Xena NetForum Cooperative Story

DISCLAIMER/WARNING: The characters of this story, with the exception of Margola and Caicus and a few no-name walk-ons, are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. This is a work of fan fiction, and no attempt is being made to profit from the use of these characters. There is violence and innuendo and a few references to gods and to Olympus and Tartarus. Other than that, this story is pure as the driven snow. Before the plow goes through.

BACKGROUND: Once upon the time on the XENA NETFORUM, Stradivarius, a bored Xenite, suggested that we all get together and write a cooperative story. The group who responded and contributed included Stradivarius, JayBird, XenaAddict, Raye Dene, and Wishes. This story was written over the course of two weeks and without consultation among the authors. We hope you enjoy it.

Chapter 1, by Wishes

The last four days had been a trial for Gabrielle, but she refused to complain. Xena had wanted to leave her behind in Manteus's village, and she had insisted on coming along. No way was she going to give the big warrior a chance to say "I told you so."

For Xena's part, she was filled with admiration for the tiny bard's determination. Since this rocky, mountainous terrain would have been a risk to Argo's legs, they were both on foot and had been running more than walking. Xena realized that Gabrielle's shorter legs had to move three steps for every time Xena's moved two. Seeing that Gabrielle's breath was coming in short gasps, Xena stopped and announced, "I'm tired. Let's rest for a few minutes." She took a deep drink from their last water skin and handed it to Gabrielle, who took a small sip and started to hand it back. "No. Drink what you want. You need water inside your body, not inside this skin. If we run out, I'll find more." Gabrielle took a long pull on the water skin, and Xena could tell how thirsty she had been. Her admiration for her friend took another leap upward.

After resting a few minutes, Gabrielle said, "We better move on. We have to warn the people of Arcanae that Peleus and his bandits are coming. After what they did at Manteus' village. . . . " She shook her head, as if the motion would help wipe out the memory of what she had seen there. "And to think it would have been even worse if Manteus hadn't found you and you hadn't arrived to drive them off when you did."

"When WE arrived to drive them off," Xena corrected, remembering how bravely and effectively her small friend had fought. Sometimes it still amazed her that Gabrielle would stand her ground against men twice her size, facing swords and maces with her Amazon staff--and defeat them. It also made her heart rise to her throat at the thought of losing her best friend should one of those swords or maces penetrate her defense. . . .

"Let's go," Gabrielle said, giving Xena a hand up, "if YOU"RE not too tired." It was clear from her tone that she had seen through the warrior's pretense. "How long until we get there?"

"About five minutes." Xena smiled.


"Arcanae is just over that rise."

Gabrielle punched Xena in the hard muscle of her upper arm. "OW!" the bard cried, shaking her hand.

"When will you learn?" Xena asked. "Come on."

They hurried to the top of the rise and looked down on their destination, Arcanae, the legendary town of peace, a place where no weapons could be carried, or words of anger spoken. - - - - - - - -

Chapter 2, by JayBird

Xena and Gabrielle started down the rocky slope to Arcanae. It seemed ordinary enough. About thirty or so simple stone structures that filled a niche in the mountains. You could call it a valley if you were feeling charitable.

"How long has this place been here?" Gabrielle asked.

"Who knows?" Xena shrugged. "For ages and ages people have known of Arcanae."

"Then how come there are no stories about it?" Gabrielle pressed. "A city of peace seems like the perfect subject of a Bard's tale."

Xena smirked. "It's not the kinda place people talk about."

"What do you..."

Xena shushed her as they approached a small stone kiosk. There were signs in a dozen languages from Greek to Celtic. They all said the same thing. Please deposit all weapons here. Or else.

Xena took her sword and scabbard from its cross-carry position, along with the daggers and blades she had secreted on her leathers.

"I don't know," Xena replied. "No one's ever found out... and lived to talk about it."

"Yeah, right." She held up her Amazon staff. "So do I give up my..."

"You're walking stick? Naaaah." Xena slipped her chakram off her belt and carefully eased it over her head, letting to lay around her neck.

"Nice jewelry," Gabrielle said.

"It's cutting edge," Xena replied.

They moved into the village. Gabrielle noticed no livestock or chickens.

"The people of Arcanae don't believe in the consumption or suffering of livestock," Xena said, neatly reading her mind. "There are caves in the surrounding mountains with hot springs. The villagers grow very special vegetables there."

"What's so special about them?'

"You'll see."

Xena stopped as a woman approached them. She was old and gray haired, but Gabrielle noticed there was something about her that seemed to put Xena on her guard.

"Hello, Xena," she said. "So we meet again."

Chapter 3, by Wishes

"Margola," Xena acknowledged. "I didn't think you would still be here."

"At my age, you didn't expect me to be anywhere. Except in Hades." The old woman noticed Gabrielle and looked her up and down. "So, is this your latest?"

"This is my FRIEND Gabrielle."

"You have a friend, Xena?" The woman chuckled, a low, throaty sound. "Can what I hear about you be true? Have you changed?"

"I have," Xena said. "Have you?"

"That's something you'll soon discover." The woman made a slight gesture and several large men came from behind a nearby stone wall. "Take her," the woman ordered.

"What are you doing?" Gabrielle cried. "Take us where? We came to help you."

"No one is taking you anywhere, little girl, " Margola answered. "You are free to go. The Warrior Princess, however, is another matter."

"Gabrielle, go now. Before she changes her mind. I'll explain about Peleus and his bandits. Go." Xena started to go with the men, offering no resistance.

"But, Xena, why are you going with them? What's going on here?" Gabrielle tried to follow, but Margola placed a surprisingly strong hand on her shoulder. "If you are really her friend, you will leave so you don't see her shame."

"Shame? What shame? Xena is good."

Margola shook her head with what seemed to be real regret. "Little girl, Xena was warned long ago to never return to the City of Peace. Now she will have to answer for all her sins, for all the evil she has done. Go now. There's nothing you can do to help."

Chapter 4, by JayBird

Margola led the way up another steep slope to one of the mountain caves that seemed to be everywhere in the small valley. The two men hauled Xena along, gripping her by her arms and the pressure-points of her neck.

"Why did you really come, Xena?" Margola said. "You knew I could handle a few simple bandits." She looked at her. "After all, I handled you once... quite easily."

"Girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do," Xena wheezed as they yanked her along.

They entered the mouth of the cave. Instantly the chill of the outside was replaced by the damp heat of the springs. A third man came from the darkness, carrying a variety of chains and shackles.

"Restrain this... woman," Margola said. "There will be no escape for the Great Warrior Princess today."

"Famous last words," Xena muttered as she kicked back with her right leg. One of her captors screamed as his leg was snapped at the knee-joint. Xena swung the other man around and viciously head-butted him. He fell to his knees, spitting teeth.

She backflipped, and almost instantly her chakram was in her hands. The guard holding the chains looked at Margola.

"Leave us, Maxim."

He dropped the chains and edged along the side of the cave past Xena and Margola, then took off like a scalded dog down the slope.

Margola laughed. "You've made it easy for me, Xena."

"Have I?" Xena whispered. "You may have powers... you may even be immortal for all I know... but unless you want to go through eternity holding your head in your hands, you better let me pass."

Margola frowned. "Then you will take the challenge?"

"On my terms. Not in chains, and not forced by a couple of your stooges. I'll go of my own free will. Weapon in hand."

"You've gotten not a day wiser since we last met," Margola said. "But you do have courage." She nodded. "Then go."

Xena nodded and started walking into the pitch blackness of the cave.

Margola returned to the sunlight as her two guards helped each other down the slope.

"You should hurry, little one," Margola said aloud.

Gabrielle appeared from behind some rocks, holding her staff in a defensive stance.

"Go to your beloved," Margola said. "But be warned, you won't like what you find."

Gabrielle started for the mouth of the cave.

"You'd follow her anywhere," Margola whispered. "Wouldn't you?"

"I'd follow Xena to Tartarus," Gabrielle replied. And then she was gone. Rushing headlong into the darkness.

"Tartarus?" Margola laughed. "Tartarus is easy. Arcanae is hard..."

Chapter 5, by Wishes

Gabrielle soon slowed to a walk. The interior of the cave made night seem not so very dark. She held her staff in front of her to feel for obstacles and shuffled her feet like one newly blind. "Xena," she called. "Xena!"

She was met only by the echoes of her own voice.

She thought that she saw a flash of light ahead but wasn't sure her own eyes weren't playing tricks on her. She remembered lying in bed when she was a child and closing her eyes as tightly as she could. Finally pinpricks of light had appeared behind her own eyelids. Was that what was happening here? Her own eyes rebelling against the unrelenting darkness?

No, she was sure now. There was light up ahead. It seemed more green than white, an odd glow, but it was light. Again yelling, "Xena!" she ran toward it.

The small woman had reached a large cavern. The walls were covered with what looked like moss, much like that which grows on trees in the deep forest, but this plant, if that's what it was, glowed. It was responsible for the light in this underground chamber.

Xena was standing in the middle of the cavern, and she seemed to be listening to something--or someone. Gabrielle listened and heard nothing. "Xena," Gabrielle said loudly. After several moments, Xena turned and seemed to notice her friend for the first time.

"Gabrielle, what are you doing here?" In her voice was what sounded to Gabrielle like despair. "Go back quickly while there's still time." Before the younger woman could answer, Xena went rigid, seeming to listen again. "It's already too late. You shouldn't have come."

"I had to." Said simply, there it was. Knowing the truth of it, Xena nodded. "What is this place? Why did the old woman bring you here?"

"This is my sentence," Xena explained, "pronounced by Margola long ago. This is my prison--and my place of execution--for defiling the city of peace almost eight years ago."

Gabrielle heard only the word "execution." "Oh, no, Xena," she protested, "we're not going to start that all over again. Been there, done that. No more guilt trips over your past. You promised me you wouldn't give yourself over for punishment again, not ever again."

