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Copyright: Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the authors. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
NOTE: This work remains the © copyright of the original authors. It may not be republished without the authors' consent.
Violence: There is some violence in this story, however it is not *too* graphic. Just a bit more than would be seen in a typical episode of Xena: Warrior Princess. If this will bother you, please use the "BACK" button!
"Mush": This story's kinda mushy in places! If this will bother you, please use the "BACK" button! ; )
OUR THANKS to Anon., Lunacy and Atalanta, who provided very helpful comments and wonderful support!
Lyceus rode quickly down the road, pushing down the dread welling up inside of him. 'The sooner I get there, the sooner we get this over with.' he thought firmly to himself. 'Time to be a warrior, Lyceus - forget everything else. Focus.' After riding hard for a distance, the road broke through the trees and the fortress was visible beyond an open field. Lyceus slowed his horse, staring at the menacing-looking building.
"This is it, Callisto." he muttered. "This is where it's going to end." Spurring the horse on again, he raced across the field.
The two guards standing at the entrance to the fortress uneasily watched the rider's swift approach. One cast a glance at the other. "Who in Tartarus is that? The goddess is expecting two women." He hissed. The other gripped the staff he was holding a bit tighter.
"We're about to find out." He answered quietly, as the horse thundered up and the rider dismounted. "Turn around, son - you've got no business here." The guard called out to the young man.
Lyceus strode up to the men, showing no hesitation whatsoever. He pointed to the fortress. "The goddess Callisto is in there, is she not?" he asked. "That's what I heard in the village near here. I want to join up with her."
The guards exchanged glances, then the first one that spoke took a menacing step forward. "Let me give you a piece of advice. Get back up on your horse and get out of here. It would be the safest thing for you to do." He told Lyceus quietly, his voice deadly.
Lyceus stared back at the guard for a moment, letting a confused, fearful look cross his features. "Oh. But - but I thought..." he let it trail off, then shrugged, holding up his hands. "I'm sorry for the intrusion." he said humbly, turning back to his horse.
Suddenly, he spun around and grabbed the staff of the guard who spoke to him. Yanking it forward, he drove his forehead into the guard's nose. Then, leaning on the staff, Lyceus snapped his right leg out and sharply connected with the other guard's face once, twice, then his throat, dropping him.
Turning his attention back to the first guard, he drove the bottom half of the man's staff into his groin, then reversed it and slammed the other end into his face, sending him to the ground in a grunting heap. Hearing excited voices, Lyceus watched two more guards come out of the fortress coming towards him at a dead run. Steeling himself, he waited for them to reach him. "Here we go..." he breathed.
The blond-haired goddess looked up from cleaning her sword as sounds of a commotion reached her ears. She stood, her lips twisting into a smile. "Oh, *goody*! My *dear* friends are here!" she giggled. Two guards standing near her exchanged glances, then watched the goddess walk toward the door. Before she could reach it, it burst open and two guards dragged Lyceus, struggling, inside. Callisto stopped in her tracks, her face darkening as if a cloud passed over it. Her lip started to curl as she stared hard at the young man.
Lyceus shook himself free of the two burly guards and met the goddess' angry gaze evenly. 'So this is her.' he thought, a bit taken back by the sudden rushing wave of hatred welling up inside him. 'This is the woman who has caused Xena and Gabrielle so much pain, tried to kill my mother...!' He forced himself to remain calm, to resist the urge to attack her right then and there. 'You're gonna pay for it, I swear by the gods, if it's the last thing I do.' he vowed silently.
"Just who in Tartarus are you and what are you doing here?" Callisto asked quickly, advancing on him, her voice dangerous.
Lyceus stood his ground and appraised her coolly, surprised at how slight the woman was. He knew her looks were deceiving, however; anyone who could be a challenge to his sister....
"See something green, little boy?" Callisto snapped, her tone more menacing.
Lyceus forced a humble expression to his face. "No, I see the woman I want to work for." he stated quietly.
A few of the guards in the room snickered. The hard expression on Callisto's face never changed. "And I see food for the wolves in the woods outside." she gave her guards a curt nod. "Get rid of him."
The guards behind Lyceus reached for his arms and were each greeted by a fist in the face. Lyceus spun around and leapt in the air, kicking both legs outward. His heels caught each warrior squarely on the chin, knocking both unconscious before they hit the ground.
Callisto raised an eyebrow, a bit surprised that this brash young man could defeat two of her hand-picked guards so quickly. She wasn't at all concerned about herself, seeing as she could point her finger at the newcomer and reduce him to ashes in an instant. She watched the other two warriors in the room run towards him, waiting to see what would happen.
Lyceus whirled towards the approaching guards. In a move almost too quick to follow he shot his right fist out, sharply connecting with the Adam's apple of the first guard, dropping him like a stone. The man writhed on the ground at Callisto's feet, clutching his throat and gasping for breath. The goddess rewarded him with a sharp kick to the kidneys, glaring at him contemptuously.
The fourth guard drew his sword and bore down on Lyceus, swinging it savagely. Lyceus ducked a high swing, then jumped over a low one. As the warrior started to recover and swing the sword back towards Lyceus, Lyceus grabbed his sword arm with his right hand and stepped in towards him, pivoting around so his back was to the warrior. He drove his elbow into the guard's midsection, then up into his face. Pivoting back out, he kicked the guard squarely in the chest, driving him backwards into a nearby wall.
The man landed hard against a huge wooden shield that was mounted there. Before he could blink, two daggers were imbedded in the shield on either side of his head, a mere whisper from his skin. He looked from one dagger to the other by only moving his eyes. Then he licked his lips nervously and glanced back at Lyceus. Lyceus was grinning at him, balancing his third dagger on the tip of his finger by only the point.
Callisto kept a passive, almost bored expression on her face, but inside she was intrigued by this supremely confident fighter. She threw a glance towards her guard, still afraid to move, then favored a withering stare at Lyceus.
"You missed." she said flatly.
Lyceus cocked an eyebrow at her. "You're wrong." he countered, then shrugged. "I simply didn't realize you wanted him killed. It can be arranged." he offered.
Callisto stepped towards him, angry at his impudence, yet impressed that he had the nerve to speak that way to her. Such brass! It could be an asset, yet he still had to remember who was in charge. "You would do that if I told you to?" she challenged.
Lyceus shrugged again. "I would do anything you told me to, if I was in your army." he shook his head and sighed. "Unfortunately, I understand you need no more warriors."
Callisto snatched the dagger still balanced on his finger and hurled it at her guard without so much as a glance to take aim. The guard slid to the floor with a gurgle, clutching the dagger now protruding from his chest.
"Looks like a spot just opened up." she said flippantly, her eyes still boring into his.
Lyceus shuddered inwardly. This woman was a lunatic! He forced his face to remain stoic.
"Apparently." he agreed, not taking his eyes off hers. Callisto stepped closer to him.
"What's your name?" she asked.
"Ballis." Lyceus answered, using the name of an old childhood friend of his.
"Let's get a few things clear, Ballis." she snapped, then jerked her thumb at the dead guard. "That could be you. In a heartbeat. All you have to do is *look* at me cross-eyed. Got that?"
"Yes, Callisto." Lyceus said quietly.
Callisto shook her head quickly, her nostrils flaring. "No. That's yes, *goddess* and don't you forget it, you cocky little bastard! You may be good with those daggers, but I could make you look like the remnants of a campfire by simply lifting a finger. *I'll* call you by your name, *you'll* refer to me by my rightful title. Understood?"
"Yes, goddess." Lyceus answered, forcing a slight quiver in his voice. The goddess leaned closer, moistening her lips. He could feel her breath against his cheek. 'So close...' he swore silently, '...I could choke the life right out --' Callisto jabbed a finger into his chest, interrupting his train of thought.
"You will do *what* I say, *when* I say it. You will do *anything*, submit to my every.... whim. *I* control *you*." she finished, then swiftly wrapped her hand around the back of his neck and pressed her lips to his, forcing her tongue between them.
Lyceus submitted to the fierce kiss, his stomach clenching. He would've preferred to kiss a dead, rotting harpy. Then a familiar voice, tinged with fury, broke the tense silence.
"Hate to interrupt. Would you two rather be alone?"
