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Best Friends, Better Enemies, Ch. 15
"What do we have here?"
The leader asked in an amazingly well pronounced tone. The young man was in his late teens, and didn't quite fit into the typical pickpocket image. Instead, he looked like he had just left his mother's kitchen, clean and wholesome in a handsome kind of way.
And it was obvious that he knew it too. The cut of his black pants, the folds in his blue shirt, and even the way he tossed his long, blonde hair was calculated to draw the eye. But Xena saw more than that. Hidden beneath his unusually good looks was a leader, concerned for his people after her discovery of their lair.
"Phrixus, it's the woman! The one I stole the loot from."
Xena's thief was pointing accusingly at Xena, as if she were to blame for his mistake. I wonder if the little rat would thank me if I just gave him the money, Xena humorously thought to herself. On second thought, no, probably not.
The blades were still held to her throat, but Xena didn't dare try to defend herself. She knew she could easily overcome her captors, but she didn't. Xena knew she needed to earn their trust in order to find the shrine. But primarily, the children holding the blades on her were between the ages of five and fifteen, and all had the look of desperation that living on the streets stamped in. If I try to defend myself, those children will get hurt.
"Wait. I'm not here to harm anyone. Or turn you in. I don't even want the little amount of money you stole back. Please, hear my request before you make any rash decisions."
"Phrixus, she's lyin'. We's gonna get caught by dem guards, I tell ya. She's settin' us up fer a trap."
The leader listened to the little thief's words, but said nothing in response. For a minute, he simply stood there, staring straight into her eyes. There's more inside this kid than most see, I wager. Xena held his gaze steadily and began to admire this youth for the wisdom he displayed. No snap decisions here. Finally, he spoke again, turning to the younger thief first.
"By the gods, Abas. How could you be stupid enough to steal from this one? Her looks scream of warrioress." He smiled and nodded. "Back off everyone. Let her up."
His words were obeyed, but not willingly. The children stepped back and put their weapons away, out of sight but not out of reach. Once given the space, Xena quickly exited the hole and arose to her full height. She towered over everyone in the room, except the leader.
"You spoke of a request. What is it and how much is involved?"
Phrixus settled back into a chair he obviously used as a type of demi-throne, and waited for Xena to begin. But before she could voice her request, Abas jumped in again.
"I tell ya, Phrixus, she's up ta no good. Ya cain't trust her."
Phrixus rolled his eyes dramatically and replied, "Abas, I know who to trust much better than you. I was working the streets before you were born, and I think I can tell when someone is trying to deceive me."
He waved the younger boy away and turned his attention back to Xena. "Now, where were we?"
Xena calmly started relaying the story, leaving out only the parts that were too painful or personal.
"I must find a temple or shrine to Hermes. That's the only reason I came here. Please, can you take me to one?"
Xena's stirring story over the domination of Gabrielle's spirit obviously touched the young man, but practicality won out in the end.
"What's in it for me?"
Xena had known something like this was coming, and had prepared for it.
"If you're willing to take a walk down to the ocean cliffs, I can show you a cave full of treasure. More than you could steal in three lifetimes. You can have it all, if you find me a shrine to Hermes."
Xena remembered the cave from hr days as a warlord. She had been sailing through the area with a load of stolen booty in her hold and a pack of pirates right on her tail. Her ship was foundering from a broken mainmast, and taking on water from a hole gouged in the side from a coral reef. Xena had seen the caves as a good place to hide her stolen treasure and eliminate the added weight as well. So, with little time to spare, her men packed the treasure into the deepest cave she could find.
She had never gone back for it. Shortly after, she had left her old life behind, shaping her future into one needless of the allure of gold.
"You mean, you will show us where this treasure is in return for us showing you the shrine?" He grinned then asked, "But how do I know I can trust you?"
Xena stepped closer and replied, "You don't. You just have to have a little faith, the same as I must have in you."
Phrixus held out his hand to seal the agreement, and Xena took it willingly. Releasing their grip, Phrixus sat back and asked casually, "Answer me this, if you will. Why didn't you try and find a door?"
Xena merely raised one perfect eyebrow as she replied, "Simple. Most doors are either guarded or traps themselves, especially in a thief's lair. It's doubtful you would have just let me walk right in like that. And since I saw Abas come in that way, I knew it had to be safe."
At hearing her words, Abas snuck away to hide, knowing he would be in trouble for letting anyone follow him back to the hideout.
"Safe for some, maybe. You're lucky you didn't get stuck. I haven't gone through the tunnel since I was twelve."
Phrixus rose and walked to a curtain-draped corner behind his chair. He stopped there and turned to look Xena in the eye.
"You wanted the temple to Hermes. Well, here it is."
And with a yank, the curtain came tumbling down to reveal an opening to a cavernlike area, descending down below the buildings and earth, where a huge shrine crusted with wealth glittered in the dim light. Hermes' temple. At last.