by Scarabae

Chapter 10

Xena stared at the stars glimmering in the dark velvet sky. She held Gabrielle tightly against her body. She thought about Ankh's question from the previous evening about desire. She suspected that there was something going on to explain the passion that seemed to saturate the air around them. The passion that pushed back all the hurt, all the sorrow and wanted only to be fed even more. Ankh had been vague on the details of what she was trying to do. She had to get to Hecate's temple before the equinox. That was all she revealed. Knowing they had no friend in Morpheus, Xena wondered about the dreams that had been visiting them since they encountered the strange warrior. Gabrielle moaned and pressed her body against Xena almost in response. Was there something too voracious in their recent lovemaking? Her mind flickered back to the image of Ankh and Callisto falling together like swimmers drowning. Something was going on, why were her dreams immune? Then she thought of her jealousy from the other day. Her cold rage at the sight of Callisto. Desire, jealousy, rage, very strong emotions to tap into. Someone was counting on those emotions to confuse them, delay them? Callisto, where did she fit into this? Although Xena could not imagine a more fitting agent of unchecked emotions. Someone was counting on her reaction to Callisto, Gabrielle's reaction... Whoever was behind this wanted to use these emotions to cleave them apart. Xena narrowed her eyes, Ares perhaps? No, too subtle. Whoever it was that Ankh was going up against? Hecate? Could she weave a spell like this? Xena sighed in frustration, little was known about Hecate, she didn't think the Goddess was this vengeful. And anyone who stole from Hera...Well...

Xena sighed again. What she had seen in the forest was going to complicate things. She had not told the bard about Callisto's arrival. She barely had time to process it herself. There had barely been time for dinner and they did not eat very much at that. Xena felt a small shudder electrify her spine at the memory of Gabrielle's fingers and lips on her body. Gabrielle responded in her sleep, her hands beginning to move over the warrior's body. Xena drew in a sharp breath and gently disengaged herself from her lover's roaming hands.

She moved towards the fire, settling down, absently twirling a stick. Ankh had tried to keep them from getting involved for a reason. Did she know this would happen? Or did she just know something would happen? Xena snapped the stick and threw both halves into the fire. She needed to speak to Ankh and get more details. Xena smiled wryly at the fire, somehow, she could not envision Callisto and Ankh settling down in a small thatched hut somewhere. Maybe Callisto would make her the high priestess?

Xena whirled at the sound of a stick cracking just outside of camp. Ankh moved into the circle of flickering light cast by the fire. Xena gazed past her into the darkness.

"It's just me" Ankh whispered as she collapsed before the fire, her eyes burning deep in her skull. Xena sat across from her, noting the confusion on the other woman's face.

Ankh looked up at the warrior, "You and Gabrielle should leave me in the morning.

"Ankh, we're in this far with you..." Xena paused, "Do you know who that was? In the forest?"

Ankh laughed, a hollow empty sound, "No. She spoke my true name and spoke words to me that...She ask that I burn for her as she burns for me." Ankh shivered even still as small electric surges licked beneath her skin at the thought, not even curious how Xena knew.

"Callisto." Xena said softly.

Ankh groaned and buried her head into her hands. "The Callisto? Godling? The one from the stories this morning? Oh Gods, what am I doing?"

"What indeed? Do you believe this to truly be just your actions alone? No, someone deliberately chose Callisto. Someone is going to great lengths to muddle things up for you, us. You need to tell me everything from the beginning." Xena murmured to the distressed woman. She saw the marks of passion clawed across Ankh's shoulders, disappearing down beneath her tunic. Red welts from bites littered the base of her neck like jewelry. And there, along the collarbone, a burn that curved into a small 'c' at the base of her throat. Callisto had marked Ankh in her own special way.

"Is it battle lust.?" Xena asked as Ankh finally lifted her head to look at her.

"No...Battle lust can be satiated. This hunger claws at me with no relief. No matter how often it comes, whenever she is near, I want more." Ankh choked out. Xena saw the shadow of shame in Ankh's eyes. Xena did not know how to respond, too many memories crashing in and stirring to life.

"How did you get back here?" She finally spoke, pushing the prowling images back down.

"I...awoke alone in the clearing." Ankh replied, her body trembling as she recalled the force that quelled her into unconsciousness. The scream still trapped in her throat. When she had awakened, she was chilled and alone. She had recovered her clothing by the light of Artemis's grace. There was no sign of the blonde godling, of Callisto, save the indentation on the ground beside her and the delicious ache that covered her body.

"L'ankha'chein." Xena spoke firmly, seeing the smolder return to the steel polished tint of the other woman's eyes.

"This is not only affecting you. I don't think. We may need to see someone for direction on this one. I know about winning battles using desire, but not desire like this. Not passion that is boundless and this fierce."

"Do you speak truth warrior?" Ankh asked, her eyes glittering like jewels in the night.

Xena did not look away, despite the draw of the fire in those eyes and what it touched inside her. "I know about conquering and possession, I know about need so deep it renders everything else secondary. I am asking you, the woman I traveled with this morning, not the desire ridden puppet I see before me, to tell me more. From there we can determine if this is something that we can handle without outside help."

Ankh lowered her eyes, Xena's words were like daggers of ice. "I have already involved the two of you, that is too much. There are more lives at stake here than just my own. All things eventually come back don't they? I tried to run from everything and hide away with my lover and deny the evil that I lived with, that I nurtured, that I loved. I took on everything for her..."

Xena narrowed her eyes, "Tell me about your relationships. Not just the one you are bound to, but the other's. Tell me who gave you that scar." Ankh looked up, fury and sadness battling for control.

"Why does that matter?" She asked, her voice threateningly low.

"Have you always been drawn to darkness? Callisto was chosen for a reason, and I am beginning to see things here that intersect through you." Xena replied, unflinching before Ankh's mercurial mood shifts.

Gabrielle moaned and shifted beneath the blanket. Ankh's gaze traveled past Xena to the sleeping bard. Gabrielle gasped out Xena's name as her eyes opened wide.

Chapter 11

Xena moved to her lover's side. "What is it?" She knelt down, her hand resting on Gabrielle's shoulder. Gabrielle's eyes blazed with desire as she pulled Xena down towards her.

"Gabrielle!" Xena spoke sharply, her heart aching to refuse the bard's need.

"Mmmm. Let me tell you about what I dreamed you were doing to me." Gabrielle's hands tightened around Xena's neck.

"Toss me the water skin." Xena said curtly, her eyes never leaving the emerald eyes sharp with the edge of passion.

Ankh reached beside the log and tossed the half -full water skin over to the warrior who was intent on her lover's face. Xena grabbed the skin and pulled the stopper out. She poured the contents over Gabrielle's head. The bard's hands released Xena as she tried to cover her face.

"Xena." Gabrielle sputtered out. "What are you doing?" Xena was relieved to see the burn of desire replaced by the spark of anger.

"Just wanted to make sure you knew what you were doing." Xena murmured as she kissed her lover's forehead.

"You woke me up to tell me that?" Gabrielle sat up, brushing dripping bangs back from her face.

"She didn't wake you." Ankh said softly. Aillia has gone too far this time she thought as she caught both the bard's confused gaze and the warrior's determined one.

"Very well Xena, I will tell you anything you want to know." Her entire body sagged, Xena couldn't not tell if it was from relief or defeat.

"Gabrielle, since you're up, maybe you should hear this too." Xena pulled the blanket up around the younger woman's shoulder's.

"Maybe I can get caught up?" Gabrielle snapped, still slightly annoyed at the impromptu bath she had just received. "You have been enthralled by desire. Desire for the warrior above anything else." Ankh replied.

"That's not an enthrallment- She's my lover." Gabrielle said, her brows furrowing slightly. There was truth to the statement, she hadn't wanted Xena in the way that coursed through her since all the tragedy that had come their way.

Gabrielle thought for a moment. It could be true, even now, the nearness of her lover caused a deep need to start pulsing in her veins.

"Keep talking." She said as she followed Xena over towards the fire. She settled against Xena, and gazed at Ankh. Ankh could not meet their eyes, she stared into the fire and began speaking about her past. Gabrielle shuddered, the voice that came from Ankh was distant and removed, like she was telling a tale that she knew only because it was necessary.

"I was a Captain in the Royal Guard when I was accused of killing a slave girl, an officer and attacking the son of the manor." Ankh sneered at the memory. "And I did. By the gods, I would have killed that bloodless gutless little slag if I could. He and his personal guard were...toying with one of the servant girls. They told me to mind my own business, she was just a slave after all. Cowards all of them. I killed the man that was currently...engaged with her. I went for the scum, the son, but tripped over the girl as she rolled out from beneath the officer's body."

Ankh's eyes closed as she took a deep breath. She could still hear the girl's screams in her ears, and the look of terror in her eyes when she met Ankh's gaze. Ankh had tumbled backwards and landed beside her. Her terror filled eyes never left Ankh's face. Ankh remembered the warm spray of blood hitting her face and the screaming abruptly stopping. The girl's limp body fell forward against her and Ankh saw the crossbow bolt in the girl's throat as she moved to set her down before trying to battle her way through the guards that rained blows upon her body at the gleeful command of the Lord's son. He had wanted her to replace the slave girl in their entertainment, except all the commotion had drawn guards from all over the castle. Too many witnesses at that point.

