Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction. The characters in this story: Xena, Gabrielle, Eve or Livia (and any mention to characters from the television show Hercules: The Legendary Journeys) are the property of Renaissance Pictures and Universal MCA. This story is not meant to infringe upon their rights or the rights of the actors who portray them. Also, no part of the story entitled Growing up "Livia" is to be copied, whole or in part, without the author's permission. It is not to be copied for public use or for profit by any person or organization. 



Growing Up "Livia"
Chapter Two
Written by: Caina Q. Fuller



Livia entered the temple that had been dedicated to Athena and collapsed at the idol of the goddess of Wisdom. Livia could still remember the day Octavious had come into her life and allowed a child to die in her place, and she was still aware that it was this same goddess who's temple she was in now that had ordered her death.


Her heart was aching with the worst fear and pain she'd ever faced before in her life, and she just didn't want to live another moment. Perhaps Athena would come and strike her down so she may join Ann on the other side. She was a little girl, so her place in Elysia was all but secure. All she needed now was Celesta to come and rescue her from her misery.


Livia didn't know how long she'd been at the foot of the idol of Athena before she felt a presence in the room with her. She picked her head up from the floor to find the room empty, but something told her she was not alone. She could feel the hairs on the back of her neck standing up, and her skin felt cold. Chill-bumps rose on the surface of her flesh and Livia found the experience both frightening and mysterious.


"Hello? Is someone here?"


The one being that would become familiar above all others for the rest of her life appeared before her, an unsympathetic expression on his face. Ares had not met anyone sense Xena who could feel his presence, and that this child could sense his presence intrigued him. She was a rare mortal, and given a little time and effort, he could mold her into a warrior deserving of Xena's place in his heart.


"I am," Ares said, walking toward her. He could see the pain loosing her sister had cost Livia, and that was just what he wanted. It was this pain that was the most important ingredient in the recipe of "how to make a monster." He would use this hurt in her heart to make her angry. Mix that with a little affection and toss in a pinch of blood-shed for flavor and in a few years of tactical training he will have created a monster like the world hadn't known sense the legendary Warrior Princess herself.


"My lord," Livia said through ragged breaths that echoed her weeping, "will you bring my sister back?"


Absolutely not, he thought. The last thing he needed was that sniveling brat around to keep Livia soft. No, it was the loss of her adopted mother and sister that was going to make her more vulnerable to accepting the rage he intended to instill in her heart. He couldn't let her know that though. He had to convince her he was on her side, and that since he was a god he knew best. She was gullible enough to believe anything he told her.


"Bring her back? I'm sorry Livia but she's gone and it's for the best."


Livia felt as if he'd driven a dagger into her heart. How could he say such a thing about her sister? "But she's all alone out there! She'll be made a slave and she could die! Don't you care?"


Not in the least, Ares thought, but his words were completely different. "Its not that I don't care Livia, its just that there's nothing to be done about it. The gods don't interfere in the lives of mortals unless they find one they think is special. Like you."


This was new, Livia thought. She stood from the cold, hard floor and eased toward him, responding to what she believed were kind words. "Special?"


"Oh yes," Ares said, sitting down on one of the benches that faced the idol. "You see, we are so busy taking care of larger matters that we don't have time to go chasing after every child who gets sold into slavery. The best thing that I can do as the god of War is to take children like you and love you, and train you to be strong so you don't end up like Ann or Brigid."


He had the innocent child hanging on to every word to the point she'd taken up a place on her knees at his feet. She was so afraid of being alone that she was practically throwing herself at his feet in the hopes he would take care of her. It wasn't surprising considering she was only eight years old and had been forced to take human life barely a day ago. On top of that, she'd lost the only people she'd ever trusted and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt had loved her for her and not because of her guardian's money. This child would believe anything he told her and do anything he wanted to please him in the hopes he would love her as Ann and Brigid had.






One Year Later


The air in the library was so cold that even with two bearskins on Livia was still chilled, especially when the wind blew outside. A year had passed since Ares had taken her under his wing and began teaching her the lessons of the real world and real people. He had created a double of Livia to interact with the other children at the Academy while she all but lived with him at his temple in Corinth.


Day after day she studied scrolls from Ares' library. They were an extensive collection of the tactics of his favorite warrior. Her name was Xena, and every day Ares drilled in her old philosophies of War until Livia hated the name. It was always Xena did this, and Xena would have done this way. Her personal favorite was: How would Xena do this?" before she even entered a situation.


In addition to learning how to draw up tactical scenarios and tracking her prey, Ares had been teaching her the art of the sword. She was a fast learner, even faster than Xena had been, and she wondered if perhaps if she didn't have that feeling of familiarity with weapon's to thank. Every time she touched a weapon she got that same feeling she'd gotten in the temple the day Alec had robbed her of her mother. She'd handled a blade before but when that was she had no idea.


Ares appeared before her in the library and she handled him her latest battle plans. As always he'd given her the situation, the terrain the armies were fighting in and status on weapons and general health of each army. From there she would pick an army to be the victor and then come up with a battle plan opposing one created by Ares. So far she hadn't won, and she doubted she ever would.


He reviewed the scroll and as always, his face remained a hard mask that she couldn't read. Was he pleased with what she'd devised or did he hate it? For that matter, had he come to hate her? That was Livia's biggest fear. She dreaded the day she did something wrong one too many times and the only one she had left to love her would suddenly turn on her like a wild dog and tell her he never wanted to see her again.


"Aren't you going to show me your plans?" Livia asked. They always exchanged scrolls, but today he hadn't brought one.


"No. Today we're going to do something different Livia."


Despite intentions to remain cool, as she knew Xena would have, Livia found herself becoming excited. Something new? What could it be?


He held out his hand to her and she ran to him. She loved it when they traveled together. It was like being in a cloud for a split second, yet if she chose to, she could make the experience last as long as she wanted. It was amazing, but mostly it was just fun to her.


"Where are we going my god?"


Ares rewarded her with a grin. "We're going to War."




Livia had seen many an army in her time with Ares over the past yearon papyrus that was. She'd never seen a camp in real life, but now that's exactly where she found herself now. She and Ares had materialized on a ridge overlooking a camp of about a thousand men.


"On the other side of this mountain is another camp. It's just like this one except it's my men."


"Why are we here?" Livia had an idea of what Ares was getting at, but the idea that she was going to see two armies fight was frightening. He'd told her over and over nothing in life was as exhilarating than War, but she now had her doubts if that were true. She didn't want to see people kill each other.


Ares sensed her reservations and squeezed her hand. "Think of it as a game. This is your team and my team is on the other side of the ridge. I'm going to give your plans to your commander, and he'll think they came from me. He'll follow them to the letter. Understand?"


Livia panicked. "But, if I got something wrongthose men will die and it will all be my fault."


"Yes it will," Ares said in agreement. He moved to leave but she pulled him back.


"No! Don't. I don't want them to die because of me."




He screamed at her for the first time since they'd met and it almost made her heart stop in fear. Thunder rolled across the sky in reaction to his wrath, and she wondered if perhaps she'd over stepped her bounds.


"I will not tolerate this kind of weakness from you, do you hear me?"


Livia nodded her head and looked to the ground. She was more concerned with her own life than she was about the lives of the men in the camp below her. "Yes my god. I won't be weak any more."


"You'd better not. If you're going to take Xena's place you're going to have to be as hard as she was. Now wait here. The game will begin shortly."


Game, Livia thought. He considered the lives of those men as nothing but a game. Would she ever become that cold? He'd promised her she would never feel pain again if she did, but did she really want to?


Livia pushed those thoughts from her mind and took up a seat on a flat rock that would afford her a view of the camp as she waited for Ares to return. After an eternity of waiting he finally returned and stood next to her to watch her battle plans unfold in a live battle. Her mind went over her plan of attack repeatedly and each time the outcome looked favorable. But then again, she was only eleven years old.  


By the time noon came around and Livia was eating a lunch provided by Ares her army was prepared to meet their enemiesor at least she hoped they were. The men had carried her plans out to the letter and Livia found herself relaxing as she watched them move about, preparing the traps she'd ordered set up.


"I just have one question Ares," Livia said.


"What's that?"


"How can I expect to win this battle when you know my battle plans."


"I gave my army my own plans before I read yours."


Livia found herself smiling. He was actually going to give her a fair shot at this. "Thanks. So you know who's going to win though?"


He kneeled down next to her. "I have no idea who will win. There are always variable's that cannot be calculated. For instance, one of my men might sneeze while coming up on one of your men, thereby giving away his location and starting the battle prematurely. This could cause your army to win where they would have lost before. Anything could happen. That's what makes war so exhilarating Livia. Remember that. Not only does it"


Ares' voice trailed off as he noticed one of the men on Livia's team riding off. Livia also noticed this and spoke up. "I didn't order any men to ride for Corinth."


"I know. Never mind that. The battle is about to begin."



Livia's First Battle


As Livia's plan of attack called for it the commander of her team, a warrior by the name of Argeddon, deployed five-foot soldiers to scout out the ridge ahead. Apparently news was good for when they returned, the men fell into formation: Archers left, Cavalry right, Foot soldiers bringing up the rear. It was her own design, one Ares had never seen before and one he wasn't certain would be effective against his classic three line formation of Cavalry front, Foot Soldier rear and Archer's flanking the two. If her new formation worked in a few battles he would implement it immediately.

Argeddon led his men toward the pass that would lead to the clearing they would use as a battleground. Ares and Livia followed, floating in mid air high above. Livia found the experience of floating in mid air both scary and exciting as she clung to his waist for dear life. She had a bird's eye view of the battleground on the other side of the ridge and both armies moving toward it.


As Ares' men continued to advance to the battlefield, Livia's army took another turn. Her artillery had been moved up into the ridge and now her archers were moving up the ridge as well. Argeddon then moved the Cavalry and the foot soldiers through the pass.


When Ares' men, led by Commander Gaelan, entered the battleground to face off, Livia fully expected Ares' men to form some kind of counter attack or defense against her men on the ridge. However, they only lined up to await Gaelan's orders to attack.


"What made you decide to put men and artillery on the ridge?" Ares asked. With a wave of his hand everything below them froze in place. Every bird over the battlefield, every fallen leaf blowing through the air stopped in place, suspended in time until Ares was ready for the battle to continue.


"Isn't it obvious?" Livia asked. She wasn't intending to be sarcastic and her tone reflected no disrespect. She just couldn't imagine why he would ask such a question. "It's a tactical advantage. The ridge is on my side of the battlefield, and since it's easy to traverse I thought I'd put the catapults up there. With that kind of height I can fire further out and destroy their means of escape to the sea."


Ares nodded, liking her reasons. He had known her reasons of course, but he wanted to listen to her thought patterns in order to help him manipulate her in the future. If he could understand how she thought he would be able to use that against her in the future.


"I see. And your archers? Wouldn't they serve you better on the battlefield? Your men might need them in a crunch. With your archers that high in the air this gusty wind might affect their aim."


"I hadn't thought of that. I thought I'd have them up there to defend against any of your men who might come up from behind them. Archers are a good defense when they're hidden in the trees."


"So you were only looking to protect your artillery from an attack that may not even happen? You're willing to leave the rest of your men open to a full frontal assault without your archers?"


