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Journey of Friends

by Scott Carpenter 

©Copyright Scott Carpenter December 28, 1996 

Journey of Friends is a sequel to my story, Twisted Paths

Sithus leaned on his staff and surveyed the countryside, fourteen days and still no sign of his quarry, tracks yes but no visible sign of them. Even the one day of no rest did not put him any closer. 

Sithus continued down the hill following the tracks. "At least those are still visible". He had not wanted to take Lika due to the terrain he knew he would have to face, horses don't climb mountains well. 

As it neared dark he approached a small town, large enough to have an inn he hoped. Entering the town he spied the local tavern, it had an upper floor that looked like boarding rooms. Entering he received only a few casual glances. He stepped to the bar and got a drink and found a table. As he seated himself he heard people talking in a room to the back of the tavern. Catching only bits he gleaned they were talking about what he was searching for. He sipped at his drink and waited for those in the back room to come out, he hoped one of them would give him answers. 

The two men parted the cloth that blocked the door and moved to a table, they were not who he was looking for, only locals. Sithus finished his drink and went to the bar, " Do you have rooms?" 

The bartender nodded, "Two dinars a night." Sithus fished out two coins from his pouch and placed them on the bar, the bar tender passed him a key. 

As he went up the stairs he saw two men enter the tavern, they were not the ones he was looking for but they were not locals either. Sithus continued up the stairs and down the hall to the room, he unlocked the door and bolted it behind him, he then placed a small piece of metal from his bag into the lock to prevent it from being opened from the outside. Sithus stood his staff near the door and removed his sword from his side and took the heavy pack from his shoulder. He laid the sword on the small bed and opened his pack. As he removed various things he stopped when he got to the wrapped object, he sat on the bed and removed the cloth. 

Removing the last of the wrappings he hefted the metal ring in his hand, he wished she could see this one. Sithus rewrapped it with the cloth and set it down beside him, he found the needle he needed to fix the hole in his boot and started on the repairs. After the hole in his boot was fixed he checked the rest of his things for anything that may need repair, finding none he removed the blade from it's scabbard and laid it on the floor next to the bed and laid down himself. He thought for a moment of her face, time had not changed her at all. 

Early the next morning he awoke with a start, someone down stairs was shouting, next he heard the breaking of a table, as if a body had been dropped on it. Sithus grabbed his blade and moved to the window, below were eight horses all bearing the same emblem. Not exactly who he was looking for but they would do. Sithus gathered his things and removed the metal from the door and opened it, he moved to the top of the stairs and listened to the voices below. Who ever hit the bartender had hit him too hard, he was out cold and they were trying to wake him. Sithus moved back to the room and slipped out the window. Below there was one man watching the horses, Sithus nudged the man with his staff, as he looked up the Sithus jabbed him in the chin spinning him to the ground. Sithus dropped his pack down and jumped from the ledge. 

Sithus looked to the door of the tavern and saw no one, Sithus found a horse to his liking and then he quickly went to the other horses and cut the saddle strap. He hung his pack on the back of the horse he had chosen and slowly made his way down the road. On the outskirts of town Sithus looked back and could just make out the tavern, no one had exited yet, he kicked the horse into a gallop. 

This horse was not Lika but it was in good health, he kept up the pace for a while and then brought it down to a walk, he was making some headway now. Sithus knew she would not go through the mountains, he had in hopes of making up time, even without a horse it should have given him two days and yet she was still way ahead. 

Sithus stopped near a stream and let the horse drink, he removed the crest from the saddle and tossed it aside, no sense in causing trouble. He checked the shoes on each hoove, fresh. Sithus let the horse walk as he checked the road, now and then he spotted what he was looking for. 

Sithus climbed into the saddle and continued down the road, he was making up time now. The entire day he could only think of her face, the slight smile she had given him that day, that mocking smirk. As it neared dark Sithus made his way off the road into the woods, he found a suitable spot for camp and tied up horse. He made a fire and removed the saddle from his newly acquired mount, he spread the saddle blanket over the horse, tonight it would be cold. 

