Relics from the future
By: Richard Sensale
Initial Disclaimers and boringly overwritten legal mumbo jumbo.
Well, as you would expect, the characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer and Ares are copyrighted by whomever thought em up, not me. They have been used solely because a Xena story wouldnt really be a Xena story without them. The other characters are mine, all mine, mine ya here me, mine all mine .. Er.. hmmppp Anyways. The story is also mine, as well as the Character of Jenna and Lowell, and of course the Reeds.
This story is a sequel to my story "Of Demons and Damsels", and takes place about a year after the first story. Feel free to write me if you like either of these works. If you dont like them, well, they were free at least. Meantime, write me if you want to use any of my characters. Oh and yes anyone claiming my work as their own will be bitten by a million Reeds and hidden in a very hard to find spot.
The mans arm snapped with an audible popping sound, as he fell sideways over the table, releasing his grip. Across the table, Xena smiled and reached for the gold coins in the center of the table, as the hapless man toppled to the floor, cradling his wounded arm.
Across the room, Xenas mother Cyrene looked over towards her daughter at hearing the pop and the mans scream. Xenas mother didnt like it when her daughter showed off in this manner. Arm wrestling had earned Xena quite a bit of gold over the years, and she normally tried not to injure her opponents, but the man who challenged her this time, had been sounding off and generally annoying the other patrons for some time. Xenas mother knew that Xena had tried to restrain herself, but the mans taunts had finally overridden her sense of self-control.
Xena finished recovering the five gold coins, her spoils for winning the wager, as the man on the floor began to slowly rise back up, shouting one obscenity after another at Xena. Xena merely smiled as she got up and "accidentally" stepped on the mans good hand on her way across the room to the bar, "ARGH!!!!"
Xena arrived at the bar and smiled at her mother before speaking; "You really should be more particular about the kind of people you let in here mother."
Cyrene scowled at her wayward and totally uncontrollable daughter; "Well, It usually is a lot less trouble to just let folks in than try and exclude people who could show up after we close with a bucket of Greek fire "
Xena reached for a piece of the sweet bread her mother always kept on the bar. Breaking off a piece, she turned as she sensed the approach of her Soul Mate Gabrielle.
Gabrielle came into the bar in the company of her good friend Joxer, and a man Xena did not recognize. The third man seemed to be exhausted; his footsteps were those of a man who had very recently been running for his life. His clothing was tattered in places, but Xena could make out that he was wearing the remains of some form of military uniform.
The three came to a stop just inside the bar for a moment until Gabrielle spotted Xena and they quickly moved towards her.
Gabrielle was the first to arrive in front of Xena. Joxer seemed to be helping to support the third man, and took slightly longer to join Xena and Gabrielle. As soon as Gabrielle was close enough, Xena could see a look of deep concern and worry on Gabrielles face. Gabrielle motioned to the man who was accompanied by Joxer; "Xena, this is Benicus. He came to Amphipolos looking for us. I think you should listen to what he has to say.
Xena looked at the man, and immediately motioned Joxer to deposit him in the seat next to hers at the bar. Benicus looked to be in his early twenties, despite the dirt and ash covering much of him. Xena could see that he carried a scabbard with no sword in it and a dagger that looked strangely melted. Xena had seen metal melted in such a way before, and a past memory chilled her to the bone.
It had been over a year since Xena, Gabrielle, and Joxer had encountered the strange and fascinating ship of the stars and its crew. They had seemed peaceful enough, and had even helped in their own way, with her then strained relationship with Gabrielle. They had machines, which Xena knew she could never hope to understand, and weapons of unimaginable power, some of which could cause melting such as this.
Xena had to find out what had happened. If the people she had met, had for some reason returned and turned hostile, then no one would be safe. She leaned toward Benicus and spoke; "Alright Benicus, why are you here and what happened to you?"
Benicus looked up into Xenas eyes. Xena knew that her initial appraisal was correct; this man was exhausted, and terrified. Xena felt that he had seen horrors enough for ten lifetimes. Benicus lips twitched, as if he were trying to remember something very unpleasant. Xena had to give the man full marks for courage. She had seen the same wild look in mens eyes before, but those men had been driven mad by the memories which this man seemed in control of. Benicus took a slow breath, stealing himself, and began; "It started some time ago from what we can tell. A strange shooting star fell from Olympus and lit fire to some farmland in the fall of last year. We didnt think much of it. Some of the men in my phalanx joked that it was just Zeus throwing out some of his refuse. But we didnt laugh for long. A few weeks after that, a new warlord appeared out of nowhere. He was different. None of our weapons could touch him. Swords melted at the touch of his skin. He was seen riding into battle engulfed in a strange mystical flame. He quickly formed a strong army and has been wreaking havoc in the lowlands between here and the Roman lands ever since. Last week he struck at the city of Delphia and totally destroyed our army. He sits on the throne there now, plotting his next conquest. If something isnt done soon, he will char all of Greece. I hear that even the Romans fear him. He has the power of the gods true and sure. Xena, I came here as quickly as I could, on orders from my dying general, to beg you for help. You have been said to be the fiercest warrior in all of Greece, and beyond. Please help us. You may be the only person who stands between the people of Greece and Tartarus."
Xena studied Benicus face when he finished. The man was telling the truth. His story also lent some credence to stories she had been hearing as to why the Phoenicians had suddenly delayed their planned campaign against Greece. If the mans story was not being exaggerated, then this new warlord was an even greater threat, and a threat that Xena felt she must try and stop.
"Benicus, I will help you. We will leave at sunrise for Delphia. You will stay here though. My mother can tend to your wounds and see to it that you get some rest. Your fight is over I am afraid."
Benicus looked relieved and finally relaxed. Xena assisted Joxer in moving him to a small room in the back of the tavern. She then sought out her mother and asked her to care for the injured man. After her mother agreed, Xena rejoined Gabrielle and Joxer, and the three left the tavern to make preparations for the long trip to Delphia.
Xena had hoped that the early snowfall would have held off for a few more days. The trip to Delphia was going to take three days, and snow was beginning to fall on the path in front of her group as they left Amphipolos. From the look of the dark gray early morning sky, Xena knew that this trip would be far from pleasant. A few meters behind Xena rode Gabrielle and Joxer. There pace would be further slowed by the fact that they were unable to procure a horse for Joxer, and had to settle for an ass instead. While the little beast was very sturdy, it was pernicious and stubborn. The creature traveled at its own slow and meandering pace and was subject to sudden stops at its own inscrutable whim. As Xena pondered how much time the slow speed of Joxers mount would add to their journey, as if on cue, the small animal suddenly stopped, causing Joxer to fall forward onto the snowy road.
"Dam it all!" Joxer bellowed; "At this rate, we wont get to Delphia until spring solstice. Xena, this animal seems to hate me."
Xena reined in her mount, and turned to face Joxer. She didnt often agree with Joxer, but in this instant, she did; "Well, the beast seems to move better when rider less. I think you will have to ride with Gabrielle. Well put the packs on the ass to lighten the load on the horses, and tether the ass to Gabrielles horse."
Joxer was about to complain about the arrangement of him riding behind a woman on a horse, when his hind brained registered the implications of just which woman he would be riding with. "Okay! Sounds like a plan! I love it! Lets get going!"
Gabrielle gave Xena one of her famous "Why me?" glances and moved forward slightly in her saddle as Joxer began shifting the packs to the ass. Soon Joxer was comfortable seated behind Gabrielle on the horse, the ass tethered securely to Gabrielles saddle.
The first days ride ended at sunset. Joxer had to carefully dismount from Gabrielles horse. He had not taken into account, just how physically uncomfortable it could be at the tail end of a saddle meant for only one rider. Gabrielle was un-phased by the cramped conditions, as she nimbly dismounted. She grabbed her pack off of the ass and joined Xena by the fire she was already building. Joxer soon joined them, every move apparently, very uncomfortable; "Xena, how about tomorrow, you and Gabrielle ride together and I take the black horse?" Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other before Gabrielle answered for Xena; "Normally that wouldnt be such a bad idea Joxer, after all, you way more than Xena so it wouldnt be as much strain on Amber, but the problem is, Amber wouldnt let you rider her without me." Joxer resigned himself to the situation quickly and settled as best he could, given the state of his sore posterior.
In the morning, they set off again, feeling rested. At some point during the night, Joxer, having been unable to sleep, took it upon himself to display a skill which neither Xena or Gabrielle realized that he possessed. He had fashioned a sort of extension for Gabrielles saddle, with extra padding for both himself and Amber. Xena was even impressed with his handiwork. It seemed to Xena and Gabrielle, that Joxer had been displaying more and more maturity of late. This led Xena and Gabrielle to realize that they really didnt know a lot about Joxer. They had just not taken him seriously enough to invest the time in getting to really know him. Both vowed to try and take him for granted a bit less from that point on.
As they rode over the snowbound paths of western Greece, they spent time talking to each other. Gabrielle was coming to appreciate Joxer a bit more, and her attitude towards him softened somewhat. Gabrielle, as well as Xena, discovered that Joxers life had not been a pleasant one. His family was nothing close to what Xena would even call normal. Yet, somehow, he had survived on his own. Xena and Gabrielle both decided that Joxers clown like existence was merely a survival mechanism. People simply did not take him seriously enough to consider him a threat, thus he survived. But lately, Joxer had been forced to come out from his protective covering of ineptitude. Xena and Gabrielle had both seen him fight enemies, which were much stronger than he, and win. Gabrielle found herself looking at Joxer in a new light of late, and she was very surprised at what she saw.
Joxer for the most part, hated being hauled around on the back of a horse, like some child, even if the person at the reins was his beloved and beautiful Gabrielle. He was enormously happy each night when they made camp in caves, under trees and the like. There progress had been slowed considerably by the heavy snows, which had made it impossible to see on occasions, forcing them to seek shelter and wait out the heavier snow.
On the third, and what should have been final day of their journey, amidst one of the heaviest batches of snow and freezing winds, Gabrielle was surprised when Joxers surprisingly strong hands grabbed for the reins and pulled Amber to a sudden stop.
"Joxer, what in Tartarus are you doing? You could have killed us."
Joxer leaned over Gabrielles shoulder and pointed ahead of them. Gabrielles eyes followed his finger and she could barely make out a jagged shape a few feet in front of her.
Gabrielle took a moment to identify the shape. A low tree branch had been broken in half and was now a frozen and dangerous spear point over the road. Had Joxer not acted when he did, the point of the branch would have pierced her between the breasts, ending her trip permanently. What totally perplexed her was that she did not see it herself. She was also amazed that Joxer did not panic; instead, taking immediate action, he had saved her life.
"Oh Joxer.. Im soo sorry. I didnt mean to.. Uh, that is, I uh "
Joxer stopped her attempt at an apology by placing his gloved hand on her shoulder; "Dont worry about it. I just got lucky and caught a glint off the ice."
They continued on, catching up to Xena at the next fork in the road. Xena was looking up at the dark gray clouds. The snow had lessened slightly, but Xena felt sure that the storm would be at full force again soon. Joxer spied a dark low shape to the east, not too far from the road they were on; "Maybe we should make a camp and wait it out again. I know were behind schedule, but If it gets much worse, well be in big trouble."
Xena and Gabrielle nodded to Joxer in agreement. Joxer focused on the low shapes to the east; "Looks like some ruins or something over there, maybe we can find shelter."
Xena looked to where Joxer was pointing and smiled; "Good work Joxer. Looks like the best inn around at the moment. Lets go."
The three moved cautiously towards the dark forms, and as they approached, they could see the shapes resolve themselves into low wooden buildings. The ruins were just that, old and dilapidated. It took only a few minutes to reach the closest of them, which looked to have once been a small tavern.
Xena used her sword to pry open the frozen door and the group entered.
Inside the building, they began to look for ways to patch the myriad of holes in the door and walls. Gabrielle found some very old woolen curtains behind the old bar and started to pack them into the larger of the holes in the walls. Joxer came up with the idea of wetting them so that they would freeze into place and form a watertight seal against the chilling winds outside.
Xena began to rummage around some old crates in the back of the tavern, finding some more curtains and what looked to be wash clothes and towels. These items made it possible to seal out most of the drafts in the building.
After they had completed their labors, Xena made a fire in the taverns old hearth. Joxer continued to search for useful articles around the tavern, and returned to Xena and Gabrielle with three bottles of some local wine, which he had found inside a forgotten crate in the back room, as well as some still good jerky. Xena and Gabrielle each took one of the bottles and opened them. Xena was surprised that the wine tasted as good as it did, and drank deeply to ward off the cold.
Their conversation was light and cheerful that evening. After discovering some usable skins, they had settled in warmly and were in good spirits for the first time in days. Gabrielle took some time to catch up on her writings, and Xena had started to clean her various weapons when Joxer asked her a surprising question; "Xena? Can I ask a favor of you?"
Xena put down her sword and turned to face Joxer. She noted that his usually silly expression was very serious, and he almost looked bashful, which was not something he normally was; "Yes Joxer, what do you want to ask of me?"
