Path of Thorns

Part VI

The smell of fresh hay and horses entered her nostrils. Gabrielle closed her eyes and sucked in the scent. It brought a sense of familiarity, which was a pleasant diversion on this hectic day.

At the end of lunch Thalia had returned to the council. Solari had headed for the kitchen to talk with the staff there and Ephiny had gone up to send a letter to the home front to inform them she was staying in Athens a little while longer.

Iona and Caspar had gone back to class, but she’d found Niobe was absent. And so was her sister. She’d finally tracked them down to the stables.

She carefully pushed open the door, trying hard not to make a sound. Niobe’s giggle sounded from further on. Gabrielle spotted the girl and her sister standing near one of the boxes at the end of the hallway.

“Aggo!”  Niobe laughed delightedly as the horse lipped at her outstretched hand. “Dat tigles!”
“We should have brought him a treat,”  Lila commented, kneeling down next to Niobe. “He looks hungry.”
“Don’t be fooled,” Gabrielle spoke up, smiling as her sister nearly toppled over in shock. “The horses were just fed this afternoon.”  The warrior stopped next to them, ruffling her horses’s manes affectionately. “And it’s a she, not a he.”
“Abby!” Niobe ran up to her in delight, wrapping her arms around Gabrielle’s leg. “Luv ya!”
“You…”  Gabrielle reached down and touched the girl’s nose with a fingertip. “…are supposed to be in school, young lady.”
The toddler giggled. “Abby funny!”
“Don’t try to sweet talk your way out of this,”  the warrior warned her, wagging her finger at her. “Come on, say goodbye to Argo.”

The girl let go of Gabrielle and toddled back over to the box, reaching up a hand towards the horse. “Bye bye, Aggo!” Argo snorted in response, spraying little drops over the toddler, who laughed in respons. “Showuh! Again!”
“Oh no you don’t,”  Gabrielle swooped the girl up and placed her onto her shoulders. “Now you’ll need a bath.”
“Showuh!”  Niobe repeated firmly, wiggling and reaching for Argo again.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes, turning back to the horse for a moment and giving her a kiss on the nose. Then she headed for the door. “Come on, back to school with you.”
“No fun!”  Niobe pouted, but when Gabrielle tickled her bare feet she giggled and resumed her good mood.

Lila jogged a few paces to catch up to her sister, reaching her as they exited the stables. “Sorry,” she apologised. “I didn’t realise what time it was.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Gabrielle waved her off with a smile. “Linos is used to one of the girls being late by now. It’s tradition.”
Niobe wiggled, a clear sign she wanted to get down, so Gabrielle placed her back on the ground. The girl instantly ran off, heading towards the palace.

“She’s a sweet girl.” Lila watched her go with a small smile. “I hope my kid turns out like that.”  She laid a hand on her belly.
“She can be a pain sometimes too,”  Gabrielle added with a smile. “She knows exactly how to play you. With the smiles and the pouting. You can’t say no to that girl.”  She grinned. “Xena lets her get away with everything.”
Lila glanced up at her sister, curiously. “You are really good with her. You’ll make a fine mother someday.”
Gabrielle laughed softly. “I don’t think so.”
“Why not?”
“Sperm,” Gabrielle said matter of factly. “Or better said the lack there off.”
Lila chuckled softly. “Well, yes… That is an issue.”

They continued on for a few steps in silence, then Gabrielle spoke up again. “Why’d you run off after lunch?”
Lila shrugged. “You were so busy and… I didn’t want to get in the way.”
“You’re not in the way.”
“I don’t know anything about… about fighting or weird gods or war.” A wry smile. “I could give you some nice tips on herding sheep, though.” Lila glanced up at her sister, studying the lines of her face. “How different our lives are…”
Gabrielle smirked. “Wanna trade?”
“That would make you the wife of Perdicas,” her sister grinned. “How the Fates would laugh.”

Gabrielle smiled at the thought, then she became more serious, turning to her sister. “I am really happy you’re here, you know? I know a lot’s going on and it’s all weird, but… I am glad you came. I missed you.”
“Then why did you never write?”

The accusation was out before Lila realized what she was doing. She bit her lip, regretting it as she saw the hurt in her sister’s eyes.
Gabrielle looked down and stared at the grass beneath her feet. “I don’t know.” She murmured. “I… I started to, a few times. I tried to put into words all that had happened in the past year, but…”  She shook her head a little. “There were no words.”
“How could you have no words?” Lila whispered.
Gabrielle managed a small smile. “Maybe I used too many before. And I ran out.”

They continued on towards the palace, both lost in their own thoughts. “Or,” Gabrielle spoke up again, softly. “Maybe I am afraid.”
“Of what?” Lila asked, frowning.

Gabrielle considered her words a moment, then said. “Do you remember when we had to help with the sheering the first time?”
“Yes,” Lila confirmed, somewhat lost to where this was going.
“And one of the sheerers slipped with the scissors. And daddy dragged the sheep out to the back and… slid its neck.”
Lila looked away, swallowing in disgust at the memory. “Yes,” she said again. “I never looked at daddy the same after that.”
“Well… That’s what I’m afraid of.”

Lila looked up at her with a frown. “You killed sheep?”
“They might as well have been.” Gabrielle managed a wry smile.

Her sister stared at her for a while, not understanding, then realization hit. “Oh,”  She murmured, her eyes darting away as she thought about this for a moment. Then she turned back to the warrior. “Why?”
Gabrielle drew in a breath, slightly shaky. “Cause I could.”
“That’s a bad reason.”
“I wasn’t really thinking at the time.” The blonde shook her head sadly. “I’m not the girl you knew, Lila. I’m not the girl that left Potedaia, all hopeful and naive.” She fumbled with her hands. “I don’t even write anymore.”
“Cause there’s no words?”

Lila considered this a moment. “She did this to you.”
Gabrielle realized which she her sister was referring to. “No. I did this to me.”
“She hurt you, didn’t she?”
The warrior thought about how to respond to this a moment. “You gave me a quill for my 10th birthday, remember?”
“Uhm…”  Lila frowned. “Sure… I remember.”
“So… Do you consider all the stories I wrote with that quill to be yours?”
“No, of course not.”  Her sister realized where this was going now. “But that’s different.”
“No, it’s not,” Gabrielle smiled. “We’re responsible for our own actions. Before, I was so busy blaming Xena for everything that I forgot about that. And that’s when I started doing things without thinking. Without realizing what they would lead to.”

