Disclaimers: See Part I for disclaimers to this story.

Comments to Redhawk. Constructive criticism greatly appreciated.

Part V: Monday

Xena sat at the window in their hotel room, staring out at the irretrievable past. They had made good time back to Munich, had eaten dinner at a small restaurant, and returned to their room. It was now the wee hours of the morning and she was winding down, her tale nearly finished.

The dark woman's lover rose from where she was seated on the bed and moved to stand behind her. Rickie began massaging tense shoulder muscles, bringing the Immortal back to the present. "So, how long did you stay with her?"

"Not long. Just through the winter." Xena leaned into the caresses, resting her head against the teenager's upper abdomen. "I tried to explain what had happened to her, what she really was, but she wouldn't have any of it. She was positive that God had come down from on high to grant her new life for the sole purpose of saving heathens." A soft snort. "I dunno. There was something in the water back then - after Jeanne La Pucelle there were at least a dozen young girls who claimed to be chosen by God for one thing or another."

"So what happened after that winter?"

Xena's shoulders moved in a shrug. "She went her way, I went mine. She refused to learn how to use a sword, though she got pretty adept at a knife. We stayed there for another couple of weeks before moving on. Finished out the winter in Paris." The pale blue eyes closed, picturing the memories. "Jeanne had taken to going to the market every two or three days for our food. And one day, she just didn't come back."

Rickie's hands moved from the broad shoulders to gently rub the older woman's temples. "You went looking for her," she said, more a statement than a question.

"Yeah, I did. I have to admit, I didn't look too hard. Once I figured that she'd left of her own free will, I dropped it and moved on."

There was a long silence as Rickie continued her ministrations, looking down at her lover's serious face. The redhead bent down and kissed Xena's head. "Why do you do that?"

Pale blue eyes opened and the dark woman slightly turned to look up at the other woman. "Do what?"

"Take responsibility for all the troubles of other people that are around you." At the raised eyebrow, Rickie continued with a smile. "You know you do. It's not your fault that Jeanne turned out the way she did. She pursued you, remember?"

"Well, if I hadn't have..."

"...taken her to bed, it would have been someone else," Rickie finished. "She was bound to get caught sooner or later by that man. And the same thing would have happened." She grinned at the obstinate look that crossed her lover's face. "I love you, you stubborn warrior," she said, running her fingers along Xena's jawline.

"Stubborn?" the dark woman repeated in mock surprise, glad for a change of subject. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Rickie rolled her eyes. "You know, I didn't think you would." The teenager came around to the front of her lover, straddling long legs as she settled onto her lap. She felt warm hands moving slowly over her hips as she leaned forward. "I love you, Xena," she whispered before lightly kissing her lips.

The Immortal smiled into the kiss. "I love you, too, Rickie," she murmured, gathering the redhead into a snug embrace and leaning her cheek against her lover's head.

The teenager sighed in contentment and snuggled into the hug, her own arms wrapping around the slim waist. She closed her eyes and listened to the solid thumping of a warrior's pulse in her ear. This is the way it should be, she thought as sleep began to tease the edges of her mind.

Xena's gaze returned to the window and the heavy past, hands lightly rubbing against the younger woman's back.

The Prediger knelt before the altar, candlelight glistening off sweaty, blooded skin. The Penance had been going on for hours and still God had not deigned to make His word known to the figure. Schueller Phillip was equally as silent as the continued sound of leather hitting flesh filled the tiny room.

The killer had followed the woman to her hotel, safe at a distance as she and her companion left their auto. The Hotel an der Nockherstrasse. Having heard a discussion between the two, the figure knew they planned to do some sightseeing before meeting their friend for dinner at the Soul Train in Munich.

Muttering prayers to God, that He might let His will be known, the Prediger continued the Penance until dawn.

sharp rap to ribs, eyes open. brown eyes before her... seeing the creature.... no.... seeing Jeanne. voice muttering. face melting like candlewax, oozing and dripping as it mutated from the monster to the woman. screaming as the creature's mouth opened, laughing. it's mouth approaching hers, screaming into it.

screaming forever and ever, her voice filling her ears, its tongue filling her mouth. ripping, tearing of her nipple, the ring yanked out. warm blood, hot mouth, teeth. her screams silent, still echoing through a silent warehouse. woman cursing her for the harlot she was, murmuring prayers of God's will and damnation. creature doing things to her, bruising her, cutting her, ripping out clumps of hair, ravaging her. evil thoughts of blood and skinning and cannibalism and evisceration.

cradled in strong arms, pale eyes above. Xena. safety. love. sensations of being rocked, warm skin and soft hands.

As Rickie clambered up out of her nightmare, her hands convulsively gripped Xena's waist and she sat back abruptly. As she was still straddling her lover's lap, she almost tipped over backwards, but strong hands caught her, helped her regain her balance.