Startled, the goddess shoved Lyceus away from her, cursing herself inwardly for losing her focus. She glared furiously at Xena and Gabrielle as they walked into the room.
Xena was clenching her jaw, struggling to keep control of her rage. What did that filthy *beast* think she was doing with her *brother*?!
Gabrielle's eyes were huge and she had emitted a strangled gasp when she saw Lyceus kissing Callisto. Xena's firm warning grip on her shoulder was the only thing that kept her from screaming. Summoning every ounce of strength within her, she managed to return her expression to normal. She wasn't supposed to know Lyceus. She couldn't react.
Lyceus looked at the two women walking in and felt like dying inside. Of all the things for his sister and Gabrielle to see! He tore his gaze away and looked at the ground, his stomach rolling over.
"It's about time you showed up. I don't like to be kept waiting!" Callisto snapped at the women before her. Xena gave her a sour look.
"Well, our apologies." she answered in a voice that dripped with sarcasm. "When my presence is *demanded*, I don't exactly hurry."
Callisto's lip curled to a sneer. "I would suggest you lose the attitude, Xena - not to mention those weapons of yours." she spat, then nodded to her men. "Take them." The warriors advanced on the two, who immediately took a defensive stance.
"Hold it!" Callisto yelled, bringing her men to a standstill. She pointed at Xena, her face hard. "YOU will NOT resist! Are you forgetting who you're dealing with?" she asked hotly, then smiled. "I could kill you both right now, with just *this*, remember?" Callisto wiggled the finger still pointed at Xena.
Xena's eyes narrowed as she eyed the goddess distastefully. The warrior was outmatched, and she knew it. Finally, she reluctantly threw her sword to the floor. After a hesitant glance at Xena, Gabrielle tossed her staff down as well.
Callisto raised an eyebrow at Xena as she kicked the sword towards her men. "Aren't you forgetting something?" She looked pointedly at the chakram hanging at Xena's side. Xena unhooked it and held it out, her eyes never leaving Callisto's.
Callisto took the weapon from her, then nodded to her men once again. With that unspoken cue, two guards grabbed each woman roughly by the arms. Neither Xena or Gabrielle tried to resist, realizing the futility. Callisto grinned wryly, clicking her tongue.
"Thought you had me with that lava, didn't you? You should know me better than that!" she admonished lightly. Xena looked at her impassively, while Gabrielle stared at the goddess with unbridled anger.
"Get to the point - what do you want?" the bard asked heatedly. Xena threw her a warning glance.
Callisto seemed amused. She pressed her palm to her chest and looked at Gabrielle with mock hurt and surprise. "My, my, MY - *such* anger! Is that any way to speak to an old friend?" she cooed.
"You *shut up*!" Gabrielle hissed, recoiling visibly at the blond's words.
Callisto chuckled, shaking her head and rolling her eyes at Xena. "Bards...*so* temperamental." Then she turned back to Gabrielle. "Gabrielle, you and I have had our -- differences, what with my killing your husband and all..." she tossed the phrase off as if she were relating what she had for breakfast that morning.
Gabrielle's eyes instantly teared up in fury and she looked down, trying to control her raging emotions.
"But," the goddess continued casually, "I'm gonna make it up to you." She reached over and grasped the bard's chin roughly, forcing Gabrielle to meet her gaze. "If you're a good little girl, I'll send you to see him!" she finished, smiling brightly at the flash of fear she saw in Gabrielle's eyes. Then she looked at the guard to Gabrielle's right. "Take her away."
Xena struggled against her captors as her friend was dragged from the room. "It'll be all right, Gabrielle!" she called encouragingly.
Callisto giggled at Xena in amusement. "Well, actually, no it *won't*. But if it makes you feel better to say that, so be it." she offered with a shrug.
The goddess walked up to the woman warrior and slowly circled around her. "Xena, Xena, Xena..." she began in a singsong voice. She stopped in front of her mortal enemy and reached out, caressing her cheek. "I've missed you so. We *mustn't* let so much time pass between visits, darling!" Callisto giggled again as Xena jerked her face away from her touch. Then her smile faded, her demeanor turning no nonsense.
"Now, let me explain what's gonna happen next. I'm going to have you chained to the wall in the other room. If you give my guards *any* trouble, not only will I kill Persephone - when I get done with your precious little bard..." she trailed off, looking around. She spied Gabrielle's satchel in one of her guard's hands and snatched it, holding it up for Xena to see. "...you'll be able to fit her in *this*! Got it?"
Xena glared back at her, her eyes as cold as the grave. When she finally spoke, her voice was a whisper. "Harm one hair on her head and I'll -" she started, but the goddess cut her off.
"I'd be more worried about what I'm going to do to *you*, my dear!" Callisto hissed. She stepped back and looked at her guards. "Chain her to the wall by the arena." she ordered.
Xena struggled mightily against the chains binding her to the stone wall behind her, rattling them noisily. The apex of the chain holding her hands above her head was threaded through an iron ring imbedded in the stone wall an arm's length over her wrists. The two ends of this chain were attached to the manacles holding her wrists secure. A metal "collar" encircled her neck, and a chain leading from that wound around her body a couple of times before attaching to the shackle around her right ankle, then stretching no more than a foot across to the shackle around her left.
Twenty paces in front of her was a large circular "arena". Spikes about three men high in length defined the sides of the arena. These were set in the ground close enough together to allow no escape. The floor was hard packed dirt and a solitary gate afforded the only entrance and exit. Xena's chest tightened as she realized what was probably going to happen inside.
Sitting before the arena, perhaps 10 paces to Xena's right and slightly ahead of her, was Callisto. The goddess had managed to find a restraining chair much like the one she had imprisoned Xena in when the evil blond had tried to burn Gabrielle to death before her eyes. She now seemed to take a perverse delight in calling the chair her "throne". Her men - about 15 of them - were crowded around, talking and laughing raucously. They seemed to be placing bets on the event that was about to begin.
Standing stiffly to Callisto's right was Lyceus. He kept shifting furtive glances towards his sister, then around the room looking for Gabrielle. His mind worked frantically trying to figure a way out of this mess. How were they going to subdue a goddess? He fingered the manacles hooked to his belt. When Callisto had asked about them, he told her with a convincingly evil glint in his eye how he sometimes liked to have his victims bound and helpless before he killed them. 'The crazy bitch was *impressed* by that.' he thought sickly. Little did she know...
On the opposite side of the arena, tightly bound to a chair and gagged, was Persephone, Queen of the Underworld. Without her wreath she was mortal, completely vulnerable and unable to escape. She glared at Callisto across the arena, watching as the arrogant young goddess was idly twirling her wreath around a couple of fingers. Persephone's face hardened. How dare that woman treat the vessel of her power in such a cavalier fashion!
Callisto caught Persephone's gaze, then looked down at the wreath. Smiling widely, she held up the wreath in one hand, then slowly moved it toward a torch burning directly to the right of her chair. Persephone's eyes widened fearfully as she shook her head rapidly, silently pleading.
Getting the desired response, Callisto laughed, pulling the wreath back. She hooked it around one arm of her chair and snapped her head towards the persistent rattling of chains to her left.
"Would you STOP that? You're not getting loose, so you might as well relax and enjoy the entertainment." Callisto barked at Xena. She turned back to her men, crowded near her. "100 dinars on Trasius. He's going in second - she won't make it past him."
She looked over her shoulder at the warrior, who was growing more furious and frightened for her friend as the moments passed. Callisto put a look of mock compassion on her face. "Oh...I'm sorry, Xena, I don't mean to leave you out. Would you like to place a bet on which one of my warriors will skewer your little friend? I'll even loan you some dinars. You're good for it, aren't you?" she asked innocently, smiling.
Xena gave her a murderous look that actually made the goddess blink. "You're *sick*, you're *twisted* and you're *pathetic*. A goddess showing how powerful she is by having an innocent young woman butchered by a bunch of thugs! You're really going to make a name for yourself, Callisto! You don't even have the GUTS to fight your own battles - to fight ME!" she spat sarcastically.
Callisto stood with a snarl stamped on her face and walked slowly over to Xena.
"I should thank you for that. I was looking for a reason to put you in pain. That's as good as any." Callisto said softly, staring back into the ice cold blue eyes. She reached out a finger and touched the band around Xena's neck.