"This isn't about giving myself over, Gabrielle. Once they brought me to this cave, I had no choice." She looked around the glowing walls. This cave has power, Gabrielle. It talks to me. Can't you hear it?"

Gabrielle listened, then shook her head. "Xena, you're scaring me. What do you think the cave is saying?"

"It says the path of destruction is the only way to be saved."


"Since you HAD to be here, you might as well follow." Xena started toward a passage that branched off to her right. Of several openings in the cave wall, this was the only one that also glowed. "Maybe you're supposed to be here--to watch and to take a warning to others. Maybe the cave will let YOU survive." With those cryptic words, she stepped into the passage.

Chapter 6, by JayBird

Gabrielle stumbled after Xena, her eyes slowly getting used to the eerie green glow that surrounded them. As the passage narrowed, Gabrielle walked behind her, slipping her hand into Xena's. She felt Xena start to pull away, then respond with a welcoming pressure.

"Tell me about this place," Gabrielle whispered.

"All right," Xena replied. "Once upon a time, a tribe of people lived in these caves. The people of Arcanae are their descendents..."

"Why'd they leave?" Gabrielle interrupted.

"Because the magic here became too powerful. It became twisted and stagnant. It would have killed them... or changed them the way it changed Margola."

"Then Margola is..."

"The last of her kind, the last of these caves' original occupants." Xena smirked. "And don't ask me who or what she is. Margola is eternal. Neither God nor mortal, neither good nor evil. She's just... Margola."

"Then why come here? Why bring us all this grief? You knew she could handle Peleus and his men."

"I didn't know Margola was still here until I saw her. And by then it was too late."

Gabrielle stopped, holding onto Xena's hand and jerking her to a halt.

"No more games, Xena. No more riddles." Gabrielle looked at her friend, and, in the ghostly light of the cave, Xena's eyes seemed to glow like a wolf's. "What is this place? Why are you here? Tell me."

"I'm here because I have to be," Xena replied. " And like Margola, this place is neither good nor evil. It's merely a... reflection... of who you are." Xena shrugged. "That's the best I can do."

"Oh, that's a help," Gabrielle replied. "It's all perfectly clear to me now! Clear as a river mud flat at low tide!"

Xena allowed herself a smile, and then froze.


"Hear it, Gabrielle? We're almost there!" Xena pulled her hand free and ran as if knowing the way to a destination she desired.

Gabrielle hurried to keep up with Xena down another twisting passageway. Finally Xena stopped, with Gabrielle almost running into her.

Gabrielle peeked over Xena's shoulder. The passageway had come to a dead end. Here the glow was brighter, illuminating a stone altar. But the altar was bare.

"Now what?"

"Wait for it," Xena whispered. "It's coming."

Gabrielle heard a hissing sound, and then felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand straight up as something burst through the stone altar. It was... a mushroom. A big woodear mushroom just like the ones Gabrielle had seen all her life. She scratched her head.

"We came here to talk to a mushroom?" she whispered.

"Gabrielle." Xena turned to her, face so close she could feel her breath. "Know this. No matter what happens, I will always love you. You are part of me, and nothing can ever change that."

Gabrielle met her eyes. "Two souls intertwined..."

"...Forever." Xena finished. Leaning down from her greater height, she held her companion's eyes for a long moment and then gently kissed her. Suddenly turning, the warrior snatched the mushroom from the altar and jammed it into her mouth, chewing rapidly. She swallowed.


Xena screamed, slipping to the floor of the cave and gripping her belly. She started to shake as Gabrielle went to her. She pulled her face up to the light and felt her world fall away. Xena's eyes were black on black. Souless orbs that saw nothing... and everything.


Gabrielle blinked. She could hear Xena, but it wasn't her voice. It was the sound of her soul.

-So beautiful, Gabrielle-

"Xena, what is it? What are you seeing?"


And then Xena was gone. She still breathed, her heart still beat, but her soul... her life essence was somewhere else.

Gabrielle leaned back, eyes wide. She knew her screams and tears would be useless. There was nothing she could do...

Gabrielle turned at the hissing sound coming from the altar, as another mushroom just like the first pushed through the stone.

Without a second thought, Gabrielle pulled the mushroom loose and ate it, forcing herself to swallow as she looked down at Xena.

-Don't worry, Xena. I'm on my way-

Chapter 7, by Wishes

Gabrielle found herself back in Arcanae. Was that all there was to it? Eat a mushroom, have a bellyache? All is forgiven? She looked around for Xena but didn't see her. A young woman was walking by, a basket of bread under her arm. "Are you hungry, stranger?" she asked.

Gabrielle was always hungry, but she shook her head. "I'm looking for my friend," she said. "She should have been here just before me."

"A tall dark warrior?" the woman asked.


"She's in the temple square. No need to hurry. She'll be there for a while." The woman laughed, then hurried on.

Figuring that the square would be in the center of the city, Gabrielle headed deeper into Arcanae. Her stomach rumbled, and she wished she had taken the bread. It was nice of the woman to offer. But probably typical of a citizen of the City of Peace.

The street was deserted at first, but then she started to see people walking in the same direction as she. There were a few people by themselves and several family groups. She decided this must be a holiday. Probably had something to do with why Xena went to this square and why the young woman figured she would stay there for a while.

She saw the people were gathering into a crowd farther down the street, and she picked up her pace. They seemed to be looking at something, and they were laughing and having a good time.

"I'll take that bet," one man said. "I say 15 strokes."

"No way. It'll take 20. Before they can't bring her around."

"1000 dinars. Unless you're more talk than coins."


"Excuse me, excuse me. . . ." Gabrielle worked her way through the crowd. She strained upward to see over all of these taller people Was everyone in this town a giant? Finally she was able to wiggle between two ample women, and she suddenly could see.


Xena stood in the middle of the square securely bound by chains to a stout post. She faced the post with her arms stretched tightly around it. Gabrielle ran forward, and no one stopped her. "Xena!" Her friend looked at her, and there was little comprehension in her face and no recognition. Xena had been beaten until her beautiful body was covered with bruises. Her face was nearly unmarked, but her suffering was written clearly there.

"She doesn't know you."

Gabrielle turned to see Margola standing with four men, as big as those who had taken Xena to the cave. One of the men held Xena's own whip. Suddenly Gabrielle understood what the men had been betting on.

Margola continued. "You haven't met yet. In fact, in this time, in your proper place, you are ten or eleven years old."

Gabrielle looked at Xena again, and this time made herself look past the suffering. This was a younger Xena, a woman not much older than Gabrielle herself. As Xena seemed to regain full consciousness, a look came over her face that Gabrielle had seen hints of, but only a few times. The look was one of pure, murderous rage.

"She's awake," said the man with the whip. He seemed to be asking permission for something. And he seemed eager that this permission be granted.

"Soon," said Margola. "She's still a little foggy. Wait until she is fully conscious."

"How can you be doing this?" Gabrielle yelled at the old woman. "This is the City of Peace. No violence is allowed here."

"City of Peace?" one of the other men asked. "Are you crazy? This is Arcanae. This crazy warlord came raging in here with her army and got knocked off her horse. Before we get done with her, she'll understand why Arcanae is called the City of Revenge. And when we put what's left of her at the city gate, no other bandit will try what she did!"

"Now?" asked the man, who had been watching Xena closely.

Margola walked over to Xena and, grasping her hair, pulled up roughly so that she could look into her face. The warrior spit in Margola's face, and Margola laughed. "Yes, she seems to be awake." The old woman dropped Xena's hair, but spoke to her. "When you came here before it was to a city that didn't know of anger or revenge. When you were captured, they tried you at my urging. They even condemned you to the cave. But you were treated humanely."

"I've never been here before," Xena growled.

Margola ignored her words and gestured to the waiting crowd. "Now you see what would have happened back then if their hearts had been as black as your own."

"You're crazy, you old witch!"

"Beg for mercy, Xena. Perhaps it will be granted."

"Beg? I'll die first."

Gabrielle, who had been listening, stepped forward and tried to stroke Xena's cheek. "Do what she says, Xena. Tell her you're sorry. Tell her you'll change."

"Who in Hades ARE you?" Xena yelled. "Get away from me."

"They're going to whip you, Xena. People in the crowd are BETTING on how long it will be before you lose consciousness again." Gabrielle was in tears. "They'll kill you, Xena."

For an instant, there was something in Xena's eyes, some human feeling for this young girl who could weep for her pain--for her death. Then it passed. "Well, if you have any coins, little girl, put them on a high number."

Margola shook her head, "You were always a fool." She nodded to one of the men, and he stepped forward, preparing to pull Gabrielle away. To the man with the whip, she said, "You may begin."

Chapter 8, by Raye Dene

Gabrielle stopped the burly guard with a look."I can walk by myself,"she informed him. At a nod from Margola,the guard resumed his former place. Gabrielle brushed past him and stood at the edge of the crowd. Steadily, holding her emotions under tight control, she watched as the whip sliced again and again into the tender skin of Xena's back.

Although Xena flinched many times, she never cried out nor begged for mercy. Good thing, Gabrielle thought with a shudder. There was precious little of that in the faces of the townspeople. Indeed the pleasure that they seemed to derive from this flogging nearly turned Gabrielle's stomach.

Finally there came Margola's cry of "Enough!"

"Thank the gods,she's passed out!"Gabrielle reached Xena just as the guard cut the bonds holding her to the post. All that Gabrielle could do was cushion her fall. Even at that,the pain of the fall finally wrung a cry of pain from Xena. Gabrielle brushed Xena's dark hair back from her face and tried to soothe her.

"Please,"she begged Margola in a voice that shook with love and pain,"Please let me care for her."

