Xena, Callisto, Gabrielle and all characters from the TV show Xena: Warrior Princess belong to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. Kimberly and Dolon belong to me. No copyright infringement is intended with this fan fiction which may not be sold, may be copied for personal use only, and must contain all notices of copyright.
This is a sort of alternative version of my story, History Lesson, taking place after Kimberly's arrival in Greece. It does not fit in with the rest of my Kimberly storyline, so don't bother trying to make it. It assumes the reader has read History Lesson for background information. In addition to History Lesson, the story refers to events in Dolon.
This story contains a lot of graphic violence and cruelty, including sexual violence and gang-rape. It also contains rough language and sexual situations. DON'T READ THE STORY IF YOU FIND THIS OFFENSIVE.
You can find more work by Joseph at Joe Anderson's Creative Stuff
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Back to School
by Joseph Anderson
Thinking about some new lyrics for his song, maybe about how Joxer the Mighty helped Orpheus against Bacchus, Joxer stumbled, ran into a tree, turned around and tripped over a rock to finally fall on his face. He frowned at the ground, then pushed himself back up. As he got to his feet he took his helmet off and shook out the latest dirt and leaves it had picked up, admiring it a moment for how menacing he thought it looked. Joxer heard an odd crackling sound and noticed something strange not far from him, like the air had taken on a liquid appearance or something. He looked curiously at it, hoping it wouldn't turn out to be something awful. Ever since he had become friends--kinda--with Xena a lot of strange things came his way. More often than not they were awful too. It was worth it though, since it let him have adventures with Xena and Gabby--especially Gabby. Two figures just stepped from the shimmering pool of liquid air which then disappeared.
"Gods!" Joxer said and stepped back, tripping again. Before he could scramble away they were standing on either side of him. One was Callisto. Joxer gulped.
"Hi Callisto! Aren't you dead or something now?" he said nervously. Craning his head he looked at the other figure but didn't recognize him, though he sure looked like he must be one his relatives. He had gray streaked hair and deep lines in his face.
They reached down and grabbed his arms and stood him up, Callisto dusting him off to Joxer's amazement. The man just looked at him. Joxer felt odd looking in his eyes. He was dressed in fighting leathers that were worn and slashed looking.
"This is embarrassing, Callisto," the man with the lined face finally said.
The blonde warlord smiled. "Nah, it's okay. He's cute. You wouldn't be who you are without him...and I wouldn't have you any other way."
Joxer said, "Hey, I can hear you, you know. It's not like I'm deaf and dumb."
The man said, "It's too easy."
"Good for you, Joxer. Take the high road."
Joxer said, "You're name is Joxer too? COOL! I'll bet we're related!'
"You might say that," the tragic faced man said ironically. "Where is Xena? We need to talk to her."
Joxer studied them suspiciously then said, "You must be up to something, Callisto. Well, I'm not ratting my friends out!"
The blonde warlord chuckled as the man with her turned and limped away. Callisto put her arm around Joxer's shoulders in a friendly way. He looked at her nervously. She glanced at the other man and said to Joxer, "I've heard you have a GREAT song, Joxer! Could you sing it for me? Pretty please!'
The man turned around and limped back over. "Very funny, Callisto." He looked Joxer in the face and said intensely, "Listen, halfwit, we aren't doing anything bad. We just have to talk to Xena. So where's her camp? It has to be around here somewhere or we wouldn't have appeared here.
Joxer began to say with dignity, "Like I said before, I won't..." he couldn't finish as the man just punched him in the gut, doubling him over.
Callisto instantly pulled the man away. "Don't ever do that again!" she said angrily.
The man growled, "Gods! This is important and we have to deal with that idiot!"
Callisto snapped, "He can't help it and he's got a good heart. If things turn bad he'll show strength no one even suspected. So keep your hands to yourself! I mean it, Joxer."
The man looked at her. Every deep line in his face seemed to carry more pain than anyone could bear. He said to Joxer as he knelt beside him bent over on the ground. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have lost my temper."
Joxer looked up him, pale. "Yeah, okay. It's not like I'm not used to it."
Callisto looked at him and at her friend. "What does that mean?"
As he was helping Joxer up the man said, "People beat me up all the time for annoying them. My dad started it and it never stopped really until Gabrielle was..." he caught himself, "until what happened."
Callisto nodded, not really surprised. "He's not gonna tell us. He'll dig his heels in now no matter what. I know you," she said ironically. "Let him go." She said to Joxer, "Tell Xena you saw us and we need to talk to her. Tell her it's a different Callisto. Will you do that?"
Joxer, still feeling sick from the blow, nodded. Callisto was asking him to do something. Not ordering him, asking him nicely and without any sarcasm he could hear. "I'll tell Xena for you. But don't try to follow me. I don't want to have to hurt you, Callisto."
Callisto smiled at him and her companion blushed and looked away.
"Uh ho, I knew this day was too nice," the bard said to her friend. Xena glanced up and saw Joxer coming toward their camp. She looked with irritation at Gabrielle.
"Can't you see he's hurt?" Xena got up and jogged out to where the man was slowly walking their way. The bard came running up beside her, her face beet red.
"What happened, Joxer?" Xena asked. Joxer tried to smile at her. He felt bad. Not like he usually did when he was hit or something. He'd been spitting up blood ever since that guy punched him in the gut. It was like he knew just how to do it to really hurt him.
"I'm okay, Xena. It's Callisto."
The Warrior Princess and Gabrielle both froze. "Callisto."
Joxer nodded. "She said to tell you it's a different Callisto. She's got somebody with her who looks like me but is older."
Gabrielle and Xena looked at each other. The ridiculous figure suddenly keeled over and vomited blood.
"Did Callisto do this to you?" Xena asked angrily. He was bleeding internally.
"No, Joxer did. Callisto was being real nice but he couldn't stand the sight of me," he said weakly.
The campfire was roaring and the two were sitting at it as they had thousands of times, not needing to speak anymore, they understood each other so well. The warrior looked up at a sound and stood, her blonde hair almost seeming to glow in the firelight.
"Xena," she said clearly.
The Warrior Princess walked into their camp, looking at Callisto and at the man who awkwardly stood. She said frigidly to him, "Joxer's unconscious. He's been throwing up blood for hours. That was your doing, I understand."
"Dammit, Joxer!" Callisto said, "I told you."
Xena angrily watched them both. She said, "Are you an uncle or something?" Joxer always said he came from a rough family. She had met his assassin brother, Jett, already. Here was another one it looked like, actually traveling with Callisto. Nice family. She intended to take this guy apart but first she wanted to hear what he had to say for himself.
"Xena, what would you do if your old self just suddenly appeared and bragged about killing people. You'd want a piece of her. I'm no different. I shouldn't have done that though. We have to talk to you about something important and that moron isn't worth complicating it by getting you mad."
"Is that your idea of an apology?!" Xena said through gritted teeth. She wouldn't have believed it but she wasn't even paying attention to Callisto, she was so angry at this dog for hurting a helpless, good hearted person like Joxer.
Callisto spoke up. "Xena, he's not an uncle. This IS Joxer. The same Joxer. We're from the future."
Xena turned to look at Callisto; but it didn't seem to be Callisto. The brown eyes were calm and reasonable looking. "The future? What kind of future turns Joxer into a mean prick and you into a diplomat?"
Joxer answered, "A future where there are only two choices: either you fight the Bitch of Tartarus and probably see your family crucified or you serve her and bring her the heads of children. There's nothing else."
"Who's the Bitch of Tartarus?" Xena asked.
Callisto finally smiled in her old demented way. This was TOO good. "You are."
Gabrielle was sitting next to Joxer. Why was she always so mean to him? She didn't know. She tried to remember the last thing she'd actually said to him, since she hadn't said anything before he lost consciousness. She was ashamed because of what Xena had said to her: can't you see he's hurt? She remembered now. A few days before he had said something like he knew she really liked him and she had grabbed his nose and said, "I do, huh?" That was it. She looked at the too pale face. He just brought out something mean in her.
She jumped up and grabbed her staff as three figures walked into their camp. Her mouth was dry. Callisto. And somebody who looked like Joxer but older. Callisto came quickly over to Joxer and Gabrielle was ready to defend him, but Xena indicated with a hand gesture it was all right. The man came over, walking with a heavy limp. She glared at him. He stopped in front of her and looked in her eyes. Gabrielle thought he was going to cry before he just walked away and began unpacking the animals.
"What's this?" Gabrielle said, mystified.
Xena didn't say anything. The Warrior Princess only knew the bare bones so far. Gabrielle was killed and she went berserk. Joxer had been with the bard and blamed himself for not saving her--and probably for everything else too. And Callisto became a hero, saving untold thousands from the most vicious insane monster the world had ever seen: the Bitch of Tartarus. No one called her Xena anymore apparently. The Bitch had swallowed her up. She listened as Callisto gave Gabrielle the same explanation she had given her.
The bard asked the same first question Xena had. "Where's Hercules during all this?"
"Gone. I dunno where. Dead...on Olympus...who knows? Ask the gods. Maybe they'll answer you. They won't me," the blonde answered.
Xena didn't like the sound of that. It was such a bad lie it almost had to be true. She knew better than most that awful things happened. Hercules dying or something had to happen sooner or later. Coming at the worst possible time sounded about right.
"We want you to come back with us, Xena. Maybe you can defeat yourself. Me and Meleager can't. We're just slowing you down." Callisto was speaking earnestly to Xena as the Warrior Princess tended to Joxer. She looked up at her.
"Meleager is with you?" Gabrielle asked suspiciously.
"No, he leads his own army. There used to be three of us: Meleager, Draco and me. But Xena destroyed Draco a couple of years ago, so now it's just me and Meleager as far as actual armies. There are smaller bands all over though, and we coordinate with 'em as much as we can."
"What about Athens and Sparta?" the Warrior Princess asked, still kneeling next to the unconscious fool.
Joxer said with contempt, "They just use their armies to protect themselves. They don't care about anyone else. Messene, Salamis, Thebes... they're all the same."
Callisto said, "You can't blame 'em, Joxer. Corinth sent an army after her when Xena first turned into the Bitch and she sent all their heads back with their dicks in their mouths. What are they supposed to do, just leave their city undefended and chase after her? Any city doing that would be instantly taken by their traditional enemies, in addition to what Xena would probably do to their army."
Joxer made a dismissive gesture. Callisto was always trying to see other people's side of things.
"Nobody's tried to organize 'em?" Xena asked.
"Sure. Hasn't worked yet though. Gods, Xena, you know what they're like! Maybe if you were a foreigner they'd get it together, but you're Greek."
The Warrior Princess shook her head. This just sounded more and more depressing and believable. If she were doing this, and she was, she would intentionally foster their fractiousness and paranoia. Make everyone think she had secret alliances with 'em or against 'em or both. Whatever it took to keep their heads up their asses while she took 'em down one by one. None of the big city-states had fallen yet. It sounded like she was carefully laying the groundwork, though.
"Who sent you here?" Xena asked.
Joxer answered. "We aren't sure but probably Ares. You were always special to him."
"If I'm special why would he want me stopped? He should like me as the Bitch of Tartarus."
Callisto said, "You don't know what the Bitch is like, Xena. She's not a conqueror; she's a lunatic killing everyone she can find. Ares is about war, not chaos."