"Shhhh... It's okay. I've got ya," a low voice said, as those same hands rubbed the redhead's back, calming.

The teenager heaved a sigh and rubbed at her face crossly. "You know, these nightmares can stop any time now. I won't mind," she mumbled. Squinting sleepy green eyes at the woman holding her, she asked, "What time is it?"

Xena tilted her head and smiled, bringing a hand up to caress her young lover's cheek. "Almost dawn, I think." She chuckled at Rickie's dismay. "You were sleeping so peacefully, I didn't want to disturb you." Her smile widened. "Besides, I like holding you while you're sleeping."

"Yeah, right up until the time I put an elbow in your ribs," the young woman grumbled good naturedly. She yawned and stretched sinuously, half in invitation. Rickie wasn't surprised when she felt the hand on her cheek glide down her neck, across the swell of her breast and down her side to rest on her hip. She brought her arms down, resting her elbows on either side of Xena's head. "Are you tired? Did you get any sleep yourself?"

"Nope and nope." She pulled Rickie's hips snuggly against her and leaned in to nuzzle the graceful neck. "I am hungry, though," she said, her voice low and full of promise.

Rickie shivered and buried her hands in ebony hair. She lifted her head to give the older woman easier access. "Mmmm. Can't have that," she murmured, green eyes closed. She felt Xena's right hand slide up underneath her t-shirt. A gasp escaped her lips as her lover nibbled at the pulse point on her neck at the same time she gently squeezed a breast. The redhead felt moisture dampen her jeans where she was pressed against her lover's belly. I don't think I'll ever get enough of her touch, her voice.

Xena tilted her head and traced her lover's ear with a warm tongue. "Have I told you that you taste so good?" she murmured before dipping into the aural cavity and hearing the woman in her arms moan softly.

"Uh... once or twice," Rickie responded breathlessly. She felt Xena's thumb circling her nipple before brushing against it. She moaned again as the nipple was grasped between thumb and forefinger, pressure building on the nub as it shot stabs of feeling through her body and centered on her core. Reluctantly, she broke away from the probing tongue, pulling back to look into fiery blue eyes.

Xena licked her lips as she saw her desire mirrored in shining emeralds. She rolled the nipple between her fingers, causing her lover to take a sharp breath and close her eyes once more. And then she leaned forward, her free hand snaking into redgold hair, and claimed the lips in front of her with a savage lust that was reflected, reciprocated.

Lips met, crushing together, moving against each other. Tongues danced across teeth and explored familiar territory. Low breathless moans and growls could be heard as hearts raced and bodies moved, sliding, caressing, rubbing. The sun rose, finding them on the bed, divested of their clothing, wrapped firmly about each other.

Xena was on her back, a passionate young Baccae kneeling on the bed beside her. The redhead was focusing all her attention on a quite happy nipple, one hand caressing a bronze abdomen and teasing dark curls. The Immortal writhed and moaned under the onslaught, her own hands buried in golden hair. And then her lover pulled away and she opened her eyes, holding back a groan at the loss.

A soft smile was on Rickie's lips. "Do you trust me?" she asked, running a finger across full lips and smiling wider as the finger was caught with gentle teeth and sucked in.

"Yeth," was the lisped response as the dark woman assaulted the appendage, her agile tongue swirling around the fingertip.

The teenager pulled her hand away and leaned over to thoroughly kiss her warrior. When she was finished, she brought her hand up to cover pale blue eyes. "Close your eyes for me."

Xena obeyed and waited. She heard and felt the bed shift as her lover moved around on it. And then she inhaled deeply of a musky aroma and purred. She turned her head to one side, finding a supple thigh as she nibbled and licked her way upwards to the prize above. Long hands found rounded hips and buttocks just as she felt a moist tongue on her own center. She growled and pulled her lover down, caressing the younger woman's folds with her tongue and fingers.

Rickie set to work with abandon, savoring her lover's taste with relish. Even as she felt fingers fill her, she filled Xena with her own. The two women moved together in an intimate rhythm, probing, licking, teasing, bringing each other to the edge of release.

The dark woman felt her lover's thighs tighten, felt Rickie halt her rocking motion, muscles quivering. And then there was a muffled cry as the lithe body convulsed above her. Xena felt her own body shiver in anticipation before repeating her lover's actions, her own voice muted as her hips thrust of their own accord.

With the last of her strength, Xena rolled her lover to one side and gently disengaged herself. She scooted around on the bed until she had her arms wrapped around the younger woman's body. They dozed in the early morning sun as their bodies cooled from their exertions.

Rickie lay cradled in her warrior's arms, deliciously limp. She inhaled deeply of Xena's musky cinnamon essence and snuggled closer with a soft smile, feeling a hand caress her hair. "Mmmm, that feels nice," she purred.