Lila mulled this over a moment. “You should have written.”  She then said. “If not words then… just your name.” She managed a weak smile. “It would have saved me a lot of worrying.”
Gabrielle bent her head. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re forgiven,” Lila replied, quite easily, turning to her sister and giving her a warm hug. “But, next time you get crucified and shipped off to Asia… Don’t do it again, okay?”
“Oh, I promise,”  Gabrielle chuckled, wrapping an arm around her sister as they continued on to the palace.

The young prison guard’s eyes shot up, trying to spot the person who was calling his name. When he did, his face creased into a smile. “Gabrielle!”
The group of young man standing near him stared at him. “You know her?” One murmured under his breath. “Like, calling-her-by-her-name know her?”
“Sure,” Ellos replied offhandedly, trying to repress a proud smirk.

Gabrielle stopped next to him, inclining her head towards his friends before turning to the guard himself. “I need to talk to whoever’s in charge here.” Gabrielle glanced around, following a group of men as they marched past. “I asked some people but… they were kinda… evasive.”
“Yeah.” Gabrielle shook her head a little. “They said they didn’t know, but… It was more like they didn’t want to answer my question.”
“Really?” Ellos tapped his chin with his index finger. “That is very strange. Everyone knows the Colonel. So…”
“Though I’m sure some weren’t trying to be impolite,” Gabrielle interrupted him subtly but firmly.
“Impolite?” Ellos frowned, having lost track of the conversation after being roughly pulled from his thoughts. “About what?”
“About not answering my question.” Gabrielle darted him a pointed smile.
“Que… Oh!” The guard hastily straightened up. “The Colonel, right. I’ll take you to him.”

Gabrielle followed the young man as he walked off, repressing a small smirk. Ellos walked up to an older man, somewhere in his late thirties. He was dressed in a black leather cuirass, aligned with bronze studs. A deep red cloak was draped over his shoulders and around his arms he wore a set of decorated, bronze bracers. His voice was strong and powerful, as it rang out over the training area where he was drilling a group of young soldiers.

The colonel turned, clearly unhappy at being disturbed. Gabrielle could now see that a nasty scar ran down his cheek, almost to the edge of his mouth. “I don’t like being disturbed during training.” He snapped at Ellos, who hastily bent his head.
“I know, colonel Andros. My apologies.”  Ellos stammered “But someone wishes to speak with you.”
Andros glared at him another moment, then lifted his eyes and looked over the young guard’s shoulder, to see Gabrielle standing there.

His face froze as he stared at her coldly for a few moments, then he faced forward again. His dark blue eyes watched the men go through their exercises without actually seeing any of them. “I’m busy.”
Ellos blinked at him, then turned to Gabrielle, not sure what to reply to that.

Gabrielle stepped up, circling around Ellos and stopping next to the colonel, addressing him herself now.
“I need a moment of your time.”
“You cannot claim my time. You have no say here.”  Colonel Andros turned, facing the blond woman. “We only answer to the Conqueror.”
“I only wanna talk,”  Gabrielle stated, crossing her arms.
“I have no time to talk,” Andros replied curtly. “The General left instructions. I have recruits to train and select. The first cohorts march for Delphi this evening.”
“I just need some info,”  Gabrielle persisted. “There’s a lot going on. That’s exactly why we need to talk. Discuss what to do.”
“We have everything under control.”

The warrior released a breath, her temper getting the better of her now. “Do you now?”
“What are you doing about Callisto then? And the Khrafstar fellow?”
Andros considered for a moment whether he was going to respond to this, but finally did. “The city guards are alerted. I have a entire cohort marching the streets, looking for them.” He turned his back on her again. “They will soon be found. You cannot hide from the Empress’s forces in Athens. The walls have ears here.”

Gabrielle considered her options for a moment. This colonel seemed far from pleasant, so her gut was telling her to pace off and go back to the palace. However… Sitting around in the palace, waiting for… whatever to happen was tiring her out. She needed to do something. Accomplish something. Preferably in an aggressive kind of way, to get rid of some of the pent up frustration she was feeling by now.

She took a step closer to the colonel, dropping her voice a little. “Look, this Khrafstar is a mystery to me. But I know Callisto. I could help.”
He spun around again, his red cloak swooshing softly as he did. “Help?” He snorted softly, his eyes meeting hers with an almost painful intensity. “You are going to help us?”
“If I can.” 

He studied her a moment, then he tilted his head back a little. “If you are so intent on helping then.” Andros glanced behind him, where a small group of men was standing, about the same age as he. “Perhaps you would be willing to give us a little demonstration.”
“These boys here,” he waved a hand at the young men. “They are good soldiers, but… in a battle that may be not be enough. In a battle there should be no hesitation. You go for the kill. You need to be ruthless.” He cocked his head at her. “You know all about that, don’t you?”
Gabrielle crossed her arms. “I don’t understand where you’re going.”
“Since your presence here isn’t allowing me to continue training, how about we show the boys how to really fight. No drilling, no standard moves: the real thing.”

Green eyes studied him for a moment. Well… Gabrielle shrugged. She wanted some aggressive kind of distraction. This would probably qualify. “Okay. I’m up for that.”
“Excellent!” Ellos murmured enthusiastically, having followed the conversation with interest.

An area was cleared and soldiers of all ages crowded around it, all eager to see what would happen. The soldiers were grouped mostly by age. The younger ones were in the majority and stood closer to her, all chatting enthusiastically and sneaking glances at her. The more experienced soldiers stood together as well. Some stood grouped around the colonel, who was talking to them in a hushed voice. The warrior frowned, cocking her head a little in an effort to hear what he was saying.

“What weapon are you gonna use, ma’am?” One of the soldiers called out to her. Gabrielle turned to him, forgetting about the colonel for the moment. She considered the question a moment, then shrugged. “What were you training with?”
“Staffs, ma’am.”
“Then a staff will do,” the warrior responded, motioning for the soldier to throw his weapon over, which he did. Gabrielle neatly scooped it out of the air, twisting it around a few times to judge the weight and the range of motion.
“Can you really fight with every weapon, ma’am?” Another voice asked in awe.
Gabrielle suppressed a grin. “Well, not all, I think. That chakram thing of Xena’s for instance, that’s a toughie.” She’d tried throwing the chakram a few times, and was now able toss it in a straight line and have it bounce back to her, which was a promising start. But working with angles was much more complicated. You had to calculate where the thing would go if you threw it at a certain angle. And Gabrielle had always sucked in math. “But whenever I come across a new type of weapon I do try to get the hang of it, yeah.”

