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EXT. VILLAGE - MORNING
The day is clear and warm with only the slightest hint of a breeze. Xena and Gabrielle watch as several groups of people gather and prepare for the hunt. There are people working in pairs and small groups, looking at their lists and collecting supplies. A man standing on the dais is giving last minute instructions to the participants.
Xena and Gabrielle are hanging back watching as everybody seems to get ready for the start of the competition. Gabrielle has a handful of grapes that Xena occasionally filches from.
There are a few people that Xena is keeping a close eye on, recognizing the type. She knows they could be trouble if their paths cross later.
She nudges Gabrielle, who is looking at a map that has been provided to all the teams. They didnít have a chance to study it much the previous evening.
Xena discretely points to three fellows standing near a wall and keeping to themselves, but watching everyone else carefully. Then she turns and glances away from them nonchalantly, apparently absorbing the words from the man on the dais.
Gabrielle watches them and nods, turning in a circle to take a good look around.
We need to keep
an eye on them.
Or we could just take them
out of the picture now.
Xenaís eyebrows shoot to her hairline, even as her face breaks into a grin.
Before they do anything?
Am I rubbing off on you?
Yes. To both. I mean come on Xena.
Look at them. Theyíre trying to
decide who would be easiest to rob.
Xena looks around again, seeing a second group of the same nature. She glances at all the people preparing for the hunt, noting that they are all well-dressed and sturdy.
Well, the pickings are
sure good in this town.
Yep... lots of choices.
And even though I am intrigued
by your idea, I think itís best to
let them tip their hand first.
If you insist.
Come on. Letís have a look at
that map and put together a plan.
Taking a seat next to Gabrielle, she looks at the map. Gabrielle unfolds the third piece of parchment they were given the previous night, and shows it to Xena.
This is also a map, but it is more comprehensive than the hunt map, and has several markings on it that form an interesting pattern. There is a note written under it.
Gabrielle reads it and turns to Xena.
Hereís the kicker. Apparently Zeus wanted
to keep mere mortals from getting their
hands on it, so the location of the ring
changes from year to year. Maybe
he had plans to reclaim it later.
Gabrielle just shakes her head and points to a spot on the map.
This is where they THINK it was last
year. According to these notes
someone saw it but couldnít get
close to it. These notes record all
the sightings and Iíve found a pattern.
Well thatís handy.
And if my calculations are
right, it should be here.
She taps a spot on the map. Xena looks at it carefully.
Itís a swamp.
Nobody said it was
going to be easy.
Riiiight. What was I thinking?
Gabrielle laughs and folds up the papers, putting them into a pouch at her waist.
Xena nods and stands up to see the first three men seemingly follow a man and his family as people move out to begin the hunt.
We need to take care
of something first.
Can you handle it? I have one
more place to check out.
Meet you at the swamp?
See ya shortly.
EXT. ROOF TOP - MORNING
Xena is walking along the edge of a roof, watching as the three bandits get closer to the family.
One of the men reaches one of the children. Xena anticipates the move and executes a forward flip, kicking him away from the child and landing between the other two thugs. Her hands reach out in a quick efficient motion, each hand coming to rest behind the head of a thug. She quickly brings her hands and their heads together leaving them to slump in a pile at her feet.
The man she kicked away from the child struggles to his feet and comes rushing at her from behind. Xena hears his approach, grins, and forcefully lifts a fisted right hand to meet the third thugs face as he reaches her. She steps to the side, allowing him to join his partners.
EXT. TEMPLE - DAY
Gabrielle approaches the TEMPLE. It is unkempt and in disrepair and itís no longer clear exactly which deity the building was dedicated to. It is littered with leaves and the floors are cracked and broken in places. Gabrielle steps over fallen debris and ducks under crumbling pillars before reaching the altar area. Her eyes wander to the altar itself.
If I was a priest trying
to hide something....
She moves around slowly, careful of all the marble fragments strewn liberally around the floor as she continues to search for clues. She vaguely wishes for a chance to study the murals at greater length while her eyes wander the room. Her hands lightly glide along the edges of the altar, searching for the trigger she is sure is there.
Címon. Itís gotta be
here some... Gotcha!!
With a snick, the top slides away to reveal a hidden space on the right side of the altar. Gabrielle leans over cautiously to examine the marble tablet lying within the niche.
Well, letís just see what
this says, shall we?
Yeah, why donít we just do that?
Then we can go claim this treasure.
