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GENERAL COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER: Xena, Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Ares, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction.

Any other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author (meaning Kharis belongs to me). This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.

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

If you can't stand the idea that two women can have a loving relationship then please keep your closed mind where it belongs and don't bother reading this story. 'Nuff said

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4

The Fates' Irony
by Crys



Xena slowed down along the forest path and motioned for Kharis to join her in the lead. The girl quickly moved up and stopped beside the warrior princess.

"What's up?" the girl asked as she opened her senses to discover anything unusual within the supposedly peaceful quiet of the forest.

"What do you hear?" the warrior asked.

"A group of people in the trees. Four figures on the right and five on the left."


Straining to hear whatever the warrior had heard, Kharis focussed her ears without being obvious. Suddenly realising that what she had been hearing all along was not her own heartbeat but drums the girl smiled at missing the obvious.

"And war drums beating in the distance along with a rabbit just in front of us."

Xena smirked at this new development, "Rabbit huh?" Grasping the girl, Xena ruffled Kharis' hair while Gabrielle caught up to them. "Cheeky monkey."

"Why we stopping?" the bard asked as Kharis was able to squirm out of the warrior's grasp.

"Amazons," Xena answered as she raised her hands above her head in the sign of peace. Gabrielle followed suit as the warrior instructed Kharis. "Follow Gabrielle's and my lead and do everything we do ok? Now raise your hands over your head like we are."

"Ok," the girl replied as she copied her sister's actions.

From the tops of the trees dropped nine Amazons, encircling the trio and Argo. All dropped on one knee as the Amazons paid homage to their Queen. Gabrielle smiled as she lowered her arms and grabbed Ephiny by the shoulders.

"Stand up Ephiny and give me a hug," the bard said to her friend as she pulled the Queen's Regent into a fierce hug after removing the woman's mask.

"We couldn't believe the scout's reports that you were heading this way, so we had to come and see for ourselves," Eponin said as she clasped Xena in the warrior's handshake.

"With nine amazons?" the warrior drawled as Kharis stareded at the group, astounded. Here, in the flesh, were real Amazons. Women warriors the girl never thought she would ever meet.

Solari chortled as she stepped up to accept Xena's handshake, "We thought your guest would appreciate some protection. Not like you aren't enough protection as it is."

Looking over at the bewildered Kharis, Ephiny smiled and offered her arm; "And who is this little one?"

Kharis grasped the arm offered to her firmly as her face quickly recovered from the blush of excitement.

"My sister, Kharis," Xena replied as she turned to face Ephiny.

"Sister? I never knew," Ephiny exclaimed as she studied the girl before her. Like Xena, the girl's burnished body was well defined. Midnight hair fell loosely about her chiselled face that bespoke a beauty already developed. It was the eyes that held Ephiny's gaze the longest. Pure gold, like burnt copper, blazed up at the Amazon. Like her sister, the girl's features were a blank mask but her eyes foretold a darkness that was obviously inherited. Ephiny recognised that and slightly shuddered to think that the world now held two of them.

Kharis allowed the Amazon to study her as she calmed her nerves and kept her face a mask. Never losing eye contact with the blonde woman before her, the girl struggled to convey through body language alone that she was no longer a child but someone to be dealt with respectfully.

Xena smiled slightly at the effect the girl was trying to impose. 'She almost has it but she'll need to grow another foot before she can carry it off right.'

Nodding her approval, Ephiny turned and grasped Xena's arm before taking Gabrielle's hand and leading them all towards the village. Solari and Eponin ruefully smiled and shrugged in unison as they followed behind their Queen and Regent. Xena and Kharis followed alongside the two Amazon friends while the rest of the troupe kept a watch behind their backs.

Solari stole a glance at the girl walking alert beside the tall, imposing warrior and shook her head. Catching Xena watching her, the Amazon smiled briefly as she mentioned what was on all of their minds at the moment; "So what brings you to these parts, Xena?"

"Amazon stuff," the warrior replied gruffly.

Eponin snorted as she trudged beside her companion, "Amazon stuff, huh? Then why drag this mite around for Amazon stuff?"

Kharis bristled at the weapons master's insult as a warm hand gently fell on her shoulder and squeezed lightly. Biting her tongue, the girl kept her promise and followed Xena's lead at silence. Realising that an answer wasn't forthcoming, Eponin snorted again as the group walked on maintaining their own thoughts.

