Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle and others mentioned, belong to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No infringement on their rights are intended.

Subtext Disclaimer: If you’ve been reading the series, you know that their two thousand years old, back in their original bodies, in love and have a very hot sex life, but not in this story. Sorry. In this story original bodies are really original.

Timeline: Plan D #8f. (Breath, it’s almost over.)

Shock Factor: 3. This story has moments of extreme graphic violence a surprise at the end, but no cheating.

Note: This is the first part of last episode of the Ancient Secrets sub-series. Unfortunately, it was so long that I had to split in two and #8g is the concluson of this story. For those who followed along, I thank you for your patience and for those who were confused, my apologies. Personally, I’ve enjoyed my Xena’s little trip down memory lane and I hope you’ll stick around to visit with Faith and Grace as they almost get back to a normal life.

Send any comments to asdease1@gte.net


Ancient Secrets (f)

By FlyBigD

“Next year, we’re going back to Greece for vacation.” Xena said and rolled up the scroll, placing it gently in the safe. Looking at the last scroll, she smiled and shook her head. “Oh, Ares. You finally got what you deserved.” Picking up the scroll, she unrolled it a little and placed it in the holder. “The Return of the King.” Grinning, the warrior started to read.

I sing of mankind's eternal struggle to grasp onto the belief in something greater than himself and the desires that keep us holding on, when all but our faith has deserted us and the only thing we can cling to is the promise, forgotten in time and kept for eternity.

Eleven years had passed since T had died and the Ungara had lost their last King. Spreading to the far reaches of the earth, they took with them the legacy of their ancestors to protect mankind from evil and the hope of a new life without the threat of Dahok’s evil to haunt them. Except for Latour and his immediate family, all had departed the forest that had been their home for over a hundred generations. In the quiet that remained, the Historian continued his work of cataloging their lives and often went to the Palace of the Ancients to stand in wonder of the men who had led his people through the darkest of times and then sit before the subtle reminder of what could have been.

In the absence of Dahok’s evil, the world calmed somewhat, though there were still many who needed no other influence, other than their own greed and desire for power, to bring havoc to the world around them. And so, Xena and Gabrielle continued their fight for the innocent and the defense of the greater good. For nine years they traveled, as they had for so long and finding new allies and friends along the way, but never forgetting the one who had meant so much.

After an accident with ten goons and a ill placed tree, Xena and Gabrielle returned to the Inn in Amphipolis for the warrior to recover from her injuries. Intending to stay only as long as it took Xena to heal, they slowly settled into the decaying structure and when the warrior was able, she began rebuilding the Inn. Gabrielle suspected it was out of a loyalty to Cyrene’s memory, but knew that it was also with the unconscious intention of staying. Thus two years had passed and the Inn was again a place of business, with Gabrielle taking care of the customers and cooking and the warrior tending bar and pointing out any trouble makers to Bud, who was the official mascot and bouncer. Slipping into a domestic contentment, the warrior and bard spent their days in each others company and their nights in each others arms.

Eve came very rarely to the Inn, instead choosing to follow in her mothers’ footsteps and used the power she’d been given for the greater good and took up where Xena and Gabrielle had left off. When she did come, it was with great happiness on everyone’s part and often led to numerous fights amongst the patrons, until they found out who’s daughter she was and an incredible hangover for the warrior. Gabrielle smirked a lot and Bud chewed on a different pair of laces.

On one such occasion, Eve relented to her travels for a while and stayed with her parents for a month. Listening to the bard’s stories of Xena’s exploits and telling Gabrielle of her own, which the bard wrote down dutifully and added the next generation of scrolls to the considerable number she had all ready. It was also on that visit that Eve was introduced to the story of the Ungara. Having asked about the bracelets that the warrior and bard wore, she soon discovered their meaning and sat in wonder of how the blue and green eyes lit up with the telling of T.

“Xena, she was not a pain in the butt.” Gabrielle rolled her eyes and scratched Bud’s head, as it lay in her lap. “Just because she wouldn’t let you ride Artaq is no reason to call her that.”

“Yes it is!” The warrior retorted and got up off the couch. “That snot nosed brat always carried you around on him and let you ride him. Why couldn’t she let me ride him just once? Hmmmmmm?” Going to the fireplace, Xena threw in a couple of logs, then returned to sit by the bard. “Wouldn’t have killed her, ya know.” Folding her arms across her chest with a huff.

Eve chuckled and closed her eyes. “Now I know where I get my obsession for horses.” Opening her eyes, she smiled at the warrior. “Another interesting tidbit of information for me to tuck away.”

Turning her head toward Xena, Gabrielle raised an eyebrow. “Uro lemier ischka imiri, Neela.”

“I am not!” Xena’s eyes went wide as she stared at the bard.

Knitting her brow, Eve looked between the bard and her mother. “What?”

Laughing at the warrior’s expression, Gabrielle glanced at Eve. “I said Xena’s a jealous spoiled whiner.”

“Oh.” Chuckling, Eve looked away when Xena gave her a steely stare and found something very interesting on the floor to look at.

“Gang up on your poor old defenseless Mother.” The warrior said in a snit.

“Poor baby.” Gabrielle gave Xena a mock sympathetic smile and patter her thigh. “Am I picking on you too much?” Doing her best imitation of an impish grin.

“That’s it!” Jumping up, Xena moved away and spun around. “I’ve had enough, thank you. I didn’t bury T just to have you take her place in the irritating department.” Putting her hands on her hips. “If you two want to sit here and be snot nosed brats, you can do it without me. I’m going to bed.” Turning, she stomped out of the room with the sound of laughter following her down the hall.

Recovering somewhat, Eve moved to take Xena’s place beside the bard. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen her that pissed. How did you do that?”

“I had a good teacher.” Laying her head back, Gabrielle sighed with a smile. “T was the only person who could ever really get under Xena’s skin.”

“Oh, now I really wish I’d met her.” Smiling, Eve scratched Bud’s head and got a huge paw on her lap as a gift.

Gabrielle closed her eyes. “So do I.“ Sighing, the bard lifted her head and looked down at Bud.

“Did he chew on T’s laces, too?” Trying to push the paw off her lap, Eve got her hand trapped by it and wiggled her fingers until it went away.

“She didn’t have any.” Chuckling, the bard moved the tiger’s head so she could look down into golden eyes. “No, she was the smart one, wasn’t she Bud?”

Bud rolled over and presented his tummy to the bard, who rubbed it and he purred.

“Gabrielle?” Turning to face the bard, Eve tucked on leg underneath her and placed her elbow on the back of the couch, resting her chin on her hand.

Still playing with Bud, the bard tweaked his nose. “Hmm?”

“How did T get under Mom’s skin?” Raising an eyebrow with the question.

Glancing at the woman beside her, Gabrielle smiled warmly. “I tell you what. I’ll tell you all about her tomorrow, but for now I’d better go make sure Xena doesn’t fall asleep mad.” Pushing Bud off her lap, the bard got up and sighed. “It gives her a headache the next day and I don’t want to have to put up with a grumpy warrior tomorrow.”

Chuckling, Eve smiled. “Is that something I should tuck away too?”

“Gods I hope not.” Leaning down, Gabrielle kissed the top of Eve’s head. “I’ll see you in the morning.” Reaching over, she rubbed the tiger’s head. “Keep an eye on the place, Bud.”

Rolling off the couch, Bud shook himself and trotted out of the room.

“Good night, Gabrielle.” Standing, Eve smiled.

“Night.” Waving, the bard went down the hall and stood in front of their bedroom door. Taking a deep breath, she let it out slowly and opened the door. As she stepped in, she closed the door quietly, when she saw the warrior in the bed.

“I’m sleeping.” Xena mumbled grumpily.

Gabrielle held in a chuckle and went to the bed. Climbing over the covers, she wrapped her arm over Xena’s body and tugged lightly, trying to get the warrior to roll over and face her.

“I’m sleeping.” Bringing a hand our from under the blanket, Xena slapped the bard’s hand.

“Xena.” Whispering, the bard laid down beside the warrior. “Don’t be mad, please.”

“I’m not mad, I’m sleeping.” Trying to convince Gabrielle of the fact, she gave a mock snore.

Letting the chuckle out, Gabrielle crawled up over the warrior and looked down at two wide open blue eyes. “I love you.” Speaking softly, she kissed Xena’s shoulder.

Rolling over, the warrior growled. “You’ve got a funny way of showing it.” Staring indignantly up into green eyes.

Smiling, Gabrielle leaned down and brushed her lips lightly over the warriors. “How about if I show you in a more personal way?” Flicking her eyebrows a couple of times, the bard gave Xena a kiss.

