MCA/UNIVERSAL/RENAISSANCE owns Xena, Gabrielle, and Argo (poor baby needs a better agent, she's getting paid only in apples and oats) and others from X:WP. All others are a possible hazardous byproduct of the icky gray stuff that is stuck inside the boney thingy on my shoulders.

This story is written without wanting to infringe on the above companies rights. (If I do they'd sic the "Amazon Collection Agency" or ACA on me, and they always get their prey.) This story is also non-profit and any reproduction or use of this story without my permission will make me call the ACA on your bootie.


Violence is present in this Part. In fact in this installment, it happens to be more graphic than what I've done before, in one area. But I feel that it is necessary to the storyline. And this is Xena after all. If you don't approve please just read something you find more appropriate, or go buy yourself a twinkie to make yourself feel better.


Some of you may have noticed a mistake in Part 3 or 4, depending on which copy you read. The gladiator who is Xena's old friend is named Atrius, not Jatri. It was originally supposed to be Atrius, but I had forgotten Atrius was also the name for Xena's father, by the time Part 3 was out..it was too late. I apologize for the confusion.

And thanks yet again to Perager who edited "A Crown of Laurel" and whose patience seems next to godly. :}

Oh gods...that gray stuff is bubbling outta my ears again, perhaps I should just get on with the story before it's all gone?

Part Five

Gabrielle walked into the kitchen to find Distra waiting for her. The bard had been summoned to help the woman get everything ready for a party that Caesar was holding that evening.

Distra caught sight of the younger woman and smiled. "Ahh...good. Help has arrived. I hope you're knowledgeable about food and how to serve it?"

"Yes...and I'd probably say that anyway, just to get out of doing laundry." Gabrielle grinned and waved her hands in front of the older woman. "I feel like they've been soaking in water for several days now."

"They have." Distra's eyes twinkled as she reached out and patted the woman on the back. "Come. You can help me prepare some of the trays for this evening. I usually don't have any responsibility here in the kitchen, but since this is a less formal party being held in his private rooms, I'm sticking my hand in. And I thought you could use a break from cleaning."

Gabrielle smiled, grateful for the relief. Two days of doing constant work in the laundry facilities had worn her down. Circles were starting to develop under her eyes. Who am I kidding? It's not the work, though that is bad. It's the nightmares. I'm so used to Xena being there and driving them away.

Distra led the woman to a quiet corner, away from the hustle and bustle of the huge kitchen. Soon the two women were slicing up meats, cheeses, and fruits and setting them in patterns on large ornate silver trays.

For a few minutes Gabrielle was silent, but days of not speaking to anyone and stress, made her open up to the only person she'd met so far that had been remotely nice to her.

"I know this may sound odd to you, but do you mind if I tell you a story or perhaps a poem. I'm going crazy from not being able to..." Gabrielle eyes pleaded with the woman.

Distra interrupted her. "In fact, I was hoping you would. It would help us pass the time and I really enjoy a good tale." She smiled encouragingly at the blond. Poor mite.

Gabrielle smiled; just being encouraged to tell a story had brought a sense of well being within her. Clearing her throat, she straightened up a bit. Keeping a part of her mind on her hands and the food preparation, Gabrielle started on a poem first.

darkness was your life
a task you relished
anger and hate, your blood

it took a man, a god
to show you the door
out of the shadows

it was only a step
the hardest one you took
the bravest deed you have done

with a leap of faith
you strode into the light
a new path taken

and with your sword
you bring not horror
but hope and life

Gabrielle ended the poem, suddenly sad. She missed Xena. The warrior's strength was a part of her own, and without it Gabrielle seemed a little lost.

Distra noticed the sadness from her. "Who was that about?"

"Xena. She's changed from what she used to be, but people still don't believe. And then there are those like...Caesar, who don't care. I'm sure he's heard she's changed, but he has his own vengeance and hate, just like she did." Gabrielle sighed deeply.

"Tell me a story this time?" Distra asked eagerly.

"OK. Hmm...let's see. Oh I know a good one. I tell a tale of Pandora..." Gabrielle started her tale, taking her time, enriching the words with the feelings. She liked this story actually, King Gregor and a kidnapped child, Xena, Pandora and her box. I'd still really like to see what's in that...oh no..don't get started on that again... Gabrielle's thoughts were interrupted by an odd sound coming from Distra.

She turned to the old woman, her words trailing off as she saw Distra in what could only be a trance. The old woman stood stiffly, her back as straight as an arrow, her fists clenched at her side. Her eyes where rolled back into her head, the eyelids fluttering quickly, and her mouth moved but no sound came from her lips.

Gabrielle gulped nervously; she had never seen anyone in this kind of condition before. When she had been at Delphi after Xena had brought back Callisto, she had been privileged to see the Oracle speak to the people. But the Oracle didn't react like this.

The bard looked around worriedly, she knew that Distra didn't want people to see her like this, but at the same time, Gabrielle was worried for the old woman. Is this normal? O gods...what do I do? Get ahold of yourself, Gabrielle, you're not helping matters.

She reached out and laid the tips of her fingers on the pulse on the woman's neck. Strong. Regular. Ok..that's good. Gabrielle was about to try and sit the woman down, when Distra shuddered slightly and turned her head to her.

"Oh my...that was a strong one." Distra laid her hand on her forehead.

"Here, sit down." Gabrielle pulled up a stool for the old woman.

"Thank you, dear." Distra gratefully took the offered seat. "That took a lot out of me. I should be all right in a moment or two, though. I usually am." She smiled gently at Gabrielle.

The bard released a sigh of relief. "You had me worried."

"I'm sorry, dear. I can't control it at all. If I'd had training I wouldn't look like that, I'd be able to talk to you and see you while I'm having the visions. But...oh well, I survive." She shrugged slightly.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Gabrielle asked, trying not to show her insatiable curiosity.

"I think you should hear what it was about. After all, you were in it."

"Me?" the young woman gasped.

Distra nodded solemnly. "Yes. Remember that prophesy I told you about?"

"A collar of iron shall be the jewelry for your wedding day. You shall wear it until you find that peace which we all must go to. You carry a gift within you, seeing things that others cannot, but you will never control it. Your iron bands shall one day bring you a woman of words, who with your wisdom and gift to guide her, will utter the dooming words that will ultimately bring down the 'Crown of Laurel'. Tell her to look for an ally in 'The One who stands in the place of honor'," Gabrielle recited from memory. Well at least there's one use for my bardic memory here...I won't ever forget a grocery list.

"Yes. Have you thought about those words at all? I know you understand about the 'collar of iron', but what about the rest of it?"

"Some. I tend to be a curious person by nature, so I like riddles." Gabrielle pondered a moment. "The gift of course, refers to the sight, and you have said that you can't control it. Iron bands...that would mean the slave collar again. Bringing you a woman of words, I've thought about that...and..umm..."

"Yes." Distra urged.

"That could mean me. I am a female bard," Gabrielle offered.

