by Godot
H.E.Kern@worldnet.att.net

Disclaimer: The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess are owned by MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures, bless them. No copyright infringement is intended.

Author's Note: This is a prerift story. There is some subtext, as little or as much as you want. Antipany is a character from a previous story, but this tale stands alone. Suffice it to say that Antipany and Xena don't like each other very much.

Part 3--Conclusion
(Chapters 7-9) 

Chapter 7

Demo sat quietly by Ionea's bed watching the young woman sleep. The hypnotic had done its job but the young woman was tossing and turning in her sleep, occasionally crying out Hygea's name. The setting sun threw ghostly shadows along the wall as the room slowly darkened. The dark haired priestess put a soothing hand on Ionea's shoulder as the young woman turned again restlessly in the bed.

She had to leave this place and now was the time. Her visions had become quite clear and they told her to go to Corinth. There was nothing left for her here now and she could no longer refuse the call. All she had to do was tie up a few loose ends. Quietly she picked up a pillow that had fallen to the floor and stood over the whimpering young woman.

"How is she?" the voice said softly. Demo whirled around, startled by the sudden noise. Seeing it was Xena she dropped the pillow on the bed and walked over to the door trying to compose herself.

"You shouldn't sneak up on people like that," she said shortly. "Especially at a time like this."

Xena motioned her into the hall. "Sorry, but I need to talk to you. Let's go out to the gardens. Gabrielle will stay with Ionea." When the priestess hesitated, Gabrielle patted her arm. "It's all right. I'll make sure nothing happens to her."

Abruptly nodding her assent she walked out to the gardens with Xena. "I suppose you want to know what I was doing last night?" she said. Xena raised a questioning eyebrow. "I was sleeping, just like I do most nights."

"By yourself?"

Now it was Demo's turn to raise an eyebrow. "Of course by myself. I'm a solitary person, Xena. I have no need for the comfort of others. My visions are the only company I keep." She looked at the mountains her face a stoic mask. "I was awakened by the screaming and when I got to the library Herophile and Ionea were already there."

Xena studied her for a moment. "Why was Ionea there?"

"I don't know, you'll have to ask her. She was so hysterical, she wasn't making any sense, just kept on screaming. When I brought her back to her room, I gave her something to help her sleep."

"You and Herophile weren't getting along, were you?"

Demo looked at her sharply. "Where did you hear that," she asked.

"Word gets around." Not telling her of Gabrielle's penchant for dirty linen.

"It's true," Demo sighed. "I don't agree with Herophile on how to run the temple. I believe it should be open to everyone, not hidden away. The only contact we have with the outside world is with a trader who brings supplies once a week and then we have to go to the other side of the cave to conduct our business. No one is allowed in unless they can make it through the traps. We've had some pretty strong arguments about it and I was all set to leave when this happened."

"Who usually goes to meet the trader?"

"Myself and usually Ionea, or Hygea, and a couple of the guards. Sometimes we'll take one of the younger girls."

"Herophile never goes?"

Demo looked at her sharply. "No, never. Apollo put her here and this is where she'll remain. She wants nothing more to do with the outside world."

"What took you so long to decide to leave?"

"This is my home, you don't just up and leave your home." She looked away.

The truth, but not the whole truth Xena decided. Besides, Gabrielle had done just that and hadn't looked back more than once or twice. "Tell me about Hygea."

At the mention of the dead woman, Demo closed her eyes for a moment then turned her grief stricken countenance to her inquisitor. "What's there to say? When she came to us she had been driven out of her village because of her dreams. Prophesy is dangerous in the unskilled, Xena. Here she had acceptance and was learning to control and interpret her dreams. She was a beautiful, bright, wonderful young woman who didn't deserve to die. I wish I would have told her..." Her voice trailed off, regret written on her face.

"Told her what?"

"Nothing," Demo said abruptly. "I have work to do." She turned to the door and swiftly walked back into the temple. Xena's eyes narrowed as she watched the priestess walk away.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Gabrielle lit the candles as evening shadows lengthened, then returned to her vigil by the bed. Finally the restless girl stirred into wakefulness and sat up with a groan, trying vainly to shake the cobwebs from her brain. She jerked when the bard touched her shoulder. "It's all right, Ionea. I'll stay with you."

Ionea leaned against the wall and stared blankly at the bard. "Nothing will be all right again, Gabrielle," she said thickly. "It's too late. What happened?"

"I'm sorry, Ionea, but Hygea is dead." The young acolyte buried her head in her hands. "Can you tell me what you saw in the library?"