"I was thrown in the dungeon, for the murder of the officer and the slave. The story became that the son and his entourage found me terrorizing the girl and leapt in to defend her. I killed the first poor unfortunate officer and then the slave before turning on them. I killed the slave allegedly to prevent her from testifying against me. I was to be executed, and that slug came to me in the dungeon and gloated. Bought another slave girl in and took her before my eyes and then came for me. Even chained I attacked him as soon as he got close enough. That was added to my list of crimes, he was taken away and I was beaten nearly to death." Even now, Ankh burned with rage at the memory of the dung that called itself nobility.

"A few of my soldiers took my body from the keep and left it in an alley. It was all they could do without getting caught." Ankh sighed, absently brushing wavy dark hair away from her face.

"An old woman found me and dragged me back to her shack along the wharf. She healed me and told me that it was to be as such. I had other battles to fight. I became a mercenary of sorts, she told me where and when people who dealt in shadows and profit from other's misery would meet, and I would dispatch them. There were others that worked for her in the same way. One day she finally called us all together to battle the evil they only called the Ice Princess of the mountain. The people in that party would go on to become my closest friends and allies. They are the one's I must save now. And they are being held by the Ice Princess we thought we defeated so long ago."

Gabrielle glanced over at Xena, and when her lover caught her eye, she saw the same shadow of sadness that arose only when Xena was thinking of her days as a warlord, and the pain she had bought on innocents. More recent than that, the pain she had caused her lover.

"What about the scar?" Xena asked, her voice betraying nothing as she turned away from Gabrielle.

"Given to me by the lady of the mountain. No one had ever seen the Ice Princess. I met a woman who told me that she had been living beneath the castle of ice carved into the mountain and she knew that one day I would come. She looked like me, it was like staring into a mirror, except her hair was as white as the snow that surrounded the mountain. I was young and foolish when it came to desire's call. I stayed with her there beneath the castle for days. Until I heard someone calling my name. I followed the sound and found the rest of the party in cells. None the worse for wear, but justifiably angry with me. Each of them had been captured as they ventured to find me, until all them were captured one by one. I released them, and went back to find my lover, so she could aid us in our battle. One more kiss, she had said, there is plenty of time for battles.

"I was in her embrace when my friends attacked. They knew who she was. The Ice Princess. They had seen tapestries that detailed her conquests and atrocities. She escaped easily and we retreated. We were outnumbered and I wasn't exactly high on my companion's list of trustworthy comrades. The old woman at the wharf took one look at me and pulled me aside. She told me that the Ice Princess could only be defeated by her own blood. I thought she meant by a weapon tipped with her own blood, no. By kin. I had not been raised by blood parents, I was taken in as an infant. My 'sister', as I discovered, had been taken in by the old woman, and taught the ways of Hecate for healing. It didn't quite happen that way, she became attracted to the darker side of power and obtaining it with the bloodier forces of Hecate. So that I would not be swayed by the dark face of the moon that was Hecate's power the old woman gave me a necklace made of Artemis's threads.

"The ensuing battle when we returned was neither pleasant nor short. The Ice Princess, Aillia, sneered at me and told me I was a fool to fight for the greater good of idiot villagers. Hadn't I learned anything from the Guard? I did not kill her. When I bent down to take her to the old woman, Aillia slammed her fist into my chest. I remember only the force of the pain before I collapsed. When I awoke, I was left with this." Ankh pulled the tunic off over her head and pointed to the scar on her chest. "Her blow burned Artemis's threads into my flesh."

Xena looked at the intricate scar that threaded over the woman's sternum down across her upper ribs and swirling up and around to curl around her collarbone.

"It is a mark of possession." Xena said simply, noting the fine detail of knots overlapping in several areas.

"I know." Ankh replied as simply.

Gabrielle looked from one warrior to the other. "What do you mean?" She asked, not commenting on the other marks that littered Ankh's torso and neck. Or the red burn that marked her throat.

"When she burned this into Ankh's chest, she did two things, she was mocking the 'protective' power of it, meaning she could get through it at any time, and two, she made sure that it burned across Ankh's chest. Her life force beats behind that scar. So that is who was responsible for you being left by the side of the road and who is most likely responsible for the heightened sensitivity, shall we say, to heated emotions?" Xena explained, turning to catch Ankh's eye for the last sentence.

"Yes. I have until the equinox to rescue my friends. If I fail, they die, and I am Aillia's once more." Ankh murmured, pulling the tunic back over her head. Xena thought for a moment. Again, she realized, Callisto being chosen was no mistake. Aillia must have found a kindred spirit in Callisto. All this woman wanted was to destroy everything around Ankh and possess her for the rest of her life.

"You need to tell Gabrielle the rest of the what is going on. We need to figure out how we are going to handle this. She needs to know everything." Xena said, laying her hand gently across Gabrielle's own.

"There's more?" Gabrielle asked incredulously.

"I am under the same spell of enthrallment that you are. Except, it is with someone else. Someone Aillia chose to disrupt what trust we have been developing." Ankh spoke, fastening her light eyes on Gabrielle's.

Gabrielle offered a small confused smile and waited.

"It is Callisto. I...I am sorry." Ankh finished quietly. Gabrielle drew in a sharp breath, she felt like someone had punched her in the gut. She felt emotions racing to the surface as her hand clenched Xena's, she looked into the eyes of her lover and knew it to be the truth. "Callisto."

Chapter 12

Callisto prowled the length of her cave, moving with the feline grace of a large cat. She could not forget the taste of the other woman's kiss nor the tingling that burned her mouth as she longed for the flavor again.

There was something different about that one's touch. Callisto had initially presumed her to be the twin of the woman who made the offer, but no. Her touch, while just as hungry, was different. The surrender she gave to Callisto was unlike anything Callisto had ever known, not in her mortal life, undead, immortal or even godling. Though Callisto knew it had something to do with the strange words that she spoke, Callisto wanted to know that surrender again.

"Thinking of my sister are you? She has that effect." Aillia's voice drifted through the darkness.

Callisto whirled around."You did this to me. You made this two fold." She snarled at the figure moving out of the shadows, her fingertips glowing dangerously.

"Desire burns hotter when it burns both ways." Aillia purred to the blonde woman vis goddess. "You are familiar with that, aren't you?" She knew that when the time came, it would be easier to sacrifice the blonde goddess when she got Ankh back. A small price, she was too volatile, too much undisciplined power. Aillia knew there would be no defenders from the Olympians for her. They had little use for ambrosia induced gods.

"Why? You promised me..." Callisto could care less about Xena, she wanted Ankh again. Her desire for vengeance had become consumed by her desire for the silver eyed woman she had possessed.

"What? I promised you what you wanted to hear. You are causing much distress to the warrior. She is troubled by your appearance, and your desire for her friend." Aillia smiled, planting yet another kernel in such fertile soil."Xena would keep her away from me? I don't think so." Callisto's eyes narrowed, one more thing that Xena would take away from her. Not again, not with this. She was no helpless child anymore, she would destroy the warrior princess. "She tries and there is no place on this or any other plane she can hide from me."

"You have no need to fear, Ankh cannot stop the trembles that course through her body every time she thinks of you. You will have her again, tonight."

Callisto's lips curved into a slow feral smile, she ran her hands unconsciously over her abdomen and hips. "Good."

The three travelers approached from over the hill towards the village. Ankh quietly responding to Xena's questions. Gabrielle could not bring herself to say anything more. She remembered the hallucination - it was a hallucination wasn't it - from the sweat lodge in the Amazon village. The gentle caress of the goddess's fingers as she stroked her brow. The sting of the slap. She was trying to reconcile the news about Callisto. Every time she thought that she had found forgiveness for the blonde witch, the scab was ripped off and the pain bled through again. She no longer knew what the source of the pain was, whether from the quick death Callisto had given Perdicus before her eyes, or the torment that Xena suffered continually at Callisto's hand. If Perdicus were still alive, she would still be in Potedia, tending the farm, and waiting to hear news of Xena's further exploits. She would never have known the passion and power of her friend as her lover. Of course, she wouldn't also have known the pain and hurt that came from Xena's fury. Her heart would not have been made whole. Gabrielle shook her head slightly, this was meant to be. Never had she felt more complete than when she was at Xena's side. And the pain of her lover's violence had devastated her. So much hurt had been between them and where ever there was pain - there was Callisto. The thread of her life had bought her here, and unfortunately, Callisto's thread was woven in to the tapestry of her life.

"Not too much further." Ankh spoke up to no one in particular. Xena had ridden most of the day, and Gabrielle had walked on the other side of Argo. Ankh knew that she could fault neither one of them for their distance. What of her other friends, where were they?

She wished that she could speak to Dhomb, of all of them, he was her closest ally. She had to save them, or else offer to trade herself for their freedom. What she would do about her own lover she did not know. Ankh did not believe that Aillia would just let it go between them. She sighed. Her mind drifted back to Callisto, despite the news, her mind and body were not of the same opinion. She could not control her body's response everytime a memory of Callisto flashed unbidden through her mind.