Sithus awoke to a cold morning, he gathered his things and placed the blanket and saddle on the horse and gave the horse an apple. Once things were in there place Sithus climbed up and headed for the road. If only she knew, she would have waited. Or would she have? Sithus approached a small village and saw smoke, too much smoke. He spurred the horse forward into the village. A cart of hay burned at the edge of town, a small building was a smoldering ruin. Sithus slowed down and surveyed the damage, several bodies were in the street. He heard weeping and cries, no one he could help here, he rode on. 

Sithus was angry with himself, he should have gone with her. After a long ride Sithus stopped at the edge of a field to stretch and let the horse eat, he ate as well. Sithus shifted the pack on the saddle and secured it better, he headed down the road in the direction of his quarry. As Sithus road along he noticed the change in the countryside, less hilly and flatter, he knew he was close. Up the road he saw a cart surrounded by four men, the carts occupants were shaking their heads and pointing farther up the road, the men moved from the cart and into the woods, moments later they exited with horses and continued on ahead of Sithus, he knew these were some of the men he was looking for. 

As it grew dark Sithus knew there was no hope of finding a town so he moved off the road once again and made camp, he checked the horse, removed the saddle and blanket as before and fed him. Sithus slowly ate and wondered what she was doing now, probably the same only not cooking. 

Early the next morning Sithus awoke to the shouts of men, he quickly rose and readied the horse. He moved to the road and saw what had awoken him, ahead lay a cart with two men sifting through the contents, he road ahead. As he approached, Sithus saw one shift his hand to his back, Sithus shifted his hand to the staff at his side." Lose something?" 

The two looked at each other, "yes, we put a wineskin in here somewhere." 

"Well I hope you find it, good day." Sithus road ahead, the two men continued their search of the cart. Sithus turned as he heard a shout, one of the men held a wine skin over his head and the other grabbed it from him and took a drink. 

Hours later Sithus reached a town, he stopped in front of a shop and tied up the horse. Going inside he saw what he was looking for immediately. He paid for the leather straps and moved to the market, there he purchased food for himself and for the horse. Near the end of town he saw the tavern, there he should be able to get the information he needed. 

As he stepped inside most of the conversation stopped or fell to a whisper, as he moved to he bar it started again but at a lesser tone. 

"What can I get you, ale?" the bartender asked. 

"Nothing, I only have a question, did twenty or so men come through here in the past couple of days?" the bartender looked around nervously, as he saw no one was looking he shook his head yes. Sithus could see he was nervous, "Did they have a cart or wagon with them?" he again shook his head yes. "How many days?" 

"Two" Sithus fished some dinars out and slid them across the bar and headed for the door, as he left he saw two injured men, one had his head bandaged and the other had his arm in a sling. He smiled as he exited the bar, leave her alone for a day and things go to Hades. 

Sithus knew that he could catch them now, it was only a matter of time. As he left town he noticed two men from the tavern had followed him and were readying horses, they would follow him and wait for him to make camp, last mistake they would make. 

As it grew near dark Sithus moved off the road, he knew the two men following would do the same and try to catch him sleeping. Sithus made camp but he did not remove the saddle from the horse, he did hobble the horse just in case they tried to spook it, Lika he would trust not to run far but this horse could go anywhere if spooked and he needed it. 

He heard one of the men snap a twig in the distance, he made no move to let them think he heard, he went about laying out his bedroll and laid down. They waited for about an hour, the fire began to die down and he should be asleep. They moved with caution as to not make a sound towards the sleeping form, they did not know who he was, only that he was to be killed. 

As the men moved closer they did not suspect that Sithus was awake. As the one man neared, dagger drawn, Sithus flung the blanket off of himself and onto his attacker. The other seeing this charged with sword in hand, he received a handful of ash to the face, he howled in pain. 