She stared at the bard, thinking hard. "It took me a long time to go to sleep. When I woke up Hygea wasn't in our room and when she didn't come back I finally went looking for her. When I got to the library I saw your friend standing just inside the door and Hygea was on the floor with blood all over." She shuddered and Gabrielle sat down beside her and put an arm around her shoulders.

"I know this is hard but we need to know what happened. What did you do?"

"Well, I picked up something, I'm not sure what and hit her over the head with it, This bolt of energy came flying off her hand and I just lost it . I started screaming and soon everyone came." She started to cry again.

Gabrielle hugged her and rubbed her back soothingly. "You're doing fine. Ionea, this is important. Was there anyone else in the room?"

"No, I don't think so," she looked up her eyes narrowing. "Was there?"

"Apparently so," replied the bard. "We caught a thief in the room and the guards killed another man in the caves."

Ionea caught her breath. "Is the thief still alive?" she asked sharply.

"Yes, but we're pretty sure someone else is involved."

She leaned back against the wall and looked blankly across the room. "I've never seen anyone murdered before, Gabrielle. Things like that just don't happen here. All that blood..." her voice trailed off.

Gabrielle patted her hand. "We'll find out who's responsible, don't you worry. Is there anything I can get you. Are you hungry?"

"No, I doubt I'll ever be hungry again," replied the young girl. "But you can do something for me. Tell me a story, Gabrielle." A tear rolled down her cheek. "Tell me what happens when dreams die."

And Gabrielle looked into empty eyes that had forsaken all dreams and for once she couldn't think of a single story to tell. Ionea lay down with her face to the wall. "It's all right, Gabrielle. Please leave. I really want to be alone for awhile."

Gabrielle covered the young girl up with a blanket then quietly left the room. She met up with Xena in the hall and they made their way back to their room, where Gabrielle related her conversation with Ionea.

"So Ionea never saw Autolycus in the room? Antipany and the table must have blocked her view of him. Maybe we can use that..." She fell silent, staring at nothing in particular.

Gabrielle took her friend's hand in hers. "Ah, Xena. Xena, Xena. I know that look. You have a plan."

"Semone and Ardenia are preparing the evening meal, Gabrielle. We need to make sure everyone is present, including Ionea. That's your job."

"And what are you going to do?"

Xena gave her friend an enigmatic smile. "What I do best. I'm going to beat the crap out of someone." Her eyes gleamed, her canines bared in a snarl, her face twisted in cruelty.

"You know, I just hate it when you do that," Gabrielle disapproved, noting her companion's facial expression. "Who is this poor person?"

"Autolycus," replied the warlord.

"Well... maybe just this once," allowed her friend as they walked out of the room.

----------

Chapter 8

Xena growled a greeting to the two elderly priestesses as she stalked through the kitchen on her way to the storeroom. They started to respond then looked at each other in apprehension.

"Now there's someone on the hunt," Ardenia remarked to her friend. Tanned and lean from her years of working outside, she was in marked contrast to Semone who was pale and somewhat plump from too many years of sampling her own wonderful cooking.

Semone shuddered. "Best let her do her job, Ardenia. Help me cut up some more vegetables, will you?" But it soon proved difficult to concentrate on their task with the sounds of fists pounding flesh and the howls of pain that followed.

Xena finally emerged from the storeroom and casually wiped the blood off her hands with a rag. "Supper ready yet?" she asked. "I'm starved. Nothing like a little exercise to stimulate the appetite." She smiled at them and whistled her way down the hall.

"Shall we look?" Ardenia asked her friend.

"No!" replied Semone. "Let's just get this meal over with. I want them out of our temple and the quicker she gets what she wants, the quicker they leave. Help me get this food on the table." She picked up the heavy pot of soup and headed for the dining room.

Gabrielle had done her job. Everyone, including Ionea, was seated at the table when Xena entered. She called her companion over and whispered in her ear. With a nod, Gabrielle left the room and went to the storeroom. Semone and Ardenia entered with the food and quickly ladled soup into bowls for everyone. There was a momentary pause when the bard returned with a sulking Antipany. Xena pointed to an empty chair and the sorceress sat down in a huff.

No one had much of an appetite that evening except for Xena, who emptied her bowl of soup with relish. "Well, I've softened your thief up a little and left him hanging up to dry. He told me he was hiding in the room and saw everything and now he wants to bargain. He'll be ready to sing his larcenous little heart out by tomorrow morning." She looked over at Ionea's untouched soup. "Are you going to eat that?" she asked. The pale young woman shook her head. Xena switched bowls, digging into soup. "Better eat up, Antipany. It's your turn tonight. I think we'll have our conversation in my room. More privacy, don't you think?"