"Xena, I know that you and Gabrielle, no, er,.. Everyone that is, thinks Im some kind of court jester. I guess Im getting tired of it. You see, when I grew up, with Jet and Jace, I had to be different. I told you about my family. I guess it started as a way to just get noticed. Then when I was on my own, it sort of kept people away from me. I just think that I am getting too old to keep playing the fool. I want to become a real warrior. I want to be able to protect the ones I love. I want some real respect. I dont want to have to rely on the fact that people think I am too dimwitted to bother killing, to survive. Can you teach me how to be a real warrior?"
Xena could not have been more surprised had Ares himself popped into the room wearing a Nubian slave girl costume. She didnt initially know what to say, so she thought it over for a moment before replying with a smile; "Joxer, you dont have to be a warrior to gain respect. Believe it or not, Gabrielle and I respect you quite a bit. But you have a point about survival. I know you have a good heart Joxer; your actions have proven that time and time again. And you are not as helpless as you think. You saved Gabrielles life today. Yes I did see it. You have good instincts, and you have a lot of skills you never let people see. The path of the warrior is a lonely and hard one. Are you sure what you want is what your heart really wants?"
Joxer studied the flame in the hearth for a moment. Xena had never seen such a serious look on Joxers face before, and it only reinforced her opinions of her friend. Joxer took a deep breath and answered; "Xena, all I am asking you for is to teach me how to be a warrior in case I have to be one. I am not asking you to teach me so I can become one full time. I think back and I can remember time and again where I nearly cost you or Gabrielle your lives because you depended on my sword. And I really had very little idea exactly what to do with it. You once told me that in Chin, you learned many ways of killing or incapacitating an enemy, but you seldom used them because they werent necessary. But you also said that it was very comforting to know that if you had to, you could use them. All I want is the knowledge that if I had to fight, I could, and well."
Xena looked over to Joxer, sympathy threatening to make her weep. She had never really realized what it was like for Joxer. She had time and again placed him into situations where he had to rely on skills he simply did not possess. She had mentally assumed that because he carried a sword, he knew how to use it. She felt that a great part of what Joxer was going through now, was her doing.
"Alright Joxer. When this is over, and the warlord is dealt with, we will begin your training. Until then, I want you to think long and hard about exactly how far you want me to go. And exactly what you want to be able to do with your sword."
Joxer smiled then, and Xena joined him. They both curled farther under their furs, and went to sleep.
Xena awoke in the middle of the night. She noticed that the wind had lessened outside and she could make out other sounds over it. She could hear voices she thought, angry voices. They were fairly close to their commandeered shelter, and she heard something else. Faintly at first, then as if approaching, she heard a tiny high-pitched voice. The voice seemed to be frightened, and she had heard a voice very much like it before. She quickly got out from under her covers and shook Gabrielle who had curled up next to Joxer, placing an arm over his shoulder. Gabrielle instantly became aware of Xenas excitement when her eyes opened. Joxer had been disturbed by the sudden loss of his shoulder warmer and he too awakened with a start. Xena quickly placed a silencing finger to his lips and motioned the others to one of the boarded up windows of the tavern.
They all grabbed their various weapons and moved to the window. As they peered out, in the distance, they could see a party of men carrying torches, heading in roughly their direction.
"I count 20 or so Xena," said Gabrielle.
"No, 23." Joxer said in answer.
"Good counting Joxer, now what do we do about them is the question.. Shhhh . Listen." Was Xenas answer.
As they listened, they once again heard the high-pitched sound of a frightened creature. They could now make out that several of the men were carrying something in a large cage. The creature in the cage was desperately trying to escape, but it was to no avail. The cage was constructed of heavy oak, and looked very sturdy.
Xena could not tell who or what the men were. They were heavily swaddled in large furs, and their features were indistinguishable. Xena knew one thing though; the small creature in the cage was a Reed. She had met several reeds the preceding year. They were initially thought to be small demons by the inhabitants of a small village some distance from their current location. Xena had learned much about them on that adventure. Reeds were a created race of creatures from the future. And they were normally very friendly to those they liked.
As the others got a good look at the cold and frightened creature in the cage, Gabrielle looked to Xena; "Xena. That looks like a "
Xena turned quickly to Gabrielle "Yes Its a Reed"
Joxer flushed slightly. On the previous adventure, he had come to know one reed rather more personally than either Xena or Gabrielle. He secretly liked the small creatures. Their Queen, Reeda, had taken particular favor to him, an experience he would never forget, or talk about..
Xena waited for the group of men to stop before speaking again; "The question is, what is a Reed doing here, and why did it let itself get captured? From what we saw of them, they are not timid or helpless. Something is very wrong here."
Gabrielle looked back to Xena; "Yeh I think youre right, but what do we do about it? Those guys dont look like they are planning on anything healthy for that Reed."
Xena agreed with her friend. The question was what they could do to help. She normally disliked fighting against such odds unless she had to. She didnt feel that she had one advantage though. She knew the men were here, however, they had no idea that she was anywhere nearby. Xena knew that the element of surprise, combined with some very creative tactics, could often prove superior to raw numbers. Calculating in Joxers lack of swordsmanship skills, a fact that was very fresh in her mind, she devised a plan.
"Joxer, Gabrielle, I saw a barrel of old oil near the rear of the tavern. See if its full. I am going to see if I can find a few empty bottles. Hurry "
The three went quickly to work. The barrel of oil was about half full, which was more than enough for what Xena had in mind. While Gabrielle and Joxer began to rip the towels they had found into small strips, she carefully began to fill the twenty or so intact bottles she had found, with oil. Soon they had placed oil soaked rags in each of the bottles and had a good supply of them ready for use.
Gabrielle had seen Xena use this kind of device before, and knew what it could do. She was wondering, however, what exactly, Xena had in mind. Xena took one last look out the window, and saw that some of the men had begun to assemble a large pile of wood from the nearby forest. She knew what they had planned for the Reed now, and vowed to save the small creature. As she was about to turn away from the window, she caught a glint of something from under the furs of one of the men. It looked like a highly polished gold. She had seen a metal like this before as well. She size and shape of the object told her all she needed to know.
Xena quickly crept back to the others; "Theyre Romans."
Gabrielle looked to Xena in surprise; "Romans?!? This far inside Greece?" What in Hades are they doing here?"
Joxer looked nervous, and with good reason. Joxer knew the reputation of the Roman Army. They were highly skilled and very professional.
"Uh Xena, are you sure you want to get involved in this?"
Xena looked to Joxer, understanding his discomfort; "We have to. That little creature needs help. Besides, I want a prisoner, so we can find out what they are doing here. Now listen. Joxer, you have the best eyes and a good throwing arm. I want you to take the bottles and go out the back window of the tavern. Once you get outside, climb up to the roof and wait. When I give you three sharp whistles, I want you to start lighting them and throwing them in a rough circle around the Romans. Be careful not to toss one where we are running. Can you do that?"
Joxer swallowed and thought for a moment. He had always been good at tossing stuff where it needed to go, and he did have good eyes and aim. "Yeh, I can do it."
Xena smiled at him and continued; "Now, Gabrielle, you and I will come at them from two sides. I will get their attention first, then you hit them from the other side once they look at me. Keep it tight, we dont want to get crisped."
Gabrielle nodded in ascension and grabbed her sais.
By the time Xena and Gabrielle were ducking out the front door, Xena noted with approval that Joxer had already gotten himself, and the bottles, out the back window, and was probably even now, shimmying up the roof.
The men did not see Xena and Gabrielle depart from the old tavern. Their attention seemed to be solely directed at the helpless Reed in the cage
Xena had tied the horses up in a small stable attached to the tavern, and she prayed that they remained quiet for a short while longer.
Gabrielle quietly circled around to the north of the Romans, and took cover behind a fallen tree. Her light coloring and blonde hair blended in well with the white snow and ice.
Xena was soon situated in the lowest branch of a large elm tree to the south of the Romans. She noted that they had placed all of their equipment in an area near where they had set the cage. Xena knew that this was a good opportunity. If she could get behind the large pile of equipment and supplies unobserved, then she had a good chance of freeing the small captive before the men could react.
Xena made a few small signals to Gabrielle with her hands. Gabrielle responded with a small nod from her concealment. Xena had chosen the tree branch for this reason. She could see Gabrielle, Gabrielle could see her. The Romans could see neither of them easily due to the angles involved.
Xena silently dropped to the ground. She slowly began a tight circle to the west and slightly north. She ducked behind some now covered thickets and crawled their length until she came to a small open spot. She mentally estimated the distance she needed to cover at about 20 yards. She fervently wished that the snow would pick up again and provide some additional cover.
She steeled herself for the quick dash to a tree, right next to where the Romans had stacked their supplies. She had to be very quiet and hope they didnt see her until she was at least at the cage. She was mentally making a note to have some snow-white armor made up for such occasions when the men reacted to something in the opposite direction. For a moment, cold fear swept through Xena, thinking that Gabrielle or Joxer may have been discovered. Like most hastily born plans, hers was relying on all three of them to act in unison for the plan to work at all. If any of them failed or were prematurely discovered, the entire plan could fall apart, leaving no alternative, but brute fighting strength.
Xena watched however, as the men walked a few yards away from the fire and stopped, looking into the snow-shrouded forest. Xena felt that the time was right and made her desperate lunge for the cover of the tree next to the cage. Perhaps the men had heard a small animal, Xena didnt have time to care. She quickly looked at the cage and the small pathetic creature inside.
The Reed had been severely beaten. Bruises marred its face and Xena was unable to see a lot of it.
Xena had learned a few words in the Reeds native language on her last encounter with their kind, and very quietly spoke the small high-pitched word for "friend".
The Reeds reaction was immediate. It looked straight at Xena and let out a fast string of quiet sounds, none of which could Xena understand; "Sorry little one, but I only know a few words of your language. If you can understand me, when I unlock this cage, you run straight back into these woods and wait for me. Ill deal with the Romans."
The Reed looked into Xenas eyes, and Xena somehow knew that the Reed had understood and would follow her orders.
The Romans began to walk back towards the fire they were working on. They seemed unconcerned with the cage, confident that their captive was too weak to escape.
Xena looked at the lock. She had seen locks like this before and it only took her moments to get it off the small door. As she had hoped, the Reed showed a surprising amount of energy as it sprinted for the woods, once the door was open. With one leap, the Reed was in the trees and away.
Xena hurriedly formed a small bundle out of one of her animal hides and stuffed it back in the cage. She then closed the door and refastened the lock. After that, she faded back into the cover of the tree, and hoped that the Romans would not notice the missing captive in the snow.
Xena only had to wait for a few moments before the Romans were once again distracted by something in the woods. Xena assumed that someone was causing the distraction at this point. The timing was too perfect. She quickly retraced her steps back behind the low thickets to where she needed to be.
After she had safely returned to her low tree branch, she signaled to Gabrielle to get ready.
The Roman commander did not know what was going on around him. He had been ordered to take the small demon into the woods and burn it at the stake. He planned to do that as quickly as possible and return to his column, before his hands froze off in the blasted Greek winter snow. The small creature made him feel uneasy. It gibbered on and on in that nerve wracking high-pitched squeal it called a voice, and stared at him, and his men, baring its large fangs and spitting at them occasionally. His men had to forcibly pull all of the small creatures long claws out of its fingertips, after it had severely wounded several men, and killed three. Luckily he felt, the creature had already been severely injured when they had caught it, or the toll on the men of his unit would have been much worse.
He was about to order one of his centurions to go get the prisoners cage, when all Hades broke loose.
Xena nodded once to Gabrielle and let out her blood curdling war cry. At the same time, she broke from cover and flung herself from the tree branch she had been standing on, directly at the man she took to be the Roman commander. About halfway through her lunge, she drew her sword in her right hand, and grabbed her Chakram with her left. The man didnt even have time to issue an order as the tip of her sword pierced his throat, sending him to the ground in a sickening gurgle of blood. Once she landed, she rolled back to her feet, and without a second thought, flung the Chakram at two of her opponents.
Xena had lately been trying to curtail her more bloodthirsty instincts, however, where Romans were concerned; she allowed the full force of her fury to come to the forefront.
Xena watched as the Chakram did its work. She jumped high and long, flipping over at least four of the enemy soldiers, landing facing them from the other side of the small battlefield. As she landed the Chakram came screaming into her hand, having decapitated two of the opposing force. Xena let loose with her weapon once more, yelling as she did so; "Gabrielle, NOW!"
Gabrielle heard the order to charge. She dove over the tree and joined the battle. Her first encounter took the Romans completely by surprise. As she jumped into the fray, she took down two more Romans with her sighs. Now the two women faced the Romans in a battle, which was sure to be bloody. As Xena and Gabrielle closed on perspective targets, Xena let out three loud and sharp whistles. Within moments, the forest was lit up by a large ball of fire to Xenas left, catching one of the Roman soldiers in its deadly embrace.
The fight wore on. The Romans came very close to Xena and Gabrielle on more occasions than Xena cared to think about. Xena had to give them credit, they were consummate professionals. She felt that their only hope lay in ensuring that the Romans remained confused and as disorganized as possible. It only took the Romans a few minutes to realize where the deadly fireballs were originating. Once they knew this, a few of them broke off, despite Xenas efforts to keep them grouped up, and headed for the tavern. Xena could only hope that Joxers seemingly unlimited supply of luck held up, and that he would be able to deal with the threat coming towards him.
