gabrielle could hear that her voice had been strained by her screaming that morning, and probably hours of crying before she arrived to join her in the cell. "What is he saying to them?"

"I'm not sure, but I think it's on your behalf. I can ask around if you like."

"Please do," the bard interjected. The young man nodded as he took the bard's plate and left to fill another one for her. Gabrielle turned to Xena as soon as they were alone.

"Did you know anyone was there?"

"No, I must not have been paying attention." Xena lay back on her cot, staring at the ceiling. Sighing softly, she turned onto her side, propping her head up in one hand, and addressed the bard for the first time since she entered the cell. "Gabrielle, I swear I thought he was going to kill you. I keep playing it back in my head. I had no doubt of it. In fact, when I see it in my mind, it still feels like I was right." Xena added quickly, "I know I'm not, but I just wanted you to know I never would have hurt him if I knew he was your friend."

"I know that. I just hope we can convince the council tomorrow that this was all an accident. I sure hope Justus can find out what Tobias is telling them."

"Me too. If he was there, I wonder why he didn't do anything?"

"Not everybody is as brave as you."

"I guess."

Less than an hour later, Justus returned with more food for Gabrielle, and more drink for the both of them. He noticed Xena had finally eaten, and her plate was empty. Justus smiled. He couldn't help but take pride in his wife's work, even if these two were murderers.

"Xena, would you like me to fetch you more?"

Xena smiled. She didn't often run across men who were so...sweet. "No, thank you. But another drink would help."

The man passed the cups and plate to Gabrielle, who looked at the man with a confused smile.


"Why is everybody being so kind to us? Even as I was brought in, nobody did anything to harm me, even though I could see the pain on their faces."

Justus' face lost its smile. Gabrielle suddenly wished she hadn't asked. "You have to understand, this is the first time that this kind of thing has ever happened in our village. This cell is usually empty, and the only criminals it has ever held have been people who got a too rowdy at a festival, or a man who wanted the night away from his wife. We really don't know how to act around you, especially when Proetus and Tobias are pleading your case. They are very respected people in our community."

At the mention of Tobias, both women's interest peaked. "Have you found out what he has been saying?" Xena asked.

Justus nodded, "Apparently the same thing you two are saying, that it was an accident. He said he was going to the river to get a drink, and that he saw a young girl about to take her clothes off, so he stopped to watch." The man looked at Gabrielle and blushed, and Xena shot her a confused look.

"Don't look at me like that, I told you I was going to take a swim last night. What else did he say, Justus?"

"He said he saw Pelias come up to you, saying rude things. He said you tried to scare him off, and that you two started fighting. He said he got nervous how hard the two of you were hitting, because Pelias isn't, um... wasn't, violent, and he didn't see any harm you had done to him to make him fight. He said that he thought Pelias was going to kill you and then he fell dead. He got scared and ran away."

"Does the council believe him?"

"I think so, but they are really confused. Tobias is trustworthy to a fault, and even though Proetus has a hard time believing his son could hurt anyone, he apparently knows you, Gabrielle, and feels the same way about you."

"Are they going to hear us out tomorrow, or just give us their decision?" Xena interrupted.

"They have decided to listen to you first. The law only requires them to listen to the testimony of men, but they figure this is a special case."

Xena rolled her eyes. "How generous of them."

"Well, if they followed the letter of the law, you two would already be dead. If a woman is accused of murdering a man, her husband has to prove she was with him, and if she can't, she is stoned immediately, but since neither of you have a husband, they decided to try you both as men."

Xena jumped up to the bars, scaring Justus out of his wits. "They're trying both of us? Why? I already confessed, Tobias backs my story up! She has nothing to do with this."

"Xena!?!" Gabrielle looked up at her astonished. "Why did you think they locked me up? To keep you company?" Gabrielle turned to Justus. "You found all that out, and got us more food, all in under an hour?"

Justus chuckled, his body relaxing noticeably. "I live next door, and someone was already there to tell me the news. Goodnight."

"Goodnight, Justus."

Xena flung herself back on her cot. Of course she knew Gabrielle had been arrested, it just dawned on her now that she could end up paying for this crime. She'll have to get Gabrielle off the hook tomorrow, she decided. Justus left soon after to let the accused sleep.

Chapter III

When Justus came back in the morning, he found Xena already awake. She was sitting on her cot with her back against the wall, watching Gabrielle sleep. She looked up at the man, who was holding another platter. This time it was filled with fruit and cups. A pitcher was in his other hand. He opened the cell door to let himself in and handed the food to Xena, who stood looking at him with her mouth open. The man smiled. "I believe you two. I have no reason to fear you. Wake her up and eat. The council will meet with you in an hour." He left the two alone in the cell again. She woke Gabrielle, and the two of them ate hungrily.

The women met the council later in the "hall," which looked suspiciously like a barn to Xena and Gabrielle. Most of the village's men were there, standing or sitting along the walls of the barn. The four council members sat at a table facing three stools. A man was already sitting in one, having small talk with the council members as Xena and Gabrielle were led in by the same men who arrested Gabrielle the day before. Must be Tobias, Xena thought to herself as she and Gabrielle were escorted to their stools. Their hands were tied again, just as poorly as before, but they accepted the discomfort without a word.

Gabrielle looked at Proetus and felt her heart break. He still had a quiver in his voice as he spoke with the others, and his eyes had deep bags under them. He should be taking care of his son, not seeing over the trial of his murderers.

Proetus stood to quiet the gathering down. "Gabrielle, Xena, we're convened today to listen to your version of what happened yesterday, to see if anyone is to blame for my son Pelias' death." The old man's voice broke, and a murmur arose in the crowd. Raising, his hand, Proetus quieted the crowd again before continuing. "First we will hear Gabrielle's story, then Xena's, then Tobias will retell his story so everyone clearly knows his testimony, and not just rumors of it."

Gabrielle stood before the villagers and told of everything that happened from the time she got up that morning to the time she got arrested. She was interrupted with questions several times when she tried to make clear that she and Pelias were pretending to be hostile towards each other, and that at one point, she had to yell at him because he was getting too rough. At the mention of that, Tobias chimed in that he did hear her yell at him to "take it easy".

At the end of the testimony, one of the council members politely asked, "Gabrielle, did you ever during that fight think your life was in danger, or that you were going to get hurt?"

Gabrielle's heart sank, "No. I didn't."

"Thank you, Gabrielle." Proetus said, making a gesture to her stool. "Xena, you may now speak."

Xena explained as best she could where they had last come from, where they were going, and why they stopped by their village. One of the men who stood along the wall supported her story that she had been in town earlier that day to buy mending materials. The innkeeper also saw her in his tavern, and testified that she was not drunk when she left. Xena made it clear to all who were there that if anyone was to blame, it was her and not Gabrielle. When she ended, she sat after answering only a few minor questions.

Tobias rose next, and the crowd grew noticeably quieter. He explained that he hid in the bushes, hoping to catch a glimpse at a naked Gabrielle. He told of how Pelias approached her and that he also thought the fight was real and though shocked when Pelias fell over dead, he almost felt relieved. At that remark the hall was overwhelmed with booing and whispering.

"How can you say that?" a man screamed for the back of the hall.

"Pelias was our brother!" another yelled.

"Tobias, how could you say that?"

"Please believe me," Tobias pleaded as he turned and faced Proetus. Tear marks lined his face, his voice was barely contained. "I believed he was going to kill her."

The council stood and tried to calm the villagers. They eventually had to open the doors and usher everybody out. The huge building was empty except for the council, Tobias, the accused, and the deputies, and Tobias finished his testimony again in private, for the record.

A flustered councilman took Justus by the shoulder. "Take them back to their cell, we will reconvene with our decision soon."