"Good. You feel nice, too," was the low response. Xena ran a hand down her lover's body, delighting in the ticklish squirm that resulted. Wearing a devilish grin, she moved her hand again, the naked body moving against her once more. With a quick movement, she was straddling Rickie, fingers flying over the redhead's body.

The younger woman was helpless to the onslaught, laughing as she tried to fight off her attacker. Unable to succeed at that, she switched tactics, pulling the dark head down to her own. She laughed into Xena's mouth, teasing the dark woman's lips with her tongue, distracting her. As the kiss deepened, Rickie was pleased to feel her lover's hands stop tickling and begin moving firmly over her sides and belly and breasts.

As the kiss eventually broke off, Xena rested her forehead on the bed next to her lover's head, still straddling her. "I can never get enough of you," she murmured into redgold hair. "Your smell, your touch, your taste. Your smile, your laughter, your wisdom." Small hands snaked around her waist and held her close. "You make my world brighter. You complete me."

Rickie smiled into ebony hair, holding her warrior close. "And I can never get enough of you - your smell, your touch your taste. Your beautiful blue eyes and devastating curves, your strength of body and will, your bravery. You complete me. And I'm so glad I found you again."

The man leaning against the side of the building blew on his hands to warm them. The early morning air was chill and he could see his breath fog before him. He wore grey slacks, black Italian boots and a leather jacket of European design. He was a thin man with dark hair that hung in his equally dark eyes.

He lit a cigarette and continued his vigil on the Hotel an der Nockherstrasse.

Unseen, another man watched from an early opening cafe down the street. He had dark hair as well, wearing a double breasted grey suit and black shirt buttoned to the throat. His vigilant grey blue eyes focused on the smoker. A computer case was on the table next to his breakfast plate, his black raincoat draped across a nearby chair. As he sipped his coffee, his fingers idly played with an intricately designed Celtic cross, an expensive silver chain wrapped loosely about his hand. After a few moments, he put the medallion back into his jacket pocket.

Having spent most of the morning in bed, driven out only by hunger, the women decided to forego their trip to Schloss Linderhoff. Xena promised her young lover that they would return from London so that she might have a look at one of the more intricately designed and decorated castles of Germany.

Instead, they steered their auto southwest towards the Ettal Monastery. The Benedictine monks in residence made some of the finest liquors in the country. And the church they worshipped in was by far one of the most beautiful. The golden dome gleamed in the late morning sunlight as Xena parked the auto. It wasn't long before the women were following an English speaking tour group as they made their way through the gardens and into the church proper.

The tour took about an hour and a half, the interior even more ornate than the exterior. Once completed, the group was left to their own devices, a multitude of flash bulbs going off here and there. Several of their tour, including themselves, went across the street to the gift shop.

The women poked around the shop, considering souvenirs for friends back home. Xena was studying a rack of tour books when she heard her name. Glancing around, she found her lover near the back wall, waving her over.

"What's this say?" Rickie asked, holding up a small gift box of four small bottles.

Xena draped her arm across the redhead's shoulders as she took the box and peered at the small print. She felt a smaller hand slide around her waist under her jacket as Rickie moved into the embrace. "Hmmm... It's booze." She flinched and glared at her lover. "Quit pinching!"

The younger woman stuck her tongue out. "You deserved it, smartass. I know it's booze... What kind of booze?"

"Oh!" the dark woman responded in fake enlightenment. "What kind of booze. Why didn't you just say so?" She refused to respond to the next pinch she felt, grinning down innocently.

The beautiful face held a sardonic look and Rickie said, "I think I just did."

"Oh." With a grin, Xena began explaining what different types of alcohol were in the gift pack.

A movement caught her eye and she glanced to a man standing about five feet away. He was wearing a grey Italian suit with a black shirt, and was carefully perusing some bier steins on a shelf. He looks vaguely familiar.... For some reason she couldn't place him, however.

Her pale blue eyes glanced back to what she was reading before returning to the man. And they returned to empty space. With a slight frown, she glanced quickly around. He wasn't anywhere. What the fuck?

Rickie heard the low voice trail off and watched her lover swivel her head, looking for something. "What's up?" she asked gently.

"Dunno." She looked around some more, unable to see him. "Did you just see a man looking at steins over there?"

The redhead glanced at the area indicated. "Nope. Sure didn't. Anything I should know about?"

Xena glanced around one last time. "Naw, guess not." With a shrug, she turned back to the gift box and continued her translation. She hadn't noticed the man in a black leather jacket hanging around outside the shop window, smoking a cigarette and rubbing at a blue tattoo on his right wrist.

The Prediger ducked around the corner of the shop as the woman exited with her companion, keeping a distance between them. She was sharp, picking up on people around her with preternatural awareness. It had been difficult keeping close.

There had still been no definitive word from the Almighty God or the Schueller Phillip. But, the Prediger was positive that this was the One, the next step on the Journey. The time just wasn't right, yet, that was all.