Antipany glared at her and her hands began to glow. Xena whipped out her chakrum. "I wouldn't if I were you. A handless sorcerer is kind of useless, don't you think:?" The glow died abruptly. Xena chuckled and took a long drink of wine. "Yes, we're going to have a lot of fun. All night long."

"Xena," Herophile said reprovingly, nodding at the two wide-eyed youngsters at the end of the table. "Don't you think we could talk about something else?"

The warrior shrugged. "That's life, Herophile. What are you complaining about? By tomorrow we'll know who the murderer is and my friend and I will be on our way. You should be happy."

"I know I'll be happy to see you leave," Demo said, pushing away from the table. "I've had enough of this." She stormed out of the room.

Xena looked at her untouched bowl of soup. "Anybody want this?" she asked. When no one spoke she switched bowls and cheerfully downed her third helping of soup. In no time the room cleared out as one by one the women left to seek the solitary confinement of their own places.

Finally the warrior leaned back in her chair, swiping a hand across her mouth and gave a satisfied belch. "Let's go," she said with a feral smile, grabbing Antipany and hauling her to her feet.

Antipany leaned close and whispered, "Aren't you enjoying this a little too much, princess?" Xena just looked at her with a predatory gleam in her eyes. If Antipany could have become any paler than she was, she would have.

~~~~~~~~~~

Autolycus snored loudly, asleep even though he was hanging from a beam. At least the chains were long enough to allow him to lean against the wall and sleep. It was a better position than a lot of jails allowed. And he was an expert on jailhouse decor. He had been a little put out with Antipany when she had dug those chains out from somewhere deep within her cloak and offered them with what he thought was unseemly enthusiasm to Xena as she was looking for something to tie him up with. Xena had assured him it was all part of the plan, along with the two superficial cuts to his face. Head wounds bleed more she explained; it added authenticity to their plan. He still wasn't sure exactly what that plan was, but he suspected she was going fishing and he was the bait.

It was deep into the night, when everyone was sound asleep, that the door of storeroom was pushed hesitantly open and robed figure crept in. She paused in the darkness, listening to his snoring, and after being satisfied that he was indeed asleep, lit a candle and made her way quietly to him. She studied him for a moment, trying to get her courage up, knowing it was her only chance.

Silently she slid the knife out of her sleeve and slowly raised it over her head. She gasped when his eyes flew open and they stared at each other for a long moment.

"For the love of Zeus," he finally said in disgust. "Who would have thought of you?" Before she could react he swung his foot, kicking the knife out of her hand. It impaled itself in the ceiling above their heads. She whirled around and ran for the door. Only to run into a leather clad warrior.

Xena caught the woman in one hand and her candle in the other. Holding the candle up, she examined her quarry. "Guess we both lose this wager, Autolycus. Going somewhere?" she asked the startled woman.

"No," sighed Semone. "This is the only place I want to be." She started to cry.

The sun was creeping over the horizon by the time Xena got everyone assembled in the kitchen. Semone sat looking dejectedly at the tabletop. Herophile and Demo sat staring grimly at the priestess. Ardenia stood behind Semone, trying to comfort her. Ionea and Gabrielle sat on her other side.

"It was a simple plan to steal the books," Xena explained. "Hygea was working for Carnus and your trader was their contact. She really did have the gift of prophecy, but without guidance it was never developed properly. She was driven from her village straight into the arms of Carnus. The merchant is a patient man. He planted Hygea here just waiting for the right time to steal the books. How did you find out about it, Semone?"

Semone wiped the tears away with her apron. "That morning I got up before the sun and went to the sanctuary to pray. I was in the shadows at the back, when I saw Hygea come through on her way to the library. It was an odd time to be wandering around and she was acting funny. I finished my prayers and went to find her. She had moved the bookcase away from the wall and was stacking the Prophesy books by the opening. When I told her to put the books back, she just laughed at me. She pushed me into a chair and told me to be quiet or she'd hurt me. When she turned away I picked up the statue and hit her with it. I may look soft, but all those years of lifting pots have made me pretty strong." She broke into fresh sobs. "I didn't mean to kill her!" she wailed. "I just wanted to stop her until I could get some help."

"I wonder how she knew about the caverns and the map," Gabrielle mused.

Ionea sighed. "I told her. I wanted to get away so badly."

Xena looked at the Ionea thoughtfully. "How did you know about the map?"