"You don't get it, do you? She is not the woman you know. She's a warlord who will kill you if she's given an opportunity! She doesn't know you!"

"Maybe not,"replied Gabrielle,"but I know her and I know I can reach her!" Leaning over Xena,Gabrielle whispered, "One soul." and placed a kiss on her friend's brow.

Margola sighed heavily. "On your own head be it,then". With a few commands,she ordered Xena taken to the garrison infirmary.

Chapter 9, by Wishes

In the infirmary, Gabrielle helped the old healer as he bathed Xena's back and put on herbs that would stop the bleeding and speed healing. Over these he put a soft cloth soaked in a soothing potion. Mercifully, Xena remained unconscious as he worked on the welts and cuts that criss-crossed her back. As he finished, he spat out, "Waste of time."

"What do you mean?" Gabrielle asked. "How can it be a waste of time to help a suffering human being?"

"They'll just do it all over again in a few days, girl," he answered. "Didn't you know that?"

"I thought. . . . I thought if she survived the whipping, they would let her go."

"She'll be whipped every few days to unconsciousness. Until finally even my skill can't bring her back. Then she'll be hanged from the city gate as a warning to others like her not to attack Arcanae. That's our way." His voice changed from indifference to concern. "You seem like a sweet girl. Don't concern yourself further with this barbarian. Go back home. Forget her."

"May I stay and take care of her?" Gabrielle asked.

He sighed. "Do what you will. But be careful. Serpents who've been trod upon have the most vicious bites."

When he had left, Gabrielle pulled a chair beside Xena's bed. She stroked the soft, dark hair and leaned close to whisper comfort and love into her ear. After a long while, Xena stirred and whispered, "Water."

Gabrielle found a cup and pitcher and helped her friend with the difficult task of drinking while lying on her stomach. "Thank you."

"A warlord or not, Xena, you always had good manners." The injured woman tried to change her position and groaned. "Don't wake yet," Gabrielle cautioned her. "Rest. Get strong. I promise you that the whipping won't be repeated. No matter what it takes, no matter what the cost to me, no one will cause you more pain."

As if taking comfort from the words of this young girl, the warlord quieted and seemed to sleep.

Chapter 10, by JayBird

When Xena finally awoke, it was raining outside. She looked about, realizing she was still in the infirmary and that her right leg was shackled to the stout bedpost. She stretched. Her leathers were in tatters, but her back had begun to heal. Almost ready for another session on the post, she thought.

It was then she realized the girl who called herself Gabrielle was sitting beside her bed, looking out the open window at the cold slanting rain. For the last two days this girl had fed her, cleaned her and even helped her perform her most intimate of tasks.

"Why?" Xena asked. "Why do you help me?"

"You'll find out," Gabrielle replied, still looking out the window.

Xena snorted, sinking back into her straw pillow.

"Yesterday, while you were sleeping, I attempted to leave this village," Gabrielle said.

"Lucky you."

"Every time I started down the mountain trail, I ended up back where I started... like nothing exists outside this village."


"Think about it, Xena. There was never a 'city of revenge', and the people who existed here for so many centuries could never maintain the hatred I saw in that crowd without killing each other!" She leaned over to her. "This city... these people... exist only in your mind."

"Tell that to my back."

"Your wounds are real, because your pain is real... because your guilt is real. The guilt you feel for towns like Arcanae and Cirra and... and the hundreds of other places you left your mark as a warlord." She sighed. "But all that is over. Xena the Warlord might have deserved your fate, but my Xena does not. My Xena is a good and kind person. Whom I love very much."

Xena smirked. "Then why did you stand around and watch me get whipped?"

Gabrielle looked back out the window. "That was wrong of me. I thought somehow if you paid your penance we could leave this place and get back to our lives. Now I know there is only one way out for either of us."

"How very true, my dears."

Both looked up to see Margola at the door with three of her well-armed stooges.

"The healer says you're ready for another go-around." Margola smiled. Outside, they could hear the growing chants of the people of Arcanae. "Come along. Mustn't keep your audience waiting!"

It was a vicious replay of the other day's events. The same crowd, the same chains and even the same whipping post as Xena was bound to the heavy wood.

Gabrielle stood at the edge of the crowd. The man with the whip came forward to a chorus of cheers. He unfurled the wicked length of leather and cracked it in the air to the delight of the crowd.

That's when Gabrielle made her move. Breaking from the crowd she plunged headlong towards Xena, wrapping her arms tightly about her and protectly Xena's body with her own.

"What'n Tartarus d'you think you're doing!" Xena hissed.

"What I have to do," Gabrielle whispered in her ear.

There was a fresh chorus of bets as the crowd now wagered how long this crazy young girl would willingly allow herself to be whipped. The man with the whip uncoiled his weapon and looked to Margola.

"You may proceed," she said with a smile.

Chapter 11, by Xenaaddict

"Stop!" a stalwart voice commanded "stop right there! I will not let our laws be abused any further." An old man shuffled forward, his gait and clothes indicating noble breeding. The torturer, confused at the newest development, held his whip and looked to Margola for guidance. She scowled but did not dispute the old man. The smallest shift of her eyes showed the crowd who was in charge.

"But Caicus," Margola protested, "she broke our laws. She must pay!" The crowd grumbled their support and Margola smiled feeling confident with their approval.

"Xena, yes." Caicus agreed, "but this girl has not violated our laws."

A spectator from the front shouted, "She protects the warlord. You know what they say, 'birds of a feather flock together!' " Again the crowd grumbled their support, their murmurs growing louder. The possibility of being deprived of their entertainment fueled their brazenness.

Margola smirked. "See Lord Caicus, the will of the people must be observed."

"Are you challenging me, Margola?" Caicus asked innocently. When she didn't reply, he turned to the man who had spoken out against him. "Are you?"

Averting his eyes, the man backed away bowing respectfully. "No, Lord Caicus. I meant no disrespect."

Caicus snorted, clutching his belt with one hand and waving the torturer away with the other as if shooing a bothersome insect. Only then did Gabrielle relinquish her hold on Xena.

"Thank you," Gabrielle said.

"Don't thank me," Caicus replied grimly. "This will not work a second time."

Chapter 12, by Stradivarius

"This isn't finished," Margola snarled softly. "Justice will be done!" Gabrielle stared at her in silence, and Xena just smirked as they led her back to the garrison. Margola stalked off after bowing deferentially to Lord Caicus.

"Come child," Caicus urged Gabrielle,"you look like you could use some nourishment."

Gabrielle's stomach growled loudly in agreement. She placed her hand over it and smiled in embarassment. "I think you're right," she acknowleged. Grateful to this man for halting the whipping, she held Lord Caicus' arm as they made their way to his home.

Some time later,after a hot meal and a time of relaxing,Gabrielle was once again eager to get to Xena. As she stood to go,however, Lord Caicus stopped her. "Why don't you stay, my dear, and indulge me with a story," he requested.

"Oh, but I think I need....." Gabrielle began.

"Your friend is safe enough for tonight,child," Caicus said. "Stay," he once again urged.

"Okay, but how did you know I'm a bard?" Gabrielle asked suspiciously. "I didn't tell you that!"

"I know many things,Gabrielle," replied Lord Caicus. "Then you know that Xena's changed!" declared Gabrielle. "Why won't you stop this cruel flogging?" she demanded.

"Yes, I know that Xena's changed," he acknowleged. "But I also know that a price must be paid for the destruction brought on this people and this place."

Realizing that asking for mercy for Xena was futile,Gabrielle stormed out of the room. "I'm going to Xena!" she snapped.

After Gabrielle had left,Margola entered the room. "What a pair,"she said. "One who loves too much and another who won't give up the past so she can love."

With a weary sigh,Caicus replied, "Maybe they will both learn something from this. I can only hope so."

At the garrison,Gabrielle stood at the cell where Xena watched the rain falling outside the window. "What do you want?" the warrior snarled,never looking at Gabrielle.

"Just to spend some time with you," replied Gabrielle softly. "Here,"she went on as she saw Xena shiver from the rain that blew in the window. "Take my cloak."

With an oath,Xena stalked to the cell door. "Look,I don't know who you are or who you think I am, but I don't need or want anything from you! You got that?" she yelled.

But Gabrielle saw the despair and anger warring with hope and longing in those cerulean eyes. "Oh, yes, you do need someone," said Gabrielle with a small smile, "and that someone is me."

Xena just turned away.

"You don't understand, do you?" asked Gabrielle. "None of this is real, Xena. Only you control what is happening, and only you can make it stop."

Xena opened her mouth as if to say something, but the bard cut her off before she got a word to even form on her lips.

"Just sit there and listen to what I have to say," Gabrielle commanded. "This is all coming from your guilt. You have to let it go. I know you, Xena, better than anyone else, and I know that deep down, you are a good person. Just think for a minute. Why did you start your conquests? You wanted to protect Amphipolis from ever being attacked again. You were caught in the grasp of your own rage," continued Gabrielle, "and became blind to the consequences of your own actions. Think. Every time you killed, you told yourself that it was for the greater good of your village."

"You don't know anything about me," Xena snarled. "Get the Tartarus away from me before I break down this door and personally make sure that I never have to hear that annoying voice of yours again!"

"Just think about what I have said," replied Gabrielle as she walked out of the garrison.

"The little one knows more than she realizes," Margola said to Caicus as they emerged from the shadows.

Chapter 13, by JayBird

The rain had finally let up as Gabrielle wandered the marketplace of Arcanae. This was indeed a different city. There were shops and stalls selling weapons of all kinds, and most were doing a rather healthy business. Goats, chickens and even a few head of cattle were also present, ready to be sold or butchered.

Gabrielle approached a vender selling rubyfruit. "Excuse me, I'd like to buy..."

"I don't need your thieves' money!" he retorted, looking at her with anger. "Any friend of the warlord is not welcome here." He shoved her hard back into the crowd.