A bolt of energy shot through the chains holding the warrior. Xena's body jerked, her head snapping back. Her entire body instantly felt as though it were on fire. She ground her teeth together, barely managing to keep from crying out. Just as quickly as the burst of intense pain ripped through her it was gone, leaving a throbbing radiating throughout her body.
Callisto took her hand away and grasped Xena's chin, turning her face towards her. She leaned forward so their noses were almost touching.
"When it comes to killing innocents, my dear, I learned from the *best*!" she hissed. Xena stared back at her with mute hatred, her jaw still clenched. Callisto giggled, then turned and strode back to her men.
"So *pathetic*!" Xena repeated quietly, but loud enough to be heard.
Lyceus whirled, grabbed the chakram that had been lying with the rest of Xena's discarded weapons and fairly leapt at her. He held the edge of the chakram just under Xena's chin, above the collar. "Shut up! You don't learn from your mistakes, do you?!" he sneered. Xena met his angry gaze steadily. Callisto whirled and grabbed his arm.
"Easy, Ballis. she's *mine* to take care of. You want to remember that." she warned, her voice soft and dangerous.
Lyceus looked at her a bit fearfully. "I - I'm sorry, goddess. I just -" he stammered, then Callisto broke in.
"Just get away from her. She can say what she wants. She's still gonna watch her friend die, then she'll follow soon after."
Callisto went and sat on her 'throne'. "Bring out the brat!" she yelled, eager to get to the festivities she had gleefully planned.
With Callisto's attention diverted, Lyceus turned back to his sister. "You okay?" he mouthed silently.
Xena gave a quick, almost imperceptible nod.
Looking again to see that they weren't being observed, Lyceus wiggled the chakram at her, then deliberately hooked it to his belt and winked.
Xena winked back.
A heavy door opened across the arena and two burly guards dragged Gabrielle, struggling, into the room. They opened the cage gate and roughly shoved the bard inside. She stumbled under the force of the push and landed face down on the earthen floor. Some of the men laughed derisively and Callisto rolled her eyes as Gabrielle quickly pushed herself to her feet.
"Well, I can see *this* won't take long." she said in a bored tone, looking over at Xena with a smirk on her face.
Xena's eyes were fixed on Gabrielle's, trying to mentally *will* her friend strength, if that were possible. Gabrielle's face fell when she saw Xena chained and helpless. She glanced at Lyceus, who was looking back impassively, though his insides were churning sickly.
'I've got to get her out of this!' he thought wildly, quickly trying to formulate a plan of action.
Gabrielle took a deep breath and looked at Callisto defiantly. "All right, let's get this over with. What do you want?" she asked hotly.
Callisto cocked an eyebrow at her, clucking her tongue reproachfully. "Testy, aren't we?" she quipped, then smiled brightly. "You, my dear, are going to fight my finest warriors, one at a time, until one of them kills you. Xena will watch you get cut down in what I can only hope will be a slow, extremely painful process." Callisto's eyes narrowed as her face grew hard. "Finally, she will know what it feels like to have someone she cares about die cruelly right before her very eyes - just like I did." She ended in almost a whisper.
Gabrielle gaped at her, flabbergasted, then looked around at the warriors standing ready.
Across the arena, Persephone watched the scene unfolding with horror, her hands clenched. It was hard enough for the gentle Queen of the Underworld to watch Callisto's violence against Xena, now she was going to have to watch the young bard get butchered before her eyes as sport? 'These poor mortals...this wicked woman will kill them all.' she thought sadly.
Gabrielle's eyes came to rest on her best friend. After a moment she shook her head, looking at Xena compassionately. "No." she said softly.
Callisto looked shocked. "I beg your pardon?" she asked, amazed by what she just heard.
Gabrielle leveled a steady gaze towards her. "I said *no*. I'm not going to let you continue this sick game of yours. If you want to kill me, you'll have to just do it yourself - right now." she told her calmly.
A couple of the men made various grunts of surprise and amusement at the young woman's display of bravado. Callisto, not at all amused, jumped to her feet, rage flaring.
"WHAT?? You won't LET me?" she roared in furious astonishment. She bared her teeth and pointed her finger towards Xena. Another bolt of energy leapt from her fingertip and blasted a gouge out of the wall mere feet from Xena's left leg. A chunk of stone struck the warrior's thigh as it flew past, creating a gash which started bleeding freely. It had happened so fast Xena hadn't time to react.
"Xena!" Gabrielle cried out, running forward.
Callisto whirled back towards the bard. "Listen carefully, brat! The next shot will blow away a foot, then I'll start working my way up her body. Maybe when your friend's screaming her *guts* out you'll start feeling more cooperative!" the goddess snarled, her eyes blazing.
Gabrielle quickly held out her hands in a placating gesture. "No!! No, please don't! I'll do whatever you want -" she told her hastily.
"Gabrielle, *no*! Callisto - you've got me. Do with me what you will, just let her go!" Xena demanded.
Callisto burst out laughing and clapped her hands. "Yes - begging!! Very nice touch!" She exclaimed delightedly. After a moment, her maniacal grin faded and her eyes narrowed. "However, the *game*, as you so succinctly put it, will go on as planned. You will fight my warriors, one by one. If you refuse, I will have the *mighty* Xena shrieking loud enough to wake the dead. Understood?"
Lyceus tried to keep his horror and hatred for the blond monster out of his face. His fists clenched and unclenched at his sides. 'If I get my hands on you, you bitch, I swear by the gods...' he raged silently.
Gabrielle stole a brief glance at the young man, then looked towards her friend again. 'This can't be it...one of them *has* to have a plan. I'd better buy us some time before this murdering harpy goes crazy.' she decided sickly. Steeling herself, Gabrielle looked into Callisto's hate-filled eyes.
"Fine. Let's get started, then." she suggested, her voice belying no fear. "Do I get a weapon?"
Callisto smiled broadly. "I thought you'd see reason. And here - I'll even let you use my sword." she said magnanimously.
"CALLISTO! For the love of the gods, give her a fighting chance!" Xena roared, her face the color of brick. "Give her a weapon she *knows* - let her use her staff!"
Callisto snapped her head to stare at the warrior coldly, pondering whether she should exact some punishment on her for that outburst. Deciding against it for the time being, she turned to Lyceus. "Very well. Might as well *try* to make this interesting. Ballis, give little precious her big stick." she ordered, cocking her thumb at the staff leaning against the wall next to Xena's sword, whip, and Gabrielle's satchel.
Lyceus grabbed the staff and walked over to cage gate. He opened the gate, his eyes locked on Gabrielle's. With so many watching him, he couldn't try to mouth her any words of reassurance, so he tried his best to convey a message with his eyes.
Gabrielle, through huge effort, kept her face hard as she snatched her staff from his hand. She turned and walked quickly to the middle of the arena.
Callisto favored Xena with a withering glance. "Happy now, darling? Let me just warn you - one more outburst like that I'll hurt you...*bad*." she told her sharply, then quickly turned away from the cold, penetrating stare of those ice-blue eyes. "All right, Dragus is up first. Get in there and kill that irritating blond...or are you a redhead, now?" she asked sweetly.
The men started shouting encouragement to Dragus, a lean, vicious-looking warrior with long unkempt hair and a thin scar trailing down his chest from neck to waist. Dragus entered the arena with a staff of his own and a savage smile on his face.
And so the games began.
Xena watched, barely breathing, as the wiry, dangerous-looking warrior entered the arena with Gabrielle. She frantically sent out prayers to anyone listening that her friend would come out of this alive.
Gabrielle pushed down her fear and tried to focus. She raised her staff and prepared for the inevitable attack.
Dragus circled around her, twirling his staff slowly, a nasty smile on his face. "Hello, little girl...want to play?" he asked quietly, then quickly found himself on the defensive when Gabrielle, teeth bared, launched an attack.
With concentrated precision, she aimed first one end of the staff, then the other at Dragus' head. Next, she aimed a few blows at his legs in quick succession, constantly moving towards him, forcing him backwards.