Livia looked away, embarrassed. Ares had told her on numerous occasions she was careful to the point of cowardice and he'd urged her to break the habit and be more daring. Livia knew that in order for her to do this, she would have to be willing to sacrifice men, and that was the part that bothered her most of all.


It bothered Ares as well. He'd been with this child a year and she still had a reverence for life that was interfering with his plans to stomp out the rest of her good nature. He could see now that he had his work cut out with Livia in that department.


"I also thought that from the ridge their aim would be improved with the better view. I wanted to use the height to my advantage."


"Let's see how you do then." Ares waved a hand over the field and everything below resumed just where it had left off. None of the men were the least bit aware time had stopped for them.


When the last of Gaelan's troops fell into position, the battle was on. Livia's Cavalry, the best of her soldiers, charged Gaelan. Likewise his men moved in as well. However, Livia's Cavalry skidded to a halt, per her orders while her artillery rained down fire from above. Before Gaelan and his men could recover from his shock, half of his Cavalry went down.


When the rest of Gaelan's Cavalry moved into position, Livia's archers assaulted from the ridge. Indeed the height advantage far outweighed the drawbacks of the wind and they took out the rest of the Cavalry. Gaelen was now short two hundred and fifty men.


Livia's Cavalry was still completely intact, and on horseback they posed a serious threat to Gaelen's foot soldiers. They rode straight for Gaelan's men, shield's overhead instead of on side. When Gaelan's archers fired, their arrows rained down on cold hard steel, causing almost no damage at all.


Livia watched the battle from her place in the air, and despite the fact that she was watching real, living people die, she was winning the battle and this filled her with excitement to the point she found herself almost jumping up and down. She never saw Ares grin as he watched his protg's men destroy his army with a plan of attack he'd never seen Xena implement before.


Livia was only a child, but she was brilliant. She was eating up the knowledge of warfare he had to teach her, and she believed every lie that came from his lips. She was still a softhearted child, but with each passing day she became harder and harder of heart.


Livia was cruel to other children, and she was frustrated that her body was too small and weak to keep up with her ever-expanding mind. She knew the intricacies of sword fighting but her sword arm was too weak to be effective. She understood the mechanics behind the perfect drop kick and the perfect punch, but her body was too weak to pose a threat to any opponent she was facing down that wasn't bigger than herself. She also still felt guilt. Sure, when she was shoving around a boy her age she enjoyed it, but as soon as they started to cry or bleed she would almost burst into tears with regret.


It's only a matter of time, Ares thought, before I have that conscious worked right out of her. Soon her soul will be just as dead as my own.


The god of War stood in the heavens with his young disciple and he watched her get her first taste of the drug victory really was. Over the next few years they would plan many such battles as these, much to Livia's delight after this success, and she would win more and more of them. As each day passed under Ares watchful gaze, Livia's goodness died a little more until the day finally came when she could no longer feel love in her heart. No matter how hard she tried.




Seven years later

Eighteen-year-old Livia walked slowly around the pond that had been the site of the last bit of happiness she had ever known. This was the eight year anniversary of the day Ares had entered her life and changed it forever in the form of a raid led by Alec, one of the god of War's favored warriors. This was the eight-year anniversary of the day she'd lost Ann to the cold hand of death and Brigid to the evil intentions of the god of War.

Ares had a new favorite now in Livia. She'd studied hard over the past eight years to learn the art of War, and under Ares merciless heart and expert hand he'd succeeded in molding her into a cold-blooded, heartless killer. She hated everyone and everything. Ares owned her now. He'd taken everything a man could from a woman. Her heart, her soul, her happiness and her virginity. Some small part of her had feeling's for him, but only because he was all she knew anymore. He had promised her absolute power, and she was going to conquer the world in his name. Livia had every intention of exacting her revenge on mankind for every wrong they ever visited upon her.

Once she completed her circuit of the lake, she turned to give it one final look. It would be the last time, she was certain, that she would see this place. Octavious, now known to the world forever as Augustus Caesar, had granted her a commission in the Alpha legion. They were the very best unit Rome had to offer, and even a position as the least in the Alpha legion was coveted by the best of any other legion under Augustus' command.

Usually this kind of posting was unheard of, but in Livia's case she did not excel in the social graces taught to the women of her day. War and the blood-soaked death it brought with it were more to her taste. Her passion in life was destruction in every form and the accumulation of power. Livia couldn't begin to care less about how to be the perfect Roman wife. She viewed these women as weak and this girl was anything but.

Though he had made no sound Livia could feel Ares presence. It was like an electric charge moving up her spine, and she loved the way her body responding to him. He had only bedded her for the first time less than a month ago, but she couldn't begin to count the number of hours they'd spent lovemaking. She hungered for his touch every moment they were separated. Not necessarily out of love, but out of pure, hot lust. He was the perfect lover, and she would see to it she kept him interested long enough to get what she wanted. After that...

"Livia. You sensed my presence, as usual."

Ares took her in his arms and melted into him. They kissed passionately before she pulled away to catch her breath. She wanted him to take her, right where they were, but she knew Ares hated sexual spontaneity only slightly less than laziness. It would be a mistake to ask him to do something as careless as to share passion right out in the open where anyone could catch them. Besides, he wanted no one to know of their affair just yet. Perhaps he was ashamed of her age, or perhaps he had deeper reasons. She didn't care, just as long as he made her feel so alive.

"Xena was the only one I've ever known who could do that," Ares whispered in her ear. His baritone voice made her blood race like lightning through her veins. Everything about him was perfect in her eyes. The way he smelled, the way he tasted and especially the way he felt when he slid his massive manhood into her and rode her to Elysia

Despite her mounting passion Livia rolled her eyes at the mention of Xena's name. There was only one thing she couldn't stand about Ares, and that was the fact that he was still hung up on the legendary Warrior Princess. He matched her passion for lovemaking and battle and that was the only thing that kept her coming back to the bed night after night. She just wondered if he would ever realize that she was not Xena, could not be Xena, and did not want to be Xena.

Now Ares laughed at Livia's displeasure over Xena's name. "You feel as if you have to compete with her every day don't you?"

"Yes I do," Livia said. She tried to keep her voice neutral but in affairs relating to the Warrior Princess she always failed.

"Good, because you'd better believe you are." He pulled away from her and leaned against a tree. She almost followed him like a stray puppy, longing for the feel of his arms around her, deeply kissing her until she was swept away on waves of unimaginable pleasure as only this god could make her feel.

Ares' lips curved up into a smile. He knew exactly what his new favorite had on her mind, just as he knew how to use her youthful lusts to control her. All young warriors were the same in their simple desires, but he excelled with female warriors because he could bed them. Once he had them addicted to the physical pleasures he could inspire and he took them on intoxicating killing spree's in battle, they would do anything he asked to keep that feeling of euphoria that only he could produce in them.

"Eli," he whispered, changing Livia's sexual lust into blood lust in less than the blink of an eye. He had taught her to hate Eli and all his followers had stood for as long as he'd known Livia, and today was the day Livia would begin her climb to the top. He planned to make her Empress of Rome, and along the way he would use her to kill anyone he even remotely suspected of following Eli.

Why mortals insisted on following his pathetic crusade to rid the world of the Olympian gods was beyond his ability to reason, but hundreds of mortals each day took up his cause and his name. They were like a diseased limb to the gods of Olympus, slowly but surely poisoning their divine body. Ares was determined to see to it that limb was cut off before it killed the Olympian order.

"Your family rid the world of Xena, Gabrielle and Eve," Livia said. There was a distinctly taunting quality to her voice. "Surely you can rid Greece and Rome of a few pesky religious zealots. Why don't you use your powers to just wipe them out?"

"Because," he answered, his voice ice cold, "followers of Eli that dies by my blade only make their cause grow stronger. They see themselves as soldiers in a battle against us. If a god kills them, they grow closer. If a mortal kills them, they begin to doubt what they are fighting for and they become weaker. That's where you come in."

"And that scares the hell out of you doesn't it?" Livia was unprepared for the anger her words caused the god of War, and one of his massive hands reached out, grabbing her by the throat.

"I am Ares. I am never afraid."

Livia had become arrogant enough that this treatment angered her, and she wasn't about to back down. He wasn't the only one who knew how to push other people's buttons. Ares had two weaknesses. Xena and the followers of Eli.

"Oh really?" Livia said calmly. She knew he had invested too much time and energy into her, and that he would do nothing to seriously harm her. "Then why do you panic at the mere mention of Eli's name? You've taught me too well Ares. I know you as intimately as I know myself, and you are scared to death of anything relating to Eli. Now, get your hand off my throat so I report for duty. You don't want me late on my first day now do you?"

Ares reluctantly let go of Livia's neck and she sauntered away, swinging her voluptuous hips seductively and he was once again struck with a sense of deja vu. Every day she behaved more and more like another warrior he'd once known, but he just couldn't put his finger on which it was.

He shook his head in frustration and faded away. Livia was losing fear for him, which could be a good thing in a warrior. Just as long as she obeyed him he didn't really care if she was afraid of him or not. He had what she needed, and he knew as long as she felt dependent upon him she would do whatever she was told to destroy the followers of Eli.

Damen, who was the commander of the Alpha Legion, watched as the only female warrior in the history of the Roman Empire went about her duties of passing out the water to the men. What on earth had possessed Augustus to put a seventeen-year-old girl of all things in his army was beyond him. No woman belonged on the battlefield, except for nursing andother duties for the men. To have her here was a disgrace to the honor of his legion, and he was determined to do everything he could to make her resign her commission.

He did have to give Livia credit for one thing, and that was the fact she never complained. Never. Not to anyone for any reason. She had been left behind on the last two battles against Britannia, and as they headed back to squash an uprising of Gaul supporters in Greece, Livia went about her menial labors, quietly enduring the leering and the insults of his men.

Damen pulled off his armor and lay down on his bed, which was really just a table with a few blankets spread over it for padding. No sooner had he relaxed, did he hear a soft ripping noise from the foot of his bed. He looked up to find someone had cut a slit into the fabric, no doubt planning to enter the tent and kill him. Damen, renowned for his stealth, eased off the bed and grabbed his sword as he exited the tent. He whispered what was happening to a guard near by, ordering him to watch the front of the tent, as he circled around back.

Damen came to the rear of his tent to find it deserted. Whoever was attempting to kill him was inside his tent, trapped. Another couple of men, sensing something was wrong, came around back. Again, he told them what was going on, and they stood back to watch as he prepared to enter the tent.

"Ready?" Damen whispered. When he got no response from his men, he turned looked back to find them spread out on the ground, unconscious. A woman stood there, scantily clad in an Amazon uniform, her face covered by a veil of all things. He grinned as she raised her sword and pointed it at him.

"So, this was a trick to get me outside? Clever. I love clever women."

She swung at him and the fight was on. They clashed swords until every man within earshot began to wake up and gather around to watch Damen fight their Amazon intruder. Others formed a search party to look for any more of their formidable feminine enemies that might be surrounding the camp.

Try as he might, Damen was unable to disarm the woman merely with his sword. It would take a more hands-on approach to defeat this veiled enemy. The older soldier attempted a drop kick but her lithe, young body dodged it easily and as his leg was still in mid-air she landed a well-placed, solid punch to his groin. He crumbled to his knees in agony, and she put her sword to his throat. The fight was over before it really had a chance to begin, and Damen was horribly embarrassed.

