GENERAL COPYRIGHT/DISCLAIMER:

Xena, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the series Xena: Warrior Princess, are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are my property. Please do not use my characters without my consent. NOTE: All works remain the copyright of the original author.

VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER:

This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.

LOVE/SEX WARNING/DISCLAIMER:

This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story. If one is fortunate enough to love, then theirs is a greater garden within.

COMMENTS: Webster describes Quondam as " that which once was" This story takes place sometime after If The Shoe Fits. I welcome all comments and can be reached at greatpear@yahoo.com

 

 

 

The Quondam Stone

By Falcon

June1999

 

Chapter One

There are seasons we will never understand and in each soul’s life comes a time where our faith is placed in the hands of a stranger.

Xena was out numbered six to one by her adversaries but this was nothing new for the Warrior Princess. The two attackers, which came directly at her, both landed on their backs, as she placed a foot in each man’s chest with a double high leg kick. She back flipped over the pair that was advancing at her from her rear, landing behind them and running the first through, as he turned around with a single thrust of her sword. She decked the other by knocking his legs out from under him, then punching his lights out. As he lay on the ground, Xena threw her Chakram, hitting two ricochet points of contact and sliced the swords of the remaining two attackers in half. She turned back and finished off the culprit on the ground with a swift kick, while two of his companions rose to their feet only to be dropped cold by a fast, double punch to each of their heads. The remaining two assassins ran into the rocks and disappeared.

The brief encounter was no more than a distraction to Xena and quickly her mind returned to the real crisis at hand. Gabrielle was on the Warrior’s mind first, foremost and with good reason. The note only stated that the Bard had been taken and was being held by the old ruins outside of Paramythia. There was a map with directions to the meeting place and scribbled on the bottom were the words ‘The Debt Is Not Forgotten’ and it was signed by Tzannas.

Tzannas was a lean lowlife that excelled in petty theft, con games and holdups. Most recently he had murdered someone. He played this up to make himself look tougher than he was, feeling that this might help him move to new and better levels of being a criminal. He stood 17 and a half hands, sported a goatee and liked to dress in the fashion of a rogue. He thought himself somewhat the ladies man, however, when he opened his mouth, his true colors were exposed. He qualified for the scum that he truly was.

Xena thought, It must have been twenty moons since I put Tzannas’s brother under the sea. He wasn’t even fitting fish bate.

Xena stuffed the map in her belt after taking another look at it. She wondered if this attack was set up as an ambush for her and that bastard Tzannas didn’t have any intentions of letting the Bard go. In fact, it could be possible that the Warrior was never supposed to get to her destination, from the looks of just what happened.

Xena moved up the trail and kept her eyes peeled for any other surprises that might cross her path. She patted Argo on the side of her neck in a gesture of reassurance, holding a steady pace. The rocky terrain and overhanging cliffs gave way to many places of concealment but the rest of the ride was uneventful.

Two candlemark’s later Xena arrived at the ruins of a temple that dated back before age of reason. The area was desolate and void of life or any sign of life, with the exception of some recent horse tracks. It looked like eight to ten riders, with one horse making deeper hoof prints in the earth possibly from having two people on it. Xena figured it was Gabrielle.

The Warrior got down from Argo and walked carefully around one of many partial walls that still defied gravity. Across what once was a courtyard restrained upright to a pillar was Gabrielle. Xena could see that the tightly woven ropes held their victim securely. She appeared to be all right even though her mouth was gagged, her arms were stretched behind and bound. Her eyes showed fear and at the same time a level of comfort in knowing her champion had arrived. Xena picked up movement and three adversaries stepped out of the shadows on each side of the ruins. Tzannas and his second in command approached the Warrior from her front.

Xena was somewhat glad for the little warm up she had earlier and held her position, as Tzannas approached her.

"Well now Xena, looks like I’ve got something you want!" The vengeful killer laughed.

"Let her go Tzannas, she never did anything to you. Your business is with me. Let’s see if we can heal those old wounds." Xena taunted him with a smile.

"Get that bitch!" he cried out. "She killed my brother!"

Six armed figures moved forward as Xena pulled and threw her Chakram, it ricocheted off of the wall and struck the last of three attackers on the left side. She turned her body and ran the first man on the left straight through with her sword. A forward flip cleared her way as she dropped Tzannas’s second in command; forward flipping again, she cut Gabrielle free from where the Bard was bound to the post. "AYiYiYiYiYi" Came her war cry, as she made a half twist in the air and smashed a fist into the face of one of the three killers on the right. Xena, then grabbed the other two by the front of their shirts and banged their heads together. Slipping her sword under her arm and to her rear, she sunk the weapon into the chest of the last man.

Gabrielle pulled the gag from her mouth and screamed, "He’s getting away Xena!"

Tzannas made a break around the ancient ruins with Xena not too far behind. He jumped onto his horse and Xena pulled the Chakram again to stop the bandit. She threw it at a large bluegray monolith, expecting the Chakram to glance off and hit its mark but instead the weapon sunk into the stone and was embedded half in and half out. It was as if for just a moment, the monolith turned into liquid and instantly returned to solid stone. When contact was made between the Chakram and the monolith, there was almost a musical sound, similar to a giant tuning fork. The vibration carried for a long time, fading into oblivion. The assassin, Tzannas escaped in the confusion down the trail laughing uncontrollably, "Another time Xena."

 

The two incoherent henchmen on the ground cleared their heads and slipped away while Xena stood there puzzled at what had just took place. The Warrior grabbed Gabrielle by her forearms and asked, "Are you all right? They didn’t touch you, did they?"

Xena looked her over for any telltale marks or bruises but the Amazon Princess was in one piece.

"I’m OK now that you are here," the Bard said in a rattled and upset voice. "They grabbed me before I ever made it to the village! I was just walking down the road and the next thing I knew, I was surrounded! I gave one of them a lump on the head and cracked another ones shin pretty good but they still overtook me."

Xena turned to the monolith of stone. It stood the height of three horses and on the side that the Chakram protruded from, the surface was as smooth as glass. The remainder of the rock surface was rough and pitted. It took on the appearance of volcanic rock but much harder and less porous. The Chakram was stuck two staff lengths off of the ground level. Xena examined the predicament from below and called Argo.

Xena whistled, then called, "Here girl!"

The Warrior guided the horse next to the stone monolith and climbed up on the saddle in a standing position. The Chakram was about chest high. Xena gripped the weapon and pulled with all her might but the stone would not release her treasured ring of protection. Again, she attempted to remove it but it would not budge.

"Xena! What are you going to do?" Gabrielle pleaded.

"Nothing right now. Nothing at all." She turned to the Bard and simply said, "Let’s go."

They knew if they stayed too long, there could be another attack and they might not be as fortunate. Xena guided the horse back down the winding trail that was curtained by cliffs on either side. Gabrielle followed closely behind. She had retrieved her staff from the ruins and felt quite a bit of guilt for Xena’s loss.

Gabrielle thought, If Tzannas and his gang had not captured me, Xena would still have her Chakram.

"Don’t worry about the Chakram Gabrielle. If I can’t get it out of the stone, then nobody else will either."

Working their way downward along the trail for some time, Xena finally estimated they had reached the halfway point and decided to take a short rest. A faint cackle disrupted her thoughts. The sound grew louder as the Bard and Warrior continued along the only path down. Xena reacted by reaching over her shoulder and pulling her sword.

"I won’t harm you," The voice said.

And from the shadows of a small, well-hidden cave came forth an old crone. She was older than the mountain and cousin to the sun itself. Her clothing appeared rotted, void of color and had more holes than fabric to it. One of the crone’s eyes was shut and her face drooped as if she suffered without the use of part of her brain. Her hair was the color of fresh fallen snow. She wore nothing on her feet and they took on the appearance of leather. A small, twisted staff was in her left hand for balance and in her right, a translucent purple crystal the size of a grapefruit. The Warrior and the Bard made their assessment of her and waited.

"I have an answer for you, Warrior!" The crone continued while she moved closer.

"I didn’t ask a question old woman," Xena said with a smug expression on her face.

"Maybe not out loud, but I heard you any way, honey," the crone purred.

The crone looked into her crystal and then back at the Warrior and the Bard.

"Remarkable," she exclaimed. "There are few in this life that have a bond as close as yours. It’s as if something greater than the gods has put you two together…………. but let us get to the matter at hand, instead of listening to a old woman babble."

"Come, sit with me awhile and I will tell you a tale of long ago." The crone directed.

"We don’t have time for this," Xena said with impatience.

"Wait Xena! This might be a good tale!" An excited Gabrielle exclaimed.

"You’d like to get your Chakram back, wouldn’t you Warrior?" The crone said with a drip of sarcasm.

That got Xena’s attention and she motioned Gabrielle to move toward the old woman and sit on the rocks in front of her. Xena placed her sword in front of her as a precautionary step in case of trouble. Slowly, the old woman took a seat with a sigh and cleared her throat to speak.

"The monolith that stands in the mist of the ruins up above, is not of this place. It was found at the beginning of time, maybe before the gods, maybe of other gods…..no matter. A race of people that existed long ago honored the monolith as a source of good to protect them from the forces of evil. The monolith was known as the Quondam Stone and was said to have the powers to heal not only the flesh but the soul as well. The secret of the stone was hidden well from all but one who finally stumbled across its source of power. Only a hole remains where the stone once dwelled. It was said that greed overtook the guardian of the stone and he removed its heart. When this happened the heart being separated from the host, turned cold and became nothing more than a heart of stone. The monolith was no longer a living entity and no longer a source of healing of any kind."

"The monolith has stood dormant for all this time." The old woman continued on. "All this time until you, Xena, threw your Chakram. The stone felt the power and makeup of who you are, when your weapon made contact. It also felt the essence of your lover and the goodness that you both shared and the wonderful deeds you have performed together. Realizing that you can restore its life and strength the monolith captured your Chakram. This is why I have the answer you seek, Xena Warrior Princess."

"If you want your weapon back then you have to retrieve the monolith’s stolen heart. That is the task at hand and the stone recognizes you as its champion. You and the little one must do this together. It has shared these thoughts with me and I believe this you can and will surely do." The crone concluded.

Xena looked on with a distant glare, almost right through the storyteller.

Gabrielle responded with much enthusiasm, turning to Xena and saying, "well, when do we leave, where do we start?" She then was aware that her questions were directed at the wrong person and she turned her gaze back to the ancient one.

