The Xena Scrolls: Volume #3: Scroll #54: Surprise

The Xena Scrolls

By:  Gabrielle Bard of Potedia

Scroll #54:  Surprise

October, 47 B.C.

     Deep in Tartarus there was once a blonde nemesis.  Her name was Callisto and she had done many evil deeds while in the land of the living.  However, she wasn’t born evil.  She had once been a helpless little farm girl in a village known as Syra.  At the age of 11 Callisto had witnessed the total destruction of her village and her family in the flames of a once evil warrior princess.  It was in that decisive moment of her life that Callisto had vowed within her tender innocent heart turned cold to destroy that which had destroyed her.

Nine years later Callisto had finally caught up to her enemy and challenged the warrior princess.  By then the warrior princess had changed her ways and was no longer on a path of ultimate destruction, but on a path toward serving the greater good.  The evil that the young Callisto had seeked revenge upon was no longer wandering the earth on a path of destruction.  Although Callisto had failed in accomplishing the complete destruction of the warrior princess she had managed to find a way to destroy the life of her friend Gabrielle by destroying her beloved husband Perdicas.  Xena the warrior princess had attempted to reform the young Callisto’s heart back into love, but was unsuccessful.  Upon the murder of Perdicas Xena had been left no other choice, but to allow Callisto to destroy herself.  And Callisto did destroy herself which had led her to her own demise down into the depths of Tartarus.

This is where the bard Gabrielle’s real story of Callisto begins.  The bard could imagine Callisto down in Tartarus screaming in agony and in eternal emotional pain.  Within Callisto’s rage unfulfilled a deep, dark, shadowy voice came from within the depths of her soul.  The voice spoke to Callisto who was surprised to find that anyone in Tartarus would listen to her pain.  But someone was listening.  In fact, it was a very powerful force that had taken a great interest in Callisto’s pain.  Callisto was cautiously intrigued within her emotional turmoil inquiring of who it was that had taken an interest in her.  The voice only had one response.  The voice declared that she was a follower and a fan of Callisto.  Then the voice continued speaking to Callisto.  She expressed her interest in Callisto’s passionate campaign against the warrior princess.  In fact, the dark fan proclaimed that she was regretful that Callisto’s vengeance had gone unsatisfied.

Callisto rose from within the fetal ball of pain that she had become in Tartarus and stood upon her feet to greet the voice which seemed to admire her.  When the blond approached the holographic face which appeared before her Callisto had determined it was the goddess Hera.  Callisto took a jab at the great Hera demanding to know why Hera refused to reveal her true ugliness to Callisto.  The broken blond warrior was not afraid of the gods, but it seemed that perhaps the gods were afraid of her.  This was of great delight to Callisto as she laughed maniacally at Hera.  Hera matched Callisto’s playful laughter with her own explaining how she felt about Callisto.  Hera only view Callisto as a pet really as Callisto inquired within her eternal emotional exhaustion of what Hera wanted from the condemned.

Hera then declared to Callisto that all she really wanted was to see Callisto smile again.  The great voice continued explaining that she desired to offer another chance to get her vengeance against Xena.  Callisto was cautiously interested in what Hera would offer and what kind of a deal she wished to make with her as she listened.  Hera continued  by explaining to Callisto that she would grant her one more day of life on earth and the chance at becoming an immortal.  Callisto was delightfully sold on Hera’s offer.  She only needed to know what Hera needed from her in exchange.  Hera explained that her desire was a simple one.  Callisto’s part of their deal would be in using that day to hunt down and kill her husband Zeus’s bastard son the great Hercules.  Hera reminded Callisto that it was Hercules that had made Xena, the warrior princess, whole and it was Hercules that had allowed Xena to take the path of redemption for herself.  Callisto did not need any persuasion beyond that as she spoke Hercules’s name, and smiled then laughed maniacally as Hera rescued Callisto from Tartarus and brought her back to the land of the living upon the earth.

Hera had picked a very special day in which to unleash a bloodbath upon Hercules.  It was his birthday and his mortal mother Alchmeny had been planning a big surprise party for her much celebrated son the legendary hero.  All of Hercules’s human family members were gathering in Alchmeny’s home as they prepared for Hercules’s arrival.

From one moment in Tartarus and in the next Callisto found herself in an instant within the home of Alchmeny.  The party guests appeared very surprised to see her as she suddenly appeared.  She looked of death, but was very much alive.  Dressed in a black hooded cloak Callisto timidly excused herself for intruding upon their little gathering.  She explained that she had been unable to find a guard to announce her arrival.  Hercules’s brother responded explaining that they had sent the guard home for the day since they were having a celebration and did not feel the need for the extra security.  Hercules’s human brother then inquired of who it was that had intruded upon their surprise party.   Iphacles.

Callisto used this opportunity to invite herself closer to the party guests.  She stated that she had come to pay her respects.  The darkness approached the unsuspecting guests explaining that her family had been attacked and her husband killed upon their travels along the road in Macedonia.  She continued her explanation that she and her child would have both become victims of murder along the road as well if it had not been for Hercules arriving in time to save them from certain death and destruction.   Iolas, Hercules’s best friend, did not recall Hercules mentioning this event.  Iolas found that he was suspicious of this uninvited guest and he asked her when this event had occurred.  The dark stranger continued as if embarrassed.  She ignored Iolas’s question and explained that she had heard it was Hercules’s birthday and she just wanted to leave a small gift for the hero and her proclaimed savior.

Hercules’s kind mother approached the young flower and invited her to come in and join the party.  The young dark flower expressed embarrassment yet was happy to be openly invited into Hercules’s most private inner circle.  With a cunning convincing act Callisto had been able to gain access to the people Hercules valued most.  This would make it easier for her to accomplish her goal and to become immortal.

As Alchmeny offered Callisto a drink Callisto found her opportunity to strike.  The blond darkness stood next to the large bowl of punch which had been prepared for all of the other party guests that would be arriving.  She set her phony gift upon the table next to the bowl of punch and began to concoct her vengeance upon Xena and her destruction upon Hercules.  As Alchmeny and the other party guests began to mingle with one another Callisto pulled from beneath her cloak a tiny vile filled with the wrath of Hera.  Once the deed was done Callisto reached for an empty chalice and filled it with the tainted punch.  Then the young dark flower turned to mingle with the crowd cloaked in innocence as she offered everyone a taste of more punch.

Soon Hercules arrived his mother’s home as he wandered the eerily quiet halls.  At first he thought little of it remembering that earlier in the day when Iolas had met with him he had instructed Hercules to act surprised when he came.  Their friend Falafal had accidentally revealed to Hercules that there was a surprise party being held in his honor for his birthday.  As Hercules opened the door do the banquet hall where he expected to find everyone he found himself shockingly horrified.  All of his family and closest friends, including his mother and Iolas, were all lying unconscious.  All was completely silent.  Hercules was alarmed not certain that anyone was even still alive.  As he scanned the room his eyes caught sight of the dark flower.  She raised her head as she sat alone at the table.  She looked to him and then revealed herself to him.  Callisto pulled her hood down and declared surprise alone in the room of the unconscious.

Hercules was indeed surprised, but this was not what he had intended to find on the other side of the banquet doors.  When he looked across the room he heard Callisto’s evil maniacal laughter.  It was a laughter that he had only heard about through the tales an evil blond warrior named Callisto.  He had heard of Callisto before, but he had never met the blond nemesis in person until now.  She was quite a surprise to him.  Suddenly Hercules snapped out of his shock and ran to the aid of his mother asking her if she could hear him.  All the while Callisto was enjoying herself suggesting that maybe someone had spiked the punch.  She declared playfully that she was glad that she wasn’t a drinker.  Then she threw off her disguise onto the floor dressed in nothing, but her warrior leather carrying a knife.

She approached Hercules and was intrigued pointing out it was obvious to her that he had never witnessed the effects of Xanthaleumthenum before.  Callisto began to explain the Hercules the effects of such a drug.  She stated that the mind was affected most by making victims susceptible to their wildest imaginings.  Callisto went onto explain that by the end of the day her friends would be completely mad, but only in the event that they did not kill one another before the drug fully worked their minds.

Hercules could listen to no more.  He forcefully moved Callisto away from his mother grabbing her by the shoulders.  Callisto was seemingly unaffected by his reaction as she explained that there was a known antedote.  Suddenly Callisto threw herself away from Hercules’s mighty grasp and stated that the antedote Hercules needed to save his family and friends was very rare to find.  With that the blond nemesis walked away from him and Hercules calmly inquired of Callisto what she wanted from him.  Her answer was simple, quick, precise, and to the point.  She wanted safe passage through the labrynths of the gods to the tree of life.  Then she continued explaining that it would only take one bite of the fruit of the tree to cure any illness.  Callisto was cunning, but Hercules could see through her cunning.  The blond nemesis continued reminding Hercules as she slammed an unconscious man’s face onto the table that madness for all of them was the alternative.

Hercules revealed to Callisto that he was aware that eating an apple whole from the tree of life could make one immortal.  Callisto continued chatting as if she had not just heard what Hercules had said as she playfully unwrapped his gifts for him.  She exclaimed that the two of them had much to celebrate between the two of them.  For this day was the day of Hercules’s most spectacular birth and would become the day of Callisto’s inevitable rebirth.  This was the moment in which Callisto finally decided to reveal her true identity to Hercules.  Hercules could not believe it at first.  He had heard the story of how Callisto had died in the quicksand in her epic battle against Xena.  Callisto approached Hercules again explaining how the impossible had become possible.  She revealed to him his true enemy which was not Callisto, but Hera his powerful step mother.  Callisto stated that Hera had given her a one day reprieve from death and Tartarus.  Then she went on in an attempt to convince Hercules that the two of them really did need each other.

Callisto then moved back toward the gifts and explained the reason they needed each other.  Though the blond was alive and well she was not with all of her mortal strengths from before death.  Yet, Hercules would never be able to navigate the labrynth in time to find the tree which contained the much needed antedote for his friends and family.  Callisto’s next thought was playful as she picked up a pair of new pants from within the gift box and declared happily that they were indeed nice.  Hercules could see that Callisto was bouncing between evil clarity and the mind of a playful innocent child.  He declared that she was insane, but she turned to him and calmly explained to him that she was no more than misunderstood.  Then she moved toward the door and turned to Hercules again and asked him if he was ready to go.  He had been recruited to be her new partner, but he certainly wasn’t a willing partner.

As Callisto and her new partner Hercules set off on their journey together she began to talk to him on a human level.  From what Hercules had heard about the blond nemesis she could not be trusted.  Yet he found himself attempting to be civil to someone who was obviously damaged and seemingly attempting to be civil as well.  As they walked the path together she explained how she felt like she had already come to know him as person despite their just having officially met within this circumstance.  Really, Callisto had only been dragged into someone else’s drama by an evil step mother.  Callisto could almost relate to Hercules in a way.  She had seemingly been thrown to the wolves as Hercules’s step mother was attempting to do to him.  Callisto knew she was a simple pawn and really had no ill will toward Hercules.  She had her own set of issues to deal with unfortunately for Hercules they included killing him at some point.  Deep down Hercules knew this, but he also understood that Callisto’s real enemy was an evil warrior princess whom he had rid the world of years ago.

Hercules attempted to keep his emotional distance from Callisto as he declared to her that she really did not know him at all.  Callisto seemed almost star struck in a way declaring that it was the fates that had seemingly brought the two of them together.  The blond nemesis  was seemingly innocent despite what Hercules knew of her.  She admitted to him that he was not the person that she had imagined him to be.  Despite this it was clear that she was clearly still very fascinated by him and by being in his presence.  It was almost as if she were hoping secretly that he would be able to successfully pull her from the depths of loss and despair as he had done for Xena.  Yet it was clear that Hercules was uninterested.  He was sarcastic declaring that Callisto must have been disappointed by him.  Callisto proclaimed with muffled excitement that she was not at all disappointed by him.

Then Callisto attempted to face him directly as they moved down the path together.  She was pleased at the look of emotional anguish that she had been able to invoke out of him back at the castle.  Callisto described Hercules’s reaction as one of fire and one of hate against her.  She then attempted to get deeper under his skin asking him if that was the same reaction he had had toward Hera when he had watched his deceased children die.  Hercules worked to contain his anger and not to reveal to Callisto what was going through his mind, heart, and emotions.  He warned her not to push him toward his inner rage.  She was not at all threatened by him and it was obvious.  Callisto declared that the beauty of this moment for her was in knowing that she could have her way with Hercules as long as she held the key to saving his family and friends from absolute destruction.  Although on one level she seemed to relish this Hercules sensed that she was also less interested in toying with his emotions as he would have imagined.  It seemed that there was something even more pressing for her.  Callisto’s months in Tartarus had led her to become a more patient foe.  Despite Hercules’s attempts to hide his emotions from her she declared that she could still feel them anyway.

The two continued on their journey together as the day wore on.  Hercules noticed that Callisto’s state of mind kept swinging back and forth between evil clarity and the playful misunderstood child.  She was now skipping alongside him singing and laughing, and playing.  It was unnerving even for the legendary hero for all he could think about were his helpless friends and family.  Time was of the essence in his mind.  He scolded Callisto as a father would scold his child and then she held his hand in hers and asked him why they couldn’t be nice to one another despite her having poisoned his friends.  It was as if she did not understand the urgency of the moment and the situation.  Hercules found himself frustrated realizing that his mother Hera had also victimized Callisto, but still she was not of complete innocence.  Hercules continued to be cautious with his new unexpected partner.

Callisto had finally led him to the location of the labrynth as she jumped upon the steps of the temple and declared that Hercules should have no reason to be mad at her.  After all, she was not the one who had painted a giant mark of death on his family.  Everyone knew that it was Hera who was behind it all.  Callisto was just playfully carrying out her orders.  Hercules firmly told Callisto that she should leave his family out of any further discussion.  Callisto continued with her thought out loud inviting Hercules to entertain what she was offering.  She explained that if his family was not related to Hercules then they would still be part of the world of the living.  Hercules turned away disgusted that Callisto felt it necessary to point out the things that he himself felt guilt over.  Callisto then jumped down from the stairs of the temple and declared that to be loved by Hercules was to mean that one would be cursed.

Hercules decided that he would fight back, but play the game in Callisto’s childlike world.  He asked her what the alternative was that she suggested.  He surmised openly to her that it was to be alone trapped within hate.  Hercules then looked to Callisto and shook his head.  He expressed that he would rather take his chances in going up against Hera even if it meant to continue on this quest alongside Callisto.  With that she laughed and then twirled about following Hercules as he continued searching for the entrance to the labrynth.  She wondered out loud if Hercules lied awake and alone at night hearing the screams of his children as they died.  Callisto wondered if he relived those moments and regretted the outcome wondering if there was something more he could have done to save them.  She wondered out loud if Hercules had given more respect to Hera if things might have turned out different for his family.  This touched a nerve with Hercules.  She had finally found his button and he did not like it.  He turned to her suddenly and angrily warned her to drop the subject of his family and dealings with Hera.

Hercules was now facing Callisto down declaring that he had no expectation of her understanding in the matter.  Callisto shot back at him declaring that she did understand his pain despite what he felt inside about her.  She confessed to Hercules that her family was also slaughtered like helpless animals as his family had been.  Hercules was stiff in his response stating that she didn’t learn much from her experience.  Callisto shot back at Hercules declaring that as a result of her experience she had learned how to get exactly what she wanted whenever she wanted it.  Then Callisto moved in on Hercules flatly reminding him within her evil clarity that the only reason that his friends were still alive at this point in her little child-like game was because she had decided to allow them to be alive.  Hercules retorted flatly against Callisto assuming that he was expected to apologize to Callisto.  Callisto’s response was dry and serious.  She said that she didn’t need his apology, but that he owed her everything he had in this moment.

In the moments that followed not a word was shared between them as they searched for the entrance to the labrynth.  Just when it seemed that Callisto was a complete hopeless case for Hercules there before them was an amazing site.  Callisto declared that what she saw before her was beautiful.  Hercules did not find the large stone gargoyle statue protecting the door particularly beautiful, but Callisto had demonstrated that her reactions to her surroundings were not normal as most human beings would view them.  The blond nemesis then declared that an open door was just as good as an open invitation.  It almost appeared to be too easy to enter the great labrynth.  Hercules was ready for the obstacle to reveal itself.  When it came to dealing with Hera he expected it.

As he watched Callisto approaching the steps to the open entrance he looked to the large gargoyle statue.  He saw its head slowly move and then fire shot out from every direction.  Callisto jumped back startled and screaming.  Hercules could see that the site of fire affected her deeply.  She rejoined him appearing confused for a moment as if she did not know how to handle the obstacle.  Hercules could not resist a playful joke at Callisto’s expense as a dark voice emenated from the head of the gargoyle guarding the door.  He breathed fired out of his nose as he spoke and stated that all who seeked safe passage beyond the door were required to solve a riddle.  Anyone who failed to solve the riddle would face death.  Hercules looked to Callisto inquiring with playful caution if she wished to attempt to solve the riddle first.

The gargoyle continued to speak asking its guests to give a name to earthly conceipt for it was unchangeable, but could change people, teach them, or trap them.  All who resided there were immortal, but the mortals standing before the gargoyle could never go to the unnamed place within the riddle.  Callisto chimed in commenting toward Hercules her hopes of his brain being able to match the strength of his brawn.  The gargoyle continued on with its riddle stating that the answer lied before the eyes of those who were standing witness to the riddle.  Hercules looked up to notice that the gargoyle then revealed an hour glass flipping upside down as the gargoyle continued asking that its visitors to choose their words before the words ran their course.

Callisto spoke of the unchangeable and Hercules focused on the fact that all who went to this location were immortal.  Suddenly, Callisto declared out loud that the answer to the riddle was Mount Olympus.  The gargoyle released angry fire down upon his visitors as both Callisto and Hercules jumped backward.  Hercules looked to Callisto and explained that Mount Olympus wasn’t actually a place within reality stating to Callisto that was the trick within the riddle.  Callisto barked back at Hercules frustrated reminding him that he had yet to come up with a good idea as to the solution to the riddle.  Hercules shot back asking that Callisto be quiet so he could think.  Callisto just shot back at him stating that she would not be holding her breath for his brilliant thoughts to come.  Then she turned back toward the gargoyle panicked noticing that the hour glass was running out on them.  Hercules looked to Callisto and suggested that maybe time was the answer to the riddle. Callisto hastily agreed with that thought and shouted out at the gargoyle her new answer.

Again the gargoyle spewed its fire down upon Hercules and Callisto.  She looked to Hercules again still in a panic and quickly noted that his idea was not the answer they seeked either.  Callisto wanted Hercules to offer another quick thought to their dilemma, but Hercules did not answer for he was still considering the riddle.  Callisto was impatient demanding another answer from Hercules as she yelled.  Hercules attempted to stay focused on the task as the gargoyle continued spewing fire down upon them.  Callisto had reverted into a child-like state as the fire reigned down upon them.  Hercules then spoke of the part of the riddle that they had seemingly forgotten.  “The answer lies before your eyes.”  Hercules looked to the hour glass as the sand was just about to run out.   Then he shouted out his final answer to the riddle which was “the past.”

Suddenly, the gargoyle’s fire disappeared and all was quiet again.  It seemed that Hercules had solved the dire riddle opening the entrance to the secret temple.  He then held out his arm and offered for Callisto to enter into the temple ahead of him.  She moved forward slightly cautious as if waiting for the gargoyle and his fire to reign down upon her.  As she hesitated her way up the steps Hercules then moved ahead of her confident and sure of his answer.  He knew the gargoyle had been tamed by his answer in the past.

As Hercules entered into the temple with Callisto he noticed that there was an oil pouch and a lamp already lit for their journey.  It was almost as if it had been a friendly invitation left behind by their fierce gargoyle friend.  Callisto entered inside the temple and then poked at Hercules asking him if the child inside him was afraid of the dark.  Hercules was annoyed by the comment knowing that he had just witnessed Callisto’s greatest fears of the fire outside the temple.  He realized that Callisto had been embarrassed of her open fear of fire and had to allow herself to feel as if she weren’t the only one with hidden fears reaching back into her childhood.  He then looked to Callisto who was now exploring the inside of a dark well and expressed that he didn’t feel she was doing too well.  Callisto found herself to be quite intrigued by the well in which she was climbing upon as if she barely noticed Hercules’s minor concern over her.  She warned him not to find himself within worry over her state of mind.  Callisto was certain that she would be feeling as good as new soon, but needed a drink of water to sustain her mortal self.

She struggled to pull the heavy bucket of water from the well to fill her mortal thirst, but did not have the strength to bring it up on her own.  Hercules found himself unable to stand by and watch the poor soul struggle.  He approached the well and helped Callisto hoist the bucket of water to the top.  Then he offered Callisto the ladle from the bucket.  The poor soul appeared as if she had not drank a drop of water in more than a lifetime.  She appeared thrilled and delighted at the idea of drinking water.  Again Hercules witnessed her within a child-like state.  He began to find himself feeling sympathy for her plight.  The she looked up at him and declared that he was a gentlemen.  Again she was taking a dig at him, but he ignored it knowing that her real ploy was in purposely pushing people away from her.  Callisto again looked up from her water fest and stated that the world didn’t deserve Hercules.  He played along with her little game and reflected the hatred back at her.  Hercules could see it was what she desired.  Callisto didn’t really want to be loved by anyone and it made her feel   comfortable to be hated.  Hercules found it to be the easiest way to keep her within his control.

Then Callisto stated as she drank from the ladle that she and Hercules were not as different as he liked himself to think.  Hercules knew what Callisto was up to.  Callisto was attempting to shape Hercules’s thoughts into believing that he himself deserved the same fate that she did.  He laughed at her idea almost interested in her argument for this idea.  As he listened she went on.  She stated that they both believed in the idea that the wicked should be punished.  Callisto went on to say that she saw something about people that he was unable to see.  Hercules then placed his torch to the side as he opened the bottle of oil to make the flame larger and brighter.  He expressed out loud that he was certain that Callisto would share her reasoning with him on the matter of the wicked.  Hercules raised the bottle of oil to his nose and took a whiff.  Calisto continued explaining that all people were wicked, and deserved everything that was dealt to them.

Hercules put the cap back onto the bottle of oil for the torch and placed it into his clothing for safe keeping.  He disagreed with Callisto’s reasoning stating that he had known of too much good in the world to believe in Callisto’s philosophy.  Callisto looked up from her water bucked confused by his response to her statement.  Then allowed the word “good” to escape from her lips inquiring of Hercules if it was a joke that he thought this way.  Callisto’s inner child revealed itself again stating that if mortals were indeed good then there would be no need for a hero like Hercules to even exist.  Then Callisto’s child became hidden within herself again and the evil part of her came to the surface once more.  Hercules responded explaining that he had indeed seen the darker side of people.  The hero went onto explain that the child within Callisto had earned his compassion for he realized that she had watched her parents die within fire.  However, Hercules pointed out that Callisto still had a choice which she had made.  Her choice was in how she responded to the evil that had been done to her and her family.  Callisto had chosen to follow evil rather than to fight against it which was what made his compassion for her limited.

Then Hercules picked up the torch and began to move further into the deep, dark temple.  Callisto threw her ladle back into the water bucket and began to clap within hysteria.  Hercules turned to look at her and could see that Callisto was stuck between a conflict within herself.  Callisto continued stating that Hercules’s faith in people was touching, but again it was borderline sarcastic evil.  She rose from the well having finished quenching both her mortal thirst and her thirst for toying with Hercules’s mind.  Callisto continued as she challenged Hercules to continue his newfound faith in her as their day and journey together would continue.  Then Callisto invited Hercules to follow her further into the dark temple.  Hercules watched as she moved into the darkness.  He was still very suspicious of her truest motives.  The hero could sense that Callisto’s soul was nearly damaged beyond repair.  His senses about her were heightened.

As the two unlikely companions moved through the darkness within the mysterious temple Callisto began to play with her hair as if off balance by Hercules’s response to her.  She twirled her hair nervously and stated that Hercules was not living up to her expectations of him.  Callisto was seemingly disappointed in Hercules for not having been more open to the idea that he could spend the whole day attempting to convince Callisto that she could change in the way that Xena the warrior princess had been convinced to change.  Hercules easily answered that inquiry explaining confidently to Callisto that Xena had changed because Xena had been wanting to change.  Callisto stopped and turned to Hercules not so certain that Xena had really changed deep down.  She continued her confessions of Xena telling Hercules a seemingly very dark secret about Xena.  Callisto revealed to Hercules that Xena had watched her die in quick sand during their battle over the death of Gabrielle’s beloved Perdicas.

Callisto then turned away from Hercules as she continued leading him down the path of darkness.  She twirled her hair and spoke of how ironic she thought it to be that not long before there had been a time in which Hercules would have gladly teamed up with Callisto to help bring Xena to justice for her past crimes against humanity.  Hercules argued with Callisto on that point stating she was wrong to think that about him for he did not share Callisto’s definition for justice.  She agreed with him on this point.  Callisto’s sanity quickly turned to vengeance against Xena as she declared that she believed justice for Xena would be to die a very slow and painful death just as her parents had at the hands of Xena’s army.  Hercules was frustrated as he turned to Callisto and explained that vengeance wasn’t true justice.  If she could only understand this viewpoint he thought that it might be possible for her tortured soul to find some peace within.

Callisto’s child rose to the surface as she spoke the word peace out loud repeatedly.  It was as if Callisto was considering what that meant to feel peace within.  Then the vengeance rose forth from within her again as she declared that she had once dreamed of peace.  Callisto then closed her eyes and imagined that death would be the only true way to experience peace.  She asked Hercules to allow her to die again so that she might have another chance at reaching that illusive feeling of peace within.  Callisto continued explaining that her trip to Tartarus after having been allowed to die by the warrior princess should have been a welcome for her.  Yet instead she found that she was only welcomed by eternal torture in death and in Tartarus.  She explained with anger that she had been trapped in her hatred of Xena with nothing within her power to do about it.  Hercules was not buying all of what Callisto said.  He knew the real reason they were on this journey together.  She needed her shot at becoming an immortal so she could fill her vengeance against Xena and those whom Xena loved most.  Hercules pushed Callisto’s tortured soul aside and stated that immortality would not solve her problems with vengeance.  Callisto’s frustrations with Hercules rose from within the evil burning within her as she hissed at him like a caged animal.

Despite their battle of wits they still need each other to accomplish their respective goals.  Hercules wanted to save his family and friends while Callisto wanted to destroy Xena to satisfy her vengeance.  As they continued on their journey they reached two passages.  Callisto’s job was supposed to be leading them to the antidote Hercules desparately needed to help his loved ones.  He was frustrated with Callisto.  She was seemingly confused as to which way to lead them next.  Hercules asked Callisto not to toy with him and pretend to be a lost child again.  Yet there was little he could do since it was the lost child who was now in control of Callisto again.  Callisto argued with herself about not having written down the specific details Hera had given her.  She shook her head as the confusion within unfolded before Hercules.  He could almost feel as if he were swimming around within her confused mind.  Suddenly, Callisto’s child won out and she chose the left passage and continued the journey with Hercules.

As Hercules followed behind her something came from within the darkness of the passage and wrapped itself around Callisto’s ankles dragging her into the darkness as she screamed.  Then the child within Callisto panicked and cried out to Hercules.  He thought to himself that it must have been the right passage that they should have taken.  He had two choices.  He could save himself and his family as he watched Callisto disappear into the darkness alone or he could delay saving his family and himself to save a damaged soul.  Hercules then made the only choice that he could.  He dashed down into the darkness following Callisto’s tortured screams.  He shouted out for Callisto hoping she would respond back so he could hear where she had been dragged off to within the darkness.

Her screams led him into a cavern full of black tentacles that appeared to be living breathing vines.  Just as he was about to enter the cavern a blackness covered the entrance.  Hercules could still hear her echoing screams so he shouted out to Callisto to keep talking to him.  She responded frustrated stating that indeed it was what she was attempting to do.  Hercules searched for an alternate route into the cavern which held Callisto.  When he found an alternate entrance it suddenly became blocked by a giant bolder which appeared.  He peered through the small opening left there and could see Callisto was completely wrapped up in the black vines.  She was struggling as she reminded Hercules if he did not save her then his family would die along with her.

Hercules was very aware of that fact as his frustrations rose.  He could feel Callisto’s tortured struggle as the vines began to wrap themselves around her neck cutting off her ability to speak.  It was only a matter of time before they would cut off her breath and her life.  Hercules looked for another entrance into the cavern of vines.  He could hear Callisto’s stuggle to breath and she began to choke for breath and to shout out a few last screams for his assistance.  He dashed down the dark paths until he found another entrance.  Hercules faced the living vines as he attempted to wade through them toward a trapped Callisto.  The vines were strong and he struggled through them to rescue Callisto who was still screaming in fear and panic.  She was now facing her second mortal death.  Just as it seemed he would not arrive through the vines to save her in time he ripped Callisto out of her binds.  He then instructed her to grab onto him as he reached for a live vine and swung them out of the cavern of vines.

As Callisto climbed off of his back she declared him to be her hero.  She was quickly back into her character of sarcastic evil.  It was as if she had planned her demise all along in an attempt to trap Hercules into his own death.  Hercules pushed her off of him and just looked at her disgusted at her reaction to her near death moment.  He walked away continuing on deeper into the darkness of the temple.  Callisto’s vengeful evil did not stop at its attempt on Hercules’s life.  She began to describe what her plans for immortality would be.  He first act of business would be to rip out Xena’s tongue so that the warrior princess would have to whistle her apology to Callisto for killing her family instead of speaking it.  Callisto found this to be beyond amusing as she giggled like a dissatisfied child.  Hercules reminded Callisto that her fantasy would have to be spoiled for the moment because she had not yet escaped the mysterious and dangerous dark temple alive yet.

With that Callisto reminded Hercules that he too had not t escaped the temple and its unknown trappings alive yet.  Hercules’s patience was running thin because he knew deep down that time was running out for his family.  He turned to Callisto and stated that when they made it to the tree of life and he was able to save his family and friends then his next order of business would be to send Callisto back to Tartarus where she belonged.  He would make sure he was the one to send her there.  His anger was heightened because even the child within her was vengeful.  That was too dangerous a thing to leave within the world alone.  Callisto yelled back at Hercules also impatient reminding him that there were no rooms to hold her.  She had managed to find her way even out of Tartarus.  She reminded him that he was the only one that could possibly stop her and for him to do that he would ultimately have to commit the act of murder.  Then she continued that she knew he would be unable to murder her the way that Xena had because his misguided sense of justice would not allow him to commit such an act.

Hercules calmly challenged her confidence of that point.  He stated she was overlooking something.  Callisto found herself slightly intrigued as she smiled and inquired of him what that was.  He then moved in close to her and whispered that she had already been killed.  Hercules continued by reminding her that the only reason that she was still standing was because he needed directions that only Callisto could give to him to save his family.  Again a look of confusion spread across her face as she stated that she had underestimated him.  He responded flatly stating that he was flattered by this, but she continued stating that he had also overlooked something about her.  Hercules laughed at the idea.  Then he stated that he did not believe it to be true as he continued moving forward through the temple.

Callisto did not follow him.  She only continued to state that if she went back to Tartarus she would not arrive there alone.  She then vowed to find the souls of Hercules’s dead children Clonous, Acin, and Aylaya.  Callisto promised Hercules that she would dedicate her entenity in Tartarus alongside them with her.  They would all suffer together.  Hercules knew that Callisto was good on her promise of this and Callisto was aware that she had achieved gathering Hercules’s undivided attention.  She reminded Hercules again that she had been able to escape Tartarus and return to mortality.  Not just anyone was capable of such a feat.  She was certain that she could easily reach Hercules’s children within the Elysian Fields if necessary to arrive at what she wanted for herself.

Hercules moved at Callisto unable to control his sudden rage against her promise against his children.  He shoved her up against the wall of the cave with his strong hand around her neck.  She had found his weakness which was also his strength at the same time.  Callisto had a way of pressing people’s buttons and bringing them to the brink of murder.  She continued stroking his rage against her begging him to continue the act of taking a life.  Callisto begged Hercules to kill her.  He could see that it was what she wanted him to do.  If he killed Callisto he knew he would become out of favor of Zues.  Zues would destroy him and allow Callisto to destroy the souls of his family if he followed through with the act of murder against a mortal.  Hercules had reached his breaking point, but understood the consequences of allowing himself to break.  It wasn’t worth it and so he released his grasp of her life.  His anger was unleashed through his fist upon the cave wall next to Callisto’s head.  He wanted to demonstrate his power over her so that she would not attempt to press his button again.

Callisto sank to the ground and began to laugh.  She asked Hercules which of them was trapped within their hatred.  Hercules looked back at her unable to understand her torture.  He decided that he didn’t really want to understand her anymore.  All Hercules wanted was to find what they had come to find.  He was certain the Callisto would find a way to destroy herself without him.  That was the way this would have to be resolved if he wanted to retain his own sanity.

The two fresh enemies continued down through the temple maze until they approached another entrance.  Callisto stopped, thought carefully, and paused.  Hercules jabbed at her hoping that she wasn’t confused again.  She was confident that she was not confused as she pointed him into another direction.  He had no choice, but to follow her advice despite their run in with the black vines.  As Hercules entered into the next room the walls suddenly closed attempting to trap him inside.  Just when Callisto had thought she had trapped Hercules the hero used his god-like strength to pry open the doors which were locked shut with spikes on the edges of them.  As Hercules struggled to free himself from her trap she did not raise a finger to help.  Instead she just admired the details of the many traps hidden within the mysterious temple.  She was quite pleased with the work of Hephestas’s craftsmanship.  This temple belonged to him as had been revealed by Hera.

Then Callisto moved away from the doors as Hercules continued to struggle his way out.  She shouted out to Hera explaining that Hercules had held up his end of their bargain as did Callisto herself.  It was now time for Hera produce the reward they had both come to receive.  As Hercules continued to struggle a secret door raised from within the walls deep inside the temple.  The unexpected movement grabbed Callisto’s attention as the newly opened passage way revealed the tree of eternal life.  Hercules could see that he only had moments to act.  If Callisto were to arrive at the tree with the golden apples before he could free himself all would be lost.  His friends, family, Iolas, and his mother would all perish.  Hercules shouted out to Callisto angry at what she had done.  He promised her that their battle of wits was not yet over.

Callisto casually turned back to face him.  She smiled then she approached him again and stated that she had enjoyed her little adventure with him, but she was confident that she no longer needed his assistance in handling matters which concerned her.  Then she reached out and grabbed Hercules’s long flowing hair and forced him to kiss her.  She suddenly too her torch and smashed it into his stomach knocking the wind from his lungs.  This forced Hercules to lose his grip upon the trap wall which had been closing in upon him to gore and smash him into oblivion.  Despite the momentary loss of his concentration he was able to recover and slowly push the walls back outward away from his body.

Callisto was enjoying toying with the legendary hero as she inquired if he was enjoying himself.  Callisto continued to toy with Hercules as she reached out and stroked his long hair again and promised him that soon he would be joining his friends and family in death.  Then she took one last jab at him promising him that her next move against him would be in the name of his having saved Xena’s soul.  She then used her torch and smacking his arm hard hoping that it would be the final blow that would deliver him to his death.  Despite the pain and the loss of concentration Hercules moved to block the wall from collapsing upon his body to deliver him to his death.  Callisto continued to stand watching him intrigued by his determination to survive.  Then she moved away as if suddenly uninterested.  He continued to struggle to survive and the blond nemesis appeared to be surprised at his inner strength and will.  It seemed that just for a moment she felt sorry for the hero.  Yet it was only a fleeting moment of concern for him as she shook her head and bade him farewell certain of his impending doom.

Hercules had hoped that he could use his moment of despair to convince her to change her mind and help him to escape the jaws of death, but instead she continued toward the tree of immortality.  He watched helplessly as she reached out for one of the golden apples.  Hercules had lost the battle to prevent Callisto from reaching immortality, but he was still fighting for his life.  As he struggled with the collapsing walls Callisto took the luscious golden apple she had just picked and bit into it with satisfaction.  Within an instant she had transformed into an immortal as all of her strength and more was restored and she could feel the power from within.

Hercules managed to struggle his way out using his powerful shoulders to twist himself back around to a position from which he could push the walls away from himself.  As he pushed against the mighty walls the temple began to shake as it buckled against his power.  Suddenly, he had successfully freed himself from the collapsing walls as they slammed shut behind him while he ran for the tree of eternal life.  As he scanned the temple he saw no one.  It seemed as if Callisto had vanished for a moment.  Suddenly, she screamed her signature battle cry and flipped over him from the shadows with her power.  Before Hercules could get his barrings she landed upon his tired shoulders reaching down with her hands and grabbing his face.    She was still eating the golden apple she had taken from the tree and joyfully declared that it was delicious.  She continued pressing the advantage against his tired shoulders while he attempted to recover from having his eyes nearly gouged out.

Then she kicked him with her legs and flipped off of his shoulders landing in front of him has he fell from the blow.  Callisto continued to masterfully press her immortal advantage over his mortality.  She turned back around to face him as he attempted to rise to his feet to face her.  Then she delivered an angry furious kick across his face.  She was punishing him for having had faith in Xena, but not in herself.  In this moment, Hercules had managed to get to his feet, but before he could make an offensive move against her she swept her foot beneath his and he was robbed of his balance again.  Hercules fell back onto his back again.  In that moment he decided not to struggle against her for it seemed that she was ready for his every counter attack.

Then she paused in her advances against him and smiled.  She looked him in the eye and realized declaring out loud that he was to die on his birthday.  Somehow for Callisto it seemed fitting.  This idea pleased her as she stated that it was a convienance.  Then she lifted her boot and smashed it into Hercules’s face.  Callisto then flipped backward leaping toward her torch which now held a flame within it.  Hercules realized that her plan was to kill him the way her family had been killed by Xena.  She planned on burning him to death as punishment for her suffering at the hands of Xena.  Before Hercules could move to do anything about it Callisto made another unexpected move as she moved with the flame toward the tree which held the key to saving Hercules’s loved ones.  She then lit it on fire destroying any hope that Hercules may have had in being able to save his loved ones even if he could find a way to save himself.  This led Hercules to suddenly rise to his feet into action.  He shouted out against Callisto who suggested playfully that he should blow out the flames and make a wish for his birthday.

Callisto then screamed, ran, and then flipped through the air back into an offensive stance against Hercules.  She was determined to make him suffer.  Then she kicked leaves off of the floor of the temple into Hercules’s face knocking her boot directly into his nose.  As Hercules grabbed his nose staggering backward Callisto pressed her offensive swinging around her torch and knocking it into his stomach with immortal force.  She watched as Herules staggered backward up against the temple walls and sunk down to the floor in agony.  Callisto was now beginning to feel the real power that came with being an immortal.  She dashed across the temple, then flew through the air screaming loudly.  She attempted to deliver another furious blow with the power of her boot against Hercules, but he was ready this time.  He was able to duck her offensive against him forcing her to kick the wall behind him.

Then she swung around again with her torch and attempted to knock his head off.  He was able to duck the move.  Hercules had discovered her offensive strategies as he had allowed himself to take several blows in order to learn how he could counter her.  It was a brilliant , yet painful way to do battle.  Callisto quickly realized this and began working on his weak shoulders again.  She reached out and slapped his shoulder then back kicked him across the jaw.  Hercules had not been expecting that, but it wasn’t enough to knock him down again.  He used the wall to help soften the blows against him as he ducked and dodged her advances.  Then he managed to find an opening against her and rolled beneath her offensive.  She turned to face him, smiled and then flipped across the temple back toward his new position of defense.  As Hercules attempted to get to his feet again Callisto met him and stated that it was a pity the two of them could not have worked out their differences.  She was certain the two of them together would have made an unstoppable team.

In the next moment she attempted to kick him across the face again, but he was ready for her.  He managed to block her kick with his powerfully strong hands. She looked to him shocked that he was able to defy her certain death blow.  Angry that she had been stopped she found herself surprised by Hercules’s strength yet again as he took the advantage against her grabbing her and flipping her over his knee.  Then he looked to her before she could regain her senses and stated that he already had a partner.  Then he used his powerful punch to knock her across the temple against the wall.  She didn’t recover from his power right away.  She slid down the temple wall, but soon regained her senses.  Her immortality was nearly unstoppable even  for the great Hercules.  She declared that Hercules’s partner Iolas would not be a part of Hercules’s world much longer.

Hercules dashed for the burning tree.  As he attempted to find a way to distinguish the flames Callisto rose to her feet, screamed, and dashed across the temple to attack again.  She ran up his body and flipped backward.  Then she kicked the single apple from his hand that he had managed to retrieve from the burning tree.  Callisto then tried a new offensive delivering furious punches at directly at Hercules’s face.  He managed to block them with his strong arms.  He had used the time he was allowing Callisto to pummel him to rest his tired shoulders.  Hercules was now gaining some momentum against Callisto’s advances.  She attempted to knee him in the stomach, but he was ready for it as he grabbed her head and forced in down into her own knee.  Then he swung her around and knocked her from her feet with his legs.  He then kicked her across the temple into the walls.  Callisto’s head smacked hard.

Hercules used her moment of immortal weakness and picked up the apple he had managed to retrieve from the burning tree.  Callisto quickly recovered frustrated with him.  She asked him why he couldn’t just allow himself to perish like a good son.  He declared that he just didn’t know when to quit.  Callisto promised to inspire him into death.  She stated that even if Hercules was able to find his way out of the temple maze without her help he would never be able to do it in time to save his loved ones.  Hercules was confident that Callisto was wrong in her thinking.  Callisto was ready to hear why he was so confident as she gleefully inquired.  He then held up an empty oil pouch and stated that he had known something Callisto was unaware of.  It was the fact that they were out of oil for the torch.

Callisto appeared to be confused for a moment, but Hercules continued explaining his view through his next action.  He pulled a burning branch from the tree and threw it across the temple out into the dark corridor.  The torch lit the oil trail that Hercules had left behind them as they had moved through the temple maze which led the way home.  Hercules firmly stated that the oil flame would lead right back to the entrance.  Then he declared his own surprise.  Callisto quickly realized that she was defeated.  She reached out for the bulls head lever upon the temple wall activating it to close the door and seal Hercules inside the room.  Then she grabbed a knife from her leather armor and charged Hercules attempting to stab him through his heart.  Hercules quickly ducked her charge and ran for the closing door.  Callisto ran into the burning tree and fell in frustration.

Then she began to weep in emotional anguish as Hercules was about to escape the flames of entrapment.  He looked back noticing that she had burned her eyes.  She was struggling to see as she begged him not to leave her alone in the fire.  The fearful child with in her was now talking to him.  Hercules could not allow himself to leave the child despite the evil that lurked within her.  He ran back for her and asked her to give him her hand.  In the next moment she turned on him again and jumped upon his back and screamed defiantly.  She struggled to prevent him from leaving and saving his loved ones as he struggled to throw the evil from his back.  Hercules had the upper hand and he had hope again.  His strength had been restored as he threw evil from his body and ran underneath the sealing door in the knick of time.

The door soon sealed shut and the immortal Callisto was now trapped within her immortal body within the flames of the burning tree.  As Hercules dashed through the temple maze following the was now trapped forever within her worst nightmares.  Yet Callisto was no longer his concern.  He had burning oil trail he had laid for himself he could hear the deafening anguish of Callisto’s emotions as she given her a chance to be saved yet she had taken that opportunity to betray him.  She had been responsible for creating her own nightmare this time.

Despite Callisto’s attempts to carry out Hera’s wishes against Hercules and his loved ones, Hercules had defeated them both.  He went on to save the lives of his loved ones.  Just before the sun was to set he provided each of them with nourishment from the single apple he had managed to save from the flames of Callisto’s darkness and despair.  Upon hearing this news of the now immortal Callisto’s demise, to the bard Gabrielle it was most certainly no surprise.

The Xena Scrolls: Volume #3: Scroll #50: Judgement Day

The Xena Scrolls

By:  Gabrielle Bard of Podedia

Judgement Day

Scroll #50

September, 47 B.C.

    The bond of friendship is a strong one.  As the bard Gabrielle had discovered it is stronger than the god Poseidon, and even death.  True friendship is driven by love, and the love that Gabrielle had for Xena, and Xena for Gabrielle was what brought them back together time and time again.  After having left Callisto and Velaska behind Xena opened up to Gabrielle in a way that she had never done before.  Xena had been reminded of her past during their time sailing the seas.  Though the memory of a past with Caesar of Rome had been painful it explained a lot about the warrior princess that Gabrielle had come to understand about her friend.   Xena explained that even more than the warlord Cortese it was her crossing paths with Julius Caesar of Rome whom had instilled into her the worst evil qualities and desires for blood-lust.

Xena had always been a secretive person, even with Gabrielle often times.  Since their earliest adventures together Xena, for the most part, kept her darkness from Gabrielle’s knowledge.  Yet after Xena had shared her story of betrayal by Julius Caesar of Rome, Xena began to share even more.  She explained to Gabrielle of how she had been informed by Hercules months before that he had found himself crossing paths with Callisto.  Hercules had sent Xena a message about it while she was visiting with King Lias two seasons before.

Suddenly, the bard realized that if it weren’t for that important message from Hercules Xena would not have been able to find the immortal Callisto to enlist her help against Velaska.  Gabrielle found herself torn about the idea that Xena had kept such a secret from her.  Although the bard had heard the story of Callisto escaping the underworld, and becoming an immortal before, it seemed as if it was something that bard should have been made privy to sooner.  It should have been Xena telling her and not strangers in a village tavern.  Xena began to explain why she had decided to withhold this information from the bard.

It was yet another secret that Xena had kept from Gabrielle, but Xena explained that it was only because the warrior princess wanted to spare her friend the pain of being reminded of what Callisto had done to Perdicas.   Hera had brought Callisto back from the dead in the hopes of wiping out Hercules and his family in exchange for escape from the underworld.  Callisto had wanted another shot at Xena after Xena had succeeded in defeating her yet again as she attempted to steal Xena’s body, family, and reputation of being a warrior who loves the common person.  Hearing that Xena had known all of this months before only made it more difficult for the bard to continue on her own path of enlightenment and forgiveness toward Callisto.  Listening to the story of the immortal Callisto only made the bard feel raw inside again.

As the two best friends sat together in the tavern for some dinner and relaxation they began to over-hear two drunkards speaking quite loudly and over all of the other voices inside the crowded tavern.  Xena and Gabrielle found themselves to be quite annoyed by their rambunctious behavior.  It was over the top and unnecessary.  The two men were talking about Hercules which was what caught the ears of both the warrior princess and the bard.  One of the men stated very loudly that he could not believe that the hero Hercules had gotten married.  Not only had he said Hercules was married, but that Hercules had given up his super-human strength to marry a deer.

Suddenly, the warrior princess had enough of their shenanigans.  She did not enjoy listening to two scum poke fun at her dear friend and former love.  It was a disgrace and they were defacing his name.  Hercules didn’t deserve that for all of his good deeds to humanity, and especially to Xena.

Xena had just found her new mission and she was ready to put out the raucous laughter and humiliating jokes.  As the warrior princess rose from her seat, and turned to confront the hoodlums she directed to them her curious question.  She asked them if in fact what they had said about Hercules having gotten married had been true.  One of the men answered her, but he answered her with yet another insult to Hercules.  He was so drunk that he couldn’t even distinguish a question from his own bad jokes.  He responded as if Xena weren’t even there as he pressed forward with his assault on the reputation of Hercules.

Suddenly, Xena turned back to Gabrielle after the man gleefully stated that Hercules had not only married a deer, but he had also given up his god-like powers to do it.  Xena commanded Gabrielle to rise from her place at the dinner table and declared that they were leaving immediately.  Though Gabrielle was slightly annoyed by Xena’s sudden need to leave the tavern she started to understand that there was more to it than Xena simply being annoyed at the drunkard’s insults.  Xena actually believed that there was truth in their drunken statements about Hercules.

Gabrielle was not laughing at the insults, but she was laughing in her heart having quickly realized that Xena actually still had romantic feelings and perhaps a bit of a passionate flame and attraction toward Hercules.  Xena bolted out the door of the tavern as Gabrielle grabbed her staff and exited not far behind.  Although it was refreshing for the bard to get out of the company of the obnoxious hoodlums.  She was slightly irritated that Xena was suddenly leaping at the excuse to go out and find Hercules after over six seasons since their last encounter.

There was a small part of the bard that understood Xena’s need to fill her passions, but the bard did not agree with any plan or idea that Xena might be having with in her warrior mind to perhaps talk the hero out of his decision to marry what was said to have been a deer.  The whole thing seemed ridiculous to the bard.  Even if it were true that Hercules had fallen in love with and married a deer the bard’s motive was in expressing to Xena that the warrior princess should clear any idea of meddling in the romantic affairs of the legendary hero.  The bard had learned pretty early in her travels with the warrior princess that meddling in the affairs of love could be dangerous.

If the man wanted to marry a deer who was Gabrielle or even Xena to criticize?  To the bard love was all about being happy and feeling at home with the one you loved most.  Gabrielle was certain that Xena was jealous and upset with Hercules for not having bothered to tell Xena about his wonderful news.  Xena scoffed at the bard for even thinking about scolding Xena for her feelings.  Xena attempted to play it cool, but Gabrielle knew better.  As Gabrielle continued the conversation Xena suddenly bolted ahead as if Gabrielle no longer existed.  Gabrielle could barely believe what she was witnessing unfolding.  Especially since only minutes before all of this Xena was pouring her heart out to the bard back inside the tavern.  It was as if they were making a certain break-through, and it had suddenly been interrupted by madness, and a certain warrior lust.

Then Xena untied Argo from the post, and moved quickly.  Gabrielle attempted to catch up to Xena as the warrior traveled with a sense of urgency toward the main road.  The bard shouted out to Xena to slow down, but to no avail.  Gabrielle asked Xena what the hurry was to reach her old flame.  She wasn’t so certain that rushing off to inform Hercules of the rumors floating about was all that important.  It felt as if Gabrielle were talking to herself.  As Gabrielle dashed down the road to catch up to Xena, the warrior suddenly halted on down the road upon Argo.  It was clear to the bard that Xena had made some kind of startling realization.  As Gabrielle caught up to Xena and Argo upon the road Xena calmly called upon Ares the God of War.

Ares appeared within an energetic fiery flash.  Gabrielle had never seen Ares do that before.  She had seen him as a mortal, and she had seen him transform shape from playing the role of Xena’s father morphing into himself, but never as a powerful flash of light.  The god of war appeared just down the dirt road before the warrior princess who sat upon Argo and smirked at Ares’s arrival.  It was as if the warrior princess had somehow sensed the god’s presence before he had even arrived.  The bard found it to be impressive warrior senses.  Even after traveling with Xena for this many seasons Gabrielle found her to still be full of surprises.

Ares was delighted and excited that the warrior princess had called upon him as he approached her.  With one hand upon his sword, which was sheathed in sleek black leather, Ares taunted the warrior princess about how she had just lost out on the love of her life to a deer.  He cackled loudly and boisterously over the topic.  Xena was clearly not amused by this.  As Ares stood there before her in his tight, sleek black leather warrior presence he expressed to Xena that despite his brother Hercules having rejected her he would be there for her.  Ares proclaimed, although he didn’t like to be second choice, he would graciously accept any passes or offers of love that Xena might want to make toward him.

It was clear to the bard, and obviously to Xena herself, that the extremely sexy, god of war was no more than a glorified whore.  Ares of course did not pretend to be anything else.  He pressed forward with his sales pitch, and laid it all out for the warrior princess.  He reminded her that they had once had a very hot, and heavy romance that involved some of the best wars and blood baths he had ever seen in the known world.  Ares then moved in closer to the warrior princess as if attempting to create some kind of irresistible sexual tension.   If the bard had not known Ares to be such a tricky adversary she might have found herself to be somewhat attracted to him herself.  The smell of his cologne permeated the surrounding air as if Zeus himself were standing there.

Ares reminded the warrior princess of how much Xena’s blood lust had once inspired him.  He balled up his fist, and flexed his enormous, exposed biceps as he delivered his passionately lustful speech of the warrior princess and her past successful bloody exploits alongside him.  Ares brought up a specific battle, the battle at Torrence, in which he had been extremely proud of their work together.  He described the battle as having been one of bloody limbs scattered everywhere upon the battlefield as Xena had led her army through her opponent’s infantry like flies.  The god of war proclaimed this battle to have been one of the most beautiful battles he had ever witnessed or had ever been a part of.  It was clear to the bard that Xena was disgusted and seemingly felt dirty as Ares jumped up on to the horse with her.  He started touching the warrior princess who was struggling against the urges toward him she seemingly felt.  Gabrielle feared that Ares was tapping in to Xena’s dark side and this Gabrielle wanted to avoid.  The bard cleared her throat loudly.

Ares then whispered into Xena’s ear, and pressed further into the warrior princess’s mind and into her emotions.  He told Xena that they could easily leave the irritating blond behind, but if the warrior princess absolutely needed her along for the ride he could always make a minor exception.  Then the god of war explained, as he whispered to the warrior princess, that this was his offer to her.  With that the god of war suddenly disappeared within his blue flame leaving the warrior princess to contemplate his offer.  Gabrielle could see that Xena’s mental wheels were spinning as she dissolved back into a thinking mind rather than one of raw emotion.  Gabrielle approached Xena and stepped in front of Argo upon the road.  The bard wanted to know what it was that had just happened between Xena and Ares.  She also wanted to know what was pressing through Xena’s warrior mind.

As Xena continued to travel down the road with the bard alongside her horse she explained to the bard that there had been a time in which she had partnered with Ares on the battlefield.  It was after she had partnered with Caesar.  Xena explained that she was confused during this time in her life, and that she had been through some very traumatic experiences.  Ares had come along, and sold himself as her savior and as the one who would help her pick up the pieces of her failed war campaigns up to that point.  He promised her that they would conquer the world together, and that they would defeat her worst enemy Julius Caesar.  The young warrior princess had bought into Ares’s persuasions back then, and that mistake had led her into the battle at Torrence.

Strangely, the battle of Torrence had taken place not far from where they were, and Xena decided to take Gabrielle there with her to see the destruction and devastation that Xena had left in her wake along side Ares.  As the two quietly walked through the empty battlefield they found it still littered with the bones of many corpses.  And as Ares had described, there were the bones of the limbs scattered everywhere severed from the rest of their bodies.  Gabrielle could see that her friend was disturbed to be reminded of this.  Traveling through Torrence might not have been something that had even occurred to the warrior princess before the conversation overheard in the tavern.  Now the mood was completely different.  Gabrielle was concerned for Xena, and had a difficult time believing that Xena could have ever been capable of such destruction, but Xena assured the bard that she had been.  Xena explained to the bard that this was the reason she had never wanted Gabrielle to experience what it was like to kill someone.  Gabrielle’s light had become Xena’s strength, guide, and moral compass.  Xena would do anything in her power to protect the bard from this path.

The two best friends and companions continued on through the rotted carnage left behind in near silence.  As they reached the opposite edge of the battlefield they could hear the sounds of a mob off in the distance.  Xena paused and held up her hand commanding the bard to stop, stay silent, and to listen.  As they listened Xena moved forward toward the tree line for a better observational position.  In most scenarios this might not have caught her attention, but as the bard followed she peered through the tree-line.

On the other side indeed there was a mob, and at the head of the mob was Iolas Hercules’s best friend.  Along with him was the local town magistrate of the village of Torrence.  The magistrate urged the mob forward as if they were on a mission.  He mentioned an argument that Hercules had with his new wife on the morning before.  Iolas responded explaining that his friend was seemingly not himself recently, and in fact, that the gods could be behind something.  Another village leader piped up, and stated that responsibility was of no consequence because it was clear that Hercules had become a danger to their community.  As the mob continued on by, Iolas stated that he was going in ahead of the mob to get Hercules.  Iolas explained that since he was Hercules’s friend that perhaps Hercules would listen to him and would get himself up out of bed.

As the mob passed by Gabrielle looked to Xena alarmed at what she had just heard.  Xena looked to Gabrielle, and cautiously instructed the bard to follow her into  the opposite direction along the tree line staying off of the village road.  The two continued to travel alongside the tree line following the village road into Torrence.  As they continued, and were a safe distance away from the mob, Gabrielle broke the silence and asked Xena what she thought that Iolas meant when he said that the gods might be behind whatever was going on with Hercules.