An hour passed before Justus entered the cell after leaving the two women alone. Xena and Gabrielle could hear the people outside gathering and talking, but couldn't make out what was going on. Gabrielle, scared more than she wanted to admit, grabbed the bars, trying to push her face through them.

"Justus, what's going on? Has the council reached a decision?"

Justus nodded and opened the cage door. He clumsily retied both of their hands together and quietly lead them out of the jail into a town overcrowded with people waiting for them. Xena already knew the decision, and didn't really mind. Actually, she felt relieved. But not for Gabrielle.

Proetus was waiting outside the door. "The council has reached a decision. Our brother Pelias is dead, and though everyone seems to have reasons for what they did, we cannot in good faith say that no one is to blame."

Gabrielle felt the words like a blow. Xena began to open her mouth, but Proetus waved his hand and continued uninterrupted. "Xena, it was you who attacked Pelias, and though Tobias said he was also afraid for Gabrielle, he is not a fighter. But you are. You must have known that Gabrielle was not in danger, even she realized that, but you killed a man anyway. We therefore find you solely guilty of murdering my son."

"NO!!!" Gabrielle screamed. She quickly found four large hands holding her back as Justus and another deputy grabbed her squirming body. "I did it. I did it all. Xena's innocent! Let her go!"

Xena turned to face the struggling bard. "It's alright, Gabrielle," she whispered as she kissed her love softly on the lips, and felt her break inside. Gabrielle slumped to the ground, sobbing, as Xena turned to face the crowd, her eyes coming to rest on Proetus.

"What happens now?"

"You are to be stoned." the old man replied softly.

"Lead the way."

The deputies tied a rope around Xena's waist and lead her off, the entire village following. A twenty minute's walk lead them to an open space, and the crowd formed a ring around the whole area. Xena saw a wagon already there, half-filled with small to medium sized rocks. People began taking them one or two at a time, not looking at the warrior prisoner.

Gabrielle followed. Since she had been officially released, her hands were no longer bound. Justus walked along beside her quietly. Gabrielle stopped short and watched from the outside, leaning on her staff. The fight had left her, she just watched as the inevitable happened to the most important person in her life.

Xena remained calm as the rope was removed from her waist. She was now alone in the great circle of people. With her hands tied and her soul about to be let free, the corners of Xena's lips curled up. She looked at Gabrielle and mouthed the words "I love you."

One of the councilmen threw the first stone, as was required by law. Xena's eyes never left Gabrielle, until she heard the sound of the stone hitting metal. She turned just in time to see her chakrum flying in her direction. Instinctively, she held up her wrists and let the ring slice threw her bonds before it imbedded itself in the nearby wagon. Everybody turned in the direction the chakrum came from.

Gabrielle's eyes grew wide as she saw a dark figure riding in quickly on a huge black horse. She immediately recognized his curly black hair and mustache, and her heart sank into her stomach. Behind him, Argo raced along, keeping in stride with the larger black horse, her reigns being held by the man ahead of her. They ran a straight line towards Xena. Oh, gods. What is he doing here?

The crowd dived out of the way of the horses, which didn't slow as they pressed through the ring. Without stopping, Ares rode passed Xena, who slid onto Argo at full gallop. Her hand shot out and snagged the chakrum from the wagon. Ares never looked back, but kept heading for the trees on the other side of the clearing. Xena slowed as she come up to Gabrielle, her arm lowered. Gabrielle reached out and suddenly thought her arm was going to be ripped from its socket as she was pulled onto Argo's back.

"Hang on!"

If Argo was tired, she didn't let the two women know it. They shot away from the execution at a speed that terrified Gabrielle. Hanging on for dear life, she closed her eyes and just waited for the ride to be over. Xena could still see Ares ahead. If I can see him, I can catch him, she thought as she pushed the mare forward. Xena saw the horse and rider disappear into the trees, and knew that it was going to be difficult to catch up to him, but she had no intention of letting him get away.

Argo's footsteps echoed like thunder in Gabrielle's ears. The villagers were so far behind them, Ares was so far ahead of them. She was beginning to feel sick. "Xena, slow down! Please!"

"Gabrielle, if we slow down, we'll lose him!"

"SO WHAT? What difference does it make? Xena, I'm going to throw up! Please, slow down!"

With all her pent up frustration, Xena screamed and pulled back on the reigns, bringing Argo to a screeching halt. She nearly threw the bard to the ground as she dismounted and looked in the direction of the trees. She screamed in rage at the lost opportunity and spun to look at the bard. Gabrielle lay on the ground, her forehead resting on the earth, eyes closed, trying to breath normally.

"Are you happy? Now we'll never find him!"

Gabrielle didn't bother responding. She didn't care that Ares got away, and didn't really understand why Xena did. All Gabrielle cared about was the cool sensation of the ground on her body, never wanting to leave it again. She could feel the tension of every muscle, the adrenaline still having its hold over her body and mind. She had to calm them.

"Gabrielle, because of you, he got away! Don't you understand?"

Xena heard a mumble come from the motionless bard. "What did you say?"

Gabrielle slowly rose and moved so she ended up sitting on the ground, facing Xena. "I said, 'No.' I don't understand. Why do we have to catch him? What difference does it make?"

"What difference does it make? He has to pay for this! He has to pay for interfering!"

"He saved your life."

"Gabrielle, I was supposed to die!!! I was finally going to get what I deserved, and that bastard stole it from me again!"

Gabrielle looked up at her love in horror. Confusion and fear swept over her face as the weight of her words hit her. "You wanted to die?"

Xena calmed herself and sat near the bard, facing off to the side. She pulled her knees up and rocked a little as she explained. "Not exactly. I didn't want to die, Gabrielle, but I did want to justice served. I wanted to finally answer for a crime instead of getting away. I wanted to die knowing that I was finally being punished me for my sins. It may not make sense to you, but I thought that if I died today, that would have finished my atonement for the things I've done."

"Then why did you run? You didn't have to."

"I don't know. Habit, instinct maybe. When I saw Argo coming, I just went with what was happening, and it lead me here. But, not all is lost."

"What do you mean?"

Xena looked at the bard for the first time since the conversation began. "I can still go back."

Gabrielle's eyes watered as her throat was gripped in a knot. She managed to shake her head back and forth. Xena took the bard's head into her breast as the bard broke down and sobbed. Gabrielle pulled back abruptly, "You don't have to do this! It won't make a difference for what you did, Xena. Living will."

"Gabrielle, I have to do this. I have to have peace."

"I don't want you to die! If you loved me, you wouldn't do this, Xena. Please don't do this to me!"

"I'm sorry Gabrielle, I have to, but not for a while yet. Tonight I'll go back alone, they may want you now too." Xena stood and went to Argo, who was fully packed, and started to pull out the supplies to make camp.

Xena's attitude infuriated Gabrielle, and as she pushed the fear down, bitterness rose to replace it. "Why not go back now then, if you are so set on dying?"

"Because I want to spend the day with you."

Chapter IV

Gabrielle woke with a start. Bolting upright, her bedroll fell from her body. She felt her body tingle as the cool air danced over her naked skin. She scanned the campsite and quickly realized that Xena left her alone. With only half an hour of light left, it would be dark by the time she got back to the village, but the way back was easy enough over the flat land. If Xena thinks I'm going to leave her now...

Throwing the blanket aside, Gabrielle searched for her clothes. Her skirt and boots were easy enough to find, but her top seemed to have disappeared. It took her nearly a quarter of an hour to find that Xena had thrown it completely clear of the camp and into the tall grass. She hurriedly put it on and cursed the fact that she had to waste so much time over something so silly. Taking staff in hand, she started back the way they came earlier that day.