There was a motion behind her and Gabrielle turned to find the colonel standing waiting for her, two lieutenants flanking him on either side. Gabrielle raised an eyebrow at the man. “5 against 1?”
“We all know what you can do.” Andros stated simply. “I want to show these men how to fight. Not how to get kicked across the arena and pass out.”
“You flatter me,”  Gabrielle smirked at him, then grasped hold of her staff more firmly. “Okay then. Let’s get this show on the road.”

The lieutenants slowly moved forward, taking up position in a circle around her. Gabrielle glanced around, trying to keep them all in focus. Two of the men were armed with swords, one with a spear and a shield and one with a net and trident.

The first one to make a move was the man with the spear. She’d expected as much, it being a long-range weapon and all. She easily batted the weapon away with her staff, then jumped as the net was swept at her feet.

The trident came at her next and she brought her staff up just in time, her wooden weapon ending up between two of the trident’s teeth. She spun her staff around, twisting the weapon out of her opponent’s hands. She took hold of the trident herself, turning around and tossing it towards one of the onrushing swordsman, making him fall down and pinning him to the ground in one move.

The soldiers around her cheered and Gabrielle smiled, enjoying the praises as she kicked out and made the second swordsman double over. The spear came at her again and she quickly used the swordsman as an escape route, rolling over his back to come to stand on the other side of him.

She hadn’t counted on the first swordsmen to free himself so fast though, and the next moment she was pulled against the man who’d come up behind her. The wooden end of the trident was shoved around her neck, blocking off her air supply. She gasped, trying to get a hold of the weapon or the man holding it, but failing.

She made another futile attempt to draw in some air, failing again. The hold around her neck wasn’t loosening at all though. Gabrielle’s eyes flicked up, to find the colonel slowly moving closer, a grin around his lips. It wasn’t a pleasant one.

This wasn’t just a game, Gabrielle brain informed her weakly. Something was very wrong. And she was right in the centre of the wrongness.

She reached up, clasping both her hands around the trident. On pure strength she managed to push it from her neck, allowing herself to gasp in some air. She placed her feet firmly in the sand, then with a growl she shoved the trident away from her. With a yell her attacker was sent soaring over her head, crashing into two of his companions.

The young soldiers cheered out for her again, but she took no pleasure in that this time, her eyes finding the colonel’s and narrowing at him. She grabbed hold of her staff then made a dash for him. The lieutenant that was still on his feet hastily ran to block her path. It was no use though, since Gabrielle pushed off from the ground, neatly flipping over his head to land next to the colonel.

Andros swung his sword towards her, which the warrior ducked under. She swung out with her staff, finding her path blocked by the hilt of the sword. “What is going on here?” She hissed at him.
“Justice,” the colonel growled back, just low enough so none of the spectators would hear him.
“Justice?” The warrior ducked under another swing, then moved closer, turning and jabbing her elbow into his face. “For what? I’ve never met you before. You don’t know me.”
Andros recovered quickly, managing to wrap an arm around her neck, trying to drag her down. “Oh, I know you. Maybe better than our Empress does. I know what’s hidden. In The Shadow.”

Gabrielle froze a moment, at hearing the nickname she’d gotten in Chin. Andros tightened his grip on her neck and lifted his sword. “Give Paleamon my regards.”

Gabrielle regained her senses just in time. She quickly kicked out, hitting the sword hilt and sending it flying from Andros’ grasp. She wormed free an arm and shoved her elbow into his stomach. The colonel staggered back with a groan, letting Gabrielle go in the process.

There was barely time to recover as the other four soldiers came at her again. Gabrielle tightened the hold on her staff, pushing one end against an attacker’s kneecap, then pushing the weapon up and catching him against the chin. She grabbed onto the end of her staff with both hands and swung the weapon around, catching a second man against the side of the head.

A spear was tossed at her and she slammed it aside with the flat of her hand, then spun around and dropped to a knee, swiping the legs out of under the third soldier. As he fell he grabbed for her staff though, managing to pull him down with her.

She tried rolling off him, but the net landed on top of her and a pull send her tumbling back to the ground again. Gabrielle gasped as the blunt end of the spear was shoved into her stomach. The third soldier had managed to take her staff from her and now brought it down on her as well, the weapon harshly impacting with her side.

She heard footsteps behind her, heavy ones, which she guessed to be the colonel. Gabrielle twisted, trying to worm free, but she couldn’t manage to. A flickering of metal aught her attention. It was the tip of the spear, now heading for her heart.

It was pure instinct that saved her as she grabbed onto the spear just before it could touch her skin. She pushed the sharp end down, effectively cutting through the ropes in progress, freeing a path for her.

Pushing the end of the spear back up she hit the attacker in the forehead, making him stumble back and let go of his weapon. Gabrielle hopped back to her feet, planting the spear in the ground and pushing off, slamming her boots into the faces of three men, before landing onto the ground again.

She was breathing heavily now, her eyes flicking around as she spotted the colonel coming at her and his lieutenants scrambling to their feet again. This was not good, her mind informed her bluntly. They were trying to kill her. Gabrielle danced on the balls of her feet, trying to think. She needed to get out of this place. Fast.

Andros had reached her by now and she ducked under his swing, then jumped up and neatly flipped over him, landing behind him and grabbing onto his neck, holding him in front of her like a shield. “Tell them to back off,” she hissed at him.

Andros laughed. “Not likely,”  he managed to say, spitting out some blood that had seeped from his nose. “Just kill me if you want. See how your young fans will like that.”  He motioned his chin towards the group of young soldiers who were still cheering her on.

Gabrielle glanced from the soldiers watching her to the four remaining attackers, who were moving towards her again. He was right. Killing him or any of the others would be a bad idea. Everyone here believed it was just a drill after all. They only reason they could kill her was because she was just the one and they could claim it was an accident.

Unless… Gabrielle bit her lip, glancing around, spotting Ellos and his friends not to far off. “Okay,”  she raised her voice, so everyone around them could hear. “This was fun. But I’m done playing.”

She nodded a little to herself, then let go of her hold on Andros. Before the colonel could spin away from her though she grabbed onto his belt with one hand and onto his color with the other, digging into all her strength and lifting him off the ground.

Andros’ eyes widened as he suddenly felt his feet leave the ground. Then he was sent flying, crashing into his companions, taking them all down to the ground with him.