Xena nodded. That would explain why she hadn't moved on a major city yet. As soon as a great city like Argos was actually massacred the rest of them would band together. But by that time it would be too late. Every city would be riddled with spies and traitors hoping to save themselves. The Bitch was probably licking her lips for when the city-states started falling, maybe just weeks or days apart. Of course it all would've been over and done with long ago if not for Callisto and the others.
"This is ridiculous!" Gabrielle exploded. "It's some new scheme, Xena. Why are you even listening? This isn't Joxer, it's probably Ares himself. Why can't you see that? You would never do what they're saying!"
The Warrior Princess stood up and looked at the little bard. "Gabrielle, you tried to make me promise once not to turn into a monster if something happened to you. It looks like I can't keep that promise."
"You're taking Callisto's word for this? Callisto? After what she's done?" Gabrielle fumed. "And Joxer could never be like you!" she said turning her anger on the man with the tragic eyes and lined face.
He answered, "No, not the Joxer you know. But when I failed to protect you and saw you die, that Joxer died with you. I loved you, ridiculous as that is."
"Joxer doesn't love me," Gabrielle said. She looked at her friend but Xena didn't say anything. "Xena?"
"He loves you, Gabrielle. Why do you think he follows us around? It's not me; it's you."
The bard's face got even redder and she looked down at the unconscious fool, then back up at the man who had put him there. "So you want us to come with you, then."
Callisto shook her head. "Just Xena; you're dead by this time. It's too bad. If we just showed you to the Bitch that might change her back--or throw her off her guard so we could kill her. But that's not an option."
Gabrielle's forehead was furled. "But it's the future...and now we're warned. So it won't happen. Even if you're not lying, which I for one don't believe, telling us this will keep it all from happening." She looked triumphantly at Callisto but the warlord just shook her head.
Then she looked at Xena who said, "That's too easy. The Fates would never let everything just be changed like that. The rest of 'em would be changing everything every second if it was that simple. You've dealt with gods enough now, Gabrielle. Nothing comes without a price. The bigger whatever you want, the bigger the price. For the gods too. Zeus knows what this is setting Ares back, if that's who is behind it."
The bard stared at the ground
Xena said, "All right." She looked at Gabrielle and said, "Joxer will be okay. Just keep him in bed for a few days."
"But..." the bard started to say, then stopped at the look from her friend.
"Good," Callisto said. Then Xena saw something of the old light in her eyes as she added in a light voice, "Oh, I've gotta warn you about somebody. There's a warrior who might try to kill you on sight...acts first and asks questions later and has been traveling behind enemy lines. We tried sending a message but.." and the blonde shrugged.
"Name?" Xena asked.
"Okay, I won't hurt him," the Warrior Princess said.
To her surprise Callisto and the tragic eyed man chuckled. The blonde warlord said, "Kimberly is a her. And that's not exactly what I meant, Xena. I mean you need to watch out for Kimberly. I'd hate to get you there and have your head taken off with a chakram before we can get any use out of you."
Xena tried to see if she was joking. "She carries a chakram? And she's that good?"
"She can take me," Callisto said. "That makes two I know of for sure: You and Kimberly."
"How will I know her?" Xena asked.
Joxer almost smiled and said, "She wears a veil or a mask all the time. If you see somebody like that and she's surrounded by piles of dead soldiers, it's Kimberly."
The Warrior Princess could see Callisto and Joxer smirking about something. Some kind of in-joke they weren't ready to let her in on. She'd find out soon enough, she guessed.
"Let's leave tomorrow then. I want to watch Joxer at least tonight."
"The Bitch could kill a thousand people by that time!" the tragic man said.
Xena said coldly, "You should've thought of that before you hit Joxer."
Xena was on a golden mare, Callisto a huge black stallion, and Joxer had a mule. The mounts had been waiting when the liquid portal of air had returned and they stepped through. Xena had looked back at Gabrielle, not knowing if they'd meet again. She wasn't as confident as she usually felt; she was going to fight herself.
Callisto had been leading them for a few hours when Xena said, "Where is that smell coming from?" Callisto and Joxer both sniffed the air.
"I'm glad you were here, Xena. Me and Joxer don't even notice that anymore," Callisto said, as she was scanning their surroundings. She and Xena spotted the smoke between some far off trees at the same time.
The Warrior Princess prepared to gallop that way but Joxer said, "Don't bother. It's all over by now. Don't tire your horse unnecessarily." Callisto nodded in agreement and just began walking her stallion in the direction of the stench.
Xena had never seen anything like this. An entire village had been staked out, covered with pitch and set alight. She looked at Callisto and Joxer. It wasn't even anything out of the ordinary to them. They carefully searched through the village and the surrounding fields, in case there were survivors who had hidden. But there were none. Xena kept looking at the little charred bodies of the village children. Callisto made a discovery on the road after they left the smoking remains.
"Our friends have company," she said with a giggle. Xena and Joxer rode up and saw a dead soldier, a smooth slash through his abdomen, with a cut on one arm and a severed hand on the other that matched it. It was the path of a chakram.
"Kimberly?" Xena asked. Callisto nodded.
Joxer said, "Well, this is gonna be one easy trail to follow."
Xena understood what he meant as they began coming on more dead soldiers. Kimberly was picking off the rear guard. "How many will she kill?"
"All of 'em," Joxer and Callisto answered together.
Xena was staring into the fire. Whatever else Kimberly was, she was definitely no one to get pissed off at you. After she had disposed of the rear guard she had begun killing the soldiers in the main force. They had panicked and run. The trail had finally ended at the bottom of a ravine. Kimberly had actually driven over a hundred men like sheep off the edge of a cliff. The Warrior Princess had studied the site carefully. The first soldiers to arrive at the edge had tried to hang on but were driven over by the rest. The ground was torn with finger tracks as each group of men in turn tried to keep from being forced off. She found arrows among the bodies. Kimberly had made 'em think an actual army was after them probably. There had been at least 20 broken men still alive at the bottom of the cliff. One had begun screaming when he saw Xena and killed himself. Other's just looked at her, paralyzed with fear. Callisto and Joxer apparently intended on leaving them to die just as Kimberly had done. Xena remembered the massacred village but then shook her head, drew her sword and put the wounded out of their misery. Callisto and Joxer seemed amused.
Xena asked finally tearing her eyes away from the fire, "So where's Kimberly then? She must be around here."
Callisto said, "Not necessarily. She could've left as soon as she finished. Probably did in fact. Kimberly's busy as a bumblebee...buzzzzzzz buzzz." The blonde's voice had taken on a singsong quality.
Xena looked at Callisto. Sometimes she said things that didn't quite fit with her new image. Xena sensed something and saw Joxer was watching Callisto closely. She could tell he had something secreted in his hand.
"Where did she learn to throw a chakram?" Xena asked. She was trying to get a picture of who this warrior was. She imagined an exotic foreigner. What kind of a name was Kimberly?
"From me," Callisto said, and yawned. "She never even picked a sword up before a couple years ago." She stood up and walked over to her bedroll. "Nighty night."
Xena frowned. She understood why they told her to be careful of Kimberly.
She had finished sharpening her sword as she did every night. She still wore the mask, an ornate leather one this time. When she was on the road she even slept in a mask or veil. More than once people had come on her at night. An old man had seen her face and simply dropped dead. His wife fell to her knees beside her husband and then had a stroke or something. Kimberly killed her, having no idea what else to do with her. Another time a couple of young guys saw her face and drew their swords and just went for her. She'd managed to escape. The last thing she was gonna do was fight anyone brave enough to attack the Bitch, which is what they thought they were doing. She'd had Joxer recruit them later. Kimberly hated her face. Occasionally she looked at her reflection in water but very rarely. She used to be vain. Now she was ashamed. Not only did she look like Xena, she was actually a descendant. It made her skin crawl to think that animal was anywhere in her family tree.
Kimberly was worried about Callisto and Joxer. They had sent a messenger to her but he had been taken. She'd found a hand with a ring she recognized, and the rest of what was left of him nailed to several trees. Kimberly was making her way back to Callisto's men to see what was up, but she kept getting side tracked by things like that village. The Bitch used her main army for targets like cities or to massacre entire provinces, but she also sent out roving companies like that one. She had sent shiploads of 'em to Ethiop, Rome, Britannia, Gaul, Chin; wherever anyone breathed. At least this group wouldn't be burning any more villages. Xena had plenty more where they came from though; new men joined her all the time, seeing that as the only way to save themselves.
Xena kept watching Joxer. She could see now that it really was him, but it seemed incredible that anyone could change that much. She kept hoping to see one of the old Joxer's silly grins or hear one of his stupid boasts but this man just efficiently went about his business. Maybe somberly would describe it better than efficiently. She thought back to the massacred village. That had affected her and she was a warrior used to blood and cruelty. Joxer was an innocent sensitive soul and he'd been seeing things like that daily for something like seven years. Thanks to her.
Callisto walked up and sat down beside her. She said, "We should reach my army tomorrow unless something came up and they had to move." Xena nodded. The blonde warrior continued, "You might want to start wearing a mask yourself. You saw how those men reacted to you."
Xena sighed. "Maybe, Callisto. I think there could be ways to use it to our advantage though." She looked at her and said, "Why does Kimberly wear a mask?"
The blonde smiled and said, "Well, the story we put out is that she was wounded in the face."
Xena knew something was up. "That's the story; what's the real reason?"
"Oh, Xena. I don't think I want to spoil it for you. You and Kimberly will meet soon enough."
Xena frowned. Callisto was much much different, but flashes of her old personality were still there, she could see. It wasn't worth arguing over. She wondered whether more than just flashes of the old Callisto ever appeared.
The Warrior Princess felt a presence in the camp and in one smooth motion had her sword in her hand. "Come on out, I know you're there," she ordered confidently. From the darkness a figure seemed to just materialize. She was the same height and build as Xena but wore fighting leathers more like Callisto's. Her face was covered by a small mask that Xena recognized as a variation on Tragedy masks worn by actors.
"You must be Kimberly," Xena said. She stopped herself from sheathing her sword, remembering what Callisto had said.
"That's right, I'm Kimberly...and you're the Bitch. Did you decide you wanted to get your hands a little dirty yourself; skin some babies, feed some people to wild dogs?"
"Listen, I'm Xena but I'm not..." she didn't finish as she was suddenly parrying a sword thrust, then was flat on her back from a kick in the face. Xena rolled to the side as a sword buried itself next her head. She managed to catch Kimberly in the stomach with a kick that sent her across the tent and Xena was back on her feet, but Kimberly was right back on her and Xena gasped as she felt her right knee crunch in from a fast kick. The Warrior Princess knew she didn't have a choice; she couldn't hold back fighting Kimberly. Seeing an opening she caught her a blow across the face with her fist, followed by a sword slash Xena expected to behead her. She twisted out of the way somehow though, receiving only a small gash on her neck.
"Fuck!" her opponent spat out and was suddenly gone.
Xena was breathing hard as a moment later Callisto appeared. The blonde warlord looked around and then smiled, her brown eyes twinkling. "Isn't she just the cutest thing you've even seen?"
Later that evening Xena was hobbling back into camp after going to the river to soak her knee. The blonde spotted her and solicitously came over. Callisto helped Xena sit down and looked at her knee. "Gee, Xena. Bet that hurts, huh?"
Xena was watching her carefully. "I'll live." Joxer began approaching Callisto from behind.