Dragus jumped back to avoid the first strike, then blocked the others. He executed a diving roll to one side, to put some distance between them. Back on his feet, he whirled to face his small attacker, cocking an eyebrow. "Not bad, sweet thing, but not good enough." he hissed, then advanced on Gabrielle furiously.
Grunting with effort, Gabrielle backed away from Dragus, blocking every strike. His blows were so hard she felt her bones jarring each time their staffs connected. She shook off the momentary fear that she wouldn't be able to keep up this pace for long and tried to find an opening.
Dragus let loose another strike at her head. The tip of Gabrielle's staff slipped when she moved to block the swing and his staff glanced off the side of her head, making her see stars. She dropped back a couple of steps, shaking her head to clear it.
Dragus saw another opening, lunged forward and jabbed the end of his staff sharply towards her, managing to connect with her ribcage. With a sharp yelp, Gabrielle dropped to the ground, gasping in pain.
Lyceus and Xena both reacted instantly. Lyceus, now standing next to Callisto, clenched his jaw to keep from yelling out to the bard, his stomach knotting painfully. It took superhuman effort to keep from reacting noticeably. Xena, on the other hand, made her feelings well-known.
"Gabrielle!" she yelled, her heart in her throat. "Gabrielle, come on, you can beat him!"
"Joran?" Callisto nodded to her warrior standing guard by Xena, who casually landed a savage punch to their captive's midsection. Xena let out a grunt as his fist connected, then struggled to regain her breath, forcefully knocked out of her. After a moment she managed a weak cough, fighting to keep from retching.
"You're really pushing it, warrior princess." the big lout told her. Xena sneered at him, her eyes hard.
"When I get loose, Joran - you're first." she managed to gasp. Joran snorted, but something in Xena's eyes made him move a couple extra feet away.
Lyceus kept casting surreptitious glances at his sister. This was sheer torture. Two people that meant very much to him were being cruelly abused, and he couldn't do a thing to stop it. ĎAt least, not *yet*.' he thought grimly. 'But I'll get my chance, Callisto, and when I do....'
Back in the arena, Gabrielle fought to regain her footing then dropped again, clutching her side with one hand, her staff in the other. Dragus laughed, twirling his staff slowly. He started moving in on her.
"C'mon, now. Get up, we're not done yet. It can't be this easy!" he said, disappointment in his voice. Suddenly, Gabrielle pivoted. She swung one leg around in front of her, close to the ground, sweeping at the warrior's legs with all the force she could muster. Dragus found himself on his back before he could blink. Gabrielle quickly rose to her knees and jammed the end of her staff into the man's groin as hard as she could.
With a screech of pain, Dragus rolled on to his side and tried to drag himself away, one hand covering his crotch. Gabrielle hopped to her feet and brought her staff hard against the back of his head, knocking him unconscious.
It was all Xena and Lyceus could do to avoid whooping with joy, although both were concerned as to how badly the bard was hurt.
Gabrielle, breathing heavily, backed away from Dragus' unmoving body. One hand crept to her side again. She figured she probably had a broken rib, but had acted more incapacitated than she actually was. She looked over at Xena and was strengthened to see her friend flash a proud smile at her.
Persephone felt a bit heartened at the bard's victory, although she was uncertain how much longer the woman would last. She looked to Xena, wondering if the warrior had some means of escape planned. How were they going to defeat an evil goddess who was abusing her powers to destroy them all?
"Trasius! Get that incompetent piece of dung out of there!" Callisto bellowed, surprised yet secretly happy that the annoying little bard had beaten Dragus. After all, her dinars were on Trasius, and the bard was weakened. There was no way she would last much longer.
Trasius strode in the cage and dragged Dragus out, dumping him unceremoniously in the corner. Then he picked up a helmet and put it on his head.
"Wait a minute!! Callisto, *she* doesn't have any armor! What's wrong? Are your men *afraid* of her?! You're *all* pathetic! What a bunch of scared, sadistic animals!" Xena challenged furiously.
Lyceus closed his eyes, holding his breath, afraid the next sound he would hear would be his sister screaming as Callisto enacted some torture on her.
Gabrielle watched in horror as Callisto stood and again strode over to her friend. Callisto looked at Xena calmly for a long moment, Xena meeting her gaze defiantly. Then, Callisto smiled and shook her head, a chuckle escaping her lips.
"You are amazing, you know that? You have more fear for your friend than you do for yourself. Do you have any *idea* how much pain you're going to be in before you die? Do you even care?" she asked, wonder in her voice.
"Give Gabrielle a fighting chance." Xena repeated softly. "And no, I don't, in answer to your question." The warrior started steeling herself for what might come next.
Callisto threw up her hands in exasperation. She turned towards the arena, then whipped back around to face Xena, clearly agitated. "Know what your problem is? That is, besides your *pathetic* turn to good?" she yelled into the warrior's face. "It's your beloved little friend over there!" Callisto jerked a thumb at Gabrielle, getting more incensed with each word. "That little piece of Poteadian TRASH has made you *soft*, and *weak* and *stupid*, Xena!" she snarled, grabbing the metal collar around Xena's neck and yanking her head closer to her.
Xena's body jerked again and she started writhing as waves of sheer agony, courtesy of the goddess' powers, ripped through her. She threw her head back, teeth bared, eyes squeezed shut.
Seething anger boiled up inside Lyceus. 'I'm going to kill you, kill you, KILL YOU - Let go of my SISTER!!' he raged silently, teeth gritted, glaring at the blond monster.
Gabrielle ran over to the bars and screamed at Callisto. "Stop it, Callisto! Leave her alone!"
The enraged goddess ignored the bard as she continued her diatribe. "You're a fool, Xena, a brainless *fool*! Pity you never worried about innocent villagers the way you worry about that little BITCH!" she screeched, her lips twisting into a satisfied smile when a strangled, agonized cry tore out of Xena's throat. She let go of the collar and Xena slumped against the chains, her chest heaving. Cocking her head to the side, Callisto looked at her nemesis thoughtfully.
"Hmmm...you're sounding a little flat there, Xena. We'll have to work on that...over and over and *over*!" she quipped, then turned and sauntered back to her seat, her rage apparently soothed for the moment.
"Trasius!" she bellowed. "Get in that cage and win me some dinars!" Callisto leveled an expectant gaze at Gabrielle, still staring at Xena while clutching the spikes ringing the arena, tears filling her eyes.
"Xena?" the bard whispered fearfully.
Xena raised her head slowly and tried to smile reassuringly at her, but it ended up more of a grimace. "I'm okay, Gabrielle..." she rasped.
"Gabrielle?" Callisto's tone was sharp. Gabrielle looked at her hatefully. "I'll hurt her worse - better remember what you're here for. And look lively, now. You're gonna have company." Callisto nodded at Trasius, who was entering the cage carrying a sword.
Gabrielle tore her eyes off her friend and forced herself to focus again.
Persephone shook her head sadly. 'We're all going to die before that monster's done.' she thought ruefully.
Gabrielle quickly wiped the perspiration from her brow with the back of her hand and moistened her lips as she eyed Trasius warily. 'I've gotta do this. Focus... I've got to focus!' she thought determinedly.
Trasius held his sword almost casually, confidently sizing up his opponent. 'Should I kill her quickly, or play with her a while?' he asked himself silently, then his eyes flickered to Callisto. She was leaning forward, her hands tightly gripping the arms of her chair, her eyes dancing with excitement.
"On with it, Trasius! I want to see some ENTERTAINMENT!" she crowed, a huge, evil smile across her face.
A chill swept down Trasius' spine. 'Better make it slow...keep *her* happy.' he decided, then started advancing on Gabrielle, his sword repeatedly slicing the air.
Gabrielle jumped backwards, dodging the first two passes of the sword the best she could. She blocked the next couple with her staff, but each impact sent a shivering echo of pain down her arm, causing her injured side to complain miserably. Gabrielle shook her head, trying to stop the sensation from clouding her mind. She would not last long if she stayed on the defensive, the bard decided quickly. She had to disarm Trasius somehow if she wanted to survive.
The soldier paused in his offensive maneuvers for a moment, eyeing the look of pain in the bard's eyes. Seeing the opening this created, Gabrielle lunged in, faking a swing at his head. When Trasius ducked, she quickly changed the direction of her staff and she felt a surge of relief as she saw it connect with his sword hand, sending the weapon spinning off to the side of the arena.