Luckily, the area that the villagers decided to perform their justice was a fairly flat, treeless area, and Gabrielle found herself making good time back to the village. As she ran, she felt her staff growing heavier and heavier. If anyone had been watching, they would have laughed at the sight of this small woman, running at full speed, twirling her staff from one hand to the other, over the shoulder, under the arm. Her attempt to keep her muscles from having to carry the weight of the pole too long began to look like a graceless, albeit controlled, form of dance. As she approached the wagon full of stones, she forced back a cringe and picked up the pace even more. She couldn't afford to try to discern Xena's motivation for giving herself in. She couldn't bother herself with whether or not she was now condemning herself to the same fate as her friend. Along with the lingering image of the wagon, Gabrielle pushed these thoughts aside and focused on getting to Xena.

Only a few minutes away from the village, Gabrielle was winded, and slowed her pace. Taking the time to catch her breath, she inhaled deeply and smelled it. It terrified her. Taking her staff in both hands, she ran as fast as she could toward the smell, and as she breached the crest between her and the village, she saw the dull glow of the now dying flames. All conscious thought left the bard as she ran down the main road into the village. The unfortunately familiar smell of burning wood and flesh assaulted her, but she still pushed through, looking high and low, searching every direction for the Warrior Princess.

She rounded the remains of the jail and was nearly thrown back by the rush of heat. Not twenty feet from where she stood a bonfire burned. The smell of burning hair and flesh destroyed the air, suffocating the bard. She quickly doubled back around the shell of the jailhouse to get up wind of the fire, and it was there that she found Justus staring at her. Blood was streaked down his upside-down face. His eyes were hollow, unblinking. One arm flailed in the air as Xena carried him to the fire, the other arm pressed against her body. His body disappeared into the orange light as Xena turned and saw Gabrielle for the first time.

Xena's face was unreadable, stonelike. She held Gabrielle's gaze for a moment before she spoke. "Help me with the bodies."

"Xena, what happened?" Gabrielle could feel her self-control slipping. The fire illuminated the bodies of dead animals and people. They seemed to litter the street as far as the light reached. None of them had any weapons, no sign of any soldiers taken down in the struggle. This wasn't a fight. It was a slaughter.


"But why?"

"To keep me alive, I suppose."

"Of course, why else do you think I'd bother?"

Xena spun to find the god of war standing right next to Gabrielle. Startled, Gabrielle flung herself against the scorched jailhouse, her hand flying up instinctively to her chest. He chuckled at the women's surprise and strolled up to the fire, inhaling deeply. He smiled. "I will never grow tired of this smell. It's not quite as satisfying as it is after a real battle, but it's still nice, nevertheless."

Ares turned to face Xena just in time to dodge the blade that was attempting to remove his head. He stumbled back and righted himself while unsheathing his sword, just in time to block the next blow. Xena was frantic, swinging wildly out of control, trying to get inside the god's defense. Gabrielle watched horror stricken. Xena couldn't beat him, and knew it, but she didn't care. Gabrielle realize that she was trying to end the conflict here, to end his interference in her life, even if he had to kill her to do it.

"What is the matter with you! I saved your life!" Ares seemed genuinely confused as Xena thrust, and thrust again. He blocked each blow, making no aggressive moves, hoping the warrior would calm down and stop.

"Bastard! They did nothing to you!" Xena wouldn't give up. The two simply went around and around the fire, Xena constantly advancing, Ares always on the retreat. The warrior princess was obviously going to tire out before she could inflict any harm, what little she could against a god, anyway. But now Ares didn't care. He parried a thrust by Xena and landed a punch squarely against her jaw, knocking her to the ground.

"That's it! No more fighting! I am your benefactor, do you understand?" Xena reached for her fallen sword, but a blue surge of energy flew from Ares' hand, skimming it along the ground a safe distance away. "Who do you think gave you your strength? Your skill? How many times have I saved you life? How dare you defy me!?!"

As Xena braced her hands on the ground and began to force herself up, Ares ran up to her and brought his shin to her cheek, sending her over onto her back for the second time. The blow nearly knocked her unconscious, and she struggled slowly to right herself. Ares looked up to the stars, sighing softly to himself. "I gave you everything. I just wanted you to follow me willingly. To love me, but you don't, do you. No, you love..." and then he turned to see the pale, silent, pitiful form of Gabrielle.

Rage filled Ares' eyes as a hiss escaped him, "YOU!" He walked around Xena in the direction of her lover. Ares' eyes locked onto Gabrielle's, and she found she couldn't move. He stood before her, his face inches from hers and spoke with barely controlled fury, "She loves you. YOU!" Xena turned to see Gabrielle's hands at her throat, trying to release Ares' grip. The god spun on his heals and with one swift motion, Gabrielle was sent flying through the air, landing on the other side of the fire with a thud.

Ares' hand glowed blue once again, and the blast fell a charging Xena to the ground. This time to stay. Ares marched over to the bard, shrieking, "I gave her power!" A kick to the face. "I gave her wealth!" A kick to the ribs. Gabrielle tried desperately to suck in air between the blows, but they didn't let up. "She gave you her love!" A downward thrust with his fist. "Her loyalty!" Another punch. "Her bed!" Ares' foot smashed against Gabrielle's ribs, breaking several of them, and she suddenly realized she couldn't breathe at all, as one of the ribs had penetrated her lung.

Gabrielle's consciousness began to slip, but it came back, quickly, with a new awareness of the pain. Ares' hand lay on her shoulder, and he whispered, "You don't get off that easy, bitch." He spun to face Xena, swinging Gabrielle across the ground by her shoulder like a doll. Both parties were illuminated by the funeral pyre, and Ares could see Xena's desperation. It excited him. He could feel his erection growing, pushing against his pants as his rage increased. "I wanted you to follow me willingly, but you had to keep fucking with me." The grip on Gabrielle's shoulder increased in strength, breaking her collar. She grasped her shoulder weakly, screaming, as Ares lifted her up off her feet. Xena watched Gabrielle, held out in the air by one arm, try to get away as she heard Ares proclaim, "I am the God of War, Xena, and you are mine!"

Gabrielle felt a sharp pain in her lower back. She looked down to see the flat of Ares' blade protrude through her stomach. Both her hands reached up in front of her, touching the blade, unsure that it was real, and then she saw the splattering of blood on the sword as it poured from her mouth. Ares finally let go of her shoulder, allowing her to lose consciousness, and her life.

Xena, her strength gone, watched as Gabrielle was suspended in midair by the blade through her belly. Suddenly the blade disappeared, and after a second's hesitation, her lover's body fell to the ground, exposing Ares once again. In one hand he held the bloody sword. His other hand was glowing a faint blue once again, and the last thing she saw before being knocked unconscious was the look of victory on the god of war's face.

Ares looked down at Gabrielle's dead form and felt the bulge in his pants jump a little at the sight. I finally got you, bitch! Ares thought as he rubbed his crotch through the leather. Dropping his sword, he undid the laces at the front of his pants and reached in, pulling himself out of the restrictive clothing. He walked to the edge of the fire, inhaling the stench of burning flesh deeply. The flames licked his skin. What would have suffocated a mortal, merely invigorated the god. Closing his eyes, he slowly, rhythmically, with great relish, began caressing himself up and down. He took his mind back to earlier that day, and to the man who thought he safely dodged his sword, until he felt the blood flowing from his neck. He could feel the pressure building in his sac, and increased the intensity of the massaging. He remembered the baby he pulled from the screaming mothers arms, and how its crying stopped suddenly when he twisted its head one way, and its body the other. Then he remembered the bitch, and the feeling of pushing his blade trough her while Xena watched. He felt his member stiffen quickly, and with a loud groan let the climax overtake him. Pulling his shoulders back, and his hips forward, he sprayed his semen into the flames, onto the burning bodies. He giggled as he stepped back and began to pull his trousers back up, until he saw the fire start to walk toward him. Reaching down, taking his sword, and jumping back, he readied himself against his newest offspring. His disregarded the cool of the breeze on his ass and the heat of the fire on his crotch as the leather garment fell to the ground, stuck around his ankles.