“I’m not in the mood.” Breaking the kiss, the warrior rolled back onto her side, away from the bard.

Knitting her brow, Gabrielle pulled Xena back. “You’re really mad, aren’t you.” Disbelieving what she was seeing on the warrior’s face, the bard stared down at the anger in Xena’s expression. “Even after she’s been gone for so long, T still makes you jealous?”

“I’m not jealous and I’m not mad, I’m just tired.” Trying to roll back over, Xena was held in place by the bard. “Can I get some sleep now?” Closing her eyes with a sigh, the warrior stopped struggling.

Confused and concerned, Gabrielle sat up. “Xena, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Opening her eyes, Xena softened her expression. “I just want to go to sleep.” Fighting down the knot that was turning her insides out. “Please.” She whispered.

Staring at the warrior for a moment, Gabrielle sighed. “Okay.” Shaking her head, the bard crawled out of bed, allowing the warrior to roll on her side. As she got undressed, Gabrielle pondered Xena’s mood and couldn’t come up with a viable excuse for the reactions, but let the matter drop for the night and joined the warrior. “I love you, Xena.” Whispering as she pulled the covers up to her shoulders.

“I love you.” Xena whispered back, staring into the darkness.

Outside the Inn, Ares shook his head. Looking up at the stars he sighed taking in the expanse of twinkling lights. Sighing again, he glanced down when Bud came walking up. “Shall we?” He asked squatting down to give the tiger a good neck scratch.

Bud purred, then followed Ares, as they started their nightly walk.

The next morning, Xena rose before the dawn, having gotten no sleep and started getting dressed. Hearing a soft knock on the door, she pulled on her pants and slipped on a sleeveless shirt. Opening the door slowly, she found Eve on the other side and smiled. “Morning.”

“Gabrielle still asleep?” Peeking in the bedroom, she saw the bard’s form under the covers.

“Is that a rhetorical question?” Stepping into the hallway, Xena closed the door quietly.

“Apparently.” Chuckling, she walked beside her mother down the hall. “So what’s on the agenda for me today?” Wondering what wonderful and disgusting task Xena was going to come up with, having had many such tasks to preform during her visit.

“Actually you can do me a favor.” Stopping, the warrior put her hands on her hips and watched Eve’s head fall in a sign of remorse. Smiling, she put her hand on her daughter’s shoulder and laughed. “Don’t worry, it’s not the stables again.”

“Thank you.” Eve whispered and lifted her head.

“I just need you to do the regular morning set up.” Giving a smile and a wink.

Eve’s brow knitted. “Where are you going? You never let anybody set up.”

“I’m going for a run.” Looking down the hall, the warrior thought about the bard. “I’ll be back in time to open the bar.”

Frowning, Eve gave the warrior a suspicious look. “Didn’t you two make up?”

Glancing down at Eve, Xena shook her head. “We weren’t fighting.” Patting her on the shoulder, the warrior chuckled, seeing a faint reminder of Gabrielle’s concerned look staring at her. “And besides, you need to learn how things run around here.”

Rolling her eyes, Eve got the hint. “So I can take over this wonderful establishment one day, right?” Raising her eyebrows with the question.

“That and you can learn how to take care of me when I become old and feeble.” Smirking.

“Xena, though technically you’re my Mother, physically you’re not that much older than me.” Giving the warrior a winning smile.

“Irrelevant.” Straightening to her full height, Xena took on a motherly stance.

“Gaia!” Throwing her arms in the air, Eve gave a sigh of disgust. “Like life isn’t hard enough.”

Laughing, Xena smiled and turned away. “Make sure you get the fire going in the kitchen. Gabrielle will want it ready when she get’s up.”

Pretending to scribble on her hand, Eve rolled her eyes, as every child had done since the dawn of time and headed for the kitchen. “My life is a nightmare.” After the warrior had left, she sighed. “Now I know why I stay on the road all the time.”

Stepping out the front door of the Inn, Xena closed the door and spotted Bud as he trotted up in the pre dawn darkness. Putting her hands on her hips, she gave him a raised eyebrow. “Do I want to know what you’ve been doing all night?”

Bud sat down in front of the warrior and stared up at her.

“I didn’t think so.” Smiling, Xena gave his head a scratch. “I’m going running. Do you want to come?”

Jumping to his feet, Bud bounced around.

“Come on then.” Starting off at a slow jog, Xena tested her legs. She hadn’t done anything overly physical since she’d retired and she wasn’t sure how her legs were going to react to the strain she wanted to put on them. Feeling a little tightness, she picked up speed and glanced at Bud, who apparently wasn’t having an trouble keeping up. Smiling, she had a flashback to the time T had run beside Argo all day and picked up some more speed. Covering the ground in log strides, she disappeared over a hill, moving like the wind.

“Xena I’m sorry I . . . “ Stopping her thought, Gabrielle stared as Eve popped up from behind the counter.

“Hi.” Putting out some plates, Eve smiled. “Get a good night’s sleep?”

Looking around the kitchen, the bard scratched her sleepy head. “Where’s Xena?”

“She went for a run and good morning to you, too.” Chuckling at the bard’s obvious confused state.

Gabrielle knitted her brow as she turned back to Eve. “She what?”

Becoming confused herself, Eve stopped what she was doing. “She went for a run?”

Slapping her forehead, the bard ran her hand slowly down her face. “Where’s Bud?”

Eve shrugged and gave Gabrielle a perplexed look. “I don’t know. Why, is there something wrong?”

“Nothing a good kick in my ass won’t cure.” Sighing, the bard walked to the counter and put her head down, banging it lightly on the wooden surface. “Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.”

Eve’s face ran through a gambit of expressions before it finally settled on just plain confused. “Gabrielle?”

Sighing, the bard stood up straight and closed her eyes. “And I’m supposed to be the sensitive one.” Opening her eyes, she glanced around the kitchen. “When did she leave?”

“Before sunrise.” Shaking her head, Eve moved to stand beside the bard. “What’s going on? Mom said you two weren’t fighting.”

Smiling ruefully, Gabrielle placed her hand on Eve’s shoulder. “We’re not. I just missed some really big signs last night.”

Thinking that she probably didn’t want to know what that meant, Eve smiled and went back to stacking plates.

Laughing at Eve’s discretion, Gabrielle shook her head and started pulling out cookware. “It’s not what you think. Xena wasn’t in the mood last night and I just let it slide, when I should’ve . . .”

“Too much information.” Eve held up her hands, stopping any further explanations.

That really got Gabrielle laughing and she had to lean on the table to hold on to her composure. “I mean she was missing T and I missed that signal.”

“Ooooh.” Eve shifted her eyes back and forth a couple of times before she looked at the bard.

“I thought she was mad that I was picking on her and accused her of still being jealous of T.” Sighing with the memory, Gabrielle put a frying pan on the stove. “Now she’s gone off to do her imitation of T and and she probably won’t be back till mid day.”

“She’s going to run till noon?” Surprised at her mother’s apparent fitness.

“No, but she’ll try.” Starting her daily routine, Gabrielle imagined what the warrior would look like when she got back. “Remind me to have a hot bath ready for her when she gets back.”

“Will do.” Shaking her head, Eve shrugged. “Why is she running?”

“It’s how she feels close to T.” Gabrielle smiled with the thought and pulled out some meat from the cooler. “T loved to run and actually could do it all day. After she died, Xena started taking runs in the morning as a way of remembering her.” Picking up a knife, the bard started slicing off thin pieces of meat. “She hasn’t done it since we moved back in here.”

“So instead of strolling down memory lane, Mom is running down it.” Nodding with understanding. “So where’s Bud?”

“Running with her.” Tossing some meat in the frying pan, the bard turned to Eve. “Bud is the last thing we have of her, besides these.” Holding up her right hand, Gabrielle pulled at the golden bracelet. “Xena likes to try and out run him.” Smiling sadly at the golden tiger head. “She could never beat T, so she tries to beat Bud.”

“Does she?” Wondering where her mother was, Eve glanced out the window.

“No.” Sighing heavily, Gabrielle picked up a fork and turned the meat over in the pan. “But she never gives up trying.”

“Is that how T got under her skin?” Turning back, Eve continued with the chore of setting up the kitchen.

Knitting her brow, the bard stared at Eve until she remembered the previous night’s conversation, then she chuckled. “That’s part of it.” Picking up a plate, Gabrielle put the cooked meat on it and put another piece in the pan.

“Well?” Eve gave her an expectant stare and put her hands on her hips.

Gabrielle rolled her eyes and put the plate down. “All right, pull up a stool.”

Grinning, Eve complied and brought a stool over to the stove and sat down.