Sithus took his sword and used the pommel to bring the struggling man under the blanket down, he did the same to the man trying to clear wood ash from his eyes. As he searched the two unconscious men he found the map, it showed the route to be taken,"Fools" he thought to himself. 

As the two awoke they saw Sithus sitting across from them, holding his sword. "You two made the classic mistake, you should have come from different directions." Sithus stood and moved closer. "What is Draco's plan? You tell me and you will live, don't and you die." 

The two looked at each other and then at Sithus. "We won't tell you a thing." Sithus looked at the man who spoke and jabbed a finger to his neck, his head rolled back and he looked to his friend to be quite dead. 

He looked at Sithus and then at his compatriot, eye's open and rolled back into his head. "I'll tell you" he stammered "Just don't kill me." Sithus had picked the stronger of the two as his target, he knew the other one would talk. 

"So what is Draco's plan?" Sithus pushed the other mans body over "I'm listening." 

The man looked at his unconscious friend "He is going on to just outside Thrace, he plans on selling it there." Sithus thought for a moment, Draco was not thinking clearly. 

Sithus looked at the whimpering man, "Your friend was a fool not to talk." Sithus drew his dagger and cut the ropes binding him." Get out of here, if I see you again you will end up like your pal here." The man leaped up and ran blindly into the woods. Sithus laughed to himself as he cut the others ropes, he would wake in a few hours with a painful headache but he would be alive. Sithus packed his things and unhobbled the horse and made for the road. 

As he rode along he wondered to himself if she even knew that Draco was in the area, there were no signs of her presence at the burning village so he assumed she was ahead of him. She did not know what had happened, if she did she would have said something to him, he was sure of it. 

As Sithus approached the outskirts of Thrace he checked the map from the two men, he was at the turn to where Draco was encamped. He would not go there yet. Sithus rode on to Thrace, he would find her and get her to help recover it. He knew she would. 

As Sithus entered town he thought about where the first place to look might be. Looking around the first tavern he did not see anyone injured laying outside so he moved on to the next. As he approached the second he saw a familiar horse outside, a small black horse. He tied up his mount next to it and patted it on the head, "Good girl Thesis" He noticed a man holding his head as was about to enter "Must have made a mistake." 

As he entered he saw her standing next to the bar, he approached her and grabbed her around the waist "How about a kiss deary" Xena spun her elbow around at what she thought was the mans head but her efforts did not result in the usual impact, instead she felt herself being spun around. 

She looked at who had just avoided her attack, expecting to see a strange face she was surprised to see his face. "Sithus!" She kissed him. "What are you doing here? Checking up on me?" 

Sithus let go of her. "Where is Gabrielle?" Xena nodded toward the door, Sithus turned to see Gabrielle just entering. 

"She took Argo to the stable to get him some new shoes." Gabrielle saw a man talking to Xena and wondered if this one would end up in the street as well, she was stunned when he turned and she saw it was Sithus. Gabrielle walked to him and hugged him, 

" Hello Sithus, what are you doing here?" 

" Oh I just traveled all this way to check up on you two." 

Xena laughed "Yea right. So why are you really here?" 

Sithus looked at her for a moment "Xena, Draco is making trouble again, he has been up to no good. Remember that chest you and Autolycus recovered for your friends, well Draco has it." 

Xena nearly crushed her mug when she heard Dracos name, she had not heard or seen of Draco in such a long time. "Draco will pay with his life." She slammed the mug down and headed for the door. 

Sithus did not try to stop her. Sithus looked to Gabrielle "Gabrielle how long will it be until Argo's shoes are done?" 

Gabrielle watched as Xena left and then back to Sithus. "Not for a few hours, Why?" 

Sithus headed for the door with Gabrielle in tow. "She won't go without Argo and I know where Draco is." 

Xena stood outside the tavern and looked around as a flood of rage swept through her. Draco had not gotten on her bad side since his attack on Gabrielle's village, now he had again and this time she would not let him get away with a simple knock on the chin. She turned as Sithus and Gabrielle exited the tavern. "Do you know where he is Sithus?" 

