I've Seen the Devil's Eyes
Sinful [


Yes, I have borrowed a few characters from MCA/Universal, mainly Xena and Gabrielle (along with a few others), but since TPTB found it necessary to kill off our beloved Xena in their story, without our permission. I don't feel it necessary to ask THEIR permission, to use her alive in mine!

I would like to thank my Beta readers, who without their helps mine errors wood be sew painfully obvious. Thank you, Kathy, Barb and Kam. Life would be a lot easier if we all had beta readers like you three. With your help, I stand corrected.

To Kansas, My Angel – You held me, when I needed your strength and then you loved me enough to let me go, so I could learn to fly again. My wings are growing stronger and I can fly further than I ever thought possible. And it's all because … you believed that I could. – Your Saint


Sex - Yup, there is sex between our two ladies. Just enough to keep the savages happy, but not too much so my story didn't get an X - rating! Besides, waterfalls are more than just fun showers.
Violence - Ok so a few heads get cracked and the odd person dies, hey this is still Xena right. And yes there is blood, but hopefully not too graphic.

Time Line: Some time after; When Fates Collide. – In my world FIN never happened.


Part 1

Hell fire and Angels

When daylight begins to leave,
And the wind just whistles so,
Can you hear the sounds of silence?
Do you know from friend or foe?

What was once so clear and friendly?
Does not always stay that way.
When the sun sets in the west,
And the nighttime turns to prey.

Nightmares are just dreams,
That turns our truth into our lies.
What would be your greatest fear?
If you saw the Devil's eyes!


Chapter 1

Gabrielle spread her fingers wide and gently applied pressure. She could feel the smooth, taut skin beneath her fingertips.

"Like this?"

"Yes, but a little harder. Careful … you don't want to bruise them. I usually use two hands, ... but that's me, I like to compare."

"Compare?" Gabrielle could not keep the amusement out of her voice.

"Yes, compare. What is wrong with that?"

"Nothing ... I guess. I just never thought of you as the ... comparison type."

"Knock that smirk off your face."

Gabrielle could only smile more as she rolled her tongue inside her mouth trying to hide her growing grin. "I'm sorry, but I never thought of you as a comparison shopper. You strike me more as the grab and go type."

"Grab and Go?" The warrior tilted her head to the side as she knitted her brow. "If you're going to spend the dinars on fruit, you should get the best they have to offer."

"Oh I agree with you Xena," Gabrielle gave the mango another squeeze. "This one I think. Would you like a squeeze to compare it?" Her face brightened with a smile as she held the fruit right next to her ample young breast.

'A smile that could only be described as antagonistic,' thought Xena.

The warrior's look darkened as she gazed into Gabrielle's face, her blue eyes held steadfast, not wanting to venture toward the forbidden fruit. Her mind filled with lustful thoughts of what she could compare the mango to.

After all their years together, Xena was certain Gabrielle knew what she did to her heart, but what she didn't know was if Gabrielle knew what she did to her body. Other than a few simple kisses, nothing had ever gone further. The opportunities had presented themselves, but for whatever reasons, neither had acted upon them.

Their eyes still locked upon one another as they waited for the other react. Finally the warrior reached forward and squeezed the fruit in front of her.

"This one will be fine." Xena turned away without ever seeing the flicker of disappointment in the blonde's green eyes.

“This one will be fine,” the bard mimicked under her breath. “Comparison shopper, my butt. I'll show you which one will be fine. One of these days, just when you least expect it.”

“Will that be all, Miss?” the vendor politely asked the mumbling bard.

“Hmm, oh sorry. Yes, thank you.” Gabrielle paid him and then placed the fruit into her bag.

Looking up ahead, she spotted Xena's raven hair still moving through the people. She quickened her pace to catch up, her strong leg muscles flexing with each step. Her pace may have quickened, but there was no sound as her red leather boots hit the hard packed dirt roadway.

Gabrielle made her way through the crowd just like she had been making her way through the known world. Shoulders back and head held high as she kept her eyes on the warrior she loved. No longer just a sidekick, the Battling Bard of Poteidaia was making her own fame. Of course being suspended in ice for over twenty-five years with the Warrior Princess had only furthered their growing legendary status.

The young, innocent farm girl was gone and in her place was a seasoned warrior, a bard who had become an Amazon Queen. Her features had matured and her muscles had hardened, but unfortunately, her innocence had been one of the first casualties on her road to becoming a warrior. Gabrielle's long hair and untainted naiveté had all but gone the way of the Olympian Gods. No longer carrying a staff, the weapon given to her by her Amazon sisters, she now carried a pair of Sais in the top of her boots.

Underneath it all, behind the mask of the Amazon Queen, below the tough exterior of a warrior, and hiding away from the reality of a bard, was a very traumatized Gabrielle. Her soft pale skin now carried scars of a warrior, painful reminders of all they had physically been through, but it was nothing compared to her real battles, which were going on well below the surface. The emotional and psychological scars that you could not see told a completely different story.

She had been trying to keep it hidden even from herself but she couldn't keep them hidden from Xena. Gabrielle thought if she could bury her demons deep enough, and then maybe she could live in peace along side the woman she loved. But Xena's keen eye had been watching her closely, having been to the edge herself she had seen the signs. They had been too close for too long for Xena not to see the light dimming in Gabrielle's eyes.

The Battling Bard of Poteidaia and the Warrior Princess were constant companions. Soul mates through time, and friends through eternity. They had fought side by side, bringing down kings, warlords and eventually even the Olympian Gods themselves. Their love for one another was no secret, but how far their love had gone, well … it had been rumored and speculated, but no one knew for certain and no one dared to ask.

"Xena ... Xena wait up." Gabrielle zigzagged through the crowd, pardoning her way towards her companion. More than a few heads turned at the name she had called out. Eyes that normally minded their own business glanced from the raven, haired warrior to the small blonde catching up to her.

They knew the names of Xena and Gabrielle, names that would live on past the stories written by the bard of Poteidaia. If either of them heard the whispers, they showed no outward sign of it.

Strolling side by side now through the busy market place, the two warrior women appeared relaxed though their eyes were constantly scanning their surrounding. Bits and pieces of conversations rose above the usual sounds of an open market - the cling/clang of metal tools and weapons being moved around, chickens and cows clucked and mooed along side the other assorted farm animals being brought to town to be bartered or traded.

Gabrielle laid her hand on Xena's forearm as she closed her eyes and tilted her head back. Xena stopped and looked down at her small friend as she inhaled deeply.

"I love the smell of the sea."

Xena's eyebrow lifted in amusement, "The smell of the sea? You get sea sick just looking at a ship."

"I know, but I still love the smell of the sea."

