Disclaimers: The characters of
Xena: Warrior Princess are owned by MCA/Universal and
Renaissance Pictures, bless them. No copyright infringement is
Note: This is a follow-up story
to "Embodiment of Evil" and "The Soul
Catcher" so it would be helpful to read them first.
There are worse fates than death, but for the life of him Autolycus
couldn't think of any now. He was certain that it was death he was
looking at as he stood at the precipice of a ledge that jutted out from
the rolling mountains, looking across at a fortress said to be inhabited
by a ruthless, evil sorcerer named Kryptus. Thin tendrils of mist
swirled around the decaying structure. The wall surrounding it had gaps
big enough to ride horses through. If it weren't for the men dressed in
black leather armor manning the walls, one would think it was empty.
Nothing grew just outside the walls. The earth was barren, dead to life
and reeking of evil.
It was a simple job Xena had told him. All they had to do was trap
Kryptus' soul in this special box she called the Soul Catcher. His job
was to watch out for traps on the way in and open locks. His decision
she had said. Actually what it boiled down to was a choice between
joining up or being on her shit list for life. Some decisions were easy.
So he had hunted up Hercules and Iolaus and they had met Xena's group in
Helkinde. It was there he finally learned about the sorcerer's penchant
for trapping people in spheres and feeding off their life essence until
they died all to sustain a purloined physical body. Now he was pretty
certain he didn't want to be here and backing out wasn't an option. Xena
had made that plain. So, who did he want mad at him? Xena or Kryptus?
Kryptus or Xena? A quick death or hounded for the rest of his sorry
life. He shook his head muttering, "This is not good."
He looked at the gaunt still figure beside him. The wind blew her wild
auburn hair back into an even more tangled mass. Her cloak whipped in
the breeze. Still she did not move, staring with disturbing intensity at
the fortress before them. She had been standing like that for hours,
just staring. He was careful to stand downwind from her, wondering how
he could tell her delicately that she...well, stunk. Xena had said the
sorceress had not bathed since they left the temple more than three
weeks ago. Water dissipated her force, the warrior said. Whatever that
meant. Probably that one whiff of her and the enemy would keel over
dead. And that vulture craning its neck to stare at him wasn't helping
his unease either.
"Antipany," he said finally, "You shouldn't worry so
much. You're both sorcerers. We'll have Kryptus boxed and shipped to
Hades before you know it."
She laughed bitterly never taking her eyes off the fortress. "And a
sparrow and an eagle are both birds, but you know who will win that
battle. I am not the eagle in this fight, Autolycus." The vulture
cawed his agreement. She fell silent and continued her vigil.
Oh boy, he thought. This is definitely not good.
Autolycus made his way back to the camp thinking of Antipany and her
friend Telamedes, a priest of Apollo. Telamedes was a big man with a
gentle soul and although he was a pleasant traveling companion,
Autolycus didn't think he would be worth much in a fight. The priest had
admitted as much. Autolycus suspected he had come just to keep an eye on
the sorceress, Antipany. She had some kind of grudge against Xena, but
the warrior insisted on bringing her. He didn't know what to make of
her. Sullen and disagreeable, about the only one she talked to was that
ugly carrion eater of hers, Peisander. As far as he could tell her only
talent was the ability to shoot bolts of energy from her hands. He
didn't know if the stench was worth it. He entered the camp where the
other members of his party were making plans to assault the fortress.
Xena had been elected leader by unanimous consent. It was a role she had
naturally assumed and nobody else particularly wanted. Iolaus was making
his case for a direct frontal assault.
"Where's the priest?" Autolycus asked Gabrielle.
"Telamedes is out communing with Apollo, I think," whispered
the bard in reply.
"...so all we have to do is walk up to the gate and knock. They let
us in and we beat them up. Simple," finished Iolaus.
Autolycus raised a finger. "I, for one, would like to say just how
much I dislike that plan."
Xena smiled. "Maybe we shouldn't be quite that direct, Iolaus, but
since Kryptus probably already knows we're here the element of surprise
is lost." They continued to discuss options until Xena called a
halt so they could prepare dinner, telling Hercules it was his turn to
cook. He smiled and shrugged in good-natured agreement. "It's your
stomach," he warned. Gabrielle hastily volunteered to help him.
Autolycus drew her into a private conversation. "You better go talk
to Antipany, Xena. A few more hours of this and she'll snap like lock
under my ministrations."
Xena nodded, looking annoyed. She made her way to the ledge where the
sorceress was still staring at the fortress. The warrior had not been
quiet in her approach but the sorceress did not move until Xena put a
hand on her shoulder. Antipany whirled around, her hands suddenly bright
balls of light.
Xena caught her wrists. "Wait! It's just me."
Antipany took a ragged breath and relaxed, her hands returning to their
normal pale color. As Xena let her go, Antipany suddenly grabbed her
hands. Staring wordlessly at her for a minute, the sorceress turned,
drawing the warrior's arms around her and leaned back to rest against
"I never thought of myself as a coward," she mused. "But
this terrifies me." She paused then continued. "I am not
afraid of death, it's the manner of my dying I fear. I don't want it to
be a slow drawn out affair. Death should be swift and merciful."
She fell silent relaxing against the warrior. Suddenly she turned and
faced Xena intertwining their fingers.
"I can't go in there, Xena. He knows we're here and he's waiting
for us." Her big brown eyes pleaded for understanding.
Xena did understand, but she also knew the success of their mission
depended on everyone doing their part and that included the sorceress.
She stared down into the frightened eyes. "Would you leave
Telamedes to face Kryptus on his own?"
Antipany dropped her gaze, then looked up with a twisted smile.
"You never did fight fair, princess." She thought for a
moment. "All right, I'll go if you promise me one thing."
"If I can."
"If Kryptus starts forming one of his spheres around me, you'll
kill me before the sphere is completed."
Xena's eyes flickered. She remembered threatening to kill the difficult
sorceress many times during their stormy acquaintance and now Antipany
was providing her with a golden opportunity.
"Please, Xena. It would be an act of mercy."
Xena nodded unhappily. "All right. If that will ease your
Antipany sighed in relief. "Yes, it will. I can face the old spirit
sucker now." She raised up and softly kissed the warrior.
"Thank you. If you can't trust your worst enemy to kill you, who
can you trust?" She smiled bitterly, released Xena's hands and
walked back to the camp.
Xena stared at the fortress, her face a cold, hard mask. Well, that's
why you're the leader, she thought. No one else in their little group
would have even considered the request, let alone promised to fulfill
Dinner was a quiet affair with everyone thinking about the battle that
would occur the next morning. Gabrielle settled down by Antipany and
began to eat. Antipany noticed that the bard usually sat by her at
meals. She would like to think it was her sparkling personality, but the
sorceress suspected it was because she usually left food on her plate, a
condition Gabrielle couldn't abide. Tonight, however, Antipany didn't
leave a scrap of food for the bard to finish.
"Well, you seem to be feeling better. What happened?"
Antipany told her of Xena's promise. Gabrielle choked a little on her
tea then abruptly excused herself. When she returned after talking to
Xena she looked even more unhappy. Telamedes had returned as they were
"Any news for us, Telamedes?" Xena asked.
"Well, Apollo was kind enough to give me a layout of the
place." Telamedes brought out a piece of parchment and spread it
out on the ground. "You know, the gods are starting to get a little
interested in this now. I understand Ares has placed a sizable bet with
Artemis over who will win this little drama. Your brother doesn't like
you much, does he Hercules?"
The big guy looked perturbed. "The feeling is mutual. If Ares is
involved, you can bet he'll do something sneaky and underhanded."
"Zeus has forbidden Ares or Artemis to interfere personally. You
put your father in a bind, Hercules. Kryptus is one of his favorite
mortals and you are one of his favorite sons so he's rather put out with
you for helping us. You know Kryptus has provided your father with some
of his best cover when he goes prowling around down here, and he doesn't
want to lose that."
Hercules grinned. "Ah, gee, I feel so bad about that. Just think
how bad he's going to feel when I deliver Kryptus to Hades." He
grinned even wider.
They gathered around the parchment on the ground and stared at the
chicken scratches covering it. "Telamedes, when are you going to
learn how to write?" Xena asked in exasperation.
He looked down at the parchment puzzled; it was perfectly understandable
to him. He shrugged, "I'm a healer, not a scribe Xena." He
pointed out four scratch marks. "These are the towers, one at each
corner of the castle. Each tower contains four crystals with four
spheres, one on top of each crystal. Then there is a central crystal
that is the focal point for the others and that is located here."
He pointed to another scratch near the center of the parchment.
"That's where we'll find Kryptus. I think we'll have to destroy the
outer crystals before we can weaken Kryptus enough to get to him. And
best of all, there is an escape tunnel we can use to get in." He
pointed to another scratch located at the base of the ravine.
Xena stared at the parchment thoughtfully. "The outer crystals will
be handled by Autolycus and Iolaus. Hercules will keep the main force
occupied, while Antipany and I go after Kryptus."
Gabrielle and Telamedes looked at each other. "What about me?"
they asked in unison. Xena shook her head. "You two stay
here," she said abruptly without explanation. Both of them shook
their heads in return. "We're going," said Telamedes
Xena sighed. She thought at least one of them would show good sense, but
that was just too much to hope for. "If you go, you will do exactly
what I tell you." They both nodded. "All right. Gabrielle, go
with Iolaus and Telamedes, you go with Autolycus. The sooner we get
those crystals destroyed, the sooner this will end." They both
looked disappointed, but Xena silenced them with a look.
"Sounds good to me," said Hercules. "There's just one
thing left. Xena, I should take the box. After all, I'm the one who will
be taking Kryptus to Hades."