Xena didnt have much time over the next few minutes to think, as one after another Roman soldiers came at her. Gabrielle was holding her own with practiced efficiency. Soon there were only a handful of enemies left. Gabrielle had just finished rather large Roman off with a sigh placed strategically in a very sensitive area when Xena saw a large ball of fire consume the tavern where Joxer and the Horses had been.
Gabrielle seemed to see it as well, as she hastily and rather sloppily took out two of the remaining Romans and ran towards the inferno.
Xena looked at the last two Romans, an old rage settled inside her. The Romans sensed this and turned to run. Without hesitation, Xena used the Chakram to violently remove both of their heads from their bodies, and then started running towards the fiery tavern.
Xena and Gabrielle stood totally silent for a moment. Staring at the fire. Gabrielle began to sob and Xena placed an arm over her shoulder in comfort.
Xena was about to lapse into tears herself when she heard a familiar voice from behind her; "Phew . That was close. Good thing I saw those jokers coming in time."
Xena and Gabrielle turned in time to see Joxer approaching from the woods, holding the reins to their horses and he had even managed to save the ass, which had tormented him.
Gabrielle broke out into sobs of an entirely different kind and ran to Joxer; "Joxer How ? I mean, you were on the roof. How did you get out?"
Xena had joined her friends by this time and waited quietly for Joxers reply; "Well, when I saw those guys heading for the tavern, I also noticed a hole in the roof over the stable area. So I just lit one of Xenas little cocktails and dropped into the hole. I grabbed the horses and the other thing and headed out the back way. It was kind of funny after that. Once I was clear, I turned around to see the Romans on the roof, looking at the bottles. They looked pretty confused until WHOOSH!!! No more Romans " Then I just circled around and wala.."
Xena stood dumbfounded for a moment. It seemed to her that Joxer was indeed; far more resourceful than either she or Gabrielle had given him credit for.
Xena looked back at the flames, then realized something; "Joxer. Do you realize that most of our supplies and furs were in there?"
Joxer stood quiet for a moment; "um . Well . Maybe we can find a nearby village to get new stuff. And the saddlebags are okay."
Xena shook her head. It seemed that the gods still conspired to make her life miserable. Gabrielle just seemed happy that Joxer had survived. But without food, or a lot of furs, in a blizzard, their hopes of survival were not too strong.
Xena suddenly stopped this train of though, and remembered what it was that had brought this on to begin with; "Wheres the Reed?"
Xena and Gabrielle made a few half hearted attempts to put out the burning tavern, and save their precious supplies, but both soon realized that the oil in the bottles was much easier to light, than to put out. Joxer stood with an amused expression on his face for a few minutes until Xena noticed that he was not helping them and inquired; "Joxer!?! What are you doing, we need that stuff!"
Joxer stood facing Xena, several paces away, with a very amused look on his face as he spoke; "I wouldnt be too worried about supplies."
Xena took an exasperated breath and replied; "Why not?"
Joxer moved slightly to his left, wagging a thumb over his right shoulder; "Because Romans never travel without adequate provisions."
Xena looked over Joxers shoulder at the forgotten Roman supplies, lying neatly next to the small cage. In her excitement, she had completely forgotten about them.
Joxer merely turned and walked back towards the bags and crates. He opened the first of them and started unpacking what looked like a large piece of cloth. ; "Do you think we can make use of this tent?"
It took some time for them to make camp from what the dead Romans had so generously provided. The Romans had enough food and provisions to last 20 or so men for a week of hard march. By Xenas calculations, the supplies would last them months. The problem, as Xena saw it, was going to be carrying it, so she decided to pick and choose only the most important supplies for the rest of their trip.
The Roman tent proved to be warmer than the tavern. It held out the wind well, and was large enough to build a fire inside of, without the danger of burning it up. Xena helped arrange their loot with Joxer, while Gabrielle gathered wood for the fire.
Once they had all settled back in, Xena let herself think about the Reed.
She was not sure where the Reed had gone, or if it would return. She thought to go into the woods in the morning, to try and find the creature. The winds and snow had picked up again, and she didnt feel very safe or secure about attempting to track the Reed until morning. By Xenas estimation, there were still several hours before the sun would return, and she had no idea of when or if the current storm would pass.
Xena, Gabrielle, and Joxer slept fitfully for the remainder of the evening. When Xena finally decided that it was time to wake, she opened her eyes to see a small huddled figure, sitting close to the fire. Instantly awake and alert, she cautiously got up and walked over to the Reed.
"Can you understand me at all little one?"
The Reed looked at Xena. It seemed tired and hungry. Xena also noted with anger that the Romans had forcibly pulled its claws from its small hands, effectively leaving it unable to defend itself. Xena had also remembered that these creatures could produce great gout of flame breath when needed, and could only assume that something was preventing this particular Reed from being able to flame her attackers.
Xena also noted other injuries to the small creature. Bruises and small scrapes and cuts were evident on its skin. She also noted that this Reed was a female, as she had first thought. On her first encounter with one of the Reeds, Xena and Gabrielle had barely been able to get the creature to stop talking, so she was worried at this Reeds quiet silence.
The Reed looked into Xenas eyes and Xena could sense a strong feeling of thanks from the Reed. The Reed opened up part of her furs to show Xena a small and battered pin on the left lapel of her uniform. Xena recognized the pin immediately. The commander of the incredible ship of the stars she had met called it a universal translation matrix. The device was supposed to be able to translate any language, allowing its wearer to communicate with anyone, no matter of what tongue that person spoke. This device however, looked damaged. The reed made a motion of breaking a stick in order to illustrate its problem.
Xena also noted that the uniform the Reed wore was identical to the ones worn by the Reeds she had previously met. This told Xena that this Reed must have come from the same place as the ones she had first met. Xena looked at the little Reed, not knowing hat to do.
"Okay, your translator is broken, so you cant talk to me. But can you understand me? If so, then nod."
The Reed looked at Xena and did a slow nod. Xena was partially relieved. At least she would be able to partially communicate with the small creature. But she had to find out what the Reed was doing here, and what, if any, connections existed between the Reed, the Romans and this new warlord.
"Did you come from the Angel?"
Again the Reed nodded slowly.
"Did Captain Jenna send you?"
Another nod signaled ascension.
"Is the Angel here again?"
This time the Reed slowly shook her head in disagreement.
"Okay so you are here alone. Did you come in another ship of some kind?"
The Reed nodded again, looking slightly relieved.
"This is pretty frustrating for you I know, but we need to be able to talk to you and find out why you are here. Can you take us to your ship?"
The Reed thought for a moment, then nodded.
"Is it a long trip?"
The Reed held up one hand and counted four fingers for Xena.
"Four days journey? By horse?"
The Reed seemed to be getting some of her exuberance back and rose to her feet, then proceeded to walk around the tent once, before sitting back down in front of Xena.
"Four days walk then. Good. With the horses, we can cover it in half the time. Will you let me try and treat your wounds?"
The Reed thought again, and finally nodded slowly. Xena got up and walked over to the Reed. As she rose, Gabrielle slowly opened her eyes and sat up in her furs, bumping into Joxer, who abruptly grabbed to keep from rolling into the fire. The next few minutes in the tent, caused even the injured Reed to laugh for a time.
Xena did her best to help the Reed. The creatures injuries did not seem severe to Xena, although the small creatures left wing seemed to be broken. Xena formed a crude but effective splint from some strong tree branches and placed them in position after setting the break. Xena nodded at her handiwork, and after giving her a proper cleaning, and suturing the wounds that needed it, the Reed seemed to recover more of its normal energy. By the time the group was ready to move on, they had fed the Reed some fresh foul, courtesy of the Romans, and it was in much better spirits.
Joxer spent nearly an hour making another extension for Xenas saddle, so the Reed could ride with her. Gabrielle spent some time, packing up all of the supplies that the two horses and the now heavily burdened ass could carry. Xena decided to make sure and bring the tent along. She felt that if they were stuck in another storm, without available caves or other shelter, it could save their lives.
By mid-day they were ready and moved out in the direction the Reed indicated. Xena felt fortunate in that the Reed was leading them in roughly the direction of their original destination.
Xena noted that the Reed seemed to be fairing a bit better and she noted that the nasty wounds where the Reeds claws had been pulled out, had scabbed over and the angry red color was disappearing.
Xena couldnt imagine how much the poor creature had suffered at the hands of the Romans. She thought to herself about how this only gave her another reason to despise them and their corrupt Emperor.
The group made fairly good time during that cold afternoon. The weather seemed to be improving slightly and Xena was about to make camp for the night when her senses suddenly became alert.
Xena could feel a presence ahead of them on the road, a very familiar one.
"Joxer, Gabrielle, stay here for a bit. I need to check something out." She said, as she quickened her riding pace. Joxer and Gabrielle reined in their horses at her voice and came to a stop. They attempted to question Xena further as she swiftly rode by them, but she was out of range before they had come to a complete halt.
Xena rode swiftly down the snow-covered road. She had only ridden a short distance when she saw a figure, slumped against a large tree near the edge of the road. She approached cautiously and was astounded to see Ares, the god of war, lying in a pool of what appeared to be his own blood. She brought her horse to a stop quickly and flipped down from her mount. Within moments she was beside Ares, surveying his condition.
What Xena saw did not look good. Ares had been wounded badly. Strange burns covered his right arm. He was still clutching the remains of his sword and he was covered in cuts and scratches. There was a rather large wound in his left shoulder, although Xena was at a loss as to what kind of weapon had made it. He was covered in half frozen mud and had been badly beaten or bruised.
Xena had never seen Ares in such a state and the site disturbed her more deeply that she would have thought. Not just the fact that whatever had done this must have been frighteningly powerful, but Xena was actually disturbed by the fact that he had been his badly injured at all. Xena and Ares had had a long relationship, and while somewhat unconventional, Xena had always felt an odd bond to the tall God.
Xena immediately took her water skin from her horse and brought it back to Ares. Unstopping it, she put it to his lips and tried to get him to take a few short drinks. Ares seemed to sense her presence and opened one swollen eye. He looked at Xena and a small smile tried to cross his face, which quickly turned into a grimace of pain as Xena helped him to a more sitting position.
"Ares hold still. I have to get you back to the others and see about these wounds. Can you walk at all?"
Ares seemed amused at the comforting tone in Xenas voice. He mentally counted how many times that his beloved warrior woman had tried to kill him in the last few years and finally gave up as he responded; "Walk Xena, I used the last of my energy just to get me this far. I doubt I could crawl."
Xena sighed and slowly lifted the war god to his feet, supporting him with her own considerable strength. "You have been putting on weight. We will discuss what put you in your current condition after we get those wounds tended to. Umph.."
Ares tried his best to assist Xena as she slowly slung him over the back of her mount and covered him with an extra saddle blanket; "Now if this isnt a wonderful way for the God of War to be conveyed through the countryside." He said.
Xena only smiled as she completed tying him to the back of the horse, and mounted in front of him. She rode calmly back to the others, trying her best to avoid any jarring motions or bumps on the way.
When Xena arrived back at the spot on the road where she had left her companions, she hurriedly motioned them to a small clearing off of the main path.
The Reed seemed to sense some urgency on Xenas behalf, and jumped from her place on the ass, to come to Xenas side, as Xena was dismounting her horse.
Joxer and Gabrielle worked quickly. They hopped down from their mount and began to unpack the large tent provided by the Romans.
Xena got her first really good look at Ares as she carefully removed him from her horse, sliding him gently to the ground, and pillowing his head on one of her fur coverings.
Xena could see that he was gravely injured. The burns on his face and arms looked bad, and she could only guess at what other unseen injuries he had sustained internally. From his nose issued a slight flow of red blood, bearing the telltale aura of God blood. She wasnt sure how she could help him, and for all her attempts to kill him in the past, she subconsciously could not bring herself to simply sit idly by and let him pass.
The Reed came up beside Xena and nudged her slightly with one elbow. Xena looked to the Reed and seemed to sense that the reed was trying to tell her it wanted something. The Reed looked into Xenas eyes with its own, pleading for something. It was then that Xena realized that the small creature wanted to help. Xena was not sure what the Reed could do, but she did know that the Reed possessed knowledge of things far in advance of her own. Perhaps the creature could help, and not believing that she would be able to do much for Ares herself, she moved aside to allow the Reed to have access to the injured God.
The Reed squatted down in the snow next to Ares still form, and from somewhere within the filthy and tattered coverings it wore, produced a small gray metallic case, bearing a small red colored cross symbol on one side. The Reed opened the case and took out a small device. The reed separated a piece from the device and hovered it several inches above Ares, panning it up and down the length of his body. As the Reed did this, the larger of the two pieces, which the reed still held in its hand, emitted a series of odd sounds, and Xena could see a series of strange symbols, in different colors, appearing and disappearing from a clear piece of flat crystal sticking partially out of the device.
The Reed studied these symbols for a few moments and took on a look of grim determination. It replaced the device from whence it came, and withdrew another item from somewhere on its person. This one was just slightly larger and looked like some sort of case made of finely made leather. It was black, but also bore the odd cross marking on its side. The Reed opened this and withdrew several small containers of various colored liquids from the case. She then took out a larger item, and it looked to Xena as if the Reed filled the larger device with small amounts of some of the colored liquids.
After the Reed had finished filling the proper amounts of liquids to the larger item, she replaced the small bottles in the case, and pressed one end of the device to Ares throat, roughly over his Jugular Vein. Xena saw the reed press a small blue stub on the other end of the device, and then heard the device give off a small hissing sound.