Gabrielle had yet to open her eyes when she felt a change come over Xena's body. A sudden stiffness alerted her to the warrior's instincts. Before she could open her eyes, Xena whispered under her guarded breath.

“Something is not right here.”

Trying to appear like there was nothing wrong, Gabrielle opened her eyes and brought her head forward. She let her eyes drift over their surroundings, but noticed nothing out of the ordinary.

“I don't see it, Xena.”

“Look around Gabrielle, tell me do you see?”

Gabrielle stepped away from the warrior's side and casually turned in a slow circle. No one appeared to be paying them any attention. Voices and pieces of conversations could be overheard as villagers bartered and haggled over prices. A constant hum of activity swarmed around them as the sea crashed and churned in the distance. Gabrielle could only see what she thought to be the every day life of a small seaside town. She slid in next to Xena, shrugging her shoulders.

“What am I missing?”

To the bard's surprise, Xena leaned forward to question one of the villagers sitting behind his table of baskets.

“Is there a place in town where we can get a room for the night?”

“Ah, the inn, but I believe they are full. Sorry.”

“No other place we can bed down for just the night?” Xena rose up on her tiptoes and looked over the bustling street. “How about just a barn with a hayloft?” she added.

The villager looked down at his table while his hands nervously fidgeted with the handles of his wicker baskets.

“I don't have a barn, all I do is make baskets. Most of us here don't have barns either, we're just simple craftsmen, trying to make a living.”

“Thanks anyway,” Xena muttered.

Gabrielle felt Xena's hand gently guide her away from the table.

“Come on,” her lips barely moved as she quickened her pace out of the crowded street. Xena said nothing until they reached their horses tied to the railing at the edge of town.

Gabrielle had her eyes glued to Xena's face as she tucked her purchases into her saddlebag. Xena's eyes continued to take in the town's surroundings.

“Alright, what was that about? We never said anything about staying here. I thought we were only looking for a few things we needed.”

“Gabrielle, take a good look around you.” With her hand on her saddle, Gabrielle turned back to see what she had missed.

“I don't see it, Xena. What am I missing? It looks like any other town we've been through.”

“Don't look so intently. Let your eyes drift and they'll tell you what's out of place.”

Again Gabrielle looked back, but still she saw nothing, “I'm sorry Xena…”

“Children ... there are no children.”

Gabrielle looked back at the marketplace. This time she saw without looking, a nod here, a glance there, and the hidden stares from all directions. They were being watched. A cold chill climbed up her spine as her mouth opened to the truth. She looked from the tavern to the toolmakers, and then from the stone houses to the thatch huts until she finally saw what could not be seen. Xena was right, there were no children anywhere.

“And notice since we left how everyone has closed ranks.” Xena untied her golden palomino and walked over to stand next to Gabrielle.

The bard tried to ignore the small hairs on the back of her neck as she glanced over to confirm what the Warrior Princess had stated. What once was a busy market was now a huddled mass of whispering watchers.


“I don't know, but something is going on and they didn't want us to know about it.”

“What is your plan?”

“I don't have one … yet.”

With deliberate strides, the two silently moved through town. This time Gabrielle caught the sideways glances, the hidden nudges and the silent whispers. There was no mistaking it this time, Xena was right.

They looked -,' Gabrielle pondered as she searched for the right word.

Her voice in just a bare whisper, “Xena, it's like they are scared of something, but of what?”

“Are they scared or are they hiding something?”

Nothing more was said until they had passed through the center of town.

“Over there.”

The young bard turned her attention in the direction Xena had motioned.

There at the edge of town was simple structure, six large posts holding up a thatched roof over a blacksmith's shop. Waves of simmering heat from the fire pit obscured the image of a large man banging away on an anvil. The red-hot steel held down with a set of metal tongs was being formed with each blow of the massive hammer. Only a leather apron covered the young man's powerful chest, his hands blackened with soot as they held on to the forged metal. His large arms glistened with sweat as his muscles responded to each demand of strength. Each loud bang was echoed by a rebounding tap-tap.

Bang tap-tap, Bang tap-tap.

Gabrielle had no idea where Xena was going with this, but she followed along beside her, with their horses in tow.

“Excuse me.”

Bang tap-tap, Bang tap-tap.

Xena's loud voice did not seem to penetrate the blacksmith's hearing as he continued to forge the iron. She took another step forward and spoke louder. “Excuse me!”

The smithy stopped his hammer in mid stroke and turned to see who had spoken to him.

“Hi,” it was easy to see he was surprised to see the two strangers standing before him.

“What can I help you with?” He straightened himself up, showing his true height, towering over both of them. Xena's outward appearance did not change, but even she felt a slight unease having to tilt her head to look up at the giant before them. Beads of sweat streaked down his blackened face, giving him a sinister dark appearance. One look at the two women and his rugged face broke into a smile. His bright white teeth contrasting against his soot darkened skin.

“Hi there, sorry I didn't hear you,” he said in a friendly tone as he nodded to both of them. “What can I do for you on this fine morning?”

Gabrielle could not help but return the infectious smile. His size and smile reminded her of a story from her childhood called the 'Friendly Giant'. This was one massively huge man, who held his stature with pride and power.

Nodding toward Gabrielle's horse Xena questioned, “We were hoping to get some new shoes for my friend's horse.”

Laying his now cooled iron back into the fire, the blacksmith plunged his large hands into a barrel of rainwater. Quickly cleaning them, he shook off the excess water and walked over to Gabrielle's sorrel.

“You ladies aren't from around here are ya? Cause I haven't seen ya before,” he said as he bent over and pick up a hoof and then straddled the horse's leg.

“No we're not,” Gabrielle answered him.

“Is that a problem?” Xena's tone was not as friendly as she glanced back at the number of villagers watching them from a distance.

“Hmmm, not to me. Yup, your horse definitely could use some new shoes.” He placed the hoof onto the ground and reached for another.

“He is new to me. We only got him a few months back.” His smile broadened as he looked up at Gabrielle. “I like you, you're nice.”

Taken back by his blunt compliment, she quickly fumbled out a, “thank you.” She looked over and shrugged her shoulders at Xena.

Letting go of the horse's hoof, he nodded towards Xena's palomino. “What about yours?”

“Hers are fine. So … can you make us some new shoes?”

“That is what I do here. I am the blacksmith.” He smiled at both of them, and then added. “The best one in town.

He paused for a moment, then sheepishly admitted. “Ok, the only blacksmith in town, but I would be happy to bang you out some new shoes.”

“We'd like you to, but we're having a bit of a problem. It will be dusk soon, and we don't have a place to spend the night. Since the inn is full and all,” Gabrielle's voice trailed off leaving the smithy room to offer.