Taking a few moments to collect her thoughts, the bard looked at the expectant Eve. “I guess the best way to describe T, is that she was one of a kind. Literally.” Smiling, she continued. “And because of her childhood and being hunted since the day she was born, she was pretty well built physically, and she never stopped loving to put your mother through the wringer over it.”

“Go on.” Getting comfortable, Eve smiled encouragingly. “What did she do?”

Knowing she was going to regret what she was going to tell Eve, Gabrielle went back to the beginning. “We were walking down the road, your mother and I and I was trying to convince Xena that she should try being nicer to people.”

“It didn’t work.” Chuckling.

“Interruptions are not allowed.” Waving a fork at Eve, the bard raised an eyebrow.

“Zipping.” Running her fingers across her lips.

“Good. Anyway . . .” Rolling her eyes, the bard continued with the story of T, telling Eve everything about the Ungara and their King and allowing the occasional question to help clarify a point of reference.

Her lungs burning and her body screaming, Xena raced up the side of a steep hill. Drenched with sweat, she fought the desire to stop and dug in, keeping up the pace and feeling every inch of ground she covered. Allowing herself a glance at the top, she looked down quickly and shook her head, sending droplets of sweat out in a broad sweep. As she came closer to the crest, the incline grew more steep and she pumped her arms and legs, growling through the pain. Reaching the top, she lungs exploded a yell that echoed off the surrounding hills and she threw her arms out to the side, holding them there. Closing her eyes, she felt the sun beat down on her face as she turned it upward. Xena stood there, arms out for a long while and just enjoyed the feeling of being alive, as her mind filled with memories of days gone by. Faces played in her vision as did the voices that went with them and she heard T’s familiar chuckle and opened her eyes. Half expecting her friend to be standing beside her, Xena lowered her arms and took in the view. “It’s beautiful, don’t you think?”

Bud sat down beside the warrior and rubbed his head against her hip.

Glancing down, Xena sighed and rubbed a striped head.

“Getting a little old for this, don’t you think?” Ares asked as he popped in beside Bud.

“There goes the neighborhood.” Rolling her eyes, Xena turned to scowl at the God of War and wiped some sweat from her face. “What are you doing here?”

“Enjoying the view.” Smiling wickedly, Ares turned from the warrior and looked out over the hills, as he did the smile faded and was replaced by a somber stare. “It is beautiful.” He said softly.

Xena’s brow knitted and she gave him a strange look. “Are you on something, Ares?”

Smiling, Ares looked at the ground, then up at the warrior. “You’re not the only one who misses her, ya know.”

“Yea, right.” Shaking her head, the warrior turned back to the view. “Go sell it somewhere else, Ares. I’m not in the mood for your piss poor attempt at sentimentality.”

Closing his eyes, he nodded and sighed. “I guess I deserve that.”

“You guess?” Turning, Xena gave him an incredulous glare. “Do you think I’m senile, or that I’ve forgotten what you’ve been up to?” Stepping over Bud, she stood beside the God of War. “You say you miss her and you still run around making messes that I and now Eve has to clean up. Don’t hand me that crap, Ares. You haven’t changed one iota, so don’t come looking for a shoulder to cry on.” Turning, Xena felt a hand on her arm and glared down at it.

Ares held on and spun Xena around to face him. “Don’t you dare try to get high and mighty with me, Xena. Being God of War is my job and I do it, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t care.” Releasing the warrior, he turned his back to her. “You have no idea what I feel, or don’t feel.” Turning back he sneered. “Just because you wear that bracelet, it doesn’t give you the right to judge me about how I feel about T. She may have been your friend, but I loved her and I’m not the one who has to run themselves to death just to remember that.” Growling, he popped out.

Swinging at the air, Xena howled. “Ares!” Disgusted and disgruntled, the warrior kicked the ground around her. Picking up a rock, she threw it into the air and watched it arc then fall, rolling down the side of the hill. When it reached the bottom, far below, she sighed. Looking down at her forearm, Xena ran her finger over the four small round scars that made up a row of white dots in her tan. “You don’t know what love is, Ares.” Closing her eyes, the warrior heard the clash of swords and the rumble of falling stone, then silence. Opening her eyes, she looked at the sky and felt a tremor pass over her soul. “I do remember you, T.” Whispering the words, Xena turned and started back down the hill. Stopping, she glanced over her shoulder at Bud. “Are you coming?”

Bud looked off to his left for a moment, then at the warrior. Getting to his feet, he walked to her and sat down.

Rolling her eyes, Xena stared down at him. “We’re never going to get back if you’re just going to sit there.”

Glancing off in the distance again, Bud pawed at her leg.

“What, Bud?” Sighing, the warrior bent down and rubbed his head. “What’s the matter? Did Ares upset you?”

Getting up, Bud walked off in the direction he’d been staring.

Closing her eyes, Xena sighed then opened them again and followed the tiger across the crest of the hill. “This had better be good, Bud. Gabrielle’s going to kill me if I’m not there to open the bar.”

“Where is she?” Standing outside the Inn, the bard looked up and down the road that went by the front of the building.

“Do you want me to go look for her?” Standing by the bard, Eve followed Gabrielle’s eyes back and forth.

Biting her lip, Gabrielle shook her head. “No, I’ll go.” Reaching around behind her, she started to untie her apron.

“Who’s going to run the Inn?” Eve asked, realizing she’d be left alone with the responsibility.

“I won’t be gone long.” Handing Eve the apron, Gabrielle smiled. “Just keep them fed and tell them the bar is closed for the day.”

“Aaaaaa.” Shaking her head violently, Eve pushed the apron back. “Oh, no. You’re not leaving me here alone.”

Gabrielle slumped her shoulders and rolled her eyes. “You’re as bad as your Mother.” Grabbing Eve’s hand, she slapped the apron in it. “If Xena can fight off hundreds of goons and then tend bar, so can you.” Releasing her grip, the bard turned and walked away, leaving Eve to stare at the apron. Going to the stables, she went in and grabbed her saddle. “Get ready, big man. We’re going for a ride.” Moving to the far end of the barn, she dropped the saddle on the rail of Artaq’s stall.

The big stallion tossed his head and snorted, pawing at the hay at his feet.

“Attitude will get you no where, mister.” Opening the stall door, the bard stepped in. “All that bluster and bravado are wasted on me and you know it.” Smiling, she patted his neck and rubbed his nose. “Now, how about you and me go find Xena?”

Artaq bobbed his head and pushed the bard’s shoulder.

“I thought you might like that idea.” Chuckling, Gabrielle grabbed the saddle and threw it on the stallion. Standing on her tip toes, she tried to reach the stirrups on top and sighed. “I don’t know how T did this without something to stand on.” Sighing, the bard went out of the stall and returned with a small stool. Putting it down, she stepped up on it and dropped the stirrups and cinch over Artaq’s sides. Stepping down again, she reached under his belly, which was much easier to do and finished tightening the saddle in place. Then she put the bridle on and stepped back onto the stool. Leaning way back, she barely managed go get her foot in the stirrup. “Whatever you do, don’t move.”

Standing perfectly still, Artaq waited for the bard to get on, then he tossed his head and nickered loudly.

“That wasn’t so hard.” Taking a deep breath, Gabrielle let it out slowly. “Okay, big man. Let’s go find Xena.” Patting his neck, the bard ducked as they passed through the aisle and out the door. Pulling Artaq in, she sighed, when she saw Eve still staring at the apron. Giving the stallion a nudge, she guided him over to where the statue stood. “Eve?”

Looking up, Eve raised her eyes to Gabrielle’s. “Yea?”

“Inside, food, clear tables and don’t let anyone in the kitchen.” Keeping her instructions short and to the point, Gabrielle smiled when Eve walked back into the Inn. “Boy, is she just like her mother.” Chuckling, the bard glanced up at the sky and whistled.

Katai answered and swooped down out of a nearby tree, landing on the roof of the Inn.

“Find Xena, Katai.” Watching the eagle take off, Gabrielle gave Artaq a nudge and steered him in the direction Katai was heading.

Straggling behind the tiger, Xena was past being annoyed and was on the verge of throwing something at him. “Bud!” When he didn’t respond, the warrior stopped and put her hands on her hips. “Ungara!”

Bud stopped and looked over his shoulder.

Pointing at the ground in front of her, Xena growled. “Come here!”

Bud laid down and continued to stare at her over his shoulder.

“Ungara.” Grinding her teeth, the warrior walked slowly to the tiger. “This isn’t funny anymore.” Staring down at golden eyes. “Gabrielle is going to be worried.”

Lowering his head, Bud stared up at her, but didn’t move from the spot.

