Joxer slowly and carefully approached the place where the
map told him the Scepter of Helios was hidden. He raised the piece
of animal hide into the sun's path. "Right on target."
Joxer congratulated himself on a mission accomplished, well, half
accomplished anyway. "Right through that thick over-growth
should be the entrance." He gave the map a last perusal before
folding it in half. As he turned it inside out, a thought struck
him. "Why is the sun setting in the wrong direction?"
He quickly unfolded the map and looked at it closely. "Uht-oh."
In one motion, Joxer flipped the skin, top over bottom. "Son
of Echidna! I've been going the wrong way! Xena's gonna use my
hide for maps when she finds out about this!"
The wannabe warrior exhaled deeply. "Well I've come this
far, might as well check it out." Once he reached the specific
location, according to the upside-down map, Joxer reached behind
the tangled heap of branches, vines, and moss to feel for the
opening, if one in deed, existed. Nothing. The rocky surface that
lay beyond the foliage appeared massive, and intact. "Some
great warrior I am!" Joxer yelled, pulling like a wild man
at the greenery that surrounded him. "Can't even follow stupid
directions!" With that, he kicked repeatedly at the boulder
beyond the thicket, when a sudden, thunder-like clap, rang through
Joxer's temper tantrum forgotten about, he fell down on his
hands and knees and crawled up for a closer inspection. A section
of the rock was smashed in, cracks spread out across the gray
concaved surface like a spider's web. "Huh, don't even know
my own strength," he mused.
Joxer ran a timid hand across the area and watched in amazement
as the "rock" turned to dust. As he continued with the
sweeping gesture of his hand, more of the boulder fell away. Soon
he was using both hands, and before long an opening large enough
for a small man to crawl through, had emerged.
With a good-sized branch in hand, wrapped in oiled cloth and
lit using a piece of flint, Joxer scooted through the hole. The
flame roared unexpectedly as he stood upright and Joxer jumped.
The interior seemed much bigger from the inside. He craned his
neck to see, but there only appeared to be one object within.
He moved forwarded cautiously, inside the hollow stone, guided
by the small alter and the incandescent box that stood perched
upon it. By the look of it, the stand was made of ice- clear and
reflective. But when Joxer touched the smooth surface, it wasn't
cold; to the contrary, it was nearly hot enough to burn his flesh.
He jerked back his limb then tapped the alter lightly to test
its actual temperature. Upon finding it within reason, he reached
for the lid of the opaque box. Joxer sheepishly looked inside
It was actually there . . . the Scepter of Helios, all bluish-silver
and glowing and swirly.
"I have it!" He held the scepter up in his right hand,
Unbeknownst to Joxer, a shadowed figure crept up silently
behind him; a flash of red and it was over. He lurched forward
from the impact, knocking the torch out of his hand, throwing
the cavern into darkness.
"I HAVE IT! " Discord purred, reveling in her achievement.
Her body began to shimmer, becoming tiny pinpoint sized lights,
but before completely fading out, she announced out loud to no
one, "Mortals, they're so easy. Now to take care of Ares."
Then she and the Scepter of Helios vanished.
* * *
The soldier listened intently to the fool buying the drinks.
Only a fool would act and speak as this one did. He kept bragging
about his adventures with Xena, the ex-warlord, and the Bard who
was her companion; as if either one would give this joker anything
but a black eye. Then he began to blather on about having to leave
and go on an important mission for his friend, Xena, something
about it being very hush-hush and involving time-travel, but by
the time he left, the soldier knew exactly where the fool was
headed. The soldier wasn't going to take any chances; he went
straight to the Halls of War.
Joxer left the tavern and headed down a familiar path. Then
the kind, but simple face began to change, hair growing longer,
fur skins and body armor turning into black leather and a bustier.
A slim, black-polished finger-nailed hand held up the Scepter
of Helios. A devilish smile formed on black lips. "That-
takes care of that."
* * *
"You do know when I get free you're all going to be very
sorry, I'm Joxer the mi- OOF! Hey watch it!"
Ares snorted at him and motioned for one of the men to whack
him again. He circled around the man hanging from a noose above
him. "Where is the Scepter of Helios?"
He was getting dizzy spinning around and his eyes rolled.
"You won't get any information out of me, my lips are sealed!
OW! Stop it! You obviously don't know who you're messing with."
Ares had had enough. "Kill him!"
Joxer's heart began hammering. "No, wait!" He was
beginning to sweat. "Look, Ares, oh great God of War, I don't
know where it is. I went to get it, just like Xena asked, but
one second I had it in my hand and the next, POOF, it was gone
and I was out. Honest, that's all I know about the Scepter of
"Helios . . . the Scepter of Helios." Ares screamed
at Joxer, "What do you mean, it was there and then it was
" An idea began to form. "Wait
Veins began to bulge in Ares' neck and temples
Ares shimmered out, and then shimmered back in, "Kill
"Xeeeeeeeeeennnnnnnnnaaaaaaaaaa." Joxer howled moments
before a knock on the head made everything go black.