The young woman smiled bitterly. "Because I made it. I grew up here, Xena. I've been exploring those caves for years. I finally stumbled on the exit to the outside last year and I saw a way to leave. But I knew I'd never make it on my own in the outside world, so one day I showed Hygea the map and asked her to come with me. She refused, but she knew where I hid it." She stared defiantly at Herophile. "You have no right to keep me here. I'm no better than a slave."

"I was trying to protect you, child," Herophile retorted. "The world beyond these mountains will kill you."

"I'll die here!" Ionea shouted angrily. Xena placed a hand on her shoulder to force her back into the chair.

Semone sighed and patted Gabrielle's hand. "Well, I'm thankful you found the poison. I wasn't thinking very clearly yesterday. I'm sorry."

----------

Chapter 9

They all looked at her in shocked silence. "What do you mean, Semone?" ask Xena softly.

"Why, the tea I gave Gabrielle to brew yesterday. I was so afraid you would take me away from my home, I was in a panic. I added a little poison to the chamomile tea thinking that if you were dead you couldn't make me leave."

"Can't beat that logic," Xena said dryly.

"When I went to get the container of tea last evening, it was missing. I just assumed you had found the poison since you were still alive."

"I think I have an idea where the container went to," Xena said staring at her companion.

Gabrielle blushed and refused to meet the warrior's eyes. "All right, all right. I admit it. I wanted to make sure you didn't drink the stuff so I hid it." She went back into the pantry and returned with the container of tea, handing it to Xena with a wry smile.

The warrior sniffed cautiously and nodded. "This would have done it. With the taste and smell of the other herbs, it would have been very hard to detect if we weren't looking for it."

"Why were you going to kill Autolycus?" Gabrielle asked.

Semone looked surprised, then shrugged. "I was afraid he'd expose me. He violated the temple. He'll die anyway. What difference does it make who executes him? Only I'm afraid I'm just not very good at it," she added sadly. "It's harder to do than I thought. It's much easier to murder accidentally, than on purpose." She looked at Herophile. "I was going to tell you what happened after the outsiders left. Don't let them to take me away from here," she pleaded.

The oracle rubbed her face. "Why would you think I'd let them take you away from here, Semone?" She noted the stern look Ardenia was giving her. "Even if I wanted to, I doubt Ardenia would let me. No, you'll never leave here."

"But what about my dream! It must mean something."

"Sometimes a dream is just a dream, Semone." Herophile stood abruptly and called a guard over. "Take Semone to her room and see that she stays there." She turned to Xena. "Your task is finished, Xena, please leave. We can handle the problem from here." The old priestess was escorted from the room by a guard. Then Herophile strode out of the room trailed by the others and the two companions found themselves alone in the kitchen.

"Well," Gabrielle said, "I guess we've been dismissed. But what about the texts?"

"My guess is that Herophile doesn't want us around when Semone tells her where they are and we don't really want to be here. I have a feeling we're not considered trustworthy. Not that I can blame her when you go around stealing her tea."

"Hey," Gabrielle protested. "I was not stealing. I just misplaced it, that's all."

They started down the hall to their room. "Yeah, sure you did," Xena replied.

"I did!" Gabrielle said. Then she brightened. "Boy, wait 'til I tell Antipany she saved our lives!"

Xena pulled her to a stop. "You're not telling her that. You saved our lives, not her."

"Only because she said what she did. I am too going to tell her..." And found herself pushed against the wall with an angry warlord glaring down at her.

"She'll never let us live it down if you tell her that," Xena growled.

Gabrielle blinked then looked up at her friend and smiled thoughtfully. "You know Xena, if you would have done that to me three years ago, I'd be quaking in my boots. But not now. I know you too well."

The warrior's countenance softened. "I'm that transparent, huh?"

"Only to me," replied the bard. She reached up and planted a kiss on her friend's chin, then slid away to the door of their room. "Besides, do you really think Antipany will be happy to hear she saved YOUR life?" She smiled mischievously and entered the room.

Xena leaned against the wall, listening to murmur of voices as Gabrielle told the sorceress what had happened. After several minutes there was a sharp exclamation and a steady stream of curses. Gabrielle poked her head out of the door.

"You told her?" Xena asked.

"Yep. You wouldn't think such a delicate creature would have such a well-rounded vocabulary, would you?" Gabrielle grinned.

"It would make a sailor proud," Xena confirmed. She pushed away from the wall. "You get packed up while I see to Autolycus. I'll meet you two out front." She strode down the hall to the storeroom.