"The journey is not an easy one. It will take you across land and over water, then land again before you get to the place were it is hid. You will be given four challenges upon this quest. If you are fortunate to survive, you will take possession of the heart of stone and begin the return." The old women wheezed.

The crone was out of breath but looked at Xena with an inquisitive eye, waiting for a response.

The Warrior silently nodded.

"The Island of Crete is your destination. You need to sail to the Port of Paleohora. Look for a woman warrior much like yourself. She will guide you to the gorge of Agia Eirini. You will find what you are looking for there. This Cretin will take you to places that will be stepping stones to the Heart of Stone."

The ancient one began to walk back into the cave, as Xena and Gabrielle locked eyes for a time. When they turned in the crone’s direction, not only was she gone but so was the cave.

 

 

Chapter Two

 

"What the….. She’s gone!" the Bard shouted as she ran up to the cliffs wall and felt with her hands what her eyes could not believe. She looked around for a little while then came back down toward Xena.

"Let’s get out of here Gabrielle, this is no place to set up camp or hang around." Xena directed as she led Argo down the trail.

Once they made it to the bottom and were several candlemarks away from the area Gabrielle spoke up. "Are we going to Crete Xena?" the Bard asked impatiently. The silence was driving her curiosity way beyond its limit and she needed an answer.

"Nobody….nothing takes my weapons for a good reason or for any reason. That Chakram is irreplaceable just as you, my love are irreplaceable." Xena said with worried eyes.

"Oh no! Don’t start with that I’m leaving you behind crap Xena! You heard that old lady, she said the stone likes us both! It’s what we have together that makes us work. Don’t you see that? Didn’t you hear her say those things? It’s not going to happen again. I’m not staying with the horse or meeting you in Amphipolis. This time I’m going along for the whole trip!" The Bard demanded.

"Yes I did hear her and I agree that you need to go with me," Xena replied in a cool balanced voice. "But let me be afraid for you. Allow me to be afraid for us. We need to get a game plan to be prepared for what ever comes our way and find some lodging for tonight. Lets get some rest and think this all through. We will go but not without being ready for the worst that could happen."

Xena turned to the Bard and said, "I know you don’t care to ride but let’s double up and get moving."

Xena mounted the horse and Bard took a helping hand up from the Warrior. With Gabrielle taking the front position, they rode away on Argo. The Bards arms were wrapped around Xena’s waist with her head leaning gently on her back, still shaken a bit from weird events that brought them to this place.

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They got to the village of Louros near sunset and looked for a decent inn to spend the night. The search was short lived because of their fatigue and they took the first place that they looked at. Gabrielle opened the door and entered the inn yawing. The lighting was poor but the Bard could make out some figures. The room had a half a dozen people scattered throughout it. Most were old regulars who looked up briefly and then returned to staring at their drinks or continued their conversations. A husband and wife argued over at a corner table but were too far back to be audible. She must have won the argument because he shook his head from side to side and went back to his drink.

Xena came in a little after and scanned the room from the doorway’s shadow. All appeared in order and a table was acquired. The two of them sat down and ordered a couple of drinks. After a short wait the refreshments were brought to the table and the Warrior waited until the barkeep walked away before she spoke. Xena kept her voice down and talked quietly to Gabrielle about taking care of herself and not doing anything foolish while they were on this adventure. They finished their drinks and got up from their seats.

Sleep was on the menu and in the back of Xena’s mind was an early start in the morning. The two retired to the room, which was inviting by its virtue of being there.

"Goo-nigh Xena," the Bard mouthed as she drifted off to sleep. Xena responded with a tender rub on the shoulder and closed her eyes.

Morning came as an early caller and entered the quiet village. The only movement from the streets was Xena getting Argo from the stables next to the inn. The Warrior returned to the room to gather her friend but found her awake and writing on a scroll.

"Gabrielle, let’s get going, as long as you’re up." Xena said with a hurried attitude.

"Wait Xena, I’m almost finished."

"What are you writing at this time of the morning?" Xena asked.

"Just everything that happened to us yesterday. This could be our greatest adventure together and I do not want to forget anything. I’m going to need a few more scrolls before this is all over I bet, so let me catch up a little with what has happened so far!"

"Alright, but hurry up! Argo is ready to go and so am I. I’ll be downstairs." And Xena closed the door behind her as she left.

They traveled towards the sea to the Port of Preveza where they hoped to book passage on a ship headed for the Port of Zakynthos, on the island of the same name. Preveza was three to four candlemarks away but the road was a constant descent to the sea and this made the mornings travel easy. As they moved closer to the port, there was a place that overlooked the bay and Gabrielle pointed at the ships in the harbor. "Xena isn’t it beautiful! The place looks fascinating from here."

"Let’s hope it stays that way when we walk into town. We need to get business taken care of without any fuss. I don’t want to draw any attention towards us," the Warrior explained.

The Bards hair blew around in the wind. A wind that danced across the water and carried inland before it lost its way in the cliffs and rocky crag’s scattered along the coastline. It could have been the very wind that was in Crete only yesterday. It called to them both and beckoned them forward.

At the next turn they entered into the town. The smell of fish filled their nostril as they came into the coastal port, a seafaring man’s haven. A tavern called the Mermaid boasted of baked fish dinners, squid, clams and shark, so the women stopped for a meal and two cold drinks. The tavern baked fish outside in a pit in the ground. Less than half a candlemark went by and the two were eating fresh baked rolls, baked fish and a variety of vegetables including tomatoes, olives and scallions. Xena ordered two more waters with lemon before they were finished. Catching the proprietor with her eyes she decided to inquire of a ship that might be heading south to Zakynthos. The owner was an odd sort by appearance, he was tall and thin with red hair that was worn tied back in a ponytail. He sported a black leather vest on over a purple shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows and dark pants with black leather boots that were folded over at the calf of his leg. His teeth left something to be desired, for most of them were missing and if he donned a patch over one eye he would have made a dandy pirate. He needed a shave three days ago and he had two fingers missing on his right hand. Apparently Xena thought he was a good contact.

Gabrielle was too far away to hear the conversation but she watched the body language of the two. It appeared that Xena was haggling over the price of passage. First he would say something and point out the window then she would shake her head no and counter his reply. She then began to walk away and he called her back. He pointed again out the window toward the harbor and she nodded in agreement then the conversation looked as if it went back and forth for awhile. Finally the Warrior pulled out her money purse and paid the man the appropriate amount of dinars. He gave her a paper that he signed which would get them on board and the deal was complete. Xena returned to the table and sat down.

"Well, what was that all about, Xena? Did you get us passage?"

"Yes, we’re all set to leave in the morning on the Red Shark," Xena responded.

"Well……….what was the problem?" The Bard nit-picked.

"There was a little misunderstanding about Argo. The one ship would not take the horse so I asked for another. The barkeep wanted to buy her and I said that was not an option. Then he suggested another ship but that one was trouble, so we eventually found a good ship that would take Argo but they won’t take you," Xena said to Gabrielle with a straight face.

"WHAT? What did you SAY?" As she stood up in the direction of the barkeep. "They won’t take ME!"

"Calm down," Xena said, laughing. "I was only kidding! We have a room here for tonight. Don’t get us thrown out now."

The Bard stomped and huffed for awhile until she regained her composure.

Xena thought to herself, a night with my Bard, alone on the coast. This could be an interesting evening.

"Let’s get our things up to the room and check out the shops in town. Then we can come back, take a nice hot bath and talk." Xena offered.

"Yea! Talk, we can talk all right," the Bard gushed, breaking into a large grin and grabbing Xena’s hand under the table. "What was it you exactly wanted to talk about Xena? Do you want to know how I’m feeling right now? Since they won’t take me…will you take me? Do you know that I’m getting wet thinking about tonight and where you might take me! Do you know what I want to do to you, Xena?" Gabrielle taunted.

Xena got up from the table gritting her teeth and said, "Are you trying to drive me crazy? Let’s go!"

The soulmate’s headed out the door, one laughing the other wrinkling up her nose and trying to calm herself after the untimely arousal.

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The streets were full of vendors and people selling all kinds of wears but before the couple could enjoy a late afternoon of browsing they needed to get Argo stabled and fed.

With that task finished, the two set out to discover new things the world had to offer. Things that might prove interesting, enlightening and educational were on their list to do. First, they headed down to the dock to look at the ship they were to board in the morning. It was an older but handsome vessel. Although it was weathered by many trips across the sea, the ship was full of character and looked like it was fast, if the winds were with it. The crew was busy loading the ship's cargo on board. There was much movement everywhere, with the first mate calling out orders to each and every sailor. The Red Shark would get them out of Preveza safely and closer to their destiny.

Argo would have to be put on the ship first thing in the morning. That meant an early call for the two adventurers.

Gabrielle wanted to shop for a couple of trinkets so she whined to Xena until she got her to leave the docks and head into the town again. The Bard found a nice cloak to help keep her warm while they crossed the water and Xena picked up a new stone for keeping an edge on her sword. While the Bard was busy watching a juggler who was trying to wow the crowd into parting with several dinars, Xena moved ahead focusing on a weapons merchant and his shop. She was searching for something that might replace the lost Chakram, but after milling over a number of smaller swords, hatchets, a variety of knives and Chinese throwing stars, she gave up the quest. There just wasn’t anything to replace her weapon of choice.

They each grabbed a pastry from the bakery and nibbled on them while they looked around the streets. After a couple candlemarks of wandering around the Warrior and the Bard stopped and had a couple of glasses of wine at another Tavern called the Blue Waters. They were playing some soft music on a mandolin in the adjoining room. The sound of the music created a mood between the two lovers that started a fire deep within them.

They headed back to the Mermaid Tavern and Inn just before the evening paid a visit. The Warrior and the Bard sat at a table talking in low voices about the next leg of their journey. Once they landed on the island of Zakynthos, they would have to connect with another ship, as the Red Shark was to return to Preveza.

The Warrior worried about the sailors that eyed her Bard. They were too afraid or too smart to mess with Xena and her reputation but the slimy characters would take on Gabrielle, if she were left alone. Even though Xena knew that the Bard could hold her own she was still wary of these sea snakes, as she called them.

