Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle and others mentioned, belong to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No infringement on their rights is intended.

Subtext Disclaimer: This story contains references to a loving relationship between two consenting adults, who happen to be of the same sex. If this offends you, or you are under 18 years of age, or you reside in an area where this type of material is illegal, read no more. There is plenty of general fanfic out there for you. Go find it.

Violence Disclaimer: This story contains scenes of graphic violence.

Shock Factor: Let’s just say that Plan D #21 isn’t going to be lucky for anybody. People are gonna get hurt and possibly worse, so you’ve been warned.

Note: This story is in segments, due to it’s size.

Please send any comments to asdease1@gte.net

Enjoy, I hope.

part one

Written by FlyBigD

Xena and Gabrielle sat across from each other, eating their evening meal. Chewing the Parmesan Chicken that the bard had prepared, each tasted the food, but didn’t savor it. The effort that had gone into it’s preparation was lost at that moment, as it had been for the entire meal. The normal lively conversation was also lost, as was any apparent comprehension of the other’s existence. As if in a trance, each body moved of it’s own volition, taking care of the necessity of a daily amount of nourishment, but their minds weren’t participating in the event. Instead of chatting about current issues, their day, or T’s impending due date, they sat in silence, staring at some distant point that lay on another plane of consciousness.

As rare a scene as this was it’s was not the first time their minds had been preoccupied. In fact, it had happened a lot since the conference was completed with only the initial minor incident, but unlike their usual daydreaming, this had nothing to do with T, or the baby. Their preparedness was complete on that front and with T only three weeks away from the scheduled day of delivery, everything had been taken care of. Their minds were clear of what was required for the delivery and all it’s ramifications, which included having to find places for the Ungara, who had started arriving for the happy day. No, there were no more thoughts of them to consider. That was being taken care of by the Goddess of Love, who was told that they were no longer groupies in need of return postage. These people were loyal subjects to a King who was on the verge of adding a new face to a long line of ascension. Unfortunately, they were also as clue less to the inner workings of the Palace as the first bunch and therefore Aphrodite was also playing tour guide, but she liked that part and had even come up with a less risque outfit for the occasion. Ares was also doing his part, but in a more subtle way. He was delivering reports to the Ungaran elders concerning T’s condition and therefore kept her stress level in an acceptable range. Bud was Bud and he just made sure nobody got near the door. T, needless to say, was dishing out orders in the form of helpful suggestions from the boring comfort of the couch.

So, everything was under control. The Ungara were getting settled in and informed about their ancient home and even got to meet their respective gods, if Aphrodite was in the mood to include the Palace of the Ancients on the tour. Ares was antsy, which was expected. Bud was calm, which was expected. And T was wishing she wasn’t the size of some smaller automobiles, which she wasn’t, but nobody could convince her of that.

Apparently the King of the Ungara, who would normally not even use one brain cell on caring what she looked like, had become convinced that her still quite firm and muscled body was dwindling away into flab. The fact that the only thing that looked out of the ordinary was her middle was lost on her and this was attributed to the fact that she had too much time to sit and think about it. So, in an attempt to keep her mind off this notion, T was given some minor responsibilities that didn’t require her to get stressed and could be done from the couch. Regrettably, these could also be done by someone fresh from a lobotomy operation and only took her five minutes to accomplish, even without using her powers. So, the responsibilities had been removed and she’d taken up the tedious task of updating her personal journals, which had been sadly neglected for several centuries, as opposed to obsessing about the fact that she couldn’t see her feet. This kept her occupied and made Gabrielle ecstatic, and Xena happy, because it didn’t require any power usage.

Which brings us back to the couple daydreaming at the dinner table. Although daydreaming was probably not the correct word for what was going on because they weren’t dreaming. They were lost in thought. Thoughts about the past couple of weeks when both had begun to get uneasy sensations. Each had picked up something in their subconscious and both had initially ignored it. Whatever it was, had been discounted, or considered for a split second, then forgotten, but as time drew on the feelings had increased in frequency and strength.

It started with a simple glance over the shoulder, or a quick moment to listen for something they thought they heard and it always happened when they were alone. The sensation was like having your back to a door and feeling a whoosh of air, then turning to find the door still closed. It gave them a prickly feeling on the back of their necks and their instincts, which had been razor sharp, were now rusty and trying to play catch up. It had been so long since they had used them, it was as if their minds were now trained to override anything out of the ordinary. Their modern mentality required evidence and since what they were feeling came more from the gut, it was therefore relegated to paranoia, or being tired from all they’d done to get ready for the baby. But even after all the preparations were made and everything was set, the feeling hadn’t gone away. It had gotten worse as if, now that they weren’t busy day and night, the feeling was free to occupy their previously preoccupied minds. Which is what it was doing at the moment. They didn’t have the feeling at the moment, but they were thinking about it’s cause and what it meant, if anything.

Their food gone, they still sat in silence trying to figure out if they were going crazy. Rationalizing every incident, they stared at nothing and let the hands on the clock slip by unnoticed. It wasn’t until the phone rang that both looked up and at each other, and for a brief instant they could almost see the same thoughts going on behind shades of blue and green.

But the moment was lost when the phone rang again and Gabrielle got up to answer it. Leaving the table, she walked to the phone and picked it up, still somewhat dazed from her imaginings. "Hello."

"Gabrielle, this is Ares. T wanted me to call to let you know that your room is clean and that it is Friday in your part of the world, and she’s getting tired of waiting to hear your lilting tones." He said, amused at the unamused look he was getting from the woman on the couch.

"Give me the phone." T said and held out her hand. Wiggling her fingers, she glared at him. "If you make me get up, I’m going to hurt you." Giving the father of her child a serious stare and a low growl, she got the phone in two heartbeats. "Ignore him." She told her friend and got silence from the other end. "Gabrielle?"