"Yes, so you have said. I happen to think you're right, of course. I think it does mean you. But go on," Distra commanded.

"Crown of Laurel. Crowns, of course, are worn by kings...or emperors, and the Roman Emperor wears a golden crown made to represent laurel leaves."

"Yes...yes. Very good. Any more?"

"The One who stands in the place of honor. That one I don't have any idea about. But the prophesy, if I'm correct, seems to suggest that I'll say something that will bring down the Emperor." Gabrielle shook her head, not willing to believe her own words.

Distra chuckled. "Yes. I think you hit it on Cerberus' nose. As for 'The One who stands in the place of honor', I have my guess about that."

"Who?" Gabrielle asked curiously.

"Brutus. No other is so close to Caesar. No other is trusted as much as Caesar," she answered. "As for the vision you were a part of...well, it's a harsh decision you must make." Distra pointed to a spot on the floor for the woman to sit comfortably and listen.

"I saw you standing with your arms outstretched. Your hands were open and two Caesars stood there, one on each hand. As I looked closely at one of them, I not only saw him, but everything that was going on around him, and what would happen in his future."

"The Caesar standing in your left hand lived a very long life. I saw Brutus behind him, unseen by Caesar. Brutus took his dagger and thrust it into his own heart, killing himself. He was crying as his blood split open the marble floors. Caesar's anger and rage at the world knew no bounds at his friend's death. His thirst for power was even greater. And it was that thirst and darkness within him that drove him to expand the borders of his Empire farther than what Rome could safely control."

"I saw him again, an old man, beleaguered by enemies, from within and outside Rome. His empire had shrunken, surrounded by united enemies on all sides. Hundreds and thousands were dying. Dying because of his thirst." Distra stopped a moment and collected herself. The images she had seen in her mind where far more graphic than what her humble words could describe. But that is the point isn't it... she is 'the woman of words', the bard. It is for her to see beyond my words as only she can.

Gabrielle shivered. "And the other hand?" She asked, after giving Distra a few moments to catch her breath.

"On your right hand stood the other Caesar. As I brought my eyes to him, I saw a different picture. I saw Brutus beside him, both of them traveling to a far off land of sand and hot winds. I saw a beautiful dark woman who loved Caesar and hated him at the same time."

"He will leave her and return to Rome, and when he comes back he will die." Distra paused, shaken by the vision of blood that wouldn't leave her mind. So much of it.

"Who...who killed him?" Gabrielle had to ask.

Distra frowned. "I don't think I'm supposed to tell you. I have the feeling in me of dread if I say. But know this...if he dies from falling down a flight of stairs, or from choking on his food, it doesn't matter. What matters is that if he dies then instead of from old age, Rome will live a longer life."

"And that's a good thing? You sit there wearing a slave collar that you having been wearing your whole life...and you think Rome's life is a good thing?!" Gabrielle stood up and leaned forward, her words passionately spoken.

Distra nodded. "I don't know. But I saw hundreds of thousands of people that didn't have to die, slaughtered in wars that will last generations, because of Caesar's darkness. I would rather live a thousand lifetimes as a slave, instead of going to the Elysian Fields and knowing hundred of thousands died because one man lived. How about you?"

Gabrielle froze in shock. She won't tell me how he dies...but by that only I can guess it won't be natural. Oh Xena, I could really use your advice right about now. Gabrielle rolled her eyes. Nevermind, I think I know what you would say. You hate Caesar after all for what he's done to you. I don't think you'd hesitate long in deciding whether to trade his life for so many more.

But I'm not you....no matter that I understand your darkness better now since Britannia, I still can't condone the taking of an innocent life. But is Caesar an innocent? Well...no. But am I saying that because I have my own anger towards him?

He has tortured, killed, and caused so much pain, he's definitely not an innocent man. Neither is Xena, and she turned from her dark path.

Gabrielle looked down at Distra for a moment. "There were only two futures?"

The old woman nodded. "Yes. Only two, and I know somehow that there are no other choices, just the two."

The bard sighed soulfully. I guess...I guess that means no redemption for him, unlike Xena. Xena had more choices...or made her choice rather. She took another path, and is now saving lives instead of just taking them.

But he won't. Distra saw it. Hundreds of thousands of dead, all because one man won't see beyond his hatred and anger...and yes...sorrow, and see what he is doing to his own people and the world.

Distra saw the inner struggle within the bard and stood quietly wrapping her arms around the young woman, pulling her close for a heartfelt hug.

"Come...let's finish with these platters. We can talk while we work. Hmm?" Distra offered.

* * * * *

Gabrielle tried hard not to look at the tray she was holding. She was hungry. So hungry. Just the smell of these sliced meats is driving me crazy. Unfortunately, I can't decide whether to eat them or throw up. Another night of no sleep and more stress and I'll not be able to eat again. Now there's a horrible thought. Though that's not too much of a problem since the food they serve us slaves is really disgusting.

The bard smiled slightly as she stepped over an errant pillow and offered the selection to one of Caesar's guests.

I wonder what they would do if I hit this one over the head with the tray? Gabrielle's eyes twinkled mischievously, and received a long slow leer by the heavy set man who she was currently serving. Oh oh...Gabrielle, you have got to pay more attention.

The man reached out with a thick hand and plucked a few tidbits off the tray.

"Caesar offers only the best to his guests I see." Gabrielle blinked in surprise at the man's wink. Don't heave, Gabrielle. I don't think Caesar would appreciate it if you threw up on his guest. Though it might be good for a quick laugh. Uggg...could he be any more disgusting? This is going to be a long night, I just know it.

* * * * *

"Yes, I have heard that Cleopatra is thinking of coming north in a few months to find an army to win the Egyptian throne. Why do you ask?" Caesar raised an eyebrow at the man sitting next to him. Marcus Aurelius was younger than himself, but already he was known as a great leader of men.

"Egypt is a land of wonder, Caesar. Riches to satisfy an Emperor of Rome, or so I've heard," the fair haired man replied. "A boy king with a beautiful sister that claims the throne for her own, and is supported by the people? It might be a good...investment."

Caesar's eyes roamed the huge reception room where this evening's party was being held. "Hmm...so I've heard. It would be easier to...guide a woman than a boy who will grow into a man. A man who will more than likely end up throwing off...guidance."

As he spoke he spotted Gabrielle serving his guests. Marcus, seeing that Caesar's attention had been diverted, tried to spot what so absorbed him. Seeing a young woman dressed in a slave's toga with shoulder length hair the color of fire touched gold, he smiled appreciatively.

"Mmm..that's your newest acquisition, isn't it?" he asked.

Caesar's eyes lowered partially as he grinned. "Xena's friend. She's enjoying the hospitality of my house."

The younger man threw back his head and laughed. "I take it you have other plans for her then?"

"You could say that. It's Xena I plan to break really, and this young woman is the way to do that, I believe." He paused for a moment, then spoke on, his voice much harder. "I'm sure you heard about Xena ripping my personal banner in Britannia?"

Marcus nodded, but kept silent. It was well known that Caesar's flag had been desecrated by the warrior woman.