The blonde continued, smiling, "Course that doesn't hurt the way fire does, like at that village we saw..." Callisto's eyes started to get wider and her voice became harsher, "or like at Cirra. Guess, you're just a firebug, right, Xena." The Warrior Princess saw the woman's hand inching toward her sword.
Suddenly a bag was over her head and Joxer was pulling her away. He grunted and fell as Callisto drove an elbow into his gut, followed by a backhand blow that sent him spinning. She pulled the dark bag from her head and the fumes from whatever was in it nearly overpowered Xena. The blonde stood weaving a moment, then collapsed.
Joxer limped over. Xena got back up and looked down at Callisto. "Do you have to do that often?" she said.
"No. But I've had to more since we found out you might be coming."
Xena said, "Why does she let you do it? She must expect it."
He looked at her. "She's not the old Callisto, Xena. I think there's something in her that lets me take her." He bent down and picked the slender blonde woman up.
"Lemme help you, Joxer," Xena said.
He shook his head. "She wouldn't want that, Xena. I'll take care of her. Don't worry about it."
Sitting on her horse, Kimberly had been watching the camp from a distance. When she'd spotted the Bitch she couldn't believe her luck and just tried to take the opportunity. It was Xena all right. No one else could possibly fight like that. But Callisto and Joxer were with her she'd seen later. Kimberly shook her head, not understanding what could be happening. Was there a trap her friends were leading the Bitch into? Had the Bitch somehow drugged them or something? She pushed any thought of her friends going over to Xena away from her mind; their lives didn't mean that much to them. Maybe it was a trap, but Callisto and Joxer were the ones walking into it. Xena might be playing them, enjoying tricking them close up as they led her right to Callisto's men. She'd started to tell Kimberly she was Xena but...something: but she wasn't the Bitch? Had her friends swallowed that line of bullshit because they wanted to believe it so much? Kimberly sneered inwardly. Maybe the Bitch claimed to be the old Xena from the past here to set things right.
When the men spotted him they all bowed. He'd given up telling them not to, uncomfortable as it made him. He was a eunuch and it was too far from everything he'd ever experienced before. Maybe they knew something he didn't and the mistress had made it clear she wanted him treated that way. The tall elegant Egyptian looked down at his hands, loaded with the rings she had given him---each ring worth....well there was no way to value them really. When he had examined one of them he'd dropped it and begun shaking as he realized bits of flesh were still adhering to it. Another piece of jewelry the mistress had given him, she'd thought was a necklace of some kind. He'd known what it was if she didn't; a crown worn by royal babies. There had been fine hair still plastered on it. He always wore as much of what she gave him as he could, no matter how it made him feel. She would notice if he didn't. He didn't think she'd hurt him--she'd punish someone though.
Dolon tried to just look straight ahead as much as he could. That only spared him so much though since he had to watch where he walked. He fastidiously stepped around half of a young woman's body. He tried not to see if it was still twitching or not. He continued not looking to the right or left, making his way to the mistress's tent. Dolon stopped in front of it and lifted his eyes, bracing himself. That was new he thought, seeing decorative poles on either side of the tent flap. He closed his eyes a moment. Now he knew what the mistress had pickled all those children for.
Callisto and Joxer were eating by the fire as Xena joined them in the morning. The blonde glanced up at her and Xena could see a shadow in her eyes but she didn't say anything about what had happened. Xena said, "Where's Kimberly? Even if she attacked me without having seen you, she must know you're here by now."
Callisto shrugged and said, "I dunno, Xena. Kimberly must be convinced you're the Bitch. That's all I can think. And if you are, what are we doing with you?" The blonde looked ironically over at Joxer. "We might need to watch out for her ourselves now. It took her a while to get into the swing of things here but once she did....Kimberly's harder on fools and traitors than I am these days--more like you as a matter of fact, Xena." She was cutting meat off of a bird in a clay pot as she spoke, putting it in a small wooden bowel, which she handed to the Warrior Princess. "Try this, it's delicious. Joxer's a great cook. Better than me and bunches better than you, from what I've always heard."
Xena grunted and accepted it. Joxer hadn't reacted to the compliment. She assayed a bite and savored it. The middle of a warzone wasn't usually where you you ate this way. That was still the same old Joxer anyway.
They reached Callisto's men that afternoon. Xena decided to wear a veil at least on arrival. Not really to her surprise she was greeted as Kimberly. Callisto corrected them and the men looked like she must be joking. Xena looked around the encampment. A tough looking, disciplined army she saw with approval, but with some odd features. Many of the men had tragic haunted looks somewhat like Joxer. There were also some women, children and old people. Xena looked curiously at Callisto and Joxer, and the man said, "We have refugees with us, Xena. They have nowhere else to go."
"Don't they slow you down?" she said frowning, as she watched a blind young woman being led by an old man.
Callisto said, "Not much. I just do what I would anyway and let them follow along as well as they can. Sometimes they are even useful. We can set up a pretty realistic looking village with them, then just sit back and wait for some of the Bitch's men to think they're easy pickings. That's how we arm a lot of our men, Xena."
The Warrior Princess nodded. It was smart. It had to slow 'em down more than that though. Callisto had changed so much that protecting the refugees was a high priority, and she couldn't see they were dead weight. Xena thought she'd find a safe valley or something for them. She caught herself. There was no such thing as a safe place anymore. She'd still have to find a way to get rid of them though. They brought her here to fight the Bitch and cutting away fat like the refugees was step one.
She looked over at Callisto and saw the woman had a puzzled expression as she looked around. Something must be up, Xena thought.
Callisto called out, "Iphimemmon, what are Meleager's men doing here?"
A grizzled warrior came over and answered. "He's here, Callisto."
The blonde said angrily, "And what if the Bitch catches both of our armies at one time?" She caught herself and said, "Where is he?"
Iphimemmon said, "His tent is next to your's, Commander...Commander, he just came to talk to you but we asked him to remain. You and Kimberly were both gone. We were afraid you'd never return."
Xena kept her mouth shut, not wanting to interfere with Callisto's authority. She thought of the old Callisto. She'd have kicked his teeth in at least--more likely she'd kill Iphimemmon. Instead she just looked at the soldier and smiled. "Sorry to worry you like that. It'll be okay." The blonde reached down from her horse to pat the man's shoulder. She looked at Xena and Joxer. "Let's say hello to Meleager the Mighty."
Xena recognized some of the men from the old days, as they tied their horses up and approached two tents that were larger than any of the others. A man stuck his head inside and then Meleager stepped out. Xena thought he looked even more gray and weathered than he used to, which she wouldn't have thought possible. She was still wearing the veil but as soon as he laid eyes on her the big old man grabbed his sword with a curse. Callisto jumped between them. "Meleager, it's all right! Let's go in the tent and I'll explain what's going on!"
Meleager the Mighty had stepped back from her and was looking suspiciously from her to Xena. The Warrior Princess slowly drew her sword and set it on the ground, followed by her chakram and two hidden knives. Men were watching all of this fearfully, having no idea what was happening between Kimberly and Meleager. Callisto wasn't reassuring them either. She hadn't taken her eyes off of the legendary old warrior. He'd seen more treachery than most and there was no doubt he'd kill her in a second if he thought she had betrayed them.
Meleager indicated agreement with a jerk of his head and backed into the tent, his sword still ready. Once in the tent he said in his low voice, "Explain it." Xena took her veil off. He showed no expression since he already knew who she was.
"I'm from the past, Meleager. Callisto and Joxer came to me and told me what was happening. I'm here to help fight the Bitch."
The old man's sword didn't waver. "Joxer, is this true?"
"Yes. Hermes told us we could get Xena to help us if she was willing to come."
Meleager smiled crookedly but didn't lower his sword, "Hermes, huh? Somebody's playing coy. Ares again?"
"More than likely," Joxer agreed.
"Again?" Xena asked. Meleager looked at her then at Callisto and Joxer.
"What's this?" he said.
"We haven't told her about Kimberly yet. Should've, I guess. It was just too much fun," Callisto said with a giggle.
"Gods, Callisto! I thought you had grown up!" Meleager said as he finally sheathed his sword.
Xena said, "What about Kimberly? Stop playing games!"
Joxer said, "You're from the past. She's from the future. She's your descendant, Xena. Looks just like you. She showed up one day and said she was here to save Gabrielle, but it was too late by five years."
The Warrior Princess made a disgusted sound, "Ares!"
"That's what we figured," Callisto agreed. "I began training her thinking maybe she would be sent back to save Gabrielle when she was ready. Well, she coulda done that after a month. And now you're here, too. Ares must be busting a gut."
Xena growled, "He thought as long as he had the opportunity why not turn her into a warrior. I know it. That's how he thinks. Everybody killed in the meantime wouldn't mean a thing to him!"
Meleager said, "Well, Ares IS the God of War, Xena. The fact he seems to want to stop the Bitch at all is going pretty damn far for him."
The Warrior Princess looked at him. "You've turned into a diplomat too, just like Callisto." This time was amazing.
Xena was riding next to Callisto, touring the army. She kept on wearing the veil. Xena still thought she'd be able to use her appearance to her advantage though. The most obvious way was to simply order the Bitch's men to attack one another. She killed her own people all the time; it wouldn't be that strange. Kimberly was too young to successfully pull it off--Callisto said they had discussed it--Xena herself could though. Ideally maybe Xena could even assassinate the Bitch and take her place. If the Bitch just died, Zeus knew what her lieutenants would do. Blood was addictive. Putting down a dozen crazed warlords would take years, even with the Bitch gone.
"We have to get Kimberly in on this, Callisto. I can't spend my time worrying about her trying to kill me."
The blonde warlord nodded. "Don't you think I know that, Xena? I know I acted a little childish by not telling you about her, but believe me, I tried to get word to her. I've got men she knows out now looking for her. Joxer is looking for her himself---which I don't mind telling you, I don't like one bit. It's dangerous out there and he's no better with a sword now than he ever was.
The Warrior Princess said, "She can't believe you're a traitor, Callisto. You trained her and she knows what you've been doing for years."
Callisto smiled and said, "Thanks. No, I doubt she thinks I'm a traitor. Maybe she thinks I'm being duped by you though. You're awfully sneaky, Xena!" She giggled. Xena looked uncomfortably at the wide eyed woman.
"Dolon!" The beautiful dark-haired woman called to the eunuch as he stepped in her tent. "Did I tell you to stop?!!?" the handsome man on top of her resumed thrusting. Dolon simply stood there watching, knowing she didn't want him to turn away. After a moment her body stiffened and her fingers raked across the man's muscular back leaving bloody grooves. "Get off, dog!" the man scrambled off of her. She looked sneeringly at him. "Didn't come? Don't you like me?"
His face a mask of fear, the man said , "Xena, I love you...your happiness is all I want!"
Naked and sweaty she walked to stand over him. "It is, huh? Okay, know what would make me happy? Go stand in front of my tent and finish yourself off with your hand in front of everybody." The man paled but began to grab his clothes but Xena said, "You don't need those. Now lemme talk to Dolon....oh, and leave the tent flap open so I can watch."
Xena smiled as he ran in front of her tent and began beating off. She looked at Dolon. "Do you like him? Should I castrate him so you can have a little friend?'
"No, thank you, Lady Xena. That is not necessary," the elegant man answered smoothly.
She frowned a moment then smiled again. "Of course you don't want that, Dolon. You're a humanitarian. Zeus knows why, with what humanity did to you. Don't you worry, Dolon. One of these days I'll find the dogs that cut you!"