The figure watched the woman wander down the road towards a cafe, an arm wrapped around her friend. The sound of a cellular phone rang and the Prediger faded back around the corner of the building.

"Hello?" Crackle of a long distance phone call.

"Hi, how's it going?"

"Very good. You did a good job preparing the way here."

"Any difficulties since I left?"

"I was almost caught once a few minutes ago, but things are well." Slight pause. "There's someone else following, however."

"One of the Society?"

"Unless the Sisterhood has taken to recruiting men. Anyway, it shouldn't be a problem."

"Good." Pause. "Are you expecting them to keep to their schedule then?"

"At this point, yes. She should be leaving tomorrow morning for London." Pause. "So, did you get anything?"

"Nothing we didn't already know. Her name's Rickie Gardner, she's nineteen, has a pretty thick police record." Sounds of papers rustling. "Oh, she was recently questioned about some serial murders going on in Portland, Oregon. The killer was nicknamed 'The Headhunter'."

Long silence.

"That's what we thought."

"Hmmm." Another pause.

"You're thinking again." Humorous drawl.

"Eh? Oh, sorry." Another pause. "Any clue why she's in the picture?"

"Would you believe true love?"


"Didn't think so. That's the best we can come up with."

"Keep working on it, please. There's got to be a logical reason for the connection, and I'd rather not go making contact until we've got it down."

"Don't go melodramatic. It doesn't suit you, brother-mine. I don't see any difficulty in acquiring the merchandise. We'll see you in London soon?"

"Yes. Soon. I should be finished here before they're due to leave."

"See you at Heathrow then. Bye."

"Good bye." Click.

The man put the cellular phone back into his pocket and stepped back to the front of the gift shop.

After a late lunch, the pair climbed back into the auto and took a leisurely drive through the famed Black Forest.

"Wow," Rickie marveled. "This is beautiful country."

"Yes, it is. Always has been." The dark woman paused in thought as she drove through a small village. "But, then, all countries have their own beauty."

"Yeah?" Emerald eyes focused on her lover. "Like where?"

"Well, the Grand Canyon for one. Especially before it got totally commercialized with the tourist trade." Xena tilted her head in thought. "The Amazonian rain forests are spectacular at many times of the year. I spent quite a long time there at one point."

"Really? How long's a long time?"

Dark brows raised as she considered the question. "Nearly a hundred fifty years." She turned her head and glanced slyly at her lover. "Close your mouth. There aren't any flies to catch here."

"A hundred and fifty years?" Rickie sputtered. "In one place?"

"Yeah, give or take a decade or so," she grinned.

"Didn't they..." The redhead frowned, trying to find the words. "I mean, weren't they a little suspicious when you didn't get old? Ever?"

Xena chuckled. "Not really. The tribe I was with had some superstitions about blue eyed people and I just kinda fell into it."

The redhead imagined what would have caused her lover to become a recluse for over a century. Waves of loneliness and despair filled her soul. She reached up and brushed ebony hair back from Xena's shoulder. "Must have been hard on you. Disillusioned, wanting escape." There was a pause as Rickie studied her lover's profile. "I'm glad they were there for you." Her face broke into a smile. "And I'm glad you came back out."

"I couldn't stay. World War II was happening and there was a monster here in Europe that needed taken down." Xena smiled softly as she watched the road. "Gabrielle's memory wouldn't allow it. The greater good and all that."

An ancient vision flitted past Rickie's memory. "Promise me you won't become a monster when I'm gone." She looked at her lover. "You kept your promise," she murmured in soft amazement. "Thank you."

Xena's grin widened and she took the teenager's hand. "You're welcome."

They found a small village with a wood carver's shop hidden amongst the dense foliage of the old wood forest. Not long after they entered the shop, an auto pulled into the tiny parking lot. The man who exited wore a grey suit and black shirt.

While stretching the kinks out of his back, blue grey eyes scanned the area. The sight of a small Vespa scooter on the side of a restaurant caused those eyes to narrow. Nearby was a man in a leather jacket, smoking a cigarette and trying to look nonchalant.

The man's frown was replaced with a pleasant smile as he moved towards the leather clad fellow. "Entschuldigen Sie, bitte. Sprechen Sie English?" he called with an odd accent. After a few moments of discussion between the two, the blue eyed man led the other to the back of the cafe.

There was a muffled thump and possibly a cry that was abruptly cut short. After a few moments, the man came back around the building, dusting off his grey suit. He stopped long enough at the Vespa to insert to ignition key before returning to his own vehicle in the lot.

Kommissar Johannes scrubbed at his face and looked at his watch. Time to go home. Finally. He rose from his desk and packed a few files into his briefcase. The sun was still out, but hung low in the sky.