“I’m not going to spend all day following you around.” Sighing, she squatted down. “We can go find whatever you’re looking for tomorrow and I’ll bring Argo, but I’ve got to get back to the Inn. Okay?”

Getting up, Bud started walking again and ignored the calls behind him.

“Bud! Dammit, come here.” Throwing her arms in the air, Xena spun around. “We’ll do this tomorrow! Bud! Bud!” Finally loosing her temper, the warrior picked up a rock and threw it at the tiger and missed. “Gods, you a bad as T.” Growling in frustration, the warrior followed the tiger and mumbled something about immortals. Jogging, she caught up to him. “You’re taking the heat from Gabrielle, ya know. I’m not going to get my ass chewed out when she comes looking for us.” Kneeing him in the shoulder. “Are you listening to me?” Kneeing him again and getting a brief look. “Tigers!” Sneering, Xena walked on in silence, making up excuses to give the bard for her absence.

Ares watched Gabrielle riding along the road and scratched his jaw. Sighing, he stepped onto the road and materialized.

Artaq threw his head wildly and reared, almost unseating the bard and nearly running over Ares.

“Whoa, Artaq. Easy big man!” Holding on for dear life, Gabrielle saw what spooked the stallion and growled at the God of War. “Ares! What are you trying to do? Get me killed?”

“Hardly.” Shrugging, he walked over to the stallion and gave him a glare.

Artaq tried to bite him, but was held in check by Gabrielle. He tossed his head instead and pawed the ground.

“Easy, Artaq.” Patting his muscled neck, the bard glared down at Ares. “Still skulking around, I see.”

Ares shrugged again, then smiled. “Still trying to grow, I see.”

Pulling on the reins, Gabrielle sent Artaq sideways into Ares, which made him jump back. Chuckling, she smiled and raised an eyebrow. “Not so brave with someone who can do some damage, huh?”

Growling, the God of War gave the stallion another glare, then he turned it upward to the bard. “If you don’t want my help finding Xena, I’ll be happy to leave.”

“I don’t need your help.” Smiling smugly, the bard looked at the sky and saw Katai circling.

Glancing up at the eagle, Ares drew his eyes to slits. “They’re everywhere.” He swore under his breath and sighed. “Happy hunting then.” He sneered.

“Ares!” Snapping her head back down, Gabrielle saw the sneer and scowled. “What’s happened to Xena?”

“Nothing.” Rolling his eyes, Ares folded his arms across his chest. “I haven’t touched her.” Knowing that was the real question. “She’s chasing after Bud. I don’t know where he’s taking her.”

“Which way are they headed?” Softening her expression, the bard almost smiled.

“South.” Shaking his head, he pointed in the direction he’s last seen the pair. “A couple of leagues that way.”

“Thank you, Ares.” Smiling for real, Gabrielle nudged the stallion.

“You’re welcome.” He said as she disappeared. “At least somebody’s capable of being civil.” He growled, then popped out.

Riding hard, the bard followed the direction Ares had indicated, but kept an eye on Katai as well, knowing better than to fully trust the God of War. Racing across the hills, she tried to spot any sign of the warrior or tiger and saw absolutely nothing. Sighing, she urged Artaq to pick up the pace and was forced to hang onto the saddle when the ground became a blur.

Xena started to recognize where Bud was leading her and she slowed her pace and finally came to a stop. “I’m not going there.” Shaking her head, the warrior looked up at the hill. Moving her eyes further up, she could see a small plume of smoke rising above the crest, into the sky and smelled the sulfur in the air. “No.” She said softly and looked down at the tiger. “Why did you bring me here?”

Bud sat down and stared up at her.

“Did Ares put you up to this?” Squatting down, she looked Bud in the eye and felt her nightmares start to dance in her head. “Why did you bring me here, Bud?” Almost shouting, she glared at him as tears started welling up in her eyes. “Dammit, answer me!”

“I told him to bring you here, Xena.” Sighing, Ungara smiled when the warrior looked at him.

Staring wide eyed, Xena slowly rose to her feet and faced the shimmering vision of the Ancient god. “Ungara?”

Bowing his head, Ungara smiled again. “Forgive my appearance, but I no longer have the power to come to you in the flesh and I can’t stay for long.”

“Why?” Looking back at the hill, the warrior’s brow knitted. “Why did you bring me here?”

Frowning, the Ancient lowered his eyes when the warrior turned to him. “There is trouble among the Ungara.”

“What kind of trouble?” Giving Ungara a worried look.

“There is another who wishes to claim the throne.” Raising his eyes, Ungara started up the hill.

Following behind him, the warrior fought down the urge to turn and run. Coming to the top, she looked down into the valley and saw the smoldering hole in the center. Closing her eyes, she shook her head and whispered. “Dahok’s dead.”

“True, but his line does not end in there.” Pointing to the gaping maw of Dahok’s former lair.

“What?” Opening her eyes, Xena looked down at the hole then back at the god. “What do you mean his line doesn’t stop in there? Hope is dead.” Feeling a overwhelming sense of dread, she grabbed Ungara’s arm. “Don’t tell me she’s back.”

“No.” Sighing, Ungara turned to the warrior. “Hope will never return, however the seed of Dahok was not Gabrielle’s torment alone.”

Growling, Xena glared at him. “Screw all the bull shit, Ungara and tell me what the hell is going on.”

“Dahok had a son. Half mortal, like Hope and he’s coming with an army to try and claim the throne his father was denied.” Stepping away, the Ancient looked to the north. “He’s been waiting for the Kings to die, so he could have a clear path to the crown.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this eleven years ago?” Angry and shell shocked, Xena railed against Ungara. “We could’ve taken care of him then.”

“I didn’t know of his existence until recently.” Lowering his head, Ungara shook it slowly. “Dahok kept him hidden from the world and with the loss of my powers, I no longer could keep track of his activities.”

“How did you find out about him?” Still mad, the warrior started to pace, but kept her voice to a normal tone.

“I felt his presence a day ago. He finally got close enough for my limited abilities to detect him.” Glancing at the warrior, Ungara felt the turmoil inside Xena. “I don’t think he knows about you, though.”

“What does that mean?” Putting her hands on her hips.

“Since Dahok kept his son away, I believe that he doesn’t know that you and Gabrielle are heirs to the throne.” Walking toward her, Ungara took her hand and lifted her arm. “I believe he’s doesn’t know about this.” Lifting the golden tiger head on the bracelet.

“If he’s been left out of the picture, how did he know T was dead?” Taking her hand back, the warrior frowned.

“I’m guessing he figured it out when the Ungara left the forest.” Stepping away again, he looked down into the valley. “I’ve had Latour send word to the clans, warning them of his existence.”

As a million thoughts ran through her head, Xena scratched the back of her head. “What power does he have?”

“I’m not certain, but he does have some. I believe he uses it to draw people to his cause.” Sighing, Ungara put his hands behind his back.

“Cause?” Rolling her eyes, the warrior sighed as well, knowing she wasn’t liking anything that was going to come out of the Ancient’s mouth.

“Ummm.” Nodding his head, Ungara looked at the warrior. “He’s using his power to build up a following of believers, like his father. Only this time they aren’t being used as sacrifices, they’re his army.”

Xena threw her hands in the air and turned away. Lowering her head, she shook it slowly. “I’m to old for this shit!” Rubbing her face, she lifted it again and sighed heavily. “Where is he?”

“The Rila mountains.” Feeling his powers fading, Ungara concentrated and walked to the warrior. “Xena.”

Turning around, she saw his image start to fade. “What?”

“Mankind has always sought something to believe in.” Fading fast, he whispered. “That’s where his power lies.”

“Wait.” Stepping forward, she tried to reach out, but the Ancient disappeared. Sighing, she glanced down at the hole in the valley floor. “You just couldn’t leave us alone, could you?” Spitting at the glowing remnant of her worst nightmare, Xena unconsciously rubbed her wrist, spinning the bracelet around. Realizing what she was doing, the warrior held up her arm and stared at the golden tiger head, then moved her eyes further up her arm to the four white scars. “I could really use you on this one, T.” Whispering her wish, Xena lowered her arm and started down the hill toward home, again. “Come on, Bud.” Without looking, the warrior heard him padding after her. “Let’s go tell Gabrielle the good news.”

Looking skyward, Gabrielle noticed the position of the sun and cursed Xena and Bud. “When I get my hands on those two.” Shaking her head, she spotted Katai and saw the eagle circling in the distance. “This better be over.” Nudging Artaq, the bard held on as the stallion thundered over a couple of hills, then pulled hard on the reins when she spotted the warrior and tiger walking in the distance. Gritting her teeth she sent the stallion loping toward them. “Where the hell have you been!” Shouting when she was within ear shot.