"Hey, whaddya think you're doin'!" another villager said. "She's just an innocent! A bard trying to protect her best friend!"

"Yeah," another said. "An' besides, Xena mighta been evil once, but now she does good!"

Gabrielle looked on in amazement as a chorus of shouts in support of Xena echoed over the marketplace.

"You damn Xenalovers are all alike!" the vender shouted. "Mark my words, I'll see that bitch's head on a pole yet!"

A louder mass of shouts echoed support of what the man said, and soon everyone was pushing and shoving each other. A fistfight broke out, women screamed and soon a full scale riot was taking place.

Gabrielle felt herself being pulled along through the mass of surging humanity until she found herself in an alleyway. A kindfaced young man and a woman looked at her.

"You have to be careful, Gabrielle," the man said. "There are still more of them than there are of us!"

"Aye," the woman said. "But that'll soon change!"

"Here, take this." The man handed her a cloth-wrapped basket. "This is food for you and Xena! Better than the swill they serve at the garrison!"

"Th-thank you," Gabrielle said. "But how do you..."

"There's nutbread in there," the woman said with a smile. "I know it's your favorite!"

"But no hensbane, that I promise!" the man said. They both laughed.

"Why are you doing this?" Gabrielle asked.

"Because we know your Xena is good," the man replied. "Don't worry, she won't be facing the whipping post again! That I promise!"

A sudden surge of shouts and screams got their attention.

"You'd better get back to the garrison," the woman said. "But don't worry, we have friends there as well."

Despite her protests, Gabrielle was taken down the alleyway to another sidestreet. Shaking her head, she made it back to the garrison. Some of the soldiers smiled at her while other grimaced and refused to meet her eyes. A fistfight broke out among two of the soldiers

Gabrielle was taken to Xena's cell, where as they devoured the basket of food, she told her what had happened in the marketplace.

"So?" Xena said around a mouthful of mutton. "I got some friends here? So what?"

"So yesterday you didn't have any friends here except me!" Gabrielle replied. "It doesn't make sense."

"Guess that blows your lil' theory that this is all in my head..."

"Don't remind me," Gabrielle said, pulling off another hunk of nutbread. It was good, tasting just like the nutbread her mother would make.

She stopped chewing. In fact... it tasted exactly like the nutbread her mother used to make.

"Gods, Xena," Gabrielle said. "I think I figured it out."

"Enlighten me."

"This place, these people... are your creations... except I was brought here as well! Don't you see... I must be influencing things somehow! Some of these people know me... know us! I've become part of this whole thing!"

Xena looked at her and shook her head. "Are you sure they didn't add hensbane to that nutbread?"

There was a sudden rumble of voices and activity from outside that caused both to look up from their conversation. Gabrielle ran to the barred window and looked out.

"Uh-oh. We got trouble."

"Lemme guess," Xena said. "Large contingent of angry villagers heading this way, some carrying torches?"

"And pitchforks," Gabrielle said. "Lotsa pitchforks."

"Mustn't forget the pitchforks," Xena said, taking a final bite of mutton. "Well, those bastards aren't going to get me without a fight!"

Chapter 14, by Wishes

"Don't worry," Gabrielle said. "The guards won't let them past. If nothing else, Margola has ordered them to save you for the whipping post."

"Girl, you ARE a comfort," Xena commented. "Do you see any guards, friendly or unfriendly? If they're around at all, they're out there crying for my blood. I have to save myself. Go to the guardroom. See if someone left a weapon there."

Gabrielle rushed to the door and threw the big bar across it. Pounding started almost immediately as the villagers tried to break down this barrier between them and the object of their hate.

"Right," Xena said. "That'll hold them. About two minutes. Get me a weapon NOW!"

Gabrielle ran into the guardroom. On the wall hung several pikes. Probably for crowd control, she thought ruefully. She took one of those and then spied a small dagger stuck into the top of the scarred table. She grabbed that and headed back to Xena's cell. Xena grabbed both weapons as though they were lifelines.

"I don't have any way to let you out," Gabrielle cried. "Only Margola has the key!"

"Don't worry. That's one thing angry villagers can be counted on to do. They'll get this cell open. You just be ready when they do."

"Be ready?"

"You get to me the second the door opens."

"But. . . ."

Just then, the villagers, who had remembered the efficacy of a battering ram, hit the door with tremendous force. The iron ring that held one end of the bar was ripped from the door frame, and the door opened with a crash.

"Stand quietly," Xena whispered, "so they won't pay you any mind." Thinking that even this Xena was looking after her safety, Gabrielle complied. But I'll get a weapon and fight, she thought, before I let them take Xena.

Only five of the biggest men, the ones who had wielded the battering ram, entered. Leaders of the mob kept the others back so these could do their work of "freeing" the prisoner. Two of them carried a massive iron pole, blunt on one end and sharply pointed on the other. "Stay back, little girl," one of the men snarled at Gabrielle. Then they jabbed the sharp end of the pole at Xena, who stood at the door of her cell. Holding two empty hands in the air, she backed up. The men worked the pole between the frame and the lock. The one who had yelled at Gabrielle now counted, "1, 2 . . . ."

"You can count to two. Congratulations," Xena taunted.

The man looked confused and then, realizing he had been insulted, yelled "3!" and all five men leaned against the bar. The cell door popped open, and the first two men rushed in, their crucial mistake being that they dropped the bar. Xena, hands no longer empty, met them with the pike. She clubbed them neatly at the back of their necks and went after the other three who, relying on size and strength--and numbers, don't forget about numbers--rushed after their fallen pals. She felled the first with an upward swing of the pike between his legs. While the other two winced and moved their hands downward, she twirled the long pike like it was a staff and fetched each a sharp crack across the skull.

As Gabrielle had been directed, she immediately leaped to Xena's side.

Realizing that all was not going as planned, the other villagers began to pour through the outer door. Xena grabbed Gabrielle and pushed her in front of her as she exited her cell. With shock, the young woman realized that her friend was holding the dagger at her throat. The sharp point was pressed against her very life.

The men and women at the front of the mob instinctively hesitated at the sight of a young girl in danger. Then one of the leaders, a tall woman whose features were twisted with anger, screamed, "Fools! It's a fake! They're friends!"

Another woman, one of those who had been in the front row for the last whipping reminded them, "Our lord said that the innocent was not to be harmed!"

A small man standing beside her nodded, but added, "The innocent was going to take the whipping for the warlord. She won't hurt her."

Slowly and deliberately, in order to show the fallacy of his words, Xena drew the sharp point of the dragger across Gabrielle's throat. The pressure she applied was just enough to start a thin line of blood dripping toward Gabrielle's blouse. The small woman gasped, less from pain than from betrayal. The closest villagers drew back, confused.

Then Xena roughly pulled Gabrielle backward into the guardroom and slammed the door shut. While the mob stumbled over each other, she released Gabrielle and threw the bar on that door. Then she jumped nimbly to the one small window, high up in the back wall. It was unbarred. "Give me your hand." Gabrielle hesitated. "Now. Or I leave you to THEM!" The bar had held, but the door was cracking.

Making a leap of faith, Gabrielle sprung upward and grasped Xena's offered hand in hers. Xena easily pulled the small girl up and then lowered her down the side of the building. Xena herself dropped lightly to the ground. No one was in sight. "Follow me." Xena raced down the small sidepath that zigzagged through the buildings of the town. Behind them, they heard shouts and curses, but no immediate pursuit. As they paused to catch their breaths, Xena snickered. "That's the problem with mobs. Lack of organization." She thought for a moment. "With it, they're not mobs. They're armies." Then, without looking to see if Gabrielle followed, she was off again.

Eventually, they came to what Gabrielle knew was the object of their flight: a stable. No one seemed to be around. "Where are the stableboys?" she asked.

"Who do you think carried the pitchforks?" Xena walked boldly into the stable and looked around. "Don't see my gray. Pick a horse. Make it a fast one." She had already chosen and was busy saddling a large bay. When Gabrielle didn't move, she grabbed a small palomino for her and saddled that one as well. "Never cared much for yellow horses myself," she said, "but this one looks in good condition."

"We can't leave," Gabrielle said.

"What do you mean?"

"Remember? When I tried to leave, I couldn't. For now, Arcanae, this version of Arcanae, is all there is."

"You also said this was. . . .like my dream or vision or something." Xena laughed at the idea. "So my vision now extends to the countryside. All right? Now get mounted. Here come our friends." She practically threw Gabrielle onto the palomino and leaped onto the bay. "Yah! Yah!"

The two raced out of Arcanae right in front of the angry mob.

Chapter 15, by Xenaaddict

It took the villagers a few precious minutes to regroup and reorganize themselves. Just enough time to allow Xena and Gabrielle to get a head start. They rode silently for what seemed like hours. The horse's hooves pounded rhythmically against the dirt, their powerful muscles moving like well oiled machines beneath their riders' weight. Xena felt exhilarated at her freedom, holding her head up and enjoying the wind racing through her hair, lost in the moment. The pain of the whipping was now only a dull ache, like a nightmare remembered in the comforting embrace of daylight.

Gabrielle, on the other hand, held desperately to the palomino's saddle. Even though Xena had the good sense to choose the smallest horse for her, anything larger than a pony was still 'too tall.' She had shut her eyes many times since they left the village, offering everything from daily sacrifices to lifelong celibacy to any deity that was listening, hoping they would survive this latest ordeal. Lately she had pretty much run out of things to offer. Traveling with a magnet for trouble like Xena had diminished her inventory of things that the gods would take interest in. Still a girl's got to try, she mused wryly. She was quite surprised to find Xena still with her when she mustered up enough courage to open her eyes again. Seems like 'someone' was listening.