"Do you always greet your children this way?"

The creature stood at least two and a half cubits tall. As the god watched, the giant began to look less and less like a pillar of fire and more like a large man. The flames died down and tanned skin appeared, the hair and eyes took on a normal shape, but kept their bright red hue. He smiled, amused, as he looked at his half naked father, and placed his hands slowly behind his back, showing he was not a threat.

"I generally greet everyone this way," Ares replied as he relaxed. Great! he thought to himself. He didn't really care for children, but even he couldn't simply kill it and leave. "What should I do with you?" he asked himself rhetorically. He couldn't claim him as his own, too many questions would be asked that he didn't really want to bother creating answers to.

"I'll do anything you want me to do," the giant responded, thinking the question was meant for him. He stepped forward, quickly, making Ares jump back awkwardly and take a defensive posture again. An idea suddenly hit him and he smiled at his boy.

"There is something you can do for me. I have a brother. His name is Hercules. He's after me. He wants to kill me. Could you find him and his friend and kill them for me, please?"

The giant didn't even bother to respond. Turning quickly, and prompting Ares once again to raise his sword in alarm, the fire giant was off, and was out of sight within seconds. Ares grinned. "Either way, I win," he chuckled to himself, "and he'll figure out he's going in the wrong direction soon enough".

It was only now that Ares realized that his pants were still undone, and he began to retie them again as he walked over to the unconscious Xena. Kneeling down beside her, he put a hand to her shoulder and his mouth to her ear. He let his power flow into her, healing her as he spoke. "Xena, I know you can hear me," he whispered into her mind. "If you start tomorrow, you can reach Seianeia in five days. I'm giving you a week. If you aren't in my temple by this time next week, your mother dies. The day after that, Hercules, then Iolaus, then Joxer. Get the idea? I hope you believe me." He stood, looked one last time at his prize possession, picked up his sword, and disappeared with the wind.

As the sun began its journey through the sky the following morning, Xena woke from an incredibly restful sleep. Not remembering where she was, she jumped to her feet, at the ready, and turned, surveying the devastation around her. She lowered her hands, relaxed, and walked toward the burned out funeral pyre. A tear rolled down her face as she remembered finding the dead and cleaning up after the savagery. Walking around the pyre, preparing to finish what she started last night, she saw her.

Xena froze. She remembered. She stood rigid, quivering, her air coming out in gasps as she tried to speak. Tears blurred the image and streamed down her face in rivers. Every muscle was clenched in rage, in pain. Looking up into the skies of the hateful gods, she screamed, howled. In the time that it takes for one heartbeat to end and the next to begin, hers cursed the gods, all of them, for giving her this life, for killing her lover instead of her, for existing.

Confused, she began to walk in circles, head down, her fingers frantically ripping through her hair. She eventually tripped on the outstretched hand of one of the dead villagers and let herself fall. She lay the better part of an hour, crying, cursing, hating. Then she remembered something Hercules had done once.

Rising to her feet, she brushed herself off as best she could, wiped her tears, and took in a deep breath. "HADES!!!!!!!!!!!!" Nothing. "HADES, ANSWER ME!!!!!!!" The only sound she could hear were the rustling of leaves and the occasional bird. Closing her eyes, and sucking in deeply, she shrieked in hatred, "HADES!!!!!!"

She opened her eyes and found herself in a great hall.

"What do you want, Xena?"

Xena looked down the hall to see the god of the underworld staring back at her. He was clad in his usual black garb, and an unmistakably hostile look etched his face. A scroll was in his had, and a minion stood, eye wide, looking the warrior up and down. She was about as tall as Xena was, older, with short brown-red hair and generous breasts. She was wearing a white dress, and apparently nothing else. She never took her eyes off the stranger, even as Xena tried to stare her down.

"What's with her?"

"Oh, don't mind Anna, she's just never seen a person who's alive before," Hades remarked as he folded the scroll and handed it to the woman. She bowed softly and exited, taking several glances back before going through the door. Xena watched her go with a not-too-amused expression. She was brought back by Hades.

"I said, what do you want?"

"You know damn well what I want!" cried Xena. She checked her anger as she watched Hades walk over to a chair that was up against a wall. He sat slowly, contemplating. He finally looked at the warrior princess, his finger tapping his chin as if it would help his thought processes.


Horror. Shock. Rage. "What!?!"

"I said 'No,' Xena," he placed both hands in his lap, waiting for the fight he knew would come. He could tell the woman wanted to throttle him. He watched as her face grew flush, and her muscles stiffened.

"I don't think you understand," she finally managed.

"Yes, I do."

"This isn't a request."

"I said no, and I mean it. And don't threaten me, Xena, we both know it's idle."

The smugness of the god infuriated Xena, and she charged him. Drawing her sword and striking, she split his chair in one stroke. The god was gone. Bringing the sword up to ready herself for a counterattack, she spun, scanning the hall of any sign of him. There wasn't any. Putting the sword back in its place, she made her way to the main door. It wouldn't even rattle. She felt the adrenaline rush as she ran for the door she saw the woman exit earlier. The handle wouldn't move. She pulled on it, cursed, and fought back the blinding tears as she kicked the door, and again, and again. The door didn't notice a bit.

Drawing her sword again, Xena went berserk. She ran back and splintered the chair she already attacked, then the tapestry above it. She wound her way through the hall, knocking over what she couldn't destroy, until she finally collapsed to the floor. Everything in the room was splintered, tattered, or toppled, but she couldn't even put a scratch on any of the doors. Her chest rose and fell swiftly, and she let the tears and perspiration fall from her face. She banged her sword down on the stone floor once more for good measure.

Hades watched the woman in silence, clouding himself from her eyes, as she caught her breath. When he judged it safe for the both of him, he began walking towards the warrior princess.

"Feeling any better?"

She looked up at him, the fight gone; the hatred growing. "Why?"

"Why should I?"

"It's not fair. He had no right."

"No, he didn't, but he did it anyway." Hades sat next to the exhausted warrior, leaning back against a newly chipped pillar. He cocked his head towards her, waiting for her to speak again.

"You did it for Hercules, when Iolaus died."

"Yes, I did, but I'm not going to do it for you."

"Couldn't you give me till sundown to do something to get her back?"

"I could, but I'm not going to."

Xena looked at the god, confusion clouding her mind. She new he had the worst job in the universe, but she never thought him to be this cruel. "I don't understand."

Hades turned his face away and looked as if he was preparing to tell a story. Xena nearly lost her patience when the god finally explained. "When your brother died, when your village was attacked, you rose to the challenge. But something happened to you. You became twisted. The same thing happened to Draco, and the same thing happened to Callisto." The god turned his head again, looking up at the tattered remains of his favorite tapestry. "But when Callisto killed Perdicus, Gabrielle felt the rage, the hate, and beat it. I'm giving you the same opportunity now."

Xena's eyes narrowed as she gripped the hilt of her sword tighter. "Do you mean to tell me that you are going to let her die just to teach me a lesson?"

"Xena, she's already dead. Besides, she's in the Elysian Fields right now, happy. Even as we speak, she and Perdicus are sitting under a tree having a picnic. They'll probably make love soon after. Are you really wanting her best by asking me to take her away from here?"

Xena rose to her feet and looked down at the tired looking god. "You won't spare the villagers' lives either, or Pelias'?"

"Xena, they are all either very happy right now, or getting the punishment they deserve. It all works out in the end." He stood slowly, trying to delay his going back to work. "Please go now."