Commandeering a guard on her way, she turned the key in the lock and entered. The manacles hung from the beam, empty. The startled guard searched the room, pushing crates and bags out his way. In one corner he found a small hole scarcely big enough to get his head through. "It goes back into the caverns!" he exclaimed.

"Big enough," Xena said ruefully to the guard's inquiring glance. She held up a hand as he started to run from the room. "Don't bother. He's halfway home by now. Just be thankful he didn't take the temple with him." She laughed and walked out to meet her companions.

Herophile accompanied them to the cave. "I've been informed your friend the thief has escaped. Please tell him he won't be given a second chance."

"I think he knows that, but we'll remind him," Gabrielle said. "What's going to happen to Semone?"

"That's up to Apollo," the priestess replied. "But if it were up to me, nothing would happen to her. She was serving Apollo by defending her home."

Gabrielle shuddered. "Better keep her away from the poison. Practice makes perfect, you know; she may get it right next time. What about Ionea?"

Herophile didn't smile. "Demo has agreed to take her to Corinth. It won't be what she expects; she'll die there, but it's her choice." They arrived at the steep mountain wall and without hesitation she walked through the barrier and into the interior, closely followed by Antipany.

"I'll never get used to that," Gabrielle mused. She glanced back at the temple nestled in its beautiful tiny valley of green. "Great place to visit but I'd never want to live here. I can see why Ionea wanted to get away so badly."

"Enough to kill?" her companion asked.

"Hmmm," was the bard's only reply. She walked through the illusion with Xena.

The walk down the tunnel was uneventful but when they reached the small cavern Antipany suddenly stopped. Herophile continued on to the far side of the cave. "This is the way out," she said, pointing to the wall. "Get moving," Xena growled pushing Antipany out into the cave. But the sorceress remained frozen staring at the ground.

"I... I can't," she whispered. Her eyes were wide with fear.

"Daughter of a Bacchae," Xena swore. Before the sorceress realized what was happening she found herself tossed over the warrior's shoulder and they were half way across the cave.

"Nooo, Xena. Waaait," she wailed. She closed her eyes tight against the horror she saw below her and held on as best she could as the warrior swiftly crossed the cave to Herophile.

Xena set her burden down with a thump. "There. That wasn't so bad was it?" She raised a surprised eyebrow when a very angry sorceress reared back and slugged her arm as hard as she could. Which the warrior hardly felt, but it was the lack of gratitude which irritated Xena most. She grabbed Antipany and gave her a shake. "What's wrong with you? There's no hole there, it's all an illusion."

Antipany grabbed Xena's leather straps and pulled herself even closer. Furious brown eyes to icy baby blues she hissed, "The chasm is not an illusion, warrior brain, but the ground you just walked over certainly is!"

Casually dropping the sorceress, Xena exchanged a nonplused glance with her companion. They both looked to Herophile for confirmation. The priestess gave a wry smile and shrugged. "Well, I've never seen it, but I've heard if you listen close you can hear the wailing of the damned in Tartarus."

"I wondered what that noise was," Xena murmured.

"Why didn't we just fall through like we did the first time? And why didn't you see it then?" Gabrielle asked.

"I suspect this time we have the key," Xena said, eyeing Herophile.

Antipany nodded, "But we didn't know that until now, did we?" She turned to Gabrielle. "And I didn't see it the first time because I was busy talking to you and not paying attention."

"Good thing I'm not afraid of heights, isn't it?" Xena said with a sardonic smile.

Antipany looked like she might attack the warrior again. "You know, I broke my tailbone for you, had my skull smashed in, broke my nose, fractured my ribs, and you just gave me heart failure. The least you could do is show a little appreciation." Her voice raised. "I want to go home. Now!" She whirled and headed for the wall. Stopping abruptly she cautiously patted the wall and sighed in relief as her hand slid through the illusion, quickly followed by the rest of her body.

The companions exchanged glances. "A little tap on the noggin', a flick to her nose, a tiny bruise over her ribs and she thinks she's dying," Xena snorted.

"Well, you have to admit she got the worst of it this trip," Gabrielle replied. They bid Herophile farewell and stepped through the illusion. Bright sunshine greeted them and they saw Antipany was already halfway down the path, rapidly striding for the glen where they had left the horses. By the time they reached the meadow, Antipany had retrieved her pony and was saddling her with undue haste.

Gabrielle hurried over and put a restraining hand on her arm. "Thank you, Antipany. We couldn't have done it without you."