Sithus knew that look. "Yes I do, they are camped a few miles from here off the main road." 

She turned back to look out into the street. "When Argo is ready we will leave." 

Sithus knew enough not to argue with her. "Fine, but lets not go in unprepared Xena." 

She looked at him "I am never unprepared Sithus." 

Sithus laughed and moved to an unfamiliar horse. "I never said you were unprepared." He removed a wrapped object from a pack and walked back to her and placed it in her hand. "I made another a while back and hoped to give it to you on a special occasion. I guess this is as good time as any." 

Xena looked at him and then at what was in her hand and began unwrapping the cloth that covered it. Gabrielle looked over her shoulder. "This is like getting gifts at Soltice, even if it's not your gift being unwrapped." 

Xena removed the last layer and saw a familiar shape, a new chakram. "You made another? I though you said it was not possible." 

Sithus took it from her. "I didn't say it was easy. This one I made after you left, I wanted to replace the one I given you." He placed it back into her hands. "May it protect you always my friend." 

Xena looked at the new chakram and then to her friend and then to Gabrielle, a tear forming in the corner of her eye. " Sithus you are a dear friend, thank you." She hugged him. 

Gabrielle took the chakram and looked it over, inscribed around the edge was an inscription. "Evil will never prevail" 

Sithus held out his hands and Gabrielle placed the chakram in it. "If you don't mind Xena I will carry it when me go after Draco." 

Xena looked at him and the chakram as she wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. "Certainly Sithus." Gabrielle was amazed that Xena was showing so much emotion, she had heard about what had gone one when she had nearly died and had seen it when her son had been taken but never like this. 

Sithus, Xena and Gabrielle walked down the road outside of Thrace. "We will make camp not far from here and wait." 

Xena nodded to Sithus "Do you think we should go in at nightfall or first light?" 

Gabrielle was stunned by her friend, she was asking Sithus about when to attack instead of telling him. "I think first light would be best, there is more of a chance that a few will be too drunk to fight." 

"Sounds good Sithus, now who is going the cooking?" 

Sithus laughed, "I know you don't cook Xena and you don't like my cooking so I guess that leaves it up to you Gabrielle." 

Gabrielle looked at the two of them. "Why is it me who gets to do all the work?" 

Sithus and Xena looked at each other and then at her, in unison they spoke "Because." 

After camp was set up Sithus moved into a stand of dead trees with staff and blade in hand, Xena watched him. "Gabrielle want to see something amazing? Go watch Sithus practice. I saw him do this before and it was incredible." Gabrielle stood up and followed Sithus, Xena called after her. "Wait, I will go with you." 

The two of them went to where Sithus was, he was moving amongst several dead trees with his staff and carefully touching each one with the end of his staff. Xena whispered to Gabrielle "Now when he puts on the blindfold watch him." 

Gabrielle wondered out loud "Blindfold?" 

Xena shushed her. "Just watch." 

Sithus had pulled a long black cloth from his belt and placed it around his head so that it covered his eyes. He began to attack the trees as if they were attackers, he rolled and attacked, leaped one way and delivered a blow, moving from one tree to the next with out hesitation. Gabrielle watched in amazement at the fluid motion of his attacks, her mouth dropped open as she watched him tumble through the trees with staff in hand and then flip into the air. 

Sithus landed his staff atop the ends of two broken trees and spun around on his now horizontal staff and then off again onto the ground below, he rolled to one side and dropped his staff and picked up his sword from the ground. 

Sithus began making his attacks again but now with his sword, again delivering blows with precision. Xena moved from where she was standing with Gabrielle. "Wait here." Xena drew her sword and moved toward Sithus. Gabrielle knew she was not going to kill him but wondered what she had in mind. As Sithus made an attack he sensed her presence, he rolled again and came up with his sword and swung. Gabrielle watched as the sword stopped within inches of Xena's neck. 