One more wine and the two of them retired to their room. Xena had told the proprietor to make sure that the bath water would be delivered. They had picked up some scented soap at an herb and spice store with plans to use it immediately. Gabrielle pulled off her boots, walked out of her clothes and stood for a moment just for effect, then climbed in the tub calling, "Xeeenaa! Come join me……I need you to wash my back."

The raven-haired beauty sat on the chair and she too, removed her boots, then her armor and finally she slipped her leathers and breeches off. The candle light flickered and her shadow danced across the walls and ceiling as she stretched her arms in the air and yawned, "Commm….ming!"

Xena walked over to the tub and Gabrielle reached to touch her mound but Xena pulled back and rubbed herself between her legs, then smiled. She slipped one leg, then the other into the tub. They wrapped their arms around each other, tongues entwined and they tasted each other slowly and passionately. Their hands probed beneath the water in search of tender places.

"I love you Gabrielle!"

"I love you also, Xena!"

Xena washed the Bards hair and the favor was returned. They each washed the other and worked at it like an artist molds the wet clay when creating. Hands moved back and forth across flesh. They would have stayed in the tub but the water cooled off, so they decided to get out and dry each other. In the process of drying each other off, they only made certain spots wetter. The towels dropped to the floor and Xena sat down on a sea chest at the end of the bed. Gabrielle straddled the Warrior brushing her lips across her lovers lips, then kissing the underside of her jaw, then her neck and finally she bent toward a breast and let her breath cascade over the firm, full, mound. When she figured that her lover was about to burst, she started to grind her pelvis into the Warriors thigh. Gabrielle ran her tongue around the areola before her lips engulfed the nipple and sucking on it steady brought it to full extension.

Time stopped as Gabrielle worked her magic over the Warriors breasts, licking the firm nipple over and over while she massaged the other breast with her hand. She tortured the each nipple for a period then switched breasts and continued the seduction. Xena’s head was back and her mouth was half-open as she moaned softly at the pleasures that her lover bestowed on her.

The Bard whispered in Xena’s ear, "Please slip your finger inside of me. I need you. I need your touch."

Xena obliged and rubbed her finger over her lover’s clitoris then deep inside again, bringing her to short spasms. Then the Warrior slipped a second finger in and rubbed the inner walls until her body trembled. Her nectar ran over Xena’s thigh and the dark haired Warrior had the Amazon Queen stand on her feet as she worked three fingers into the fevered abyss. In and out she pumped her fingers as her lover quivered above her. Xena grabbed the Bards buttocks with her other hand and kneaded the flesh while she stroked her.

"Oahhh! I ‘m gonna c..collapse Xena……the bed p..please, " Gabrielle gasped.

They staggered to the bed, never losing contact and continued satisfying each other. Xena rolled on her side and lifted her leg as an invitation and the Bard slid her face into position. She penetrated the raven colored hair with her tongue, searching for the honey. Hidden between the fleshy folds was her reward as she licked and darted her hungry tongue over every inch of sweetness. Finally the Amazon Queen located Xena’s clitoris and sucked the nub until the Warriors back was arced like Ulysses Bow. The lovers continued to taste each other’s essence late into the night.

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The cry of seagulls filled the air and morning was a reality. Gabrielle rolled over with energy and kissed the Warrior on the lips.

"Good morning!" The little one yawned and smiled.

Xena replied and returned the smile, but her hands were behind her head and she was preoccupied in thought. She moved to a sitting position and said, "Let’s get going. We need to get going…."

They washed and dressed, packed their things and headed to the stable to settle up with the owner and pick up Argo. The two adventurers took the horse to the docks where there was already early morning activity, as last minute preparations were being made to set sail. This was a short trip to Zakynthos, and then the longer leg of the journey would be to Crete, if they could connect with another ship.

The Red Shark set sail about four candlemarks before the sun was straight up in the sky. The anchor was raised; some sail was unfurled and hoisted into position as the ship slowly moved out of port. The distance was not great between the two ports but there were a number of dangerous places that the Captain needed to navigate carefully around to get there safe.

The weather was fine and the water carried a morning mist on it. Xena and Gabrielle grabbed a position on the port side of the ship and watched the land bid farewell for a time. Xena looked out to sea and said in a thoughtful voice, "When this is all over we need to stop home and visit our families for a short time."

"That would be nice Xena." The Bard replied as she placed her hand over Xena’s on the rail of the ship.

"Are you all right Xena?" You look far away in thought."

"I am, my friend. I’m wondering what the four challenges will be and who the woman warrior is that we are to contact. How will we know her?"

"I think she will know who we are, Xena. Somehow everything the old woman told us will come to pass." Gabrielle reassured her.

The waters were the bluest of blues, Gabrielle thought, with the exception of my love’s eyes. I too fear for the safety of my Warrior but I hesitate to share that with her. She seems troubled enough and does not need for me to add to it.

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The Red Shark went to full sail and moved around the coastline with great speed. The Captain knew his ship like an extenuation of his very self. It appeared that the crew liked working for this man. The spirits of the men were high, with singing and joking going on as they worked.

Xena went below to feed Argo a few apples and made sure she was doing well with sea travel. Gabrielle found a place to sit on some cargo and update her scroll. By mid afternoon the ship was close enough to see the Port of Zakynthos. They would be anchoring within a candlemark the Captain told the Bard. She also was told of a connecting ship that could possibly be in port and was known to deliver supplies from Zakynthos to the Island of Crete by way of the port of Paleohora. This good news Gabrielle shared with Xena when she came back from a second check on her horse.

As they settled into port the Captain pointed out the ship he had mentioned earlier. It was a two-mast vessel. Xena asked the Captain of the Red Shark what the ships name was and he replied, "Why that’s the Destiny! A beautiful ship she is and very seaworthy my friends. I don’t know when she’s sailin out but I’ll bet a week in port that it will be before tomorrow’s sunset."

The Red Shark docked and the two women said their good-byes and headed down the catwalk to the dock. They did a little checking around and found the acting purser in a local tavern that was suggested to the Warrior and Bard. They talked to him about their destination and paid for passage on the ship. After that they went to look for lodging, as the Destiny did not leave until high sun the next day.

Another night alone with you, my love. The gods have been so very good to me and I’ll repay them by treating you like the Amazon Queen that you are. I’ll ravish you with kisses and bring you to your peak, and then I’ll take you there again if you want me to my precious Bard. And so the Warrior Princess daydreamed as they walked along the street.

"Xena, let’s find a really nice place tonight. Maybe I can share a story or two and get us free lodging?"

The Bard suggested. But Xena shook her head in a negative manner, saying, "It would be nice to sit and listen to you love but I still think we need to keep low and not draw any attention to us. If the warrior on Crete will be able to know us or find us, then others as well might know what we are in search for. We’ll find a nice place but quietly, OK?"

They walked up a small street and entered a quaint place called The Owl Inn. A young man and woman were behind the desk and broke into large smiles when they saw the perspective customers. The woman was quiet but the man talked for both of them.

"We’d like lodging for the night please and do you have a stable for our horse," the Bard questioned.

"Welcome ladies to our humble establishment. We do not serve spirits if that is what you are looking for."

The young man rambled and continued on by saying, "but we do have pleasant accommodations with bath.

A free meal in the morning will help get you on your way. The stable is around the back and is included in the price of the two rooms."

"No! You misunderstand. We only want one room for the two of us," the Bard clarified to the man who reminded them of a sneaky kind of creature. His mannerisms were that of a weasel. When he talked to you, he never looked directly at you but tilted his head to the side and made contact out of the corner of one eye. He was very slight in build and fidgeted with his hands as he talked. What finished the impersonation were the little pointed face and the protruding teeth. If he had fur and a hen house, he would have been all set.

Although his wife was plain, she carried herself with a degree of elegance for an innkeeper’s wife. She also appeared to be the business sense and the guiding light of the establishment. Nothing seemed to happen without a nod of approval from the woman.

The weasel looked at his wife for a yea or a nay and when he got the nod, he replied, "Wonderful! Let me show you upstairs."

He led the way up the stairs to the first door on the right, pulled out a key and unlocked the door. It opened into the hall and when the two looked in, they both said in unison, "We’ll take it!" The room was absolutely gorgeous, based on other places Xena and Gabrielle had stayed over the past fourteen seasons.

It wasn’t prissy by the standards of the Warrior but it was feminine rather than rustic or manly for a room. Soft white linen on the windows and a large bed that felt like a cloud must feel, if someone would lie upon one. The walls were easy on the eyes and the fresh flowers in a vase added to the pleasant smell that filled the room. The women figured that the lady ran the show here and kept her husband, the weasel, sniffing around all the guests to let her know the goings on.

Xena turned around abruptly and chased the weasel out of the room by saying, "Thank you that will be all for now but you can fill the tub later when we return from our walk," as she slammed the door against his rear end.

"This is great, Xena! I love it!" the Bard said with glee.

"Me too!" Xena said as she pushed on the bed with her hand a couple times.

The two needed to take a walk into the town. There was reason to pick up a map of their destination so they could plan several steps beyond their arrival on Crete. It didn’t take long to find a good mapmaker. They were quite common in a sea-fairing town. He ended up having just what Xena was looking for and a couple of dinars later the map was in Xena’s hands. The Warrior stopped to pick up a bottle of wine at a tavern for later in the evening. She knew she would have to sneak it in but was up for the challenge.

The thought of the nights entertainment got the Bard aroused and wet. She danced around Xena as they walked back toward the Owl Inn. Gabrielle stopped in a small shop that carried a little bit of everything. Xena stayed outside and watched two sailors beat each other up over some idiotic reason, when a really big and gruff sailor walked over to her saying, "What the hell are you lookin at Amazon?"

This guy had arms on him like an oak tree. He wore a large gold earring in his left ear and was clothed in just a vest, which showed off many of his tattoos. They were mementos from different ports that he had been to and were scattered across his torso. Pants that went to the middle of his calves and were tied with a rope covered the rest of him. He had nothing on his feet other than the dirt from the street. His head was shaved but he sported a mustache.

"Easy now! I’m not looking for trouble sailor." Xena explained, but he got too close, raised his hand and the next thing that happened was his head jolted back three times in succession from Xena pounding him in the face. The Warrior back flipped out of his reach as he swung at the air, then she ran forward, planting both feet into his chest. He tumbled backwards only to get up and start after the Warrior. Xena delivered six punches to his stomach and dodged his wild swing as he moved the air around. She forward flipped over him and landed both feet into the back of his shoulders driving him forward and into a wooden beam on the corner of the building. That put him to the ground and as he got up on one knee rubbing his head, Xena gave him a shot in the neck, cutting off the flow of blood to his brain.