Xena awoke early, noting that Gabrielle had fallen asleep while
on her watch. The three of them had taken refuge for the night
underneath an outcropping off a cliff face. At first, Xena had
hesitated at the location, afraid that it was too close to Ares
and his Halls of War. But upon closer inspection, she discovered
that it was a near perfect place to lie low for at least one night.
The shear granite facing of the cliff was worn smooth, making
it virtually impossible to climb down for a surprise attack. The
turbulent waters of the Euxine lie to the West cutting off attack
from that direction, which only left the Halls to the East and
the path that forked off to Amphipolis and the Amazon camp on
the South. Granted, the overhang did not leave much room for restless
sleep, but it was shelter, and it was relatively safe.
Xena raised her head carefully and glanced around. Dari was
gone. "Great!" She threw off her furs and did a back
roll to clear herself of the granite ceiling before jumping up
and breaking into a run toward the Halls. She stopped up short
when she glanced down a small slope and spotted the woman. Relief
settled inside her and she smiled as she made her way down to
where Dari was located.
Dari was stooped over, up to her thighs in a nearby pond,
listening to the water, waiting. Xena noted she'd cut her . .
. what did she call those odd leg coverings again? Oh, yes...
jeans . . . into shorter leg coverings; except they really couldn't
be called 'leg coverings' anymore. Actually they looked like a
variation of the bottom part of Gabrielle's outfit, but Xena wasn't
about to tell Dari that. "What are you doing?" Xena
asked, coming up behind the taller woman, but not going into the
"Catching breakfast," Dari answered, smiling as
she turned her head to look back at Xena. "Got to be of some
use to you two considering you saved my life twice now."
" Xena's smile grew wider and brighter.
"Here, come on out of there, let me. We'll be here all day
waiting for you to catch something."
"Is that so?" Dari mimicked, remembering her first
day with this woman. She turned back around and dove both of her
hands into the lake, coming back with a slithering eel. She flipped
the scaly creature over her shoulder, toward Xena, and turned.
"Ah ha!" she said with glee.
Xena caught the fish and threw it to the ground. She pursed
her lips, her eyes continuously on Dari. "Not bad, not bad
at all. Now come on out of there anyway."
"Hey, I just caught one. We'll need more than that, considering
Gabrielle has a bottomless stomach." They shared a laugh,
knowing it was true.
"Just the same, I'd rather you be over here and out of
"I'm a big girl, Xena
"Yes, bigger than most," Xena smirked at her. "But
still innocent to the ways of evil. I wouldn't put it past Ares
to have you swallowed up by a fish or something else his crazy
mind could conjure up. Now out you go." She leaned over and
grabbed Dari by the arm and hauled her from the lake.
Dari complained the entire way. "Man
snatched up a robe she'd brought with her and dried her legs.
"He only got me that night because I wasn't prepared. Now
I know about that disappearing trick, and what happens when he
touches my head."
"Just sit and be quiet." Xena had taken Dari's place
in the water.
Xena smiled and reached into the water, grabbing another fish.
When she had a sufficient enough pile, she climbed out of the
lake and dried herself off with the robe Dari was now using as
"We'd get along famously if you weren't such a-"
"A what?" Xena gave her an innocent look.
"Never mind." She grabbed the robe back and laid
it out on the grass, then started to pile the fish on it. "A
carrying sack," she explained when Xena just stood there
with one brow raised, watching her. "You don't think I'm
carrying these smelly things cradled in my arms, do you?"
"Tell it to Gabrielle," Xena stated with a chuckle
in her voice. "That's her robe." With a smirk, she turned
and headed back toward the cliff.
* * *
Roscoe fidgeted with the buttons of his jacket as he and Karl
stood at the end of the gate. Mr. Lutheran had phoned them late
last night with orders to go to the airport the following morning
and pick up some foreign female. The boss man had given Karl the
woman's name, the fight number of the plane she'd be arriving
on, and what time it was due in. Unlike most flights, this one
had departed from Greece on time with no delays along the flight
The two men watched and waited as passenger after passenger
disembarked the large aircraft. In his huge hands, Roscoe held
a sign with the name of their assignment written across the front
in black marker. The longer Roscoe stood there, the more anxious
he became, finally turning to playing around with the piece of
white cardboard as a way to relieve the tension. It didn't take
long before the once flowing stream of people exiting the plane
slowly dwindled down to a trickle.
"Stop that, Roscoe." Karl admonished the big man.
"We have ta look professional." The smaller wise guy
looked up at his partner while adjusting his tie for the tenth
time. "What if this broad is somebody important? We need
to make a good first impression."
"Right Karl. I'm tryin', but you know how nervous I get meeting
new people." He bounced the heel of his right shoe on the
plain gray tiled floor of the airport terminal.