Glancing up from the ground, Xena spotted the bard and waved. “Oh, she looks happy to see us.” She said to Bud and smirked.

Bud moved behind the warrior and peeked out as the bard rode up, then hid again.

“I have been looking for you all day!” Gabrielle yelled and reined Artaq to a halt a short distance from the warrior.

Smiling, Xena stepped to the side and pointed at Bud, who immediately dropped his head. “Blame him.”

“Ungara.” The bard growled and slid out of the saddle. Handing Xena the reins, she moved to stand in front of a very sorrowful tiger. “You better have a good excuse for leading Xena around all day.” Putting her hands on her hips, she used her toe to lift his head, bringing tiger eyes to meet her fiery green.

“How did you know he was leading me around?” Xena asked and patted Artaq’s shoulder.

“I ran into Ares.” Giving Bud one last glare, Gabrielle turned her attention to the warrior. “He told me you were following Bud south.”

“Ares?” Frowning, Xena raised an eyebrow. “What did he want?’

“Apparently he just popped in to tell me where you were.” Taking the reins back, the bard sighed. “So what was Buuuuud doing, anyway?”

Shaking her head, the warrior closed her eyes. “It’s a long story. I’ll tell you when we get back to the Inn.” Opening her eyes, Xena smiled. “Can you give me a lift? My legs are killing me.”

“I don’t know.” Folding her arms across her chest, Gabrielle smiled smugly. “No body held a crossbow to your head to make you follow Bud. Maybe I should let you walk back.”

Xena didn’t say anything, but gave the bard a serious look that spoke volumes.

Gabrielle frowned. “I’m not going to like your story, am I?”

“Not even remotely.” Sighing, Xena closed her eyes again.

The bard took in the warrior attitude and unfolded her arms. “Give me a leg up and I’ll give you a ride back.”

Opening her eyes, Xena nodded. “Thank you, Gabrielle.”

That really made the bard worry, but she didn’t pursue the issue. Instead she took the help and slid forward when Xena climbed up behind her. Looking down at the still sorrowful tiger, she sighed. “You’re on your own, Buddy.” Glancing over her shoulder, she smiled at the warrior. “Ready for your Artaq experience?”

Xena rolled her eyes and wrapped her arms around the bard’s waist. “You’re loving this, aren’t you.”

Flicking her eyebrows, the bard smiled bigger. “Just hang on tight.” With a wink, she gave the stallion a soft quick kick and grabbed the saddle when he took off.

“Shit!” Grabbing on tighter, Xena eyes almost popped out of her head and she leaned forward to keep from sliding off the back of the stallion.

Eve glared at a customer across the bar. “The bar isn’t open today.” She said through gritted teeth and growled until the man went away.

“I see you have your Mother’s way with the customers.” Ares chuckled as he popped in, sitting on top of the bar.

Snapping her head in his direction, Eve narrowed her eyes. “Ares, unless you’re here to wash dishes, or clean off tables, I suggest you beat it, because I’m not in the mood for you today.” Snarling at him.

Shrugging, Ares snapped his fingers and all the dirty dishes vanished from the dining area and all the tables were cleaned. “How’s that?” Smiling at his handiwork.

“Can you cook?” Smiling back in a none to friendly manner.

“Ahhh, no.” Holding up his hands, the God of War shook his head regretfully. “It’s not in my job description.”

“Good.” Throwing a dish towel at him, she smiled. “You’re the bus boy.” Turning, Eve left the startled god and went into the kitchen.

Staring at the towel, Ares tossed it aside and followed Eve and stopped abruptly when she met him at the door.

“No body’s allowed in the kitchen.” Smiling sweetly, she handed him another rag. “That’s your space, this is mine.” Growling, she turned around and closed the door to the kitchen.

Rolling his eyes, Ares looked around at the customers who where staring at him. “What are you looking at?” Glaring at them, until they looked away, then he got whacked in the back of the head when Eve came out of the kitchen.

“Here.” Handing him two plates, she pointed at a couple of men at a corner table. “The stew goes to the ugly one and the steak is for the one with no teeth.” Smiling again, she disappeared, then came right back out. “And get them some more to drink.” Turning, she went back through the swinging door.

Staring down at the plates, Ares started toward the table in the corner, then looked at the two men. “Which one of you is the ugly one?” Unable to tell the difference, he waited for an answer, then smiled big, which got a strange look and a toothless grin. Nodding, he put the steak down in front of the toothless ugly one and the stew in front of the plain ugly one. “That wasn’t so hard.” Patting himself on the back. “So what are you guys drinking?”

“Water.” Plain ugly said. “She wouldn’t give us nothing else.”

Smirking, Ares went and got a pitcher of water and set it on the table. “Enjoy.”

“Order up!” Eve shouted and put two more plates on the bar, then disappeared.

Sighing, Ares tried to remember why he was doing this and gave it up. “Maybe it’ll win me brownie points.” Rolling his eyes, he went to the bar and looked down at the plates. Turning he glanced around the room and tucked the towel in his sword belt. “Who got the two fish stews?” Picking up the plates, he saw six hands go up. “Okay. Who got here first?”

Xena put her arm in front of the bard as they came close to the front door.

“What is it?” Gabrielle asked and saw the warrior cock her head. “Trouble?”

“Definitely.” Shaking her head, Xena threw open the door and stared wide eyed.

Stepping in, the bard stopped and copied Xena’s stare. “Ares?”

“We’re closed.” Ares said and turned to see the bard and warrior.

“Hi, Mom.” Eve said, as she placed some dirty dishes on a large tray. “Where have you two been? I’ve been swamped all day.”

“Is that your apron Ares has on?” Xena whispered as she stared at the domestic version of the God of War.

“I think so.” Nodding, the bard discovered her motor functions and walked further in the room. “Ares?”

“Sorry about the apron.” Ares smiled. “I couldn’t find another clean one.”

“That’s okay.” Shaking her head, Gabrielle turned slowly around and stared at Xena.

Shaking her head vigorously, the warrior closed the door and joined the bard. “What are you doing here?”

“He’s helping me.” Eve came to the god’s defense. “He ran the dining area while I cooked.”

“You ran the dining area.” Gabrielle repeated the words and still didn’t believe them.

“It’s a snap, once you get the hang of it.” Shrugging, Ares smiled and went back to stacking dirty dishes.

“Okay! Okay! Just stop!” Xena shouted and held up her hands. “What ever you’re doing, just stop. You’re making me crazy.”

Eve and Ares stopped and stared at the warrior.

“Xena. Why don’t you go get a bath and change. I’ll handle this.” Patting the warrior on the shoulder, Gabrielle gave her a shove in the direction of their private rooms. “I’ll be there in a bit.”

Growling at Ares, the warrior narrowed her eyes as she headed for the hallway in the back of the dining area. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten what you said to me.” Pointing a menacing finger, she glanced at Eve. “I want to talk to you later.” Giving her daughter a none to happy look, then she went out of the room and down the hall to their bedroom. Opening the door, she slammed it behind her and got undressed. Finding her robe, Xena went to a large curtain and pulled it back, exposing the bath tub. Sighing, she leaned over it and pulled out a large cork and watched the water come pouring out. Reaching her hand down, she felt the warm water and let it run over her fingers, allowing it to ease some of her tension, as she sat down on the edge of the tub. While she watched the water level slowly rise, Xena thought of what had happened and what she’d heard today and tried to sort it out in her mind. Sighing heavily, the warrior looked around their room slowly, taking in the place they’d made and she now called home. It was simple, like she liked it and although she’d never intended to pick up where Cyrene had left off, she felt good about what she was doing and she knew that Gabrielle was happy here. Thinking of the bard brought her back to the reality of the day and what Ungara had told her. “That son of a bitch. Why couldn’t he just keep his pants on?” Splashing the water, Xena put the cork back in the tube and stood up. Taking off her robe, she stepped into the tub, just as Gabrielle came in. Shaking her head, she eased into the warm water and waited for the bard to have her say before she had to ruin her day. If she hadn’t all ready.

Hearing the water splash, Gabrielle didn’t go in right away and took her time taking off her clothes. She knew that she wasn’t going to like whatever Xena had to say and she used this time to take a last breather before the storm hit. She also wondered about Ares and how he’d been acting. Shaking her head in confusion, she slipped on her robe and went into the bathing area. Xena sat in the tub, stretched out and had her eyes closed. Grabbing a stool, Gabrielle put it beside the tub and sat down. Sighing, she spoke the warrior’s name. “Xena.”