Sithus withdrew the blade and moved to a defensive posture, Xena circled him. Gabrielle watched in utter amazement as Xena attacked and Sithus blocked blow after blow, her attacks were met by counter attacks. Even blindfolded he still met each and every attack and returned them as well. Sithus backed off Xena and smiled. "Trying to get the best of me?" 

Xena laughed. "I haven't yet Sithus." Xena's smile left her face as that slight sound entered her ear, she turned and caught the arrow intended for her back. Sithus heard the arrow and something else as well, he snatched the chakram from Xena's belt and threw it. 

Gabrielle was to stunned to move as the chakram flew within inches of her head. She turned and saw a man fall to the ground with the chakram lodged in his chest. "Gabrielle come here!" Sithus ripped the blindfold from his head. Gabrielle ran to the two of them as several men closed around them. 

Draco's men did not know who it was they had just attacked. They were out scouting and had thought the three would be a bit of fun, especially the two women. What they did not expect was for the response they got from the two they had seen fighting. As the men moved around them they readied for the attack. Sithus and Xena blades in hand and Gabrielle with her staff. 

As the first of the men moved in Xena snatched the blade from the small of Gabrielle's back and threw it into the chest of one of them, she then turned her attention to the others. Gabrielle dropped her first opponent with a vicious blow to his legs and then to his back, she spun her back to the next attacker and dropped low and tripped him, swinging overhead she knocked him out. 

Sithus waited as three men attacked from his front, left and right. As the they neared Sithus ducked one attack and sliced ones leg wide open and then carried the swing to the next man cutting his arm. The third man's swing missed and hit one of his own, Sithus tripped him and struck him in the head with the pommel of his sword. 

Xena circled with her opponent and dodged his first attack, she laughed and spun her blade in her hand. He attacked again and she parried the blade away and cut him down as another ran her way, he was met by a sword cut to his midsection. Gabrielle blocked two sword blows and rammed her staff behind her into the face of the man behind her and then spun the blade from the others hand and sent him sprawling to the ground with a blow to the side. 

The last attacker had made a bad move, he was now surrounded by the three. He tossed his sword aside. "Please don't kill me." He went down to his knees and doubled over, pulling a small blade from it's hiding place he snapped up and threw it towards Gabrielle. 

Xena and Sithus saw this but could do nothing. Gabrielle watched the blade fly towards her as if it was barely moving, her mind made the staff shift in front of the blade as it impacted her fighting staff. Gabrielle looked at the blade and then the man "Ha, you will have to do better than that." The man groaned and lay on the ground waiting for the inevitable death he expected. 

Sithus picked the man up by his arms as Xena stood in front of him. Two quick jabs and the man felt strange. "In case you are wondering, my beautiful friend here has just blocked the flow of blood to your brain and unless she releases it you will die, so I suggest you answer our questions." 

The man struggled no more. "Does Draco know we are here?" 

The man looked at Xena. "Who are you?" 

"My name is Xena." 

The man had heard the name. "I have heard you mentioned before but not recently." 

Sithus looked at Xena. "He doesn't know either of us are here." Xena nodded and jabbed the man once more. He slumped to the ground. "We have the advantage Xena. He doesn't know you are here and he has never met the likes of me." 

Xena laughed. "He will regret it when he does I am sure." 

Xena removed the knife from the dead mans body and cleaned it well before giving it back to Gabrielle. Sithus did the same to Xena's chakram. 

Sithus looked at the bodies "Hopefully Draco will think this bunch went into town instead of being killed." 

Xena looked at him and then the bodies. "How many men does he have with him?" 

"Well he had twenty, now he has ten. Makes thing easier." 

Gabrielle looked at the blade still stuck in her staff and at the man laying on the ground who had attacked her, she wondered if all of her training by Xena and by Sithus had begun to pay off. 

Sithus moved to Gabrielle and pulled the blade from her staff. "Did you teach her that Xena?" 

Xena looked to her friend and then to Sithus. "I told her she needed to see it with her whole body, she did it once before." 