"I know big guy. But it'll be over soon."
"Hello there," came a voice from in front of the
Both Roscoe and Karl jerk as a result of the startle. "Where
did you come from?" Karl asked the woman in a higher pitched
voice than normal.
The small elderly woman pointed unaffected at the grand picture
window to her left. Karl looked in the direction of the bony finger
and saw the plane that had just begun to pull away from the walkway
on route to one of the many hangers that lined the outskirts of
Before he could turn his head back toward her, the woman stated,
"I believe the two of you are here for me."
"What makes ya think that?" Roscoe asked innocently
"Because, young man, that's my name on that piece of
paper you have there." She pointed again, only this time
in the direction of Roscoe's massive chest. "I'm Ms. Eve
* * *
"I'm going to go back to Amphipolis," Xena said
after breakfast was over and the dishes were washed. They were
settled down near the lake resting. "Gabrielle, you take
Dari back to the Amazons." Dari groaned loudly at the thought.
Xena ignored Dari, her steady gaze remained on Gabrielle. "Stay
with them until I return." Gabrielle nodded and stood to
"Why can't we stay here? Nothing's happened so far."
"That's what I'm afraid of, nothing's happened. They're
biding their time, waiting for us to be off our guard. With the
Amazons you'll be a lot safer."
"I agree," Gabrielle chimed in, already gathering
up the supplies for each of their journeys.
"Safety in numbers, huh?" Dari commented as she
dragged herself up from the comfortable spot she had settled onto
before she fell asleep.
"In this situation, yes." Xena stood as well. "The
Amazons are under the Goddess Artemis' protection; Ares, or any
other Olympian will think twice before they mess with her beloved
"We had better head out so we can get there before night
fall." Gabrielle advised while pulling on Dari's arm to get
her moving in the right direction.
"Yeah," was all Xena replied before grabbing hold
of Argo's saddle horn and throwing a muscular leg over the animal's
back, swinging her tall form up into position. She hated the idea
of being away from Gabrielle for any length, but knew, at times,
that it was a necessity of their way of life. This time though,
she felt an especially hard pull to keep Gabrielle close to her,
not that she didn't think Gabrielle could take care of herself,
the warrior knew better than that. It was the fact that her bard
was going off with Dari that gnawed at her insides. In truth,
it wasn't Dari that bothered Xena; it was the mere idea of Gabrielle
going away with anyone else that disturbed her.
* * *
Just before reaching Amphipolis, Xena smelled a campsite set
up on the wooded outskirts. A rather large campsite if Xena's
sense of smell wasn't failing her. Just then she heard the unmistakable
squeal of Joxer in trouble; a perpetual state of being for the
With the step of a panther, lightning-quick and quiet, Xena
snuck up behind the guards standing over Joxer's fallen body.
It didn't take but a moment and their stilled bodies were
lying beside his. Xena reached down and whacked Joxer on the chin.
"Joxer?" She shook his shoulders and he finally came
to, grumbling until she covered his mouth with a hand. "What
"Why does everyone keep asking me stupid questions? I'll
tell you like I told Ares, I don't know anything." Having
only half regained consciousness, Joxer had no idea to whom he
"Well we all know that, Joxer. Now wake up and tell me
what Ares has to do with this?"
He slowly began to recognize the voice, and realized that
Xena had come to his rescue
yet again. His head bowed, Joxer
went on to relay the conversation he and the very ticked off God
of War had about the scepter in question. Once again he'd failed
"What?! You found the Scepter of Helios?"
"That's what ya asked me to do, wasn't it?" Joxer
rubbed the back of head where Ares' goons had hit him.
"Yeah." Xena knew to say anymore would alert Joxer
to the fact that the map she had given him had been a rouse she
had concocted to get him out of the way. "Well the next time
I buy something at a 'Mount Olympus Souvenir Stand,' I'll take
it more seriously."
"What are you mumbling about, Xena?" Joxer asked,
wincing from the motion of looking up at the statuesque warrior.
Xena turned, having momentarily forgotten about him. "Oh,
nothing. What were you fixing to tell me about Ares?"
After Joxer told Xena, in vivid, if not entirely accurate,
detail about how he came to find the scepter, the warrior took
a long moment to sort out the pieces. Coming to the same realization
as Ares, that Discord was now in possession of the Scepter of
Helios; Xena dragged Joxer to his feet, muttering to herself,
"Things just keep getting better and better. Let's go."
Xena noticed how grim Joxer looked, like somehow he believed
that this complete debacle was entirely his fault.
"It's not like I asked the Goddess of Grunge to take
the thing." He kept mumbling.
Joxer expected a verbal bashing from Xena, at the very least.
He quietly followed behind the warrior, concern drawing his face
into a tight knot. He'd rather have a physical battering than
"It's ok, Joxer; it wasn't your fault." Xena did
some quick improvising. "I didn't think we'd get the scepter
without some trouble. I was prepared for this setback."