There had been no more kidnappings. No more deaths. No clues and no leads. Everything hit a dead end. The Prediger was getting away with most grisly murder and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

Johannes shook his blond head and finished with his case. He flicked the desklamp switch off and moved towards the door to the hallway. He scooped his jacket up from the stand by the door and headed downstairs.

He weaved his way around the other officers, suspects, complainants and victims, an active Polizeiwache in a large metropolis. Just as he reached the main entry, he heard his name being called and he turned towards the voice.

"Karl! Wait!" A young man with a scraggly goatee trotted up to the Kommissar. "I've got that information you were looking for." He waved a rather thick file at the officer.

"Gut, Pietr. Danke." The blond took the file in question and settled it under his arm.

"Bitte. It's kind of strange, though." At the raised eyebrow he continued, "There've been several murders in Europe that are quite similar to ours. They go back for quite a few years - nearly fifteen."

"Really?" Johannes looked at the seemingly innocent file in his hand.

"Ja. Each was a set of twelve that had some sort of religious connection. Crosses, rosary beads and the like were involved."

"Hmmm." Blue eyes narrowed at the implications. "Well, danke again, Pietr. Now, go home. Get some rest. When was the last time you saw your bride?"

The younger man blushed with a grin. "It's been too long," he muttered agreeably.

Johannes clapped the man on his shoulder. "Well, go on, then! Keep this up and she'll regret ever marrying the Polizei's golden child" He watched as Pietr chuckled and moved away before exiting the building. He slid the file into his case on the walk to his auto, the vision of too pale skin contrasting against bright red hair in his mind.

Back at their hotel room, the lovers began their preparation for an evening on the town. Rickie dug through her luggage to find something to wear and Xena hit the shower.

As she stood in the warm, pulsating stream, the dark woman's mind was on the last few days. Something wasn't sitting right. Hadn't from the time they touched down in Frankfurt. But she couldn't put her finger on it.

Sure, it wasn't every day that another Immortal wanders through. Or that some stranger with the same tattoo as a close friend half the world away was caught watching you... two times.

The man at the gift shop outside the monastery. Now he had disappeared pretty quickly once she'd spotted him. And he still looked vaguely familiar. I've seen him before. I know it. But where? Was he involved with the same people that Paul Anderson and Emil Holt were? Or are you just jumping at shadows, old lady?

She shook her dark head and began lathering up a washrag. No use worrying at it like a bone. It'll come to me sooner or later. Preferably sooner.

Xena was so deep in her thoughts, she didn't hear the bathroom door open. Her only clue that she wasn't alone was the sound of the shower curtain being drawn open behind her. She looked over her shoulder just as a warm hand slid up her backside and played along her spine.

"Just thought we should conserve water," was Rickie's low voiced comment, closing the shower curtain behind her. She reached for the soapy washrag. "You know. Ecology and all."

"Mmmm. Is that it?" Xena leaned her palms against the wall, feeling the warm water hit her chest, feeling the rough texture of the washrag gliding along her back and buttocks.

"Yep. That's it," the redhead agreed, concentrating on her activity. She thoroughly scrubbed her lover's back and rear, dipping down to trail the rag across the inner thighs and calves. Her task completed, she murmured, "Turn around, love."

Xena complied and had each of her arms thoroughly washed. She closed her eyes and basked in the not quite tickle as the redhead soaped her skin. And then attention was given to her belly and breasts and thighs. At some point, the washrag disappeared and Rickie's hand glided over the soapy slickness of bronze skin. Pale blue eyes opened, reflecting vague disappointment when the sensations stopped.

"Rinse off," the younger woman said, a bit breathless. She gently pushed broad shoulders towards the cascading water.

The dark woman grinned wickedly and resisted. "I don't think so," she said, her voice husky. She reached out and pulled Rickie into a slick, heated embrace, the steam from the shower having dampened the teenager's skin. The soap caused their bodies to melt together in rather sensuous waves as they lost themselves to their passion.

The woman came out of the hotel, her friend in tow. The Prediger's eyes narrowed intently, watching her every move. The figure's stomach rolled in disgust at the easy familiarity the two displayed.

A smile broke out at the physical feeling. Perhaps it was the Sign? Eyes peered up at the auto roof, imploring. There has to be a Sign. And soon! The forces within that indicated God's finger on the Prediger's soul were once again reaching the pressure point, threatening to boil over and destroy everything. And Penance didn't help that torment to ease.

Only the blood of Christ, the swift reprisals of the Punisher could ease the pain building inside.

Eyes closed and the figure rocked gently in the seat for a few minutes, crooning psalms. And then the eyes opened and the auto was started. It was time to go.

The couple arrived at the Soul Train fairly early. Xena had dressed in her ever-present black slacks, boots and vest, a white collarless shirt contrasting nicely with her tanned skin. The redhead was clad in slightly baggy khakis and a forest green shirt that she had snagged from her lover's suitcase. It was a bit large and she had to roll the sleeves up, but it smelled of her warrior and Rickie wouldn't have it any other way.