“Well, hell fire and angels. You can stay with me, that is if you don't mind the animals. You are more than welcome to stay in my barn. There's lots of room in there, the hay is fresh and so are the eggs in the morning.” His hospitality was simple and honest.

Wiping his large hand on his leather apron, he extended it in friendship to the small blonde bard. “Name is Tiberius, but my friends all call me Ti.”

His grasp swallowed up Gabrielle's small hand as he pumped it vigorously, his face still bright with a smile. “Ti … like as in the Titans, cause of my height and all. I have always been big, all my life, but I would not harm a horsefly.”

When he finally paused to take a breath, the bard jumped in.

“My name is Gabrielle, and this is my friend Xena.” If their names registered any familiarity, Tiberius showed no signs of it. He released her hand and reached out for Xena's. Though the Warrior Princess was ready for it, his handshake still almost ripped her off her feet.

“Hello, I think we will take you up on your offer.”

“Well good,” he said looking back at Gabrielle.

“It would be nice to spend a night under a roof for a change.” The bard smiled at the blacksmith and then added. “That is very kind of you.”

“Think nothing of it, that is the way the world should be. Everyone helps everyone. Come, follow me and I will show you where you can put your horses while you are here. Then I will get started on making you some horseshoes.” He gathered up the reins of Gabrielle's horse and started in the direction of the barn. Xena and Argo followed closely behind as she kept one eye on the nervous villagers.

Gabrielle slid in next to Xena, then motioned ahead towards Tiberius and her horse.

“Is that what you call a friendly giant?” She kept her voice low not wanting to insult their host and obviously new friend.

When they turned the corner into the barn, Xena saw the villagers converge around a red headed man. “I get the feeling the rest of the town is not too happy with Tiberius's hospitality. It seems now that we are out of view, everyone has something to say.”

She took one last look over her shoulder before heading into the barn. She was not surprised to see the hushed crowd erupt into a heated discussion. Xena wished she could have heard what was being said, but she knew if she did anything at this time, it might throw a suspicious eye on them.

So wrapped up in what she had seen and what she was thinking, she missed what Gabrielle had said.

“I'm sorry, what was that?” She asked.

“Ti … remember, he said his friends called him Ti.”

“I'm not sure if we are really friends yet.” They fell silent as the entered the barn.

The friendly blacksmith had not lied about his barn. To their right was a large stack of fresh hay and to their left, a mass of cluttered farm and blacksmith's equipment, left over items that could not fit into the small area of his shop. There were two more anvils lying on their sides, both rusted from lack of use. Right next to them was a large set of bellows covered with a thick layer of dust. A mouse had chewed a hole in them making them useless, but it was easy to see, Ti did not throw anything away. A long workbench running the length of the wall was cluttered with odds and ends. Right next to that was a ladder that appeared to lead up to the hayloft.

Stepping further into the barn, they saw six stalls, though all appeared to be empty at the moment. They smiled at Ti who was standing with one of the stall doors open for Gabrielle's horse.

“Looks like you have an admirer already,” Xena whispered to her with a nudge to her ribs. Gabrielle threw her a dirty look, which was returned with a mischievous wink.

Leaving the bard with the blacksmith, Xena tied Argo to a post and began the task of removing her saddle and saddlebags.

“He sure is a nice horse,” Ti said as he ran his hand down the neck of Gabrielle's sorrel.

“Thank you, he was a gift from a friend of mine.”

“That's nice.”

“His name is Virgil, you kinda remind me of him.” Gabrielle smiled but as she thought of Virgil a shimmer of sadness crossed over her. Virgil had opted to leave them and returned to his father's farm, back to his quiet life. It was not the thought of Virgil that brought her sadness, but the deep loss she still felt over the death of his father - Joxer.

The bumbling, big-hearted warrior had always been a staple in their lives. When they had needed him, he had always been there, right to the end. His love for Gabrielle had pushed him to step in front of a blade meant for her. It had been a painful time for all of them, especially for her and Virgil.

Xena looked up to comment on Joxer's son, but her eyes caught sight of the sadness on Gabrielle's face, and she decided to stay silent. She knew where the bard's mind had gone, and it was another example of the painful memories Gabrielle was trying to bury.

Xena looked down at the ground and reflected on the cruel twists of fate their lives had been through. When she lifted her head again, the look on Gabrielle's sullen face nearly broke her heart.

Ti was too busy with the sorrel to notice his new friend's distant look or her sudden silence.

“Well, he sure is a pretty horse. I love working with animals, all kinds of animals.“ Tiberius's words brought both of them back from their thoughts. “I have seen a lot of horses, but none with a name like Virgil,” he said innocently.

Gabrielle managed to muster up a smile at the mistaken identity.

“No, Virgil was the name of the man who gave him to me.” She shook her head in hopes of shaking away some of the ghosts still haunting her soul. The past was something she had not learned to deal with yet, there never seemed to be enough time.

Gabrielle rose up on her tiptoes to remove the saddlebags off her horse.

“Oh,” Ti unbuckled the girth strap of the saddle before he asked, “then what is your horse's name?”

“He doesn't have one yet.”

“You have to give him a name, cause a horse deserves a name,” Ti paused for a moment and looked out the window of the barn. “I think everyone should have a name, cause no one should go through life without a name.”

“I know, I just have not found the right name for him yet. But I will.” Gabrielle said as she patted her horse's hindquarter.

“I could help you name him if … if you would like.”

“I don't know, maybe,” she said unsure if she wanted a stranger to name her horse.

Removing the saddle, Ti walked through the stall gate Xena had opened for him.

“Thanks. I know your horse's name,” He said proudly to the tall dark warrior. “Your horse's name is Argo, I heard you say it to him.”

“Yes it is. She is the daughter of my first horse.” Xena's voice had changed to a lower more soothing tone, as Ti went past her. She turned and placed a caring hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. Nothing was said between them, Gabrielle just nodded and Xena understood. Her moment of sadness over Joxer had passed. Without a word, she walked away from Xena.

“Have you lived your whole life here Ti?” Xena latched the stall closed and then followed behind Gabrielle. Ti placed the bard's saddle next to Xena's, and then turned to answer her question.

“Yes ma'am.”

“Ma'am?” Xena whispered in disbelief to Gabrielle when Ti looked away.

The bard shushed her and pointed back at the blacksmith who was still talking. “My Daddy was the blacksmith here, and so was his Daddy before him. My momma died in childbirth, so it was only him and me. He died too, so now it's just me.” The three stood at the entranceway into the barn.

“But you have friends here Ti, so you're not alone, are you?” Gabrielle tilted her head slightly as she reached over and placed a gentle hand on his forearm.