"This woman," Caesar jerked his chin towards the blond slave. "Was there also. She had been captured by one of my centurions. I had her crucified on a hill at sunrise, knowing that it would drive Xena insane. Unfortunately, Xena rescued her and another, and killed the men I had sent. It was then that she tore my banner in half. I vowed then I'd destroy her slowly. I plan on keeping that vow."

"So tell me..how exactly are you planning on using this woman against Xena? Marcus asked cautiously.

Caesar's eyes seemed to look deeply into the small woman as she tried politely to extract herself from an over eager drunken guest. His lips twisted back into a feral snarl. "This one's emotions are nearer to the surface, than her friend's. She's very passionate. I plan on finding out how passionate she can get."

* * * * *

Xena wouldn't put up with this, why should I? Gabrielle asked herself as she tried to unwrap the meaty hand locked like a leach, from her calf. As the hand started to rise up slowly, she decided she'd had enough. I'm sorry Xena, but it seems as if I won't be joining you any time soon. Damn!

Gabrielle's hands gripped the platter hard, her fingers going white. She leaned down closer to the beefy man, her eyes going hard with a well practiced look.

The senator's hand paused on its journey as his eyes were captured by the slave's own. Danger seemed to seep from her.

"Get your slimy hand off me, you bucket of rancid lard. And while you're at it, take advantage of the wonderful baths Rome has. You could use one, you smelly pig dropping!" she hissed. Ooo..good one, Gabrielle.

"Why you little bit..." he started to say.

"Excuse me, Senator. Is this slave causing a problem?" asked Brutus, seemingly appearing magically behind Gabrielle.

The Senator released his hand from the woman's leg and looked up at Brutus. "Ah, Brutus. Yes. This little one has a mouth on her. I'm surprised Caesar lets so untrained a slave serve at his gatherings."

"Hmm...I'm sorry to hear that she bothered you. Don't worry, I'll send over a girl to personally serve you and I'll take this one to be punished myself. I'll make sure she's properly trained before being allowed in public again," replied Brutus, taking the tray from Gabrielle and motioning another girl over. "Make sure you take special care of Senator Tiberius here. " He instructed, then handed her the tray. Taking ahold of Gabrielle's elbow, he forcefully escorted her from Caesar's rooms.

Now you've done it. It's that temper of yours, Gab, no doubt about it, she silently admonished herself.


"Silence." Brutus interrupted.

Taking her down several hallways, they finally reached a set of doors that looked to be their destination. Nodding to the two guards outside, he shoved her inside. "No disturbances," he informed them, then shut the door behind him as he entered after her.

Gabrielle stumbled forward, but caught herself from bumping into anything or falling. Raising her head she took a quick look around. What she saw made her pulse race.

The room was huge, filled with armor, weapons, clothes, and scrolls laying all over the place haphazardly. Spotting a large bed in the corner her eyes immediately veered away. Uh oh...Out of the forge and into the lava pit. See what your mouth has gotten you into now?

Gabrielle tried not to flinch as she felt Brutus' hand touch her shoulder. The bard turned and looked up at the tall man before her. "Look...umm..I'm sorry, ok? I didn't mean to cause any trouble. Just put me into some stocks or something for punishment, and we can call this a lesson well learned?"

Brutus' eyebrows raised in surprise. "I don't plan on punishing you at all. Actually I brought you here to talk. Nothing else I swear." He quickly took his hand away from her shoulder as if burned.

"Really?" Gabrielle's eyes narrowed in doubt.

Brutus nodded reassuringly. "Really. I swear by Mars' sword."

"Pick another deity, please, I don't trust him."

"All right...I guess. I swear by Jupiter himself," he offered.

"That will do." Gabrielle smiled slightly.

Brutus walked over to a table and pulled out a chair. "Please sit?"

The bard hesitantly sat down. "Do you treat all slaves this way?"

Brutus sat down across the table from her and pushed a plate of fruits, bread, and cheeses towards her. "Eat. You're not looking well."

Gabrielle didn't need a second offer and immediately started consuming the fare.

Brutus chuckled softly. "Either you haven't eaten well in days or you're a voracious eater."

The blond cocked her head slightly and paused with a slice of apple on the way to her mouth. "Both actually. I've never been a fan of gruel. I'm a bit too new to be allowed anything else according to Sotia." She took a quick bite. "But you didn't answer my question."

"The answer's no. I don't treat slaves this way usually. But you're a bit different, aren't you?"

"In what way? I'm a human being and no matter what you may think...people don't like being shackled and treated like cattle." Gabrielle couldn't help the words coming out or the disgust in her voice.

Brutus decided to change tactics. "Your friend...Xena. You care for her, don't you?"

The bard paused, suddenly afraid. Is this some plan to use me against her? If it is... Gabrielle put down the slice of cheese she had just picked up. "I think I'd better go back to my duties." She started to rise.

"Caesar plans on using you against her."

The words crashed through her like a hammer. They also made her trust him a little. She sat back down abruptly.

"How?" she whispered.

"I'm not totally sure, but I wanted to warn you. Her fights in the arena are just to wear her down physically, you're to be used against her emotions." He paused a moment. "I care for him you know. We have known each other for years and he is like a brother to me, the other half of my soul in some ways," Brutus said, his eyes fixed on some point on the far wall. "Did she tell you how they met?"

"Yes." Now that was a story that gave my nightmares of Xena's death more fuel. She shivered slightly, unnoticed by Brutus.

"When he found out she had escaped him, he sent patrols out searching for her. Some of them never came back, and he knew...he just knew she was responsible. That seed of hatred for her was planted that day, not before."

"Before, she was just a pirate who had dared capture him. Now she represented his failures." Brutus turned his gaze to her. "Britannia. In a way I'm glad I wasn't there to witness his defeat at her hands. You have no idea...no idea the stories I've heard about him after that battle. He was cold. Dark. Quietly crazed. That seed blossomed and is now bearing fruit. His madness, his darkness...I'm afraid for him. He keeps it well hidden from the others, but I can see it. It's in the eyes. I think I lost him that day," he said softly.

Gabrielle reached out and touched his hand in comfort. "Xena was like that once. I didn't know her then, but I've seen glimpses of it as I've traveled with her. And I've heard all the stories. But she's come along way since those days."

"Tales of her helping people have reached here, though they are not told in the palace, for obvious reasons." He grinned wryly. "Do you think he can turn away form his anger like she did?"

Gabrielle sighed. It's him isn't it? "The One who stands in the place of honor." What do I say? Or do I say anything at all? She was silent for several moments considering, then she spoke, her eyes misting slightly with tears.

"Xena still has anger in her, but she's dealing much better with it every day. Someday, I look forward to seeing that darkness within her totally gone. But to answer your question," she hesitated.

"Go on. Please." Brutus urged.

"No. I don't think he will. Would you like to hear why?"

Brutus shrugged, then nodded. Gabrielle spoke at length, telling him of Distra and her past. She hoped the woman would forgive her for telling her secret, but she knew it had to be told in order for the man to believe what she was also about to reveal to him.