"Xena!" Gabrielle called out, feeling her stamina dwindle. She hoped they could stop soon or she'd fall out of the saddle, angry lynch mob on their tails or no. The pace that they kept made it difficult for voices to carry, but Xena's sharp hearing picked up on Gabrielle's cry immediately. Reacting to the desperation in Gabrielle's tone, Xena pulled back on the bay's reins. The large animal reared up in response to the sudden command. A lesser horsewoman would have been thrown, but Xena shifted her weight to accommodate the horse's movement with the ease and casualness of years of experience. Luckily the palomino, being smaller in stature, lagged a length or two behind giving it time for a more gradual stop. It lessened its stride until it came to a dead stop beside the bay.

"I'm sorry Gabrielle" Xena apologized "but we've got to keep moving."

"I don't think I can keep up, Xena. I'm just not good enough of a rider. Perhaps if I sat behind…"

"No!" Xena admonished before Gabrielle could finish.

"But why?" pleaded Gabrielle. "We've done it before."

Xena shook her head, clearly not remembering.

Gabrielle's face fell with the understanding, and Xena caught sight of the dark stain on her green top. The dry caking of a thin red line adorned the girl's neck like a macabre necklace, and Xena winced inside knowing she was responsible. This girl, she thought, has only tried to help me.

"All right." Xena said, her tone softer now. "I know of a place where we can rest."

Gabrielle perked up immediately at that bit of news. "How?"

"Because", Xena explained, smiling "according to you, I've been here before -- remember?"

Chapter 16. by JayBird

They rode into the night, through a nightmare dreamscape of scorched earth and burned out villages. Past battlefields where thousands of the dead lay unburied, and vultures and wild animals feasted on the carrion.

Gabrielle knew this was Xena's world. She had known it the moment they had left Arcanae and galloped across a sandy plain instead of the treacherous mountain trails it had taken days to traverse. Her Arcanae was behind them. But she had no idea what lay ahead.

There were no stars in the sky, only a blood red moon that seemed to stare balefully down on them both. Xena had no reference points or landmarks to guide her, but she still seemed to know where she was going.

Finally they approached an outcropping of low peaks of rock. Xena spotted several campfires scattered around the rocks and galloped faster. Gabrielle struggled to keep up.

A horn was sounded as they approached, and a squad of well-armed soldiers approached on horseback.

"Xena!" Gabrielle shouted.

"Don't worry!" she shouted back. "They're with me!"

Xena cut loose with her warcry, and the men all came to a halt as she approached.

"My Princess!" one said as they all bowed their heads and placed their right fists over their hearts.

"As you were," she snarled. They went back to their picket duties as Xena cantered the bay toward a cave within the outcropping of rocks.

"Xena!" Gabrielle finally caught up with her. "Who were those men?"

"They're mine," she laughed.

There had to be at least a hundred soldiers camped about the cave, although from the condition of their uniforms, they looked more like brigands and cutthroats. All rose to their feet and saluted Xena as she passed.

Xena slid off her horse and rubbed her backside as she entered the cave. Gabrielle hopped off her small palomino and attempted to follow.

"H'lo, pretty girl." A rather filthy young man with a dangerous leer blocked her way. Before she could say a word, Xena had grabbed him by the neck and turned him around to face her.

"She's mine," Xena hissed. "Exclusively."

"S-sure, mah-mah Princess!"

"Pass the word." She dropped him like a rock and continued on into the cave. Gabrielle hopped over the soldier and followed.

The cave was vast, torchlight revealing caches of food and supplies and racks of polished weaponry.

"Xena!" A man came running up to her, a cruel-faced man wearing a hodge-podge of armor and leather. "By Ares, you're alive!"

"Hello, Darfus," Xena smiled. "Thanks for the rescue."

Darfus smirked. "Since when does the Great Warrior Princess need rescuing! Besides, your... loverboy is on his way right now with his troops. When he got word of your capture, I imagine he almost cried!"

The men around Darfus laughed. Gabrielle tried not to shudder as she realized this Darfus was the same man who had been Xena's lieutenant just before she had changed her ways. Xena had killed him three years ago. Twice.

"Speaking of troops," Xena said. "How many do we have on hand?"

Darfus shrugged. "Couple of hundred around here. Tracus is enroute as well with his people... By morning there should be over a thousand men massed here."

"Perfect," Xena sighed.

"Xena..." Gabrielle started.

"And who in Tartarus is this!" Darfus said, indicating Gabrielle.

"Someone who thought a Great Warrior Princess might need a little rescuing," Xena said. "She's mine. Touch her and die."

"Hey," Darfus shrugged. "You're the Warlord!"

Xena nodded. She turned to another man. "You! Get me new leathers, and draw me a bath. Nice and hot. And I want it yesterday."

If the tough brigand took offense at being treated like a serving girl, he didn't show it as he scampered off.

"Xena..." Gabrielle tried again.

"I'll be back," she growled.

Gabrielle sighed and found a place to sit. Almost an hour later she was still waiting. She tried to strike up several conversations with Xena's men, but they had obviously taken her warning to heart, turning her into the camp pariah. She was nibbling on some stale rations there was a flurry of activity as a new contingent of troops arrived. The leader dismounted from his stallion and approached Darfus. He was a proud dark-skinned man, young and handsome in his dusty battle leathers. Gabrielle recognized him immediately.


Marcus stopped in his tracks and looked at Gabrielle. "Do I know you. girl?"

"You did. Once upon another time."

Marcus frowned at the answer. Suddenly there was a silence as every man in the cave rose to his feet and looked up.

Gabrielle turned and felt her heart skip a beat. Xena stood on wide ledge above them all, resplendent in polished skintight leathers accented with bronze and a long cape that made her look as regal as any queen.

"Hail, Xena!!!" the men in the cave spoke as one.

"My love," Marcus said. He ran up the rockface to Xena, where they kissed to the shouts and cheers of all her men.

Gabrielle leaned back and shook her head. She knew she had probably been in worse jams than this... but she was damned to Tartarus if she could think of one right now.

Chapter 17, by Raye Dene

This is not good,Gabrielle thought.With all the warriors gathering,it could only mean one thing-Arcanae was going to be totally destroyed. "Think,Gabrielle,think.How can you stop this?" she muttered to herself. "There's got to be a way."

She was so involved in her thoughts that she jumped when she heard Marcus speaking right beside her. She had been so preoccupied she had not seen him and Xena descend from the rocky ledge. "Who's your crazy friend?" he was asking Xena. Xena gave him a chilling smile and said silkily, "The only one who tried to help me when the villagers were slicing my back to ribbons."

Marcus slowly lost his smile and backed up a pace. "Then I owe her a debt of gratitude,my love," he replied, recovering his composure.

"Hmmmm," murmered Xena as she looked at Gabrielle. Staring into those green eyes,she felt restless and unsettled. As if she was supposed to know this strange girl. That thought really unsettled her, so she was gruffer than she had to be. "I've got to plan with my men. Find a place to bed down,"she snapped. "I'll let you know when I. . . .want you." Throwing her a pillow and blanket, she was determined to put the irritating blonde out of her mind. But she stopped walking away,when she heard Gabrielle whisper"One soul."

Xena shuddered as images teased her mind,images of smiling and laughing with this woman by her side. Drawing a deep breath,Xena shook off the images. "Come on,"she barked. "We have little time and much to plan." Then she walked away, followed by Marcus and Darfus.

Clutching the pillow and blanket, Gabrielle made a bed for herself by placing her back against the rock wall. She had seen how Xena had reacted at her comment about one soul.She knew what she had to do. Gabrielle forced herself to at least get a little rest,because she would need all her wits to sneak out of Xena's armed camp and back to Arcanae.

Chapter 18, by Xenaaddict

Gabrielle had been awake several hours and had still not seen Xena, nor had she been able to find an opportunity to leave the camp. Xena had left specific orders that the girl was to be watched and that she and Marcus were not to be disturbed. So, left to her own devices there was nothing remaining to do but wander around the war-camp, trying to keep out of the way. Unfortunately she had caught Darfus' eye, and he leered at her at every opportunity, but after Xena's warning, did not attempt to touch her.

"When I rule this army" he bragged when she was close enough to hear, "'ll warm to my embrace soon enough."

"When you rule this army," Gabrielle corrected derisively, "…is when Tartarus freezes over."

The men snickered enjoying the banter, and Darfus looked around and grinned, pulling his already taunt face into a deathlike grimace. Even in this dreamscape he was as ugly as ever. He stood up, walking slowly toward her, trying to use his height to intimidate. Gabrielle stood her ground, unflinching. After facing a raving lunatic like Callisto, Darfus was the proverbial walk in the park. "Xena's got some hold over you doesn't she?"

"Only my respect and loyalty," she answered truthfully, "something you'll never understand."

He barked a laugh, but his good humor dissipated as quickly as it came. Grabbing her chin forcefully, he strained her head up to look into his eyes. His powerful grip hurt, but she would be damned if she gave him the satisfaction of seeing her cringe. "Oh, my sweet.. don't be coy with me. Loyalty and respect do not dictate the risks you take for her." He smirked. "… tell me. I bet 'anything' she can do, I can do better."

The taunt had the expected result; it sent the men into howls of laughter. And Gabrielle could feel the flush of embarrassment rushing to her cheeks. "You'll never know." she shot back.

Grinning in satisfaction, he knew he had found her Achilles' heel. "...maybe not now. But I'm sure Marcus is enjoying those.." he paused in mock thought "..privileges now."

This time Gabrielle reacted without thought. Her hand flew up and connected with Darfus' cheek. The force of the slap could be heard across the campsite. The men's eyes grew wide in awe at the redhead's spunk, and they quickly gathered around to see what would happen next.

Darphus scowled and drew his dagger. His cheek bore the red imprint of her slap.

"Darfus," one of his men cautioned, "remember what Xena said."