The warrior princess responded by explaining that she suspected Ares was behind whatever it was.  Ares only appeared to Xena when he was behind something or was up to something.  Xena suspected that it had something to do with Zeus because Ares had been wearing the essence of Zeus when had appeared to them on the road earlier that morning.  The warrior princess explained that the fact that Ares had mentioned the battle of Torrence, and the fact that he had mentioned Hercules’s new marriage could only mean that Ares had somehow set up his brother.  Xena explained how Ares had always been jealous of Zeus’s love for Hercules the half mortal son.  It was one of Ares’s motivations for teaming up with Xena in the beginning.  It was Ares who had sent Xena to kill Hercules in the past, but it was to the god of war’s detriment.  Thankfully it had led Xena to be defeated by Hercules who was the first person able to re-direct her path away from the darkness.

Gabrielle inquired if Xena was worried about Ares and what he was up to.  The warrior princess replied that she wasn’t all that concerned.  She explained that though Ares was conniving he almost always failed in the end because of his arrogance and over confidence.  Gabrielle chuckled at the thought that Xena was unconcerned about the god of war and his motives.  It appeared that Xena was still more interested in finding out more about Hercules and his new bride.  The bard then inquired again.  She wanted to know if Xena was at all concerned about why a mob was out to get Hercules.  Again, the warrior princess was seemingly not all that concerned.  Despite that she did not have any ideas as to why a mob would be after Hercules, and Xena was certain that Hercules could handle himself.  She still strongly felt that to get answers they would have to visit another tavern and preferably one in the nearby village of Torrence.

As the two friends continued following the path alongside the tree-line they heard the mob racing back up the main road just on the other side again.  They appeared to be even more angry than they had been on their way back down the other direction.  Xena and Gabrielle stopped and looked through tree-line, and there behind the mob was Iolas calling out to them attempting to explain why Hercules was not at home.  By this point it appeared that the mob had lost all faith in Iolas.  They nearly trampled over him as they were no longer interested in what Iolas had to say.  Iolas was easily pushed him aside as the mob marched on back toward the village.  Soon the mob had passed on down the path into the distance.  Quickly and with stealth Xena pulled Iolas off of the road and back into the trees alongside her and the bard.  Iolas seemed to be taken completely by surprise as Xena covered his mouth so that he would not give away her position with the bard.

Iolas was seemingly in a panic.  Gabrielle asked him what was going on, and inquired of why a village mob was searching for Hercules.  Xena uncovered his mouth and Iolas stated under his breath that he was glad to see both Xena and Gabrielle, but that they had to hurry and find Hercules.   Iolas said that Hercules was in trouble.  Gabrielle wanted to know what Iolas meant by that.  Iolas stated that Hercules had not been himself for the past several days.  Iolas stated that since Hercules had married his new wife Serena, and given up his half-god power to do it, he had become belligerent.  Xena didn’t understand why that would make Hercules unstable, and it certainly didn’t explain why the mob was after him.

Iolas continued explaining that when he had gone to visit Hercules earlier that morning he had found the legendary hero in a state of emotional shock.  Gabrielle wanted to know why Hercules was in shock.  Iolas stated that someone had murdered his new wife Serena.  Iolas explained that they had to hurry and catch up to the mob back in the village because Hercules was being accused of murder.  Iolas had been able to buy Hercules some time to escape allowing Hercules an opportunity to find his wife’s murderer.  Xena agreed with Iolas that it was important that they try to stay ahead of the mob in finding Hercules, but she felt that she and Gabrielle might have a better chance at flushing out the real culprit behind all of this which Xena suspected was Ares.

Ares, as always, Xena said, had shown her too many of his cards.  Xena mentioned that setting up Hercules for the murder of a mortal was Ares’s plan.  Murdering one of Zeus’s mortal creations was the highest sin Hercules could ever commit against his father Zeus.  The warrior princess explained that Zeus had only one rule when it came to Hercules.  No other god was permitted to punish his son except Zeus himself. Ares was very aware of this and was smart enough never to cross that line himself.  The only condition in which Zeus would allow Hercules to be judged, and punished by another god was if Hercules were to ever kill a mortal in cold blood.  Xena certainly did not believe that Hercules was capable of such an act.  Which was why she was certain that the god of war was behind it all somehow.  Yet she explained it was not Ares’s style to do the dirty work himself.

The warrior princess realized that they needed a quick simple plan to deal with the immediate situation.  She wasted no time in deciding what to do next.  Xena decided that the three friends would follow the mob back into the village of Torrence.  Iolas would go on ahead using Xena’s horse to try to find Hercules ahead of the mob.  Xena felt Hercules needed to be found and escorted to a safe place away from the danger it posed to him.  Once Xena and Gabrielle arrived at the village behind Iolas they would attempt to stay out of sight of the mob.  Xena and Gabrielle would only reveal their presence if necessary.  Iolas stated that at this point anyone who was thought to be an ally or a friend of Hercules would be in just as much danger.  Xena instructed Iolas not to worry as she urged him to get up on to her horse.  Iolas did so thanking Xena.  Then he raced off down the village road.  Xena and Gabrielle followed behind on foot as they dashed up the road behind him.

By the time Xena and Gabrielle had arrived there was a large fight brewing at the center of the village.  Iolas had already arrived, but the mob was holding him back from defending Hercules who appeared to be nursing an arrow wounded shoulder as the village mob beat him mercilessly.  Iolas was shouting out desperately to his friend helpless to stop the brutal beating.  As Xena and Gabrielle approached, Xena instructed Gabrielle to come into the fight after she found her moment to take on the mob while Gabrielle would flank them.  Gabrielle wasn’t so certain that she and Xena could take on an angry mob on their own, but it was going to have to happen because there was no time to waste.

The mob began to beat Iolas down to the ground as Hercules could no longer be seen within the pile of people beating on him.  Suddenly, a few local soldiers mixed up with the mob pulled him out of the pile of villagers and began to beat him with their weapons of war.  It went from wooden clubs to professional weapons in a hurry.  They thrust a large round weapon through his stomach knocking the wind out of him.  He was clearly in anguish as they were about to give him the death-blow.  Suddenly, that was the moment in which Xena chose to strike.  With her signature battle cry she entered into the fight, raised her mighty chakram, and aimed it right through the raised weapons of the mob.  Flipping through the village behind her chakram Xena had given Hercules just the opening he needed to rise from his defeat and fight back against his attackers.

Quickly Xena’s chakram sliced through the enemy weapons as Xena reunited with her chakram catching it at the end of her series of acrobatic flips.  Someone from the crowded mob shouted out her name as many of them ran from the mighty warrior princess in fear.  Gabrielle did not know if it was because of Xena’s many well-demonstrated skills in an instant or if it was her history with the village prior, but Xena brought fear with her as she battled on.  This was Gabrielle’s signal to enter the battle.  The bard charged in alongside Xena, Hercules, and Iolas to fight off the enemy.  A small band of local soldiers had been called in to deal with the situation, and as the mob dispersed they charged into battle against the four friends.

Though both Hercules and Iolas had been badly beaten by the mob already they rose with power in their charge against the small army.  Xena easily defended against her attacker as the bard pulled out her staff to defend against the power they faced.  Though Hercules had risen he had been overwhelmed by the pain of the shoulder injury as Gabrielle smacked her attacker to the ground with her staff.  When the bard gazed across the battle she saw Hercules was being beaten with weapons of war again as two soldiers held him defenseless.  Hercules was then kicked to the ground as Xena punched and smacked her way through the line to get to him.  Gabrielle flipped her staff around to regroup against the next approaching enemy soldier.  She smacked him in the stomach knocking the wind out of him as Iolas found a way to free himself from his over-sized opponent.  Iolas flipped his attacker from behind over his shoulder onto the ground.

With Xena enemy bodies were flying everywhere.  Her power and strength was amazingly displayed as she fought alongside Hercules who struggled to push himself back off of the ground again.  Xena and Gabrielle continued to defend him from as many attackers as they could knowing that he was now truly mortal and unable to handle the volume of attackers coming at him.  Iolas went to Hercules’s aid as another attacker came at Hercules.  Iolas threw off another soldier as Hercules’s weakness was becoming clear.  Hercules struggled to stay upon his feet as his legs collapsed beneath him and he grabbed for his injured shoulder.  Iolas attempted to catch Hercules’s fall, but the legendary hero fell hard.

The battle had been won by the four as Iolas’s concern for his friend was rising.  Hercules passed out as Iolas tried to talk to him, but both Xena and Gabrielle could see that Hercules was in serious condition.  Xena instructed Gabrielle to fetch Argo.  Gabrielle quickly moved back across the village toward Argo and quickly Xena instructed Iolas to help her hoist the body of the injured Hercules onto her horse.  The friends had to act quick and swift in order to get the legendary hero safely out-of-town.  As Xena jumped up on to her horse she instructed the bard to bring Iolas with her using Xena’s trail left behind to find them.  Xena knew of a safe place they could take Hercules until they could figure out what to do next.  Iolas was grateful for the help his friends offered him and to Hercules in their deepest time of need.  As Xena rode out-of-town with Hercules, Gabrielle knew Xena had just given her an unspoken command.  It was up to the battling bard and Iolas to find a way to cover their tracks so that they wouldn’t be followed when they rejoined Xena, Argo, and Hercules.

Once the four had reached one of Xena’s secret weapons storage caves from her days as a blood-thirsty warlord Xena removed the arrow shaft still lodged inside Hercules’s shoulder, cleaned out the wound, and then stitched it up.  Iolas stood by feeling helpless for his friend explaining that he had never seen Hercules in this bad of shape or ever to have taken such a beating.  Xena instructed the bard to hurry and get more water and bandages for Hercules.  Gabrielle handed Iolas a bowl with the medicinal contents that Xena had used to clean out the wound.  She quickly grabbed the water bucket and ran out of the secret cave hide-out.  As Gabrielle left the cave she overheard Xena give Iolas Hercules’s condition.  She stated to him that she was certain that his shoulder had been dislocated and he could have possibly fractured his skull.

Soon after the bard left the cave Iolas emerged within distressed silence.  As she was leaving the stream with her full bucket of water she saw him standing on the bank alone.  The bard called out to him asking if he was okay.   Iolas bravely and quietly replied that he was, but Gabrielle could see that he was upset.  As she passed him by with her bucket of water she decided to turn back to comfort her friend.  Gabrielle put her bucket of water down, approached Iolas and gently laid her hand upon his shoulder.  She explained that she knew Hercules would be okay.  Gabrielle went on to explain to Iolas of Xena, and how great the warrior princess’s battlefield medical knowledge was.  Iolas interrupted Gabrielle’s thought already knowing that about Xena himself.  Gabrielle inquired more about Iolas’s obvious and deep concern.

He hesitated, but then revealed to Gabrielle the true nature of the dire situation.  He gravely laid it out to the bard stating that Hercules was certain that he had killed his own wife Serena.  Iolas stated the evidence to Gabrielle explaining that when he went to visit Hercules earlier that morning, he himself had seen Hercules over the body of his wife with a bloody knife in his hand.  Gabrielle could understand Iolas’s shock in seeing his friend like that.  It made Gabrielle think of her stroll through the stale battle of Torrence that Xena had revealed to her earlier in the day.  It seemed that both she and Iolas had witnessed the darker side of their friends.  Gabrielle decided in that moment that Xena needed to be with Iolas to help comfort him.  The two of them needed to figure out who could have committed this awful crime.  Gabrielle could not believe for a moment that it was Hercules.  She recalled the time when Ares had framed Xena for the murder of three innocent villagers.  Gabrielle suspected that Xena was onto something when she had mentioned Ares having shown his cards when he appeared to them on the road just after they had left the tavern to visit Hercules.

When Gabrielle returned to the cave she could hear that Hercules had awakened.  He and Xena were having a heart-felt conversation.  Xena explained to him that she had come as soon as she had heard the news of Hercules’s new marriage.  Xena had wanted to come to share in his new-found happiness.  Hercules then revealed to Xena that his wife had been murdered.  Xena inquired of how it happened and of what Hercules knew about it.  Hercules explained that he had been having a strange violent nightmare and that the killer hadn’t even awakened him when he killed Serena.

For Xena this didn’t add up.  Hercules agreed that it did not make sense that he would not be awakened by the sounds of his wife being murdered in cold blood right next to him.  He explained to Xena that the sleep he was in was like no other he had experienced before.   Then Hercules tried to rise from his injury expressing that he was certain Ares must have had a part in all of it since it was Ares who had promised Hercules eternal happiness with Serena in exchange for Hercules giving up his immortal powers.  Xena was knew that Hercules was right, and was not surprised that Ares had reneged on his promise to his half-brother.  She scoffed at the idea that Ares could ever keep his word in any deal with anyone including his brother Hercules.

It was obvious that Hercules wasn’t even certain that he hadn’t killed Serena himself.  Xena instructed Hercules to rest before he attempted to face Ares again.  Gabrielle quietly entered the cave with her bucket of water.  She expressed to Xena her concern about Iolas and suggested Xena go out to talk with him.  Xena appeared to be annoyed at the situation because Xena suspected just what Gabrielle had suspected.  Ares was attempting to get his brother killed, and to regain Xena’s affections at the same time.  Xena handed something to Gabrielle as she was leaving the cave to speak to Iolas.  Gabrielle asked the warrior princess what it was.  Xena revealed that it was a goat skin, and that hopefully it would be something that would save Hercules’s life.

Gabrielle sat quietly next to Hercules.  It appeared that he was having another one of his nightmares as he tossed and turned.  He kept calling Serena’s name and telling her that it was all his fault.  Hercules was still fighting a fever and delirious as he went in and out of consciousness.  Gabrielle’s heart felt for him as he struggled with the demons he could not understand and could not find.  The bard could sense Hercules’s guilt as she sat beside him attempting to keep the legendary hero’s fever under control.  It seemed that Xena had been outside with Iolas for a very long time.  Iolas was in deep despair for his friend.  He didn’t want Hercules to suffer and did not want his friend’s good name to become tarnished.  Even if Hercules really did murder his wife in his sleep.

Iolas had made an offer to Xena.  He offered to turn himself in on behalf of Hercules for the murder.  Xena didn’t feel that was the right course of action.  Iolas also offered to kill Hercules himself if indeed it was found for certain that Hercules had killed his wife.  Xena didn’t believe for a moment that Iolas could go through with it.  Iolas wasn’t so certain Xena could kill Hercules either, but Xena knew that she would if that was what should happen to resolve the situation.  Yet Xena wasn’t convinced that was necessary.  Xena was pretty certain of Ares’s involvement, but she didn’t think he had done it all alone.  The murder plot was too complex for him to have done it all alone.  Xena wanted to be able to flush out the accomplice.  The warrior princess had devised a plan in which she would allow Hercules to go and turn himself in which was exactly what Iolas didn’t want his friend to do.

And so Xena’s plan was set in motion . Gabrielle had gone to fetch another bucket of water for Hercules.  By the time the bard arrived back at the cave Iolas and Xena had already returned.  Yet when Gabrielle returned moments behind them Hercules was nowhere to be found.  Xena asked Gabrielle if she knew where Hercules was.  Gabrielle explained that she had only been gone for a few moments.  It was just long enough to fetch a pail of water.  Iolas looked to Xena and was certain that his worst fear was becoming a reality.  Hercules had gone to turn himself in.  Then Gabrielle set down her full bucket of water and noticed that Xena’s sword was missing.  The bard deduced that Hercules must have taken it.  Xena looked to Iolas inquiring if Hercules might have wanted to take her sword to commit suicide.  Iolas was certain that Hercules would never turn a sword on himself.  Instead Iolas was convinced that Hercules would commit suicide by charging himself into overwhelming odds.  Xena could understand that.  Dying a warrior’s death would be a more noble resolution, especially for someone like Hercules.

Xena’s plan was now fully in motion.  The three friends knew just where they would find Hercules so they grabbed their weapons, and prepared to return to the village where they expected  he would be.  When the three arrived back at the village Hercules was in the process of  turning himself in to face his demons.  Iolas shouted out to Hercules.  The town mob began to approach, but Xena warned them to stay back unless they wanted to experience her wrath once more.  The mob backed off at her warning.  Iolas rushed to stop Hercules from jumping in, and taking on the mob alone, but Hercules was determined and certain that he had killed Serena.  He was intent on doing what he felt was the right thing publicly.  Suddenly, Iolas tried to convince Hercules that he was wrong in believing that he had killed his wife own wife.  Iolas pleaded with Hercules to go back to their hide-out until they solved the murder.  Instead Hercules drew his sword and jumped into a sword battle with Iolas.  Though the legendary hero was gravely injured his natural strength and power allowed him to easily defeat his opponent knocking Iolas to the ground.  Hercules seemingly went off of the deep end.  Then Iolas recovered in the duel with a defensive move plunging his sword straight through the stomach of Hercules finishing off the battered hero.  As Hercules seemingly took his last breath he uttered his last words proclaiming that his friend had killed him.

As Hercules fell to the ground Iolas was seemingly in shock at what he had unintentionally done.   Xena responded in emotional anguish to the death of her once passionate lover.  She attacked Iolas intending to punish him for her pain.  She demanded, from within her passionate rage, that Iolas to get up and fight her.  As their swords clashed violently before the village mob Gabrielle ran to the aid of the fallen hero to comfort him.  The duel between the two friends turned sudden enemies did not last long.  Xena quickly got the upper hand on Iolas with an elbow to the nose as she charge forward clashing her sword with his and then quickly thrusting it right through his chest.  He gasped for his last breathes as Xena jerked her sword from his body and pushed him to the ground with her hand upon his face.

Then she looked wild-eyed to the village mob and asked them if they were ready to see more blood.  It appeared that the warrior princess had taken a sudden turn back down the path of her blood-lust.  The village mob was shaking with fear for the wrath they expected to come from the warrior princess at them.  It was clear that they remembered the battle of Torrence years before.  Just as the village army stepped forth to defend their people against the wrath of the warrior princess Ares, the god of war, appeared from within the crowd ecstatic with excitement.  He congratulated the warrior princess on her performance against Hercules and his friend Iolas.  Xena had defeated the legendary hero to the satisfaction of war.

Ares chucked as he approached Xena who with suspicion asked Ares what he was doing there with her.  Ares proclaimed confidently and proudly that he had an interest in the situation that was unfolding.  Xena held steady to form as she spoke out-loud the truth that Ares had planned the entire circumstance.  Ares’s response to Xena was that he had to keep himself busily amused.  Then Ares looked to Xena and explained that there was a way to bring the hero back if that was indeed what Xena wanted.  Ares made his offer stating that all she had to do was come back to him, and to once again become his warrior queen alongside him where she belonged.

Xena was torn inside hoping to be able to bring forth the rest of the story in front of the village audience.  She asked Ares how he had managed to take such a strong and honorable man to a place in which he could take part in the act of killing his own wife.  Ares was sly and was not about to give up the full truth in front of an audience.  He proclaimed that he would keep that little secret to himself.  The god of war knew that he was in the better position with in this battle of wits against the warrior princess.  He had not forgotten about how he had been defeated by Xena when he had tried to frame her for the murder of those innocent villagers.  He wasn’t about to let the warrior princess defeat him again.

Just when it seemed that the warrior princess would have to choose between restoring the life and honor of Hercules or becoming a blood-thirsty warlord along side Ares again, someone came forth.  It was a young god dressed in leather.  He was a god that no one had ever seen before.  He addressed Ares as his uncle explaining that he had used a Morpheus induced sleep upon Hercules in order to be able to slip by the hero while he did the deed.  Xena looked to the young arrogant god and repeated the statement that he had killed Serena.  The young god explained that it was indeed very easy for him to accomplish.  Strife was proud of his accomplishment.

The village mob began to whisper within itself as Ares began to realize that he was losing control of the situation.  He barked out that it did not matter who killed Serena.  The fact was that Hercules was dead there before everyone, and if Xena wanted him returned to the living she would belong to Ares now.  Xena looked to Ares as he proclaimed himself victorious over her and over his brother Hercules.  Suddenly, a shout came from within the mortally wounded Hercules.  Shocking the gathered village crowd, and everyone who was witness, Hercules seemingly rose from certain death to challenge Ares’s comment stating that finding his wife’s murderer mattered to him.  As gasps fell through the crowd Hercules’s best friend suddenly rose from the dead as he moved to his feet alongside Hercules.  Hercules pulled something from his torn sleeveless yellow shirt and revealed to all that he had been protected by a blood-filled goat skin.  Xena smirked with delight knowing that her plan had succeeded in flushing out the true murderer of Hercules’s beloved wife Serena.  She had publicly exonerated Hercules.

Suddenly, Hercules charged at the lesser god Strife enraged by Strife’s confession to Serena’s murder.  Hercules, as all mortals, wanted vengeance against the one who had taken his wife from him.  The legendary hero went for the throat taking down Strife with his heart’s anguish.  Both man and god fell to the ground in the scuffle as a nearby wine barrel fell over onto Strife.  Hercules was going in for the kill as he shook Strife attempting to strangle the immortal god.  Strife struggled to fling Hercules off of him as the legendary hero rolled over some hay bales onto the ground.  Strife then rose to his feet ready to take on the grieving enraged hero.  Ares stood by watching appearing entertained yet disgusted at Strife’s inability to keep their little secret.

Hercules quickly recovered rising to his feet to charge at Strife again knocking the immortal to the ground once more.  Then the hero shouted a command to the immortal demanding that Strife pick himself up to face Hercules for more punishment.  Strife quickly rose to face the hero taking a powerful slap across the face from Hercules.  Then Hercules sent a powerful punch into Strife’s jaw, and continued to pound Strife’s immortal body with his fury.  He kicked Strife to the ground, but Strife rose to his feet from the blow with little effort as Hercules attempted to deliver an even more powerful kick to Strife’s skull.  As Strife rose again he took a boot to face flipping over backward back to the ground.

That blow took Strife down hard and Strife attempted to quickly scurry away from Hercules’s rage on his hands and knees as he rolled over onto his back, and dragged himself to the aid of his uncle Ares.  Strife whispered to Ares begging for his help in Hercules’s onslaught against him.  Ares was not amused and disgusted at his inexperienced nephew.  He grumbled under his breath reminding Strife that he too was a powerful god, and that he should use his powers against the now completely mortal Hercules.  Hercules moved toward Strife for another attack as he raised his fist and threw another powerful punch at his wife’s killer.  Strife had risen back to his feet and easily deflected Hercules’s mortal blow.  Strife’s deflection of Hercules’s power was turned against Hercules as it became a punch of equal power sending Hercules flying across the village to the ground.

The hero was not used to being mortally wounded in such a battle and took the fall hard.  One could see that he was still feeling the pain of his bleeding chest wound from the arrow and his dislocated shoulder as Hercules struggled to  rise to his feet to face Strife once more.  Strife yelled out against Hercules in triumph and then charged the hero with his newly recognized advantage.  Strife kicked Hercules across his face as the hero was attempting to get up.  Gabrielle looked to Xena as the hero fell hard.  His new mortality was showing itself in exhaustion as the hero was losing his strength and stamina in the fight.

Strife reached down and grabbed Hercules from the back of his neck and began pounding the hero’s face violently into the ground.  One could hear Hercules struggling as he grunted in agony at each blow Strife delivered to his mortal body.  Strife then picked up Hercules’s body and thrust it even further across the village to the ground again.  Ares looked pleased, but Xena could see that Hercules needed help.  The hero needed her help, but she could see that he needed to win this fight on his own.  Xena looked to Ares and demanded that he even up the fight god against god by returning Hercules’s powers to his brother.  It wasn’t a fair fight and Ares had reneged on his deal with Hercules when he promised his brother eternal happiness with Serena in exchange for Hercules giving up his super-human strengths.  Ares flatly refused stating that he was enjoying watching his brother’s suffering.

Gabrielle could see that Xena was deeply concerned for Hercules as Strife continued to abuse the legendary hero to death.  Strife grabbed Hercules and slammed him into a barrel of wine.  Hercules was now struggling to breathe and stay conscious.  Iolas shouted out to Ares reminding the god of war that he had reneged on his deal.  Ares defiantly admitted that he lied to his brother, but he didn’t care.  If the god of war wasn’t going to get Xena back he would at least destroy the brother that he was so jealous of and retain his father Zeus’s greatest affections for himself.  With Hercules out of his way he would become Zeus’s pride and joy.  Ares then smiled, laughed, and continued watching his brother suffer.  Strife began to jump upon Hercules’s chest attempting to collapse his lungs.  Just when it seemed that Strife would finish off Hercules, a brave old man stepped out from the crowd and demanded that Ares play fair in this duel against his brother.  The old man’s voice grabbed Strife’s attention and the mini-god stopped his onslaught stepping down from Hercules’s chest to see who was interrupting his show of power.  Strife stepped away as if he knew the old man and respected him.

The crowd was quiet as the old man approached Hercules and offered both of his hands to the exhausted hero.  Hercules attempted to rise to his feet, but then stretched his arms out to take the old man’s hands for assistance.  As the old man took Hercules’s hands into his own there was a large bright ball of surging energy that appeared between the two men.  The energy was powerful and electrifying.  Hercules was regaining his super-human strength.  As he rose to his feet his wounds instantly healed and then suddenly the old man morphed into a god.  It was the most amazing sight.  A powerfully wise elder man cloaked in a brilliant shiny silver elegance now stood before the village crowd.  Zeus had appeared before all in the village to save his most beloved son Hercules from the wrath of his jealous son Ares.  It was a miracle.  Hercules was touched to see his father come to rescue him from certain death.  The tender moment between father and son ended as Zeus stepped back and away from Hercules and Strife.

Hercules then looked to Strife realizing that Zeus was allowing him the opportunity to punish Strife for Serena’s death.  Hercules looked to Strife ready to take down the lesser god.  The fight was now even.  Hercules took a swing and Strife ducked away, but Hercules countered with another punch to Strife’s chest effortlessly sending the mini-god into the air across the village.  Strife screamed loudly and then plunged through a thatched roof into a village home.  It created a loud thunderous crash.  Gabrielle looked to Ares who appeared disgusted once again.  Hercules charged across the village and entered the village home forcefully throwing the doors open.  The brutal sounds of their battle could be heard coming from inside.  Suddenly, Strife plunged back out of the village home through the wall into view of the village crowd.  Strife attempted to scurry away once more as he felt for his feet beneath him to stand up again.

Hercules busted through the wall after him as Strife reached for a large ceramic water jug to use as a weapon.  Strife reached back, and wound up to slam the jug into Hercules’s body.  Hercules effortlessly blocked it with is gauntlet then disarmed Strife’s weapon twisting the mini-god’s arm.  Strife’s body slammed toward the ground as Hercules flung the mini-god over his head and slammed Strife continuously upon the ground.  Strife screamed loudly as he took the abuse from Hercules.  The crowd was in awe as Hercules spun Strife’s body above his head and then threw him back to the ground with his rage.  Hercules continued to disfigure Strife’s face with thunderous punches until the god of war had decided he had seen enough.  Suddenly, Ares whipped up a ball of godly energy and flung it across the village like a lightning bolt.  The bolt of energy sent Hercules falling backward onto the ground.

The villagers began to descend upon Strife as he lied upon the ground.  Then Strife slowly rose up unable to stand, looked to the crowd and laughed maniacally.  Then he disappeared in within a fiery ball light as his laughter echoed into silence.  Hercules was not satisfied for he did not have his full justice against Serena’s killer.  The hero rose to his feet and shouted out to his brother that their sibling rivalry would not end without Hercules receiving his retribution for Ares’s unfair deeds against him and wife Serena.

Ares agreed with Hercules angered that he had been exposed by both by the warrior princess and Strife’s inability to stay in the shadows.  As the god of war rested his hand upon his sheathed sword he engulfed himself into a flame of power disappearing as triumphant laughter echoed in his wake.  The all-powerful Zeus had seen enough as well.  He quietly exited the village on foot.  It was an invitation for his son Hercules to follow.  Hercules looked confused and dissatisfied for he did not get his revenge or his satisfaction.  The hero ran out of the village after his father to confront Zeus.  Xena and Gabrielle moved to go after Hercules, but Iolas signaled that Hercules needed to face Zeus on his own.

Xena attempted to lighten the moment expressing that Iolas gave a good scream when she had thrust her sword through him.  Iolas then looked to Xena and opened up his shirt.  He showed Xena the mark she had left on him with her sword during their theatrical performance to expose Ares, and Serena’s true killer.  The warrior princess laughed with pride as she joked that it was going to make a nice scar.  Then Iolas complained that Xena had cut him a bit too close.  He said that it was a little too real for his taste.  Gabrielle chimed in defending Xena explaining to Iolas that it was the only way they could have made Iolas appear mortally wounded.  Xena realized that she had to reassure even Iolas that she would never have killed him for real despite what she had done to him in their past.

Soon Hercules returned and Iolas quickly inquired about his private conversation with Zeus.  Hercules walked ahead frustrated and asked Iolas not to be concerned with his dealings with his father.  Iolas jumped ahead to join Hercules in an attempt to comfort his friend and sooth Hercules’s frustrations.  When the bard and the warrior princess finally caught back up to Iolas, Hercules had gone to be alone.  Iolas said that despite having exposed the real killer Hercules still blamed himself for allowing himself to marry the last of Serena’s kind.  If Hercules hadn’t made the deal with Ares Serena would still be alive.  That was what Hercules believed.

Gabrielle knew all too well what that felt like.  It would be a pain that would never leave, but she was certain that Hercules would one day be able to learn to deal with the violent loss of his wife for Gabrielle had learned to live everyday with the loss of Perdicas.  As the bard stood alongside the warrior princess and Iolas at Serena’s funeral by the water she felt Hercules’s pain.  She looked on as the hero stood in solace over the stone grave of his beloved.  He had lovingly built it and marked the spot upon which she would forever lie.

The bard listened to the warrior princess sing her beautiful song of farewell which was the song of the dead that those from Amphipolis would sing for those lost to us.  Gabrielle was reminded of Perdicas’s funeral and how Xena had sung the beautifully moving chant for her beloved husband.  Despite wanting to share Hercules’s grief with him Gabrielle knew that for Hercules grief had to be experienced alone.  As the song ended into the silence of nature’s sounds Hercules placed Serena’s necklace upon her stone marker, and pounded it into the stone reminding all who would pass who lied beneath.  She was the last of her kind, and so the three friends left Hercules behind within his solace so that he might quietly bade his sweet wife farewell.  The bard was certain that one day they would be brought together again for death can never sever the power of love.

The Xena Scrolls: Volume #3: Scroll #48: A Necessary Evil

The Xena Scrolls

By:  Gabrielle Bard of Potedia

Scroll#48:  A Necessary Evil

September 18, 47 B.C.

After a long quest and much personal debating a decision was finally made by the amazon princess.  She prepared for a beautiful ceremony in masking the new queen of the amazons.  It was a peaceful and beautiful moment as the amazons passed the mask of queenhood down from the mighty Melosa to the elequent Ephiny.  Princess Gabrielle received the beautifully decorated mask and then turned to face the wise new queen.  Gabrielle had determined that Velaska was not fit to carry on the amazon nation ethically and respectfully as she herself was not prepared for the awesome responsibility that comes with being masked as the queen.  The amazon princess was certain that there was much more she could learn alongside the warrior princess and was confident that Ephiny would be the right choice.

The moment had come to present the new queen to all as Gabrielle stated before the amazon nation that the queenhood rightfully belonged to Ephiny.  Gabrielle was certain in her heart that Melosa would have wanted it that way in the abscence of the former amazon princess Terrais.  Ephiny’s response was gentle and selfless.  She declared before the amazon nation that she would only accept the mask of queenhood in Gabrielle’s abscence.  Ephiny reminded the inexperienced amazon princess of her rite to the amazons.  Amazon law still declared that Gabrielle was the rightful queen despite Gabrielle’s decision to pass the responsibility to Ephiny.  Then Ephiny smiled reminding Gabrielle of what the sisterhood of the amazons was truely about.  It was about selfless sacrifice, trust, and courage.

Gabrielle suddenly found herself embarressed and then managed to find a way to lighten the serious moment.  She turned to Xena and posed a challenge.  The bard wanted to know if an Amazon Queen beat a warrior princess.  Xena’s sarcastic smile said it all as she responded to Gabrielle’s question with another question.  She asked the bard if she wanted to really find out the truth of that.  Gabrielle took the hint realizing that titles meant only as much as could be proven by those who held them.  Gabrielle was certain that she was far from skilled enough to challenge a warrior princess.  Becoming an amazon queen would hardly sharpen her warrior skill by sheer title alone.  And then the bard turned back toward the standing queen and reminded Ephiny that it was not likely that she would ever return to reclaim the queenhood.  Still Ephiny held steady in her leadership and looked to Gabrielle in a serious manner.  It was a reminder that Gabrielle was still a young girl at heart.  Gabrielle knew this despite all that had transpired.

Suddenly the ceremonial drums sounded as Ephiny raised the mask above her head and prepared to wear it with dignity and pride.  The amazons shouted out with joy and celebration for their new leader as she prepared to complete the ceremony.  Yet just as the amazons were at the dawn of a new era an uninvited blood curtling  scream crept into the celebration.  It was the scream of Velasaka.  All were surprised to see that she was still alive.  Gabrielle had been certain that Velaska had died in the rope battle the day before.  Yet by some strange miracle Velaska had survived and she was filled with even more rage and anger than before.

As Velaska limped into the amazon camp it was clear that she was on the brink of death.  Gabrielle looked on in shock as the amazons drew their weapons preparing to defend their queens.  Velaska’s injuries were impressive yet haunting.  Her legs were bleeding from their large gashes and her left arm was completely broken.  Velaska immediately looked to Gabrielle after declaring that the mask belonged to her and no other.  She was still delusional about the truths of Amazon law.  Gabrielle felt almost regretful that Velaska believed her own truths.  Then Velaska spoke in her haunting death filled voice.  She saw right through the eyes of the bard and with the weapon of every single thought that came from behind them.  This haunted the bard for she found guilt knowing that in her heart she had been so afraid of Velaska that she had found some sort of solace in knowing Velaska was dead.  But now Velaska seemingly had Gabrielle’s soul at her mercy despite the hand of Celesta.

Xena stepped forward upon the ceremonial platform realizing the severity of Velaska’s injuries.  The warrior princess wanted to help Velaska realizing just what Gabielle had realized.  Xena offered to help Velaska, but Velaska responded with defiance and strength.  She declared that she needed the help of no one.  Gabrielle could see as Velaska spoke helplessly that she had felt betrayed by her sisters.  Though it was her own selfish aspirations which had brought her to this demise.  Velaska had sadly betrayed herself.

Suddenly the thought of pity for Velaska left the bard’s mind and the minds of all others who witnessed the next unexpected event.  Velaska smiled with darkness in her eyes as she reached into her belt pouch.  Then the worst nightmare possible came to pass.  She held up the ultimate weapon and the ultimate revenge upon her sisters and upon Gabrielle.  It was a small piece of ambrosia that had not been destroyed in the fire.  Somehow Velaska had been able to save just enough to bring her the ultimate gift from the gods.  Immorality with the power of the gods behind it.

Just as Velaska’s breaths were audibly becoming shorter and struggled she smiled and stuffed the ambrosia down into her mouth.  As her hand shook uncontrollably she suddenly fell to the ground in weakness.  Then all was quiet momentarily until the power of the ambrosia took the place of certain death.  Velaska’s mortal body lit up as it blinded all who beared witness.  Suddenly she cried out in pain and anguish and then the transformation came to pass.  For a moment all was quiet again as Velaska slowly rose from the ground and felt the power of the ambrosia running through her veins.  Then she looked up at her stunned audience seemingly uncertain of what she wanted to do next.

Gabrielle knew exactly what Velaska would do next and just as the thought crossed the bard’s mind Velaska fixed in on her.  She looked up and shouted out Gabrielle’s name in a commanding tone.  Then Velaska rose her arm and pointed her finger in the direction of the startled bard.  Gabrielle found herself frozen within her boots.  It was like a nightmare, but it was real.  Xena quickly acted noticing the fearfully frozen bard.  Xena called out to Gabrielle as Velaska took aim and  a powerful static beam eminated from her body.  The beam was perfectly on target taking down the queen’s ceremonial throne as Xena dove upon the bard to save Gabrielle from Velaska’s wrath.

Gabrielle found herself suddenly dragged back into the reality of the situation.  She found herself realizing that she had reacted to Velaska instead of acting as Xena had done.  Yet there was little time to think about this amateur mistake.  Xena and Gabrielle looked upon Velaska awating her next strike as Ephiny made a fatal choice.  She courageously gave the command to the amazons to attack the enemy, but Xena quickly responded openly against this idea.  The warrior princess was certain that Velaska could wipe out the entire tribe in just minutes.  Suddenly Velaska responded with more power and static beams.  She next took down the Queen’s hut demonstrating futher the wrath of her chaotic power.

Amazons rushed to dodge the flames and the beams as Velaska was testing her new strength.  She was exploring her new found power and the warrior princess knew it.  Xena quickly realized that this was the time to escape.  Velaska had quickly become distracted by her own power and was for the moment no longer focased on Gabrielle.  Suddenly Ephiny gave the commaned for the amazons to run.  Everyone fell back toward the woods with Xena and Gabrielle leading the way.  For Gabrielle there was little time to think.  The only thing she could feel was her legs carrying her away from the impending danger.

Then her mind was interrupted by the horrendous voice of vegence once more.  It reminded Gabrielle that it was coming for her and it would stop at nothing to destroy her.  Xena soon caught up to her helpless friend encourging Gabrielle to go on ahead.  The warrior princess would stay back and take care of the amazons.  She would be certain to bring them to safety.  Gabrielle wasted little time in allowing her legs to carry her to the safety of the woods as Xena returned to the battle.  While the bard continued to move toward the cover of the trees she could still clearly hear every moment of the battle.  It was a terrifying thought to imagine what Velaska’s power might do if Xena were to fall victim to it herself.  Yet Gabrielle could not allow herself to fix on that thought for too long.  Suddenly she heard Velaska’s voice chiming in again.  It echoed through the land and into the depths of the forrest.  Gabrielle had just reached the trees as she heard Velaska shout out against Ephiny.

The bard heard Velaska proclaim her vegenance against the new Queen and then there was the sound of a large explosion.  Gabrielle was uncertain if anyone had been injured.  There seemed to be little hope for any amazon or even the warrior princess of escaping the wrath of this newborn goddess.  Then the former amazon princess found herself having to stop for her heart was pounding seemingly outside of her chest.  Her legs were burning with exhaustion from running as her chest rose and vell violently.  Gabrielle leaned up against a nearby tree and suddenly felt a hand upon her shoulder.  The moment was startling as if Velaska were standing right there beside Gabrielle.  Yet as she turned to face the enemy and her fear she found that the hand belonged to the warrior princess.  Xena smiled softly hoping to comfort her terrified friend, but to no avail for Velaska again cried out.

The goddess seemingly held no mercy for the innocent despite it all.  Velaska then reminded Gabrielle again of her power as a god.  She strongly reminded all who could hear her that Gabrielle could run, but would never be able to hide from her wrath and power.  Then Velaska cackled and it echoed on for several moments and through every tree in the forrest.  Xena looked to her friend saddened for her.  She wanted desparately to be able to take away this burden from the bard, but it was obvious that there was no turning back for the rightful amazon queen.  There was a sense of regret within the bard’s heart for having ever thought that she could ever have led the amazon nation alone.

Quickly Xena and Ephiny led the amazons and Gabrielle to a cave.  There they hid from Velaska and regrouped.  Yet there were so many injured amazons who had laid their lives on the line for the glory of their queen.  Gabrielle felt almost undeserving of this.  She began to feel as if this were her fault.  The bard took full responsibility within her heart.  As Gabrielle tended to Eponin’s sprained arm Xena spoke to Ephiny and Gabrielle about the plan of action.  Xena mentioned that at the moment of the large explosion she had thrown herself in front of Ephiny.  The warrior princess expressed that there indeed was a powerful punch to Velaska, but not enough to destroy anyone yet.  Ephiny had also noticed this weakness, but there was another weakness to the goddess.  Xena told Ephiny of how she had noticed Velaska’s fascination with herself.  The warrior princess was certain that it would hold off Velaska for a while, but not for too long.

The main plan was for Ephiny to remove all of the wounded from the cave and to take them to Tyldus at the Centaur camp.  Xena was certain that they would be safe there for the moment since the Centaurs had not yet made it to Velaska’s target list.  As Eponin argued that they should go back and fight Velaska Xena reminded her that a goddess could not be defeated by warrior skill alone.  Xena had an alternate plan.  She instructed Ephiny to take the amazons out and use themselves as a distraction to keep Velaska from reaching Gabrielle.  The warrior princess needed as much time between herself and the goddess as possible.  It was obvious that she had a final part of the plan yet she did not choose to openly express it.  And then Gabrielle realized that it was time to make light of the situation.  It seemed the only way to make it bearable.  She chimed in reminding everyone that no one was in more trouble than she herself at the moment.  Despite her efforts to comfort herself with a sarcastic spin on the situation it came across with a serious emotional  response.  The dreadful feeling of being grippd by fear still found its way through the bard’s heart.  Everyone in the group looked to the helpless ametuer queen realizing her fears as their own.  Ephiny then reminded Gabrielle that she too was on the top of Velaska’s target list.  It was an attempt at comforting the inexperienced amazon.

Gabrielle had finished wrapping Eponin’s arm as Ephiny reminded the warrior princess of her own injury.  Xena had hit the ground pretty hard in challenging Velaska to protect Ephiny.  Yet the warrior princess never seemed to be phased by the pain of her dislocated arm.  Eponin jumped up with enthusiasm ready for battle once again despite her own brush with death against the power of Velaska.  There was something seemingly comforting for Gabrielle as she saw the great courage illuminating from every amazon and even the warrior princess.  It seemed that everyone had a much brighter perspective on this seemingly doomed situation.  Still Xena warned that the amazons were only to hold Velaska off without risking death to a single amazon.

Then Xena walked over to the wall of the cave and relocated her own arm.  Gabrielle found herself stunned knowing that in her own mind she would have been screaming with pain.  Xena joked about her injury and Ephiny responded with concern and duty.  Then Ephiny took Eponin and the other amazons into battle once again.  As they left Gabrielle began to feel ill in the pit of her stomach.  It was unbelieveable that she could ever find herself the prey to an all powerful goddess.  As she looked to Xena the warrior princess was concerned for her friend’s well being.  Gabrielle continued her thoughts aloud to the warrior princess unable to fathom what plan could be the solution to this disaster.  Yet Xena did have a plan as always.  Xena revealed that the only way to defeat Velaska was to enlist another immortal to help them fight her.

Gabrielle seemed hopeful for a moment, but the hope quickly passed when she realized that immortals were not a dinar a dozen.  Where would a person find an immortal was the next question to the warrior princess.  Fortunately Xena did have someone in mind that could do the job yet her response was cryptic and the look in her eye more terrifying.  Gabrielle couldn’t imagine what the down side of this could be.  Until she thought of a story that she had heard in a village tavern recently.  The bard had caught wind of a battle that had occurred between Callisto and Hercules.  Details of the encounter between them were foggy, but Gabrielle did remember that Callisto had been left in a state of immortality despite being killed by the quicksand in her last battle against Xena.  The good part was that Callisto was trapped for eternity in a place of Hercules’s chosing, but that place was not one that Gabrielle cared to visit again.

The bard argued with the warrior princess about this choice.  Xena knew that the bard would disagree, but the warrior princess felt that it was the only choice.  The warrior princess reminded Gabrielle that Callisto’s immortality was the key, and the fact that Callisto could fight well in a heavy combat would prove an asset when it came down to the final part of the plan.  Gabrielle still refused to accept that Callisto was their only choice.  There had to be a better choice, and then it occurred to her.  She spouted off the name of Hercules for he was half god.  He could most certainly go up against an inexperienced goddess like Velaska.

Xena was firm in her choice of immortals for the job.  She reminded Gabrielle that it could take weeks to find Hercules and time was not on their side.  Xena stated that every time Velaska would use her powers they would drain her into a weakened state yet those periods of weakness would grow shorter as her powers matured.  Gabrielle was still firmly against this ludicrus idea.  It was the worst idea she had ever heard come from the mind of the master.  She could not face the demon that had taken Perdicus.  It was enough to have to deal with the fear of being hunted, but to couple it with fresh emotional wounds was too much.  Xena was asking for something Gabrielle refused to offer up.

The warrior princess then rose from her spot on the rock and spoke softly to the bard.  She reminded Gabrielle that she knew how much it hurt inside to be reminded of Callisto.  Yet Gabrielle could not accept Xena’s condulances for the warrior princess could not possibly understand this kind of loss.  As Gabrielle expressed her anger and refusal Xena seemed hurt by it.  Yet Gabrielle did not care.  Nothing mattered because all she could ever see when she closed her eyes was the death of her husband and the sounds of Callisto which had followed.  That irriating phsycotic scream coupled with that ugly evil laughter.  It was too much to bare again.  As Gabrielle continued her anger at Xena she reminded Xena that Callisto would never help her.  There would be no way to convince the blond nemisis to fight on the side of the good.  Gabrielle was certain of this.

Xena responded to Gabrielle’s harsh words with a reflection of the bard’s ugly outburst.  The warrior princess insisted that they would just have to find a way to talk Callisto into siding with them in the matter.  And then that was the end of the conversation.  The plan was set and Xena was going to follow it through.  Gabrielle had no other choice, but to follow the warrior princess to the place she never thought she would have to return to.

And the day was long as it wore into the night.  The two friends traveled with Argo in silence and without a word.  Gabrielle’s fear dictated her direction for she knew deep down that without Xena there would be no chance at survival despite this horrid plan.  Xena was completely focased on the mission and ignored the pouting bard.  By morning Gabrielle realized how much Xena loved her for she could just as easily have walked away after the bard’s defiance of her plan no matter the cost.  Yet the bard was still uncomfortable in having to face her enemy again.  She found herself spending the next morning preparing her heart for the torment that it would most certainly face.

As the day wore on a certain peace found its way into the bard’s heart.  She began to realize how special and how brave Xena truely was.  Gabrielle had almost forgotten through her anger that Xena’s heart had stakes in this too.  Her heart had to deal with the pain of knowing that it was her army that had destroyed Callisto’s family.  And it was in that moment that Gabrielle realized that the score was truely even and that Xena too carried a burden.  Yet she was willing to face that burden.  Gabrielle found herself willing to face that same burden if not for her own life for the lives of her amazon sisters.  Xena soon interrupted the peaceful and clarifying thoughts with more details on the location of the trap that Hercules had set for Callisto.  He had left her deep beneath the collapsed ceiling of an old demolished temple.  It was clear to the bard that they had arrived at the ruins, but finding the small collapsed area underneath the rubble proved to be more difficult.

After several moments of prodding through the sight Gabrielle caught sight of a possible entrance into the world of the blond immortal.  The two friends approached their fears together as Xena prepared a rope to lower herself down into the pit of despair.  As Xena prepared the contraption using an old cross beam Gabrielle took a deep breath and closed her eyes in an attempt to visualize her challenge and face it with courage.  Then she looked to Xena and said a comforting word.  She expressed to Xena her confidence in Xena’s idea and solution to the true issue.  Xena gave Gabrielle cautious instructions.  She wanted to be sure that Gabrielle was aware that Callisto could be freed only in the event of a solid agreement and commitment to go up against Velaska.

Then Gabrielle watched as Xena faced the unknown.  On the way down Gabrielle wished her friend goodwill and listened intently to the moments that followed after.  There was a lot of fear, anticipation, and emotion racing through the heart of the bard.  Yet she kept a tight grip on focas knowing her duty at hand.  Still she was afraid for Xena and of what to expect next.  After many long moments Gabrielle suddenly felt the double tug on the rope.  It was Xena’s signal to bring it up.  There would be only one way for the warrior princess to return.  It would be in the success of selling the deal to Callisto.  There was no turning back from this moment.

Gabrielle then waited for what seemed to be an eternity.  She was begining to feel that maybe she was stuck within an immortal nightmare.  The bard finally rose from listening to the sounds that were not audible down below.  There was not one clue as to how things were transpiring between the dark forces and the light.  As she leaned on her staff for comfort for several moments she drifted off into more scenarios and attempts to prepare for Callisto’s arrival.  Torn by her fear of Velaska, responsiblity to the amazons, and her hatred of Callisto the bard could barely breath inside.  Until her thoughts were interrupted by a cheerful sound.  It was Xena’s command for Argo.  Gabrielle now knew that Xena would certainly return to her, but it was still questionable as to whether or not she had succeeded at rounding up the support of Callisto.

Reluctantly Gabrielle threw down the rope and the waited.  Moments later she could see the rope moving and could soon hear the sounds of heavy breathing.  Her heart lept with the hope that it would be Xena, but as the arms rose from the darkness one of them grabbed Gabrielle and pulled her toward despair’s pit.  The bard struggled to gain her balance and was startled with the horrible face of Callisto.  It was scared by a blade, but those eyes were still a passionate fire of evil.  Gabrielle jumped back and away from the pit and scooped up her staff preparing to do battle against evil.  Evil struggled toward its own freedom gleefully.

Gabrielle was certain Callisto would try to kill her, but just when it seemed that there would be a battle to the death Callisto rose from the pit, took a deep breath, and expressed how beautiful the day was.  Yet she imagined it a beautiful day of blood and battle rather than of peace and harmony.  Gabrielle found herself unable to act or react to this statement.  It was hardly unexpected, but then Xena emerged from the pit of despair.  As the warrior princess struggled to her feet Gabrielle expressed her concern hoping that Xena would answer with strength and stealth.

Xena was in one piece and ready to complete the mission now that she had obtained the prize.  Yet Callisto mocked Gabrielle’s concern for Xena.  Gabrielle sensed a bit of hurt coming from within the seemingly soulless immortal .  It was obvious that Callisto did not appreciate the  rejection from Gabrielle.  For a slight moment Gabrielle found herself intrigued and wanting to understand this glimpse into Callisto’s soul, but the moment passed.  Callisto began to small talk with Gabrielle as if they had been lifetime friends.  It was confusing and eerie for the bard as Callisto seemingly expressed an interest in life outside of death.  Yet this turned into a virtual stabbing within the heart as Callisto defied her own interest with the reminder of the death of Perdicus.

She was cryptic asking if Gabrielle had married again since their last meeting.  This enraged the bard who could only react out of raw emotion as she struck Callisto broadly across the face with her staff.  Callisto’s head took the sharp blow returning to face Gabrielle.  The blond laughed in Gabrielle’s face with a slight sarcastic scream amused by the bard’s reaction to her words.  Callisto then reminded Gabrielle that she was immortal and could not be killed.  Yet the blond continued on as if to understand how Gabrielle felt inside.  Callisto was calm and spoke with an understanding tone describing the pain of the loss which Gabrielle still felt over Perdicus.  She explained how she knew that Gabrielle wanted nothing more than to be able to draw Callisto’s blood even within her immortal state.  The taste of it was still there in Gabrielle’s heart and Callisto could see it.  She could also bring it to the surface faster than any other.  Only Callisto could win Gabrielle’s battle within her heart over peace and blood.

Then Gabrielle stepped back slowly with great intrigue.  There was something strange about all of this connection with the one she hated most.  Though the bard did not dare to verbalize it openly.  She only listened to Callisto’s words and Callisto’s eyes.  There seemed to be someone peaking through all of that darkness.  Yet it was still phsycotic.  Then Callisto proclaimed that she would even volunteer her assistance in helping Gabrielle to ease that nagging thurst and pain.  She unsheathed her sword and prepared to strike.  For some strange reason the bard could suddenly relate and was unafraid of Callisto for the moment.  Her heart knew that Callisto was not going to kill her.  Instead Callisto turned her own sword against herself as she plunged in straight through her bare stomach.

The bard could feel Callisto’s pain within the pit of her own stomach.  It was an empty pain and it was sickening.  Gabrielle could barely keep her eyes focased to watch.  She wanted to close them and to shield them from this horrid desplay of self-hatred and destruction.  Gabrielle suddenly realized that this was the path she would have followed if she had taken her vengance when Callisto was still mortal.  It was then that the bard realized that no blood was worth that kind of pain.  Within that moment there was a sense of sorrow for this tortured individual.  Yet just as the sword went through the fair stomach of the blond the sound of shallow breaths eminated from her being.  Then the sword slid back out of Callisto’s body as she displayed it proudly proclaiming that there was not one single drop of blood upon it.

Callisto flashed a smile and then reminded all that immortals heal quickly, but there was one drawback.  The only way to defeat an immortal was to find a way to put her into pieces and that was not as easy as it sounded.  Few mortals would have that skill and ability.  Yet Callisto seemingly respected the warrior princess enough to know that Xena would probably succeed if pushed to the threat.  With that comment Xena was pushed to stop Callisto’s self-destructive show of her own pain.  Gabrielle suddenly found herself aware of what Callisto was doing.  She was very good at it too.  Callisto was pressing the buttons of both herself and Xena.  It was the only way Callisto knew how to communicate with people.  There was a strange admiration present within Callisto though the bard could not grasp or understand it.  Yet it was still clear that Xena was ready to move on and to finish the job they had come to do.

Xena began to move forward, but Callisto again took control.  There was rage within her voice as she denounced Xena’s command.  Defiant Callisto made it clear that there was one stop that had to be made before she could completely sign the deal.  It was something that Xena could never have expected and it would shock Gabrielle.  Gabrielle found herself trying to take control of the arguement between Xena and Callisto.  As she whispered into Xena’s ear reminding both that the amazons would not be able to hold off Velaska for long.  Xena quickly snapped out of her own disgust for Callisto’s show and again stated what Gabrielle had reminded.  Yet Callisto switched her voice into more of a calm soothing tone.  She promised that their stop would  not take long.  Callisto then reminded the two helpless mortals that without her there would be no winning the battle against Velaska.  And with that the blond sheathed her sword and led the way toward her selected destination.

It was a small prosperous village near where her own village had once stood.  Callisto demanded that Xena announce to all what she had done.  Humiliation was on Callisto’s personal agenda for the day.  She desired that Xena’s crimes against her family be stated openly for judgement.  And so Xena stepped upon the town square platform standing before Callisto’s selected jury.  The people of the village were unknowns yet they played the part of Callisto’s family, friends, and village aquaintances she had once known in Syra.  Gabrielle watched with disgust at this unnecessary sharade as the warrior princess took a deep breath and began.

The warrior princess then spoke to the essence of the people whom she had once wronged yet they had all perished so long ago.  There was only one who had survived yet she her soul had not.  Though Callisto herself did not die when Xena’s army had come to her village her soul had been tarnished forever.  Gabrielle watched both Xena and Callisto as Xena spoke to the lone survivor.  It was as if the audience was no longer there.  It seemed that only Xena and Callisto stood within that village alone as the warrior princess continued her confession.  Gabrielle caught sight of deep remorse and regret within the warrior princess as Xena spoke of the small village that had perished at her hands.  It had been very much like the village that they stood in at this moment.

There were so many parallels and comparisons.  There were so many innocents that were taken upon the arrival of Xena and her army.  Gabrielle looked back to Callisto only to see how pleased the blond was to watch Xena’s personal humiliation of herself and her own actions.  At first Gabrielle had thought that Xena had only been playing Callisto’s silly game, but then Xena spoke of the innocent young girl that stood before her.  The child that was lost and who would never return for she had lost her life and her family because of the warrior princess’s wreckless ways.  Gabrielle found herself shocked to look back and to notice that there was a deep connection between two fiercely bitter enemies.  For a moment it was as if there was a personal reconsiliation going on between them.

The bard could see deep sadness emerging from the depths of Callisto’s eyes.  It was as if Callisto was going to shed her first tears, but the blond fought desparately to hold them back.  For a moment Gabrielle began to understand Callisto’s pain as the warrior princess continued on.  Xena spoke of the lost little girl whose true fate in life would never be known now that Xena had entered it so violently.  Gabrielle found herself astonished yet almost driven to want to console the pain of Callisto.  She wanted to forgive Callisto for killing Perdicas knowing now that Callisto could relate to losing somone she had once loved.  It was amazing to see that somewhere within all of the darkness there was a small little light that still shun through Callisto though still confused.

Then the warrior princess was finished.  She was finished with her regrets and finished with her attempts at healing the wound that she had cast upon the young innocent Callisto so long ago.  Xena stepped down from the town square and approached Callisto who appeared deeply stunned and unexpecting of Xena’s final statements.  It seemed to the bard that there was only one thing left that could be done now to finalize the healing process.  Xena stood before Callisto for a long moment.  All was quiet between the two of them as if they were looking into each other’s souls.  Gabrielle thought for a moment that the warrior princess might reach out to Callisto and embrace all of the pain that the blond carried inside.  The bard thought that Xena might aplogize and that Callisto would accept that apology and move on.