Dolon answered, "I feel I have had a fortunate life by and large, Lady Xena. And, please, Lady Xena, do not pursue this for my sake."
The woman's eyes glazed over as she said, "I'm afraid I can't do that, Dolon. You're my friend. I look out for my friends whether they want me to or not...when I can I look out for my friends." As she said the last her face seemed to collapse in on herself. Dolon was instantly at her side.
"You always took care of Lady Gabrielle," he said urgently.
"I wasn't in time to save her. I left her with just Joxer and she was killed. What could Joxer do? She saved him half the time..." Dolon took her hand and she held it like a child. She looked up in Dolon's eyes and began crying. "Dolon, what am I doing to you? I took you away from your new life to make you my servant again...Gods...Gods...how could I? Other than Gabrielle you were my only real..." her voice drifted off. Dolon reached up and began massaging her neck with one hand.
Xena glanced over her shoulder and saw the man in front of her tent masturbating. She called, "What in Hades are you doing? Zeus, are you an animal or something? Get away from my tent!" The man looked at her, relief on his face and he was instantly gone. "Pervert," Xena mumbled. She looked down at her sweaty body and said, "I need a bath."
Dolon found a robe to drape around her and he said, "I will prepare your bath, mistress."
"Thanks, Dolon. You're a prince," she said distractedly. Then she brightened up and walked over to a chest, reached in and extracted a gold chain with a rich medallion and hung it around his neck. She wiped her hands off on her gown, leaving blood stains as she admired him. "You're so handsome!"
Joxer was on his mule. Looking at the animal he idly wondered what he would have named it in the old days. He didn't know. Something idiotic, but beyond that he couldn't even guess. Xena really seemed to care for him he realized. The gods knew why. Joxer heard the horse come up next to him and glancing over he saw the big dappled mare he expected.
"Hello Kimberly," he said.
The masked warrior answered, "Joxer," noncommittally.
"There's an explanation. Come back in with me."
Kimberly was watching her friend. He couldn't have gone over to the Bitch. If she even suspected it Kimberly was prepared to behead him. Joxer would know that too. She said, "Don't tell me she's from the past, please. I'd hate to have to kill you, Joxer."
The man didn't respond. The silence dragged on. "Christ!" she said. "You can't believe that. You can't!"
"It's true, Kimberly. What's so hard to accept? Look who you are."
She looked away. Joxer continued. "She didn't just show up, Kimberly. Me and Callisto went and got her." The mask turned back to look at him. Joxer breathed a sigh of relief. He was afraid she'd kill him before he got a chance to tell her that.
"The gods?" she said.
"Is she mad at me?"
"No. She understands."
Kimberly looked around and then took her mask off. "I'm sorry I doubted you, Joxer." She leaned over to kiss him on the cheek.
The man's eyes were red. "It's all right, Kimberly."
The men looked curiously at them as they came riding in. They hadn't seen Kimberly ride out. She greeted several men by name. Joxer told her, "You just missed Meleager and his men. He's in on it now."
"And what if the Bitch caught both armies at once?" she snapped. "Sorry, Joxer. I'm kinda tense."
"Is Callisto in her tent?" Joxer asked a man, and he told him she was.
They left their mounts with the other horses and proceeded on foot. Outside of the command tent Joxer said clearly. "It's us."
Callisto stuck her head out and studied Kimberly. "Okay?"
"Yeah," the masked warrior answered.
"Then prepare to meet your maker," Callisto said and giggled. "Come on in."
Kimberly followed Joxer inside and looked at the woman who was watching her. She had her knee wrapped Kimberly saw. "Sorry about that," she indicated the knee.
Xena said, "It'll heal eventually." She was alert, hoping Kimberly wasn't pretending to accept her to get another shot at her. It was the kind of thing Xena would do.
Kimberly removed her mask. "Joxer told me they actually went to the past to get you. So I believe who you are."
Xena and Callisto finally relaxed. The Warrior Princess studied the woman. She looked like her all right, but considerably younger. No one who knew her would mistake them unless it was really dark or something.
"So what's the plan then?" Kimberly asked, getting down to business.
"Zeus!" a man said under his breath and fell to his knees. The woman rode into camp and everyone fell to their knees.
"Who's in command?" she said.
A tall warrior rose and approached.
"Who are you?" she demanded.
"Brixis, Commander," he answered. She should know him but she was mad. That could explain it.
The Bitch said, "There are traitors south of here, Brixis. Merciful scum! Kill'em all."
The tall warrior swallowed hard. "Should we make them suffer?" He was afraid to ask. She might kill him. But if they did something different than what she wanted, she would also kill them. He saw she was dressed a little differently than usual.
The Bitch looked furious and backhanded him across the face. "That takes too much time. Are you a fool? When you finish await my further orders."
Brixis had gotten back to his feet, relieved to have gotten off so easy. The Bitch remounted her horse and rode out of camp, glaring around at the terrified men.
The dreams kept coming to her and after she began impersonating the Bitch they came almost nightly. The Warrior Princess didn't know if she should welcome them. She thought perhaps they would help her understand her enemy more. In her dreams she was confronting the Bitch, only sometimes she was the Bitch and this other foolish weak version of herself was coming to kill her. Xena knew she was the Bitch. There was no way around it. Every monstrous thing Xena saw or heard about she recognized from inside. Only the Bitch didn't suppress it as Xena always had. She acted immediately and irrevocably. The Bitch was no half person at war with herself as Xena had often felt, but instead knew exactly who she was and what she wanted. Even Xena's old warlord self was a weakling in comparison. The idea of the Bitch of Tartarus being tricked as Xena had been by both Caesar and Borias was inconceivable. What would it take to destroy her? Callisto had completely changed for the better as a person; but did that make her a better opponent to the Bitch? Xena hated to admit it, but considered the blonde warlord too soft now for the task they had. Xena knew she had to face the Bitch of Tartarus--but not necessarily by physically meeting the woman. Xena thought the only way to destroy her was to become her.
Xena downed a goblet of wine as she looked at the reports she was getting and the pile of dead messengers accumulating outside of her tent. Her men were killing each other. The first report was not that strange. They could be trying to escape and perhaps wanted to establish credentials with her enemies by killing other of her men. But there were now too many incidents. And she had spoken to men who swore they were following her orders. They had kept to their story even after she had them broken on the wheel. This was some new plan by Callisto and Meleager, she decided. They had found a double--possibly Meg--and were using her to disrupt her plans.
But then some of the men described disturbing details, saying she used her chakram and knew pressure points. Those weren't things Meg or any double could do. The Bitch had an idea who it could be and how to deal with her. If it was who she suspected it was, she had to act fast before she was the hunted herself.
Xena awoke at a slight sound and was on her feet instantly. It was not yet dawn. She saw someone begin efficiently making a fire and putting water on, not even looking at her.
"Kimberly?" Xena asked the familiar looking figure who now looked over at her and smiled.
She studied the woman at the fire. She had some braids in her hair and wore more jewelry than Xena would. Little carved bones decorated her leathers here and there. The Warrior Princess had a pretty good idea what kind of bones they were.
The Bitch walked over and handed a cup to her. "Here Xena, I know you're nothing until you have your morning tea."
Xena accepted it and sniffed it suspiciously but was sure it would not be poison. What fun was poison? She sipped the tea.
"Kimberly do that to your knee?" the Bitch asked indicating her wrapped right leg.
Xena nodded. The Bitch pursed her lips appreciatively. "What's she look like under that mask? Do you know? When she first appeared I thought she was a joke. She reminds me of me now." Her mad blue eyes caught Xena's careful ones. "I thought maybe she was me from the past but it didn't fit. She was too inexperienced. And now you're here. So who is Kimberly, I wonder? I want her head for my wall. She can keep Draco company."
Xena said, "Don't worry about Kimberly. She's just doing what's right. What do you think Gabrielle would think of you now?"
With a scream the Bitch slapped Xena. The Warrior Princess rolled her head but didn't try to avoid it. She wanted to hear what this maniac had to say.
"She's dead! Because you failed to protect her. I blamed myself...but I would've protected her...cherished her...you left her to be killed!" The woman was frothing at the mouth. The calm she'd had a moment before gone like it was never there.
"You didn't answer my question. What would she think of you now?" Xena repeated.
The woman's eyes were strangely blank as she answered. "She'd disapprove just like Dolon does...but our bard was always weak that way. That was why we had to make the decisions." She suddenly spat out, "But YOU let her down!"
Dolon? "Going to kill me, Xena?" the Warrior Princess asked ironically, trying to goad her into attacking.
Strangely calm again, the Bitch of Tartarus smiled. "You'd like that wouldn't you? An oracle told me it wouldn't be good for my health if I killed myself. Well, duh, right? But now I understand. Other people can kill you though. He told me that too, once I convinced him by roasting his toes a little. How are you feeling, Xena?"
The Warrior Princess noticed her vision seemed to be getting blurry. She looked at the cup in her hand which began to shake and then dropped from her useless fingers. Her legs buckled under her.
The Bitch smiled down at her. "Poison isn't any fun. That's why you thought I wouldn't use it. Not everything can be fun though. Sometimes you just have to do whatever it takes." Xena couldn't move but was able to feel. She watched as the Bitch stripped her then took her own leathers off and put Xena's on. She efficiently dressed Xena in her jewelry and the leathers decorated with baby bones. The Bitch took the braids out of her hair then took the wrapping from Xena's knee and put it on her own. She smiled as she braided Xena's hair. "There! You look better and I look worse. Sometimes you just have do whatever it takes though."
"Maybe Kimberly will find you, Xena, or some of my men who would love to get me helpless. That'll be fun, I imagine. Oh, mustn't forget this." She walked out of Xena's line of vision and when she returned she had a naked girl who looked about 12 years old, her breasts just beginning to bud. Her hands were tied and she was gagged. The Bitch winked at Xena and took the gag from the girl's mouth.
"Oh Please! Gods, Oh Gods! Don't hurt me! Please! Sweet Athena will bless you! Zeus, please...please!" She was crying and hysterical with fear.
The Bitch looked in her eyes and grinning said, "Scared, aintcha? Don't worry, you're cute!" As relief began to come into her eyes the big woman took her head caressingly and began to kiss her deeply a second before she drove a knife in her belly . She kept up the kiss for a moment. Xena could see the Bitch's body shuddering convulsively with pleasure. With a smile then she tossed the flopping body on top of the Warrior Princess. Laughing, the Bitch took Xena's horse and cantered away.
Xena watched the fire. The girl had finally stopped moaning and died. Her dead face was resting on her breast almost like she was her mother or something. The smoke would bring someone and whoever it was would think she was the Bitch. A friend finding her wasn't an option. The Bitch had no friends. What would Kimberly do if she found the Bitch with a gutted child? Something bad, Xena bet.
The soldiers nervously looked around. They'd found the decomposing bodies at the bottom of a cliff. Those men had been sent out at the same time as they were by the Bitch. They had fought some other of her men just the other day after she appeared and sent them out to attack them. One or two soldiers among them were likely spies for her, so she'd know her orders were being carried out. Probably one out of every five companies she sent out tried to run away. None of 'em ever made it. She'd hunt them down and make examples of them; that is after making examples of any families they might have in front of them.
Cratatelos stopped as a man pointed between some trees.
Cratatelos nodded and loosened his sword and began leading his men that direction.