Time passed as the bard spoke, her hand still holding his trapped underneath. Finally, she finished the tale of Distra's vision this morning.

"A fanciful tale." Brutus said, but he didn't sound unconvinced. Instead he sounded confused, and Gabrielle was happy with that. As far as she was concerned her job was done.

I just told him what Distra had seen, that's it. No more. Let him make of it what he will. I won't be a party to anymore, she thought to herself "But a true one. I'm a bard, Brutus. I create stories from fact and fiction, that's the truth. But this..this is all fact. I swear by Artemis' bow."

Brutus raised an eyebrow at the words. "Artemis hmm? Why would a bard be swearing by the Huntress for?"

"Let's just say we have some things in common and leave it at that," she replied firmly. No way am I going to tell you I'm Queen of the Amazons. I don't trust you that far.

The man nodded in compliance. "You've given me much to think about."

Gabrielle looked him in the eyes a moment, then she spoke again. "March. It has to be March or your empire will die." The bard blinked in shock at her own words. Where did that come from? What in..do I even want to know? She stood up shakily. "I think I'd better leave."

Brutus escorted her to the door, watching her in puzzlement. Pausing before he opened the doors he turned to her. "What did you mean by that?" he asked.

Gabrielle looked up at him again, surprised by the softness she saw in those deep brown eyes. She allowed a little bit of the fear she was holding in check, to be seen in her eyes. "I don't know. I truly don't know," she said quietly.

As he opened the door, he leaned close to her lips, but not touching them, giving the guards an impression of a last kiss. His whisper was soft enough for her ears only. "In your own way, Gabrielle the Bard, you're just as dangerous as Xena. Words, not steel, being your weapon." Then he let her go, shutting the door solidly behind her.

Gabrielle walked down the hallway, her heart heavy. No matter what, I've either killed one man or countless thousands. Words are more deadly than even Xena's sword, Brutus. Far more deadly.

* * * * *

Brutus strode down the hallway stopping only momentarily to wait for the guards to open the doors for him. He entered Caesar's rooms, his eyes instantly searching for his friend and finding him seated at a table going through maps and messages.

Caesar looked up at the sound of the familiar footsteps and nodded at Brutus in greeting. "Ah, Brutus. I'm glad you're here. I need your opinion on something." He stood as Brutus came alongside him and pointed on the map to a part of the northeastern border of the Empire.

"I've just gotten a report from the Seventh Legion. It seems that they are being driven back by a united effort from the local tribes." He stabbed a finger at the map and frowned. "General Octavius is known to you?"

Brutus shrugged. "We served together twice in Rome's service when we were younger. Other than that we've seen each other at parties or at your staff meetings. I wouldn't call him a friend."

"Is he a coward in your opinion? What reason could he have for losing so much ground to badly armed savages?" Caesar sneered.

"You made him a general, you must have some faith in him," Brutus observed quietly.

"There is a difference between hope and faith. I had faith that he would do his job in that province. Now I hope he can hold my troops without losing more ground." Caesar sighed, then took a good look at his friend. "So what brings you here this early? Something is bothering you I'd say."

Brutus started to pace anxiously. Damn that young woman for making me even consider my best friend's state of mind last night.

"Julius. We've known each other for years. We've fought wars side by side. We've conquered nations, and there's no where else I'd rather be than at your side. But I've never seen you so obsessed as you are with her."

Caesar froze from reaching for his wine goblet, then drew his hand back in a tense fist.

"I can't afford to have weaknesses. Instead I exploit other people's weaknesses. Xena's are easy to use against her, just like any woman's. Just like her friend's, too. I plan on using one against the other. Xena seems to care for the blond, so it should drive Xena to distraction if I...focus my attentions on Gabrielle." Caesar smiled, sure of himself.

"Yes, I've heard this before. 'Divide and Conquer', but Julius, this hatred of yours for her..." Brutus started to say, but was impatiently interrupted.

"It doesn't matter anymore. I've got her and I control whether she lives or dies," he said intensely. The memories of his defeat in Britannia burned like white hot coals within him. He had seen that smug face of Xena's every day since, that face that she had given him after she had thrown that damned weapon of hers against his spear, and when she had ripped his own banner in half in defiance. The pain of that splinter driven into his hand had been nothing against the tide of anger he had felt at that moment for her. She had saved her friend's life and with her help Boudicea had defeated his Legions that day.

He turned to Brutus, his eyes hooded but his voice dripping venom. "I have her, Brutus," he repeated. "And I will destroy anyone who gets in my way in my revenge on her. Anyone! Including that...thing that claims to be a goddess!" He turned back to his maps dismissing his friend.

Brutus walked away, his heart heavy. I won't give up on him. I won't let him destroy himself. Or the Empire.

* * * * *

Gabrielle tried to stop fidgeting, but was finding it extremely difficult. She couldn't help it. This time Caesar had sent her an almost see through outfit to wear to today's trip to the Coliseum, and he had also ordered some of the women to make her more presentable. Gabrielle was sure that there was enough makeup and perfume on her to supply three other women.

I feel more naked wearing this thing then in my amazon clothing. What is he trying to accomplish?

The bard stood under the watchful eyes of Caesar's guard, and blushed. This is ridiculous. If I didn't know better I'd say he...oh my. Gabrielle, for a bard who's traveled extensively for over two years, and has seen so much, you can be really dense sometimes. The bard blushed harder as her thought reached it's conclusion. No way! No way is that Roman bad boy going to..get his bloody little paws on me.

The guard standing over her had been openly admiring the blond. Of course he knew this was his Emperor's personal property, and would never even think about touching her, but that almost sheer flowing dress was driving his senses insane. How long would he have to stand there guarding the young woman before Caesar took her to the day's entertainment? The guard was rather split on the answer to that question. On one hand he would enjoy spending the day letting his eyes devour her. On the other hand, it was pure torture and no man could withstand temptation forever.

At that moment, the doors to Caesar's room opened and the Emperor strode towards Gabrielle. With a slight curve to his lips, his eyes half-lidded as he slowly looked her up and down, he observed the bard and admired the work the women of his house had done.

Gabrielle lost the battle to keep from blushing again. If I had my staff right now...Oooo..you'd have a righteous bump on your thick head.

Caesar stopped before her, than held out a hand. The woman grimaced and put the end of her leash in his hand. The Emperor turned and started down the hallways, Gabrielle and his guards following closely.

"Do you like the dress?"

Gabrielle blinked in confusion. Caesar tended to ignore her presence, and except for commands he hadn't spoken a word to her since their arrival in Rome. Suddenly having him actually talk to her, made her feel even more uneasy.

"How is this humble slave supposed to answer?" Gabrielle said sarcastically.

Caesar chuckled. I didn't think a few days doing menial labor would dim the fire in this one. She's a lot like Xena in that respect.

"Honestly, of course." He raised an eyebrow at her, urging her to express herself.