“I’m all right, Gabrielle.” Opening her eyes, the warrior looked up at concerned green eyes and gave the bard a half smile. “It’s just been a really bad day.”

“I think that’s the general consensus around here.” Smiling as well, she reached down and took the warrior’s hand in hers. “You ready to tell me what’s going on?”

Sitting up in the tub, Xena’s smile disappeared. “What about Ares?” Taking care of first things first.

Shaking her head, Gabrielle had to smile. “He just took off the apron, apologized for the intrusion and popped out, but not before he put all the dishes away cleaned and stacked.” Knitting her brow, the bard gave the warrior a curious look. “I think he’s lonely.”

Sighing, Xena rolled her eyes and growled.

Holding up her hand, before the warrior could get started on a bone, the bard explained her reasoning. “I know, but think about it, Xena. You saw him today, right?”

“Yes.” Hissing at the memory.

“And did he have anything bad to say, before your usual go round?” Raising an eyebrow at the warrior who kept her head forward, but cocked her eyes her way.

“No.” Xena said softly, remembering how Ares had acted before they’d argued.

“And when he met me on the road, all he did, other than scare the piss out of Artaq was tell me where you were and point me in the right direction.” Cocking her head sideways, the bard sighed. “And all he did to Eve was demean himself and serve food.”

“I get your point.” Xena admitted grudgingly and took her hand back, dropping it in the water and flicking some of it across the small room. “I still don’t want him around, no matter how lonely he is.” Glaring up at the bard. “I don’t want him in my house.”

“I know.” Gabrielle said softly and sighed.

“What about Eve?” Picking up the soap off a table, Xena started lathering it on a cloth.

“I told her to go to bed and that I’d take care of you.” Seeing the look from Xena, Gabrielle smiled. “You’ve got to admit that she only did what she had to do. I think if I’d been in her shoes today, I’d have taken help from Dahok himself to handle the crowd we had today.”

“Don’t ever say that!” Xena growled at the mention of the name and threw the soap across the room, breaking a jar of something.

“Xena!” Jumping up, Gabrielle watched the soap bullet and looked back at the warrior. “What’s the matter with you? I was only joking.”

Closing her eyes, the warrior focused on calming down and took several long slow breaths. “I’m sorry.” Grinding out the words, she gripped the edges of the tub until her knuckles turned white. Gradually releasing the anger, she let the tub go and dropped her arms into the water and laid her head back. Taking a deep breath, she let it out slowly and opened her eyes and found the bard staring at her. “I’m sorry.” Whispering, she held out her hand and waited for the bard to take it, which she did and sat back down beside the tub. “I know you were joking, Gabrielle, but that name just does things to me.”

“I know. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up.” Rubbing the warrior wet hand, the bard sighed. “So what did you do today, besides give me a lot more gray hair?”

Rolling her eyes, Xena shook her head. “You might want to get in. You’re going to need a bath after I tell you what’s going on.”

Frowning, the bard considered the warrior’s mood and sighed. Getting up, she pulled off her robe and got in the tub. Sitting down, she faced the warrior and stretched out her legs, putting them over Xena’s. “Okay.”

Lowering her eyes, Xena stared at her hands as she moved them under the water, then sighed and knew she couldn’t find an easy way to put the news. Raising her eyes, she frowned. “Bud wasn’t chasing after butterflies today, Ungara called him and told him to take me to the pit.” Using the term she’d given the hole in the valley floor.

“The pit?” Knitting her brow, the bard shook her head. “Why?”

“I asked him that.” Flicking her eyebrows.

“You asked Ungara? Ungara Ungara?” Putting her elbow on the side of the tub, Gabrielle rested her forehead in her hand and sighed.

“Yea. When I got there, I wasn’t very happy and I was taking it out on Bud, when Ungara showed up.” Raising an eyebrow. “Well as best as he could anyway.”

“And?” Closing her eyes, the bard put her other hand on the edge of the tub and braced herself.

Pausing, Xena shook her head. “He said Dahok has a son and he’s got an army and he’s coming this way to claim the throne.” Blurting out the information, Xena tried to stop herself, but couldn’t and immediately regretted it when Gabrielle opened her eyes to look at her.

“What?” Her voice dropped to an unnatural low octave and the bard stared as the color drained from her face.

“Apparently Dahok had a son, somewhere and kept him out of the limelight.” Taking a breath, she watched the bard closely. “According to Ungara, he didn’t know about him until he got close enough for his powers to pick him up and the bastard of Evil is somewhere in the Rila mountains and heading this way.”

Gabrielle closed her eyes and turned her head away.

Staring down at the water, Xena continued her story. “Ungara also said that he’s got an army of ‘followers’ that he’s using somehow. This . . . guy is supposed to be trying to claim the throne, now that all the Kings are dead.”

The bard opened her eyes and looked at the bracelet on her wrist.

Xena saw this and added the next installment. “Ungara thinks that since Dahok kept the boy away, that he probably doesn’t know about us, or these.” Staring at her own golden bracelet. “Ungara thinks that he probably didn’t figure out that the last King was gone until the Ungara left the forest.” Dropping her arm under the water, Xena watched the gold sparkle.

“If he was waiting for the last King to die? Where’s he been for the last eleven years?” Staring up at the ceiling, Gabrielle let out a long sigh.

“Ungara didn’t say, he sort of faded out before I could ask him anymore questions.” Knitting her brow the warrior remembered the Ancients last words. “He said that mankind has always sought something to believe in and that was where this shit’s power lies.” Shrugging, Xena didn’t understand it now anymore than when she heard it the first time.

Laying her head back, Gabrielle closed her eyes. “What are we going to do?”

“I don’t know.” Shaking her head, Xena sighed and bit her lip. “I don’t know.”

Ares pushed off of the tree he was leaning against and gripped the top of his sword. Squeezing until the skin turned white, he felt a fire burning inside his body and shook with fury. Snapping his head, he saw Bud trot over and knelt down. “Not tonight, Bud. I’ve got business to take care of.” With that, he stood and popped out.

After they’d gotten over the immediate emotional roller coaster, the warrior and bard broke the news to Eve and started making plans for closing the Inn and preparing some kind of game plan for how to deal with Dahok’s son. A couple of days later, they were surprised when an old friend showed up out of the blue.

Throwing out some dirty dish water, Gabrielle had to look twice at the figure coming up the road. “Hercules?”

Waving, the big guy smiled and jogged over, opening is arms and giving the bard a huge hug. “Gabrielle.” Releasing the bard, he held her at arms length. “You haven’t changed a bit.”

“And you haven’t become a better liar.” Chuckling, the bard rolled her eyes and put down the large pan. “How have you been?”

“Oh, you know me.” Looking around casually, he smiled and glanced at her out of the corner of his eye.

“Oh, how well I do.” Smirking, she slapped his arm and pulled him inside. “Come on, Xena will be happy you’re here.” Dragging him through the kitchen, the bard pulled him into the dining area. “Xena!”

“What?” Sticking an irritated head up from behind the bard, the warrior saw Hercules and smiled. “Hey!” Wiping her hands off, the warrior took him in a big hug. “What are you doing here?”

Scratching his head, Hercules stepped away and looked out the window. “Ares came to see me. He said I might want to drop by.” Hearing a pin drop he turned around slowly and saw the face of death on Xena’s face. “So what’s going on?”

“That eaves dropping son of a bitch. I’m gonna kill him.” Growling, Xena slammed her hand down on the bar.

“Xena, just calm down.” Rolling her eyes, the bard went to their friend and led him to a table. “Have a seat and Xena will be happy to fill you in on the latest.” Turning to the warrior. “Won’t you Xena.”

Hercules looked at Xena, then at Gabrielle and then at Eve as she came rushing in the room.

“I heard something, what’s going on?” Glancing around the room, she spotted the big guy. “Hercules?”

“In the flesh.” Smiling, he got up and gave the third woman a hug. “How have you been?”

“Fine.” Looking at her mother, Eve smirked. “Better than her.” Rolling her eyes she stepped out of his embrace and over to the warrior, who was still fuming. “What’s up, Mom?”

“Ares went to see Hercules.” Gabrielle added for Eve’s benefit. “Told him he might want to drop by.”

“Ohhhh.” Turning, Eve left the room.

“So is someone going to fill me in, or should I call Ares?” Looking pointedly at the warrior, he saw his jab take effect.

“It’s Dahok.” Xena said through gritted teeth.

“Actually, it’s his son.” Gabrielle added and sat down beside Hercules. “He’s got an army in the Rila mountains and he’s coming this way to claim Ungara’s throne.” Setting everything on the table for him to digest.