It had been three hours since the Bitch had left. She still couldn't move except to blink her eyes with great effort. They'd have dried up otherwise. One of her feet felt like it was being barbecued. The Warrior Princess could hear the horses coming, though couldn't look around to identify where from. The sounds were getting closer.
The men stopped, frozen in their tracks. It was the Bitch. It looked like she'd screwed and killed a young girl and was still toying with the body. Nothing strange there. They approached and got on their knees and waited for her orders. But she didn't say anything. Cratatelos after a minute raised his eyes from the ground. She hadn't moved--not even slightly. He saw something. Her foot was near the fire. It looked like her boot was practically ready to burst into flame. But she hadn't moved her foot.
"Commander," he finally said fearfully.
She was breathing. She wasn't dead. Then she slowly closed her eyes and reopened them.
"She can't move, Cratatelos!" his second in command whispered to him excitedly. Cratatelos licked his lips and stood up. She didn't do anything. He walked to stand over her. The rest of the men now got up and came around.
Xena could hear almost hysterical giggles coming from the soldiers standing around her on all sides. A pair of hands came down and picked the body of the dead child off of her and threw it aside. The faces over her were sweating and fearful, half mad looking with hatred and relief. She heard more laughter and some murmuring voices. Then she felt several hands pick her up. At least her foot wasn't near the fire anymore. She was trying to look on the bright side.
"Callisto," Joxer said and pointed.
The blonde warlord nodded at the smoke. She'd seen it.
"Let's check it out," she said and began walking her horse in that direction beside Joxer on his mule.
They began seeing horse droppings and signs compatible with a force of about 20 men having recently passed. Callisto loosened her sword and looked over at Joxer. She wasn't sure she wanted to investigate this with Joxer along. She didn't want him hurt.
The man looked knowingly at her. "I'm not going anywhere."
She nodded. They kept following the trail.
The blonde woman and the man were studying the scene below them. It wasn't that odd. It was bad but not odd. Somebody was getting gangbanged. Callisto knew what that felt like, that was for sure. Joxer looked sickened. Amazing, considering how much of this he'd seen.
She smiled at him, her eyes lit as she drew her sword. "This won't take long."
Cratatelos looked around him. All of the men were lightheaded at what they had done and planned to do. He was almost ready for another go at her. She didn't even have to be held down. For a while they'd had her over a log, and some other positions too. But they finally got tired of that. The Bitch was just lying there, naked and spreadeagled as a guy humped her while another played with her tits. Every so often she would slowly blink her eyes. He kept grinning to himself. He was free. They were all free. But this was fun. A lot of the Bitch's men had developed a real taste for what they did for her. They just didn't like having to worry about her killing them. They'd been debating whether to skin or roast her after everybody'd had enough.
Cratatelos stood up. He heard something and looked up at a horse, riding down on them out of a stand of trees. He yelled, "It's Callis..." His voice ended in a strangled gurgle as a chakram nearly took his head off. The men tried grabbing their swords. Many of 'em were naked though. They were yelling as the big stallion just rode right over some of them into the camp. The blonde warlord's face had that demented grin everyone had heard about and her sword seemed everywhere at once. Several men took off running and her chakram whizzed out beheading one man and taking the arm off another before it returned to her. Callisto jumped off her horse and drove a sword through a naked man who still had a hard on, then disemboweled another man, and broke the legs of two others with kicks. Suddenly it was quiet except for moaning men. Five men had managed to get away. The other fifteen were scattered about now; about half dead and half wounded.
Callisto was breathing hard, her heart pounding. She was trying to calm down, trying not to enjoy the killing. It was too much like her old self. She wiped her sword off and sheathed it, then walked over to see how the woman was. Joxer came up on his mule and dismounted. He drew his sword and began killing any of the wounded who might be a problem.
Joxer saw Callisto's body tense then begin to weave in the dangerous way he knew. He ran up and stared down at the ravaged woman, then looked over at Callisto. Her eyes were ready to roll up in her head any second. Her mouth moved but didn't make any sound. The blue eyes of the naked woman on the ground slowly blinked. Callisto began to draw her sword again, and Joxer grabbed a hold of her arm.
"No!" he said. The blonde looked at him blankly. "No!" he repeated. She shook his hand off her arm and drew her sword. The man placed himself in front of the helpless naked figure. "No, Callisto. That's not who you are anymore!"
"Get out of my way, Joxer."
"No, Callisto. We don't know what's going on here."
"What is there to know? It's the Bitch!" The blonde warrior looked around at the men she had just slain and said disgustedly, "Look what I did. I should've been here helping them!"
Joxer slapped her and found himself several yards away and groggy a moment later. Callisto was still standing over the woman's body with her sword drawn, but she was looking at Joxer with wide eyes. She came over to him and helped him up. She looked closely at his face.
"You okay, Joxer?" He seemed too disoriented to understand her at first. Then his eyes finally cleared and he spit out a tooth. Callisto winced. She led him back over to the bloody spreadeagled body. She repositioned her legs and arms, then went to Joxer's mule and returned with a blanket to cover her with. She studied the face of the woman a moment. "What's going on here, huh?" she asked curiously. The blue eyes blinked slowly again. Callisto thought there might be gratitude in 'em but couldn't be sure. The Bitch wouldn't be grateful. She looked down and noted the swollen right knee. Callisto said, "Joxer, it's not the Bitch."
He nodded sadly. Joxer knelt beside her and took one of Xena's hands.
Kimberly made a face at the rabbit she was eating, just pulling meat off the spitted animal. Maybe one of these days she wouldn't burn one to a crisp on the outside but keep it somehow magically raw inside. Her mask was next to her on the ground. At a sound she stood up, then relaxed. "Hello Xena."
She was surprised to see the Warrior Princess. She'd expected her to be halfway to the Bitch by now. Xena smiled at her and walked over, looking at the rabbit. "Can't cook either, huh? Guess it runs in the family."
Kimberly rolled her eyes. "How's the knee? You seem to be getting around better now."
Xena patted it. "Not bad. You really got me good."
Kimberly said, "I'm sorry. What else can I say? I thought you were the Bitch."
"Don't worry about it. Um...Kimberly, I've been meaning to ask you. What would you do if you caught her helpless... the Bitch, I mean."
Kimberly grimaced. "Who knows? Probably just kill her if Joxer was there. If not, I honestly don't know. What are you doing here, Xena?"
Xena sat down opposite her and said, "I ran into some of her men. She's nowhere near here now. The Bitch is preparing to lead her army into Egypt. In a campaign, she'll be moving too fast and be too well protected for me to get close to her. She'll be back. We can use the opportunity to rebuild our forces here."
Kimberly nodded. "We can be ready for her when she comes back. Maybe we can finally get the city-states organized."
"Just what I was thinking," Xena said as she tried some of the burned rabbit on the spit. "Gods, you're a worse cook as I am!" She smiled to make sure Kimberly knew it wasn't meant mean.
"So what do you wanna do now, Xena?" Kimberly asked, chewing on a leg.
"Let's go back to the main army."
"Okay," Kimberly said with a shrug.
"I want to see Callisto," the woman said.
Kimberly didn't respond.
Xena said, "What's it like where you're from?"
Kimberly continued chewing then said, "Like anywhere else. Better plumbing though. Funny how good you and Callisto get along now...considering."
Xena said, "People change."
"Yeah. I thought it was pretty impressive the way she apologized to you for everything."
Xena smiled. "She never said anything like that. You think I'm the Bitch."
Kimberly stood up and stretched. "Yup, you got me, Xena. I was testing you. Can you blame me?"
"No. Anything else you'd like to ask, to put your mind at ease, Kimberly?"
"I know what I need to know."
Xena said, "Aren't you cryptic and clever."
Kimberly smiled but her blue eyes were cold. "Nice use of alliteration. Gabrielle teach you that when she wasn't eating you out?"
"You better watch your mouth, Kimberly. If you think only the Bitch would kick your ass for talking about Gabrielle, you're mistaken."
"Oh, I know. Xena would've punched me in the mouth. She doesn't have an act to keep up like you do." At the last words she leapt back and avoided the sword that would've split her down the middle. It's wielder was baring her teeth and actually drooling.
"You're slow, old woman," Kimberly said with a sneer. She feinted then grabbed a burning stick from the fire and swung it at her opponent. The Bitch blocked it but received a burn on her forearm. Kimberly tossed the stick to the side. "There. Now, maybe I can tell you two old bags apart."
The Bitch seemed to lose her mind and just hurled herself at the younger woman, who sidestepped her. To her surprise Kimberly felt a blow which rocked her head. She hadn't seen the kick coming. Before the Bitch could finish her off though Kimberly landed a kick herself and was able to reach her sword where it was laying in its sheath. They both suddenly heard approaching horses and then a voice giving orders they recognized as Meleager.
The Bitch couldn't take 'em both--not at one time.
Her face mad with hatred, the woman made an almost inhuman sound of rage and disappeared into the night.
They'd taken her down to the river and washed her. Joxer had said, "I'm sorry, Xena. I know this must be embarrassing for you. It's safer if we stick together though." Callisto stood on the bank standing guard.
She slowly blinked her blue eyes. If she had to choose between Joxer and Callisto, she'd choose Joxer. He wouldn't suddenly just go crazy and drown her. Callisto still might. Being naked didn't bother her. Hades, she'd trained with Spartans. They did everything naked. Being washed by Joxer like a baby wasn't anything she ever anticipated though. It wasn't being naked; it was being helpless that was hard for her. There was only one person she would feel natural about being intimately cared for this way and it wasn't even Gabrielle. It was Dolon.
They put her back in the Bitch's leathers. Joxer had removed the baby bones though and buried them along with the dead girl. He and Callisto simply ignored the wounded, moaning and begging men, stepping over them as if they weren't even there.
They were both with her now. "Xena," Callisto said, "you can blink your eyes. Blink twice for yes and once for no. I think you understand but I'm not sure. Blink your eyes twice if you understand me."
Xena knew they didn't realize how much effort it took for her to blink her eyes. She was only doing it so she wouldn't go blind. However, she slowly blinked her eyes and then repeated it.
"All right!" Callisto said and smiled. Joxer smiled too. Even in her condition, Xena thought that was good to see.
Meleager was kneading his big gnarled hands. They kept stiffening up on him in cold weather. With the Bitch herself wandering around, now was no time to be dropping a sword.
"I received another message from Callisto's men that she had left and you were gone too. Zeus, you'd think Callisto was their mother or something! She and Joxer have always gone out on these little forays but her men are getting so they think the sky will fall on 'em without Callisto to tell 'em what to do. They're looking at you more and more like that too, Kimberly."
The dark young woman grimaced. "I dunno why. I just do what Callisto says the same as them."
Meleager snorted, "Yeah, right. You know you're better than her, don't you?"
"Maybe I'm faster because I'm younger," Kimberly said uncomfortably.
The gray bearded old hero said, "That's not why. Not only are you better personally, you're a potentially better strategist and tactician. Which isn't an insult to Callisto; she's fine at both. You need more command experience though."
"I don't want to have this conversation, Meleager," the young woman said coldly.
"Well, too bad, because we're having it. Callisto and I have been talking about it for months. What you should do. Now you've gotta think about it."
"You and Callisto have been discussing my career options? Jesus, I coulda stayed in Harvard and got that," Kimberly said sarcastically.