Screams from below shook each of them from their thoughts. Xena hee-yahhed Argo into a gallop down the hill. Gabrielle and Ankh both sprinted down after the warrior princess. Xena reached the village with her sword arm flashing as she bore down on the attackers. The soldiers fell easily beneath her blade, she could see more pouring in from the south. Argo lashed out with flying hooves to those that dared to come closer. Off to the side, Xena saw the leaders, there were more than one, standing. Not yet joining the fray. Xena flipped off Argo and landed squarely on two soldier's backs before pushing off to land on her feet. Her face was lit with glee as she advanced on 3 angry soldiers.

Gabrielle and Ankh joined the fracas, Gabrielle striking out with her staff, Ankh with her hands and feet. "Ankh!" Xena yelled as she tossed a sword towards the woman. Ankh shook her head and let the sword fall to the ground beside her as she somersaulted away from the strike bearing down on her. She leapt to her feet and swung one leg into an arcing kick across the face of her attacker. Two quick punches and he toppled backwards.

"Ankh!" A man's voice cried out. Ankh turned towards the sound of the voice."What are doing here, defending these people?" A tall figure strode towards her.

"Dhomb?" A smile spread across Ankh's face.

"Why are you defending this village of slavers?" Dhomb stopped in front of Ankh, green eyes blazing down at her.Ankh looked up at the handsome face of her dearest friend.

"Village of slavers? What are you talking about?" Confusion dimmed her smile.

Xena saw one of the commanders stride over to Ankh, were they talking? Why was she not surprised?

"It's true, then, Sharia said you had gone mad. You fight beside the Warlord Xena." The man snarled down at Ankh.

"Dhomb! No, this is Ai..." Ankh didn't finish her sentence, stumbling backwards as he backhanded her.

"I'm sorry Ankh. I cannot stand by and let this happen." Dhomb moved towards Ankh, his eyes sadder.Ankh watched her dearest friend move towards her, knowing he believed that she was truly on the wrong side of the battle.

"Ten thousand curses on you Aillia." She thought as she leapt away from his next attack.

"Don't make this harder than it has to be." He whirled around to block her attack.

"No Dhomb...I am not on the enemy." Ankh skipped back and kicked him across his strong jaw while his defense was still down where her last attack had been.

"Lover." A voice purred from behind Ankh, Ankh turned and saw the face of her blood bound lover, Sharia. "Sharia." Ankh saw the rage that burned in her eyes, thin blue beams of fury. "Don't Sharia." She whispered as her lover attacked.

"How could you leave us like this? How could you leave me?" Sharia growled, her clawed fingers barely missing Ankh's stomach. Ankh watched as the rage consumed her lover, her beautiful face transforming into a mask of hate. A snarl curled her lips back, exposing sharpened teeth, her hands lethal claws.

"Sharia, no...I didn't leave you." Ankh protested, her head snapping back as Sharia hit her soundly across her face. She stumbled back, trying to move away from Sharia and Dhomb. She watched the muscles ripple across Sharia's body, her skin transforming into black and white diamond scales.

"You are not here anymore!" Sharia's screamed her rage, her claws dragging across her heart as she lunged for Ankh again.

Xena dispatched the last of the soldiers, and hurled her Chakram through the air towards the creature and the man advancing on Ankh. A glancing blow knocked the man unconscious and ricocheted off the creatures shoulder. Xena snatched the weapon out of the air, amazed that the creature was unscathed by the blow. The creature turned, howling and with long loping strides headed for Xena.

"Ne'sharias'tiembe!" Ankh called out, her hands moving in intricate patterns before her. Her head throbbing from Sharia's blow. The creature stopped in it's tracks and turned to glare at Ankh. The sound of a horn from the hilltop made Xena and Ankh both look to see a retreat being called. Another sound and the creature that was Sharia turned and ran back for the still figure of Dhomb. With one arm she scooped him up and turned to face Ankh. "How could you betray me?" The icy fire in blue eyes softened for a moment as she ran past Ankh.

"Sharia..." Ankh whispered, before realizing that her lover was racing towards Gabrielle who had just lowered her staff as the soldiers began their retreat back up the hills. Xena saw the creature heading towards Gabrielle and both Ankh and Xena cried out."Gabrielle!"

Gabrielle turned in time to see the creature bearing down on her, she tried to raise her staff, which did not come up fast enough to deflect the black and white forearm across her forehead. She lost consciousness before the creature had also scooped her up and raced towards the top of the hill. Xena and Ankh raced after the creature, Xena whistled for Argo, cursing when she did not appear. The creature that was Sharia turned and faced the two women headed towards her. On either side of her stood a small delicate woman and massive dark haired man."Arnaia! Zanten!" Ankh called to her former comrades, her breath burning in her lungs.

A schism opened beneath her feet and she tumbled forward. From the corner of her eye, she saw Xena falling forward as well. She tucked and landed on the soft dirt before springing off again. When she and Xena landed on the other side, there was no sign of the army or Sharia or Gabrielle.Xena turned and glared at Ankh. "Where are they? What have they done with Gabrielle?" Her voice was threateningly low. Ankh shook her head, "I...I don't know...I don't know anything about this land...To the nearest temple of Hecate I would guess." Ankh did not know what she could do to quell the warrior's anger and fear. Xena wrestled the rage that threatened to explode. She needed to get away from this woman, this harbinger of dark desires.

"The next town due East has a temple I am sure. Meet me there in 2 days time. I need to speak to someone. If you are not there, I will do whatever I need to to get Gabrielle back." Xena said in the same quiet voice, turning back towards the village. Her eyes scanned the area, looking for her familiar golden mare. She saw Argo tethered tightly to a tree, legs tangled in roots that curved suspiciously from the ground surrounding the horse.

"I will be there." Ankh replied softly, settling to her knees on the dry grass beneath her. She waited until she heard the sound of galloping horse hooves receding. She finally made her way down into the village and helped them tend to their wounded before getting back on the road, heading away from the setting sun.

Chapter 13

LOVE/SEX WARNING/DISCLAIMER: This chapter depicts a sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depiction's of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story or skip this chapter.

Ankh walked until her legs were numb. She kept walking, past sunset, into the night. The glow of the rising moon the only sort of light offered. She wanted to walk her way into oblivion - how could it have come to this. Her jaw throbbed only lightly where Sharia had struck her. Ankh had not been surprised , it was not the first time she had felt a blow from her blood bound lover. She was enough of a healer that she could minimize the pain. The pain she could not stop was the one in her heart.

The farther away she was from Sharia - the more her mind was filled with thoughts of Callisto. Why had Aillia cast such a potent spell? Ankh sighed, why did Aillia do anything when it came to her? When the thoughts finally stopped - chased away by sheer exhaustion, Ankh paused. Despite the steam and the detoxifying, Ankh knew she was still not at her full strength.

Ankh made her way into a clearing off in the forest beside the road. Artemis was shining almost her full glory this night. Ankh removed her armor and nestled into a comfortable spot beneath an old fallen log. Within heartbeats, she was asleep.

Callisto found her like this, moonlight streaming through the trees, highlighting Ankh with light that reminded Callisto of her eyes. Callisto watched the woman slumber, the hunger that she had battled all day rising quickly to the surface. Ankh moaned and turned in her sleep as Callisto knelt beside her, a small smile crossing her lips. Ankh's dreams are of desire, Callisto could see it written across her body as clearly as the intricate scar across her torso.

Callisto's breath caught as Ankh's body undulated like a wave beneath the moon shadows. She licked her lips, the memory of tracing that scar making her tongue tingle. Callisto held her hand just above Ankh's body, feeling the electricity shoot through her as Ankh's warm skin brushed her palm. Ankh felt the sensation zig zag through her body and she rolled towards it, for another touch. A small sigh escaped her lips.Callisto smiled at the sound. She let Ankh writhe to make contact again with her teasing fingers. Thoughtfully, with an expression that was both earnest and eager, she unlaced the thin shift covering Ankh's body, tugging it open to expose that body. The slight chill of the night air made her sleeping lover's nipples instantly erect. Callisto smiled as she leaned over and placed her mouth over one nipple, sucking insistently, her tongue swirling around the pointed flesh. Her other hand danced across Ankh's tremoring stomach to flutter around and pinch the other nipple.

Ankh's eyes flew open, and she recognized the shape and scent of her dream lover manifest in the flesh again. She could barely catch her breath as liquid fire ran from her nipples to her groin and back again. Callisto rose in one lithe motion, Ankh groaned at the sudden departure of warm lips and teasing tongue from her chest. The furious fire that she felt before was back again, any exhaustion or thought of sleep burned to ash before the need that held her in its grasp. Callisto placed one finger against Ankh's lips, gazing down at her, she quickly straddled her. Ankh shuddered at the feel of warm skin, leather and soft fabric against her hips and lower stomach. She could feel the godling's heat burning into her abdomen. Callisto lifted Ankh easily with one hand and slid the shift off her lover. She set her down gently, naked beneath her. Callisto smiled as she moved and covered those delicious lips with her own, reaching up to twine her fingers into that soft wavy hair. Ankh arched into the kiss, trembling as the cold metal and leather pressed against the length of her body, surrendering to the pliant lips and artful tongue.