She shook her head, smiling at him fondly. They had danced this dance
before. "No, I'm the one going after Kryptus, I'll take the
box." They stared at each other, a challenge passing between them.
Iolaus looked at them suddenly alert. "All right, what is so
special about that box? You two haven't acted like that since we set
Prometheus free. "
Telamedes cleared his throat. "Think about it, Iolaus. The Soul
Catcher will suck in Kryptus... and whoever happens to be standing near
it when it opens." Gabrielle groaned and Iolaus looked distressed.
"I think you better let Xena take the box, Hercules, you're going
to be busy with another problem." They all looked at the priest
quizzically. He shifted, avoiding their eyes. "Ah...in exchange for
this information, Ares got to add a new player to the mix." He
looked up. "Strife will be on the other side. But only for two
turns of the hour glass, and only when Kryptus calls for him."
Hercules smiled grimly. "I should have known Ares would mess things
up. I'll bet he's up on Mt. Olympus laughing his head off." He
turned to Xena. "All right, you get the box. But if you let it
capture your soul, I'm going to very disappointed in you." Xena
smiled at him.
Their plans set, the group broke up and prepared for sleep. Gabrielle
cornered her companion at the edge of the camp. "I want to go with
you, Xena. I..." She never got to finish as she found her arms
seized roughly and her back slammed against a tree. She looked up into
the icy blue eyes of a warlord. Her friend had disappeared. "You
will follow my orders, or you will not go. Is that clear?" the
warlord said coldly. Gabrielle opened her mouth to protest, then gulped
and just nodded. "You're hurting me, Xena," she complained.
The vise-like grip did not slacken as the warlord continued to glare at
Antipany, seeing the confrontation, hurried over and placed a hand on
Xena's arm. "I think she got the point, princess." Xena let
the bard go and shifted her glare to the sorceress, who ignored it.
Gabrielle looked over at Antipany for support, but she held up a hand to
stop the bard. "As much as it hurts me to say it, her royal pain in
the butt is right. Both you and Telamedes should stay here, but since we
all know you won't, you will do as Xena commands. She is our leader and
you will treat her with respect by following her orders. And maybe, just
maybe, by doing so some of us will get out of this alive."
Gabrielle looked at the ground and nodded. Suddenly she threw her arms
around the warlord and hugged her tightly. "I'm sorry, Xena. I'll
do anything you say." Xena's arms involuntarily folded around the
bard and she stroked the golden hair. "I'm counting on that,
Gabrielle." The warlord vanished and the friend reappeared.
Gabrielle broke her grip and went to prepare for bed.
Xena glared at the sorceress. "You're welcome," retorted
Antipany. Then she looked thoughtfully at the bard's retreating back.
"She really has no idea how important she is, does she?"
Xena smiled ruefully, shaking her head. "I don't think she has a
clue." She watched the bard walk away. "If the world remembers
you and I, it will only be because of people like Gabrielle. She and her
kind will build our civilization, while people like me just try to
destroy it. Even when her name is not remembered, our children will sing
her songs and tell her stories. And while people may respect and even
admire me, they will still breathe a sigh of relief when I'm dead.
Gabrielle will be truly mourned." She glanced at Antipany.
"And thank you," she said curtly as she walked away.
They left early the next morning in the gloom before dawn, picking their
way down the mountainside to the ravine below, leaving the horses and
supplies at the campsite. Peisander flew up and down the ravine and over
the castle ready to give warning if the group was spotted, but the lush
vegetation at the bottom hid their advance. Carefully they explored the
base of the ravine hunting for the entrance to the escape tunnel.
It was Autolycus who finally exclaimed, "Here it is!" He
pointed to a vine-covered portion of the mountain wall. Hercules reached
up and pulled d own the vines, exposing a large flat rock. "How on
earth did you know it was here!" Gabrielle exclaimed.
"Well... I don't like to brag..."
"Yes you do," Iolaus interrupted as he helped clear out the
"...but I am a pro," finished Autolycus studying his
Hercules leaned against the huge rock and pushed it with all his might.
Slowly it began to roll away. He stopped, wiping his brow. "Perhaps
if I had a little help..." he said, eyeing the group. Xena and
Iolaus grinned then helped him roll the rock slowly away. A solid wall
of dirt greeted them.
"Yeah, a real pro aren't you," said a disgusted Iolaus.
Autolycus frowned. He could have sworn it was there.
Gabrielle suddenly poked at the wall with her staff and the group
watched as the staff disappeared through the dirt. "Aha," she
said. "Just as I thought. It's an illusion." She outlined the
opening with her staff.
"All right," said Xena. "Everyone stay here until I check
it out." She passed torches out to everyone. As she dug out her
flint, Antipany snapped her fingers and a torch lit up in flame.
"No one likes a showoff," Xena said dryly. She disappeared
through the illusion before anyone could object. A few moments later a
disembodied arm appeared and crooked a finger.
"I'd recognize that hand anywhere," said Gabrielle as she
walked through the illusion. One by one they walked through, except for
Autolycus who was having second thoughts about the whole venture.
"You know, guys. Maybe Iolaus was right. Why don't I just go around
and knock on the door..." He was still talking as a big paw whipped
through, grabbed him on the shoulder and hauled him through the dirt
wall. "...but this way's good, too," he finished,
straightening out his vest. "Sheesh."
They all lit up their torches and Xena started down the long barren
tunnel with the others following close behind. She stopped immediately
when Antipany whispered "Wait!"
The sorceress stared down the hall, then said, "There's something
hidden behind the wall on the left side just ahead." Xena stared at
the wall but couldn't see anything. Then she glared at the sorceress.
"You can see through the illusions? Why couldn't you tell us where
the entrance was?"
"I was hoping for a return to sanity, but since that's not
possible, let' s just get this over with." She studied the ceiling.
"There's a beam fastened to the ceiling." She took a step
Xena grabbed her, but it was too late.
Xena slammed Antipany and herself up against the wall. Iolaus and
Autolycus threw themselves down on the ground taking Gabrielle with
them. Telamedes stood frozen in place, his eyes wide as the huge beam
swung down hurling toward his abdomen. Then suddenly he was thrown up
against the wall as Hercules pushed him out of the way.
It was too late for Herc to jump out of the way. In desperation he
leaped up and felt the log settle under his legs. He rode it until it
reached its peak and started down again then he jumped off, rubbing his
head where it had bumped the ceiling. When it returned, he braced
himself and caught it. The huge log pushed him back a few steps, but
finally he managed to wrestle it to a stop. Everyone picked themselves
up and Iolaus complimented the big guy on his excellent surfing
Xena grabbed Antipany by the scruff of the neck and raised her to eye
level. "You stay behind me! Do you understand?" She shook her
for emphasis. "Y...y...yes," Antipany quavered. She dropped
the shaking sorceress and turned to Gabrielle. Taking the bard's staff
she tapped the left side of the tunnel setting off a series of darts.
They continued to walk slowly down the tunnel, a chastised Antipany
walking a step behind the warrior pointing out illusions hiding traps.
They managed to disarm all of them without further incident and finally
entered a large cavern with steps leading up at the far end. Antipany
looked around slowly and shook her head. "I don't see any illusions
Xena frowned. Something was wrong, she could feel it. Autolycus looked
up at the ceiling and around the room then put his hand on Xena's arm.
"Oh ...oh...this is good." He chuckled in satisfaction.
"Well, they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."
He rubbed his goatee. "This kind of trap was my idea, you know.
Why, I remember a time in..."
"I know I can't kill him," Iolaus whispered to Xena. "But
can I rip out his sorry excuse for a goatee?" Xena shook her head.
"Get on with it Autolycus," she warned.
"Yes, well, see those nearly invisible wires running across the
floor? Break the wires..." he studied it in admiration.
"And...," prodded Xena.
Autolycus shrugged. "And whatever those wires are attached to will
be released. It could be anything."
Antipany started for the steps. "I can't see any wires..."
"Wait!" shouted the group in unison. Of course it was too
She felt rather than saw the thin wire stretched against her cloak, but
by that time the wire was ready to snap. And did. Everyone held their
breath and for a moment nothing happened. Then a tremendous creaking
noise was heard above them and two huge trap doors opened up in the
ceiling. Antipany panicked and started running pell-mell for the steps,
breaking wires as she went. Trap doors opened up all over the cavern.
Xena cursed. "Everyone to the steps," she shouted, heading
after the sorceress. She caught up with her just as Antipany was raising
a foot to climb the first stair. Yanking the sorceress back by her
collar, she threw her into the arms of Telamedes. "Autolycus, get
up there and open that door," she said, pointing to the door at the
top of the steps. Studying the steps, he made his way to the top,
carefully jumping over some of the steps as he went.
Out of the ceiling flew two huge birds covered with green scales. Each
as large as Argo, they had curved beaks that could tear off large hunks
of flesh and huge hooked claws that could lift a man. From the trap
doors in the walls, twenty large wolves charged the group. "Hurry
up, Autolycus," yelled Iolaus, drawing his sword. Hercules, Xena,
and Iolaus moved to face the onslaught. Xena grabbed her chakrum and let
fly. It sliced through the neck of one of the birds and it dropped to
the floor in front of them. The other bird dived toward them as the
Autoylcus took a lock pick out of his vest and inserted it into the
lock. He heard a satisfying click as he expertly wiggled it in the lock.
"Am I good or...oh, oh!" The stairs suddenly flattened out and
he began a quick descent down the steep slide. Desperately he threw up
his arm and shot his grappling hook toward the door. It caught on the
doorsill and his descent stopped abruptly. He hauled himself up to the
door and pushed it open. "...am I good. Anyone coming?" he
asked, rubbing the abrasions on his knees.