His loyal men drew their swords and prepared to attack, though hesitantly. She could take his head off before they could touch her, and they all knew it. For now it was a draw.

"Well!" Damen barked, shamed that a woman had defeated him in front of his men despite the fact she was a member of the mighty Amazon nation. "Get on with it woman!"

The 'woman' pulled back her veil, and there was a collective gasp of shock at the familiar face beneath. It was Livia. Damen was enraged when she shoved him almost face first into the ground and walked around to stand before him.

"Livia! What the hell do you think you're doing?" Damen's voice was shaking with his rage. This girl, whom he despised for even being put in his precious legion, had embarrassed him in front of his men.

"Proving myself worth more than a wincٿu׌5(XΧiVNgżb(pc٘1uxLAgp܊gظŬ(Qe22.h*,#=p|J vx{ ۤOM Te+څt*cAVmDFm^¾c?2)EޣO-kYݛq-ܠ6Ts#6P&k4H;J7҆_a!lNH3OfFY!ϜNz2]WL.-| O7Dߜ)Aet kze\fm9)QQAQ64^ڋ[pqGTiח3Kiz 1c "='5PR xD; ܚo%Z  u+1b;+_-(?R)oGxU(IR@&V`yO͔MuQ^ɒ'cր*zbGEc8,ݻaW;^".IEJh(C&8ɷ4:o7$zkrk 7xdSqjAPջΙ)IgՆk.y%K粤;i>!Y').|`f9 e ?wM9-]y>\4$&o8|]TjE.~4UN GSMJS]ǮqTװ04էeM:]GSݚڇ]FS.a4mi*Xyh*s6yTw S]1Gȯ{(8c,eh4h夵i>]chY),M׀XjߍkuW}!ˠsmBd8Rs^o ^@g"AW>jӒehQư$` o.Dy shared a long glance in which Livia made it clear to him and the men that he wouldn't get up off his knees until she was good and ready to let him up. The two stared at one another long enough for Livia to realize she'd pushed him as far as it was wise, possibly further, and she stepped back. She'd proved her point. At least for now.

"So, you want to ride with the big boys now?"

"I deserve to ride with the big boys. I've already proved-"

"You've proved nothing!" Damen roared, his anger frightening everyone around except Livia. She shared a bed with a god and nothing short of the wrath of the mighty Zeus would be enough to make Livia faint of heart. Even then, she wasn't so sure. Since she'd lost the two most important people of her life all those years ago, she cared about nothing but the pure, raw power that Ares was going to give her as he shaped her into the Warrior that would one day rule the Roman Empire.

Damen dismissed the men, but not before he made it perfectly clear there was a good reason he'd lost to this...girl. "I underestimated you. It won't happen again. If we are to ever clash swords again you worthless little whore, I'd kill you in seconds! Dismissed, all of you!"

Livia watched him walk away, her rage boiling within her blood, threatening to explode with the force of a gallon of Greek Fire. This mere mortal man had called her a whore, shaming her in front of all these men! She was the favorite of not only a god but also the most powerful ruler in Rome, and he would dare call her a whore?

Livia couldn't have cared less about the chain of command at that moment. One ounce of her flesh and blood held more worth than the entire Alpha Legion combined and he would insult her honor so casually? No.

"Any ruler worth his salt would never underestimate an opponent. You, Damen, are salt that's good for nothing but to be trampled under my feet. I am Livia! The favored charge of Augustus Caesar himself and I will not be spoken to in such a degrading manner!"

The soldiers that had been moving back to their bedrolls looked back with wide-eyed shock. Never had anyone even considered speaking out of line with Damen, but now a seventeen-year-old girl had the nerve to dress him down in front of his men? They had no idea what would happen next, but they weren't about to leave now. Their curiosity overrode their sense of duty to obey orders and they held their place to watch Damen put this brash young woman either in her place or in her grave. Which would it be?

Damen answered the silent questions of his men by drawing his sword and advancing slowly on Livia. His lips pulled apart in a feral grin and his breath came in short, ragged gasps that misted the cool night air before his face. He almost acted as if he were sexually excited by the conflict happening between himself and Livia, and she knew the feeling he was experiencing right now very, very well. It was the feeling of anticipated revenge on someone perceived to have wronged you. It was almost as intoxicating as good foreplay to know that you were about to kill someone who had been a thorn in your side for too long. Only Damen didn't know what Livia knew in her heart; she was destined for greatness he could only dream of, and nothing short of a miracle was going to stop her.

To the shock of the men watching around her, Livia re-sheathed her blade and planted her feet to either side of her body, equal length to her shoulders and crouched down, putting her weight primarily on the balls of her bare feet. She was primed for action, ready to move her body in any direction, at any speed necessary to win this verbal confrontation that had turned deadly. Her own grin was just as feral as the one that seemed to be almost consuming Damen's rugged and weathered face, and her heart pounded beneath her breast, pushing hot blood and adrenaline to every muscle in her body. Livia could almost feel his neck snap in her hands...

"You've gone too far Livia."

"Just as you're about to? What do you think will happen if you harm me? Do you think the mighty Caesar is just going to let you walk away with a slap on the wrist?"

"If you die before I do, I'll leave this life a happy man. Now arm yourself."

"I am armed."

"Your sword is on your back, not in your hand."

"Fool. I am my weapon. A sword is just a decoration. I hope you're ready to die Damen. I'm about to put you in your grave."

Damen swung at Livia but she ducked it easily, turned and swung one powerful, beautifully shaped leg around, knocking Damen's feet from beneath him. He gave a cry of surprise and landed on his back. With lightning speed Livia stood, stepped over to him and attempted to drive the heel of her right foot into the bridge of his nose but he managed to roll out of the way just in time to avoid having his face crushed. He leapt to his feet but was too slow to turn to face her before Livia drove her fist into one of his kidneys. For a frightening moment Damen was afraid he would wet himself in front of his men from the force of the blow.

He thrust his sword clumsily behind him only to hear Livia's now distinctive battle cry as she all but flew over his head and landed before him. She hit him with a barrage of powerful punches to his chest and gut that nearly knocked him off his feet and literally stole his breath from his lungs. He used what air that remained in his lungs to power a thrust of his sword at Livia.

She was so caught up in the moment of her advantage she didn't move quite fast enough to dodge his sword, and it nicked her left side. She gave it little more than a passing glance then assaulted him with three well-placed kicks to his jaw that left him on the ground, dizzy and breathless. He'd killed many honorable men in his time serving Rome, and now he was going to be taken down by a child? A female child at that. How humiliating. He could just hear his wife Ghita laughing at the irony now, and as Acastus, his second in command came to watch the battle, he knew he was dead. If he were assassinated Acastus, the biggest fool in the history of Rome, would move up to take his place as commander of his beloved legion.

Livia came to stand over him, one deceptively delicate foot on either side of his body. He wanted desperately to move but he was so dizzy his limbs wouldn't respond as well as he wanted. Damen gave one last pathetic effort to run her through but Livia only kicked the sword from his hand. His men watched silently, not one of them even attempting to come to his aid. Bastards. He hadn't exactly been good to them over the years, and now he regretted it. None of them cared for him; they only loathed him.

As he looked up at the girl-warrior who had become his death angel, Damen got the distinct feeling she was playing with him as a cat would a mouse, and as he stared into her eyes he remembered a moment from his youth long ago, when his parents had taken him to visit relatives living in the small village of Torone.

A certain notorious blond psychopath named Callisto had raided the village. Now, as Damen stared into the eyes of this dark-haired beauty, he saw that same maniacal light shining in Livia's blue eyes, and he was overwhelmed by the fact that Livia's face seemed to almost transform into the face of his mother's killer, Callisto.

Livia took hold of his head and brought her face mere inches from his.

"Nighty night," she said with a singsong tone to her voice. Once again he remembered how Callisto had uttered the same words, right before she took the life of his beloved mother. The similarities between the two women were amazing...

Livia broke Damen's neck, having no idea of the truth the General had seen in her eyes before his death. That truth was Livia was becoming more and more like her mother each day. Not the honorable woman Xena had become with the gentle love of her soul-mate Gabrielle, but the evil, soulless murderer that had been Callisto so many years before.




No sooner did Livia stand straight from snapping Damen's neck did twelve archer's draw down on her. Livia knew her hands were quick enough to catch up to four arrows, and she may even be able to dodge three or four more, but twelve was just beyond her abilities. She had believed that by killing Damen in a fair fight she had proven herself worthy to lead them. Apparently she'd misjudged the situation. Horribly misjudged it as a matter of fact. She realized a moment too late that these soldiers were no more loyal to her than they would be to Xena had she walked right into the camp and demanded they follow her.

"What are you doing?"

"Livia, Livia."

Livia turned around to find Acastus, Damen's second in command, watching her as she looked at the other men with a naive, dumb-founded expression on her beautiful face. His arms were crossed arrogantly over his massive chest. Acastus was ugly in the most flattering light. His skin always had a sickly yellow tone though he was never ill, and a scar ran from his left eye in a diagonal line across his face and down his neck where it disappeared under his uniform.

"Acastus," Livia said, hoping her voice didn't reflect the sudden nervousness she was feeling. "Tell these men to stand down."

Acastus shook his head and laughed. A few of his lap-dogs followed suit, and waited to see what the new commander of the Alpha Legion would do next to the one who would dare kill her own commander.

"I killed Damen," Livia said, painfully aware of the childish whine in her voice. She looked deeply into the eyes of the soldiers surrounding hers, desperately hoping to find even one sign of support. There was, of course, none. The men only laughed or looked away, as if embarrassed by the naivety were witnessing.

"That makes me the new commander of this legion."

"No," Acastus said, his voice taking on an irritatingly patronizing tone. He unfolded his tree trunk arms and sauntered over to her. "That makes you a traitor. You killed your commander Livia. You don't expect to receive a promotion for that kind of behavior do you?" When she didn't respond with anything more than a slack-jawed expression of dismayed confusion, he continued.

"Damen's death makes me the rightful commander of this legion. Did you forget we follow a chain of command here?"

Livia could feel herself becoming physically ill from what was happening to her. She was being humiliated by Acastus and for some reason she had lost her nerve to speak. She hadn't been this weak since she was ten years old, when she'd hidden like a coward in the floor-space while the only woman to ever show her love was murdered as a sacrifice to the same god she had vowed her loyalty to now. Acastus continued taunting her.

"By Roman law my dear, you are to be taken into custody and crucified by sunset the following day. Without a trial."

The mention of a crucifixion broke Livia's silence. "Crucified? You can't crucify me."

"I'm the commander now that Damen is gone. I can do anything I want."

Livia tensed, her body preparing for battle as two soldiers moved forward to shackle her. She could take them out easily enough, but not before the skilled archers filled her full of arrows. Acastus watched her prepare to resist, and cautioned her.

"Fight and you are a dead little girl."

"I am favored by Caesar himself. I am-"

Acastus spoke over her, his voice dripping with cold arrogance. "Even Caesar has limits Livia. Believe me when I say that you are far from being Caesar." He paused and looked her over, considering her words. It wouldn't be very wise of him to kill the Emperor's pet. "However, because of your elevated position, I'm taking you back to Rome. You will be tried, and executed, there. Confine her to one of the slave transport wagons."