Meleager looked confused a moment then just plugged on. "We think you should form your own army so it'll be like it was before Draco was killed. You could do it by combining the independent bands--they'll follow you. But if something happens to me or Callisto, you take over whichever army needs a leader."
"Don't you think she should be here for this, Meleager?"
The hero shrugged. "Maybe she's already dead. Don't look like that, Kimberly. If she is, then this is your army now. I just want you to get used to the idea."
She was looking at the ground. "Yeah...okay," she said after a long pause.
All the men fell to their knees like always as she cantered her horse into camp. The Bitch looked around, sensing something though. They were more frightened than usual, which was hard to be. In front of her tent two of her Horde personal guard just prostrated themselves face down. She dismounted and brought a boot down hard on one of their hands and ground it. The man didn't make a sound. Without a word she continued into her tent. Nothing seemed amiss. Xena tried to think what would frighten even her Horde guard. She came back out of the tent. The men were still on the ground.
"Get up," she ordered in their language. The two barbarians, towering over her, obeyed.
"Where is Dolon?" she said softly to the man with the broken hand.
"Gone," he answered after a moment. He tried to be ready for her, and blocked her first two blows. He even managed to knock her to the ground but then couldn't help but cry out as her dagger ripped him open from crotch to breastbone.
She said to her other guard, "Where did he go?"
"The half man left looking for herbs and did not return. Trackers say he rode away...not captured." The man wasn't exactly fearful. He worshiped her. His brother had obviously displeased her in some way he misunderstood and deserved death.
She looked at the warrior and then down at the dead man. That was stupid of her. They weren't expendable. There were always more Greeks to serve her but she only had so many Horde warriors. She decided to mend some fences. "Come on," she grabbed the warrior by the arm and pulled him into her tent. "Strip," she commanded as she stepped out of her own leathers.
The warrior had a rapt expression. She looked at him ironically. "Ever screwed a goddess before?"
Joxer was feeding Xena some broth. They'd moved their camp to get away from the smell of the dead and the wounded men. Callisto remembered how Xena had killed the men at the bottom of the cliff but the blonde warlord had a feeling she wouldn't object to letting these men just die of hunger or exposure, or possibly even be eaten by animals. If Joxer wasn't here, Callisto might even get a little creative with them. What they'd been doing with Xena brought back a lot of memories to Callisto of what had happened to her any number of times when she was a child. That had been Xena's fault. Callisto was trying hard not to feel good that the Warrior Princess finally got a taste of her own medicine. Seeing how horrified Joxer was helped.
Callisto came over to her old enemy and squatted down next to her. "Lemme talk to her alone a second, Joxer."
He looked at her closely then at Xena's eyes. She slowly blinked twice. "Right," he said and got up and walked away.
The blonde warrior looked at the helpless woman. "Xena, what if you're staying this way? Do you know if you'll recover? Blink once if you know, twice if you don't know."
The eyes blinked twice.
Callisto looked over where Joxer was watching them, then back at Xena. "I know I wouldn't want to live like that. I'd want my comrades to do what was necessary. In the old days I'd do everything I could to keep you alive this way for 50 years. But this isn't the old days." She paused and looked at the expressionless face. "Maybe you'll recover. I hope you do. If you don't do you want me to take care of it?"
The eyes blinked twice. The blonde patted Xena's arm and got up to talk to Joxer.
Brushing Callisto's horse, Joxer frowned. He wasn't stupid--not anymore he wasn't. He suspected what Callisto was probably talking to Xena about. He wasn't sure if he should allow it or not. She came walking up to him and said, "We need to put together some kind of sled to pull her. I'm afraid of her choking or something if we put her over a horse."
"Okay," he said. This would slow them down. He didn't see any other choice though.
They'd been traveling two days. Making this much noise and moving this slow was nerve wracking. Callisto and Joxer both felt like walking targets as they made their way through the woods back to her army's last position. They were trying to stay out of sight as much as possible. Callisto caught a slight far off movement out of her peripheral vision. Joxer had missed it. The blonde walked her horse back and looked down at Xena on the sled they'd attached to the Bitch's horse. She blinked. "You saw it too," Callisto said. "Wait here," she ordered Joxer and disappeared into the woods.
His heart was still pounding. Dolon expected to be retaken any time. He couldn't stand it anymore. All the suffering and death his mistress caused was too much for him. The eunuch knew someone would probably pay when Xena returned and discovered he was gone. The thought haunted him. What would she do if she found him? He wasn't sure. She had never threatened him; just the opposite. She was mad though and capable of anything. After leaving camp he hadn't stopped for anything and was exhausted and hungry now.
Dolon flinched and nearly fell of his horse. He looked at the person standing on the ground beside him. It was a blonde woman warrior with a beautiful smile.
"You're a long way from a harem. What's a eunuch doing here?"
"Simply a traveler," he replied. Dolon didn't recognize her as one of the mistress's warriors. He could see she was studying him.
"That's an impressive saddle... and those are NICE rings. Don't you think you should be carrying a sword?"
Dolon was nervous. Perhaps this was a robber. He answered. "I am not proficient with weapons. It would be pointless."
She nodded. "What's your name?"
He answered. "Axceretes."
"You know anything about healing, Axceretes?" the warrior asked.
Dolon breathed a sigh of relief. He had something to barter for his life. "Yes, mistress."
She smiled. "Mistress. That's a new one." She whistled and a huge black stallion approached her and she mounted it. "Follow me. I've got someone who needs help." She started her horse up a barely visible trail and Dolon followed.
Staring straight up at the sky, Xena was grateful to Callisto. She never thought she would feel that way. After what Xena had done to her, Callisto had rescued her and now was offering to put her out of her misery if it had to be done. Xena remembered Cirra. She wanted to blame her lieutenant, Darphus, for what happened but she couldn't. It was her army that burned the village and deserters from her army that took a starving little girl from her mother's body and raped her for a day before selling her into slavery. Xena thought if their positions were reversed how would she feel? She'd be glad she had finally got a taste of her own medicine.
Xena heard a couple of horses. Then a familiar face was over her.
"Mistress! Oh, mistress!"
The blonde woman warrior had asked him if he had ever seen the Bitch. Dolon had been suddenly petrified, fearing he had been trapped and was being returned to her. But the woman when she saw his face had told him it was all right. She said the person who needed help looked like the Bitch, but wasn't. The eunuch had not said anything. He suspected who this was now: Callisto.
Now there the mistress was. It was Xena, he knew, no matter what the blonde warrior said. He'd have known that even if he hadn't recognized Joxer who looked at him with surprise when he rode into camp. Dolon was from Egypt; he knew that a lot of strange things could exist in this world; things hard to understand. That this could somehow both be and not be the person he had fled was merely one of those mysterious occurrences.
As he was bending over Xena, carefully examining her, looking in her eyes, feeling her pulse, Joxer came limping over. "It's been a long time, Dolon."
Callisto looked quickly at her friend and back at the elegant almond skinned eunuch.
"A thousand blessings upon you, my friend. What misfortune has befallen my mistress?" Dolon answered, as he looked at the paralyzed woman's tongue and frowned.
The blonde spoke up. "I'm Callisto. Smart of you not to tell me who you were, Dolon. This is the old Xena; you can tell that though, I suppose. We found her this way and the Bitch's men were using her. That's all I know."
Dolon's face got a pained expression and he began to undress the woman. Callisto glanced at Joxer. She'd allow it if Joxer was okay with it. The tragic faced man turned away. Callisto was uncomfortable watching this herself but she thought she should keep an eye on Dolon. He had every reason to hate Xena too. Everyone did. He was talking to the paralyzed woman in a low voice the whole time he was with her. After several minutes he had redressed her, smoothed her hair and got up to talk to Callisto and Joxer.
"The mistress has been poisoned by a rare herb recently brought back from distant lands. Only someone very skilled could have done it, such as the mistress herself.
Joxer asked, "Will she stay like that? Can you do anything for her?"
"She will recover eventually. I can help her do that more quickly though. I have to find the proper herbs, but that should not be difficult."
Joxer and Callisto both breathed a sigh of relief.
The woman looked up from the maps she was studying at a voice outside her tent.
"Kimberly. It's Callisto and Joxer!"
Kimberly grabbed her mask up and hurried out of her tent. She saw her two friends riding in accompanied by two other figures. There was Xena, wearing a veil and looking unsteady on a different horse than she had ridden out on and next to her an effeminate almond skinned man closely watching her. Many of the men looked from Xena to Kimberly and were confused.
Joxer, Callisto and the effeminate man dismounted and then they helped Xena dismount. Her knees started to buckle but Joxer and the new figure steadied her as Callisto approached Kimberly.
"What happened?" the younger woman asked. She was surprised Xena was still alive. The Bitch had been wearing her leathers and had her leg wrapped with the same cloth.
The blonde said, "Xena had a run in with Xena--a bad one."
Kimberly frowned. For it to be considered "bad," it must've been really something.
"She's still alive, though," she said.
"Yeah, the Bitch didn't want to kill Xena herself because of something an oracle told her, so she set her up. We just happened to run across 'em," Callisto answered.
Kimberly was studying Xena. The woman seemed shaky and was hanging on the arm of the feminine looking man as they disappeared into Xena's tent. Callisto continued. "That's Dolon. I found him just when we needed him."
The young woman nodded. She put it together in her mind. "The Bitch came to me and tried to pass herself off as Xena. We were fighting and Meleager showed up. There's an awful lot of coincidences going on around here."
Callisto nodded. "I thought of that. Ares maybe...or some other god with an interest. They can't help directly, I'm guessing, but they're bringing people together. It's something, anyway."
"Is she gonna be any use from now on?" Kimberly asked. She had seen plenty of people traumatized into shells of their former selves.
Callisto chuckled and that insane smile of hers appeared. "This won't keep Xena down. She'll just convert it into rage and be more dangerous than ever. The Bitch is the one who ought to start worrying now."
The blonde warlord and Joxer looked disapprovingly at the others. Xena, Meleager and Kimberly all liked wine entirely too much. What if they were caught this way? Callisto was especially worried about Kimberly. Meleager was Meleager; everyone knew he was a drunk and respected him anyway. And the blonde warrior was willing to cut Xena some slack after what she had been through. But Kimberly...for somebody so young to drink that way...where would that end up? They were all lethal even blind drunk, of course. That wasn't the point. It affected your judgment. When she'd tried saying anything all three of them ganged up on her. Joxer knew better than to even bother.
"Come on, Joxer. Let's check the guards," Callisto said shortly. The man got up and followed her out.
Xena caught Kimberly's and Meleager's eyes and they all burst out laughing. The red faced old man felt a little guilty. "She's right, you know."
"I'm not saying she's not right. Did I say she wasn't right?" Xena said filling all of their cups again and finishing off the vase of wine.
"Callisto's always right. How could I let her down this way?" Kimberly said in a teary voice. She looked like she was going to start crying as she stared unsteadily at the cup of wine in front of her.
The big old man put his arm around her shoulder. "There, there, honey. Don't worry about it. What matters is how you handle yourself."
"Hey! Watch your language!" Xena said and sniggered.
"How ya feelin', Xena?" Kimberly now asked the Warrior Princess.
Xena answered, "Kinda sore, you know. Oh, grow up, Meleager!"
The old man's face had gotten even more red and he was looking away.
"Hello. Some wine. Heroes here. Hello," Xena called out. After a moment an elegant man stepped in the tent. His face was expressionless as he took the scene in.