But then Xena turned away from the ruined soul and declared that the time had come to complete the mission against Velasaka.  Gabrielle thought for a short moment that it was cold, but then she looked into Callisto’s eyes once more only to see empty confusion.  Maybe there truely was nothing there, and maybe what she had seen inside moments before was only hope reflecting back into her own heart.  Gabrielle was uncertain now yet she knew that her own heart still ached for Perdicas.

For many long moments as the three traveled things were uncomfortable and quiet until they finally reached the temple of Artemis.  It was the only thing that could have broken the unbearable silence.  Callisto laughed candidly at the sight of the crushed temple.  She commented on how effective the power of ambrosia really was.  Callisto couldn’t wait to get her hands onto some ambrosia herself.  Xena looked to the blond with a slight sneer as Gabrielle noticed at the gate on the other side of the temple court yard a dead man lied alone.  When the three approached him Xena noticed that his death was a fresh one which meant that Velaska was near.  She had been by within the last hour for even the temple itself was still smoking with the energy of Velaska’s now destructive powers.

Xena quickly led Gabrielle and Callisto to a nearby canyon knowing that Velaska would be sensing Gabrielle’s presence soon.  When the three entered into the canyon the sun was high over head.  Callisto looked about as did Gabrielle as the two assessed the situation.  Callisto seemed impressed with the location Xena had chosen to do battle as she complemented Xena with a subtle coment.  She spoke of Velaska’s lightening bolts and of how their power would be useless to Velaska within this tall unstable canyon.  Gabrielle found herself concerned noticing that there was a pile of rock above across the canyon that looked as if it were about to fall.  Xena then expressed how much of an advantage it would be for the new team of three to use those rocks against the power of Velaska’s lightening.  The warrior princess was certain that Velaska never thought things through very thouroughly.  Xena was counting on this as the third element of the plan.

Of course Callisto switched from complementary to irritated knowing that she was the fourth element of the plan.  She was expected to be the bait that would lead Velasaka into a fight.  Callisto questioned  the warrior princess on how the duration of the battle between herself and Velaska was expected to play out.  Xena simply answered that it should last only long enough to lure Velaska into the trap beneath the rock ledge.  Though Xena played coy with Callisto the blond was certain that there was betrayal at hand in the mix.  The prize for her was to obtain the ambrosia from the goddess of chaos, but Callisto couldn’t calculate how she would be able to get to it at the bottom of a pile of rock.  Yet Callisto decided to handle this personal concern casually and with some humor.  She asked Xena how she felt about sharing in the wealth of the ambrosia.  Of course Callisto thought it might be fun for the simple purpose of battling against her rival for enterity.

There was something quite strange and futile about that thought.  It led Gabrielle to feel as if Callisto had a bit of compassion for Xena depsite their differences.  Gabrielle knew that if the situation were reversed she would never invite Callisto to fight against her for an enterity.  Of course Xena’s response was just as casual with a certain avoidance to it.  She just reminded Callisto that Velaska was the priority and that they would deal with the ambrosia later.  And as expected Callisto seemed irritated in knowing that Xena gave away nothing more than was necessary for the current problem.  With that there was only one thing left to do.  Sitting and waiting was the most difficult part of the plan because no one was really certain how long it would be before Velaska would find them behind their haven of the rock pile.  Several hours went by with mostly silence although Callisto couldn’t resist taunting and torturing Gabrielle emotionally.  The sun fell deep into the western canyon before anything was to transpire.  Waiting for certain doom seemed to take a lifetime as Callisto looked to Gabrielle with an evil smile and then a grin followed by subtle yet playful laughter.

Gabrielle found herself just about at the end of her emotional rope until just a moment later Velaska appeared at the opposite end of the canyon.  Callisto was suddenly fixated onto the new challenge that had arrived barely able to contain her lust for a healthy battle.  Xena had to calm the child within Callisto as the three hid behind the large rock pile awaiting the right moment to attack.  All was quiet as Gabrielle watched Velaska intently.  The bard’s heart began to beat harder as Velaska continued to scan the canyon with her eyes and atune herself to the canyon.  Then Velasaka stopped scanning as a smile spread across her face.  She stated quietly under her breath that she could sense that there were three heart beats instead of two.  Velaska seemed pleased at this new surprise for she had fully expected to be taking on only Xena to get to Gabrielle.  The goddess seemed pleased at the challenge yet fully confident in her certain victory.  Gabrielle found this chilling as her heart raced with fear.  Velaska quickly responded to this allowing her prey the knowledge of her impending death.  The goddess was ready to stop the beating of the heart of her rival the amazon princess.

Under her breath Xena stated that it was the time to take action and to put things into motion.  There was not a better moment of opportunity and Callisto agreed that the moment was indeed perfect; however, not for the greater good.  Callisto’s voice was sour as she spoke and then suddenly she grabbed Xena’s chacrkam from its resting place and flipped into the battle arena.  Suddenly Callisto made her next move of defiance as she threw Xena’s chackram into the canyon walls delfecting it right into the rock pile above the canyon securing it from a fall.  And then the chackram was tamed by the blond with little effort.  Gabrielle had known only Xena to be able to tame the beast that was the chackram, but Callisto was dangerous with it.  Gabrielle found herself confused for the moment as she inquired of the new situation with Xena.  The bard was certain that the rocks falling onto Velaska had been the original plan.  Now it was suddenly changing and with no warning.  That was when Xena confirmed Gabrielle’s fear.  Callisto had just switched sides in the battle against Velaska.  Now they were finding that they would be up against not one immortal, but two.  This was not looking good in the bard’s eyes, yet Xena seemed quite calm as if she had expected this to happen.

And then it happened.  Callisto greeted Velaska as if she were offering her a deal.  It was one that could seemingly not be refused.  Callisto wanted to take down Xena and Velaska wanted Gabrielle.  Though the deal couldn’t get any sweeter for the enemyVelaska seemed unaware of the advantage of having Callisto as an ally.  Her response was a simple one.  She seemed disappointed that this strange warrior woman wanted to ally with a goddess.   YetVelasaka was curious to know more about this Callisto person.  Callisto explained in her usual manner of sarcasm that Xena rarely spoke of her.  It was another open stab at Xena’s heart.  Callisto invited Xena into the confrontation indirectly as she openly insulted Velaska’s intelligence.  Velaska then responded raising her arm preparing to zap

Callisto into oblivion.  Yet Callisto calmed Velaska quickly asking that Velaska hear the details of the offer on the table.  Callisto reminded Velaska that she had only one ally in the moment and that was Callisto herself.  Yet Velaska did not seem amused or at all interested in the deal.  Her pride got the better of her as she firmly stated that she did not need any friends and that she didn’t want any friends.

Callisto was quickly realizing that allying with Velaska was one thing, but convincing Velaska of the need for an ally was another challenge all its own.  Of course Callisto masterfully chimed in that Velaska had that feeling in common with her new ally as well.  Yet Velaska’s response was rejection again.  She was uncertain as to why Callisto was so casual about the subject of her own death.  Callisto’s response was again candid and sarcastic yet the situation between them was begining to lighten with Callisto’s demeanor.  It was as if Velaska were about to respect and trust in someone.  Just as the conversation became less tense between Callisto and Velaska Xena decided that it was time to act for if Callisto succeeded in winning over Velaska there would be no victory or life thereafter.  Gabrielle grabbed Xena’s arm unable to figure out what advantage was left, but Xena was confident.  She flipped out from behind the rock into the arena shouting across the canyon at Callisto.  Xena gave the command to take Velaska to Callisto knowing full well that Callisto had already chosen Velaska over Gabrielle.

Callisto was taken by surprise as she whipped around behind to see that Xena was grinning and bearing down waiting for battle.  Velaska wasted no time as she threw out a lightening bolt in the direction of the warrior princess who flipped out of its path toward the rock ledge.  The goddess struck a second time as Callisto watched her plan fall apart in horror.  Callisto shouted at Velaska to stop as she violently pushed the goddess to the ground.  It was in that moment that Gabrielle realized that this had been part of Xena’s plan all along.  The warrior princess ahd known that it would be Callisto who would betray an ally.  Yet Callisto’s attempt to force Velaska to wise up did not work in her favor.  Gabrielle quickly realized that she had her own choice to make.  She could push Velaska over the edge and defeat Callisto’s plan of defiance by jumping out of hiding and taking a chance.  Gabrielle lept up from behind the rock pile and shouted out to Velaska challenging her to strike a third time.  Velaska did not resist and stuck effortlessly and without thought.

Rocks flew in all directions and with great force and destructive power.  Callisto was enraged at Velaska’s unintelligent response.  She bolted for the goddess pushing Velaska to the ground as she screamed in fury.  Then Callisto reiterated to Velaska the seriousness of using her powers within the canyon.  The blond was desparately trying to win Velaska’s emotions and control of the battle, but it was too late.  The fragile trust she had built with Velaska had been destroyed by Xena’s defiance of Callisto’s betrayal.  Suddenly Velaska’s powers were unleashed upon Callisto sending her across the canyon smahing into a pile of rubble.  Callisto was then motionless and silent.  Gabrielle looked across the canyon and saw little movement from underneath the rubble.  The bard found herself a bit worried realizing that Callisto being knocked out of action had definately not been part of Xena’s plan.  Gabrielle then heard Xena calling out her
name as Xena flipped into action to face Velaska alone and without Callisto’s help.

The pace of the battle began to pick up as both Xena and Velaska drew swords.  Strangely Velaska could have easily taken Xena with the simple strike of a lightening bolt, but she had seen the damage that she herself had done to Callisto.  Velaska thought better of using her powers.  Gabrielle found herself watching in horror as Xena went up against Velaska in a battle to her own death.  Though Xena was brave and hopeful Gabrielle was not certain that Callisto would recover in time to join Xena in the battle.  After several strokes of the swords clashing Velaska paused against Xena in a stale mate and pleaded that Xena give up.  She reminded the warrior princess that because she was a goddess and Xena was mortal that the battle would never end, but Xena was confident that it would not be a long fight.  Just three clashes later Velaska decided that she wanted to end the battle herself.  She grabbed the end of Xena’s sword and stopped it instantly.  Xena’s strength was no match for Velaska’s power.  Suddenly Velaska grabbed Xena’s neck and lifted the warrior princess off of her feet and into the air.  The goddess began to choke the life out of the warrior princess who hung helplessly unable to save herself.

Gabrielle found herself frozen and unable to move.  It was a like a nightmare as the bard tried desparately awaken.  As the bard watched Xena’s sword left the warrior princess’s hand in the struggle to survive and dropped helplessly to the ground.  Just as the warrior princess was about to lose her life something miraculous happened.  Callisto sprung up from the pile of rubble and jumped onto Velaksa’s back enraged that the goddess had treated her so disrespectfully.  The blond had been offended by Velaska’s careless nature in dealing with her and expressed her displeasure as she broke Xena free from Velaska’s grasp.

Xena quickly fell to the ground as Callisto flipped over Velaska with her back to her newest enemy.  Then Callisto slyly pulled her sword from its sheath behind her back turning to face Velaska.  Anger poured from within Callisto as she fought Velaska with a forceful power.  Soon Xena jumped back to her feet retrieving her own sword from the sand.  The warrior princess charged into the battle with Callisto at her side.  Gabrielle watched curiously as the two women fought on the same side.  Each had her own style and intension behind each stroke of her sword.  Callisto’s rage was her power as Xena’s love was the power of the warrior princess.  Strangely both fought with the same technical skill, but neither seemed to be more powerful than the other.  Yet together they were the perfect balance against the unbalanced goddess who fought with neither love nor hate.  Velaska’s intension was seemingly more about making a statment and less about emotion.

After several moments of two on one fight Xena dropped out of the confrontation leaving Callisto to handle Velaska on her own.  The warrior princess rolled toward the pile of rubble on the ground retrieving her chackram as she came back to her feet again.  Then the warrior princess called out to Gabrielle who knew that it was time to jump into the battle.  The bard quickly jumped out of hiding using her staff as a javalin and hurling it toward the rock ledge above to free the the secured rocks.  Xena’s chackram gracefully deflected off the sides of the canyon until it raced toward the freed rock pile upon the ledge.  Callisto could hear the sounds of the whispering chackram as she quickly sheathed her sword and withdrew from her battle against Velaska flipping backward and away.  In the next moment the chackram had struck the unstable rock pile and the rocks tumbled down below onto their victim the goddess of chaos.

Velaska screamed horrified and surprised as the rocks came down upon her.  She was powerless and unable to stop her doom.  The three women watched as their enemy disappeared underneath the rubble hoping that their battle was won.  Yet there was no one more relieved than Gabrielle as she asked Xena if the battle had been over.  Sadly Xena spoke with little hope in her tone realizing that Velaska had become too powerful to be held by a pile of rock for eternity.  It was the sidetrip to that village to satisfy Callisto’s ego that had cost them a certain victory over Velaska.  It was obvious to Gabrielle that Xena was quite disgusted with Callisto for that unnecessary trip.  Then Xena walked away as Gabrielle followed leaving Callisto to contemplate her mistake.

Soon after leaving the canyon Callisto rejoined Xena and the bard as the sun went down and the three set up camp.  Again there was the strange silence between them that had been present before the battle against Velaska.  Yet there was something different this time.  Xena had left Gabrielle alone with Callisto for several moments by the campfire.  There was a certain discomfort, but the bard was troubled by something else.  She watched as Callisto played nervously with her sword sharpening it and reshaping it.  The bard noticed that even Callisto seemed a bit peturbed by something which Gabrielle found to be unusual for the blond.  Gabrielle never remembered seeing Callisto appearing nervous.  And so the burning question passed through the bard’s lips.  She broke the silence with Callisto enticing the blond into a practical yet emotional conversation.  Callisto was flattered yet shocked that Gabrielle was even curious about her.  Gabrielle felt confident for a moment in knowing that there was a possibility that Callisto did have a soul underneath all of that rage.  Suddenly she posed the question that burned within.  Gabrielle wanted to know if it was true what she had seen and felt from Callisto back at the village.  She wanted to know if Callisto truely had felt remorse or sadness back there as Xena had confessed before the masses.

Just when it seemed as if the two could have a real conversation without Callisto’s wall of sarcasm and Gabrielle’s unforgiving pain Callisto snapped back into her defense.  At first Callisto did not answer.  Gabrielle pressed harder for the light that she had thought she had seen within Callisto back at the village.  Then Callisto suggested with a soft smile that the two play a game with one another.  She promised to answer Gabrielle only if Gabrielle were to volunteer an answer to her own question.  There was a serious tone within Callisto which did not appear threating yet Gabrielle was uncertain still.  The bard knew that she would never get her answer if she did not agree to the game.  Gabrielle decided that the risk of the game was worth Callisto’s answer to her own question.  And so Callisto began.

She spoke softly and regretfully and it was almost soothing as the blond described the feeling behind it all.  Callisto began with bits and pieces.  They were fragments of feelings and emotions, but nothing that she could grasp hold of.  She said that her heart was not capable of grasping feeling anymore.  Instead she described it in a way that Gabrielle could understand.  Callisto told Gabrielle to think of the love that she had for her own family back in Podedia.  She continued asking Gabrielle to embrace their love for her in her mind and in her heart.  Gabrielle was feeling the warmth and the comfort of Lila and her mother and father as she listened to Callisto speaking.  The bard began to feel the elequence of Callisto’s heart and of Callisto’s soul as the blond continued her epic spiritual struggle within.  Suddenly, the elequence was interrupted with the horror of having to kill Lila, and mother, and father.  There was so much pain and saddness within.  Gabrielle began to feel Callisto’s pain as her own and to embrace it with an understanding she had never been able to accomplish before.  There was a bit of comfort creeping into her heart in knowing that Callisto could relate and that she could relate with Callisto despite having lost Perdicus.

Just as Gabrielle felt that she might want to comfort Callisto for the first time Callisto’s spirit turned cold and black resuming the game it had begun with Gabrielle.  Callisto then posed her question as Gabrielle waited with fearful reluctance knowing that she was now vulnerable before Callisto’s darkness.  Darkness did not waste time in finding the thread to unravel.  Callisto’s voice creaked with evil as she was curious what she had evoked from Gabrielle’s innocent heart in the moment that she had sliced Perdicus open with her blade.  The bard’s heart felt the ache once again as if she were reliving Perdicus’s death.  She watched horror turn into pain, and then into rage.  Vegence soon followed leading into hatred.  It was the hatred and the rage that she had been fighting for months to hold back for she had never wanted to act on it.  Yet it seemed to be Callisto’s ultimate goal.  Callisto wanted to draw that bloodlust from within Gabrielle’s innocence and Gabrielle was highly aware of it yet still vulnerable.  The bard quickly rose from the camp fire and bolted out of the camp as Xena was returning.  Gabrielle was so enraged that she walked right through the warrior princess who was confused by the bard’s action for a moment.  Yet that moment was quickly realized when Callisto revealed that she had proudly caused the bard more pain.  As the bard walked on into the lonliness of the night Callisto’s laughter echoed in the darkness through the campfire and beyond.

For the bard the night could not end.  After several moments of silent meditation in the woods she found herself returning to the camp.  She had calmed her her heart of its rage and was again ready to face Callisto.  As the bard approached she overheard Xena discussing the day’s plan with Callisto.  Callisto had just posed a quesiton to the warrior princess wondering if she would trust Callisto with the plan.  Xena explained confidently that she could trust Callisto now for the battle at the canyon had ensured that both Velaska and Callisto were now enemies to each other.  The warrior princess also boasted that she was highly aware of how much the ambrosia meant to Callisto’s own cause.  Of course Callisto found it clever and amusing at the same time as usual.  Although there was a sense of annoyance within Callisto’s demeanor realizing that Xena knew her too well.

It seemed to the bard that Callisto’s hatred had turned into a sisterhood between herself and Xena.  There was a certain admiration and it was another way to relate to Callisto.  In a way Callisto was yet another of Xena’s students as Gabrielle was.  Yet Callisto had been a student of the darkness that Xena had once carried.  Gabrielle found solace in knowing that she couldn’t blame Callisto for being mislead as a young girl by the attraction of the warrior princess despite the darkness.

The conversation continued between the two women.  Callisto sighed in defeat and then posed another battle question to Xena.  Xena explained how there was a lava pit beyond the moutains in the canyon beyond some ruins.  It was not far from the camp.  This was the place that she had planned to defeat Velaska.  Suddenly it all began to make sense to Gabrielle.  The plan had never been to defeat Velaska in the first battle for the warrior princess had known that Callisto would betray her.  The first battle was set up to ensure that Velaska would be defeated alongside Callisto despite Callisto’s own feelings and desires.  Callisto of course had figured out Xena’s brilliance too.  She thought outloud as she spoke repeating back Xena’s thoughts.  The plan was simple.  Velaska would be led to the ruins where her powers would be contained.  Once those powers were contained Velaska would be easy to take out.  The lava pit would be certain to trap a godess forever and since Velaska was inexperienced she didn’t have much of a chance against an immortal with equal strength.

There was only one problem.  Someone had to draw Velaska into the trap.  There had to be a sacrifice to entice Velaska into the canyon ruins.  For Callisto the answer was simple.  She gleefully spoke of Gabrielle reminding Xena of Velaska’s obscession to kill the bard.  Callisto was certain that it would be enough to occupy Velaska’s ego so that she could push the goddess into the lava pit for enternity.  Xena reluctantly knew that she would have to ask Gabrielle to put her life into the path of Velaska’s destructive power.  And as Gabrielle listened she knew that it was the only way and so she would do her duty.

Early the next sun the three left camp for the canyon beyond the mountains.  They would have to hurry their pace to make it to the ruins before Velaska would catch up to them.  By mid morning they had arrived and as the three entered the ruins Callisto led the way.  At first all was quiet.  The morning was calm and serene with only the sound of three sets of boots sloshing through the dried leaves on the ground.  Yet Callisto couldn’t resist the silence.  It was as if it always made her feel uncomfortable.  It did not last as she commented on how the spot was perfect and she took another stab at Xena stating that it reminded her of home.  Gabrielle realized that Callisto was just irritated that Xena had won the first battle succeeding in pitting her against Velaska.  However, Xena responded by ignoring the comment and proceeding with the problem at hand.  She immediately spoke stating that the three of them needed to find higher ground before the arrival of the goddess.  It would give them an advantage.  Xena followed with a declaration marking certain within her mind that this would be the certain end for Velaska.

Of course Xena’s lack of response to Callisto’s emotional stab only made the blond more determined to get under Xena’s skin.  Callisto continued taking stabs as she inquired of Xena how to present Gabrielle to Velaska.  Callisto’s suggestion was to put Gabrielle upon a stake like a helpless little sacrificial lamb.  The blond insulted the bard further by alluding that the bard might run and hide otherwise.  Gabrielle found herself in need to defend herself against Callisto’s tasteless remarks, but it wasn’t a vengeful sense of defense.  It was more of a factual defense.  Gabrielle was begining to see that what Callisto preyed on within herself was her own innocence.  Callisto viewed it as a weakness.  Gabrielle was determined to prove her innocence was indeed the strength.  The bard could understand why Callisto felt this was for it was within her own innocence that Xena’s darkness had stricken her and her family so many years before.  Gabrielle followed up reiterating what Xena had stated before.  She spoke again of Velaska’s end yet her heart was even sensing that this could also be the end of her own pain.  Gabrielle hoped that maybe her forgiveness of Callisto could lead to Callisto’s forgiveness of Xena and the end of each suffering individual.  The three of them working toegether in a common cause could heal them.  But just as the bard had hoped to turn the light on within Callisto’s heart Callisto only responded with a reminder that once Velaska had met her end their alliance would be over.  It meant that Callisto would battle the warrior princess until the end.  Callisto could not forgive Xena which made Gabrielle her enemy despite Gabrielle’s forgiveness.

Gabrielle watched as Xena looked on knowing what Gabrielle had tried to do.  Callisto continued ranting about how she would have her ambrosia in the end which would make her impossible for Xena to defeat.  But Callisto paused a moment within her glorious victory realizing that Xena had probably already thought of a plan that would rob her of even that pleasure.  Callisto then turned away from the bard and paced in front of and then around the warrior princess going over this new scenario within her mind.  She did indeed know the warrior princess well as Xena had known her very well.  ThenCallisto paused and looked the warrior princess over while Xena again reminded Callisto that the first battle against Velaska would have to be won before she needed to worry about dealing with Xena again.  Xena’s next statement was a reminder to Callisto that staying alive against Velaska was the most important part of their plan.  Yet Callisto only snickered at Xena’s suggestion and retorted reminding the bard and the warrior princess that staying alive was no longer a concern for herself.  She was immortal.  It was all a silly joke to her really.  Callisto looked back to Gabrielle flashing a silly smile with a triumphant glance.  Even Gabrielle found herself realizing defeat, but not by Velaska and not in a life and death battle.  Gabrielle was defeated in knowing that despite her hopes for releasing Callisto from her pain there was no saving Callisto’s soul.  For the bard this was a frustrating yet saddening prospect.  Gabrielle then leaned upon her staff sighing within her own heart yearning to let go of Callisto’s pain and of Callisto’s crimes against Perdicas.

Just as Gabrielle had found herself lost within the emotional web between Xena, Callisto, and herself there was a strange sound.  It sounded as if there was a storm coming, but the sky was completely clear.  Yet the sound began to turn into a whispering wind and then suddenly into a strong gust.  The gust became the sound of Velaska’s evil laughter and then the goddess appeared.  She appeared within a cyclone that was so powerful that the bard could no longer stand.  Suddenly she found herself being dragged across the ground by a force stronger than her own will.  As Gabrielle went hurtling toward the cyclone she clutched her staff and called out to Xena.  Xena called back frantically unable to decide what to do next.  Gabrielle found herself unable to hold onto her staff and lost grip.  The only thing she could do to save herself from the vortex of evil was to grab a loose tree root sticking out from the ground of the ruins.

Next Gabrielle heard Xena call out to her to hold on and that she would come to help.  The bard did not feel that she could hold onto the root long enough to save herself from Velaska.  Yet just as the bard was about to lose her grip she felt Xena slide down upon the ground next to her.  Xena had grabbed hold of an old rod sticking out of the groun of the ruins directly in the path of Velaska’s vortex.  When she arrived by Gabrielle’s side she asked that Gabrielle grab hold of her, but the bard was not so certain that she would be able to transfer her grip successfully from the root to the warrior princess.  Quickly the bard switched to the warrior princess, but in the next second both were hurtiling toward Velaska’s ligthening filled vortex of wind, evil, and fury.  Just before reaching the grasp of the goddess Xena used the old pole to plunge them over top of Velasak’s fierce vortex to safety using an old fallen column as a catapult.  Gabrielle screamed with surprise and fear as the two landed safely away from the vortex on the other side of the ruins.

The two then hid behind a pile of columns to cover themselves from the fury.  Velaska had been unable to find them within her vortex and suddenly she dissappeared.  All that could be seen were a few rustling leaves and then nothing.  There was an eerie calm silence across the ruins.  Even Callisto appeared surprised and a bit confused.  It was as if Velaska had been fooled into thinking they were gone.  Until there was an echoing of a voice calling out Gabrielle’s name.  It was indeed the goddess and she had finally caught up to the amazon princess.  Velaska declared that Gabrielle had done well in avoiding her for the past few days, but that it was now time for the bard to meet her demise.  This statment was followed by that echoing evil laughter as the bard and the warrior princess desparately searched for Velaska’s visual.  Suddenly there was a moment of quiet and then the warrior princess quickly responded pushing Gabrielle foward to run toward the lava pit.  This action was followed by a sudden bold of energy which struck the place where Gabrielle had been standing.

Gabrielle and Xena continued to run across the ruins toward the lava pit as Velaska’s bolts of energy exploded in a path just behind them.  Xena dove behind and rolled foward over and around the columns which stood in their path.  Then the warrior princess grabbed the bard when they had reached higher ground concealing them behind an old stone wall.  Callisto was just in front of them now and behind the column which had sustained the most recent blast.  Callisto turned to the warrior princess candidly as she was about to rise.  Xena knew that they had the advantange when she realized that Velaska thought that she was only up against two instead of three.  She instructed Callisto to stay down and then told Callisto that all she needed to to was get behind the ruins on the other side of the canyon where the lava pit was.  Callisto responded looking forward to her challenge against Velaska.  She couldn’t wait to throw Velaska to her doom into the pit.  Xena continued explaining the plan to Callisto stating that there was a rope bridge just over the pit.  It would be there that they would have to lead Velasaka.

Callisto looked to the bard responding that that part of the plan would be easy since Gabrielle was the prize for Velaska.  Then she stood giving Velasaka every oppritunity to see her and stated that the next time they met she would be a god.  Callisto’s eyes burned of determination and fire.  She knew that to defeat Velaska would mean that she could easily rip apart the warrior princess.  Then Callisto ran for the lava pit.  There were a series of explosions which followed Callisto’s path, but they did little damage to Callisto.  The ground shook beneath the bard and the warrior princess as Gabrielle spoke up.  Her voice was grim as she reminded Xena that Callisto was right.  It was she who had to lead Velaska to the bridge.  Xena objected harshly explaining that it was never in the plan for a moment that the bard should sacrifice herself.  Yet Gabrielle did not care.  Though she was still fearful she knew that Callisto was still in the right.  It was the only way to be certain that Velaska would get onto the bridge.  Then Xena reminded Gabrielle that they also had to get Callisto onto the bridge as well.  The plan was to despose of not just Velaska, but Callisto too.  Xena’s final plan was revealed to the bard quickly and between blasts.  She said that she would certain that during Callisto’s battle against Velaska upon the bridge the ropes could be cut and the two would go plunging into the lava pit for eternity.  They would be so busy fighting each other that neither would notice Xena cutting the ropes.  Gabrielle quickly braced herself for action knowing that it was now the moment of truth.

Xena and Gabrielle then ran toward the rope bridge as they tried to out run Velaska’s blasts.  The warrior princess shouted when she saw the bridge instructing Gabrielle to get to the otherside quickly.  Just before the two reachd the bridge there was another loud crash and boom.  It knocked both off of their feet to the edge of the lava pit.  Gabrielle hit the ground hard losing her senses for a moment until she heard Velaska’s voice as the goddess stood over her.  Velaska was pleased that Gabrielle was seemingly an easy prey as the bard flipped over to face Velaska still upon the ground.  Xena jumped up quickly from the edge of the pit and drew her sword instantly to face Velaska.  Velask was annoyed by the warrior princess’s presence and with just one  raised arm she threw Xena across the lava pit effortlessly with her power.  The warrior princess could be heard struggling through the air as Gabrielle watched Xena slam onto the wall on the other side of the canyon.

Though Xena had not been killed she was incapable of helping the bard now.  Xena had to scale the side of the canyon to save her own life.  The bard was quickly ripped out of her concern for Xena into her own dire situation against Velaska.  Velaska asked if the bard was afraid.  Gabrielle took a deep breath and responded with honesty.  She told Velaska that she was afraid for she did not want to die.  Velaska seemed pleased by the honesty and thought for a moment that maybe she did not want to kill the bard.   Gabrielle urged Velaska to follow that feeling, but Velasaka would not.  Instead she laughed slightly and smiled reminding Gabrielle that her death would please her even more although Velaska had a bit of respect for Gabrielle.  It was the bard whom had given her the gift of godhood when Gabrielle guided her to the realization that she didn’t need to be queen of the amazons.  Instead Velaska could be a goddess and shape the world as she pleased instead of trying to shape an amazon nation that was already expired in her opinion.  In the next moment Velaska pointed her finger out toward the bard about to strike her dead with her powers, but as the bard closed her eyes awaiting her death and her last breath Velaska stopped.  The goddess could not kill her that way.  Instead Gabrielle opened her eyes again as her chest rose and fell violently to find Velaska reaching into her leather arm cuff for her knife.  Velaska had decided that Gabrielle needed to die a long painful death.  It was the only thing that would seemingly satisfy her rage.  Gabrielle’s muscles tensed and her heart raced within her chest as if trying to get out.  She watched the long thick blade approaching her.  Then as Velaska was about to strike she asked that Gabrielle deliver a message to Hades.  She told the bard that she would be dropping by to visit him in Tarturus soon.

Life was fluttering away from the bard until suddenly she saw hate jump upon the back of evil and scream out for the ambrosia.  Callisto quickly grabbed the knife and used it to cut the pouch of ambrosia hanging from Velaska’s belt.  There was a fierce struggle between the two dark beings as Gabrielle watched the ambrosia fall to the ground.  Her first instinct was to grab the ambrosia and go running across the rope bridge.  Just as the bard acted and was about to rise to her feet to run away Velaska kicked the bard hard sending Gabrielle through the air and falling directly into the lava pit.  The bard screamed with surprise, but was able to grab hold of the rope bridge barely saving herself from certain death for the moment.  When she looked down all that could be seen was the raging lava running beneath her.  The heat rose from the depths of it as if beckoning death to take its certain victim.  Gabrielle hung with just one hand gripping the rope.  She realized quickly that there would be a little chance of survival holding on with only one hand.  The bard transferred the ambrosia into her mouth and held tightly to the rope with both hands.  She looked across the canyon to see that Xena had reached the rope and was about to save herself from death.  Soon Xena would be able to rescue Gabrielle as Callisto and Velasaka continued their intense battle.

Suddenly Callisto was at the edge of the bridge about to climb onto it until she realized that it was not wise.  Then she begged Gabrielle to give her the ambrosia.  Gabrielle refused knowing that it would be Xena’s end if Callisto had the ambrosia.  Callisto found herself frustrated and screamed demanding that Gabrielle give her the ambrosia.  Gabrielle looked to the other side of the bridge for a sign from Xena.  The warrior princess shouted out that Callisto should have the ambrosia.  Reluctantly Gabrielle took her hand off of the rope and threw the leather pouch to Callisto who caught it gleefully.  She wasted no time in opening the gift from the gods as she stuffed it into her mouth.  Gabrielle watched as the immortal went into a painful transformation as she screamed and struggled to stand up upon the rope bridge.  There was fire and lightening emminating from her body as the bard held tightly to stay alive.  Callisto then rose to her feet now an immortal god as she took a few steps more onto the bridge and turned to face Velaska once more.

Gleefully Callisto smiled ready to do battle against chaos and Velaska wasted little time in enguaging with Callisto who was another annoyance to her.  Velasak was about to join Callisto on the bridge until she realized that Callisto had already eaten the ambrosia.  This meant that the battle had been evened and that to enter onto the bride would be a higher risk than before.  Velaska stayed close to the edge upon the bridge as Callisto was just feet from Gabrielle.  The two clashed in a battle of godly wills as lightening bolts emminated from their hands.  They screamed in their powerful struggle as the bridge shook violently.  It was becoming increasingly difficult for Gabrielle to hold onto the bridge as the two goddesses battled it out.  Gabrielle looked to Xena and called out to her frantically seeing that the warrior princess had finally reached safety.  Xena called out for Gabrielle to hold on as she prepared a rope.  Gabrielle was quickly losing her grip upon the bridge as the two gods continued to struggle and called out to Xena again.  There was no way that her will could battle against the wills of powerful gods.  Her mortal strength could not outlast theirs.

Gabrielle was quickly realizing that she would have to die in order to save the lives of others.  She asked that Xena hurry and cut the rope in that moment, but Xena refused to let go of Gabrielle’s life.  The warrior princess continued preparing the rope as she tied it to her waste.  Gabrielle knew that this would be Xena’s only chance to defeat the two goddesses.  The bard scolded Xena for not cutting the rope, but Xena refused to do it until she had Gabrielle safe.  Suddenly the bard noticed that the bridge jerked violently for the battle of the gods had ceased between their powers.  Neither could out will the other.  Suddenly the two met each other in the middle battling it out physically as if one could kill the other.  There was so much anger and rage to will against that the bard found herself begining to slip.  Xena kept calling out to the bard trying to get her friend to focas as she asked Gabrielle not to look away from her.  The warrior princess then grabbed her chackram and used it to slice through the first of three ropes which held the bridge in place.  It was enough to plunge both Callisto and Velaska into the depths of the fiery pit.

Gabrielle watched as the two fell and struggled all the way to their demise, but then lost grip on one of her hands upon what was left of the bridge.  Gabrielle called out to Xena once more in a last moment of desparation as she felt her other hand slipping unable to stop it.  Gabrielle watched as Xena dove into the pit to rescue her with a rope tied to her waste.  The bard’s will was finally exhaused as her fingers slipped off of the rope and she felt herself plunging toward the immense heat of the lava.  Gabrielle looked up for Xena and suddenly felt the comfort of Xena’s strong hands.  The bard grabbed hold of them tightly her arms stretched beyond their own strain.   Gabrielle’s chest rose and fell as her heart had almost stopped.  A sigh of relief had spread throughout her body as she looked up at the warrior princess who smiled in triumph.  Gabrielle looked down one more time realizing how close she had come to becoming a victim of hot running lava beneath.

Finally the end of a seemingly long journey had come as both Gabrielle and Xena had reached the safety above the canyon once again.  Gabrielle wondered how long the lava would hold their enemies.  Xena’s hope would be that eternity would be enough time.  She explained that they would have to take the long way out of the canyon now that the bridge had been destroyed.  Then the warrior princess joked about the inconvience expressing that now they had plenty of time to waste.  Time was no longer their issue or their concern.  Yet Gabrielle looked back to the lava pit once more as she expressed to Xena her feeling and concern.  She wondered if Callisto felt sorry for all of the things she had done.  Xena harshly answered that she did not feel that at all.  Gabrielle explained then that despite what Xena thought she felt that Callisto truly did feel sorry for if she didn’t Gabrielle would not be able to forgive Callisto.  Then the bard continued explaining to Xena that if she could not forgive Callisto then she would not be able to move on with her own life.  It seemed that Xena did understand despite her opinion and so Gabrielle took one last look at the lava running beneath and said good-bye to the blond woman who had taken her love.  Forgiveness was the key if not for Callisto for the bard of Potedia.

The Xena Scrolls: Volume #3: Scroll #47: The Quest

The Xena Scrolls

By:  Gabrielle Bard of Podedia

Scroll# 47:  The Quest

August, 47 B.C.

….Xena I know you can hear me wherever you are.  I know you always told me to be strong, but I can’t be, not now.  You can’t leave me.  I know its not your time.  I can feel it in my heart.  I just feel this emptiness I’ve never known before and it scares me.  Xena above all just remember your destiny.  Remember it and fight.  Fight to come back.  This world needs you.  I need you.   For my destiny is to be alongside you.  I’ve known this since Thesaly and you know it too.  Come back to me my dearest friend for I am lost without you.

Every night I see it happen again and every morning I wake up wishing that it were only a dream.  My unbearable pain began when you took me to Syra the home of my worst enemy.  You wanted so terribly to understand why.  You wanted to understand why you brought your army down into that valley and why so many had to die.  You blamed yourself for so much, but I know in my heart that you were only confused and young.  I tried to comfort you by telling you that though the valley of Syra had once been a place of great death and destruction it had changed and become a place for vibrant life once again.  My heart was certain that you would be able to change too.  It was confident that your heart would heal from its own unbearable torments from your past.

As I watched you ride down into the valley to face your past there was peace in my own heart for you. I knew that your own peace of mind and heart would come through for you one day.  But then I was suddenly taken by those barbarians and prepared for sacrifice alongside those innocent young children.  Yet you came for me as always and you saved me from death once again.  Your battle against them was flawless except for in the last moments when I had made another mistake.  I had been so busy watching your flawless warrior skill that I allowed one of those children to get too close to the battle and the danger.  Before I could act he found himself nearly facing his own death prematurely.  As always you bravely stepped in front of him and did not allow him to die.  You acted with your warrior instincts instead of reacting with too many thoughts.  My own reactions put you into danger as you sacrificed yourself and your own life for that of the innocent blond haired boy.  You had felt that his life was worth more than yours.

The moment was horrifying for me knowing that there was nothing that I could do to stop it from happening now.  And so you took the blow and began your journey toward death.  As I stepped in to protect you from the remaining barbarians I was wounded, but it was only a wound of the leg.  It was only a wound that would one day heal.  Yet this wound in my heart now is so great that I am more lost now than ever before.

As I prepared to take you to Mount Nestus where you said we should go I tried to wipe it all away.  I tried to wipe away the blood that flowed out of your ears, and your mouth, and your nose.  There has never been a time that you had looked more seriously injured than in that moment.  Argo even sensed your death approaching.  She was strong for me for she knew that I needed her to be.  After traveling almost all night long I asked you if we should go north or south of the Streimen River.  You mumbled and I thought you said north so that is which way Argo and I took you.  You were right for we did get there early in the morning snows.

I was so tired and exhausted from traveling all night, but Argo kept me on our quest.  And finally when we reached your old friend Nicklio I was certain that you would be okay.  Yet Nicklio wanted to repair me first though I tried to tell him that it was not me who needed his help.  He refused to help you for he could face a reality that I was unwilling to realize.  Still I can not accept it.  Your death was not supposed to happen that way.  Not without me and not now.

I cried alongside you through the day for I could not leave you.  I know that you could hear me.  You could hear my every thought.  Everything my heart ever said to you and everything my mind ever thought.  Xena I miss you.  But now I know that no matter how many tears fall from my eyes and down my face none of them has the power to return you to your life’s place.  So I am preparing to take you home.  But this journey is even more difficult than the journey to reach Nicklio for the word has spread through the land very quickly that you are now dead.  I promise you that I will get your body back to Amphipolis again no matter what it takes.  I shall die to fill your wishes.  You belong home with your family next to your brother in Amphipolis I know.  But I wish you would come back.

This afternoon as Argo and I have traveled toward Amphipolis.  We were confronted by five henchmen.  They were the usual kind that you always defeated with barely breaking a warrior sweat.  These men angered me for they did not respect you the way they would have if you were still alive.  All they wanted was to profit from my loss and your death.  You would have been proud for I stood bravely to defend you.  I have promised you in the past that I would bury you next to your brother.  And that is where you will go no matter what.  I may only be a small young village girl, but you have taught me well.

As I fought them I did not think.  I only used my feelings for you to guide me.  But you made sure that I did not have to fight them alone for you sent Iolas to help.  I didn’t really need his help to fight our enemies, but I did need him.  I needed Iolas to comfort my wounded heart, and I thank you for that Xena.  Sadly, I must admit that for a brief time I have felt anger for your choice to leave me behind.  My heart was not ready for this life challenge alone.  There were so many things that I have left unsaid to you.  Like how much I truely love you, and how much I appreciate your teaching me all of the lessons I’ve learned from you.  It was after telling Iolas how I was feeling that he released me from my anger.  He reminded me that though I had never said those things to you while you were here with me.  You can still hear me now.  I was comforted and ready to continue on toward Amphipolis reminded that even in death you can hear my thoughts.

I want you to know that Iolas was sad for you too.  Even though you had hurt him in the past and tried to break up his wonderful friendship with Hercules he too still loves you.  He shed tears with me and then told me that he must go.  Iolas wanted to return to Hercules to make sure that the news of your death did not get back to him without first hearing it from Iolas.  Hercules loved you too.  Iolas was certain that he would take our loss hard.  Yet no one loves you more than I do.

After Iolas left Argo and I alone again we continued on and found ourselves deep in the amazon forrest.  It was scary traveling without you for I’m not yet as skilled as you.  There are still things that I cannot sense, or hear, or feel the way that you always do.  I’m still amazed at how you could know that someone was following us from so far behind.  Your skills are truely brilliant like the light I have felt within your heart.  Argo of course began to fuss before I realized that we were being followed.  So I stopped and stepped forward declaring that those following show themselves.  With relief it was only a group of our oldest friends.  The amazons came sailing out of the trees just like they did the first time you took me to meet them.  I  remember how excited I was and how I didn’t understand what being an amazon was all about.

Then I remembered that you had taught me that amazon symbol for peace.  So I declared myself peaceful and they did something very special.  Though you never thought that you deserved the respect and love of the amazons they too love you.  I watched them honor you in silence as they placed their swords upon your sarcoughagous.  Ephiny was with them and I was glad to see her.  It was comforting to be surrounded by friends in your abscence.  Ephiny expressed her sorrow for my loss and invited me to take you to the amazon camp.  There they were prepared to honor you with an amazon funeral fire.  Yet I did not feel that you would have wanted that so I told Ephiny that I was going to continue onto Amphipolis.

She could see that I was suffering inside and Ephiny urged me to at least stay with the amazons for a few days.  I told Ephiny that I would stay for a little while, but only because I needed to talk to Queen Melosa.  Without you I know I need to find a new life and so I thought that maybe Queen Melosa could help guide me in your abscence.  Ephiny then broke the news that Queen Melosa had also been killed.  She had been killed in royal combat like the one you had enguaged in to unite the centaurs with the amazons against Krykus.  My heart could barely take the pain of your loss and to find that Queen Melosa had been taken was a shock for me.  And then I asked Ephiny who the new queen was.  She looked to another of the amazons that I had not met the last time we had come to amazon lands.  Her name was Velaska.  Velaska had been the one that had challenged the Queen to the royal combat.  And as you know Xena it is a fight to the death.

Veleska did not spare Melosa with mercy the way that you did.  She argued that her combat against Melosa had been ruled by the tribunal as a fair defeat.  But Ephiny seemed displeased about this.  Yet she was also pleased that I had returned for by amazon law the Amazon Princess is the next in line to take the mask of the queen when she passes.  Because of my right of caste Ephiny was delighted to announce that I was now the rightful queen of the amazons.  I’ve suddenly found myself more lost and confused than before Xena.  I don’t know what to do.  My heart says that I am not ready to be an Amazon Queen.  Last time we were here I learned the responsibility that a Queen must carry and it was more than I am ready for.

With my wounded heart I have decided to join Ephiny and my other amazon sisters for I need to mourn.  Yet I feel that I am being pushed foward suddenly into a life that was not meant to be for me right now.  Ephiny has explained to me the truth of Velaska’s challenge to Melosa.  Melosa had adopted Velaska as a step daughter when her mother had been killed in a battle against the centaurs before you and I had come.  Velaska had challenged Melosa once before, but was unsuccessful.  Because Melosa had been her new mother she had been spared the penatly of the challenge.  Yet Melosa banished Velaska from the amazon nation for her defiance of her mother as punishment.

After you and I had come to the amazon lands Velaska returned.  She returned to challenge Melosa once again.  Only this time if she lost Melosa would have had to take her life.  I know in my heart that Melosa did not lose because she was less skilled or less of a warrior.  She lost this second battle against Velaska because of her love for this child though Velaska had truely been the child of another amazon.  Velaska has taken advantage of Melosa’s love for her and that is why Ephiny felt that the challenge had not been a fair fight.  Ephiny explained to me the reason that Velaska wanted to be queen.  She revealed that because Velaska’s true mother had been killed by a centaur Velaska did not agree with the new alliance.  If Velaska had her way and continued to reign as queen then Ephiny, and her son Xenan would have to make choices.  It would be impossible for them to live with either nation for she is an amazon and he has been born a centaur.

Ephiny has me thinking about my responsibility now, but I’m still not confident that I would make a better queen than Velaska Xena.  She has been an amazon since birth while I’ve only been an amazon for only ten short seasons by a rite.  I’m so confused Xena that I’ve decided to hear out Velaska’s side just incase Ephiny is just over reacting.

As I walked with Velaska today Xena I could feel her ambition.  It  is driven by something other than what drives Ephiny.  Ephiny’s intensions are driven by a mother’s love for her son while Velaska’s intentions are clearly driven by vegence.  Velaska tried to talk me out of chosing to accept the queen mask.  If she had been a true leader she would have allowed me to make that choice on my own.  A true amazon sister would have trusted in me to make the right choice.

Though the right choice for me would be to allow Velaska to continue to reign as queen for she is indeed much more experienced and better trained than I.  Yet my heart tells me that the right choice for the amazons is for me to embrace this huge responsibility and take the queen mask.  I know I am not ready, but my intensions are more noble than the intensions of Velaska.  If she were to continue to reign as the queen I am certain that the amazons and the centaurs will be at war once again.  All that you and I have done to unite them in peace will be destroyed and I can’t let that happen.  Not now.

Xena I’ll always love you, but I know I have to let you go.  I have always thought of you as my home, and since you have left I  have felt so lost.  Maybe my new home is here.  And so I think I will tell Ephiny that I am going to accept the queen mask.  Not only for your legacy, but for my own purpose.  Know that you will be an amazon sister in death for you will have the proper funeral fire that you deserve.  You will always be honored and remembered by the amazon nation and by the centaur nation.  But after your amazon funeral know that I will keep my promise.  I will take your ashes back to Amphipolis.  And that is where I will finally let you go.  I will say good-bye and then I shall return to the amazons and rule as their queen.  Your memory will always be my guide.

Upon preparing for my ceremony I have been nervous yet there is a sense of excitement for I do indeed have a home.  For the first time in days I am feeling confident of my direction without you Xena.  Proudly I will walk through the ceremony and stand before my sisters and accept their honor to me.  But I promise that I will not abuse this power or their trust in me.  I will use it to benefit the good and to fight against what is wrong.  There are so many people who have power in this world that should not hold it.

I have returned from my masking ceremony.  Xena look.  They have made me their queen.  Me the little girl you found in Podedia.  It’s time that I let you go.  You see I have to find my own life.  Just as you were searching for yours.  You know there are two kinds of tears.  Tears for those who leave you.  And tears for those whom you never let go.  And I won’t say good-bye to you Xena.  For we shall be together again one day.

Before I go let me tell you what happened.  I was taken before my sisters and presented with the mask.  Velaska waited for me to make my choice.  She was certain that I would chose her and forfeit all of my rites.  But I did not do that, and as I began to accept my queenhood before the amazon witnesses she took vegence upon me for my choice.  Her act was a violent one for she had thrown her daggar steeling the mask from my grasp.  It was an act of disrespect.  A true amazon sister would never show selfish vengence against her own queen.   Now I am certain of the choice I have made.  All of my sisters were as shocked and surprised as I, but Velaska did not stop there.  She tried desparately to deface my name and Ephiny’s name.  Velaska called me a fraud and Ephiny a lier declaring that neither of us could be trusted.  It was true that Ephiny had been the only witness to Terreis giving me her rites, but she is honorable.

It was in Velaska’s moment of defiance that  I decided to take control and demonstrate that I am indeed the right choice for my sisters.  I took the queen mask and the knife down from their resting place on the wall behind me.  I held both of them out.  Then I asked Velaska to choose.  This was her last chance to prove to me that she could be the right choice.  If she had chosen to take the mask first then I would know that I should step down, but if she chose the daggar then it would prove the truth of her intensions.  And so as every amazon was silent.  My sisters watched.  Velaska stepped forward and made the choice that I was certain she would make.  She chose the daggar before the mask.  And so I had proven to my sisters that though I am not as well-trained I am the right choice.  Velaska left camp after that for I accepted my duty and my rite.  There was a wonderful welcoming and celebration for my return.

It is much later now Xena.  When I returned to see you just one last time before your funeral I caught Autolycus the king of theives trying to steal your body.  He left me a bit confused.  At first I was angry for I was certain that he had come to profit from your death like the five henchmen that stopped me a few days ago.  But then he told me that you were in his body.  He said that it was you who wanted to steal your own body.  In my fit of anger I did not listen, but now I am left to wonder.  Maybe everything that he said was really true.  I need to know Xena if you are still here with me.  Please show me a sign.

I am so excited.  My hope has been restored Xena.  Today I saw you.  I mean I saw Autolycus.  He has broken out of the amazon jail which was hardly unexpected considering he is a theif.  But when he jumped upon your sarcoughagous as it began to burn in the fire he hurried to save your body from being destroyed.  My sisters began an attack for his intrusion, but then he whistled for Argo like you do and he had your chackram.  I watched him do the amazing flips that only you can do and he threw your chackram catching it like only you.  That was when I knew that it was true.  That was when I realized that it really was you.

I had no other choice so I left behind my sisters to join Autolycus to find you and to save you.  He explained everything to me.  Autolycus told me of how you had been with him for several days.  He told me of how you had given him his inspiration for stealing the daggar of Helios.  It is the daggar that is the key to your safe return home to me.  I want to thank you for showing me that you are still with me.  Your comforting words through Autolycus and the vision of us together has given me new strength inside.  I must admit that it was a bit strange to find myself opening my eyes kissing Autolycus, but it was really you I know.  Now I am going to send your sarcoughagus down the river like you had asked so that the amazons will not find it before we make it to the ambrosia.

Sadly Xena I must tell you that time is running out.  Autolycus and I were followed to the temple where the food for the gods is kept.  Velaska does not yet know that the daggar of Helios is the true key to the ambrosia.  I think Autolycus still has it stashed away in his boot.  You should know that though the amazon nation is now divided over your death and rescue many of them are behind you including Ephiny and Eponin.  Unfortunately Autolycus has now been returned to us in the jail.  Velaska has beaten him and broken his arm, but it is only a minor break and can be repaired.  Autolycus is truely amazing.  On the outside he appears only a thief for hire, but on the inside he has a truely caring heart.  He is committed to helping you Xena.

You made a good choice when you chose Autolycus’s body.  He has become so involved in your rescue that he has used his unusual skill for picking locks and freed us all from the jail.  It was amazing the way he picked the lock by using only a small metal piece that held together Eponin’s clothing.  Of course he was his usual seductive self, but I can overlook that flaw.  And after we escaped we fought our way through those loyal to Velaska so that we could return to the temple of ambrosia.  I exepect to find Velaska there as well.  She’ll want the powers of a god.  I’ve sent Ephiny and the others to fetch your body from the river to save us time.  They will meet us at the temple and I’ will get you the ambrosia.

Xena this experience has been like no other.  When I reached the temple Velaska was there, but your spirit witin Autolycus was growing weak.  Velaska threatened me with the daggar of Helios, but then you stepped into me and helped.  The feeling of being one with you was warm, and caring.  It was passionate to fight a battle with your spirit inside of me.  I never knew that part of you.  I am glad that we have had the chance to connect in this way.  Our battle was a memorable one for me.  We fought Velaska upon the ropes and I found myself moving in ways that I never thought I could.  I can see now why you enjoy the thrill of a battle so much.  Yes there is your guilt, but your passionate love outweighs that.  When the battle finally ended and Velaska fell to the ground upon the trap of spikes below.  I felt your pain.  You didn’t really want her to die, but there was nothing that you could do to save her and to save yourself.  She had no intention of letting you come back to me.  And she wanted to kill me.

As everyone who witnessed our battle together watched the Ambrosia fall from its place to the ground  into the fire.  I could hear their disappointment.  But you and I knew that you had saved just enough to bring you back.  It is amazing how you have every last detail mapped out within your mind as you go into a battle.  You truely are the greatest warrior who ever lived.  I don’t care what the other legends say.  Of course when you left my body I felt the emptiness again though you had left me with the ambrosia that would return you to life.  Ephiny and the others had brought you to me and so I opened your sarcoughagous.  I placed the small bit of ambrosia into your cold lips and hoped that it would be enough to bring you back.

We all waited for a long moment and wondered.  There was hope, but our disappointment grew when you did not awaken.  Of course all that we really needed was patience for the ambrosia finally did work its magic and brought you back to me.  It was wonderful to see you again.  To look into your blue eyes and to hold you in my arms once again.  I missed you Xena.  It was the hardest week of my life without you.  Please promise me that you’ll never leave me again.  Don’t ever die without me.  I know in my heart that your true destiny is with me and mine with you.  Never ask that question again for you now have the answer and the truth.

The Xena Scrolls: Volume #3: Scroll #46: The Price

The Xena Scrolls

By:  Gabrielle Bard of Podedia

Scroll #46 :  The Price

June, 46 B.C.

     Their day began in the calm quiet comfort of the rural wild where no one lived and no villages existed.  Deep into Gaul territory they traveled to find what Xena had hoped would be the best fishing conditions for the season.  It seemed that the warrior princess had a pattern to her madness.  Not only did she know where to migrate, but she knew exactly when to find the best catches during every season in every part of the known world.  Gabrielle was not quite as fond of fishing as her best friend, but she decided that on this day she would make it a point to learn the fine art of fishing.  At first she began slow unable to land a bite at the end of her fishing stick.  Xena was a natural, but Gabrielle already knew this considering she could catch a slimy eel with her bare hands without breaking a sweat.  There was something extremely unappealing about that thought as the bard stood on the banks of this rural river and tried patiently to wait it out for at least a sign of life at the end of her pole. 

     After several hours had gone by the bard was about to throw in the staff once more in this battle of man verses fish, but Xena would not allow it.  She was determined to succeed at proving that even a farm girl could learn her warrior crafts and techniques.  Soon after the sun had hit over head the fish began to bite with a vengance.  Of course for the warrior princess it was easy and she had been landing catches along the banks all day.  For Gabrielle the moment of truth finally came as she struggled to reel in the big one.  Xena instructed the bard coaching her through every move.  To move with the fish was to be the fish as Xena called out that the fish was moving in from the left as he tried to escape to the right.  The bard’s muscles were tensing with excitement as she could see his giant head popping in and out of the rough river waters.  He was a strong one she had to admit, but the determination was strong and so the battle raged on between woman and fish until finally the adrenaline pushed its limits allowing Gabrielle to hoist the giant fish into the air over her head and onto the bank.

      The fish flopped violently about having to accept his defeat as Xena was pleased with her pupil for the effort and accomplishment.  As Gabrielle dashed off behind her she knelt down to free her victim from the line.  The battling bard felt a great deal of new confidence and for the first time she felt that fishing was a true adventure.  Then she declared to her fish friend that though her defeat was sweet it was meant without harmful intensions.  Xena just scoffed at the bard’s philosophical side basking in its own triumph.  The warrior princess asked that she not talk to her food and then Xena moved onto the next moment as she threw her own line back in.  Gabrielle had finally freed her new friend reminding him that he would be going to the elysian fields in her stomach later on, but that it would be a far better place than here on the violent earth. 

       With that the bard threw down her lunch and ran back to the edge of the water for more excitement and adventure as she cheered herself on.  Suddenly all was great and well as Gabrielle complemented Xena for her choice in fishing venues.  The fish certainly were biting better than ever here.  Gabrielle wondered if maybe it was because they were the first people on earth to ever fish in this spot.  Xena’s admiration for her friend could be felt in the air as she explained that the fish felt that way.  In fact Xena went as far as to say that the fish seemed to be jumping willingly out of the water.  Gabrielle pressed her advantage allowing herself to interject some philosophy into Xena’s life.  Yet as Xena threw another fish onto the bank she grabbed it by the line and shook it in the bard’s face reminding Gabrielle of the day that Xena would not stop throwing fish into her face.  Cold, wet, and slimy were not the words that Gabrielle was about to use to be  philosphical.              