"Yes sir." The two soldiers who'd been moving in on her before took her arms. She made no attempt to resist, for now as she relaxed. Rome. Once she was home Augustus would dismiss the charges, execute this disgusting bastard and place her in command. Almost as if he'd read her mind, Acastus spoke, dashing her hopes.

"Another Roman law Livia. Insubordination is punished by death, no exceptions. Augustus himself put that law into effect, and even he can't save you now. You killed yourself when you killed Damen."

He laughed and sauntered away as she was shackled like a common criminal and hauled away. She went along in stunned disbelief, even as her chains were locked to the very same wagons she'd helped load slave women into since she'd joined the Alpha Legion. She had believed she had a destiny of greatness to fulfill, but somehow she had been reduced to a common criminal. Slave status. What was worse was Ares, her god and her lover, was nowhere to be seen.

Life has never been better, Acastus thought to himself as he entered his tent and undressed. His tyrannical commander Damen was dead, and he was in command of the Alpha Legion. Livia had come through for him in ways she couldn't begin to imagine by killing Damen and sparing him the task of the assassination himself. In Acastus' own mind he was the greatest warrior to have ever lived, and he should have been in charge of this elite legion long before now. His problem wasn't his arrogance or his lack of loyalty to anyone but himself. His problem wasn't even his complete lack of concern for the well being of the men under his command. His problem was everyone else he encountered in the world who held any position of authority over him.

Sure he'd made a few errors in the battlefield that had needlessly cost soldiers their lives, but those were just mistakes. He was human after all, so therefore it was only natural to make a few mistakes. So what? The leaders of the world were just jealous they didn't have the courage to sacrifice as many soldiers as was necessary to win the war. Damen had been weak in that way. Always whining and complaining about casualties. They were foot soldiers for Hades' sake! That's what they were there for.

No one ever saw what a great man he was. They were all too blind to see his brilliance. Now that Livia had killed Damen and cleared the way for him to take over the Alpha Legion, he would show everyone who'd ever had a cruel word against him just what fools they had been to deny him this command for so long. He was destined for greatness, and his next stop was as Rome's champion, second in command only to Caesar himself.

Acastus' thoughts turned to the harem of women Damen had hoarded to himself and called out to one of the soldiers standing guard outside his tent.

"Soldier!" He called out to one of his constant guards. A guard poked his head through the tent flap.

"Yes Commander?"

Acastus grinned. How he loved his new title. It was almost like a toy on Winter Solstice morning. "Bring me one of Damen's-my women. And have one for yourself when you get off duty."

What the hell? He was feeling generous tonight.

"Yes Commander. Right away."

Cadmus felt his stomach all but churn at the site of his ugly commander and pitied the poor woman who was going to have to endure a night of passion with a disgusting creature like him. Why some men wanted to force themselves on a woman that didn't want him was beyond Cadmus. He'd always viewed intimacy as a give and take situation. Sex, in his opinion, was something that should only occur between two willing people. To feel a woman stiffen at his touch, or resist him in any way, took the joy out of the moment for him.

Cadmus made his way to the furthest reaches of the camp until he arrived at the tent in which five of the choicest slave women from each raid were kept until Damen tired of them. Once this happened the women were beheaded and their bodies thrown unceremoniously into the nearest river or taken out into the forest to be abandoned for nature to dispose of, as if they had been criminals in life instead of victims of Roman cruelty.

Cadmus entered the tent and immediately the women cringed away from him. They had been decorated in Roman finery and their faces painted until they looked like dolls. While they were in Damen's favor they lived in the lap of luxury, but he knew they would gladly trade it all in for a chance to escape.

The guilt of his part in the capture of slaves such as these women, and the deaths of their families began to weigh in on him. He'd been told by too many of the other soldiers he allowed himself to feel too much. His emotions, they would always say, would be the death of him if he didn't learn to harden up. He knew they were right, but the truth of the matter was, Cadmus didn't want to harden up. He enjoyed feeling, and he enjoyed caring for others. He was a skilled warrior, and when threatened in battle he could be a vicious killer, but he preferred love to hate and kindness over cruelty whenever possible. Above all else, Cadmus preferred life to death.

The sight of these women putting as much distance between themselves and him as possible touched him. Each woman begged him with her eyes not to choose them, but they knew one of them would have to go to lie with Damen. They had all tasted his cruelty and they waited for the moment he would tire of them and put them out of their misery.

"Damen just visited with us last night," one of the women said. Cadmus recognized her as Jara, Damen's favorite. "He doesn't usually call for us two nights in a row."

"Damen is dead," he said. The women actually sighed in relief, but the news he had for them next quickly put an end to that relief. "Acastus is now the commander and he has sent for one of you."

This was far worse. They knew Acastus and they knew he would be ten times more likely to beat them during the assault. He was a misogynist bastard who displayed his lust for hurting women every chance he got, whether it be pinching them hard enough to leave bruises or slapping them for no apparent reason. He'd always done these things when Damen wasn't around to protect them, and now that he was commander... there was nowhere to run and no one to save them.

Jara, who had been in Damen's harem for six months (longer than any of the other's), had paid close attention to Cadmus from the day she'd arrived. Unlike the other men, he'd been kind to her. He'd showed her compassion. Maybe he would do so one last time.

"Please sir. Don't make us go to him. He'll kill us."

Cadmus looked away from their pleading eyes. Maybe the men were right. Maybe he did feel too much because his heart broke in his chest at the sight of the stark fear in their eyes. He knew that with Acastus in charge every one of these women would die a horrible death. The Alpha Legion's new commander wouldn't be kind enough to behead them and quickly end their lives. He'd probably put them on the rack or maybe even have them crucified to satisfy his sick blood lust. He just couldn't sentence them to such a fate, but what could he do?

"What do you expect me to do? I'm just a foot soldier."

"You could let them try to escape," Jara suggested, slowly walking toward him.

Cadmus didn't immediately object, as he would have done only yesterday. "What do you mean 'them'? What about you?"

Jara shrugged and looked at one of the girls in particular. She was young, barely fifteen years old in Cadmus' estimation. She looked more like a child playing dress up in her mother's clothes than a seasoned whore, and fat tears of fear streamed down cheeks still chubby with baby fat. Seeing one so young made Cadmus realize what a sick man Damen had been, and he mourned the former commander's life even less than he did before he entered the tent.

"She's only thirteen sir. She's just a child."

"If I let you go, the perimeter guards will catch you all. You'll be crucified...or worse."

Jara, in her desperation to convince Cadmus to at least let them try to escape, became bold. "We're going to die anyway. If they loose their lives because they tried to escape, at least their deaths will have some dignity. Please, let them try. I'll go to Acastus. While he's occupied with me, they can make a run for it. Please?"

The pleading in her eyes broke through the wall of concern for his life. He knew this woman was right. They were damned if they didn't, but there was a chance they would survive if they did make a run for it. Especially if he went a step further and distracted the perimeter guard. They were young, agile and motivated by fear. They just might make it. It couldn't hurt for them to try could it, but it could get him killed.

"Alright. I'll distract the perimeter guard patrolling this area. Cut an exit in the rear of the tent." He motioned for the little one to take his dagger and she ran to the rear of the tent with a nod of thanks, and began to cut through the hide. "When you're all gone, I'll come back for you Jara."

"You know my name?"

He almost blushed with embarrassment from her words. From the first day she'd arrived she'd taken up more than her fair share of his thoughts, and his dreams, but he couldn't let her know that. "Yeah, well, I've heard Damen call for you, so...Let's go before I change my mind."

Cadmus exited the tent; unaware the watchful eyes of Livia, chained inside a slave wagon, were taking in everything they were doing. She watched as Cadmus walked to the rear of the tent and struck up a conversation with the perimeter guard.

"Lycus! How's it going?" Try as he might, Cadmus couldn't keep the anxiety out of his voice. If he kept Acastus waiting too long there were a chance his efforts to free the women would be discovered by any guards sent by the commander.

"Cadmus." Lycus thought nothing of Cadmus slapping a hand on one of his beefy shoulders and leading him in the opposite direction of the slave tent. "What's up my friend?"

"Oh, not much. I'm getting together with some friends later on tonight..."

As Cadmus talked with Lycus, Jara led the women from the tent. They took off full speed for the cover of the trees an impossibly long fifty yards away, hoping desperately none of the other guards would happen to look up and catch them. Cadmus cast a nervous look in the direction of the forest. Luckily Lycus didn't notice.

"I'll see you there then?"

"Oh, I don't think so. Asopus is sick. I've got to pull his duty shift."

Cadmus pretended to care and sighed (mostly in relief none of the other soldiers were giving chase into the woods after the women). "Whew! A double shift. I hate doing those. Hell on the feet you know? Well, I'd better get back to my own station. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Sure thing Cadmus."

Cadmus went back to the tent, expecting to see Jara gone, but she had held faithful to her word. He pitied her the fate he was sentencing her too as he led her outside and towards Acastus' tent. Were it up to him, he'd take her under his wing and protect her. Maybe he could even...No. He shook his head as he exited the tent. He had to distance himself from this woman who was as doomed as Livia...

The sight of Livia's eyes boring into him made his blood run cold in his veins. Those same eyes told him she had seen everything. If she told, he was a dead man, and the expression on her face was one of triumph. She had something on him, and only Livia knew how she would use it against him. Caesar's chained charge disappeared into the slave transport wagon, and Cadmus pushed on, leading Jara to Acastus. His heart began to pound in fear at this new, unexpected element to this night's hectic event.

Livia watched the fear in Cadmus' eyes as he'd realized his ridiculous act of mercy on the slave girls was no longer his secret, and a feeling of comfort came over her. She didn't know what this new information would do for her, but she would find a way to use it to her advantage. As she ran through scenarios of how she could use this information against Cadmus for her own good, she could feel she was no longer alone in the wagon. She looked around just as Ares made himself visible.

"Ares." One word was all she offered him as he studied her with a mixture of anger and disappointment.

"I never took you for a fool Livia."

His words angered her and she lashed out at him. Had her legs not been chained, he would have taken a solid kick to his jaw. A kick that would have killed any mortal man.

"Look at you!" He continued, chastising her and making her feel just as stupid as he accused her of being. "Acting like a chained animal."

"That's because I am. You made me this way."

"No, I made you a warrior. A killing machine. I never made you an idiot. All you had to do when you beat Damen the first time was let him walk away. From there you could have built up a loyal following behind the scenes. Better still, you could have seduced the old fool and risen to the top even faster!"

Livia rolled her eyes in disgust. Why is it that men always assumed the only way a woman could make anything of herself was if she used her body for men's pleasure? Ares continued on with his tirade.

"Now look at you! You've been chained and condemned to death!"

Livia's body flinched involuntarily at the sheer volume of the rage he filled his last words with. Though she knew she was his new favorite, she also knew Ares was selfish. If she was no longer useful to him, or if he found any weakness in her whatsoever, he would drop her. She could neither allow nor afford for that to happen.

"If you're so disappointed Ares then leave. I don't need your help to solve this problem."

"Oh yes, you do. You want to become Rome's champion? You can't do that dead."

Livia leaned forward as far as her chains would allow and looked him in the eye until she was satisfied she had his full attention. "I don't need, or want your help. I'll die before I take it."