"Listen, you large piece of horse manure, give it up or you are gonna end up dead!"

He choked and nodded in an understanding way and Xena released him and ripped the gold earring out of his ear.

"This will remind you to never pick on a woman!" Xena growled, as she dropped the earring in the hand that was not holding the bleeding ear.

Gabrielle came out of the shop and had missed the whole commotion. She smiled at her lover and said, "Have I got a night for you, my love!"

Xena said, "Oh yea?"

And they both walked away arm in arm. What escaped the Warrior though, was the package in the Bards other hand.

One of the other sailors who were fighting came over to the big one and said to him, "You idiot, you could of gotten killed! That was Xena, Warrior Princess!"

The adventure continued as they both returned to the Owl Inn. Xena hid the bottle of wine where no one but the Bard would have looked, went up to their room and stuffed it under the pillows. Gabrielle had carried a different bottle, along with a couple of other things she picked up and hid from Xena in the leather bag she had with her. They did not join the weasel, his wife and the other guests for dinner but sat out side and just enjoyed each other’s company while they looked out toward the sea.

Darkness brought them back to the room and the hot bath that Xena had ordered amongst a raised eyebrow, when she told the weasel that one tub would be enough. The two had tasted life together and Xena thought we have shared many a pond and many baths on our journeys. One more will never hurt.

Gabrielle slipped out of her clothes and asked Xena to join her in the tub. She emptied a bag of sweet smelling flower tops and petals that had been dried for the purpose of later releasing their magic in the heated waters. The vapors filled the air and created an euphoric atmosphere that the two lovers entered with joy. They repeated the ritual of washing each other. This was a display of tenderness and intimacy, which opened the door to deeper levels of loving each other.

When they were finished Gabrielle dried herself, as did Xena and the Bard asked Xena, if she would rub some oil that she purchased that afternoon into her skin. Xena did not have to be asked twice.

"Come lie on the bed my love. Lie on your back and I will work your tired muscles with my hands."

Xena poured a small amount of the oil on Gabrielle’s ribs and the scent of the Jasmine filled their nostrils. There was something about Jasmine that tore at the fabric of the passionate soul and took one to a place of fevered bliss.

Her hands made contact with the Bards flesh and the oil gave it a new sensation. She tenderly worked her fingers between the tired flesh and massaged away reality. Ever so slowly, Xena worked the muscles in Gabrielle’s shoulders, trying to loosen any that were tight. The hypnotic rhythm took both of them away to mystic places. More oil was poured onto Gabrielle’s breasts. The Warrior watched the fluid run down the curves of her lover’s body. She let her hands rub and work the soft white mounds until both nipples reached toward the gods.

"Xena…….I …n.need…..you..now."

Xena slid her hands down on her lover’s thighs and worked those muscles free. Gabrielle opened her legs in response as Xena slid down to the Bards mound and placed small kisses all over the fevered flesh. Waiting purposely before she penetrated the sweet entrance, she let her heated breathing announce she was ready.

"Your tongue, pleassseee!" the Bard begged.

The Warrior slowly worked her tongue between the folds, gently prying the flesh apart and letting the juices pour from the vessel into her open and wanting mouth. Xena spread the Amazon Queen and pushed her tongue as deep as it could go, trying for every drop of Gabrielle. She circled the nerve center over and over again until her tongue was satisfied that the Bard could not reach a higher plateau in nirvana.

They both collapsed on their backs and held hands as sleep over took them. When they awoke a candlemark later, they changed positions and committed to each other again.

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"Breakfast would have been an interesting time with the weasel and his wife," Xena mentioned to the Bard, as they headed for the ship, "but I couldn’t take anymore of him just popping up unexpectedly."

"I hear ya," Gabrielle mumbled, still not fully awake.

They stopped at the bakery, grabbed some fresh bread, and bought some cheese, apples and pears for the ride to Crete. Before they left the Owl Inn, they studied the map to get a better feel for the terrain and where they would make port. Xena began to take on the face of the Warrior again and Gabrielle knew that the time to be intimate would have wait and that they needed to cherish the last few nights they had.

 

Chapter Three

 

The sea was much rougher today than it was the first leg of the trip but the ship was moving father away from the mainland. The Destiny was a quick vessel, this would help in a speedy voyage and they should land by first light. Gabrielle looked forward to the evening on board. She always felt a certain awe at looking at the stars from the vantagepoint of the open sea. "It’s as if you are floating in the midst of them," she would say.

They were treated to a meal of boiled squid that evening as guests of the cook himself, whom Gabrielle ran into earlier on board. She worked up a conversation, told a story to his fellow shipmates and himself, so in return the cook invited the Warrior and her to a hot meal. The shock of how tasty the meal was took the two adventurers by surprise.

After the stars were in full splendor, Xena stood along side Gabrielle as she rambled on about them. When the Bard returned her eyes from the cosmos towards Xena, she caught the Warrior reaching to touch her Chakram but it was not there.

Gabrielle looked back up at the sky and said, "Look Xena! A shooting star! Quick, make a wish!"

Xena made a throwing motion with her arm, as if she was hurling her Chakram. "That’s my wish."

Xena thought to herself, is this just about me regaining my Chakram or am I being driven because there is good to do here? Maybe I just thrive for adventure and life was becoming dull. Then she looked toward her love and realized that life was not, nor could ever be dull as long as they were together.

The Warrior suggested that they get some sleep, so they retired to the lower deck and settled into a couple of hammocks they had strung down in the supply area. The comforts of home were not on this leg of the journey. They needed to stay sharp and watch the little they had. Xena did not want the Bard telling stories in any inns and draw unneeded attention to them.

The ship rocked them to sleep and while they were in the dream state of the mind, the attack came. The figure was no more than a shadow. It moved along the deck reaching the hold. It then crept down the stairs, along the hall and into the supply room where the two women were sleeping. The eyes glistened in the dark as the attacker moved closer to Gabrielle’s throat. As the blade was raised in the air, Xena latched on to the arm, breaking it between the wrist and elbow. The shadowy assassin slipped the Warriors hold and began to make a hasty exit as Xena reached to her side and remembered ………… it was not there. She followed the shadow to the ships deck and chased it to the railing, where it dove into the sea. Xena searched the surface with her eyes but there was nothing. Gabrielle ran up behind her and Xena was momentarily startled to the point of going into a defensive stance before she realized it was the Bard.

"Gabrielle! Are you all right?" Xena asked with great concern.

"U huh! I’m OK…. What was it?" She asked as they both peered at the water.

"I’m not sure I can answer that Gabrielle," Xena said a little mystified.

The ship rounded the southwest end of the Island of Crete and began its journey around the coastline to the southern shore. Gabrielle had never been to Crete although Xena had. It was quite some time ago when Xena was a warlord. She took time to rest on the island and to let things cool down after a very destructive period in her life. She explained this to Gabrielle but not in great detail for there was no reason to nor would it have served any purpose today. Although Xena had been to Crete, she had never been to this end of the Island. She and Borias had spent time in Sitia on the northeastern tip of Crete.

The ship made port before the sun stood much over the horizon. The gulls were active and there were several smaller ships in the harbor. Xena gathered Argo and the three of them were happy to be on land for awhile. They looked around the city and stocked up on supplies. The rest of the morning was spent milling around the port, looking for some unknown who was looking for them. They found a nice place for lunch and had seasoned lamb and vegetables. That done, they waited to be approached in a large tavern near the docks called The Meeting Place but nothing happened. Xena was getting agitated for they had been in port for three candlemarks and two were just waiting. She had figured that with all of the mystery about this warrior of sorts, The Meeting Place would have been fitting.

"Xena, I need to do something or I’ll go crazy! I’m going to ask the barkeep if I can earn a few dinars by sharing some stories." The Bard told her mentor.

"Oh, all right, go head! Maybe something will happen. We traveled a long way to be duped by an old woman but what the Tartarus, the evenings have been pleasant!" Xena replied with a smirk.

Gabrielle got up from the table they were at and walked over to the barkeep, exchanged a few words while pointing at herself. Much body language followed with hand and arm gestures, finally the barkeep pointed toward a place up in the front of the room. Gabrielle nodded and set herself up for a brief introduction by the barkeep that she wrote down on a piece of scroll he had behind the bar.

"This little lady here, is going to entertain us, we hope, with some recollections of her adventures with Xena the Warrior Princess." He blurted out. Little did she know he couldn’t read and he just tried to remember what she had said to him, so he could say something to the patrons. Gabrielle took the platform and began.

The Bard did well, fascinating the crowd with the adventures the two women had lived. Three candlemarks passed and Xena’s edge was beginning to dull. There was the thought of having to get a room for the night, although the dinars were coming the Bards way all afternoon. While she was busy mulling over these thoughts in her head and keeping one eye on the Bard, she missed the tall figure that walked through the curtain separating the back room from the bar and table area.

The figure slipped into a chair along the wall and kept both eyes on Xena.

The Warrior must have had a feeling she was being watched because she rose from her seat without turning her head. She nodded at Gabrielle while she walked over to the wall, pulled out a chair and sat down facing the woman. Their eyes penetrated each other never losing contact for what appeared to be an eighth of a candlemark. Neither said a thing as their eyes began to move over every inch of surface that could be taken in.

The woman was not quite Xena’s age, but she had her height and build. She had medium length hair that was a shade of deep brown and her eyes were cold and green. There was a two-inch scar that ran from her right cheek to her lip but it did not take from her beauty. If anything it added to her mystique. She was armed with a sword and two daggers that slipped into sheaths below each breast on the outer sides. The handles were deer horn. She too wore leather but it was a pale brown or fawn color, with matching boots that ended at the knees.

Xena thought, This is like looking at me in another setting. She is magnificent!

The Bard watched from the front of the room but could not come over for she was nearing the end of her story and had to finish.

"They call me Eudocia." And she smiled lightly.

"I have been sent to you…..and her," as she lifted a finger in the Bards direction but never lost eye contact with Xena.

"Gather her," referring to Gabrielle, "and we will go somewhere less open to talk." Eudocia directed.

"She is very precious to me." Pointing a finger in Gabrielle’s direction also.