"Gods, Dolon, I didn't mean you. You're not my servant! Call me Xena not mistress, all right?"
"I would not be comfortable addressing you that way. Please allow me my choice."
Xena got up and winced. They'd been back a month. It was nowhere near as bad as it had been. She looked at the calm effeminate face and smiled. "Whatever you want, Dolon. What happened to all those rings you had?"
The eunuch looked down at the floor. "They are in my quarters. If you wish I will begin wearing them again, mistress."
Xena suddenly seemed to sober up. "I gave them to you, didn't I? You don't like 'em because of where I got them."
He nodded and added, "It was not you, mistress."
"I'm sorry, Dolon. Do what you want. If you want to keep on serving me, go ahead. You don't have to but whatever you want."
"Thank you, mistress. Would you like me to bring you and your noble companions some more wine?"
Kimberly spoke up, "That'd be great, Dolon!"
Xena nodded and returned to the table. She looked at Kimberly. "So, how's it feel having your own army?"
Kimberly shrugged. "It's not really an army yet but it's getting there. I'm not sure my ass can take any more kissing. Aside from that it's okay."
"Get used to it," Meleager said with a smile and Xena nodded as she picked her wine up.
Kimberly was watching Xena and Dolon, trying to understand their relationship. If she didn't quite understand what was between Xena and Gabrielle, she really didn't get Xena and the eunuch. The two had been inseparable for months. When Dolon had actually come up with the plan, Xena had immediately said no, that it was too dangerous. Callisto, Meleager and Kimberly thought it sounded promising. The Warrior Princess wasn't exactly in a position to have the final say here. They didn't even absolutely need her for Dolon's plan, though if she did her part it would save who knows how much suffering and destruction. Xena knew she didn't have a choice. She'd come here to help fight the Bitch and she couldn't forbid Dolon to do anything. Although he still acted like her servant, they both knew he wasn't.
The Bitch stopped as she entered her tent. She tossed the woman's head she was holding aside. "Dolon!"
The handsome eunuch nodded his head. "Mistress," he said.
"You've come back to me! Oh, Dolon!" Her mind was racing, her emotions at war with her judgment. This was a trap; it had to be. But her only friend had returned to her.
"Dolon," she repeated, helplessly this time. She took control of herself and looked around. Was Callisto here to kill her when Dolon put her at ease? It would be a smart plan. She tried not to look at the slender figure; it confused her too much.
"No one is here to catch you unawares, mistress. I promise you," he said calmly.
Xena barked out, "Raak` arijkj. Rapa." Instantly one of her Horde guard was in the tent, towering over her and looking with fury at Dolon. She indicated for him to search the tent with hand motions. When he found nothing she jerked her head for him to leave. He looked at his goddess apprehensively and she put a hand on her dagger. The guard left.
Xena approached the elegant eunuch, drew the knife and held its point to his throat. "You ran away from me, Dolon. When I only wanted to protect you." She was speaking coldly, but then the facade broke and she dropped the knife as her face seemed to just cave in on itself. "Just like...Gabrielle....you left me!"
"I have returned, mistress," he said softly and reached a slender hand out to stroke her cheek.
"Why, Dolon?" she said tearfully.
The man looked sadly at the mad woman. "Mistress, I'm here to kill you. You can stop me if you wish."
Xena fell to her knees, seeming not to be able to control herself any longer as she continued crying. "Please don't kill me, Dolon. I don't wanna die!" Her voice sounded like a little girl's.
The elegant man stroked her hair reassuringly. He walked over to a tall case and opened it, taking out a worn old staff. Returning to Xena he handed it to her and said, "Here, mistress. Hold this and think of your good friend." She dropped it at first but he picked it up and put it back in her shaking hands.
After a moment she said, "Remember when me and Gabrielle saw you in Carthage? Those scum were making you pay protection. I showed 'em for you didn't I, Dolon?"
"Yes, mistress, you did. That was the only time I met the Lady Gabrielle. She was a most fine person. My old Amazi and she were quite fond of one another."
Xena's teary mad eyes got a nostalgic look. "Yeah, I remember that. Her and the old man would talk about poetry for hours. I couldn't follow any of it. How is Amazi, Dolon?"
The eunuch paused and said, "Amazi is dead, mistress. Your men killed him along with the rest of my household when they came for me."
"What?! I'll kill 'em all for you! Bastards!"
He sadly said, "You already have years ago, mistress."
Xena looked confused. "Oh yeah...I remember now. See, Dolon, I look after you."
"No, mistress. Amazi and the rest are dead because of you. Many, many fine people are dead because of you."
Xena looked confused and stared at the floor as she kneaded the staff compulsively. Finally she said, "Please don't kill me, Dolon."
"Mistress, I must. No one else can. You are too skillful for them."
"I can stop you," she said like she didn't believe it herself.
Dolon stood up and walked to a table where he poured some wine into a finely crafted goblet. As the woman still just kneeling on the floor watched he took a small vial from a pocket and emptied it into the wine. "Of course you can stop me, mistress," he said.
"Well, that's what I'm gonna do, Dolon!" she said with mock confidence as she watched him pick the goblet up. "We'll just forget about this little 'plan' of yours. Lucky for you!"
Dolon came over and knelt in front of her. "Yes, mistress. You are very merciful. The wine contains the same poison which you used on your old self. However, there is enough to kill you, as you saw just now."
She looked at the cup with big curious eyes. "Please don't make me drink it, Dolon," Xena said helplessly. She added, "It'll kill me." She wasn't sure he really understood that.
The eunuch reached a hand out and removed one of hers from the staff and put the goblet in it. He guided it to her mouth.
"Dolon, I finally found the dogs who cut you. I had 'em skinned. I saved 'em for you."
"Thank you, mistress. Drink this now."
"Please don't kill me," she repeated one more time pathetically, then began draining the cup as Dolon guided her hand.
Dolon removed the vessel from her hand and eased her down on the floor. Their eyes were locked together for a full minute before the blue eyes glazed over. The almond skinned man carefully smoothed her hair into place then stood and returned the nicked old staff to its tall case. He said clearly, "Argo."
After a moment a hooded servant entered the tent. She looked at Dolon briefly, then quickly stripped the clothes from the dead body, took her own clothes off, and exchanged them. The eunuch said nothing. She examined the burn scar on her arm which Kimberly had inflicted on her and compared it to the one on the body before her, glad to see they were identical.
"Help me with this," the woman commanded. They rolled the corpse of the Bitch of Tartarus up in a carpet. "Dolon, she is me. Do you understand? This is what I would want. Being a maniac hated everywhere...would I want that....would she want that?"
"As you say, mistress," he replied.
Xena looked at him, not liking his tone. Then she stepped outside of the tent to see what the situation was. When she stepped back inside she exclaimed, "Dolon, no!"
The eunuch had just emptied another vial into a goblet of wine. "Mistress, I have seen too much death." He downed the wine.
"Dolon!" The Warrior Princess ran to him and held the slender feminine man. Probably ninetynine out every hundred people she knew would see the death of a eunuch as less than an insect--unless they saw him as an investment.
She closed his dead eyes.
It was getting easier for her. At first acting like the Bitch was more difficult than she had anticipated. The men around her were paranoid and dangerous and it was a given that they would kill the Bitch if they had the chance. Xena had just tried being like her old warlord self which had frightened plenty of people in the past. But that wouldn't work now. The Bitch of Tartarus wasn't just a cruel ruthless warlord. She was a frothing at the mouth maniac who made it her business to be the worst nightmare imaginable to everyone she came in contact with. Xena had immediately begun getting suspicious and dangerous looks when she simply gave orders. Within a week an assassin had come for her. They didn't doubt her identity but they thought she was weakening. The plan wouldn't work if Xena lost control of the Bitch's army so when she caught the assassin she didn't just kill him as she would've in her warlord days. She handed him and his accomplices over to her Horde guard. They lasted a week.
She discovered she couldn't think or she wouldn't be convincing. She had to act on impulse. The Bitch had ruled through fear. Xena had thought she'd known how to inspire fear in the old days but the Bitch had taken everything to another level. If she didn't like someone's sandals she would have his feet cut off and burned before his eyes. Xena had to remind herself all of these men were cruel murderers--they wouldn't be here if they weren't. That made it easier and the insane cruelty was coming easier and easier. Whatever childish vicious idea occurred to her--the sort of thing she would have been embarrassed to even admit to herself let alone anyone else --she would act on now. Xena found her internal restraints loosening. You couldn't just kill people day after day on whims and not have it affect you. To her horror, she found herself starting to like it and hoped Callisto, Meleager and Kimberly would be ready for the second part of the plan soon. Xena was afraid of actually becoming the Bitch if she had to keep acting the part indefinitely.
The big horse pulled up short. Her Horde guard with her looked expectantly at the goddess and followed her line of vision. They saw a soldier with a terrified look on his face who turned and began running. Anticipating her wishes two of the savage warriors pursued the man and brought his twisting screaming form back. He fouled himself as he found himself before the Bitch.
Xena's heart was beating fast as she dismounted and looked at the cringing terrified man. It was one of the men who had raped her and escaped. Xena grinned like the Bitch, but it wasn't an act this time.
"Where are the others?" she said with a smile.
The man was moaning in fear unable to even speak. Without hesitation Xena ordered him nailed to a tree. The Warrior Princess looked around at her Horde guard. They were all smiling. She laughed and they all followed suit as the spikes were driven through the man's hands and feet.
"You're gonna tell me where to find the others...and not because it will go any easier on you...because it won't. I'm going to tell my guard that if it takes you less than a month to die, they'll take your place. Then I'll have you and the others' bones carved so I can wear 'em. I think I'll have your face skinned and made into a coin purse. Think I'll do that right now. How d'ya like them apples?"
She reached up to stroke his greasy hair a moment, then just dug her thumb into his left eye as he screamed.
Callisto saw that her men were in place and held her sword up to catch the light. A flashing sword across the canyon told her that Kimberly's men were also positioned. It seemed a long time but a third flash came from Meleager. This was almost too easy after all this time. It couldn't fail. The Bitch's army, almost 20,000 men, would be entering this canyon, following her order's explicitly as they always did, no matter what they might be thinking as they looked at the canyon walls.
The roving bands had been called in and set on one another. It seemed to be the Bitch madly purging her army. There was nothing out of character in that. She'd done it before in fact, killing almost a quarter of her men once. Her two most intelligent captains were dead, killed by the Bitch herself when they began saying she seemed different. That was certainly not different. While reorganizing her army the Bitch had ceased her attacks but now her men had marching orders again. Right into a canyon they'd never come out of.
Callisto looked at the rows of Spartan catapults and Athenian archers, the thousands of arrows and spears, piles of heavy stones and barrels of Greek Fire. The city-states had finally come through for once. This wasn't going to be a battle. They might not lose a man. The blonde warlord had broached the subject of taking prisoners. Most of the Bitch's men followed her from fear after all. Kimberly practically exploded. They could've joined Callisto or Meleager but instead they joined the Bitch. The two women looked at Meleager to break the tie. He shook his head at Callisto. "Too many of them have a taste for it now," the big old hero said.