Unfortunately, Trasius was too skilled of a soldier to let her maneuver pass without getting in his own blow. As she maneuvered her staff for another blow to his midsection, he quickly recovered and caught it with his left hand as Gabrielle brought the end back towards him. Quick as lightning, Trasius stepped forward and drove his right elbow into Gabrielle's left cheekbone, then brought the back of his fist across the other side of her face.
"Gabrielle!" Xena yelled as the bard reeled backwards.
Lyceus looked quickly from Gabrielle to his sister, then glanced at Callisto, wondering fearfully if the goddess would react to Xena's outburst. Laughing delightedly at the strikes Gabrielle had sustained, Callisto didn't seem to notice.
Tears of pain burning her eyes, Gabrielle shook her head and took a couple of deep breaths, watching Trasius. Still moving, keeping some distance from Trasius, she held a hand up to Xena, as if asking for her silence. Her face hardened.
Trasius chuckled. "That was sloppy, little one. You should be more careful."
"You just worry about yourself." the bard snapped, regaining a defensive posture and raising her staff.
Standing next to Xena, Callisto's guard Joran grinned at the warrior smugly. "You don't know when to quit, do you? Even your little friend's telling ya to be quiet, now!" he laughed. He leaned closer to Xena, smiling confidently, emboldened by the punishment she had already taken at Callisto's hands. "Keep it up, and I'll have to hurt you, ya know." His smile turned into a leer. One of his hands reached out and snaked up her leg. "Too bad we'll be killing you soon...perhaps I can talk the goddess into letting me -" His words were cut off as his voice turned into a strangled gurgle.
Hearing the chains to her left rattling loudly, Callisto turned her head to see Joran struggling and Xena hanging by her wrists, her legs clamped around Joran's neck. With a sneer stamped across her face, Xena twisted and rammed Joran head first into the stone wall. Joran crumpled to the floor unconscious as Callisto jumped to her feet.
"XENA!" Callisto thundered.
Before the enraged goddess could move, Lyceus lunged towards Xena and was at her side instantly. He grabbed the collar around her neck with one hand and made a display of restraining her. He kept his body between his sister and Callisto, hoping to stave off an attack by the angry goddess. A cry of pain from the arena suddenly broke the tension and drew all eyes back to the events unfolding there.
Gabrielle quickly limped heavily away from Trasius, one hand grasping her thigh. A large gash from a sword strike had appeared there, blood flowing fairly heavily from it. Lyceus took advantage of the distraction to reach down and take the key to Xena's chains from the unconscious guard. He had no sooner straightened when Callisto turned back to them.
"Look, Xena!" Callisto exclaimed gleefully. "Blood! Your beloved little friend is *bleeding*! Pay attention, now - you'll be seeing more of it shortly." she giggled, directing her attention back to the fight. The sheer joy she felt as her plan of revenge seemed to be falling into place distracted her from the events that had just transpired between Xena and her guard.
"Gabrielle! Be sure to give my best to Perdicus when you see him!" she chortled.
With everyone's attention again diverted to the cage, Lyceus turned to Xena. "Payback time." he whispered, unlocking the manacles around each wrist, but leaving them almost closed, to appear as though they were still secure. After a quick glance over his shoulder he unlocked the collar, then dropped to one knee and did the same to the shackles around her ankles. Then he stood and slipped the chakram behind her, so it rested between the wall and her back, hidden from view.
"Wait for my signal." Xena whispered back. Lyceus nodded, then pulled out one of his daggers and held the point beneath her chin.
Callisto snapped another glance towards them, then resumed watching the activity between Gabrielle and Trasius, apparently satisfied that Lyceus had Xena under control.
Across from them, Persephone had watched Lyceus' movements with renewed hope. 'He unlocked her restraints... he must be a friend of the warrior's!' she thought hopefully. 'Perhaps these mortals would best the rampant goddess after all.... '
Back in the arena, the wounded bard had frantically gone on the offensive, trying to ignore the burning pain in her leg. Her breath grunting out through gritted teeth, she launched a fierce barrage of strikes.
The warriors watching were shouting encouragement to Trasius, urging him to end it. Trasius sustained a few blows, blocked some, then ducked and smacked the side of his sword against Gabrielle's leg, tripping her up. As she crashed to the ground, the shouts escalated. Callisto stood and joined in, her eyes alight with savage glee.
Xena and Lyceus both sucked in their breaths sharply, ready to spring into action. Trasius smiled grimly at Gabrielle as he moved in for the kill. He took the hilt of his sword in both hands and raised it upwards, preparing to plunge it into the small woman before him. The bard shrunk back, a look of abject terror on her face.
Then the fearful look turned cold and angry. She was not going to die like this! As the sword plunged downward, Gabrielle threw herself sideways, twisting away from the deadly blade. The sword cut a gash on the side of her arm, where moments earlier her heart had been.
Gabrielle did not have time to feel the pain from the blow, though. While twisting, she took aim and drove her heel into Trasius' knee, knocking him off balance. Carried forward by the movement of his earlier strike the soldier fell over her, trying to turn the fall into an evasive roll. He failed and landed hard, the impact with the ground momentarily stunning him.
Gabrielle took the opportunity to leap to her feet and bore down on the warrior. She lifted her staff and swung it again and again with all of her might. Trasius took it repeatedly across the back, then full in the face when he tried to recover. He finally collapsed to the ground and lay still.
A stunned hush fell across the room. Scant seconds later, the silence was broken by an infuriated goddess.
"TRASIUS!" Callisto screeched, furious. Trasius laid in a heap, unmoving. Gabrielle backed quickly away from the man, her chest heaving, wondering if she had just lost her blood innocence. To her relief, the man coughed weakly and groaned.
Callisto glared thunderstruck at the small woman that had just beaten two of her best warriors. Her teeth baring, she spun around towards Lyceus and Xena.
"New boy!" she bawled, pointing at Lyceus. "You want to be one of my warriors? I'll tell you what. You get in that cage and *kill* that brat and I'll not only let you in my army, I'll let you LIVE." The last few words were a hiss.
Lyceus and Xena were stunned. This development was not something they had even considered.
Recovering quickly, Lyceus gave her a curt nod. "Right away, goddess." he replied, walking confidently down towards the cage.
"Ballis?" Callisto said sharply, stopping him. He looked at her inquiringly. She nodded at the dagger in his hand. "Perhaps you should take another weapon?" she asked tightly.
Lyceus smiled at her widely, his eyes filled with malice. Luckily, Callisto misread the look.
"That won't be necessary, goddess - it will all be over quickly, I promise."
Lyceus opened the gate to the arena, his eyes locked on Gabrielle's. He shut the gate behind him, a dagger in one hand, then pulled another out of his belt, stepping over Trasius. He started towards the bard slowly, flipping the daggers over and over in his hands. Gabrielle backed away from him, keeping a look of trepidation across her features.
Callisto moved closer to the arena, hatred for the bard in her eyes, hungry to see her get mercilessly cut down. "Ballis, you'd better end this - right now!" she ordered tersely.
"Oh, you'll see blood, goddess, I assure you." he replied calmly, glancing at her. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Xena pulling her wrists from the manacles. He turned back to Gabrielle. "You ready?" he mouthed silently to her, a hint of a smile across his face. Within moments, Xena's piercing battle cry cut the air.
Callisto whirled, startled, and Xena's booted feet caught her full in the chest, knocking her over heavily onto her back. Xena then flipped backwards, landed next to Callisto's "throne" and snatched the wreath from it. She took off at a dead run around the arena, headed for Persephone.
"NO!! You're DEAD, Xena!" Callisto screamed, enraged. She pointed her finger and sent a bolt of lightning towards the running warrior.
Xena grabbed a guard coming at her by the throat and spun him around. He took the blast from the furious goddess full in the chest, the force knocking them both backwards against the wall.
Quickly extricating herself from behind the dead man, Xena emitted a low whistle, eyeing the smoking hole in the man's chest. "That had to hurt." she muttered. Quickly turning her attention to two more guards approaching her, she hurled her chakram towards them then dove to the ground, another bolt narrowly missing her. Jumping up and catching the now bloody weapon, she continued to zigzag her way towards Persephone.