Telamedes drew Antipany to him and threw up his arm to protect his face
as the bird dove straight for them. He winced as the claws tore into arm
and started to lift him off the floor. Antipany pushed herself away and
fired off two powerful energy bolts at the bird. It squawked in surprise
and fell to the floor stunned, and then Hercules jumped on its back and
twisted the long neck until it snapped.
The wolves charged at the group, some stopping to tear huge chunks of
flesh off the dead birds. Xena and Iolaus fended them off with their
swords. Autolycus dropped a rope down the slide. "Come on folks,
it's time to go," he urged. Antipany looked up in disbelief.
"You've got to be kidding! I can't climb that."
Xena cut the throat of a charging wolf. "Help her up,
Hercules," she said calmly.
"Glad to," he replied. Before Antipany could react, Hercules
grabbed her and threw her up to Autolycus. "Ohhhh, noooo," she
wailed as she flew into the arms of a startled Autolycus, knocking both
of them out of the door way onto the floor.
Gabrielle grabbed the rope and started climbing, closely followed by
Iolaus and Telamedes, pulling themselves into the doorway. A wolf sprang
at Hercules. He grabbed it midair and snapped its neck. "Time to
go, Xena," he said. Nodding, she bent her knees and sprang up doing
a backward somersault with a twist, landing in the doorway. Hercules
kicked another wolf out of the way and jumped up the slide, grabbing the
rope just below the doorway, the wolves snapping at his legs as he
jumped. He hauled himself into the doorway and pulled up the rope. Xena
turned slowly and faced a shaken Antipany. The warlord was back.
Antipany started backing away from the angry woman. "Why don't I
just walk back here with Hercules," she suggested.
Xena grabbed her cloak and drew the sorceress close. Baring her teeth,
she smiled. "Because HE won't cause you pain." Antipany closed
her eyes knowing it wasn't an idle threat. The warrior dug her fingers
into her shoulder to emphasize her point and the sorceress whimpered,
sinking to her knees. Xena released her and stared coldly. "When I
tell you to stay someplace, you do it." Rubbing her shoulder,
Antipany nodded. "You know, princess, I am a novice at this
do-gooder save-the-world stuff. I'll bet Gabrielle made a few mistakes
when she first started." It was the closest she could come to an
Xena turned to take care of Telamedes. She cleaned his wounded arm and
applied a dressing. Gabrielle leaned close and whispered, "She's
right, you know." The warlord gave her a knowing look. "You
were never that bad," she murmured back and felt the bard squeeze
her shoulder. There were other minor wounds and bites, but deciding they
could wait, the group continued on up the steep incline of the hall.
Antipany kept a step behind Xena, but to their surprise she didn't
detect anymore illusions. At the end of the hall they came to a
junction. Telamedes consulted his map.
"Two of the towers should be at the ends of this hallway," he
said indicating the bisecting hall. "Go straight ahead and you'll
find the central crystal, and probably Kryptus."
Xena nodded. "All right, this is where we split up. Be careful
everyone." She was speaking to the group, but her eyes were fixed
on Gabrielle. The bard gave her companion a reassuring smile.
"Don't worry about me, you just make sure that box doesn't swallow
you up. I don't want to have to make a trip to the underworld just
because you got clumsy all the sudden." She held up a hand as Xena
started to protest. "We travel this road together Xena, I won't be
left behind again," she said quietly.
Xena looked at her with a sinking feeling that dropped all the way down
her stomach and wound its way around her intestines.
"Gabrielle...," she growled. "Don't even think about
"Relax, Xena. I always obey your orders." The bard laughed and
gave her companion a hug before hurrying down the hall with Iolaus to
the southeast tower.
"Yeah, right," muttered the warrior staring down the hall
Antipany kissed Telamedes and lingered in his embrace. "I'm sorry
about your arm, Tele. And your precious trees." He held her close.
"Don't do anything stupid, Antipany," he urged her without
hope. She smiled. "You know me too well, my friend." He let
her go and headed up the hall with Autolycus to the southwest tower. She
watched them go then shook her head. "Ain't love a bitch?" she
asked Xena in disgust.
The warrior just nodded, having made that observation herself at one
time. It seemed to be a universal lament and for once the two women
could agree on something unequivocally.
Antipany whirled and started walking toward Kryptus. "What are you
waiting for, let's go." Only to stop abruptly when Xena grabbed her
cloak. "One step behind me," reminded the warrior.
"Sorry, princess, I keep forgetting my place," the sorceress
retorted. But she stayed one step behind with Hercules bringing up the
rear. They met no resistance as they cautiously continued up the hallway
toward the center of the castle. At the end of the hall, they pressed up
against the wall and Xena peered into the great room. It was empty. A
hallway led off each wall. Her sharp eyes scanned the balcony ringing
the room but could detect no movement. She leaned back against the wall
frowning. "I don't like this," she said. "Kryptus knows
we're here. Why hasn't he done anything?"
Hercules shrugged. "I guess we'll find out when we go in."
"Wonderful," muttered the sorceress. Xena gave her a wolfish
grin and tugged her sleeve. "Let's go," she said softly,
cautiously entering the room. They edged around the corner, heading for
the hallway on their right. The great room was surprisingly free of
furnishings. A few benches and tables were scattered around the room.
Rotting tapestries hung from the walls. Marble columns were set at
evenly spaced intervals, supporting the balcony. They were halfway to
their goal when all Tartarus broke loose.
Autolycus made his way cautiously down the hall with Telamedes close
behind, content to let the master thief lead the way. They ducked into
an alcove when footsteps were heard coming toward them. Autolycus drew
his sword and motioned Telamedes to do the same. All he got in return
was a blank look. The footsteps stopped and the curtain was thrown back.
Before the guard could do more than open his mouth the thief rammed the
hilt of his sword between his eyes and the guard crumbled to the ground.
Telamedes pulled the unconscious guard into the alcove and tied him up
with a curtain cord.
"Where's your weapon?" the thief whispered.
"I don't have one," replied the priest as he gagged the guard,
making sure he could breathe. "I'm a healer, not a warrior."
Autolycus stared at him. "Ah...I hate to break this to you, my
friend, but our primary purpose here is not to make them feel
"I know," replied the priest. "You do it your way and
I'll do it mine." He looked cautiously out of the curtain.
"Looks clear. Shall we go?"
Shaking his head, Autolycus led them to the foot of a steep flight of
stairs. "The tower should be at the top. Step only where I step,
understand?" Telamedes nodded
They slowly made their way to the top of the stairs, only after
Autolycus studied each step. Some he stepped over and in one place he
jumped over four at one time. Telamedes said a little prayer to Apollo
before attempting the jump and ended up teetering on the edge of the
safe step. It was touch and go for a few moments as Autolycus valiantly
grabbed the much larger priest by his robes and hung on for dear life.
With one mighty tug the priest finally fell forward and they held their
collective breath to see what would happen when he fell across three
steps going up. All was quiet. With a sigh of relief, Autolycus and
Telamedes preceded up the rest of the steps without incident.
At the top of the stairs was a heavy wooden door. Autolycus quietly
tried the latch, but found it locked. He shook his head ruefully. This
was certainly no match for the King of Thieves. Hanging onto the door
handle this time, he inserted his lock pick and went to work. There was
a satisfying click as the door unlocked. The pair waited to see if the
steps were going to fold, but nothing happened.
"Nothing to it," said the thief with some pride. He pushed
down on the latch and slowly began to open the door. Only to have it
wrenched violently open, throwing him into the room and staring up into
the faces of two very large, very nasty looking guards. He swallowed.
"Ohh, this is not good," he said, stating the obvious.
Iolaus headed down the hall in a hurry, heedless of the danger from
illusions, traps, or Kryptus. He only knew that destroying those
crystals meant less danger for his friends and he meant to do it as
quickly as possible. Gabrielle followed more cautiously behind well
aware of the possible dangers.
"Slow down!" she urged him. As he looked over his shoulder at
her, she suddenly brought her staff down in front of his eyes.
Thunk, thunk, thunk.
He stopped and stared at the three knives quivering in her staff.
"All right," he said slowly. Then he smiled. "Nice
catch." And started walking as recklessly as before. Gabrielle
shook her head in frustration and ran to catch up with him.
They reached the bottom of the steps to the tower and looked up at the
narrow steep open stairway. "We better take this slow," she
said looking up. "It could be.."
"Right," he interrupted, then charged up the steps two at a
"...trapped," she finished. Shaking her head again, she
followed more slowly. By the time she reached the top, Iolaus had
examined the door and found it locked. "What do we do now?"
He shrugged, then pounded on the door. "Hey, anybody in
there?" he yelled. "So much for the element of surprise,"
To their surprise, the door was yanked violently open and two very
large, very nasty looking guards glared at them. Iolaus beamed at them
in return as they drew their swords to strike.
The enemy poured through every door, howling as they charged. Xena
pushed the sorceress behind her and turned to meet the onslaught. Her
sword flashed, taking the head of the first enemy to meet her. Blood
gushed up through the severed arteries as the headless body took two
more steps before collapsing. Oops. "Hercules," she yelled.
"These aren't illusions."
"I noticed," he replied, wiping the blood off his face. He
punched a charging guard between the eyes and he dropped like a stone.
"WAIT!" the voice commanded.
Everyone paused and looked at the figure smiling evilly down at them
from the balcony. "Ares sends his regards, Hercules," Strife
said. Then he giggled. An hourglass was positioned by his side,
suspended in the air, sand slowly pouring down. Strife pointed to it and
said, "This really won't take that long."
Hercules roared a challenge and grabbing a startled guard, he used the
unlucky man to batter his way through the still gawking enemy until he
was standing beneath Strife. Tossing away his impromptu weapon, Hercules
seized the pillar supporting the balcony and with a mighty push, broke
the column. The balcony trembled violently a moment before slowly
collapsing, taking a howling Strife down with it.