“Nope. I've lots of friends here, and now I've two new friends too.”

“Yes you do. It was nice of you to offer us a place to stay. Are you sure the other people in town won't be mad?” The question instantly removed the innocent smile off the big man's face. Ti slid his hands inside his leather apron and he rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet. Xena knew her question had struck a nerve, but the question in her mind was why.

“Ti, will the people in town be mad at you?” He said nothing, but she could see his inner struggle through the fear in his eyes.

“Ti?” He looked from Xena to Gabrielle and then at the closed door of the barn.

“I should go, I've work to do.” He smiled quickly at them both and then hurried for the door. For a man of his size, his movements were surprisingly fluid and noiseless. The door to the barn closed quietly, leaving Gabrielle and Xena alone. They looked at each other as the sound of happy horses munching on oats filled the emptiness in the air.

“What do you make of that?” Xena's said as her hands settled on her hips.

Before Gabrielle could answer, the door swung open so fast it sucked the air out of the barn. Xena turned quickly with her hand on her chakram, only to face the friendly giant with the sweat-streaked face.

“I forgot to tell you if you need anything, my house is on the other side of the stables, next to my shop. Breakfast is at sunrise.” His big smile took over his face and he closed the door.

Gabrielle made no attempt to hide her smile as a snicker escaped from her lips. Xena's mouth opened and closed but she too could not find a comment to express the bizarre nature of their host.

“Well, he was friendly,” Gabrielle finally said.

“And definitely a giant,” Xena finished.

“Things were going so smoothly too. Now we've found a friendly giant, in a town with no children, that doesn't seem to want strangers around.” The bard made her way over to her saddlebags and undid one of the buckles.

“Strangers around or us around?” Gabrielle looked over her shoulder at Xena's comment. No reply was needed as they chewed on that thought.

“Are you sure you're alright? I saw a shadow of the past cross over you earlier.” Xena asked in a low caring tone.

“Yeah, it took me by surprise. I thought I'd tucked that away.”

Before Xena could ask anything more, the doors of the barns were pulled open once more.

“Well hell fire and angels, where are my manners? I completely forgot to welcome you to my hometown.”

“That's okay, Ti, I think your hospitality has been wonderful.” Gabrielle smiled politely at Ti, but she realized what it was tugging at her emotions. His bright and cheerful demeanor reminded her a little of someone else whose heart was too big for his soul - Joxer.

“We do appreciate the roof over our heads for the night,” Xena added.

“Either way. I should've been more hospitable. It's not often we get visitors here. So on behalf of my friends I would like to welcome you both to Brimstone and I guess I'll see you in the morning.” He bobbed his head and then closed the door.

The two looked at each other, as their smiles slid from their faces.

“Nice name for a town.” Gabrielle said sarcastically.

“Make you wonder just how close to Hellfire we are?”

Chapter 2

Gabrielle was sitting cross-legged on one of their blankets watching Xena strap her armor back on. Casting her eyes downward, she tapped her Sais repeatedly against her ankle.

“I just don't think it's a smart idea, that's all. We know we're not welcome here, and you want to go sneaking around after dark?” Though Gabrielle's voice was hushed, her argumentative nature was not.

“Who said sneaking, I never said anything about sneaking.” She reached down and picked up her sword. “I am getting too old to be sneaking anywhere. Besides that I'm hungry, and from the sounds coming from your bottomless pit, so are you!” She slid her sword into its sheath on her back and then turned to point at Gabrielle's Sais. “Just stick 'em in your boots and let's go.”

“If we're only going to eat, why are we taking all our weapons?”

“Because I want to eat in peace. My sword and chakram help me do that.”

“Oh right, I forgot.” Gabrielle shook her head and ran her hands over her face. “Why do I have the feeling this will be another meal we won't finish?”

“Well, I'm not going to start anything,” Xena said as she reached for the barn door.

Gabrielle passed her and muttered loudly. “You never do, you just finish things. Just once I would like to sit down to a meal … hey!” Xena lifted her foot and playfully kicked Gabrielle in her backside.

Unlike earlier this afternoon, the streets of Brimstone were now quiet.

'Too quiet,' Xena thought as she looked over the town and then over at Gabrielle.

“Where is everyone?” the bard said in a hushed tone.

“I don't know,” the warrior kept her eyes moving.

“This gives me the creeps.” Gabrielle turned and walked backwards but still kept pace with Xena.

The shutters were drawn, doors were locked, and the only light for them to see with was the moon. The tables from the afternoon's market had been cleared away, making the road seem even wider and quieter. Gabrielle saw Xena's quick glance skyward. She realized just how bright the moon was.

“Full moon?” Her lips formed the words but no sound was made as she questioned the Warrior Princess.

Xena shook her head, turning her eyes back on the silent street when she whispered, “Tomorrow night or maybe the night after that.”

The bard nodded her understanding as they made they way further down the empty street. She fought down the urge to reach for her Sais, and then silently she cursed herself for wanting a weapon when there had been no reason for one. Though she now walked the path of a warrior, it didn't mean she had to become a troublemaker.

They made their way up the street, their footsteps landing silently on the dry dirt of the roadway. Gabrielle tilted her head sideways when she heard the faint murmur of voices coming from the other end of town.


“I hear it too. Come on,” Xena nodded up in the direction of the tavern.

Unseen and unheard, the two shadows crossed the empty street and then made their way around to the side of the building. Crouching down next to the rough wood exterior wall, they listened in silence.

“Feldigard had already told them the inn was full,” a male voice spoke above the angry crowd.

“Tiberius, we don't need the likes of those two in our town.” Another voice filled with anger spat out words directed at the gentle giant.

“Don't you blame him, he was just being nice.” An elderly female voice came to the blacksmith's defense, but it sounded like she was in the minority.

“They only need to be here tonight. I'll make shoes for Gabrielle's horse and then they'll be gone.” Ti's gentle voice pleaded with the villagers.

“I say we get them out of town tonight!” Many voices rose in agreement, but they were quickly quieted again.

“And how do we do that Feldigard? Ask them to leave?”

“No, I think it's too late for that, besides what reason would we give? I think it would be best to leave things as they are. But they better be gone by tomorrow, Ti.”

“I agree with Admetus, Ti. It's for the best. We don't want to make the forest angry,” the concern was easily heard in the feminine voice.

“Sabbeen is right. Things have been quiet lately and they need to stay that way.”

“Yes, as long as we stay out of the forest.”

Gabrielle looked to Xena in question, but the warrior only shrugged her shoulders.

“So what do we do about Xena and Gabrielle?”