As Xena opened her mouth to protest, a cool breeze hit her face, startling her. Her eyes came to rest on the now burnt out funeral pyre. She noticed little specks flying out of the pyre and hitting her. She realized she was being surrounded by flies. Covering her face, she ran past the edge of the village and looked back. The bodies still littered the streets, being eaten away slowly by the insects. Her eyes blurred again and she rose her voice back to the sky in a hateful shriek.

"I'm glad somebody is here to morn this loss."

Xena spun, taking the speaker off guard, but keeping her balance as she moved out of the warrior's range. Xena stopped when she saw Artemis looking back at her.

Pointing her finger back at the village, Xena hissed at the goddess, "Gabrielle's in there, she's dead. Did you know that?"

Artemis began walking towards the village. "She's why I'm here. Come with me."

Xena followed her into the village, the flies nowhere to be seen. The goddess lifted her queen's body and turned to face the warrior.



"Get out of my way."

The goddess walked to her, past her, to a fresh pyre that was in the path that the two had just walked through. Laying the stiff body onto the wood, she walked back to the warrior princess. Suddenly the pyre lit, as did all the bodies in the village. The broken houses and storefronts caught fire, and Artemis escorted Xena out of harms way, the entire village burning behind them. Artemis whispered in Xena's ear as they reached a safe distance away.

"Nobody kills my queen and gets away with it. We must seek retribution."

Xena chuckled, a little callously, "He's already dead, as far as I'm concerned."

"Can I do anything to help you do this?"

Xena stopped. "Yes, actually. I need to find the King of Thieves."

Chapter V

Xena approached the noisy tavern cautiously, and she always did, stopping short as a rush of laughter erupted from within. Cautiously, she entered, greeted by the stench of sweat, alcohol, and what she assumed could only be vomit. She eyed the bartender, and walked over to the counter as another spree of cheers and laughing filled the room. Ordering port, she scanned the area instinctively. Most of the clientele were either sleeping with their heads on the table, or soon to be, but in one corner, a group of men huddled, laughing, whistling, and cursing their amazement. Taking cup in hand, she strolled over to see what was so interesting.

The men on the outside of the ring were surprisingly gracious, and let her wind her way in. Sitting behind a table, and three overturned mugs of port, sat Autolycus. In front of the three mugs were some grapes. Autolycus lifted a cup, nothing was underneath it.

"Now, watch," he said importantly as he set the mug down. Picking up a grape with one hand, and another mug in the other, he placed the grape on the top of the upturned mug, and placed the other mug on top of that. Tapping the top mug, he lifted the stack, revealing the grape now resting on the table. The men hissed and giggled as he removed the grape, setting the mugs back down. All the grapes seemed to be back in front of the mugs as Autolycus turned to one of the men.

"Which mug has the grape?"

The man looked startled. He counted the three grapes on the table. "None of them do."

"Are you sure?" Autolycus flashed his teeth whimsically.

The man looked again. "Well, I damn well better be, or I've had too much to drink!" The men laughed till bent over at their friend's joke. A good natured hand came down on Xena's back, and another caught her as she was pitched forward.

Autolycus eyed the glaring warrior princess, smiled, and looked back at the man. "Well, you're right my friend, there aren't anymore grapes." With that said, he turned over all three mugs, showing that a lemon had appeared under each one.

Xena nearly had to cover her ears as the room filled with curses and laughter. A man handed the thief a mug of port and a complimentary curse. He accepted the drink and several coins from the audience as they began to break up and go home to the wives they felt they could no longer avoid. A few staggered to the counter or their tables, muttering to themselves, "Damnedest thing..." "How in Tartarus..."

Collecting his earnings for the night, Autolycus gestured to a chair, and Xena sat, patiently waiting as he stashed his money safely away. Popping a grape in his mouth, he finally took notice of her.

"Not a bad way to make a few dinars when needed." He shifted his gaze left and right. "Where's Gabrielle?"

Xena's face took its stonelike appearance it normally did when she struggled to maintain control of her emotions. "Gabrielle's dead."

Autolycus froze mid-drink, and laid his mug down slowly, eyeing the warrior woman with shock. Cocking his head to one side, then the other, Xena could see the unspoken question in his face.

"It was Ares. He killed her so he could have me back."

"Xena," Autolycus paused. "I'm sorry. She was a good kid." He sat quiet for a moment, then jerked his head back to her eyes. "You haven't gone back to him, have you?"

"Of course not!" Xena said far too loudly. Several heads turned in her direction, and then back to their medicine or sleep.

"Of course not," she repeated, softer. "But she is why I'm here. I need you to help me steal something."

"I don't understand. What do you want me to steal for Gabrielle?" Autolycus leaned in as Xena did, looking around to make sure no one would hear them.

"I need you to steal a sword."

"You want me to steal a sword because Gabrielle's dead?" Autolycus' voice was little more than a whisper, and filled with more than a little disbelief.

"Yes!" Xena hissed, her whisper matching his own.

"Who's sword to you want me to steal?"

"Ares', of course."

"WHAT!?!" Autolycus jumped back down in his chair. The patrons turned their attention back to the couple briefly, muttered, then went back to sleep. Autolycus shot back forward and resumed his whispering, a bit more hostile this time.

"You want me to steal the god of war's sword, are you out of your mind? Why in Tartarus would you want me to do that?"

"Without his sword, he becomes mortal. If he becomes mortal, I can kill him."

Autolycus eyed Xena carefully, settling back in his chair. "Gods, you are out of your mind."

"I'm serious, Autolycus."

"So am I, Xena, and I have just two words for you, no fucking way!"

With that, Autolycus stood, planting his hands on the table to push himself up. Xena's chair flew behind her as she stood, planting her hands down as well, meeting him eye to eye.

"I'm not asking you, Autolycus, I'm telling you! That bastard killed the woman I love and I'm going to see that he pays!" The rage was coursing through the woman, but she managed to keep her voice down to a savage whisper. Autolycus didn't even flinch.

"Threaten me all you want, Xena, but you know as well as I do that whatever you do to me couldn't be a tenth as bad as what Ares could do to me if he catches me."

Xena's smile was not friendly. "A) Don't be so sure about that, and, 2) If you are as good as you CONSTANTLY say you are, you won't get caught!"

"Sorry, baby, but it's just not worth the risk! Stealing that sword won't bring Gabrielle back, and that sword has no value to me personally. If I can steal something to bring her back, lead the way. If not, get lost!"

A resounding crash and curse pulled both whisperers away from each other and drew their attention to the center of the bar. A man of gigantic proportions stood, searching through his clothing, obviously having lost something of value.

"My purse is gone! Somebody stole my money!!"

Xena's eyes closed nearly shut as she turned to face Autolycus, to find him halfway to the front door, running as fast as he could. Deafening the patrons with her war cry, Xena jumped, somersaulted, twisted, and landed between the king of thieves and the door. He conveniently ran his throat into her fingers, and she shoved him to the wall, next to the door.

"You show these guys your skill with your hands, and then pick the pocket of the biggest on in the room? What are you, stupid?"

"He picked my pocket!?!" The hulking man made his way to the struggling thief, stopped short by Xena's stare.

"You want a piece of this, fatso?"

The man looked at his opponent skeptically. He knew who she was, but still, to look at her, he thought he could take her. Looking around the room, he saw several heads shake, one man going so far as to mouth the words "get out." Taking their advice, he backed off and walked back to the counter, until Autolycus spoke up.

"Come on, Linus, you're not going to let a woman stare you down like that, are you?" Xena's arm pressed against his throat, her glare warned him not to press on.

"What did you say, prick?" With a mock look of dumbfoundedness, the colossus walked slowly towards the warrior and her captive.

"Well, it's just that I heard you bragging that you could take anybody in the town, and now a woman," choke, "is making a," cough, "fool out of you." Gasp!