Gabrielle whirls in place, peering into the gloom. She can see the manís undisguised leer from where she is.
What makes you think
Iím here for treasure?
The man steps into the temple with two of his comrades. These are not the same men Xena and Gabrielle saw earlier, but their purpose is identical.
Címon, blondie. We know youíre
treasure hunting just like the others.
We saw you at the starting line. Weíre
just gonna take what youíve found.
You be nice, and weíll go on our way.
Gabrielle looks down at the tablet and then back at the man. She nods her head, and steps away from the altar to give herself a bit of breathing room. They donít seem to take the hint and step onto the dais. She takes another step away from them.
I donít want trouble. Just
take it and leave me alone.
The largest man reached his hand into the space and finds it caught in a vise grip. He screams as the trap crushes his bones. His two compatriots stand still, shocked by the turn of events.
The other two men approach her from either side, figuring to get the drop on her.
You really donít want to do this.
Just stand still. This
wonít hurt too much.
EXT. ROADSIDE - DAY
Xena dusts her hands off and glances at the bandits, now unconscious and tied up at her feet. The looks from the family watching her are filled with something akin to awe and they make her twitchy.
They wonít be giving
you any more trouble.
The woman, a well-dressed middle class type citizen, swallows hard and nods her head. She clasps her children closer to her.
How can we repay you?
Xena looks around in vain for Gabrielle, hoping she will appear to do the sensitive chat thing with these people. Knowing that is impossible, she sighs and clears her throat to answer.
Just be more aware of your surroundings.
Thereís a lot of bad characters around
looking to take advantage of unsuspecting
folks. Now, if youíll excuse me....
The twitchiness has become a full out roiling of her guts, and she takes off at a jog in the direction Gabrielle had gone in.
INT. TEMPLE - SAME TIME
Gabrielle draws her sais and shrugs, shaking her head. The men continue to advance on her.
Donít say I didnít warn you.
She reverses the sai in her hand and swings her right hand with the hilt forward, aiming for the manís face closest to her. The crunching sound of the contact makes her wince a bit and the man stumbles backward, holding a now bleeding nose.
The second man moves closer, extending both arms to grab her in a bear hug. Gabrielle ducks his arms and brings her right hand forward into his groin as the left hand pushes him backward. She then tucks and rolls beneath the legs of the altar and comes up to a standing position.
Both men are now standing on the other side of the altar facing her. As they each move around opposite ends to attack her again, Gabrielle sees a long rod on the floor in front of the altar that once held a tapestry. She bends and replaces her sais, and in the next motion, picks up the rod firmly holding it against her body.
As they round the altar, she spins and connects with one, then the other, knocking them both to their knees. She flips the rod up and crashes the end of it first on the man on the right, then twists, reversing position and crashing the end on the other man. They both fall to the floor unconscious.
When it is all over, she looks at the heap of humanity on the floor, drops the rod and dusts her hands off.
They never learn.
Gabrielle looks back at the man still trapped in the vise grip. He is trying to snarl at her, hoping to intimidate. The best he can do is grimace in pain.
Gabrielle peeks into the altar, wincing at the damage thatís been done to his now mangled hand.
Easy way or hard way?
Bite me, bitch!
Gabrielle crinkles up her nose at the visual offered.
Ew! No thanks.
She looks at him contemplatively.
Ya know, youíre just not worth the
effort and Iíve got things to do.
She hits him in the back of the head with the butt of her sai. Then she moves him out of the way so she can study the tablet.
EXT. TEMPLE - DAY
Gabrielle emerges from the temple just as Xena arrives on the steps. Xena is only slightly winded, but she still stands still for a moment breathing.
I finished, and thought Iíd
see how you were doing.
Checking up on me, huh?
She smiles at the blush that tints Xenaís face. Xena smiles back at her with the crooked half-smile Gabrielle loves so much. Gabrielle takes Xenaís hand and begins to lead her towards the swamp.
Iím glad youíre here. Weíve
got quite the dilemma.
EXT. WOODS - DAY
The woods are old, and the foliage is so thick that it is cool in spots. The trees have grown together over the paths, forming a canopy that keeps out most of the light and warmth.
As they approach the swamp, the ground begins to soften and grow mushy, and the air becomes dank and earthy.
So the power of the ring
really is Zeusí power?
Thatís what the tablet said.
And there was a warning...
but it was pretty vague.
Iím not sure it can be
destroyed, Xena. Or what the
consequences will be if we try.