Xena watched as the Reed replaced the last of her items in the case, and then the Reed secreted it back under her coverings. The Reed then sat for a few moments, seemingly waiting for some reaction from Ares.
Xena sat as well, watching Ares labored breathing. After a few minutes, while Joxer and Gabrielle were still working on the tent, she noticed that Ares breathing was becoming more and more even. The Reed bent over Ares, taking his pulse and opening one eyelid to see how his pupils were reacting. Xena knew that the size and movement of the pupils of an unconscious man, could give some indication as to his condition, and apparently, the Reed knew this as well.
After a few more minutes, Xena got the reaction she and the Reed were waiting for. Ares suddenly opened his eyes and sat bolt upright. His right arm went for the scabbard on his hip, where his now damaged sword once sat. He jumped so quickly and with such strength, that Xena was barely able to keep him in a semi-sitting position.
He looked into open space for a moment, lost in the left over fury of a life and death battle, then he relented, turned slowly, and softened as he saw Xena looking into his eyes.
Xena had seen many expressions on Ares face in the past, but what she when he regained consciousness disturbed her. Ares initial look was one of fear, the kind of fear she had seen countless times on the faces of those who knew they were about to die in battle. As Ares realized that she was there with him, holding his hand gently, he seemed to relax. His expression changed to one of utter relief, and his hand relaxed from the fist it had made.
The Reed immediately began using the small device she had kept in the silvery gray case again. Xena noticed that the symbols and colors on its display seemed different this time, as were some of the sounds it emitted. The Reed went over Ares twice with the device, and then replaced it with a somewhat satisfied smile. Ares meanwhile, seemed completely oblivious to anyones presence other than Xenas.
It took Ares a few moments of silent contemplation before he spoke; "Xena, what in Tartarus are you doing here? I thought you were in your old home town?"
Xena smiled at him, which seemed to lift his spirits somewhat, then replied; "I cold very well ask you the same question. Its not every day you find the God of War, lying in a pool of his own blood, by the edge of a seldom-used rode, slowly bleeding to death. But to answer your question, we are headed to Delphia. We have been asked to come help deal with some new warlord who has been causing trouble in the area."
At Xenas statement, Ares once again got that worried and frightened look on his face. He seemed very agitated as he spoke; "Xena.. Dont go anywhere NEAR that accursed city! Do you here me!?! Stay away from there! There is nothing there but death, even for gods!"
Xena was quite surprised at Ares attitude and decided to probe deeper; "Ares, what are you talking about? Whats going on here? I have never seen you afraid before. What has you so worked up?"
Ares composed himself for a few moments, and took a deep breath before answering Xena; "I heard some new warlord was wreaking havoc in the area. I thought I would go see what kind of man he was, to see if I should help or hinder. You know, god type stuff; then it turned out that he was nothing more than some cowardly and power hungry wretch, who had somehow gotten his hands on some very strange weapons. He had been plundering every town in his path. No logical sense to it, he was just engaging in random acts of destruction, looting, raping, pillaging, you know the type. I hadnt seen anything that bad since that Attila idiot got turned loose on the world. I decided he needed stopping before he gave real war a bad name. I gathered my armies in the region, and we attacked. It was horrible. I have never seen a rout like that before in my eternal life. My troops were moved down by the hundreds, nothing left, nothing at all, not even ash. Our weapons were useless against him. His army didnt have to do much more than herd my men into convenient areas to be killed in bulk. All the time, he was laughing maniacally, power mad I think."
Xena paused to think about what Ares had told her. It certainly added extra weight to a theory she was starting to develop, regarding the true nature of this enemy. If a madman had somehow gotten a hold of even a small sample of the weapons and other devices from the great ship of the stars, then her mission would be the most dangerous one she had ever had to undertake. She needed more information so she turned back to Ares; "Ares, listen, I know something about what may be going on, and I think I might be able to stop him, but I need your help. I want you to think, what did these strange weapons look like? How many did he have? Did his men have any, or were they just hiding under the war lords protection?"
Ares sat up a little, obviously trying to gain back some of his beaten down dignity. He hunched forward slightly, placing his chin in his right hand, slowly stroking his short-cropped beard as he thought. He took a small twig from the ground and slowly sketched something very roughly in the snow, speaking as he worked; "One of them looked a bit like a crossbow, but without the bow, and smaller. It had some kind of switch of lever in the grip. It also had some small lights on the side. When used it made a sort of buzz sound, then a short hiss. After that, whatever the fiendish device pointed at, simply disappeared in a bright blue flash. He also had some sort of device on his belt. This one didnt seem to do anything, it just hummed softly, with some more toggles and such on it. And he had the most unusual sword I have ever seen. It was crystal of some sort, and it could cut through anything, even"; he said as he looked to where the remains of his own sword sat in the snow; "..even my sword. His troops also seemed to have the hand weapon, but not the belt device or sword."
Xena looked at the look of sorrow and regret on Ares face. She knew that with his sword gone, his powers would fade quickly, if they hadnt gone completely, which would account for the condition she had found him in. But as she looked down to the sketch he had made in the snow, she recognized the weapon he had drawn at once. The Commander of the Angel had called it a T-Beamer. The weapon worked by some mechanism she did not understand, but she did know that it did exactly what Ares had described. If one were not properly protected, the weapon would instantly reduce that person to less than nothing. Xena had seen these weapons used before, and she had no intention of getting in front of one if she could avoid it. Still, she had made a promise to help out with this warlord, and she always kept promises. She also knew that with Ares injured and mentally as defeated as he was, he would be of little use in this, so it was up to her to deal with the threat.
"Ares, where exactly is he hold up?
Ares thought for a moment before he replied; "Hes in a large camp or something just north of Adelphia itself. We never got close enough to actually see it."
Xena turned to look at the Reed, who had remained quiet, simply listening to the conversation. Ares looked to the Reed as well, seeming to notice her for the first time; "What is THAT!?!"
Xena placed a calming hand on his shoulder; "That Ares, is a Reed. It is a very long story, but she is a friend, and may I add, she just saved your life."
Ares looked again at the Reed, who was smiling slightly, but not enough to show Ares her frighteningly sharp fangs.
Xena looked back to the Reed, and spoke; "Little one, do you have something where we are going which can help?"
The Reed smiled a bit more and nodded her head in ascension.
Ares merely stared at the Reed. He seemed to be somewhat dubious about Xenas reassurances, and didnt want to let the small and very dangerous creature out of his sight.
Xena looked over and noticed that Gabrielle and Joxer had almost completed setting up their tent. She motioned the Reed to the tent and started to gather up Ares still weak form; "I know you hate being carried by a mere mortal woman, however, I think it best to get you out of the cold snow. Tonight we rest, and you heal. Tomorrow, we see what our small winged friend has for us."
Ares smiled as Xena helped him to the tent, as he replied; "Ya know, being injured has some good points, at least I get to be very close to you my dear."
The morning air was crisp, and fortunately Xena thought, the snow had stopped finally. As she poked her head out of the tent, looking up at the early morning sun, she heard the sounds of someone rustling around in the tent. Pulling her head back inside the flap, she looked around to see Ares sitting up on his furs, stretching. She could barely discern any marks or reminders of his previous days ordeal. He appeared fit and ready to take on Cerberus in a wrestling match.
"Good morning Ares. You are looking better." She said, as she moved over to the bags, which held their breakfast.
Ares looked at her, smoothing out his ruffled hair. He experimentally stretched again, working out some of the stiffness. He replied as he stood up and began walking over to Xena; "Feeling much better too. Im not sure what that little creature did, but with a healing touch like that, she could be a god."
As Ares arrived beside Xena, he felt a tug on his jerkin. Looking down, he saw the small frame of the Reed creature that had apparently saved his life. The creature looked at him smiling, now showing her teeth quite plainly. Even Ares had to be impressed with the size and apparent sharpness of the creatures fangs. Xena noticed his concerned look and spoke; "Dont worry, shes quite friendly. Actually she appears pretty normal compared to a few of her kind I have met before. She is looking a lot better than when we first found her though. She also seems to be a mite smitten with you Ares.. Hey wait a minute "
Xena stooped down and took one of the Reeds hands in hers, examining her fingers. Xena was astonished when she noticed that the Reeds claws appeared to be re-growing at a tremendous rate; "Wow, I knew these creatures healed fast, but this is amazing."
The Reed seemed to take this as a compliment and pointed to the small cases she had used on the previous day, then to herself. Xena took the meaning of this and spoke; "Oh I get it, you used the medical supplies last night. But why didnt you do that earlier?"
In reply the Reed stalked back and forth on the ground in front of them, pantomiming the fashion in which Roman soldiers marched, then held out one of the cases in front of her and held an invisible tug of war with it, against an unseen foe. Xena only took a moment to realize what she meant; "You were afraid the Romans would take it away from you if they knew you had it?"
The Reed immediately stopped her phantom tug of war and nodded vigorously at Xena, smiling like a toddler with a new toy.
Before Xena could formulate any more questions for the Reed, Gabrielle and Joxer stirred, and rose slowly, stretching the sleep from their tired limbs.
Gabrielle wrapped several furs around herself and walked over to the group, followed shortly by Joxer who managed to only knock over two small items on his way.
Everyone soon sat in front of the fire in the center of the tent, planning the days activities.
Xena looked at the Reed and asked; "Is it much farther to wherever it is that you are taking us?"
The Reed shook her head, indicating that they would probably be at their destination soon. Xena knew that despite the snow and wind, they had been making very good time. Fortunately the snow was mostly of the fine powdery kind that blew away quickly in the wind. Had it been the more heavy wet kind, their journey would have been more hampered by it.
Gabrielle seemed somewhat worried. The preceding night, Xena had recounted Ares story to her, which Xena thought might have been a mistake. After her re-telling, Gabrielle seemed full of apprehension. Gabrielle looked to Xena; "Xena? Exactly where do you think the Reed is taking us? I mean, in the shape it was in, how could it help us? It seems to be unarmed."
Xena could understand Gabrielles misgivings. She was honestly a bit concerned herself, however, she had learned one thing about the Reeds, that being that they were VERY dependable. Reeds seemed to know what they were doing at all times, even if their methods were a bit odd by human standards; "Dont worry Gabrielle. I am sure the little one has a plan. I cant tell you what it is yet, but I am sure she wouldnt be leading us around in the snow for nothing. And I think that she wants to see those weapons out of that madmans hands as badly as we do."
At her comment, the Reed looked to Xena and nodded emphatically.
Joxer had been very quiet since awakening. Xena noted how nervous he seemed to get around the Reed. He was normally impossible to get to shut up, but he had not said a word since they had found the small creature.
"Joxer? Are you feeling alright? You havent said a word in ages." Xena inquired of her friend and soon to be student.
Joxer shifted uneasily, breaking off a piece of Jerky. He thought for a moment, then answered; "Im fine Xena, but the Reeds make me a little um . Nervous. I had a small run in with Reeda last year."
Xena could tell by Joxers demeanor that something else was not being said; "A run in? What kind of run in?"
Before Joxer could reply, the Reed broke out into a raucous laugh, and started rolling over on the ground. Xena initially thought the creature was having some reaction to the food they had given it, but it was soon evident that it was simply rendered helpless by laughter.
Joxer turned as red as a boiled crab and started fidgeting where he sat. Xena was now curious. She had never seen Joxer quite so embarrassed before and she wanted to know the reason; "Well Joxer Out with it."
Joxer took a short breath; "Well It really wasnt my fault. I mean, I just went to take a shower on the Angel, then I mean I wasnt quite as alone as I thought in the shower. I turned around and there she was and ."
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other in shocked amazement. The Reed continued to laugh, even harder than before. Ares looked at Joxers expression and then said; "So you had a roll with one of these Reeds?"
Gabrielle then broke up, followed shortly by Xena. Ares didnt see that it was so funny, and just sat there wondering why mortals made such a big deal about something as simple as a flop in the hay with a female. Joxer continued to brighten as he spoke; "Yeh Thats right, yuck it up I mean its not like I had a lot to say about it. It happened so fast, I didnt even know what was going on until it was way too late."
Xena, realizing her friends discomfort, mad an honest effort to stop laughing, but failed miserably. Finally Gabrielle gained control of herself long enough to speak; "So THATS why Reeda seemed to get a bit protective of you. I thought that she was acting a bit proprietarily. You must have really impressed her Joxer."
Joxer, seeing an opportunity here replied; "Well, is that so surprising? I am, after all, Joxer the Mighty."
This comment elicited a total loss of what little control Gabrielle had managed to gain. Soon, even Joxer began to see the humor of the situation. All told, it was several minutes before the group had regained enough composure to begin the task of packing up camp, so they could continue on their trip.
As the Reed had promised, they had not ridden more than half a league before the Reed started motioning towards a small footpath, which extended from the main road, off into the woods to the east.
Xena spotted the path and led her horse onto it, followed closely by Gabrielle and Joxer.
Riding arrangements had become somewhat more complicated, however, they had noticed that the normally stubborn ass, tended to obey Ares commands. Thusly, he was assigned to ride the ass, despite his objections.