“I suggest we do nothing, and then they'll be gone by mid-morning.” The room filled with murmured approval.

“I agree, but we must keep our children out of sight and out of those woods.”

“That ghostly demon can steal what it wants, but it's not killing anymore of our children Admetus!”

The shocked look on Gabrielle's face mirrored that of Xena's.

“Well, that explains why they're hiding their children,” the warrior said as she searched the wood wall for any opening she could see through.

“A ghost demon? What in Tartarus is a ghost demon?”

“I think a better question would be, why is it after their children?” Gabrielle pondered Xena's question as the warrior pressed her cheek tightly up against the wall.

“Can you see anything?”

“Yeah, a lot of scared and nervous people.” She pulled away and motioned for Gabrielle to look through her found peephole.

“Take a look.”

With one eye scanning the interior of the room, Gabrielle couldn't have described the situation any better. The room seemed to hold the entire town, some seated at tables, and others stood or leaned against the wood walls. She recognized a few of the faces from earlier today in the market. Gabrielle searched until she spotted the gentle blacksmith seated quietly at one of the long tables. She didn't have to see his face to know the villagers' talk had upset him.

“Come on Gabrielle,” Xena gave a gentle poke to the young bard.

“Where are we going?”

“To join the meeting.”

“Xena?” Gabrielle scrambled to catch up to the long strides of the Warrior Princess.

“Xena!” The bard hissed again.

The warrior paused and turned back to her companion.

“What?” Her voice echoed her impatience.

“I just ... do you really think that's a wise thing to do? I mean, we pretty much know we're not welcome here.”

“Yeah well ... it wouldn't be the first time I wasn't welcome some place. Besides ... I'm hungry and since everyone is gathered in the tavern, hopefully someone in there has something to eat.”

“Since when do you let your stomach rule your decisions?” Gabrielle huffed at the departing warrior.

“Since I've been traveling with you,” Xena said over her shoulder as she reached out with both hands to the double doors before her.

“Ready?” The warrior didn't give the bard a chance to answer. She leaned back and yanked both doors open, sucking the air and the sound right out of the room. Her face broke into a wide and bright smile.

“Is this a private party or can anyone join?” The entire room had frozen in shock and surprise at Xena's bold entrance.

Pretending nothing seemed out of the ordinary, the two outsiders sat down in two empty seats. Not a word had been spoken by anyone in the room, but the looks were plentiful.

“We were just looking for something to eat.” Gabrielle said politely.

“Ah ... we ummm,” the small framed tavern owner looked quickly over to the red headed man standing at the front of the room. Xena saw the slight nod directed at the tavern owner before he turned back to his guests.

“Ah ... what can I get you ladies?”

“I think the polite thing to do first would be for us to get acquainted. My name is Gabrielle and this,” the bard searched for the right word, “pushy person is Xena.”

The warrior's sneered a frown at Gabrielle's description, then she turned and waited for a name from the fearful little man.

“Hello, my name is Belus … I own the place. What can I get you?”

“Well, what do you have?” Xena's jubilant voice boomed through the silenced room as she leaned back with authority and threw her leg up onto the table.

The small man swallowed hard as he looked from the warrior's boot to long lethal sword across her back. He was not a man of confrontation, nor strong of spine.

“We have ... um roasted children … I mean chicken, roasted chicken, “ he quickly corrected himself. “But that will take awhile to reheat. I have stew on the stove … already warm in the back.” He glanced to the front of the room and then turned his attention back on his patrons.

“Stew ok with you? Ok, make that two stews, please.” He nodded quickly at Gabrielle's words and then left in the direction of the kitchen. He stopped just before the swinging door and motioned to an elderly woman, who was seated next to Tiberius, to join him.

Without their privacy to speak, the villagers started leaving. No one said anything as they bustled steadily for the doors. Not a single glance was sent in their direction, but Xena and Gabrielle could still see the fear and confusion on all their faces.

Xena's lips were pursed in a thin line as Gabrielle leaned forward and rested her chin in the palm of her hand. No words were spoken between them. After so many years together their silent communication was all they needed. But it did not matter because there was not much to say as they watched each person leave the tavern.

The frown on Gabrielle's forehead was lifted with a smile as she spotted the only friendly face they had seen in all of Brimstone. Xena knew by the moans of the floorboards who it was coming up behind her. She pulled her foot off the stained top of the crude table just as Tiberius approached them.

“You ladies will enjoy your meal, Sabbeen and Belus make real good food here. I come here all the time. You'll like it.” Ti's head nodded with each short sentence. His face still carried the polite innocent smile of earlier.

“We'll do that, thank you Ti.” Gabrielle said.

“Sabbeen?” The warrior questioned him.

“Sabbeen and her husband own the tavern and inn. They are good people, Sabbeen has been like a mother to me.”

“That's nice of her Ti,” the bard said as she occasionally glanced over at the villagers filing out of the room.

“Ti, who is that red headed man up there?” The warrior asked in a shushed tone.

“His name is Admetus, he is like our town leader. We all do what he says.”

“Why is that?” Xena asked as she looked over the room for the man they were talking about.

“Cause that's what we're supposed to do.”

Xena leaned forward and lowered her voice. “Ti, why was everyone here tonight?”

His face became serious as his tone changed. Leaning down, he whispered, “Cause we were having a secret meeting.”

Gabrielle nodded her head and looked away to hide her smile.

“What was the secret meeting about?” Xena asked quietly as Gabrielle's kept her eyes on the room. The last thing they wanted was to get their new friend into trouble.

“It was about you … um … it was -” He suddenly realized he had spoken too much.

Seeing the fear in his face, Gabrielle quickly jumped to his defense. “It's okay, Ti. You didn't tell us anything.”

“Yes, we already knew about the ghost demon.” Xena threw out a hook in hopes of snagging some answers.

Ti nodded his head as his look of confusion went from understanding to even more confusion.

“You know about the ghost demon?”

“We know someone or something is after the children.” As Xena spoke to Ti, Gabrielle spotted a flash of red hair out of the corner of her eye. The man they knew as Admetus was watching them. Although he was too far away to hear anything, his concern as to what was being said was evident on his face. Ignoring those around him, he started to push his way towards the three of them.

Gabrielle dropped her gaze as she nudged Xena's shin with her toe, under the table.

“Hey, what was -”

“The room has eyes.” Xena didn't bother to look to see what her companion was referring to.

“Ti, we want to thank you for such a nice clean barn to spend the night in. I think we'll be very comfortable.” The warrior allowed her voice to rise just enough to cover anything Ti was about to say.

Gabrielle reached forward and took his massive hand into her own. The scars and calluses she felt did not surprise to her.