Sithus turned and threw the blade into the trunk of a tree. "Nice balance, I think I'll keep it." Sithus retrieved the blade and found the hidden sheath on the unconscious man. "You did well Gabrielle, the Amazons would be proud of you. We should go see them." 

Gabrielle looked at Sithus and then to Xena. "Did we have any other plans Xena?" 

Xena thought for a second. "No, not really. I suppose the Queen should see her subjects once in a while." Xena and Gabrielle laughed. 

Sithus was puzzled. "Who is the Queen?" Gabrielle looked to Sithus and saw his confusion. "I didn't want to kill a Centaur so I challenged Queen Melosa to royal challenge and chose Xena as my champion. She won and became Queen." 

Sithus rose an eyebrow and then bowed to Xena. "My humble apologies my Queen." 

Xena tapped him on the head with her sword. "Get up or I will really hit you." Sithus rose with a smile. 

As the three set around the fire they spoke of various adventures from the years past. Xena spoke of Prometheus and meeting Death herself. Sithus only of his various travels to places far away. Gabrielle marveled at his knowledge of these places and remembered as much as she could. Stories of things she had never seen or heard of make a Bards job interesting. They all slept soundly without a worry, Gabrielle especially not fearing a thing due to her present company. 

Sithus awoke almost the same time as Xena did, she looked at him and then to Gabrielle. They both nudged her "Wake up Gabrielle." Gabrielle awoke with a start and sat up. 

Rubbing her eyes she looked at the two of them. "Did you both have to do that? I can't get a decent nights sleep around you two." 

Xena laughed. "That never stopped you before. Come on it's time to go." 

Gabrielle looked at her "Time to punch faces." 

Sithus smiled. "Punch faces, I like it." 

As the three rode nearer to Draco's camp Sithus gave Gabrielle a warning. "Stay away from Draco Gabrielle. Xena or I will take care of him." 

Xena shot Sithus a look. "He's mine Sithus. I should have done this before and I didn't." Xena looked away and thought of what she had done to Callisto and herself by not saving her. Even if Callisto had continued on her path Xena would not have the extra guilt she had now but she would not let that happen with Draco, if was going to die it would be in a far fight. 

Sithus saw the serious look in Xena's eyes. "Hey if you want him you got him, but don't worry about your back. Gabrielle and I will have it covered." Xena did not look at him, she knew to trust him and Gabrielle with her life. She looked at Gabrielle and smiled, the little girl she once knew was now a capable women who could take care of herself. She hoped she never lost her as a friend. 

They tied their horses up a fair distance from the camp and moved towards it. As they approached they spotted several sentries who were sleeping at their posts. Xena thought to when she was in her dark days and the punishment they would have received for falling asleep while on watch. Draco must be slipping for not keeping his men on their toes. 

The three of them moved to a nearby spot. "Sithus you take those two and I'll take the other two." 

Sithus nodded to Xena. "That leaves only six men and Draco in the rest of the camp." 

Gabrielle watched as the two moved away, she watched the main camp for any signs of movement. Xena crept up to the first of the guards. She grabbed him by the face and slammed his head into the tree he was leaning against. Grabbing ahold of his clothing she lowered the body to the ground to avoid making noise and moved to the next sleeping guard. 

Sithus moved to his quarry and faced him, the man awoke and Sithus's hands shot forward delivering a quick strike that knocked him cold. He let the body slump down as he moved to the next one. 

Xena saw the next man stir a bit, she looked back at Gabrielle and motioned her to move to her right. Gabrielle saw Xena motion and she did without hesitation. 

The guard saw the girl walking toward her and smiled. An interesting thing to see in the woods, he did not challenge her. As Gabrielle approached the guard she smiled. "Good morning." The guard smiled back. "Good morning. Can I do anything for you?" 

"Yes you can." The guard spun to face the voice behind him and saw a fist rushing up to meet his face. 