"I’m here." Coming out of her trance, the bard had a half smile on her face. "Now, what did he say?"

"What he was supposed to saaaay," giving the God of War another glare, "was that I was wondering if you’d changed your mind about coming tonight and if I should expect you two in the morning."

Chuckling, Gabrielle completed her smile. "Um, hold on." Tucking the receiver on her shoulder, she turned to see the warrior cleaning off the table. "Xena are we going to make it tonight, or should we shoot for in the morning?"

Holding two empty plates, Xena sighed and shook her head. "Let’s go in the morning. I’m not into having to put up with Ares’ crap tonight." Her mind also clearing, it didn’t take much effort on her part to figure out that another go round with the God of War was not something she should do without a good night’s sleep.

Nodding, the bard relayed the information with a slightly different spin. "We’ll be there in the morning. I think it’s a little late and we’re both tired."

"Are you okay?" She asked, having heard everything and something else that wasn’t said.

"Sure." Sounding more perky than she really felt, she smiled and nodded again. "We’ve just had a long week, that’s all. Xena had a lot of work at the hospital and I’m still trying to write the final exams, which I plan on using you for, so don’t think we’re canceling." Adding a mild warning to her explanation.

"Oh, sure." T sighed, with an overdone amount of depression in her voice. "Just use and abuse the pregnant god to find the most obscure facts in Greek literature to torture your poor students with."

This got another chuckle and Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "Oh, hush. You love it and you know it."

"I find it mildly enjoyable." She corrected. "I love torturing Xena, not your students."

"I stand corrected." Glancing over her shoulder, she smiled at the source of T’s eternal entertainment. "Anything else?"

"Nope." Rubbing her expanded belly, she smiled. "Just checking in."

"Okay, then we’ll be humming our little hearts out sometime tomorrow morning." Hearing a muffled laugh from the other end, her eyes narrowed to slits. "Tell Ares I heard that."

"She heard that." T said and stuck her tongue out at him to show the bard’s annoyance by proxy.

"We’ll see ya in the morning." Closing her eyes, she gave one a quick rub.

"I’ll be listening for ya." Smiling, the god waved Ares over. "Bye."

"Bye." Opening her eyes, Gabrielle put the phone back in it’s cradle and yawned. Feeling more tired than she thought she should, she tried to stretch it out, then went to help the warrior in the kitchen.

"T okay?" Xena asked from her place at the dishwasher.

"Yes, she was just checking in." Yawning again, the bard checked over Xena’s shoulder and saw that everything was already loaded. "That was quick."

"I have many skills." Smiling, she put in the last of the forks and knives. "Powder." Holding out her hand like she was in the operating room, she waited for the green box, then poured the appropriate amount in the container before closing the door to the washer and starting the cycle. Turning around, she saw a sleepy blonde and smiled as she put the box back under the sink. "Tired?"

Nodding, Gabrielle yawned and shook her head. "I don’t know why, though." Smacking the last of the yawn away, she sighed. "I shouldn’t be. I haven’t done anything to make me tired."

"Welllllllllllll," rolling her eyes, "according to some very popular rumors; taking care of me is a full time job." Giving the bard a smirk, she saw a smile. "But that’s just what I’ve heard."

Closing her eyes, she stepped up to wrap two weary arms around Xena’s waist. Laying her head on a strong shoulder, sher nodded against it in agreement. "It is, but I love my work."

Rolling her eyes again, Xena wrapped two fairly tired arms around Gabrielle’s shoulders and gave the tired blonde head a kiss. "And your work loves you, too." Giving the bard a quick squeeze. "So, are we going to bed, or are you going to start drooling on my shirt?" Recognizing this particular vertical position as their usual horizontal one.

"I do not drool." Reaching down, she gave a firm butt a firm pinch.

"Ow." Frowning, she reached a hand around to rub the offended area.

Smiling, the bard took that hand in hers and moved back a step to look at the full bottom lip starting to emerge. "You pout and I won’t rub your back."

The frown stayed intact, but the lip made a hasty retreat.

"Good." Nodding, Gabrielle held onto Xena’s hand and towed her behind as she made her way out of the kitchen. Turning off lights as she went, she made a detour to lock the front door, then headed for the stairs.

Glancing over her shoulder, the warrior stared at the front door and wondered what had brought on the sudden need for security. They never locked their doors, because the house was a veritable armory of weapons and Xena could handle any would be burglar, who was energetic enough to come out to the boonies to rob them. So this detour intrigued her and as she was led upstairs, her mind pondered the reasoning behind it.

Having reached the top of the stairs, she aimed for the bedroom, which was straight ahead. Releasing her captive, as she passed through the door, the bard switched on the light to give the room a quick visual search. Finding only striped wall paper and furniture, she went about the process of getting ready for bed. Pulling one piece of clothing off at a time, her mind began to drift again as the silence of the room seemed to permeate her subconscious. The more she undressed, the more she found herself wanting to keep her clothes on, because whatever it was, was back. The sudden chill of the room and the eerie quiet stopped her hands from their task and Gabrielle stood still. Feeling the hairs on the back of her neck begin to rise, she turned her head slowly around to find the warrior as statuesque as she was.

Xena had felt it too and now she knew why the door had been locked. Looking over at the bard, she saw the same uneasiness she was feeling mirrored in Gabrielle's face. Leaving her shirt half unbuttoned, she stepped slowly sideways toward her wife, taking each step carefully and listening. There was no noise. No sound whatsoever, except for the air moving in and out of her lungs, so she held her breath. Reaching the bard, she moved her arm sideways to place Gabrielle behind her and stepped them both backwards. When she felt a hand on her back, she stopped and took a silent breath to hold it again while her eyes and other senses searched for any sign of a threat.