“Thank you Ti, you have been more than generous.” Gabrielle's smile was genuine and Ti returned it. He had no idea how closely he was being watched.

The blacksmith nodded toward the swinging doors as the tavern owner came through with two large bowls.

“Here comes Belus with your food.” The tavern owner was startled to see the blacksmith at their table, but he said nothing as he put down their food and quickly departed.

“Enjoy your meal, and don't forget to try the bread, it's delicious. Sabbeen makes it every morning.” With that comment the friendly giant rose and left his new friends to their meal.

“Nice quiet meal, that's all I want,” The bard said as she looked over her steaming spoon at Xena.

“Then I suggest we just eat and then get out of here.” Xena whispered under her breath as she brought her spoon to her lips.

Admetus watched the two for a while, but when he realized they were only here for the meal, he made his way to the door. Before leaving he threw one more departing glare at them and then left.

Xena and Gabrielle sat silently enjoying the rest of their meal, in peace.

The barn was awash in moonlight as Gabrielle scratched the forehead of her horse. The sounds of bridles clanking and happy horses munching their oats brought a warm feeling of comfort to the bard. She looked back over her shoulder and smiled.

'It was nice to be under a roof for a change,' she thought. Her eyes fell on Xena, who was stretched out on the blankets, her fingers interlaced behind her head as she peered up at the ceiling.

“Where's your mind at?” Gabrielle said as she closed the door to the stall and made her way over to Xena.

“Huh, oh just thinking about all we heard this evening.”

“And … what have you come up with?” Gabrielle pulled her Sais out of her boots and placed them next to her bedding.

“Not much, but I think Ti could tell us more, we know he's not afraid to talk.”

“That's for sure.” Gabrielle nestled in closer and pulled the blanket up over her shoulder. “So what's your plan? I know you have one.”

“I'm not sure yet, I was thinking maybe we should hang around.” The warrior paused as she picked up a piece of straw and stuck it in the corner of her mouth, before she continued.

“But then again it might be easier just to go and find Admetus and put the pinch on his fat neck and get to the bottom of this right quick. What do you think?”

“Hmmm, sure.” The warrior looked over at her companion after the muttered response. Her lips pulled into a smirk as she realized Gabrielle was already falling asleep. She wriggled down into their blankets, then reached over to pull Gabrielle's blanket up to tuck it under her chin.

“Goodnight Gabrielle,” she whispered softly as she gently placed a kiss on her forehead. The bard snuggled closer and murmured something softly, but Xena could not make out what she had said.

Ti's barn was clean, but a barn is still a barn and that was the first thing that entered into Gabrielle's mind when she woke up. Her eyelids opened lazily as she looked around to get her bearing again. Sitting up on her elbows, she looked to the empty space next to her.

“How does she do that?”

“Do what?” The Warrior Princess said as she poked her head up from the stall holding her golden palomino.

Gabrielle turned in the direction of the words as she ran her fingers through her shaggy blonde hair.

“How do you manage to wake up and get out of bed without me waking up?”

“I don't know, I just do it.” Xena said as she closed the stall door. “You sleep very soundly when you're tired.”

Without warning, Gabrielle's stomach grumbled loudly in protest. Xena made no attempt at covering her smile, “Hungry?”

The bard's cheeks slightly reddened as she nodded at Xena's question.

“I heard Ti out with his chickens earlier, so I figured he probably has breakfast on the go already.”

Xena was correct in her assumption. Not only was he up, but by the looks of steaming food covering the kitchen table, he had been up and cooking for a while. The gentle giant obviously had a large appetite for there was more than enough food for the three of them. After their morning salutations, he directed the two women to the table.

Gabrielle's face beamed with anticipation as she looked over the platters of eggs, ham, oatmeal, and a loaf of fresh bread sitting next to a bowl of strawberry jam. She couldn't help but lick her lips. “Wow Ti, this all looks great.”

“Thank you. I enjoy cooking, especially when I have some one to cook for.”

Xena looked up with a smile as Ti placed a pitcher of milk on the table. Other than his immense size, there was no evidence of his being a blacksmith. His leather apron had been replaced with a linen one and his face and hands were sprinkled with flour, instead of coal dust. He wiped his hands on a thin towel draped over his left shoulder, then pulled out his chunky wooden chair. Ti's abilities amazed even the Warrior Princess.

He smiled at Xena when he saw her watching him.

“You have a nice home here Ti.”

“Thank you, I've done most of the work myself. I know … I should stick to being a blacksmith.” The smile never left his face as he stated what he thought was the obvious.

Gabrielle swallowed her food quickly wanting to rebuff his comment. “You've a nice cozy place here Ti. You have a town to live in, with friends around you. A real bed to sleep in every night, a table you can eat your own food from, and I bet a roof that doesn't leak.”

“No, never has either.” Ti said as he broke off a piece of bread. By his fidgety nature, they knew he did not receive many compliments.

“See, you have a nice house, a house you can call home.” Gabrielle leaned forward her face bright with a smile for her new friend.

What the bard didn't see was the reaction on Xena's face to her words. A flash of mixed emotions flickered across the warrior's features before she drew her blue eyes downward. Many times she had wanted to provide Gabrielle with her own home, a place to put down roots, so she could climb into her own bed every night. With their life on the road, it just wasn't possible. They always seemed to be in a hurry to somewhere or to someone.

With a blink of an eye, the moment of raw emotion was gone. Xena had pushed her pain and guilt back behind her warrior armor, hidden from sight and hidden from Gabrielle.

The table became quiet as the three devoured their breakfast. It did not take long before the mountains of food were leveled to only a small amount of leftovers. All three leaned back in their chairs, their stomachs content and full.

“Tiberius, I don't understand how you are single. One of those pretty girls from the village should have snatched you up by now.” Gabrielle winked at Xena as the two smiled at the blushing blacksmith.

“Oh, you're just saying that.”

The smiles slowly faded as Gabrielle continued to watch Xena. It was times like these she wished they had a place to call home, but she liked her life with Xena.

Content with the morning meal, Gabrielle's mind drifted aimlessly as she smeared a thick coating of strawberry jam over a piece of bread. She started thinking back on her years with the Warrior Princess. The good times and the bad times, and some of the days she wished she could do over again. Without effort or conscious decision, Gabrielle's mind followed down a path she could not seem to stay away from. The regrets she could not seem to forget and the decisions she had made that had cost them both dearly. How their travels had taken them away from all their family and friends, both in distance and in time. They had been robbed of their children and in the pleasures of watching them grow.

Children. They had three children between them, but because of the twist of evil in their lives, they could not be there for any of them.