Gabrielle dropped her staff and caught the falling man as best she could. The man fell on top of her and knocked her to the ground. Rolling the body off of the top of her she stood and grabbed her staff. "Don't do that Xena." 

She smiled. "Sorry." 

Sithus approached the next guard from behind and made his attack, a quick jab with his fingers and the man slumped to the ground. Sithus moved to Xena and Gabrielle. 

As they approached the camp Xena grabbed Sithus by the arm. "Shall we announce ourselves?" 

Sithus thought for a moment. "You mean walk into the middle of his camp and ask him to surrender?" 

Xena smiled. "Exactly." 

Sithus smiled back. "Sure, why not." They walked ahead. 

Once in the middle of camp Xena spoke in a loud voice. "Draco! Draco wake up." Draco awoke with a start, someone calling his voice and it was not one of his men. He arose and grabbed his sword. 

As Draco pushed the flap of his tent aside he saw her. What did she want. "Xena, what can I do for you." 

Xena looked at him with an icy stare. "You can surrender and return that which does not belong to you." 

Draco looked at her and the other two as the remainder of his men exited the tents. He remembered the other women from before but the man standing there he had never seen. "What are you talking about Xena?" 

Xena moved a bit closer as Draco's men surrounded them. "You took a chest from some friend of mine, I want it." 

Draco laughed. "I am going to sell what ever it is worth and you will die trying to get it." Draco raised his sword. "Kill them, kill them all." 

Draco was amused that Xena would try to come into his camp with only herself and the other two, Xena herself was a formidable opponent but the others were no match for her men. He attacked as did the others. 

Xena moved to face Draco as the others closed on Gabrielle and Sithus. 

Xena laughed at Draco. "You should have surrendered Draco, you and your men would have lived longer." 

Draco laughed back. "You are the only formidable opponent here Xena. Those two are no match for my men." Xena smiled. "That man you see, he was my teacher. He also has been working with Gabrielle, you are in for more than you expected." 

The smile left Draco's face when he heard her speak. If that man taught Xena and Gabrielle than he was in for a decent fight, something he had not had in a long time. 

A man rushed at Gabrielle with sword in hand, Gabrielle dropped low and extended her staff out in front of her and tripped him. As he hit the ground she kicked him in the face. She turned her attention to the next man who was carrying a staff. The man spun his staff as Gabrielle waited for him to make the first move. He attacked her with a vengeance, trying to make it a quick defeat so he could move on to another yet she met each of his attacks with ease. He grew frustrated at his lack of progress and made a crucial mistake, he got angry. 

As he rushed her again Gabrielle dodged the attempt and struck him in the back as he passed. As he turned to face her again he did not see her. Gabrielle tapped him on the shoulder from behind. "I'm behind you." He turned and was stuck in the face by her staff. He collapsed in a heap. 

Sithus threw the new chakram into the chest of an oncoming opponent and then drew the dagger from Draco's man and threw that as well. With the one dead and the other with a dagger in his leg that left only two men and Draco to face, the odds were improving. 

As one man went to Draco the other approached Sithus. He made no fancy moves, he only held his blade and waited. Sithus could tell the man either had some skill or was completely afraid. The two of them circled, neither one making a move. 

Sithus surmised he had skill and was waiting for him to move so he did. As Sithus charged the man moved, swing his blade as Sithus passed he smiled as he felt he blade impact, he turned to face what he assumed to be a body and was stunned to see Sithus standing there holding a bloody sword. The color ran from his face as he felt the pain in his midsection, he looked down to see is tunic stained a bright crimson and collapsed in a heap. 

As Xena moved with Draco the last man drew a dagger and threw it as Xena engaged Draco. Without time to react Xena waited for the impact but it never came. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a hand reach out and snatch the blade from the air, Gabrielle's hand. 

Gabrielle looked at the blade and tossed it away. "That is no way to fight, come over here and I will show you." 