"Cerberus looks sexier with three heads, then I do in this...this...thing!" She plucked at the sheer garment.

"Why do you say that? I think it looks beautiful on you?" Caesar smiled lazily.

Oh, careful Gabrielle, there's a flame there. "I don't wear Roman styles well...and the jewelry is a bit...bulky for my tastes." Gabrielle touched her collar with a finger.

"Actually I think it looks fetching on you." Caesar's eyes gleamed as he looked her up and down slowly and they walked.

No..no..no...I have to get his mind off of this. Gabrielle cleared her throat. "I don't suppose you'd like to hear a story while we ride over there?"

Caesar led Gabrielle out the massive front entrance and climbed into his chariot. Holding out a hand he helped the young woman climb up.

"Not right now. But perhaps later you'd care to come to my apartments and tell me one...or two." He ran his long fingers down the leash's length and touched her chin lightly.

Gabrielle involuntarily shuddered at his touch. Walked right into that one. Bam!!

"Do I have a choice in the matter?" she asked.

Caesar's lips lifted up in a small smile. "You're my property and you seem smart enough for a woman to understand what that means."

"Eh..heh...yep...that's me all right. Smart." Gabrielle nervously chuckled as she turned her eyes away from Caesar's intense look. I hate Rome and I hate Julius Caesar. If we get out of this Xena, you're taking me somewhere really really far away.

The ride to the Coliseum seemed longer than usual that day.

* * * * *

Xena turned to Atrius. "Is it all ready?"

The small man nodded, "Have you figured out how to get to her yet?"

The warrior was silent, quietly fussing with her bracers. Her next fight was only moments away and still she wasn't sure exactly how to get Gabrielle from Caesar. Everything depends on if he comes...and if I decide to take his offer. Xena sighed. I know what Gabrielle would say if she knew I was considering going back to Ares just to save her, but I might not have much choice.

Xena looked over at her old friend. "Don't worry, once I set my mind to something, nothing will stop me. And my mind is on freeing Gabrielle right now."

Atrius nodded. He could see that cold dark ice returning to Xena's blue eyes. Everyday she had fought in the arena, it had been the same. One moment she would be standing there, relaxed with seemingly no cares in the world. The next moment would see a warrior of pure force standing there. A warrior whose will was even greater than her skill. She doesn't make a good gladiator, that's for sure. She refuses to play to the crowd, and hates them.

The gladiator held out his forearm. "Then I wish you luck out there, Xena. I know you don't believe in it, but everything helps."

Xena took Atrius' forearm in her own hand and squeezed. "Just make sure everything is set on this side."

"You have my word," he promised.

"Well then...let's get on with it." Xena released his arm, turned, and waited for him to open the gate. As he opened the door, the roar of the crowd boiled out and threatened to drown her in a wave of sound. Keep it in check today, Xena. Keep it in check. she told herself.

The warrior strode confidently out onto the sands, her eyes automatically searching for Gabrielle. Satisfied that her friend had been brought to the day's spectacle, she turned her gaze to the arena itself, looking to see if Atrius had kept his promise. Seeing that she was alone for a few moments, according to plan, Xena went and stood in the middle of the arena.

This is it. Time to choose. She glanced over to Gabrielle, then did a double take. What in Hades is she wearing? Xena shook her head and brought her thoughts back to the business at hand, but her mind still undecided. Then, seeing a complacent sneer on Caesar's face, she chose. So be it.

"ARES!" Xena howled the name of the Greek war god, drowning out the cheers of the crowd.

As the name came from her lips, she shuddered as she felt him coming. She always knew when Ares came around her, but this time it felt more intense. The war god was coming to her in his full power, coming to claim his Chosen before the people of Rome. Her senses reeled as bloodlust threatened to sweep over her. With a will stronger than the steel of her sword, she shoved it down into the dark recesses of her mind, where she usually imprisoned it. After a moment she breathed easily, the call of Ares' Gift was quiet...for now.

A tiny ball of light rose out of a stretch of blood drenched sand, left from a previous fight. Hovering it came before Xena.

The crowd suddenly stilled, as if they too could feel the presence of the god who thrived on the blood and glory of the battlefield. Their eyes following the bright sphere hypnotically as it came closer to Xena.

Silence reigned as the ball of light started to erupt in a shower of white, growing in size and intensity. Finally it dimmed, leaving a tall dark man in black studded leathers standing in the arena with the warrior woman.

Caesar stood, rage pouring from him in waves, his fists clenched at his side. Gabrielle just knelt there, shock on her face, beside him. Caesar's face contorted in a mask of anger. "What is the meaning of this?! You have no business here!"

Ares turned slightly, his armed crossed against his broad chest, and raised an eyebrow at the furious man. "I warned you, Julius Caesar. I am Mars and no mortal takes what is mine. Not even you! And Xena is mine!"

"NO!" Caesar reached over to his nearest guard and grabbed his spear. Lifting it to his shoulder, he aimed, then with all his strength he hurled the spear towards Xena. Ares would not take away Caesar's pleasure of killing Xena.

A memory flashed through Xena's mind as the spear flew towards her heart.

Xena reached up through the thick lattice and grasped the soldier's ankle, and with a great heave she pulled him back to the ground, stopping him from crushing Gabrielle's legs.

With a great leap, she crashed though the lattice that had hidden her from the soldiers, and engaged the them, joined by the small elite group from Boudicea's army, then soon from a larger group led by the Gaul herself. After a quick intense fight the small group of Romans were dead, leaving Xena and the rescuers on the hill alone.

Reaching down, she grabbed two daggers from a fallen soldier.

"Timing, we've got to work on timing." Gabrielle groaned as the warrior threw the daggers at the bonds holding her to the cross.

Catching her friend, she made sure she was all right, then turned towards Caesar, who stood far on the other side of the field.

She watched as he took up a spear and threw it with all his might at her. With a grin she grabbed her chakram and let it fly. It shrieked through the air, slicing down the length of the spear, then ricocheting off a Roman shield, to come flying back to her. She smirked as she saw the hate distort his face, and the huge splinter from the spear that had found his hand.

"XENA!" Gabrielle's cry brought her back, and with an almost casual negligence, she sidestepped the spear. Then reaching out with precision she wrapped her fingers along the shaft of the spear and, grabbed it out of the air before her, stopping its momentum entirely.

"Good catch." Ares smiled at the dark haired woman.

Xena chuckled slightly and drove the spear down into the sand. "For some reason, I don't think Caesar wants you here talking to me."

"Well I did promise you I would come," he replied. "Speaking of which, have you ..."

"Can I join this little reunion?" came a woman's voice out of nowhere.

Xena and Ares looked at each other and grimaced. "Callisto."

A shrill laugh heralded the appearance of the shimmering cascade of light that became the blond goddess. The crowd was watching raptly, it was rare indeed that one of the Pantheon made a appearance, let alone at the call of a slave. But who was this other one? It was obvious to them from her appearance that she also was a power, but no one recognized her. Low murmurs crept through the crowd as rumors and questions raced from mouth to mouth.