"Damn Xena," he spat, "no one hits me and lives."

Chapter 19, by JayBird

"Damn... Xena?"

The voice was cold and hard as it echoed through the cave. Darfus turned, his dagger still drawn over Gabrielle. Every other brigand in the cave looked as well. Xena stood on the ledge, Marcus beside her.

"Damn Xena?" she asked again. She chuckled. "A bit late for that. But still... the thought is nice. Now... put down the blade before I have you drawn and quartered."

Darfus looked about. His own men who he had served with for years were smiling at him.

"I have served you faithfully and done your bidding," Darfus said. "Is this how you repay loyalty?"

"Yes." Xena turned from Darfus and found Gabrielle's eyes. "Yes, it is."

There was a murmuring among Xena's men. Every man present knew what she meant, and Gabrielle found herself being looked at with new-found respect.

Darfus swallowed and lowered his blade. "As you command, my Princess."

"Good," Xena said. "Now all of you, listen up! I want all horses to be prepared for a long ride. Quartermaster, make sure all troops have three days' rations and fresh weapons if needed. Tracus, Darfus and..." she smiled at the man next to her. "Marcus, ready your troops to move at first light. Tomorrow, we move on Arcanae!"

There was a cheer from the assembled followed by chants of "Hail, Xena! Hail, Xena!" that seemed to shake the very earth. Gabrielle looked at her friend and realized she was revelling in her power. Like the embrace of an old lover... She looked to Marcus and shuddered.

The men soon broke up from their groups to carry out the orders of their Warrior Princess. Gabrielle saw Xena motion for her. She climbed up the steep rockface to stand beside her.

"Thank you," she said.

"It was nothing," Xena said. "You would've done the same for me." She frowned. "I look at you sometimes and I see..."


She shook her head. "I dunno. I only know that... I need you." She looked up. "Now, I want you to go to my quarters. You'll find a hot bath waiting for you. You're beginning to stink something fierce. I've also laid out some fresh clothes for you. If I have to look at that puke-green top of yours one more second, I'll be sick!" She smiled and gently stroked the smaller woman's smooth cheek. "I think you'll look lovely in leather..."

Gabrielle tried to swallow, realizing the drumbeats she heard was the blood pounding in her head.

"Well," Xena husked. "Go!"

Gabrielle rushed off to follow her orders.

Just a little while later, Gabrielle found herself sitting in a deep wooden tub up to her neck in hot water. In more ways than one, she thought, as she tried to enjoy the relaxing waters.

There was a shifting of the tent canvas that protected her from prying eyes. She gasped. Could it be Xena? or would it be Darfus looking for revenge?

Marcus slipped in between the canvas flaps and smiled at her.

"Hello, Gabrielle. Good to see you again." His appreciative gaze indicated that he was enjoying the view.

"Marcus!" Gabrielle whispered, too relieved to worry about her modesty. "You know me!"

"Of course," he said. "We fought a madman together to get Hades back his precious helmet! Why shouldn't I know you?" His smile widened at her puzzled stare. "I had to pretend not to know you. Sorry about that."

"Then you aren't one of Xena's..."

"Creations?" He shook his head. "No, I'm real. But it looks like everyone else here isn't. Well, except you."

"How did you get here from the Elysian Fields?"

"A long story," he said. "Let's just say that Xena's... dreamscape is more powerful than Margola and the Forces of Arcanae ever imagined. They've played this game with thousands pf unfortunates over the centuries. No one has been able to escape the valley... except Xena, and you."

"Aren't we lucky?"

"As Xena drew... images and people from her past to populate her dreamworld... I heard her call to me. I went to Hades and told him what has happened. He allowed me to leave the underworld to help you return Xena to her proper place."

"Nice guy."

"Not really. As Xena draws more and more power to fill and create her world, the forces of time and elements that bind our existance together become strained."

"Wanna tell me that in Greek?"

"Hades thinks there's a very real chance that Xena's world will break through into the real world. Her own dreamscape will become your reality. And a thousand unstoppable, unkillable dreamwarriors will ride with her to take your world... and make it her own."

"Hey-Zeus..." Gabrielle muttered.

"Now, listen," Marcus continued. "Do as she says for now, but be ready to make your move when the opportunity presents itself."

"Wha... What opportunity?" Gabrielle asked. "What move?"

"You'll know," Marcus replied. "Don't worry, Gabrielle. We'll get through this. I love her too."

Gabrielle nodded, and Marcus slipped back behind the canvas.

Gabrielle sighed. Dreamscapes... other worlds...

Boy, she thought. Sometimes, reality really bites!

Chapter 20, by Raye Dene

After enjoying a liesurely hot bath (no reason not to; might be my last chance for a while!), Gabrielle dried off and began to put on her "puke green" (what a description!) top, when someone clearing his throat caught her attention. Holding her top protectively in front of her, Gabrielle turned to find a very young soldier standing in the chamber.

A blush heated his face as he averted his eyes. "Uhm..ah..Xena wanted you to have these," he stammered and held out a bundle of clothing.

"Thank you," replied Gabrielle gently. "You can put them on the ledge over there." Hastily, the young man did as she asked. "You seem awful young to be fighting," remarked Gabrielle as she stepped behind a blanket to dress. She found to her delight that Xena had provided a smooth as butter dress of tanned hides. It was a perfect fit.

"Oh,but it's a great honor to fight for the Warrior Princess,"he said eagerly. "No one's a better or more famous warlord than Xena!"

"She'll be a dead warlord if I can't stop this," muttered Gabrielle.

"What was that?"asked the soldier.

"I said you probably never get bored,"improvised Gabrielle with a false laugh.

"Oh, no,we don't get bored. Why, we drill all the time," continued the soldier. "Xena says....." His voice trailed off as Gabrielle came around the blanket.

"You were saying?" asked Gabrielle.

"By the gods, you're beautiful!" replied the young soldier,gazing earnestly at Gabrielle.

"You have so much free time that you can ogle women, soldier?" drawled Xena in a cold voice from behind him.His face paling,the young soldier turned quickly and placed his fist over his heart. Bowing,he left the chamber to Xena's command of "Get back to work!"

Gabrielle stared into the eyes of her friend, so familiar yet so different.There was a harshness, a..coldness there that Gabrielle had a hard time knowing how to deal with.She felt a frission of fear that this might be more than she could handle.Xena picked up her sword and began to hone it with a rock,careful to check for nicks as she smoothed the stone over the blade. When it seemed as though Xena was determined to ignore her, Gabrielle asked "May I sit down?"

"Go ahead," Xena replied absently, continuing to work on her sword. "Xena," began Gabrielle. She didn't really know what she was going to say; she just couldn't stand the silence anymore.

But, before she could continue, the other woman spoke. "I wanted to thank you for helping me back there in Arcanae and to tell you to stay here. There's no need for you to witness those people's destruction."

"That's what I want to tell you Xena. There doesn't have to be any destruction," Gabrielle pleaded. "Don't go through with this!" Gabrielle found herself pinned by the gaze of an enraged warrior princess.

"No reason for destruction, eh?" laughed Xena without any real humor. "I don't know yet what hold you have on me or why I need you, but Arcanae will pay the price for crossing the Warrior Princess,make no mistake of that!"

With that, Xena swept out of the chamber, her cloak snapping around her. Now what?,thought Gabrielle in despair.

Chapter 21, by Wishes

"Now the world becomes what it was meant to be." Gabrielle turned to look into the handsome bearded face of a . . . .god.

"Ares," she breathed. "So you're behind this."

He laughed and, walking closer, felt the softness of her leather dress. "Smooth and soft as Xena's skin," he commented. "But perhaps your skin is. . . .softer?" He would have discovered the answer to this question himself if Gabrielle hadn't quickly stepped back. "I don't know why you fight me like this, girl. We should be on the same side."

"What makes you think that?"

"We both love Xena, and we both want what's best for her."

Gabrielle laughed. "YOU want what's best for Xena?"

"You've seen her with her army, seen her really alive," the god said. "Can you see her like this and think she's better off in YOUR world? The world where she tries to save a town from bandits and has the skin stripped from her back with a whip?"

"You won't win, Ares," Gabrielle promised. "No matter what you have planned."

"That's the beauty of this whole thing. It isn't even my idea. It just. . . .happened." He stepped toward her again, and this time she stood her ground. "I'm just here to warn you not to get in my way. In Xena's way. She has the last eight years back, and this time she can rule the world. My world." One moment he stood threatenly in front of Gabrielle, and thenext moment he was gone.

"Talking to yourself?"

Gabrielle realized that Xena had returned. "Thinking out loud."

"About what? Who you want me to spare in Arcanae?"

"No. About why you want to go back there at all." Gabrielle spoke softly and carefully, remembering Xena's anger of a short while before. "There isn't anything there. Nothing a great warlord like you would want. Why don't you just let it go? Spend some time with Marcus." She sought Xena's eyes before adding, "Or with me."

"Let it go?" Xena turned around and dropped her cloak. Gabrielle winced at the sight of Xena's half-healed flesh between her armor and low back of her battle dress. "They bet on my pain, and now they'll pay for every scar they put on my body."

"Then where will it end, Xena? You raided their town. They were wrong to treat you so cruelly. I was wrong to stand there the first time and. . . .and not at least try to interfere." Gabrielle stopped speaking at the look in Xena's eyes.

"That hurt as much as the bite of the whip," the warrior said, "and I don't even know why. It doesn't make sense to me, you know, the way you threw yourself between me and the whip the second time when you watched so calmly the first."

Gabrielle dropped her gaze. "I explained that. I thought the people would be satisfied with that whipping. I thought they would let you go afterward."

"You don't lie very well," the warlord told her. "Lack of practice? Or no natural talent for it?"

The younger woman's eyes filled with tears.