Her back against a wall, Gabrielle searched as well as she could from behind the towering figure of her wife, but there was still nothing. No flicker of light, no shadow, no movement, no nothing. Just the warrior in front of her, the room and a subtle chill against her skin. Moving her hand from Xena’s back, she placed it on the warrior’s upper arm.

Feeling the touch, the warrior held up a hand to silence the inquiry she knew was coming. Taking another look around, she closed her eyes to listen again. But again, there was only the eerie silence. Shaking her head, she opened her eyes. Cursing her complacent mentality and dulled instincts, the warrior inside was coming alive, but possible too late to be of any use, because as she considered her defensive options, she realized that her closet, with it’s 12 gauge pump action shot gun and her sword were across the room. So that left Gabrielle’s closet, which was close at hand, but only held the bard’s staff. Trying to come up with a viable solution, she could feel the deathly silence becoming more oppressive and the hand on her arm tighten it’s hold.

Caught in a turmoil over her pride in her many skills and the safety of Gabrielle, Xena made the choice without a second thought and whispered the name that would bring in someone with greater capabilities than her own. "Ares." Almost before she got his name out, the God of War appeared at the end of the bed. Raising her hand, she placed a single finger over her lips, then lowered it to indicate the room and signal Ares to the danger.

Seeing the couple against the wall, half dressed, Ares didn’t need a signal. The expression on their faces said it all and he raised his hand to his waist, drawing the sword form it’s scabbard, as it suddenly materialized. Standing as still as the pair he used his senses first. Perking his ears, he listened and was immediately struck by the complete and utter silence. Almost palpable in it’s presence, the quiet was accompanied by a stillness, as if the world inside the room was frozen in time.

Extending his powers, Ares checked to see if time was standing still and found that it was not. His godly senses picked up the motion inside the dishwasher, the ceiling fan in the living room, the hands moving slowly around the various analog clocks and the blinking displays of the digital ones. The normal ignorable background noise was gone, as was more indistinguishable sounds, like the light over head humming away, or the water circulating through the water heater in the garage, or the air circulating through the air ducts that ran throughout the house. Everything was moving, but nothing made a sound.

Checking further out, he extended his powers to outside the walls of the house and discovered that time was moving out there also and that everything seemed as it should be. The trees were being blown by a soft breeze and nature’s creatures were going about their business, but those sounds couldn’t be heard either. Nothing came in from the outside and nothing made a sound on the inside.

Watching him closely, Xena knew Ares wasn’t getting anything. His expression was confused, but calm. Then the god closed his eyes and she could almost feel his power reaching out as he concentrated his search to the unnatural world. Stepping back, her body pressed Gabrielle’s harder against the wall in an effort to protect the bard should any backlash occur. Expecting the unexpected, she waited as silently as her surroundings for anything that might pop up.

Having felt the initial uneasiness, then the confusion, frustration and fear, T had sent Ares to the house in the same instant Xena had called him. Waiting impatiently on the couch, she’d gone against the warrior’s instructions and used her powers to watch the scene. The emotions she was getting from Xena and Gabrielle were mixed, but anything remotely associated with fear called for breaking the rules, which was the image playing out like a large screen television in place of the fireplace. In it, she saw a scaled down version of the girls against the wall and Ares checking the house and everything looked normal, except for the obvious state of wariness. Sitting forward, the journal went to the side, as her concern escalated slightly.

She saw Ares close his eyes and saw Xena take a step back. Increasing her sensory perception, the god picked up what the God of War was getting with his scan, as well as the concern from the warrior. From across the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Aegean, T could feel the silence and the stillness and the image grew in size with the proportion of her growing concern. Encompassing the entire wall of the chambers, it showed the whole bedroom, from the perspective of the head of the bed, as if the two rooms were adjoined, separated by a pane of glass.

Rising slowly off the couch, T folded her arms across her chest and watched. A frown on her face, she used her eyes to do her own scan and extended her powers without thinking to reinforce the check Ares was conducting.

Shaking his head, Ares extended his search and knitted his brow. He couldn’t find anything in the immediate area to cause the silence, so he checked further and further outward. Moving his mind through the surrounding woods, it took awhile for him to check every twig, leaf and pine needle on the 500 acres, but he did and he still found nothing. It was if the whole place had slipped into a silent, still void that had no center. There appeared to be no cause for the situation and it didn’t fluctuate. There was no one spot that came up stronger than any other and there was no sign of a core from which the stillness emanated. It was an even blanket of silence that extended beyond the acreage the girls owned and without wasting anymore time, Ares made the decision that whatever it was and where ever it came from, it couldn’t get to the Palace.

Opening his eyes, he sighed and walked over to the couple. "Nothing." He said quietly, which still sounded like a shout in his ears.

Xena heard a soft groan from behind her and stepped forward to ease the pressure she was placing on the bard. "Now what?"

"The Palace." Sheathing his sword, the god nodded sideways. "It’s safe and you can stay there until I figure out what’s going on."

As her shoulders slumped, the warrior felt a gentle tug on her arm and turned around to see Gabrielle peek her head to the side. "What?"

"You get your stuff and I’ll get mine." She said softly and sent a silent message through her eyes, that indicated her willingness to leave.

Taking a good look into those eyes, Xena nodded. "Okay." Giving her a smile, the warrior turned back to Ares. "Let me get my sword and stuff and we’ll be ready."

Nodding, Ares stepped back and drew his sword again, as a precaution. "I’ll watch ya."

Letting out a soft sigh, the warrior walked past the god to her closet carefully, still under the influence of the silence. Pulling out her sword and chakram, she also grabbed some clothes, tossing them over her shoulder.

Gabrielle grabbed her staff, sais, and a few other essentials as quickly as possible and returned to stand beside the God of War. "I’m ready."

"Me, too." Her load in hand, Xena took her place beside the bard.

Taking one last look around, Ares nodded, then waved his free hand to pop them out.