Loud cheers filled the air, but Gabrielle ignored them, turning her back on her attackers and starting to walk towards Ellos.

Andros scrambled back to his feet and was about to run at her again. Then he stopped though, muttering a curse as he saw her back was turned.
“Colonel,”  one of his lieutenants stepped up next to him. “You want us to…”
“No,” Andros wiped his arm over his forehead, smearing dirt across his face. “We can’t attack her when her back is turned. Won’t look good.” He huffed out a frustrated breath. “Damn her.”

The crowd split as Gabrielle came closer, clearing a path for her towards the palace. When she passed Ellos she turned to him a moment. “Come with me.”
Hazel eyes blinked at her. “Bu…”
“Now.” Gabrielle added, before facing forward again, making her way through the crowd.

The cheering was loud and the space around her was small. Gabrielle had to suppress the urge to slam out and clear some space for herself. She drew in a breath in relief as she moved away from the soldiers, finding her path clear towards the palace.

Gabrielle pushed open the door to Xena’s study, then quickly closed it behind her. She leaned against the door, closing her eyes and exhaling.

She’d instructed Ellos to guard Iona. She was pretty sure he wasn’t the best soldier around, but he seemed very loyal to her and she trusted him. More than she trusted anyone else at the moment anyway.

What a mess this was. There was so much going on. This Dahak, Callisto on the loose, Athena prowling around for information and now some vengeful veterans… 

Gabrielle pushed away from the door, circling Xena’s desk. She let her fingers trace the rough wooden surface. She finally sat down in Xena’s chair, her hand softly caressing the leather. The room was quiet and familiar. She’d spent a lot of time in here, when she was healing from her wounds.

It had been a silly idea, Gabrielle realized as she laid her hand against the wall for support, wincing as the wound in her stomach stung painfully. She was just so bored with lying in bed all day though. So, even though she’d known it was too early, she’d gotten up and decided to go for a walk. The blonde bit her lip, working very hard on remaining upright. Silly idea. Very silly.

“What are you doing here?” She looked up to find Xena standing in the doorway of her study. The Empress hastily walked closer, grabbing onto her arm and supporting her. “Are you nuts? You should be in bed!”
“I’m nuts,” Gabrielle affirmed. “And bored.”

Xena rolled her eyes, then reached over, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and another around her legs, neatly lifting her from the ground.
“Hey,” Gabrielle objected weakly. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Getting myself a hernia,”  Xena muttered, as she pushed open the door to her study with a boot. “That way I get confined to bed myself and we can be bored together.” She gently placed Gabrielle in her leather chair, kneeling down beside her. She reached for the glass of water standing on her desk, holding it out to the blonde. “Drink.”

Gabrielle obediently took a small sip, then handed the water back again. Xena reached out, touching her clammy face with careful fingertips. The warrior managed a small smile. “Don’t look so worried. I’m okay.”
“Forgive me if I don’t take the word of a clearly insane woman on that,” Xena told her, darting her a pointed look. “You know how much trouble it took me to stitch you up properly?”
“Yes. I remember it in all painful detail.” Gabrielle responded, reaching out and stroking a lock of dark hair back behind the Empress’s ear.

It was a careless gesture really, almost instinctive. Xena looked up though and blue eyes captured hers. And she realized suddenly how close they were. It had been very early in their relationship and they were still… searching a little on how to deal with each other’s presence.

“I must be keeping you from your work,” Gabrielle murmured, darting a quick look at the paperwork spread across Xena’s desk.
“’s Okay,” the Empress responded softly.

They continued staring at each other a moment longer, then Xena dropped her eyes, unable to repress a small smile. “This insanity of yours must be contagious.”
Gabrielle chuckled softly. “You think so, huh?”
“Uhuh,” Xena reached out and took her hand, winding her finger’s around the blonde’s. “Look, I uhm… I really do need to finish this.” She nodded her head towards the desk.
“I understand,” Gabrielle started pushing herself back to her feet. “I’ll start waggling back to my bed.”
“And tumble down the steps halfway there and tear my stitches? I think not.”  Xena resolutely pushed her back in her chair. “If you could just wait  a few moments… I’ve got a nice sofa by the window there. I could get you a book or something?”
Gabrielle smiled, happy at the prospect of not having to return to her lonely room. “I’d like that.”

Xena reached out, intent on carrying the blonde again, but Gabrielle resolutely swatted her hands away. “I walked all the way over here, Xena. I can walk the two steps to the couch on my own.”
The Empress rolled her eyes. “Fine, fine.”  She did help the warrior up though, wrapping an arm around her and guiding her over to the couch.

Gabrielle glanced outside, watching some clear white clouds slide past. Meanwhile Xena had walked over to the shelve that held a series of scrolls started sorting through her selection. After a moment of hesitation she selected one, walking back over and kneeling down beside Gabrielle. “Here. I think you’ll like this.”
“Thanks,” Gabrielle reached for the scroll, her hand lingering a moment as she touched Xena’s.
“You uhm… You’ll be all right like his?” Xena mumbled, absently stroking the soft fabric of the couch.
“Yeah,” The blonde smiled at her. “I’ll be fine. You just go rule the world.”
The Empress grinned at her, then rose back to her feet, returning to her desk and sitting down, lifting up a map and studying it intently.

Gabrielle rested her cheek on an arm, her eyes studying the other woman. “Xena?”
“You do realize you’re holding the map upside down, right?”    
A moment of silence, then Xena cleared her throat, turning the map the right side up.

Gabrielle wrapped her arms around her chest, hugging herself awkwardly. “Oh, Xena. This is such a mess.” She whispered to the empty room. “Please come home.”

Xena pulled to a halt at the start of the valley, looking out over the land stretching out below her. The land here was flat and rocky, with a road circling through woods and around stones.

There was movement in the distance. Xena narrowed her eyes, trying to make out what it was.

Odilon pulled up next to her, noticing the figure as well. “Moving fast…”
“Yeah,” Xena nodded in agreement. “Been doing so for a while too.”
Odilon darted her a look. “Do I want to know how you know that?”
“The way he’s running,”  Xena muttered distractedly, her eyes still focused on the figure. “Isn’t lifting his feet up that high. And he’s moving sideways a little.”
“I was right, I didn’t want to know,” Odilon rolled his eyes.

Dorian moved his horse to stand at her other side. “He’s wearing our colors,” the general commented. “And she’s coming from the border.”
Xena nodded a little, thinking. “Dorian, Odie. You’re with me. The rest stay here.” She said, before clucking her tongue and urging Chilon forward again. Dorian followed immediately. Odie sighed, but then set in pursuit as well.