She motioned the man forward while leaning on her staff. The man looked at her and drew his sword. As he approached she spoke. "You are not holding your sword right." He looked down and then up and received a blow to his nose from her staff. "I'm sorry, did I do that?" He charged and she spun out of his way. He turned to face her again, she was still standing there leaning on her staff. He charged again with his sword held over his head. Gabrielle jabbed her staff up and out and knocked the blade from his hands and then brought the other end up quickly between the mans legs. He slumped to the ground in a great deal of pain. 

Xena fought with Draco as if she was facing Ares himself, dodging blows and delivering them. She felt his urge to kill her. They locked blades and stood face to face. "It will be a shame to kill you Xena, I always liked you so much." 

She smiled at him. "Don't get your hopes up." 

As the two separated Sithus and Gabrielle moved to give them space. Draco kicked and sent Xena's blade from her hand, Gabrielle stuck her staff under a nearby sword and flipped it into the air. Xena caught the blade as Draco attacked. Using her chakram and the sword she trapped Draco's blade and kicked him in the side once, twice, three times until he fell in a heap. Xena stepped on his hand until he released the sword from his grasp. 

Draco looked up as the three of them stood over him. "So go ahead Xena, Take your revenge." 

Xena only looked at him. "I have no intention of killing you Draco, not this time. I want you to try and start anew, turn your life into something good." 

Draco looked at her and the others. "I can't do that Xena. I told you before that I tried." 

Xena smiled. "You better try harder this time or the next time we meet you probably will end up dead." 

Xena removed her foot from his hand and headed for Draco's tent. Inside sitting on a rug was a large chest. Xena looked at the words inscribed on the top, the same as before. 

Sithus and Gabrielle moved inside as well. "So shall we load this up? We have a long journey back." 

Xena looked over her shoulder at him. "Yes we do. First we need to get this back and then to go see the Amazons." 

Sithus went outside and looked around, he turned and went back into the tent. "Draco is gone." 

Xena smiled. "Well I hope he changes. I don't want to have to kill him." Sithus nodded and helped Xena carry the chest outside. 

As they made there way down the road with the chest in the wagon Sithus looked to Xena. "Remember that fellow you and Gabrielle spoke of? 

Xena's eyes rolled. "You mean Joxer!" 

Sithus nodded. "That's the one. He showed up the day you left from Amphipolis." 

Gabrielle looked at Sithus. "I told you he was a clown didn't I." 

Sithus laughed. "He was a bit funny but not anymore. Do you know who his family is? He comes from a long line of warlords you know. Only problem is that he does not have a black heart. 

Xena thought of Joker's many attempts at helping her and Gabrielle and his attempt at protecting Argo when he thought she was Callisto. "He means well but he can't fight." 

"Well he couldn't fight before but he can now." 

Gabrielle looked puzzled. "What do you mean Sithus?" Sithus smiled. "Well lets just say that the next time you see him you won't hear him coming. He has a new attitude and less armor." 

Xena looked at him in amazement. "No more helmet?" 

Sithus shook his head. "No more helmet and much less armor to get in the way." 

Xena laughed. " You did it didn't you." 

Sithus nodded. "I did." 

Gabrielle was confused. "Did what?" 

Xena put her hand on her dear friend shoulder. "Sithus trained Joxer." 

Gabrielle's eyes light up. "You trained him? Like you did with me?" Sithus nodded. "I did, was not as easy as your training, had to start from the beginning but he is much better now then he ever was before. If you ever need a dagger thrown have him do it, he has a knack for it. He is very good at throwing blades." Xena smiled and shook her head. She no longer worried about her safety or Gabrielle's when Joxer attempted to help. 

As they headed for Amphipolis Sithus turned to Gabrielle. "So Bard tell us a story." 

Xena looked at her. "Yes Bard tell us one of your stories." 

Gabrielle thought for a moment. "There once was a man with many skills and a beautiful women who wished to learn..." 

Sithus looked at the two of them. "I like it already." 

Xena looked at Sithus. "As do I." 

The End

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