Ephiny checked behind her a fourth time to make sure that everything was alright when Gabrielle called her on it.

"Ephiny, what are you worried about? Afraid Xena's going to decimate your royal guard?"

Blonde curly locks swayed as Ephiny swung her head back to the grinning bard; "Sorry Gabrielle. I just worry about what could happen when Sol and Pony get together with that she devil."

"She devil?" the bard asked innocently.

"You know who I mean. She baits them with one sentence, then leaves them hanging dry to stir in their own juices. That's all I need right now, two Amazons wanting to show your warrior princess up."

Gabrielle laughed as she placed an arm around the toned Amazon's waist, "Don't worry Eph. Xena knows how to handle herself. She promised that she wouldn't cause any problems with those two while we're staying here."

"I'll believe that when I see it. So why are you here? Anything to do with the girl?"

Gabrielle closed her mouth before everything bubbled out. Xena had asked that nothing was to be said of neither Kharis' lineage nor why she was to be trained by the Amazons unless Xena said so herself. Deciding that brevity was the best approach Gabrielle smiled as she looked up at the forest's canopy.

"You'll have to speak to Xena about it. I'm just here to catch up on recent events and take a well-deserved breather from the road. Unless you don't want us staying here for a while?"

"No, of course not. We're very happy that you're here and are going to be staying with us."


"But my curiosity is getting the better of me. Come on, Gabrielle. Can't you drop a small kernel of gossip my way? Or do I have to wait like the rest of them to hear what's going on?"

Gabrielle smiled innocently as she kept her mouth shut waiting for her partner to step right in and save the day.

"Leave her alone Eph," a deep rumbling voice said from behind the Regent's ear. Spinning around to find the 'she devil' right by her back unnerved the Amazon more then being caught at trying to extract information from the bard. 'How does she do that?' the blonde warrior asked herself for the umpteenth time after being unable to hear Xena's approach.

"Right on time," the bard said sunnily as she moved back to walk beside Kharis while Xena filled in an obviously impatient Ephiny.

"So Eph," the warrior drawled. "What do you want to know?"

The blonde Amazon was shocked that the normally reticent warrior was willing to talk; "Well for starters, why are you three here?"

Xena's lip quivered as she tried to maintain her regular stoic mask; which was proving to be very hard to do with the normally regal Regent chomping at the bit for any morsel of information. Taking pity on the poor woman Xena dropped her guard and gestured to some branches up above, "Come on, we can talk up there while everyone continues down below. There are some things I need to speak to you about."

Leaping up and grasping one of the lower branches, both Ephiny and Xena quickly climbed up to one of the taller trees and started to run from branch to branch, leaving the small group below to only wonder at where the two warriors were going.

Gabrielle gazed upwards to see where her two friends had gone but lost them in the overgrowth of the tree's uppermost branches. Resigned to the fact that she would see neither of them until entering the village, the bard turned to check on Kharis only to find that the girl had disappeared also. Frantic at the girl's disappearance, the bard sounded the alarm. Both Solari and Eponin swivelled around to face their Queen as the rest of the royal guard rushed up to her defence.

"What's wrong my Queen?" one of the guards asked.

"It's Kharis. She's disappeared," Gabrielle uttered as she franticly began to search the surrounding area.

"Hades' balls," Eponin muttered as she quickly organised the search. Grouping the Amazons in pairs, the weapons master instructed each group to split up between tree top and ground searches.

Solari was assigned to stay with the now extremely worried Queen. An unknown person of any sex in Amazon land was considered an enemy first and foremost. Calling out to Gabrielle, the Amazon trotted to where the girl was last seen and began to track her movements.

"What do you see?" the bard asked as Eponin also jogged over to where Solari was kneeling on the ground.

"She went though here," the Amazon tracker said and pointed to a very dense set of brush. Keeping her eyes on the ground, Solari followed the girl's tracks into the thick undergrowth as Gabrielle and Eponin kept close behind. Stopping suddenly, the tracker looked up as she scrutinised some broken branches.

"She went up there," Solari said as she pointed to a small tree.

"There? That tree couldn't hold her weight," Eponin replied as she also viewed the broken branches.

"Her tracks stop here though and the broken limbs support that she moved up," Solari answered defensively.