The group of travelers trotted serenely into the deeper part of the woods. Xena suddenly spotted a large furrow, which had been blown or dug into the floor of the forest. Whatever had slid in from above had toppled and cut off several large trees to either side of the furrow. Xena could barely make out, at the end of the furrow, something large, partially buried in dirt and large chunks of wood.
Xena turned to the Reed; "Is that where we are going?"
The Reed nodded enthusiastically and jumped down from Xenas horse. The Reed was surprisingly fast for a creature with such small proportions. It only took a few seconds for it to arrive at the large mound.
Once Xena and the other had caught up, she could make out something metallic, sticking out from the rear of the mound. Xena had seen things like this before. She knew she was looking at the hindquarters of one of the auxiliary ships from the Angel.
Gabrielle and Joxer stopped behind Xena and dismounted. Ares arrived last, and carefully got down from the ass, rubbing his posterior as he walked to the others.
Ares walked over to Xena; "Is that what we came all the way out here for? A pile of dirt?"
Xena looked Ares in the eyes before speaking; "Its a bit more than just a pile of dirt. Last year I encountered a group of people from our future. They were explorers who had inadvertently traveled back into our time. The came in what the leader called a Starship. A vessel built to travel between the stars. They had devices and machines, which can even make a gods powers, look weak. I believe you had a run in with some of their minor miracles the other day Ares."
Ares tried to take all this in, but failed; "You mean that this pile of dirt is ."
"A small Starship Ares"; Xena interrupted; "And it looks like one of the smaller ships that the one I saw last year carried. They called them StarWolves. Said they were some kind of combat ships, which were meant to protect the Angel, er.., the larger ship. They must have sent the Reed back in it for some reason, when they were leaving."
The Reed had been listening to their conversation and was now nodding wildly. The Reed then made a scooping motion with her hands, and started pointing at the rear of her fighter.
Xena immediately came to a conclusion; "I think she wants us to help dig it out." The Reed started nodding even more, then rushed to the dirt on one side of the ship and began scooping out large amounts of soil.
Ares did not seem pleased with digging; "Ares does not dig in the dirt for anyone."
Xena prepared to counter his proclamation, then came up with a better way to coerce him into her wishes; "Okay. Guess we will have to do this ourselves. Here hold this "; she said, as she removed the heavy furs she was wearing; "I dont want to get these all full of dirt and mud. Work will keep me warm.
Ares took the offered furs and was preparing to sit down and watch when he noticed what Xena was wearing under them. Some kind of one-piece bodysuit, of a deep shimmery black fabric had replaced her normal leather armor. It conformed to every curve on her body and seemed as if it had been poured onto her somehow. It moved with her very movement. There was a small pin with the emblem of some kind of bird on one collar tab, and a light blue stripe gracefully extended from the left side of her neck, to the tip of her left sleeve.
"Xena, um Maybe I was being a bit hasty. After all, I cant ask my followers to do anything I am not willing to do myself."
With that, Ares placed the furs onto the back of Xenas horse and started helping her as much as he could. Gabrielle and Joxer had watched the exchange with interest. Xena noted, that Joxer had also noticed Xenas lines in the battle dress given to her by the Commander of the Angel a year ago. Gabrielle also realized to her surprised, that she was slightly jealous of his attention to Xena.
"Um Joxer Maybe we should help? That way we will be out of here much sooner."
The digging took most of that day. Xena was amazed at how much dirt had been plowed up by the craft when it had hit. She also was wondering how the Reed had escaped from being buried alive under all the loose soil. The Reed seemed to sense her confusion and showed her a small service hatch in the unburied back of the ship, which she apparently had used to escape. Xena also noted small droplets of the purplish red blood of a Reed, sprinkled liberally around the hatch and dirt behind it. Xena knew that the Reed must have been badly hurt in the crash. The Commander of the Angel had told Xena that Reeds could heal very quickly. Xena felt that this was probably the only reason that the Reed had survived the crash.
Once they had the craft completely uncovered, the Reed walked over to a slightly discolored spot on its hull, near the front of the ship. Xena had seen this kind of metal plate before. On the Angel she had been aboard the previous year, plates like these, which the Commander had called lock plates had been used to secure certain areas of the ship. Apparently they served a similar function here, for when the Reed pressed her hand onto the plate, it glowed a subtle shade of bright blue, then there was an audible hum as the top part of the front of the ship seemed to melt into the rest of the ship. The Reed then, nimbly, jumped up into the open ship, beckoning the others to join her.
Xena was surprised. The ship seemed to be able to fit 4 to 5 adults comfortably. 4 large cushioned chairs were situated in the ship, with two smaller seats behind them. Xena could see the same kinds of instruments and controls she had seen aboard the Angel, but in miniature, situated in front of and around these chairs. Between the back rows of chairs, there was the entrance to some kind of service tunnel, just big enough for someone of Ares size to fit down.
The Reed did not waste any time. Once all were aboard, it closed the canopy again, to keep out the chill air. After that, it motioned the others to wait and darted into the service tunnel opening at the back of the cockpit.
Xena and the others waited a few minutes in silence. Each person was thoroughly impressed with the condition of the ship, considering its mode of landing.
A few more minutes went by, and the Reed returned with a few small items and a medium sized case. On of the Items was recognized by Xena, a translator pin, which the Reed hastily fastened in place of its own damaged one.
"Now then Thats better I was worried that the emergency supplies had been damaged." Said the Reed through its new translator pin.
Xena looked at the small creature, now occupying the front left seat of the small vessel. It was busily typing at small sensor pads and lighted dots on the console in front of the pilots couch it sat in. The Reed seemed somewhat distracted, and its efforts were punctuated with short bursts of words in the Reeds native language which Xenas new translator pin was unable or unwilling to translate. Xena guessed at the latter, judging by the expressions on the Reeds face when such outbursts occurred.
Xena watched with some amusement as the Reed typed in the last of a series of commands and turned to face her; "Well it could have been worse. The resonance initiator is okay, and most of the drive systems. The main intercooler needs to be fixed before she can fly again, and thatll take a few hours. Weapons systems are a bit frazzled but functional. The main problem is the Time Compensator. I am going to have to completely rebuild it before I can safely take her past light speed or get her home. Problem is, I need some materials which are really hard to find, especially in this temporal period."
Xena looked at the Reed, who Xena had learned was named Gillian. Xena scratched her head and began to speak; "Which means, I take it, that you are likely to be here for a while?"
Gillian sighed and nodded her head; "Yeh, quite a while probably. But in a few hours we can at least fly at sub light speeds, so we can go pay a visit to that bitchy warlord."
Xena wasnt sure if that was such a good idea. Enough problems had been caused by the small examples of technology from the future, which had already been released. Xena felt that the mere sight of this ship could cause even more problems. Besides which, she knew what even the small hand weapons the warlord possessed were capable of, and she wasnt sure what would happen if the much more powerful weapons of the fighter were employed. She pondered this for a moment and spoke; "I think we should find another way to take him out. The weapons on your fighter could cause more problems than they solve. Can you provide me with some defenses to his weapons, and maybe something to fight him with?"
Gillian looked at Xena, thinking about what she said, then she nodded; "Yeh, I guess you are right. This was supposed to be a simple pickup job. When Captain Jenna found out we blew a plate and a weapons crate had fallen out before we transited, she sent me back to just pick it up. Unfortunately, I mistimed my reentry into the time stream and ended up here almost a year too far ahead. Which is why that jerk of a warlord had time to find the weapons. I have some small arms aboard and some PFFs. You remember those right? The Personal Force Field units you wore last year..? Well I have some in the back, which will stop the smaller hand weapons he has, but Youll need to use some better armor than the soft-armor your wearing now, if you want to avoid being fragged by the rifles he has. I have some type 3 combat hard suits in back, four of them human size, and mine of course."
Xena felt very lucky this day. This was very good news indeed; "Gillian, tell me, if you had better armor and weapons, why didnt you get some on before you left your ship? Then the Romans never could have touched you."
Gillian got that look on her face which Xena remembered meant slight embarrassment; "Well, after a crash like that, you dont just sit around and pack. You need to get as far away from the ship as possible, in case it goes boom. By the time I had figured out it was safe, the Romans had stuck me with 2 arrows and I was too shaken up to flame."
Xena actually felt sorry for the Reed again; "Im sorry little one. I wish I had been close enough to help sooner. One question, if he also has a PFF, how can I deal with him, I mean, wont his shield stop whatever t-beamer I have? Or is there another way."
Gillian thought for a moment as a small smile crossed her face, which was a very scary sight when done by a Reed, Xena noted; "Yeh well, your supposed to be good with a sword and that crystal saber you were given can get through his shield. Particle force fields are no good at deflecting a resonance blade, which is exactly what youll have with a slight modification to your sword. Be warned though, he also has a sword of this type now, so its going to come down to skill. And he has better armor, his is full command armor so it will give him a slight speed advantage as well as strength. All I have aboard is section armor. I wasnt expecting to have to go on a ground action. Bu he only has one rifle so you should let your friends deal with his troops. With PFFs, they will be more than a match for them, in the meantime, you take out the big guy. You two wont be able to touch each other with beam weapons, so itll be down to blades."
It was Xenas turn to smile now. She always preferred a level playing field. And she was sure that with the deadly beam weapons taken out of the equation, she could deal with this despot herself; "Alright Gillian, were are the weapons, and when do you suggest we get started."
Gillian thought for a moment; "Hmmm.. I think it would be better if we waited till dark. The section armor I am going to give you needs to be fitted, and besides, it was a camouflage system that works better at night."
Xena agreed with the small Reed, night attacks were always her favorite. She smiled to herself as she pictured herself sneaking up on the would-be world conqueror, and saw herself slicing a large gash in his throat. "Alright then, lets get that armor fitted out so I can deal with this low life scum."
The rest of the morning and afternoon was spent industriously. Gillian honed and modified Xenas Crystal sword into something she said was much more deadly. Xena and the others listened as Gillian explained how each of the devices she was giving them was operated. Xena was also given one of the larger T-beamer rifles, which according to Gillian, was much more effective than the pistol with large targets. Ares was offered one of Gillians T-Beamer pistols, but declined, saying there was no sport in using such a device. Gillian just shrugged at his dismissal of the powerful weapon and handed him a large sword, very similar to the one Xena now wore on her back. Gabrielle and Joxer had no such hesitation in accepting the T-Beamers offered to them, as well as swords and daggers. Gillian also provided Gabrielle with a small rod shaped device, which when extended formed a brilliant shaft of light extending from both ends of the hollow grip; "Kinetic Staff; you hit with all your strength and this amplifies that strength about 500%. So you should hit hard with it; wield it just like a fighting staff."
Gabrielle wondered over to some nearby rock next to the ship to practice, as Gillian completed fitting the Section Armor to Xenas measurements. Gillian instructed Xena to wear the soft-suit armor she had under the harder Section Armor. Gillian told her that the extra protection could be a life-saver.
It was nearly sundown when all preparations had been completed. Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer and Ares stood in front of the fighter as Gillian gave them one last inspection. Gillian walked up and down the line of troops, her critical gaze looking for anything that might have been missed during the days frantic preparations. Finally she seemed satisfied; "You guys look like Dominion regulars. Maybe I can get you to enlist. Okay, looks like were ready. Let me secure the ship and well be on our way then."
With that, Gillian trotted hurriedly back to the hatch and disappeared into the ship. A few seconds later the canopy closed and she re-emerged, carrying her weapons. After the sealed the hatch, she walked a few paces from the ship and tapped a small sequence of keys on a tiny keypad on her armor. After she was done, the ship began to emit a very soft hum and was shrouded in a light blue colored haze.
Xena and the others waited patiently for her to rejoin them. Xena was beginning to fell the familiar sensations she often felt just before going into battle. She noticed that her body was responding to these sensations in the usual ways, he senses heightened, and she felt empowered for the upcoming fight.
Gabrielle stood quietly next to Joxer as Gillian returned. She was anxious. Gabrielle had never quite understood how Xena seemed to draw energy from the pre-battle jitters, and she knew that she probably never would.
Joxer was perhaps the most nervous of all. He stood fidgeting inn his new armor. He looked at his hands, which were now swaddled in the odd black translucent material of the armor. He felt more secure knowing that he was wearing real and very effective armor. For the first time as Joxer the Mighty, he felt he might be able to live up to the name.
Ares was as cool and collected as ever. He watched the Reed return from her strange vessel, wondering how mere mortal armor and weapons would make them able to accomplish what he, Ares, the God of War, had not. Still, for the first time in a very long time, he would be fighting side by side with his beloved chosen one. This fact alone seemed to lend him confidence and give him the strength to ignore the minor aches and pains of his wounds.
Gillian arrived back with the group, she handed them several small objects and instructed them in their use; "These are called flare beacons. If you get into big time trouble, squeeze the buttons on each side together three times, and we will be able to find you no matter were you are. They can only be used once, so make sure you really help before you use them."
The others nodded to her and they set off.
Xena and the others walked for hours. She was quite amazed at how easy their hectic force march was to accomplish with the aid of the unusual armor they all wore. They were forced to stay off the roads to avoid detection, so they kept to the woods as much as possible. She was used to being vexed by thorny briars and low tree branches, but their armor seemed to simply plow through such obstacles of its own accord.
After three hours of steady marching, they neared their objective, and it was then that Xena had a chance to test the reliability of the new armor.