"If she is harmed; if a hair on her head gets displaced, you will die." Xena told the mysterious warrior from Crete.

"Of this, I am aware of Warrior. Let us go."

Gabrielle retired from her story telling, picked up her hard-earned dinars and scurried over to the table to see what had transpired.

"I’m…"

"Yes, I know. You are the Amazon Queen, among other things. I am Eudocia. Let us go…." She spoke and rose to her feet. The three women headed out the door. Gabrielle, with a twisted look on her face and Xena at the ready for anything that might transpire kept pace with the Cretin Warrior.

They followed her down the street to a small establishment that served food and beverages. The Bard ordered tea for all, while the two warriors continued to mentally examine each other.

Eudocia spoke, " I will guide you to the Heart of Stone. Understand that I do not know where it is but I am given pieces of direction in my mind’s eye. You will both be in danger but know this; I am not the one you need to fear. This I also know. There is a place that few would go but we will have too. Our final destination is Agia Eirni. Legend says, that the gods fought a great battle with an evil force and that force tore the earth into a deep gorge. It is filled with the seed of the evil that was scraped off of its claw when it altered the land. That evil will keep you from the Heart of Stone, if it can."

Gabrielle was mesmerized by what she heard and thought that this warrior was as good of a storyteller as she was. The Bard was also concerned that there might be some kind of physical attraction between Xena and this woman. After all, she was a woman and she was beautiful, Gabrielle reasoned. Even I think so.

Eudocia went on to tell the two that there was a room all ready for them right behind this establishment and that she would be by at first light to meet with them and start the journey.

"I bid you goodnight." And she got to her feet and walked out the door.

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She was waiting…………just standing there in the middle of the street. Her horse stood behind her with the same independence and total detachment. It was an attitude, as if life would catch up with her eventually.

This was not the wake up Gabrielle preferred but it was on today’s menu. Xena remained quiet and observant as they all mumbled good morning.

The trio headed east along the coast. There was little talk along the way, even when Gabrielle tried to pull answers out of the stoic warrior. After a candlemark of prodding by the Bard, Xena broke her silence and ordered everyone to stop and rest. She got down from Argo and walked up to the Cretin Warrior and said, "Listen Eudocia, let’s get an understanding. We have to accomplish this quest with your help, right?" Xena questioned.

"Correct," the Cretin Warrior replied.

"Gabrielle and I were approached. We were told that you would come our way or someone would come and make contact with us. This individual was to guide us to four challenges. I had hoped we might somehow work together and maybe do this with some conviction if possible. What I am trying to say Eudocia is……"

The Cretin Warrior spoke up. "I am here to guide you, to help you. I apologize for my edge but I am not used to people. I was raised by the Guardian and taught only to defend. This was to be my destiny.

"Your destiny?" Gabrielle questioned. "You make it sound like you were groomed for this purpose and nothing else!"

"That is true," the Cretin Warrior said.

Xena understood that there was something deeper in what was happening here than what was visible on the surface but Gabrielle was having difficulty and was puzzled by the answer.

Was it possible that Ares was involved in this? The Bard thought to herself.

"I will attempt to be, uh, more pleasant," Eudocia told her listeners and then smiled weakly. "I must tell you that we are within a days travel of Sougia. We will leave Crete by boat and travel to the Island of Gavdos. It is there that you Xena will be challenged for the first time. There will be a place protected by one who can be beaten by the gift of vision. This is all that I have been given to tell."

Xena mounted Argo; the Cretin did the same with her horse and Gabrielle, staff in hand walked along the coastline with the two warriors in the direction of Sougia. The terrain was green and lush toward the interior. Sandy beaches and a variety of rock formations made up the coastline. There were no towns or villages between where they were and the next destination. About two thirds of the way to Sougia, the Cretin suggested they camp on the beach for the night. This would help in making sure that they were well rested for the boat trip to Gavdos Island, the next morning.

All were in agreement and they began to set up camp. Xena liked the idea of sleeping under the stars again. It had been awhile since the Bard and Xena had gotten the chance to sleep in the elements. This was a very beautiful place as long as it continued to remain as peaceful as it was now.

Gabrielle picked up driftwood off of the shoreline for the evening campfire while Eudocia and Xena tended their horses. Xena went inland to see if she could come up with some dinner for the three of them. Before she left she asked if the Bard felt she would be all right.

"Yes Xena, I’ll be fine. Anyway she said she wouldn’t harm us and I believe her," Gabrielle assured the Warrior.

While Xena was hunting, Gabrielle watched Eudocia as she meditated for awhile. Then something took place, which appeared to the young Bard as if the woman went into a trance. This lasted for the length of a candlemark Gabrielle guessed.

There was a small island off of the shore that did not constitute more than a large pile of boulders above the waterline. Eudocia came out of her trance and told Gabrielle that she was going for a swim. The Cretin Warrior did not wait for a response but began to disrobe and stacked her leathers, breeches and boots in a neat pile near the fire. Gabrielle watched with much interest and thought, what a magnificent body she has.

She was Xena’s equal in physical stature.

While Gabrielle was pondering, Eudocia walked up to her and bent down, kissing the unprepared women full on the mouth. Gabrielle froze in a state of shock as Eudocia turned and ran toward the water. The strange woman entered the sea and swam to the rock island that rested just off of shore. The young Bard watched the figure in the water, still mesmerized by what had happened. She saw the Cretin pull herself up onto the rocks and lie down to rest. This took place about one or two candlemarks before sunset.

"Gabrielle!" Xena said as she walked up behind her.

"Yahhh!" The Bard screamed and jumped. "Gods Xena! You scared the life out of me!"

The Bard was flushed in her face and Xena looked questioningly at her.

"Where’s the Cretin?" Xena asked as she dropped three cleaned rabbits on a rock near the campfire.

Gabrielle pointed in the direction of the small island.

"What’s going on?" The warrior asked.

"Nothing Xena. Eudocia said she was going for a swim and away she went"

"Oh look! I think she’s coming back!" The Bard tried to say without too much enthusiasm, as she pointed again toward the island.

They could see the lone figure in the water. A short time later Eudocia came out and Xena met up with her on the shoreline. Xena looked at the Cretin with a raised eyebrow and thought to herself, she’s beautiful! What an excellent body she has. I better keep some distance between her and Gabrielle.

"Hello," she said to Xena, as the Cretin used her hands to remove the water from her breasts, stomach and thighs. The woman headed toward the fire to warm up and indulge in some rabbit as she nodded at Xena.

The smell danced in the air working everybody’s taste buds. Gabrielle broke out the cheese and bread, while Eudocia put her clothes on before sitting down to eat. She never mentioned the kiss between the Bard and her. Only a glance in the direction of Gabrielle and a soft smile gave any indication that the Cretin even remembered it happened. It was a good meal in a majestic place and yet there was confusion between the three women.

They all were friendly the rest of the night as they talked of the stars and of the gods. At one point, Gabrielle asked Eudocia if she had anymore to share with Xena and herself about what the dawn would bring. The woman grew silent and shortly thereafter, said goodnight and went to sleep. The Warrior and the Bard looked at each other for a moment, kissed lightly and slipped into their sleeping gear.

 

Chapter Four

 

The boat with the daily sacrifice left the dock of Sougia everyday at dawn. It was loaded with ten sheep, baskets of vegetables, baskets of bread and barrels of wine. This was done or Koprio the Cyclops threatened to come to Crete, to the town of Sougia and eat the inhabitants.

They had purposely awakened a couple of candlemarks before dawn and used the moonlight to guide them into the city. Upon arriving at the docks the women stayed out of sight. The three adventurers waited until the sacrificial boat was on its way before they, themselves, left for the island.

After the two women were seated, Xena untied the boat from the dock, pushed it away from the pier and jumped in. The sail was raised and soon they were under way. It was a pleasant morning with an easy breeze that pushed them along. The sun was coming up over the horizon and everyone was in good spirits. As they neared the island, a layer of mist hung to the surface of the water about a third of a league around the landmass. The mist engulfed the entire island and presented itself as a warning or deterrent to anyone who approached it.

Legend was written that the Cyclops guarded The Key of Two Doors. Eudocia said it would take that which was two but one to steal it and return it to the place known as the Temple of Hades on Mount Psiloreitis. Xena wasn’t quite sure what the Cretin meant by that statement.

The Island was primarily rock, with sparse vegetation and a few trees that looked like they had survived from the prehistoric era. A spring fed stream ran from somewhere toward the center of the island to the shoreline and emptied into the sea. Understanding the Cyclops’s ravenous appetite explained why the three women did not see any wildlife other than birds.

The Cyclops was not in the immediate area so they decided to go ashore. They landed the boat away from where the creature would come down to the beach for the offerings that the town brought and they stayed low until the sacrificial boat left Gavdos. Xena needed to locate the hiding place of the Key of Two Doors. She figured that it would be near to where the Cyclops slept and that meant working their way into its lair. She turned around toward the Bard and began to speak but as her mouth started to open Gabrielle said quietly, "Listen, I’m in this all the way and I will not be told to stay with the boat or hide behind a rock or whatever. Am I clear Xena!"

Xena nodded with a half smile and knelt down. The other two followed her lead and joined her.

"I want to work my way around the main route Koprio takes to the waters edge and see if I can get a look at how things are and what our best approach would be. You two stay here and I’ll be back in a candlemark. If not, then do not come looking for me. Promise me you won’t," Xena pleaded.

"Consider me gone, get off of the island and back to Crete. Eudocia, do I have your word that you will return Gabrielle to her family if something happens to me? Not that I expect anything to happen but I want to ease my mind." Xena explained in a serious tone.

Gabrielle reached out and squeezed the Warriors forearm in an understanding manner. The Cretin Warrior nodded an affirmative and Xena was gone.

As the Warrior worked her way up the trail of the small mountain, she came across the remains of sheep. There were bones, heads and fleece scattered everywhere on the trail.

Xena thought, Sloppy eater.

The Warrior tried to stay above the trail by climbing the rocks that paralleled it, however, there were places where she had to jeopardize her safety and take the trail for short distances. She made the turn at one of these spots on the route and froze in her tracks. Looking up and over the rocks up ahead she could see Koprio. He was an ugly and vicious Cyclops, condemned to spend the remainder of his days guarding the Key of Two Doors. The gods made it so he could leave the island only in the face of starvation and thus the town kept its end of the bargain by feeding the creature and keeping it content.