"Why, you little..." Linus launched towards Autolycus, aiming to stuff that UGLY green shirt down his arrogant throat. The next thing he saw was ceiling. He came to find out later that Xena had taught him how to fly and land on a table. He learned quickly, his friends agreed.

Two more men went to Linus' aid. Xena leapt straight up, taking both out with front kicks before landing back in the same spot. She landed just in time to dodge a club aimed clumsily at her head, and kneed the attacker in the stomach as she punched the next assailant dead in the face.

Linus rose to his feet, face flushed, furious. He charged the warrior, trying to smash her against the front wall with his body. The patrons watched her form get enveloped in his as he neared her at a full run. Then they watched him stop, waver, and fall to the side in a curled heap, holding his groin and whimpering loudly. The now visible figure of Xena brought her shin back down until she stood on two feet again, looking over the room for any more takers.

Autolycus, of course, was nowhere to be seen. Cursing to herself, Xena turned and headed towards the door, stopping when she heard Linus growl behind her, "Hey!"

Spinning, ready for one last fight, she saw the man waving at her. Rather, he was shaking his hand in the air, a bag of coins noisily clinking in it. The man's grin went from ear to ear.

"I found it!"

As soon as Xena turned her back to fend off Perdicus, Autolycus was out the door, and headed out of town. Holding his money tight against his chest to keep the coins as quiet as possible, he ran down the deserted road. He knew she would be after him, but he knew of a few places he could hide, if he could reach them before she caught up to him. He was thinking this very thing as Xena's arm came out from behind a tree and clotheslined him.

Autolycus knew what hit him the second time, it was the ground. But as for the first strike, he never saw it coming. Xena looked down on him, surprised that he managed to keep a hold on his money, considering the fact that he lost his breath, and nearly lost consciousness. Waiting out his coughing spree, Xena eventually reached down and helped the dazed man to his feet.

"You never did take that guy's money, did you?" Xena looked down the road, empty at this time of night. "Well, at least you were headed in the right direction."

Autolycus grimaced at the poor attempt at humor as he struggled to catch his breath. Tieing his money bag to his belt, he managed to gain his composure and eyed the warrior helplessly.

"Why can't you leave me alone?"

"I told you. I need you."

"In any other context, that would be a welcome statement, babe, but not in this one. You don't seriously think you can kill Ares, do you?"

Exasperated, Xena, stood for a moment, speechless. Finally, she managed, "do you think I would even try if I didn't think I could?"

"Yes! I think you are willing to do it or to die trying, but I'm not!" Frustrated, Autolycus started to pace, "I don't know what I'd do if it were me in your place and it was my lover who was killed, but Xena, it wasn't. I liked the kid, but not enough to die trying to avenge her death. I'm sorry, Xena, but the answer is no, and I don't think you'll really kill me for saying it."

Autolycus turned back to face Xena, nervous. Xena's expression was the familiar, all business cloud she wore when she simply had to press on. "Fine." Turning her back on her last hope, she walked up the road to where she had tethered Argo.


She turned. "What?"

"You can't win. You know that, don't you?"

"Well, I sure as Tartarus can't now, can I?"

"But you're going anyway."

Xena spun, the rage and hurt taking their control. "He killed her, Autolycus! He beat her again and again, then stabbed her through the back while I watched!" The darkness hid her tears, but the thief could hear her voice breaking. "I'm going to kill that bastard if it's the last thing I do!"

Autolycus watched the warrior woman turn and head back up the road. He could see the fists she made, the urgency in her steps. Rolling his eyes t the heavens, he muttered "ah, dammit!" as he started jogging to catch up to Xena.

Xena smiled to herself as she heard the footsteps coming up behind her. Without looking back, she thanked him as he came up along side her.

"Don't thank me yet. I'll probably come to my senses in an hour and leave you to fend for yourself. I can't believe I'm doing this. Do you have any kind of plan at all?"

"Working on it."

"Great. How about this. You break in find the sword, and kill him while I distract everybody there with my grapes and cups trick."


"I thought so."

"Xena, wake up!"

Autolycus gripped the warrior's wrists firmly, knowing that he was putting himself in danger waking her out of a nightmare like this. Xena's eyes opened, but the darkness prevented her from seeing her captive clearly. Autolycus felt his body crash down on hers as she pulled his arms sharply to the side. Stunned, he offered no resistance as he was flung onto his back, elbowed in the nose, and straddled by the warrior princess.

"Xena! It's me!"

He looked between his hands, poised to shield his face, to see a gasping, sweating, Xena. Her right hand was still raised high, her left hand still holding him down by his hair. He felt the grip relax as she rolled off him to the ground, still watching him intently.

"I'm not a monster," she said determinedly. "I'm killing one."

"What? Xena, I never called you a monster." Autolycus sat along side Xena, the concern on his face hidden by the night.

"Never mind, go back to sleep. We have a big day tomorrow."

"Don't remind me. I..." Autolycus turned to see the woman already lying back down trying to go back to sleep. Tomorrow, they would enter the temple. Xena pushed him and Argo so they could arrive a day early, hopefully catching Ares with his guard down. She didn't seem to feel any pressure when they travelled, but at night, her sleep betrayed her true state. Agitated, hateful, afraid. Not afraid of dying, he thought, but more of living once tomorrow was over.

As the sun rose over the horizon, the daylight felt wonderful on Autolycus' chilled skin, and made him more afraid than when he woke up. He knew full well that this could be the last sunrise he ever sees. His hands shook as he helped pack up the camp. Xena watched him, hoping he wouldn't back out now.


Pouring the last of the water on the fire, he stood to face her, "Terrified."

"If you're going to back out, do it now."

"No, I'm alright. I'll go fill these water skins."

Chapter VII

In some respects, Ares' temple is a contradiction. As proud and showy as he is, his temple is quite unimpressive, and the village which took care of it was nothing like Athens or Corinth. But Xena knew that this was simply so the other gods would pay less attention to what he may be up to. She pounded on the main door and stepped back, waiting. One of the two massive doors swung silently inward. A small woman, dressed in the traditional modest red dress looked out at the visitor.

"Tell Ares that Xe..."

The door swung open swiftly, and the girl gestured for Xena to enter the hall. Xena suddenly remembered a night on which she vowed she would never step into this place again, but her body showed no hesitancy as she stepped into the main hall. The door was closed behind her, and the woman left Xena alone to wait.

"I'm surprised you got here so fast."

Xena turned to find the god of war leaning on the doors she just entered, arms crossed, and a whimsical smile creeping up the corners of his mouth. He rocked his hips forward, pulling his body off the doors, and walked closer to her. "I was going to greet you tomorrow with a feast, and introduce you to your new army."

"I figured as much. Since they are probably on their way, you can still have it for them."

"Oh, don't worry, I will. I love a good party." The god paused, unsure what to do next. He really hadn't planned on Xena arriving until the last minute, but he had to admit that he didn't mind. "Your horse!" he blurted out, "uh, where is it, I'll have one of my servants take her to my stables."

"Argo's down at the base of the hill, tethered to a tree. I'll want to brush her later."

"My maids can do that."

"No, thanks. Where do I sleep?"

The god shrugged his indifference. "Follow me." Ares turned and walked through one of several doors that lined the walls of the hallway. He never turned back to keep tabs on his prize, but moved swiftly, confidently through the labrynth of rooms and halls, finally stopping and turning back to her, a key held out on the palm of his hand.

Taking the key, Xena opened the door and entered one of the most beautiful rooms she had ever seen, again. It was exactly as she left it. There was no hint of dust to betray the fact that it had been empty for so long.

"Do you like?"


"I never lost faith that you would return to me, Xena."