The crowds hadn't begun to gather for admittance into the up and coming nightclub and it was easy to find their way inside. Before them was a large seating area of tables with a stage to one side and a bar to the other. Across from the main entry were a double set of glass doors, flashing lights and vague bass filtering through to indicate where the dancing fools usually hung out.

As Xena entered, she felt an Immortal presence. "She's already here," she told her companion as she scanned the tables. Seeing Jeanne rise from a table and wave, she nodded and smiled in acknowledgement. A warm hand on the teenager's back guided her forward..

"Rickie!" the other woman exclaimed as they neared. "You look very nice." She grasped the redhead's hand and steered her towards a chair.

"Thanks," the younger woman blushed, settling down.

"And Xena," their host nodded at the dark woman. "When's the last time you wore a dress?"

Xena sat in a chair beside her lover and across from the other Immortal with a grin. "It's been a few decades."

Jeanne tched and waved the waiter over, sitting down herself. She was wearing a simple black sleeveless dress, a beige jacket draped across the chair behind her. The neckline was modest, as was the hem, showing off a long, supple neck and a golden crucifix.

After a bit of small talk and poring over the menu, the women ordered their meal and drinks. Nearby on the stage, a man came out to begin a comedic magic act in German.

A vaguely awkward silence descended on the table once their drinks were delivered. No one seemed to know what to say. Taking things into her own hands, Rickie smiled at Jeanne. "So, you haven't seen Xena since France?"

The brown eyes smiled in return. "No, not since Paris when I left."

"What happened with you? Where'd you go?" the teenager questioned, taking a sip of her drink.

"Oh, here and there." The woman rolled expressive eyes at the warrior and wore a sheepish grin. "I was pretty daft at the time. I spent a lot of the years in convents, getting a grip on it all." She absently toyed with the crucifix at her throat.

Xena's low voice cut through the audience laughter around her. "It was a pretty horrendous thing to have happen to you. I was surprised you could get a grip, at all."

"Honestly? I think you're right. Even now, I'm surprised that I made it through."

The dark woman shrugged. "You were a tough kid. I'm glad you were able to work it out."

"Me too," was the soft response.

Another lapse in conversation occurred, and Rickie sighed inwardly. Taking the ball again, she said, "I hope you don't think I'm too nosy, but why would you go back to a convent after what they did to you?"

Light brown brows raised at the question, a quick flickering glance to Xena.

The dark woman nodded. "I told her everything," she confirmed.

Jeanne nodded regally and returned her attention to the teenager at their table. "Rickie, you have to consider the time period. Christianity and paganism were literally at war. Much like what's been going on in Ireland over religion today." She pursed her lips in thought. "My upbringing and imprisonment were all that I knew. And Christianity was extremely important where I came from. Xena can attest to that - she left to fight with Joan of Arc, a very... spiritual young lady."

Xena nodded agreement and tasted her drink.

"Yes, but you weren't so fully into it that you wouldn't... uh... fool around," the redhead pointed out.

Jeanne laughed, almost a giggle, making her appear no older than the streetkids that Rickie had hung with in Portland. "True! So very true, my young friend! However, I was extremely confused at the time. I knew that God had gifted me with life once more. Xena was my temptation and my savior by that point." Dark brown eyes sparkled at the warrior across from her.

Rickie caught a myriad of emotions flickering across her lover's face - guilt, sheepishness, and a bit of an impish grin. She turned back to the other Immortal as the conversation was continued.

"I was able to come to terms with my existence, my spirituality, my... penance for the sins I had committed before my transformation." Jeanne frowned at her drink, running a finger up and down the frosted side of the glass. "It was something I really needed to do to emotionally and spiritually survive it."

A flicker of motion from the corner of her eye caused the young woman to glance at Xena. There was an aggravated look on her beautiful face as she shook her head sadly. Rickie returned her attention to the light brown haired woman who was oblivious. "Do you still believe in God?"

Jeanne looked up into emerald eyes, surprised at first. She smiled softly at the redhead and took her hand. "Of course, I do. Just because I'm Immortal doesn't mean He doesn't exist. Xena can attest to that." Her face took on a challenging look as she turned her attention to the dark woman. "Remember all those tales of Ares? He existed for you."

As the trio of women dined, there were less moments of unpleasant silences. Rickie was fascinated with the discussion of history as the two Immortals got caught up - who was where at what point in time, what others of their kind had been met and dealt with.

"Have you ever....?" Xena asked, waving her hand vaguely in front of her throat and rolling her eyes.

"What?" Jeanne pushed her salad aside and blotted at her mouth with her napkin. "Played the Game?"


Brown eyes became distant. "Three times now. It's not something I enjoy doing."