Joxer beamed. "What's the plan?" He was the epitome
of an eager beaver.
"There isn't one, Joxer, I said I was prepared, not that
I had any planned repercussion's." They snuck out of the
campgrounds just at the break of dawn. If they paced themselves,
they would make it back to the Amazons by mid afternoon.
"You're pretty handy with that." Gabrielle watched
Dari skin an apple as they strolled down a tree-lined path. The
knife was new, one of the small touches Ares had designed to go
along with the rest of the costume, and the only part of it she
had kept. The six-inch dagger was a miniature reproduction of
his godhood sword.
Gabrielle glanced off into the wooden area beside the path.
They were close to the Amazon camp; Gabrielle had taken notice
of the markers denoting their land. The one they had just passed
told the abdicated Amazon Queen that they were less than a mile
away from the center of the tribal courtyard.
Dari looked at the knife in her grasp. "Yeah, well, ya
learn new things quickly in this type of situation. Besides, I'm
pretty good with food. Have I told you I'm a fabulous cook?"
She smiled as her eyes came to rest on Gabrielle. The traveler
then nodded emphatically, "Yep, I'm quite the chef. I'll
cook you one of my famous dishes some time."
"I can't wait." Gabrielle linked her arm with Dari's
and moved closer. "What is it?" She nodded at the apple.
It had ceased to resemble an apple, but she couldn't make out
exactly what it was.
"A swan," Dari smiled, and held it up for closer
inspection. "I kind of messed up the wings, but it's a swan."
She nodded affirmatively, assessing her own handiwork.
" Gabrielle contained the chuckle, but
not the smirk.
Without warning, Dari came to a stop, dragging Gabrielle to
an abrupt halt. "What?" Gabrielle's defenses were alerted
immediately and she glanced around, scouting every direction for
any sign of trouble.
"Now I know what's missing!" Dari exclaimed.
"What's wrong?" Gabrielle's confusion was evident.
"It's so quiet. Back home, that's a rarity. Listen
She was silent for several moments as they did just that. "Absolute
silence. Just an intermittent tree branch falling, or the sound
of a rippling stream." She shook her head in amazement. "I
could get used
" Then she stopped talking.
Gabrielle stared at her, anticipating the end of her comment,
which never came. The bard's face fell. She dropped her hand from
Dari's arm and started walking again, this time alone.
Dari quickened her step and caught up to the smaller woman.
"Gabrielle listen, whatever happens, no matter what, I'll
cherish the memories of this place, of Xena
" As the
two walked, Dari placed her hand on Gabrielle's bare shoulder,
continuing. "but especially of you."
Gabrielle gave her a smile, but it wasn't convincing. "It's
ok, Dari, if you stay, you stay. If you don't
unfinished sentiment hung thickly in the earthen-scented air.
Dari took her hand and stopped walking. She pulled Gabrielle closer
to her, staring down into her clear green eyes, now shadowed a
bit by the turmoil she held inside. "Why does this trouble
you so?" she asked softly, brushing some fly away strands
of hair off Gabrielle's forehead.
Gabrielle didn't know how to reply. She shook her head and
looked away from Dari's penetrating eyes. "I
content," was the best she could come up with.
"Gabrielle, you and Xena have a destiny together, I'm
not a part of that."
"No?" Her gaze flew to Dari's and she pinned her
there, silent. "Then why are you here?"
"I can't answer that. I prayed for release and this was
what I got." She gestured at the surrounding area with the
sweep of her hands. The birds seemed to silence their song to
listen to the two territorial invaders. The other forest animals
fell just as silent. "Fate intervened and here I am. Interrupting
your destiny, invading your lives, bringing harm to
"Dari." Gabrielle covered the taller woman's lips
with slender fingers. "Xena and I live in harm's way. Our
lives are dangerous. We exist on the brink. This is no different."
Gabrielle shrugged. "If it weren't you, it would be someone
else in dire straits. Do you understand?" the bard asked,
uncertain if her point was being made. "It's not so much
the who, as the what."
Dari nodded. "Yes, I see. But that still doesn't answer
why this is affecting you so badly. Especially now that I'm a
what and not a who." She smiled down hesitantly at Gabrielle.
But the bard was in no joking mood. "Don't twist my words.
Most times it is about the situation, but there are times when
it's about the individual. You're what matters to me. I don't
want to say goodbye to you, Dari."
"Then don't. We have no way of knowing our fate; we don't
have that kind of power."
"Ah, but some of us do, Dari, maybe not in detail, but
in spirit." Gabrielle reminded the cop of her India scrolls.
"I'm so torn inside. I've seen into the future; I've been
to the future; I've been in heaven, and hell. I've looked inside
the Elysian Fields and Tartarus. I've stared into the abyss. Through
it all, Xena was by my side. Now you're here, carrying a promise
" She dragged an arm across her eyes to
wipe away the sudden rush of tears. The display of emotion made
her angry; she shouldn't be crying. Xena was right; things affected
her far too easily, and harshly.