Antipany hugged the bard and held her for a moment. "If you ever get tired of living this way, you know where to come."

"Thanks, but I'm happy with my home," Gabrielle replied, nodding toward Xena.

Shaking her head, Antipany said, "You deserve more than a hovel, my friend."

"It's a palace," declared the bard. "Well... most of the time. But I would like another peek at your library." She looked at the sorceress with questioning eyes. "Could I bring Xena this time?"

"If you insist," Antipany said grudgingly. "But what good is a vacation if you drag the hut along?" She sighed and walked over to Xena. "Goodbye, princess. It was a nightmare as usual. Do us both a favor and don't use me as the grand prize in your next wager, all right?" She grasped the warrior's forearm.

"I've learned my lesson, Antipany," Xena replied. "Thank you. Tell your husband the problem is taken care of."

Antipany's eyes widened. "What did you do with the books, Xena?"

"Telamedes gave me a solution to destroy the ink in them. You aren't the only one who's able to slip a guard, Antipany. By the time they recover the books, all they'll find are blank pages."

"But...but when did you have time to do that? We were with you...," her voice trailed off. "Except for when you were scouting out the temple night before last." She shook her head. "Those prophecies could have been used for good, Xena. Tele would have known what to do with them." She scowled at the warrior. "I really wanted those books."

"Telamedes agreed with me, Antipany. He knew that in the wrong hands those prophecies would have brought about a great deal of misery and death. Carnus would've never given up searching for them. And if it wasn't Carnus, it would be someone like him."

Antipany glanced at Gabrielle. "You knew about this?"

Gabrielle shook her head. "Not until after it was done. I'm not in favor of destroying books but sometimes we have to trust they know what's best."

"I don't suppose you read any of the prophecies before you destroyed them, did you princess?" the sorceress asked hopefully.

Xena shook her head. "Not very closely. It's just the same old stuff. Wars, famine, odd looking devices, some entity who will bring about terrible evils. Nothing that applied to us personally and we don't need an oracle to tell us about it. We fight it every day."

"I think it's time Tele and I had a long talk," Antipany said grimly. They watched Antipany turn and mount Circe. With a wave of her hand she disappeared down the road to home.

"Do you think she'll hurt him very badly?" Gabrielle asked.

"No, but I think Telamedes better keep her away from his beloved laurel trees," Xena replied. She continued to adjust Argo's saddlebags. "Palace, huh?" She looked down at her companion in amusement.

"Yeah, well, it's a bit bedraggled and the upkeep is a hassle at times but I like it." She slid under Xena's outstretched arm and gave her friend a tight hug. Resting her head on Xena's chest, she sighed. "I could have been her, you know. Ionea, I mean. Only, if I had to stay in Poteidaia, I would've ended up killing someone. Probably myself." She laughed ruefully. "I know all my dreams would have died there. We can't give up our dreams, Xena. There's no future without them." She looked up into warm blue eyes. "You've saved my life more times than I can count, but it was that first time that means the most. You've given me the chance to live out my dreams. Thank you."

"Poteidaia would have never held you, Gabrielle. You would have made it out without my help." She grabbed Argo's reins but kept an arm around the bard's shoulders. "Let's get going." They began to walk down the road. "It goes both ways you know."

"I saved your dreams?" the bard asked.

"Not exactly," Xena replied. "You saved me from my nightmares. I didn't have good dreams for a long time. They were all about blood, war, death. But you came and dreaming became bearable again. My visions of the future are much more pleasant these days, thanks to you."

Gabrielle smiled then jabbed her friend in the ribs. "You're pretty sneaky, you know it?"

"I don't know what you mean," Xena replied, looking perplexed.

"Letting me win that bet so Antipany would have to come with us. You knew she could help us, but you couldn't bring yourself to ask her for her help. But you knew I would."

Xena shook her head. "That sounds pretty devious for me. I don't think my imagination is that good."

"Yeah, right," Gabrielle snorted. "We make a pretty good team, don't we?"

"Yeah, we do," Xena replied. "Nothing's going to change that, my friend."

They continued down the path bantering back and forth, enjoying the gentle breeze, the warm sunshine and each other's company until coming through the trees they spotted a soldier leading a group of men with their arms tied to poles across their backs. The two started to walk by when one of the prisoners spoke. "My people will never give in to Caesar," he shouted and the fight was on. With vivid memories of the past, and now grounded firmly in the present, the warrior had no foreshadowing that her greatest nightmares were yet to come.

End

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