     Instead she chose to ignore Xena’s interruption.  Then she expressed her vision of how she felt that everyone came from the oceans just like the fish.  She felt that the fish were people in their own way just waiting to reach out for that magic moment to touch their human family.  Just before Gabrielle could finish her statement she found herself struggling with yet another of her brothers in the water as she was reeling him in reaching out to grab him until suddenly someone grabbed back. 

     The bard was shocked by the sudden burst from within the water.  It was not a fish, but a man whom had grabbed her.  He was badly injured as Xena reached in alongside Gabrielle to help bring him to dry land.  The man would not let go of Gabrielle’s arm as he held it with a death grip.  Gabrielle was terrified at what she saw protruding from within his chest.  A large metal ax was lodged deep into his chest.  The man wheezed to grasp a breath as he tried to speak.  He spoke of a garrison.  His words were broken as he struggled to get out an important warning.  The man said he had been seeking help.  His final words were desparate within his eyes as he struggled to speak within his last breath.  He spoke of the horde.  Gabrielle watched as the man died right there before her.  Death had never seemed so fearless.  His death grip released Gabrielle’s arm as his body fell limp onto the bank. 

      Gabrielle was still terrified and shocked.  Her mind and heart were full of confusion.  She had never heard of horde.  She did not know what it was.  Gabrielle looked desparately to her friend for the answer.  Xena’s only words were a command for the bard to get her things.  Gabrielle wanted an answer to her question for fear of the unknown was spreading through her mind quickly.  Xena snapped for Gabrielle to move and to obey the command for there was an urgency to vacate quickly.  The bard ceased her arguement and ran for her staff and her leather scroll bag hanging from the trees just behind them.  As Gabrielle looked back over the water she saw something worse than she could have imagined.  There was not just one dead man with an ax in his chest, but hundreds.  The dead men floated like a school of fish down the waters of the river from the north.  Gabrielle’s mind could not process the horror fast enough.  She felt stunned and barely able to move for a moment.  The only comfort she could find within was the thought of Xena nearby.  She whispered Xena’s name as Xena approached Gabrielle’s position to survey the situation.  It was more grim than the warrior princess could have hoped.  Gabrielle found the courage to move her legs, and to move closer to Xena.  It felt safer somehow.  Xena’s lips released a bit of unexpected panic.  Quietly Xena was anquishing over the dead as if somehow she had been responsible for them.  Gabrielle hoped to receive information from the warrior princess.  Her heart fluttered hoping that they could be helped, but Xena confirmed cyrptically that they were beyond help.  Xena continued by explaining that the dead men were of the Athenian infantry.  Xena surmised that they must have been surrounded. 

     Gabrielle waited patiently, but with great fear and anxiety for Xena to continue her short quick explanation.  The bard wondered how it was that Xena was certain that she had already known their fate.  Xena suddenly revealed that they worked in this way.  Who they were was still a giant mystery to the concerned bard.  The warrior princess stated that they too were surrounded now.  Gabrielle was desparate to know what it was that they were surrounded by so that she could survey the landscape for it.  She desparately needed to know what her eyes searched for.  The answer soon came just off the banks and to the right.  Gabrielle reacted to the sounds of boats knocking up against the shore.  She saw what looked like giant ape warriors.  Yet they were men.  Their heads were full of dark thick hair yet their chests and legs were carefully maintained.  The ape men were painted all over with white, black, and red body art.  Their clothes were finely crafted out of thick animal furs, and some of their clothes were decorated with human bones.  The canoe boats they rode in were built sturdy out of nature’s best trees.  Upon the stern and the bow were human skulls screaming of danger.  Some of the ape men had primitave jewlrey painfully pierced through their noses.  Their eyes were raging with fire, but it wasn’t hate and it wasn’t vegence.  It was the fire of primal survival and of fear.  The bard’s reaction was to call Xena to action with her sword, but Xena stated that her sword would do nothing to stop the advance of the horde men.  Xena’s next command was out of fear which was something Gabrielle had never felt from the warrior princess before.  It was obvious to the bard that for the first time she had ever known Xena to be afraid for her own survival.  Xena’s command was to run and then she pushed Gabrielle into action.

     Gabrielle’s feet carried her quickly back toward the forrest as Xena followed quickly behind.  The bard found her legs leaping and bounding like never before.  Her heart raced quickly for she barely noticed a single breath from within.  She felt like the prey hunted by the beast.  Just behind the first line of trees there was a small clearing within the foilage.  Gabrielle’s feet stopped abruptly beneath her when her eyes caught sight of the largest horde of them all.  The only one to be decorated in full red body art he appeared mercilessly out of control.  It was as if the red paint possessed him to lust for the kill.  He wore the most elaborate of nose ornaments.  It was the bone of a large beast.  Gabrielle’s eyes met his, but there was no understanding to be found.  It was like two souls with different languages unable to connect with sensabilities only fear.  Gabrielle called out to Xena unable to decide what to do next.  Xena approached from behind only to find her worst fears to be true.  Indeed the two friends were surrounded by the wrath of the horde.  Suddenly it was time to fight for Xena was without her sword.  The warrior princess’s survival instincts kicked in as she grabbed a large heavy branch from the ground using it as a staff while Gabrielle fearfully tried to hold back the group in front of them.  Xena quickly defeated the three which had followed in from the river grabbing Gabrielle and commanding her to return to the river. 

      The Warrior Princess and the Battling Bard returned to the banks steeling one of the two vessels which had brought the enemy to them.  Leaping into the large canoe boat Xena shouted out another command to dig in hard.  Gabrielle did not argue knowing that Xena had the command.  These creatures were something even Xena did not understand.  The horde sloshed through the water on foot in their leather skin boots while some of them followed in pursuit on the second boat.  Xena’s voice was desparate as she commanded Gabrielle to pull harder.  Gabrielle pulled every bit of strength she could from within the rush of adrenaline that flowed through her arms hoping to get away from the beasts as their voices raged of foreign frieghtful sounds.  Their language was seemingly nothing more than a series of ugly harsh grunts.  Each sounded more threatening even if it may have been otherwise.  Gabrielle kept pulling harder each time Xena shouted out the command.  The bard could not resist looking back to see if they were gaining any distance between them.  

     Suddenly Xena pulled her chackram hoping to slow the advance of the horde as she deflected it off of a rock upon the bank and then off of a tree back into the canoe boat in pursuit of them.  The chackram thankfully returned to the warrior princess who had succeeded in slowing the advance by damaging the enemy’s boat.  Gabrielle watched as it sank while the men within it scrambled to abandon ship.  Suddenly from in front of them Gabrielle’s ears caught the sounds of defeat as the one with the red face screamed out echoing through the land.  He did not like defeat as he swung his strange moon shaped weapons upon their chains threatening death upon the warrior princess and her companion.  Gabrielle called out to Xena hoping the warrior princess would have a solution to the danger just ahead.

      For the moment it seemed that both Xena and Gabrielle had escaped the grasp of the horde.  Xena ushered them onto a hidden place along the river bank where they could pull off and rest.  Gabrielle hoped that Xena could tell her more about the horde and about how to deal with them.  As they sat in the eerie quiet of the afternoon the air was thick with humidity and heat.  Everything around them seemed stale.  Even Xena’s mind was affected by it.  As the two pulled out of the river they carried the canoe to a large fallen tree hoping to conceal their current position until they could gain some kind of advantage.  While Xena’s mind worked on the solution her heart told the tale of her first run in with the horde.  The first time she had ever taken her army to the west she had met up with them.  She had sent a scouting party out ahead to look for a mountain pass.  Her scouting party had been trapped in the ravine below when the horde made their move down upon them.  All Xena was able to do was watch from above helplessly as the massive army of beasts reigned down upon her men.  Xena watched as her men desparately tried to fight them off, but could not match strengths against them. 

       The warrior princess was as cryptic as ever as she told her tale of death and ultimate survival.  Gabrielle could sense the regret in Xena’s voice as if had only been in the day before that Xena had encountered the enemy.  She spoke of the ugly voices of the horde and the agonizing screams of her men.  Xena had spent the entire day trying desparately to reach her men with the rest of her army, but by the time they had massed within the ravine the horde had disappeared into the shadows of the evening.  The only thing left of her scouting party were bones.  Their flesh and muscles had been torn from them and taken by the horde.  They were tortured alive until they had been skinned to death and to nothing.  Gabrielle’s fears began to rise as she imagined these pictures in her mind.  They were almost impossible for her to comprehend.  She hoped to understand what the horde were for men did not do these horrible things.  Men killed, and men destroyed, but they never tortured other men in this way.  Gabrielle hoped Xena could give her a comforting explaination to all of this, but the truth was that Xena could not.  Xena was scarred by her past experiences with the horde and it was obvious that their presence now was nerve wracking for the seasoned warrior. 

      Xena struggled to stay focased as she explained that fighting one or two alone would indeed be difficult, but to fight a large party of them would be suicide.  It was written all over Xena’s face and Gabrielle knew it.  She knew that she would have to find her own strength somewhere in order to cope with this unpleasant ordeal.  The bard only hoped that they would find a way out together alive.  There had never been a moment more grim than this.  Even Callisto was nothing compared to the savage beasts that lurked about out there.  Gabrielle thought there had to be more to these creatures.  They seemingly had souls although even the bard’s heart could not connect.  She suspected that they wanted something, but that was a deeper mystery than even Xena could master.  It was clear that the warrior princess was in complete survival mode out of fear and necessity.  The warrior princess was seemingly no longer talking to Gabrielle, but to herself outloud.  Xena was plotting their next move.  Her memory told her that the horde hunted like a pack of dogs only they were equipped with the capabilities of man surrounding their prey until they would make their move to attack.

      Xena’s horrific memories were strong with angry emotion.  Her old frustrations were simmering to a boil as she rose from the resting place and threw the ax weapon she held tightly into a tree.  This weapon she had taken as they had escaped was seemingly Xena’s only comfort despite Gabrielle’s presence.  Xena’s frustrated grunt said it all.  At this point the bard had decided that Xena’s fears and frustrations were clouding the warrior’s mind.  It would be Gabrielle who would have to ground them this time.  The bard was up for the challenge if it meant saving their lives.  Xena suddenly moved toward the banks deciding that they had to move within the moment.  When Gabrielle thought for a moment she decided that the quickest way would most likely be the river.  Xena rejected the idea immediately reminding Gabrielle that it was indeed true that the river led somewhere, but where the horde would be waiting they were unaware.  Gabrielle realized that Xena was right, but she was not so confident that Xena knew how to get them out by the end of the night.  Xena’s next words were grim as she told Gabrielle that things would get worse for her plans to escape would require something Gabrielle could not expect.  The bard moved her eyes about hoping to see whatever it was that Xena saw, but to no avail.  She would just have to follow blindly until Xena could get them to the next safe place.

     Back into the boat they went following the river as Gabrielle had hoped they would do.  The only sounds that could be heard were the uneasy silence between the friends, the waves of the water crashing up against the side of the boat, the oars pushing softly through the water, and the secadas surrounding them on all sides.  The senses had to be heightened in this way in order to catch the sounds of the horde if they were still out there.  Gabrielle hoped that the river would soon save them from certain torture and death, but she knew deep down that they were still out there.  She could hear their breaths under the sounds of the water and soon the sounds of the suffering followed.  Just to the left bank over the water there were more men from the Athenian army.  The six men were barely alive still suffering greatly as they cried weakly for the goddess Athena to have mercy upon them.  They were bound to crucifix type contraptions in the shape of diagonal crosses.  They suffered greatly and Gabrielle could not bare to hear their cries any longer.  Her impulse was to save them before there was nothing left to save, but Xena snapped back rejecting the idea.  Gabrielle argued that they were crying out for the goddess Athena.  They could not ignore Athena’s wishes.  Xena again rejected Gabrielle not believing that Athena had dispatched the fates sending them to help the suffering men.  Gabrielle did not care about fear for she believed the fates were wise as was Athena.  Xena snapped back again reminding Gabrielle that there were too many to save for they would not be able to save themselves.  The fates had already decided death would come to those men. 

     Gabrielle’s arguement had led to their reveal.  The horde had been waiting for them and suddenly they appeared all around them.  Hidden from beneath the water the horde popped out and hidden in the dark evening forrest they came.  Their axes began to hurl through the air.  One nearly took Gabrielle’s life almost lodging itself through the side of her head.  Xena’s reflexes blocked death’s intension for the bard as she used her oar to stop its path.  Suddenly more axes came flying as Xena urged Gabrielle to paddle faster.  Yet the bard soon found herself robbed of even her paddle by one of the axes which struck it at the base.  Gabrielle was desaparately freightened now as she paddled with her hands helplessly. 

       The sounds of a battle beyond control were raging about as the voice of a man could be heard from across the water.  One of the Athenians was trying to make his escape as he dove into the water and swam toward the canoe carrying Xena and Gabrielle.   Gabrielle looked up hoping that he would make it.  She could see that he still had strength left to swim halfway out and so she urged Xena once again to try to save a man in distress.  Xena finally caved in begrudgingly to the bard’s heartfelt desires despite the risks they were now incurring to rescue this man.  Gabrielle reached out as Xena steered the canoe toward him.  The bard grabbed hold of the man whose weight quickly slowed them down.  Soon the enemy could be heard just behind them in another canoe with their voices raging ready to strike their slow prey.  Gabrielle shouted out to Xena that they enemy was closing in fast.  The man then urged them to let him go for they would capture them all.  He knew that he was to die.  Yet Xena would not let him accept his death now. 

      All that could be heard was the suffering moans of the man they had now rescued and the angry voices of the horde on all sides of them.  Xena then warned of a new problem.  Just ahead they were approaching a dead end.  It was a giant waterfall that the river had led them to.  Now they would have face the horde.  Xena called out to Gabrielle commanding her to jump at the edge of the shore where the waterfall met.  The warrior princess hoped to spare Gabrielle a treacherous death by the horde.  Yet Gabrielle would not accept this command from Xena.  She would not leave her friend only to be saved by the gods to travel alone.  Gabrielle could not bare to think of the regret that would follow knowing the terrible fate of Xena the Warrior Princess.  If Xena was to die a torturous death then she too would follow her friend until the end.  Gabrielle’s loyalty would not faulter despite the risks and the agony that was certain to follow.  The bard looked about to see that the horde were clammoring to get at them.  It was certain.  Gabrielle prepared her mind for the pain and the suffering she would soon have to endure.  If this was what Athena and the fates had planned she would face it all with courage.

     Xena argued with Gabrielle, but Gabrielle’s mind was made up.  The warrior princess tried to argue that she would be unable to fight the horde worrying about Gabrielle.  Yet Gabrielle did not care for she was going to fight alongside the warrior princess.  She would not allow Xena this fight alone.  As all hope was dwindling away Xena paddled up toward the shore preparing for the terrible end.  Yet from beneath the ground upon the banks more Athenian men popped up from their positions ready to fight against the hunters.  There was a sense of relief which swept over both the warrior princess and the bard as they dragged their Athenian victim to the safety of healthy infantry.  The infrantry shielded them with a counter attack upon the horde who were unsuspecting of the Athenians’ ability to regroup.  As the three pulled up to the bank Gabrielle shouted out to the Athenian men for their assistance with the injured man.  She helped them remove the man from the side of the boat while Xena jumped into the battle to assist the Athenians.  The horde were out numbered now that the Athenians had shown up and Gabrielle felt more confident in her safety.  Upon letting her guard down she ran back toward the boat to grab her staff and her leather scroll bag.  As she turned back toward the battle Xena was just steps in front of her shouting out to duck.  Gabrielle acted without a second thought as Xena used her whip hurling an ax into the chest of the enemy approaching from behind out of the water.  The horde man fell into the lap of his comrade in the boat and then they retreated.  Gabrielle’s heart stopped for a moment knowing that her mistake was in letting down for a moment.

     Twenty-four Athenians had come to fight against twelve horde.  It seemed to the bard that the power of two men were needed to fight one horde man.  The horde had only retreated because they found that they were out numbered.  These creatures had strategic intellengence.  It was impressive yet scary for it meant that the danger was extremely serious.  Gabrielle was only begining to understand Xena’s deepest fears.  The Athenians formed around their injured and the strangers they had rescued in their own ambush against the hoard.  There was a bit of comfort in this until they reached the outer walls of the Athenian fortress.  As the leader Mercer warned for all to watch for a counter ambush Gabrielle saw that the battle field surrounding the fortress was littered with  dead hoard men.  Death on the field here was fresh and unkind.  Yet there was not a single dead Athenian left behind.  The bard hoped it was because the army was strong, but once they entered passage through the gates Xena and Gabrielle found the remnants of what used to be an army.

      Mercer quickly ushered his men into the fortress and immediately commanded them to get back to manning the battlements in preparation for another attack.  There was seemingly no time for rest for the obviously weary men.  The man they had saved was dying upon the ground as he called out to the soldier Mercer.  Gabrielle leaned down hoping to comfort the fallen man who was now barely able to speak.  He struggled for breaths in the way that the first man had whom had died.  Mercer whom had led the ambush upon the hoard approached suddenly hoping to comfort his dying soldier.  The now dying man pleaded for Mercer’s promise to stop the wrath of the dangerous hoard.  Soon the man’s last breath escaped from his body and he fell into death’s arms as did his comrades before.  Mercer appeared staunch yet touched by the death of yet another soldier.  There was a sense of defeat and of frustration within his pale blue eyes.  It was as if he was on his last crutch of hope.  With another man to die before him his inner strength as a leader was diminishing.  Yet he quickly closed the door upon his own humanity and gave another shallow command.  He asked that this body be thrown to the pit with the hundreds of others that had already been collected.

      Gabrielle looked to Xena for hope for Mercer had none left.  None of his men held onto hope either for as Mercer gave another hollow command to get back to the walls another man approached defiant of him.  It was an older experienced soldier whose hair was silver with battle memories.  The man’s head was weakly bandaged as if his temple wound was as fresh as the dead man on his way to the pit.  An old soldier who had no more strength spoke with more conviction against another fight and another battle than to hope for life beyond the walls of the broken fortress.  Mercer pushed the hobbling man to the ground out of anger yet desparation to regain control of his men.  The man begged again fearful for a his slow torturous death that he was certain would come for him yet Mercer ignored the fearful unreasonable pleas.  He only barked out the same command as before to get back to the wall.  Then Mercer walked away standing as tall and strong as he could despite the weak foundations within. 

     Suddenly it seemed hopeless to the bard that even these men could be any help in aiding a desparate escape from the clutches of the barbaric enemy.  Gabrielle looked to Xena for hope wishing that Xena would be able to comfort her with warrior confidence.  Yet even Xena could not offer this.  Xena’s next statement was factual and firm at best.  She explained calmly yet harshly that the men within the fortress were just as dead as the men outside on the river banks.  Gabrielle could see it within the eyes of her friend that there was still little hope despite their having escaped the hoard for the moment.  And then Xena left Gabrielle’s side as if entranced by the serious challenge that faced her and the bard.  There was more of a chance within the walls to put together a survival plan with more force and more men to fight, but getting them to fight another day was going to be the issue for they had already given up.

     Gabrielle decided that she herself needed to survey the situation in her own way.  She followed one of the men to his battlement and sat along the wall hoping to get a glimpse of the souls within the men who were of a different language.  After squatting along the wall peeking over into the scene of death below the bard could not get the visions out of her head.  She kept hearing the hoard men below screaming out for “caltucca.”  It sounded important, but what it meant she did not know.  Some of the men below were not dead, but still suffering from the pain and anguish brought upon them in their defeats in battle.  Those were the men Gabrielle’s heart felt for.  She wished deep down that she could help them, but it was seemingly too risky to try for no one seemed to understand them.  Not only that, but Gabrielle found herself listening for the sounds of danger as her ears caught the danger of a large ax weapon flying toward her face.  She looked to her right to see the blade just moments away from its target.  The bard slid down behind the fortress walls avoiding the close call.  The constant threat of danger and of death interrupted any thought of reason that may have been invested over the hoard. 

     Gabrielle’s chest rose and fell violently out of adrenaline, confusion, fear, and relief.  It was all so difficult to grasp.  The man next to her did not offer any comfort for all he could do was remind the bard of how the hoard could not be seen for their stealth.  When they would strike no one knew.  They were just out there shouting out “caltucca.”  Gabrielle’s mind was brought back into focas with that word caltucca.  What did it mean?  She was desparate to know for it could hold the key to the entire mess.  The man’s answer was a typical soldier’s reaction.  He was certain that it was the name of their god of war whom they were calling for.  Then he kept repeating it as if he were engulfed in it and his own insanity.  At that moment Gabrielle decided that she could not stand his company any longer.  As she rose from her position on the walls she caught sight of the warrior princess who had obviously scouted out the entire fortress by now searching for the solution to their current problem.  Gabrielle was pretty confident that the warrior princess had most likely already formulated some kind of plan, but the bard was not so certain that these men would be contributing much. 

      The bard explained to Xena that the men seemed prepared for death.  It was as if they did not care anymore.  All had given up and without hope there would be no chance for life.  Xena confirmed the bard’s fears yet she was not going to lie down and die for the hoard.  She assured Gabrielle that she would die a warrior with a sword in her hand fighting until her last breath.  The bard did not doubt this which was some what comforting, but it meant that even Xena had resigned herself to death in some way.

     Gabrielle followed Xena who led her right back to the wall where the insane man still slouched and pelted the wall with small pebbles.  He was beyond saving yet Xena’s approach was unexpected.  She suddenly barked out a question to him.  She wanted to know if he was taking a break.  His response was candid and defiant.  The soldier stated that he was breaking from reality where he chose not to live now.  Xena’ s next question was obvious.  She wanted to know if he would be ready to grab his sword in the event of an attack over the walls of the fortress.  The man looked to her as if she were joking rather than being serious.  He paused from his pebble throwing for a moment to explain what was obvious to him, but not to the warrior princess.  The soldier explained that there were not enough men, food, or water to put up a decent defense or an escape against the hoard.  His skin was seemingly crawling with fear as he shuttered at the thoughts of emminant torture the bard could see running through his mind.  The man was right in saying that they were surrounded, but to allow an easy kill for the enemy was not an option for the warrior princess.

      Xena tipped her boot kicking up the soldiers sword grabbing it with her left hand using her right hand to yank him to his feet by the shirt.  The man seemed stunned that a woman could be so strong and so persuasive.  She began barking out commands as if she were the one in charge.  Then Xena explained to him why it was impairative for him to do his job.  She was certain that dying at the hands of the hoard would be more horrific than any other way of meeting death’s hand.  Xena was determined not to see another man skinned and tortured alive the way her scouting party had been taken from her so long ago.  The scars were deep and the emotional wounds fresh.  These were the forces that were driving her within.  They were forces just as out of control as these men and their own hopeless insanity.  Suddenly other men on the wall began to attack the warrior princess, but they were no match for her quick and agile moves.  She threw one of her attackers over the wall and knocked one behind her onto his back.  Another hoard ax came flying through the air at its target the warrior princess.  Casually she caught it with her bear hand and then looked to the man she still held up by the shirt.  He was shocked and stunned yet impressed at the same time.  Suddenly he was convinced of something, but what he did not know.

      He was entranced by the warrior princess desparate to know who this tall dark warrior woman was.  She spoke her name as it escaped across the fortress into the ears of every man who looked on.  It whispered of hope, fury, and of rage.  The man’s eyes lit up asking if she was Xena of the battle of Corinth.  He wanted to know if this was the Xena of Calmeye whom had defeated Callisto.  Xena’s answer was calm, calculated, and bearly audible.  She was milking the mystery and yet there was a certain fame to all of her deeds.  Most of them were the bad ones, but her defeat of Callisto had proven her good intensions.  She was not to be feared, but reveared.  The man’s attention was firmly in the grasp of the clever warrior princess as he suddenly looked to her for more commands.  As she released his shirt from her firm grasp she gave him the obvious answer and advised him to put his weapons in a place that he could quickly get at them.  It was amazing for not only had she grasped the attention of one soldier, but every soldier within the walls was now looking to the warrior princess for a command.  Xena quickly seized the moment realizing that now was the only chance she would have to grasp what was left within every man on the wall. 

     She continued commanding them louder and with more conviction.  The warrior princess told all to stand at the wall rather than behind it or under it.  She wanted them to show their determination and wills within their eyes.  There had to be a way to convince the enemy that there were too many of them to bust down the fortress successfully.  The enemy had been waiting for the perfect moment to demoralize them.  Xena wanted to take this moment away from them and to gain the advantage.  Her last command was to kill anything that moved between the fortress and the dense forrest beyond.  Gabrielle’s heart sank when she heard these careless words escape the warrior princess.  She interjected that friends should not be killed.  Xena’s answer to the debate was to snuff it out firmly stating that there were no friends left out there.  The words were as harsh as a slap in the face.  Gabrielle could not accept this and found herself upset by this sudden fury within the warrior princess.  There were no hints of possible remorse for these violent choices.  Then Xena walked across the walls down into the center of the fortress as another man asked Xena what they were going to do next.  She began a verbal campaign to encourage the men to revive their own confidence.  The warrior princess declared that the elite of the Athenian army would not be defeated.  These men now entranced responded strongly to the chants.  Then the warrior princess declared that the plan was to kill every hoard man out there.  The cheers from the crowd of infantry men were powerful.  Gabrielle could feel the dirty blood lust and the taste in her soul was thick.  It made the soul heavy with sadness and personal defeat. 

      Every man began to wave his sword in the air while Xena called them to lustful action.  Gabrielle could not stand to watch these horrors unfold.  The warrior princess had lost her own wits and could no longer think with a clear mind.  Without Xena’s heart Gabrielle’s soul was alone to face certain death.  It was like a bad dream and the bard could not wake up.  Reality could no longer be escaped.  Gabrielle had to act on her heart’s desire.  If she could not win Xena’s heart or her life from the hoard she would choose to die her own way.  Gabrielle soon found herself in the infirmary where the injured and the dying men were being held.  There was an eerie silence in this place that could no longer be found out upon the walls.  In fact there were no doctors tending to these men.  When the bard approached one of them she inquired about the doctors, but he answered that they had lost every last one of them during the first attack.  There was not a single soul to tend to the wounded.  The man even joked cryptically that only the goddess of mercy resided there to offer her help.  When Gabrielle thought of his tone she realized he had created his own goddess hoping to ease the pain and the suffering that could be eased no where else.  Not one man within these walls had a grasp on reality anymore.  Even Xena was gone now.

     Gabrielle’s mind was made up.  She was reminded of her days in Thessaly during their violent war against the Mitoians.  There at the temple of Esclipias she learned the arts of battle medicine.  She realized that these skills would now have to be called to action.  Gabrielle suddenly decided that she would die tending to the wounded and the dying.  Her soul could accept this fate.  As she walked about the infirmary she began to seek out the walking wounded knowing that she could not accomplish this task alone.  She would teach them how to help their suffering comrades.  With any help from the fates they would be able to help everyone survive this aweful tragedy.  The bard began to bark out orders as if she were the commander of medicine.  Men began to rise to their feet for there was a sense of relief in knowing that someone still had hope and someone still cared.

     After grabbing one of the men to fetch fire wood, and several others helping to clean up the dirty bandages Gabrielle felt confident that she could accomplish the impossible.  She had now separated the serious cases from those who were not so dire.  She was certain that no one here was going to die if they were well-cared for.  All of these men could make a recovery.  Though the apron she now wore was soon full of blood stains from her dilligent work.  Her heart felt strong and hopeful for she now had healing blood on her hands.  Soon she caught sight of the warrior princess returning from the battlements.  Gabrielle hoped to show Xena another way out.  With all of these men healthy and strong she was certain that there would be enough to bust through the hoard forces to escape if they had to.  Xena wanted to know how many more of them were on their way to death.  Gabrielle was certain that she could rescue them all.  She explained to the warrior princess with pride how she had come to organize the troops.  Xena seemed uninterested.  She felt that if the walking wounded could be nurses to the wounded then they were capable of holding a sword at the wall.  Suddenly all of Gabrielle’s work was being torn down and away from her.  Xena asked that Gabrielle choose which men were going to live and which would die for she needed all of the living at the wall now.

     Gabrielle did not want to make that choice.  It was not fair for her own heart could see that every man in the room had a chance to survive.  Xena harshly explained that there weren’t enough supplies to finish what Gabrielle had started.  The suffering and the dying would have to starve in order for the living to survive.  Xena had specific orders for Gabrielle.  She wanted all of the dead men to be brought to the south wall to portray the illusion that there were more men within the fortress.  Her goal was to fool the enemy into thinking they would be in for a battle that they could not win.  Yet Gabrielle was not so certain that the hoard men were the enemy.  It seemed to the bard that the true enemy was misunderstanding and its cycle of violence.  Xena ordered that all of the walking wounded were to be given swords.  All food and supplies would be rationed to the fighting men.

     And then Xena was gone.  Gabrielle was left to tend to the wounded without a choice.  They would have to die by a command.  The bard realized now that her only choice was in hospice.  She would only be able to comfort the dying with soft words and a gentle touch.  Prayers to the gods if any man still believed would accompany them to their deaths.  It was the only care she could offer now that Xena had forced these harsh seemingly unncessary choices upon Gabrielle. 

     Not long after Xena had left Gabrielle could hear the sounds of the fortress gates opening.  She was curious to know what was going on out there.  If danger was indeed there no one would be opening the gates.  She hoped that Xena had finally come to her senses.  Yet the sounds of battle began to rage just outside the gates between the Athenians and the hoard.  Twelve Athenians went out and only seven men returned followed by the hoard men who had been fooled into entering the fortress walls.  Suddenly they found themselves trapped and surrounded as Xena gave a command from the wall above the gate.  Archers emerged from hiding within the empty supply barrels bringing their wrath of arrows down upon the seven victims within the fortress.  The hoard men screamed as they fell in battle.  To the bard it seemed an unfair fight as she watched the horrors unfold.  Standing in the infirmary doorway she observed the warrior princess who took hold of the action grabbing a bow from one of the archers using it as a weapon against the approaching hoard men.  They were trapped like animals beaten down and demoralized.  There was no fairness in this fight when they were clearly out numbered within the walls.  The seven brave hoard men desparately tried to regain their dignity as they fell into death one by one.  As the gates began to close to seal them off one of the seven men escaped.  The warrior princess grabbed a hoard ax and ran to the wall ready to strike down the one who had escaped the trap. 

      Gabrielle had never seen Xena fight dirty, but this time she held no inhabitions.  She hurled the ax into the back of her enemy.  He did not have a chance against the skilled warrior woman.  When Xena turned to face the men there was no pain to be seen.  Only excitement and blood lusting becomming thirsty for more.  She was grasped by the hand of evil and seemingly had no desire to fight against it.  Gabrielle was disgusted for Xena had thrown away all that the bard had ever taught her about love.  The bard did not know this Xena who stood before the men as they chanted her name victoriously.  They won a small battle, but had lost everything they may have had to live for.  Gabrielle’s eyes could no longer take the sights they witnessed.  She returned inside the infirmary and looked for someone in need of comfort.  Another man was being brought in suffering on the brink of death.  This was a young one not more than seventeen.  Gabrielle imagined that he was probably once a farm boy like Perdicas had been.  The glory and adventure of war had probably lied to him telling him stories that were untrue.  Today he had learned the truth and it had cost him his life. 

      Even before he could die more men came to take him from her.  She had decided that she would defy the warrior princess.  Gabrielle would not allow him to take his last breath within the pile of decaying bodies that were now ridiculously propped upon the south wall.  There was no comfort in that.  As she took his cold hand in hers she soon realized that he was already gone.  She looked into his blank staring eyes and gingerly reached out to close them.  There was little time to mourn now.  Frustrations were building for Gabrielle’s choices had been robbed from her one by one.  It was all because of the fear and determination of Xena’s darkness.  Soon Xena appeared in the doorway, but Gabrielle could no longer face her.  This was not the friend that she knew.  The bard was alone, but hardly afraid of the warrior princess.  She would defy her till the end.  Her heart would not bend.  Gabrielle retreated to the supply room hoping to gain solace there.

     Solace did not last long for the warrior princess had found Gabrielle there only to scold her for not rationing the food to only the men outside.  Gabrielle could only counter by scolding the warrior princess for her own wreckless choices.  Xena defended herself quickly reminding the bard that the hoard outside would kill every man inside the fortress.  Gabrielle did not care about that.  She raised her voice to Xena angry that the warrior princess had used dirty tactics axing a man in the back.  The warrior princess fumbled to defend her actions.  It seemed that there was a slight crack in her story for her only defense was that the man had seen the Athenian defenses.  Xena was certain that he had to die in order to protect the Athenian position.  Gabrielle would not accept that answer.  She was begining to find Xena’s presence freightening.  It was even more freigtening that Callisto’s presence.  The bard’s nightmare was growing into a vortex of darkness.  Xena sensed her loss of control over the defiant bard and she grabbed hold of her soldier’s shoulders.  Then she wanted to know what Gabrielle had expected of her.  Xena declared that what they were experiencing was what war was truely about.  It wasn’t glamourous or adventurous.  It wasn’t glorious or heroic. 

     Gabrielle struggled to walk away from Xena’s grasp.  Without love she could see no reason to be a warrior.  Hope without good intensions was not hope, but evil.  Xena spoke of the unthinkable.  She declared that there were no good choices that could be made within this situation.  There were only lesser degrees of evil that could be embraced.  Yet embracing evil would never be a choice for the bard.  To embrace evil would be to embrace the darkness that she would fight against.  Gabrielle did not embrace darkness when Perdicas died at the end of Callisto’s sword.  She would not embrace it now even if it meant saving her own life.  Life was not worth living within darkness.

     Gabrielle countered Xena’s arguement with her own desparately trying to win back the warrior princess’s heart from the evil which had now consumed it.  She wondered how Xena could be so convinced that there was nothing to understand about the hoard.  Gabrielle was not so certain that the hoard were so different than people.  There were good souls inside of them just like there was a good soul inside of Xena.  It was the effort it would take to find the goodness that would be harder than dying within the never ending pointless violence.  Xena’s darkness would not let go of the warrior princess.  It refused Gabrielle’s hopeful notions of the hoard men.  The commander ended the debate abruptly reminding Gabrielle of how it began.  All rations were to go to the men on the wall.  All others were to suffer and to die.  With that the warrior princess forced the bard out of her way as she barrel back through the wooden doors and into the darkness once more.

     The bard was now faced with a choice.  It was a new choice.  She could surrender to Xena’s darkness and to bloodlust or she could take Xena back from the darkness within.  Gabrielle decided to follow Xena hoping to understand these strange choices that her friend was making.  The bard followed her to the command hut where she listened from just beyond its shallow walls.  There inside Xena spoke with Mercer and his second in command. Gabrielle had to know what Xena was plotting.  She heard the second in command inquire of a new device that Xena had suggested that they prepare.  The warrior princess indeed had a plan despite her out of control rage within.  It seemed that embracing her rage had somehow cleared her thoughts.  This made little sense to the bard as she continued to listen.  Xena had planned for the weapon to be used a smoke screen.  She was preparing the leave the fortress under the cover of smoke so that she could rally for reinforcements.  There was a new courage and confidence in Xena’s voice.  It was caring for she was willing to risk her own life out there alone in order to bring the help that all within the fortress so desparately needed.

     Gabrielle’s mind tried to wrap itself around the necessity of Xena’s darkness, but there was still great distrust of it.  The second in command argued against Xena’s leaving the fortress stating that without Xena the men would be unable to sustain their confidence and their defenses.  Xena agreed with him without question.  She quickly volunteered Mercer without a second thought.  It was as if she had planned the conversation between them before it ever happen.  As if Xena had known what would be said.

      The bard moved her position as the three commanders moved to the outside of the hut.  She roamed about the fortress investigating Xena’s intensions.  Gabrielle was preparing her own strategy against the warrior princess hoping to regain the light from the darkness.  The bard watched as the men prepared the smoke weapons.  Soon Mercer was prepared as Gabrielle spotted him down by the south wall alongside Xena and the other commander.  Xena had originally planned to follow the river down the the cliffs to reach reinforcements.  Yet she had decided that Mercer should take the long route away from detection by the horde.  She was certain that the river was swarming with them.  Mercer was convinced that it would take too long if he were to go away from the river. Xena handed him a weapon telling him to go north and double back south on the other side of the forrest.  Mercer took the weapon looking ragged and weak.  He wore no armor.  Gabrielle sensed the danger that Mercer would face.  She watched intently as Xena called the men to be ready for action.  The second commander followed up the command to the men who prepared the smoke screens.  Soon Mercer would disappear.  The bard knew it was not likely that he would return.  She was watching another man walking into his own suicide at the hands of the warrior princess. 

      Suddenly the command was given and the men began to throw their smoke screens over the walls.  The cloud of smoke thickened quickly.  Its intensity made visibility difficult.  Part of the bard was relieved that Xena had chosen to stay despite all of her actions of the day.  The smoke caused great fires just outside the walls as Xena commanded that the gates be opened.  Gabrielle watched Mercer dash out into the smoke and disappear into the abyss of a battle which began to rage on.  Horde men stormed the walls moments after the gates opened.  The Athenians were tough and confident now.  This small battle was just another diversion that would last a short time.  As horde men spilled over the walls they were greeted with certain death. 

     Soon the small battle was ending as the horde found themselves overwhelmed a second time.  It all came down to which army of men had the stronger will.  In this battle and in the previous two before it the Athenians had somehow been able to hold that advantage.  It had been out of the charisma of Xena’s darkness.  Gabrielle found this to be a stunning revelation.  Suddenly the second commander shouted out a command to cease fire.  He commanded the men to save their arrows.  Gabrielle found this odd for she did not hear Xena make those commands before him.  Her eyes searched frantically about the fortress unable to locate the warrior princes.  Just as the men were begining to celebrate again Gabrielle shouted out a command of her own.  She cut through the cheers with concern.  Gabrielle wanted to know where Xena was.  This quickly hushed the chanting and the cheering.  The bard ran to the gates to look out.  She saw Xena sneaking about the field of dead horde men.  It was as if she were checking for the men who were still alive.  The bard was yet again confused by Xena’s actions.  None of her decisions made any sense.  Then the commander shouted for the gates to be opened again as Xena entered through them with one of the horde men.  She had disarmed him throwing his weapon to one of the soldiers as he stood by the commader.

       Xena called out for assitance from the men.  Men quickly responded taking the horde man from the warrior princess as she commanded that he be taken to the hut.  She reminded her men that it would be dark soon.  The warrior princess demanded that double guards be posted there and that the torches stay lit through the night.  Then Xena moved on as if there were little time to stop and rest.  Gabrielle followed the warrior princess who appeared exhausted yet unshaken.  She wanted to know why Xena had suddenly shifted her choices from killing men to saving them.  This horde man that Xena had saved was not badly injured at all.  Xena looked to Gabrielle with frustration.  She suggested that this man was not being saved.  He was a prisnor being held for questioning.  This made even less sense to the bard for Xena had previously stated to her back in the supply room that there was nothing that she wanted to know or nothing that should be known about the horde.  Suddenly she was going to try to question one of them.  She didn’t even speak there language.  In fact, no man within the fortress walls could.

     Gabrielle followed Xena to the hut where she was to attempt to question the horde man.  Xena spoke to the man with attempting bit of respect.  He did not understand.  The horde man was alone in a place full of strange unkind men.  He had no one to defend him.  Gabrielle decided that she would stand up for his rights.  Xena brought out a map hoping to find out where his people were hiding.  She pointed to the map and then pointed to herself hoping that he would understand.  The horde man seemingly understood this as he shook his head.  Then Xena touched his shoulder softly and made a gesture back to the map.  It was as if she were treating him with kindness.  No one standing in the room believed that this horde man would be capable of answering back with kindness.  It seemed to Gabrielle he did not wish to answer the question though he understood it very well.  She could feel that he was concerned for his fellow horde men.  The horde man hesitated as he thought of the consequences.  Yet just as he was seemingly about to return the respectful gesture given to him the Xena the second in command pulled his sword lunging forward hoping to take command of the situation.  He was lusting to kill the prisnor before the prisnor was given a chance to communicate. 

      This action broke any trust that could have been gained between Xena and the prisnor.  Xena did hold back the commander yet she was afraid of losing control.  Gabrielle could sense this.  She soon shifted back to the darkness desparately trying to regain control.  The horde man struggled out of anger for the savagery of the commander’s actions.  Xena’s frustrations were mounting quickly.  She commanded Gabrielle to go outside.  Gabrielle refused the command.  She was not just another soldier.  The bard was Xena’s friend and she was the only friend that the horde man had within the walls of the fortress.  She would stay no matter the consequences.  Xena did not argue any more.  She was aware of the instability of the current moment.  Losing Gabrielle’s loyalty seemed trival to her now.  Her next move was cold.  Xena used her pinch of death upon the prisnor forcing him to suffer an unkind torture.  Gabrielle objected openly to this use of unfair and disrespectful tactics.  The commander was unaware of Xena’s technique as she had to explain it to him.  She was calm and calculated as she told of its horrific deeds to men. 

     Gabrielle watched as the horde man suffered.  His eyes were full of fear and lonlieness.  The bard could see that Xena was not going to release him from the clutches of death.  She was just going to make an example of him to prove some kind of commanding presence to the commander whom had just defied her.  Xena was desparately trying to assert her power in front of everyone.  Gabrielle could not allow this behavior from the warrior princess.  She knew that although Xena was giving into her darkness she was not unaware of it.  Xena could control it.  She was chosing not to.  Gabrielle pleaded with Xena, but the anger was building.  Gabrielle reminded Xena that she was becoming a murderer again.  Xena snapped back at the bard commanding her to go to the hut.  Gabrielle defied the warrior princess’s command.  She knew that if she continued to obey these commands as the men did that it would only feed the darkness more.  Gabrielle was now struggling to starve the darkness within the warrior princess.  She wanted to make it suffer if it meant relief to those who suffered because of it. 

      The bard continued to defy Xena openly in front of the men that did not belong to her.  She reminded Xena that she would not go back to the infirmary to play Celesta chosing death for some, but not for others.  Gabrielle would not be a murderer because darkness commanded it.  She would lash out against it.  The struggle of evil Xena verses the goodness within soon ended.  Xena’s good conscience seemingly won out as she released the horde man from death’s grasp.  It was clear that she was emotionally drained and weakened mentally.  Frustrated and tired the warrior princess commanded the men to take the prisnor to the supply room and chain him up.  The commander’s rage chimed in certain that Xena wanted the horde man to be executed.  Xena snapped back at him again stating that the man was to be chained up.  The conversation ended as the commander took the prisinor with the other soldier to the supply room.

     Gabrielle found herself to be relieved for the moment.  She reached out to the warrior princess and thanked her for saving the horde man’s life.  The pressures that she faced within as well as from the commander had been taxing for her.  Gabrielle knew it.  She hoped to comfort the warrior princess somehow, but was uncertain of how to accomplish this.  Xena did not accept the thanks from the bard.  She lashed out with anger that the bard had embarressed her and defied her openly in front of the men.  Xena then reminded the bard that she would kill the prisnor if it would save her troops from death.  This was about survival and nothing more.  Gabrielle had been right in her observations of the warrior princess.  Her heart was torn by its past and the suffering of the men she could not save.  There was something phsycotic about the warrior princess now that Gabrielle could not understand. 

       Xena continued as Gabrielle’s thoughts began to escape her lips.  The warrior princess’s mind was now focased on the battle and of the blood that would come with it.  She reminded Gabrielle that none of them had asked for this war.  It just was.  This would most certainly be a fight to the death.  Xena wanted to know what part of war Gabrielle could not understand.  Gabrielle realized that it was Xena who did not understand.  She did not understand herself.  The bard understood war, but she did not understand the out of control darkness that now relentlessly consumed her friend.  Gabrielle’s heart was broken by these thoughts of Xena’s darkness.  They went to a place that she could not travel to.  It was too much for the bard.  She was desparate to reach her friend.  Gabrielle cried out softly for the good Xena who was always wise and with good intensions.  The dark warrior princess turned to the bard and explained that only her darkness could help them now.  There would be no revival of goodness for it could not live in this reality of war.  Xena was willing to let her soul die in order to save every man within the walls of the fortress.  She left explaining coldly that the darkess was a part of her she had not realized she would ever need to call upon again.  With that the conversation ended as the warrior princess left Gabrielle’s heart to fend for itself once again.

      Gabrielle knew that she was losing the battle for Xena’s soul and Xena’s heart.  It was almost too much the bear.  The death and war outside seemingly did not matter to her anymore.  She went to the supply room where the horde man was being held knowing that he felt just as alone in this as she did.  Gabrielle could relate to him in a way that no one else could.  Yet she could not speak of this with him or understand him.  The bard decided that her only chance to save her own soul was to face the danger alone.  She would leave the warrior princess here with the darkness that consumed her.  Gabrielle was ready to die outside the walls in an attempt to escape darkness.  She began to gather water for her leather water bag.  As she grabbed a laddle off of the wall she began to fill it only to hear the prisnor struggle to speak.  He kept saying that word again.  The man cried out “caltucca” as he reached for the bard.  She looked to him soon realizing that he was desparate for a drink of water.  Caltucca was water and not a god of war.  It was life.  Gabrielle approached the man with water as he drank it thankfully.  The dying men wanted water and nothing more.  The magnitude of this misunderstanding between men and other men had spun out of control.  It was all over a lack of communication and willingness to try.  It was all over a lust for violence out of control.  It was about Xena’s lust for violence. 

      Gabrielle’s heart reached out realizing that this was the price.  The price was in losing one’s humanity when it came to the drums of war.  No matter what people were willing to lose themselves and for nothing more than a ridiculous war.  The horde man had finihsed his drink as Gabrielle had knelt down beside him to take the ladle for more.  She wanted to touch him and to let him know that it did not have to be about war.  Yet he was just as mezmorized by it as was Xena.  Xena had been right about only one thing.  If all were going to die there was only one choice left to make.  Gabrielle would die her way.  She prepared for her death without a weapon.  The bard would go onto the battlefield to save lives until hers was taken from her by the hand of the fates.  She soon filled her water bottle and then went outside back to the wall.  Gabrielle spoke to the gatekeeper telling him it was Xena’s command was to send her out to tend to the wounded men.

      The gatekeeper did not give it a second thought.  Xena’s commands were like gold to him.  That was the key to Gabrielle’s chosen fate.  She quietly went from one man to the next looking for those who still had breath.  Gabrielle shared the precious caltucca with her distant brothers as they lay suffering, thirsting, and dying on the battle field.  It was not long before Xena had realized that Gabrielle had been let out.  The warrior princess was enraged that she was defied yet again.  Her control over the bard’s fate and the fate of her men had been lost.  As the sounds of battle preparations from behind the walls began Gabrielle found herself facing death.  There surrounding her as she shared water with another one of the suffering men were his comrades waiting for the kill.  Gabrielle was surrounded just the way Xena had described it to be.  She looked up into the eyes of the men who raised their weapons, but did not strike.  Instead the began to gather their friends who lied dying on the ground.  The wounded horde men were taken back with their friends as Gabrielle rose from the ground carefully watching with amazement.

     No one was trying to kill anyone.  There was love and care in the air.  For the first time in a day it seemed that this battle could end and be fair.  Gabrielle then continued to share the water with every man there.  More horde men came to retrieve more of their dead and wounded as the Atheninans finally found the courage to venture out to retrieve theirs.  As Gabrielle continued carefully across the battlefield Xena came charging out of the gates after her.  Xena pushed her to the ground commanding her to get down.  She was extremely against the choice the Gabrielle had made.  Gabrielle did not care what the evil warrior princess wanted.  That was not the friend she had traveled into this mess with.  Then Gabrielle’s eyes caught Mercer struggling across the field.  Mercer struggling to move.  Gabrielle ran to him calling out.  He struggled to call back.  Mercer was lying on the battlefield wounded.  Xena followed Gabrielle to the wounded commander.  Mercer had not taken Xena’s advice.  He explained how he had tried to go the shorter route.  His attempts to rally reinforcements had failed.  It had been for nothing.  Gabrielle comforted Mercer with a drink from her leather water bag as Mercer lied there upon her lap.  Xena muttered under her breath that it was time to get back inside the fortress for she did not know how long this sudden truce would last.  Gabrielle looked to the dangerous warrior princess confirming to Xena that she had most certainly gotten what she had wanted.  Her war to the death.  It was now certain for all that hope was lost.  Without Mercer’s reinforcements no one would get out of the fortress alive.

     Gabrielle soon returned to the infirmary with Mercer and the other wounded.  She prepared the fire, and more clean bandages alone as she began to mourn the loss of the soul of her friend.  Gabrielle had fought hard to hold onto Xena, but she could not win.  The darkness was just too much for her to purge it of its sin.  In the darkness of the night she worked to ease Mercer’s suffering wrapping his head in the new bandages that she had prepared.  As she continued her work three men entered the infirmary.  They were not injured like the rest.  One of them spoke to Gabrielle explaining that Xena had commanded them to take order from Gabrielle.  The bard could not believe it.  She was insulted for a moment sarcastically reminding the men that Xena desparately needed at them the wall.  The man pleaded for a command from Gabrielle explaining that the basket of food that he held had been rationed by Xena for the men in the infirmary.

      Gabrielle’s heart found a bit of hope in this gesture.  Her soul felt relief realizing that her battle against Xena’s darkness had finally broken through.  Gabrielle began to ask the men distribute the rations to the suffering hungry men surrounding them.  She asked for more bandages as well.  Then Gabrielle continued her work deciding that her heart still loved Xena despite all that had transpired.  The bard mended wounds through the night and through the early morning when all was silent.  While the soldiers slept Xena finally found the courage to speak to her friend again.  Gabrielle was glad that Xena was by her side again.  Xena spoke with hope once more praising Gabrielle for discovering the key to the misunderstanding.  Knowing that caltucca was only water had led to the temporary truce between the two armies of men.  Xena spoke of how Gabrielle’s kind gestures to the strangers had made them think there was peace.  The warrior princess was disappointed in herself knowing that the peace was not her own.  She had let her fear and hatred blind her and she was regretful of it. 

     Gabrielle had already understood this.  She had spent the entire day and night trying to figure it out.  It all made sense to her when the war cries had finally settled down.  Gabrielle tried to comfort Xena and to apologize for her own actions against the warrior princess.  She had pushed her friend hard yet with little understanding until now.  Yet Xena would not accept Gabrielle’s apology to her.  Xena wanted to accept full responsiblity for her actions and wreckless choices.  She did not blame the bard for any of it.  The warrior princess wanted to express her admiration for Gabrielle.  Xena knew that Gabrielle understood hatred, but she had always fought against it.  Gabrielle would never step across that line despite being aware of it within herself.  This was what Xena wished to share with her friend.  The understanding of hatred and Gabrielle’s passionate fight against it.  This was how the rest of the peaceful night played out.  Forgiveness and a sharing of peace between two friends who could finally come to that understanding of each other.  Their differences within one another were to be loved just as much as the things that made them so much alike.  Gabrielle’s heart was warmed by Xena’s gestures of admiration.  It was more than she had ever expected from the warrior princess.   

      As personal issues were being resolved and peace embraced for all within the walls the sun rose without remorse.  It brought upon all the time to hold their resolve for there was a new challenge.  As Xena approached the gates Gabrielle followed desparate for a solution beyond a sacrfice.  Xena had declared on the night before through her prisnor’s release that she would fight only their leader and that would settle the fight for all.  Gabrielle pleaded with Xena hoping that there would be some other way.  Maybe they could talk to the otherside, but Xena knew this possibility was nothing more than a flaw.  It was not logical for peace to have come overnight, but indeed it had.  There was still a great divide between the two sides as misunderstanding still thrived.  The only two things that both knew was that caltucca was water and that a warrior code must always be honored.  This was Xena’s statement to Gabrielle as she prepared to do battle against the horde leader.  She had tried to encourage a duel against the prisnor the night before, but he refused her sword.  He would only accept that of the men who stood behind Xena.  This was the solution that Xena had seeked to release all from this impossible situation. 

      In the warrior code of the hord she had discovered that only a leader could fight another leader.  It was their law.  Xena would fight within the confines of their law hoping that in defeating their leader she would gain a permanant truce and a binding peace.  Soon Xena turned to her friend pleading that Gabrielle leave and go to the river in the event that Xena’s attempt at fighting for peace did not end in triumph.  Gabrielle again refused Xena’s request that she leave to go on without her.  The bard reminded Xena that they had traveled into this place together which meant that they must leave together.  Gabrielle would accept no other code between friends.  It seemed that for Xena there was some comfort in this loyalty that the bard had expressed.  She took the bard’s determination as she walked into battle.

     The gates opened slowly as all was quiet about the field.  There were only the sounds of the horde leader as he stood alone on the battlefield to await his challenger.  He appeared tall, strong, and intimidating as he prepared his moon shaped metal weapons for battle.  The horde leader swung his chains about him preparing to do battle.  Xena approached him calmly and without a single sound.  She did not try to intimidate him with her battle cry for she was fearful deep down inside.  Only the bard could see this and she was glad for if anyone else could have seen or known Xena’s fears then her chances of survival would dwindle.  Xena was brave as she made her final steps stopping before the enemy with a smirk and a slight smile.  There was a certain delight for the battle and she could see her enemy’s strategy.  For the first time the warrior princess knew that the enemy was just as afraid of her as she had been of him for so many years.  This empowered the warrior princess with strong confidence as she slowly reached back behind her to draw her sword.  She did not do it quickly for it was clear that the enemy would no strike until his challenger’s weapon was ready for battle.  In the moment that Xena would flash her weapon he would strike.  He was ready and poised, but the warrior princess refused to hand him his obvious advantage. 

      There was a slight admiration for the brave horde leader who stood before her.  Gabrielle could sense that the warrior princess admired his strict adherance to his own code.  He suddenly looked to the warrior princess making a loud grunting growl urging the warrior princess to begin the battle.  Xena did not delay as she grabbed for her weapon.  It slid smoothly and stealthfully out of its shealth upon her back.  There was barely a moment between the sound of Xena’s weapon emerging from its fortress to the sudden clashing advances of the enemy upon it.  Xena immediately went into a defensive battle stance.  It fooled the enemy into thinking that he could over power her quickly as he charged forward with his own weapons.  The enemy was powerful yet slow while Xena was quick and agile dodging each strike he attempted to make.  Xena held her sword steady as she successfully blocked every move the horde leader made.  She gave him some ground leading him into her trap.  He was begining to spin around moving forward with certain victory on his warrior mind.

      Suddenly there was an unexpected shift in the battle.  Xena had discovered another part of his code.  The horde man would not fight with his weapon if Xena would not charge with hers.  Gabrielle could see this in Xena’s eyes.  She could see that Xena was searching the eyes of her enemy for his intensions.  He began kicking with force as Xena dodged defensively.  His legs were poweful muscles driving forward.  His voice made sounds of frustration and irritation for he had come out for the kill and now he had to fight to obtain the blessings of his people.  He was not allowed to kill the enemy if the enemy did not go in for the kill.  This threw the enemy off balance.  He had been unprepared for this strategy. 

     Xena had to regain control of his mind’s focas as he powered toward her out of control.  His furious kicks began to connect with her face.  Her chest rose and fell with the rush of warrior adrenaline as she blocked an advance from behind her back with her sword.  She had to regain some ground from the enemy in order to win this battle.  She began to reflect his movements as if she were learning a new method of fighting.  It was amazing to see all of this unfold.  Xena could adjust to any situation so quickly.  She suddenly shouted out a warrior cry swinging her sword in front of the enemy to threaten him convincing him to give up ground.  As he lepted backward Xena was expecting his next attack.  He drove both of his sharp weapons down upon her as she readied her weapon long across her shoulders above her head.  Xena spun around throwing a hard elbow across his jaw.  She threw him back ward driving her thick leather booth into his abdomen grabbing back more ground from him.  Xena used her sword making contact across both of his weapons shaking his balance from beneath him.  The horde leader fell across Xena’s boot upon his back.  He did not stay there long as he popped himself back up onto his feet.  Xena countered for more ground as she used a jumping spinning back kick across the enemy’s face.  He lost more ground and did not recover as quickly from this move against him. 

      For a moment he appeared disoriented, but Xena’s advantage did not last long.  The horde warrior reached from within his inner warrior strength to gather the energy to attack.  There was anger and frustration behind his warrior emotions as Xena’s emotions were steady and focased.  Every time Xena would take ground in the battle she would do it defensively.  He could not compete against this strategy though it was clear to the bard that this warrior was equipped with much more physical power and strength that the warrior princess.  It appeared that Xena’s strategy of following his warrior code rules was working.  She was wearing down the enemy and his mental focas was weakening.  It was soon to be realized that his next move would lead to a violation of his own code. 