“I guess we better start making plans, then.” Standing, Hercules looked at Xena. “What do you want me to do?”

Sighing, the warrior waved him to sit back down and joined him at the table. “I don’t know yet. We’ve just started closing the Inn and haven’t even come up with a complete plan.”

“We were thinking about taking a ride up there and see what we could see.” The bard mentioned and glanced at the warrior. “Xena wants to get a look at him.”

“That’s not such a bad idea.” Herc nodded. “Better to know than to be surprised.”

Smiling, Xena chuckled. “Feel like a road trip, big guy?”

“Have I ever been able to turn down the company of such two beautiful ladies?” Smiling wickedly, he got a slap from both.

“Immortals.” The warrior chuckled.

Over the next two days, Xena, Gabrielle and Hercules planned their route and packed for the long journey, then left Eve to start stock piling supplies and rounding up anybody and everybody they knew. They also sent off a message to Latour and used several of the other ensigns to spread the word, telling their friends of the approaching danger. After three weeks of travel, they finally started seeing the outskirts of Dahok’s son’s army and watched them closely, trying to spot the brat himself.

Crouching on the top of a ridge, the three friends watched the valley below, which was filled with people milling about.

“He doesn’t exactly pack light.” Xena said as she took in the expanse of the huge army.

“Maybe that’s why it took him eleven years to get here.” Gabrielle frowned and scanned the valley floor.

“Whatever the reason, we’ve got some serious problems here.” Shaking his head, Herc sighed. “It’s going to take a lot of work to round up enough people to take him on.”

“What I don’t get, is why no body’s mentioned anything about this?” Shaking her head, Xena frowned. “An army that size doesn’t just go sneaking around. Somebody had to spot him a long time ago.”

“It looks like he’s pretty much kept everybody that he came in contact with.” Herc put in his two dinars.

“That’s what scares me.” Gabrielle whispered. “None of those people look like they’re being held against their will.”

“Ungara said they were his followers and that that was his power.” Biting her lip, Xena spotted a large tent on the far side of the valley. “There.” Pointing. “That’s where the little bastard is.”

“What do we do?” The bard glanced at the tent and then at the warrior.

“Wait till sundown.” Herc said. “Then go in for a closer look.”

“I wouldn’t do that.” Ares said as he popped in beside the bard.

Xena closed her eyes and mutter something nasty, then turned to glare at the God of War. “And why not?” Ignoring her instincts to want to hurt him, she went with the flow.

Smirking, Ares grabbed Gabrielle’s wrist and held it up. Pulling on the gold bracelet, he smiled. “He’ll see you coming.”

Gabrielle looked at the bracelet. “Because he’s Dahok’s son.” Nodding she turned to the warrior. “He’s probably right.” Cursing the fact.

Xena shook her head. “If he knew we were here, he’d have done something about it.” Smiling smugly at Ares. “That kind of blows your theory.”

“Not really.” Dropping the bard’s wrist, Ares pointed to the valley. “Watch closely.” Waving his hand a light sheen appeared for an instant then vanished.

“What was that?” Hercules stared.

“A power base.” Ares said softly. “It covers the entire valley.”

“What does that mean?” The big guy asked.

“It’s like the power Ungara has over the forest.” Gabrielle sighed. “Anybody not of Ancient descent, looses his power if he, or she enters.” Glancing at the God of War. “Am I right?”

“Unfortunately.” Ares nodded. “So not only will he see you coming, big boy over there loses whatever Zeus gave him if he goes in.”

Hercules glared at his half brother, then looked at Xena. “Well?”

“I still want a look at him.” Xena said softly and played with her bracelet. “I just wish I could get this off, so I could go down there.”

“Allow me.” Holding out his hand toward the warrior, Ares sighed.

“Your power won’t remove it, Ares.” Xena growled and stared at his hand.

Ares rolled his eyes. “I know that, Xena, but I know how to undo the clasp.”

That got everybody’s attention and the God of War felt the color rise in his cheeks. “T showed me.” Seeing the curious and angry looks increase, he added a disclaimer. “She showed me so when you two die, I can remove the bracelets and return them to Ungara, okay.” That statement didn’t help his cause any and he closed his eyes. “It was a long time ago, when she made me promise . . .” Shutting up, Ares cursed his big mouth and opened his eyes. “Do you want the bracelet off or not?”

“Promise what?” Xena asked and felt something pass over her soul.

“Nothing. Give me your hand.” Wiggling his fingers, Ares clenched his jaw when nothing happened. “Do you want my help?”

“What promise?” Xena asked again and stared into his dark eyes.

Lowering his eyes, Ares sighed and shook his head. “Look, it’s none of your business.” Raising his eyes, she stared at the warrior. “Do you want me to take the bracelet off, or not?”

“Not.” Giving him a sneer, Xena shook her head.

“Xena.” Gabrielle sighed.

“No, Gabrielle.” Still staring at Ares. “I don’t trust him.”

“Fine.” Nodding, Ares popped out.

The bard dropped her head and shook it slowly. “Xena.” She whispered.

“Well find another way down.” Putting the subject to rest, the warrior scanned the valley again. “I think if we wait until sundown, we can make our way around the rim and come down close enough to the tent to get a good look.”

Hercules nodded. “Then lets move back and wait for sundown, then.”

Slipping down the side of the hill, Gabrielle followed the warrior and felt a twinge of sympathy for Ares. “She never forgets, Ares.”

“Neither do I.” Ares said as he watched the trio from atop another ridge. Staying on his perch, the God of War waited for sundown and then followed the trio as they made their way around the valley. Keeping an eye on the army, he stayed just out of Xena’s sensory perception and started making his own plans for the son of Dahok.

“Well?” Hercules whispered, as he stared up at the warrior, who had climbed at tree.

“I can see some people that look like generals, but that’s it.” Grinding her teeth, Xena went further out on the limb she was standing on. Suddenly she caught a glimpse through the flap in the tent and thought she spotted the little bastard. Moving to a better view point, she watched carefully and saw him again. “There you are.” Seeing a tall, dark haired man dressed in an outfit that looked like a cross between a priest’s garb and a soldier’s uniform, she smiled. As his image was lit up by torches inside the tent, she tried to get a idea of what he really looked like, but was too far away. Sighing, she climbed back down the tree and joined the bard and Hercules.

“Well?” Gabrielle asked quietly.

“I think I saw him.” Glancing back at the tent, Xena pointed. “He’s in there, but I didn’t get a really good look at him.” Begrudging the fact, she put her hands on her hips. “I’d love to know what’s going on in that tent.”

“Don’t even think about it, Xena.” Hercules shook his head. “We’ve got enough information to start making plans, so let’s just get out of here before he senses you or something.”

“Hercules is right.” Wrapping her hand around the warrior’s arm, Gabrielle tugged on it. “Let’s go.”

Allowing herself to be led away, the warrior took another glance at the tent. “We’ll be ready for ya, you little bastard.”

Ares watched them depart then moved to the edge of the valley. Moving as close to the tent as possible, he took a deep breath and stepped through the invisible sheen and felt his powers disappear. Squatting down, he slipped past several guards and made his way to the tent. Ducking behind some gear, he sat and listened.

“My loyal followers.” Came a low baritone voice that made Ares roll his eyes. “Your devotion has brought us to the brink of claiming the land of my Father as our own. The past is behind us and we must look forward to the promise of of my Father and press onward to my reclaiming what is rightfully mine. The people will know, as you have been shown, that their true King and master has returned and they will rejoice in my return and welcome us as their own.” Ares rolled his eyes again and shook his head. Get on with it, he thought. “Tonight we will travel to the edge of the mountains and then gather more to our cause, as we continue out crusade to bring the rightful heir to the throne.”

Hearing enough, Ares snuck back outside the sheen and shuddered, shaking off the feel of being powerless. “Yea, we’ll welcome you all right.” Shaking his head, he popped out, then followed the trio to their camp site, then popped back in. “I wouldn’t get to comfortable, they’re moving out tonight.” With that said, Ares popped back out and headed for the Halls of War.

Throwing her arms in the air, Xena shouted. “Stop doing that!”

Chuckling, Gabrielle started packing up. “I guess we’ll have to pull a T.”

“What does that mean?” Hercules asked and gathered his things.

“It means we don’t get any sleep for awhile.” Xena muttered and sighed, but took Ares advice and started packing up. “I have no idea what T ever saw in him.”