Callisto moaned, feeling Ankh press into her, returning the kiss, hungrily demanding more. If the sight of the silver eyed woman had not been enough to set Callisto at the precipice of falling headlong into the desire that haunted her all day, this kiss did. Callisto's fingers tightened in Ankh's hair, her grip easing Ankh's head back and she traced a path with her tongue over her chin, down the vulnerable throat. Callisto's tongue flickered as she moved to the side, lips and teeth closing in light nips down the muscle leading to the collarbone. Ankh moved against her and Callisto bit down in response, small noises escaping from around her lips. Ankh felt herself surrendering to the sensations evoked by the woman above her. Intoxicated by this blonde warrior. Everything combined to drive her deeper into her need, Callisto's scent, the feel of her, the fierce sweetness of her kiss, the sound of her.

Callisto untangled one hand from its silken web and slid her fingers down the nape of the exposed neck, her nails dragging across the exposed shoulder and down over Ankh's ribs. She moved her head and nibbling on the other woman's earlobe, nipping softly as she chuckled and whispered softly-"Were you waiting for me? Dreaming of me? Of this?"

The vibrations of her voice raced through Ankh, she turned blindly towards Callisto, seeking out those lips, that tongue. Callisto settled against Ankh, her hips rocking ever so slightly. Ankh pulled her closer, moaning into her lips, "Please." Callisto smiles to herself, kissing the woman beneath her with renewed hunger. Her hands and fingers back in the darkness of Ankh's hair, she holds her captive to her kiss, taking everything that is offered and demanding more.Ankh strained against the leather and metal clad body above her, returning the kisses, her desire spilling out of her, surrounding them like a fog. Ankh was devoured by those kisses, Callisto's talented tongue and lips drinking in her very essence.

When she pulled away, Ankh gasped for air, feeling as if her source of oxygen was depleted. Callisto smiled down at her, she could see herself in those dark eyes, shimmering with her need for the wild haired goddess. Callisto sees her reflection in the clear sharp desire of her lover's eyes. Her own heart pounding loudly in her ears, her own breathing ragged. She traced her fingers over Ankh's flesh. This dance they do, it is like some forgotten rhythm that their bodies remember even if their minds have forgotten. She watches, amazed at the involuntary ripples that course through the body beneath her. She moves her head back down, nuzzling the soft skin at the base of her lover's neck, kissing and sucking gently. Her lips re-settle on the marks from their previous encounter. Her fingers move like butterfly wings down to Ankh's inner thighs. Ankh can only move against the body that covers her, Callisto's light touch fanning a fire that already roars. She knows only one thing and it is this blonde woman above her, her touch and her kisses. Callisto focused only on the woman that moves like the ocean against her own shore. Neither one of them realizing that they are already drowning in more than their desire. ----

Chapter 14

Gabrielle opened her eyes to find her hands and feet bound to a large pole. She surveyed her surroundings, muttering as she wrestled with the knots. "Water in the face, being told the new found desire for my lover is not of my doing, Callisto as Ankh's new girlfriend, being swiped by a large scaly creature, waking up with a headache. This definitely falls into the bad day category." She turned as she felt a draft blow in behind her.

She watched the tall blonde man stride in, eyeing him warily as he smiled down at her. "Easy for you to smile, you aren't the one tied up in the middle of the floor." She said sarcastically. The man frowned slightly as he settled back on his calves to look her in the eye. "I am sorry, there really isn't much we can do about that, for now. Until we know what your friend and Ankh decide to do."

"Uh huh. That would explain not a whole lot, I mean exactly what is going on? Why am I here?" Gabrielle said, only somewhat mollified by his apology, her patience already worn thin by the events of the day.

"That was a mistake. Sharia isn't exactly the most rational creature when she is in her rage frenzy. If she was half as surprised as I was about seeing Ankh defending slavers...Well." The man continued his smile saddening.

"You know Ankh?" Gabrielle asked.

"That I do. She is, was my dearest friend. She is Sharia's lover and a companion to all of us here. That is why we are torn in what to do. Honestly, that is why I am torn." The man answered, sitting cross-legged before the young bard. Why not speak to this open faced young woman, no one else in the camp wanted to talk about the situation they were facing.

"Let me understand this? You - you all are the ones that Ankh is supposed to rescue? Funny hah, you don't look like you need rescuing to me. I, on the other hand, definitely do."

"Rescue us?" The man's brow furrowed, "Why should she need to rescue us?"

"Good question, somehow, I don't think one of us has the full story." Gabrielle said as she leaned down to rub her head with her bound hands.

"Here, I can help you with that." The man reached towards Gabrielle, Gabrielle jerked her head back, glaring at him.

"Shh. This won't hurt, it'll help your head." He said as he placed cool palms across her forehead. "OK. Imagine cool blue light- sweeping over the pain. Like waves against the shore. There, washing it away." He murmured softly as the coolness seeped from his hands into her head.

Gabrielle felt a slight tingling sensation, as cool waves did seem to flow over her, taking her headache with it. He removed his much warmer hands and shook them out, flinging them away from him. "Better?" He asked smiling.

"Yes, thank you. How did you do that?"

"Just a little trick Ankh taught me. She has a bit of talent for casting, but doesn't acknowledge it. Insists that she is a warrior tried and true." The man laughed.

"Casting? You mean spells and such?" Gabrielle asked, a hint of disbelief in her voice.

"Yes. It appears at least that much is true. That we are not of your world, exactly. Much is the same, the Gods, some of the culture, but here you have lost touch with that force which hovers around everything. Casting is nothing more than energy being balanced. There really is no difference to casting a spell than performing a good deed." The man explained patiently.

"So when Ankh said that we were under an enthrallment, she wasn't kidding. And when she spoke of Hecate, she really was speaking of her as the Goddess of magic." Gabrielle said slowly.

"Yes...I suppose. Why did Ankh believe that you were under an enthrallment? What does Hecate have to do with this?" The man's voice tightened with some emotion. Was it fear or anger? Gabrielle could not be sure.

"Soldiers wearing Hecate's medallions attacked us, Ankh did not seem surprised. All she told me was that she had to get to Hecate's temple before the equinox to save all of you. That her sister was involved in this somehow."

The man's blue eyes widened, "Aillia? Aillia is involved in this?"

"I guess so. She really didn't say much beyond that. She really didn't say a lot this morning. It was a little tense." Gabrielle said quietly.

"Gods, where are my manners? You would think I had been raised in a barn. I am Dhomb -and you are?" Dhomb said, extending his hand to the young woman. His mind racing at the news he had just heard. Could Aillia really have done this? Set them at odds with one another? Maybe not alone, but with Hecate's help, most definitely. They were protected though, unless, that is why they were here...No the Gods were constant, if Hecate plotted against them here, then surely their protections would be intact.

"Gabrielle." Gabrielle replied, taking his large hand in both of hers, she really had no choice, since her hands were still bound.

"I am sorry. I am sure Ankh was trying to keep you out of harms way, not throw you in front of it." Dhomb smiled apologetically at Gabrielle, nodding down at her hands over his.

"So, any chance that you could let me go since you know that this is all a big mistake?" Gabrielle smiled her most winning smile at Dhomb.

"I, I can't. I don't know if Ankh told you the truth, if you are telling the truth. I need to speak to the others about this. Sharia is the one who has been leading us towards Ankh...When she saw Ankh, she immediately went into a rage..." Dhomb stammered as he stood. He gave her another look, one that she could not quite read and quickly left the tent.

"Great, yea, it was nice talking to you. Thanks for taking my headache away." Gabrielle called after him. "Something about traveling with stoic warriors could be a bard's undoing." She said to herself, settling back against the large pole./P>

Chapter 15

Many thanks to WordWarrior for the use of the wonderful character Widgie, I hope I have done both the creator and the character justice.

Xena wheeled Argo to a stop before the inn. She saw the thin figure of the stable boy looking towards her from the stables. She leapt off Argo, walking to meet him.

"You must be the one she's been expecting. Told me ta watch for ya she did. I'll see to the mare." He said taking the reins from Xena and nodding off towards the inn. Xena nodded her curt reply and grabbing a bedroll off the saddle, she strode across the yard, entering through the kitchen door.

"Warrior. Been expectin' you, I have. The wee bard 'tis not with you. You fear it bodes ill, aye, that's why you're here." The mountain that was Widgie looked up from the pot she was stirring.

"Widgie..." Xena let a rare smile cross her face for this woman who had saved her from her own darkness. Too bad she had not been nearby when everything had happened before Illusia. Although, could even she have prevented that nightmarish slide inside the rage that lived inside. Xena pushed the thoughts from her mind, she was here and now and needed to get help for Gabrielle. "I couldn't think of anyone else who could help with this problem."

"Tell me of th' problem then- Saw it in a dream. Aye, women wi' eyes like th' moon. Carryin' their battle across ta here." The tinkling of the sheet of charms and necklaces filled the air as she moved to set a bowl down before Xena. Xena took a deep breath, inhaling the aromatic scent of the stew as she sat down. Widgie plopped down a loaf of dark bread and settled across from the warrior.

"What 'tis it then? Y' have something of this traveler's? Of course y' do." Widgie held out her hand patiently.

"This is it. We found her naked by the side of the road- this is the bedroll she's been sleeping on. I don't know if it's enough." Xena explained as she handed the rolled up cloth across to the woman.

"Aye, it'll do. Eat-let me concentrate eh?" Widgie took the bedroll and held it in both her hands, her eyes closing. Xena watched her for a moment before digging in to the bowl of stew. Widgie was a multi-skilled woman indeed, but Xena was convinced that her cooking was divinely inspired. Silence settled over the kitchen, punctuated only by the sound of Xena's eating.