Ares held her glance a long time. He knew Livia believed she could get out of this predicament on her own. He also knew the only reason she believed this wasn't because of any experience she had to fall back on, but because of sheer naivety. He could still see the potential to be mined in her, and this was just the lesson to teach her the humility she so desperately needed to learn.

"Fine. Don't call when you see you've failed."

"I won't, because I don't intend to fail."

Ares faded away, leaving Livia alone with her thoughts, which were once again centered on Cadmus. He may just be the key, Livia mused, to my survival.

As the sun rose in the eastern sky the next morning Jara was placed in the slave wagon with Livia. The woman had bruises covering her face and her body, the evidence of her night with Acastus. Now, as the morning shift took over, the disappearance of Damen's former slave women became known. Acastus headed straight to the wagon where a frightened Lycus stood waiting. Livia could literally smell the terror on the night shift perimeter guard, and it excited her. There was nothing like the look in a man's eyes when he knew his life was over and he was just waiting for the death blow to be delivered and put him out of his misery.

Livia took in the sight of the nearly imperceptible tremors of fear that shook his body.

"You should have paid more attention Lycus," Livia taunted. After a night of being chained in a wagon with a limited ability to move, Livia could barely feel her feet. This only added to her already sour mood, and she felt she needed a distraction. This mans death would give it to her.

"Shut up whore," Lycus said bitterly. His fist came through the opening in the skins covering the wagon, landing a solid punch to her jaw. Luckily for Livia her head hit the skins instead of the wood railing, or there was a good chance she would have sustained a concussion from the force of the blow. Even as blood filled her mouth from her busted lip, she couldn't find it within herself to be angry with him. He was a dead man, and if she were lucky she would get to see it all...

"You," Livia continued, "are a dead man. Unless you can kill him before he kills you."

Lycus stared her over with a mixture of desperate hope and contempt. "Kill my superior? Unlike you, I'm not Caesar's favorite. I'll be crucified before the sun sets tonight. At least this way I'll get to die quickly."

"Set me free. I'll kill Acastus for you."

"Are you out of your mind?" His words were full of disdain but his body language told her he was listening to her. He wanted to live and maybe Livia could... "No. It was my duty to keep watch over those women. I failed and now I have to pay the price."

Acastus rode toward Lycus and the slave wagon, his ugly face full of rage. He dismounted and Jara moaned in fear at the sight of him, pulling as far away from him as her chains would allow. Livia smirked in disdain for the weaker woman. Its women like her, Livia thought to herself, which give our sex a bad name.

The new commander of the Alpha Legion came to a stop beside the slave wagon and studied Lycus as if her were some sort of disgusting creature that just crawled from beneath a rock. "Lycus is your name?"

Ever the perfect soldier, Lycus stood respectfully at attention. "Yes sir."

"I've heard nothing but glowing reports from the other men about you."

"Thank you Sir."

"I have to ask you: if you're such an excellent soldier, how did four women", he said the word women with open contempt, "escape on your watch?"

Lycus cheeks turned red with shame and his head dipped almost imperceptibly. "I don't know sir."

Livia was waiting for Lycus to connect Cadmus with his current predicament, and prayed he didn't. Cadmus' kind heart was just what she needed to survive, though she wasn't sure how that was, just yet. Right now all she had to go on was her instincts.

"No matter. If Mars himself told you to let them go I'd still kill you for it."

An involuntary, feral grin forced Livia's sore lips apart and her body tensed as Acastus drew his sword. Bloodshed, in Livia's opinion, was better than sex. How she wished Acastus would let her execute Lycus...

Just as Acastus was about to sweep his sword across Lycus' gut, and thereby make him die a slow and painful death, the distinct sound of the ram's horn cut through the still morning air. Acastus whirled on his heel just in time to see a messenger riding in from the outer rim of the camp.

"Sir! The Gaul's are coming! The Gaul's are coming!"

Disappointed that his execution would have to wait, Acastus sighed. "It looks like you've been granted a reprieve. Hope you die in battle because if you don't, I'll still kill you. Myself."

Obvious relief flooded Lycus face. "Yes sir."

Acastus went off to organize the men, leaving Livia and Jara alone in the wagon.

"What about us?" Jara asked, as the soldiers lined up in attack formation.

"We'll be fine."

Livia was quickly becoming irritated with Jara, but decided to explain things now, in layman's terms just to shut her up since she couldn't kill the woman to silence her.

"That's none of your concern Jara," Cadmus said, not unkindly.

Livia looked out to find Cadmus lowering the tailgate. He crawled inside and motioned to the driver up front to continue on.

"What's going on?" Jara asked yet again, her voice trembling in panic.

Cadmus studied the damage Jara had taken at Acastus hands and a seed of resentment and anger for Acastus took root in his soul. That bastard had taken this innocent, beautiful creature and tortured her to satisfy his own sick lusts. He and Jara shared a long, quiet look, which conveyed their rapidly growing feelings for one another, and Livia could see it all. Pushing aside her feelings of disgust at the tender moment, Livia filed away this new revelation as something she could use against Cadmus later.

Cadmus touched Jara's face gently, and then pulled his hand away, suddenly aware of Livia's presence. "I've been ordered to take the supplies to the caves."

Livia, who had seen Damen's battle plans, before she'd killed him, couldn't believe what she was hearing. "You're kidding!"

Cadmus jerked away from Livia's sudden exclamation. "No. What's the matter?"

"I saw Damen's battle plans."


Livia sighed. She hated having to explain things to people from the beginning to end, especially in times of battle, but seeing as how she was chained to a wagon, there was really no reason not to take her time.

"I was on kitchen duty, setting the table and bringing in food. I saw his plans. I have to admit, they were brilliant. The thing is, if Acastus is making changes to those plans, he could get us all killed."

"Fill me in," Cadmus said, his curiosity getting the better of him and replacing his dislike of Livia and the power her knowledge of his secret deeds the night before held over him.

"Why would I do that?"

Cadmus held a dagger to her throat and spoke in his lowest, most dangerous tone of voice. "Because if you don't, I'll kill you."

Unable to hold it back, Livia burst into laughter. "Yeah right. You risked your life to free slave girls. You're not a cold-blooded killer. I am, but not you. Put the dagger down before you make me mad."

"So what if you're mad? What are you gonna do about it?"

She leaned in close to him, speaking seductively. "Seal my lips. Not share anything with you, that's what."

Cadmus stared her down, wondering just how far he could go with this child/woman/warrior, and put his dagger away. "What about Damen's plans?"

"It would be better if I drew you a map."

"I'm not letting you lose. Forget it."

"I my hands are chained in front of me. I don't need to be let lose. Just give me some parchment and a quill."

Cadmus, who was notorious for being organized, took out a small scroll. "Use this. I keep my schedule on it."

Livia fought the urge to roll her eyes and took the parchment and a piece of coal from him. She drew a sketch of the land they were going into. She had an excellent memory and the map was right on target. Every valley, every river and mountain was laid out accurately. She pointed to the center of the map.

"This is where the Gaul's have set up camp."

Cadmus nodded. "Good location. Treacherous mountains surround it. Hard to get to."

"Except for this pass. We know it will be heavily guarded. If we charge the pass we'll have to fight uphill and we run the risk of attack from falling debris."

Cadmus shook his head. "This is exactly where Acastus is taking us." He pointed to a valley below the caves. "This is where our camp is going to be set up. If we don't lose too many men in this battle."

"I know." Livia grunted in disgust. "Damen had a better plan of attack. Circle around these hills and attack from the south. There's a dry riverbed that will be difficult to traverse but-"

Cadmus finished her thoughts for her. "-They won't think to look for us in that direction. You were right, that was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant."

"Here are the caves," Livia pointed to a series of black dots that represented the caves. "Here is our location. Let's say we do attack with a full frontal assault. Not only will they see us coming up the pass, they'll be able to travel along the ridge these caves are in and surround us. We'll also have to make camp here."

She pointed to a valley below the caves and below the enemy camp's hide out. Cadmus shook his head in disgust. "We'll be sitting ducks."

Cadmus shook his head in disbelief. "That's only if he plans on making all those changes. Maybe he has a different plan in mind." Cadmus rubbed his chin and thought about what he should do, and a plan came to mind. "I'll go volunteer for this first battle."

"He's probably got all the soldier's he needs-"

Cadmus cut her off. "I know Acastus well enough to know that the mere act of volunteering will warm him up to me. Who knows what I may be able to find out.

"And if you get yourself killed?" Jara asked, concern clear on her battered, once beautiful face. "What then?"

Cadmus was touched by her concern for him, and as Livia watched the glance they exchanged, she realized just how much of a threat Jara was to her control over Cadmus. Men would do anything for a woman they were sleeping with, without even realizing half the time they were being used. Imagine what they would do for a woman they actually loved? They were weak that way. She would definitely have to eliminate her before Jara captured Cadmus heart and made it too difficult for Livia to control him.

"Go Cadmus. I'm sure you can hold your own in battle. You wouldn't be in Alpha Legion if you weren't a...warrior."

Cadmus grinned at her praise and nodded. "I'll be back as soon as I can." He tapped on the tailgate. "Driver! Stop the wagon!"

When Cadmus was gone, Livia and Jara shared a long look. Jara had always been an honorable woman, but her time in Damen's harem had taught her to recognize a snake when she saw one. This Livia girl was a cobra.

Cadmus made his way up the Eastern hill to find Acastus alone, watching the battle below. Had Damen still been alive, the commander would have been right there in battle, fighting alongside his men. Acastus had taken over less than twelve hours before and already he had proven to the entire legion he wasn't even half the man Damen had been. The men despised him, yet at the same time their years of training to respect authority, as well as their fear of Acastus' sometimes bizarre and brutal behavior made them too weak with fear to speak out against him. Besides, every soldier knew that if any unified force was to succeed, there had to be rules. Not just rules, but a strict adherence to those rules and a respect for one's superiors. They may not like the man who was leading them, but they would not easily be swayed to turn on him either. Especially when danger was so close at hand.

On his way here, Cadmus had heard several bits of whispered conversation amongst the men of Acastus' battle plan, and the more he heard, the colder his blood ran in his veins. If the rumors he was hearing were true, Acastus had completely abandoned Damen's wiser plans for attack for an utterly foolish full frontal assault on the Gaul stronghold, just as Livia had feared. If they followed that plan, they were all doomed.

He finally reached the commander who jerked with surprise at the sound of Cadmus' voice. Again, Cadmus thoughts turned to how it had been all but impossible to sneak up on Damen...


"What is it?"

"I've come to volunteer for the battle below."

Acastus smiled. "Really? Why are you asking me? Why not just dive right in?"

"I wanted to know..." Cadmus' mind raced for a good answer that would sound plausible but would also flatter his commander. Acastus had, on more than one occasion, openly displayed his abundant pride. Flattery, Cadmus knew, would get him everywhere with this man.


"Well, sir, I'm just a foot soldier. I didn't know if you had any...plan of attack you could use me in?"

"Plan of attack?"

"Yes sir. A brilliant tactician like you would know best how to use a lowly soldier like me to...to benefit the good of the legion."

"I fail to see what you think you can accomplish alone Cadmus. Though I'm glad to see you realize that I am indeed a brilliant tactician."

I think I'm going to lose my breakfast, Cadmus thought to himself, though he twisted his face into a stupidly exaggerated expression of phony reverence. Acastus bought it hook, line and sinker, puffing out his massive chest with pride.