As they neared a small ridge, with scattered covering trees, Xena heard the sound of a branch cracking a short distance away. She and Ares both noticed the sound in unison, and turned automatically in its direction. Another small sound came from roughly the same direction, and everyone stopped. Ares very quietly spoke into the helmet voice pickup of his armor; "Everyone, cover, now."
The others did not seem to need to be told twice, as each of them quickly took cover behind the closest tree. Xena and Ares then began a staggered movement in roughly the direction of the sounds. They shuffled quickly and quietly from tree to tree, until they neared the top of the ridge, slightly to the right of where the others lay in cover. Ares had never liked full body armor. He felt that in cases like this, it only made noise which could result in a defeat. Now though, he was impressed and surprised by the stealth with which he and Xena could move through the forest. Neither of them seemed to be making any noise at all.
As they approached the crest of the ridge, they lay down to the ground and peered over the edge. There was very little moonlight to see by, but they could make out every detail of the scenery below, with amazing clarity. Another miracle of the armor, Ares mused to himself.
Below them, they could see a line of perhaps twenty men. Every second man carried a small pistol at his side. Ares could tell that the weapons were identical to the weapons Xena and her companions carried.
Xena looked to him and spoke; "What do you think? Time to test out these fancy tools of the trade?"
Ares thought for a moment. While technically this was Xenas party, he did have somewhat more experience in situations like this. In some part of his mind, he felt complimented and comforted that Xena had asked for his opinion; "No, not yet. Too many. We could take them for sure, but the noise might alert others, and we are still a ways from the warlords camp. Stealth is our best ally at this point."
Xena nodded in agreement and the two were about to turn and return to the others when they heard another branch crunching sound, much closer this time, much too close for either of their liking.
The both turned left and realized that 5 more of the enemy troops were walking by them, not so much as 3 feet away. The troops appeared to be completely oblivious to their presence, despite the moonlight and the fact that both of them were just laying there on the ground in plain view.
Xena only took a moment to realize what was happening; "Ares, remember what Gillian said? That these suits have camouflage ability? They cant see us."
Ares smiled to himself, thinking what he could have done with a suit of armor like this years ago. He also decided to ask the Reed if he could keep his when this was over.
The troops continued on their way down a narrow path. Ares and Xena felt it must have been a patrol, returning to the main group.
After the troops had gotten far down the path, Xena and Ares returned as they had come, winding from tree to tree to the rest of their band.
Gabrielle, Joxer and Gillian seemed very pleased when Xena and Ares returned. Gabrielle walked over beside Xena and smiled; "I take it there werent any problems? I almost fainted when we saw that other group walk up behind you."
It was Xenas turn to smile; "They didnt see us at all. I guess this armor works better than we thought."
At that remark, Gillian walked over to the two women and interjected; "I told ya it had a camouflage ability Works even better if you dont move. If we hadnt been wearing our suits, we never would have seen you either. All those troops saw was more dry grass and scrub. Now I think we should be going. Dont you?"
Xena and Gabrielle stifled a laugh. Both of them remembered the Reeds they had met the preceding year, and how flighty they could be. Apparently Gillian was no different. With a small snort, Gillian seemed to sense what they were thinking as she proceeded down the path ahead of them.
Gabrielle looked to Xena; "Oh brother.. I had almost forgotten what they can be like.."
Xena giggled softy as she replied; "Yeh, like a small child in some ways, very proud of its toys, and likes to show off..:"
Before they could even take a first step, a loud; "I can hear everything you say you know. These suit comms are linked " came from their suit audio systems.
Xena and Gabrielle laughed openly as did Joxer and even Ares, as they all started back on their way down the path.
Xena and her friends had been walking for hours. Even with the suits to amplify their strength and stamina, they were still very wound up as they reached the last rise before the warlords camp.
As they peered over the rise, the sight in front of them amazed Xena. This was not a warlords typical camp. What Xena saw was a large fortified castle. The design looked like some things she had seen in Britain, years earlier. The castle was composed of a very large, thick, fortified outer wall, easily thirty feet high. Behind that she could barely make out an even larger walled inner keep. Towers were placed at even intervals along the wall and behind it. The towers and walls were liberally adorned with arrow slits and murder holes. Atop each tower she could see numerous emplacements of the large mounted bow weapons the Britains called Ballista. The worst part however was the wide and probably deep mote, which ran the entire perimeter of the castle, in front of the outer wall.
Xena could also see large numbers of archers and other troops on the top of the outer wall. She had heard stories about such castles. She had never personally attempted to enter such an edifice, but she knew that it wasnt going to be easy.
The others seemed equally impressed. Gabrielle looked to the heavy main gate and noted the heavily armed guards in front of it; "Xena how are we ever going to get in there? Thats the most heavily fortified camp I have ever seen."
Xena sat down and the others followed suit. Xena thought about the problem. She had never assaulted a castle of this type. She new from stories and experience that one normally had to enact a long, drawn out siege, to enter such a castle. These sieges could take a year or more, depending on how well stocked and armed the castle was. She also did not have the manpower to pull off such a maneuver, or the time.
Gillian seemed to notice her quandary; "Remember, that place was built to defend against other warlords with normal weapons. Our weapons can burn holes right through the walls. The main problem is doing it without raising an alarm too early."
Joxer seemed to be distracted by something for a few moments then spoke; "Um Xena, I just noticed that those guards have a gap near the left side there. Theyre timing is off. Youd have about 30 seconds to get to the wall and make a large enough hole before they could see you."
Xena looked to Joxer then turned and watched the guards he spoke of. She watched as they met and parted slightly off time, and realized that Joxer was right. Once again she had underestimated her friend; "Thanks Joxer, thats a really good idea. It could work, providing we can get there and make a hole quick enough."
Joxer seemed happy as he replied; "No problem. A guy like me gets used to moving around without being noticed."
Xena smiled at his self effacing remark and turned to Gillian; "Gillian, how fast can we run in this armor, and how long will it take to burn a hole in the wall with the rifle?"
Gillian looked up to Xena and thought for a second; "The armor can move very, very fast, the trick will be stopping before you hit the wall and plow right through it. As for the rifle, it would be easier to use one of the pistols, they are quieter and can be controlled more precisely. The rifle would probably take out the whole wall if you werent careful.
Xena grinned at that. She checked her supplies and motioned the group to follow her.
Xena, and Ares decided that it would be safer for two of them to try it first. Once the hole was made, the others could follow. The main concern was the mote. While the armor they wore could handle the water, it would make unwanted noise. Xena and Ares were to try and jump the mote, landing on the very narrow edge on the other side. After they had the hole cut, Joxer and Gabrielle would follow, with Gillian providing cover if necessary, then the small Reed would come over.
Xena and Ares both watched the guards carefully. As they passed they mentally counted to three and sprinted from the woods, towards the castle.
Xena and Ares were both amazed with the speed of the armor. It only took three seconds, by Xenas count, to reach the mote. Once at the mote, she stopped and did a standing leap to the other side. Ares followed, but overshot, and landed against the wall, about six feet from the ground. As he bounced off, Xena lunged forward, grabbing Ares by the arm and pulling him to the ledge. They were both quiet for a moment, unsure if the guards had heard the soft thud of the impact.
When no noises of an unusual nature, such as a battle cry or alarm were heard for several seconds, Xena unholstered the small pistol from her belt. She quickly tapped the key combination that Gillian had shown her, to set the weapon to be used for a wide field and low depth. As she aimed and pulled on the firing stud, the weapon emitted a low hum and slight hiss. Xena knew from past experience that the weapon was operating normally by the sounds. The weapon spewed forth a light blue field of energy, the cone widened until it was touching the wall and was about ten feet in diameter. The weapon functioned as promised. In less than five seconds the weapon had made a neat hole ten feet in diameter in the wall. Xena released the firing stud then and motioned to Gabrielle and Joxer to get ready.
When Joxer and Gabrielle saw Xenas signal, they waited until Xena and Ares had disappeared through the newly formed hole in the castle wall, before acting themselves. They watched as the totally oblivious guards passed each other, then counted to three and sprinted for the wall. At the last moment, Joxer realized that Gabrielle had missed her stopping point and was going to run directly into the mote. He grabbed with his left hand as he jumped for the ledge and caught hold of Gabrielles left arm as he jumped. The two of them sailed over the mote and right through the hole, landing in some soft hay in the stable on the other side.
Xena and Ares looked to each other and grunted as Gabrielle and Joxer got up from the hay. Once assured of their lack of injury, Xena moved back to the wall to motion the Reed to follow.
Xena jumped back at the last instant to avoid being run down by the small creature, who apparently didnt need a signal to move.
Once the group was assembled, they took cover behind a large wooden crate in what was the stable area of the castle. Xena commented that they were very lucky that the hole opened into the stable. She felt that at this time of night, it was unlikely that any of the castles denizens would be out here feeding horses.
From their hiding spot, they could see the door to the inner keep. It was open, but with four large guards posted to either side of it. There were also several large glass windows located around the perimeter of the large keep. Xena toyed with the idea of simply jumping through the windows, but discarded that idea due to its inherent abundance of noise.
Ares noted the slack postures of the guards in front of the keep, and the lack of any guards who were actually looking down into the keep from the outer walls. His mind formed a plan; "Xena, see those guards? Well with those weapons of yours being as quiet as they are, and those guards half asleep on their feet, why not just sneak up and fry them when they arent looking? I mean we can use those badly placed water barrels for cover, and the guards on the wall are about as interested in whats going on in the keep, as I am with what color Dides hair is this week. We could be in the door and halfway home before anyone knew what hit them."
Xena looked sourly at Ares; "You want me to just flash bake four men when they arent looking? Thats so unsporting I wont even comment on what I think of it."
Ares huffed and spoke; "Xena, I am the god of war, not gentlemens dueling. I thought I had taught you that the surviving general is the one who uses every advantage he has. Not the one who cowers behind ethics in a life or death battle. Besides, I have seen first hand what these scum do. They have no honor of their own and they deserve none from anyone else. They took those fancy weapons on their belts and mowed down hundreds of innocent men, women and children. You do what you want, I say kill em all as quickly as possible."
Xena had never seen Ares in such a frame of mind, and him worrying and being upset by the deaths of innocents threw her completely off guard. She looked in his eyes and saw a combination of outrage for the things these people had done, and blind fury directed at those people. She didnt like the concept of Ares being morally more correct than her, but she had to relent that in this instance, he was right..
"Alright Ares. I dont like it, but you are right for once. Everyone listen up. Were going to take out those four at the gate. Gabrielle and Joxer, you two see if you can circle around to the other side of the compound, staying close to the wall, opposite from where we are now. Ares and I will wait here until you are in position. Gillian, do you have any venom left in your fangs? Can you maybe quietly take down some of those guards on the outer wall to aid in our withdrawal?"
At the question, Gillian slowly grinned one of the most wicked grins that Xena had ever seen, as she nodded emphatically. Joxer and Gabrielle nodded slightly to Xena and disappeared behind some saddles piled up behind Ares.
Xena and Ares watched carefully for a signal from the other side of the compound. Occasionally ducking down to avoid detection by a random wandering guard or officer. Gillian had gone off on her own, promising to yell if she needed any help. Xena seemed to occasionally hear a muffled thud sound, similar to that of a body falling to the ground, but much softer. Xena smiled as she realized that these sounds were coming from the outer wall.
Xena was beginning to worry about her comrades when she saw a small glint of metal across the compound. The glint flashed three times, and she knew they were finally in position. As they had agreed, they all counted to five and slowly mad there way towards the water barrels next to the main gate. Xena could tell that the armors camouflage was working as well as ever, when they reached the gate area to the inner keep, with no signs of detection. Very slowly she unholstered her pistol again, shifting the larger rifle a bit farther back to ensure her right hand was unencumbered. She saw a short ten feet away, behind another barrel and some crates, two more of the deadly weapons leveled at the hapless guards. They had toyed with the idea of merely stunning the guards, but Ares had correctly pointed out that not only would that leave four more soldiers to face later, but if they should wake up before their mission was complete, then it could cause more problems.
Xena tapped a few more keys on her pistol; to change the settings back, as she mentally planned her next move. Once they fired at the guards, she had to quickly take out the last guard, since they only had three pistols and there were four guards. She wished now that Ares had not decided to take the moral high ground over not taking a pistol himself; "Dam hypocrite" She thought to herself.
Finally they were ready. In unison, Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer tightened their grip on the trigger and fired. Xena quickly re-aimed and eliminated the last guard. Xena was somewhat appalled at the efficiency of these killing devices. Less than one second before, had stood four men, now none remained, not even a body to mark their existence on this world. Xena felt somewhat sick with herself for resorting to such a dishonorable tactic, but she agreed with Ares, there was much too much at stake to take half measures. She was also sure that before the sun climbed out of its rest in the East, she would have much weight placed on her already overburdened soul.
Barely having time to finish her thoughts, Xena found her band on the move again, quickly dashing into the open gate, and into the inner keep..
The Warlord had very exorbitant tastes. Xena counted no less than ten Roman and Greek statues of high quality. They were arranged in two rows, one on each side of a lush Persian walkway carpet. Xena mused that the carpet alone probably cost enough to feed an average village for over a year.