Xena moved in for a closer look as she crept along the boulders on the trail. They had fallen from the cliffs on either side over time and gave some cover. The Cyclops lifted its head, looked around and sniffed the air. It let out a low growl and moved down the trail toward Xena. The creature had to be five horses high. It kept peering at the ground, to the left then to the right. Xena located a fissure in the wall of the cliff and slid her body in as far as she could.

"Smell flesh," the Cyclops said aloud. "Human flesh!"

The creature was naked except for a loincloth and a tremendous amount of hair all over it. It was far from human and yet it had two arms, two legs, one head and one great gray eye. It was extremely filthy, it stunk and yet it had a great sense of smell.

Xena had the advantage because the Cyclops was somewhat slow in its reaction time. When it passed by her position, she ran further up the trail to check out whatever she could find. The Cyclops continued to growl and search for what he thought he smelled. After awhile he turned and headed back towards his cave.

The Warrior had just reached the cave entrance and was almost sick from the smell that it emitted. The stream that her two companions and she had found earlier actually ran out of the cave. It took a turn and ran straight into the cliff, disappearing underground, apparently coming out further below.

She hesitated, looked around and finally entered into a place no human had ever seen and stayed alive to tell the about. There was a pond in the middle of the cave floor where the spring originated. As Xena glanced around, she saw decayed meat, bones and other remains strewn around the living quarters. Xena looked further and figured the height of the creature would give clue to where the Key might be hid. She searched with her eyes over the rocky walls in the cave and found several holes in the surface that could be a place to hide such an item. Looking for a hand and foothold, Xena began her climb upwards. She scaled the wall and found an opening that would have been a nice size cave for her and Gabrielle had it been somewhere else. She climbed in and began to look around when she heard the Cyclops.

"WOMAN! I Smell Woman." The creature screamed in an angry voice.

Xena ducked back out of sight as the Cyclops entered its domain and looked around. It tossed large boulders in anger and searched all the little places a normal sized human could hide reaching around and between the cracks and fissures. Then it turned its head upward but in the direction opposite of where Xena was hiding. The Warrior had to react quickly or she would be trapped if found.

As the creature felt around in the openings across the cave from Xena, she looked down into the pond and saw something that looked like it could be a chest.

The gift of vision, Xena thought.

She immediately dove into the water from the opening trying to enter without a splash. The warrior went down under the surface equivalent to the height of four men and worked at the rusty hasp on the chest with her breast dagger. It finally opened and there was the Key of two Doors. The key was as long as the Warriors arm from wrist to elbow and weighed about twice as much as the Chakram.

Xena slipped the key into her belt and began to rise to the surface. The Warrior swam to the right, dodging the large hand and arm of the Cyclops. Panicking as she looked around under the water Xena found a small opening in the wall that she swam into but her lunges were ready to burst. As she swam up the length of the opening and out of the reach of Koprio, she came to a large pocket of air where she could raise her head above the water. She gasped the precious air she needed to stay alive. Xena could feel the thunderous pounding from above as the Cyclops banged its fist into the cave floor.

It had picked the chest out of the pond and found it empty, crushing it like an empty shell.

It cried out, "Ahhhh! Woman…..I shall devour you……..YOU will NEVER leave!

Then it returned its arm to the water and felt around with no success. After a time the creature was puzzled.

Did I miss her and she escaped, it thought.

The Cyclops stood up and began to pace, looking into the water and back at the cave entrance. Finally, it made a decision to search outside, screaming in anger as it left.

"Ahhhh! I will kill this thief!"

Xena could hear the footsteps fading as the Cyclops left. She took her chance and swam to the surface. Her next move was a surprise as she heard Gabrielle call to her from the ceiling of the cave. Looking down at Xena was the Bard and Eudocia. They had found their way above the cave to a hole that would let the smoke out when the Cyclops made a fire. They motioned for the Warrior and she began to climb her way up the side of the cave. When she reached the highest point she could climb, the Cyclops returned and fixed his eye on her.

Graahhhh! WOMAN!!! I shall kill you….by eating you ALIVE!

Eudocia dropped a rope through the smoke hole and it was still too short for Xena to grab. Time was running out, as the creature reached for the Warrior. Just then, Xena made her war cry, "YiYiYiYiYiYi!"

and doing a forward flip, snagged the rope and climb upward just out of the reach of the Cyclops.

The creature grabbed at the Warrior but missed, looked towards the cave entrance and headed out of it in quick pursuit.

Xena scrambled through the hole and shouted, "I thought I told you both to wait! Thanks for not listening. Now, let’s move it! I don’t feel like being dinner!"

The trio ran to a path that Eudocia had found on the way up to the top of the mountain and headed back down, as quickly as they could. The Cyclops hadn’t found their trail yet but he was up above the cave and looking desperately for Xena. He spotted the footprints left behind by the women and bellowed at the sky. Beginning his decent with wild abandon, picking up boulders and tossing them down the mountainside the Cyclopes was crazed with anger and blind rage. The gods would punish him beyond belief if lost the key.

As the three women emptied back onto the original trail that Xena had followed to the lair, the warrior stopped and told Eudocia to tie the rope to a large boulder on one side. Xena took the other end and tied it to another boulder on the far side of the trail then ran it back so it was doubled. There was little time as they all ran further down and waited in plain sight of Koprio. He came thundering down the mountain to the place were the two trails met and even though the rope broke when he tripped over it, the hesitation was enough to get him to fall, smashing his head against the boulders and rocks in front of him. The Cretin drew her sword as the Cyclops hit its head on the boulders and she plunged her weapon deep into the creature’s neck, spilling its blood across the trail. He moved slightly and it was over.

Gabrielle turned to Eudocia and said, "thank you for helping me. I wouldn’t have been able to do it alone."

The Cretin Warrior replied by saying, "It is what I was trained for by the Guardian. I was happy to assist you Gabrielle." Then she walked up and hugged the Bard much to Xena’s surprise. Gabrielle received the hug but moved back when it was over glancing in the direction of Xena who looked miffed.

"Are you two finished?" t he Warrior asked obnoxiously. "If so, let’s get out of here."

Xena kept looking at Gabrielle on the way back to the boat. She could not believe that what she just saw was innocent. The Warriors mind was going as fast as a horse on a gallop.

The Cretin Warrior and the Bard got in and Xena pushed the boat off of shore as they headed back to Crete with the first of four challenges completed.

Xena was thinking, perhaps one of the challenges is Eudocia trying to steal my Gabrielle away. I don’t know what I would do if I were to lose her.

The Warrior Princess continued to look ahead toward Crete because she felt that if she looked at Gabrielle at this moment she would lose a tear or two from those piercing blue eyes of hers. That would not do in front of mixed company. There was a light wind on the single sail and they would make Sougia before dark.

Gabrielle didn’t really want to go into any of what happened in front of Eudocia. So, deciding to wait until they were by themselves, she would try to explain that which really didn’t need explaining, when time permitted.

A candlemark later, the boat pulled up to the dock and the three women disappeared into the night. Xena rubbed the hook her Chakram hung on and thought about how she really missed her unique weapon.

One step closer to my Chakram and one less Cyclops in this world. Not a bad day really!

They found an inn on a dark deserted street. They went inside for a couple of cups of wine to settle themselves with the day’s events and to discuss their next move. Finding a place to sleep seemed to be in order, so they left the unknown inn and traveled toward a busier part of town for lodging. Xena asked Eudocia to stay at the same place with her and Gabrielle. She felt it might help to take the uncomfortable feelings they were all having away

Eudocia hesitated for a candleflick of a flame, then agreed to stay at the inn for the night.

"Let me explain myself to you, please." And the Cretin began her story as they walked. "I have never slept in a structure, an inn or house you know. As I told you the other day, the Guardian raised me. I cannot remember my beginnings. I only remember from a time when I was very small. I was taught the way of the warrior and that was my only direction in life. When my instructions in the way of the warrior were complete, a task would be asked of me. One I could not refuse, as this was to be my destiny.

I lived in a cave located in the mountains, which was quite comfortable to me for I new no other way. My Guardian took care of me, very well. I was taught to center myself through meditation, that I would be one with the stars as well as one with the land. This was perfected in me to a level that would bless me with glimpses of the future. I am only given a little at a time for one must not have the map of their life to dwell upon. Many things were given to me in the way of teachings and all for one reason. I was groomed to be your guide and assist you in any way I can. I slept in a cave or under the stars but never in a structure. So, if this pleases you, then I shall stay here." She concluded.

Xena had a look of bewilderment while Gabrielle’s mouth hung open while she attempted to absorb all she had just heard.

Finally, Xena said, "You will stay in a room with us this night."

"Yes!" Agreed Gabrielle. "We are your friends."

The Cretin smiled, as if this made her happy.

They found an inn, a sanctuary for the night. This tightened the bond between them and it was needed for what lie ahead. The room was set up with two beds and there was really no thought given to the sleeping arrangements. Xena climbed into bed and Gabrielle joined her but what they did not expect was what happened next. Eudocia relieved herself of her clothing and climbed into bed with the Warrior and the Bard. At first they were quite startled but when the Cretin curled up behind Xena with her lover on the other side, Xena could only think, how innocent…how pure.

The Bard thought, there might be a problem developing here.

The next morning was spent in preparation for the second leg of the journey with the Cretin. Eudocia meditated for a candlemark and drifted into a deeper state for half of a candlemark. When she returned to the present, she had more information that she shared with the other two women.

The journey was to continue to the north near the Chasm of the Dead. There was a temple dedicated to Hades. Within this temple were many passages. One passage would lead to the Room of Two Doors.

The horses were packed with supplies and as they headed out of the town of Sougia, Xena pondered on what the future held for the three of them. Eudocia led the way and she did something that was completely out of character. She began to hum a strange tune as she rode along the trail. Gabrielle looked up at her and said, "That’s a very pretty melody. Do you know the words Eudocia?"

"I’m not really sure if there are any words. My Guardian only hummed the song to me."

The Cretin asked Xena, "Do you sing, Warrior?"

Gabrielle looked up at Xena and the Warrior Princess quietly said, "Yes," as she thought to herself and then spoke again.

"I sing a song of mourning …….. When those that have touched my heart, have died."

"Would you sing for me Xena?" The Cretin asked.