     Suddenly the enemy jumped forward charging with great force and awesome power.  Xena was seemingly prepared to lose what she had gained as she dodged his strike yet again.  His weapons drove down upon her only to miss their target and connect with a war wagon which had littered the field.  For a moment the battle was a stalemate as the horde leader cried out in frustration.  It was clear that he was tiring of Xena’s mental games.  Xena moved quickly to try to take the offensive knowing that this might be her only moment of offensive advantage.  She spun her sword in her had swinging her arm around for a power move against him, but he had been ready to defend.  Using one had to free one of his weapons from the wagon and the other to block Xena’s sword.  He was successful at stopping Xena holding her sword by its blade as blood dripped down his hand.  The horde warrior gripped the sword tightly and fearlessly with strength.  Xena was now at the disadvantage.  She had not expected him to move quickly. 

     Gabrielle could see Xena’s eyes trying to focas and search for a way out as the horde leader freed one of his weapons with his other hand.  Before the horde warrior could act on his advantage Xena took hold of his surprise as she grabbed his offensive arm releasing her grip upon her own weapon.  She ran up the front of his chest with he boots launching herself into a backwards flip sounding out a confident battle cry.  By the time she had landed upon her feet she had regained the advantage slyly swiping the enemy’s oww weapon.  Gabrielle watched the warrior princess’s own surprise realizing that Xena had not expected that she would come out of that moment alive.  Xena had impressed herself and built upon that momentum as she looked at her new weapon.  The warrior princessed smiled with delight for she throughly enjoyed the challenge of a battle with new weapons.  She was a natural at learning new warrior arts and using new weapons. 

      Quickly the enemy made his move with her sword.  He went in for the kill swinging the small weapon in his had wildly forward.  The horde warrior was unable to control the weapon for he did not know how to balance his moves with it.  Xena dodged his advances gracefully as he fell forward slumping over in his stance.  The warrior princess used his fatigue to her advantage grabbing him on one of his spin around moves using her new weapon to disarm him of her sword.  She now had his arm pinned and his own weapon to his neck.  There was a struggle of wills, but it was clear that Xena had the larger will.  She held the enemy steady as he continued to wear himself down trying to escape her grasp.  Xena attempted to use her forearm to drain the life and strength from within her enemy as he continued to struggle to escape weakening with every passing moment.  Just when it seemed that he would lose conscieneness due to lack of oxygen Xena freed him from her grasp throwing him to the ground releasing him from death.  She threw down his weapon next to the defeated leader picking up her own and walking away back toward the gates of the fortress. 

     All was silent for a moment except for the sound of Xena’s warrior boots making crunching their way across the dirt upon the battle field.  Gabrielle cried out for Xena to watch out.  The horde tribe stood just beyond the woods as they had watched their leader be defeated, but not to the death.  Soon their leader rose from the ground and shouted out in agony over his defeat.  It seemed that he was calling for his men to attack and the warrior princess paused prepared, but then she realized what he was doing.  He was trying to intimidate her into allowing him to save his own honor.  The horde leader wanted his battle to the death.  Xena refused it knowing that she had already won the honor and the blessing of those men that he had led into battle.

      As the defeated leader cried out his men raised their weapons and aimed them not at Xena, but at their unworthy leader.  Gabrielle watched as their axes flew across the battlefield and into the back of the defeated leader.  He fell to the ground defeated by his own code and his own society.  There was a lonely feeling which swept the battlefield in that moment as a great leader had perished alone.  All of the men whom had once followed him then retreated back into the trees.  It was clear that for now the war was over.  It all made little sense to the bard.  As little as the word caltucca.  When Gabrielle approached the triumphant warrior princess Xena explained that she did indeed understand that one leader had to die.  Then Xena looked to the Athenian commander and suggested that this was the time to send out a patrol to fight them if war was meant to continue.  The commander rejected this idea.  His only want now was to abandon the fortress and be certain that he could get his surviving men back home to safety.  With that statement he walked away.  There was little time to talk about all that had transpired.  It would be only a few hours or so before the horde had chosen their new leader who would most certainly return to fight the Athenians another day if they had chosen to stay. 

       When Gabrielle asked Xena if they would return Xena only cofirmed that it may be longer than hours.  She surmised that in a few years the horde would rebuild and return to fight again.  Gabrielle wondered if their rampage could be stopped somehow.  Xena explained that it would not be by warriors.  She was certain that it would be by someone who seeked peace.  The warrior princess grabbed Gabrielle’s shoulder squeezing expressing her admiration for the bard once more.  She explained that it would be someone like Gabrielle that would put a stop to the endless bloody misunderstanding between humans and horde.  Xena only hoped that the horde people had a Gabrielle within their tribe for that was what she felt it would take to be certain that peace would be obtained.  For now the price for war would continue to be losing one’s humanity to the cycle of misunderstanding.

The Xena Scrolls: Volume #2: Scroll #38: A Day In The Life Of

The Xena Scrolls

Scroll  #38 :  A Day In The Life of

By:  Gabrielle Bard of Podedia

March, 47 B.C.

It has recently been brought to my attention  that waking up alongside Xena the Warrior princess must be described to all who dare inquire about a day in the life of.  The first step to a day is often treacherous and sometimes deadly.  In waking up on this day there were no exceptions for Xena and I were awakened by an attack of some henchmen sent by the warlord Zagrious.  The battle began with only two as Xena sprung out of sleep into action sending lightning speed punches and thunderous kicks at the two intruders whom had entered our small camp.  They had caught Xena somewhat off guard being that she had been in slumber, but the Warrior Princess is never sleeping as soundly as some might hope for.  Knocking one henchmen down, and then another she grabbed the nearest weapon she could find.  It was our only frying pan.

She smacked a third in the face and went choe-boe to pot with a fourth man. But even he was no match for the agile warrior princess.  Six more henchmen descended upon us from the surrounding woods and Xena decided that it was time for a wake up call.  Flipping through the air she gave her signature battle cry and landed squarely on my leather water bottle.  Water shot out like an arrow from a cross-bow rudely awakening me from my slumber.  Suddenly anger broiled from within for the action of the Warrior Princess, but there was no time to argue about her method of waking up. There was a battle to join.

Surrounded on all sides I reached for my old friend the trusty staff.  Then I delivered one blow and then a second knocking two of the henchmen flat on the ground.  As I rose up to my feet from the knees Xena could see that I was clearly out numbered so she quickly resorted to flinging the frying pan at them like a chackram.  It flew through the air with almost the same grace, but not the same sharpness as the chackram.  The frying pan wobbled through the air bouncing off the heads of one, then two, and knocking out three men with just one thrust.  As it continued on its course it was haulted violently by a tree so it could not make its return home as did its predicessor the chackram.  As the frying pan dropped to the ground Xena spun around behind her to take care of the man who was about to jump upon his feet to continue the battle.  She gave him the pinch with just one unified motion as the words began to fly.

Not only had she disturbed my slumber, but she had destroyed the only means of cooking that was left.  In fact, just the week before she had thrown our only cutting knife at yet another of the many warloards out to destroy her.  To Xena anything was a useable weapon and nothing was sacred.  No object organic or inorganic was safe from her wrath of destruction.  Now that the battle was seemingly over and Xena was in control all I could do was pick up what was left of my bent frying pan.  This was the last quill.  After all of my recent sacrifices to the warrior princess and this was how she respected me.  My next move was to argue and to express my anger over my loss.  This diverted Xena’s attention from the final moments of battle.  Our squabble over cooking utensils led to a  forgotten prisnor on the ground who was losing life fast as the blood flow to his brain was quickly thinning out.  The man struggled to interrupt our squabble reminding Xena that she had intended to interrogate him.  The pinch interrogation is the most quick and efficient way for Xena to find out vital details reguarding the enemy at hand.  It is the standard method and most preferred by the warrior princess.  Although it doesn’t seem all that humane I will admit that it is much less painful than other well-known forms of torture such as having burning splinters shoved under one’s fingers so eloquently described by a tramp I once met.

As was demonstrated on this morning waking up is not always pleasant in the company of the warrior princess; however, finding your way is entirely another challenge.  Based on the information of the interrogation Xena and I knew little of the location that we seeked.  On this particular day the goal was to find the village of Piedmont.  It was the village that the warlord Zagrious was planning to loot.  The only problem was that no one thought to ask for directions during the standard interrogation process so we were at a loss.  Xena had never been to this part of the countryside which was actually quite surprising since the warrior princess seemed to always have the answers to everything on any other day or in any other situation.  Yet who could think to complain for this scenario was quite normal.  As for me I was still irritated about the loss of my only good frying pan.  I decided that it was time to stick it to the warrior princess, and then it happened.

As I challenged the warrior princess on her mistake in gathering information Xena suggested that the next time she pinched someone for information that I should ask the quesitons.  She then stated that I often asked good questions.  Now there was shock for a moment.  Xena was actually complementing me for once.  This emotion quickly led to excitement.  Suddenly I was feeling confident in myself about asking quesitons.  And then it happened. Oppritunity soon came running just over the hill down the path. A heavy-set, blond haired, blue eyed village man was moving into our direction.  He was waiving his arms and calling out in desparation.  This was my chance to try my hand at the pinch interrogation.  He was going to give us the information we seeked.  Yet the warrior princess suggested that maybe this man didn’t need to be pinched prior to an interrogation.  Just as I was feeling my moment of glory she smacked it down yet again.

Upon his arrival the man was stunned by the presence of the warrior princess.  One would have thought that she was like the Goddess Aphrodite, or Athena, or someone of that status, but it was only Xena.  No one special really.  But Hower was dumbstruck.  He informed Xena and I of the giant known as Gareth.  Apparently Gareth was threatening to stomp their village to sticks if they didn’t pay him what he had asked.  There was only one problem.  This scencario created a delemma for Xena and I.

Making a decision isn’t always easy when so much is at stake like in this case.  Saving Piedmont or taking out the giant no one could decide really.  There was only one solution to this problem. There were the two villages Laurel and Piedmont.  Each had its own uniquely dire situation.   One was dealing with a gaint while the other a warlord.  To me it would be quite a contest of decision.  In sizing up the situation I  took out some fresh srcolls and began to make my list of the pros and cons.  There could not be a better method in coming to a fair decision.  And no sooner had I begun my list did the warrior princess whip out a dinar flipping it through the air.  She seemingly ignored my hard work, and had come to her own conclusion with just one simple action.  The fates stated heads we were to take on the giant.

Of course this was not an acceptable means of decision making in my opinion, but it is sometimes difficult to argue successfully against the warrior princess.  Not only that, but once again Xena had demonstrated her lack of confidence in my abilities as a sidekick.  There  was only one thing left to do.  Continue the arguement about the frying pan because after all it wasn’t a suitable choice of weaponry.  Without a good frying pan to cook that fish Xena liked to eat so much there would be only raw fish to sooth the beast with in my stomach now. Maybe the lovesick Hower had a spare pan back in his village.

Now in traveling to Laurel there had to be a way to pass the time.  One of the daily travel games Xena and I like to play is warlords and victims.  It always begins with my interrogation of Xena.   The first rule to the game is process of elimination.  One must find out if the warlord is male or female, and in our case living or dead.  This all stems from our travels together of course.  Xena naunchelanltely answered my first two questions easily.  We had a male dead warlord.  In fact, Xena stated that this particular warlord was “very dead.”    One would think that this game would be simple, but nothing is ever simple with the warrior princess.

Yet I had thought of the perfect question.  I wanted to know if the warlord we were talking about had been killed by a certain warrior princess.  Xena answered gleefully as if she were hiding the ultimate secret and riddle.  Her answer to my quesiton was of course a yes which for a moment led to personal excitement.  I knew of every warlord that Xena had ever killed.  At least within our travels together.  I was betting that Xena would not cheat and go outside the rules of the game.  She would never name someone that she had killed prior to meeting me.  It wouldn’t be a fair game and I would have to complain.  Xena hates it when I complain.  This is why I kept complaining about our current lack of a frying pan.  Yet there was a bright side to the day.  The weather was  completely beautiful.  It couldn’t have been more perfect with the sun shining warmly on our exposed legs and arms.  Usually it gets cold  a lot in traveling with the warrior princess.  Yet this moment of peace and tranquility quickly passed.

For a moment I tried to calm myself with the peace and serenity of mother nature as we traveled through the forrest onto Laurel.  I got lost in the moment, but only briefly for I was reminded of the presence of the lovesick Hower who was constantly turning back around in awe of the warrior princess.  He seemingly couldn’t get enough glances back at her.  Suddenly it occurred to me how I could get back at the warrior princess.  She would never expect my next move.  Suddenly I turned to the warrior princess spinning around with my staff in an attempt to knock her flat on the ground.  Effortlessly she stopped my staff dead in its motion with only one hand.  The look on her face was priceless for she did not even blink one of her blue eyes.  She just held my staff steady with that smirk on her face that turns me ridged.

This only frustrated me more yet I was certain that if I had been just a moment quicker in my motion that the warrior princess would have been on the ground.  I would have been laughing joyfully at my triumph over her.  Yet she insisted that I hadn’t even been close.  She wouldn’t begin to give me the satisfaction of almost knocking her flat onto the ground with my staff.  I was of course defiant of her confidence in her warrior abilities.  Yet Xena was more defiant of my fire against her on this day.  It was a battle of wills now.  I was determined to win it.  The stakes were suddenly raised.  Xena looked into my eyes as if she were going to give away something within our little warlord game, but again I was rudely interrupted as the warrior princess brushed me aside and consulted with Hower for more information about the giant Gareth.

Hower had said that Gareth’s actual size was unknown to his village people.  In fact, their only evidence of his existance was the fact that he had constantly been sending them threats.  The stomping of Laurel was the consequence if they did not comply with his demands.  It was at this moment that it dawned on me to ask another question.  I wanted to know why Hower and the people of Laurel were so certain that this Gareth was a giant.  To me Gareth sounded like another Zagrious with only a slightly better plan of attack.  It was genious like the warrior princess to state that a giant was coming to stomp the village if it didn’t supply the army with goods and services.  Yet Hower went on to explain that he and his village friends had seen the destruction of neighboring villages in the next valley who had not complied with Gareth’s wishes.  In my own mind I visualized what a village might have looked like destroyed by a warlord versus one destroyed by a giant.  It seemed to me that the two villans would leave little behind their wraths.  Of course a giant might flatten a village whereas a warlord might burn it to the ground.

Xena seemed convinced that there was a giant for she then wanted to know if Gareth had ever been to his village.  Hower replied that Gareth had never actually been there which led Xena to a new strategy.  Watching her mind work like that is often fascinating, but I can never let her know about that.  Her head is already way too big.  Suddenly there was a loud grumbling from the pit of the warrior’s stomach.  This was my chance to hound her about her mistake in chosing to use the frying pan as a weapon instead of a cooking utensil.  I wanted to burst with laughter, but Xena held it off when she reminded me that she hadn’t had breakfast.  Of course no one had had the pleasure of a good morning meal.  I held my tongue, but only because I was just as hungry.  The warrior princess might use this against me if I pressured her any further with the frying pan issue at this moment.

Xena then asked Hower if there was water nearby.  She was planning on having fish for lunch.  Now this was a laugh and I couldn’t resist it any longer.  I decided that I didn’t care if I didn’t get to eat.  I wanted blood and vengence for even if Xena did catch enough fish to eat it would all be raw and not cooked.  Again I needled the warrior princess about this issue.  Xena only responded with disgust and frustration.  She couldn’t control the beast with in that pressed me to argue about the old trusty frying pan.  Me without my frying pan is like Xena without Argo.  No one was truely happy.  We were all tired, hungry, and ready for action.  Except for Hower of course.  He was happy as a piece of flying parchment.

Briefly I decided to try to forget about the frying pan as we headed for the creek.  It wasn’t a long journey to get there and I was glad to get off of my feet for a bit.  Xena loved to fish.  Maybe that was her way of dealing with being hungry.  Somehow it seemed to sooth her.  Those slimy creatures slivering through her hands somehow gave her solace.  In fact, a sword in her hand gives her solace.  As for me I started back in my thoughts of our game from earlier.  I was hoping that would get my mind off of the pain in my stomach.  My next question to the warrior princess was if this was a warlord or royalty we were talking about.  Xena answered while tying her hair back for the kill.  She said that it was a warlord which was suddenly quite puzzling.  It was a victim obviously, but most victims are not warlords.  Yet it did make sense for Xena kills warlords sometimes.

I was truely stumped as I tried to piece all of these little bits of information together.  None of it made sense yet it all fit together somehow.  As I was falling within the depths of my memory Hower returned from his short walk.  I wasn’t really certain where he had gone off to, but he interrupted my thoughts asking why Xena didn’t use a fishing pole.  Most people don’t understand the tequnique of the warrior princess. As I sat there and stared at the warrior princess standing in the creek I found it quite barbaric to sit there and watch her leaning over into the water.  She would seemingly listen for the fish underneath the muddy waters.  It was like eavesdropping on nature.  Suddenly I had a new source of pain for her.  I would distract her from hearing the fish so that she wouldn’t be able to capture lunch with out a fishing pole.  In my opinion she was just showing off for Hower.   Yet who knew why.  He wasn’t all that attractive..  Hower had a more humble look about him unlike the warrior princess full of fire and rage.

My next question to Xena as I laughed at Hower’s inquiries was if the warlord was Dagnon.  Xena responded barely divided from her fishing stating that Dagnon was not the answer.  She was barely listening to me and suddenly she ignored me realizing what I was trying to do.  Xena loudly responded to Hower asking him if he wanted trout or perch.  Hower responded back greatly impressed with the skills of the warrior princess.  I decided to prove that she wasn’t capable of wining every battle.  My answer to the warrior princess ignoring me was in asking for salmon.  There was no way that she would be able to produce a salmon from that creek.

Xena called me knowing that salmon were out of season and that this creek was not capable of supporting salmon.  She had beaten my wit again.  Now this was getting really serious.  I decided to go for the kill.  She would never capture an eel out of that creek.    Xena’s response was candid yet irritated.  She read me like a scroll, but I had won this battle as I triumphantly smiled and nodded to Hower who was seemingly enjoying our little squabble.  He probably thought Xena was cute or something.  I don’t view the warrior princess as cute.  Anyone who has ever dared to do that has ended up on the ground or worse.  Yet triumph was interrupted by Xena’s next statement.  She had seemingly observed some wagon tracks just on the other side of the creek leading toward Piedmont.  This meant that Zagrious and his army would soon strike there.  It was a shame that Piedmont was going to have to suffer the wrath of Zagrious and all because of a dinar toss.  I would have personally decided upon saving Piedmont rather than Laural for I was still not convinced that the giant Gareth even existed.

Xena responded to my arguement of her dinar toss explaining that she was not going to allow the destruction of Piedmont.  The warrior princess was often too full of pride to even realize that even she could be wrong sometimes.  I argued with her that there was no possible way that she could be in two places on the same day at the same time.  Xena continued to listen for the fish as she responded saying that she didn’t have to be in two places at once.  It didn’t make sense.  I couldn’t figure out her angle.  In life and in sport Xena is always a tightly woven mystery.  Yet that is what makes the warrior princess so fascinating.  Just as I was thinking about this for a moment Xena suddenly moved into the water with her powerful arms.  She struggled with what seemed to be a dangerous beast below the surface.  It was definately not a trout or a perch.  Suddenly Xena shouted that eel was coming out of the water and lunch was about to be ready.

Water splashed violently as Xena had yanked the long slithery black beast out of the water.  She struggled with it for a few moments trying not to allow it to escape.  Just when it seemed she would lose the battle against the eel it came flying in my direction slapping up across my face slithering down into my lap.  It was slimy and slippery.  The beast sqirmed violently across my exsposed legs as I tried desparately to free myself of its grasp.  It screetched loudly as I struggled to my feet grasping the slime in my hands and finally releasing it into the tall weeds along the bank.  Xena just grinned with that silly triumphant smile.  It was actually more like a goofy childish smirk.  Then she leaned back down to listen to the fish in the water once more.  I was humiliated in front of a guest companion and I didn’t like it too much.  There had to be a way to beat her at her own game.  It was just a matter of figuring it out.

Hower quickly chimed in softly and with his soothing voice.  He tried to settle me down into a change of conversation.  Hower asked me if Xena might be interested in settling down and getting married someday.  I knew I was going to have to try to let Hower down gently for Xena would never settle down.  She was too wild and barbaric for that.  Somehow Hower seemed to find it attractive that she was throwing our lunch in my face.  I tried to keep my pride as I kept talking through the fish smacking up against my face.   With each fish it seemed they were larger than the previous fish.  Each bash was more harsh that the previous slap.  It was as if Xena were kicking me while I was down.  Again I tried to keep my composure and ignore her childish games, but she would not be ignored.  At least not by me.

I decided to surrender for the moment as I asked Hower to go fetch some firewood for our lunch.  He gleefully went off to fetch wood for Xena’s lunch as I loudly reminded everyone that we were going to have to find some way to try to cook these raw slimy fish.  As Hower left to seek fire brush Xena proudly sat down up against the tree next to me all wet, smelly, and sweaty.   She was a big nasty fish and could not have smelled worse.  The warrior princess obviously didn’t have time to take a bath after her catch.  I of course had given up on proving to Hower that the warrior princess was not for him.  He was too dumbstruck.  Even raw fish for lunch couldn’t dampen his lust for the warrior princess.

As Xena smiled I could not be angry for she was just being playful at my expense.  Yet I still didn’t appreciate it.  I began to explain to her that Hower was in love with her.  She wasn’t phased by it for all she could do was wonder why so many men kept falling for her.  I explained that some guys just liked her dark long flowing hair, and her deep oceanic blue eyes.  Even her leather wardrobe could draw a crowd as long as it was the warrior princess who was wearing it.  Of course our battle of wits was subsiding for the moment because our focas was now on Hower who kept staring and guawking at the warrior princess as he picked up firewood from afar.  As our conversation wore on Hower shifted his scavenger hunt from firewood to wildflowers.  I don’t think the warrior princess noticed his boyish smile meant to grab her attention.  Instead Xena was concentrating on how to deter Hower from his lusts for her.  She thought maybe a wardrobe change would do the trick; however, she was only joking.  Xena just didn’t seem to be herself when she wasn’t wearing her leather suit and golden breast plate.  Life wouldn’t be the same without those articles of clothing.  They were like a personal attachment and trademark.

Here was something new to attempt to tease her with.  I suggested a chainmail might help with her wardrobe issues, but she just laughed and stated that it would probably only attract a slightly more rambunctious crowd as if warlords like Draco weren’t bad enough.  This thought led me to glance back at Hower for a moment as he gingerly plucked another dandillion from the ground and admired his work.  He certainly took much more time and care for his courtship than someone like Draco would.  Xena interrupted my thought by explaining that life without bathing and wearing a smelly wolfskin might work.  She had a point and I could certainly imagine how much more difficult life with the warrior princess would be if she ever followed through with that change.  I could still feel the slime all over my own skin just thinking about it knowing how much Xena liked to fish.  She still smelled even now.  This led me to my only response which was to remind Xena that she would most likely be traveling alone if she made that a permanant new lifestyle.  Dodging all of the lovesick Howers in the world was not worth that.

This of course brought laughter to both Xena and I for the first time the entire day.  We were finally settling down with our rivalry as Hower returned with a handful of purple wildflowers.  He offered them to his obsession as Xena tried to accept them graciously, but somehow she appeared more disgusted with the idea.  Xena rose to help Hower get the fire started for lunch yet she appeared very reluctant.  Hower paused for  just a moment until he was certain Xena was not within earshot.  He then giggled with glee and celebration feeling that he had finally gotten the attention of his new found romance.  All I could do was smile and pretend to be excited for his accomplishment knowing that he would only find himself disappointed in the end.  As he walked away my thoughts turned to the challenge of cooking the slimy beasts that had attacked me earlier.

Then it suddenly occurred to me that the perfect tool for cutting the fish would be Xena’s chackram.  It was the sharpest weapon I had ever known and since she had thrown our last good cutting knife at a warlord the previous week it would have to double as a pearing knife.    Soon I was sawing off the heads of Xena’s catch.  Two pearch and one rather large eel.  I began with the eel, but soon had to resort to using a large stone on the ground to hold it in place while I worked.  The job was a bloody one, but I was determined to eat lunch reguardless that it was a an eel.  Before I could finish gutting lunch Xena returned and revolted against me in anger.  She ripped the chackram out from my grasp and shouted out that it would smell like fish for days.  The warrior princess wasted no time in whipping out an old rag to wipe the aquatic blood dripping from the chackram’s blade.

Hower appeared to be stunned and unable to respond or even begin to handle the anger of the warrior princess.  I handled it by snapping back.  Someone had to stand up to her fury.  As I rose to my feet I quickly yanked my rag from Xena’s grasp.  This was when I reminded her of how she had used our knife the previous week.  I wanted Hower to know exactly what he was getting himself into.  This was my oppritunity to gain some ground on the warrior princess.  Then I turned away and ignored her while she stewed in her anger over the chackram.  It was time for her to know how it felt when friends didn’t respect belongings.  She was going to learn manners even if it killed me.  Of course she turned away from me leaving Hower speechless until he came up with the perfect solution.  He offered to clean Xena’s chackram for her.  As I would have expected Xena refused.  No one is allowed to touch her prized chackram.

Instead Xena’s fury was high as she turned to Hower seriously and asked him how much further it was from his village.  Hower replied that it was directly east about a two hour’s walk.  I was waiting for the next blow from the warrior princess as I tried desparately to figure out how we were going to eat lunch.  Without a knife, a frying pan, or even the chackram we would definately be eating raw fish and eel from the bone.  As I tried to come to terms with raw fish in my stomach, and sinking my teeth into the outer layer of skin Xena told Hower that he had an important mission for him.  This snapped me to attention for if she were seriously sending Hower on a mission I needed to know why she wasn’t asking me to perform the job.  Of course Hower was exstatic to be asked to help Xena with a mission.  She explained to Hower that he needed to deliver a message from her to Zagrious.  It was simple yet cryptic.  Both Hower and I listened intently.  The message was this.  Xena would not get in Zagrious’s path if he agreed not to enter into hers.  And that was it.  Hower appeared confused and I found myself even more mystified.  When Hower asked Xena if there was more to the message she was candid and confident stating that there was no more.  She then turned away from her audience and walked to join Argo.  Hower then looked to me as if I had all of the answers to the mystical warrior princess, but I didn’t.  Instead I just explained it to him how it is.  I’ve learned that Xena works in mysterious ways and that one doesn’t question them.  Although I still do question the warrior princess often.  She hates that about me too.

And so Hower set off to find Zagrious while I tried to figure out what Xena was doing.  She obviously had a plan, but I was still trying to figure out how she could be in two places at one time.  There was no way that she could make it back to Piedmont in time to save it from Zagrious.  Not only that, but she had just told Zagrious that she had no intention of impeding on his territory.  I decided after thinking on this over raw fish that it wasn’t important for me to know.  Instead I just decided that I would work on one of my scrolls of a time when the warrior princess seemed a little less myterious.  The thought of Joxer was even a bit of a relief after the day that Xena and I were having.  Of course most days are like this one.

About an hour from Laurel Xena experienced a call from nature.  I was certain that it came about as a result of the raw fish not in agreement with the stomach of the warrior princess.  My stomach was struggling to keep them  down.  I decided that the only way to ignore the raw pain in my side would be to re enact a dramatic interpretation of my experience with Bacchus and his baccae slaves.  I was feeling the rage of a baccae over the rude wake up call, the raw fish for lunch, Xena’s constant insults ,  inconsideration, and the fact that when I reached into Argo’s saddle bag to write another verse a corner of my scroll was now missing.  The baccae in me had taken hold at this point.  This was the last straw.  My prize possession was being used as toilet paper for Xena’s call from nature.  Again she had gotten the better of me wining the battle of wits.  I had only used her chackram for fish, but she used my scrolls for far worse.

As I rounded the corner of the horse toward the bushes the triumphant warrior princess emerged seemingly relieved and in good spirits.  Yet she also seemed quite prepared to deal with my wrath over the scrolls.  As I ranted she made up a lame excuse stating that there weren’t any good leaves in the bush.  Yeah that was a good one.  There are millions of leaves in the bushes.  I’ve used them many times and there are always at least ten possible leaves amongst hundreds.  There was no way I was buying into that excuse.  I could see it in her eyes and all over her face.  Xena was about to laugh in my face boisterously.  Before she could let out a peep the earth beneath us moved.  I was almost knocked off of my feet by the loud stomping sounds approaching through the forrest.  The entire earth shook about us and then Xena just fizzled my anger by reminding me that the giant was our enemy not each other.

The warrior princess had a point, but I was still livid.

Although Xena appeared to travel with me for laughs and my own daily humiliation I do have a lot of skills to offer.  In my struggle to remind her of this she ordered that we take cover into the trees from the open field.  While running for cover I came up with a brilliant plan as to how we would buy time.  I suggested to Xena that we make a sign with Laurel  and post it in the wrong direction so that we could mislead the giant.  That would most certainly delay him since according to Hower he had never been to their village.  Xena ignored the suggestion as she scaled up into the tallest tree she could find.  The warrior princess was looking to see exactly how much time we had before we would be battling the giant.  I don’t think she had a plan of action in place for him just yet.  She had been too focased on Zagrious determined to prove to me that she could be in two places at the same time.  I was still unconvinced.  Although I did finish building my sign.  My hope was that I had been able to spell Laurel correctly.

About this time Xena had jumped down out of the tree and was in a bit of a rush to move on.  She was frustrated with my need to finish the sign telling me that giants didn’t know how to spell so it didn’t matter that I had even made the sign.  Even so I was determined to post it so I did.  I posted it right in front of an offering statue to Aphrodite.  As I struggled to get it to stay in the ground Xena grabbed me by the clevage point and yanked me toward Laurel.  She was still unappreciative of my work.

Soon we were back to our game of warlords and victims.  I had yet to determine if who we were talking about had dark hair or light hair.  Xena responded that it was someone with dark hair.  I was begining to think that this was definately a warlord, but I was still grappling with the victim status.  Then I thought that maybe it was someone with a heavy build.  Xena quickly replied to that with a negative response.  That eliminated a few people from my list.  Maybe it was Draco because he wasn’t fat, and he was dark haired.  He was also buff, but that would be too easy.  I decided that my next best guess would be Toxious.  Xena’s response trailed off with a no.  She had suddenly switched gears again as we were entering the village of Laurel.  The warrior princess was thinking out loud.  Her words were simple.  All she could say was the word interesting.  Of course I couldn’t figure out what was so interesting about this little village.  We had been to millions of other villages just like Laurel.  They all looked the same to me.  In fact, most of them reminded me of my home village of Potedia.  Peace loving villagers tend to live very similar lives all over the countryside.  Laurel was no different.

A thought occurred to me in that moment.  Lining the main road into the village with birch trees to go with those lonely goats and chickens might be nice.  It would be a step out of the normal landscape anyway.  Xena of course was not talking about the asthtetic appearance of Laurel.  She was more interested in the fact that there seemed to be no one there.  There was not once soul roaming the streets.  No one was shopping at the market.  It was ghostly and almost eerie.  Life in this village seemed a bit too quiet.  As Xena and I looked about we were suddenly on high alert until the silence was broken by the sounds of a struggle.  Xena and I turned to look behind our path to see a peasant woman with dark hair struggling with a baby goat.  She was the only voice other than that of the goat which had spoken since Xena and I had arrived in Laurel.

Xena decided to approach the peasant in blue.  It seemed as if the woman had not even noticed our arrival until she turned to see who it was that had called out hello.  This was when things turned into a strange surreal experience.  The peasant woman’s facial expression went from surprise, to awe, to excitement all in a matter of moments.  Then she requested confirmation that Xena was who she appeared to be.  Xena was modest confirming her identity as she looked behind her.  The warrior princess was clueless as to the fame she was experiencing.  She also failed to realize that it was because of my scrolls that she was enjoying this praise.

As the peasant woman struggle to hold onto her goat she could barely contain her exasperation for she was finally getting to meet her idol.  Xena the legendary warrior princess whom she had heard so many stories about.  In fact, the woman spoke of all of Xena’s adventures including how Xena had liberated Prometheous, and unchained Death.  It seemed that the favorite legend had been those that involved Xena defeating Callisto.  All of this was within what seemed to be a single breath.  Though this woman was seemingly impressed with Xena I found myself impressed that my stories had made it this far.  I was flattered that even people who lived in villages as quiet as Laurel have been able to enjoy my scrolls about Xena and our adventures together.  Xena appeared not to be phased by her status, and soon I found myself as unexcited about it when the peasant approached me unable to figure out who I was.  She didn’t even know my name although she did try to give me a name.  It was a miserable fumbling of syllabols.

Yet the peasant woman made up for it when she began to ask me what it was like to travel with Xena.  In fact this was my inspiration for a day in the life of Xena.  I was glad to oblidge the most intimate and embarressing details of Xena’s life for Xena had been indulging in my humilation all day long with Hower.  The first question was if Xena liked to snooze in the buff, but just as I was about to answer Xena interrupted.  She resorted to the mission as the reason my fun had to end.  Sudddenly that threw the peasant woman, whose name we later found to be Minya, into action.  Minya explained that she and her boyfriend Hower were the only people from their village who had been brave enough to stay behind to defend their village against the giant.  Everyone else had apparently run to the hills for safety.  Xena’s battles for the greater good had some how inspired these two villagers to become heros especially Minya.  Minya went onto explain that she was highly qualified to help with this mission.  She described herself as tough and bold, and that she was able to read quite well.  According to Minya literacy was scarce in this part of the valley.  If nothing else sounded promising within this situation one had to hold onto Minya’s determination and exhuberance to impress the warrior princess.  She was just as bad as Hower, but in a slightly different way.

Then Minya suddenly found herself wondering about Hower whom she had forgotten about within the presence of the warrior princess.  Xena then had to explain with a bit of guilt that she had asked him to do her a favor.  She promised Minya that Hower would return.  I found that to be quite funny since Xena had yet to figure out how to tell Minya that her boyfriend had fallen for her while he was away looking for help.  Suddenly even Minya was a bit demanding.  She wanted to know what Xena’s plan was to defeat the giant.  In fact, that was the big mystery that all of us had been waiting for an answer to.  Xena finally came right out and answered it.  She didn’t have a true plan formulated yet.  I knew it!  I had known it all along.  Xena had only been sending phony messages to Zagrious to delay him until she could figure out what to do.  That was exactly what I had done with the giant.  It was a good thing too since Xena needed some more time to think.  Yet as always Xena would prove that she still didn’t value my skills to be as crafty as her own.  Quickly Minya found herself begging the warrior princess for a command.  With one sly glance Xena had come up with the perfect plan.

That was when Minya graciously offered us a nice warm bath which was quite relaxing.  It had been quite a while since Xena and I had had a bath inside.  The water was blissfully warm and relaxing although Minya was a bit overzealous in attempting to please the warrior princess.  She was exactly like Hower only the female version of him.   As Minya kept returning with large buckets of hot water to keep the bath maintained Xena and I turned our thoughts again to the game.  My next guess was Mezentious.  Xena again replied that I was wrong.  Still determined to win the game I prepared to try at another guess.  Just then Minya returned yet again filling the steaming bath with more scalding water.  She must have been boiling endless pans of water over a fire the size of an Amazon funeral fire.  When she asked if the warrior princess was too hot Xena was gracious yet it was obvious that she was begining to feel just as uncomfortable as I was.

This led me back to thoughts of the giant Gareth.  I inquired if Xena had come up with any new ideas on how to deal with him.  Xena’s response was again without an answer.  It appeared to me as if she was struggling to find the answer.  These occasions were rare, but when they come along I always try to include my input.  For a moment I drew back from conversation as I scrubbed Xena’s back hoping to release some of the stress and the tension she was feeling.  Part of it had been of my doing, but I still wanted to make up for it.  So then I had a suggestion.  It was actually the perfect plan.  We had used it before against Golliath when he went up against David and the Isrealites.  It had worked before and the day couldn’t have been more perfect for this plan.  The sun had been out shining brightly all day, and there were no clouds in sight.  I spoke these thoughts out loud to Xena reminding her of the previous success of this plan of action against giants.  Of how we could ask Minya to gather all of the mirror in Laurel so that we could get Gareth to take off his helmet and expose his soft spot.  Using the mirrors to blind him with the sun’s reflection we could easily take out the giant.  Xena seemed uninterested in trying that one again.  I didn’t understand why she wouldn’t want a guarunteed win in battle.  It was almost frustrating and personal again, but I refrained from taking it personal this time.  I was begining to understand that what Xena enjoyed most about the heat of battle was that each battle was unique to her.  Each battle had its own personality and though Gareth was a giant like Golliath this was different for the warrior princess.  Xena sensed my understanding of her and it led her to offer to take away the tension in my back.  She too was begining to feel slightly guilty for all of the bickering that had gone on between us on this day.

Then it happened again.  Minya came running with the scalding hot water which fell directly onto Xena again.  This time Xena almost snapped at Minya demanding that Minya ease up on the fresh bath water.  I was glad that Xena finally put a hault to Minya’s overly gracious offers.  Her presence led me to remind Xena of how much she too was within the grasp of Xena’s warrior princess haze.  Xena reluctantly agreed that it was true that she had not just one, but two secret admirers to deal with.  For some reason this made her uneasy although she did complement Minya on wanting to be so helpful.  It was almost as if Xena felt slightly connected to Minya in some way.  Xena was finally learning to appreciate being idolized instead of despised.  In the days when we first met it seemed that Xena had enemies in every village that wanted her blood.  Now she was being worshipped like Hercules or Aphrodite.

This led me into reminding Xena of our third problem of the day.  The problem of Hower and Minya.  Hower being in love with Xena would definately put a damper in Xena’s new found relationship with Minya.  Xena did agree that this was an issue, but it was obvious that it was the furthest thing from her warrior mind.  I could allow her take on the giant and try to make it back in time to wrestle with Zagrious, but there would be no way that Xena could handle Minya and Hower’s relationship issue.  This was definately my territory because it always takes a more sensative person to help straighten these emotional issues of love out.  It was nice to know that there would be at least one thing that I could do to make the greater good better today.

Yet as I basked in my own pride Xena found herself offended that I didn’t feel she could handle that third issue.  Again she wanted to rise to the occasion and prove to me that she could handle that better than me too.  Xena’s zest for competition was begining to truely annoy me.  I asked her why she was so set on competing with everyone and being the best.  Her response was weak, but forceful in tone.  She accused me of being overly competative.  Xena did have a point.  I was and I had been all day, but mostly with her and she definately had me beat at that.  This I stated as a fact.  She could not deny it and just as she tried desparately to come up with a retort to the naked truth Minya arrived yet again with another bucket of scalding hot water.  It splashed a divide hotter than the lava of Vesuveous.  Minya obviously didn’t hear Xena the last time she requested that Minya cease in her work.  This time Xena shouted and it got Minya’s attention.  It was obvious that Minya was quite fearful of disappointing her idol.  Xena then thanked Minya as her new disciple knelt down with excitement.  Minya inquired of Xena’s plan hoping that there would be an answer.  Yet Xena was truely stumped.

As the warrior princess fumbled with her own confidence I stepped in to save the day.  I told Minya to go ahead and gather all of the mirrors in the village to prepare for the giant’s arrival.  If Xena was unable to come up with a better more ingenuitive plan then at least we would be ready when the giant came.  Minya looked to Xena for confirmation that this was the plan.  Now Xena was stuck for I had forced her into using her old plan, but the only problem was that Xena explained that it was only a contigency plan.  It didn’t matter to Minya though.  She dashed off faster than a bolt of lightening to please the warrior princess.  I found myself irritated that Xena was still not going to go with my latest suggestion.  The competition was on as our battle of wits continued.  Xena didn’t want me to ever get the last word or the last command.  I had found her weak spot and she was trying desparately to defend it.  Xena only responded by first playing it off as if she didn’t know what I was talking about and then she had a retort.  She accused me of being an ametuer reminding me that being a real warrior means being flexible within any battle situation.  This was just as irritating as the sudden lump underneath me which Xena discovered to be the soap.  Suddenly we found ourselves within a wrestling competion within the bath splashing each other until we couldn’t see anymore.  And again the warrior princess beat me.

I had finally decided that I had come to the end of my rope with her for the day.  While she was outside talking with Minya and Hower who had just returned from his lastest mission I went shopping.  Since there was no one around I couldn’t go to the market so I decided to trade, but there was only one problem.  Minya was the only one I could trade with since everyone else had run for the hills.  Yet it would be easy.  All I had to do was pick out a frying pan that I liked and I was certain that Minya would find something enticing that I could offer to her in exhange. When I finally managed to join everyone outside again I overheard Xena talking to Hower planning to send him on another mission.  She was still unable to deal with that problem too.  She just kept sending everyone away from Laurel hoping that her ulitimate plan would ferment in her mind.  It seemed to me that Xena had lost her mind.

Xena told Hower exactly verbatum that Zagrious had refused her offer.  When she repeated back to Hower word for word Zagrious’s response Hower seemed impressed and in awe.  Xena then told Hower to go back out and find Zagrious to warn him not to come near Laurel.  She also wanted Hower to make sure Zagrious knew that Piedmont and any other village was his for the taking.  Hower was exasperated and ready for action saying good-bye to Xena.  He practically blew the warrior princess kisses through his eyes.  Xena’s way of dealing with this was to order him to say good-bye to Minya whom he wouldn’t even take the time to glance at.  Hower did say good-bye to Minya, but it could barely be heard by anyone.  Then he went running, and leaping away to find Zagrious to deliver Xena’s latest message.  It seemed insane to me that Xena would continue to send Hower out to tell Zagrious a lot of nonesense.  Apparently Xena had known Zagrious before and they had been warlord pals in the past.  This led me to think that maybe Zagrious was the answer to the game.  As I approached Xena while Minya was finding herself struggling to deal with her new reality Xena ordered me to do something about their current state of emotions.  Although she didn’t actually say that I should she alluded to it.  Of course I had better plans for Minya.  Soon I was on my way to gaining ground against the warrior princess.  After trading to get Minya’s frying pan I had come up with my answer to Xena’s warlords and victims riddle.  Since I was on a role I decided that I would try my hand at the element of surprise just one more time.

As they say practice makes perfect.  I had seen Xena go into a barn up the path and decided that she would be at her weakest when in deep thought.  I took my staff and listened intently from outside.  There was not a peep.  The only thing that I could hear was Xena breathing deeply within meditation.  She was definately not expecting an attack.  Quietly I inched around the corner through the doorway of the barn.  As I peeked in I could feel that Xena’s eyes were closed.  She was totally focased on her thoughts.  I knew that now was my chance and so I went for it.  As I drove forward into the barn with my staff in the ready Xena suddenly jumped up high into the air kicking down two buckets full of water and giving her battle cry.  She hit each bucket simultaneously with her warrior boots as she spun around in mid air prepared and ready to face me in battle.  Although I knew now that I was whipped I still had to attempt to make the striking blow.  Just as I lifted my staff to thrust it into the chest of the warrior princess she landed spinning around to face me.  She kicked my staff effortlessly to the floor in the final movement of her entire body.  It was amazing I have to admit, but it didn’t help me in winning the battle.  All I could do was throw my arms down in frustration and aggitation.  Just when I had thought I would beat her with the one two punch I had lost my battle advantage.

Yet at least I still had my wits about me.  Quickly I brushed off my loss in the battle to approach the warrior princess with my answer to the riddle of warlords and victims.  Already she had turned her back to me and fallen back into deep mediation.  I approached her from behind and whispered slyly into her ear.  The answer was most certainly the great Centaries.  She responded quickly with a negetive answer.  It was short and it was spiteful.  Frankly, the warrior princess was driving me insane which led me to my earlier suspicion.  I then demanded to know if it was indeed someone she had fought before I had met her.  The answer had to be yes, but it was no.  My emotional breaking point was now for my wits had been smacked down just as hard as my staff had.  So far I had lost two out of my three advantages with little effort from the warrior princess.  Now that I had finally given up on warlords and victims I was dying to know the answer.  Xena slyly spun back around to face me smiling as she spoke the name of Theodoras.

Now that couldn’t be right for Theodoras had been killed by not Xena, but Callisto.  Xena had a clever supporting arguement for that as well.  She proceeded to remind me that Theodoras had been killed by Callisto when Callisto had been in Xena’s body.  Who knew that Xena would go that far in being certain to defeat me in cold blood, but she had.  She wasn’t wrong, but she wasn’t right either.  Yet who could ever get the warrior princess with that.  As Xena stood in the barn within her own glory there was a nasty sound which had come from just outside the barn.  It snapped and suddenly Minya could be heard struggling and crying out in pain.  Xena quickly moved outside to investigate as I picked up my staffed off of the floor.  As we made our way outside all was still very quiet in Laurel, but Minya stood alone rubbling the sting of the whip off of her face.  Xena called out forcefully to Minya.  She wanted to know why a peasant woman would take it upon herself to play with weapons of mass destruction without proper training.

Minya argued with Xena reminding the warrior princess or me rather that she had traded her best frying pan to me in order to gain a piece of Xena memorabilia.  Okay so even though Xena had beaten me in battle and with wits I still crushed her with surprise.  I had forgotten about my trade from earlier and I had no idea that it would bring out the anger that it did.  Xena was furious that I had traded her weapon.  What she didn’t realize was that I had let her off of the hook for it was the chackram that Minya had truely wanted.  Quickly I had to defend my choice for Xena was fast approaching in her fury.  I retorted with the fact that we needed to be able to cook our food reminding Xena of the fact that the fish were still not settling within my stomach.  I had matched her fury with my own emotional fury, but it wasn’t enough to mask my real pain.  Xena called me on my excuse knowing that the real reason I had traded her weapon was to get back at her for using my scrolls as back up toiletry.  This was true, but it didn’t seem to matter.

Xena decided since that trade had already been made that there was only one way to resolve this issue.  She turned immediately back to Minya and demanded that Minya return it to her.  Minya was firm and did not budge.  She was certainly more assertive than her counter part Hower.  It was kind of nice to see that someone else could stand up to the warrior princess.  Minya reminded Xena that a trade had been made and in that transaction the whip had become her property while the frying pan had become ours.  Not only that, but Minya went one step further in reminding Xena that Hower was hers and that I belonged to the warrior princess.  That part of the deal didn’t sound all that attractive, but it certainly was amusing.  What was unfolding was emotionally interesting about the warrior princess.  For the first time that I could ever remember she was being told no.  I had never seen anyone be able to tell the warrior princess no and be successful in keeping their lives.  Minya was quite courageous and bold in standing up to her.  I was quite impressed.  Then Xena realized that she had lost.  Both Minya and I had ganged p on her and there was no way to win.  As Xena looked back at me with disgust I tried to hide me laughter, but I’m not really sure if I masked it all that well.  Then she looked to Minya and instructed her to be certain to get all of the mirrors ready at the north end of town.  Xena quickly brushed Minya out of her way as she went to find out how close the giant was.

Minya would not allow Xena to have the last word.  Instead she forced Xena to pause as she moved toward Argo.  The two dark haired tall women exchanged a glance of toughness as Xena walked away seemingly hurt by this gesture and disrespect.  As Xena saddled up onto her horse I realized that Argo was the only one who truely understood the warrior princess.  Argo was the only one that Xena could go to in her times of emotional need.  I began to feel even more low as I watched Minya drive the final nail into the coffin as she taunted the warrior princess as Xena rode out of Laurel.  I realized that I had deeply bruised Xena’s pride.  Not only that, but I had created a new enemy for Xena.  The poor warrior princess was having a bad day and all I had done was make it worse for her.  I decided that I had to do something to make up for it.  The begining of that would have to be in repairing Minya’s relationship with the warrior princess.

My scrolls were the perfect solution to the problem for it had been my scrolls that had given the warrior princess that certain glow within Minya’s heart.  It wasn’t fair that Minay had met the warrior princess on an off day.  And so I sat down in the barn with Minya and helped her read some of my scrolls.  In fact, we read the story of Baccus and the beautiful girls that Xena had rescued from his wrath.  I had to remind Minya of Xena’s heart and commitment to goodness.  As Minya read the final lines of the scroll I asked her how she liked the story of Xena’s kindness and bravery.  She really did enjoy the story which pleased me, but Minya then responded by asking for the stories in which Xena was the harlot that stole the men of good and decent women.  I looked to her and softly scolded her for having such mean thoughts toward the warrior princess.  Desparately I wanted to project my guilt into Minya’s heart knowing that it had been my fury that had been injected into hers.  I then reassured her that Xena was out to find Hower and to straighten things out for the two of them.  My lack of confidence in the warrior princess had not boded well for the faith and belief of others.

Yet just when I was about to turn Minya’s heart back to Xena Hower arrived in a tizzy.  He seemed nervous and unable to stop shaking with fear.  Yet his fear was more in hurting Minya for he began to confess that he had fallen in love with the warrior princess.  My own heart sank for it was as if Hower had broken up with me for it had sealed the deal of any hopes to restore Minya’s faith in Xena or Hower.  Minya looked to me with disgust and frustration.  Her anger was more from being hurt by her idol and her lover.  Both had gilted her today.  Suddenly Xena entered the barn with business and nothing more.  As she was about to discuss our dire situation I interrupted her hoping to remind her of how important it was that we restore Minya and Hower’s relationship.  Xena ignored this issue with the dire details of the giant.  She had confirmed that it was indeed Gareth by the size of his footprints.  Xena explained that our time was extremely short which meant that our mirror plan was out.  Then as Xena was about to address the situation with Minya and Hower Hower stepped in to explain to Minya who Gareth was.  But Minya already knew.  She quickly filled in the rest of the details cutting Hower off.  Minya detailed that Gareth was the meanest giant to ever walk the earth and she continued onto explain that he had killed Xena’s friend the giant Golliath’s family.  Both Xena and I were impressed for Minya continued on to tell the story of the battle of the Isrealites and the Phillistines and of how it was there that Golliath met his own demise against Xena.  It was as if Minya had been there herself and she explained that she had read it in one of my scrolls.

As exciting and impressive as that statement was there was work to focas on.  I turned back to Xena and asked her if Gareth was wearing a helmet.  Xena explained that indeed he was and that it also had a heay nose guard which would most certainly protect his soft spot.  I still didn’t understand why the mirrors wouldn’t work until Xena explained that heavy rain clouds were quickly moving in from the west.  It was all a timing issue and Gareth was moving slower than the weather.  Our situation seemed grim, but Xena seemed to be in control.  It was as if she had already made another plan.  As I waited with Minya and Hower for the answer to materialize Xena moved deeper into the barn.  Then she paced back and looked to me for an answer.  She wanted to know if it had been true that Zues killed giants with lightening bolts.  Indeed it was true, but my faith was being tested as she spoke.  Using a lightening bolt and actually being able to handle one were two different things.  Especially since neither Xena, nor I, nor Minya or Hower were gods.

We were racing against time through trial and error yet somehow the warrior princess kept trudging forward.  Xena led Howard, Minya, and I back out just beyond the lookout tree into the open field from earilier in the day.  It was about a mile just outside of the village.  Once we arrived she began constructing a strange new weapon.  It was made out of some old worn out blankets that Minya had provided, and one of Hower’s ropes from his stable horse.  There was only one problem.  It seemed that there was a piece missing.  Xena spent a few moments in thought as the three companions looked on hopelessly.  We all thought Xena had lost it by this point, but nobody had the heart or the will to tell the warrior princess.  Suddenly Xena called out to Hower who was excited that she needed him for something.  It was as if she were holding the key to a big mystery and only Hower would be important enough to be told about it.  The warrior princess quickly reached for Hower’s waste only to rip his belt buckle right off of his belt.  Hower’s pants did stay on, but there was a sense of embarressment within him as the warrior princess went back to operating on her new contraption.

It looked nice as she was tying the final touches onto it, but I still didn’t see the vision.  That was when I finally had to ask her what it was.  Xena’s response wasn’t all that promising.  She didn’t even have a name for her diamond shaped cloth with two sticks, and some old rags on a string hanging from a belt buckle.  Yet the warrior princess continued to be confident in her new accomplishment.  She went onto explain to me that all that needed to happen was to be certain to get the weapon up into the air.  I was still lost because I didn’t see exactly how this was helping us conquer the giant.  It was too soft and light to do any real damage.  At least with the mirrors one could attempt to blind the giant.  This was stretching it for me, but at least the warrior princess was creative.  Xena seemed to ignore my lack of faith in her vision explaining that it would be the perfect weapon to nail the giant with if we could just get it into the air to harness the lightening bolts.

Okay so it sounded great, but I was still lacking the vision of how this thing was going to get into the air.  Xena continued to explain her vision as she expressed it with such passion and glory.  She spoke of how the wind would carry it and in a sense there was the small possibility of success.  If only Zues were feeling frisky with the elements he might actually help the warrior princess with her plan.  Yet gods are not known for their respect of humanity.  I was actually shocked to see that Xena was evening turning to this as a valid alternative, but I decided to sit back alongside Hower and Minya and hope for the best.  That was all that one could do at this point.

The warrior princess then held the weapon straight up in the air pointing the top of the slender shaped diamond toward the heavens.  She let out a cry and released it into the air with force as the winds began to pick up slightly.  Suddenly the diamond began to fly as it took the string off of the small roller that Xena had designed to tame it.  It was amazing to watch as the wind began to carry the weapon further and further into the air.  Suddenly it seemed possible that it may be able to reach the heavens toward Zues and his lightening bolts, but just as I was about to feel the excitement and the confidence that Xena seemingly felt the diamond deflated as the winds died down and it plummeted dismally to the ground.  It slammed down with force as Minya let out a snicker and Hower looked extremely disappointed and confused.  Minya was still on her high in defeating Xena back in the village for possession of Xena’s whip.  Of course I had fueled that.  I was really begining to feel sorry for Xena.  This was a rare feeling, but she seemed to be a broken washed up warrior out to prove she was still the best.

I approached the warrior princess and knelt down beside her trying to offer some support.  It was like trying to let Hower down in knowing that Xena would never be his, but only worse.  This was my best friend and she was going off of the deep end to think that she could harness the lightening of Zues.  The desparate warrior princess was frantic in trying to repair the damage to the tip of her diamond weapon.  As she tried to smooth out the rough edges I tried to let her down easy.  She needed to realize that now was the time to move onto another plan or a more solid idea.  Her latest idea was too abstract even for me.  Yet the warrior princess was extremely defensive and could not admit defeat.  She snapped at me demanding to know what my plan was, but the truth of it was that I didn’t have one either.  Xena was extremely stubborn as I tried to hold down my temper.  I only wanted to explain to her that I was there to help, but she didn’t see it that way.  Instead she ignored me as I tried to explain to her that there would be a day that she would be wrong despite all of the times that she had already proven herself to be right.  On this day I was certain that fate would step in for it was about to become a rainy day for the warrior princess.  She was havind difficulty accepting this.

Xena continued to venture on her own out beyond the realm of normal thoughts as she decided that the solution to her problem would simply be solved by running with her new weapon.  Suddenly the warrior princess jumped up from her latest defeat and began running all about the field desparately trying to get a response from the weapon.  This self-humiliation went on for several minutes as I tried desparately to restore my faith in my friend and her skills.  I breathed in deeply and out slowly as I spoke within my mind and desparately called out to my soul for restored faith.  Hower simply became more enthralled with the warrior princess finding that she was rather cute when she was frustrated while Minya gave up on winning him over.  For Hower Xena could do no wrong and so Minya decided to return to the village.

There was a point that Xena had found that her weapon was tangled in a rather large bush, but even that could not stop her in attempting to defeat the wind.  I began to realize that no matter what she would never give in.  This made me feel less threatened by all of the times that she challenged my will.  If the will of nature couldn’t prove itself right then I would never be able to either so I decided to stop trying.  Instead I built up some faith again, but just as I was about to jump back into the game Xena hurled her weapon across the open field and it flew again for a brief time only to come crashing down right on top of my head.  It wasn’t a pleasant feeling to be attacked by a diamond that slightly resembled a giant amazon queen mask, but it did knock some sense into me.

If Xena was going to go down I would go down with her since I was her best friend and friends stick by each other until the end.  Even if it was against the biggest meanest giant to ever walk the earth.  And so we spent the next several moments working together as a team for the first time of the day.  I grabbed the parchment as Xena stood several feet away and began to run as I ran with her still holding the parchment.  Suddenly I felt the power of Zues lifted the parchement from beneath me and I let it go up into the heavens once more.  My excitement and hope were restored as I cheered with the warrior princess on our accomplishment together.  The parchement stayed in the air for several minutes until Xena finally decided that her weapon would work.  She handled it with percision as she controlled it like her chackram only it was more graceful as it floated freely.  Quickly Xena’s mood had changed from frustration to relief.  It seemed that she had now solved at least one of our problems, but there were still two more.  Yet the warrior princess had moved onto the final problem for she had already solved the problem of Zagrious.