Rickie jumped into the conversation. "So, you learned how to use a sword?"

"Mmmm. Yes. It is a prerequisite for the... lifestyle, isn't it?" Jeanne smiled at the curious teenager.

The redhead looked from one woman to the other. "I suppose it would be, wouldn't it?" And then she looked over at Xena's plate. "Are you... uh... finished with that?"

The dark woman grinned and slid her plate over. "Go ahead. I've had my fill."

Rickie happily dug into the remains of her lover's k’seschnitzel, missing the surprised look from one side.

Xena shrugged and grinned at the woman across from her. Whaddya gonna do? Her only response was a slight grin and a shaking of the head.

After their meal was finished and the teenager was finally sated, the women refilled their drinks and took them towards the double glass doors. They passed the stage, which had long since been abandoned by the magician in favor of a cabaret of female impersonators. Rickie could understand why there were two sets of double doors to go through - it provided further insulation from the sound that bombarded them as they entered the dance area.

In this room was another bar. The dance floor was centered before it, with tables immediately around the remaining three sides. A few feet further back were raised platforms with further tables and a long counter along the wall with barstools along it. It was fairly crowded now that it had gotten later, an eclectic crowd of men and women from all walks of life, races, and countries.

The music had a faint disco beat to it, disco having never died in Germany, very reminiscent of the eighties pop music. Several couples, both heterosexual and homosexual, were moving across the dance floor, illuminated by flashing lights of all colors. Somewhere there was a blacklight, as well, causing some clothing to glow.

"This is so cool!" Rickie exclaimed into her lover's ear. She was tucked against the taller woman's side, moving in time with the music. "Wanna dance, gorgeous?"

Xena smiled lazily at the younger woman. "Let's get a table first." She brushed her lips across Rickie's temple.


Minutes later found the three ensconced at a corner table on one of the platforms. They were situated at a small banister on the edge of the dais and had a good view of the floor itself.

Rickie was bopping with the music, unable to sit down from the pent up energy of youth. "C'mon let's go," she urged with a hint of impatience.

Pale blue eyes looked at their lone companion.

"Oh, go ahead! Don't worry about me," Jeanne exclaimed. "I'll just get the next round of drinks." She waved the two away. "Go on!"

And so the night was spent. The couple danced several times through the course of the evening, taking long periods of time to sit with the remaining member of their party. They were even able to cajole Jeanne into taking a spin around the floor with the both of them, before the song finished and she bowed out with a laugh.

A song began, it's slow beat pulsing through the crowd. Several couples left the floor, only five remaining. The lights were lowered, the only illumination being the lights over the bar and the twinkling from the mirrored ball rotating in the ceiling.

Xena smiled and gathered the redhead up into her arms, guiding them as they swayed with the music. Her left hand was at the small of her lover's back, the right holding her hand to her chest. Rickie's other hand was buried in ebony hair, fingers gently stroking the base of the neck, her head tucked beneath the dark woman's chin. They snuggled together as they moved, graceful in their love.

The redhead kept her eyes closed, feeling their bodies moving together, sliding along each other, her lover's breath tickling the hairs around her forehead and temple, Well, if there is a god, I'm gonna have to give whoever it is my personal thanks for this one, she thought to herself.

Her hand was raised and warm lips caressed her fingers as the song closed. Rickie smiled up at the dark woman, offering her lips for a kiss. Pale blue eyes, full of desire, gazed back and the invitation was accepted as their lips brushed together. She closed her eyes with a sigh.

Time seemed to stand still. The strains of the slow song were fading and the opening beat of a racier tune was beginning. The two women stood almost dead center in the middle of the darkened dance floor, all eyes on them as they reaffirmed their devotion to one another with a long, deep kiss.

Somewhere, someone flipped the switch that turned on the blacklight overhead. Xena's shirt lit up with a soft glow, as did her younger lover's khakis. As the kiss broke off, the dance floor began to fill with the rowdier crowd and the warrior smiled, her white teeth glowing as well.

The Sign! There it is! It's as if the Star of Bethlehem hangs above her! She is the One!

Adoring eyes watched the Woman glow with an inner light. The Schueller Phillip and God Himself had given the Sign. Finally!

The Prediger felt the loosening of tension inside, the opening of the cage that would allow the Punisher to come forth and do what needed to be done. Tonight would be the Fifth.

Praise Him! Praise Schueller Phillip!

The figure began mumbling the necessary prayers needed to invoke the Punisher.

Xena finished her bier and set her glass back on the table. The other two women were currently discussing the merits of Victorian literature. Once a bard, always a bard, I guess, she thought idly. She had half an ear on the conversation, watching the dancefloor's frenetic activity and enjoying the feel of a warm hand moving slowly up and down the inside of her thigh she had draped over Rickie's legs.