Gabrielle examined the tree and agreed with the Amazon's best tracker; "She's right Pony. Kharis is very light and would stick to trees that could only support her weight so that she couldn't be followed."

"Well why did she run?" The weapons master asked belligerent.

"I don't know. She must have had a good reason though to leave us alone."

"And what good enough reason would there be to get herself killed if she is spotted by one of our patrols? They don't know who she is," Solari asked angrily as the child's foolish game could possibly mean her death.

"I don't think the patrols will spot her. She was able to sneak off without any of us seeing her or hearing her go."

"Well there isn't much we can do for now except get back to the village as soon as possible and send out scouts to inform the patrols not to kill the girl unless provoked," Eponin said as she started to head back to the path.

"Provoked? Why would she provoke anyone?" Gabrielle inquired.

Eponin shrugged, "Well she is Xena's sister isn't she? That type of personality must run in the family, right?"

Solari shook her head at her friend behind the bard's back, plainly telling Eponin to keep her mouth shut before she shoved her other foot in it.

Gabrielle's anger started to rise as the obvious notoriety of Xena's past was passed onto Kharis' shoulders as well. Marching up to the stocky weapons master the bard shoved a pointed finger into the woman's chest, "Look Pony. When I'm not hear you can say anything you like about Xena. But when I am here I will not abide with you slandering my best friend in front of me! And that goes for Kharis also. You know absolutely nothing about that poor girl so don't speak about someone until you get to know them first! Got that?"

Eponin bowed her head in shame at the rebuke from her Queen, "I'm sorry my Queen for dishonouring your friend's reputation and name. I will accept what ever punishment you deem appropriate."

Gabrielle slowly exhaled as her anger quickly went away only leaving her exasperated, "No Pony, I'm the one who should apologise. You're right. Kharis and Xena are very much alike in too many ways. If Kharis does run into one of the patrols she won't accede willingly to their demands. I'm just worried about her, but more worried about what Xena will do if she finds out that Kharis has taken off."

"Why don't we call a truce and head back to the village while it's still light," Solari suggested. "Maybe we'll be able to beat Eph and Xena there and then we can do a proper search for the child."

Both Gabrielle and Eponin agreed simultaneously. Calling the rest of the search party off, the troupe of Amazons quickly ran the rest of the way back to the village with Argo following behind.

Xena pulled herself onto a thick set of branches as she waited for Ephiny to catch up. Settling herself in, the warrior marvelled at the Amazon's abilities. Not too many people could keep up with the warrior princess either on ground or tree but Ephiny was one of the exceptions.

Gasping for breath, the Regent collapsed onto the small protective screen eyeing Xena and her lack of shortness of breath.

"How do you do it?" Ephiny finally asked when she was able to take a deep enough breath to speak.

"Conditioning. Many years of it actually."

"The Amazons go through strenuous conditioning also yet none of us are ever able to keep up with you."

"You're Amazons don't go through the kind of conditioning I do though."

Ephiny laughed despite herself. She should have been offended at the obvious dig at her Amazons yet the warrior's bluntness was not condescending, it was the truth.

"So, what are we doing up here anyways? You said you wanted to talk but we could have spoken in private once we had reached the village. Why the need for this?" Ephiny asked as she waved her hands around her.

Xena leaned back against the trunk of the tree and started from the beginning leaving out only Kharis' real identity as Ares' daughter and any mention of the prophecy.

Ephiny sat in silence as she absorbed Xena's tale. Once the warrior was done with her story Ephiny stood up and walked out to one of the thicker branches before heading back to where Xena was now standing up.

"So you want her trained as an Amazon," it wasn't a question, only a statement. Ephiny shook her head a bit as she tried to reconcile the woman that was in front of her and the woman that could kill hundreds singularly. If this same woman's own sister possessed even half of the warrior's abilities then the girl would be too great of a danger to the rest of the village.

Sensing what was holding Ephiny back from agreeing, Xena cleared her throat as she smiled weakly, "I know. She'll be more of a hazard then an asset if she's anything like me right?"

"I never said that," Ephiny replied hastily.

"You didn't have to. I can see it in your eyes," Xena reasoned as she stretched her calf muscles. "Besides, I've thought the same thing. She is like me, more then I was ever like me."

Ephiny's brows furrowed as she tried to sort out what the warrior meant by that; "If you were thinking along the same lines I am right now, then why did you ask if you knew what my answer would be?"