Seeing this motion, T waited for the three of them to disappear from the image. Then her arms unfolded slowly when nothing happened. Stepping around the table, she moved closer to the image, watching the immediate confusion on Ares’ face and felt the sudden fear in two mortal souls. "Ares, get them out of there." She growled low, as her eyes moved rapidly over the image. "Come on." Her hands balling into fists, the god was trying to will his powers to work. "Pop out, dammit."

"Ares?" Gabrielle asked, a look of amazement in her eyes.

"I don’t know what’s wrong." Shaking his head, Ares’ voice was low and irritated. Waving his hand again and again, nothing was happening and his ire was growing with each unsuccessful attempt at getting them to the Palace.

"Shit. So much for an easy out." Xena growled and dropped her belongings on the bed, so she could button up her shirt.

"What?" Dropping her things as well, the bard glanced at the warrior. "Xena?"

"I think we’re trapped." Leaving a couple buttons undone, she picked up her sword and slung the scabbard over her shoulder.

"We are not trapped." Ares said venomously, spinning around to face her. "I’ll get us out of here."

Unfazed by the announcement, she slipped the belt over her head, so the pommel was in it’s proper place behind her right shoulder. "I hope you can." Shifting her shoulder, the warrior got the sword in a comfortable position. "But I’m not taking any chances, Ares. Something’s here and you can’t see it and your powers aren’t picking it up, which means that it’s probably not something nice, so I’m going to be ready if it decides to show itself." Giving him a flick of her eyebrows, Xena turned to the bard. "Gabrielle, can you fight in that outfit?"

Looking down at what she had left of her dress suit, she shook her head. "Not very easily." Thinking that a round house kick would be difficult in her tight skirt.

"Then change and get your weapons ready." Nodding, she glanced back at Ares, then took hold of his shoulders so that his back was to the bard. "Look. I know you want to do the right thing and I appreciate your coming here to protect us, but I don’t think your powers are going to get us out of here. So, what I need from you is to know what you can do. It’s obvious that something is blocking your power, but if you can still call up a fireball or something, it might come in handy."

"A fireball!" Snapping her head up, Gabrielle’s eyes went wide again. "Xena he’ll burn the house down if he does that."

"Gabrielle, we may be limited here." Glancing over Ares’ shoulder, the warrior gave her wife an irritated look.

"Xena, we don’t know what’s going on yet." Pulling off her silk blouse, she shook her head. "So do you mind if I would like to keep my library from ending up in ashes." Returning the irritated look. "Let him test his powers in your garage."

Growling, she conceded the point and moved her eyes back to his. "No fireballs unless absolutely necessary and don’t aim for the library."

Rolling his eyes, the God of War shrugged off the hands on his shoulders to sheathe his sword. "Look, you two. You’re making a fuss over something that’s fixable. All I have to do is call T and she’ll get us out of here." Putting his hands on his hips, he gave the warrior a stare.

"T!" Slapping her forehead, Xena closed her eyes. "Geez, why didn’t I think of that." Nodding, she opened her eyes, then shook her head. "No, wait. She’d have to use her powers to pop us out and that isn’t good for the baby."

Letting out a long sigh, Gabrielle pulled the zipper up on her jeans in one snatch. "Hello. We’ve got a portal at the back door." Using a teacherly tone, she turned to get a sweatshirt out of the dresser. "We use that all the time." Pulling out a t-shirt as well, she turned back to find a pair of unamused blue eyes staring at her. "Am I wrong?" She shot back.

"No." Speaking through a clenched jaw, the warrior nodded. "We’ll use the portal."

"Whatever!" Throwing his hands in the air, Ares shook his head. "Let’s just get out of here."

"Fine." Picking up her chakram, Xena nodded.

"Works for me." Gathering her weapons, the bard agreed.

"Ares, you lead and I’ll stay behind Gabrielle, and take it slow." Giving him a soft shove, she let him turn toward the door, then pulled the bard to stand behind him. "Gabrielle, grab his belt loop and I’ll take yours. I don’t want anything getting us separated."

Doing as instructed, she tucked her sais in her back pockets, her staff in one hand then wrapped two fingers through one of the belt loops on Ares’ jeans. "Ready."

Taking hold of one the bard’s loops with one finger, she held the chakram with the rest and drew her sword. "Ares, go." Speaking softly, but firmly, the warrior sent her senses into overdrive and felt the bard move ahead.

Steadying his grip on his sword, the God of War took slow steps toward the door. Pausing just inside, he held his sword to his body and checked outside with his head only. When no danger appeared, he continued forward, leading the little armed mini conga line toward the stairs.

Watching the steps beneath her feet, Gabrielle held on and felt a tug at her waist. Looking back, she saw Xena doing the same. "Anything?"

"No." Whispering, Xena shook her head and felt her way down the stairs with her feet, to keep her eyes free to check for movement of any kind.

At the bottom of the stairs, Ares checked the living room before moving ahead. Seeing nothing, he glanced out the windows to either side and saw only the darkness of night. Picking up the pace again, he weaved around the couch toward the kitchen keeping one thought on the slight pressure at his waist. "Gabrielle, are you okay?"

"Yes." Nodding, the bard’s eyes were everywhere. Checking each nook and cranny for a sign of something, which was difficult in the dark, but that didn’t stop her searching.

Bringing up the rear, the warrior’s fingers flexed around the chakram. Her ancient weapon felt good in her hand and she hoped that her practice with Frisbee’s would count for something if push came to shove.

Checking the kitchen before he led them in, Ares didn’t like the looks of the window over the sink. It was too close for him to pass by without some reservations, so he hung as tightly to the far counter as possible and glanced down at the dishwasher. It was still running and still quite silent. Lifting his gaze, he eased closer toward the back door, which was only a few paces away and kept a wary eye on the window. "You guys can start humming now."

Almost afraid to disturb the silence, Xena cleared her dry throat and began humming just above an audible level.