Incredulous, Xena looked the god of war in the eyes. "You threatened my mother, Ares! What was I supposed to do? I'm not here willingly. I'm your slave, not your student. It's not like before."

Shrugging, Ares walked back towards the door, "that's good enough for me. Wash up, dinner will be in the main room in an hour. Remember the way?"


"Good, don't be late."


Alone at last, Xena closed the door and walked over towards her window. Pulling Autolycus' small mirror out of her skirt, she held the glass to the sunlight that streaked into the window, tilting it around several times. A tub, hot, was waiting on the other side of the room. Unfastening her armor, she slid out of her clothes and slipped into the water. She started to tremble. Gods, she thought to herself as she rubbed the soap into her skin, what am I doing?

"What are you doing?"

Autolycus jumped into the window, eyeing the tub quizzically. He walked towards the huge bed in the center of the room, coiling up his grappling line as he went.

"What are you doing? You weren't supposed to come in till dark!" Modesty was not one of Xena's shortcomings, so she made no attempt to hide or stop bathing as the thief reclined on the bed, politely looking towards the ceiling.

"I saw that the coast was clear, and decided to take advantage of it." Reaching over to the plate of fruit next to the bed, he tossed a grape into the air, catching it in his mouth. He paused, looked at the fruit, and the bath.

"Hey! Eyes away."

"No, it's just that...Was he expecting you?"

"He didn't appear to be, why?"

"Then how did he know to put the fruit here, and the bath?"

"Oh, well, the fruit and bath were here when I walked out on him. He had just come in with the fruit as I was preparing to bathe. We argued, I left. So I guess he did something to make everything stay like it was, waiting for me to come back."

"Oh, so he's not obsessed or anything. That's a relief." Twisting back to face the ceiling, he asked, "so, do you have that plan yet?"

"Simplicity itself. He's having dinner with me tonight. While we eat, you find the sword."

"And if I don't find it in time?"

"Then I'll distract him for a while, until you do."

"Then what do I do?"

"Nothing. He should turn mortal right away, and I'll kill him. You just find the sword and stay low."

"Mm. Hmm. And just how are you going to distract him?"

Xena sighed, closing her eyes. "I think he already has that part in mind."

After dunking her whole body under the water, Xena rose, grabbed a towel that was hanging nearby, and proceeded to dry herself off and dress as if no one else was in the room. Noticing Autolycus' stare, she scowled.

"I'm sorry, Xena, it's just that you really are beautiful."

"So everybody keeps telling me." Xena sat, brush in hand, and attacked her hair.

"What's wrong with that? I've found that it came in quite handy once or twice in my career." Autolycus grinned at his obviously arrogant remark. Xena kept brushing.

"Oh? So have I. I used my charms to get Ares to want me, that was smart. I used it to get Iolaus to turn against Hercules. I used it to get Gabrielle, and now she's dead. Yeah, it's come in real handy." With that, she threw the brush down and stood, checking over her dress as she turned to Autolycus.

"You look great."

"Whatever. Don't be here when I get back, or we're both sunk."

"Understood," she heard him sullenly reply as she left the room.

Xena opened the door and surveyed the room quickly. Autolycus was gone. The dinner had gone pretty much as she figured it would. Ares was gushing at their "reunion", and couldn't keep his eyes off his slave. Xena was glad she came here when she did, if she had waited till the next day, there would have been little chance to do anything with the celebration he had planned.

Walking over to her bed, she paused, took a deep breath, and quickly undressed. Normally, she slept in her leather, or in a shift. Tonight, she pulled back the covers without putting on a stitch of clothing and began to slip under them.

"Gods, you really are beautiful, Xena."

Ares once again had his back to the door, arms crossed. He unashamedly let his eyes drift up and down her, stopping on her breasts, and smiled. "Now that is a body that was forged in the heat of battle. They broke the mold after you."

Oh, please!

"Get out," Xena said as she slipped in under the covers. She eyed the god with glaring hostility. "I told you, I'm not your plaything anymore."

"No, you said you weren't my student anymore, a statement which you'll also find out is incorrect." As Ares approached the bed, his clothes simply disappeared. Thinking this very funny, the god giggled as he walked around to the other side of the bed.

"Are you deaf? I said get out!" Ares slipped into the covers, and rested his head on the pillow, looking at Xena with a giddy expression.

"I heard you. Come on, Xena, I don't want to have to force you. We used to have so much fun in here." With that, he leaned up and kissed her. It was not returned. He approached again, softly. Xena's lips parted just a little this time, her eyes closing. Catching herself, she pulled back.

"Get out, I mean it." Not sounding half as serious this time, Xena pointed towards the door. Ares reached out, took the outstretched hand, and brought it back, kissing it gently. "Do you really want me to go?" Slowly, uncertainly, Xena nodded. Ares brought his lips to hers once again, his hand gently cupping her breast as he did so, this time to be met by a gentle kiss back. Pushing her over onto her back, he kissed her passionately, her mouth parting to accept his tongue, which played with hers.

Oh, gods, what an ego, Xena thought to herself as she let herself be taken. Any day now, Autolycus.

Chapter VIII

Once Xena left the room to go to dinner. Autolycus quickly disrobed and took a bath himself, knowing full well that it would be a long meal, and the safest place for him would be right where he was. After that, a few pieces of fruit, and he was gone. Trying to remember Xena's instructions as best he could, he got lost twice trying to find the throne room.

But now he could see it. Hiding behind a statue of Aphrodite, he was merely a few paces away from his catch. Unfortunately, a few smaller paces away was Strife. If it wasn't for the fact that he was between Autolycus and the sword, he wouldn't have been too much of a problem, as he was thoroughly distracted by some ancient text he stole from his uncle's "secret" vault. But as it was, there was no way to reach the sword without getting past the mischievous god.

Xena moaned deeply as Ares' fingers slid between her folds, and began to rub her in small, tight circles. Her hands clawed at Ares' back, a little too hard. The pain invigorated the god of war, and he pushed into Xena with two fingers with one sudden thrust. She gasped, clamping her muscles around the fingers as he slid them in and out of her. Despite her best attempts, she was aroused, but her mind was still waiting for her true moment.

Autolycus inched his way to the side of the statue. Pulling out a grape, he took a quick glance at his opponent, and let the grape fly at a candle on the other side of the room. Hitting it perfectly, the candle tipped, tipped back, kept tipping, and fell.

Xena slid down Ares' body slowly, pressing her nipples against his skin, until her mouth was at the hair between his legs. Looking up at him, she licked her lips and slid her mouth over his erection, sliding down till her mouth touched his body. A moan turned into a low chuckle as Xena bit down, hard, on the god. What would have crippled a mortal, excited the god, and he stiffened noticeably in her mouth. Slowly, forcefully, Xena slid her mouth and hand up and down. Ares relaxed, enjoying his victory over Xena, Warrior Princess.

Strife bolted when the candlestick fell over. His hands had minds of their own as they folded and hid the scroll under the table he was reading at with lightning speed. Rising cautiously, he walked around the table and walked toward the sound. Autolycus swiftly, quietly, skimmed along the statue, and walked over towards the sword. He never knew what hit him.

Ares could feel the orgasm building. Xena slowed her attention, dragging it out as long as she could. She bit down, hard, again. It still excited him.

Autolycus looked up to see Strife standing above him, cackling uncontrollably. "Was that good for you?" Squatting down, he eyed the thief, trying to remember if they ever met.

"Who are you?"

The thief looked offended. "Don't tell me you've never heard of Autolycus, King of Thieves?"

"Yup, I've always wanted to kill you!" Laughing at his joke, Strife pulled a knife from his belt and thrust it towards Autolycus' stomach. It stopped about halfway, suspended in mid air.

"What the..."