The room was dimly lit by candles, and large. A double stairway led to upper floors directly at the end of the walkway. To the left and right, directly behind the statues, were heavy oaken doors, with expensive looking tapestries located between them. Xena realized that all of this was bought with the blood of innocents, or stolen from them. Suddenly, what she had just done to those guards didnt seem to be so bad after all.
Ares and Xena exchanged looks and then Xena spoke; "I think we should stay together. If we get real lucky, we can catch the bastard asleep, and remove his toys before he can wake. Once we raise an alarm, its going to be much more difficult, and staying in one group lessens the chance of being seen by half."
Ares nodded in agreement. Xena motioned the others to follow and proceeded towards the large staircase, very slowly.
Xena and Ares stepped out in front of the others slightly. Joxer and Gabrielle stayed in the rear, ever alert to make sure no one snuck up on them from behind. Xena and Ares took a few more tentative steps and could now see the top of the staircase on either side. What truly amazed both of them was that there were 6 guards standing at the rail of the balcony. Xena almost started when she realized that there was no possible way the guards could not see them, since they were staring right at them, however the guards seemed completely oblivious to their presence. It was as if they were looking right through them. Xena and Ares exchanged glances and Xena shrugged. Apparently the armors camouflage system worked very well indeed. Xena and Ares split up, each taking one of the stairways and slowly, silently proceeded towards the upper floor. As they walked, Ares unsheathed his large wind saber and took a more aggressive posture. Xena did the same.
At the top of the stairs. Ares and Xena moved quietly and in unison. There was still no indication that the guards, each equipped with a bow, a long sword and one of the deadly small hand weapons, had noticed them at all. They crept up behind each man, and then in one mighty sweep of the Crystal Wind Sabers, decapitated three each. The bodies fell to the floor with a soft thud sound, and the heads rolled around aimlessly, a frozen look of horror on each face. It was as if the still living brains in each head simply could not come to grips with the fact that they were now technically, and for all intents and purposes, dead.
Xena and Ares watched as Joxer and Gabrielle joined them on the top floor. Xena knew that they were now running on borrowed time. The beamers they had used on the guards at the front gate left no evidence. It would probably be assumed that the guards had merely gotten tired and deserted their posts. The bodies on the floor in front of them however, were definitely evidence that something as going on. Even if they hid the bodies, the blood soaked carpeting was just as bad a giveaway.
Deciding there was nothing they could do about it now, and that wasting time hiding bodies wouldnt help, Xena motioned silently for the others to follow. They walked together down the long hallway on the upper floor. Xena knew the basic layout of most castles was intended to allow expedient exit access for the castle lord in case of emergency. This meant that his lordships chambers should be at the end of this corridor. They proceeded towards a set of heavy wooden and brass doors at the end of the hall. Each person in the group was being as quiet as possible. The only thing, Xena decided, that she didnt like about this armor was the way it amplified the sound of ones own breathing in the helmet. While the outside world could not hear it, it could be very distracting for the armors wearer until that person got used to it.
They had almost reached the end of the corridor when they all heard loud voices from back the way they had come. The voices were soon followed by a loud ringing sound. Xena knew that someone had discovered the bodies and had raised an alarm. "Oh well, so much for plan a."
Ares seemed to be having similar thought as he looked at Xena; "Now what?"
Gabrielle and Joxer had both turned to look, and saw several armed and alert men, rushing down the corridor towards them, lighting torches as they went. They ducked into a squatting position and started taking aim with their pistols.
Xena saw what was coming and said; "Okay, Gabrielle, Joxer, keep them busy here. Ares, you dont have a pistol so use your sword. Ill deal with the Warlord!"
Before Ares could form a protest, Xena had aimed her pistol at the heavy wooden doors and fired one shot. The doors glowed intensely for a moment, then vanished as if they had never been. Ares muttered a curse and turned to help Joxer and Gabrielle with some close in support from his new blade.
Xena entered the room quickly. It was opulent beyond anything she had ever seen. She started to turn and a large Grecian urn beside her suddenly glowed and disappeared. She then realized that the occupant of the room was fully awake and staring at her from inside a suit of armor similar to her own. She put her pistol away hastily and drew her sword as another bolt of energy hit her in the chest. She could feel the impact, but the PFF and armor held. The flash momentarily blinded her however, giving her opponent time to realize that his weapon was useless against her.
The warlord calmly replaced his pistol and drew his sword. Xena barely had time for her vision to return and deflect his first strike. His sword flashed in front of her as she quickly realized what was happening and raised her own weapon to parry. The warlord cursed as his sword bounced off of hers and shattered another vase next to Xena.
Xena decided that she had to take a more aggressive posture if she hoped to prevail. She took a sharp intake of air and let out one of her loudest war cries. The warlord seemed to recognize the sound and paused long enough for Xena to jump completely over him, landing in the center of the room where she had more room to maneuver.
The two combatants spend incalculable seconds trading blows. Gillian had been right, the Warlords armor gave him greatly increased strength and agility. Xenas normally natural superiority was the only thing that saved her on more than one occasion. The man also fought like a well-trained and experienced soldier.
Xena made strike after strike, most glancing off the tough command armor, and she narrowly avoided most of the swings her opponent took against her. She tried a high flying kick to knock hr opponent off balance, and was surprised when the suit and occupant failed to budge in her desired direction. Her action did however, cause her to shoot backwards almost ten feet, hitting a wall, and barely escaping a blow from her opponent, which might well have severed her sword hand.
When she landed she quickly darted to the left. She realized that her trademark acrobatic fighting style would not work against the enemy, protected as he was, by the powerful armor. Xena smiled to herself in her armor; "Oh well, back to basics I guess."
Xena could hear the fighting in the hall die down for a bit, and hoped Ares would be able to come and assist her soon. She was starting to tire. Gillian had warned her that even with the power assist of the armor, she would probably wear down faster than the warlord. His armor made every move almost effortless, whereas hers required a bit more energy on her part to get the desired force of movement.
Xena was fighting more and more defensively. She knew she had to finish it soon or her time in this life would be over. She fought on and on. She noted an increase in fighting in the hallway outside. More of the warlords men had apparently figured out that there was a problem.
Almost too late, Xena realized that she was slowly being herded into a narrow corner of the oddly shaped room. She knew she had to break free soon, or she would soon be defeated.
The warlord seemed smug and overconfident. Xena decided to try one of her favorite rouses. She looked over the warlords shoulder, as if she was signaling something to someone there.
The warlord took the bait. He hesitated and started to turn, providing Xena with the opening she needed. She waited until the warlord had turned half way around, cautiously bunching up her legs in the process. When he was in the desired position, she sprang as hard as she could. Xena then found herself flying through the air uncontrollably. She had overestimated the amount of jump it would take. She shot almost straight up and was now descending helplessly, directly towards the warlords up thrusting sword. She knew the sword would penetrate the less defended parts of the armor in the lower region. She also knew that in a second, her time on this plane would be over, and it would be up to Ares to stop the warlord, if he could.
Gillians fangs hurt. She had bitten over thirty men, giving each a more than adequate dose of her neuro-toxic venom. Some of them would probably die painlessly from respiratory failure, others might survive. Each man was bitten once. After the bite it took less than a second for them to collapse in a heap. Once down, Gillian removed their pistols and threw the pistols over the outside edge of the wall.
Once she was satisfied that there were no more available targets on the wall, she turned toward the keep. She could see large numbers of men, running from the barracks buildings and into the front gate of the keep proper. "Uh, Oh . Looks like the kitty poop is hittin the thruster for sure "
Gillian then saw a fight going on in a window above the main gate. Her extra sensitive eyesight told her who it was. She could tell that her friend Xena was in trouble at this point. She could also see the warlord in the pale moonlight. "Cripers!! Hes not supposed to have that!!!!"
Gillian then unfolded her injured wings and painfully took to the air. The pain was intense. Her pinion muscles had not had adequate time to repair themselves and they hurt intensely with every beat and upstroke. Gillian just thanked the makers that it was a short flight. She was half way to the window when she witnessed Xenas attempted jump. "OH NO!!!!! NOT LIKE THAT!!!!!"
With a very powerful downbeat, Gillian crashed through the window, snatching the helpless Xena out of mid air. Xena instinctively went limp in her tiny arms. The extra weight and the altitude of the catch were too low however, and the warlords sword caught the tiny Reed, cutting her lengthwise on her right side.
Blood spurted from the Reed as Gillian and Xena fell to a crumpled heap on the other side of the room. The warlord seemed to tire of his game and jumped from the now smashed window, to the courtyard below.
Ares, Joxer and Gabrielle finally realized that they were fighting a losing battle. The were about to be inundated with horrific numbers of enemy troops, and Ares could see that they could not hold on under such overwhelming numbers. Even with their armor, he knew what numbers could do to them, he also wasnt sure how well their armor could stand up to concentrated fire from large numbers of the deadly small hand weapons the enemy wielded. He also knew that it was just a matter of time before someone on the other side came to the same conclusion.
"Withdraw to the other room!" he bellowed. Joxer and Gabrielle didnt seem to need to be told twice as they backed up into the room Xena had entered a few minutes before.
As they arrived, they saw Xena just starting to move out from under a very injured and barely conscious Reed. Xena carefully disentangled herself from Gillian. The wound she saw looked horrid. On the side that she had been hit on, Xena could see little white stripes, which Xena realized, were Gillians ribs. "Gillian? Can you hear me?"
Gillians eyes slowly opened as Xena started trying to assess the damage. Gillian peered at Xena and spoke to her in a very muted voice; "Im alive for now. Listen I dont have much time. Look on the left side of my armor, there is a little gray circular device, with a tiny green and blue touch pad. Tap the top three keys in sequence left to right, and then tap the blue one at the very bottom three times. After that, squeeze the unit as hard as you can."
"What will that do?"
"I dont have a lot of time to explain. That armor he has, its not normal command armor. Looks like Battalion armor. And he has a lot more men than I thought. You are going to need some more help, and screw regulations. Do what I said and do not be frightened by anything you see after that."
At her final words, Gillians eyes closed. Xena could feel her heart stop its tiny pattering and Xena knew she was gone.
"Thank you for my life Gillian. I will see that you are avenged."
While Xena was tending to her dying friend, Ares, Joxer and Gabrielle had held the enemy at the door. It was becoming increasingly difficult and Ares knew that as soon as they realized that their lord was no longer in the room, they would not care so much about placing their shots.
Xena gently set Gillians lifeless body on the floor, covering it with her own cloak. Gillian had saved Xenas life at the expense of her own. Xena intended to make this warlord pay for that in his own blood.
"Ares, Joxer, Gabrielle! Get ready to move out through the window!"
The three companions heard her and obeyed. Ares had not see this look in his chosens eyes for many years, and it still frightened him a little when he saw it.
Xena led the others to the window after removing the device Gillian had indicated from her belt. Xena had also noticed a single other small device on her belt which she had seen used before.
The lord of the castle had been given enough time to muster a large amount of troops in the courtyard below as Xena and her friends had tended to Gillian. Now they all stood erect in the courtyard as Xena, Ares, Gabrielle and Joxer crouched and walked out onto the balcony.
Xena took the small cylinder she found on Gillian and held it in her hand; "Gabrielle, Joxer, you two remember these? And remember what they can do?"
The other two nodded to her, a serious look on their faces.
"Good. Im gonna use this one on that formation down there. It might help even the odds a little."
With that they all crouched down as far as possible. Xena twisted the black cap on the end of the cylinder until she heard a series of four short tones. Satisfied, she hit the blue end of the cylinder as hard as she could on the stone wall of the balcony, and threw it over the edge. There was a three second delay, and then all Tartarus broke loose.
There was an ear-shattering explosion. Had Xena and her friends not been wearing their armor, they knew they would not have survived it. Even at its lowest setting, the Salonite grenade made a mess of the wall they were crouched behind, and the courtyard below was a scene of horror that even Ares shuddered at.
Everyone was aching. The noise and concussion had blown them partially back into the room they had just exited. Inside they could see troops, knocked unconscious by even the sheltered force of the blast..
They returned to the outer balcony slowly, every muscle ached. When they looked over the balcony wall again, they saw pieces of burned bodies and armor everywhere. All but one of the people in the courtyard below had been blown into a million pieces by the blast. The last person was slowly rising to his feet. His armor dented and cracked.
Xena did not wait for him to rise to his full height. She leaped over the wall, muscles screaming in protest. She quickly drew her sword once more and shot it directly towards the warlord. She at first thought that her blade had hit one of the still usable areas of his armor, and then she felt it slip in, past the hard armor over suit, and through the soft suit armor beneath.
Finally she could feel the inarguable sensation of her sword cutting through tissue, then bone then the final sensation and minute resistance of it penetrating his heart.
The warlord looked at Xena, his eyes staring, knowing that he was already dead. Xena thrust her sword in harder, and ripped it upwards, cutting his heart in two as you would split a melon. The warlord fell first to his knees, then backwards, sliding off Xenas sword. He hit the ground and lay motionless, dead.
Xena backed a few steps away from the body of the warlord, when she felt a comforting hand on her shoulder. She turned slowly to face Ares who had come down from the balcony ahead of the others.
"Ares? Was I like that once? Did I maim and kill for glory and plunder?"
Ares looked softly at Xena; "Xena. You are not that person anymore. You have found a new way to use your talents, and as you have taught me now, a better way. Neither of us will ever be able to completely wash the blood from our hands, but we can at least try to use our gifts for a worthwhile purpose from now on."
