DISCLAIMER: Please refer back to "Step 1" for specific disclaimers

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King Democritus tugged at a bottom eyelid, staring intently into a hand held mirror. He inspected his eye closely, grunting briefly at the map of red and blue veins he found there crisscrossing through the whiteness of his eye in an explosion of color. He had to admit, he didn’t look well.

He also had to admit to himself that he did not have much time left. He needed to find the warrior princess and find her fast before he lost the ability to regenerate at all. Even now he could feel his form shifting, as though a multitude of spiders were crawling under his skin.

If he looked into the mirror deep enough and long enough, into the depths of his own ice clear eyes, he could see the rotting face of Paracelsus glaring back at him, threatening to emerge and overtake his countenance once more.

He needed to tap into a greater power. He wanted his appearance to remain the revitalized visage of King Democritus permanently and forever. It would take the power of the four elements to achieve this goal. He had two of them. He needed the other two. The warrior princess was guardian of the other two elemental powers now.

He needed Xena.

Democritus smashed the mirror down onto the table, shattering the glass into fragments.

"Don’t even think that you’ll be keeping that power all to yourself, warlord." Democritus hissed to the empty room, "Don’t even think about tapping into the elements without me."

Democritus was sure that Xena was a woman who knew all too well how to take advantage of opportunities. She wouldn’t be the legendary warlord she was, if she didn’t. Democritus knew and understood this, even admired it. It was why he chose her in the first place. He believed once she recognized the opportunity he offered, she would be more than willing to cooperate.

What he hadn’t thought of before, and he recognized this only after meeting her in person, was that she just might want the elemental forces all for herself, robbing him of his just rewards.

‘Yes,’ Democritus nodded, agreeing with himself, ‘You don’t get that kind of strength from depending on others. She stands alone and takes what she’s given.......AND she takes what she wants.....when she wants it.....’

Democritus scattered the fragments of mirror flying across the room with an angry sweep of his arm. His appearance shifted ever so slightly with the rage of emotion. He felt it as a cramp in his muscles and groaned.

"I’ve worked too long and too hard for this moment, Xena. I will find you. And when I do, you will bend to my will. MY will."

A strong rap on the door to the King’s bedchamber interrupted the raging man just as he was about to break something else. He froze, with the goblet in his hand, just as he was about to send it hurtling towards the far wall.

The knock repeated itself, even louder.

"WHAT IS IT!" Democritus growled.

"My lord, I come with news of the girl......"

Before the guard could even finish, Democritus was swinging the door open and staring in anger.

"You found the whore......."

"Yes, m’lord."

"Anything else......"

"My lord?"

"Anyone else with her?"

"Well, your orders were to find the apprentice and the girl who accompanied him. Was there someone else?"

"Not someone......something...."

The guard looked at him in confusion.

"There was nothing....er....unusual in the girl’s possession?"

"No, m’lord. We found the girl at the inn. They’ve brought her to the laboratory, per your instructions.

"Yes, yes...." The king waved his hand impatiently, "Leave her in the laboratory. I’ll question them together. LATER!"

Before the guard could respond, Democritus had slammed the door in his face.

The guard stared at the door for a moment, wondering when all the strange goings-on in this castle, and in this village for that matter, were going to come to an end. It was getting spookier to work here by the minute and he briefly thought of quitting altogether before turning around and heading to intercept the patrol to relay the king’s orders.

‘What could he possibly want with young Chemeclees and that pretty, young girl,’ he thought to himself as he marched down the hall. ‘If they end up disappearing, I’m moving to Athens!’


Continued in Step 18


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