I was impressed as she explained that her intentions in sending Hower with cryptic messages to Zagrious was to ambush Zagrious and his army at Laurel using the giant.  She was planning on being certain that both would face each other just before they reached the village limits.  Now that her flying parchment worked she would be able to harness the lightening to defeat Gareth as soon as Gareth has smashed up Zagrious’s army.  Now this was all very wonderful news to me and a bit of a relief, but Xena wasn’t going to stop there.  She decided that she was on a role and handed over her flying parchment for me to tame while she went back to the village to attempt to straighten out the mess she had made with Minya and Hower.

My taming of the parchement did not last long for became so powerful that it stole the weapon from my grasp sending it slaming out of control into a tree in the wood just beyond the village.  After chasing the parchment down I decided to return to the village to check on Xena’s progress with Hower.  When I arrived she was inside the barn again talking to him.  I was a little insulted by her arrogance in thinking that she would be able to resolve the relationship problems of Minya and Hower.  As I listened just outside the door I heard her tell Hower that he didn’t have a chance with her.  She tried to be forceful with him and nasty, but it didn’t seem to dampen his resolve.  Instead he responded to her force with denial.  Yet he insisted that it was Xena who was denying her feelings for Hower.  He was certain that the warrior princess would come around.  Then he continued to brush Xena’s horse as if it were going to impress her.  It didn’t matter anyway.  I had a new attack planned for Xena and she would never suspect it.

As the warrior princess exited the barn I found myself climbing up onto the roof in anticipation.  She called out my name in desparation.  I knew that her next command would be to take care of the situation with Hower, but that wasn’t enough for my ego.  I needed more and so as I waited she came out around the corner of the barn.  She knew I was lurking because I could see her shoulders tensing up in anticipation.  The warrior princess is always aware of her surroundings even when she can’t see them.  I still had the advantage because she would never suspect me from the air.  As she walked around the corner of the barn expecting me to jump out with my staff I lept from the top of the barn in an attempt to knock her down.  Instead I landed flat on my chest knocking the wind out of myself for a moment.  As struggled to rise back to my feet I grabbed for Xena’s breast plate for balance.  She just glanced at me with her warrior smirk knowing that she had beaten me again.  It was now becoming more of a game rather than a direct challenge of wills.  I had tried giving a battle cry on my way down, but realized that it had been what had given my position away.

Xena responded doubtfully to my assumption that my mistake had been the battle cry.  My next question had already been answered, but I still had to ask her how things had gone with Hower.  As I had expected she commanded me to take care of that situation and then I had to explain that her flying parchement was now stuck in the trees.  Our truce had not lasted long and so the day drug on toward the climax of all three of our issues colliding simultaneously.  I dreaded having to bring reality into the love life of Hower, but as I sat there with him in the barn for over an hour he kept proclaiming that he and Xena were destined for each other.  It became a saliloquey that drug on forever and repeated itself in circles.  My attempts at convincing Hower that Minya was the one he was meant for ended dismally as I myself had to admit defeat in the arena of emotional repair.

As I trudged back out into the world away from Hower’s fantasies I caught sight of Xena who had returned with her flying parchement in tact.  She was talking with Minya who appeared to be very responsive to the warrior princess.  Suddenly, Minya was running back into the village as if she were going to deliver a message to Zagrious only Zagrious was already coming.  I approached the warrior princess with curiousity as she explained that she had given Minya some personal advice on dealing with men.  Apparently whatever Xena had said sparked something in Minya although Xena didn’t appear so confident about Minya’s trust in her at this point.   Whatever was said I could only hope that it was going to work because Hower was hopeless as far as I could tell.  I decided that the only solution to his problem would be found in being kicked around by the warrior princess.  Xena jokingly disagreed with me stating that he’d probably enjoy a beating.  She was right of course.  The beast known as man is a creature of lust.

Our conversation suddenly turned to a more serious tone in the next moment when Xena reminded me of how important it was for her succeed in defeating Gareth.  If for no other reason than to repay Goliath for having to die against the Isrealites and for the loss of his family when he once saved Xena from Gareth’s wrath.  It was in this moment that I was reminded of why I traveled with Xena.  She need someone there to remind her that she was doing the right thing.  The warrior princess needed my support and to be reminded that Goliath’s death was for the good of others.  I soothed Xena’s concerns for Goliath reminding her that he could hear her thoughts.  He could feel Xena’s friendship and love for him even in death.  I had to remember this myself every day for Perdicas was forever listening to me.

As I was falling into that thought and that wonderful feeling it was interrupted by the sounds of stomping echoing through the woods and the ground shaking violently beneath me.  Hower quickly came running out of the barn shouting out about the approaching giant with worry.  Yet Xena was not at all worried.  She was extremely pleased for Zagrious had fallen right into her trap.  The warrior princess was reminded in this moment of how Gareth couldn’t resist stomping an army to pieces for he had stomped her army once on the battle field.  She spoke her thoughts outloud as Hower found himself surprised that one of Xena’s hairy brained plans had worked.  He suddenly had faith in the warrior princess and he wondered if all of Xena’s plans worked as she had constructed them in her mind.  Xena wasn’t certain that the rest of her plan would work, but it was all that she had to work with.  With Zagrious out of the way the only contender would be Gareth who was still coming to Laurel reguardless of the outcome.  Everyone had to be ready for battle.

Waiting for Gareth was the most uneventful part of the day.  Xena, Hower, and I spent what seemed to be hours just sitting and waiting in silence.  The only sound that could be heard was Xena’s chackram being hurled out at the campfire pot, to the dry bones hanging from the abandoned butcher shop, to the old wagon wheel at the edge of the village and then back again.  There was the occasional sound of the giant approaching, but he was certainly in no hurry.  He was probably consuming the army that he had just stomped to bits.  I found myself pacing and twirling my staff with bordom as Hower just stared at Xena attempting to figure out a way to get her to admit her love for him I would assume.  He kept shooting her these flirtacious glances that the warrior princess completely ignored, yet Hower didn’t seem to notice.  Finally the boredom became a bit overwhelming for me and I was getting impatient with Gareth.  I sat down next to Xena on the log by the campfire and asked her what could be holding the giant up.  Xena explained that he was probably taking a rest after all of his hard work destroying Zagrious’s army.

Then she finished wiping off the debris from the chackram’s blade and hurled it out again as I watched it hit the same three objects for the hundreth time.  Hower seemed impressed at how effortless and accurate Xena was with her weapon.  She never missed her mark.  This was nothing new for me, but I was very concerned for Minya now because we hadn’t seen her for the entire hour.  Hower was falling deeper into his warrior haze fantasy and the giant was about to arrive.  Xena explained that her hope for Minya was that Minya had finally looked past their differences of the day and taken her advice.  Just as she finished that statement the conversation was interrupted by the sounds of an angry and crazed warlord.

Hower jumped up startled from the chair in which he had been seated backwards in.  There was alarm and worry in his eyes.  I don’t think he believed that Xena was a real warrior because she hadn’t really demonstrated her skills well today.  Yet it seemed that Xena wasn’t the only warrior having an off day.  Zagrious was insane.  His anger and frustration had reached the boiling point.  The man couldn’t control his emotions which Xena has often said can lead to mistakes.  Xena was having a great time and agreed that it was a tough day for those who made their living as warriors.  Yet she wasn’t phased by Zagrious, or Gareth, or Hower, or even me and my antics.  She was completely poised and ready to battle as Zagrious approached expressing how much he despised Xena’s change from looting and steeling, to saving the day.  He spoke of her like a true bard, but without the admiration.  As he approached with his scratched up face, and his half sword he was suddenly approached by the dark haired woman dressed in leather.

It was Minya.  She stood before the battered warlord ready for action.  Hower suddenly appeared upset and worried as he ran around the side of the barn to save Minya from the wrath of Zagrious.  Yet just when it seemed that Minya needed a man to defend her Zagrious attacking finding himself running straight into the heel of Minya’s powerful hand.  She gave him a good beating with just one thrust under the nose sending him flattened onto the ground.  He was knocked out and defeated.  There was nothing left to pick up as Hower found himself enthralled with Minya’s warrior skills.  Of course Minya was dressed in leather which she assumed was the real attraction.  Indeed she had taken Xena’s advice and it was refreshing to see that Hower and Minya were back together with all of their differences worked out.  That was the last we had seen of them for the day.  As Xena and I found ourselves relieved that Hower wouldn’t be another tag along in our travels together.

There was somehow a sense of relief in the resolution of two of the day’s issues and Xena and I both breathed a sigh of relief for the load which had been lifted from both of us.  Yet there was still one problem left to tackle and it was a giant problem.  The sounds of laughter coming from within between Hower, and Minya were suddenly drowned out by the sounds of Gareth’s giant boots approaching the village.  As the earth shook beneath us again I looked to Xena who was no longer relaxed, but poised yet again.  Her first words in response to her poised body stated that Gareth was headed toward the giant’s burial ground before he would return to smash through Laurel.  There was a bit of good news to this for it gave Xena some time to set up her flying parchment, but it was still not certain if this wild plan was going to work.  Yet I had to have faith that the warrior princess would succeed in defeating the giant for she had succeeded in both Zagrious and the relationship of Hower and Minya.

Even Xena as she continued to speak was not certain of her plan, but her heart was where it always is.  She was concerned for the safety of the people that she was attempting to save.  Xena directed me to be certain that if her plan failed that I was to make sure that Hower and Minya’s lives would not end in a lost cause.  My heart was touched as the concern flowed out of the heart of the warrior princess and I decided that it was time for me to lay my irriations to rest.  I didn’t want to part with the warrior princess on bad terms for I had sold her whip for a frying pan just to get back at her.  It was wrong and it wasn’t thoughtful of me and as I expressed my regret and sorrow for my actions to her she only paused me to remind me that she too was sorry.  Xena apologized for disrespecting me when she had thoughtlessly used my scrolls for the call of nature.  It made me feel better about my bad behavior toward the warrior princess to know that she too had been able to stand up and admit when she was wrong.  Our arguements of the day had been silly and petty.  Xena established that by parting in saying that we were even despite all of our battles of will.

Soon the warrior princess was off for the final leg of the mission.  She rounded up her flying parchment and dashed out of the village toward the edge of the woods.  When she was close enough to the path of the giant she seeked out and found a tree that would bring her to his eye level.  Xena bravely scaled the tree with her flying parchment and positioned it at the top.  Then she awaited Gareth along the path toward the burial ground.  Soon all of nature felt to wrath of the giant approaching as all of the birds fled and the deer found themselves almost frozen with fear.  Every animal in the forrest scattered leaving Xena to be the last one standing against the giant.  As Gareth walked up the path Xena called out to him to get his attention.  With just two giant steps he was at the tree where Xena awaited him.  As soon as he recognized his old foe in battle Gareth was angry and tried to swat Xena down out of the tree.  Xena was ready to react for she jumped down from the top of the tree down to the waist of the giant.  She knew that his slow movement would be a distraction in itself as he tried to swat her from the tree.  It was then that she took the oppritunity to fasten the weapon to his metal armor near his belt.

Suddenly the chase was on and it was the most dangerous part of Xena’s plan.  She had to be able to outrun a giant, get him out into the open, and hope that Zues would be throwing down lighting by the time they reached the giant’s burial ground.  The chase was long and vigourous, but the warrior princess stayed steady as the approaching dark clouds gave her the hope that she needed to defeat the giant and win the battle for to pay her debts to her old friend Goliath.  As they approached death within the giant’s burial ground Xena kept tuanting her foe as she dodged the bones of the giants who had once ruled the earth before Gareth.  The grounds were littered with danger as Xena lept forward and rolled over an old jaw bone.  Gareth tried to use the bones to his advantage as he disrespectfully picked off an old arm bone and hurled it at the warrior princess.  She made another move to dodge him attempting to take cover within a giant skull.  Soon Zues came to the rescue as the winds picked up and the lightening bolts began to fly.

Gareth was still attatched to the flying parchment which had stayed strong up into the heaven the entire chase.  As the evening began to fall into the day and the day into the night Xena approached Gareth certain that Zues would soon throw down the final blow that would catch her flying parchment and send Gareth crashing to the ground.  Xena spoke out loud to Goliath whom she was certain was there with her in spirit guiding her to the defeat of Gareth.  Gareth found himself making one last stand against the heavens as he raised his giant powerful shoulder into the air preparing to smash Xena with his fist.  Just before he was about to take the final blow against the warrior princess and all of his enemies Zues threw down his most powerful bolt and hit the flying parchment which faithfully guided the power of Zues into the giant’s back.  Gareth had been stabbed by the power of Zues as he fell with a giant thud to the ground.  Xena was sent several feet into the air as her body absorbed the immense energy of Gareth’s fall.  The power of Zues and the death of a giant was so large that even I could feel the death of Gareth from the little village of Laurel.  Yet as soon as I heard it I knew that it was over and I had faith that Xena would return to Laurel soon.

Darkness had fallen by this point as I prepared the camp fire in the streets of Laurel.  I cooked dinner with Minya for Xena when she would return from her rough day of warrior life.  Minya’s frying pan was excellant and I was thankful that Xena would be able to enjoy the fruits of her loss of the whip.  Upon Xena’s return she was quiet and reflective as she sometimes is at the end of the day when the battles were tough.  I did most of the talking as I often like to do because somehow it helps to sooth the beast within Xena’s heart.  As we finished with dinner I had begun to prepare the bed rolls by the fire.  Both of us were exhausted and going to bed, but glad the day was over.  The storm clouds had passed by now bringing a beautiful scene in the night sky.  Xena began to talk about the stars and of how they seemingly formed giant pictures in the sky.  Maybe she was looking for Goliath up there in the heavens.  She even thought that she had seen a giant dipper that he could have used to eat dinner in the heavens with his family safe and together.  Of course for me it only looked like a giant bear with a giant head, but cute little ears.

The warrior princess was yawning by now and near sleep, but I was certain that she was poised and ready for anything that might come her way.  And so I decided to test my theory knowing that it would most certainly be true.  I grabbed my staff from my side and jumped into action lunging from my back to my stomach in an attempt to make contact against the warrior princess.  Just when I had thought that I would be defeated effortlessly by the strength and agility of the warrior princess I felt the tip of my staff make contact with the bridge of Xena’s nose.  This sent Xena’s body jolting with surprise and sudddenly I felt very small inside.  As I desparately tried to apologize for my mistake the warrior princess just brushed it off.  She was in a bit of shock and even some anger, but realized that the only way to get out of this new arguement was to surrender and call it a night.  She rubbed her sore nose and rolled over hoping to reassure me.  I felt guilt, but it dissolved into wonder for I would not have been so understanding had I been nailed by Xena.  Her forgiveness of me on this day seemed endless, and as I settled back down to that comforting thought I suddenly realized that it wasn’t forgiveness she felt for me, but pity.  Xena had felt sorry for me and decided to let me win just one time.  Now this I could not stand for.  This was why she appeared to have so much faith in me.  She wanted to go to sleep and didn’t have time to argue.  I decided that I would show her the truth of this.  I owed it to her since she had so rudely awakened me by jumping onto my leather water bottle and squirting me in the face with it.

As I attempted to start a new arguement with Xena her only response was a weak yet firm statement.  She just stated that it was time to go to bed.  I couldn’t really argue with that.  And so I lay still next to the warrior princess feeling the closeness of our friendship.  Knowing that we are there for each other through the good and the bad, the smelly, and even the ugly.  This was enough for me.  And so yet another day had ended in the life of Xena the warrior princess and her loyal companion the bard Gabrielle.  Yet I was still thinking about how I knew that she let me hit her though she has sworn otherwise.

The Xena Scrolls: Volume #2: Scroll # 36: Ten Little Warlords

The Xena Scrolls

By:  Gabrielle Bard of Potedia

Scroll#36:  Ten Little Warlords

February 28th, 47 B.C.

Pulling oneself out of the depressing nightmare that is reality can be tough.  And though the nightmare of Callisto had seemingly ended Gabrielle awoke just before dawn to the familiar sound of a crackling fire and the boots of Callisto stopping before her.  When she opened her eyes all that could be seen was not the comforting face of Xena, but the reminder of her rage that continued to stir within.  The voice that spoke Gabrielle’s name was soft and soothing yet it was Callisto’s voice.  Though it had Xena’s familiar tone Gabrielle’s body reacted as she jerked into sudden consciousness and realized again Xena’s face was now that of Callisto.  The bard worked hard everyday to get over that anger and that constant sadness of her loss which ate away inside her heart.  This pain seemingly bled so deeply at times that it found its way into the pit of Gabrielle’s soul. She felt certain that it would be much easier to deal with if only Xena could really be Xena.  At least then the constant reminder of Perdicas’s absence would be less of a burden to the heart.

Though it was Callisto’s face which stared softly into the bard’s eyes Gabrielle was still having much difficulty accepting it as the now true face of her best friend.  She felt almost saddened knowing that it must not be easy for Xena to understand that her presence was a constant reminder of the one who murdered Perdicas.  Not only that, but Xena had to endure the constant darkness which followed Callisto for no one else knew the truth that Gabrielle and Xena knew.  Then as the bard rose to her feet slowly with Xena’s assistance and attempt at comforting her Gabrielle expressed her frustration of the situation.  Xena did understand.  Though there was nothing that could be done about it all now.  At least together they had succeeded at ridding the world of the evil soul of Callisto, but her presence in their lives would never be completely gone.  Gabrielle attempted to come up with a temporary solution to this issue pleading with the warrior princess to at least try to change her hair color back to its natural darkness rather than the irritating blonde it had become.

Xena’s reaction was seemingly abrupt as the bard found herself being thrown by the mighty hands of Callisto the warrior princess behind the brush.  As Gabrielle quickly tried to recoil her suggestion the warrior princess moved her finger to her lips in an attempt to hush the frantic yet momentarily startled bard.  Gabrielle’s confusion was almost so overwhelming that she had forgotten that there was indeed one other person in the world who knew of the truth about Callisto the warrior princess.  As Xena held steady she knelt down beside Gabrielle as they watched and listened together upon the intruder’s entrance into camp.  He wore a small bush over his goofy yet ugly bronze helmet in a lame attempt to conceal himself from view.  As always the warrior princess had sensed his presence way before he had even been fifty yards from camp.  Despite being in Callisto’s body the bard found herself impressed by Xena’s ability to adjust to her new surroundings.  It was obvious that Xena was handling things much better than Gabrielle.

As the idiot entered from beyond the darkness and the brush Xena instructed the raging bard without words.  Gabrielle knew that this was a test to see if she could control the enemy’s approach.  Although the enemy was an idiot he was a perfect decoy for a young bard in training.  Gabrielle watched as the enemy took one, two, and then a third creeping step toward the fire ten yards away from their position.  Just as the idiot was about to turn the corner toward the crackling fire Xena squeezed the bard’s arm signaling the take down.  Gabrielle rose from her knelt position with her staff and lunged forward shouting out Joxer’s name and sweeping him to the ground with a kick to the knee and a leg sweeping staff move.  Joxer suddenly fell upon his back to the ground unaware of the danger which had awaited him

As he lied upon his back blinded by his crooked helmet Gabrielle took the advantage stabbing him in the breast plate with her staff.  There was a yearning for attack coursing through the veins of the bard as she looked down to notice that Joxer’s breast plate wasn’t really much of a plate at all.  It was more like an old strainer used in every kitchen she had ever seen back home in Potedia.  Yet this sidetracked thought soon left and any mercy she may have felt for the idiot quickly left her heart.   Joxer’s response to Gabrielle’s cunning move on him was sarcastic and less than complementary.  He tried to play off his blunder in battle stating that he had been noisy purposely as if he had conspired with the warrior princess before arriving.  As Joxer brought himself back to his feet brushing his brown trousers off Xena soon emerged from the brush.  She was actually quite surprised to see the idiot and was highly curious of his arrival.  Whatever the reason it seemed important to the warrior princess as Joxer continued to speak.  He took off his helmet with pride and confidence and removed the fern sticking out of the top.

After he finished his presentation of warrior prowess he continued his statement explaining that he had received an important message for Callisto.  Joxer was certain that the blonde warrior would want to know of this message.  Yet he was still quite confused for he couldn’t remember if Callisto was actually Xena or if Xena was Callisto.  He looked to Gabrielle who was reminded that there was just one other who knew the true identity of Callisto the warrior princess.  The bard could sympathize with his confusion for she too was still feeling it inside.  Yet Joxer’s presence was still as annoying as ever.  Gabrielle then thought as he continued to converse with Xena that maybe it would have been better if Joxer had been the one stuck in Callisto’s body instead of Xena.  At least she could deal with her frustrations by popping him in the nose or beating him with her staff.  The bard was very aware of Xena’s warrior skills and did not dare to move upon her frustrations against Xena who was still stuck in Callisto’s body.

Then the bard realized that even Xena was still having some difficulty in dealing with her new identity for she seemed irritated that Joxer would even think to bring her Callisto’s personal messages.  Xena turned from his ignorance with irritation in her voice declaring that he should burn the message rather than waste her time with it.  Gabrielle found herself in private agreement with the warrior princess’s attitude, but Joxer was not so certain that this message should be burned.  His persistence prevailed as he explained that this message was from none other than Ares the god of war.  Joxer was an idiot, but he did have at least a tiny brain working within his dumb skull part of the time.  His observation proved to be of great interest to the warrior princess.  She remembered that there was at least one other that knew that she wasn’t really Callisto.  Ares most certainly knew the truth for it was Ares that had helped Callisto escape the underworld by using Xena’s guilt to get into Xena’s body.

As Xena’s interest in Callisto’s message intensified Joxer demonstrated his pride in knowing that he had Xena’s undivided attention.  It was rare that Joxer had ever had Xena’s attention at all.  He then stated that Ares had sent only ten personal invitations to ten different warlords.  Callisto had been one of those ten.  As the warrior princess continued to listen and to run the scenarios through her mind Joxer fumbled through his lose gear to retrieve the actual message.  The bard’s curiosity of Joxer’s story turned to irritation, and then to a sudden uncontrollable impatience.  Her eyes darted about his clothing looking for something randomly hanging out until finally they spotted the misplaced scroll.  Gabrielle’s arms jerked her staff forth stabbing Joxer’s side where the message for Callisto hung.  Joxer looked up surprised yet annoyed that the bard had interrupted his performance for the warrior princess.  He then brought his sarcastic tone into the conversation once more downplaying Gabrielle’s impressive move.  He asked her if maybe she was a fierce warrior trapped within the body of the bard.  His implication was that she was clumsy and uncoordinated.  Yet the bard did not find his sarcastic humor at all amusing.  Xena continued to ignore the tension between the two inexperienced warriors still thinking of the message as she read the scroll.

Then she proclaimed that it was not Ares who had sent the letter.  He would have no reason to send such a letter to Callisto for he knew that the real Callisto was back in Tartarus where she belonged.  Yet Xena was uncertain of whom had sent the letter which brought her to her second question of why.  The warrior princess needed to know who really sent it and why they would send such an invitation.  Of course Xena’s thoughts were spoken aloud almost as if she had forgotten that Joxer and Gabrielle were there.  Joxer took advantage of the moment and tried once again to prove that he was a worthy sidekick.  He desperately wanted a mission and a quest and now he had found one.  Joxer asked Xena when, but Xena cut him off immediately.  She declared that he would not go with she and Gabrielle at first light.  Joxer’s face turned to extreme disappointment and Gabrielle felt a sense of relief in knowing that she would not have to spend the day warding off Joxer’s idiocy on top of trying to keep her anger in check.  Dealing with Xena as Callisto was difficult enough for the bard.  Yet Xena let Joxer down gently.  The bard couldn’t understand why the warrior princess didn’t just tell him the truth about himself.  Instead Xena gently placed her hand upon his shoulder and asked Joxer to stay behind to protect the local villagers from the nine other warlords that would be passing through.  She assured Joxer that his warrior presence could prevent panic from breaking out.  Joxer’s disappointment turned to sudden delight for he had never thought of doing that.  It was as if he had come to a sudden revelation.  His part in Xena’s plan was even more important than what Gabrielle would be doing.  Somehow he had gone from a childlike idiot to a confident and well respected hero within seconds.

As Xena ushered the bard away from Joxer leaving him to think of all the good that he would do without them he tried to thank her.  Yet he was still confused for he was getting this wonderful warrior advice from Callisto yet it was really Xena inside.  Gabrielle turned to face him and to try to sympathize with his confusing pain.  Yet even Gabrielle was finding that it was getting a little less confusing to identify what Xena now looked like.

As first light broke into the warm mid morning sun Xena and Gabrielle had approached the outskirts of the next village.  There they stayed hidden in the tall brush to watch as the other nine warlords arrived.  One by one each warlord made his dastardly appearance.  And each one had that suspicious look about them.  It was as if they held the key to the greatest secret in the world.  They were a select few, but no one knew why.  The first three warlords came quietly and did not think to speak to anyone.  They just entered into town trying to be inconspicuous, but the bard could see right through their evil presence.  Then two more came into town almost at the very same moment.  One was short and stout.  Xena named him as Tegasaur.  Then the bard spotted the fifth noticing that he was rather large almost like a giant cyclops.  The hairy giant pushed an innocent villager aside.  Xena declared the two approaching warlords as bitter enemies.  Gabrielle noticed that they seemingly recognized each other and  awaited the bloodbath to begin.  It was as if she yearned to see blood on this peaceful morning.

Suddenly Gabrielle realized the importance of finding out the answers to Xena’s burning new questions.  The who and the why was burning within the bard’s own heart like no other questions she had ever asked before.  She suggested that Xena close in quickly using her infamous pinch to defeat every warlord before he had a chance to strike back.  Yet Xena seemed calm and patient.  As the bard found herself to be extremely fired up with rage inside she was ready for an offensive move.  Xena noticed the bard’s unusual mood and spoke softly to her friend in an attempt to calm the raging heart within.    Gabrielle’s raging mood calmed for a moment, but the calm did not last.

As the bard prepared for the battle to ensue the two warlords suddenly stopped before one another.  Instead of drawing each others’ blood as the bard had expected the two men pooled their information.   The bard found herself in a state of confusion yet disappointment.  Just moments before Xena had declared that the two were certain enemies.  In fact she had compared their encounter to throwing oil on a raging fire, but it didn’t appear to the bard that they were about to draw any swords or daggers.  Gabrielle watched the two disgusting men spit upon the ground as if it were the sign of an ugly greeting.  It was clear that the two had not been raised with one manner within either of their bones.  They were truly hideous as they each held up a scroll.  The scrolls looked exactly like the one that Xena had received as Callisto.  Then the two shook hands firmly as if sealing a deal.  It was then that Xena and the bard realized that the two had decided to join forces, but their motives were still shady.

Suddenly the bard felt the need to pounce.  As her muscles tensed and she grabbed up her staff she began to charge forward.  Xena quickly grabbed her friend who was seemingly unable to control the burning rage within.  The warrior princess spoke soothingly to her friend.  She  encouraged patience and then tried to lighten the mood by asking Gabrielle if she had slept on another rock the night before.  Though at first Gabrielle did not see the humor in Xena’s joke she finally realized that Xena was right.  Xena insisted that she follow the warlords alone while Gabrielle should go on toward the market to grab something for her stomach.  The warrior princess was certain that it was the bard’s empty stomach that caused her friend to be so vengeful on this morning.  Yet Gabrielle herself was not exactly certain what the issue was within.  And although she was confused she listened to the warrior princess as always knowing that Xena understood her even when she herself did not.

As the bard watched Xena go in after the warlords she herself went in the opposite direction into town.  Gabrielle desperately tried to hold down the anger and the pain of her recent losses, but it seemed that the harder she tried the more the fire burned inside.  The bard thought maybe it really was her stomach that actually burned as she heard the sounds of the approaching market.  An old hag called out for a sale on fishcakes which actually began to sound very good for the moment.  Gabrielle remembered how much she really loved how the flavor melted in her mouth.  Fishcakes suddenly seemed to be the answer to all of the bard’s problems as she approached the old woman’s stand.  The bard was swooned by the sale of six for only one dinar.  That was unheard of and most definitely a deal worth cashing in on for the most seasoned of bargain hunters.  It was just one of the bard’s many skills aside from her storytelling.

As she approached the woman for the sale she found herself suddenly entranced by the man across the way.  The sound of his voice was so soothing as it called out fishcakes ten for only one dinar.  Gabrielle quickly turned away from the cheap old hag and rushed over to the peasant man who sold ten fishcakes for only one dinar.  Her stomach would be full for days for that kind of deal.  She wouldn’t have to feel the raging fire within the pit of her stomach for at least ten days.  Yet just before the bard could pull out the single dinar that would pave the way to her soothing happiness the old hag chimed in once more.  This time she offered twelve fishcakes for a dinar.  The bard’s head began to spin with confusion once more as her stomach felt that aching pain and the fire began to drive up into her heart once again.  It was more than she could bare to take.  Not only that, but she could suddenly feel that her arms were being torn apart by the two marketing fishcakes.  The competition was fierce as the battle began to rage between the peasants in the market for the sale of twelve tiny little fishcakes.

Gabrielle had reached her breaking point.  She suddenly ripped her arms from their restraint as she shouted out at the top of her lungs.  The bard no longer seeked fishcakes.  She seeked vengeance and rage.  She seeked blood and sweat.  Gabrielle needed to release her nervous energy in the heat of a battle.  And so the bard turned and took barely a glance at her new peasant enemies and began to smash her way through the market delivering thunderous punches to anyone who dared get in the way of her destructive path.  She tossed innocent peasant girls to the ground just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Then she focused back upon the two peasants that had been trying to make the sale.  They were the true culprits of it all.  And as the market had now broken out into total chaos Callisto appeared to investigate what she had missed.  Actually it wasn’t really Callisto, but everyone in the market stopped for they were certain that the wrath of the irritating blonde would rain down upon them.

Gabrielle was on the rampage determined to stop the raging peasants in their sale before anyone else fell victim to their entrancing fishcakes.  Gabrielle chose the first weapons she caught sight of as one of the fishcake dealers pleaded and begged for Callisto to spare his life, but Gabrielle knew the truth.  Callisto was not at all the one they had to worry about.  She was in control of her rage yet Gabrielle was not.  The bard suddenly picked up a large trout from one of the nearby stands and prepared to belt the fishcake dealer with it over the head, but just before the bard could strike Xena grabbed her friend by the ear and yanked hard dragging the bard out of the market and into the nearby tavern.  Xena then scolded the bard for her crazy actions.  The warrior princess realized that her friend was delusional which was strange and out of character for the bard.

It was a painful journey for Gabrielle as she could not break free of the grasp of the mighty warrior princess or the rage that boiled within.  As soon as Xena had busted through the doors she threw Gabrielle down into an old rickety chair and again demanded that her friend calm down.  It seemed that the bard’s mood was a result of more than just an empty stomach.  Xena found herself quite confused at this strange turn of events.  It seemed that no one’s true behavior could be predictable.  Her warrior instincts were not working as they normally would.  It was possible that the warrior princess was unable to judge the character of a warlord now that she was stuck within Callisto’s body.

As she thought out loud wondering why innocent peasants were ready to kill one another and why warlords were on their best behavior she was interrupted by the voice of an impatient bard.  Gabrielle shouted out to the barkeep demanding service for thirsty customers as she pounded her wooden mug upon the table.  Yet just as the bard was unable to control her mood swings her mind was still sharp as her ears caught the conversation between the barkeep and one of his obviously drunken customers.  The angry bard was determined to find out who it was that held the barkeep’s attention.  As she listened to the conversation she could have sworn that the drunken customer dressed in dark rags and leather pants was bragging himself to be a god.  Xena too had caught a bit of the conversation because she seemed to be focused on the drunken fellow.  As Xena approached him he turned around and flashed a crooked smile toward the warrior princess.  He then shouted out her name, but he didn’t call her Callisto.

Xena suddenly rose from the table and began to walk toward the bar uncertain of who knew her true identity.  At first the man with the black hood over his head didn’t look so familiar yet as she approached and listened to the voice she paused in her advance.  Suddenly it was all very clear to the warrior princess.  Yet to the bard it was still foggy.  Then escaping from Xena’s lips was the name of the god of war.  Ares grinned back as if delighted that the warrior princess had figured out his true identity yet Gabrielle found herself not so certain that the god of war would be found in a petty little tavern among peasants.  Yet the drunk was determined to make his impression.  He laughed as if amused that Xena didn’t recognize him.  Moments later Xena confirmed that it really was the god of war only he had been turned into a mortal.  Of course that was the real mystery because even Ares did not know how he ended up becoming mortal over night.  Yet it seemed like justice to Gabrielle who was still angry at him for not giving Xena her body back.  If anyone had the power to give Xena her true self it was him.  But now he was just a plain old mortal idiot just like Joxer or any other mortal man.  In fact, the bard noticed that he spoke with a bit of slur in his speech.  He was just as big of a loser as any.  Ares was hardly impressive and definitely not what Gabrielle had imagined a god to be like.

Gabrielle found her rage taking over as she rose from the table and approached the mortal god of war.  She wanted a piece of action and she was determined to show him what real pain was.  Yet he did not take her actions against him lightly as he tossed her aside out of drunken anger and frustration.  Xena did not allow his disrespecting ways to go unpunished.  The warrior princess suddenly picked up the mortal man and threw him across the tavern over her head.  He flipped  out of control until he crashed into some bar furniture before coming to a rest.  Gabrielle was delighted to see how truly vulnerable he really was.  She was ready to finish him off, but Xena would not allow it.  Instead Xena threw out a rag to the demoralized god and instructed him on how to heal his new wound.  His mouth was bleeding from the corner.  He looked like a helpless little child as if about to cry, but he didn’t.  Instead he made a notation of what mortal pain felt like for the first time.  Gabrielle found herself enthralled with the idea of giving him more pain, but was again scolded for her out of control behavior.  Xena demanded that the bard leave her alone with Ares.  Gabrielle reminded Xena that if she needed an extra warrior to be there she would be most definitely ready for battle.  Yet just as Gabrielle felt this energy surge she realized that her thirst called out to her and was again focused on the lousy barkeep.

The anger redirected itself as she tossed some bar stools aside and sat before the barkeep.  There was an unusual power that could be felt within the bard.  She had never before experienced this kind of power.  It was an uncontrollable driving force that could barely be controlled.  She snapped out to the barkeep for a drink and though he tried very hard to service the angry young blonde he was unable to appease her.  He must have served her at least three or four different drinks and none of them soothed that unquenchable thirst for blood and violence.  And then it dawned upon Gabrielle that she was feeling the wrath of warrior power.  She looked to her left and tried unsuccessfully to use Xena’s famous pinch upon an innocent drunk.  The drunk fell not because he was about to die of a blockage in his artery, but because Gabrielle had become frustrated with her failure in using the famous move as she threw his stool from beneath him.

And while the bard argued with the barkeep and continued her scene of rage Xena and Ares conversed and exchanged information.  Neither really knew the answer to who had been the one who invited Callisto and nine other warlords to the village, but the two had come to an agreement before leaving the tavern.  Suddenly the bard was ready for more action as Xena prepared to leave the tavern and Ares behind.  Gabrielle was glad to know that he would not be joining them on the next leg of their mission.  Yet as the day fell into night Xena explained to Gabrielle the conversation that taken place between herself and Ares.  He had told her that he was unaware of how he had ended up mortal.  His godhood had been stolen sometime during his preoccupation with Xena and Callisto in Tartarus.  By the time he had returned home to Olypmous his sword had come up missing which held the key to his immortality.

This was a big disappointment for the bard knowing that Ares could have helped Xena, but now there was no chance.  As the bard began to write him off of her list of known gods Xena explained that there was more at stake than her return to her own body.  She explained to the bard as explained by Ares that the world would never know peace again.  No matter how much Xena and Gabrielle wished to end war by condemning Ares to mortality the fact was the world was imbalanced without him.  Ares had said that without a sitting god of war no mortal would be able to control anger and every peaceful peasant would rage inside starting more wars than could be imagined.  When Xena revealed to Gabrielle that even she was falling victim to this imbalance Gabrielle’s uncontrollable anger began to boil even more.

Xena felt that she was losing her friend, but knew of no other way to save her from the imbalance and indifference of war.  Gabrielle rose from her log by the fire suddenly exhilerated and alert like Xena.  She was certain that what she had been feeling inside must be what Xena felt like inside everyday.  Finally the bard had made it to warrior status, but as she rejoiced over this new self discovery Xena interrupted her with reality.  The warrior princess explained that Ares had been right when he had said Gabrielle was already infected with uncontrollable hatred.  Gabrielle did admit to the warrior princess that she was infected with a boiling anger inside.  Her anger was so great that she felt the need to hurt Xena because Xena was in Callisto’s body.  It was difficult to deal with as Gabrielle desperately tried to hold onto her sane mind for a solution to her anger problem.  If only one of the other gods could put Xena back into her real body.  There had to be at least one of them that would be willing to help relieve Gabrielle of her painful anger.

As Xena realized Gabrielle’s confession and desire to hurt her she knew that it was the reminder of Callisto that kept her from regaining control of her emotions.  Xena knew that there was only one way to help her friend.  She had to go with Ares in the morning and she had to go alone.  Gabrielle was disappointed that Xena was going to help Ares the one who had caused all of this pain.  The bard was desperate to plead with Xena not to help Ares, but Xena’s mind had already come to its decision.  Before Xena left Gabrielle to join forces with Ares she asked the bard to try something in an attempt to calm the raging anger within.  Xena reminded Gabrielle of one of her most favorite poems about the Elysian Fields.  The warrior princess asked Gabrielle to remember that poem and to recite it when the rage became unbearable.  “Elysian Fields calm and green, love birds singing so serene….”    Before Gabrielle could finish Xena interrupted her reminding the bard only to recite it when she was feeling the anger inside.

Upon the next morning Gabrielle awoke from her slumber to find that Xena had gone without her.  She was confused at first, but suddenly the urge came over the bard to follow Xena’s trail.  Gabrielle knew the warrior princess well now that she had acquired that warrior anger and rage.  She was certain that she had what it took to take out even the most vicious of warlords along the way.  Gabrielle feared nothing as she took her trusty staff into town following every detail which led her to track down where Xena had gone.  After trying to use Xena’s pinch unsuccessfully to obtain information from the local villagers Gabrielle stumbled into someone she would rather have never even met.  It was Joxer whom had plowed her over with his sword drawn ready for action.  Yet Gabrielle was not at all amused by this.

Angry at Joxer for his clumsy blunder Gabrielle snapped at him as she used her staff instinctively to knock him to the ground from his feet.  Joxer’s sword flew out of his grasp into the air and then landed near the water in the harbor.  The boiling bard attempted to finish her victim off until he popped back up angerly questioning her action against him.  Gabrielle responded with impatience stating that she was on a mission to seek out and find Xena and Ares.  The bard was certain that Xena was in danger being in the company of the mortal god of war.  Joxer’s pride was high as a goofy smile spread across his face for he realized that Xena had trusted in him well this time.  She had given him two orders of command which directly related to the mission.  Yet Gabrielle had seemingly been ignored by the warrior princess.  Joxer bragged of guarding the docks in the harbor until the boat which carried ten little warlords would return.

Gabrielle lowered her staff and suddenly drove it into the ground.  Tapping her boot knowing instantly that Xena was only fooling the idiot with his overzealous warrior wanna be attitude.  Gabrielle was the real warrior for she knew that only a real warrior could follow one as skilled as Xena.  As the bard bragged and attempted to set Joxer straight on this fact he only scoffed at her statement against him and against his intelligence.  Joxer then explained that he already knew exactly where the boat was headed.  He even bragged of what he had seen transpire just before it had departed.  Joxer stated that Xena and Ares had ambushed one of the other warlords in order to gain Ares an invitation and passage onto the boat.  Gabrielle found herself laughing with disgust as she imagined the god of mortality trying to pose as a mighty warlord.  Joxer agreed with the bard on this point for he had witnessed the hung over god of war.  In fact he had run into Ares in the tavern just before the god of war had met with the warrior princess.  Joxer had seen the mortal suffering of another idiot hung over.

Suddenly Gabrielle’s anger rose within again for she was jealous that Joxer seemingly knew all of these important details.  She was becoming ill of his over sized pride as she searched for a point of attack against his confidence.  Gabrielle then asked Joxer what reason did he have for staying behind when he could have been on the boat with Xena and Ares.  Joxer thought about it for a moment only to reply that he had already been on the boat.  He had followed Xena and Ares and proclaimed himself the mightiest of warriors.  Though as he retold his version of the event to the bard his face turned from lit excitement to sudden disappointment for he had been reminded of the response.  He realized that no one respected him not even the bard before him.

Gabrielle knew what must have happened next when he did not finish his story.  The crowd of warlords must have laughed in his face.  Joxer finished his wonderful tale reminding the bard that he played his fine role of fear in the face of the evil Callisto although he knew that there was nothing to be afraid of.  He even went as far as to say that if it really had been Callisto he still would not have been afraid.  Gabrielle scoffed at the idea in her mind knowing that Callisto would waste the idiot in an instant if given the opportunity.

As Gabrielle and Joxer argued and bickered over what their next role in the mission would be Xena and Ares traveled across the sea with eight nasty warlords.  The best of the best had been invited to join the ranks of this honor.  There was a prize to be won at the end of the journey although no one had been allowed onto the boat with a single weapon.  Most of the warlords would not have complied with the phony Ares’s demand although it was said that one of them would obtain a prize in the end.  As they sailed the sea Ares tried desperately to deal with his throbbing headache unaware of what the hangover would deal him next.  Xena played the part of Callisto listening to the many warlords who bragged of dastardly deeds.  Many had staked claims on triumphs won by others.  One had proclaimed that he had personally smashed down the gates of Spartica, but it was actually Ares who had done that deed.

Another warlord proclaimed that he had defeated Xena shamelessly in battle only to be shown up by Callisto’s own claims to the same story.  There were a lot of vengeful feelings upon this journey as Ares played low key per the advice of the warrior princess.  After almost a day of sailing the boat finally docked upon a small isolated island.  On the island was a castle in which Ares was said to be residing.  As the true god of war and the warrior princess fell behind the pack the warrior princess wondered what it must be like for a god to have to ask for the help of a mortal.  Ares’s response was unexpected for he replied with his own question.  He wondered what it was like for Xena to be wanting to help the god who had made her a legendary warlord.

As the mortal god bragged of the talent of some of the other warlords he spoke of Virgileous proudly.  Yet he also stepped back from Virgileous realizing that his complements of the giant over-sized mongrel were not making Xena jealous.  The god was hoping to win over the warrior princess as always.  He finished the conversation adding that though Virgileous did him proud he had known no greater enemy and friend than Xena.  What Ares didn’t realize was that Xena was finding him more irresistible as a mortal than as a god.  He was human to her for the first time.  She even felt pity for the man who knew nothing of mortality until now.

By the setting sun the ten little warlords had reached the castle and entered in through its mighty doors.  Callisto led the way as the mighty doors opened magically and without effort.  Suddenly as the pack moved inside cautiously torches lit themselves to reveal an empty hallway.  In a circle they lit one by one and there were ten when it was finally done.  Xena suddenly found herself putting together the truths of this mysterious game.  There was only one whom she knew that would create such a show.  She recalled the beginning of the journey remembering the mysterious godlike voice that introduced all of the warlords to the contest on the boat.  It seemingly came from a spinning silver disk although Ares had not been flattered.  Xena remembered he had been right about the fake who tried to imitate his infamous voice.

Callisto then declared before the audience of warlords that it was Sysphus whom had most likely been responsible for sending them all on this wild goose chase.  Ares found himself confused for a moment reminding Xena and the other warlords that Sysphus had been condemned by Hades himself to push a rock uphill in Tarturus for an eternity.  All of the warlords had heard of this story fearing Hades and fearing death despite their dangerous career choices.  They had faith in only Ares whom they worshipped hoping that their beloved god of war would be there to save them in their time of need during battle.

Suddenly there was a bright flash and then a puff of smoke.  There before the warlords in the middle of the circle stood Sysphus.  He appeared irritated that Callisto had figured out part of his scheme.  Yet Sysphus played her down only to say that he was flattered to be in the presence of the mighty Callisto.  Sysphus also knew a secret about Callisto as he revealed it to the rest of the warlords.  Ares’s cover was now blown as all of those whom had once followed him had now seen him at his worst.  It was most likely one of the most emberresing moments the god of war had ever experienced.  The warlords suddenly realized that they had all been taken for fools.  There was no real prize to be won.  As they turned to leave Sysphus with his games he retook their attention disappearing like a god.  Then he reappeared before them at the doors explaining that though he was no god of war he held the ultimate prize within his possession.

It had all begun with Hades whom had said to bring together ten of the best and most skilled warriors.  One of these warriors would be the winner of a contest to slay a monster known only as the Barracas.  Each warlord was to draw number from the bowl.  They would go in order by number to see who would get the first chance at slaying the mighty Barracas.  Yet no one had ever really seen a Barracas or even heard of one.  Their chance to slay the Barracas would begin at sunrise with number one and then as each was defeated by the Barracas the next was to take his place attempting to slaughter the nasty beast.  Whomever was able to slay the Barracas successfully would win Ares sword which contained his godhood.

Ares was upset that his sword was being used as a mere prize in a silly game.  He felt disrespected and upset at Hades for allowing such an imbecile to steal his sword.  Naturally Vergilious stepped forth to claim the sword, but was rejected by Sysphus who was very much in control of these puppets who thirsted for the ultimate power.  Sysphus explained that his own reward for redistributing the godhood of  war would be immortality for himself.  He also declared that each warlord would be provided with a weapon to use against the Barracas in the morning.  And with that he disappeared as one of the other warlords announced that no one would leave the island on this night.  Their boat was no longer docked on shore for it had mysteriously disappeared.  This meant that all were staying within Sysphus’s castle for the night.

Soon Gabrielle and Joxer had landed upon the mystical island as the sun began to set.  By now Gabrielle was extremely irritated by the presence of Joxer.  No matter how hard the bard tried she could not get it out of her mind to want to kill Joxer yet she fought the rage.  Her heart was strong though her wits were tested by his stupidity.  Despite Gabrielle having thrown Joxer off of the boat after he argued with her about Xena’s wishes he would be fine she thought.  Yet she was still angry at Xena whom had left her behind to deal with Joxer and had gone off with Ares alone.  Gabrielle fought back the sails of the small vessel which she had arrived upon as the winds picked up off of the sea.  Then she felt a presence from behind.  Instinctively she picked up an or and swung around slapping the enemy across the face.

As the enemy fell to the ground she realized it was Joxer.  Gabrielle found herself shocked that he had been able to swim from the ocean and reach the shore.  She was beginning to get irritated that he kept sneaking up on her like that.  There was seemingly nothing that would rid her of his irritating presence.  When she asked the idiot warrior what he was doing he answered that he rethought Xena’s earlier orders to him.  He thought that just maybe this dock had been the one she had meant when he was told to guard the dock.  The bard could see that he was confused and out of his mind at best.  As he rose from the ground where he lied on the beach he stated that it was time to find the castle.  He began to walk in the opposite direction.  Gabrielle corrected him explaining that the castle was in plain sight straight ahead.

Joxer turned to see that the bard was indeed correct.  Yet he was determined to prove himself to be the best warrior.  Just before the argument was about to ensue once again there was a mysteriously strange sound coming from the wind.  The bard paused for a moment to listen.  It sounded dangerous and vicious.  Joxer was obviously afraid as he too had heard the sound.  Yet Gabrielle put the fear aside knowing that a true warrior fears nothing.  And so she led the way toward the sound.  Maybe it was a vicious monster that could kill Joxer so that she could find peace once again.

After following the sound into the night the two were led into the mouth of a dark cave.  This made things much more exhilerating and exciting the bard thought.  Her irritation of Joxer began to turn to a competition of warrior skills.  She knew that she could kill that monster if that was indeed what they were hearing.  Gabrielle tried desperately to focas on finding Xena knowing that there must be a drain pipe somewhere leading into the castle.  Of course Joxer the idiot had wanted to actually storm the castle doors.  Gabrielle realized quickly that he’d get himself killed that way knowing that even she could not go up against ten warlords alone.

Suddenly the sound of the monster echoed at the pass.  There were two choices.  One was to go toward the castle and the other was to slay the monster.  Joxer of course was cowardly stating that the castle was the obvious choice, but Gabrielle rejected that idea.  She was the leader in this search party and they were no longer searching for Xena.  It was all about killing the monster now.  She had to prove her superior skill to Joxer and she had to get rid of him somehow.  This had to be the way.  Yet he was still persistent in arguing with the bard who could no longer resist the urge to grab him by his nose and snap it off.  Of course she tried, but failed although Joxer let out a whimper of pain as Gabrielle twisted it around till it would twist no more.

Back at the castle the warlords were ready to kill one another as they had drawn their numbers only to discover that Callisto had drawn number one.  The number two warlord would not settle for second prize for he began a brawl warlord against warlord hoping to win against Callisto for number one.  Every warlord in the castle had known that he could not take Callisto on alone.  Yet eight against two was a certain victory.  Yet Xena in Callisto’s body was more than they could handle.  She fought them all off protecting the weakened god of war from a fate of certain death.  It was lucky for him that he had drawn number ten for no one feared Ares now.  As the battle ended someone died for there were left now only nine.  Number two whom had foolishly begun the battle found his fate.  Suddenly the voice of Syshpus chimed in pleased at what he had seen.  Yet he advised all to save their strengths till morning for it was the monster that deserved their warnings.

As the warlords went off for their slumber Xena found herself again feeling sorry for the mortal god of war.  He had been stripped of it all including his pride.  He that battle he had almost died.  Ares had sustained an injury to his shoulder as Xena cared for him.  She was feeling a strange love, but it wasn’t like any other.  The warrior princess knew that he didn’t really care wishing that he would understand.  Yet a god can never understand mortals though he has become a mortal himself.  Ares expressed how though Xena was within Callisto’s body he could still feel her true self.  Even her touch was real to him although he had mentioned that both had been his pleasures past.  It was just like a god to brag of all those he had.  So many mortals had played his victim for he had pulled their strings of passion and emotion.  As a god Ares was a master, but as a man only a helpless disaster.  That was what made Xena feel for him.  His helpless mortal state.

Yet the night was violent in the castle for each warlord plotted against the other.  They built shallow alliances with one another in an attempt to get a step closer to the Barracas.  The second to go came in.  It was number seven who had claimed number two.  He burst in through the door of Xena and Ares about to strike only do die before them.  After he fell all that could be seen was a huge ax in his back.  Xena and Ares had been given only a small dagger and a mace.  It was clear these weapons were meant to kill warriors and not monsters.  Yet the why of it all was still as foggy as the location of the sword.  Xena was certain that it was within the castle in plain view.  It was obvious now what they had to do.

As Xena and Ares searched the castle for a clue they stumbled upon two more bodies of dead warriors.  Three and four had now perished.  They had perished at the point of each others’ sword.  It was an obvious trick played upon them by those  warlords remaining alive.  The situation was grim as Xena knew that they would soon find themselves in another battle of warrior skill.  This time it would be four against two although Ares as a mortal was not much of a warrior at all.  As the two true allies searched for the sword Ares tried desperately to convince Xena to take his sword.  His mortal heart desired more to be with Xena than it did to reclaim his godhood.  He could not imagine being a god again knowing that Xena would never trust him.  She had made it clear to him back at the bedchamber that if he ever lived to see immortality once more that he would always forget what he had promised as a mortal.

Ares had tried desperately to convince her otherwise, but Xena was not easily fooled.  Even mortal men tell lies to full fill their own desires.  Of course Xena rejected his idea knowing that she was not the woman for the job.  She did not wish to be a goddess or an immortal.  Yet Ares agreed that she should be the goddess of desire rather than of war.  He was planting the seed for immortality with the mortal he loved most.  Ares would make her a goddess with his sword and then convince her to give him his own immortality so that they could reign together upon Olympus.  Xena refused his offer again as number nine approached from behind.  The warrior princess had spotted his reflection within a shield upon the wall.  He carried a sword as he struck from behind.

Effortlessly Xena pulled out her dagger given to her by Sysphus.  She sent the dagger into number nine sealing the deal with Ares.  She admitted that he was the right man for the job despite how much she wished to keep him from regaining his reign.  Not one of the other remaining warlords would be trust-worthy for as mortals they would turn on one another.  Ares had yet to try to kill Xena so she knew that his heart was true.  If he had been the evil that she had known him to be Ares as a mortal would have been without remorse.  Yet she could see it in his eyes as they placed the body of nine upon the alter of warrior’s sacrificed in the name of his sword.  Ares regretted yet another of his lost warriors on the battlefield.  Though soulless he wasn’t heartless which made him the one who should reign as god.

They continued on searching through the castle.  Their search for his sword led them into the castle dungeon.  Xena was cautious as they searched knowing Sysphus would have many tricks and traps set for anyone lurking about.  She was certain that it was down in the dungeon that he would hide the sword for it could be in plain sight and he could capture an unsuspecting victim.  As they walked Ares found himself stumbling over a dungeon rat which startled him with surprise.  The warrior princess laughed at the helpless god of war who mistook this mortal experience for fear rather than surprise.  Again Ares tried to convince Xena the become a goddess and take his sword.  He was not so certain that he would make it out of Sysphus’s contest alive.  The two were about to exit the dungeon as they slowly ventured up a staircase only to be surprised by an appearance by the magical Sysphus.

Sysphus was candid as he laughed in the face of his helpless contestants.  He was confident in having the upper hand.  Yet Xena interrupted his confidence by revealing that she was onto him.  It was a contest of wits between the magician and the warrior princess for it seemed at each of their meetings a new piece of the puzzle was openly revealed.  Sysphus shot back at Xena revealing he knew that she was Xena and not Callisto.  He tried to figure out how this could have come to pass.  And then he looked to Ares laughing at the god for his blunder.  Sysphus explained how he had taken advantage of Ares’s passions for Xena when Ares was not so careful to guard his sword.  It seemed that Hades was angry at Ares for tampering with the souls that belonged in Tartarus.  Switching Xena’s for Callisto’s almost cost Hades all the power in Tartarus.

Xena could see that Sysphus was setting a trap.  He proclaimed that he hoped that Xena would win the sword of Ares yet Xena knew that it wasn’t true.  Sysphus played on Ares emotions as he declared the former god a loser in front of the mortal he loved most.  Ares reacted as Sysphus expected.  He ran down the stairs toward Sysphus to attack and save his pride.  Yet he also was there to restore Xena’s honor for it had been  he who had stolen it from Xena.  Xena called out to the blinded Ares, but Ares was helpless at Sysphus’s hand.  Suddenly the stairs collapsed beneath the god sending him to the bottom back into the dungeon.  As Ares struggled to rise from his fall Sysphus pulled out one of his endless tricks.  Ares found himself hanging from a rope unable to free himself.

Sysphus then disappeared within the depth of his laughter as another trick revealed itself upon his exit.  Ares was about to meet his doom at the end of a floor full of spikes.  Fire shot up from beneath them as Ares screamed with fear and terror.  The warrior princess quickly acted saving him from certain death.

As the early morning hours began to wear on into the dawn Gabrielle continued searching with Joxer for the infamous monster.  Yet her irritations were rising as Joxer’s presence drove her blood to a boil.  Joxer mocked the bard of her irritations.  He had been dragging the point of his sword along the walls of the cave for the past ten minutes.  Suddenly Gabrielle stated that she was ready to kill at any moment.  She wanted to kill Joxer.  As he tried to speak she halted his comment not wanting to deal with another of his statements.  If only Joxer could stay quiet long enough for her to kill the rage inside or the monster down the corridor.  One of the two would most certain help her control her pain within.  She was beginning to understand that all of this pain could be controlled if only she could have that moment of peace away from Joxer.

Again Gabrielle began reciting the poem that she love most as Xena had suggested before leaving with Ares.  And then suddenly Joxer began to speak of blood lust.  He was certain that he knew exactly what Gabrielle was feeling inside, but Gabrielle knew that he was clueless.  Joxer tried desperately to out due Gabrielle’s anger as he drew his sword and prepared to slash open an annoying buzzing around his head.  It was a little fly that had been following him for sometime.  Gabrielle paused to watch  him within his dilusional battle against the small winged beast.  Then she realized that he had snapped.  She began to laugh hysterically for she had now seen it all.  There couldn’t be a worse situation than being stuck with Joxer in a cave with the worst anger within.  Not only that, but there was an unknown monster somewhere up ahead.