"C'mon, Callisto! You couldn't hit a giant at ten paces!" she taunted, trying to keep Callisto's attention on her and off her brother and best friend.
The spikes around the arena were partially disintegrating and holes were quickly forming in the stone walls as errant lightning bolts flew everywhere. In the arena, Lyceus and Gabrielle hit the ground, bolts flying over their heads.
Her frustration and fury at a fevered pitch, Callisto ripped the gate to the arena open and stormed in, right past Lyceus and Gabrielle. Once she had passed them, Lyceus jumped to his feet and turned, his hands a flicker of movement. Two daggers sailed from them, soaring unerringly in between the narrowly placed spikes.
A couple of guards catching up to Xena suddenly skidded to a halt, their hands grasping the daggers now imbedded in their necks. They both slumped lifelessly to the ground. Callisto didn't notice the fate of those two men, as her hate-filled eyes were focused on Xena, nearing Persephone.
"NO! You *won't* ruin this! I'll destroy you BOTH!" she screamed, raising both arms. Suddenly, she was leapt on from behind.
Lyceus was on her, riding piggyback, a manacle in each hand. One bolt shot from Callisto's finger towards Persephone before he could get the manacles locked around her wrists. The forward momentum carried them both crashing to the ground.
Xena had reached Persephone by the time Lyceus had sprung his attack on Callisto. She placed the wreath on Persephone's head and flipped backwards. The Queen of the Underworld phased into thin air just as the lightning bolt disintegrated the chair in which she'd been bound.
Lyceus rolled off Callisto and moved away from the infuriated woman.
Callisto leapt to her feet, shrieking in fury, yanking at the manacles chaining her wrists together. She spun towards Lyceus, wild-eyed.
"You -- *traitor*! GET THESE OFF ME!!" she screamed at him.
"This is it, Callisto - party's over!" Xena called to her, still fighting off a guard. Callisto whirled towards her, teeth bared. Lyceus backed away from Callisto, guiding Gabrielle behind him.
"YOU SHUT UP!!" Callisto pointed the fingers of both hands at the warrior, intending to incinerate her where she stood. Her reaction was pure shock when nothing happened. She looked at her hands in stunned disbelief, then whipped back towards Lyceus.
"What did you do to me?!" she hissed through gritted teeth. She looked to her remaining warriors who were standing motionless, baffled at the change in their leader. "Don't just stand there, you idiots - KILL THEM!!"
The men hurried to do her bidding. As three warriors attacked Lyceus and Gabrielle, three more ran towards Xena. Callisto grabbed her one remaining guard before he got past her.
"You! Get these things off me! Pick the locks or something!" she ordered, holding out her arms to him. While he fumbled with the manacles, Lyceus and Gabrielle fought off their attackers and Xena was making short work of hers.
One guard was already on the ground groaning, as the other two sent to dispatch the warrior charged her, one behind the other. The first savagely swung his sword at her head. She ducked quickly, then shot upwards, bringing the heel of her hand up under his jaw with all of her body's momentum behind it.
She shoved the now-unconscious man to the ground, but not before snatching the sword from his hand and impaling the other guard on it as he reached her. As she pulled the sword out of the dead man she yelled to Callisto.
"Those manacles were forged by Hephaestus, Callisto! They're not coming off, and your powers are *gone*!" She started to move to the arena gate when Gabrielle screamed.
"Xena! Behind you!"
The first guard who had gone down had recovered enough to stand. He wrapped one burly arm around Xena's shoulders and was bringing a knife downwards towards her chest.
Lyceus spun, his third dagger already flying from his hand. Xena twisted sharply, dropping her shoulder, just as the dagger plunged into the guard's chest, a hair's breadth from her neck. She caught the guard's arm just in time to stop the knife's descent.
Lyceus managed to breathe a relieved sigh before a sword was thrust into his back.
"BASTARD! That'll teach you to betray me!" Callisto spat, using her foot to push Lyceus off the sword she had clamped in both hands.
Eyes wide, Lyceus stumbled towards Gabrielle who turned in time to catch him, not realizing what had just happened. The blood pouring out over her hands told her everything, however, as his dead weight caused her to quickly lower him to the ground.
She looked down at him in mute, disbelieving horror. A scream ripped through the air.
Callisto whirled towards Xena, who was staring wide-eyed at her fallen brother. The goddess looked back at Lyceus, bewildered.
"Lyceus?" she murmured, watching Gabrielle frantically try to stop the young man's bleeding. Suddenly, recognition and a smile broke out over her face. "Xena's brother?" Callisto started to giggle. "Her beloved *brother*? Well now, look's like I've started to settle the score --"
Her words were sharply cut off by a roar of sheer fury. She was grabbed from behind, lifted and smashed forcefully against the nearby spikes, the sword flying out of her hand as she hit the barrier. As she was roughly turned around, she dazedly looked into ice-blue eyes filled with hate.
"YOU'RE DEAD!!" Xena screamed into her face, beside herself with rage. She closed her hands around Callisto's throat, her teeth bared.
Callisto struggled against the iron grip, thrashing, fighting against the chain connecting her wrists to strike out at Xena. Xena endured a few blows, her grip never lessening, then finally threw the woman to the ground and pinned her flailing arms beneath her knees, the chain stretched taut over Callisto's waist.
"C'mon, Xena! I *owed* you!" the blond rasped.
"Well, here's payback! You just killed my brother - now *you'll* die!" Xena hissed through gritted teeth, resuming her choke hold around Callisto's throat. She squeezed, probing with her fingers.
Callisto struggled uselessly, her face turning purple, eyes bulging. Her mouth worked, trying to get words out.
Gabrielle was trying vainly to staunch the blood flowing from Lyceus. The young man's body was still and lifeless. The bard turned to Xena beseechingly, her eyes filled with tears.
"Xena - Xena, don't! It's not -" she began, then abruptly stopped speaking, gaping at the shimmering form dressed in white that was materializing out of thin air before her.
Xena hadn't even heard her friend, so intent was she on her act of revenge. Two heavily gloved hands suddenly reached down over her shoulders, grasped her forearms and effortlessly broke her hold on the evil woman she was straddling.
Hades tore her away from Callisto, now weakly gasping in lungfuls of air. Recovering quickly from her surprise, Xena struggled furiously, incensed at the interruption.
"No! Let GO of me, Hades! We gave you what you want, now let me finish this *my* way!" she shouted, tears of rage streaming down her cheeks.
Hades restrained her from behind, his arms clamped around her, holding her wrists in an unbreakable grip.
"Calm yourself! You've started down the road of atonement - don't take a leap backwards now, Xena."
"She killed my BROTHER!" the warrior ranted, panting from exertion.
"He was already *dead*, Xena. He died during the battle of Amphipolis against Cortese, remember?" the god calmly reminded her. "His two days were almost up...you know that."
"Xena..." Lyceus spoke, his voice clear and strong.
Xena abruptly stopped struggling. Hades released her and she turned around slowly. Her brother was standing before her, his wounds healed. Lyceus walked towards Xena, smiling.
Gabrielle watched her tall friend hopefully. The bard was standing, leaning heavily on her staff, Celesta grasping her other arm supporting her. She wiped her eyes, then realized with a start that Lyceus' blood no longer covered her hands. Her face broke into a smile when Xena rushed to Lyceus and hugged him tightly.
After a moment, the warrior pulled back and looked at her younger brother searchingly.
"You...she ran you through...how?" she stammered. She glanced at Celesta, who smiled gently.
"He was healed for his journey back to the Elysian Fields, Xena. Since he's one of our realm now, it's possible." Hades explained.
Xena looked back at her brother for a long moment, her face a myriad of emotions, then turned to Hades. Her expression was that of someone whose mind was clearly made up about something.
"Leave him here, Hades. Take *me* back with you." she said quickly, her voice firm. Lyceus and Gabrielle reacted immediately.
"Xena, no!" Gabrielle exclaimed, shocked.
Lyceus shook his head, reaching out and grasping his sister's arm. "No way, Xena..." he objected. Xena shook him off and stepped closer to the god.
"He doesn't belong in the Underworld, his death should never have happened." she continued quickly.