Gabrielle did the same, but couldn’t hear herself over her heart pounding in her ears.

With a mixed bag of tunes in the air, the God of War eased them to the door, then checked the opening to the library. Scanning the darkness, he looked out the huge set of windows and into the night. Still there was nothing, so he turned back and put one hand on the door knob. Turning it slowly, he pulled then closed his eyes. "It won’t open."

"It’s locked." Breaking into her rendition of Over the Rainbow, the bard reached past him to slide the deadbolt back and twist the button on the knob. "Now try it."

Checking over her shoulder, the warrior watched the kitchen with a cautious eye.

Trying again, Ares turned the knob and pulled. Slowly his heart fell through the floor as the door slid toward him. Letting out a sigh, he opened his eyes and saw pitch black. This brought on a frown and he checked the darkness. It was the back yard, not the Palace. "It didn’t work."

"What?" Turning around, Xena stood up straight to look outside and sure enough, their bedroom at the Palace was nowhere in sight. "Dammit."

"Oh, you have got to be kidding me." Staring out the door as well, Gabrielle closed her eyes against the truth. "T, this is no time to be taking a nap."

From her vantage point inside her chambers, T was not taking a nap and she was not a happy camper. Having been privy to the whole chain of events, she’d let them play out before her in an attempt to keep from using too much of her power and not to endanger her child. But now, her attempts to open the portal were failing and her stress level was rising exponentially. "Open!" Yelling at the image, she snapped her fingers several more times and got nothing but a sound for her efforts. "Oh, screw this." Sighing, she lowered her hand and hoped her baby wouldn’t mind a little surge. Standing up straight, she cracked her neck, then brought her hand back up. Concentrating on the trio, she snapped her fingers in an attempt to pop them out of the house and forgo the portal. Unfortunately this didn’t work either and her head snapped sideways as someone began pounding on the front door. Growling low, she opened her door without any problem and could smell the smoke before Cargan got the word ‘fire’ out of his mouth.

A stench of burning wood in her lungs, T’s eyes went back to the wall and her family. They were still at the back door and looked as happy as she did.

"The forest is on fire!" Coming inside, the Captain of the Royal Guard shouted, then saw the wall. "What’s going on?"

"Somebody’s got them trapped in the house and I can’t open the portal, or pop them out." Growling out the words, her ears went back in anger as a pain shot up from her abdomen. Pushing the pain aside, she turned to the Captain. "Where’s the fire?"

"It’s on the fringe, but it’s coming in." Pointing back out the door.

She could hear people yelling and she could feel the panic from her family. Torn between the two, T closed her eyes. Pulling more of her power back into play, she sent her senses outward to find the fire. As if there herself, she could see the flames licking their way up trees and across the ground. It was moving all right, but not by mother nature. Moving steadily inward, the fire circled the entire forest that surrounded both her home and the Palace of the Ancients. Shaking her head, she concentrated on it and tried to put it out, but apparently that wasn’t going to happen either. Letting out a loud growl of frustration, she glanced up at the wall. "Aphrodite!"

All in a dither, the Goddess of Love gladly popped in from her ruined tour. "What’s going on?"

"I don’t know, but it’s not natural." Pointing to the wall, T clenched her jaw. "Something’s got them trapped in the house and I can’t get them out." Giving the image another growl, she turned to the goddess. "Work with Cargan. Start getting everybody through the tunnels, into the valley and you start taking them back where they came from."

"We can fight the fire." Cargan suggested.

"No you can’t. If I can’t put it out, then you can’t put it out, okay." Taking some of her frustrations out on him. "Just get the Ungara out of here and I’ll take care of the rest."

Bowing respectfully, he turned and left.

Regretting her harshness, T didn’t have time to make any apologies, so she pressed on. "Aphrodite, you don’t have to drop them off at their doorsteps. Just get them in the general vicinity and take as many people as you can on each trip. If that fire picks up it’s pace, you won’t have a lot of time."

Nodding, she looked hesitant to move. "What about you and sweet pea and the big guy?"

"Bud." Closing her eyes, she’d forgotten about the tiger and sighed. She’d made him go out to let the Ungara have a look, because the goddess said they wanted to see him and now her ensign was probably running straight back here and plowing over innocent people in the process.

Needless to say, Bud’s timing was perfect and he came scrambling through the door, just as T was getting ready to have Aphrodite go look for him.

"That’s one." Aphrodite said and still didn’t leave.

"Bud, before you get into a tizzy, just lay down and I’ll get to you in a minute. I’m fine." Pointing at the couch, she waited until he was in place before turning her attention to the still present Goddess of Love. "I’ll be fine and so will the baby. I just need you to make sure the Ungara are safe." Stating it more as a hope than a fact, she also hoped she sounded convincing enough to get the goddess moving.

Putting her hands on her hips, she drummed her manicured fingers then nodded. "Okay, but as soon as I get these guy outta here, I’ll be back."

"Okay." Nodding, T smiled when she popped out. Checking the wall again, she saw that the trio had moved into the living room and were discussing their dilemma. "Bud, I need you to do two things for me."

Coming forward, he moved beside her and watched the wall as well.

"First, go down to the throne and bring the Crown to me." Putting her hands on her hips, she took a deep breath. "After you do that, I want you to make sure that Cargan and the Guard don’t try to stay. I think that whoever is causing this is trying to play my family against me and the last thing I need is another set of hostages."

Growling, Bud sneezed, then left to go get the Crown.

With her end covered, T watched the wall and heard another knock, but this one wasn’t physical, it was mental and she knew who it was. Moving her eyes up and right, she brought a second image onto the wall and saw the grim face of Ungara staring back at her. "Tell me you know what’s going on."

Sighing, he shook his head. "Sadly, no. The fire came as a complete surprise and as of yet, we haven’t determined it’s source."