Soon enough she was close enough to the runner. Xena pulled her horse to a halt and slid off his back. The runner looked up, then released a heavy breath. “Empress!”
Xena was just in time to grab onto the man’s shoulder, before he could fall. “Easy there.” She eased him to the ground, turning back to Dorian. “Water!”
The general reached for his own supply, tossing it over to Xena. The Empress neatly swooped it from the air, uncorking it and holding it to the soldier’s lips. He gulped the liquid in greedily. “Thank you, Empress.”
“What’s your name, soldier?”
“Pheidippides, ma’am,” the soldier managed to say, breathing heavily.
“You’ve been running a long way, Pheidippides?”
The man nodded weakly. “I come from the border, Empress. You sent my cohort there a few days ago.” He gasped in another breath. “My commander sent me to warn you. Their arrows killed my horse.”
Odilon stopped beside them. “Whose arrows?”
“Persian arrows, sir,” Pheidippides said, pulling his bag closer and pulling out an arrow shaft, handing it to Empress.

Xena took it, blindly staring at the dark green feathers at the end.
Dorian knelt down next to them. “How many?”
“Too many to count, sir,” Pheidippides said, his voice hoarse. “My commander said to warn you. He said to tell you he would hold them back as long as he could. That wasn’t long though. When I reached the first hill I turned back. Tripolis was burning.”
Xena’s eyes lifted and met his. “How far away are they?”
“One, maybe two days run from here.”
Xena drew in a breath, then rose back to her feet. “Dorian?”
“Get Pheidippides a horse and an escort. Get the fellow on the fastest horse to ride back to Delphi and tell them to prepare.”
Dorian inclined his head, then walked over to Pheidippides and helped the soldier to his feet. Xena touched his shoulder as he passed. “Good job, soldier.”
He managed a small, proud smile at the praise.

Odilon stepped closer, watching Xena as the Empress stared at the road up ahead. “So… I guess that answers one question. Khrafstar fellow wasn’t lying.”
Xena closed her eyes, exhaling. “Advise me, would ya?”
“Not really my forte, remember?” The spy muttered, laying a hand on her shoulder in support.
“Do it anyway.”
“Okay,”  Odilon thought a moment. “You and me ride on. That boy probably hasn’t seen a decent sized army in his life. Might not be as many of them as he thinks. With just the two of us, we can move faster.”
Xena nodded a little in agreement. 
“We send the boys back. If it is bad, better they don’t see it just yet.”
“Sounds good,” She turned to him. “You go tell them. I’ll wait here.”
Odilon nodded, then turned, jogging back up the hill towards where the men were waiting.

Xena watched him go, then walked back over to Chilon, who was patiently waiting for her in the middle of the road. She reached out, stoking a hand over his sweaty head. Chilon snorted softly, gently pushing his nose against her stomach. Xena closed her eyes, leaning forward and hiding her face in his manes.

Cleopatra passed the guards standing outside the door to her room. They raised their spears in salute. Their queen acknowledged them with a faint wave of her hand. One of the guards pushed open the door for her and allowed her to step inside, before closing the door again behind her.

Her room was empty, as she had sent her servants to prepare her meal for the evening. She picked up a candle and walked into her bedroom, which was covered in darkness. She turned away from the bed, lighting two candles seated on top of a dresser. Then she turned back around to…

The candle nearly dropped from her grasp as she spotted the figure seated on her bed.
“Hi,”  Gabrielle wiggled her fingers at the queen.
Cleopatra stuttered a few syllables, then managed to get a full sentence out. “What are you doing in my room! In my bed!”
“Well, everybody else’s been in your bed,” Gabrielle drawled. “I felt left out.”
“Pah!” The Egyptian Regent spat out, then started to march back out the door. “Guards!”
“No, no, wait!” Gabrielle hastily rose to her feet. “I’m just here to chat.”
Cleopatra spun around again. “You are here to insult me!”
“No, that’s not why I’m here, that…” Gabrielle scratched the back of her neck. “That’s just a natural impulse.”
The dark eyes narrowed angrily at her. Then she turned towards the outer door again. “Guards!”
“Wait!” Gabrielle quickly lifted both hands in apology. “I’m sorry. I just want to talk. Please.”

Cleopatra turned back to her, both eyebrows raised. Behind her the two guards rushed inside. “My Queen?”
Cleo glanced from them back to the warrior. “Return to your post,”  she then instructed both the men, who bowed and did as they were told.

Gabrielle released a breath. “Thank you.”
“Sorry, please and thank you…”  Cleopatra crossed her arms. “Did Xena teach you some manners while I was gone?”
Gabrielle ignored the comment.

“Why are you here then?”
“Iona.” The warrior stated. “Iona and the Advisor’s kids. They need protection.” She shook her head a little. “I’m running around so much, trying to… to figure out this whole mess and help somehow… I can’t be around the entire time.” She gazed up, meeting Cleopatra’s eyes. “Nothing can happen tot them. I promised Xena.”
“You may not have noticed,” Cleo commented, seating herself on one of the chairs. “But there is an entire army of qualified body guards right outside your doorstep.”
“Oh, I noticed,” Gabrielle muttered. “I went there already. They aren’t too fond of me though.”
“Imagine that.”
“There’s a young guard following them now, but… He’s not the best.” She crossed her arms. “You have the best.”

Cleo studied her, then a smile slowly spread across her face. “So…” She crossed her legs delicately. “You need my help.”
Gabrielle drew in a breath, trying to remain calm. “I’m not asking for myself. I’m asking for Xena.”

The Egyptian regent indulged herself another moment, then waved her hand at the empty air. “My spies were already following the children. But I will assign two guards to them as well.”
Gabrielle frowned at her. “Your spies were following the kids?”
“Yes, since this morning, when they left for school.” Cleopatra smirked at her. “I’ve learned to anticipate Xena’s wishes.”
“Haven’t noticed anyone hanging around.”
“Well, as you say. I have the best.” The regent leaned back in her seat. “My informants tell me there was some… unrest, in your council this afternoon.”

Gabrielle released a sigh. “Turned out one of my council members was a goddess.”
A finely outlined eyebrow raised at her.
“Athena,” Gabrielle elaborated. “She had disguised herself as an old school lady and was spying on the council.”
“An old school lady?” Cleopatra repeated, then snorted in disgust. “Greek gods have no sense of style.” She thought of the matter a moment. “This… Athena… Did she speak to you?”
“Of what?”