“Ti, what more can you tell us about this ghost demon?” Xena's question pulled Gabrielle back from dark. The bard swallowed hard and tried to shake off the ill feeling of evil. She turned to look at Tiberius as they waited for an answer.

Ti's cheery face clouded, but neither of them could tell if it was out of fear or concern.

“I don't think I should say anymore. If anything happens again they will blame me.”

“Blame you for what?”

Ti looked from Xena to Gabrielle. The bard offered her new friend a warming smile of assurance as she reached out and placed her hand on his forearm.

“Maybe we can help.”

The giant paused and then finally he spoke. “Everyone thinks there's a ghost in our forest, a terrible bad ghost that's killed people.”

“But why is everyone so afraid to tell us anything?”

“Admetus, he said bad things would happen. I don't want bad things to happen to anyone.”

“It's ok Ti, Xena and I are pretty good at looking out for ourselves and for each other.”

“I know, it's just … things aren't always what they seem you know. People are dead, but I don't think the forest is bad.”

Tiberius continued to squirm, it was very obvious he knew more but he was very uncomfortable in telling them. Xena looked from Ti to Gabrielle. “I think it's time to tell us everything, I think we need to know about it.”

“But nobody really knows.”

“Knows what?” Gabrielle said as she reached across the table, inadvertently hitting the bowl of jam and spilling its contents all over herself and the table. Gabrielle's normally sunny disposition quickly clouded over, “Oh for the love of…why doesn't anyone around here want to talk!”

Ti paid little attention to Gabrielle's outburst, but Xena did. With a heavy heart Xena realized this wasn't the first time her companion had lost her patience lately. Something had been gnawing at Gabrielle and Xena knew it was slowly boiling to the surface. She had seen many changes in her young friend and this was another reminder of everything they had gone through. For her it had been a thirst for revenge and power, but for Gabrielle there had been no decision. The events from their past had all but been forced on her; from the loss of her ideals and her beliefs, to loss of her family. Then having to watch the slow demise of the once strong Amazon nation into a sparse collection of weary warriors had driven her to anger. The innocent girl from Poteidaia was gone and in her place was a hardened warrior and a despondent Amazon Queen.

“Gabrielle,” Xena held the compassion in her voice in hopes of easing whatever had sparked Gabrielle's rise of temper.

“What,” she ignored her blonde bangs as she turned to face Xena. “Children are being killed here, I would prefer not to sit around and pretend all is nice. Let's find out what's going on here and then kick some butt. I'm tried of sneaking around and being kept in the dark.”

“Someone once told me you can get more bees with honey than you can with vinegar.” Xena whispered out the side of her mouth as she offered a polite smile to their host who seemed oblivious to their conversation.

Gabrielle snorted in disbelief. “This coming from someone who cuts off the flow of blood to someone's brain just to ask them directions. Xena please.”

“This is not the time nor the place for this Gabrielle.” Xena's eyes shifted toward Ti as he started to clear the breakfast table.

“Why not?”

“Because,” Xena said in a low voice.

“Because you said so. Why is it always your say so? I can handle myself Xena, and I can handle what ever is out there.”

“I don't think you need to do that.” Tiberius said to them both, but neither seemed to be listening to him.

“I didn't say you couldn't.” Xena's tone changed to a crisp direct comment.

“No, you didn't Xena. You don't say much of anything. You just act and then react. Then you go barging in on a situation regardless of the consequences.”

Trying to remain calm, Xena lowered her head and spoke in low tone. “Gabrielle, this is not the time for this. If you want to talk we can talk, but not now. We should be concentrating on who or what is killing these people.”

“Children Xena … it is not who or what is killing people … it's about someone killing children. You know how hard that is to deal with!” The icy words cut right to the core of the warrior.

“Gabrielle … that's enough!” Xena growled out the words as the two of them came within only inches of each other.

“Is it? … It seems to me that it's only enough when you decide it's enough. Why is it when it comes to killing children, you react without thought?”

The two locked eyes in anger. It was something they had only done once before, many years ago. Xena thought all had been forgiven, but she could see now, there was more still eating away at Gabrielle and it broke her heart. Xena realized she had to get them out of this situation before it turned really ugly.

Without another word, Xena turned away from Gabrielle and picked up the wooden bucket next to the sink.

“Where are you going?” Gabrielle demanded.


“We can't keep running away from things Xena!”

Tiberius said nothing as the Warrior Princess pushed passed him in her haste to leave.

“I'm going to get water.”

The door slammed and without taking a breath, Gabrielle turned to quiet man standing in the kitchen. “Ti, take a chair. I want to know what is going on around here.”

Putting some of the morning's dishes on the counter, the gentle giant sat back down in his wooden chair.

“Well? What is going on here?” Looking down at his large hands, Ti finally let go of the town's secrets, releasing the burden of concealment with a heavy sigh.

“We have had problems for the last few years, but nothing like this. No one had ever gotten hurt.”

“What sort of problems?” Gabrielle question was short and to the point as she lowered herself back down into her chair.

“Things were going missing, tools and food started disappearing, but it wasn't bad. It was serious, but no one was harmed or hurt … until Alexis went missing.” Ti's eyes grew like saucers as he unfolded the secrets of Brimstone.

“Who was Alexis?” Ti looked over at Gabrielle after the bard had spoken, but Gabrielle's attention seemed to be on her hands.

“Alexis is Admetus' daughter, she got lost one day … in the woods. And when she came back … she umm … her,”

“What?” Gabrielle's said as she kept her eyes on her hands.

His face turned scarlet red before he answered, “she was without clothes and she had lots of bruises and she was telling stories she shouldn't have.”

“She was naked?”

“Yeah, as the day she was born. There were lots of rumors as to what had happened, but I don't believe them.”

“What rumors?” Gabrielle asked as she reached for the towel on the table.

“People say she was taken in the night by the Gods as some sort of punishment against the village, but some people think she just wandered away and she was punished by her father.”

“What do you think Ti?” He watched with growing curiosity as Gabrielle attempted to clean the jam off her hands.

“We used to be friends, Alexis and me. I like kids … but her father doesn't let her out of his sight now. I wouldn't hurt her, but some people say he hurts her.”

“Who hurts her? Her father?” Gabrielle's voice was growing sharper as she desperately wiped at her hands.

“Yes, her father. He isn't a nice man sometimes. He was really mean to Gorgon too.”

“Who was Gorgon?” Gabrielle was starting to feel like she needed a map to get to the truth in this town.

“Gorgon was hired by everyone to find out where are things were disappearing to, but he went into the forest, and … he's dead now.”

“Dead?” she questioned him but did not take her eyes off of her hands.

“People say the forest is haunted … It kills people, but I don't believe that.”

“What do you mean, kills people?”