"Maybe someday but not today," the Warrior replied.

They needed to reach the temple sometime early the next day. It was too far to reach in one day for they would get there after dark and the way was tricky. The Cretin explained that behind one door was a map to the Heart of Stone. She went on to tell them that in her vision, she saw twelve warriors who slept. They would remain asleep unless they were disturbed by someone’s mistaken move.

The lore is that no one who has ever entered Hades temple has left, for the temptation to remove even the smallest piece of treasure will result in death. Xena asked Eudocia if she knew which door to choose from what she saw in her vision.

The Cretin replied, "That was not given to me, Xena."

Gabrielle wondered aloud, "That means we have only half a chance on being right!"

"Either way we will make it work, my love," Xena assured her companion.

The temple was about four candlemarks ahead and its location was common knowledge to the area inhabitants. In fact, based on what was known of the temple, very few if any visited it. It was not a place for prayer and adoration. Passing along the Chasm of the Dead was difficult enough. The temple stood part way up on Mount Psiloreitis.

The going was slow, partly because it was up hill and the terrain was rich with vegetation. This appealed to Xena because it kept them paced and slowed them enough to keep from rushing into any situation. The Bard was also very helpful with the ability to think things through rather than being rash and rushing into things. This had shown in their relationship for many seasons and became a helpful tool for Xena.

They stopped at a fast moving stream to fill the waterskins, breaking to rest and eat something. Gabrielle started a fire and put some water on to boil for herbal tea. She had a mixture of ginseng and ginkgo to help them with endurance, when they were on the trail. Today she flavored it with a couple mint leaves.

Xena went up stream with Eudocia following, to see if she could find an area where the water pooled and some fish could be caught. After a quarter candlemark had passed, they found just what they were looking for. The ground leveled out for awhile and a small pond had been formed. Xena removed her sword, boots and armor. She moved slowly into the pond trying not to disturb the water. Her hands slipped quietly under the surface and she waited for the first fish.

While Xena was in deep concentration, she did not see the Cretin remove her weapons, leathers and boots. She stood on the bank and called to the Warrior in a little more than a whisper, "Xena! Xena, do you think I’m beautiful?"

Xena dropped the fish she had just caught back into the pond and her mouth hung open in disbelief. The Cretin was a magnificent woman physically and this Xena had all ready observed on the beach but she was taken by surprise. The Warrior Princess looked into Eudocia’s eyes and she knew there was a problem.

"What? Eudocia! You need to put your clothes back on!" Xena said with a cracked voice.

"Is there something wrong with me?" The Cretin asked.

"No! Not at all!" Xena shot back.

"I want you to make love to me Xena. I need you too!"

Xena stepped out of the pond saying, "I can’t do that Eudocia! I belong to someone else!"

"Is it the scar?" Eudocia asked with great concern.

"No! You are not mine and I am not yours. I belong to Gabrielle." Xena explained and then she continued to say, "The scar adds character to who you are, not that you needed any enhancements. But understand that you are more than just your covering, your skin. Tell me, how did you come by it?"

"I was young, maybe seventeen winters. I was very trusting back then. Two men and a woman were wandering in the area that I lived. They told me they were lost and needed guidance. When my guard was down they attacked me and the woman cut me out of jealousy while the other two held my arms."

Xena reached out saying, "How awful!"

"No matter. They paid the ultimate price." Eudocia replied with iced eyes. Then her focus returned to the moment.

"Yes, I know! I know that you and Gabrielle are one. I also know that I am three summers older than she and I have never been with anyone in my life."

The Cretin Warrior raised her voice slightly, "I will never be with anyone unless you or Gabrielle make love to me!"

"What? What is it you mean to say woman?" Xena said with much agitation.

"I have seen my death. It will come while I’m with you at your side. I am not angry with this nor do I wish to change my destiny. To do this is an honor. This is what I was groomed for. I knew it would end this way when the Guardian explained it to me many, many seasons ago. I still made my choice even after I saw this in my own minds eye." She explained.

Xena was stunned. She walked up to this woman who was her equal as a fighting tool of perfection, still, she was so inexperienced as a human being. Here stood a woman that begged to have her needs met, who wanted to taste the fulfillment of passion, something Xena knew too well. As she looked into the Cretin’s eyes she knew what she had been told was all true.

Xena moved slowly, slipping off her leathers and stood naked in front of Eudocia. She moved closer and placed her hands on the woman’s shoulders and kissed her softly on the cheek. Xena looked up, backing away and said, "I can’t! I just can’t."

Gabrielle had gotten worried and decided to look for the two. She came up to the edge of the pond and asked indignantly, "What the Tartarus is going on?"

"Oh! By the gods! Athena help me!" Xena cried out looking towards the sky. Xena started, "Gabrielle. Let me ex……."

"No Xena, let me explain it to her." Eudocia went through it all over again for the sake of the Bard. When she was finished the Bard had tears in her eyes. Gabrielle looked to Xena for an answer but there was none to give.

"I’ve asked too much," the Cretin mumbled, looking dejected and began to put her breeches and leathers back on. She returned to the campsite with Gabrielle while Xena resumed fishing. The Warrior Princess felt they needed to stay in camp the rest of the night so there was time to regroup.

Although the fish were tasty, Xena and Gabrielle somehow overlooked them as they were left swimming in a sea of thought. The Cretin was throwing her knives at a stump trying to keep her skills sharp. She was out of range to hear the conversation that transpired.

"Do it Xena! Just do it for her." The Bard commanded.

"No! I won’t! If you feel that strong about it, you do it!"

Xena then got her bedroll and got ready to say goodnight. She gave the Bard a quick peck on the lips and lay down. The other two followed a little later.

About halfway through the night when the moon was high in the sky, Xena woke to the sound of voices. She heard Gabrielle talking to Eudocia and explaining why it was not possible for either of them to make love to the Cretin.

"As much as we want to help you Eudocia, we feel that it would be a betrayal of our love to each other even though we feel deeply about the pain you are in," The Bard shared.

"I love Xena too much! She is my life and the other half of my soul. I cannot blemish what we have today nor do I believe she can."

Xena thought, My Bard, I love her so much. Her wisdom always amazes me. A better soul never lived.

Perhaps things won’t turn out like Eudocia believes they will. Perhaps the gods will send her a love of her own.

Xena rolled over and fell asleep with a tear in her eye for her love of Gabrielle and the sadness she felt for Eudocia.

RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

When the Warrior and the Bard rose at the beginning of the dawn, they noticed that the Cretin was up and meditating a little ways away from the camp. They did not disturb her but pulled up camp and waited in case there were further instructions. She had been extremely accurate up to this point. Gabrielle had been very intrigued by the Cretins meditation practices and was looking forward to picking her brain on this topic. Something deep within sparked the Bards curiosity of these things.

Eudocia joined the two and had a broad smile on her face.

"I have been given more to tell you my friends." She said.

"You have past the second challenge."

The two adventurers looked at each other and back at the Cretin rather puzzled at her remark.

" I went into my meditation period this morning and I was troubled by how I conducted myself with both of you with my dilemma yesterday. It was brought to my enlightenment when I reached a transient state, that your second challenge was to resist the temptation to help me with my sexual fulfillment and not jeopardize your relationship with each other. We can go now."

"Wait! Just a minute!" Xena screamed. "You mean to tell me that this was all a put on?"

"No my friend. I was very sincere and knew nothing of this challenge. If anything, I was used as a test and need to ask to be forgiven for my bitterness toward that which deceived me. I found it very cruel to work my emotions to such a state, however, for the conclusion it will bring, I humble myself in the face of spirit. Eudocia said with remorse.

Gabrielle looking much sadder than the day before began to walk the trail toward the Chasm of the Dead.

A candlemark from when they left camp, the trail began to change from the lush vegetation that was beaming with wildlife to a bleak landscape of gray rock and little growth. As the trail climbed, the ground along side of it began to drop off. It became so narrow of a trail that the horses had to be walked for fear of falling into the abyss. The stone and shale fell into the depths even under the careful placement of boots and horse hooves. There was volcanic activity below as black smoke and ash rose toward the surface and burned the eyes of the seekers. The sweat poured down each woman’s body as they crossed through this area. As the trail turned they were able to see the molten lava beneath them. To slip and fall was certain death.

There was a bridge that crossed a large fissure. The molten lava flowed through it like a burning river. The aged bridge was constructed of rope, with wood planks that were tied in place for the walking surface. Xena told Argo and Eudocia’s horse to go back and knew the horses would stay in the green area beyond where the warning was posted. There they could feed until the three of them returned.

Although the bridge appeared to be safe, the three women proceeded with caution, one at a time. Eudocia led the way, stepping carefully on each board. She kept a tight grip the rope hand guides as she ventured forward. When she was about three-quarters of the way across the bridge, Gabrielle began her journey. She moved with the same level of caution, as did the Cretin.

Just before she made it to the halfway point, a board that was dried out and brittle snapped in two, causing Gabrielle to slip.

"Help me Xena, I’m slipping!"

The Bard hung on for dear life as Xena started her approach to help her. Carefully, the Warrior moved closer.

"Hang on Gabrielle!" Xena shouted.

Eudocia waited on the other side. It made no sense to add her weight to the bridge. Xena got to the Bard and pulled her back up, getting her on both feet. Then Xena sent her ahead so they could disperse the weight of the two of them. When the Bard got to the other side and the Warrior was just about off of the bridge, Gabrielle shouted, "My staff! I left my staff on the bridge!"

Ephiny had given Gabrielle the staff, so it held a special place in her heart. Xena knew this or she would have never gone back to get it.

"There you go." Xena said with a smile.

The only thing the smile concealed was Xena’s concern about returning over the bridge on the way back.

The trail took another turn in the opposite direction and started to open up. Slowly the terrain changed back to what it had been further down the mountain. The greenery returned, along with the sound of songbirds and the occasional sighting of a rabbit or squirrel.

A large rock bore the message, WHO EVER TREADS HERE, TEMPTS FATE

Xena read the message, then scanned the area and moved on. They reached the temple and it was something of a vision out of paradise, with flowers, trees and vegetation everywhere. There were statues of the wildlife that lived in the surrounding area. They appeared to be a tribute to the fauna. Each side of the temple had a different looking entrance and all were open with no doors visible. The walls were covered with vines and there was a fountain in the middle of the temple. This place did not appear, as one would have expected it to be. The gold and jewels were there to tempt the weak. There were chests, large bowls and urns overflowing with temptation in the form of jewels, adornments; gold coins and weapons fashioned with a king’s ransom. The place was very beautiful and not desolate, as was the trek to the entrance.