Gabrielle studied the Egyptian regent for a moment, then folded her hands behind her back. “How about we trade?”
“Trade?” Cleopatra frowned at her.
“Yes,” Gabrielle confirmed. “I have some interesting info on Athena and the Greek pantheon. You indicated you knew something about Xena and this Dahak. Let’s trade.”

Cleopatra considered this a moment. Then she decided it would be no loss for her to tell. “Agreed.” Gabrielle seated herself on the edge of the bed, her hands folded in her lap. “You first.”
The Egyptian leaned back in her seat. “What do you know?”
“I know Xena fought Dahak before she conquered Persia. And I know she won. But no one seems to know how she won. Not even the gods.”
“Well, I can not help answer this question,” Cleopatra stated. “I did not see the fight myself. I only saw her after.”

“Why were you in Persia?”
“I was aiding Xena in her fight,” Cleopatra told her. “She was moving in from the north and I from the south. We would meet at Tyre, one of the strongest Persian cities. We would lay siege to the city together. Then Xena would move East, and I would go back to Egypt. In return the area south of Tyre would become part of the Egyptian province.”
“Good deal,” Gabrielle muttered.
“Xena’s forces reached Tyre shortly before mine did. My chariots rode into their encampment a few days later. Xena however was not there.”
“Where was she?”
“This is what I asked,” Cleopatra continued. “Her general pointed to a hill, not too far from the encampment. It was barren, nothing grew there.” She pressed her lips together. “Stone and sand. The entire area was quite boring. I wondered why Xena was interested in it. Wanted to complete the set, I think.”
“So… Xena was on the hill?” Gabrielle urged.
“Yes,” the regent nodded. “Xena’s general had told me she had left for the hill that afternoon and had instructed no one was to follow. She had said that if she did not return, the army was to march back to Greece.”
Gabrielle frowned a little at this.
“There were dark clouds above this hill. A local thunderstorm it seemed. I remember seeing flames and smoke. Suddenly the earth shook. It seemed to speak, to roar. Then the next moment… nothing.”
“Nothing.” Cleopatra repeated again. “No more earth shaking, no more thunderstorm, no more flames. It was a perfect summer day.”

Cleopatra leaned forward, resting her arms on her knees. “Not too much later, Xena appeared again. She was…” the regent shook her head a little. “I have been in many battles with Xena. My archers and charioteers are world-renowned. I have seen her wounded often, but… Never like this.”
“What do you mean?” Gabrielle asked.
“Xena, she… she gets wounded… here…” She lifted her hands, indicating her body. “But not here.” She tapped her temple. “I do not know what happened on this hill, but when she came back she was broken. I had not seen this before and never have since.” Cleopatra leaned back again. “Contrary to what some claim, I took Tyre. Xena did not step onto the battlefield once. When the city had fallen, she instructed her general to lead the army east. She returned to Athens. She only returned to Persia when the last city was about to fall and joined the battle then.” Cleo’s lips quirked up a bit. “By her orders, the bards told the story slightly different.”
“History is made by storytellers,” Gabrielle murmured Xena’s words absently.
“Xena learned this very quickly,” Cleopatra said. “I never realized how powerful a weapon storytellers could be. If I learned anything from her, it would be this.”

Gabrielle tapped her fingers on her knee, thinking. “Did she… tell you anything, afterwards? About Dahak? About who he was, what he did?”
“Very little,” the Egyptian queen admitted. “She did not enjoy speaking of Persia. I asked her once and she told me Dahak was very powerful. And that she had only beaten him through trickery. I asked what to do if he returned. Egypt shares a border with Persia after all. She just… laughed and said not to worry. Greece would fall before Egypt did.”

Gabrielle considered this all, then released a breath, shaking her head a little. “I don’t get it,” she spoke her thoughts. “If she beat Dahak, then… why is she so afraid of him?”
Cleopatra merely lifted her hands, indicating she didn’t know this either.
Gabrielle thought about the matter another moment, then returned to the present day. “So… You are returning to Egypt then? To protect the border.”

Cleopatra shook her head. “No soldiers have crossed my borders. Well…” She smirked. “Mine have.”
Green eyes stared at her. “Are you saying… you’ve invaded Persia?”
“Invasion is such a nasty word,” Cleopatra drawled. “I’ve merely… extended my borders.”
Gabrielle stared at her another moment, then huffed out an outraged breath, rising to her feet. “Behind Xena’s back? You’re just gonna waltz into Persia, while she’s being attacked?!”
“How narrow minded you are.” Dark eyes studied her in bemusement. “You must learn to see the bigger picture.”
“Spell the bigger picture out for my narrow mind then,” Gabrielle growled back, her eyes glinting dangerously.
“The bigger picture,” Cleopatra said calmly. “Is a diversion in the south.”

Gabrielle stared at her another moment, then sat down again. Her eyes continued to drill into Cleopatra’s, who met them easily. “I don’t trust you.” Gabrielle finally said.
“Well,” the Egyptian regent produced a smile. “We have one thing in common after all then.”

“Can’t be much further now,” Odilon murmured under his breath. They’d left the horses behind a few miles ago and were now walking through a forested area, sloping upwards.
Xena didn’t respond, her eyes darting around restlessly.
Odilon glanced at her, then faced forward again. “You’re edgy.”
“Persian scouts always travel a day ahead of the main force,” Xena responded in a whisper, without looking at him. “If the army is in the next valley, as Pheidippides said, then the scouts are on this hill.”

Odilon nodded a little in understanding.  They continued on in silence for a while longer, then Odilon laid a hand on Xena’s shoulder, halting her. “Should be able to see into the valley now, from up there.” He said, pointing upwards, to the treetops.

Xena considered this, then nodded. She leaned her back against the tree, winding her fingers together and holding them at waist height. Odilon placed his boot on her folded hands, hopping up and grabbing onto a tree limb. He crawled his way upwards quite craftily, his agility working in his favor. When he’d gone as the tree’s branches would allow him, he stopped, reaching for the falcate strapped to his side. He unsheathed the blade, then swung it at the branch blocking his sight. He cut through it with a single swing, and the foliage dropped away, allowing him sight into the next valley. He stared ahead of him a moment, then glanced down. “Xena?”
Xena stared up at him.
“You’d better get up here too.”