Landing on his feet running Strife quickly put a table between him and
the big guy. "Why don't you just disappear like a good little
god," Hercules growled, lunging across the table to grab at the
Strife danced out of reach. "What? And have Uncle Ares mad at me? I
don't think so. You're so much more fun." He pointed to Hercules.
"Kill him!" he screamed. The spell broken, guards charged from
Xena cursed and started cutting down every enemy she could get to. The
guards seemed to have forgotten she was there as they rushed to engage
Hercules. Her sword sung as it found targets on every side. She took a
couple of steps before remembering the sorceress. "Stay behind
me," she ordered glancing around for Antipany.
But Antipany had disappeared.
He called to her lovingly, caressing her with his voice. She felt an
invisible presence brush against her cheek then down her back and she
shivered. It was so cold. She had heard him calling to her from the time
they had entered his domain and it had gotten stronger, more insistent,
more demanding with every step closer she took. There was no refusing
his call and strangely, she now felt no fear. When the guards attacked,
she had simply walked through them and they had let her alone knowing
she was being summoned by their master.
Antipany glanced around as she entered his sanctuary. The decor was
certainly familiar. On a low platform in the center of the room was a
large perfectly formed crystal and seated beside it was a handsome man
smiling benignly at her. A shimmering aura surrounded the platform.
"Well, you seem to have pulled yourself together quite well,"
Antipany observed. "Although, your hair seems to be falling out and
your zits are coming back. You really should do something about that
skin problem of yours."
"Ah well," the smile turned a bit crueler. "This body is
really inferior to my needs, but I was in a bit of rush, you see, and
didn't have time to be picky. I would love to take Hercules, he does
have a body to die for," Kryptus sighed regretfully. "I'm
afraid his father would object. But I think Xena would make a good
second choice, don't you think?"
Antipany nodded. "A very good substitute. Strong in body, spirit
and mind. That's our princess. She'll last you a very long time."
She removed her cloak and placed it in front of the doorway. As she laid
it down, she surreptitiously slipped the Soul Catcher out and placed the
cloak over it. "Aren't you the least bit concerned about Hercules
and Xena being here?" She walked over to stand in front of him and
touched the shimmering aura. It stung her hand when she tried to push
through it. "Ow," she said, snatching her hand back.
Kryptus chuckled, shaking his head. "Strife will take care of
Hercules and I will possess Xena. The rest of you are insignificant
without those two." He wasn't boasting, simply stating a fact.
Antipany shrugged. "Ares might be a little upset if you possess his
favorite warrior. And why do you want me? I don't have much to offer
He stood and held out his hand. "The warrior princess has no use
for the gods. Let's just say I'm helping Ares get over his obsession.
Don't sell yourself short, my dear. You have a wonderful essence. I
loved the taste of you." The smile was definitely malevolent now.
"In fact, you're the only one to have ever escaped one of my
spheres and lived. That tells me you have a river of life essence. I can
hardly wait to feast on you again." He patted the crystal. "I
saved a special spot for your sphere."
Antipany fought her rising panic. Just keep him busy, she thought. Then
tried to clear her mind for the test of wills to come. Kryptus suddenly
went still as he concentrated. A sphere began to form under Antipany's
feet. She didn't try to run this time; it would be useless. Instead she
centered her thoughts and formed a floor under her feet and as the
sphere began to form sides, she countered by building invisible walls to
protect her from the thick gray fluid that was filling the sphere as it
formed. The gray goo had paralyzed her the last time they had fought
this battle, but she was prepared for it this time. Waiting until the
sphere was half formed, she created a sword and punched a large hole in
the base and watched in triumph as the fluid leaked out.
Life returned to his eyes. He looked at her in amusement. "I see
you've learned a thing or two since we last met. It won't do you any
good, you know. Eventually you will be mine."
She returned his smile. "You'll have to earn me, you pitiful
pathetic pile of satyr dung," she said with all the disdain she
could muster. She winced as his smile faded and anger flashed across his
face. Telamedes would probably consider that remark 'doing something
stupid' and he'd be right. The sphere suddenly regenerated at an
astonishing rate, rapidly filling with fluid that pressed against her
walls with terrifying force. It was all she could do to keep her
protective walls from collapsing, let alone punch a hole in the sphere.
She would fight this battle as long as she could, but she knew she would
lose the war.
A sparrow after all, is just a sparrow.
His whole magnificent life, at least the good parts, flashed before
his eyes as the guards raised their swords to kill him. Before Autolycus
could do more than squeak protest, Telamedes burst into the room.
"Ah, there you are my sons. Apollo sends his blessings. Are we
ready to start the service? Autolycus, get up off the floor. How many
times do I have to tell you Apollo doesn't like sniveling obeisance?
Respectful obeisance is enough." Telamedes beamed at the two
guards. "And what can Apollo do for you today my sons? Oh dear, let
me look at that. I'm a healer you know." He pulled up the guard's
sleeve and looked at the large sore on the man's arm. Taking some herbs
out of his pouch, he fashioned a poultice, talking to them the entire
The two guards looked at each other and lowered their swords. Autolycus
took the opportunity to scoot out of the way. Leaning against the wall,
he passed a shaky hand across his brow.
After wrapping the poultice around the man's arm, the priest pulled out
his flask. "I know this wine is not as good as you're used
to," he said apologetically. "But it's all I have." One
guard grabbed it eagerly and took a long drink before having it snatched
out of his hands by the other man who guzzled down the rest of it.
Telamedes began to talk about his favorite subjects. Love, peace,
helping mankind and soon the guards were snoring peacefully helped along
by the drugged wine.
The priest smiled and looked around for Autolycus who was dozing against
the wall. "Wake up, my friend. Surely my talks aren't that
boring." He nudged the thief's knee with his foot.
Startled, Autolycus jumped up. "No, no...what did you say?" He
looked at the sleeping guards, then back to the priest with new respect.
They tied up the guards, then studied a sphere resting on a crystal.
Slicing the base of the sphere with his sword, Autolycus watched as the
gray fluid oozed out and the sphere collapsed, breaking when it hit the
floor. Telamedes picked up the thin young man contained in the sphere
and placing his fist just below the breastbone as Xena had shown him, he
did a quick upward thrust. Gray goo poured out of the man's nose and
Autolycus did his level best not to gag, but this kind of thing was not
his strong suit. He rolled the crystal to the door and pushed it over
the edge where it smashed against the stone floor below. Turning toward
the door he said, "Why don't I just go on to the next tower while
you're finishing up here." And beat a hasty retreat down the stairs
trying hard not to loose his early morning meal.
Telamedes just nodded and continued his ministrations.
The guards swung their swords at the impudent little man standing
before them, but by the time their weapons reached the place he was
standing, Iolaus had already slipped between them into the room. One of
the guards felt himself propelled out the door by a well-placed foot
into his back. Once out the door he tripped over a carelessly placed
staff and found himself flying through the air to the stone floor far
below. Gabrielle, who had flattened herself against the wall when the
door opened, winced as the man hit with a convincing thud. I'm getting
good with this tripping business, she thought.
She barely had time to react as the second guard came flying out the
door. He teetered on the top step and by waving his arms wildly, managed
to regain his balance. At least until the staff hit him squarely between
the shoulder blades and sent him flying off the stairs.
Gabrielle entered the room. It looked familiar with four spheres, each
sitting on top of a crystal connected to a larger crystal in the center
of the other four. "Now what?" asked Iolaus.
"Well, last time I just knocked one over with my staff," she
replied. She gave a sphere a stiff jab with her staff. It toppled off
the crystal and shattered on the floor, revealing an emaciated woman in
a pool of gray fluid. Gabrielle quickly went around the room and broke
the other spheres. They attempted to revive the people from the spheres
but managed to save only one. After Iolaus had smashed all the crystals,
he left Gabrielle to tend to the survivor and made his way to the next
Xena had an agonizing decision to make. Help Hercules, who was being
pursued by countless guards and Strife, or go find Antipany, who she was
sure went to confront Kryptus. Infuriated by the no-win decision, she
cut down six more of the enemy before heading down the hall to find
Antipany. If Kryptus didn't kill the wayward sorceress, the angry
warrior certainly would.
She met little resistance as she headed down the hall and those she did
meet seemed curiously uninterested in engaging her. They either ran away
or ran by her. She peered into the chamber and was surprised at the
resistance Antipany was managing to put up. She had planned to use the
sorceress as a simple diversion, but Antipany was giving Kryptus a real
battle. The body Kryptus inhabited sat motionless in a chair surrounded
by a shimmering aura. She noted the cloak on the floor, the tip of the
oak box peeking out.
"Am I interrupting anything?" she asked, leaning up against
A disembodied voice spoke. "Ah, Xena. I've been expecting you. This
will only take a few seconds more, then we'll talk." The sphere was
up to Antipany's shoulders by now. The sorceress looked desperately in
Xena's direction. Keep your promise, the brown eyes pleaded and she
tilted her head to give the warrior better access to her neck. Xena
looked around and sighed. Forgive me once more, Antipany, she thought.
Taking her chakrum, she curled it to her stomach and let it fly toward
Bodies flew everywhere as a determined Hercules tried to catch the
elusive Strife. Up to the balconies, out the doors, over the rafters,
even over the chandelier as the big guy chased after the lean discord
maker. In some ways, Strife was his own worst enemy. The lightening
bolts he fired at the demigod did much more damage to his own men than
to Hercules. And he couldn't resist touching guards as he flew by,
causing the men to turn on their fellow guards for some real or imaged
slight. Even a god can't go against his own nature and Strife was having
the time of his life. By the time the hourglass had tipped again the
chaos was complete. Guards were fighting among themselves as much as
Suddenly a lightening bolt caught Hercules directly in the chest sending
him crashing into the wall. Even though his fall was cushion by two
hapless guards who had the misfortune of standing behind him when he was
hit, the blow still knocked the wind out of him. The big guy slumped to
the ground, hearing Strife crow in glee. He looked up just in time to
see a sword flashing toward his head.