“Other people have died in the forest, and Admetus says the forest is cursed and haunted and that we shouldn't go in there. But I don't believe …I don't think … the forest doesn't kill anyone.”

Gabrielle turned and looked at Tiberius, his encrypted answers only seemed to blur the truth further from her.

“None of this is making sense. Who else has died in the forest?”

Sadness crossed his face when he spoke, “one of the children from here. But the forest didn't do it, I know.”

“How do you know?”

“Because that is nonsense. What everyone says, the ghost demon, there is no way. A child is dead, but an innocent child would never kill -.”

“An innocent child…” Gabrielle whispered the words into the stillness of the room, “innocent children do kill. Sometimes you have to kill them.”

The words scared him. He didn't understand why anyone would have to kill a child. He turned to look at Gabrielle, but the bard's attention seemed to be elsewhere.

The dam holding her together began to crumble under the thought of a dead child. She recalled with vivid clarity when once before'an innocent child' had killed. And just like that, it all came rushing back to her - the pain, the hurt and the betrayal of trust. The reality of the life she had chosen when she decided to befriend a warrior named Xena. She wanted adventure, she wanted to travel, but many times she wondered if the cost had been too high. She had lost everything … and it had all started when her not so innocent child had murdered Xena's son.

“Do you know about innocent children, do you know what they can do? They can destroy everything you love. They can take and twist you up inside, until you don't know right from wrong. Not all children are innocent. Some deserve to die.”

Tiberius could not see into Gabrielle's mind, but he could see the tortured pain in her face. He had seen a face like that before … in the forest.

Frightened by what he was seeing, he cautiously watched Gabrielle turn her attention back to her hands. The towel she had was working furiously to remove the remnants of strawberry jam.

All he wanted to do was help her, but all Gabrielle wanted was to erase the painful thoughts spinning out of control in her mind. She found herself grasping at anything to keep herself calm. Each breath she drew seemed deeper than the last, but she still could not seem to get air into her lungs. Her chest ached for air, as the heavy beating of her heart thundered in her ears.

She held her hands up to him and then spoke in a painful whisper. “I can't get the blood off my hands.” Tiberius looked down in fear at her hands, but there was nothing there. There was no blood and that scared him more than anything did.

“How can I get the blood off my hands?” She turned her hands so she could see her palms.

Swallowing hard, Gabrielle tried to hang on to her mind. She was not a child anymore, but a warrior who had learned the lessons in war - kill or be killed. No longer an innocent, she had lived through her battles and had survived. There was no way that she was going back there, not again.

“She can't make me do it again.” Gabrielle's voice was changing along with her demeanor.

Suddenly time twisted in her mind and it no longer mattered whom she had fought, or what battles she and Xena had been through. She no longer felt like a warrior, her inner strength as an Amazon Queen had all but vanished. In less time than it took to have a true thought, Gabrielle was once again young and innocent. But in her mind, her hands carried the blood of others and for that she would have to pay.

“What do I have to do to get it off my hands?” she pleaded through her tears at the frightened blacksmith.

Tiberius saw the change in her face and it scared him even more. Seeing Gabrielle's tears pulled him out of his stupor. The gentle giant reached over and placed his hand on her shoulder.

“But there's no blood on your hands Gabrielle,” he said softly.

Faster than his own eyes could follow, Gabrielle's head snapped in his direction, her eyes a blazed with fury. Her chair toppled backwards as she jumped to her feet, bringing her face inches from his. She leaned forward and pressed her Sai firmly against his throat.

“I'm not going to kill another child, not for you … not for anyone.” He felt the heat of her breath as he looked at the rage seething from her eyes.

“But … you didn't kill the child.” Tiberius stuttered out.

“Oh I have, or at least I have tried. Her flesh is my flesh, but she's still the child of evil.”

“She is your child?” Tiberius said as he looked at her twisted features in confusion.

“Yes my child, my child of evil. Hope!” The word came out of Gabrielle's mouth in a breath of utter disdain.

“Hope!” Xena snarled out the word as she came through the doorway. The appearance of Gabrielle standing over Tiberius with her Sai pressed against his throat brought utter disbelief to the Warrior Princess. She could not believe what she had heard or what she saw in front of her.

“Gabrielle! What are you doing? Gabrielle!”

“Stay out of this, Xena.”

Dropping the bucket of water, Xena took two steps in Gabrielle's direction. The challenge did not go unnoticed when the bard met her half way. What Xena had in size, Gabrielle made up in muscle. Where the Warrior Princess was strong, the bard was quick. Years of walking and fighting next to each other had made them what they were. They had been friends, companions, comrades, but never before had they been eye to eye as enemies.

“Gabrielle, what are you doing?” There was no attempt to hide the pain and disbelief in her voice.

“Back off, Xena!”

“What in Tartarus are you doing? Gabrielle, get a hold of yourself.”

“Get a hold of myself? I am a hold of myself and this time you stay out of it.”

“This time? What are you talking about, this time?” Xena tried desperately to bring her friend back from where ever she had gone.

“This time I'm going to do it my way.” The battling bard knew she only had one advantage over Xena and that was the element of surprise.

“Gabrielle…” The bard struck hard and fast into Xena's unprotected stomach with the end of her Sai. Startled and winded, Xena bent at the waist as Gabrielle swung up, connecting with Xena's chin. The Warrior Princess crumbled to the floor.

Shocked by what he had seen, Ti rose to come to aid of the warrior, but Gabrielle's speed was too fast for his size. Her foot struck out knocking his feet out from underneath him. Stumbling backwards he tripped and fell hard into his chair. The piece of furniture splinted under his weight as he fell hard to the floor.

A semi-conscious Xena felt the floor shake as the giant fell, but even in her state she was acutely aware of the giant's sudden stillness.

With no one left to stop her Gabrielle turned and headed for the door. Xena hovered in the gray twilight, unable to move. All she could do was listen to the sounds as her friend drifted farther and farther away from her. Whatever had gotten into Gabrielle's mind had left no room for anything else.

She had no idea how long it took her, but Xena finally managed to roll over. Laying face down on the floor, she closed her eyes and was trying to pull herself up when she heard the door open. Try as she might she could not lift her head to see who it was, all she could do was listen to the footsteps approaching her. Pulling strength from deep within, she managed to get her hands under her and she started to push herself up. Without warning something struck her hard on the side of the head. It collapsed her arms, and put out the last spark of her will power. There was nothing she could do as she felt herself falling into the darkness.

- Continued in Part 2 -

Ghostly Demons

C. L. Hart; Sinful@telus.net

Time is the most important thing in a person's life, I cannot thank you enough for spending yours enjoying my tall tale.

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