Xena wraps an arm around Gabrielle and smiles at her affectionately.
Well, I guess weíll find
out when we find it.
EXT. SWAMP EDGE - DAY
Gabrielle and Xena arrive at the swamp to discover they are not the only ones there. Apparently the King is hedging his bets and has several searchers hunting for the ring.
Everyone seems to be looking in the same general direction, and Xena notes that while each party is somewhat separate from all the others, no one seems to want to be out of sight completely.
This has all the earmarks
of a disaster.
Umm, and weíre not
even to the hard part yet.
Xena makes a show of looking around in one direction while Gabrielle looks in the other. They count two couples and a trio of people studying their maps and making preparations to go deeper into the swamp.
We need to get the rest of these
people out of here before we
go after the ring. Suggestions?
Gabrielle looks thoughtful before her lips crinkle into an evil grin and her eyes twinkle mischievously. Xena recognizes the signs and waits expectantly.
Yeah, youíve heard of the swamp
monsters that live here, right?
The expression on Xenaís face is a combination of disbelief, surprise and mirth. Whatever she had been expecting to come from Gabrielleís mouth, this wasnít even on the list.
Um, no. But Iím sure youíll be happy
to share that with me, wonít you?
EXT. SWAMP INTERIOR - DAY
It is darker here. The trees are thick and covered with moss. The ground is slick and treacherous, and several people show signs of having fallen. By unspoken consent, everyone is traveling fairly close together. Gabrielle decides to use this factor to her advantage.
Gabrielle looks around pointedly, surveying her surroundings. She clutches at Xenaís bracer when she hits an unexpectedly slippery patch, grateful for the steady support she feels under her hands. She draws a deep breath and catches Xenaís eye.
Ya know, Xena, when we were at
the Academy there was an entire
section dedicated to monsters the
gods created for their amusement.
Yep. The Chimaera was a fearsome
beast that was part lion, part goat and
part dragon. It breathed fire. The
Gryphon was another. It was a
combination of a lion and an eagle, and
was used to protect the godsí treasures.
A screech at that moment coming from deeper in the swamp makes one couple turn and flee. Gabrielle is hard pressed to keep from smiling. She continues talking, knowing she has everyoneís attention.
We know about Achindnea from Iolausí
stories. Hercules defeated her and her
children. And of course there was Medusa.
One of the women listening speaks up.
Perseus defeated Medusa, didnít he?
Yes, he did. But Medusa was only
one of many of the gorgons created,
and the scrolls said that the worst
of them live in the swamps.
Her voice drops to a conspiratorial whisper. The womanís eyes grow wide. The sound of hissing makes her swallow loudly. Gabrielle looks around, and the woman does the same.
You donít suppose....?
The woman straightens and joins her compatriots, slogging back towards the edge of the swamp. She turns after having moved a couple steps and motions to her companions. It doesnít take much for the rest of the people to join her.
I donít think there is enough reward
in the world for this. Címon. We can
win the hunt with what we have.
We only have a few more things
on the list left to find.
Xena and Gabrielle watch as the five turn and swiftly go back the way they came. They donít even glance back in their haste to get out of the swamp. Gabrielle waits until Xenaís hand falls on her shoulder before bursting into laughter.
Do I wanna ask how you did that?
Xena looks at her, batting her eyelashes and blinking her innocent blue eyes.
I have no idea what youíre talking
about, Gabrielle. I was just listening
to you talk about the monsters.
Gabrielle rolls her eyes, but continues to wonder.
Címon. Weíve still got a lot
of ground to cover and
weíre burning daylight.
EXT. SWAMP - MID AFTERNOON
It has been quite a trek, and though not filthy, neither of them are as fresh as daisies either. The gloom of the surrounding area isnít helping matters either.
The sunshine is quite bright when Xena and Gabrielle come to a sudden break in the trees. They take a moment or two to allow their eyes to adjust. What greets them makes their eyes widen in disbelief.
Before them is a flat expanse of sand, and beyond that, a small island. On the island there is a tree, and in the tree near the top rests what appears to be the ring... on the largest snake either of them have ever set eyes on.
Itís never easy.
Of course not. We wouldnít know
what to do if it was easy.
They both look at the sand then at each other.
No way. I know better.
Xena looks around for a long moment before finding what she needs. She picks up a rock the size of her fist and hurls it into the middle of the sand. They wait for all of about five seconds before it begins to slip below the surface.
Great. Now what?
END OF ACT TWO