And then it happened.  Gabrielle heard the monster as if it were only moments away.  She needed something powerful that would be certain to kill it.  The bard realized that Joxer was a bonus for he had a sword.  She turned to Joxer and asked of his sword, but he would not give it up.  He whined declaring that a warrior never gave his sword away just before a battle.  This only infuriated the bard more as she lunged forward attempting to strangle the big lug who knew nothing about being a warrior.  She was tired of hearing his warrior stories and advice.  The bard had enough.  Suddenly she realized she had to get rid of the rage before she hurt someone even if it was only Joxer that she had to kill.

Gabrielle reached for Joxer’s sword removing it from the scabbard and then she charged forth toward the wrath of the monster.  Joxer tried desperately to follow, but instead decided that he was going to fight the monster with his bare hands.  He quickly passed Gabrielle in the race to see who would kill the monster first.  When Gabrielle finally arrived trailing behind she found Joxer beating a large machine with a stick.  He was intense in his battle against the contraption.  There was no real monster.  It was only a noisemaking thing.  Gabrielle found herself to be disappointed that she had been chasing down a machine with the world’s biggest idiot.  Someone was going to have to pay for this crime.  There was only one thing left to do.  It was time to find Xena at the castle.

Inside the castle darkness was giving way to the light of day.  Xena had finally figured out what Sysphus was planning to do.  There were now only five left of the ten that had been invited to participate in the contest for Ares’s godhood.  As Xena and Ares returned to the scene of the crime they were interrupted in a battle of three against two.  One of the three enemies stepped forward declaring that he and the other had decided to ally.  Yet just as his pride was high he found himself betrayed by two.  Vergilious and the other took his life stabbing him to death with a knife.  Now the odds were even two against two.  Only true warriors fought one another in this way.  Vergilious was definitely worthy in Ares’s eyes, but his new partner was a traitor.  Xena warned Vergilious that there could only be one god of war reminding him of his folly.  Suddenly Vergilious turned to see his coming demise.  He ducked missing the blow that would have surely taken his life.

The battle then ensued.  It was every man and woman for themselves.  Xena took on the betrayer as Ares found himself having to fight the second best warrior in Greece.  It was now a battle for survival as the weapons clashed and punches were thrown.  Gabrielle and Joxer could hear the sounds of the ensuing battle as the rushed up the staircases toward the bedchambers.  Joxer was determined to get there first and to settle things once and for all.  He had killed the monster and was worthy of the prize.

Suddenly Xena was looking death in the eye.  Yet now it was time to declare where the real sword lie.  She reached across the dead upon the alter of sacrficed warriors.  Xena grabbed what everyone had been searching for and rose to take her enemy with Ares’s sword.  There was a strange power in killing with the world’s most powerful sword.  The warrior princess felt a certain exhilaration and it was entrancing like no other mortal sensation.  As her victim fell before her she looked to the other warriors fighting.  Ares was losing against Vergilious.  Xena could almost feel her sense of duty.  Though she did not want to be a goddess she knew what she must promise.  If Ares were to die she had to take the sword.  Yet in the last moments before his certain death Ares reached for a loose dagger.  He acted quickly sending it through the heart of one of his most prized warriors.

Vergilious took the blow surprised at Ares’s sudden advantage.  He had been certain of victory against the mortal god, but now it was all over.  Xena watched Ares experience blood for the very first time as a mortal.  There was a look of shock and regret which she did not expect.  As the battle was seemingly over Sysphus appeared before the remaining contestants.  He tried desperately to convince Xena to take Ares before he could take her.  A momentary thought crossed her mind until she was interrupted by the sound of a familiar idiot.

Joxer entered into the room where the dead lied.  He declared himself to be the new god of war for he had been the slayer of the Barracas.  Gabrielle was not far behind entering into the room.  She revealed to Xena the truth of Sysphus’s contest as she described the machine that made all of the noise, but was nothing more than a ploy.  Xena was suddenly aware of what she had almost taken.  She had almost taken not Ares’s sword, but Sysphus’s eternal punishment in Hades.  He had planned on allowing the warriors to kill themselves leaving only one to push his rock uphill in Tarturus.  And the sword of Ares was to fall to him and he would reign upon Olympus as the new god of war.

Ares found himself disgusted that Sysphus had almost succeeded.  Had it not been for an idiot and a bard Xena would have taken his life and his sword only to spend eternity in Tartarus.  Ares wanted to strike, but couldn’t for he was about to meet his doom.  From behind there was a sign of life still coming from the fallen Vergilious.  The ax rose for the kill, but Xena acted quickly hurling Ares’s sword into the surviving warlord.  Vergilious fell  to the power of the sword leaving all with just one thing to do.  Ares removed his sword from the eighth fallen warrior.  It suddenly glowed with an immense power as he held it in his mighty hands.  Like fire it burned with passion as lighting struck about it.  And the rage within the bard began to dissipate into the storm.

There was a certain relief in knowing that it would be easier to deal with the pain, but there was one more thing.  Ares scoffed at the mortals who stood before him for they had allowed him to become a god again.  Yet he seemingly did not appreciate it as the evil Sysphus disappeared from mortality back into his eternity in Tartarus.  Gabrielle and Xena waited with high hopes that Ares would hold up his end of the bargain.  Yet he did not keep his promise for he had not made it as a god.  His promise to put Xena back into her own body was made while Ares was mortal.  And so he was not held to it and did not bind it.  Ares laughed as he disappeared leaving Xena as Callisto in sadness.  Gabrielle was disappointed and full of sorrow for her friend who would never know peace.  And now the bard had to make a choice.  She had to choose to stay with Xena as Callisto or to go.

Yet the choice was simple for the bard.  As the three friends left the castle and seeked out the ocean Gabrielle walked alongside her friend.  She expressed her regret that they had helped Ares at all.  Yet Xena reminded the bard that without him the world would have been full of uncontrollable rage.  Gabrielle understood what Xena had meant yet she still felt like killing Joxer whose presence was annoying beyond compare.  The two friends watched as Joxer frolicked about like a child along the beach.  At least there was something true about him.  He was as innocent as a child and could be trusted despite his lack of warrior skill.

Yet the bard admitted that life would still be hard though she was willing to stick by her best friend despite her forever being reminded of Callisto’s wrath.  Xena seemed satisfied at that, but then she tried to lighten the moment.  She then asked Gabrielle if she would even stick by her if she one day turned into a snake haired gorgon monster.  Gabrielle laughed, but admitted that she would have difficulty looking at her.  Yet even then Gabrielle would not leave Xena’s side.  And then for a moment there was an uncomfortable silence between the friends.  But Xena interrupted it with a complement to Gabrielle.  She praised the bard for not giving into the violence and the rage within.  The warrior princess expressed the strength that it required for one to go against the rage within.

Gabrielle found herself flattered that Xena had noticed her battle within.  She realized that Xena had understood all along and even understood the pain that still lingered.  Gabrielle laughed for a moment realizing that although she had survived  a world full of rage she had yet to survive the ride back to the mainland alongside Joxer.  But just when it seemed impossible to journey on a familiar voice echoed with in the bard’s ears.  As she turned around she saw Xena standing there on the beach before her.  It was not Callisto there anymore.  Ares had taken pity upon Xena and the bard.  Gabrielle tested Xena for a moment asking her which body would be the worst to be trapped in.  When Xena responded with the snake haired gorgon monster Gabrielle knew it was true.  Xena was back to her true self and within her true body.

And so the nightmare had finally ended although the pain would never die.  Gabrielle would always be reminded of how Perdicas had to die.  It was not because she saw Callisto’s face everyday, but because of his absence.  She would never see Perdicas again, but he would always be there forever in her heart.

The Xena Scrolls: Volume 2: Scroll # 35: Intimate Stranger

The Xena Scrolls

By:  Gabrielle Bard of Potedia

Scroll#35:  Intimate Stranger

February 23rd, 47 B.C.

 

     In life there is a fine line between what is a dream and what is a reality.  Though sometimes it is difficult to define.  The warrior princess awoke from several nightmares which dealt with her guilt.  These nightmares were so intense that Xena awoke from them in a cold sweat.  Soon after she could not stand the lonliness which had set in as a result so she softly woke the bard from slumber hoping she could receive some comfort. 

     The cool morning air rushed over Gabrielle’s face suddenly for Xena had pulled back her blanket from her face.  It was still dark out for the sun had not yet risen.  Gabrielle looked over to Xena seeing the warrior’s chest violently rising and falling.  Xena’s eyes were distraught with worry and with guilt as she held her forehead with her right hand leaning her back up against a tree.  Gabrielle sat up on her elbows with concern and inquiry asking the warrior princess if there was anything wrong.  As usual Xena would not answer the truth.  She only said that it was time to continue their pursuit of Theodoras Callisto’s first in command.  Since Callisto’s death Theodoras had taken over her army.  His goal was to take Athens though the bard had heard that all he really wanted was to sooth his heart’s pain.  Theodoras had been in love with Callisto and now his violent army expressed his pain with each village it retained. 

     As the two women prepared to scout Theodoras’s nearby camp the uncomfortable silence between the two friends ceased.  Xena broke in with an inquiry of dreams.  She asked the bard if she had ever experienced a dream.  Gabrielle sensed Xena’s heart was within a confusion.  It was obvious now that it had been a dream that had brought it to this place.  Gabrielle then replied that she had indeed dreamed before.  She said that it was within her dreams that her best stories would come flowing through her soul.  Yet it had been a long time since she had dreamed.  Gabrielle had not had a single inspiration within her nights since the violent murder of her beloved Perdicas. 

      The warrior princess found herself saddened by this loss within the bard.  Gabrielle was still feeling numb with the pain of her loss despite Callisto having been gone.  Then Xena broke into the bard’s numb feelings with her own waves of guilt.  She began to open up her fears to her friend which had been building within her recent nightmares.  It was on this morning that she had awakened from them yet again.  Xena described having had four successive dreams.  The first began like a normal scouting mission.  She said that she was with Gabrielle and they were following two of Theodoras’s men.  Xena said that she remembered jumping down from the trees and then Gabrielle joined her upon command.  Gabrielle had asked Xena if she was certain that these men belonged to Callisto’s army.  Xena had confirmed that they had and were most certainly going to rejoin their new commander.  Then she asked Gabrielle if things were okay.  Gabrielle expressed her discomfort with the thought of Callisto again.  Xena understood her friend’s pain.  Then explained that Gabrielle’s pain was the reason that they had to stop Theodoras and his men so that they could all be brought to justice.  The bard seemingly understood this and then left Xena to rejoin Argo in the brush. 

      As Xena stood to hunt down the enemy she heard a familiar voice calling her name.   She turned with her weapon drawn and discovered that it was her mother.  Cyrene kept asking Xena when she was going to return home to where her friends and family loved her.  The warrior princess had said that she felt confused and afraid that Cyrene was present.  She then told her mother it was not safe for her to be there.  There was danger just beyond the trees where Theodoras was with his men.  Xena could not attack with her mother there for the guilt of her past deeds began to intrude.  Then Xena found herself realizing that it was all a trick.  That it was not really her mother who stood there before her.  And as she approached the imposter Cyrene revealed her true identity.  She was Ares the god of war.  He was still after his favorite warrior princess.  Ares commended Xena for rejoining his darkness for he was certain that she would one day command his next great army. 

      Xena was not at all amused by his presence.  She despised it and reminded him that his ambitions were only a dream.  Then Ares showed the warrior princess her recent fault.  He accused Xena of being a murderer.  When Xena tried to defend herself he only reminded her that she had been the one who killed Callisto.  The warrior princess desparately fought against her guilt.  She had killed Callisto for a justice.  Callisto’s death was justice for the death of Gabrielle’s Perdicas.  But Ares persisted with more.  He claimed that the warrior princess had murdered Callisto because she had allowed her to sink into the quicksand despite Callisto’s innocent pleas for help.  Ares declared that if Callisto’s death had been in the name of justice then it would have been a fair fight by the sword.  Yet instead Xena had just let her enemy die helplessly unable to rescue herself.  Ares insisted that this act had ensured that Xena was a murderer when she did not try to save the once innocent.

     Xena’s guilt began to rise as she tried deparately to hide it from Ares.  But the god of war then showed her a vision.  It was the dark memory of the day that she had watched Callisto die.  Callisto was sinking rapidly as she called out to Xena.  Her eyes no longer of firery rage.  They only spoke of a childlike innocence and fear.  Callisto reached out to Xena as she called for her rescue.  Xena tried desparately to distance herself from all of the guilt within, but could not.  Her hands which held her sword then pulled her toward the vicitm.  The warrior princess tried desparately to fight it, but the sword then plunged into the victim as Ares laughed triumphantly.

      Suddenly Xena awoke from this first nightmare with great fear.  She jumped to her feet from her slumber swinging her sword wildly ready to do battle.  Her warrior senses were confused as she scanned the camp.  There was nothing there, but a frieghtened crow and Gabrielle sleeping soundly alone.  Xena then slowly approached her friend desparate for comfort.  As she turned Gabrielle’s shoulder to awaken her the bard’s face turned into that of the dead Callisto.  Callisto’s brown eyes stared lifelessly.  They stared deeply into Xena’s freightened soul.  The warrior princess jumped back in disbelief as she saw the  endless blood dripping from her hands. 

       This time she awoke to the face of Gabrielle who had been trying to save her from her nightmares.  Gabrielle had shaken the warrior princess startling the guilty soul.  Then the bard’s soothing voice expressed its pity for the soul that could not release itself from deep guilt.  Xena then felt safe again as she asked Gabrielle if she felt what Ares had said  was true.  Had she really executed Callisto by allowing her to die helplessly within the quicksand.  Gabrielle’s voice was reassuring to Xena telling her that she had only done what had to be done.  These were the words that Xena desparately needed to hear from her friend.  Xena continued by expressing how every dream she had had was about Callisto and no one else.  The guilt ridden warrior continued by explaining that it was Ares taunting her and saying that she really had become a murderer when she did not try to save Callisto from her own darkness.  The warrior princess felt guilty for not giving Callisto a chance to change the way that Hercules had given Xena that chance to change. 

     Gabrielle  sharply yet confidently refused that statement for she said that Callisto had chosen her own path and demise.  It was not Xena’s responsibility to try to change Callisto according to the bard.  Gabrielle continued soothing the guilty warrior’s soul with more words yet they began to sound confusing to the warrior princess.  The bard said that just because Xena had not tried to change Callisto or to show Callisto any mercy as others had shown Xena that these things did not make Xena a murderer.  Xena began to move away from the bard slowly though Gabrielle’s hands did not release her shoulders.  Gabrielle continued her strange twisted soothing statements.  She said that if Hercules had chosen to judge Xena the way that Xena had chosen to judge Callisto then Xena would most certainly be dead by now.  Xena then questioned the bard with alarm.  Gabrielle continued as her words became more harsh and that soothing familiar sound suddenly began to change its tone.  She said that Xena deserved death more than did Callisto for it had been Xena who had created Callisto.  Though it was Gabrielle’s face that Xena saw her voice was now that of Callisto and before the words could finish the warrior princess awoke a third time.  That was when she had awakened startled Gabrielle out of slumber.  Finally Xena had reached the safety of  reality.  Yet even then there was seemingly little comfort for the warrior princess’s heart.

      As the two friends continued scouting on after exchanging their woes and dreams Xena’s pace suddenly quickened.  Gabrielle’s concern rose as her own thoughts of pain deminished into the alertness of preparing to do battle.  Xena then knelt down before some footprintes in the mud along the road.  Gabrielle followed inquring the warrior princess uncertain if they were following the trail of Theodoras.  Xena answered her friend with confidence saying that Theodoras and his men had gone over the river through the woods toward a deserted village.  Not only were they following the trail of the enemy, but there was another man following as well.  In fact, Xena was certain that this lone warrior was about to get himself killed.  Gabrielle pieced together the sarcastic comment and realized that it was Joxer that Xena spoke of.  Somehow he had managed to find himself right in the middle of the action once again.

      When Xena and Gabrielle finally arrived on the outskirts of the deserted village they found that Theodoras was about to execute Joxer.  The so called warrior challenged Theodoras proclaiming that soon the Athenian army would storm the camp and seize Theodoras and his army.  Theodoras was slightly amused, but more irritated at the annoying intruder.  He had decided that he was going to have Joxer killed this time for he was growing tired of dealing with his idocy.  Theodoras was angered when Joxer mentioned the name of the woman he had loved.  He then said that he would spill Joxer’s blood carving him from the inside out.  Joxer was defiant yet slightly fearful at the thought of his violent oncoming death.  He tried to talk his way out of it reminding Theodoras that he would need Joxer as a hostage when the Athenians came to take his army.  Theodoras ignored Joxer’s pleas as he and his men began to beat their victim senseless.  Joxer was helplessly hanging upon a rope as Xena’s battle cry raged out from within the woods.

      Suddenly Theodoras and his army dispersed into the woods looking to kill the warrior princess.  Yet she had already arrived into the village as she flipped violently crashing through the walls of a large barn.  Within the barn was Joxer hanging from the ceiling beams.  Gabrielle entered through the gaping hole left by Xena’s wrath as she and Xena scanned the barn for any of Theodoras’s men.  No one was present except for the idiot who proclaimed that he had been the one who had scared the enemy off.  Gabrielle was prepared to go after the enemy into the woods, but Xena declared that it would not be wise in the night.  She decided that they would camp and so Gabrielle went to fetch the blankets.  Xena began to pace within the barn planning her next move.  Joxer could barely stand being ignored any longer demanding that Xena free him from his ropes.  The warrior princess finally decided to free him, but not without punishment for his stupidity in acting alone.  Joxer suddenly found himself eating the dirt with little sympathy to follow.

     As the friends prepared to try to recapture their dreams Gabrielle approached the warrior princess staring off into the distance.  She brought a blanket to cover Xena’s shoulders realizing that though Callisto was gone from the world her presence still lurked within it.  Xena then continued expressing her guilt.  She was now certain after having her terrible nightmares that her guilt was real.  Xena really felt that she had committed an injustice allowing Callisto to die in the sinking pit of quicksand.  Gabrielle was disappointed for she now realized that Callisto had truely won despite her death.  Callisto had taken Xena’s light turning it into an endless guilt while she had handed Gabrielle endless pain and empty rage within her own heart.  Gabrielle expressed her disgust with the situation as she spoke these thoughts aloud.  For Xena was wishing that she had not killed Callisto, Joxer had developed a death wish because he had not succeeded in killing Callisto, and Gabrielle now felt that the world would have been a better place had the blonde nemisis never existed at all.  With that the bard left the warrior princess within her guilt unable to console her friend beyond her own heart’s lingering pain.  And so Xena’s nightmares continued relentlessly and without end.

     Upon the early morning before the next sun Gabrielle found herself suddenly awakened by Xena’s jolting her shoulder.  The bard was startled out of her slumber barely able to focas on Xena’s quick words.  Xena said that she had finally figured out what was really going on all of this time.  She said that Callisto was back somehow with the help of the god of war.  Gabrielle suddenly found herself alarmed by the thought of Callisto’s return.  She was uncertain of how she would deal with another face to face meeting with her worst enemy.  When Gabrielle inquired of the warrior princess what she felt that they would do next.  Xena responded with zest.  She said that they must immediately go onto Amphipolis for Callisto was certain to strike there next.  The bard did not understand how Xena had come to this conclusion so easily.  Xena continued explaining that because of Callisto’s undying revenge for her she was most certainly out to kill Xena’s mother.  There was someting eerie about Xena’s quick knowledge of her enemy’s certain motives.

      Just when Gabrielle was about to awaken Joxer to join them on their new mission Xena grabbed the bard’s arm.  She then told Gabrielle that it was best that they leave the idiot behind.  Xena was certain that he would only get himself killed.  Gabrielle could most certainly understand that.  And so as Gabrielle prepared herself and Argo for their journey to Xena’s home Xena vanished for a short time.  Gabrielle found herself increasingly confused.  She began to wonder if maybe she too had been having a strange dream.  Yet her concern dissolved upon Xena’s return as the sun began to rise.  Xena, Gabrielle, and Argo traveled together.  Yet the entire journey seemed like a strain and a struggle.  Argo was extremely fussy on this morning.  It was unusual for Xena’s horse to be so upset.  Gabrielle tried to figure out what may have spooked Argo, but most of her effort had gone into keeping Argo still.

     Then Xena started revealing her plan.  It was not typical for her to be so open and seemingly vengeful.  She said that Callisto most certainly had gone to fetch her army.  Xena was planning on reaching Theodoras before Callisto could regain control.  Argo continued to express her discomfort.  Gabrielle wondered if maybe it was because of Xena’s guilt.  She wondered if maybe it was the guilt begining to poison the warrior princess’s heart.  Then Gabrielle asked Xena if she would take Argo from her.  The bard was certain that Argo would calm down if Xena were to take the reigns.  Yet Xena refused to comfort her horse.  Instead she declared that Argo was only behaving in this way because she sensed Callisto as she had the last time they had gone up against Callisto.

     Then Xena turned to Gabrielle proclaiming that she had a confession.  She said that it was not right that she had been the one to kill Callisto before.  Xena said that Gabrielle should have been the one to spill the blood for her vengence deserved to be tamed.  The bard suddenly found herself disturbed by Xena’s sudden change.  Before Xena had fought desparately to keep Gabrielle from drawing Callisto’s blood.  And now she was determined to convince Gabrielle that it was her responsibility.  Gabrielle listened to her friend as Xena continued.  She said that her guilt over the issue was about to tear her apart.  The bard’s worst fear was seemingly playing itself out.  Gabrielle did not know what to do or how to visualize the truth.

     The bard then tried to verbally make sense of things.  She asked Xena if what she had said was the truth.  The bard wanted to know if Xena truely felt it was her responsibility to kill Callisto.  Xena’s reply was strange.  She disputed that statement only to say that Callisto was most certainly after her mother.  Gabrielle stated that Callisto had to be stopped short of killing Cyrene.  Xena did agree with this, but her blank stare pierced through Gabrielle like fire as Xena said that stopping Callisto wasn’t the problem.  She continued stating that once Callisto was stopped there had to be a resolution.  Xena seemingly did not know the resolution yet Gabrielle sensed that there was something beyond.  The warrior princess then stated that she was not so certain that she could go through with killing Callisto again.  Then she walked away from Gabrielle and Argo leaving the bard to contemplate Xena’s strange new demeanor.

     As the day wore on Gabrielle found herself even more confused for Xena began to teach her the art of vengence.  She had chosen a small tree to be the devout enemy and commanded the bard to strike it down.  But Gabrielle had already made up her mind.  She had already learned that the vengence would not calm her raging heart.  Gabrielle’s efforts were futile against Xena’s constant beckonings as she scolded the bard for not trying hard enough.  When Gabrielle tried to talk her way out of learning the truths of vengence Xena only pursued further.  She told the bard that it was not about vengence at all for Callisto was already dead.  All that she asked of the bard was to send her back to Tarturus where Callisto belonged.  Xena proclaimed that Gabrielle’s heart could bring the strength of vengance forth for it still existed within the bard.  Gabrielle knew Xena was right.  She had only buried those lustful feelings deep within.  Yet Gabrielle was afraid to release them openly knowing the damage that would most certainly follow.

     As Gabrielle prepared to strike at the tree once again Xena’s rage spilled out with even more power.  The bard suddenly found herself frustrated as she turned to face her friend.  There was definately something wrong within.  As Gabrielle searched Xena’s eyes for some light Xena calmed her tense muscles for a moment.  She shifted the sudden suspicion to a challenge.  The warrior princess then asked Gabrielle to allow Xena to play the part of Callisto.  Gabrielle found this sickening and not at all amusing.  Xena persisted with the charade saying that she only looked like Xena, but that she was really Callisto.  Though the idea seemed impossible the bard’s mind momentarily grasped the idea as truth.  She thought that maybe it was a true explanation to this situation yet her heart worked desparately to deny it.  Then Xena beckoned her to strike and so weakly Gabrielle struck for she did not wish to unleash vengeful feelings upon her best friend. 

     Again Xena persisted trying to belittle the bard with insults, but even that did not allow Gabrielle to strike a powerful blow.  Yet Xena tried once more to grasp the vengence with the bard.  She began to describe the sensation of killing Perdicas and of how she had felt his blood on her hands as he died.  Gabrielle’s rage began to surface as her soul began to boil and the darkness emerged from within her heart.  Then Xena finalized the statement by belittling the bard again telling her that she was incapable of killing the one who had taken her love from her.  And with that Gabrielle lost all of her senses.  Her self control was completely gone.  Her muscles tensed within her arms and her legs thrust forward with the staff as it struck Xena in the chest violently.  The warrior princess suddenly fell to the ground for Gabrielle had knocked the wind out of her friend. 

     As Xena rose slowly from her defeat Gabrielle’s darkness quickly retreated into realization.  The bard suddenly felt great guilt for what she had felt and acted upon.  She turned away from Xena who praised her yet Gabrielle did not feel like a celebration.  Instead her stomach felt ill.  As if she wanted to purge it of the evil lurking within.  Xena then continued to stroke the bard’s dark ego telling her that she was proud of the action against her.  Gabrielle expressed her deep concern for having felt hatred within that moment.  She had truely believed in her mind that Callisto was real within Xena’s eyes and that was what had allowed her to strike.  Gabrielle did not want to face that moment again, but Xena only commented that hatred had to be faced no matter the consequences.  Then Xena handed the bard her weapon, but this time it was not just a simple fighting staff.  Xena had fashioned it into a spear using the breast daggar that Gabrielle had once purchased for herself.  Then Xena said that she was going to take care of the one who was following closely behind.  Upon her abscence Gabrielle found herself barely able to move or to function.  Instead she just stood against the tree and stared at the weapon of death that now faced her.  She sensed that this was a moment of choice.  Gabrielle desparately hoped that she would not make the wrong choice.

     After many moments of spying the weapon Gabrielle finally picked it up.  She began to inspect the point of the weapon as she tested it up against the tree.  The bard questioned her resolve wondering if she would be truely able to make the choices that Xena had to make every day with the sword.  There was still a great deal of uncertainty within her as Argo began to stir upon Xena’s return.  The warrior princess seemed a lot more at ease as she grabbed a drink to quench the thirst of her passionate encounter with war.  When Gabrielle inquired of who had been following them Xena said that it had only been one of Theodoras’s men.  Then she confidently brushed off the situation stating that she had been able to scare him off. 

     Gabrielle prepared to grab Argo to continue on their journey, but Xena’s calm nature began to shift back into that crazy uncertainty for the bard.  She said that Argo would not be going with them onto Amphipolis.  Xena stated that she feared for Argo’s safety.  Again this was unlike Xena for Gabrielle had never known the warrior princess to go anywhere without her horse alongside her.  Gabrielle investigated this with a question for she wasn’t sure that an emotionally distraught horse should be left out in the woods alone.  With Callisto lurking about she might fall victim.  Xena was certain and persistant that she should leave Argo behind.  She was so confident that she asked Gabrielle to move ahead while she hid Argo’s briddle.  Gabrielle looked to Xena once more with grave concern, but she did not argue with the warrior princess.  She was often cryptic about many things. 

     Gabrielle walked on alone for about two hours until she began to hear some very strange sounds lurking behind.  The bard circled back upon her path to investigate what was just behind her.  To her surprise she caught sight of  Joxer walking alongside Callisto, and then suddenly she heard the distant sound of the roaring chackram.  Then the chackram was in plain view, but it was not Xena who tamed it.  Callisto took the mighty weapon as Joxer narrowly escaped its wrath.  He fell backward passing out after Callisto tamed the weapon.  Then she prepared to return it to the warrior princess only to find herself confronted by the warrior woman.  She warned Callisto not to send back her weapon for she would only recapture it.  Then Callisto demanded to know where the bard was, but Xena played her off without revealing a single detail.  Gabrielle strained to hear the dialogue between the two women, but found it muffled by the sounds of the wind blowing through the brush.

     All she could do now was watch and hope Xena would be triumphant.  The sounds of screams and battle cries broke through the rustling plants as the two women flipped across one another clashing their swords into action.  It seemed all of their battles began this way.  And then they would face one another swords ready.  Callisto was seemingly on the defensive in this battle as Xena attacked to perry.  The warrior princess swung missing Callisto as the blonde jumped backward.  Xena then charged forward with even more aggression and force.  There was great power and strength, but it was not coming from Xena.  It was coming from Callisto.  Callisto seemingly fought to avoid drawing blood.  She only fought to defend.  Strangely it seemed to the bard that Callisto was fighting like Xena and Xena like Callisto.  She thought maybe it was because Xena was seeking a justice fairly deserved. 

     Then Gabrielle saw Callisto flip and roll to the ground dodging another advance.  Gabrielle thought that Callisto could have easily taken the advantage against Xena, but for some reason she had chosen not to.  Instead she knelt down in the mud blocking Xena’s downward motion from behind.  Then Callisto spun around from the ground looking to strike at Xena’s feet, but the warrior princess flipped over her to escape the move.  Callisto rose to face Xena who attacked high against the blonde.  There was a massive struggle for control.  Callisto used her sword to hold off Xena’s.  Xena twisted her sword to disarm Callisto who suddenly kicked Xena’s sword from grasp.  Then something extraordinary happened.  Callisto ran up Xena’s chest flipped backwards and kicked Xena in the face.  It was the same move that Gabrielle had seen Xena use many times, but this was the first time Callisto had ever used it.  Then there was a pause in battle as Gabrielle thought of this.

     Yet her suspicions were rested when Xena mirrored the move that Callisto had made.  Then Xena flipped Callisto by the arm only to have the move reversed by Callisto.  Callisto then kicked Xena who fell back and then she slid a daggar from her boot returning to the offensive against Callisto.  The blonde warrior did not have a weapon.  Instead she dodged each strike and then jumped into a reverse flip using her legs to capture Xena into submission.  As the women fell to the ground Xena ended up on the bottom as Callisto took control.  The daggar held steady with neither woman taking the advantage.  Gabrielle suddenly sprung up from the brush realizing that she had to enter into the battle.  Callisto was about to take Xena’s life.  Gabrielle arrived behind Callisto with her spear pulled to attack.  The bard was prepared to take Callisto’s life.  Gabrielle was totally focased and could hear nothing.  Her blood raced through her veins as the vengence began to rise.  Suddenly her concentration was broken by Xena’s voice.  Xena commanded her to kill the blonde warrior, but before Gabrielle could respond her ears were filled with Callisto’s voice asking for soft mercy. 

      Callisto continued explaining to Gabrielle that she was about to tell her an impossible story.  Then it was out.  Callisto proclaimed herself to be Xena.  Her voice was calm unlike usual.  It wasn’t phsycotic or crazed.  Yet Xena responded quickly saying that Callisto’s statement was only a trick.  Callisto quickly replied with the trick being that of Ares.  She said Ares and Callisto worked together to use her own guilt against her.  This had been how Xena had become Callisto while she slept during the night.  Gabrielle found herself suddenly confused.  There was a fine line between vegence, and truth.  Xena then spoke up once again reminding Gabrielle that Callisto had taken Perdicas.  Gabrielle fought the urge to kill knowing that Callisto might be telling the truth.  Callisto’s explanation explained why Xena had been behaving so strangely and why Argo had been upset.  Then the vengence rose and almost overcame the bard’s resolve. 

     Callisto broke in one last time.  She asked Gabrielle to question Xena about her dreams since Perdicas had died.  The bard found herself confused by this strange request coming from the blonde warrior.  She wondered how the blonde even knew what she and Xena had talked about the night before.  Xena accused Callisto of tricking the bard once more.  But Gabrielle felt that the question was a valid one.  it would prove the truth in all of this confusion.  And so Gabrielle asked Xena to answer knowing that it would be simple.  Xena hesitated and then struggled to find the phsycotic words that would pull vengence from within Gabreille’s heart.  The answer Xena gave was wrong.  Xena said that Gabrielle had been dreaming of her vengence, but that was not the truth.  Then Callisto calmly broke in proclaiming that Gabrielle had dreamed of nothing since Xena had killed Perdicas.

     And so it was true.  Callisto was Xena and Xena was Callisto.  Somehow the impossible had happened and they had traded bodies.  Gabrielle was stunned and Xena relieved for she had won this battle of truth with words.  Xena looked to her friend who dropped her weapon as Callisto took the moment to escape running for the horse that Joxer had brought along with Xena.  Gabrielle then looked at Xena totally astonished by the incident.  In disbelief Gabrielle was stunned only interrupted by the sound of a flying daggar approaching her.  When Gabrielle suddenly snapped back into reality she looked up to see death.  Yet Xena was there to save her capturing the daggar within her hand.  Then Callisto rode off only she looked so much like her friend.  This left the bard with Xena who looked exactly like the one she despised.

     Again doubt rose within Gabrielle as she looked to the blonde woman who now stood before her.  The person that was once Xena rode off triumphantly as she recaptured the chackram and screamed through the woods.  This thought was chilling.  Gabrielle could not understand or comprehend.  She then asked the blonde if it was true.  Xena confirmed that she was really the bard’s truest friend.  Gabrielle was very upset.  She did not want to face this new reality.  The bard wished it were a dream, but this was truely reality.  Then Joxer awoke lost for a moment only to discover that he had missed his oppritunity to kill Callisto once again.  When Gabrielle asked Xena how this had all happened Xena revealed a plan and of how it all began.

     On the night before she had been standing staring out into the woods.  As she leaned up against the doorway she had fallen asleep.  Xena had been unable to distinguish her dream from her reality for she had just experienced the three nightmares hours before.  As Gabrielle and Joxer slept Callisto had come.  She beckoned Xena into the fog and into the darkness.  This led her into the depths of Tarturus where Callisto taunted her with her guilt.  Then Xena realized what had been happening to her.  She had been a victim of Ares who had taken the world of dreams and the world of reality making them into one.  This allowed Callisto to become his new warrior that would replace the many rejections of the warrior princess.  There was only one way to allow Callisto and Ares to succeed.  They had to bring Xena to admitting her own guilt.  The two had been successful and so Callisto was released from Tarturus as Xena and Xena found herself trapped forever.

     Xena had only one hope of escaping her guilt and eternal life within Tarturus.  She seeked out Hades who would be the only one that could help her.  Xena argued with Hades over the truth of her identity for he did not believe that she was the real Xena.  He too knew as Gabrielle had known that Callisto was very clever.  Hades continuously refused to believe Xena’s story though she seemed to know every secret of the underworld.  There was only one way that the dead could escape the underworld and it was through the guilt of those who had killed them.  This made sense to Hades, but he still did not believe.  Then Xena spoke of her beloved Marcus and of how together they had saved Hades kingdom from Atyminious.  Again Hades decided that everyone knew of that information too.  Then Xena reminded Hades of what had happened in the end.  She reminded him of how she had stabbed Marcus through the heart before him.  Her love had been unmistakeable.  Hades had been the only man to witness that knowing that Marcus would have kept that moment to himself.  Finally Hades relented although he was still displeased with Xena for allowing her guilt to free Callisto.  He said that he could only give her one day to repair her mistake for his displeasure would yield no more.  

     As soon as Xena had returned to life within Callisto’s body she found something that nearly broke her heart.  Argo had been badly wounded by Callisto though Xena was able to save her horse.  Joxer of course had to jump into the conversation reminding Xena that he had come to Argo’s aid.  The idiot was courageous and brave with his heart, but abscent with his mind thinking he could go up against Callisto alone.  Xena had thanked Joxer for his help in trying to protect her beloved horse.  She then explained that Callisto had meant for Xena to have to kill her own horse certain that it would break Xena’s heart. 

     Soon Xena, Gabrielle, and Joxer had reached the cave near Amphipolis where Callisto had told Gabrielle she was going to take the people.  Armed with fire bombs Gabrielle and Joxer awaited Xena’s command for an attack.  Callisto had killed Theodoras and taken over his army as Xena.  She was preparing for Xena’s arrival as Xena had suspected.  Callisto was preparing to burn the people of Xena’s village to death the way that Callisto’s family and friends had suffered at the hands of Xena’s own army.  Then Cyrene called out to the dark nemesis unaware of the evil that lied within her.  Soon Cyrene’s senses were sharpened with truths as she gazed into the eyes of the enemy playing the part of her daughter.  Callisto then left her within fear and requested that the first torch be thrown at the feet of Xena’s mother.  She wanted Cyrene to meet certain death even if the warrior princess were to arrive before death had taken her. 

     Callisto was unaware of the danger that lurked within the cave waiting to strike.  She taunted the idea of the warrior princess’s arrival, but found herself interrupted by the arrival of Ares warning her of her out of control vengence.  Callisto did not heed Ares’s warning of Xena’s skills.  She was blinded by her vengeful goals against the warrior princess.  Callisto proclaimed that Ares was no longer in control of the situation for he had promised her satisfactin and she would have it.  She didn’t care what happened to Xena after that.  Callisto was certain that Xena would be reclaimed by Hades in Tarturus before she could stop Callisto.  Then Ares left his newfound creation with anger.  He too had underestimated his new warrior queen.  She had used him to have her vengence and now he was defeated.  As Ares disappeared Xena gave the command as Joxer and Gabrielle began to hurl the fire bombs into the cave.  Callisto’s army put out their torches immediately as the dispersed from the cave fearful of Callisto’s arrival.

     Yet Callisto had already been there and now Xena flipped into action.  Callisto was ready for battle against Xena.  She was ready to satisfy her vengeful heart.  And so the battle began as Callisto drew her sword and clashed with Xena’s.  This time Xena moved offensively within Callisto’s body.  She tried a new series of moves to catch Callisto off guard as she spun around several times an perrying with her sword after each spin.  Xena delivered a few kicks and then received a return kick from Callisto which disarmed her of her weapon.  Suddenly Xena began to fade into the setting sun as she warned Callisto that her vengence would never be realized now.  Callisto would not give up her victory over Xena for she reminded her that Xena would always know who had killed her loved ones despite being in Tarturus.  Then Callisto turned and ran for the people of Amphipolis locked away helplessly within their cell.  But before Callisto could get to a lit torch Xena made one last move.  She took a poison dart from the cuff of her wrist armor and plunged it into Callisto’s juggular. 

      Gabrielle and Joxer dashed into the cave with their weapons raised ready to do battle against Callisto.  Yet they were too late for Xena had finally disappeared forever returning to the depths of Tarturus.  Then Callisto ripped out the poison dart from her neck.  She appraoched the people of Amphipolis, but fell to the ground passing out into slumber from the poison dart.  Gabrielle realized what Xena had done.  She was making one last attempt to return Callisto to Tarturus.  Gabrielle and Joxer could only hope that Xena would return to them when it was finally over.  And so the battle raged on within Tarturus.  The battle of guilt and vengence persisted.  Xena put a face upon the vicitms that Callisto had ever taken.  She had called upon Callisto’s mother who came to reclaim her innocent child.  Callisto retreated to denial, but soon she put herself on trial.

     And then it was finally over as Xena’s body fell into Callisto’s.  As Callisto slowly rose to her feet those who had weapons held them steady.  Gabrielle then faced her enemy prepared to do battle, but the enemy had not returned.  It was Xena still within Callisto and Gabrielle was still in despair.  She did not want to believe that Xena could not return to her the way she had remembered her friend.  Callisto then proved her innocence to the bard with the words of her truest friend.  Xena spoke of Gabrielle’s own words about her belief in the power of love.  Gabrielle had once said to her friend that the true weapon against the cycle of violence was not vegence, but love.  Suddenly Gabrielle realized the she was seeing a reflection of herself within.  It came through the face of the enemy and the eyes of her truest friend.  Though Xena would never be restored to herself her soul had learned a lesson that Callisto could never understand.

     Early the next morning as Gabrielle awoke she found it difficult to rise from her slumber.  For the first time in weeks she had a dream though she wished it had been reality.  Then the bard found Joxer who stood with the blonde warrior princess.  He was clearly still shaken by the new home which now housed the soul of the warrior princess.  Gabrielle heard Xena thank Joxer once more for his courage in protecting Argo.  When Gabrielle approached Joxer’s nerves were on edge as he jumped back startled by her arrival.  The bard tried to calm him down reminding him that there was nothing left to be fearful of.  Yet Joxer protested that he was completely at ease.  As he left the two friends alone Gabrielle found herself missing Xena again.  Though her friend was right there with her it was still a great reminder of the one who had taken Perdicas from her.  Xena put Gabrielle’s heart at ease reminding her to think of Perdicas and the love she had for him when she looked at the face of Callisto instead of the hatred it commanded.  And so as the two friends moved foward together Gabrielle began to sing the song of Perdicas.  Her love for him was endless as was her love for the warrior princess.

The Xena Scrolls: Volume #2: Scroll #34: Return of Callisto

The Xena Scrolls

Scroll #34:  Return of Callisto

By:  Gabrielle Bard of Podedia

February 13th, 47 B.C. 

     I sing of the wrath of Callisto, the pain of Gabrielle, the courage of Xena, and the inefitable mystery of a friendship as immortal as the Gods.  This tragedy began during the early morning hours before the sun rose over the valley of Greece.  Xena and Gabrielle were settling into their camp by the fire when there was a strange movement coming from the brush just beyond in the woods.  Gabrielle was unaware of the presence as she slept, but Xena was like a panther yet acting without her weapon drawn.

     Xena’s reaction to the intrudor brought out of hiding the betrothed to Gabrielle from her home in Podedia.  It had been Perdicas sneaking upon them, but he had not been successful.  He had come to surprise Gabrielle for the last time they had spoken was back in Troy when Xena had rescued the beautiful Helen.  Gabrielle was very pleased to be reunited with Perdicous though back in Podedia she had rejected his courtship and wishes to be married.  And of course Perdicas had accepted that and left Podedia to become a great soldier not long after Gabrielle had left on her adventures with Xena.  He had been broken hearted and led into a new life as a result of this.  But he had triumphed over the past rejection and the two reunited in Troy rekindling their loving friendship. 

      Being with Perdicas again in this moment brought a smile upon Gabrielle’s face and a twinkle to her eye.  It was like the feeling one gets when they fall in love during those awkward years growing up.  Her heart lept as he hugged her and he too was filled with joy.  Perdicas continued flattering his old friend reminding her of how she had always been his best friend in their childhood.  Xena watched the two, but she was not surprised by their reaction to one another.  She had sensed something was going on between them, back in Troy, but chose not to bring the subject to light.  Perdicas then said that he had been searching all over for Gabrielle for all that he could see was her face.  He had said that he was unable to stop thinking about her since the day that they had parted in Troy.  And then he took her hand into his and asked her to be his wife.  Gabrielle found herself shocked and frozen within that moment. 

     It had been completely unexpected and sudden.  She did not know how to answer, but Perdicas did not show a lack of patience.  Instead he sat down alongside the camp fire with his betrothed as the two began to chat about old times and to catch up on the latest news in each other’s lives.   Gabrielle asked him what he had been doing all of this time and all he could tell her was that he had been fighting within yet another war.  Somehow he had stumbled again into a senseless battle.  It was clear that he was confused for he had not been seeking more blood.  Yet blood had somehow found him once again.  As Perdicas continued on with his own life the conversation turned very grim.  It was obvious to Gabrielle that Perdicas was deeply upset about something within.  She inquired of him with only a look, and he told of a battle that he had recently been involved in.  He spoke of how he had killed three men.  This experience had led him into dreams and visions of all of the men’s lives he had ever taken as a soldier.  The feeling that overtook him drove him to almost take his own life as he held his own daggar over his heart.  And just as Gabrielle was begining to feel great sadness and guilt for leaving him back in Podedia for a life with Xena Perdicas finished his story.  He spoke of the thing that had made him rethink taking his life.  That thing was a vision of the face of his betrothed looking him in the the eye and asking him to give life another chance.

     That experience had led Perdicas to seek out Gabrielle and to drop before her with his now sudden surprise.  Gabrielle found herself uncertain that she would be able to fill his heart.  She thought that maybe Perdicas was placing too much hope within her.  Gabrielle expressed to him her uncertainty.  She did not want him to be disappointed by a second rejection.  The bard did not want him to be disappointed for she too had been in battle alongside Xena many times.  Yet Peridcas reminded her that he knew within his heart though he had never been there that Gabrielle never took a life.  Gabrielle was still uncomfortable with this for there was at least the possiblity for her to take a life.  She had learned that about herself long ago. 

     Perdicas then looked deeply into her eyes and he reminded her of her first rejection.  The bard’s skin crawled with guilt as she was about to try to defend her choice.  Yet Perdicas’s kind and soothing voice told her that though it had hurt him that she had been in the right.  Neither had been ready to wed when he had asked for her hand in marriage the first time.  Then Peridicas took a deep breath and confessed that he was now certain he was ready to marry.  The bard could see the hope he placed upon her as she mulled over this difficult choice before her.  Gabrielle found herself extremely uncomfortable for a marriage proposal was not at all what she had expected from Perdicous on this morning.  Suddenly she found herself at a cross roads with her oldest friend.  Gabrielle did not want to offend him or make the wrong choice.  She had felt responsible for his having chosen to pick up the sword and lose his blood innocence.  The bard realized that whatever the choice she made it could affect the outcome of Perdicas’s life again.  Gabrielle was not as certain of her feelings for Perdicous as he seemed to be for her.  And then she could not take the pressure within this moment.  She excused herself from Perdicas’s side for she needed time to gather her feelings and to think.  Perdicas understood as she went to seek her answer.

     Later in the morning as the sun had risen Xena, and Gabrielle walked along the coast chatting.  Perdicas walked ahead of them patiently as Gabrielle watched him with innocent eyes.  She was still intrigued yet her thoughts and joys were interuppted by Xena’s question.  The warrior princess wanted to know what Gabrielle’s choice was going to be.  Gabrielle wasn’t certain really because she was still thinking on it.  Yet the bard played it off for she knew this choice would affect one friend or another.  She was trying to decide who would need her most.  Gabrielle loved both Perdicas and Xena very deeply.  She did not want to hurt either of them.  Then she answered the warrior princess by telling her that her choice was that she would not marry Perdicous. 

     Xena knew what was going through her friend’s mind although she was waiting for Gabrielle to bring out the truth within her heart.  The warrior princess challenged Gabrielle’s answer by asking her why she had not yet told the poor lovesick young man who walked just twenty paces ahead of them.  Gabrielle found herself feeling guilt once more for she realized that she would not be able to keep up this charrade much longer.  Even if Perdicas didn’t know what was going on it was clear that Xena did.  Then Xena tried to help her friend with her choice.  She told the bard that she felt that Perdicas was a good man.  Gabrielle agreed without hesitation as she thought about him.  She thought of how kind, sensative, and caring he was.  Gabrielle expressed to Xena how she felt more comfortable around Perdicas than anyone else she had ever known in life with the exception of the warrior princess. 

     Xena then paused with Argo and looked directly to Gabrielle.  She told Gabrielle that she need not worry about her for she could manage on her own.  Gabrielle had Xena’s blessing for if settling down and marrying Perdicas was what made the bard happy then Xena would be happy too.  Xena’s words were very encouraging for Gabrielle   And then she thought about what Xena had said.  She began to find more reasons to say yes than she realized.  Xena’s  encouragement had somehow released the pressure of this choice.  Yet as one burden had suddenly been released a new one approached from above just upon the cliffs.  It was the voice of the bumbling idiot Joxer.  He seemed gripped by fear and excitement.  Joxer had been running for a long time for he was out of breath revelaing that the infamous blonde warrior Callisto had escaped from prison. 

     There was little time to think now for Xena was ready to clean up the mess that she had seemingly left behind.  The warrior princess tracked Callisto to a village half a marathon away.  There she found a new dark force burning the village to the ground as the people were ravaged by an army of darkness.  She waited for the right moment and then she caught sight of the blonde nemisis.  Callisto drew her sword and was about to strike a helpless man down when Xena’s chackram cut in.  The sword was robbed from the enemy as Xena’s trusty chackram returned to her hand.  Callisto screamed with frustration, but then she looked up to see the one she seeked.  The warrior princess was ready for Callisto’s next move, but instead of a move it was a sentimental moment.  Callisto told Xena that she had missed the warrior princess.  Xena smirked at the comment and waited. 

      All was silent as Callisto’s eyes scanned the village.  Then a smile spread across her fair face.  Xena followed those firey brown eyes to see that there was a little girl no more than the age of seven.  The warrior princess knew instantly what her fate was to be.  Callisto then looked back toward Xena and suddenly drew her daggar from her side kicking the victim behind her.  She then began to advance slowly walking with great confidence and spite.  Though she was looking at Xena her eyes flickered in the direction of the little girl.  Suddenly Callisto raised her dagger for the throw still looking in the direction of Xena, but Xena saw her release it in the direction of the girl.  The warrior princess rushed to aid the little girl as the path of the daggar approached the innocent.  Then Xena dove for the weapon of death and caught it just before its impact.  The little girl was saved, but Xena was facing her own death for Callisto’s quickness. 

      Callisto had recaptured her sword and held it to Xena’s face.  She was clearly in control and the warrior princess was at the mercy of darkness.  Then Callisto commented on the passion that drove Xena’ s warrior skill.  She said that Xena was too sentimental for she fought with her heart.  Callisto had exploited the heart of the warrior princess in order to gain the advantage.  She had succeeded and reminded Xena of this.  Callisto declared that she herself no longer had a heart.  Then she told the warrior princess that she was not going to kill her now for she wanted to kill her soul and then take her life.   The blonde nemisis then laughed as she shealthed her sword flipping out of the village and screaming out with rage as she left.  Before she made her final exit she laughed once more as she looked to Xena and kissed her from a distance.  Then Callisto turned and ran awaiting the outcome of her new game.

     The chase lasted through the day and into the night as Xena, Gabrielle, and Perdicas tried desparately to stop her army from destroying villages.  Yet Callisto’s armies seemed endless.  They were everywhere and there weren’t enough good warriors to defeat the dark warriors.  Perdicas fought well for he was indeed a good soldier.  He could block the advances of the enemy and he was brave as he moved in battle.  Gabrielle fought alongside him with her staff only to find herself being overtaken by the enemy.  She struggled to regain control of the staff as the raging fires burned all around her.  In the heat of battle Perdicas had found himself having to take another life.  He thrust his sword straight through his enemy’s stomach.  The enemy fell instantly into death as Perdicas froze. 

      Xena saw what had happened as she rushed to aid Gabrielle.  The warrior princess attacked the enemy that fought against Gabrielle and reclaimed the staff for her friend.  Gabrielle was grateful for the assistance as she prepared to continue on in the seemingly endless abyss of the battle.  Yet before she could look to strike another blow upon the dark forces she caught sight of Perdicas knealing before the dead man.  She approached him as he clutched his sword resting the point upon the ground.  His head was bowed in silence and the bard could see that he was distraught and hurting inside.  She then knelt down beside him as he looked to her with anger and cursed the acts of a soldier.  He proclaimed that he could not fight anymore.  Perdicas would no longer carry a sword or allow himself to fight and take another life.  He then stood angerily throwing down his weapon and  finished his statement.  Perdicas told Gabrielle that it no longer matter to him whether or not she said yes.  He was going to return to Potedia where he would hopefully find peace.  Then the kindhearted Perdicas stormed off into the darkness of the night.

      As Gabrielle watched him leave she realized what it was that ate away at him.  Every kill that he had ever made had taken away a part of him.  She was begining to understand what it was that had made Xena speak so strongly against living by the sword.  The bard was suddenly interrupted by Xena who was shocked to see Perdicas leaving yet again.  Then Gabrielle knew what she must choose.  If she continued on with Xena she risked her heart being torn apart the way Perdicas’s heart had been.  The bard looked to her friend and answered the question from the morning.  She was going to marry Perdicas. 

     And so on the next day Perdicas and Gabrielle were wed.  The ceremony was small, quiet, yet beautiful.  Only the old priest, Xena, and Joxer witnessed the union as the final blessings were given.  The priest sprinkled the petels of fresh flowers upon the two young lovers as they looked to each other with joy and happiness.  There was bliss within Perdicas’s eyes for he was truely happy.  Peace could finally come into his battered heart.  Gabrielle then turned to Xena as the warrior princess gave her happy blessing once again.  Joxer’s deep goofy laughter echoed through the temple as he congratulated Perdicas upon his new union.  And then Joxer approached Xena and Gabrielle awaiting to steel an embrace with the bride, but Xena gave him a sidelong glance asking him to step outside.  Joxer took the hint, but he did not go outside.  Instead he joined Perdicas by the door as two friends began to say their good-byes.

      Gabrielle looked to Xena seeing the sadness in her friend’s eyes.  Xena tried to be strong as she grabbed the bard’s shoulders and squeezed them saying that this was not good-bye.  The warrior princess insisted that she would be knocking on Gabrielle’s door often.  So often that Gabrielle would be weary of her visits.  Gabrielle wasn’t so certain that this was true for she knew the life of the warrior princess.  Then Xena tried to reassure the bard that everything would be truely all right.  Xena asked Gabrielle if she was now happy and Gabrielle’s heart replied with a smile.  She felt the joy of being released from the warrior life though she would miss Xena dearly.  Then Xena embraced Gabrielle and then she looked down into her soul.  The warrior princess leaned down to touch the lips of her friend sharing in the joy of her new life.  Through this Gabrielle could feel what Xena’s heart truely needed.  She was reminded of the Chariots of War and of how Xena had once had the chance to settle down before.  The bard decided that she would encourage this for her friend hoping that she would be able to find the same peace and joy within.  Gabrielle then gave her the beautiful bouquet which she held as Xena smirked at the action.  Then Gabrielle parted from the warrior princess and joined her new husband.  She looked back at the warrior princess just one last time as Xena stood alone in the temple waiving with the lonely bouquet.  Gabrielle then felt Perdicas pull her onto their path together as laughter filled her soul.  

     The two lovers then traveled on toward Potedia to return home.  That night they stopped at an inn near the main road.  As the two prepared to share in their physical union Gabrielle was curious and nervous.  Perdicas noticed this and tried to break the silence as he inquired of Xena.  Gabrielle had indeed been still thinking about her friend.  The bard was still concerned for Xena’s new void.  Gabrielle had sensed Xena’s lonlieness when they had parted.  It was difficult for her as well yet she thought of Perdicas knowing that she was not as alone as the warrior princess would be.  Then Perdicas asked her if she had made the right choice.  He wasn’t so sure that she was happy being with him.  Yet Gabrielle eased his worries as she approached him with a bright smile. 

     Then she asked Perdicas if  they were to make a little girl if they could honor Xena.  Perdicas interrupted Gabrielle knowing that she wished to name their first girl Xena.  He was proud to share that name for his first baby girl.  Then Gabrielle asked Perdicas if he was still innocent, but Perdicas was not.  He was caught off guard and uneasy by her inquiry for it brought a sense of shame and guilt.  Perdicas tried to search for a worthy explanation.  He reminded Gabrielle that it was part of the life of a soldier.  This did not comfort the bard much and it made her still more nervous for she was inexperienced.  She was innocent in every way.  As she approached her husband she looked to him and tried to lighten the mood and to ease his guilt and pain.  He was truely tainted yet his soul was still pure.  Perdicas let out a nervous laugh trying to drown any expectations his new wife may have had of him.  Then he took Gabrielle’s hands into his and gazed deeply into her soul.  The two lovers shared in a soft tender kiss which lead them into a passionate night.

      And after sharing a night of love and of passion the two awoke together on the next morning refreshed.  Gabrielle was certain that she had finally discovered the truth of life.  She had been seeking it for so long and especially after all of her experiences alongside the warrior princess.  The bard was fortunate to have been able to have all of the wonderful adventures, and now she was fortunate to have love.  She and Perdicas traveled along the highway toward home stopping to share a passionate kiss together along the way.  As Gabrielle ran her fingers through his hair she was drunk with love.  Perdicas’s name escaped softly from her lips.  Then she was compelled to share her discovery of love telling Perdicas that love was more powerful than any other force upon the earth for it could unite everything.

      The moment of love and of power continued until it was interrupted by a familiar voice.  It was the voice of the blonde nemisis.  She was upon a horse smiling with a clever eye as she intruded upon Gabrielle’s comments of love.  Callisto then agreed with the innocent bard for love was indeed powerful for it did unite.  But she was certain that there was another force that was just as powerful.  Hate divided she said and with that she inquired of which must be the stronger.  Then Callisto dismounted from her horse instantly drawing her sword.  Perdicas turned to face hate with love proclaiming that darkness would be fighting the unarmed.  Callisto ignored Perdicas’s peaceful advance for it was not Perdicas that she was after.  The blonde nemisis then took her sword and slashed it across the arm of Perdicas and threw him to the ground wounded. 