Feeling another pain, she suppressed it and sighed. "Well, unless this fire is more than fire, the Palace is safe. All the exterior walls and doors are solid stone. It won’t burn."

Nodding, he agreed. "As is this one, but you have to consider that this is no ordinary fire and there may be more to it than meets the eye."

"True, but it’s still got to cross the river and no fire can burn down a mountain." Putting her hands on her hips, she stepped away from the wall to get a better view. "If need be, I’ll seal the Palace and leave through one of the tunnels."

Bud came trotting in with the Crown in his mouth and dropped it on the table to sit beside T.

"Thanks, Bud." Giving him a healthy pat to the head, she shoved it sideways. "Now, go check on Cargan and close the door behind you."

Unmoving, at first, the tiger finally relented to her wishes when she growled at him and he closed the door with his tail as he went out.

"Now, back to my other problem." Ignoring Ungara’s presence, she stared at the wall and broke into the conversation with a concentrated effort.

In the middle of formulating a plan with his other unknown hostages, Ares held up a hand and closed his eyes. Listening inside his mind, he could hear a faint voice. "Shut up! It’s T."

Halting in mid sentence, both Gabrielle and Xena turned to look at the God of War in surprise.

Wincing, T was shouting in her mind and fighting the pains shooting up from her stomach. Ares, listen. I’ve got your image on the wall, but I can’t get you out. Something is blocking my power. Sit tight until I can figure out what’s going on and don’t leave the house. I think whoever is doing this is trying to use you three as a decoy and I need to know where you are. Just stay put.

A decoy for what? What’s going on? Are you okay? What’s happening there?
Getting slowly to his feet, he waited for an answer. T? Are you okay? He thought, sending the words slowly and still got nothing in return. Opening his eyes, he saw two sets staring at him expectantly. "T’s in trouble. I think something’s going on at home."

"What?" Standing up, Xena moved around the coffee table. "What did she say?"

"She said she can see us, but she can’t get us out. Something, or someone is blocking her power and she doesn’t know who, yet." Rubbing his forehead, he felt a layer of sweat forming.

"And?" Moving to the other side of him, Gabrielle looked up in dread.

"And she thinks that we’re being used as a decoy, and she said not to leave the house, because she needs to know where we are." Covering his eyes, Ares moved his hand slowly down his face.

Closing her eyes, the warrior hung her head and stepped back. "All this was to get you here, so you’d be trapped with us and T would be left alone."

"That doesn’t make any sense." Confused, the bard shook her head. "I can understand using us as a distraction, but who’s suicidal enough to take on T?" Going back to the couch, she sat down. "No, there has got to be more to this. I mean think about it. Even TPTB won’t take her on anymore."

"She’s got a point." Nodding, Ares looked to the warrior.

Lifting her head, Xena stared back at him as a thousand thoughts ran through her mind. "Did you say she could see us?" Picking a question out at random.

"Yes, I think she’s using one of the walls in the chamber as a reflection pool. She can see us and might be able to us." Looking around the room, he smiled and tried to sense where she’d be watching from.

"Can you do the same thing, so we could see her?" Folding her arms across her chest, she was feeling like she was being watched, but now it wasn’t so creepy.

"I can try to focus on the chambers, but I doubt you’ll see T." Sighing, he shrugged. "Even though she expanded the power base to allow Aphrodite and me free access, I’ve still never been able to pick her up with my powers. It’s the Ungara thing. I can’t get past it."

"Try anyway." Gabrielle instructed. "If we can’t see T, maybe we can use it to find out what’s going on at the Palace."

Thinking that would be useless considering their current situation, he relented anyway. "Okay. Pick a wall."

"Use the fireplace." Pointing at it, Xena moved around the coffee table to sit beside the bard for a good view.

"Here we go." Closing his eyes, Ares concentrated on T and the chambers. Reaching out with his powers and his mind, he tried to pick up her locale, though it would be useless and imagined that she was watching them watch her.

The girls sat forward and stared into the dark fireplace and waited.

"Fire!" Opening his eyes wide, the god stared into space.

Jumping a foot off the couch in unison, Xena and Gabrielle turned to look at him.

"What?" Looking from Ares to the fireplace, the warrior shook her head. "What fire?"

"The forest is on fire." He said, almost breathless.

"Forest?" As confused as her wife, it took the bard a few seconds to make the connection. "The forest around the Palace is on fire?"

Nodding, he focused on her voice and moved his eyes to look at her. "The Ungaran forest is burning." His voice riddled with wonder.

"What about T? What about her chambers?" Getting up again, Xena was having some very bad thoughts. "Couldn’t you get in?"

"No, the power base is closed, or it’s blocked." Shaking his head, Ares was switching from wondering to desperate. "The closest I could get was the outer ring and it was on fire."

"Oh, my gods." Closing her eyes, Gabrielle put her hands on her head and fell back, slumping into the cushions.

"Is the whole forest on fire?" Holding her forehead, the warrior closed her eyes.

"I don’t know." Hanging his head, Ares stared in bewilderment and sat down in a chair. "All I could see was a line of fire around the outer edge of the forest. I couldn’t see through it."

"How about above it?" Grasping at straws, Xena wasn’t ready to give up yet. "Could you go higher and check how close it is to the Palace?"

"I’ll try." Nodding, he closed his eyes and concentrated again. Frowning, he found the fire quickly and moved upward until he was above the smoke. "No, the whole forest isn’t on fire. It’s a band around the edge burning in toward the Palace."

"Can you see the Palace?" Kneeling down, the warrior stared up at his face.

Turning his head to one side, Ares brought it back to shake it slowly. "No. I can’t see much beyond the fire."

"Go higher." Xena urged. "Try that."

Going higher, he began to lose everything and came back down. "I lose it if I go too high."