Xena fell into Ares arms then. She sobbed for a while, comforted in a way that she never thought she could be by the God of War.
Ares was just about to say something else to Xena when Gabrielles voice spoke up in his ear; "Oh guys. I think you better turn around .."
Xena looked up as Ares turned. Ares cursed at the sight of over two hundred armed troops staring at them from the upper keep parapet and the barracks area. Each looked to have blood on his mind.
Xena didnt have time to think, she quickly remembered the Reed telling her what to do. She unclipped the small disk shaped object she got from Gillian and entered the keystrokes the Reed had told her to use.
When she squeezed the device, a high-pitched whine emanated from it and the device glowed brightly for a moment and then was silent.
The enemy troops were momentarily distracted by the noise, then started advancing on Xena and her company again.
Xena and Ares were sure the device was not working. They looked at each other for what they thought to be the last time.
Then Xena and Ares along with everyone else present sensed something wrong. The normal sounds of battle had been drowned out by a low thrumming sound. The sound was so low that it was almost inaudible. The skies too had changed, what had been a relatively clear and moonlit night was rapidly clouding over, and then to everyones surprise, a few bolts of lightning were to be seen in the early pre-dawn sky.
As Xena, her friends, and the enemy troops watched, the clouds thickened and began swirling in a sort of vortex. The rumbling sound grew stronger and more distinct. A new sound, barely audible at first began to pulsate through their feet, and a sense of something ominous overtook them all.
Xena and Ares stood still, shocked by what they saw next.
The clouds above them began to part, revealing something enormous, moving through the sky. The object had to be over three miles in length, and was lit up in an eerie violet glow. It slowly hovered and then settled down to a relatively low altitude, directly above the castle.
It was an object of incredible beauty in a way. Its flared nose and sleek lines bespoke of a beauty such as that possessed by the goddess Celestra, the goddess of Death. Its huge wings unfolded to reveal incredibly intricate and beautiful designs and markings in some unknown language. Unknown to almost all present that is. Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer had seen such markings before. But never on a ship such as this.
The ship of the stars they had seen the previous year was tiny in comparison to this behemoth. This vessel, for that is what Xena was now sure this was, could easily swallowed dozens of ships of that type.
Ares looked horrified; "What in Tartarus is that thing?!?!"
Xena oddly felt relieved after seeing the markings; "That Ares, is a friend."
The great ship finally stopped. Xena was not sure what it would do, but anything was better than being mowed down by hundreds of enemy troops.
Suddenly, small objects could be seen falling from the great ship, each of them not much bigger than two men on top of each other. The objects fell by the hundreds. Xena was sure they would crash into the ground, but about half way down, they seemed to slow and then they bloomed like some deadly flower. From each bloom emerged a man. Each man was descending gently to the ground on a plume of blue fire. As they came down, they began opening fire on the enemy troops below. Each one seemed to be exceedingly careful not to hit Xena or her companions. Within three minutes, it was over. Before the last of the rescuers had touched foot on the ground, the last of the enemy troops was nothing more than an expanding field of bluish white light.
Xena looked to a figure that was approaching her and her companions. This figure seemed to be much more powerfully built than the others, and wore a much more elaborate suit of armor.
He was tall, at least as tall as Ares, probably more so. Xena found it hard to judge accurately while the stranger was wearing his armor. His face could not yet be seen, as it was hidden behind an opaque armored helmet. He walked with confidence and pride, which bespoke of a seasoned warrior.
His armor was jet black, with a single gold stripe running down the left side of the arm and torso. On his chest was the same ensign, which had adorned the captain of the Angel she had met the previous year. At the point where his collar would have been on a normal suit of clothes, was an odd shaped pin, that of a small bird like a sparrow of some kind, clenching a sword in its talons.
The helmeted figure walked up to the group, shouldering his weapon as he did. He stopped less than two yards away and reached to a small tab at the seam of the helmet and armored suit. He tapped the tab a set amount of times and Xena could hear a soft hissing sound for moment.
The stranger removed his helmet, revealing his face. Xena had judged his height correctly; he was a slight amount taller than Ares. He had lightly tanned skin and platinum blonde hair, which seemed to be trying to escape any attempts to control it. His eyes were the most piercingly light blue Xena had ever seen, and his face bespoke of a combination of compassion, patience and confidence. All in all Xena thought, this was a man she could be led by.
The stranger ran one armored hand through his hair and smiled; "You must be Xena. Jenna gave me a full report on your meeting."
Xena stood very still as she worded a reply; "I know Jenna. I do not however, know you. Who are you and what are you doing here? And what in Tartarus is that?" she said, motioning her hand in the general direction of the mysterious ship.
"Well, one thing at a time. My name is Lowell. Emperor of the Imperial Dominion. I am Jennas husband. As for the other questions, I am here because you sent out a code one priority temporal incursion beacon. Basically you tripped a device that said there was a major temporal problem at so and so coordinate, and that help better get there quick or there would be hell to pay. I was out on test maneuvers in Hyperion, so I decided to check on it myself. The device you used traced back to Gillian reed who was a crewmember on a certain Angel. As for what that is She is Hyperion, a Sparrow Class Corvette, and my flagship. We came to help. Where is Gillian?"
Xena and Ares looked to one another in silence. Here was Xena, in the presence of the leader of an empire beyond even Ares wildest dreams, come to save her and her friends, with a ship of the stars so big it could not actually land anywhere she could think of, and she had to tell him that his missing crew member was dead.
Xena walked a step close to Lowell, who was starting to look concerned and spoke; "I Im sorry.. She saved my life, but at the cost of her own "
Xena had truly liked the little Reed. And now she was afraid of what a possibly vengeful Emperor might do in retaliation.
"How was she killed?" was his only response.
"She was cut half open with a sword. I think she actually died of blood loss and shock.
Lowells face seemed to lighten as he said "Good. Take me too her." To everyones amazement.
Xena and her friends all looked at him in horror at the callous remark. Finally Xena spoke; "How can you say good. The poor creature is DEAD!"
Lowell looked at her understandingly; "My dear, death is a very relative thing. For us, a lot of forms of death, such as this, are but a temporary.. er..um inconvenience. Now please be good enough to show us where her body is."
"Inconvenience?!? Yeh being dead could be pretty inconvenient I suppose." Quipped Ares.
Lowell seemed unaffected by Ares jibe as he allowed Xena to lead him and some of his men to the fallen Reed.
When they arrived at Gillians body, they uncovered it, and Xena watched as two of the men knelt over it. They removed their helmets and gloves allowing Xena to clearly see that they were not men, but two of the most beautiful women she had ever seen. She immediately recognized them as being of the people Jenna had called Argonides. They were of an avian species, which made up a large percentage of their empires population.
Xena watched as the twiddled with this and that instrument for a while then made some odd chirping sounds to their Emperor, which even her translator couldnt understand.
Lowell looked somewhat miffed for a moment and then said something back to them in the same language. They then bundled up Gillians body with great care and took it from the room.
Lowell turned to speak to Xena once more; "Her injuries are pretty severe. We need to get her back to Hyperions med-bays. I think you should all come along. You might have some lingering affects from all the particle beam fire during this and I want to check you over as well. Besides an old friend of yours wants to see you aboard my ship."
Xena nodded to Lowell, Ares, Gabrielle and Joxer also assented, and they soon found themselves standing in front of something which Lowell called a shuttlecraft.
Xena had been on board the alien starship for over a week. The first few days had been hectic beyond belief as she discovered wonders beyond her imagination every minute. She discovered that the vessel she was on was called Hyperion, that it was a multipurpose vessel of the Corvette class, and that the subclass name was Sparrow. The pin on the emperors uniform and the uniforms of all shipboard crew denoted their assignment to this vessel, and conferred a strong sense of pride to the wearers. She and her friends had been granted the status of honorary crew of this great ship for their part in helping to prevent a major temporal anomaly by aiding Gillian in her mission. As such, each had been granted the privilege of wearing the ships pin.
So it was that Xena found herself sauntering through the large central area of the ship, which the crew called the fly-tube, heading for the bridge. Lowell had also conferred upon her the honorary rank of flight captain, and the crew of the ship had treated her as if the rank were a real one.
She still marveled at the two-mile long fly tube. It was so named because it provided an easy means for the avian crew members of the ship to get from place to place on the mammoth vessel, simply by flying down its length. The fly-tube was a long open hexagonal tunnel, on its lowest deck were vast green lawns and a small forest, which according to the Emperor, helped by making oxygen to assist the ships life support equipment. At the center of the fly tube on the green area, was the ships resource center. This facility startled Xena and she wished that she had more time to make use of it. The resource center was a combination recreation center, meeting hall, and school for the ships civilian population. As Xena had found out, the ship spent so much time in space that it needed to become a complete world in itself for its crew. That meant that it carried along the crews families and a number of civilians such as shopkeepers, cooks, and other professions to help make life more livable for the crew of a ship which could spend years in space without seeing a real planets grass.
Xena didnt even pretend to understand any of the marvels around her, so she just enjoyed them. But alas, she thought, all good things must end. She and her compatriots had finished their medical treatments the preceding night and were to leave today. Likewise, the great ship, which had flown up to orbit the world she called home to prevent further detection, was to leave today as well.
It had only taken the ships troops a few hours to account for all of the missing weapons, and recover Gillians damaged star-fighter. They had even taken care of the horses and the recalcitrant ass while they were aboard ship.
She finally arrived at the bridge door and was admitted with a very sharp salute from the guards on duty. Xena secretly wished that she could have had troops as well trained and disciplined. Even without their advanced weapons and armor, she knew that one of these Imperial Marines or even the ships normal Imperial Fleet crew members, could easily defeat a dozen of the best trained soldiers she had ever known.
When she entered the bridge, she found that Ares, Gabrielle and Joxer had already arrived and were staring out at the incredible wonders of the universe before them. The bridge was laid out in a similar fashion to the Angel she had been aboard the previous year, but on a much grander scale. It could easily accommodate a few hundred on duty crewmembers and was incredibly spacious.
Her friends were gathered around the area, which was called the command platform. They were all staring out the huge transparent view plate in the nose of the ship. Currently they seemed to be watching a shower of fiery meteorites as they fell into Earths atmosphere. She walked over to them and could see Emperor Lowell at his customary position in his command chair. She had found out early on that Lowell, like his wife Jenna, was from Earth as well. But they came from far into her future. Xena heard a small woosh sound and noted her old friend Jenna entering from a smaller hatchway to the bridge. Jenna saw her and threw her a small smile. She was startled and delighted to find Jenna board her husbands ship. And even more delighted to find her very pregnant with their first child. Apparently Jennas normal command was in the dock for some work, and Lowell was so nervous about leaving her home alone, that he had decided to take her with him on his training cruise. Xena was very happy with this since the two had been able to spend the last week, catching up on old and new times.
She finally arrived at the command platform with her friends, and was soon joined by Jenna; "Beautiful isnt it Xena? Inver tire of this sort of view."
"Yes Jenna, I dont think I ever would tire of it either. Its amazing."
Lowell rose from his command chair to greet the new arrivals. He took his wife in one large arm and hugged her gently, planting a small kiss on her cheek. He then turned to Xena. Xena had learned the first day she was here that Lowell was a real mixed bag. On one hand, he had a sense of humor as big as several of his ships. Lowell also was totally committed and passionate about his responsibilities to his people and his family. Xena had originally wondered how one man could ever hope to rule as a single monarch, the amount of territory, which he did. After spending a few hours in pleasant conversation with Lowell and Jenna however, she started to understand how he was able to do it. She had never met anyone even remotely like him. He bespoke of the kind of true power that even the gods did not possess.
"Well ladies and gentlemen, I think its about time to depart. We cant stay here too long you know. Theres too much chance of being detected.
Xena looked at Ares and then replied; "Lowell, wed like to thank you for everything. I dont think any of us has ever been this physically fit in our lives."
It was our pleasure. I just wish we could have given you something more for what you have done for us. Jenna, why dont you escort them to the shuttle bay and bring them home."
Jenna beamed a big smile and smooched Lowell one last time as Xena and her group followed her out of the bridge, towards the shuttle bay.
As they walked, Joxer noticed something very odd about Ares, so he worked up his nerve enough to talk to the God of War; "Um Ares Is something bothering you?"
Ares looked like he was deciding something for a moment, then spoke; "er this isnt easy, but I have to tell someone, and I swear by my sword if Xena ever finds out, your life wont be worth a sheckel but Well, remember how they put Gillian back together with that regenerathingie "
"Well last night I was taking a shower and .
As they departed the shuttle near Amphipolos, Jenna took Gabrielle aside from the others; "Gabrielle, I want you to have something. Listen, I am not supposed to give these out.. ever. If anyone finds out, I am in a lot of trouble, even if my hubbie is the Emperor. I know certain things about the future, and you are going to need this device some day. You will know when that day arrives. Until that day, you must hide it someplace where even you would have trouble finding it. And never say a word of this to anyone else, including Xena. I think you already have seen how it is operated.."
With that Gabrielle felt a cool disk shaped object slipped into her hand. She also realized that all of what Jenna had said had been placed directly into her mind. Her last realization was that she would never truly be able to comprehend the powers, which she had just interacted with, so she would not even try.
At that. Jenna smiled
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