      It was as if he had not even been present for she walked right through him.  Callisto’s firey brown eyes looked to Gabrielle as she approached the bard.  Gabrielle shouted out to her wounded husband with concern and great fear.  He did not answer as Callisto kicked the bard’s chin knocking her violently to the ground.  Gabrielle lied down in the dirt knowing that the end was near.  She and Perdicas would face death together at the hands of the evil Callisto.  Callisto raised her weapon for the kill as Gabrielle could see the phsycotic rage within her.  Then the bard heard the sounds of hooves pounding upon the highway as Callisto proclaimed words of death.  Suddenly Argo’s voice sounded followed by Xena’s battle cry through the darkness and she flipped off of her horse through the air landing to face the evil nemisis.  Callisto screamed with frustration as she was kicked in the chest by Xena as they flipped apart. 

     Gabrielle suddenly rose from the ground and fell back to watch the battle between love and hate unfold.  Callisto declared that she had come to take away Xena’s friend.  She was certain that she would soon see Xena standing over the body of her slain friend.  Xena was defiant of Callisto’s rage declaring that Gabrielle would not be taken from her.  Callisto tilted her head with the sound of inquiry and then the battle began.  Two clashes of the sword followed by one slap across the face from Callisto responded with a return slap.  Then the sounds of rage exchanging with passion.  Xena swung her sword above her head and then down matching Callisto’s moves.  Neither made contact, but then Callisto struck again with an offensive kick missing the target.  Xena reflected the move with great speed and agility making contact to the face of the enemy. 

     Callisto fell back with surprise not expecting the warrior princess to adjust.  She was now with her back to Xena stumbling to regain her balance.  As she rose up Perdicas was coming out of his injury.  He was trying to stumble to his own feet when he looked up to find a direct confrontation.  And then it was all like a nightmare.  His eyes spoke of shock, surprise, and fear.  The warrior princess stood frozen in the moment unable to make a move for this was beyond what she had expected.  Callisto charged forward with her sword as Perdicas was helpless and without defense.  Yet he did not attempt to fight.  He walked toward Gabrielle as he looked into her her eyes.  It was as if he were saying good-bye.  His hand reached out as he stumbled toward his love.  And then Callisto’s sword went straight through his innocent heart. Her screams echoed through the air as Gabrielle’s heart felt the blow of her weapon. 

      The bard screamed out as if barely able to breath and within disbelief.  Then she called out to Perdicas with desparation running forth to save him.  Callisto smiled and sheathed her weapon.  She flipped backward upon her horse and proclaimed that she had succeeded beyond her imagined dream.  Then she rode off screaming all the way.  Gabrielle watched with great anger as her wounded heart bled like never before.  Once the blonde disappeared and her screams could no longer be heard Gabrielle shook her head still shocked by her tragic loss.  Xena was helpless to comfort her friend as she stroked her shoulder within her own disbelief.  Gabrielle held Perdicas’s head tightly into her chest.  His eyes were distant and lost.  There was blood seeping out from the corners of his mouth.  The breath in his chest was no more and his heart was gone forever. 

     Gabrielle held Perdicas within her arms for a long time.  The stunning feeling of this loss could barely escape her.  She rocked with him as knelt down beside the divided lovers.  Divided by hate and by death now Gabrielle had to go on.  Xena spoke of how she had known to come looking for Callisto.  She had run into Theodoras Callisto’s first in command.  He had told her of Callisto’s plan.  Yet this did not comfort a wounded heart.  It only made the blood that it was drenched within run cold and hard.  That night Xena prepared a funeral fire to honor the one they had lost.  She sang her beautiful native song with love and hope.  Yet it was not enough to ease the pain inside.  All Gabrielle could think to do now was to get her vengence.  Suddenly it was all very clear to her what the farmer Melos had been talking about.  It felt as if the only way to quench the pain was to have Callisto’s blood.  Gabrielle was certain that it would release her heart from the pain.  It would wash away the hurt and her heart could be restored.

     The bard told Xena what she was going to do.  She would finish mourning on this night and then set out to fight hate with vengence.  When the warrior princess heard those words escaping from the innocence of her truest friend she found herself alarmed.  Worry filled the warrior princess as she tried to convince her friend that vegence would not cure her bleeding heart.    Yet Gabrielle’s mind was clouded by this certainty of the vengence.  She argued with Xena who seemingly did not understand the hurt she felt inside.  Xena continued to plead with Gabrielle about this, but Gabrielle challenged her.  She told Xena that she would not mourn another moment upon the rising sun.  Instead she would seek out and find Callisto.  She then told Xena that she could either join her in her quest or she could kill Callisto without Xena.

     Gabrielle did not sleep at all on this night for when the first sun rose she was practicing with Perdicas’s sword.  Her frustration was unbearable as she hacked at the large oak with the sharp weapon.  The bard knew that she was not a skilled swordsman, but felt that she had no other choice.  So she continued to pour out her pain and anguish onto the tree as the warrior princess watched helplessly.

 Xena had hoped that Gabrielle would have been able to cool her rage inside during the night, but it was clear that it would take more than a night.  The warrior princess called to her friend softly approaching.  Gabrielle haulted within her rage for a moment and turned to face her friend.  She asked if it was time to begin their quest to seak out and kill Callisto.  Xena answered her reluctantly, but warned her not to approach a battle against Callisto alone.  Gabrielle was not afraid.  She was wreckless at best and Xena could sense it.  Xena understood this feeling for it was how she had felt upon losing her brother Lycious.  Then Gabrielle demonstrated her careless attitude further declaring that it did not matter if she died as long as Callisto went down with her.

     But Xena feared that Gabrielle would never get close enough to strike a blow.  Callisto would take her down and then mangle the helplessly innocent creature.  Xena knew that it was what Callisto wanted.  Vengence would deliver Gabrielle into Callisto’s hands without the slightest effort.  Gabrielle’was unable to think clearly.  She was blinded by her hatred as she scolded the warrior princess for never teaching her how to use a sword properly.  Xena was hurt by this attack for because Gabrielle’s heart had turned cold Xena’s heart suffered.  The warrior princess could not let Callisto succeed at destroying her greatest treasure.  Xena reminded Gabrielle of her ideals and values.  These were the reasons that Xena had never given Gabrielle a sword.  There were truths within the innocence yet innocence suffered.  Xena reminded Gabrielle that if she traded that innocence for vengence that Callisto would win.  Yet Gabrielle was certain that Callisto had already succeeded in her victory for she had proven that hate was more powerful than love upon taking the life of Perdicas.

     Xena’s frustrations boiled over as she realized that teaching the art of the sword to an innocent out of control would certainly bring it to its death.  The warrior princess then turned away from Gabrielle in disgust refusing to give innocence its desired vengence.  Yet the bard persisted as anger spewed from within.  She turned and struck the tree again with the sword.  The sound of innocence clashing with vengence echoed through the peace.  It was enough to bring Xena back to face Gabrielle.  Again she refused demonstrating the strength that Gabrielle’s innocence had given her.  Yet Gabrielle could not see through the darkness.  She began to jab her weapon into the stomach of the warrior princess crying out for a lesson like a child.  The stubborn bard would not lose this war of words.  And so Xena finally released her displeasure and disarmed the bard with a single harsh kick.  Again she said no.  Xena turned away once more denying her heart of the new truth of innocence.

     Gabrielle then shouted out knowing why the warrior princess refused her a lesson.  She could see that her friend was trying desparately to protect her from the world.  Yet this time she could not for the world had come in and taken her love.  And so Gabrielle declared what the warrior princess did not want to hear.  She said that her innocence was dead.  There was nothing left inside to protect.  Then the bard pleaded with Xena calmly expressing her desire to at least have a chance at erradicating the evil that had stolen her innocence.  The warrior princess then surrendered realizing that only Gabrielle could make the decision to protect her own innocence.  And so the lesson began Xena instructed the bard gravely serious and harsh.  She wanted to teach Gabrielle how ugly vegence really is.  As she told her to look for an opening Xena explained that the eyes always revealed the next move.

      As the day wore on Gabrielle was tireless in her yearning to learn the sword.  As Xena stared blankly into her eyes Gabrielle could see that Xena was shielding her soul from the truth.  Xena was still in denial.  Gabrielle began spinning and weaving the images of blood within her mind.  She could visualize Callisto’s final moment at the end of her sword.  Gabrielle could see the open wound and flowing out of it like a raging river Callisto’s blood.  These horrid thoughts drove the vengence even harder.  They took vengence on a frenzy of fantasies about killing the enemy.  Every possible scenario of Callisto’s death at the end of her sword ran through her mind. 

      The morning led into the afternoon, and afternoon into the evening.  Darkness fell upon the camp as the lessons of the sword finally ceased.  Yet the desire to kill would not go still.  Joxer had soon arrived at the camp with news of Callisto.  He told Xena where her hideout was located and then Xena left him to stay with Gabrielle while she scouted.  Gabrielle sat alongside Joxer who said little.  He was unable to relate and did not want to stir a raging heart.  The moments of waiting wore on as if it had been an enternity since Xena had gone scouting.  Gabrielle began to feel that maybe Xena would try to steal her kill.  She rose from her spot upon the cold stone next to Joxer ready to seek out Callisto herself.  Joxer held her back as Xena returned.  Xena had been watching and waiting to see if Gabrielle might come to her senses.  Still blinded Gabrielle was ready to fight, but Xena advised against it for the moment.  Vengence would have to wait another night. 

     Xena had a plan and she went over it with Gabrielle.  She spoke of the party going on in Callisto’s hideout.  Xena suggested that they wait until early morning to strike for all would be passed out from the wine.  They would be defenseless and killing Callisto would be simple for there was a hidden passage to spy.  Again Xena warned Gabrielle of going up against Callisto alone.  She knew what the bard would try to do.  Xena was firm with her blind friend explaining to her that if Callisto was going to suffer it would have to be done by the way of the warrior princess.  Then Xena left Gabrielle within anger and frustration as the bard slammed her sword down upon the rock.  The longer the bard waited to relieve her heart’s pain the more she was driven to want to kill.  She was not certain that she could hold back for much longer.  Gabrielle knew that Xena wanted to steal her kill because she felt responsible for this mess.  Xena blamed herself for creating this phsycotic witch. 

     But then out of the loud frustrations Gabrielle heard the sound of a soothing voice beyond the brush.  She went to investigate it and found Xena knealing down to pray.  Gabrielle had never known Xena to pray to the gods for the warrior princess made it known that she despised them.  And then as Gabrielle listened she heard the prayer.  It was for her.  Xena was praying to save Gabrielle’s soul from its vengence.  She spoke eloquently of the light that Gabrielle was to her and of how Gabrielle’s friendship had inspired her.  It was because of Gabrielle that she had continued on at a time in her life that she had been ready to give up.  She pleaded with the gods to save Gabrielle’s light from going out.  The warrior princess was uncertain of the darkness that would most certainly follow. 

     Then Gabrielle returned to her rock where she debated within trying to sort out vegence, truth, justice, and faith.  It was more than she could understand now.  There was a moment when the mysteries of life had seemed clear to her, but now she stood before uncertainty.  When Xena returned to her Gabrielle told her that she had been right about mourning.  Gabrielle truely did need more time to mourn Perdicous yet she did not share her undying vengeful desires.  Xena was surprised for this was the first moment of calm she had seen within Gabrielle since Perdicous’s death.  The warrior princess encouraged the bard with her loving compassion to continue the unfinished mourning process which tormented her friend.  And then she promised that she would be sure to take care of Callisto.  In Xena’s eyes Callisto was not Gabrielle’s responsibility.  Gabrielle then told Xena that she was going to travel out alone for a while.  Xena did not know how to respond.  Instead she watched as Gabrielle held Perdicous’s sword tightly to her chest and left camp alone to wade through the darkness.

     As the sun rose Gabrielle had escaped Xena’s watchful eyes.  She found the secret passageway that Xena had scouted the night before and entered into her most tying moment.  As the bard walked among the passed out soldiers deep within Callisto’s cavern she approached the sleeping enemy.  There was something strange about seeing the enemy in such a vulnerable state.  This was the only time that Callisto ever appeared remotely innocent to the bard.  Yet the rage and the blood were driving her heart and soul as she raised her weapon for the kill.  And then just before Gabrielle was about to surrender innocence to vengence a memory began to flood into her mind.  It was a reminder of the day that Gabrielle realized what the cycle of violence was.  She recalled telling Xena that she never wanted to see her friend give in to it even if the bard herself would be taken by it one day.

     Then another more recent memory flooded into her mind.  It was the face of her betrothed reminding her of what it was that he loved most about Gabrielle.  She had never before raised a weapon to kill.  He professed his love for her once more through this vision.  Then there was a final vision.  It was of Xena’s prayer from the night before pleading with the gods to protect her inner light.  Gabrielle soon realized what all of these visions meant.  The first was reminding her of what would happen to Xena should Callisto succeed in killing Gabrielle.  Gabrielle knew what would happen.  The second was to remind her of what it was that made people love her.  It was her pure innocent heart despite the pain it must face.  And the final vision brought her to understand what Xena meant when she had spoken of the darkness that would follow.  She was not talking of Gabrielle’s darkness.  Xena was talking of her own.

      Gabrielle realized that if she surrendered innocence to vengence that it would destroy Xena.  She could not allow that to happen to her.  This kill would cause more destruction in the aftermath than it would to surrender it to innocence.  And so her pain began to well up into her eyes as small tears began to fall.  Her body became limp as the sword suddenly dropped crashing onto the floor. 

     The sound startled the sleeping nemisis awakening her.  Callisto’s first in command Theodoras also awoke drawing his weapon to protect Callisto.  Callisto had a daggar and it was drawn before her eyes were open.  Finally when they came into focas the look of pleasant surprise pierced through Gabrielle.  Yet as Gabrielle’s chest rose and fell with fear and anticipation Callisto found confusion.  She expressed that she was uncertain of Gabrielle for she had not been able to kill despite all of the pain Callisto had caused her.  Callisto appeared intrigued by this innocence.  Then Gabrielle explained that with her powerful innocence she could not take a life though her pain was great.  Callisto relished the moment knowing that either way she would have won.  She was just going to kill Gabrielle in the end.  Gabrielle expressed that she was willing and ready to die.  Yet Callisto wanted to make a spectacle of Gabrielle’s death for Xena to witness.  Callisto was cryptic and dramatic.  This was something that Gabrielle despised.

     Soon Callisto had Gabrielle prepared for her death as she and her men quietly awaited Xena’s arrival.  All lied down pretending to be sleeping as Xena tip toed into Callisto’s trap.  As Xena scanned the scene she had no chance for soon the helpless Gabrielle caught her glance.  Gabrielle had been tied to a post and surrounded by logs ready to be burned to death by fire.  Callisto seemed to favor an agonizing death.  It was the scar in her heart from a death she had witnessed long ago.  Callisto and her men soon rose from their positions capturing Xena who could do nothing, but surrender.  Soon the warrior princess was bound to the chair from which she had taken command.  Callisto seemed to enjoy hearing herself talk.  She talked about her escape from that very same chair which had held her in her prison for so long.  Callisto explained her plot and how she had escaped.  The guards would beat her daily, but they were careless for they had left the keys within reach of the infamous killer.  And with that Callisto escaped killing all twenty guards that worked within her prison.  Those who had once been captive with her were released and recruited into her army.

     After telling her story of triumphant escape Callisto commented on the beautiful new weapon she had aquired.  She then held it up to display it and then placed the chackram into her belt for safe keeping.  Xena warned Callisto not to enjoy the company of the chackram too long, but Callisto shot back asking her how she was planning to escape this complicated scenario.  Xena did not have an answer.  Instead Callisto answered herself looking to Gabrielle.  Her firey eyes were almost regretful for a moment as she expressed her jealousy of the bard.  Callisto spoke of how Gabrielle would leave life in tact without having been tainted by the loss of innocence.  Then the moment of regret passed back into the phsycotic rage which engulfed it.  Suddenly Callisto gave the command to burn the bard.  Theodoras and the other men lit the logs which surrounded Gabrielle.  Gabrielle found herself regretful for having brought Xena into this mess of her heart.

      The flames quickly rose as the fire crackled beneath her feet and around her.  Gabrielle looked down helplessly and without hope.  Then she heard Xena struggling to break free from the chair which bound her.  Gabrielle looked up and noticed that Xena’s eyes spoke.  Xena’s hope was still intact for she had not given up despite the odds.  Callisto’s attention was then drawn away from the burning bard back to Xena.  She was amused that Xena was even trying to break free for her victory was certain.  Then Gabrielle suddenly realized what Xena’s plan was.  She was bringing Callisto close enough so that she could steal back her chackram.  There was only one problem.  Callisto’s attention would have to be diverted again once the chackram moved within reach of the warrior princess.  Gabrielle then waited for the right moment and then she began her own dramatic struggle. 

     Just as Xena was going to reach for her chackram there was an unexpected disturbance.  Xena quickly retrieved the chackram with her foot as Callisto moved away to confront Joxer charging into the cavern with his sword raging above his head as he screamed out.  Yet his moment was short lived for he found himself suddenly struck down by Callisto as he tumbled backwards onto the ground.  Callisto became enraged at his interruption as if commanding him.  She demanded to know what he was attempting to accomplish.  Then Joxer rose before Callisto courageously though clumbsy.  He said that he had come to save his friends as he walked passing Callisto toward Xena.  His glory was quickly deminished for he found himself struck in the shoulder by an arrow.  The the bumbling idot fell to the ground in shock yet his wound was not serious.  Xena quickly took advantage of the moment as she used her foot to hurl the chackram into the air releasing her hand for a throw.  Then the chackram roared as she thrust it toward the binds which held the bard within her furious fire.  As the chackram ripped through the ropes Gabrielle flipped over the burning fire to safety as Xena then used the returning chackram to free herself from her own binds.

     Gabrielle found herself having to choose a weapon.  She chose to take up the staff once more as she stole one from the approaching enemies.  As Gabrielle held the men off Xena completed her escape and began battling through the approaching lines.  She kicked and punched her way down toward Callisto as Gabrielle battled on with her staff.  Xena then flipped up to the top of the cavern and used her whip to swing down onto Theodoras rendering him helpless.  For Xena to win this battle against Callisto it would have to be a one on one confrontation.  Xena then flipped into action standing before Callisto with her weapon drawn.  Callisto smiled as if satisfied that she would have to be challenged yet again by the wrath of the warrior princess.  She complemented Xena’s skill although hers matched with equal power. 

     And then the ultimate battle began between the forces of love and of hate.  The two women mirrored one another’s moves as they fliped across one another clashing swords together.  The battle cries of the rivals were heard clearly defining this moment of history.  Opposite one another again Callisto shouted out and charged missing her first strike.  Xena retaliated with a blow on the back as the two rounded to face once more.    Callisto pivoted with her evil smile showing as the two women twirled their weapons for the next round.  This time Xena went on the offensive as she turned her weapon downward and perried with this unique style.  It was a test of Callisto’s skill.  Xena was hoping to catch the advantage, but instead the swords clashed with equal force.  Callisto then resorted to using a spin and then a kick.  Then there was as second kick.  Xena quickly recovered taking the blows and mirroring Callisto’s move.  Callisto went for a slap, but Xena dodged it.  The two returned and exchanged kicks and punches until Callisto went high.  Xena ducked and went low with her sword.  Neither could gain the advantage. 

     Callisto pivoted around to face Xena again.  She was out of breath realizing that she could not win the test of endurance.  Then she suggested a chariot race instantly sheathing her sword and flipping out to her chariot.  Theodoras charged at the warrior princess to protect Callisto again, but Xena took him down with a single punch.  Callisto was unpredictable as always.  Gabrielle then called out to Xena to charge Callisto in the chariot race.  Xena quickly rushed out to the chariot that awaited her.  Callisto had a good start, but Xena quickly coaxed her horses to speed.  Hooves pounded, and horses screamed as the two women raced along the shore of the ocean.  Xena called out to Callisto as she approached upon her chariot.  Callisto let out a scream and then banged her chariot up against Xena’s.  She began slapping Xena accross the face and clearly had the advantage. 

       Callisto’s chariot had sharp edges upon its wheels which ripped through the wheels of Xena’s chariot.  Xena’s wheels soon shredded to pieces as her chariot went crashing violently out of control.  Just before Xena was about to lose the race she reached for her whip and used it to grab onto Callisto’s chariot.  Suddenly the warrior princess was yanked from her ride and dragged along the wet sand behind Callisto.  The nemisis was delighted to be winning and took great pleasure in Xena’s struggle to survive the game.  Xena slowly climbed up the whip toward Callisto.  It was difficult to say what Callisto would do next.  She then decided to speed up the chariot race to throw Xena off into the water down below.  When Callisto noticed that Xena was too close she began to struggle to free the whip from the chariot, but without success.  Xena had already reached her and climbed in to battle. 

     The two women struggled punching one another, and wrestling around for control.  There were the sounds of love and hate crying out desparately for a victory.  Neither could overpower the other.  Yet they found themselves suddenly falling out of the chariot in their struggle rolling down the beach into an unexpected despair.  It was quicksand that they had fallen into and it seemed that the forces of love and of hate would perish in doom together.  Callisto found it amusing, but Xena ignored her cryptic excitement.  Instead she struggled to reach for her most valueable weapon.  Beneath the quicksand as Xena sank further she obtained her chackram and then broke it free.  She then threw it into a boulder just outside the pit and used her whip to climb out. 

     Callisto was impressed that despite the odds again Xena was going to escape death.  It was almost as if she were begining to see the light that had escaped her entire life.  As hate sank loved rose from its demise.  Callisto then pleaded with the warrior princess to save her.  Her pleas came upon deaf ears for love could no longer save one tainted with so much hate.  Finally Callisto’s end had come for her vicious fearful screams could be heard throughout the land.  Then hate disappeared forever within the sand as the warrior princess had defeated the vengence she felt she had created.

     Peace had come upon all once again although no one would ever be the same.  Xena tended to Joxer’s wounded shoulder as she pumped up his warrior pride.  He had been worried his wound was serious, but Xena assured him that it would soon heal.  Then Joxer the Mighty said that he had decided he would travel alone for he would be a much better warrior lone than as a sidekick.  And so Joxer the Mighty was off on his own mischevious adventures while the bard stood by the ocean before the setting sun.  She watched its light slowly disappear over the western horizen and listened to the gentle waves.  The sun was Perdicas going home and the waves were his soul whispering to her heart reaching out.  Gabrielle’s heart reached out to Perdicous’s soul for she wanted to hear him, to feel him, and to love him again.  As she took a deep breath in and closed her eyes she was interruputed by the warrior princess.  Xena asked of her what she had been doing.  She spoke of how she was only loving Perdicous once more.  It was time to begin healing from the pain.  Xena assured Gabrielle that Perdicas was there still.  Gabrielle knew that he could hear her thoughts of love.  She knew that he would be there with her forever in her heart.

Xena Scrolls: Volume #2: Scroll #26: Callisto

The Xena Scrolls

By: Gabrielle Bard of Podedia

Scroll #26: Callisto

October, 48 B.C.

I sing of the woes of Callisto. A woman who was struck down by the cycle of violence. Her life began in a village called Syra located somewhere between Corinth and Amphipolis. One day her village was attacked by a well-known warrior princess. On that day many perished in the flames. There was no discrimination for women and their children this time. The flames swept through the village of Syra with a vengeance for blood. It was the vengeance of a warrior princess whose village had also suffered the fate of blood and vengeance years before. It was said that there were only a handful of survivors from that attack and a young fair-haired girl named Callisto had been one of them.

Callisto had lost her entire family to this cycle of hatred. At first she mourned for her sister, father, and mother, but the mourning did not last for it was replaced with a lust for blood. This lust for blood consumed Callisto’s tattered heart and battered soul. Her mind soon raced into a psychotic rage as the years went by she plotted her vengeance. On a day not long after the salvation of the warrior princess Callisto had completed her plan of vengeance. She knew exactly how she would get to Xena and so it began with one village and then another. Callisto and her newly acquired following of warriors descended upon villages destroying them and each time leaving few survivors. But for those who did survive she always had a message for them. “Tell them I am Xena warrior princess.” And with that she would leave them with an evil laughter to remember her by.

Callisto’s wrath lasted for many seasons with little notice until one day a young farmer named Melos was traveling to his home. Melos caught sight of an old woman from his village. She was lying on the road helpless barely clinging to life. When Melos approached her she sung the tale of Xena the warrior princess and of what she had done to her and their village. Melos was alarmed knowing that his wife and child were there in the village. The old woman told him that everything was in ruin and that it was not likely he would find anyone left alive. This messenger of death and destruction took her last breath and died in Melos’s arms.

A few days later the farmer Melos sat in a tavern a marathon from his home drowning his sorrows. Sitting next to him was a warrior woman in leather with dark hair and piercing blue eyes. She looked over to him noticing his despair. It was familiar to her and she offered him her drink out of kindness and sympathy for him. He accepted it with gratitude and then he introduced himself. He held out his hand as the kind stranger introduced herself as Xena. Suddenly Melos stumbled to his feet with rage for this was the woman whom he was told had killed his wife and son. She was the bringer of death and destruction. Xena the warrior princess had taken away his entire life.

As Melos prepared to take his own blood vengeance against Xena he was no match for this strong stealthful woman. He lunged forward toward Xena yet she dropped him to the ground in an instant. Then the warrior princess drew her sword and held it threatening her attacker by the end of her blade. Melos was certain that this Xena was the one that had taken his family from him. Xena couldn’t believe what she was hearing for she had given up the business of blood vengeance a long time before. Not only that, but Xena was certain that these stories were false and impossible for she had never been so dark as to kill women and children. She had to find out more about this. Xena had to know who was disguising themselves as the bringer of death and destruction. It was told that every traveler from the tavern to Corinth had a tale of destruction caused by none other than the warrior princess herself. And as Xena and her companion left the tavern Melos promised that he would come after Xena to receive his vengeance.

On the path to Corinth Xena and her companion ran into a small group of battered villagers. They all had the same look as did Melos. They were torn, battered, and poisoned with hatred. All of them were full of fear. Xena explained to the bard that it was that fear that she had once craved during her days as an evil warlord. That fear commanded a certain respect. But now it was different of the warrior princess. She declared that she and the bard would continue on traveling toward Corinth until they were able to find out who was truly behind all of the needless killing.

Yet as Xena and Gabrielle waded through the group of fearful commoners there was one strangely dressed man with a strainer for a chest plate and a goofy looking helmet. He shouted out an inquiry demanding to know if the woman approaching him was indeed the warrior princess. Xena answered with disgust in her voice feeling very annoyed by his question. After she answered he introduced himself as Joxer the Mighty. He said that he was a warrior and desired to join Xena’s army. He was certain to be able to offer his services to the blood lusting warrior woman. This peculiar man did not act like a warrior. He claimed to have a passion for blood, but it was obvious that he had never killed anyone before. The bard could read him very well and she let him know that she did not take him seriously. This bumbling idiot was offended and declared that he had not even been addressing the bard, but Gabrielle ignored his insulting remarks. As Xena tried to ignore this bumbling idiot he did not give up trying to convince her. The more bloody his words became the more irritating to the warrior princess. He told her that had a nickname of bloody Joxer, and that he had once bathed in a pool of blood. In fact, he was so certain that he loved blood so much that he even went as far as to say that he suffered from depression if he did not draw blood regularly. He was definitely not convincing and sounded more like a lost child than a true warrior. Finally the warrior princess had enough of the antics of the idiot. She delivered a blow to his nose rejecting his pleas to serve her reign of terror. Then she warned him that if he did not stop his lusting for blood that she would show him the reality of blood lust.

As he sat up from his place upon the ground he was disappointed that Xena had rejected his offer to join her legions. For Xena things were getting serious because now strangers were looking for her just to be a part of all of the hatred. Xena and Gabrielle continued on toward Corinth and as they traveled Melos was not far behind. In fact, even Argo could feel his presence as she stirred with a warning to the warrior princess of the enemy within the brush. Once again he tried to get his vengeance on Xena as he leapt from above within a tree down onto the warrior princess, but a farmer could not defeat the warrior princess in battle. She acted to his advance and flipped him over her shoulder down onto the bottom of the hill. Then she took a rope and tied his hands. The warrior princess led the vengeful farmer toward the tree he had scouted her from and tied him to its trunk. Gabrielle could not help, but feel sorrow for a good man such as Melos. In her heart the bard knew that he was truly a good man, but this cycle of violence seemed never-ending. It was infectious like a disease and took the goodness away from the good.

This cycle had begun with Cortese when he and his army had killed Xena’s brother Lyceus. Then Xena’s heart had been infected with this vengeful hatred which had led her to kill, and now another dark force had come forth killing Melos’s wife and six-year-old son. Gabrielle tried to comfort Melos and to dissolve his hatred as she left him a bed roll for later. Then she bade the good farmer farewell hoping that he would soon be able to defeat the darkness and come to his senses. Yet as Xena and Gabrielle left him behind he swore to get his vengeance on the warrior princess. It was clear what had to be done. This cycle of violence had to stop. Xena blamed herself for it, but it began long before Xena’s own village of Amphipolis was ever attacked.

Soon Xena and Gabrielle arrived in a village along the road to Corinth that was suffering the wrath of hatred. At the entrance were many dead villagers tied to crosses on display for all to see. The smell of death was evident yet there were still many running about the streets screaming in agony for their lives to be spared as Callisto the fair-haired warrior woman reigned within her dark vengeance. The warrior princess charged into battle upon Argo as Gabrielle ran onto the scene with staff in hand. Xena caught sight of three warriors beating an innocent smith as he was unable to defend himself. The warrior princess could take no more of this violence. She quickly pulled out her chackram and threw it in the direction of the three attackers. It bounced off the three heads of the evil warriors and rounded the village square. Just as the chackram was about to round the corner back toward its commander it was snatched by the fair-haired warlord. Callisto appeared before Xena as if expecting her arrival. A sly smile spread across her face as she stood across the village looking Xena dead in the eye. She held Xena’s chackram within her hand triumphantly urging the warrior princess onto battle.

And so the face off began. Callisto taunted Xena into a jousting combat to regain possession of her chackram. Callisto drew her sword as did Xena. As they went for their first pass at one another the fair-haired Callisto screamed with a terrible vengeance as she charged forward upon her horse. Xena responded with a warrior grumble upon her horse. Their charge ended in a stalemate to the dismay of Xena’s new rival. Neither woman took the advantage. Upon their second pass Callisto screamed with vengeance again and with even more determination. Gabrielle had never seen a warlord with the kind of passion that the warrior princess had fought with yet Callisto had it within. They clashed swords, but Callisto won the second pass for she had gotten a clean shot on the warrior princess.

As Xena turned Argo about to face Callisto again she noticed the wound sustained within her left shoulder. Then she looked out across the field at her tough enemy realizing this would not be a simple match up. Callisto found herself to be delighted that she had gotten the upper hand within this battle as she declared with confidence that she was just as good as the infamous warrior princess. And it was true. Callisto was skilled for Gabrielle had only seen the warrior princess tame the chackram. And now the fair-haired Callisto had proven her skill. Then Callisto went onto declare that it was inevitable for Xena the warrior princess had indeed created her. The warrior princess became angry unable to believe that she could have created such a monstrous creature. And so they went for a third pass and this time Xena clashed swords with Callisto only to disarm her.

As the warrior princess rounded her horse for a fourth pass she slid her sword back into its place upon her back. Then she inferred that it was Callisto that had shot her with the poison dart that had nearly taken the life of the warrior princess weeks before. Callisto responded gleefully that Xena was indeed correct for what better way would there be for her to remove the real warrior princess only to recreate her darkness. The fair-haired warrior woman had an agenda which included reviving the evil warrior princess’s reputation for killing women and children. This accusation angered Xena for she had never been guilty of intentionally taking the lives of women and children. Even in her days of darkness Xena’s warrior code held integrity. Then Callisto screamed again chagrin forward as each warrior woman took a staff and prepared to make a fourth pass at one another. The two women were truly an equal match as they knocked one another from their horses. And amazingly both landed upon their feet as they flipped backwards off of their horses. It was as if looking into a live mirror. One had dark hair, the other light, one had dark eyes, the other light, and one was of the darkness while the other of goodness. But before the duel was to continue Xena asked what Callisto meant when she had declared that Xena had created her. Callisto responded asked Xena if she remembered Syra. Suddenly the warrior princess’s eyes told of a buried darkness within. It was a look of alarm and of concern at the same time. Yet before the warrior princess could dissolve this out of control nemesis Callisto screamed and charge forward with her staff as Xena blocked the advance. Then the fair-haired warrior woman flipped over the warrior princess using her staff and onto her horse. Callisto rode away from battle screaming violently all the way out of the village leaving the warrior princess stunned and visibly upset.

But before the warrior princess had time to think about her past mistakes in battles against the innocent she heard the battle between Gabrielle and another of Callisto’s men behind her. Gabrielle struggled against this skilled warrior of Callisto’s army. He was much stronger and well-trained. The bard was having great difficulty in battling against him despite her training from the warrior princess. Xena turned to see that her friend had been disarmed and was about to become a victim of this cycle of violence as the warrior lifted his weapon to kill. She charged forth with the staff and disarmed him quickly. Gabrielle acted rolling out-of-the-way as Xena disarmed him and then put her pinch upon his neck. The bard watched as the warrior princess demanded information from the victim. He was reluctant to give any information until Xena spoke of his impending death if he did not speak. He revealed to Xena after several moments Callisto’s name and identity. Xena wanted to know more about her relation to Syra. He told of how Callisto had lost her family to Xena’s army. The warrior princess was heart-broken for she was responsible for the suffering of these people within the village now despite her struggle against the darkness that she had seemingly created.

Then the warrior princess released her emotion once more and focused again asking him what Callisto wanted from her. His answer was simple. Callisto wanted to ruin Xena’s good reputation and then she wanted to kill the warrior princess after all else was destroyed. The warrior princess realized that she must act quickly to stop this dark nemesis for it was clearly out of control. And even if she did succeed at killing the warrior princess her vengeance would never end. Xena realized that she must be the one to seek out and destroy Callisto before Callisto could succeed with her vengeance. The warrior princess demanded to know where Callisto would be striking next. She was told of the sacrifice at Delphi that would occur on the following day. Callisto was after the oracle. Xena then gave the Callisto’s warrior a final message. She declared that she would destroy Callisto before Callisto would succeed at destroying the warrior princess. Suddenly Xena released her victim from the jaws of death and knocked him unconscious.

The bard watched the warrior princess walk away with a look of devastation and of guilt. It had been a long time since the bard had seen the warrior princess suffering with so much guilt and so much shame. And then as the chaos continued to surround them Melos approached Xena apologizing for his misjudgment of her. Yet the warrior princess was in no mood to talk to vengeful farmers. She warned him of her anger within and he tried desperately to ease her pain within. He explained that he had seen all that had transpired between the warrior princess and Callisto. Melos was determined to help Xena bring Callisto down. He was still ready for vengeance, but it was now redirected at the true enemy. Yet the warrior princess was certain that vengeance was not the answer for it had been vengeance that had tainted Callisto to become the ultimate darkness. Instead the warrior princess declared that she could at least keep Melos from getting himself killed for she was certain that Callisto would not be as forgiving of him as she had been.

That night Gabrielle was determined to try to help Xena dissolved Melos’s vengeance. She sat down next to Melos who was in the depths of his hatred. Gabrielle asked him softly when he had last slept and gotten a good night’s rest. His answer was the one that the bard dreaded most. He declared that he had not slept since the day he had heard of his son’s death and seen it with his own eyes. Gabrielle tried desperately to get him to let go of the vengeance for just one moment or two so that maybe he could lie down and drift off to sleep. Yet Melos declared that Gabrielle could not understand his pain. She could not understand his loss or his anger. He was certain that Callisto’s blood would allow him to face and release his hatred and his pain within. Melos was certain that if Gabrielle had lost someone she loved in the same way that she would feel the same drive and resolution through blood. Yet Gabrielle was not so certain that she would feel that way. She was against violence and she wanted nothing more than to be the champion of stopping it alongside the warrior princess.

Finally the bard gave up trying to ease Melos’s rage and to get though all of his hatred. Instead she felt that maybe she could help heal Xena’s heart of its heavy guilt for having been responsible for the loss of Callisto’s family so long ago. The bard sat down by the fire next to the warrior princess whose heart was in mourning for Callisto’s soul. It was clear to the bard that the warrior princess wanted to be able to help Callisto let go of it all the way that she had been able to do. Xena could relate to Callisto in a way that no one else could. Gabrielle invited the warrior princess to talk about her experiences and share her pain of Syra. The warrior princess was very open unlike in the past for this time she needed the inner strength that the bard seemingly had naturally. She began the story trying to reason and explain it all. The warrior princess spoke of the one time that her army had been responsible for the deaths of women and children. It had been in Syra. They had set fire to the houses, but she was uncertain if it all had been an accident or if her men had truly been behind the fires. Despite it being just another village to conquer they were taken by surprise when the winds began to pick up and blow the fires out of control. The flames had swept through Syra without remorse and they had claimed the lives of innocent women and children. Xena had said that there were only a few known survivors and today she had met one of them face to face. Her past had stared her dead in the eye. It had come back to haunt her in a way she could never have imagined it to. It was one of the first times that Gabrielle had seen the warrior princess break down and cry as a tear dropped from her eye.

The bard found herself beginning to understand it all. This terrible cycle of violence and of hatred. She realized that Callisto had truly fallen into its wrath as Melos had. Yet Xena did not blame Callisto for her actions. Gabrielle could not allow the same reprieve for Callisto’s actions for she had known the warrior princess’s past. Xena too had been infected with the violence within her own village and despite it all the warrior princess had made the choice to turn it all around for herself. Yet Xena proclaimed that she was only lucky in having been able to be rescued from the depths of this cycle. Gabrielle was confident in her friend’s ability to do good and to be good. She could not accept the excuses that Xena tried to allow Callisto. Gabrielle was certain that Callisto must be taken by justice for her crimes against humanity. The bard argued that it was because of people like Callisto that made good people like Melos turn into vicious blood thirsty killers.

Gabrielle wanted desperately to erase Xena’s guilt for Callisto’s actions. But the warrior princess was still not certain that Gabrielle was right. She declared that she might find herself one day falling back into the cycle of violence if something were to ever happen to her mother, Hercules or even to Gabrielle. The bard refused to allow Xena that vengeance. Gabrielle pushed for Xena to promise her that she would never take vengeance on behalf of Gabrielle. The bard could not hold onto her own hope for the world if Xena were to fall into violence in her absence. To Gabrielle no death was worth a vengeance like that of Callisto or of Melos. Gabrielle pleaded with the warrior princess to promise never to turn to the cycle of violence again. Xena was still unable to make that promise to the bard. Gabrielle continued to insist that the answer was never through blood, but through love and forgiveness that would allow the violence to end. Then the warrior princess held the bard tightly and hugged her. She pleaded with her loyal friend to never change. Xena’s only strength was the bard. Xena needed her friend now more than ever. It was the light of the innocent bard that allowed Xena to carry on. The warrior princess feared her heart would grow dark without Gabrielle. Yet Gabrielle had a strong faith in her friend’s inner light. She again demanded a promise from the warrior princess that she would never go down the path of vengeance again. The warrior princess sensed the bard’s fears within and promised the bard that she would be strong.

Gabrielle continued to hold Xena for she could not bare the thought of evil claiming Xena’s soul again. She began to stroke Xena’s hair trying to settle down the demons which she could feel wrestling within the warrior princess. Yet Xena tried to close her feelings off tightly and away from the bard once more. She tried to urge the bard to leave her within her despair, but Gabrielle would not leave Xena. And so the night ended with two friends trying to be strong for one another as they prepared for their next battle against Callisto at Delphi.

As soon as the sun rose Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, and Melos were on their way to Delphi. Upon their arrival Xena suggested that they split up to find Callisto more quickly. Gabrielle took Argo, and Xena went into the temple with Melos. Gabrielle scouted the village streets of Delphi alongside Xena’s horse and found herself approached from behind. Someone had grabbed a net attempting to capture the bard, but she escaped quite easily. Suddenly there he was. He called himself Joxer a warrior, but a warrior like no other. So inept, so clumsy, and no more clever than a bumbling idiot. He insisted upon battling against the bard. Yet the bard could see that he was not a true warrior. He had little skill, but plenty of will. His failure at capturing the bard within his net led to him drawing his goofy looking sword. The blade wide and he could barely control it. Gabrielle could not handle a sword, but after seeing this Joxer try to handle his over-sized blade it was clear that he was a small threat.

In fact this Joxer seemed more annoying than threatening. The bard quickly disarmed him of his blade with a thrust of the staff. He was still very determined as he then grabbed a tiny dagger from within the mess of his lame uniform threatening to take the bard down. His anger was easily defeated as the bard disarmed him of his tiny dagger and knocked his toes with her staff. His eyes rolled back into his head in pain as he hopped around on his good foot. The bard prepared for his response. It was a cross-bow which Gabrielle broke with a thrust of the staff across the bow. Suddenly he appeared upset as if he were nothing more than a child who had lost his favorite toy. Then he remembered his challenge and prepared to take the bard down with his bare hands. Of course Gabrielle was ready again for his feeble advance as she knocked him silly with her staff taking his feet from beneath him. The bumbling idiot Joxer fell flat upon his back as his tongue hung out in defeat. He prepared to regain his senses and rise for more punishment, but the bard was becoming quite annoyed by his presence. She had little time for his antics and idiocy as she demanded that he stay down. The bard was busy trying to find Callisto before darkness could kill the oracle. And so Gabrielle left Joxer behind.

As Gabrielle tried to lose the idiot inside of the temple Xena caught sight of a mysteriously cloaked woman. It was Callisto and she had pulled Xena’s chackram hurling it toward the unsuspecting oracle certain to incriminate the warrior princess in cold-blooded murder. There were plenty of witnesses, but Xena would not be defeated. She reached for her dagger and threw it toward the flying disc to deflect its path toward death. The warrior princess was successful as the chackram was tamed by the light and returned to the hand of the warrior princess. Suddenly Callisto realizing defeat fled the temple. The chase led through the back alleys of the village to Callisto’s horse. She jumped upon her horse riding out-of-town as quickly as she could. The fair-haired woman was determined to escape the warrior princess’s justice as Xena jumped upon Argo in pursuit. The chase led to the far reaches of the valley into the desert region ten miles. Callisto was quick and agile, but the warrior princess had the better horse. Argo pushed hard to catch up to the dark nemesis so that Xena could capture Callisto and bring her to justice. Finally Argo did catch up and Xena leapt from Argo onto Callisto’s horse forcing the enemy to the ground. The two warrior women tumbled to the ground down the hill near the water down below.

When they finally stopped rolling Xena regained her balance quickly tying Callisto binding Callisto’s hands. As the warrior princess took control of her accidental creation she put Callisto upon Argo knowing that Argo would not allow Callisto to escape. Callisto tried desperately to kick Argo into action as they made the journey back toward Delphi. Xena began to become angered at Callisto’s abuse of her beloved horse. She warned that she would break Callisto’s ankles if she continued to kick Argo. Callisto resorted to taunting the warrior princess once more knowing that she was defeated for the moment. She mocked Xena for turning toward the light and declared that the warrior princess was only fooling herself if she thought that changing her ways made it simple for those she had wronged to forgive her. The warrior princess was not proud of her past and Callisto’s presence only inflamed the dark memories and the shame.

Gabrielle arrived at Xena’s side to warn her of Melos’s vegeance gone out of control. He had organized a lynch mob for when Callisto returned. It was obvious that she had been convicted before having he fair trial the way Xena had when she had fought the dark hooded Ares. Callisto then asked the warrior princess if she had ever been tried for every crime she had ever committed against humanity. It was obvious to the bard what Callisto was doing. She was playing on the warrior princess’s guilt and placing all of her own guilt upon the shoulders of the warrior princess. Xena was taking it all feeling that she deserved all of it, but Gabrielle argued that Xena could not allow Callisto to place that guilt upon her. Xena was guilty of only what crimes she had committed and not those of the people she had committed them against. Callisto found it amusing that the bard was defending her friend in this way. She began to laugh and then asked Gabrielle if she knew what it was like to wake up every night hearing her mother scream with pain as she was being burned to death. Callisto’s heart and soul were very much scared. For a moment even the bard felt some sympathy as she began to put herself in that place trying desperately to relate and understand.

Gabrielle’s thoughts were interrupted as Xena proposed to Callisto the possibility of allowing her to go free. The bard found herself suddenly aghast that Xena would even fathom the thought of allowing such a killing machine to return to her life of violence. As the two friend began to argue over Callisto’s future Callisto interrupted again and proposed her exact plan. She proclaimed that if Xena were to allow her to go that she would dedicate her entire life to killing everyone and everything Xena loved including her family, friends, reputation, and even her beloved horse Argo. Callisto declared that Xena’s pity would be worse than death for her. She then insisted that Xena carry on with the process of justice for she had indeed created a monster with integrity. Callisto was determined to win Xena’s heart back into darkness no matter what the consequences to herself. It was her passionate hatred that made her heart stale and cold.

Upon arriving back at Delphi Melos was ready with his mob. They were prepared to take Callisto to her justice created by themselves without a trial. But the warrior princess would not allow it. She declared that Callisto would be taken to the village jail and await her fair trial. Callisto seemed to bask in the glory of her success. She had created a darkness so great that hatred was beginning to take control over the goodness which had once existed within the hearts of the villagers at Delphi. Melos led them certain to gain Callisto’s blood no matter what had to be done.

As Xena stood guard Gabrielle found herself confronted by the idiot once again as she watched the mob thirst for blood. He tried to capture her with a rope, but failed as Gabrielle whipped around to face him again. She grabbed his rope and yanked him forth into her fist to the nose. The bard was frustrated with the idiot as she demanded to know what his issue was with trying to capture and defeat her. He declared that Callisto would reward him well for capturing her and trading the bard for Callisto’s release. Yet Gabrielle did not find it to be a very convincing plan she sat him down and slammed a rag down upon his injured nose with frustration. She asked him why he insisted upon following her. He was clearly determined that he was going to be a real warrior and to be well-known by all. Yet he was not at all fierce. He was tame like a lamb, but his heart was definitely that of a lion. Gabrielle laid the truth before him. She explained that he was just not a warrior no matter how much he wanted to be one. He was disappointed for he claimed that his family was a long line of successful warriors. Joxer seemingly didn’t measure up. But that was okay for Gabrielle felt that there were other things that she could urge the kind-hearted idiot to do. She asked him what other interests he had. Joxer replied with zest that he liked to steal. Of course stealing was not at all what the bard had in mind. Instead she suggested fishing. The bard tried to convince Joxer that fishing was just as noble as being a warrior. For a moment it seemed as if maybe she had succeeded for the excitement began to build within his soft brown eyes. Gabrielle began to feel sorry for this mixed up fellow as she held out her hand and introduced herself. He accepted the invitation to friendship only to grab her arm and lock it behind her back at yet another lame capture attempt. The bard’s frustrations boiled over as he took her elbow to his now swollen nose. And then Gabrielle left the idiot to his idiocy feeling that he was a hopeless delusional case.

Yet Xena had problems of her own. As she sat guarding Callisto within the jail Callisto continued to taunt her and to work her conscience. Though Callisto was beyond help she was clever and she knew exactly how to play the warrior princess. She was determined to destroy what goodness lie within Xena’s heart. Xena fought to ignore Callisto’s words, but found it difficult for she still felt guilt within her heart for what had happened. Callisto had not accepted her apology earlier on the journey back toward Delphi. The fair-haired woman would not allow Xena to be forgiven. She continued to torture Xena. Callisto’s vegeance for Xena was strange for despite her hatred and anger she truly admired the darkness of the warrior princess for it had commanded such power. But she condemned the good warrior princess proclaiming that she was too sentimental for her own good. As the warrior princess sat wrestling with her demons and trying to decided if Gabrielle was right or if maybe Callisto could be changed for the better.

And then the mob won out. It hurled a torch of fire into Callisto’s cell hoping to flush her out. Callisto relished in the idea that she could die the same violent death as did her family. She urged Xena to allow her to burn to death for it would be the fitting justice. If that were the fitting justice for Callisto then what would be a fitting justice for a warrior princess. A part of Xena wanted to let it all go within the flames, but she could not. Instead she reached for the keys to the cell releasing Callisto from the wrath of flames. Callisto knew Xena well for she had studied the warrior princess for years. She had escaped her the binds of her metal cuffs and as the warrior princess came to her rescue she fell into Callisto’s trap. Callisto knocked the warrior princess into the fire and then locked her away to burn to death.

Quickly Callisto ran out into the square hissing with vengeance as she screamed and jumped upon her horse once more. As she galloped out-of-town she swiped the unsuspecting bard and rode out-of-town having won this round of the duel. Xena narrowly escaped the flames flipping through the top of the prison ceiling. It was made of only straw which had allowed the burning flames to consume the jail vengefully. As Xena emerged from the jail a distraught Melos began to punish himself for his mistake. He realized that Gabrielle had been right. Forgiveness was the only answer and as Xena jumped upon her horse she reminded Melos that she had made the same mistake which had created Callisto. Then she rode on in the direction that Callisto had disappeared with Gabrielle.

Soon the helpless bard found herself hoisted high above the ground within Callisto’s camp. Callisto was basking within her glory knowing that she was on the verge of Xena’s destruction. Gabrielle was certain to gain the advantage knowing Xena could stand up to the darkness of Callisto. Callisto seemingly did not care if she was defeated in battle against Xena or not. She was certain that either way she would win. If she beat Xena in battle it would mean Xena’s death and if she was killed in a fierce battle by Xena it would allow her to haunt Xena within death for it was certain to unleash the demons within the warrior princess’s heart once more. It seemed that there was no escape for Xena’s heart.

And then the idiot Joxer somehow ended up at Callisto’s camp. He had been found sneaking around within the bushes by Callisto’s men. When he was asked by the blonde woman of his intentions at her camp he was left speechless and unprepared. Then Callisto asked him why he had failed at capturing the girl. He had no excuse only a fumbling of words. Callisto reminded him that it was she who had captured Gabrielle and that he had lost his chance at entry into her army. Joxer tried to declare that he had worked hard at breaking down the bard’s defenses, but Callisto only mocked him by commenting on his swollen nose. Then Callisto declared that there was one more thing he could do to prove his worth to her army. Joxer found himself delighted that Callisto was about to give him another chance to prove himself as a warrior. He was determined to succeed this time.

And so Callisto commanded to have the bard brought down to be killed. She asked Joxer to slice the throat of the irritating blonde from one ear to the other. Joxer reluctantly took the knife. Gabrielle realized that this may be her demise. She prepared for her death as she held her breath facing the determined idiot once more. This time she was unable to defend herself. Joxer realized as he looked into the bard’s eyes that he could not commit such an act. He tried desperately to talk his way out of it. He declared that there should be a better fate for the friend of the warrior princess. Joxer was certain that the warrior princess would be angry to find that the bard had been taken for a possible ransom. Yet Callisto wanted more than money. She wanted blood. Callisto wanted the bard’s blood no matter the consequences that followed. She shouted out for the kill harshly as Joxer shook in his boots.

He slowly took the knife and put his hand upon the bard’s shoulder. Joxer prepared to insert the knife into the helpless victim bound by ropes. She could not defend herself and he could see no real valor in killing the bard in this way. So Joxer refused as he threw down the knife. He could not kill the irritating blonde. This sent Callisto into a rage as she ripped her dagger from it sheath and approached Joxer. She walked about the idiot as he stood awaiting his own death. He chose to die rather than to kill the bard. Gabrielle feared more for his safety than her own. She was prepared to die, but hoped that Xena would arrive soon. Callisto’s vengeance was clearly out of control. The darkness rounded the kind-hearted Joxer as she glided the knife upon his exposed skin. She declared him to be noting more than a coward and an embarrassment to warriors. Then she commanded that he be chained up alongside the bard to await the arrival of the warrior princess. Callisto had a great emotionally charged theatrical prepared for her victims.

Soon the warrior princess did arrived to see the challenge which was presented before her. Callisto declared that it was time to find out who was truly the most skilled and the best warrior. She commanded her men to raise the helpless bard high above the camp into the air once again. And then she asked that a flame be lit to add time into the challenge. So the ropes which held the bard’s life were lit as they began to weaken with each passing moment. The warrior princess gathered great strength and focus from within as she prepared her action within her mind. She was quiet within the short moment of silent peace. And everyone heard the battle cry of the fair-haired Xena. Though her dark nemesis fought bravely she was still no match for our hero.   Desperate to save her friend the great warrior woman leaped into action. Xena began to climb one of the many ladders within Callisto’s camp. Suddenly her fair-haired dark nemesis leaped from her post above and kicked Xena’s ladder into two parts sending Xena crashing violently to the ground. Gabrielle called out to her friend worried for her safety. Yet the warrior princess rested the ladder into a bridge between the two sides of Callisto’s fortress. Callisto stood at the other end awaiting Xena’s next move. The warrior princess charged forth and was kicked down by the irritating blonde. Xena slid violently back toward the other side. And then she regained her strength as she jumped up into hand to hand combat with her dark nemesis.

She took Callisto’s furious kicks and punches until she could block them and then deliver her return assault. Callisto defeated in hand to hand combat flipped backward out of the path of Xena’s fury as Xena broke the ladder bridge in two with a powerful kick downward. Separated from the darkness she jumped across the way giving out her mighty battle cry and landed on a ladder parallel to her dark nemesis. She then began to race Callisto climbing to the top of the ladder in a competition. Callisto’s men tried to slow Xena down, but she defeated them throwing them to the ground as she made her way to the top of the fortress. Then the warrior princess paused showing her confidence to Callisto who was now fighting to keep up with Xena’s clever plan. The warrior princess then traveled across to the other side of the fortress using the ladder to spin across. Her battle cry could be heard again as Gabrielle’s hope rose within. She was determined to cheer the warrior princess onto victory over the darkness.

As Xena looked back Callisto matched her with the same spinning move across to the other side of the camp. But it was a trap for the ego of darkness. While Callisto was busy matching the skill of the warrior princess Xena began to build a rescuing device so that she could reach the bard. She did a half spin across on a second ladder and then shoved it together with another building a very large lever. Callisto paused with interest as she watched the warrior princess work. Yet the ropes still burned and time was running out for Gabrielle. Callisto continued to watch as Xena pulled down the final piece of the lever and spun across and then leapt kicking the ladder onto the base of the lever. Triumphantly the warrior princess flipped upon the lever with a confident loud battle cry.

She slowly scaled down the lever and pulled the other side up toward the helpless bard. Gabrielle could feel the rope weakening quickly as Xena concentrated and assured the bard that she would be there. Joxer shouted out the obvious making the bard more nervous. Then just as Xena was within reach of her rescue attempt Callisto flipped onto the other side of the lever and drew her sword. She declared with a bit of remorse that part of her darkness hoped that Xena would win this battle between her demons and her dark nemesis. Yet her light was not bright enough for she was overcome with her dark vengeance and declared that it was all over. Again the fair-haired Xena was heard screaming her vengeful battle cry as she plunged forward with her weapon toward the warrior princess. Yet Xena did not lose focus. Not even for a moment for she reacted drawing her chackram with one sudden movement. It floated gracefully from her grasp into the air slicing through the weakening rope which held the bard high up in the air.

Gabrielle began to fall as her heart thrust itself into her throat. The bard was certain that she was to meet her demise, but just when it seemed that Callisto had won the battle Xena flipped backwards onto the lever sending Callisto high up into the air as the bard landed softly upon the lever where Callisto once stood. Gabrielle found herself relieved as her heart pounded violently within her chest. The warrior princess slowly let the lever down to release Gabrielle from the danger. Callisto grabbed onto the burning rope above and awaited her demise. She was certain that she had blocked any chance of escaping the demons within the warrior princess. And though her first in command tried to save her she commanded him to allow her to die.

Just as Xena had lowered Gabrielle safely to the ground the rope snapped and Callisto laughed with the depths of evil coming from within. She was about to fall to her death until the warrior princess suddenly grabbed hold of the broken rope, and Xena had saved Callisto from a fate she most desired. Her own death leaving Callisto short of her goal. The irritating blonde groaned with despair for despite all that she had done she had still been defeated by the warrior princess. And so despite all of Callisto’s efforts she was made to face her own justice as Gabrielle found herself glad that Xena had been able to save her for justice’s sake. And so the woes of Callisto were no more as Xena and Gabrielle traveled onto continue the mission of the greater good and the end to the cycle of violence.