Xena had almost finished her meal when Widgie's still form began to shake; tremors ran through her body, setting off more tinkling of the trinkets. Xena waited until Widgie's eyes opened and focused again.

"'Tis not a pretty position t' be. Aye, she is like th' both of ya. Carry's her pain inside o' her. Like someone else we know, t'aint that so Warrior?" Widgie gave a small chuckle, "Light too like your bard, likes ta laugh when she t'aint been pushed, yea? Cursed, that sh' is, and doesn't know 'tis a curse o' her own makin'."

"What do you mean a curse of her own making?" Xena listened intently.

"Aye, are ya drawn to her Warrior? Just a wee bit? Captivatin' is she? 'tis part of th' curse. No, not a curse, a geas. She is drawn to darkness and darkness is drawn ta her. The other one, aye, she did this. If your friend is the light, then th' other, she is the dark."

"Geas? What is a geh - as?" Xena's blue eyes narrowed."What 'tis it indeed? A compulsion it seems. A drive, yea, something set upon her then. Strong, strong it 'tis, binds her deep it does. Marks her too, across her life beat this mark of her geas lays."

"A scar? She has a scar across her chest and torso, given to her by Aillia. Aillia's her sister she said."

"That's it then. Her sister. Eh, that makes less sense. Aillia wants your friend, that 'tis true Warrior. She wants her enough to bargain with the Gods." Widgie said, watching Xena, her face betraying nothing.

"What about Gabrielle? What about Ankh?" Xena was frustrated, she had thought to get more than this. She could have guessed this much.

"The bard is fine for now. Ankh? That I cinnet tell ya. She 'tis already spelled to another. Or thinks she is. The one with rage...Oh a potent mix indeed."

"Callisto. I know." Xena said grimly, her hands clenching into fists."Callisto is spelled as well Warrior. Th' rage that drove her, gone it 'tis. Gone benea' th' need she knows now. Not just a spell either. There is something else. Aye, could be love that's moving through her blind hatred. Powerful force it 'tis, ain't that so Warrior? Aye, you know. You've seen what love can do. Heals - don' it? You saw that from the land of magic and rhyme ya did." Widgie ignored the look of disbelief on Xena's face. Whether the disbelief was from the lecture she was getting about Callisto or the fact that Widgie knew about Illusia - well - that she did not investigate.

"Th' other, Aillia, she is mixing a dangerous brew here. The bard and ya should be fine. The rest o' them, they are not from our land now are they? No way of knowing what could happen. Powerful enemies this traveler ha' made, powerful indeed. She'll ha' to end it, hard choice for her it will be. She'll ha' to kill the one that hurts her. She'll have to run a sword through the creature. Cannot say if even tha' will work. "

"She has to kill her blood bound lover? I've never seen her use a sword." Xena's tone was incredulous. She felt a quick pang as she remembered driving the knife through Marcus's heart and an even deeper remorse for when she had held Gabrielle over her head and felt the cry of vengeance tear past her lips. The memory of the look in Gabrielle's eyes as she screamed "I hate you" made her blood run cold.

"Warrior." Widgie's snapped at the warrior before her. "Ankh has a battle that is being waged with the help of Gods. Not unlike the rage tha' Ares helped spark in ya. Now the question is - do you believe she can be capable of the same love as what you found in your heart? What an answer that may be - eh? Her reluctance to the sword, that's a bit a wisdom on her part, wise choice. She's here now Warrior because she allowed herself to be. There's little you can do for her, 'cept aid her as you've done." Wigdie moved to rise and then leaned across the table to look closely into Xena's eyes."Her struggle should be a familiar one ta watch Warrior. She is battling the consequences of her past. Aye, she's a good warrior, lives by a noble code. Yet still she battles herself and let herself aid her lover who had no such code. Maybe the lesson is it's a battle no matter what path you walk, eh Warrior? Code an' all. There's always a code, right? Eh- right."

Widgie took the empty bowl and moved away from the table.Xena watched the receding bulk of Widgie as she disappeared through the door that seemed barely large enough to allow her bulk to pass through. She thought of Ankh's refusal to use weapons, another secret undoubtedly. How many secrets could this woman carry? And Widgie's cryptic asides, why couldn't she just say what she wanted to say? Still, the woman had a gift for seeing what she could not. She shook her head ruefully and rose from the table. "That was a silly question, aye it was Warrior." She chided herself, mimicking Wigdie. It had been a long ride to make the time she needed. Now she would have to turn back and hope that Ankh would be at the village.

"Warrior." Widgie stood in the doorway, "That horse of yours needs rest, as do you, aye? Sleep a spell and then on your way with ya."

"I can't, I need to..." Xena yawned, "get back to the village." She narrowed her eyes at Widgie."A bit of sleep will do wonders." Widgie met Xena's gaze and then turned back down the hall, looking back to make sure the warrior followed. Xena struggled with the drowsiness that was settling over her, even her rising anger at the suspicion that Widgie must have seasoned the stew with more than a few herbs did not clear her head. She sighed and followed the woman towards the rooms. Widgie closed the door behind her leaving Xena sleeping soundly. Both warrior and horse would be refreshed by the time they left in the afternoon. She stepped back into the kitchen to prepare for the mid day crowd that would be arriving soon.

Chapter 16

Ankh opened her eyes to the morning light. She saw Callisto gazing down at her, watching her.

"I was wondering if I had completely exhausted you." She smiled down at the waking woman.

"Considering Apollo was beginning his journey when you finally let me sleep." Ankh replied drowsily, her arm snaking around the naked waist beside her.

"When I finally let you sleep?" Callisto laughed, the melodic sound strange to her own ears, but completely natural when she was in the presence of this woman.

"Mmmm." Ankh curled against the smooth flesh, closing her eyes again.

Callisto trembled at the feel of the other woman settling against her. She was trying to think of a time since she was a child that she had felt this, this...calm.

Ankh breathed deeply, sorrow settling in her chest even as she felt Callisto tremble against her. Something was amiss, this woman who flamed her soul, made her heart ache and her flesh sing. She was a killer of women and children, an enemy to those that had aided her. What was she doing?

Callisto placed her fingers beneath Ankh's chin and tilted her face up towards her. She stared into those fathomless eyes, "I have lain with gods and men, never have I felt the fire within me for revenge ebb, until this day." She murmured, falling still into those eyes.

Ankh saw the truth in those dark eyes, there was not even the blaze of that preternatural desire that had marked their earlier encounters. Her heart ached as she leaned up to kiss Callisto's chin, and then her lips.

Leagues away furious blue eyes smoldered.

"NOOOOOOOOO!" Sharia screamed as she watched the image of her lover laying in the blonde godling's embrace, then saw her lean up to kiss her.

"I told you she would betray you." Aillia whispered. She smiled as she watched the rage transform the slender blue eyed woman into a creature of hate.

"Sharia." Dhomb rushed in, and then stopped when he saw Aillia. He grasped the hilt of his sword.

"What have you done witch?" He snarled.

"Me? I have done nothing Dhomb. So, how is my brother? I've missed him at family dinners." Aillia purred.

"You brought us here to this strange land..." He said, his tone calm, his eyes raging.

"No, no, you can thank Ankh for that. I am not the enemy here. Oddly enough, I seem to be on your side this time." Aillia met the tall man's gaze steadily, a perfect smile frozen on her face.

Dhomb turned as he saw Sharia rushing towards him, her transformation complete. Her mouth was open in a silent scream, her eyes full of fury.

"Ne'sharias'tiembe!" He spoke as he stepped in front of her. She snarled at him but stopped at the words.

"What is going on here?" He asked, moving slowly towards the enraged creature.

"Sharia is a bit upset. Apparently your former friend Ankh will lie with anyone, even the godling that is the sworn enemy of her new allies..." Aillia nodded towards the seer glass.

Dhomb moved to the seer glass and saw Ankh intertwined with a blonde woman, kissing deeply.

"Who is this?" He asked, turning back to the face that resembled his dearest friend in almost every way but for the pale hair that framed it and the harsh edge of the eyes.

"Callisto, a woman who became a Goddess and who has vowed to destroy the Warrior Princess. Some would say she is a seeker of justice. She is on a driven quest to annihilate Xena." Aillia replied, moving towards the creature that was Sharia, stroking the scaled black and white skin softly.

Dhomb did not know what to think. Was it as the young woman had said or had Ankh masterminded this whole thing?

"Why would she be with Ankh?" Dhomb asked, seeing Sharia's muscles ripple as fury coursed through her body.

"Sharia, neg'et che am." He spoke softly, hoping to calm her.

"Don't lie to her Dhomb. It is exactly as it appears, speaking to her in the slyvan tongue will not lessen my slut of a sister's betrayal." Aillia smiled, directing Sharia's gaze back to the seer glass.

"Aillia. This is not necessary. Would you have Ankh destroyed?" Dhomb knew as soon as the words left his mouth what the answer was.

"Dear Dhomb, beloved of my brother Zanten, I would do no harm to Ankh. She is my sister, my mirror, and she offered me life when you would have taken it." Aillia answered, her voice edged with steel.