Sitting heavily on the floor, she shook her head. "Okay." Sighing as heavily as she’d sat down, the warrior cradled her head as a feeling of helplessness washed over her. "Let’s think about this. She can see us, but you can’t get past the power base. She can’t pop us out and neither can you, but you can get out with your mind. So, basically, the only power you’ve lost is the ability to pop in and out, right?" Looking up. "Ares?"

Opening his eyes, the God of War nodded.

"What else do we know?" Sitting up, Xena stared at the ceiling. "Somebody, or something wants us to stay here, but so far hasn’t shown any signs of wanting to hurt us. The forest is burning, which could be another distraction for T, since the place is packed with Ungara." Frowning, she looked down to stare at Ares again. "Is just the front side burning?"

This made him think a minute and an eyebrow went up. "I don’t know."

Snapping her fingers in repetition, Gabrielle spoke up. "The back door. Unless there is a fire all the way around, you might be able to get in that way." Venturing a smile for Ares to hang onto.

Closing his eyes, Ares went back to Greece and made a long sweep around the forest, over the range of mountains and tried to come in over the valley. He got as far as the back outer rim, but was stopped by an invisible barrier. "It’s not burning, but I can’t get in."

"What do you see? Can you zoom in?" Sitting up, the bard gave the warrior a flick of the eyebrows.

Concentrating more, he saw the horses grazing and narrowed the zone. Squeezing his eyes tighter, he could barely make out movement by the back side of the mountain, so he thought about the only other person he could think of and concentrated on his sister. Slowly the image got clearer and he saw Aphrodite corralling a group of people together. Watching closely, he saw the goddess and the group disappear. "Everybody’s coming out the back and I think Aphrodite is evacuating the Ungara."

Xena and Gabrielle exchanged a curious stare. "She can pop out?" The bard asked, turning to stare wide-eyed at Ares.

Nodding, he opened his eyes.

Shaking her head, Xena pounded on his knee. "Keep watching and see if she pops back in again." An urgency in her voice.

Rolling his eyes, Ares closed them again. Going back to where he’d left off, he watched for his sister to return. After about thirty seconds, she did and began corralling the next group. "She’s back."

"Geez o Pete!" Jumping up, the warrior turned to the bard. "Get me something to write on. Something big."

Hopping up, Gabrielle ran around the couch and into the kitchen.

"What are you thinking." Getting up as well, Ares was clinging to their excitement.

"If she can do it, so can T and maybe, if we’re lucky, I can hold up a message telling that stubborn woman you’re in love with to get her ass outta there." Slapping him on the shoulder, she smiled. "We gotta chance."

"Xena, she won’t leave as long as there’s one person left and you know it." Countering the idea, Ares didn’t want to, but he had to. "And she’ll have to pop out. She can’t walk all the way over the mountains in her condition and she can’t go through the fire."

Seeing the seriousness on his face, she had to agree. "I know, but one good pop shouldn’t, I hope, do the baby any harm."

"And where do you think she’ll pop to?" Shaking his head, he sighed. "Xena, she’ll come here. We may be bringing her into another trap, if she can even get in."

Not having considered that, Xena began chewing her lower lip. Turning away slowly, she paced around the room and ignored the bard when she came back with several pieces of paper taped together and a large magic marker.

"What happened?" Taking a look at both dour faces, Gabrielle sighed. "We were right there. Weren’t we?"

Getting tired of shaking his head, Ares did it again. "If T leaves the Palace, she’ll come here and I think that may be the point to all this. Maybe whoever doesn’t want her alone. Maybe getting us all together is the plan."

"But we were coming in the morning anyway." Throwing in her two dinars. "Why go through all this trouble?"

"It’s the perfect plan." Xena whispered and turned around to face them. Tapping the air with a finger, she looked to the God of War. "But I think you’re only half right. I don’t think this person cares about us at all. We’re just a lure to get T away from the Palace. To get her off her home turf. With the fire, the Ungara will leave and so will Aphrodite, which will leave the Ancients, but they’re safe from the fire. Both Palaces are carved out of solid rock, they aren’t gonna burn. And that leaves Bud and she’ll either leave him with Ungara, or bring him along, but either way, she leaves the Palace voluntarily, and that’s the point to all this. Somebody wants T out of the Palace."

"Then we have to get out of here." Gabrielle whispered. Having put all the pieces together, she added one of her own. "If this person is worth their salt as a strategist, then they’ll have a back-up plan and I’ll bet you anything, that we’re it." Giving each brunette a serious stare, she continued. "I think Xena’s right. Whoever this person is wants T away from the Palace for whatever reason, but they can’t force her out. They have enough power to keep Ares here and they let T have a window to know that we’re okay. So, if plan alpha fails, they just use that window to let her know that we’re not okay and she’s here in a heartbeat anyway." Shaking her head, she sighed. "Well?"

Ares nodded regretfully. "But that leaves us with two questions. One, how to leave and two, what’s so important about the Palace? She’s no stronger there than anywhere else."

"Ares, how fast was that fire burning?" One phase of understanding complete, Xena moved on to the next.

"Not very. It’ll probably take hours to get to the Palace, if it can get across the river." Going right along with her, he knew there would be another piece put in place once Xena got done.

"And how long do you think it will take Aphrodite to evacuate all of the Ungara?" Putting two and two together, she was trying to come up with a time frame before plan beta might go into effect.

"At the rate she was going, about the same amount of time." Doing some calculations of his own, Ares considered the fire and his sister. "I’d say four, maybe five hours tops."

"Well, if we can get out of here, the best bet is the truck, because we can all stay together. But . . . " Closing her eyes, she turned to the bard and opened them slowly.

"Xena, I will gladly ride one of your bikes through the gates of hell for T, but I have one thing to say first." Holding up a finger, she gave the warrior a smile. "I know I’ll regret it later and you’re going to blame it on my being a bard, but I think we might need to answer Ares’ second question first. What’s so important about the Palace?"