"Because there is one thing I can assure you that would enable you to say yes."

"And that is?" Ephiny asked despite herself.

"I'm going to stay here until she is trained and will personally oversee the majority of it. With me guarding over her there will be a significantly less chance of an 'accident' happening when she's around."

Ephiny considered having the warrior princess in the compound longer then the usual few days. How would the Amazons react to having her live with them for months, even years? If the warrior could settle down for that long.

"Eph?" Xena asked softly.


"It should take no more then a few months, if that. And I did promise Gabrielle that I would be on my best behaviour so you won't have to worry about your Amazons having the dung kicked out of them on a daily basis."

"Not unless they wanted it," Ephiny laughed. For Xena to ask for the Amazons' help was a singular occasion and deserved a quick and honest reply. "Xena, I have my doubts about this but if you believe that you will only need a few months to train the child then you will have my full support. May Artemis have mercy on us all."

Xena's eyes sparkled as the first battle was won. She had doubted that Ephiny would actually agree but knew that at least the Regent would seriously weight every option before declining to help.

"Surprised you didn't I?" Ephiny smiled at the look of relief on Xena's face.

"Actually you did. If it was me I would have said no. Why didn't you?"

"Because I trust your judgement and opinion. If you believe that the girl needs to be trained as an Amazon then there must be one Tartarus of a reason for it to be so. Plus, with you hanging around, maybe my Amazons will finally be able to learn the merits of that damn conditioning program you so love to rub in our faces."

Xena laughed at the jest, "I'll bet your Amazons won't be as happy when they discover that it'll take them years to be in the type of condition that I am."

"Probably not," Ephiny agreed as she swung out onto a lower branch. "Shall we?"

Xena jumped onto a lower branch and smile wickedly at the Regent, "Race you."

Ephiny laughed sharply, "Like that would be a fair race."

Xena shrugged as she flexed her leg muscles, "I'll even let you win when we enter the village."

"Oh no you don't, Xena. I'm not taking any charity win from you. You want a race, then we'll race fair and square."

"It's your pride that will be lost then. Ready?" Xena said as she crouched onto one of the more springy limbs on the tree they were in.

"Ready," Ephiny said as she prepared to leap forward.

"Go!" the warrior yelled as she stood up and watched the blonde Amazon run full speed along the tree's boughs. 'It never hurts to let someone else win for a change' Xena thought as she bobbed up and down on the flexible limb before allowing its momentum to spring her up and over the treetops. Flipping through the air, the warrior jumped from branch to branch, somersaulting over and over, until she was within an arm's distance of the fast moving blonde Amazon. Lightly landing on a more resilient branch the warrior decided that playtime was over and quickly joined Ephiny in a straight run. 'Then again, I hate losing.' Both warrior's ran through the air, leaping from limb to limb with effortless ease, enjoying the freedom and the dizzying heights.

The mood was sombre as the royal guard and Amazon Queen finally entered the gates of the Amazon's compound. Dispatches were immediately sent to all patrol parties with a description of Kharis along with instructions to not apprehend her, only to follow her from a distance and report back with her location.

Gabrielle knew that none of the patrols would ever find her. The past week had shown the bard that the girl was becoming more and more adept at mastering the "many skills" that Xena possessed. Disappearing right in front of someone's eyes was a recent addition.

"Gabrielle, see if you can find me?" the girl asked one afternoon when the trio had taken a much needed break.

Gabrielle looked up into sparkling golden eyes and smiled at the girl's obvious playful intent. Once Kharis had reconciled herself to fact that she couldn't change neither who she was, nor who her family was, the girl's cold, aloof nature instantly changed to a more warm, playfully evil disposition that surprised even Xena in its intensity. Many practical jokes had been played on both bard and warrior, which helped ease the monotony of travelling on foot.

"Alright Khar, want me to close my eyes?" the bard complied.

"No, never take your eyes off of me."

Gabrielle laughed sharply as she tried to figure out what the girl was up to, "How can you hide if I don't close my eyes?"

"I'm not going to hide. You'll just stop seeing me."

Looking over to where Xena was sprawled out on a bed of moss, Gabrielle raised her eyebrows at the audacity of what Kharis was implying.

"Just do what she says, Gabrielle. You'll see," the warrior drawled as she closed her eyes and revelled in the sun's heat.