"What kind of salvation?" Dari thought she knew,
but wanted Gabrielle to say it.
"Xena and I have known one another for many years now.
We've been through so much together. We've had our bad times,
sure, but we've always found our way back to each other; but that's
where it ends." Gabrielle wrapped her arms around her midriff
in an effort to support herself for what she was about to admit.
"I want more. I need more. I need security, commitment, unlike
the commitment we have as friends, as warriors, together. I need
the total emotional bond we could experience." She inhaled
deeply, holding in the air for a moment, and then expelled it
in one ragged breath. "I love her like nothing in this known
world, and yet, I haven't loved her, not the way I want or need
to. And it hurts." The bard's voice cracked. "It hurts
so badly sometimes I can't even think straight. And that's not
good in the work we do. Now that you've come into my life
I feel that I could have . . . everything."
"Gabrielle, don't." Dari pulled the trembling woman
into her arms. "I know this isn't easy. There are people
who come into our lives that we know we've bonded with at some
point in our existence, maybe in other lifetimes; we keep meeting
them over and over, whether they be family or friends or enemies.
That's what I think is happening here."
"Do you feel it, too?" Gabrielle stared up into
those familiar blue eyes.
"Yes." Dari admitted. "There's a bond, but
what kind of bond I don't know. We may never know." Dari
held the bard's chin between her thumb and index finger. "I
let fate dictate my actions, Gabrielle. 'Go with the flow' is
a common expression where I'm from. Why don't we do that, huh?
Go with the flow and see where it takes us
all three of
Gabrielle laid her head against Dari's chest and just listened
to her beating heart. "I'm not usually so selfish, well,
only except where Xena's concerned
Normally my main goal
would be to see that you got where you belonged, but I want you
to belong here. I can't explain it, it's just a feeling I have
. . . have had since the moment you opened your eyes."
Dari couldn't deny that she had the same feeling, a feeling
of belonging, of bonding. "We'd better get going, eh? Xena'll
get upset if I don't obey orders again."
Gabrielle lifted her head. "It wasn't an order; she cares
about you Dari. If she didn't, she wouldn't have risked her life,
twice now, for yours."
"Hmmm, I suppose you're right."
Lifting a brow, and the corners of her lips, Gabrielle gave
her a look, then stood on the tips of her toes and planted a soft
kiss on Dari's lips. She withdrew from her arms and started on
the trail again, without looking back.
"Welcome back!" Queen Cyan beamed like a ball of
sunshine when she spotted Varia, her tribe's finest warrior, leading
Dari and Gabrielle into camp.
Gabrielle returned the welcoming smile and even giggled somewhat
at the Queen's enthusiasm. Despite, or perhaps because of her
talk with Dari on the way to the encampment, she was feeling quite
jubilant, even noticing the return of a bounce to her step. 'Now
where did this come from?' she wondered silently as Dari clasped
forearms with Cyan in greeting.
"Where's Xena?" A young buxom blonde inquired as
she strolled up beside the four.
Gabrielle turned to address her fellow Amazon while Cyan and Varia
escorted Dari off somewhere. "She'll be here sometime today.
There was something she needed to do." Gabby bid the woman
a smile and hurried after Dari.
* * *
Ares was all a rage; his fierce brown eyes glowing black with
it. "How DARE you interfere with my plans!" he thundered
His rage was ineffective on her. She went on examining her
nails as if he had asked her about the weather. She rolled her
eyes to express her boredom and implored, "Dear Ares, I haven't
interfered in anything. If Joxer had been the one to get his hands
on that scepter, he'd have taken it straight to Xena and you'd
have NO plan at all. I simply helped you out."
"Helped me out?!" He could barely contain himself
from shooting a bolt of fire at her face to wipe off that smug
expression. "You didn't HELP me at all. You just alerted
Xena to the fact that not only was I trying to get Dari over to
my side, but that now she has YOU to worry about." The God
of War turned and shrugged his shoulders, not believing his immortal
ears. "Do you think she's just going to let us stroll in
and take Dari again?" He whipped around to face his apprentice.
"Well DO YOU!" Ares was seething; veins popped out on
his forehead and bulged in his chest and arms. His coloring turned
to a ripened shade of eggplant. "I have a mind to zap you
someplace where you can do no more harm," he threatened.
"As if." She shrugged nonchalantly.
That was it!! He had all he could stand of her smug attitude.
He was going to teach the Goddess of Retribution to think twice
before she interloped in his plans again. Throughout this whole
Dari ordeal she had caused nothing but problems. Normally he liked
that, but this time he made no allowances for screw-ups. Ares
wanted Dari, and that was the way it was going to be. He'd take
care of anything that got in his way; no matter what or who it
Before she was aware of the danger she was in, Discord found
herself slammed with a powerful display of energy aimed carefully,
and angrily, from Ares. She disappeared slowly into a vortex of
lights, screaming vengeful epitaphs at her "dear" mentor
until she completely vanished. Ares brushed his hands together
and turned on a well-clad heel, quite pleased with himself. Then
just as he was about to plop down on his mahogany throne, he froze.