Callisto walked casually around the two, grinning from ear to ear. "Imagine finding you here, Xena. Oh...and look, your little friend, too. Is that a leash I see? My, my she doesn't look too happy, does she?"

"What are you doing here, Callisto? I thought I told you..." Ares started to say, but was interrupted by a waved hand.

"Yes. Yes. Threats. You should know I never pay attention to you..umm...to them I mean. Oops." Callisto winked and continued circling the two. "Now don't pay any attention to me. Go on...continue with your conversation."

Xena eyed the other woman warily. She didn't trust Callisto, of course, no sane person would, but Xena had a suspicion the goddess was here for a reason other than seeing Xena.

Seeing Xena and Ares just standing there looking at her silently, Callisto frowned petulantly and stamped her foot. "You two are too much alike! No fun at all!"

Xena raised an eyebrow. That is one of the worst things anyone has ever said to me. And to think I used to want to be around him. The thought stopped Xena cold. I guess...that settles it then. I can't do it. Suddenly a plan came to her. But maybe I can do something else. Hmmm...

"Why are you here? Besides the fact that you're responsible for Gabrielle and me being here that is. Don't you have a lava pool to relax in or something?" Xena quipped.

"Ooo..thank you, Xena. I'd hoped you bring that up." Callisto smiled sweetly at her long-time enemy.

Ares scowled and rested a hand on the hilt of his sword. His eyes settled on Callisto, blazing with hot anger. "I told you if I found out you were responsible for Xena being caught I'd make you regret it."

Callisto winked at Ares and skipped a step happily. "No offense, Ares, but just because you're the god of war doesn't mean your threats can scare a week old dead cat."

Ares growled and drew his sword, ignoring the sudden gasps and cries from the crowd in the stands. Gods fighting in the Coliseum? It was so unbelievable that the people were frozen in amazement and anticipation, unable to flee. The ultimate fight was about to begin, and for their entertainment perhaps even the blood of gods would spill.

Xena silently moved back out of the way. No way was she going to stand between these two. Besides it should be an interesting match, and might provide a good distraction for me. I'm not really sure who I want to win though.

"Now, now Ares. No need to get angry." Callisto paused for a moment and put a finger to her chin impishly. "Oh Hades, why not. It would be a chance to shave those horrible sideburns off you." Grinning she drew her sword and waited for him to charge.

Ares' lips peeled back in a growl. "I am going to teach you your first lesson as a goddess. Do not mock those who can drive your pretty little head into the ground."

The dark god brought his sword towards Callisto's head in a vicious upswing.

Callisto giggled and parried the blow, sending the blade rebounding away. "Oooo..you've been working out, Ares." The goddess cooed as she traded several blows back and forth with the war god.

Ares feigned a strike at her head and caught the goddess with a savage kick in her stomach. That blow, powered by Ares' godly strength, sent her flying back and crashing on the far side of the arena.

Xena smiled to herself as she looked up towards Caesar and Gabrielle. His attention was totally fixed upon the fight between the two gods, just like the spectators. The warrior's eyes met her friend's and she winked reassuringly. She was awarded by a slight smile that warmed her. Slowly she kept making her way closer to the side that Gabrielle was on.

Callisto stood back up, licking her bloody lip, then she launched herself with a piercing scream through the air, her feet connecting with Ares' chest and driving him into the sand.

With a grunt he swept her legs out from under her with his free arm, then lifted his legs high and threw them back down, his upper body rising up vertically off the ground. He landed on his feet solidly and swung his sword down at her.

Callisto rolled out of the way, again and again, Ares charged her, his sword swinging down at her constantly and missing. As she rolled out of the way, her free hand dug into a side pouch and grabbed a handful of dust she had prepared especially for this. As Ares' sword came down on empty space again, she threw her hand up causing the dust to fly into Ares' face and eyes. Blinded, Ares stumbled back.

"Argghhh...damn you!!" he shouted, his sword blindly sweeping around him. Surprised by the move that had blinded him, Ares was offguard and the only warning he had for the coming blow was Callisto's voice, coming to him so low as to be the faintest of whispers, only for his ears.

"What happens when a god takes another god's power, Ares?" she asked.

Ares frowned, his eyes blurred and weeping tears from the harsh substance in his eyes. What is she babbling about? Damn...what is this stuff?! he silently yelled to himself. He heard a slight chuckle, then that voice came again.

"Let's find out, shall we?"

Then the blow struck and Ares fell to his knees screaming. His cries rose up into the heavens. The Greek gods, Aphrodite on a far off island, Athena in her temple in Athens, or wherever the gods where at that moment, froze as the cry of Ares came to them. Through every one of them it passed, carrying a chill that raced up their spines.

Xena froze as she saw the blow descend, watching in horrid fascination as Callisto's sword sliced off Ares' sword hand. She heard Callisto's shrill laugh as the goddess kicked Ares in the face silencing his screams. I think now would be a good time to get out of here. Looking up at Gabrielle, she caught the bard's eye. "JUMP!" she mouthed, moving just underneath where Caesar and Gabrielle stood.

Gabrielle had been watching the fight between Ares and Callisto with rapture, and when Callisto had cut off Ares' hand she gasped with everyone else in the Coliseum in surprise. She took his hand off!!

The citizens of Rome, worshippers of Jupiter and Mars, cried in shock as they saw a god scream and bleed. They had all wanted to see this, deep inside. Entertained by mortal gladiators, fighting and killing at the people's command? That was nothing compared to the possibility of seeing gods, those supreme beings that were offered treasure and sacrifices, bleed in front of them.

Gabrielle caught sight of Xena out of the corner of her eye and read the warrior's lips. Is she crazy? It's more than thirty feet! She knows I don't like heights! The bard's eyes raised in question at her friend, then lowered in a scowl as she saw the answering look. Ok...no problem, I can do this. First things first though.

Taking the leash that bound her to Caesar in her hand, she ripped it from his grasp. As he turned to her in surprise, she cocked back her fist, then drove it into his face with extreme gratification, then smiled as he collapsed onto the ground bonelessly.

"Jerk!" Ow...ow..ow... Gabrielle shook her hand for a split moment then forgot about the pain as she saw Caesar's guards turning their attention from the arena to her, and drawing their swords.

Jumping up on the short stone divider that stood between her and the floor of the arena, Gabrielle turned a quick eye to Callisto and Ares before she jumped. What she saw made her blood chill. Even the guards behind her forgot their task as they stopped and stared in shock.

Xena grinned wickedly as she saw Gabrielle slug Caesar. That should give him a nice black eye. Good job, Gabrielle. She held out her arms as her fiend jumped up onto the barricade, ready to catch her. Xena saw Gabrielle look out onto the arena behind the warrior and freeze, her eyes widening impossibly.

Keeping her senses on her friend, Xena risked a quick look over her shoulder.