Autolycus made his way cautiously down the hall to the northwest
tower, but could find no traps or guards. He didn't know whether to be
grateful or insulted. Kryptus apparently didn't consider him much of
threat. He decided to be grateful.
"This is great, just great," he muttered sarcastically.
"I risk my life f or what? No treasure, that's for sure. You'd
think a four-century old being would accumulate some wealth over the
years, but noo..." He ducked into an alcove and then peered down
the hall. All seemed quiet. Too quiet. "See if I ever let you talk
me into anything ever again," he promised Xena. Although it hadn't
really taken much. Ever since that body-sharing incident, he seemed to
have a soft spot for the warrior princess.
He made it to the steep open stairway and looked up at the solid wooden
door. "I wish someone would make a little noise," he grumbled.
Suddenly from behind him came the sound of stampeding feet. Then the
door flew open and two guards charged down the steps. Looking behind
him, he saw several guards running down the hall from the direction he
had come. "I only wanted a little noise," he wailed as he took
off running down the last unexplored hallway.
Iolaus ran down the hall to the northeast tower, meeting no
resistance as he ran. Hercules must be keeping them busy, he thought. He
paused at the foot of the steps wondering how he was going to get the
door open, then shrugged. Taking the stairs two at a time he bounded to
the top and raised a fist to pound on the door. Then stopped as he heard
the noise of running feet pounding up the north hall toward him. Peering
down the hall, he could just make out a man sprinting headlong down the
hall followed by several big guards with weapons. Autolycus. Iolaus
grinned, enjoying the sight. The thief could run he noted with grudging
Suddenly he heard the latch being lifted and he dropped down to his
knees in a tight little ball. Two guards rushed out. And found
themselves going where no man should go without wings. Tripping over the
kneeling warrior they flew over the edge of the steep stairway.
"Knock yourselves out, guys," Iolaus called cheerfully as they
landed with an undignified thud on the stones below. Autolycus leaped
over their prostrate bodies and sliding to a stop, he turned to the
stairs and took them three at a time. Pushing a protesting Iolaus into
the room, he whirled and jammed a bench under the latch. Leaning against
the door, he bent over gasping for breath.
"I think Kryptus is beginning to notice us," he gasped.
"It's about time," Iolaus huffed. "I was beginning to
feel slighted. Well, let's see if we can upset him a little more."
He moved over to the four spheres and proceeded to slice them open one
by one. Gray goo oozed out all over the floor as the spheres collapsed
and fell off their crystals. Four emaciated men and women appeared in
the wreckage. Autolycus groaned and turned his face to the door, only to
jerk back as the door reverberated with the blows of the guards outside.
"Come on," Iolaus urged him. "Break those crystals, while
I try to wake these people up." He grabbed one of the bodies and
standing him up, placed his fist under the man's breastbone.
Autolycus screwed up his face and edged over to a crystal. Then made an
incredibly quick twist of his body to avoid the stream of gray goo
spewing from the man being held by Iolaus. "If I didn't know
better, I'd say you did that on purpose," he snarled at a grinning
Iolaus. He felt his gorge rise in his throat and swallowed quickly.
Grabbing a crystal he struggled to lift it off the floor then threw it
against the wall, shattering it. "Oh, my back,' he groaned,
grabbing his flank.
"You want to change jobs?" asked Iolaus with sardonic concern.
"No...no," said the thief hastily and the smashing of the
crystals proceeded with undue haste.
The pounding of the door intensified and they had just about completed
their task when the bench shattered under the relentless pounding and
the door flew open. The enemy poured in and not one of them looked like
they belonged in a Greek chorus.
Antipany closed her eyes as the chakram flew toward her. Then opened
one cautious eye as she felt the pressure ease against her protective
wall and heard the weapon ricochet off the wall before returning to make
another long furrow in her sphere. It then bounced off the shimmering
aura, but not before digging in halfway before being rejected. Xena
caught it and smiled. Kryptus was weaker, but still not enough.
Kryptus snorted in annoyance. "You women are more trouble than
you're worth," he said. But he was beginning to worry. Like many
vain men, he had not really believed he was capable of defeat,
especially by these sorry mortals. Years of uncontested evil had left
him convinced of own invincibility. But he had felt the loss of each
sphere and now there were only four left. If he did not feed off of
Antipany soon he would have to abandon the fight. He redoubled his
Xena suddenly found herself confronted by five warriors. She swung her
sword with a prayer that these men were illusions and was rewarded when
the first to lose his head simply vanished. Another appeared behind the
other four and as soon as she had dispatched one, another appeared. She
cut them down with glee, knowing each one took a little more out of the
Antipany groaned, cursing Xena for breaking her promise as the sphere
repaired itself and the pressure intensified. She was past exhaustion.
She felt herself falter and her wall finally collapsed, the gray fluid
overwhelming her, filling her mouth and nose, trickling down into her
lungs. And once again she drowned in the sickening goo as the sphere
closed in over her.
Xena watched regretfully as Kryptus pulled the sphere through the
shimmering aura with a wave of his hand and settled it on the crystal.
He began to feed.
Telamedes made his way to the northeast tower room with a heavy heart.
He had been unable to revive any of the poor souls trapped in the
spheres and it bothered him even though he knew there was not much hope
to begin with.
He paused at the bottom of the steps frowning. The door was wide open.
Maybe Autolycus had already finished without him although he couldn't
imagine the thief having the stomach to perform the maneuver necessary
to revive the victims. He ran up the stairs and burst into the room. And
found four spheres sitting on four crystals just like the last tower. He
looked around puzzled, but there were no guards or Autolycus. Praising
Apollo, he set about to work, cutting open the spheres and smashing the
Hercules ducked and the sword whizzed over his head and buried itself
into the guard he was sitting on. "Sorry," he muttered to the
unfortunate man as he slammed his big foot into the swordsman and sent
him flying. Strife dodged the airborne man and sent another lightning
strike at the demigod. Hercules slammed his foot on the edge of a
discarded shield and it flew up deflecting the lightening into another
guard. Then he grabbed the shield in midair and hurled it at Strife.
"Eek!" exclaimed the god as he dropped to the floor. Then
smiled ruefully as he realized he could not be killed.
Hercules stood up wearily. He didn't know how much more of this he could
take. Strife was having way too much fun. The god stood up shaking a
finger at the big guy. "That wasn't very nice. I'm impressed. But
all good things must come to an end. Goodbye Hercules." With that
he let loose a volley of lightening bolts and everybody left standing
quickly flattened themselves on the floor. Hercules ran across the room
keeping just ahead of the bolts. Furniture shattered, tapestries burned,
chunks of stone fell.
Strife walked over to the remaining bench and peered behind it. Hercules
was laid out on his stomach, his hands covering his head. The god
giggled. "I can see you," he sang. He raised his hand to fire
one last fatal bolt.
Hercules turned over on his side, hand supporting his head and smiled.
Strife stopped and frowned. "Why not," he asked.
The big guy pointed to the hourglass suspended by the god's shoulder.
"You're out of time, fool."
Strife whipped his head around in time to see the last grain of sand
drop into the bottom of the hourglass. He began to fade away. "Noooo...,"
he wailed. Hercules thought he could hear a masculine voice bellow,
"You imbecile!" Followed by a couple of slaps and a feminine
"Glad you're enjoying this so much," he muttered wearily,
rising unsteadily to his feet. "Oh, oh," he said as a few of
the guard also rose to their feet. He lumbered over to the doorway Xena
had taken but before leaving he dislodged the marble column, causing the
balcony to collapse and effectively blocking the doorway after him.
Picking up a discarded short staff, he headed down the hall to find
The guards rushed at them, murder in their eyes. Autolycus and Iolaus
sidestepped the first rush and heard the men grunt in surprise as their
feet hit the slick gray goo, causing them to fall flat on their backs.
The next two were met with blows from fists and sword hilts and they
quickly followed their companions into the gray mess on the floor. The
next two waited until their companions were in the room before
Iolaus ducked as the two guards swung their swords in unison, then
jumped up over their swords as they swung lower. He then caught one by
the arm and rolled throwing the man into the gray goo. While on the
ground he kicked the other guard in the groin and threw the helpless man
into the others knocking them all down once more.
Autolycus parried the blows of his two assailants again and again. But
these two were expert swordsmen and they soon had him backed up against
the wall. He kicked one in the stomach, then felt a hot pain in his leg
as the other guard stabbed him in his thigh. Down the thief went
grabbing his leg. The guard grinned and brought his sword back for the
killing blow. Only to get a very surprised look on his face as a series
of blows landed across his back and kidneys. He turned to face a very
determined grim-faced bard. Autolycus used the distraction to sweep the
man's legs out from under him and landed a haymaker to his chin.
Gabrielle knelt down by the master thief. "Are you all right?"
"Of course I'm not all right," he retorted. "I'm
bleeding," He winced as she wound a cloth around the heavily
"Let's get out of here before they recover," Iolaus urged
them, helping the wounded Autolycus to his feet. "Grab that bar,
Gabrielle." They hurried out of the room, Gabrielle picking up a
heavy metal bar. Iolaus shoved it through the latch and across the
doorway, locking the guards in the room.
They made it down the steps before Autolycus groaned and slumped to the
floor. "I can't walk, you go on."
Gabrielle and Iolaus looked at each other. "You go," she said
pushing him down the hall. "I'll look after him."