Dhomb looked at Aillia standing behind Sharia, her hands delicately brushing through the dark hair and over the scaled shoulders. Aillia had bought them here and would have them all destroy each other. His heart sank as he realized that he had abandoned his friend, the greatest strength of their party had been destroyed. They were divided.

His expression did not belie his realization when he spoke again. "Of course not Aillia. I am just a bit confused to find our situations to be so different here. Ankh riding with Warlords and avengers and you here to help us. Do we attack her again?"

"No, she'll come to us, and hopefully, we can show her the error of her ways." Aillia smiled as she led Sharia towards the piles of pillows and blankets at the back of the tent.

Dhomb nodded and left the tent. Should he speak to Zanten and Arnaia? Could they be trusted or would they not believe him when he told them Aillia was here? He looked across the camp, saw the muscular form of his lover sparring with one of the commanders. Arnaia was looking over battle plans with another. He sighed and walked back to his own tent. The young woman was probably hungry by now, the least he do was be sure that she ate and decide what to do from there.

Callisto brushed the hair back from Ankh's flushed face, kissing her forehead, her cheekbones, her jaw, her chin before settling softly on her lips. Ankh sighed beneath the kiss, returning it with gentle force.

"We could stay here all day." Callisto murmured, pulling back.

"I think we have." Ankh smiled.

"Hmm. So we have. It doesn't seem long enough." Callisto moved her lips down the curve of the neck beneath her, tasting the salty aftermath of their passion.

"Where do you go when you are away from me?" Ankh asked, shifting her head to allow rose petal soft lips better access.

Callisto paused for a moment, then whispered softly, "Into an emptiness. I go with a burning ache inside my chest. An ache that spreads like fire throughout my flesh. I sit and marvel that I could feel anything like this, and wonder what forces are toying with me."

Ankh moved her head back down and gently tugged Callisto up until they were face to face again.

"And if it were true...If you were being - toyed with through your desires, what does that mean?" Ankh asked, not sure which answer would calm her fears.

"I am many things - least of which has been lover or friend - but I am not controlled by God nor man, my heart is my own." Callisto said with a fierce intensity, her body beginning to glow.

Ankh felt the heat from Callisto's conviction. She moved like a gentle wave to remind the godling above her of the power that surged through her lean form. Callisto felt her move and smiled as she reined her unconscious flare back in. She looked at the small 'C' that was already a healing burn at the base of Ankh's neck. She had done that with her fingertip. Ankh had watched her intently when she had done that - those silver eyes fixing her like a chained animal in their gaze. Ankh ran her hands up and over Callisto's back, pulling her closer. She did not know what to think. Whether to be elated or afraid or both. Could it be true? Were they were falling in love outside of Aillia's enchantment? How could she know when every moment she spent with this woman had been hungering for the touch and feel of her? Sometimes, like now, when she saw that look in the deep brown eyes above her, it was not need or hunger or want that illuminated them. No, it was something else and it moved like a snake underwater through Ankh's defenses and she felt the same thing reflecting back.

Chapter 17

Xena rode Argo along the trail, moving swiftly beneath the light of the moon. She had been riding since early afternoon and knew, despite her initial anger, that the rest had done both her and Argo a world of good. She had to get to Gabrielle though. Her blue eyes narrowed as she wondered if Ankh were on her way to the village. Undoubtedly, Callisto had reappeared and did not leave with dawn's light. The image of Callisto so hungry for Ankh unnerved her slightly. Xena found it hard to believe that a soul that had died, been reborn as immortal and then become a God could know that kind of passion. Genuine passion. Not the games that the other Olympians were so fond of. Indulging in their whims as an aside. Xena's mind flickered briefly to the thought of feeling Ankh surrender beneath her like she had for Callisto. Xena grit her teeth as she chased the thought out with images of Gabrielle. This curse, spell, whatever, was problematic, to say the least.

She saw a shadow moving on the side of the road stop and turn around. She slowed Argo, her hand grasping the Chakram at her waist. When she was nearer, she recognized the slender form. She pulled Argo to a halt.

"Ankh." She said calmly, her hand still resting at her waist.

Ankh looked up at Xena and nodded.

"Xena...They have not yet headed for the village. They are still in their camp and I know where it is."

"What were you going to do? Attack them alone?" Xena didn't dismount but sat gazing down at the shadowed silver eyes of the woman below.

"I would not attack them. I was going to release Gabrielle, once she is safe, I would plan from there."

"How were you going to release her? Just walk in and set her free?"

"I am very familiar with the way they have their guards posted and where their weaknesses would lay. Someone, I think Dhomb, wants to help release her." Ankh said as she turned away from the aloof warrior and began to walk along the trail again.

"The same man that attacked you?" Xena called after her, her instincts telling her that this could be a trap, but she couldn't place her finger on it.

"Yes." Ankh turned back for a moment, then continued on her way. Xena nudged Argo into a trot and fell in beside Ankh.

"Why would he help you now?"

"I don't know, but if anyone could cast their location so briefly, it would be he. I suspect he was brief in order to avoid detection. I can meet you in the village still, or send Gabrielle ahead to meet you." There was something in Ankh's voice, a resignation.

"No, if you go, I go. I need to make sure that Gabrielle is safe."

They continued on in silence, Xena was trying to figure out a way to tell Ankh what Widgie had told her. Finally she said, "Where is Callisto?"

"Gone. I don't know where. Warrior..."Ankh stopped and turned to look up at Xena.

Xena reined Argo to a stop and waited, her expression blank.

"What do you make of Callisto and I? I cannot tell what is my heart's voice and what is the enthrallment."

"What are you asking me?" Xena asked, her voice dangerously low.

"I...I don't know. How could I be attracted to one as cold as she? One whose moniker is alternately Goddess of Rage, Obsession, Vengeance...Yet... When we are together, she is none of those things. She is not cold, not hard, not angry. She speaks to me of her need when we are apart, her peace when we are together." Ankh sighed, running her fingers through her hair, her gaze falling to the ground.

"Are you saying that Callisto is falling in love with you? And you her?" Xena couldn't believe her ears. Callisto, the woman who had killed countless innocents, laying the blame at Xena's feet so that she could continue to kill guilt free. Callisto who had cut down Perdicus in cold blood. Double crossed her more times than she could count, helped Hope kill her son. She tried not to think about what Widgie had said, Callisto was the heartless embodiment of vengeance. And she pushed the lyrical voice that had been the voice of almost reason in Illusia out of her mind.

"That is what I am asking you." Ankh answered softly.

Xena leapt off of Argo and stood before Ankh. "I do not know if it could be love. The Callisto I know has no love in her heart, she is a woman consumed by rage. She is drawn to you because darkness is drawn to you like moth to a flame. Your scar is more than a scar, it is a...Geas." Xena stumbled slightly over the last word.

Ankh looked up at Xena, her gaze no longer confused but piercingly intent. "A geas? What kind of geas?"

"To be drawn to darkness and darkness drawn to you." Even as Xena said it, something shifted inside her and she knew that Widgie had spoken the truth. The darkness she struggled with daily was trying to crawl again towards the fierce light in those liquid metal eyes. Images of Callisto pressing Ankh against the tree, the slight struggle and then melting surrender caused her to become hyper aware of her proximity to the smaller warrior. She turned and stepped away from Ankh.

Ankh saw the flash in the warrior's eyes and knew, as she must have always known, that Aillia had indeed placed a geas upon her that day long ago. The once forgotten words roared in her ears and her scar burned as if struck anew.

"*L'ankha'chien, savior then of shadows. Offer yourself as sacrifice. Lay your will down before them as they lay theirs down to own you. Darkness you seek to lighten, then darkness shall be drawn to you. Your desire shall be your undoing and lead you into a starless night. Shi carlin'biar. Nech r'niur call'viem.*"

"She did-I...I am bound to darkness and powerless." Ankh whispered, falling to her knees. The words had meant nothing to her at the time, but the final sentences made the words more than words. They wove them into her very being, just as the silver melted against and through her flesh, so then were the words written against her heart.

"We will go and rescue Gabrielle, and I will return to Aillia." Ankh finally said, looking down at her clenched fists.

"No. You do not have to return to Aillia, it will not save your friends. You know she will sacrifice them anywise just to see the look on your face when she does. If she does that, then your spirit will die and you will be hers absolutely." Xena watched the woman struggle with this news, concentrating on the image of Gabrielle's face to quell the rising darkness and the desire that rode its back.

"You cannot break a geas." Ankh said flatly.

"There is one way. You must kill your blood bound lover. She must die beneath your blade." Xena began to relax as the darkness ebbed at the thought of her lover.

"I carry no blade." Ankh replied. Her eyes closed slowly and it came back to her, as if it were yesterday. She was hot, tired and wounded. Fighting to keep back Aillia's army from taking the village. She had been separated from the others, slashing her way to drive back those foolish enough to attack her. Blinded by the blood and sweat in her eyes, someone had screamed out to her, a warning. In a manner borne of countless battle, it had been reflex, dropping to one knee and thrusting her sword behind her. She had turned, wiping her eyes, and seen the still form. She had collapsed beside the figure, desperately scanning for any glimmer of life. Her stomach cramped and she felt physically ill. A woman fell upon her screaming, "Didn't you hear me? I told you he was behind you, I screamed it and you just ran him through. A child, you ran him through." She punched and kicked at Ankh screaming over and over, "You killed him."