Callisto kicked Ares again, this time in the ribs, and grinned evily at the sick crack that sounded as most of his ribs on that side broke under the goddess' strength. Then squatting down beside him, she cocked her head to the side. "Hmm...that was nice. I really enjoyed beating the arrogance out of you. You're not really much without your sword are you?" The goddess chuckled at the fact that Ares couldn't answer, due to the fact that he was unconscious. Damn...I'm going to have to remember to kick them in the head last. That way I can listen to them scream longer.

Lifting her head, the goddess saw Xena standing on the other side of the arena. Oh, Xena. You've been such a good girl. Without you my latest dream wouldn't be about to come true. Seeing her nemesis looking at her, Callisto winked and took Xena's chakram off her belt. Still squatting down she threw the chakram, knowing it would be caught, but still hoping.

Xena reached out her hand and caught her weapon, glad to have it back in her hands, but confused as to why Callisto had given it back and wasn't attacking her. Like a cat, she's playing with her meal. But I'm not on the menu today it seems, that position is filled by Ares. I should intervene, but...I don't have time.And she's far more powerful than she was at our last fight, and I would have lost that if I didn't have a river of lava handy at the time. Nope. Just get Gabrielle and yourself out of here, Xena. The Romans can deal with it.

Grinning widely, Callisto turned back to Ares. Reaching out a hand she slapped him on the face. "Come on, Ares. Wake up. I want you to see this...well part of this anyway. Come on...wakie wakie."

Ares groaned and opened his eyes. Never had he felt pain like this before. He tried to gather his will and heal himself, but there was nothing there. His power was gone, along with his hand. Horrified he wimpered and looked up at Callisto.

"Why?" he groaked.

"Because I could? No, you probably won't accept that answer. Umm...how about if I tell you that I'm a pychotic killer with very high goals, and you were my way of getting there?" Callisto reached out and ran a long finger alongside one of his sideburns. "I have what I want...or will soon, but now it's time for a bit of fun."

Callisto stood up, her free hand grasping Ares by the hair and forceing him to kneel before her. She lifted her sword high.

"This is the pychotic killer part, Ares." She quipped, than struck through the man's neck, shearing it off from his shoulders in a fountain of blood.

Laughing with delite, Callisto raised the head of Ares before her. "Now wasn't that exciting? No. Well I thought so." She brought the head closer and kissed the lips passionately. "Oh, Ares. I think that was the best kiss I've gotten from you yet."

The citizens of Rome that had come to watch that day were stunned. The god of war, their Mars, had just been defeated...No. Humiliated and slain before their eyes. Suddenly, the once avidly watching crowd, was moving with a will to any exit they could get to. Chaos reigned, with people falling and being trampled. Status held no precedent here, as children, women, senators all, were killed in the rush.

Seeing the chaos that she had caused, Callisto giggled and twirled around, her arms thrown out. Faster and faster she went, until she was a blur to mortal eyes. Then like a pebble shot from a sling, Callisto released the head of Ares and stopped spinning herself. Her wild eyes followed the head's path as it shot into the crowd, exploding amongst them, showering them with blood, bone, and brain.

She watched for a moment, as the crowd redoubled its efforts to crawl over itself, harming more and more as the people in front where trampled. This is so much fun! Now why haven't I visited Rome before? The goddess thought silently then shrugged, her mind turning to the business at hand. All play and no work, makes Callisto....hmm...that doesn't work cause my work tends to be play and I love every minute of it.

Turning, she sheathed her sword in its scabbard and then scanned the ground around her. Finding Ares' hand still locked tightly around the hilt of his sword, she reached over and picked up the mutilated flesh and it's prize. My goodness Ares...what a grip you have...err...had. You just don't know when to let go, do you?

Throwing her head back, she laughed sending a shiver down the spine of the fleeing citizens. Suddenly the people didn't think coming to the Coliseum today was a good idea.

Gripping the blade with one hand, Callisto pried the clenched hand away from the hilt and tossed it onto Ares' bloody chest. Then with her sword hand she gripped the weapon of the god of war. Raising the magnificent blade before her, she willed the power to come to her.

Xena turned back to Gabrielle, her eyes wide. She not only beat Ares, but killed him...I...I can't think about this right now, she's about to...The thought was silenced as she tried to comprehend. She had witnessed this before, but knew instinctively this would be different. This is Callisto after all. She doesn't tend to do things by halves. Shouting, she got Gabrielle's attention. With a slight grimace the bard took her leap of faith and jumped down, praying that Xena would catch her.

With an explosion of breath, Xena took the weight in her arms and willed not to drop it or fall over herself.

Setting down her friend safely, the two turned back to the spectacle for a moment.

"Follow me, Gabrielle! We have to get out of here! Now!" Xena shouted, barely heard over the screams of the panicky crowd.

"Tell me something I don't know! You have a plan, of course?" Gabrielle replied back as she followed Xena.

The answer, if it came, was silenced in the roar of thunder that came from Callisto's direction.

"YEEESS!!!" Callisto cried as she felt the power, that used to belong to Ares, enter her and expand her very self.

The sword started to glow, white and blue streaks of lightning started down its length and wrapped their tendrils around the goddess' hand. Her lips peeled back in a hungry smile as the bolts increased in size and speed, filling her more and more with the primal energies of the gods.

The radiant flows of power raced down her arm and played in chaotic patterns around her body. Then in a flare of light they grew in size again, and started to leap onto the sands at Callisto's feet. Super heated bolts leapt from spot to spot leaving hot black glass in its place.

Screams could be heard from the stands as the spectators still tried to escape through blocked and congested hallways, but Callisto ignored them, her mind, her focus, her entire being was instead intensely centered on her sword...Callisto's sword. The sword of the goddess of war. Time seemed to slow as she stood there basking in the rush.

Long moments passed as lightning of many colors raced, leaped, and flew across the sands in a dance that rivaled any festival. Her eyes flashing unnaturally, Callisto took her gaze from her new weapon and looked up into the heavens. She smiled wryly, as she saw dark thunderclouds scurry and light clashing in bright flashes across the sky. A bit upset I'd say. Oh well, old man. I beat your son, now you have to live with it.

Bringing her eyes earthbound she turned to the Royal Box. Power still flowed into her and energies still played around her as her eyes spotted Caesar standing shakily and looking at her. Xena and Gabrielle were nowhere to be found, and she wasn't really bothered by that. Another time.

Catching Caesar's eyes, the two stood still, their thoughts evident on their faces. Poor little man is mad, isn't he? So easily used. And you thought you could use me to bring you Xena, then get rid of me? Tskk...tskk, Caesar. You just don't know us Greek women very well do you?

"Thank you for being so useful, Caesar!" She shouted, her voice a roar that reached to the furthest parts of Rome. "In return for your hospitality I leave you and Rome a gift."

Her eyes twinkling with mischief and a slight grin playing on her lips, she lifted her sword high and willed.

The sword grew even brighter until a huge glowing sphere of energy surrounded it. Then with a casual flick of her wrist, Callisto aimed the point of her blade and released the white hot sphere.