"You wanna prove yourself to me huh?"

"Yes sir."

"We're going to make camp in the next valley. We're going to charge the pass in a few days."

"Aren't you worried about us fighting up hill? Don't you think it would be better if we were to circle their camp and come at them from behind-"

"You dare question me?"

The rage in Acastus' voice made Cadmus' stomach feel as if he'd swallowed a beehive. He bowed to Acastus. "I'm sorry sir. I meant no disrespect."

"We are the first in all of Caesar's legion's Cadmus. We're the best of the very best. We don't sneak around to do battle, we attack! We take what we want and we destroy anyone who would dare defy us. We'll make camp in the next valley and we'll charge that pass. No more discussion is necessary."

"Yes sir. You're absolutely right."

"Of course I am." A look of revelation suddenly dawned on Acastus' scarred and ugly face. "Didn't I order you to watch that conniving little bitch Livia?"

"Yes sir. I just thought I would be of better use to you-"

"Don't think Cadmus. You do such a poor job of it. I'm putting you on kitchen duty. We'll talk when you've learned to be respectful."

"Kitchen duty?"

"You're lucky I like you Cadmus. Otherwise, I'd have executed you for your arrogant tone. Get out of my site before I lose my generous mood."

Cadmus left; satisfied he'd been successful in his mission. He'd done it! He'd managed to glean the information he'd wanted from the fool that was their commander without losing his life at his hands or having to go into the battle below, which the Alpha Legion was quickly winning. Now, he would go back to Livia, the only one who seemed to have the know-how to save them all. He was surprised by how quickly he was beginning to place his loyalties with her.

Cadmus filled Livia in on what he'd learned. "You were right about everything Livia. He's going to store our supplies in the caves, and he's going to attack the pass."

Livia pointed to the caves. "We'll have to travel more than two miles from camp for our supplies."

"We'd just be asking for guerilla attacks. What the hell is wrong with him? Any fool could see his plan of attack is going to..."

This time it was Livia who finished the thought. "...Get us all killed."

"I can't believe this! I can see how a rookie foot soldier could make mistakes like this but a seasoned officer like Acastus? How could he implement a plan so obviously inept?"

"Because he's arrogant. For a man like Acastus it's a full frontal assault or nothing. He's not going to sneak up on anyone. He views that as cowardly. He's insane Cadmus. He's not just going to get himself killed, he's going to get all of us killed."

"What do you suggest we do? The others are beginning to talk about him. He's leading us to our deaths but we're too afraid of him to do anything about it!"

"Release me."

"Absolutely not. He'll run me through the moment he sees you loose."

"No he won't, 'cause I'll kill him."

Cadmus shook his head at her naivety. "If you kill him they won't wait to take you to Rome. Caesar's charge or not, they'll crucify you. You're going to have to win them over Livia."

She nodded in agreement. As much as she hated to admit it, Cadmus was right. She needed their loyalty, not their wrath. "Then you're going to have to start a little trouble. You're going to have to convince them to follow me."

"What do you mean?"

"Cadmus, I should be leading this legion. We both know that. Not only can I save our skins but I can win this battle!"

"You're a child. What makes you believe you can do better than Acastus?"

Livia closed her eyes and lay her head back. He did have a good point. There was no reason for anyone in the world to believe a seventeen year old girl deserved the rank of commander over six thousand men. How could she convince him? He wouldn't believe her if she told him she was Ares favorite as well as Augustus Caesar's. Even if he did, that alone wasn't reason to put her in command of the elite of Rome's legions.

"I am not like other warrior's Cadmus. I'm not just any woman. I'm going to tell you something I have never told anyone else before."

He still looked skeptical, but with the knowledge he'd just gained of Acastus' suicidal plans, he was willing to hear every option. He believed what made a man wise was an open mind, and he was willing to listen to anything once. "What's that?"

"I have been training to become a warrior under Mars himself since I made my first kill when I was ten."

He almost gasped. Ten years old? "You've been killing for that long?"


"And Mars, the god of war himself, has been training you?"

"That's right."

"Even if I believed that, training with a god and actually having battle experience are two completely different things."

Livia was becoming desperate. If she could get this man on her side, she stood a good chance of using him to turn the men to her side, against Acastus.

"Even if that god spent every day of that girls childhood teaching her the battle strategies of the greatest warriors of history? Even if that god took that child into the fiercest battles, invisible to all but him, and had her make the plans of attack for the warlords he used to train her?"

"What are you saying? That Mars would take you into battle and give your orders to warlords, just to train you?"

"That's exactly what I'm saying. I've seen more death and destruction in one year than you will ever see in your lifetime Cadmus. I deserve to lead these men. I'm the only one here with enough battle experience to save us."

Cadmus looked deeply into her large blue eyes, seeing she was telling him the truth and not just making up lies and stories to win him over. She was the one to save them, and he was willing to do anything it took to save his legion and Jara. If he were to be successful with his intentions, he was going to have to do something to put this girl in power.

"I'm not letting you loose Livia. You're too young to understand it now but that's a very bad idea."

Livia sighed with disgust. Even after all she'd said, and even after the acknowledgment of the truth she'd seen in his eyes, he was still hung up on her age. She was sick and tired of men always reminding her of how old she was. She was always too young for anything that would require them to take her seriously as a warrior, until they got an eyeful of her body anyway. She was too young to lead them into battle but she was old enough for them to want to bed. They all made her sick. She consciously hid these feelings from Cadmus and nodded.

"All six thousand men in this legion are in danger of losing their lives to this mad-man if we don't do something, soon. If you won't set me free, then at least listen to me."

"I'm all ears."

"You said the men are already voicing concern. Let's use that against Acastus."

"We ride against the Gaul camp day after tomorrow. Do you really believe we can turn the men against Acastus in that time? Without some butt-kissing traitor turning us in?"

"What could it hurt to try?"

Cadmus chewed this last statement for only a second before he nodded in agreement. If he did, the most he had to lose was his own life. If he didn't, the most he had to lose was the lives of all six thousand men in this legion. "I'll get started right away."

The thousands of soldiers that comprised the Alpha Legion made camp that night in the valley just below the Gaul stronghold as Acastus ordered. As the tents were set up and the men hunkered down for an uneasy nights rest, dissension quickly and quietly spread amongst them as they pondered the wisdom of Acastus' battle plan. It seemed to them he was leading them on a suicide mission, and Cadmus was at the center of it all, stoking the fire as he doled out gruel for the men's dinner.

At first he'd been resentful that Acastus had sentenced him to an evening of duty passing out the slop that was their food. Now he was grateful. It provided him with the perfect cover for moving about the men and planting seeds of doubt among them without calling attention to himself.

Cadmus, body weary from lack of sleep yet determined to do what he could to save the lives of his fellow soldier's, pushed on. Whenever he heard a group defending Acastus' actions, he was quick to point out the fatal flaws in the new commanders plans, and the wisdom that had come from Livia. The men, who were still reeling from the embellished stories surrounding the battle in which Livia killed Damen, were quickly beginning to say her name with favor, and this served to encourage him to push on despite the exhaustion that was threatening to overcome him. Cadmus mused that had anyone told him only a few days before he would be promoting the idea of a seventeen-year-old girl to take over the Alpha Legion, he would have laughed in their face. Now he was doing just that.

As dawn began to stain the eastern sky with beautiful, deep reds and gold's, Cadmus found himself full circle, walking to the slave wagon where he'd begun at the night before. There wasn't an ear in the legion that hadn't heard of Livia's rising popularity, or of Cadmus, the man who was singing her praise with such fervor. He could only pray his efforts didn't backfire on him and get him killed. At least not before he could convince the men to overthrow Acastus and put young Livia in his place. It also wasn't lost on him that Lycus had stayed by his side the entire night. Whether or not this was good or bad, Cadmus hadn't decided.

"You know, Livia had encouraged me to fight Acastus for my life."

Cadmus looked over at Lycus. He wasn't at all surprised to hear Livia would encourage such a blatant act of disrespect to one's commander. He'd come to expect it from her. If he were honest with himself, he'd come to admire it about her as well.

"Yeah? What did she say?"

"Not important. The thing is, she's got a warrior's heart. She..."


"She looks familiar. I feel like I've seen her before but it's impossible."

"Nothing is impossible Lycus. Whom does she look like?"

"I think she favors a warrior from my home village of Amphipolis. Her name was Xena."

"The Warrior Princess?"

"The one and the same. I was thirteen last time I saw Xena. She'd come home with her baby, Eve, and Athena attacked the village. Held us under siege. Ah, Xena. That woman was a brilliant tactician Cadmus. Every time I look into Livia's eyes I swear I'm looking Xena in the eye."

Cadmus let silence hang in the air between them. Lycus wanted something, but what that was, Cadmus hadn't a clue. He'd learned from experience that most people would tell him all he needed to know about them if he simply remained quiet. Some men had a need to fill silence with what they believed to be idle chitchat, when they were actually unwittingly revealing their true motives. Cadmus couldn't be certain whether Lycus' motives were innocent or not. The thought did occur to him that Livia had told Lycus of his part in freeing the slave girls and perhaps he was seeking revenge against Cadmus for almost getting him killed.

"You've heard Livia's plan of attack against the Gaul's. We can win with her in charge."

Lycus nodded. "That's why I'm with you on this one."

Cadmus stopped and looked the older man in the eye. He'd never been one for secrets, and regardless of what Lycus may really be after, Cadmus was determined to have everything out in the open. Especially if Lycus was being sincere and was still willing to place his trust, indeed his very life, in Cadmus hands, and vice versa. It was the honorable thing to do, and Cadmus was nothing if not honorable.


Lycus faced Cadmus expectantly, waiting for the younger man to speak. He was just about to question him when Cadmus finally broke his silence, his words coming out in a rush.

"About those escaped slave women...I...I helped-"

"You distracted me so they could escape?"

Cadmus was shocked to say the least. "How did you know? Did Livia tell you?"

"No, I put it together."

"And you're still willing to go along with my plan to put Livia in power?"

Lycus sighed, feeling the need to make this younger man understand the importance of the greater good, and the importance of being able to trust your comrades.

"I was angry at first, but now I see you care more about these men than you do about your own personal safety. The greater good, Cadmus, is the most important thing to a loyal soldier. Every day I put my life on the line in battle. Not for myself, but for Rome. For the world."

"Strange words coming from a Greek."

"My mother was Roman, and therefore, Rome will always be dear to me. Now let's go. We've got a legion to save."

Two Days Later

Lycus lay flat on his well-muscled belly and held his spyglass to his eye. He'd been both shocked and pleased when Acastus had postponed his idiotic attack and ordered him to circle and spy out the enemy camp two days earlier. Despite his threats, Acastus knew Lycus was the best, most experienced scout the Alpha Legion had to offer. And perhaps, Lycus had thought, the man is coming to his senses and is going to change his plans. Lycus was fully aware of how highly unlikely that was to happen. Lycus had seen his kind before, and he didn't put too much faith in the chance Acastus would change his small mind and bad habit's over night.

He'd been thrilled for two more reasons as well. One-it gave him something productive to do. Two-it gave him an opportunity to draw a map for Livia, detailing the landscape. It would help to have obvious landmarks to devise plans by. His little excursion had allowed him to discover an unguarded entrance to the Gaul's camp in the Northern Valley. This could just be the key to them winning the battle without losing a lot of their best men in the process.