"Tell me anything that I need to know to aid you. Whatever you are holding inside because of shame will not do me or the others any good. You are too skilled a warrior to be bested face to face, so Aillia has made you question yourself, your intentions, your beliefs. She is winning so far L'ankha'chien." Xena spoke harshly, there was little she could do for this woman and her doubt could compromise Gabrielle's safety.

Ankh looked up, startled at the tone of the warrior's voice. "She is not winning."

"Yes she is. Look at you. Do you doubt your cause? Do you doubt the reason why you picked up a sword? I know about those doubts, I know about wanting to unshed the blood that has already been shed. If you had not been there to stop Aillia, what kind of world would you be living in now?" Xena thought back to her own wish granted by the Fates up to the recent turn of events. Oh believe me when I say I say I know about wishing to undo what has been done.

Ankh glared at the warrior, her silver eyes darkening. "Maybe it would have been a better world. Someone else would have bested her and I would not be here, now, struggling with every...single...choice I ever made." The sentence dropped off to a whisper at the end. Ankh sat there - the barrage of images and the implication of everything. What had she had with Sharia? What did she have with Callisto? She thought of Dhomb and the others. Her friends. No matter what enthrallment or geas Aillia had placed on her, she had risked her neck for them and they for her on countless occasions. Her mind wandered back to Callisto. That look - when the Goddess had left her earlier. Was that forced or genuine?

Xena waited, not saying a word. She stepped back slightly when she heard Ankh break out into laughter.

"By the Gods, yours or mine - doesn't rightly matter - useless vain things that they are - the lot of them. I have been a brooding melancholy one haven't I? Well then Warrior, first we will rescue your beloved. Then, then I will decide what to do." Ankh smiled at Xena. She was no less troubled, but she knew that the warrior was right, the more indecisive she became and faltered, the easier it was for Aillia to manipulate the situation.

"Ready?" She called back, moving off down the trail again. Xena shook her head and followed. What could Widgie have meant to watch her lessons closely? She was not sure this manic Ankh would be any better of an ally in battle. ___

Chapter 18

"So tell me everything that Ankh told you." Dhomb asked Gabrielle, smiling at her appreciation for the food he had bought.

"Well...I don't know that I know any more than I already told you. Aillia has planned this whole thing, and Ankh is the one that has to stop it..." Gabrielle stopped as she dipped a chunk of bread into the stewish looking mixture. "Uhm...This is good. What is it?" She asked munching away.

"Quail simmered with onions, and herbs until it all becomes one big thick mess, like that." Dhomb smiled at Gabrielle's appetite.

His face became a bit more serious and he started to speak. Just then the tent flap opened and a tall dark haired man entered. He glanced at Gabrielle and then walked over to Dhomb. He placed his hands on his shoulders and leaned over to kiss him on the cheek.

"I've been looking for you. Sharia is besides herself with jealousy. Did you know Ankh had taken a new lover?" He asked as he sat beside Dhomb.

"Zanten, this is Gabrielle, Gabrielle, this is my lover." Dhomb introduced the two, Gabrielle noticed the look in Dhomb's eyes, he did not look comfortable.

"Hello." Gabrielle smiled at the new arrival.

The man nodded curtly at her and then turned back to Dhomb.

"Ankh has done it this time. Why didn't you tell me Aillia had arrived? If she were not here, I don't know what Sharia would have done by now."

Gabrielle raised an eyebrow but kept quiet when she saw the look Dhomb gave her.

"It is so odd to me that Ankh should be our enemy and Aillia our ally." Dhomb replied quietly, hoping to hear in his lover's reply that he too found it odd.

"This is a strange land, strange things are happening. We can sleep in my tent, I'll keep guards posted here for this one." Zanten said as he nodded at Gabrielle and then rose to his full height. Dhomb knew then that his lover was not his ally here. That all the years of how he had betrayed his sister to join with Dhomb and the others was finally coming back to haunt him. Dhomb knew that despite the evil that was Aillia - to Zanten - who never spoke of it - she was the sister he had known since childhood. Ankh was the one he had found as an adult. Dhomb had wondered more than once, if it had not been for him, would Zanten have gone against Ankh?

Dhomb didn't look at him when he replied, "I'd feel better if I stayed here tonight. It was not her fault that Shanaria grabbed her." Zanten furrowed his brow and then shrugged. Dhomb had been acting strangely ever since they arrived here. Zanten saw the world in two ways, engaged in battle or not.

"In the morning then, we will meet with Sharia and Aillia to discuss our attack." He said as he left the tent.

"Nice guy." Gabrielle said as she watched him leave.

"Nothing is the way it should be here. He is a good man, brave in battle. No one else is concerned that Aillia is in our camp, as our ally. He said we would meet Sharia and Aillia as easily as he used to say Ankh and Sharia...I don't know what is going on here...Eat well, and rest. I suspect you will be traveling this evening."

"Traveling?" Gabrielle turned her attention from the fruits she was examining.

"I let Ankh know the location of our camp. She and most likely the other will arrive here sometime before dawn." Dhomb said quietly.

"Why? Why did you do that?" Gabrielle gazed across at him.

"There more things unfold here, the less certain I am of which side of this I should be on. I do know that you and your friend should not suffer for the battle that has bought us here. Whether Ankh is my enemy or not, you cannot be faulted for aiding a wounded traveler. Now, finish eating, I'll be back in a moment." Dhomb explained and then moved towards the door.

Gabrielle watched him go, then looked down and realized he had left her hands untied.

"Wait for Xena and Ankh- or leave now? Maybe they want me to leave now and this is all a trick. Maybe he really isn't confused and wants to see what I'll do." Gabrielle picked up the piece of fruit she had been examining. She scanned the tent, her staff wasn't here, it must have fallen when she was knocked unconscious by Sharia. She bit into the juicy piece of fruit and thought that waiting one more night couldn't hurt. After all - the bed was pretty comfortable.

Chapter 19

Xena and Ankh crept along the edge of the camp. True to her word, Ankh knew where the guards were posted and they dispatched them easily enough. Ankh had not spoken of a sword again, but Xena knew she was toying with the idea. Xena remembered what she had felt outside the temple of the Fates, she had given up her sword until she realized the consequences.

Ankh's eyes scanned the camp, there was Dhomb's tent. She smiled to herself in the dark, his was always the nicest tent in their camps. He had such discriminating tastes.

She saw Zanten's tent and Arnaia's as well. Both of them darkened. Over there, was Sharia's tent. She noticed with a slight pang that Sharia still flew their banner. She saw shadows against the sheer fabric. There were two people in the tent. The sinuous way they moved...They were in bed. Her silver eyes narrowed, Sharia would not...Xena's touch on her arm drew her back to herself. Who was she to be jealous, was it even jealousy? She nodded to Dhomb's tent, Xena made a motion indicating she would go from the north and Ankh could sneak in from the east. Ankh nodded her assent and both women moved through the underbrush.

Aillia smiled as she slowed her ministrations, not quite bringing Sharia the release she craved. No, she wanted Ankh to hear her former lover's screams of passion. Make her know who controlled whom around here.

Dhomb opened his eyes and gently shook the sleeping young woman awake. He placed his fingers to his lips and nodded to the flap in the tent. Gabrielle looked at him for a moment with sleep filled eyes before she understood what he was doing. She got up and waited.

There was the sound of cloth tearing and Xena ducked in through the side of the tent while Ankh slipped in beneath the flap. Gabrielle ran and hugged Xena to the warrior's surprise. She did not expect her to be free.

Ankh caught Dhomb's eye, he motioned her over, "Aillia is here. I don't know what is going on, but take her and go. You know what to do for now." He whispered quietly.

Ankh nodded and struck him soundly in the temple, catching him as he fell forward and gently placing him on the bedroll. "Forgive me the madness I seem to have wrought." She whispered as she stroked his blonde hair back from his face.

Xena raised an eyebrow before she ducked back out the way she had come, with Gabrielle in tow. Ankh smiled down at her friend, before moving to follow the warrior and bard. Just as she made it to the edge of the camp she heard Sharia's cry of passion. Ankh involuntarily turned back towards the camp. She knew that sound well, she had been the cause of it so many times. Xena grabbed her by the shoulder and pulled her into the woods. Ankh turned to face her, her eyes blazing beneath the moon.

"It is Aillia, she is trying to get to you, you know she is. Don't be a fool." Xena hissed at Ankh. Ankh narrowed her eyes, looking back towards the camp. She shrugged the warrior's hand off and stormed into the woods. Xena shook her head as she and Gabrielle moved back in the direction where she had left Argo

.By the time they made it back to the makeshift camp, Xena and Gabrielle had spoken of the news she had received from Dhomb. They both stepped into the clearing and looked around.

"She isn't here. You don't think she went back do?" Gabrielle asked worriedly.

"I don't think so. At least she started the fire before she left. See, her tracks lead in the other direction." Xena pointed to the tracks that continued to lead deeper into the forest. She almost suspected that she knew where Ankh was going.

Gabrielle knew as well, "She's going to find Callisto isn't she?" She asked Xena, a little disappointed when she thought of the plush bed she had just left as she gazed at their bedrolls but more than happy at the exchange to be with her lover.

"I think so." Xena sighed as she spread out the bedrolls.