Xena nodded. The branch was too high to just reach for, so she searched for another route and quickly found it. She took a few paces backwards, then ran forward again, picking up speed. She reached the treetrunk and ran up it, her speed just high enough to reach the first branch and grasp onto it. She swung back and forth a few times, then let go, flying upwards and grasping onto the next branch.

A few moments later she squatted down on a branch next to Odilon. He pointed and she let her eyes move in the direction he indicated.

Her eyes slid over the valley below for another moment, then she released the breath she was holding. “How many campfires, do you think?”
A deep frown appeared on the spy’s forehead. “Hard to say… They burned down the forrest to make room for the army. Some of those lights might be smoldering embers or something.”

There were small dots of light everywhere she looked. It was like the night sky had dropped into the valley and the countless stars were twinkling back at her from the ground.

“Something like… A thousand? Maybe more….”
“Ten men or so per fire…” Xena murmured, her eyes staring out over the valley. “That's good.  For a moment there, I thought we were in trouble.”
“Well,” Odilon scratched his chin, trying to think of any positives to share with his friend. “At least we… have the element of surprise in our favor."

Xena suddenly spun into motion besides him, half turning and then reaching out. Odilon’s eyes widened as the tip of an arrow was pulled to a halt mere inches from his forehead. The spy blew out a shocked breath. “Me and my big mouth.”

Xena simply leaped off the branch, allowing herself to fall down. About halfway down she reached out, her fingers winding around a branch. She swung forward, letting go again and pulling herself into a flip.

Harshly her boots impacted with a man’s chest, pushing the air from his lunges. The archer looked up at her in shock. “Not nice,” she told him, before she snapped his head to the left. With a crack his neck snapped and he sagged to the ground, limply.

A scream sounded from behind her and she hastily rose back to her feet and spun around, raising her arms just in time to block another Persian’s swing.

He gurgled then as a small knife dug its way into his neck. Xena glanced up to see Odilon halfway up the tree, reaching for another knife and taking aim. A moment later another Persian fell to the ground, the knife embedded firmly in his forehead.

Odilon in the meantime was clambering down as fast as he could and reached the ground as five more soldiers joined the battle. He rushed forward, pushing off and flipping over the enemy soldiers to land at Xena’s side. The Empress’ back pressed against his as he swung out, disarming a soldier. “You okay?”
“Peachy,” Xena growled, grabbing onto a Persian spear and pushing it up, sending the attacker who was still hanging onto the weapon flying overhead. She then swung it backwards, just past Odilon and into his opponent’s stomach. She pulled the spear back, bringing it back around and sliding a throat in the process. She then snapped the wooden stick in half over her knee, lifting the two halves up just in time to block a sword coming at her from either side. She took two steps forwards then jumped up, kicking out at both men and sending them flying backwards as she flipped and landed back with her back against Odilon’s.

Odilon slammed his elbow into someone’s nose, then spun around and brought his sword up, cutting through the same man’s neck. There was just one man left before him now and he was about to run. Odilon hastily reached for him, grabbing onto the soldier’s collar as he tried to run away. With a gasp of air the soldier tumbled backwards, landing on the ground. Odilon quickly jumped on top of him, pinning him to the ground. Two quick jabs at his neck and the man was left gasping for air, his eyes wide.

Xena jumped up and kicked out at her last attacker, hitting him in the head and sending him crashing to the ground. She landed again, her breathing hard.

The Empress spun around to see Odilon hovering over a squirming Persian soldier. She quickly jogged over to his side, kneeling down.
Odilon grasped onto his victim’s chin and forced him to look at him. “I just cut off the flow of blood to your brain,” he informed the soldier. “Painfull. Isn’t it?” He leaned a little closer, dropping his voice. “If you have something interesting to tell us… we might let you live.”

The soldier’s eyes darted fearfully between Odilon and Xena, as he laboured to draw in another breath. He opened his mouth then, trying to speak. “I… I…”

Suddenly his body surged up and he closed his eyes. He then went completely still. Odilon frowned. “That normally doesn’t happen, right?” He muttered, reaching over and tapping the young man’s cheek.

A moment, then the soldier moved again, slowly turning his head until he was facing Xena. He then opened his eyes. They were a burning, smoldering red.

Xena took a step back, her own eyes widening in shock.
The soldier chuckled in a deep raspy voice. “Hello, Xena. It’s been too long.”
The Empress swallowed, staring at him another moment, then she hastily reached forward, grabbing onto Odilon’s collar and jerking him back towards her.
“Whoa, hey, what…?” The spy looked into the soldier’s eyes too now, and instantly fell silent.

The young man rose back to his feet, as if an unseen force was pushing him up. In spite of the fact that Odilon hadn’t removed the pinch, he was breathing easily now. “What?” He smiled pleasantly at Xena. “No witty repons? No nice one liner? Wait, wait…” He lifted a finger, waving it at her. “Let me try.” He tapped his chin. “I say something like: ‘Oh, I’ve missed you, Xena.’ And then you say something like… ‘well, you never wrote.’” He laughed. “That’s funny isn’t it? And then I say: ‘no, since I had no parchment lying around in that icy prison you stuck me in!!”

The last words weer yelled loudly and the soldier’s eyes burned brightly, the flames almost bursting from his eyesockets. Xena took a step back, swallowing.

“Hehe,” the young man cleared his throat, his eyes calming somewhat. “I get a little emotional sometimes.”
“What do you want?” Xena spoke up for the first time, trying very hard to make her voice sound firm.
The soldier smiled at her pleasantly. “The world. And from what I hear, it’s yours these days.” He glanced over his shoulder, towards the north. “Did you see my army? Were you impressed?”
The Empress squared her shoulders. “I’ll give you Persia. Go back. I’ll leave you alone. You can do what you want there.”

The soldier stared at her a moment, then started laughing loudly. “Oh, Xena.” Another chuckle. “You can’t bargain with what you don’t have.” A shrug. “Besides, the fun part about taking over the world, besides the slaughter and all, will be taking all you have. Bit… By bit… By bit…” he folded his hands behind his back, circling her. “I have been thinking about where to start. Your friend, maybe?” he glanced at Odilon. “But, I think I’ll probably start big. A good start is half the work, I always say. So…” His eyes drilled into hers, and Xena felt the painfull intensity of it, as if he were physically reaching out drawing something from her. “Your woman. Or your daughter.” A quirky grin. “You can choose.”