"I'll be back," he promised, then raced back down the east
hall. There had been a hall midway between the two towers and Iolaus
thought he remembered from the map that it led to Kryptus.
They hadn't been sitting there long when Telamedes came puffing up. He
glanced up at the door that was reverberating from repeated blows.
"What happened," he asked. Gabrielle explained what had
happened while the priest unwound the bandage and examined the thigh. He
cleaned the wound, then applied a paste to the cut and bandaged it.
"Looks clean," he said. "But you'll have to stay off of
it and hope there's no pus. You don't want to lose that leg, you
"Great, just great," muttered the white-faced thief. "You
have a real talent for words, you know that?"
Telamedes smiled at him unperturbed. "I'm a healer not an
orator," he reminded him. The priest glanced up at Gabrielle who
was looking restlessly down the hall. "I couldn't revive any of the
people in the spheres in the other two towers. How did you do?"
"Only one," she replied still looking down the hall. Autolycus
shook his head. "We didn't have a chance to do much. They're all
dead in this one."
The priest took pity on Gabrielle. "Go on," he sighed.
"Thanks," she said and headed down the hall.
"Gabrielle!" he called. She stopped and looked back.
"Don't let Xena do anything rash." The bard looked at him in
confusion. The warrior never did anything ill judged in battle. He
smiled at her puzzled look. "You'll know when it happens. Go on
now." She ran down the hall shaking her head.
Antipany could feel his desperation. Blind and deaf and dumb to
everything about her, she could feel his need as he fed off her. Knowing
she had to keep him here until he could be boxed, she stroked his ego
while he drew out her life force. "You're the greatest sorcerer
that ever cast a spell," she told him. "These poor fools don't
have a prayer against your power. Show me how you do it."
"You will know it all before you die," he assured her. At this
rate it won't be long, she thought, cursing Xena once more.
Xena watched her five attackers shimmer a bit before regaining their
form. She suspected all the spheres but Antipany's had been destroyed.
It was now or never. She beheaded three of her foes before reaching down
to snare the box. As she stood up her mother suddenly confronted her.
Startled, Xena lowered her sword for an instant.
"Come with me," Cyrene said softly, walking toward the
curtain. Xena took a few uncertain steps forward. "Mother! What are
you..." Then shook her head. "Nice try, Kryptus." With a
sudden powerful swing, she beheaded the woman. And breathed a sigh of
relief when the headless image of her mother faded away.
Kryptus chuckled. "Close enough," he said smugly. "I've
been saving my power just for you, my love." Xena felt her legs go
numb and she sank to her knees. She could feel him probing her mind,
seeking a way to enter. She concentrated, blocking his probes at every
turn. But he had much more experience at this than she and they both
knew it was only a matter of time before he broke her resistance. Great
Zeus, how she hated sorcerers. Sneaky, underhanded, despicable, sorriest
excuses for human beings she had ever seen.
Hercules suddenly burst into the room carrying a short thick staff. She
threw the box back to him. "Belt it one, Hercules." Then
grabbed her chakram. He swung the staff back and brought it forward to
meet the box with tremendous power. The Soul Catcher exploded toward the
wall protecting Kryptus. Xena threw the chakrum and just as the box hit
the aura, the chakram lifted the latch before bouncing off the stone
wall and returning to the warrior. Hercules grabbed her and they dived
out the doorway into the hall.
Kryptus watched in puzzled fascination as the box sliced through his
weakened curtain and fell into his hands. Unlatched the lid flew open
and the evil sorcerer stared into the depths of Tartarus. He screamed as
his soul was yanked into the box. The lid slammed down and the box
latched itself. His purloined physical body fell over, all inhabitants
gone and all his illusions dispelled. Antipany felt his abrupt
departure. Unable to gage the passage of time in the dark void, a
terrible loneliness began to descend. She wondered if anyone was still
alive and prayed fervently for Xena to have survived. Because she was
going to kill her.
Iolaus found the two resting against the hallway wall. "Guess the
fun is over, huh? Sorry I missed it." He looked into the room. The
box was sitting on the platform by a sphere resting on a crystal.
"Where's Antipany?" he inquired, eyeing the sphere.
Xena nodded, confirming his suspicions. "I was just about to cut
her out, " she said. "Do you think she's still alive?" he
asked. "No doubt," she replied with a hint of regret.
"She's going to be mad," he observed.
Xena nodded again. "Furious," she said calmly. They got up and
walked into the room. Xena picked up the box and handed it to Hercules.
"Better be on your way. We'll all rest easier when he's where he
belongs." The big guy looked at the box and his short staff
thoughtfully. "You know, this might make a pretty fun game. A
fatter stick and a little ball." They looked at him tolerantly. He
shrugged and threw the staff away.
"It's been a pleasure, like always," he said kissing her
gently. He clasped Iolaus' forearm. "See you at mother's," he
told him, then took off box in hand.
Xena and Iolaus looked at the sphere for a few long moments before the
warrior patted it saying, "You're going to get your chance for
justice now, Antipany. You've earned it." She drew back her sword
to cut the sphere.
"Wait!" Gabrielle shouted from the doorway. She ran to the
warrior and put a restraining hand on her arm. Suddenly she knew what
Telamedes had been talking about. "Don't cut it open just yet.
Autolycus is badly hurt and Telamedes wants to you to take him to the
temple of Aesculapius for rest and healing. Iolaus and I will get
Antipany out when everyone is out of the building."
Xena shook her head. "I know what you're trying to do, Gabrielle,
but she has earned the right to judge me." She shook off the
Gabrielle moved in front of her, resting her hands on the other woman's
abdomen. "No!" she said sharply. Her tone did not soften
despite the uplifted eyebrow and the icy stare. She returned the glare
with one of her own. "You've been relieved of command, Xena. The
war is over. A person's word means a lot to Antipany and you broke
yours. She has earned the right to judge you but to make that decision
when she's enraged, and boy she will be, does a disservice to both of
you. She'll have her chance once she 's cooled down. Now, go help
Autolycus. The sooner you go, the sooner we can get her out." The
bard crossed her arms over her chest and tapped her foot impatiently,
her eyes never wavering.
Xena looked down at the imperious demeanor and frowned. She was never
one to put off a confrontation. "Yes, my Queen," she said with
just a touch of irony. Then looked thoughtfully at her young companion.
"You can't put this off much longer, Gabrielle. It's not fair to
Antipany or me."
Gabrielle nodded and pointed to the door. Sighing, Xena suddenly pulled
the bard to her in an exasperated hug before finally leaving.
Iolaus applauded and laughed. "I don't think I've ever seen the
great warrior princess take orders before. What would you have done if
she tried to release Antipany?"
The bard shook her head. "Watch her die, I guess. Antipany would
have killed her for sure. Come on, we have work to do before we deal
with one very angry sorceress."
It took them the better part of the afternoon to get the wounded out of
the ruined castle. Released from the influence of the evil sorcerer,
many of the guards turned very helpful and soon Iolaus had them
organized into groups retrieving the wounded and bringing them into the
courtyard where Telamedes and Gabrielle treated them.
Iolaus found a group of villagers kept in the dungeon, spares for the
spheres. He released the grateful fodder and they also helped with the
wounded. By late afternoon they finally had everyone on their way home
or to the temple or buried. Gabrielle had made sure Xena and Autolycus
were the first ones out of the compound, the warrior bringing the other
horses over when she retrieved Argo.
They were exhausted but there was one more task to do before going home.
Gabrielle, Telamedes and Iolaus stood around the sphere eyeing it with
some trepidation. "Well, I guess there's no putting this off."
Telamedes said resolutely. He took his dagger and carefully sliced down
the side of the sphere. The gray fluid and a soaked sorceress spilled
out. Telamedes caught her and placing his fist under her breastbone,
gave a quick upward thrust. Gray fluid poured out of nose and throat. He
gently lowered her to the floor.
She took a choking, sputtering breath. "You better move out
of..." Gabrielle tried to warn him as the sorceress hiked herself
up and proceeded to spew fluid all over his boots. "...the
way," she finished lamely.
Antipany gasped a few more times then used Telamedes to pull herself up.
"Kryptus?" she asked hoarsely.
"Boxed and on his way to Hades courtesy of Hercules,"
Antipany nodded in relief. "Xena and Autolycus?" Her eyes
began to burn.
"Autolycus was hurt and Xena took him to the temple of Aesculapius,"
Gabrielle responded steadily. She handed the sorceress a cloth to wipe
the dripping fluid off her face.
"Never thought I ever see Xena run away." She wiped the thick
goo out of her eyes. The fire was growing.
"It was my idea, Antipany."
"And I supported it," said Telamedes. Antipany glared at him.
Suddenly she bent over groaning. Telamedes put his arm over her back and
leaned close. She shook her head then suddenly burped and expelled
another stream of gray fluid over his boots. Iolaus hastily backed up to
the doorway as the sorceress stood up.
"Did you get everybody out?" Her voice was deceptively calm.
It was the raging inferno in her eyes that gave her away. Telamedes and
Gabrielle exchanged uneasy glances. "Now, Antipany, don't do
anything..." he stopped. "Stupid?" Antipany finished,
raising an inquiring eyebrow. "Rash," he mumbled, studying his
filthy boots which now matched his filthy robes.
Antipany studied them for a moment before whirling around. "Get
out!" she ordered and fired off an energy bolt, shattering the
perfect crystal. They didn't move. "Get out now!" she repeated
and fired another bolt at the ceiling. Blocks of stone began to fall.
She fired again and the wall began to crumble.
Telamedes pushed the bard to the door. "You two leave. I'll get
Antipany. " He pushed them out of the room. They hesitated but he
shooed them on. " Don't worry. We'll be right behind you."