"Tell me. Tell yourself. Why did you watch me being whipped without doing anything about it? When you claim to be my best friend." Xena's voice was quiet but no less commanding.

Gabrielle couldn't withstand it. Or her own honesty. "I thought you deserved it."

Chapter 22, by Xenaaddict

…….Xena digested Gabrielle's explanation, running it over and over in her mind: 'I_thought_you _deserved_it.' She didn't quite know why, but those five words -- coming from Gabrielle -- hurt her more than the whipping ever could. It pained her very soul, and it frightened her. Swallowing hard, her jaw tightened as she reined in her emotions.

"Then," she asked scornfully "what's this nonsense about 'ONE SOUL?'" This time her voice held a simmering anger that could not be masked. "If you hold me in such low esteem," she continued, "why do you care what happens to me?"

......Gabrielle ran her hands over the soft leather of her skirt, trying to use the motion to focus her thoughts, knowing what she said now would affect this Xena's reality and undoubtedly her own. "Remember what you always told me?"

Xena raised an eyebrow questioningly, "No, but I'm sure you'll tell me."

"Peace is peace, and the past is past." She scrambled closer to her friend. "It's the only way to live." She reached out to touch Xena's hand but drew back hesitantly. Xena pretended not to notice.

"I said that?"

"W..Well…" Gabrielle stuttered (there's that damn honesty coming into play again), "you said, 'Beauty is beauty' and I added peace is peace……and that last part." She coughed, quickly rattling off the last sentence, her words running into each other. "But that's besides the point."

Xena shook her head, bemused. "What IS the point?" She raised a preemptory finger before Gabrielle could continue. "Remember I've got a village to raze. Give me the digest version."

Gabrielle sighed. "What I'm trying to say is, if you don't give up on your guilt and anger, it will eat away at you. I thought the whipping would purge you of the guilt of Arcanae. But instead it only led to more anger."

"I like anger, Gabrielle. It keeps me focused."

"It will destroy you."

Xena laughed humorlessly, "Fine. Then you stay here -- after all I deserve my fate, right?. Like I said, what do you care?" Xena left without waiting for a reply, tired of trying to get a straight answer out of the young woman.

Gabrielle watched Xena leave, and she felt as though she had been punched in the stomach. "Damn," she cursed quietly, why is it always so hard for me to explain what I feel for Xena? I'm a bard, for Zeus' sake.

"I care, Xena," she said softly to the empty room, "because I love you."

......The sound of clapping made her spin around and she was frozen to the spot. The blond nemesis stepped forward, the leather studs adorning her garb reflecting the light like angry fireflies.

"I'm sorry. Was it a private party?" she asked innocently.


"In the flesh." She bowed mockingly. "If it's a guilt trip Xena's on… well you shouldn't be so surprised to find me here."

"Oh joy." Gabrielle moaned, "..anymore of this and I'll be ready for the asylum."

Chapter 23, by JayBird

As Callisto laughed, Gabrielle closed her eyes and tried not to scream.

"Awwww... poor lil' Gabby!" Callisto said. "I'd say you were already in an asylum! A world made up of the dead and reflections of the living! It's not such a bad place..." Her voice turned hard. "Sure beats a red hot lava bath!"

Gabrielle looked at her. The clear blue eyes tinged with madness and pain seemed too real.

"Callisto," Gabrielle whispered. "Tell me. Are you a Goddess? or just another reflection of Xena's guilt? What is your part in this madness?"

Callisto chuckled. "That's for me to know and you to find out." She tousled Gabrielle's hair playfully and walked away. "Oh, I almost forgot! Perdicus says hi!"

And with that she vanished in a twinkling of an eye...

Gabrielle sat down and wept uncontrollably.

Meanwhile on Mount Olympus...

Ares took the steps of Olympus two at a time while he whistled a happy tune. He passed between two of the white columns that ringed the House of Zeus and passed Hermes, who was on his way out.

"H'lo, Brother!"

"Yo, Ares!" Hermes said as he floated around him in a circle. "Watch out for the Old Man! He's in a piss-poor mood today!"


"Can't say, I'm running late. Gotta fly!" And with that he took off into the clouds surrounding Olympus.

Ares sighed and continued on into Zeus's private chambers. He found him on his throne, talking with Hades.

"Hello, Father," Ares said. He nodded at Hades. "Uncle." He looked to Zeus. "You called for me?"

"I'll take my leave now, Brother," Hades said. He looked contemptuously at Ares and strode off.

"Give my regards to Aunt Persephone!" Ares called. Again he lookd to Zeus. "Well?"

"My son," Zeus said, not unkindly, as he left his throne to stand beside Ares. "Tell me. What do you know of the maelstrom that threatens the mortal plane?"

Ares shrugged. "Maelstrom? What maelstrom?"

Zeus whacked him on the back of his head. "Don't play innocent with me, Ares! By Cronus, you're acting more like your mother evry day!"

"Why... thanks!"

Zeus shook his head. "Something is happening down there. And while I don't think you're the cause of it, I have reason to believe you are 'stoking the fire', so to speak."

"I plead innocent."

Zeus laughed. "Ares, on the day you were born, you were bad to the bone! But that is neither here nor there. My brother tells me that this involves Xena. Surely you haven't lost interest in Xena?"

Ares shrugged. "She's a mortal."

"Any woman who could make the God of War so unmindful of his duties is more than a mere mortal," Zeus replied. "I just want an understanding between us. Here and now. There will be no interference from you in this matter. Am I making myself understood?"

A rumble of thunder punctuated his sentence.

"Like crystal, Father," Ares replied. "But your words cut both ways. I want no interference from you in this matter as well."

"Why, Ares!" Zeus said innocently. "Whatever do you mean?"

Meanwhile on the mortal plane...

Hercules and Iolaus ducked for cover as another lightning bolt slammed the earth. They were high on a mountain trail in Northern Greece, not far from the real city of Arcanae.

"Sounds like your dad is upset about something!" Iolaus shouted over the high winds.

"This isn't Zeus' doing!" Hercules shouted back. The skies were heavy with swirling black clouds as howling winds attempted to pick them off the mountain. "This is the magic of Arcanae gone bad!"

"Then all this is part of what's happening to Xena?" Iolaus said in wonderment. "How can we battle something this strong?"

"We'll find out when we get there, my friend!" Hercules shouted back. "Arcanae is just over the next rise!"

Chapter 24, by Wishes

Gabrielle hastily wiped away her tears as she heard voices. Darfus, Marcus, and Xena entered the chamber. Darfus and Marcus were arguing loudly. "ENOUGH!" Xena commanded. "Each of you has your orders. Obey them!"

Darfus saluted. "Yes, Xena." With Xena's attention turned toward Marcus, he shot Gabrielle an evil look. "Later," he mouthed silently and left.

"Marcus?" Xena prompted.

"It will be done." Marcus, too, left.

"Have you decided what else I deserve?" Xena asked the young woman. "If our attack fails or I'm captured again? Maybe drawing and quartering? Or would a simple beheading be more to your taste?"

"Xena, I didn't mean it that way. I don't want you hurt." Gabrielle struggled to explain to someone who wore skepticism like a badge of honor. "I didn't think it was real. I thought we were still in the cave above Arcanae and that everything that was happening was part of our imaginings, a vision brought about by the mushrooms."

"Mushrooms? Was there anyone living under these mushrooms? Wood sprites perhaps? Or what do the Celts call them? Fairies?"

"Xena, please believe me." Gabrielle tried not to cry again. "I could watch calmly because I thought it was like a dream. We would awaken, and you would be fine, no worse for the wear. Then, afterwards, when I helped the healer see to your poor back, I knew that all this had some sort of reality. That's when I swore to you that you wouldn't be whipped again. Do you remember that?"

The warlord's expression softened. "I remember something. Your voice, I guess. And I remember the crazy thing you did, coming between me and the whip." She walked to where Gabrielle sat and tenderly traced the red mark that marred the soft skin of her throat. "Does this hurt?" she asked.

"No," the small woman answered. "But I. . . .I was very frightened when you did it."

"Afraid I would kill you?" Xena guessed.

"That," Gabrielle admitted, "and afraid of what hurting me would do to you. Later."

The tall woman shook her head. "You are a mystery. I could almost believe you came from another time, another place. . . ."

Darfus entered hurriedly. "Xena," he said. "Scouts have returned, and they have much to report. Do you want to see them personally?"

"No, give me the short version yourself."

"Two men are approaching on the road from Corinth." He paused to draw himself up to what he considered an important height. "If you wish, I can take a company of men to intercept them."

"A company?" Xena wondered. "For two men?"

"The scout was sure of their identity."

"Well?" Someday she planned to kill this man. Maybe today would be a good day.

"Hercules and Iolaus."

"Hercules?" Xena found herself interested in spite of her focus on Arcanae. "I've always wanted to meet the son of Zeus. And put an end to him. I don't know this Iolaus. Is he half-god, too?"

"The scout said he's just a little man, a servant or something to Hercules," Darfus replied. Gabrielle started to speak but thought better of it. Anything she said now could make the situation worse.

"You said there was much to report," Xena reminded her lieutenant.

"From the east there approaches a large army." Xena noticed that Darfus did not offer to go after this target with a company.

"What's large?"

"As large as your own."

Impulsively, Gabrielle did speak. "It must be Peleus." She had almost forgotten the bandits that had brought Xena and her to Arcanae to begin with. To the so-called City of Peace.

"Who's Peleus?" Xena asked suspiciously. "Is that who sent you here? What do you know about this army?"

"Peleus is the leader of a band of bandits, Xena," Gabrielle said calmly. "He attacked your friend's village and was going to attack Arcanae. We came here to prepare them."

"I came here with you to rescue those villagers from bandits?"