As it flew through the air, the sphere grew in size. It ignored everything in its path. Screams were nothing to it, as it sailed to its destination with a roar of sound of its own making. Flesh and bone were no barrier as it passed through fleeing citizens without hesitation turning all into dust. Centuries old stone exploded before it, as the sphere impacted and blew out the upper decks of the western side of the Coliseum. The arena would never be the same again.

Caesar flew back as the concussion reached him. Flying through the air he collided with several of his guards, his head connecting solidly with a shield sending him down into the darkness.

Julius Caesar lay unconscious, never seeing the light and dust from the explosion dissipate, leaving behind an empty arena. Later, when the Emperor did awake, his screams of rage echoed through the halls of his palace.

Brutus smartly kept to himself, nursing his own wounds, and considered the future of Rome.

* * * * *
Xena and Gabrielle rushed through the gate that a wide eyed Atrius held open for them. He bolted the door, then turned to Xena, his body shaking as he led them down the hall running.

"When I asked if you had a plan, Xena, I wasn't expecting...umm..anything like that."

Xena grinned wickedly. "It worked, didn't it?"

"You planned that?!" Gabrielle gasped in shock.

"Well...ok...no. Not everything. I did purposefully call Ares, though." Xena followed Atrius, noticing that these halls had been kept empty according to plan.

Gabrielle frowned at her friend as she kept pace. Xena, catching the look, shrugged at her. "We'll talk about it later, Gabrielle. Right now we need to get to safety."

At that moment they rounded a corner and came to an abrupt stop. Tavius stood, blocking their way, aiming a crossbow at Xena.

"Atrius, I'm shocked. Helping slaves to escape? And not just any slaves, but the Emperor's own?" Tavius sneered.

"Get back to your cell, Tavius. That's an order!" Atrius snarled, his fists clenched.

"I think not. The days where you ordered this Son of Rome around are over. I may be a slave here too, due to my crimes, but I'll not take orders from anyone who betrays my Emperor." Tavius growled, his finger tightening on the trigger. He turned his eyes to Xena.

"And you! Women do not belong here...well, let me amend that. Your masquerade as a warrior may fool the citizens of Rome, but not me. There's only one place fit for you...and for your little friend, too." His eyes grazed over Gabrielle.

Xena stepped in front of Atrius and Gabrielle. "I'll handle this." The woman's eyes narrowed as she tilted her head down a little, and gave Tavius a predatory smile. "Pull the trigger, Tavius. Or did I hurt your brains so badly that you can't think properly."

"Xena?" Gabrielle spoke softly. "Who is this guy?"

Atrius kept his eyes on the other gladiator, but answered for the woman. "He's an idiot actually. When your friend got here, he tried to...well..." Atrius blushed.

"He thought I was a piece of meat that he had first rights to, Gabrielle. He found out that I'm tougher than any piece of meat he has." Xena finished.

"Bitch!" Tavius snarled, and pulled the trigger.

Xena never even took her eyes from the man's, as she reached out her long arm, and wrapped her fingers around the middle of the arrow shaft, with long pratice.

Holding up the arrow in front of her face so Tavius could get a good look, her smile deepened.

"By all the gods!!" Tavius took a step back in surprise. "You caught...noo.."

"Yes, O Son of Rome. Would you like to learn how to catch arrows? It's a useful skill, as you've seen. I'd be very willing to teach you." she asked rhetorically, ignoring his shaking head. "In fact, here's your first lesson."

Xena brought the arrow down in front of her, whipping it forward to pierce the air. The arrow punctured Tavius chest directly in his heart. The Roman crumpled in a heap, dead on impact.

The warrior looked dispassionately at the body. "Obviously he didn't pay attention. He was supposed to catch it." Xena looked over at her two companions and shrugged sheepishly. "Let's get going?"

Atrius nodded. "I'll take care of the body after you two are gone."

Silently they ran on, the only sound the screams that echoed down the halls from the stands far above. Moments later Atrius opened a door and hurried them inside a room. Maris knelt in the small storeroom before them, pulling stones from out of the corner wall. Seeing Atrius come in with Xena and Gabrielle, he nodded to them, and pulled out the last few stones..

"Everything you need is in there already, Xe..." Atrius was cut off as suddenly they were all thrown back violently from a massive shockwave.

A moment later Xena pulled herself up off of the floor and helped the three stand.

"You ok, Gabrielle?"

"Fine. Shaky, but fine. I really don't want to think what that was. I just want to get out of this city. Please." Said the bard, her eyes begging. I have had enough of this Tartarus of a city, and so have you Xena.

Xena smiled and held out her hand to the bard. "Your wish is my command. Umm...You might not like how we will be leaving though."

"Xena. Right now I could care less. Even if it was a sewer system, I'd take it." Gabrielle chuckled, then raised an eyebrow as she took the warrior's hand. "It isn't, is it?"

"No...it's not a sewer." Xena replied with a chuckle, then held out her other arm to Atrius. The small man grabbed her forearm and held it tightly.

"I'd stay out of Caesar's way for a bit if I were you."

Atrius nodded. "We plan too. But then I have nothing to hide." He winked. "And you stay away from olive trees, ok?"

Xena chuckled and released his arm, then started for the hole, nodding at Maris as she passed.

"Nice to meet you, Atrius." Gabrielle smiled warmly, then letting go Xena's hand, she kissed the gladiator on the cheek, then again for Maris, who had to bend down. "Thank you for helping us."

"My pleasure," said a blushing Atrius. Maris nodded, grinning very widely.

Xena nodded slightly at the two, then ducked down into the darkness holding out her hand to Gabrielle to follow her.

As the two disappeared into the hole, Maris and Atrius worked quickly, resealing the wall and cleaning up any evidence that might give them away.

"I hope they make it." Atrius whispered, then led the way out, leaving a quiet empty room behind them, save for the whispering cries of the dying from above. The sands of the Coliesium were well watered that day.

The End of "A Crown of Laurel"
Continued in "Journey Into Darkness"

What? You thought this was it? You must be on henbane..hehe

Of course the Coliseum didn't really partially collapse till much later in time..after Christ I think...but since the X:WP writers take vast liberties with history, why can't I. Muahhahaaa..you just wait:}~~~

Lastly-since this first part of the 1997 season of Xena:Warrior Princess is over I have narrowed down exactly when this saga happens. So for those of you who have been confused by my words about the timeline, this story takes place AFTER "Gabrielle's Hope" and before "The Debt". We see at the beginning of "The Debt" that our dynamic duo is back in Greece (they have Argo again) but no hints have been given on how much time has passed since "Gabrielle's Hope". So I have risked all and have placed my lil ole saga in that niche. :} Of course this story will sux when Callisto comes to our screens in Feb again in "Maternal Instincts" (at least I think she'll be in there). But I've left the Caesar history open enough that any future episodes should fit in nicely.

PS- hehe..as sort of a little closure. Anyone ever read "Julius Caesar"? Remember he was warned by a old crone who said, "Beware the Ides of march." Think Distra can live that long? Hehe

Enough of my babble!!!

comments are welcome

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