"Well, the good thing is that it gives us plenty of time alone?" Gabrielle grinned as she made her way over to the warrior princess, pushing her down onto the bedroll.

"Hey, shouldn't you be telling me about how miserable you were being away from me?" Xena asked in mock surprise as Gabrielle straddled her, smiling wickedly down at her.

"I was. It was terrible, I ate hot food." Gabrielle kissed Xena once lightly, "I slept in a comfortable bed, warm and snug." Gabrielle kissed Xena again. "I mean as far as captivity goes, this was one of the more pleasant experiences. Not quite as nice as the time I was supposed to be Queen, now that was nice, except for the honeymoon that had been planned." Gabrielle kissed Xena again and pulled back. "Actually, let me see if I can remember a more pleasant encounter..."

"Gabrielle, can we talk later?" Xena growled as she pulled the laughing bard back to her lips.

"I was wondering when you'd say that." Gabrielle murmured before kissing Xena deeply. Xena responded to the gentle sensation of Gabrielle's tongue probing her mouth. Tasting each other. The soft sound of their kissing filled the air. For the first time in three days, the supercharged desire that had fueled their encounters was missing. Instead, each woman reveled in rediscovering the other.

Gabrielle ran her fingers lightly over the warrior's muscled flesh, tracing the outline of the armor that still covered her. Xena's fingers curled in the golden red locks of her lover, moving down and across her back. How long did they spend just like this, locked in soft kisses, hands gently roaming, melting into one another. Each woman could feel the other's rising excitement, matched in perfect tempo to her own.

Xena moaned softly into her lover's lips. "I love you Gabrielle."

The sound of her lover's voice and the gentle vibration of her moan flashed through Gabrielle like lightning. She pulled back, "Xena." She whispered, stroking the proud face beneath her, her own emerald eyes reflecting the fire she saw in those burning azure eyes.

Xena wondered, not for the first time, certainly not the last, how this woman had come into her life? And how they had survived all that they had survived.

Gabrielle slipped off of Xena and began to slip out of her clothes. Xena rolled into a sitting position, moving behind Gabrielle.

"Let me." She murmured nuzzling Gabrielle's neck, her hands covering the bard's.

Gabrielle leaned back into the solid warmth of her lover as Xena's agile fingers quickly freed her from her garments. "So beautiful," she heard Xena whisper, feeling the rough texture of her lover's hands caressing across the flesh of her stomach and chest. She felt heat rising through her body, her skin tingling where she was touched.

Xena leaned forward, cupping the firms breasts of the bard. Caressing them lightly, she nuzzled Gabrielle's ear, kissing her way down the soft silken curve of the supple neck.

Gabrielle moaned and turned to look at Xena, "I want to feel you against me." She smiled at the warrior, her fingers quickly working on the clasps and buckles that held the armor in place. Gabrielle moved against Xena, moments later, breast against breast, they kissed once more. Their kisses a bit more probing, passion building and spreading from one to the other and back again.

Xena lost herself in the sweet taste of Gabrielle's lips and tongue, her warrior's hands roaming the soft flesh. Each time they made love, Xena marveled at the younger woman's body. She could not touch it enough to burn the memory into her skin. Xena brushed her thumbs against the erect nipples that teased her own, moaning into the kiss.

Gabrielle melted beneath the feel on Xena's skin against her own, the roughened thumbs gently teasing the aching nipples and when Xena moaned, Gabrielle felt the sound from her lips all the way into her groin. She wrapped her fingers through Xena's dark tresses, pulling her closer. She felt Xena's hands slide down to her hips, gripping her, pulling their bodies closer.

Xena trembled against Gabrielle's body and she felt her lover tremble in response. The kisses had become almost maddening, yet she could not tear herself away. Gabrielle pulled back, gasping as she looked into Xena's eyes. The intensity of the love Xena saw there, burning with a passion made her heart ache.

"Xena." Gabrielle whispered, stroking dark hair back from flushed skin. "Gabrielle." Xena replied in that voice that still sent shivers through the bard's body.

No further words were spoken, as they conveyed the depth of their love for one another with gentle hands, reverent kisses, and escaping sighs. For the first time since the walls had come up between them, they had found their way back to the love that had been their shelter so often before.

Ankh stormed through the forest, blindly forging ahead, the branches and saplings thrashing across her body.

"L'ankha'chein." She turned towards the sound of Callisto's voice. Her new lover stood shadowed beneath a tree. Muted patterns of moonlight covered her body.

Ankh moved towards her, her mind and heart consumed by her warring emotions. She moved quickly and covered Callisto's body with her own, forcing her back against the tree, covering her mouth hungrily. Callisto melted back beneath the force of the kiss, the searching tongue, the roaming hands.

Ankh kissed Callisto roughly, her hands already tugging at the blonde warrior's leather bodice. Freeing the flesh beneath it, her hands grasped and kneaded the soft flesh. Callisto responded to the savage attentions of Ankh. Her body burning at the intensity of Ankh's kisses and touch. She had ached for this all day. Ankh moved her lips to Callisto's throat, sucking and biting along her neck as her fingers continued to tease the fevered flesh beneath them.

"Callisto." Ankh growled into the woman's flesh, moving down towards her chest, wanting only to drown in her, to possess her, to take her. Anything to drive the sound of Sharia's cries from her mind.

Callisto groaned at the sound of Ankh's voice against her body, arching against the hands and lips covering her.

Ankh moved blindly, instinctually, primal over the godling's body. Callisto wrapped her fingers in the luxurious softness of Ankh's hair, pulling that ravenous mouth closer, harder against her. She felt Ankh pressing her thighs open, wider, positioning her hands so that she was almost sitting, resting on Ankh's forearms. Ankh was everywhere, touching her, kissing her, possessing her. Callisto gasped as her body responded to the hunger that was consuming her. Ankh moved her mouth down across Callisto's stomach, her lips and tongue seeking the taste, the heat, the nectar of her lover. Callisto hands clenched against Ankh's scalp, blinded by the flash of desire sparked by the ravenous ministrations of her lover's mouth. Ankh knelt, worshipping this Goddess, her Goddess, fervently and voraciously. Callisto was maddened by this fierce attention. Her body thrummed and unraveled. She felt her release building, coursing through her body like wildfire. Ankh moaned as she pressed Callisto back against the tree.

Callisto shuddered, feeling Ankh's fingers pierce her, moving up into her, responding to her tempo. Callisto threw her head back and screamed into the night, one long scream of passion unbound, yelling to Mount Olympus and back, a scream of release as she almost collapsed from the force that moved through her. Her outlined literally burned into the face of the tree. Later generations would create tales and stories about the imprint of a body seared into the tree's trunk. The scream stabbed into Ankh's mind like a slap in the face, and she slowed, then stopped. She leaned her head against the warm thigh. Slowly, she repositioned herself and released Callisto.

Callisto collapsed forward slightly then she was caught in Ankh's arms and she felt herself gently lowered to the ground. Ankh's hands gentle against her face as she pushed the hair back from her eyes. She waited for her heart to slow and her breathing to return to normal. She opened her eyes and saw Ankh sitting beside her, tears streaming down her face.

"Ankh?" Callisto asked, still struggling to catch her breath.

Ankh just shook her head. What was going on with her? She had attacked this woman before her...A woman she was sure she was falling in love with. And if she was, then why attack her so? To make her scream so that she could forget the sound of Sharia's screams? Or to take her, possess her the way she had allowed herself to be possessed? She had given Callisto pleasure before, truly, but often in the aftermath of Callisto's hunger. Who had she become in this land?

Callisto saw the anguish in those silver eyes. Why was she so distraught? Callisto was torn, she had not comforted anyone she loved since her mother and sister died. She had spent the day obsessing about what was happening. She tried to call back the rage that burned inside her for Xena, it flickered up now and again, but mostly, she thought of Ankh. The other one had not disturbed her today. So she was left alone with this storm of emotions assailing her. Could this must be what Xena felt with Gabrielle then? Someone who quells the fury and rage by their mere presence and touch?

"Ankh. Look at me." Callisto tipped the face she had come to memorize in these last few days towards her.

Ankh looked up at her, she reached out and gently tugged Callisto's leather bodice back into place. "I'm sorry about your garments." She said softly.

Callisto gave a soft laugh, "I'm not. You have never been You consumed me wholly. Now we are even."

Ankh looked into those warm brown eyes, seeing in them the honesty of her answer. Ankh knew she was falling in love with this woman, goddess...She had needed the taste of her, the feel of her, she wanted to consume her, to make her scream out her name. This was not part of the enthrallment.

"No. Not yet." Ankh said as she slipped out of her armor and then her shift. She moved until she was kneeling directly before Callisto, moonlight playing over her silken skin.

She gazed at Callisto, need illuminating those mercury eyes and she grasped the former warlord's hands in her own.

"I want you to take me. Tonight, I am yours without enchantments. I need you."

Callisto's heart quickened in her chest. She gazed at the woman before her, it was not lust that coursed through her body. Callisto smiled to herself. She would kiss her until she cried out just from the kisses alone. She moved forward until she was facing Ankh, she gently cupped the face before her and touched her lips softly to the other woman's.

Beneath the scar of her burden, Ankh felt something melting out of her when her lips met Callisto's.

Part 3- (End)

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