"Gabrielle, be careful not to touch anything. This place could be a trap in a pretty package." The Warrior explained. Xena entered one of the long, open corridors examining the walls as she stepped carefully around areas of the floor she did not care for. The Cretin shadowed the Bard as she walked up the other side of the same corridor. Nothing seemed amiss, nothing happened. Everything was just too peaceful.

They reached the center where the fountain was spouting water about the height of two horses in the air. They looked with their eyes before they moved and still there was nothing. The beautiful statues of the woodland creatures captivated Gabrielle. They were six times larger than life but so lifelike. Xena turned her head just as Gabrielle touched a Lynx and shouted, "Don’t!"

It was too late as the statue came alive and turned into a crazed warrior that sported the head of a Lynx but the body of a human being. This thing looked like it was delivered from Dahok himself. The monster wielded a two-headed axe, its body was covered in black leather and it hissed like a cat as it tried to cut the Bard in half. She hit the ground and rolled out of the way, dodging the blow.

Eudocia side flipped into the air throwing and depositing both of her daggers into the beast’s chest. It ran straight in her direction screaming in agony while trying to reach the Cretin. Xena ran up behind the creature and drove her sword into its back. It reared, thrusting its arms back and dropped the axe on the floor. Xena pulled the sword from it and the creature fell to the ground dead.

"Gabrielle! Are you all right!" Xena called in fear.

The Bard got to her feet, picked up her staff and kept saying, "Stupid! Stupid! I’m so …….."

"Foolish?" Xena finished for her. "Foolish will work as long as you’re all right!"

Eudocia retrieved her knives, cleaned them on the creature’s leather and slipped them back into their sheaths.

"Thank you, my friend." Gabrielle expressed, with the touch of her hand on the Cretins forearm.

The woman bowed her head and turned to Xena to see what their next move was to be. Xena had spotted something just before the action started. As she started down the second passage she noticed, that on the opposite wall there was something beneath the vines. She motioned the Cretin Warrior to guard the way in the direction of the fountain while she crossed toward the wall in question.

Gabrielle went two horse lengths down the hall but stayed away from the statue of the large snake. There were two statues in every hall and three remained in the courtyard near the fountain. There was a squirrel, a rabbit and an owl in the center. Along with the snake was a fish down at the end of the corridor. The first hall had a deer and a fox. The last two halls had not been checked out to see what statue guarded it, so it still remained a mystery.

They were all quite aware what would happen if another statue would be touched. What they did not know was they had started a chain reaction that could not be stopped.

Xena got to the wall and started to cut the vines away with her sword, revealing one door. She had the Key of Two Doors on her back, tied to the backside of her scabbard. The lock was as old as old could be. She looked but did not touch anything. Then she began to clear more of the vegetation away, using her weapon. She finally discovered the second door. Both doors looked as if they hid the secrets to life itself. The doors were not side by side as she thought they might be but there were eight paces between the doors.

"How is it coming Xena?" The Bard asked without letting her eyes shift from the direction the hall in front of her.

"Come over here, both of you. I need your help in deciding." The Warrior commanded.

They both backed up from the corridors where they were standing guard until they could see the two doors. They were absolutely identical.

"Oh no! You’re not going to make one of us choose because if we are wrong, I’ll have to live with the I Told You So.’s for the rest of my life." The Bard rattled on.

"That’s only if we live through this." Xena responded

As they were talking, the creature that was within the rabbits’ statue came to life. It jumped high into the air heading right for Xena with a spear in its hands. It too took on the appearance of the statue it came from, except its eyes were red with hate and it showed its razor sharp teeth. The Warrior Princess back flipped to the other wall while she yelled her Warrior cry, "AYiYiYiYiYi!"

Gabrielle swung her staff, deflecting the spear as it was thrust at her. The Cretin forward flipped at the creature and kicked it in the back as she landed. As it turned, it grazed the Cretin across the forearm with the spear. Xena and her sword were flying through the air and she buried her blade into the side of the creature. The Cretin pulled her sword, running it through and the rabbit-headed monstrosity dropped to its knees and fell over dead.

"We need to hurry before the next one awakes!" Xena said with urgency.

"Which door Gabrielle?"

"The Right, no….the Right! Do the right door." The Bard insisted.

Xena pulled the Key out, looked down at it and at both of her friends, then inserted the Key into the door turning the lock. She pulled on the handle as hard as she could and the door began to swing open.

"The gods laugh at us! There is nothing here but a blank wall," Xena screamed.

About then, they heard the other creatures coming alive. Xena side flipped to the other door, placed the key in the lock, turned and opened. There, in a small hole in the wall was the Map of Agia Eirini, which would guide them to the Heart of Stone. She reached in, grabbed the map then turned and ran to assist the Bard and the Cretin. The Bard was fighting the creature that was part snake. It hissed and lunged at her in an attempt to bite the Bard. She was losing ground when the Cretin came to her aid. Eudocia threw one dagger and it stuck right in the eye of the enemy. Gabrielle took out its legs with her staff and the creature landed on the floor. Eudocia finished it off with her sword. These creatures were hideous being part human, part animal and twice as dangerous.

Xena was engaged with another foe that was part wolf but was armed with two swords. At the same time the creature that was part squirrel attacked her and she cut off the flow of blood to its brain and said, "Sorry! I don’t want to know anything from you!"

Xena returned to the wolf, separating it from one of its swords and the Cretin dropped it from behind with a thrust of her sword.

They all ran down the hall in an attempt to escape the remainder of the adversaries but a few were still in pursuit.

Eudocia fought magnificently as she hacked and cut the enemy to pieces. She took out the fish creature single handedly and was engaged in battle with the half owl when she was run through the side. She held on to the spear and stuck her other dagger through the beaked creature’s chest, killing it.

Eudocia pulled the spear out but took no time to worry. The Cretin ran to catch up to Xena and her Bard, who were fighting the foxman armed with a mace and axe. Xena was working him over when the creature that had the head of a deer shot an arrow that was headed straight for the Warrior Princess.

Eudocia threw herself in the arrows’ path, stopping it from finding Xena. It went through her back, in the vicinity of her heart. Gabrielle ran over and held her in her arms as Xena finished the fox-headed creature. The Warrior then picked up Eudocia’s sword throwing it and sinking it into the chest of the buck. The creature fell to the floor, eliminated forever.

The creatures that remained hid themselves well out of fear and did not show themselves again. Xena walked over to the Bard and the dying Eudocia.

"Xena! You have but t.to ….read th…map. You…..will ma ke it. This I have seen." The Cretin struggled. "W..will….you…sing….f.for ……me …Xena?"

She grabbed the Bards halter with her hand clenched tight in pain and said, "I love you … Both."

And she was gone.

"Hades! It didn’t have to be this way!" Xena screamed at the sky.

Hades, the god of the underworld never responded to Xena’s cry. He knew that what had come to pass with Eudocia was meant to be. It could end no other way. It was not in his power to interfere with destiny.

Xena took the body from Gabrielle and moved out of the temple area. The Warrior then carried Eudocia’s body until they got to the bridge, where she set her down so she could concentrate on the Bard. She sent Gabrielle over first, then lifted the body of the Cretin in her arms and moved with extreme caution across the failing structure. Her steps were slow and methodical. She could hear the added stress on the boards under her feet as they creaked and moaned. Eight more steps and Xena was to the other edge of the fissure. Argo was waiting patiently, as if the horse knew she would be needed.

She laid the warrior over the saddle and secured her. The Warrior led the return, as there was no other way out of the boxed ravine and walked Argo out along the narrow trail. Gabrielle followed leading Eudocia’s horse by the reigns. When they reached the area just beyond the entrance to the Chasm of the Dead, they prepared a grave and buried the Cretin

Xena walked back to the chasm with Gabrielle close behind and stood at the edge. She paused for a long time looking out over the isolated area, then began to sing her song. This was an especially sad moment for both women, as they had grown attached to this very different soul. As Xena sang, a steady stream of tears poured down her face. Her Bard stood next to her, hand on Xena’s shoulder and wept bitterly.

After awhile the two walked back to the horses and could not talk. Gabrielle took the saddle off of the Cretin’s horse and released him to the wild. She still preferred to walk. As they left the area of Mount Psiloreitis, they moved south toward the Agia Eirini and what would be the final challenge to obtain the Heart of Stone. Three challenges had been met but the cost was much too high price to lose such a soul.

Xena and Gabrielle wanted to put as much distance as they could between the temple and themselves. The hurt they were experiencing would take much time to heal. Not only did they suffer a great loss but also both, each in their own minds, wrestled with afterthoughts of denying the Cretin her request to lose her virginity. In their hearts, each knew they made the right decision but it hurt anyway.

They continued to travel into the early evening before they set up camp. Gabrielle brought out some apples, while Xena got the jerky and bread that remained. Both were too tired to go hunting or fishing but Xena took a little time to set a couple snares with the intentions of picking up a rabbit or two for tomorrow.

The Warrior thought, Normal size rabbits, please!

The adventurers were at a point of frustration and Xena, for one, began to wonder if this quest was all worth it. Was the death of Eudocia worth the cost of regaining the Chakram? This was a question that weighed heavily on the Warrior. Still, there was something at work here that was greater than anything that the two of them had encountered in their travels. It was told to them that the love they had and their quest for doing good was the reason that they were singled out for this. The reunion of the Heart of Stone with the Quondam or host was a task that had been carefully thought out over a period of thousands of seasons and could only happen when all the players had arrived at the crossroads of time.

Gabrielle started a fire and they settled down around it. Xena brought out the whetstone and worked on sharpening the edge of her sword. The Bard was content to look into the flames as they danced over the burning embers. Some time passed and Gabrielle moved closer to Xena saying, "Hold me, will you?

I’m cold, sad and I need your touch."

Xena smiled softly and raised her arm in the form of an invitation for her lover to come to her. Gabrielle moved into position and they held each other as they both watched the burning embers.

"I miss her Xena. She would have been a good friend. I would have helped her become an Amazon. Her skills, her way would have been a wonderful asset to us all."

Continued...Part 2


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