Hades looked impassively at the warrior, starting to shake his head slowly. "Xena, you don't want me to judge you - not now. Not yet." he told her quietly.
Undaunted, Xena shook her head fiercely. "I don't *care* about that! It's what I deserve anyway!" she countered, the agitation in her voice turning up a few notches.
"Xena!" Lyceus tried again, more forcefully. His sister ignored him.
"Hades, listen to reason!" Xena implored. "It's *my* fault Lyceus is dead, just as certain as if I ran him through with my own sword!"
That was it. Lyceus had heard all he could take. "Enough! Xena, *STOP IT*!" he shouted. He grabbed his sister's shoulders and spun her to face him. Grasping her wrists, he quickly lifted her hands up in front of her face. "Look at these hands, Xena!! Look at them! My blood doesn't stain them - it *never* did!" he insisted passionately.
Xena started shaking her head, trying to pull away. Lyceus just tightened his grip on her.
"No, you LISTEN to me! It's *true*, Xena. What did I tell you the other night? That wasn't some naive little boy following you blindly into battle years ago. It was a *man* - a man who would've rather die a hundred deaths than run and let Cortese take over our home!"
Xena looked down quickly, trying to hide the tears brimming in her eyes. Lyceus released her wrists and gently took her face in both hands, raising it so she was looking at him.
"Hearing your thoughts in the Fields keeps me going, Xena, except for when those thoughts are wracked with guilt and pain. It seems that's the case more often than not." Lyceus said sadly. "You have no idea how it tears me up inside to hear you blaming yourself for my death. I can't stand it, Xena! I don't regret my actions against Cortese and his army. If I had to die, I'm proud that I died fighting for a cause I believed in. You have to accept that." Then he smiled gently at his sister.
"And I'm proud of you - for all that you're doing now to stop warlords like Cortese." Lyceus grasped Xena's shoulders again, looking pleadingly into her eyes. "So please, stop bearing the responsibility for my death on your shoulders. Let it *go*."
Xena managed a slight smile and shook her head, losing her battle against the tears that were now streaming from her eyes.
"That isn't going to be easy .... but for you, I'll try." she said softly. Lyceus hugged her tightly. Xena returned the embrace, her heart breaking at having to lose her brother again. "I miss you." she whispered.
"I miss you, too - every day. But we'll be reunited again. Until then, take care of yourself and don't ever stop fighting for what's right." Lyceus pulled back and laughed gently, brushing the tears from Xena's cheeks. "Sisters," he said teasingly, "so emotional."
Then he turned to Gabrielle. Cocking an eyebrow at the tears flowing over her lashes as well, he grinned wryly. "You, too?"
Gabrielle managed to laugh at the quizzical look he was giving her, and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
Lyceus tenderly grasped her chin and looked into those gentle green eyes. His heart lurched seeing the pain now in them, both emotional and physical.
"That was some battle - you were incredible. Are you going to be all right?" he asked worriedly. Gabrielle managed a smile, blushing at the praise.
"I'll be fine. A few cuts and bruises...they'll heal." she shrugged, trying to reassure him. He gazed at her for a moment then spoke again, his voice soft.
"I never thought someone could grow to mean so much to me so quickly. I wish we had met in another time. Aphrodite save me, I was falling - from the moment our eyes met. And I landed *hard*. I'll never forget you." he told her resolutely.
Gabrielle smiled warmly at him, giving up on trying to stop the flow of tears from her eyes. "You'd better not. I knew you were here for only two days, but I was falling, too. There was no stopping it. I --" She was sweetly interrupted by Lyceus gently covering her lips with his own. Gabrielle wrapped one arm around him and pulled him closer, their kiss deepening.
Celesta backed up a step or two to give them a little room, a soft smile lighting her face. After a few seconds, Hades cleared his throat.
"Shhh, Hades. A moment won't hurt." Persephone chided her husband softly. Xena smiled her thanks to the queen. Hades shot his wife a stern glance, but kept silent.
Someone else decided to break the mood, however.
"Oh, well, this is *very* touching! Tell me, brat - what would Perdicus say?" Callisto was hauling herself off the floor, a menacing expression on her face. All eyes turned to her.
Then she brightened, as if suddenly remembering something. "Oh - that's right! He's *dead*, isn't he? Hmmm...do you think he can see this little scene between you two? Wonder what he'd think?" she pondered with a nasty smile.
Gabrielle reacted as if she'd been slapped. Xena started towards Callisto, her face an angry mask, only to be stopped by Hades' hand. He glared at the blonde, his eyes cold.
"Still your tongue, mortal!" the god thundered.
"Mortal? I'm a *god*, you fool!" Callisto shot back haughtily. She held up her manacled wrists. "Now get these off of me!"
Hades reached out, grabbed the chain between her arms and yanked her towards him so they were nose to nose.
"I think I'll leave them on for now!" he hissed. "And as for you being a god, I hope you've enjoyed the experience. I have a feeling it may be over - *permanently*." he finished through gritted teeth. Callisto gaped at him incredulously.
"WHAT?! You can't -" she started, then yelped as Hades let go of the chain and grabbed her by the hair, turning her roughly towards Persephone.
"That's my WIFE that you captured for your own vile purposes! You almost killed her!" he roared. "An act of violence from one god towards another is not looked upon very favorably by Zeus. He'd like to speak to you about it." Hades finished with a sneer, releasing her hair and regaining a firm grip on the chain linking her wrists.
Callisto bared her teeth at him, her hatred and arrogance overriding her sensibilities.
"My mistake was that I *hesitated*! I should've killed her when I had the ch--" Callisto's savage words were cut off by a fist crashing up under her jaw. Her head snapped back and she dropped to the ground, unconscious.
Hades raised his eyebrows at Xena, who simply shrugged.
"I was sick of listening to her." she offered coolly.
Hades gazed at her reprovingly for a moment, then sighed and looked at Lyceus.
"Time to go. Lyceus, would you please assist Celesta in getting this woman out to the chariots?" It was more a directive than a request.
Lyceus nodded, then turned back to Xena and Gabrielle with a sad smile. He gave them a final hug each, then winked at them. "We make a pretty good team." he grinned, then turned, easily picked up Callisto and headed towards the door. Suddenly, he hesitated and started to turn back towards the women he was leaving behind - then decided against it. He wasn't sure he'd be able to leave if he did. Instead, the young man continued out of the room.
Xena moved to take Celesta's place supporting the wobbly bard and watched Celesta follow Lyceus outside. She and Gabrielle gazed after Lyceus until they could no longer see him, each silently bidding him farewell.
After a moment, Hades spoke quietly, gently breaking each out of their reveries.
"Xena, Gabrielle...we want to thank you. You saved my wife; I won't forget that." Hades said sincerely.
Xena nodded her head at the King of the Underworld, acknowledging his thanks with a small smile.
"You're welcome." Gabrielle said softly. "Um...if you don't mind me asking - what's going to happen to Callisto? Is she going back to Tartarus?" she asked meekly.
Persephone smiled reassuringly. "She will be punished for her actions, we assure you." Persephone turned her glance towards Xena. "Including the violence against your brother." she added.
Hades nodded in agreement. "Zeus wants to see her. He's furious - I wouldn't be surprised at all if he strips her of her godhood. As she acquired godhood only by eating ambrosia, that's within his power. After that --" he trailed off, spreading his hands before him.
"She'll go back to Tartarus?" Xena prodded firmly.
Hades and Persephone looked uncomfortable and Hades cleared his throat. Gabrielle's eyes widened and Xena's narrowed.
"Hades..." the warrior started warningly.
"Xena, it's not for me to decide, I'm afraid. Zeus is making the decisions regarding Callisto. He did mention something about possibly stripping her of her immortality as well as her godhood and returning her to the Overworld."
"*What*?! Back to US?" Xena yelped, flabbergasted. Gabrielle began slowly shaking her head, shocked speechless.
Persephone gazed at the two women compassionately. Hades put up a hand to still the angry warrior.
"Xena, she would have to die to go back to Tartarus." he informed her.
"That *could've* been arranged!" Xena shot back heatedly. Hades gave her a stern look.
"Xena..." he began, anger in his voice. Xena quickly regained control of her temper and looked away.
The god's face softened. He reminded himself of what the warrior and her friend had just been through and realized if he was in their position he would've probably reacted the same.