A hand appeared around Strife's wrist, and a body appeared along with it. Strife looked, horror stricken, into the face of Artemis. Turning her face to the petrified thief, she ordered, "get the sword!"

He heard Strife shriek as he ran over and grabbed the sword. Looking back, briefly, he called out, "what now?"


Xena stopped her actions as Ares' came, and she could feel the hot fluid fill her mouth in small spurts. Swallowing his seed, she smiled up at him and lowered herself down his shaft one last time, and bit hard. She was rewarded with a blood curdling scream as she nearly bit his organ off completely.

Completely confused, Ares pulled away from Xena, and shot off the bed. Looking down at her, he could see blood and semen on her smiling mouth. He looked down and saw that the blood was his. The pain was excruciating, and began to flare up. It took all he had just to stand up.

"Finally, it took him long enough!" Xena laughed as she stood to face her god.

"What are you talking about?"

"Your sword, Ares. Someone else has it."

"What? Who?"

"A friend."

"I don't understand."

Xena hit him squarely in the jaw, sending him against the wall with a thud. Xena charged him and took his throat in her hands.

"You don't understand? I'm going to kill you, Ares!" Bringing her knee up, she made contact with the already sore groin. Ares dropped to the floor, helpless. Desperation etched his face as he looked up at his prize.

"What are you doing?"

"Fulfilling my destiny." Her hand came down to meet his cheek, and again. Just like he beat Gabrielle.

Seeing his blood splatter on the floor, the god of war grew frantic. "Xena, don't! I'll give you anything!" Making a weak attempt to grab her ankle, Xena brought the foot up to contact his chin, flipping him over onto his back. Satisfied that he would move, she walked over to her armor, took the hilt of her sword, and slid it out of its sheath.

"You already took the only thing that matters."

"What is it? I'll give it back, please!" Ares reached up a hand, whimpering, finding no compassion in his tormentor's eyes. Without another word, Xena pushed her blade into Ares' heart. Taking his face in her hands, the last thing he saw as he died was his creation. As he died, Xena felt the stone hit her shoulder.

"Xena!" Gabrielle cried as the first stone struck. The councilman responsible for throwing it walked away, wanting no more part of this. He disagreed with the councils decision to punish Xena, and he resisted his duty, but to no avail. He heard the crowd holler as more people began to take out their anger on the warrior princess.

Xena never took her eyes off Gabrielle. The stones started off one at a time, but shortly the air was filled with stones as the crowd became more and more courageous. A large stone finally knocked Xena to the ground, and Justus grabbed Gabrielle around the waist to keep her from running into the circle of people.

"Let me go!"

"No, wait! Wait till it's over."


After a few more minutes, Xena didn't move. The blood ran from her face freely, and the crowd lost its enthusiasm. Gabrielle still struggled against Justus as the people began to leave.

"Let me go."


"Let me go!" Gabrielle could see the open, lifeless eyes of her lover. She struggled fitfully against Justus' hold.


Gabrielle's eyes flew open, her body swinging wildly at the air. Xena kept a firm grasp on her wrists as Gabrielle fought to escape.

"Gabrielle, it's me!"

Her wrists pulled sharply to her sides, Gabrielle could see the face of her lover clearly. Slowly, she began remember where she was.

"Oh, no."

"What's wrong?"

"I think I wet myself."

"Ok, lets get you cleaned up. Justus!"

The sheepish man walked in hesitantly. "Do you want your lunch now?" he asked timidly. Xena met him at the bars. "Yes, please, and could you bring some water and rags, something clean for Gabrielle to wear, and have her clothes washed?

"Um, yeah, sure. And I'll be sure to let you know what's going on, when they tell me."

"Thank you."

"How long has it been?" Gabrielle asked. Though her nightmare was thankfully fading away, she was still a little haunted by it.

"Three hours. Are you alright?"

Gabrielle nodded, "it was just a nightmare. I'll be alright."

The door swung open and Justus entered. On top of a clean shift, he held the now too familiar tray, topped with meat, cheese, and two mugs. Slipping the keys through the bars, he let Xena open the door to let him inside. He politely waited outside the room while Gabrielle changed, and took the wet clothes to his wife, after telling them that the council has made their decision.

Soon after, he returned with two guards. Not bothering to bind them, he lead them to the council hall. The tone of the men in the hall was mixed, which told them little, since it would be mixed either way. But, not having the loose binds on their wrists seemed promising.

"Xena, Gabrielle, " Proetus began, "this council is thoroughly confused. According to Gabrielle, she never felt she was in danger for her life. You are a trained warrior, you should have seen that, too. But you say differently, which doesn't matter too much to us, honestly, but Tobias seems to back your side of the story, which does. So we are finding both of you innocent. Now, leave us, and don't come back. Either of you."

The crowd of men mumbled among themselves as they began to file out of the hall. Gabrielle looked at Proetus with shock, but Xena stopped her from speaking up. "Gabrielle, it's more than fair. I know you're losing friends, but they just lost one of their own."

Gabrielle broke out in tears, and Xena cradled her head in her arms, rocking her back and forth. "Come on, lets get your clothes and get going."

Chapter IX

Sweat pouring, chest heaving, Tobias ran as fast as he could. Two massive black hounds stayed on his heels, always close, but never quite catching him. He struggled up a hill, winding and weaving around the trees and rocks which blocked his path. He could see the cave ahead.

With a surprising show of strength, he bounded into the cave and stopped. The dogs rushed in, stopping short when they realized that he was no longer running. They sat obediently at their master's feet and waited for their next command.

"Strife, stop torturing him," Tobias called. Strife turned to see his uncle standing with the hounds, back in all his glory after spending two days in the guise of the weak mortal.

"It's about time you showed up. Did everything work out?"

"Did everything work out? Well, Gabrielle's not dead, Xena hasn't come back to me, and I have nothing to show for my work, but other than that, yes, it all worked out fine."

"Hey, don't put this all on me! You were supposed to keep Xena busy while I worked on Pelias. Gabby would have been dead if Xena hadn't come back."

"I didn't see a need to detain her, I figured you had more than enough time. Maybe you just didn't get him angry enough?"

"Come on! He was so full of hate, he was ready to bash her skull in and fuck the corpse afterwards!"

The gods' eyes turned as they heard a small whimper come from Strife's feet. Tobias' eyes were wide with terror at Strife's words. The little god giggled at the man.

"So, what do we do with him?"

"In a day or so, his villagers will miss him, and they'll eventually find him in here, torn apart by wild animals." The old man started to cry. Two days of imprisonment with no food or water, tormented by Strife, had taken its toll.

"Lord Ares, please," the man begged, "I'm sorry. Whatever I've done, I'll make it right." Strife giggled and kicked the man lazily, inducing more tears and giggles.

"Enough, Strife." Walking over and squatting next to Tobias, Ares took on a mock air of sympathy. "You haven't done anything wrong. I just needed to trade places with you for a little while to get Xena off the hook. I know you don't understand, but just know that your death isn't in vain." The man wailed.

"Tobias, shut up! You won't feel a thing."

Strife looked on Tobias, annoyed, and Ares swept his hand over the man's face, inducing him to sleep.

"What'd you do that for?"

Ares rose. "Killing soldiers in battle is one thing, but killing scared old men doesn't get me off."

The two gods walked towards the mouth of the cave. The dogs sat patiently, obeying some silent command from their master to stay.

"I don't see why you don't just kill the brat outright and be done with it."

"What a lovely idea," considered Ares. "While we're at it, lets kill all the other Amazons as well. I'm sure Artemis wouldn't mind."

"I'd risk it."

"You have to stop thinking so short term."

"I think you're just getting soft in your old age."

Ares paused, looking at the younger god. "That is a very dangerous thought," he said as he released the hounds.


This story © 6-20-97 by Joe Murphy

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