At the Halls of War, Ares laid out a map of Greece and ran his fingers across the area where he thought Dahok’s son would come through. “A couple of landslides and maybe a poisoned water supply should do the trick. At least it’ll slow him down until I can get some reinforcements up there.” Scratching his beard, he thought about what else he could do and thought of T. “What would you do?” Scanning the map. “Charge in and slaughter them all.” Nodding, Ares rolled up the map and leaned on the table. “What did Ungara say was his power?” Drumming his fingers, he closed his eyes. “Mankind has always sought for something to believe in.” Whispering the words he thought of what Dahok’s son had said. “Your devotion has brought us to the brink of claiming the land of my father as our own. Hmmm.” Turning, Ares sat on the table and folded his arms across his chest. “He’s giving them something to believe in.” Staring into the air, the God of War pondered the problem. “Then I guess we’ll have to give them something else to believe in, won’t we?” Smiling, he walked up and down the long hall. “Oh, yea. It’s good to be back.” Popping out, Ares went to visit some of his own devoted followers.

The trio kept ahead of the army, which wasn’t hard considering they moved at a snails pace and left them far behind in a couple of days. As they headed back to Amphipolis they made side trips to every village they could find and spread the word of Dahok’s son, telling the people to head south and to prepare for war. Xena sent a message to Eve, telling her to get ready for a lot of company and Eve sent a message back disinheriting herself from the family and stated that company had already started to arrive. “That’s my girl.” Xena chuckled as she read the message aloud.

“Can she handle it?’ Hercules inquired of Xena’s daughter.

“She was Rome’s champion.” Gabrielle said with a sly look at the warrior. “And she’s got her Mother’s organizational skills.”

“Enough said.” Herc chuckled and smiled at the bard. “I guess there’s something to be said for having a former warlord for a Mom.”

Xena sneered at him, then smiled. “Let’s go.” Folding up the parchment, the warrior tucked it in her waist band and turned Argo south. “I just wish I’d hear something from Latour.” Changing her mood, Xena worried about the Ungara. “I’ve sent him five messages and nothing’s come back.”

“He’s probably busy trying to figure out some way to help.” Smiling, Gabrielle raised one eyebrow. “You know how he is when he gets his teeth into something.”

“Little bugger never lets go.” Xena nodded and smiled, the sobered. “I’ll send him another message when we get back home.”

“You’re going to wear Katai out.” The bard mentioned out of sympathy to the eagle. “I don’t think she’s stopped since this whole thing started.”

“She’s immortal. She can handle it.” Turning to look at the stallion the bard rode, she snickered. “Isn’t that right, Artaq?”

“Xena, don’t you dare get him started.” Patting the stallion’s neck, Gabrielle glared at the warrior. “You had your ride, now get over it.” Looking down on the warrior from atop the big stallion.

Hercules almost fell off his horse with laughing. “Don’t tell me let her ride him.”

Xena glared at the big guy. “It was with Gabrielle and watch your mouth.”

Laughing harder, Herc tried to hold it in. “Sorry.” Shaking his head, he went with the better part of valor and shut up.

They continued their journey and finally arrived outside Amphipolis and were surprised to see the area filled with the makings of a substantial army. Riding through the throng, Xena nodded to the faces she recognized and stared at the ones she didn’t and occasionally gave the other two a shrug and a blank stare. When they reached the Inn, they immediately spotted Eve, standing a top a wagon and barking orders.

“Eve!” Xena shouted and rode to the wagon. “What is going on?” Looking around at the soldiers and wannabe’s. “Where did you get all these people?”

“Me?” Jumping out of the wagon, Eve walked over to the warrior when Xena dismounted. “I thought you sent for them.” Looking around at the milling soldiers.

“I just sent out messages saying we might need some men.” Shaking her head, Xena frowned. “I never asked for any.” Thinking a moment, she grabbed one as he was walking by. “Hey!”

The soldier saluted and came to attention. “At your service, Xena.”

“You know me?” Letting the man go, she exchanged a glance with Eve. “Who told you to come here, to Amphipolis?”

“I came with Crellius.” Saluting again, the soldier bowed.

“Crellius?” Eve asked. “The menace of Crete?”

Glaring at Eve, the man nodded.

“Mom?” Looking at her mother, Eve shook her head.

“Ares.” Whispering, she waved her hand at the soldier and he left. “Ares sent them here.”

“Somebody call me?” Popping in, Ares smiled down from the wagon.

Grabbing his legs, Xena hauled the God of War out of the wagon and threw him on the ground. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, Ares?” Standing over him.

Getting to his feet, Ares dusted himself off. “Trying to give you something to fight with, besides farmers and merchants.” Returning her glare.

“We don’t need your help and we don’t want it.” Stepping toward him, the warrior gave him a shove and he shoved back.

“Tough. They aren’t going anywhere.” Drawing back his fist, Ares aimed at the warrior.

“Hold it!” Squeezing in between the dark towers, Gabrielle shoved them apart. “I said hold it!”

“Move Gabrielle.” Xena growled and tried to push the bard out of the way, but Gabrielle held her ground. “Move!”

“No and that’s enough!” Stretching out her arms, the bard held them apart. “Hercules. Eve.”

Taking their cues, Hercules pulled Ares back and Eve did the same with Xena.

“Now listen to me, you two.” Moving her head between the glaring pair. “I don’t know what’s going on here and I don’t really care. We’ve got a lot more to worry about then who sent who and who’s staying and who’s going, so just calm down.” Turning to Xena, she pointed a finger at her face. “Xena, you go with Eve and get the specifics of what kind of army we’ve got here and what’s going on.” Turning to Ares, she grabbed his jacket and yanked it. “And I want a word with you.” Walking away, she turned to Hercules.

“I’ll take care of the horses.” Smiling he waved. “Go on.”

Glaring up at Ares, she snatched his jacket and drug him through the crowd to the edge of the trees. “Now.” Staring up at him. “What in the name of Ungara is going on with you?”

“I’m doing my job, Gabrielle.” Staring back at her.

“Un uh.” Shaking her head, the bard put her hand on his chest. “You may be the God of War, but this isn’t your style. I’ve seen how you work and you this is way over the top, even for you. So cough it up.”

“War is war. I don’t care who’s it is.” Trying to walk away, he was held up and rolled his eyes.

“Wrong answer, Ares. This isn’t war to you. If it was, you’d be sitting around somewhere staying out of it and enjoying the blood bath.” Shaking her head slowly, Gabrielle pushed him up against a tree. “This is personal, isn’t it?”

“You’re nuts.” Rolling his eyes, Ares shrugged. “War is war. The bigger the better.” Staring out over the crowd.

“Ares.” The bard whispered and wrapped her fingers around his chin, pulling his face down, so she could look in his dark eyes. “I’m not Xena. Tell me what’s going on.”

Closing his eyes, Ares jerked his head back. “You’re trying to read too much into this, Gabrielle.” Opening his eyes, he looked down at her. “It’s just war.”

“You promised T that you’d watch out for us if anything happened to her, didn’t you?” Folding her arms across her chest, Gabrielle dared him to deny it.

Clenching his jaw, Ares turned his head.

“I knew it.” Closing her eyes, the bard sighed. “Why didn’t you tell somebody?”

“Why?” Snapping his eyes back to her. “So Xena could make hay with it and tell me how it’s too little too late?”

Opening her eyes, Gabrielle sighed again. “Okay.” Looking up at him she smiled sadly. “I get your point. Xena isn’t exactly your greatest fan when it comes to T, but if you want to keep your promise, Ares, you need to stop baiting her. She’s never going to trust you, no matter what you tell her, so just leave her alone and I’ll deal with Xena.”

Ares sighed and nodded. “All right.” Putting his hands on his hips he looked at the soldiers again. “Look. I’ve blocked several passes that the army might come through and poisoned their most accessible water supplies, so that should buy us some time.”

“What else?” Smiling a little, the bard turned to stare at the milling militia.

“I went to the tent, after you guys left.” Putting his hand on her shoulder, he waited for her to look at him. “He’s selling himself as a returning king, coming to claim a throne and the land that his father promised him and his followers.” Smiling. “He’s telling them that the people will welcome the return of their king and master.” Flicking his eyebrows a couple of times.

“He’s not only crazy, he’s diluted.” Shaking her head, Gabrielle bit her lip. “Anything else I should tell Xena?”

“Tell her Ungara was right. His power lies in his ability to make the people believe in him. I think if we can give them something to think about, he might loose some of his strength.” Smiling again.

Nodding, the bard put her hand on Ares’ arm. “Thanks and remember what I said.” Giving him a serious look.

“I’ll stay out of her way.” Nodding, the God of War walked off into the crowd.

“Now for the hard part.” Shaking her head, Gabrielle went in search of the Warrior Princess.



Epilogue: Go to part (g) It’s the last, I promise.

Thanks for reading.


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