Xena shook her head and turned back to Darfus. "Did the scout know who was leading this army? Could it be this madwoman's Peleus? Or is it a force coming to protect Arcanae from us?"

"Neither, Xena," Darfus answered. "The scout is from northern Greece, from near your own home city of Amphipolis. He said the army is led by several young warlords from that region. He called them Mezentius, Krykus, and Dagnine. They appear to be heading straight for Arcanae. They're probably after the same treasure you're set on possessing."

"Will you watch that loose tongue of yours?" Xena warned. "Before I decide to remove it?"

"Sorry," he apologized insincerely. "I thought the girl was with you."

"This news could change our plans." Xena considered for a few moments. "You take a company and intercept Hercules and this Eelos or whatever his name is. Intercept, not attack. Invite them to join me for a talk."

"If they don't want to come?"

"Use persuasion," she said meaningfully.

"Just tell them Xena wants to see them," Gabrielle spoke up. "They'll come peacefully."

Eyebrow raised, the warlord looked at this girl, friend or captive she wasn't yet sure. Then she smiled and turned back to her subordinate. "Do as she says. ASK them. Dismissed."

Darfus gave Gabrielle another evil look, but he turned and left. There was no questioning Xena when she used that tone of voice. Not if you wanted to live. Intact. Xena yelled after him, "And send Marcus to me."

Not sure whether she was talking to the girl or to herself, Xena muttered, "The treasure of Arcanae must be greater than even I had thought. To be worth the protection of a great hero like Hercules. And to be the object of lust for so many warlords."

"What is the treasure?" Gabrielle asked.

Xena surprised her by admitting, "I don't really know. But I have it on good authority that Arcanae holds a great treasure, one capable of changing the world."

Chapter 25, by JayBird

"Iolaus, I don't think we're in Greece anymore."

Hercules looked around as a blood red sun rose over a dead landscape of sand and rock, with a few dead trees here and there to break the monotony.

"Great!" Iolaus said. "I guess that big wind blew us all the way to one of those 'unknown continents' that Darcy is always talking about."

"I... don't think so," Hercules replied. "From what Zeus told me, all this could be part of Xena's dream. Part of her vision of reality."

"Ugh," Iolaus said as they passed a crucified corpse getting its eyes pecked out by a vulture. "You mean all this is from Xena's head? I guess the lady still has some problems to work out."

"That's what we're here for."

"Y'know, we've been traveling for hours and so far we haven't seen one living thing... unless you want to count the vultures."

"I... think our luck is about to change."

Iolaus squinted into the sun as he saw a squad of armed riders heading their way. Fast.

"What's the plan?" Iolaus said as he pulled his sheathed sword off his back.

"Let's try talking first," Hercules replied.

"Oh yeah," Iolaus said. "These guys look like suckers for a good conversation!"

Hercules and Iolaus stood together as the squad of riders stopped in front of them. The leader eased his horse forward.

"I am Darfus," the man said, "A soldier in the Army of Xena, the Great Warrior Princess. My Princess requests the company of the Mighty Hercules... and his servant."

"Herc," Iolaus whispered. "Isn't Darfus..."

"Yeah," Herc replied. He smiled at Darfus. "We would be honored to meet with the Warrior Princess."

Darfus frowned. Herc couldn't tell if he was surprised or disappointed by the answer. He motioned for two of his men to dismount and double up on other horses. Hercules and Iolaus quickly mounted.

"Excuse me," Iolaus said to Darfus. "But is there a young woman traveling with Xena?"

"The chatty one?" Darfus growled. "That interfering blonde..."

"That's her!" Iolaus grinned.

Without another word, Darfus led his squad and the 'guests' back toward Xena's camp.

Gabrielle yawned as she exited the cave where she had spent the night. Looking about at the dull gray skies and the washed out earth almost made her run back inside.

"Ah..." Xena sighed. "Another great day in the Xenaverse!" She smiled at Gabrielle. "After all, this is all in my head, right?"

"'Fraid so," Gabrielle replied.

A horn sounded, and then several more as a rider came into the camp at full gallop. His horse skidded to a halt in front of Xena, and he hopped off so fast he almost ran into her.

"My Princess!" he said breathlessly. "There's a large force of mounted troops coming in from the south!"

"Give me numbers," Xena said.

"Mebbe... two or three hundred strong. They moved fast and stayed in the gulleys... I was lucky to see them at all."

"Damn," Xena muttered. She turned to Marcus. "Could it be the warlords Darfus reported to me?"

"Maybe," he replied. "Or it could be an independent force."

"Great!" She looked to Gabrielle. "For my own little world, I'm sure having a lot of company!"

"Riders," Marcus reported.

"Damn," one of Xena's men said. "How'd they get through the pickets?"

There were three of them, the lead rider carrying a white flag of truce high on a staff. They appeared to be lean, dangerous looking sorts, wearing leathers and strange headdresses made of bone and feather.

A rumble of discontent rumbled through the camp as Xena's men realized they were Amazons.

"By the Gods!" Xena whispered. "What are they doing here? I sure as Tartarus didn't conjure up any Amazons!"

Maybe I did, Gabrielle thought, as she stepped forward and clasped her hands over head.

The riders reined their horses to a halt in front of Gabrielle. The lead rider pulled up her mask.

"Ephiny!" Gabrielle cried.

"My Princess!" Ephiny leaped down from her mount and hugged Gabrielle tightly. She then looked at Xena with hostile eyes.

"My name is Ephiny," she said. "And I have been dispatched to see to the safety of Princess Gabrielle of Amazonia!" She turned to Gabrielle. "My Princess, I have five hundred of our troops at your disposal. What are your orders?"

"Ah..." Gabrielle looked at Xena who despite her best efforts was doing a slow boil. "Lemme get back to ya on that, Ephiny."

Gabrielle walked over to Xena and grinned sheepishly.

"Why..." Xena growled, "didn't you tell me you were an Amazon Prncess?'

"Uh... you didn't ask?"

Chapter 26, by Xenaaddict

"I didn't ask?" Xena repeated incredulously.

"Well, you didn't." Gabrielleresponded sheepishly, wincing in expectation to Xena's wrath.

"Is there anything else you're not telling me because, 'I didn't ask?'" Xena fumed.

Gabrielle's brow crinkled with thought of her sudden and brief encounter with a certain blond psychotic passed through her mind. "Well uh…" Gabrielle stammered.

"I'm not going to like this am I?" wondered Xena out loud when Gabrielle still didn't complete her sentence after a few hems and haws.

"Excuse me…"

"What is it?!" They snapped in unison.

Xena shot Gabrielle a scowl and moved away as she realized the warrior was talking to the younger woman. It was an Amazon, a war headdress hiding most of her features. "My queen," she said as she bowed respectfully, "I beg your forgiveness, but we have a 'situation' that demands your immediate attention." Despite her words and demeanor there was nothing submissive about her.

"Can't it wait?"

The Amazon shook her head.

"Fine," Gabrielle agreed reluctantly, "I'll be right there." Again the Amazon bowed, but before she left she pulled her mask up just enough to reveal her grinning face and winked at Gabrielle. Gabrielle sighed, not really surprised at anything anymore. If Callisto wanted to be an Amazon, geeZeus, who was she to argue?

Meanwhile, Hercules and Iolaus rode along beside Xena's lieutenant. Darfus kept looking at them contemptuously but held his tongue. Hercules ignored the looks, refusing to be baited. Iolaus, on the other hand, began to get irked until he couldn't stand it anymore. "Is there a problem, friend?"

Darfus grinned, showing his yellow stained teeth in all their glory. "Not with you, runt."

Iolaus bristled at the reply and would haveattacked Darfus if Hercules' iron grip had not held him back. "We won't play your games, Darfus," Hercules injected calmly. "Just lead us to your 'mistress.'" The big man added emphasis to the last word to rub in the fact that, in spite all his pomp and circumstance, Darfus was still taking orders from a certain warrior princess.

Darfus spat between his horse and Hercules' and laughed, urging his horse into a gallop.

"Why do I get the feeling he doesn't like me?" asked Iolaus.

"It's just your imagination," quipped Hercules, slapping him on the back.

"You think?"


"Like, just now, he didn't mean to spit at us."

"Nope. He was just marking the spot so we won't get lost."

"Oh. Silly me."

Part 2 - Conclusion

Return to The Bard's Corner

e was nothing submissive about her.

"Can't it wait?"

The Amazon shook her head.

"Fine," Gabrielle agreed reluctantly, "I'll be right there." Again the Amazon bowed, but before she left she pulled her mask up just enough to reveal her grinning face and winked at Gabrielle. Gabrielle sighed, not really surprised at anything anymore. If Callisto wanted to be an Amazon, geeZeus, who was she to argue?

Meanwhile, Hercules and Iolaus rode along beside Xena's lieutenant. Darfus kept looking at them contemptuously but held his tongue. Hercules ignored the looks, refusing to be baited. Iolaus, on the other hand, began to get irked until he couldn't stand it anymore. "Is there a problem, friend?"

Darfus grinned, showing his yellow stained teeth in all their glory. "Not with you, runt."

Iolaus bristled at the reply and would haveattacked Darfus if Hercules' iron grip had not held him back. "We won't play your games, Darfus," Hercules injected calmly. "Just lead us to your 'mistress.'" The big man added emphasis to the last word to rub in the fact that, in spite all his pomp and circumstance, Darfus was still taking orders from a certain warrior princess.

Darfus spat between his horse and Hercules' and laughed, urging his horse into a gallop.

"Why do I get the feeling he doesn't like me?" asked Iolaus.

"It's just your imagination," quipped Hercules, slapping him on the back.

"You think?"


"Like, just now, he didn't mean to spit at us."

"Nope. He was just marking the spot so we won't get lost."

"Oh. Silly me."

Part 2 - Conclusion

Return to The Bard's Corner