"Well, gods-dammit! I forgot to make her tell me where she
hid the Scepter of Helios!" The War God dropped down upon
his throne, throwing a leather-clad thigh over one armrest. "Women!!"
* * *
"Is everything OK?" Varia asked, popping her head into
the hut to which Dari and Gabrielle had been escorted.
Gabrielle was seated at a small table writing vigorously on
her scrolls, and Dari seemed to have passed out on the mattress
beside her. She was even snoring softly.
"Gabrielle?" Varia inquired attentively.
Gabrielle sensed, more than heard her, and looked in the direction
of the doorway.
"Hmmm? Oh yes, we're fine. I'm just catching up on the
day's adventures and she," thumbing a gesture over her shoulder
at Dari, "is out cold. Any word of Xena yet?"
Varia shook her head. "I'll leave you two then."
She smiled and left them alone.
Gabrielle returned to her scroll, tapping the quill against
her smiling lips as her mind went off into its own world. She
laid quill to scroll and began writing again.
Today started out interestingly enough, and here we are, alone
together, but not together. I don't know what has happened to
me. Xena is my life, my reason for being, and yet, here's Dari,
someone who could easily take her place
Gabrielle stopped writing at that line. NO . . . no one could
ever take Xena's place, and certainly not easily. What was she
thinking? She had a mind to bunch the scroll up and toss it. But
she didn't. She sat there looking off into nothing, but seeing
everything, India, Alti, their adventures, the life they had built
together, so many experiences between them, how could this even
be happening to her, and furthermore, why was it happening to
her? Was it a sign? Should she and Xena finally part ways and
she go with Dari? Was that her destiny? Was it Dari's? 'No, don't
be silly,' she admonished herself. There had to be some other
reason why Dari was in her -- correction, she amended -- their
lives. Maybe it had something to do with the future, or maybe
she was just going insane.
There were no easy answers. None that she would figure out
any time soon. Gabrielle rolled her scroll up and put it in her
sack. She would deal with what she'd written . . . later. For
now, she'd spend this quiet time with Dari and just be glad she
had it. But in the back of her mind, a place she was easily ignoring,
a fear started to fester.
"No, No, No, No, No!" Aphrodite, the Goddess of
Love, was pacing back and forth in her temple, arms folded across
her waist. "Why can't these mortals get it right! Why do
we always have to lead them?" She asked her own reflection.
Setting her hands on her hips, she blew up a fallen strand of
golden hair hanging over her forehead.
"For once, Gabrielle, couldn't you allow a plan of mine
to actually work?" She shook her head in frustration. It
had seemed like a good idea at the time. With Gabrielle all down
in the dumps and Xena just not getting it; Aphrodite did what
she does best, she intervened. She wanted to make a little love
match of her own, but this new scenario was not what she'd planned.
"You're not supposed to fall for Dari. Hellooooo
supposed to realize how much you love Xena." She growled.
"Oooohhh, you mortals!"
Plucking Dari from a future time had been simple. Aphrodite
had discovered where Zeus kept the Scepter of Helios hidden when
she was a child. So "borrowing" it from Daddy had been
no problem. Now figuring out how to use it to get Dari
had been a problem. She still didn't know what she was going to
do with the three mortals she had accidentally pulled from their
times in her previous attempts to grab the right one.
What in the name of Mount Olympus was she going to do with
a Union Leader, an Airplane Pilot, and a Rock Star? "Oh well,
a Goddess's work is never done."
The fourth time had been the charm for Aphrodite. She used
the power of the Scepter to open a portal and poof, a well thought
out plan actually turned into reality. She hadn't realized how
far into the future she'd have to go to find Dari, but that made
it even more interesting.
Except for that pesky lightning. She hadn't taken into account
what might happen if a genuine electrical storm crossed paths
with her well-executed Scepter scheme. Boy, when the two got together
did it carry a kick. She had tried to turn down the scepter's
juice, but to no avail. Aphrodite had then turned her attention
to the lightning, but that hadn't worked either. And she tried
everything, too. Stubborn, electrified air currents. If it hadn't
been for that small miscalculation, Dari would have never been
hurt and Ares would have never gotten involved. The Love Goddess
pursed her lips together. He and the skanky she-creature were
going to be an eternal pain in her perfect backside.
now all her beautiful plans we're going to pot.
Gabrielle cannot fall for Dari; no, there would have to be something
done about that, and soon. She'd managed to keep Xena off her
scent for quite a few days now; her fake Alti act -- appearing
in Dari's dreams had kept Xena off balance. And that waking vision
she had given the time traveler was sheer genius. She was quite
proud of herself.