Gabrielle picked up the cloak and they started walking until they heard
another bolt fired off, shaking the hallway. Then they ran.
"Get out, Tele," she said once more. The room was beginning to
crumble around them. The priest dodged falling stones until he came up
behind the raging sorceress. "Let's go!" he urged her.
"Nope. Xena may be able to run from me, but this evil pile of stone
can't. It's coming down," she responded grimly firing off another
bolt. The ceiling continued to fall around them.
"I'm sorry, Antipany," he said miserably. She glanced around.
"Wha..." And looked shocked as his fist connected with the
side of her face. He caught her as she crumbled. A wall crashed down
throwing shattered stones in their direction. He picked up her slight
body and ran for the doorway. It started a cascade effect as wall after
wall collapsed as he ran down the hall. Apollo was very impressed with
the passionate prayers coming from his priest in his sprint to the
Gabrielle and Iolaus waited anxiously in the courtyard. They could hear
walls collapsing and suddenly a huge cloud of dust billowed out of the
door. Before they could take a step, Telamedes staggered out the door
carrying Antipany in his arms.
Coughing up dust, he dropped to his knees in the courtyard and laid the
unconscious sorceress on the ground.
"What happened?" asked Iolaus, then his eyes widened as he
spotted the red splotch on Antipany's cheek. He looked at the priest.
"You didn't...!" The priest nodded and hung his head.
"She was going to kill herself. It was the only way I could think
of to stop her."
Gabrielle pursed her lips. "She's going to be mad."
Iolaus nodded. "Furious."
The priest nodded, still looking miserable. He stroked her bruised cheek
gently. "I'm sorry Antipany."
Iolaus went to get the priest's mount. Gabrielle grabbed his arm and
hauled him to his feet. "Go home, Telamedes. We'll take care of
Antipany. Let her calm down before you beg her forgiveness. Maybe she'll
let you explain before turning you into toast." She pulled the
protesting priest to his horse. Iolaus helped him into the saddle, the
priest still protesting. Gabrielle slapped the stallion's flank sending
him into a gallop. "We'll meet you at the temple," she yelled
after him and they breathed a sigh of relief when the reluctant priest
continued out the gate and down the path to home.
Antipany groaned and opened her eyes. She sat up holding her jaw. And
her eyes widened as she remembered. "He hit me!" she said in
disbelief. "I'll kill him." She looked around for her prey.
"Calm down, Antipany. We sent him home. He was trying to save
you." Gabrielle pleaded with her to understand.
The sorceress was having nothing of it. First Xena and now Telamedes had
betrayed her. She was furious, deeply hurt and she needed to destroy
something. Now. She stood up and the front of the dilapidated castle
turned to dust as the thunderous bolts hit their mark. Xena she could
understand. What did a murdering warlord know about keeping promises
anyway? Still, she thought the princess would have jumped at the chance
to keep that one. The walls continued falling down under the barrage.
Tele was a different story. She trusted him. He was her friend for Zeus'
sake. And he never hit anyone. Until now. Tears began to fall. She fired
until her hands went cold and she turned numb from exhaustion. The
filthy goo-encrusted figure dropped to her knees, holding her head in
her hands. Only then did Gabrielle dare approach the heartbroken
They spent the night in the ruins of the castle, too tired to do more
than eat a cold dinner and go to sleep. The next morning they set out
for Antipany's home. Iolaus and Gabrielle walked in front of Circe who
followed faithfully behind with her silent mistress on her back. By
midmorning they had found a nice place to camp with a gently flowing
stream and by tacit agreement they decided to rest there and get cleaned
up. Peisander joined them for the journey home.
Iolaus went to hunt up food for their midday meal while the bard and
Antipany bathed. "You've given me more baths than my mother,"
she grumbled. The sorceress said little else as Gabrielle helped her
wash her hair. The bard just couldn't stand the silence. "I know
you're hurt, but Xena had to do what was best for all of us. She saw how
well you were resisting Kryptus, and as much as she wanted to keep her
promise, she couldn't. Because of you, the rest of us could finish the
job. She feels bad about breaking her oath, she really does. But we're
all happy you're still alive, and you wouldn't be if Xena hadn't done
what she did." Silence from the sorceress was her only answer.
"And Telamedes couldn't stand by and watch the roof fall in on you.
Any one of us would have done the same..." A hand reached up and
grabbed the back of her neck, drawing her close to steely brown eyes.
"Gabrielle, please take what I'm about to say to heart. You know I
love you, but please, just hush!"
The bard's mouth, open with unspoken words and surprise, snapped shut.
They finished bathing in silence. When Iolaus returned he found Antipany
sitting against a tree, once again dressed in her cloak, eyes closed in
contemplative silence. The bard was setting up camp humming to herself.
They spent a leisurely two days at the campsite, resting up before
continuing on. It took them another two weeks to make the trip home
because the bard insisted on sleeping in every morning and stopping
mid-afternoon. It was almost like she didn't want their journey to end,
but Antipany never complained. In fact, she never said more than two
words at a time and never more than four per day. But she thought and
contemplated and wallowed in self-pity. A lot. And despite the warning,
Gabrielle never did stop talking to the brooding sorceress. The trip
home was blessedly uneventful except that Peisander disappeared the day
before they reached their destination.
Iolaus and Gabrielle walked into the yard and stopped abruptly when they
saw Telamedes sitting on a log waiting for them. Peisander cawed a
greeting from a tree branch. Antipany greeted the ugly bird, but didn't
see the priest until Circe stopped and she had dismounted, finally
seeing him as he stood up. Her face flushed with anger and her hands
began to glow. He looked at her calmly.
"You...you...you," she sputtered walking toward him. An energy
bolt sprang unbidden from the finger she pointed and he ducked slightly,
taking a step forward, as it flew by his ear. "You hit me!"
she said pointing at the fading bruise on her cheek.
He ducked his head in shame. "I'm sorry Antipany, but you would
have brought the building down on yourself and I couldn't stand by and
do nothing. It was the only way I could think to get you out
safely." He took another step toward her.
"So what! That's my decision to make, not yours. What on Demeter
makes you think you have the right to take that away from me!"
Another bolt flashed through the trees raining leaves down on them.
He squared his shoulders, and looking up he said, "Because I love
She stared at him in disbelief. "Because you love me!" She
turned at looked at Iolaus and Gabrielle who were by now standing at the
corral and watching with interest. "What kind of idiot excuse is
that?" she asked them.
They looked at each other. "I liked it," offered Gabrielle.
"Works for me," said Iolaus. They smiled at her.
Antipany glared at them, then turned back to the priest. She watched him
take another pace forward then shook her head. "It wouldn't
work," she said.
His gaze held steady. "Why not?" Another step closer.
"We're so different. You're...you're a lake. Throw a pebble in you
and the water barely ripples. And I'm..."
"And you're a volcano. Throw a pebble in you and a man is likely to
get a face full of fire and brimstone." He smiled and took a step
closer. "Love doesn't always allow us safe or even rational
She thought for a moment and watched as he took another tentative step
to ward her. "Aren't you afraid I'll roil your waters?" she
"Are you afraid I'll quench your fire?" He was so near she
feel his breath. In a way, it was exactly what she feared. The fire had
kept her warm and alive for so long she didn't know if she could give it
up. But it was consuming her and he was offering her sanctuary from it.
He took her face in his hands and softly brushed her lips with his. A
feeling she thought had died stirred deep within her.
Passion. Hands on his waist she pressed closer wanting more. Their kiss
deepened and when they finally broke it was the priest who looked
flustered. "Well...," was all he could say, looking pleased.
Gabrielle sighed happily while Iolaus grinned and gave the priest a wink
and a thumbs up.
"You've been holding out on me, priest," said the sorceress
smiling. "But if you ever hit me again, I'll have your manhood with
my eggs one morning."
He pulled her close and gave her a tight hug, unconsciously crossing his
legs. "And I'd deserve it. There's only one unfinished task left
for you to do." She looked at him inquiringly. He looked past her
shoulder and nodded. "It's time to end this, Antipany," he
She heard Gabrielle gasp and turning around she saw Xena sitting on a
log watching them. Taking a deep breath, she started for the warrior.
"Oh yeah, I'm ready to finish this." She stopped by Gabrielle.
"It's time, little one, to release me from my oath."
Gabrielle looked from Xena to the sorceress and back again trying to
decide if this was going to have a happy ending. She couldn't tell.
"Release me," Antipany repeated firmly. Gabrielle looked at
Xena who nodded. "Do it, Gabrielle," she said quietly.
The bard danced a few more anxious steps before finally nodding, "I
release you from your promise, Antipany." Then winced as a savage
smile crossed the face of the sorceress. I think I just made a big
mistake, she thought.
Xena stood and unsheathed her sword, waiting silently as the sorceress
walked purposefully toward her, hands glowing brightly. Then Xena sank
to her knees and offered the hilt of the sword to Antipany as she
stopped in front of the kneeling warrior. Antipany took the sword in
surprise and the tip sank into the dirt as the sorceress struggled to
lift the heavy weapon.
"What am I supposed to do with this?" she asked puzzled.
"If I am to die, I'd rather it be by sword, instead of by those
irritating bolts of yours," Xena replied calmly.
Antipany struggled mightily to raise the tip up off the ground. "As
much as I'd like to oblige you, Xena, swords just aren't my style."
With a heave, she finally managed to swing the sword up, nicking the
warrior on the arm as she placed the weapon back in the scabbard.
"If I did manage to execute you with this thing, it would be purely
by accident." She scratched her head, thinking. "All right,
give me your dagger."
Xena stared at the sorceress, concentrating. "I think I have
something you can handle," she said grimly. She leaned back a
little and suddenly her tiny breast dagger flew up into the air.