"Ok then," Gabrielle said sceptically. "I won't take my eyes off of you."

Kharis smiled brightly as she started to walk towards some trees lining the small glade that the trio had stopped in. Turning around to face the bard, the girl's smile faded as she relaxed every muscle in her body. Gabrielle continued to watch the girl, wondering whether Kharis was going to jump into one of the smaller trees or dash into the undergrowth. 'Gods, I never know what random act of lunacy she's going to attempt next.'

A minute went by, then two as the girl continued to stand very still until suddenly she disappeared form the bard's sight. Gasping, Gabrielle jumped up and scanned franticly around her for any sign of Kharis' presence. About to run to the spot where she had last seen the girl the bard's calf was captured by a calloused, bronzed hand, forcing her to look down at the still reclined and very relaxed warrior.

"Gabrielle, she's still there," the warrior said patiently with eyes still closed.

"What do you mean she's still there? She's not there. I saw her...well...I don't know exactly what I saw but she's not there any more."

"Relax," the warrior said as brilliant sky blue eyes popped open. Releasing the bard's calf Xena sat up and turned her head to the spot where Kharis was still standing. "Trust me, she's still there. She's just blocked herself from your mind. Your eyes can see her but your mind isn't registering that fact."

"Xeeeennnnnaaaa," Kharis' voice floated across the glade prompting Gabrielle to glance up to see the girl in that same exact spot she was before. "Do you have to ruin all of my fun by explaining it to her?"

" did you do that?" the bard stuttered.

"One of my new skills," Kharis beamed as she walked up to the astonished bard.

Suddenly slamming Xena's body back to the ground, Gabrielle straddled the now laughing woman, and held her fingers a hair's breath away from one of the warrior's most ticklish spots.

"You taught her that, didn't you?" The bard said menacingly.

Struggling to control her laughter a smug smile quickly played across Xena's face, "Yes, I did."

"Why didn't you teach me that trick?"

"Because you could never keep quiet for more then a minute. It's hard to block yourself from someone's mind when you're babbling on and giving your location away," Xena knew she would pay for that but the look on her bard's face was worth a few excruciating moments of torture.

Gabrielle immediately began to tickle Xena with a vengeance. Screaming in laughter, the warrior struggled to tickle the bard back but was unexpectedly attacked from the other side by Kharis. Realising that she had only one option, Xena summoned as much will power as possible and blocked the tickling from her mind as she reached for both bard and girl.

Grasping them both, Xena lifted the two off of her body and held then in the air overhead. Dismayed to find themselves airborne both relented and were set down on either side of the warrior, laughing till their sides hurt.

Throwing an arm over her soulmate, Gabrielle snuggled into Xena's shoulder and mumbled, "You will pay for that you know."

Xena closed her eyes again as Kharis also snuggled up to the toasty warrior for a nap, "I know."

"My Queen? Gabrielle?" Solari slightly shook the bard's shoulder as hazy green eyes focussed on the Amazon.

"Sorry, Sol. You were saying?"

"When the patrols report the girl's location, we'll head out with a small force to retrieve her once Xena and Ephiny show up."

"The patrols won't find her. Only Xena will be able to," Gabrielle said with conviction.

"Only Xena will be able to what?" a low rumble emitted from a tree by the group. Dropping down lightly, Xena paced up to the group, mask firmly in place.

"Where's Ephiny?" Eponin asked, looking above her for the Regent's presence.

"She should be here in a few seconds," the warrior replied gruffly. "What's happened that only I will be able to solve?"

"Well, you see Xena..." Solari started to speak just as Ephiny emerged from the treetops, jumping down next to Xena.

"I thought you were going to let me win?" the Regent said light-heartedly to the bronzed warrior. Recognising the tension around her instantly Ephiny turned to Gabrielle. "What's happened?"

Gabrielle couldn't meet Xena's intense gaze as she started to explain the events leading to Kharis' disappearance. Once the story had been told the bard finally looked up into cold blue eyes asking for forgiveness, "I'm sorry Xena. I should have been paying more attention to her once you and Ephiny left. I never thought she would run."

"It's not your fault Gabrielle. I shouldn't have taught her how to do it in the first place. There's no need to blame anyone. We just have to figure out why she ran," Xena said softly as she turned to the few remaining Amazons that were part of the royal guard.