All Aphrodite needed was some time to fix this new problem.
She didn't want to have to deal with any broken hearts, they just
take too long to fix; and if she parted Dari from the two warriors,
they'd be concentrating more on finding Dari than falling in love.
She growled again, stomping a petite, pink-encased foot. Always
Gabrielle. Every time, without fail, that mere mortal ruined a
perfectly good plan.
Joxer wasn't looking forward to facing Gabrielle, and he definitely
did not want to see that Dari woman again. If that's what the
female sex was like in the future, he was happy right where and
when he was.
"Come up with a plan yet, Xena?"
"We'll probably have to attack them head on. They would
never see that coming. Yeah, the element of surprise is our best
"Attack . . . Ares and Discord . . .both. Sssounds gggreat.
I . . . I can't wait for Ares - gulp -- to taste the steel of
Joxer the Mighty's sword." The tremble in his voice was accentuated
by the total lack of enthusiasm. "Xena, I was thinking. With
Ares all wrapped up in this future chick, glowy scepter thing,
that camp of soldiers . . ."
"You mean the one I rescued you from?"
"That would be the one, yeah . . . Anyway, they won't
have anyone around to give them orders, so they're going to get
bored, be looking for some action, causing innocent villagers
so maybe . . ."
"Maybe you should go keep an eye on those soldiers, to
make sure they don't go looting and pillaging the surrounding
villages, eh, Joxer?" The warrior glanced behind her, the
smile on her face completely hidden.
"Xena, you read my mind. Don't worry I won't let you
down. Joxer the Mighty protects those helpless and in need. No
harm will come to that village, you have my word. Take care."
Joxer had been backing up in the direction they had just come
from during his entire monologue. Once he spoke his final goodbye,
he turned with a wave in Xena's direction.
The Warrior Princess just shook her head and continued on
toward the Amazon encampment. In the distance, she heard a familiar
voice, singing his familiar theme song.
* * *
Xena arrived at the camp shortly past mid-day, greeted by
Varia, Gabrielle, and Dari.
"We need to head out," Xena informed her two traveling
"So soon?" Varia asked. "We hoped you'd all
visit a little longer."
"I wish we could, but we have some unfinished business."
Once the goodbyes had been said, Xena, Gabrielle, and Dari
left the Amazons.
"All right Xena, what's going on?" Gabrielle asked,
as soon as they were out of earshot of the camp guards. "I
thought Dari was suppose to stay hidden until we found the Scepter
"Plans have changed." The warrior spoke dryly.
"Kinda stating the obvious, aren't ya?" Dari snorted.
"Otherwise, I wouldn't be here."
"OK!" Xena nearly shouted as she came to a sudden
stop. "You know that 'mission' I sent Joxer on to find the
Dari and Gabrielle exchanged knowing looks and turned to Xena
with affirmative nods.
" The warrior placed her hands on her leather
clad hips. "He actually found it!"
"What?!" The word came out simultaneously from the
shocked mouths of the two women listening to the impossible.
"I know. I know. I couldn't believe it myself."
Xena's arms flew up in an exaggerated shrug.
"Are you sure about this?" Gabrielle questioned,
still flabbergasted. "You know how Joxer has a tendency to
. . . how should I put this? . . . stretch the truth, especially
if it makes him look more like a warrior.
"Under normal circumstances, I'd agree. But the fact
that I had to rescue him from some of Ares' thugs tells me all
I need to know."
"Ares . . . I should have known he'd be involved."
"That's not the worst of it." Xena said, beginning
her steady march through the forest once again.
A still stunned Gabrielle and Dari sprinted to catch up. Or
more precisely, Gabrielle sprinted. Dari merely strolled. "What
could be worse than Ares having the scepter?" Dari asked,
her fog of disbelief slowly lifting.
"Discord having it." Xena answered with an irritated,
but determined growl.
Xena decided they'd stay at the same cave they'd been in the
night Dari arrived to their world. "The best place to start
over from is the beginning." Xena had stated once Gabrielle
and Dari realized where they were headed.
The closer to the familiar cave the women got, the more threatening
the weather became. Odd, Xena was sure there would be clear skies,
but the storm that had brought them Dari had done anything but
dissipate since they'd left. It seemed the rains unleashed their
wrath more so here than anywhere else they'd traveled over the
past days. "Very odd . . ."
That night, Gabrielle watched the amazing light show, when
suddenly a repeating image struck her. She noticed a pattern within
the continuous currents of light. "Xena?" she called
over her shoulder as she rose from her comfortable position.
"Mmmm?" Xena was sharpening her broadsword while
Dari watched. She glanced over at Gabrielle. "What's up?"
"Come here and look."
Both Dari and Xena joined her at the cave opening, directing
their gaze where Gabrielle's upturned eyes were staring. The sky.