This work had taken him two days to come full circle, but he'd made it undetected by the enemy. Now, as the rain began to pour for the third time in two days, he gave the Gaul's camp one last look. What he saw horrified him, making his blood run cold in his veins.

According to Acastus' assault plans, the legion was to stupidly charge the pass the next morning if their presence didn't goad the enemy into coming out of their strong hold for the battle. Now Lycus watched helplessly as the Gaul's set up boulder traps and heavy stones on the hills above either side of the pass. When the legion started to march through, the Gaul's would simply set off the traps, sending boulders racing for them as well as an avalanche of stones from above that would destroy half their force. If they followed through with Acastus' plans, they were doomed to lose half their manpower, leaving what was left outnumbered two to one, instead of one on one as it was now.

"Damn him!" Lycus growled to himself. If only Acastus would follow Damen's plan! They could win this battle and continue the long tradition of the Alpha Legion returning home victorious heroes. Because of the new commander's arrogance, the entire legion was doomed to die. Well, he wasn't going to allow that to happen. Livia, young though she was, should have been leading this legion days ago. He was going to see to it she did.

Lycus put his spyglass away and turned to haul ass back to camp, but instead of finding a clear path, he found four enemy scouts blocking his way.

No matter which way she moved, Livia was unable to find a position in which she could sit without her muscles screaming in protest. Her situation wasn't helped any by Jara's laughter. Were she not chained, and did Cadmus not like her so much, Livia would have released the anger and frustration over the past few days by ripping the whore's heart from her chest. It was, after all, one of her favorite methods of killing, and it had always turned Ares on. Ares...Livia was only a hair's breadth away from calling on him to get her out of this mess. She would have, if she didn't have her pride.

Pride, she thought. Isn't that what got me into this mess? She had believed she had a destiny to fulfill. She had believed she was to become the most powerful woman the Roman Empire had ever known, and she had believed she would do this by her skill with the sword and her mind instead of just her body. She'd let her temper get the best of her and now she might have to pay for that with her life. She'd been a fool to kill Damen, but it was too late to take it back. For the first time in her life, Livia was in serious doubt of her future.

Jara laughed again at the emotions playing across Livia's face. "Something funny?"

"Yeah, you. You never knew the misery you put your slaves through by chaining them in these transport wagons for days on end did you? No way to bathe. Be thankful Cadmus takes us to relieve ourselves. Most slaves don't get that luxury."

Livia could feel the mixture of satisfaction and resentment that dripped from Jara's voice and permeated the air like a hot, noxious fog. Livia found it strangely amusing.

"No, I didn't. If I get out of this alive..."

Thinking she had Livia figured out, Jara finished the sentence for her. "You'll think twice about the way you treat people."

Livia snorted in disgust. "No. I'll be careful not to give the cattle so much room to move. I'll really make them suffer."

Jara reacted with both surprise and disgust. "Why are you so cruel? Why do you do such horrible things to decent, innocent people?"

"Innocent? There's no such thing as innocent. Not even in a child. A woman your age should know that." Livia's face split into a feline grin, making her resemble a hungry lioness. "I do these things because I can."

Jara shook her head in pity. "Your soul is dead and you're so young."

"My soul is alive and kicking!" Livia screamed. In the confines of the covered wagon her voice cracked like thunder from close lightning. She forced her voice to a lower level after she decided she was satisfied with Jara's startled reaction.

Livia continued. "My soul is...evil. I don't know how I know, but I have always been evil. Sometimes I have dreams that I'm other people. Men, women, it doesn't matter. They're always powerful warriors and they're always, always evil. You know what sweetie?"

The older woman wanted to respond in some way but she felt trapped and mesmerized by the cold, dead eyes that seemed to be taking up so much space on Livia's deceptively delicate face.

"I like it."

Two soldiers appeared at the tailgate with keys for Livia's chains. They shackled her feet, and then pulled her from the wagon. Her legs were so weak from the time she'd spent in one awkward position after another that she was barely able to hold herself up, and she had to lean heavily on the men to stay upright.

"Where are you taking me?" Livia asked. She was pleased at the lack of fear in her voice, though her heart pounded rapidly within her chest. The soldiers, however, ignored her and pulled her away without a word. When Jara was alone, she was finally able to find her voice.

"I'm living on borrowed time."

Acastus admired his reflection that shone off the surface of his freshly polished shield. The new commander's uniform fit him perfectly, and he looked forward to finding a good spot to sit back and watch the upcoming battle. He had Lycus out in the field, scouting out the enemy territory, and Acastus was confident that the name of the Alpha Legion alone was enough to scare the Gaul's into hiding behind the walls of their strong hold long enough for the Alpha Legion to get through the pass without harm. Such had happened before.

He took off the armor and tossed it carelessly to the other side of the tent. He wanted to study himself in the mirror again, this time with nothing on but his trousers. He was well muscled and strong, though he'd gotten thicker around the mid-section as he'd gotten older. He didn't care. He had power now, as the commander of the Alpha Legion, and within this camp, he was as all-powerful to these men as Ares himself. He could do what he wanted, when he wanted, and there was nothing any of these pathetic swine would do to stop him. Besides, a little fat was a sign of power, as Augustus was beginning to prove.

After what seemed an eternity the cook arrived and began to set the table. In moments he and his assistant had the table laden with rich food and wine. Food that Damen had always refused himself, saying it made men fat and lazy.

"So much for what he knew," Acastus thought. He sat down and examined the veal, vegetables, fruits and wine set out for him. In moment his dinner guest would be arriving, and he would get what he'd wanted from the moment he'd laid eyes on her. To ensure Livia was easier to handle, Acastus took out a small vial of the sleeping powder he'd ordered his physician to bring him earlier. The physician had assured him it was an exceptionally potent sample, sure to put even a warhorse under for a good sleep. It was just what he needed to control Livia.

No sooner had Acastus poured the powder into the flask he'd set aside for Livia did the guards arrive and shove her unceremoniously into the center of the room. She landed on her knees as her feet, which were still shackled together, were unable to take steps long enough to keep her balance. His skin felt charged at the site of her in a royal blue Roman toga, which was cut to expose her ample cleavage as well as her strong, youthful thighs. Acastus felt almost as if Zeus himself had hit him with a lightning bolt.

Livia's skin glistened with water from the rain or the bath she'd just come from. He could smell the scented soaps used to cleanse the grime and dirt that had accumulated on her in the days she had been chained in the wagon, and now her skin looked as smooth and creamy as it had in his fantasies of her.

"Welcome Livia." Acastus noticed the young girl who had made him commander of the legion eyeing the food hungrily. This was good, especially since he wanted her to eat and drink her fill of wine. "Hungry? By all means, come! Eat."

"What is this?" Livia was no fool. Acastus had some kind of plans for her, she knew. Why else would a half-naked man have her bathed, dressed in Roman finery and brought to his private tent? He was up to something, and Livia had a pretty good idea what that was. It would seem he'd tired of Jara, and had turned his sight's to her. Great.

"I'm not hungry Acastus."

The smile, which looked more like a grimace of pain, that adorned his ugly face fell off and he became deadly serious. "That's commander or sir to you, and I'm not asking. I'm telling you to eat."

"And if I don't?"

"You have a choice young lady. You can eat, or I can behead you right here and now. Now what's it gonna be?"

Livia sighed and made her way to the table. Playing the gentleman, Acastus pulled out her chair and helped her into the seat. His calloused hands lingered on her shoulders too long, and she was filled with such disgust at his touch that she quickly lost her appetite for the food.

"What's the point of all this? I'm a condemned prisoner." When he failed to respond Livia shook her head. "If you're trying to seduce me, you're wasting your time. I'm not even remotely interested."

"I don't waste my time on silly things such as seduction. If I want a woman I take her. It's as simple as that."

"And if she's a woman out of your reach?"

"Then I don't take her." He studied Livia's grin, which he knew she thought was a sign of her triumph over him. He was about to wipe that smile right off her face. "Unfortunately for you my dear, you're not out of my reach. Now eat."

Livia decided that if she were to get out of this mess alive, she'd better go along with him. As she lifted a morsel of food from her plate, she began to realize what his plans to take her must be. Knowing she was his superior in combat, he had no doubt drugged her food. Once she was half-conscious from whatever he'd slipped her, he would unchain her and have his way with her. The only question was, did he drug the food, the wine or both?

"Eat up!"

Livia tasted the food and closed her eyes with each bite. Ares had taught her well how to use every since she had at her disposal, taste included. She analyzed each bite, cataloguing each spice and finding nothing amiss. The food seemed safe.

The wine, she thought, lifting the goblet to her lips and taking in a deep breath. The wine had an excellent bouquet, but it also had an extra element she was unfamiliar with. The wine was definitely her enemy this evening. She looked at him over the rim of the goblet and took in a small sip. She would eat plenty, to give herself the strength she would need later, and she would pretend to be drinking the wine. She would also play the part of the drugged little prisoner, and when he took the chains from her so he could take her body to the bed, she would use her favorite killing technique to rip his heart from his chest, and she would shove it down his throat.

Livia offered him a smile as she imagined the feel of his warm blood coursing over her wrist and the feel of his most precious organ die in her clinched fist. Having no idea why she was smiling, Acastus sat back in his throne-like chair and returned her smile with his own arrogant grin.

If only, Livia thought, he knew what was coming.

Lycus faced down the last of the four scouts. It had been a while since he'd been forced to fight more than one man alone, without the support of his fellow soldiers to back him up, and this led him to face the fact that he'd lost his once razor sharp edge. He was disgusted at how difficult it had been for him to kill the three of them, considering in his younger days four men would have been laughably easy.

"Not bad Roman," the remaining Gaul scout said. Blood poured from his busted lip, courtesy of Lycus' boot heel, but he showed no signs of serious injury. Pity, considering Lycus had given him all he had. Did he have the energy and the strength to defeat this man who was his equal in age and strength?

"Of course. I'm a soldier for Rome. Bad isn't an option." Lycus spoke with more bravado than he really felt. He'd been gone from camp for two days. In that time he'd barely eaten and now he'd used up the remainder of his strength fighting off three of his four attackers. As he kept an eye on the moving enemy below, he tried to calculate how long it would take him to get back to camp undetected. At least two more hours from his present location.

"Tell that to Hades when you see him in Tartarus, Roman scum!"

The two crossed swords and the force behind each blow the man delivered with his continually surprised Lycus. Knowing it would be a waste of his energy to deflect each blow with his own weapon, Lycus opted to simply dodge as many swipes as possible. On several occasions the sword whizzed past so close Lycus could hear the blade cutting the air, even feeling the breeze caused by the metal of the enemy blade.

Thing's only got worse when Lycus realized more of the Gaul force was moving out of their camp. They seemed to be preparing to surround the Alpha Legion. Most of the men heading out of the strong hold were small, lithe men. The type that was quick on their feet, but not much good for hand-to-hand combat. Every single one of them was armed to the teeth with a bow and an arsenal of arrows of every kind. Lycus wouldn't doubt that the arrowheads were poisoned so that even if the damage from the arrow itself didn't kill the man, the poison would.

His opponent began to giggle, almost in a girlish fashion. "How does it feel Roman? How does it feel to know you're precious Alpha Legion is about to be utterly destroyed?"