"None of you saw her leave the path?" Xena seethed.

"No," a small stocky woman replied. "We were placing bets while maintaining the watch when the Queen announced that the child was gone."

Ephiny stepped forward, angry that her own hand picked guards couldn't keep an eye on an untrained youth, "You are supposed to be maintaining a watch on our Queen and guest. Not placing bets!"

A firm grip fell on the Regent's shoulder as Xena stepped closer to the guard that spoke up, "What were you betting on?"

"Caesar and his army."

"What about him?" Gabrielle asked before her warrior could.

Swallowing hard, the guard focussed on her Queen instead of the foreboding warrior, "His army is on the other side of our mountain range. We were betting on whether he'd risk losing a good portion of it if he dared to enter our territory."

"Caesar is here?" Xena asked Ephiny sharply. "Why wasn't I told?"

Ephiny stepped back as a quickly raging Xena advanced on the Regent, "I didn't even think about it. There is no way for his whole army to move through the mountain passes safely so there was no fear of him entering our territory."

A sudden thought passed through Gabrielle's mind, "Xena. You don't think that Kharis..."

Fighting to control her anger Xena closed her eyes while releasing a long breath before continuing, "I do. She's gone after him."

Eponin snorted, "That little thing? She's crazier then I thought."

Xena whirled on the weapons master, grabbing the woman by the neck and lifting her up off the ground, "You had better watch your mouth when you talk about my sister. Got that?"

Everyone froze as an enraged Xena threw Eponin into the group of remaining guards "I'll need two others to help me retrieve Kharis. Solari and someone else I can trust," the warrior demanded of Ephiny while glaring at the now rising Eponin.

Sensing that to denying the warrior anything would be lethal the Regent only nodded as she stepped forward, "Take me. Gabrielle is here now to take over the bannership of rule. I'll go with you."

Nodding once, the warrior moved off towards the stables to find Argo only to be stopped by Gabrielle's body suddenly in her path.

"Now wait a minute," Gabrielle said as she walked closely to Xena. "You're not leaving me here"

"We need to move fast Gabrielle," Xena reasoned. "And the best way is through the trees. Your fear of heights sort of precludes you from travelling that way don't you think?"

"Fine. I'll stay here but you had better be travelling through the trees and not just saying that to keep from coming."

Xena grunted as she continued on her way to the stable followed by a still slightly miffed bard.

"Xena, Eponin didn't mean anything by what she said about Kharis. You should apologise."

"If she didn't mean anything then she shouldn't have said anything," the warrior replied, ice blue eyes still blazing in controlled fury.

"Xena!" Gabrielle shouted. "Stop!"

Slowly turning towards the bard, Xena forced herself to calm down managing to douse the fire in her eyes. "Gabrielle, I don't have time. I promise I'll apologise once we have Kharis back here safe and sound," she said so softly that only the bard could hear.

"I know you're worried about her. So am I. But you can't walk around picking up Amazons and throwing them around like rag dolls every time one of them says something that you don't like."

"I know Gabrielle, really."

"Do you?" Gabrielle asked, searching her partner's now azure eyes for total comprehension of what the bard was implying. "We are going to have to live here for a few months after you bring Kharis back. Do you honestly think you can hold your anger at bay during all that time?"

Xena groaned as she realised that the bard was right. It was going to take every ounce of control that the warrior had to 'not' react to whatever affronts the Amazons might throw her way, whether intentional or not.

"I don't know. All I can do is hope that I'm strong enough to control the darkness in me."

Gabrielle walked over and gave her partner a hug, "That's all I can ask of you. Between the two of us we'll make it as uneventful as possible for you."

Chuckling slightly, Xena stroked honey gold hair as she felt her body relax from the close contact, "Won't that be a trip? You and me doing something uneventful."

Both soulmates laughed as Ephiny and Solari approached very cautiously. Seeing the look of fear in their eyes Xena mustered a smile to calm their nerves as she spoke over Gabrielle's head, "It's alright now. The lion has been caged."

"More like temporarily sedated if you ask me," the Amazon tracker said.

Releasing her hold from Xena, Gabrielle smiled as she stepped away from the warrior; "Sedation doesn't work well. Anyways, I like mine frisky."

Silence, then loud laughter followed the now blushing bard's statement as Xena reached for a final stroke of Gabrielle's hair.