"Wow," Dari exclaimed and moved around them to stand
just outside the cave. "That's some storm, eh?" she
asked over her shoulder when she felt them both come up behind
Gabrielle's mind was spinning. "Xena, haven't we seen
this exact same show, in the exact same place, before?"
Xena had an agreeing expression on her face and in her eyes.
"Yeah, it sure looks to be the same pattern in the same spot
where Dari dropped from." Her thoughts joined Gabrielle's
in their hectic dance for an answer from this new information.
It didn't take Xena long. "What if it wasn't only an instrument
of a God that caused Dari's appearance?" Ares' ex-pupil studied
the skies long and hard before she finished her thought aloud.
"What if it had to do with one of nature's instruments as
well?" Xena, with her sword still in hand, pointed the weapon
Dari and Gabrielle stared at her, Xena's insight slowly seeping
into their psyche, finally bringing them to similar conclusions.
Dari joined her thoughts to Xena's first. "It did seem odd
that all the times I've prayed there never was such a bold and
direct answer. So if it wasn't my praying, and just the lightning,
then all I'd have to do is get inside the lightning again and
I'd be home!"
"Now hold on!" Gabrielle interjected before Dari
got completely carried away. "First of all, Xena didn't say
it was only the lightning that brought you here. Even so, Ok,
suppose you are right?" She looked back and forth at the
two, indicating she meant them both. "And it was the lightning
alone that was the vehicle for your arrival." Her gaze rested
on Dari. "What makes you think it would reverse time and
take you back? And for that matter, do you remember the condition
you were in when you came out from that lightning? If you do something
like getting captured in it again, there won't be any Ares on
the other side to heal you."
Xena smiled her appreciation of the bard's commentary. "She's
right, Dari. There's no telling where you'd end up even if it
worked. It's too risky." She slammed the door on any more
interest in the idea.
"I think I should be the one to make that decision."
Dari wasn't quite ready to let the theory go just yet. "Ok,
so yeah, I was a bit bruised
"A bit?" Gabrielle almost guffawed.
"Ok, I was a lot bruised. But I don't recall if it was
the lightning, slamming into Xena, or the water that caused all
those broken bones." She added quickly before Gabrielle's
argument had a chance to leave her gaping lips, "And neither
"So then just forget it." Xena wanted an end to
"But this could be my only way back home, Xena. I can't
just forget it."
"There are other ways, Dari, we just have to find them.
This," she indicated the thrashing heavens with a nod of
her head, "isn't a viable one of them. And that's the end
of it!" She walked inside before Dari could argue further.
Dari's narrowed eyes followed her then came to rest on Gabrielle's
adverted stare. "Well thanks for siding with me on this one."
"I don't want you hurt
" the bard began.
"Save it, Gabrielle." Dari spun around and stomped
down the mountainside, oblivious to the rain tattooing down on
her head and shoulders.
Gabrielle stomped right after her, grabbed her arm, and spun
her back around. "There's no reason to get angry and treat
me like that. You know I care for you; I would never want to see
you come to any harm. I'd give my life for you in a heartbeat,
Dari. And if you had a valid argument, yes, I would have taken
your side and helped argue your point, but you don't have one.
That," she thrust an angry arm to the sky, "is not something
I care to let you just throw your life away on. It's too risky.
I'm with Xena on this one."
"Trying won't hurt."
"It could hurt, a lot, mostly you." Gabrielle shook
her head slowly and walked a circle around Dari. "I know
you want to get home, believe me, I know, and I've been trying
to accept it. But doing something foolish like throwing yourself
into a lightning bolt will just get you killed. But then, of course,
your problem would be solved."
Dari wouldn't, couldn't let it go. "I still think it's
worth a try."
"Your life is 'worth a try,' is that it? Ok." Gabrielle
nodded. "Say it worked, and the lightning took you away to
another time and dumped you farther into the past, maybe even
before the spoken word. Then what? You think there'd be someone
there who could help you? You think there'd be a God who could
make it so you could be understood?"
"Why not? There was one here, and I would have never
thought, or believed that if I'd considered it in my century."
The traveler argued, as both her and the bard's clothing became
saturated with rainwater.
"That's because we have evolved, Dari. We still believe
in gods and goddesses. Where you come from, in the tales you've
told me, there's not much believing going on at all -- some people
don't believe in any God, let alone one or more. Our way of life
is a fantasy in your world. Who knows, maybe it is? Or maybe it
will be one day? But here and now, this is real, and this is our
life . . .your life. There are no written words about prior Gods
before this time, there was just land, and the man-animals that
"You're not going to give up are you? You'd stand here
all night arguing this with me." Dari slowly came to that
Gabrielle shook her head. "Not when it means so much
to me, I would debate every point even if it took all night."
She agreed and slipped her arm through Dari's. She spun them back
towards the cave. "Besides, we still have the Scepter of
Helios to consider."
"Yeah, if we ever get our hands on it."