"It's not decided yet, anyway." he continued quietly. "I can't profess to speak for Zeus. We'll just have to wait and see. At any rate, you won't have to worry about her for some time. Zeus has some plans to keep her occupied for a while." he amended, smiling grimly. Then he took his wife's arm and nodded to the two women.
"We must go. Our great thanks once again." With that, they were gone.
Xena and Gabrielle's minds were a whirl, between the loss of Lyceus and the thought of Callisto being returned to the land of the living. Just then, the memory of what the bard had gone through earlier hit Xena like a dash of cold water in the face. She swiftly turned her attention to her friend.
"Gods, Gabrielle, let me look at you. We've got to tend to those wounds." she said quickly, concern etched across her face. She guided Gabrielle over to where their gear lay on the ground.
"Xena, I'm okay..." Gabrielle started to protest.
Xena cocked an eyebrow at her, then looked pointedly down at the blood drying on her leg and arm. "I don't think the blood's supposed to be on the *outside*." she reminded her, then pointed to the ground. "Sit." she ordered gently.
Gabrielle gingerly did as she was told, grimacing, using the warrior's arm to lower herself slowly. She watched her friend busily pull supplies out of her satchel, still trying to think coherently.
"Xena - what about you? You must be hurt! After what Callisto did -" she started, looking anxiously at Xena.
The warrior shook her head quickly, kneeling next to the bard. "Gabrielle, I'm fine. Just a little tired, that's all." she reassured her, quickly dressing her wounds. She then checked her friend's other injuries, frowning at the bruises peppering the younger woman's skin.
Gabrielle pushed her own warring thoughts of Callisto and Lyceus away, remembering that her dearest friend had just lost her beloved brother for the second time in her life. She searched Xena's face, trying to think of something she could say to ease the pain she knew the warrior was feeling.
"Are you all right?" she asked softly.
"Really, Gabrielle - the effects of what Callisto did to me have worn off." Xena said nonchalantly, but figured that wasn't what the bard was referring to that time.
Gabrielle reached out and caught her friend's arm, giving it a squeeze.
"Okay, I believe you. But you know that's not what I meant that time." Gabrielle persisted gently.
Xena looked into the bard's eyes for a moment, then shrugged slightly.
"I'm all right. I guess I should be thankful. It's not every day you get to spend some more time with someone you've lost. I've had that happen *twice* already." she smiled faintly, her mind wandering briefly to Marcus. 'Actually, that's the *second* time with Lyceus...' she mused, but knew the bard didn't realize that.
"But it's hard losing him again." Xena admitted finally, looking back down for a moment. Then she looked up at Gabrielle compassionately. "How about you? You and Lyceus got quite attached to each other." Her face broke into a smile, but her eyes were sad. "There aren't two people I would rather see together." Xena finished softly.
Gabrielle returned the smile, her eyes misting.
"It's gonna take me a while to get over him. He could have been the one, Xena. If it were another time, maybe he would've been." she sighed, then shook her head. "I knew it was for only two days. I kept telling myself that. My heart didn't listen." she said ruefully.
Xena nodded. "I know what you mean." After a beat, she drew Gabrielle towards her and hugged her as tightly as she dared, mindful of her injuries.
Surprised, Gabrielle returned the strong embrace, relief and amazement flooding through her. They had done it - beaten the enormous odds stacked against them and made it through the day *alive*.
"I'm sorry." Xena whispered, breaking into her musings.
Gabrielle tightened her grip on her friend, her heart aching for the loss they both shared. "Me, too." she whispered back, then felt a shudder run through the warrior.
"I'm sorry about more than just Lyceus." Xena said haltingly. Startled, Gabrielle pulled back.
"What? What do you mean?" The bard looked at the warrior questioningly.
Xena averted her eyes, fumbling for words. "I was going to kill her, Gabrielle ... again. What she was making you do, what she did to Lyceus - I just couldn't...I was going to break the promise." she managed finally, her eyes bright with unshed tears.
Gabrielle shook her head quickly, grasping Xena's hands.
"Stop. Xena, don't do this to yourself. The situation was a little -- extreme. You were being pushed to the limit. I don't fault you for your actions. As far as I'm concerned, you were defending us all, including yourself." she said firmly, then looked uncomfortable.
"I was upset that you offered yourself to Hades in exchange for Lyceus. I mean, I understand why you felt you had to do it, but Xena...first of all, I don't want to lose you. Secondly, if *Lyceus* doesn't blame you for his death, then you've got to stop blaming yourself." Gabrielle pleaded.
Xena gazed at her sadly. "Old habits are hard to break."
"Well, you're gonna break *that* one." Gabrielle retorted, then gripped Xena's hands tighter. "And Xena, when the time comes for one of us, I need to know we're going to be reunited on the other side one day. I won't accept the possibility of you going to Tartarus, *ever*. I won't let *you* accept it, either!" she said resolutely.
"Gabrielle..." Xena's voice was unsure.
The bard didn't let her get another word out. "*No*, Xena, I won't let you give in! We've got a lot of work to do and by the gods, I'm not gonna let you stop until we're *sure* you've earned a place in the Fields, got it?!" she insisted, getting dangerously close to tears again. "I couldn't handle it, Xena, it just can't -" Gabrielle choked out past the lump in her throat then stopped, her voice faltering.
Xena quickly laid her hand affectionately against the bard's cheek. "Okay, shhh. It's okay. I won't *ever* stop trying to atone for my past. I swear it." she soothed, blinking back tears that suddenly threatened to fill her own eyes.
Xena gazed at Gabrielle fondly for a moment, silently thanking the gods for sending her such a friend. 'I truly don't know what I ever did to deserve a friend like you.' she thought wonderingly, then a wry grin spread across her features. She reached out and tweaked Gabrielle's nose, in an effort to lighten the mood a bit.
"You can be pretty obstinate, you know that?" the warrior asked teasingly.
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow. "You're just *now* figuring that out?" she smiled.
Xena stood, extending her hands to help her friend up.
"Gods, no! I just thought I'd remind you." she grinned. "C'mon, let's clean up this mess and get out of here. Then we'll take a couple of days off. I think it would do us both some good."
"Great idea! I agree wholeheartedly!" Gabrielle enthused. Then she smirked at the warrior. "See? I'm not always *obstinate*!"
"Well, that doesn't count. You *always* agree with me when it comes to resting." Xena chuckled, wrapping an arm around Gabrielle's shoulders. Then she turned to her friend, gazing at her thoughtfully for a moment.
"Gabrielle, I'm also sorry for sometimes treating you like a child. I never mean to. You were pretty angry at me a couple of days ago because you thought I was." Xena started, then sighed and shook her head. "I know I'm overprotective, sometimes - but I can't help it. I just can't let anything happen to you, you know? You're too important to me." she smiled warmly at the bard, pride in her eyes.
"But I certainly saw today that you can take pretty good care of yourself. I'm proud of you - you bested two well-trained warriors. Very impressive."
"Oh...well, thank you." Gabrielle beamed, flushing at the praise. Then she recovered and flashed a cocky grin at Xena.
"I'll be happy to show you some of my fabulous fighting moves sometime!" she said expansively, then snickered.
Xena grinned broadly and started to steer her towards the arena. "I'll take you up on that, as soon as you heal." she assured her with a wink.
Gabrielle stopped abruptly after a few steps and put a restraining hand on Xena's arm.
"Xena - what are we gonna do about Callisto? What if Zeus sends her back?" she asked, trepidation in her voice.
Xena looked down at her for a moment, then tightened her arm around the bard's shoulders.
"We'll handle it, Gabrielle. Don't forget - we make a pretty good team. We'll figure something out, I promise."
A message from Yellowjacket: Thanks for sticking with the story to the end. I don't want to keep you much longer, but I want to acknowledge my co-author, Imbri, for saving this story. I had gotten totally stuck with writer's block and if it hadn't been for Imbri joining me on this project it would never have been completed. I also have to thank her for being brave enough to express her honest opinion and thus save me from my tendency to run amuck. And, if any bard out there wants to subcontract the writing of their action or mushy sequences, Imbri is the bard for you. ; )
Regards, --- YJ. 7/20/97