"I don't know." Lycus took this opportunity while his opponent was busy gloating to run his sword through the man's gut. "How does it feel to have a sword stuck in your gut?"

He had to get back to camp and warn Acastus of the coming danger, and if the man refused to listen... then to hell with protocol. He would try and kill the arrogant bastard himself.

Cadmus stared up at the night sky. The rain had stopped more than three hours before, and the clouds had moved on, seeming to almost be in a hurry to leave. Now the stars shown brightly in the heavens, like sparkling diamonds on a blanket of velvet. The moon, the crown jewel of the night, hung high and full in the sky. He was grateful for that, as was everyone else. The light from the moon made it easier to see what you were doing and where you were going when you weren't close enough to a campfire or didn't have the benefit of a torch.

He was surprised when several men approached him, nervous looks on their vaguely familiar faces. He knew them only as men who were willing to listen to his plans to oust Acastus from power and give Livia command. At least long enough to get them out of this mess.

"What's the matter?"

After a long, nervous pause, one of the men spoke. "It's Livia."

"What about her?'' Cadmus asked, his skin suddenly becoming covered in goose flesh.

"Acastus had her taken to his tent about an hour ago. She's with him now."

Cadmus took off, not bothering to hear the rest of what the men had to say. If Acastus had Livia...He knew just what the commander had in mind, and he wasn't going to allow it to happen. Not to the only one who could save them from the mistakes Acastus had made.

Livia swallowed the last bite of food on her plate and sat back. Once again she pretended to drink from her goblet, but in fact the wine never even touched her lips. Acastus picked at his food and drank his own wind with gusto, all the while watching her with eagle eyes. He was expecting her to succumb to the effects of whatever drug he'd put into her food, and she wasn't about to disappoint him.

"More?" He asked, holding up the skin he'd doctored with the sleeping agent. She snatched it from his hand and dumped its contents into the cup, then purposefully knocked it onto the floor of the tent.

"Oh, I'm soo sooory." she said, slurring her words. She offered him the classic, disgusting burp most drunks always seemed to have waiting to come out and stink up any drinking establishment, then giggled. She let her eyes fall, half hooded with her false intoxication.

"Commander... I don' know what has gotten into me..." She offered a small hiccup and Acastus sat back in his chair, laughing with satisfaction. "I didn't drink that much!"

"It's drugged," he happily confessed, believing he had her under his thumb of "power", where he wanted her.


"Yes. You're much too dangerous to try and handle sober, so I drugged you."

Acastus played a finger over her cheek and began to caress her face. Livia was filled with disgust and spit on his hand. This enraged Acastus and he slapped her with stunning force that literally knocked her from her chair and onto the floor.

"You stay away from me!" Livia scooted away on the floor and realized she was playing it too much. If she were to get him to at least undo her feet so he could move her to the bed, she would have to become less of a threat to him. Livia gave one last groan then fell back, feigning unconsciousness.

Acastus studied Livia carefully, trying to determine if she was really unconscious or just attempting to fool him. He decided to take no chances. He wasn't in the mood for a challenge tonight. Acastus grinned and took the key from his belt. Carefully he unchained her feet.

Suddenly Livia's foot came up and connected with his face. There was a sickening crunching noise as his nose crumbled from the blow, making Acastus fall back in shock. He pressed his hand to his face in an unsuccessful attempt to hold back the blood that was pouring from his nose. Livia grabbed the chain and swung it around, attempting to hit him in his temple and kill him, but he saw it coming and with surprising agility he fell back, out of harms reach.

Livia wasted no time in grabbing the keys and unfastening her handcuffs. When she stood to her feet she was free, bound by nothing. No chains and no self-control.

"You bitch! You broke my nose!"

"Don't worry Acastus. It's not going to hurt long, I promise."

Livia moved in on him, attempting to drive her foot into his face. He surprised her again by moving with lightning speed from the floor to the bed where his sword lay. Livia took off for the tent flap, making Acastus laugh, despite his broken nose. He no doubt believed her to be running from him instead of drawing him out into the open where she would have the freedom she needed to move.

It was here, in front of all of his men, that Livia intended to kill this insane bastard. She was also determined that she would not go back to being chained tonight. When this battle was over she would either be the new commander of this legion or she would be dead. There would be no in between's.

The men of the camp were nothing short of shocked to find Livia, adorned with the finest Roman robes and jewels come running out of Acastus' tent. They were even more shocked to find their incompetent commander come stumbling out behind her, sword drawn and nose smashed into his already horrendous face.

Livia turned to face Acastus just as Cadmus came running into the area. "What's going on here?"

"You!" Acastus screamed, pointing the business end of his sword at Cadmus. "Don't think I haven't been aware of your little campaign to help Livia here overthrow me."

Cadmus licked his lips nervously looked between Livia and Acastus. If he were to rally the troops to support Livia, he would have to give up his safe haven on the fence. The men, he knew, wouldn't support Livia until they saw someone they liked and trusted back her. What better time to do that than now?

"That's right! I've been working to overthrow you. Somebody has to before you get us all killed!"

The fact that a simple foot soldier would dare defy his commander was one thing, but to have Cadmus do it to his face was another. The rumors of this pathetic soldier speaking against him had been true all this time, and now he was insulting him in front of everyone? Acastus vowed he would have this foot soldier's blood on his hands just as soon as he'd dealt with Livia.

"You," he said, still pointing the sword at Cadmus, "will have the privilege of seeing your heart take its final beat when I cut it from your chest. And you." He looked to Livia, "You will be my whore from now until I tire of you. Believe me sugar, that will be sooner than you think."

"Livia!" Cadmus called, pulling his sword and tossing it to Livia.

She deftly caught it and faced Acastus. Before long, the two warriors crossed swords, but it didn't take much effort on Livia's part before she not only had Acastus' sword lying on the ground, out of his reach, but she had put a nasty cut on his leg that guaranteed he would not run from this battle. She put the sword to his throat, but it was Cadmus who spoke to the men who watched the exchange in confusion.

"Listen to me, my fellow soldiers! Acastus is arrogant and foolish. I have spoken with you all of his plan of attack against the Gaul's stronghold, and every single one of you has agreed it's suicide!"

The men began to dance uncomfortably from one foot to another, but said nothing to object to his words. Acastus sat on his knees, his anger threatening to boil over until something vital within him exploded. How dare this lowly bastard insult him in such a way! Had Livia not held a sword to his throat, Acastus would have ordered Cadmus killed. The thought that the order wouldn't have been carried out did not even occur to the delusional, soon-to-be-dead commander of the Alpha Legion.

"Livia is the one we need to lead us to victory. She saw Damen's battle plans before he died-"

"Before she killed him you mean!" One of the soldiers yelled from the crowd.

"Yeah," another chimed in. He pushed his way to the front of the gathering and pointed an accusatory finger at Livia.

"We wouldn't be in this mess now if she hadn't killed the commander!"

"Like you really cared about him!" Cadmus shot back angrily. "Let's not make Damen out to be some kind of saint. Have you forgotten he treated us like horse dung before he died? The fact of the matter is we're going to die here if we don't get the leadership we need! Livia can give that to us if we only..."

Cadmus voice trailed off as the distinct sound of a distant voice came to him over the sound of his own breathing. The men began to cast one another looks of confusion before they too heard the distant voice of one of their own. Finally they all recognized it as Lycus. The crowd began to part to allow the soldier and his lathered horse through.

"Livia!" He said when he came to a stop and took in the sight of Acastus on his knees before Livia. He decided now to show the men where his loyalties lay by reporting to her as if she were already the commander of the legion. This act wasn't lost on the men surrounding her. It wasn't lost on Acastus either.

"Report." She said, seemingly comfortable with playing the part of commander. Perhaps if they viewed her as something more than a woman...

"Archers! The Gaul forces have sent archers to attack from the hills surrounding the camp.

"How many?"

"No less than two thousand are on their way now. Armed to the teeth with arrows, poisoned."

"Alright listen up!" Livia said. She motioned for Lycus to dismount and she took his place on the smelly, sweaty beast that had carried him home to deliver the news that their enemy was on the attack. As she sat on the horse in her Roman finery, her incredible presence, her forceful nature and her beauty struck every man in the camp within site of her. She looked like the Queen they could all feel she was destined to become.

"The time for indecision is over. You either follow me now or die."

The men cast looks of indecision to one another and Livia sighed with inpatients. This brought a laugh of amusement from Acastus who lay on the ground, pressing both hands to the wound on his leg.

"They'll never follow you. Get my physician!"

It's now or never, Livia thought, looking from Acastus to the men surrounding her. She sat up straight and proud in the saddle of the still panting horse and began to walk him in a circle to face the men around her.

"You don't know me, true. You have no idea if I will be able to lead you to victory against the Gaul force, but you do know one thing for certain. If you follow Acastus you are destined to fail. It's a suicide mission and you all know it. Right now the enemy moves against us! Death is about to fall from the sky and because of this arrogant, lazy bastard we're sitting here doing nothing! We should be surrounding the Gaul force, preparing to swoop down upon them with swords drawn and the name of Augustus Caesar screaming proudly from our lips!"

The men began to murmur in agreement. Livia watched as they slowly began to stop dancing from one foot to another and stand straight and still as her words filled them with a sense of urgency. It was time to add pride to their bouquet of confused feelings. Once she had stoked the fires of their arrogance, she knew she would have them eating from the palm of her hand.

"We are the elite of Rome's legions. There are none in the world above us! Our skills in battle and warfare are second to no one!"

The men began to cheer, almost with each word that came from her mouth now. She pointed her sword at Acastus. "Look at him! Do you see how easily he fell beneath my blade? This proves two things to you! One, I am not just a woman. I am a warrior. I have defeated this legion's two top ranking officers with ease. Secondly it proves to you that Acastus is weak in body as well as mind."

The men cheered looked at one another once again, this time not in confusion, but with a sense of awe and revelation. This girl had indeed done all she proudly confessed. She had defeated the best Rome had to offer, with ease, and she seemed to have nothing but the legion's best interest at heart. Maybe there was something to her after all.

"Follow him and run to the arms of defeat, death and shame." Livia thrust her sword to the heavens with pride. "Follow me and I swear on the head of Mars himself, I will lead us to victory!"

Lycus and Cadmus followed suit, drawing their swords and chanting her name.

"Livia! Livia! Livia!"

Livia grabbed Cadmus eyes with her own and motioned to Acastus. Take him out, her eyes said, and Cadmus did just that. Acastus head rolled with the last sight of his life being that of this girl/warrior, taking control of his precious legion, and leaving him to die in shame.

It didn't take long before the men around them picked up the chant, and Livia was reveling in the power of the moment. She had gone from the lowliest foot soldier to condemned slave, to the commander of Rome's elite Legion. The doubt she had been feeling of whether or not she was destined for greatness was completely gone now. She had proven to Ares, and more importantly to herself, that she was capable of achieving the greatness she had dreamed of since the god of war had taken her under his wing seven years before, on her own, without his help.

Livia stared out over the sea of Roman soldier's who were ready to follow her to Hell and back for the sake of victory and Rome's honor. They were hers now. All hers. Today she was the Commander of the Alpha Legion.

Tomorrow, she would be Rome's Champion, and the most powerful woman the Roman Empire will ever know.

The End of Chapter Two.

part 3

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