Xena narrowed her eyes at him. Her fear turned to hate and she grabbed onto her sword and, with a yell, she ran for him. The soldier easily sidestepped her first strike, then ducked under a second. “Ahhh… That’s more like it. That’s the Xena I know.” He lifted a hand and grabbed onto Xena’s blade as it came at him again. The blade dug deeply into his palm, blood dripping from his hand onto the metal. He didn’t even blink though, his eyes meeting Xena at close range. “The hate. The anger. That’s what I want.” Another dark grin. “Keep it up. I’ll see you in Athens.”

The next moment the soldier fell to the ground, limply. Barely visable, a small whisp of dark smoke drifted from his head, flying off into the dark night sky.

Xena stood, staring after it, breathing hard. A vague sound next to her and she turned her head, to find Odilon had stepped up next to her. “I guess I don’t need to ask who that was.” The spy muttered.
Xena faced forward again, lifting her sword and watching a drop of blood slide down the blade pensively.
“I knew you said he was creepy, but…” Odilon shook his head a little. “When he looked at me, I got the worst head ache and it was like he…” The spy drew in a shaky breath. “I suddenly remembered my father. How he used to beat me, when I…” A shake of his dark head. “I haven’t thought of him in years.”
“Dahak is fear,” Xena murmured. “It’s like he… puts a little bit of himself inside your head. And then you do the rest.”

Odilon looked up at the night sky, watching the skies above. “What do we do?”
The Empress closed her eyes, trying to order her thoughts. After a few moments she resheathed her sword and turned, starting on her way back down the hill. Odilon quickly jogged after her to catch up. “It’s a big army,” Xena said, as they clambered down a few rocks. “Which means it moves slow. We have time to pick a good, defendable spot and set up.”
“Thermopylae,” Odilon instantly added. “They have to go through the pass to reach any of the major cities.”
“Exactly,” The Empress nodded. “Persia has no more warships, I made sure of that. So the only way to reach us will be through the pass. We can block it off, take a stand there.” A breath. “I need you to go to Delphi. Inform the troops there to move and prepare camp. I also need you to send out spies and scouts, to monitor their position, strength and their weapons. Don’t go yourself.”
“Why not? I’m the best, aren’t I?”
“He knows you’re my friend. If he finds you in the army he’ll use you against me.”
Odilon considered then, but then nodded in resignation.
“Send out messengers to all the armies located even remotely close. Get Rome, get Cathage.”
“They’ll never make it to Thermopylae in time.”
“I know,” Xena drew in a breath. “Tell them to head for Athens.”

Odilon glanced up at his friend, her profile only barely visible in the darkness. “All right,” he slowly drew out. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going straight to Athens. Dahak said he’d see me there. He’s planning something.” Xena slid down the soft sand at the bottom of the hill, then whistled. A few moments passed, then a dark shadow appeared from the distance. Chilon snorted, trotting up to her. Xena patted him on the neck, then turned back to Odilon. “Khrafstar was in Athens. I need to make sure he’s been dealth with. I need to make sure my kids are safe. I need to see Iona.”
“One last time?” Odilon inquired, his dark eyes capturing hers questioningly.

Xena met his eyes for as long as she could, then she looked away. She turned and grabbed onto the sadle, pulling herself onto Chilon’s back. “I’ll give you one day to sort affairs in Delphi. Then come to Athens. I’ll need your help there.” She jerked on the reigns, turning Chilon around and then pushing him into a gallop, without another word.

Night finally fell. Gabrielle closed her eyes, tipping her head back and staring up at the ceiling. It seemed this day had lasted forever.

She’d spend most of the afternoon looking after the kids. Iona had been very quiet the entire time. Gabrielle was worried about her. Iona was normally such a vibrant personality. Seeing her this sad was very unnerving.

There was so much going on in that girl’s head. Gabrielle could see it, just by looking at her. She got this little wrinkle in her forehead, just like her mom. And her eyes were so expressive. She looked like she had the weight of the world on her shoulders.

Caspar was also on edge, but the poor boy had been ever since he’d lost his father. He’d become little more than his young sister’s shadow, watching over her every moment he could.

The only one who was completely unfased by it all was, of course, Niobe. The toddler had been playing merrily the entire time, completely unaware of any danger. Gabrielle smiled a little. It was nice, seeing some form of normality in all this chaos. She’d sat and played blocks with Niobe for a while. They’d built a high tower and Niobe had been delighted.

Gabrielle got up from her chair and walked over to the bed. As she didn’t want to leave the kids alone at night, she’d decided to stay in Xena’s room. She carefully sat down on the edge of the bed, touching the sheets. Xena’s bed.

It felt weird. Which was silly, of course. It was just a bed.

She reached for a pillow, pulling it closer. She drew in a breath. Xena’s smell still clung to it a little. She wrapped her arms around it, hugging it to her.

“Missing your honey, honey?”
Gabrielle jumped to her feet, spinning around. “Callisto!”
Callisto smiled, comfortable seated in the windowsill. “Hi.” She wiggled her fingers at the blonde. “Missed me? I’ll bring you one of my pillows to hug if you want.”

Gabrielle eyes her carefully, not sure what to do. “How did you get out?”
“Spiwitual Powers,” Callisto wiggled her fingers at her, then giggled. “Sorry, couldn’t help myself. Fond memories.”
The warrior drew in a breath, thinking, then squared her shoulders. “Look, I don’t know what’s going on with you, but… I’m pretty sure I don’t want you to do it.”
The blonde giggled. “Maybe.”
“Turn yourself in,” Gabrielle continued.
“Highly unlikely, dear.”
“Please,” Gabrielle tried again. “I don’t want to fight you.”
“Why ever not?”
“You were my friend, once.”

Brown eyes studied her with interest, then she grinned. “Yes. Which is why I’m here.” She swung her other leg into the room and hopped to her feet. “In honour of our former friendship, I would like you to witness my… ascention.”
The warrior frowned at her. “Your… what?”
In respons Callisto, reached into a small pocket dangling from her belt. She pulled something out, holding it up to Gabrielle. “Guess what this is.”
Gabrielle stared at it. “Uhm… Really red, really foul looking jello?”

Callisto giggled. “You’re funny.” She popped the object into her mouth, chewing and then swallowing.

Gabrielle jumped back as a bright white light suddenly eminated from the other woman, lighting up the room. When the light faded she found Callisto standing where she had, a yellowish glow stuck to her skin.

Callisto drew in a deep breath, sniffing the air with a clearly delighted look on her face. She opened her eyes then, her eyes capturing Gabrielle’s with ease. “Nope. Guess again.”

To be continued

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