Meleager had arranged to get a hundred Persian charioteers and war chariots with blades protruding from the wheels--Xena had made a few bloody incursions into their territory. The Greeks would watch them closely, of course, ready to kill the charioteers with arrows at any sign they didn't plan on stopping with the Bitch's men. After the hammering they intended on giving the trapped men with the catapults and arrows, they would send the chariots in. The regular troops under Meleager and Callisto would follow the chariots. Kimberly had insisted on riding with the war chariots. Meleager had looked at her, saddened at her blood lust. There were few things that made more of a mess than a Persian war chariot. He knew she'd love it.
Once her men were positioned and she'd signaled, Kimberly had left to join the charioteers. They were kinda snotty she knew, with their carefully curled beards and fine jewelry. The men were small and light, not even wearing armor to cut down on weight. Kimberly was reminded of jockeys. Charioteers saw themselves as better than common soldiers anyway, and much better than a bunch of dirty Greek barbarians, e.g., her. They treated her with respect of course though. She was a general, they'd been told. They said they were honored she wanted to ride with them. Each charioteer had a spearman with him. She would be the spearman. She carefully talked to the man whose place she was taking to learn what special techniques they used, and she practiced with him until he and the charioteer were satisfied. Kimberly had talked to a few of them and discovered they were glad to be here. The Bitch had made a few forays into Persia and many of these men were from the areas she visited. Kimberly knew what that meant. She watched as the men sharpened the already razor sharp blades extending from the wheels on their war chariots.
Xena felt sick to her stomach. She was intentionally sending soldiers to their deaths, giving men orders that she knew would lead them to be massacred. It was against everything she had ever done. Even the Bitch had never done that apparently. The Bitch killed her men all the time but there was nothing underhanded about it. Xena felt like some kind of weasel. She had known coming into this that was almost certainly what would happen if she managed to assume the Bitch's place. Meleager and Kimberly would override any merciful stirrings Callisto might have. It was stunning how much the blonde had changed. The Warrior Princess had considered for a moment riding in and dying with the men. But what would that accomplish? It was selfish of her. She had other work to do. Only her seventy or so Horde personal guard remained with her now. They worshipped the Bitch: literally sacrificed animals to her and maybe more than animals. Xena had decided how to handle them. Now was the time to do it. In a way they were the worst. The Greeks largely followed her from fear but the Horde warriors actually revered and loved her in some primitive way. Because of that she thought she should handle it herself and not send them to be slaughtered with the rest of her army.
The Horde warriors looked at one another. The goddess had summoned them all. Her other men had left for a great battle. They had been ashamed to not be a part of it but they assumed the goddess had her reasons.
She was walking in front of them seeming to study them. Then she began speaking to them in their own language.
"It is time for me to take a consort. I shall bear a son who with me will drown the world in blood. It will be the end and the beginning of time. I will select the man to father the god from among you. Only you are worthy."
They did not show any change in expression but Xena felt the emotion rising from the men. It was a spiritual experience for them. This had to be the worst thing she had ever done. What she was doing would remain with her as long as she lived.
She smiled and said, "You will fight for the honor. Only that way will I know who is worthy. The one warrior left alive will be the sire of the future. The rest of you will return from the dead and serve my son, the new god."
Xena understood 'em all right. They were eyeing one another now. The goddess counted them off and divided them into two groups. She had her thronelike chair brought from her tent and placed before a large open area. Taking her seat she held her sword aloft and then slowly brought it down, and the miniature war began.
Xena kept her face expressionless as befitted a goddess. The fighting was as savage as she had ever seen. Religion did that. Often as men died they would look toward her as if that gave their death meaning. She kept her face a mask; it was what they wanted. At least she'd give'em that.
When the carnage was over, Xena rose from her throne and walked out onto the bloody field. There were no wounded. She'd made it clear that only one was to survive. She approached him. It was a tall warrior who had often stood outside her tent as her guard. Now he was on his knees and holding his wounded side. He looked up at her with a rapt expression. Xena had gotten a particularly intense feeling from him on other occasions also. She had a feeling the Bitch had already had sex with him. If so, he was probably already sure he was meant to be the chosen. An attitude like that could have helped him reach this point.
She looked down at his painted face with the bone through his nose. Xena had never felt so ashamed in her life. Taking a cloth from a corpse, she wiped his bloody face off. The Horde warrior's eyes were almost glowing. She bent down and kissed him deeply as she drove a dagger in his heart.
Xena had dragged all of the dead savage warriors into a large pile. Then she found a barrel of Greek Fire and doused them with it. When she set it afire she mounted her horse and set off for the battle site. She dismounted near the mouth of the canyon. It wasn't exactly a victory---more like the terrible end of a nightmare. She could see she had been spotted.
The Warrior Princess looked at Kimberly as she came up in a war chariot. She could see how excited she was even without seeing her face. Kimberly looked like she had been in a waterfall of blood and gore. The horses and the small charioteer next to her looked the same. Xena saw the woman say something to him and put an arm around his shoulder and hug him. The soldier seemed surprised but pleased. Then Kimberly jumped from the chariot. The charioteer took the spear from its rack and tossed it to Kimberly. Xena watched as he left to rejoin the other charioteers. They all had quite a cleaning job ahead of them. Its wheels looked heavily encrusted with mud; but it wasn't mud, Xena knew. Seeing they were alone Kimberly removed her helmet and revealed the wide manic smile Xena had known she would have. She looked from Xena to the bloody shaft she held and back again. Instead of a mask she had a helmet with a veil of chainmail to cover her face. Kimberly had been waiting months for it to be completed. Xena could see the exquisite craftsmanship of it, even under all the blood. She'd never go back to a mask now. The Warrior Princess had seen how vain Kimberly was and how much care she took in her armor, weapons and masks. The new helmet was a perfect reflection of her personality.
"You ever done that, Xena? Wow!" Kimberly sounded breathless.
Xena reached out and picked a piece of flesh out of her hair and tossed it aside. Kimberly frowned, set the spear and helmet on the ground, and began running her hand through her dark hair and found more of the same.
Xena answered, "Nice helmet. No, I can't say as I ever have, but I know how you feel. I've done things like that."
"What's wrong, Xena? We won."
"Massacres aren't something I'm fond of, Kimberly."
Kimberly made a snorting sound. "Since when? Excuse me, Xena, but in case you've forgotten you ARE the Bitch of Tartarus."
Xena looked away. There was nothing to say to that. Kimberly was another of her victims. Callisto had said she was a naive girl who'd never even picked a sword up before they met. Now look at her.
"I'm sorry, Xena. I shouldn't have said that," Kimberly said. "You're right; massacres aren't anything to be proud of. But we had to protect our men, and since there was a way to destroy 'em with not much risk, we had to take it."
Xena looked up at the sky and noted the carrion birds wheeling against the bleak sun. She answered, "You don't have to tell me that."
"No, I guess I don't," Kimberly said. She was trying to keep from smiling, Xena could see, still excited even against her will. The Warrior Princess had been on the receiving end more than once of charging war chariots. She thought they were overrated. If you didn't break when they charged you could take 'em. Thankfully she and her men weren't trapped in a canyon and crushed by rocks, stuck full of arrows, and covered with Greek Fire at the time. Some of her soldiers had been caught by the chariots though. It wasn't a sight she was likely to forget.
"How many men did we lose, Kimberly?" Xena asked.
The smile broke out again. "Far as I know none. Nearly half of the Bitch's army were already dead when we went in with the chariots. Most of the rest were wounded. Hell, a lot of 'em were on fire." She giggled like Callisto. Then she added seriously, "I'm sorry about Dolon, Xena. We all are." Xena acknowledged it with a nod but didn't say anything, looking at the ground.
Kimberly shrugged off Xena's too-little too-late conscience and looked up at the gory Persian spear she held. She had practically been in a trance during all the killing; it couldn't be called fighting. She and the charioteer seemed to have one mind, as she protected him while he expertly maneuvered the war chariot to cut down screaming men. The precise control he had of the flashing blades on the wheels was a thing of beauty.
"There's Joxer," Xena said.
Kimberly looked and saw the mule coming toward them. She called out to him, "Joxer! It's over! Where's Callisto?"
The man didn't reply until he reached them and dismounted.
"Joxer, what's wrong?" Kimberly said, suddenly frantic. "Where's Callisto?"
Xena didn't think she could feel any more empty, but she suddenly did. She just watched as the lethal young warrior hysterically repeated, "Where's Callisto, Joxer?!"
The man limped over to her. "She didn't make it, Kimberly. She was the only casualty I know about, though."
Kimberly couldn't speak so Xena asked, "Do you know what happened?"
Joxer didn't look at her. He hadn't taken his eyes off of Kimberly who was starting to shake. "Callisto tried to take prisoners even though we had decided not to. One of 'em stabbed her in the back."
Kimberly just let out a wail and collapsed. Xena watched as Joxer stiffly knelt beside the young woman. She was the last person Kimberly would want to talk to.
The bard was sitting next to Joxer. She was still angry about what was happening and still suspected it was some kind of trap. But Xena made the final decision like she always did and she had followed Callisto and Joxer into the strange looking doorway of air or whatever it was.
"Guess, it's just you and me for a while, Joxer." She said to the unconscious fool. It depressed her to know he loved her. If this was a sentimental story she would realize now that she loved him. Unfortunately this wasn't a sentimental story and there wasn't a chance in Hades of her loving Joxer. Gabrielle sympathized but she still thought he was an idiot: maybe one with some good qualities and a big heart, but nevertheless an idiot. She sighed.
"How is he?"
She looked up at the familiar voice of her friend.
"What happened? You just left."
The Warrior Princess came over. Gabrielle now saw she looked different. For instance, she had a slight limp as she approached and there were some braids in her hair she hadn't had a few minutes before. Her leathers looked different too and there was a new darkness in her eyes.
"More time passed for you than for me." The bard answered her own question. Xena nodded and crouched beside Joxer.
Gabrielle sensed changes in her friend; real changes. "Xena, what happened to you? How long were you there?"
The Warrior Princess seemed satisfied at how Joxer looked and answered. "About a year, Gabrielle. I'll tell you about it some time, but not now. I don't want to think about it for a while."
The bard said quietly, "It was really bad, wasn't it, Xena? Just like they said."
"Yeah, Gabrielle. It was just like they said; worse actually. Words can't do it justice. The Bitch was really..." her voice trailed off and her eyes had an empty look.
The bard took her hand and squeezed it. "Never mind."
Xena shook her head as if to clear it and smiled at her friend. "I brought you something. Close your eyes and don't open 'em till I tell you."
"Oh boy!" Gabrielle said. She didn't care about presents but was glad her friend wasn't obsessing on what she must've been through.
"Okay, you can open your eyes." Gabrielle did and gulped at what she saw on her hand. She'd felt Xena slipping rings on her fingers but she hadn't expected anything like these. The huge gems would have been gaudy if not for the exquisite craftsmanship of their settings. These must be worth...well there was probably no way to value them. She noticed a tan purse sitting on the ground.
"Whoa! Xena, these are too much for someone like me. Gods!"
"Oh, and this too." Xena took a shimmering gold necklace from the purse and put it around Gabrielle's neck. The dark woman admired it on her friend.
The bard felt a little odd about this. It didn't seem like something Xena would do. And she felt almost like her friend was dressing her up like a doll or something. She wanted to turn attention away from herself. "Soft," she said as she felt the purse; she couldn't identify the material. "Those are nice," she said, indicating some carved bone decorations Xena was wearing on her leathers.
Xena looked down at them. "Yeah, they are nice aren't they?"