Antipany snatch it as it began to descend and scowled at the warrior.
"Nobody likes a show off," she reminded her, waving the dagger
at her. Turning to Gabrielle she asked, "How does she do
"Jealous?" asked the bard with a tight smile. "Antipany
don't do this, please."
"And you're not?" the sorceress retorted. Damn those eyes, she
thought. She walked around the kneeling warrior and stood close behind
her, straddling her legs. Grasping Xena's forehead she pulled back until
the warrior 's head was resting against her abdomen with her neck fully
exposed. Xena looked into Gabrielle's eyes, saddened by the fear she saw
there. "I'm sorry, Gabrielle. I do love you."
Antipany rested the knife against the pulsating artery in Xena's neck.
One quick slash would end it and finally quench the raging inferno that
threatened her soul. As she watched the artery beat against the knife,
her eyes dilated, her breath quickened and her heart raced. She felt an
eager tremor deep within her and recognized it instantly. Lust.
Time stopped and all faded except for the knife against the pulsating
vessel. It felt so good, the power over her enemy, the passion. She
wanted to watch the blood pour out, to wash her hands in it, to revel in
it. She finally had a glimpse of what emotion had driven Xena to kill.
It was addicting. And she wondered what had made the warrior walk away
from it after all those years, after all those deaths.
Antipany became dimly aware of a noise. Glancing up she saw Gabrielle
straining against a white-faced Telamedes who was preventing her from
interfering. Iolaus was frozen in place, confused as to what was
happening. As she came back to herself she could hear the bard screaming
for her to stop, pleading and crying.
Love and hate. Telamedes and Xena.
Love or hate. She could have one, but not both. Give in to hate and
Telamedes would be lost to her. Give in to love and the overpowering
desire for revenge died. And either one would satisfy her passion and
maybe finally she would have peace.
Love or hate. Which was stronger? The bard believed it was love but
Antipany wasn't so sure. She glanced over again at the two people whose
opinion mattered the most to her and then back at the knife pressed
against Xena's neck. They're wrong, she thought angrily. This is about
justice. Her hand trembled under the strain. Then she met Gabrielle's
eyes and no longer wondered what had turned Xena around. She knew. She
had always known. Antipany took a deep steadying breath and suddenly
drew the knife back, kissing the top of Xena's head. "I have
three...no, four things I want to say to you, princess." She walked
around to face the still kneeling warrior.
"Great," muttered Xena. "Now you want to talk me to
death. I think I prefer to be fried."
Antipany ignored her. "One. I forgive you for murdering my brothers
and destroying my village. Gabrielle is right. You are not the warrior
who did those horrible crimes so many years ago. Hercules put you on
this righteous road." She turned to glare at the bard. "And
Gabrielle has kept you there." She turned back to Xena. "I had
hoped to push you back into that fetid swamp from where you sprang, but
now I'm forced to admit you'd probably stay the path whether Gabrielle
was with you or not. Not that I'll ever get the opportunity to find out.
But it's time to get on with my life, so I forgive you."
She took a deep breath. That wasn't as bad as she thought it would be.
"Two. You probably think I'm angry because you didn't honor your
promise to kill me if Kryptus formed one of his spheres around me. I'm
not. You did what you thought was best for our merry little band and you
were right to do it." She glanced around at her friends. "I
want to apologize for being such a coward. It was a request I should
have never made." She brushed her fingers absently across Xena's
cheek. "Stand up, prin...Xena." She smiled sheepishly and
shrugged. "Old habits die hard."
The warrior stood, still silent, wondering what else needed to be said.
"Three." Antipany took Xena's hand and slapped the hilt of the
knife in it. Curling the warrior's fingers around it, Antipany opened
her cloak enough to position the knife against her own heart. "It
is time to end this. I give you the same choice you gave me. Kill me...
or forgive me. You certainly have cause to do either. Ah...if you do
choose to kill me, please make it quick, all right?"
They stared at each other for a moment. Xena's eyes flickered, then
suddenly she pulled the sorceress to her chest with one powerful arm,
the other disappearing in the cloak with the knife. Antipany stiffened
then relaxed, held tightly upright against Xena's chest.
Telamedes started forward anxiously but stopped when Gabrielle put a
hand on his arm. Long moments passed and no one moved. Finally Xena
loosened her grip and Antipany shoved away, gasping for breath.
"I'll take that as a gesture of forgiveness," she wheezed.
"And not an at tempt to snuff out my life." Xena grinned and
nodded. "My goodness," Antipany continued to puff, looking at
the warrior's cleavage. "Those are powerful weapons."
"Ah...I can attest to that," said Iolaus, leering at the
Xena glared at him, but his grin just widened. She clapped a hand on
Antipany's shoulder as she turned to go. "Wasn't there one more
thing you wanted to tell me?"
Antipany stared at her blankly for a moment, then remembered. Except now
she really wasn't sure she wanted to say it. Oh, well. She just hoped
she could explain it to her brothers. She faced Xena and sank to her
knees. Taking the warrior's hands, she bowed her head and pressed them
to her forehead. "I offer you my allegiance. If you should ever
need my skills, summon me and I will follow your orders without
question." She glanced up. "Well... without many
questions," she amended. "And if I can understand your orders.
Sometimes you aren't very clear..." Xena held up a hand. "I
get the idea," she said.
Standing up she looked at Xena expectantly. "May I go now?"
she asked. Xena was too surprised to do more than nod. She turned to go,
then turned back reaching into her cloak and withdrew Xena's dagger.
Handing it back she said, "Ah...Xena, this fragile fr...fr..."
Hades, why was she having so much trouble spitting out the word? "Frien..."
Nope. Not even close to being there. "...alliance of ours won't
stand a trivial test. Use it wisely."
Xena nodded again. Then her eyes turned deadly and she said, "Antipany,
you do know you'll never have this chance again, don't you? If you ever
come after me again, I will stop you."
Antipany smiled coolly. "Yes, I know. But know this, Xena. If you
ever fall off this righteous path of yours, I'll be there to see you
never climb back on." They stared at each other for a moment in
perfect understanding, then the sorceress turned away. She looked at
Gabrielle. "You win. Love rules." She shrugged in resignation.
Tears of relief streaming down her face, Gabrielle ran to her companion
and hugged her tightly. Xena folded her into her arms and tried to
comfort the young bard. "I'm sorry you had to see that, my friend.
But I owed her and it was time to repay the debt." Gabrielle nodded
against the warrior's chest, but continued to hold on tight. Her mind
knew what her heart could never accept. Eventually another encounter
like this would end quite differently.
Antipany walked over to Telamedes and saw the relief and love in his
eyes. It was such a new emotion to her, this love, but it felt right.
She grabbed his hand, pulling him toward the woods. "Come on,
priest. I feel like boiling water." He beamed in anticipation, even
as sweat appeared on his brow.
"Well, I guess that's my cue to go. I'm meeting Hercules at his
mother's place. It's been a ball. Take care you two," said Iolaus
as he gave Gabrielle a bear hug and a kiss, then offered his forearm to
Xena. As she reached for it, he suddenly reached around and hugged her
tight, burying his head between her breasts. "Ah...as sweet as I
remember." He looked up at her with a twinkle in his eye.
She looked down at him in amusement, then taking his head in her hands,
she leaned down and gave him a slow, passionate kiss. Releasing him, she
said warmly, "You'll always be a close friend." Then nodded at
her bosom. "But these are for another." The glazed look left
his eyes and he gulped and nodded. Waving vaguely in their direction he
stumbled down the road.
Gabrielle laughed softly as they leaned up against the corral and
watched Iolaus make his way down the path. "Haven't lost your
touch, I see," she commented. Then she wrapped her arms around her
companion's arm and leaned against her shoulder, sighing contentedly.
"I love happy endings."
Lost in thought, they stood for a moment before Xena asked, "Does
all this mean what I think it means?"
"Yep, Antipany has forgiven you. I knew you could do it. And if you
can get Antipany to forgive you, then you can get anyone to forgive
"Even Callisto?" Xena asked, eyebrow raised.
Gabrielle frowned. "Yes, but let's save her for last, all right?
And, Xena, don't ever do that again. I don't think my heart can take
Xena put her arm around the bard. "I knew she wouldn't kill
me," she said, pulling her companion close to her side.
"Oh, and how did you know that?"
Xena smiled at her friend. "Because you said she wouldn't."
Gabrielle looked up at her in disbelief. "Since when do you listen
to me when it comes to your enemies?"
"I always listen to you. You're a better judge of people than
anyone I know."
The bard groaned and buried her face in Xena's side. "Remind me to
keep my mouth shut next time, all right?"
"I don't want you to hurt yourself," Xena teased. And felt a
sharp slap against her abdomen in retaliation.
"Xena," Gabrielle said, suddenly serious. "I love you,
too." The warrior smiled and squeezed her companion's shoulder.
"Gabrielle, we need to talk about this Tartarus thing... "
"Oh good," Gabrielle interrupted happily. "You finally
want to talk about your feelings. I know there are things eating at you,
so let's just air it all out. You go first, then I'll tell you how I
feel. Take your time. We have hours. Days even." Xena's eyebrow
raised in consternation. "That's all right," she said hastily.
"It can wait. We really need to get going soon." Gabrielle
looked disappointed. "All right. You're the boss."
"Yeah, right," Xena muttered.
They watched the horses play in the corral. Xena sighed, "One down,
hundreds to go." It would take longer than her lifetime allowed.
She closed her eyes enjoying the breeze on her face, wondering if it was
worth all the pain. Then she felt the bard's comforting presence leaning
against her and knew she had to try. The gods would just have to accept
her best efforts. It was all any mortal could do.
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