"I can't believe I said that," Gabrielle said as she went an even deeper shade of red.

"I can," Xena purred into the bard's ear before continuing on her way to the stable, leaving a very embarrassed bard to stammer her foot out of her mouth.

"Sol. Find anything?" a deep voice said from above. Straining her eyes to pick up Kharis' trail, Solari slowly moved forward through the dense branches discerning the marks of squirrel, bird, and other forest creatures on the tree's limbs and bark. Noticing a scuff that wasn't indicative of anything but human the Amazon exhaled with relief.

The group had been travelling for a few candlemarks and had been able to follow the girl's trail between the Amazon tracker's knowledge and Xena's acute eye sight. Many misleads had been followed, delaying the small group. The tracker's growing admiration for the girl was slowly becoming apparent to her travelling companions.

"Son of a Bacchae, how the Hades did she.... damn her to Tartarus, no one could...argh!" Solari softly cursed as she tried to decide which path the girl had taken.

"She fool you again, Sol?" Ephiny called down from a larger tree as the Regent and warrior princess lightly bounced on their respective branches.

"No," the tracker called back. "But she almost did."

Chuckling slightly, Xena scanned the distance through a break in the trees for any sign of Kharis.

"She's very good you know?" Ephiny said offhanded.

"Who? Solari or Kharis?" Xena asked as she focussed her attention back to the blonde Amazon beside her.

"Kharis. Not many people could hide a trail from Sol there but your sister has done it five times already. Any more and we might lose Solari to her own sword."

Blue eyes sparkled slightly before being doused as Xena swung up onto a higher branches. Following the warrior's lead, Ephiny also began to climb until both woman were on a large sturdy branch that supported both their weight easily.

"She's coming into her own despite herself," Xena mused as the two woman patiently waited for Solari to return to them.

"Despite herself?" Ephiny asked.

"She's instinctively acquiring skills that by all rights should have to be learned through practice. I don't think she even realises what she's doing."

"Is that why you are the way you are?"

Xena quirked an eyebrow at the Regent, "And what is that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing really. It's just that you are probably the best warrior in all of Greece. Don't tell me that you become a warrior though instinct."

"No. I had to do it all the old fashioned way. Hard work and lots of practice." Xena laughed. "Now? Yes. I rely on my instincts to get Gabrielle and myself out of trouble. But a lot of that is just trusting my abilities and the hard work to do things that might seem impossible."

"Thank Artemis. I was afraid that you were some sort of demigod," Ephiny laughed jokingly.

A quick breathe from Xena forced Ephiny's attention to the cold, impassive face that the warrior now wore. Realising that what she said had hit a hidden spot with the warrior Ephiny was uncertain whether to probe for more information when Solari suddenly climbed up and sat down on the branch.

"Well?" Xena asked the tracker in a now cold, impassive voice.

"She's almost as bad to track as you are," Solari said angrily. "But I have her trail again. Looks like she's cut across the northern range."

"Hades' balls! She would have to have picked that route," Ephiny swore.

"What's wrong with the northern range?" Xena asked.

Ephiny glared in the direction of the northern range; "It's comprised of mostly new growth forest. A fire from a seven summers ago wiped out the old forest. There's nothing but smaller trees there now. Trees that your dear sister can stick to but we're too heavy to track her through."

Solari nodded in agreement as Xena pondered what their next move would have to be with this turn of events.

"Is there any way to get over the mountain quickly?" the warrior asked.

"Yes," Solari said as she stood up and pointed to a small cliff face showing against the mountain's side. "Beyond the rock there is a small chasm that leads though the mountain. We use it for reconnaissance and as a possible escape route if we ever need to leave the hunting grounds quickly."

"Thank Artemis we haven't had to use that plan yet," Ephiny sighed.

"Good. Then we'll use it and hopefully come out by Caesar's army before Kharis does," Xena said as she planned her path through the cluster of trees they were in. "If we can get ahead of her then we can stop her. Ready?"

Both Amazons nodded as Xena led the way to the small cliff that would be their short cut 'By the Gods I hope we make it in time. If not...' Xena couldn't continue the thought. Surprisingly it hurt too much to think about the consequences if Kharis made it to Caesar before the warrior and Amazons could. Pushing the thought from her mind Xena picked up her pace as she ran through the forest's canopy.



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