"Gabrielle." Sighing, Xena rolled her eyes.

"No, now think about it." Waving her finger, she put the paper and marker down to walk over. "So far, all we’ve figured out is the plan and the only other thing we know is that this person is powerful enough to keep T from getting us out, which is a lot, but not enough. Before we high tail it off on the Harley’s we might want to consider what we’re up against, because I don’t think it’s going to matter if we’re here, or if we’re a thousand miles away. If plan alpha fails, we’re going to find out the hard way who’s pulling the strings right now. And I for one, am voting for having a little home field advantage of our own."

"What about the library going up in flames?" Lifting her eyebrows, she smiled smugly.

"Well, until that happens, I say use those books to the utmost." Smiling back. "I’d rather be in the Archives right now, but I’ll make do with what I’ve got. It’s a pretty formidable collection, if I do say so myself."

"May I?" Ares interrupted tentatively.

"Go ahead." Shaking her head, Xena turned to stare at him. "What?"

"I think I can get Gabrielle into the Archives, in a manner of speaking." Moving his eyes between the two women, he saw they wanted clarification, so he gave it to them. "I might be able to connect her computer to the Hub and it’s got the entire Archives stored on some main frames."

Gabrielle’s jaw dropped. "All of the Archives are on computer?"

"I think so." Nodding, he shrugged and pointed toward the floor. "There’s a huge room five floors underground full of mainframes. T said that if I even thought about touching them, I’d end up like Draco, except ten times worse."

"Those are the Archives." Nodding a little too happily, Xena smiled. "She guards those things like Bud guards her. All teeth and claws."

"Are they on the net?" Ignoring the warrior, the bard concentrated on Ares.

"Maybe and I’m not making any promises, but maybe." Sounding hopeful, he gave her a hopeful smile. "I think I found them one day when I was running the main console."

Closing her eyes, Gabrielle took a deep breath. Complete access to the Archives at the touch of her fingers was a dream come true, but she’d have to wait to celebrate. Opening her eyes, she looked up at the warrior. "Well? Do we stay and see what we can find out, or are we outta here?"

Closing her eyes, Xena rubbed her forehead, then her chin. Running sounded like the best idea, but Gabrielle had a point with needing to know who was going to come after them. And anything they learned, T would learn too, because she could watch them, but time was running out. She knew that plan alpha would fail, because T wouldn’t go anywhere and risk hurting the baby, unless she absolutely had to and if that happened, she’d come out swinging, which meant that Junior’s chances were minimal at best. The last thing T needed was to go into battle right now, but if she could end it early, the baby might just hold on. Maybe. And the best way to ensure a quick victory was to know more about your opponent than they knew about you. Opening her eyes, she sighed. "We stay and find out what we can. If Junior is going to have any chance at all, then this fight needs to be over before it begins."

"Yes!" Pumping her fist, the bard took hold of Xena’s hand and made for the library. "Ares!"

"Right behind ya." Following along, the God of War latched on to the hope that the daring duo could pull off another one. Whatever it was that was out there, he wondered if it knew what it was up against and hoped that it didn’t have a clue as to the power of three determined women who never failed to never give up.

Back on the couch, T followed the trio into the library and couldn’t help but smile, despite the dire circumstances. She’d been watching and listening the whole time and had been side tracked in her own efforts to formulate a plan when the voices coming from the wall matched her thoughts exactly. So, she’d let them do the math and watched calmly with a sort of fascination at the scene. The three people who were her family had set aside any and all petty differences to coalesce into a cognizant unit. There was no name calling, or finger pointing. They were playing off each other’s strengths, with just one goal: to keep their eyes focused her safety and that of her baby. They’d forgone the opportunity to possibly save themselves and consciously chose to stay in harms way for the sole purpose of trying to find information that would help. To hunt down the unknown assailant using the only resources available and with only the slimmest margin for success.

"Okay, let’s see if I can’t do something besides sit here and watch." Reaching behind her head, T pulled the laptop off the table and brought it around. Grabbing a pillow from beside her, she propped the computer on it, between her tummy and her knees, then opened the lid and turned it on. Watching it boot up quickly, she grabbed the phone from behind her as well and hooked it up. Not wanting to alert whoever was out there to what she was doing, by using her powers, she began typing quickly, to enter the access codes required for Gabrielle go get into the main frames that held the Archives and the ones she’d installed with Ancients’ Archives as well. "I just hope she doesn’t have a heart attack." Smiling to herself, T watched the screen, waiting for her friend to make the connection. Then she set up a direct comlink to the Hub and typed a quick message. [Gabrielle, don’t freak out, but I’ve given you access to the Ungaran Archives and Ungara’s Archives. I’ll be following along and I’ll try to help. If you want to send a message back, don’t waste the time. Just say what you have to say and I’ll hear it. I can’t talk back, but I can type really, really fast and I know how the books are cataloged. Don’t waste time trying to find what you want. Just ask and I’ll pull it up for ya. That’s it until you tell me where you want to start looking. I don’t have a clue who’s burning my forest, but if there is any chance of finding out, I know it lies in the hands of the people who hold my heart. Yours forever, T.] Sending the message, she looked up at the wall and waited for it to come through. When it did, she saw three astonished faces happy faces, which made her smile. "That’s right, whoever you are. You can keep me from getting them out, but you can’t keep me from getting in." Watching them look around, she chuckled. "Now," cracking her knuckles and wiggling her fingers, "let’s see what one overly inquisitive bard, one stubborn skilled warrior princess, one helpful and very hansome God of War, also overly protective father and one pregnant King, who’s just chomping at the bit to get the hell out of this room can come up with, shall we? Let’s see what happens when somebody crawls out from under their rock to take on the Royal House of Ungara."



Sorry. No Epilogue. No teasers. No spoilers and no hints.

Thanks for reading.


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