"Way too highbrow for me, ladies," she interrupted, disengaging the redhead's hand and swinging her leg around. "I'm gonna go see a man about a horse." She rose to her feet, brushing lips against the younger woman's temple.

Jeanne grinned. "Watch out, Xena, you're dating yourself."

The dark woman smirked in response before turning away from the table to make her way through the crowds. Now where did I see the restrooms? Ah, yes...

She entered a small restroom with two stalls. Well, considering how popular this place is, I'm surprised they haven't expanded it. With a bemused shake of her head, she checked and found one stall occupied. She slipped into the neighboring one and used the facilities.

She heard the toilet beside her flush and the movement of someone cleaning up and leaving. Apparently, someone had entered right after as she heard the stall door close beside her.

Finished, Xena stepped over to the ratty sink. It was set rather low and she had to bend over to reach it as she washed up. The woman who had come in after her stepped out of the stall. As there was only the one sink, the dark woman said, "I'll be done in a second," in German, her head bent low. And then there was a sudden, sharp, stinging pain in her right thigh.

"Ow!" She clapped a hand over the burning sensation, knocking a large aluminum tube with a long and ugly needle from her leg. What the fuck?! Even as she turned to see her attacker, the lights appeared to dim. Her body became sluggish and she couldn't seem to make her muscles move the way she wanted them to.

Her heart was racing and she could feel the burning fire speed through her bloodstream. She found herself on her knees, wondering how she got there. Blood trickled from her nose. Rickie! Her heart couldn't take the pace anymore and it exploded in her chest, killing her instantly.

Rickie returned to their table with the fresh drinks. She felt pretty proud, being able to order and pay by herself and all. Jeanne had given her a quick lesson on pronunciation so that she wouldn't look too foolish. As she set them down, she glanced through the crowd. "Hasn't Xena come back, yet?" she asked the seated woman. It had taken quite awhile to get their refills and she had expected her lover to have returned by then.

The Immortal shook her head. "Nope, not yet. Must have been some horse, eh?" she quipped.

The redhead snickered and sat down. "Yeah, I guess so." She took a sip of her bier. "Okay, what do you think of Mary Shelley?" And the literary conversation continued.

Rickie enjoyed the discussion immensely, finding the other woman to be quite up to date on her modern day literature as well as Victorian era. But, a part of her mind kept getting distracted, growing by leaps and bounds as time passed. Unable to ignore it any longer, she stood. "I'm gonna go check on Xena. It's been too long."

Jeanne smirked. "Well, if you take too long, I'll send in the American Calvary."

"Okay," the redhead chuckled and turned away, threading through the mass of people towards the bathrooms.

Rickie entered the tiny bathroom and snorted to herself. Just like the City Nightclub back home, she thought. What is it about the size of the bathrooms in gay bars, anyway? The cool breeze from the open window felt good, however, against her brow.

Only one of the stalls was currently occupied and a woman was washing up in the sink. The redhead bent down to peek under the stall door, expecting black slacks and boots. Her brow furrowed when her gaze met blue suede pumps and nylons.

What? she puzzled. A quick glance into the open stall showed that it was indeed empty. Rickie shook her head. Musta passed her in the crowd. She shrugged to herself and left the room.

As she neared the table, the teenager frowned again. "Has Xena come back here?" she asked the other woman.

Jeanne looked up. "No. Wasn't she in the bathroom?"

"No." Rickie began glancing about at the other patrons in a vain attempt to locate her lover. "She wasn't there. I thought maybe we'd gotten our wires crossed."

"Well, she hasn't been back here." With a kind smile, she pushed the younger woman's drink towards her. "Sit down. She's probably in that crowd at the bar getting the next round."

The emerald gaze settled on the bar. "You think so?"

"Most likely," Jeanne nodded firmly. "I mean, where else would she be?"

Rickie shrugged at that and returned to her seat with reluctance. Something wasn't right, though.

Slowly the tissues of the heart muscle knitted together, the cells healing from their damage. Eventually, the bits and pieces came together to form the whole. As soon as it was capable of sustaining life, the heart convulsed, the body gasping from long dormant lungs and jerking to consciousness.

And then, the toxins in the bloodstream began to take effect. And the heart exploded, killing the warrior instantly.

The Polizei Kommissar scrubbed at his face and put down the crime scene photo. Pietr had been right. Three separate cases in three separate countries involving a religious based serial killing. All had twelve victims, all bodies were dumped in old church ruins. However, each had their own quirks.

The cases in France consisted of mutilations with the word 'Yahweh' carved into the victims' stomachs. In India, victims' mouths were stuffed with rosary beads. And in Scotland, each had been impaled by a large wooden stake, a simple golden crucifix dangling from it. There appeared to be a spate of killings every five years.

Absolutely vile and horrible and disgusting. Johannes took a long gulp of his bier, glad his wife and child were safely in their beds. It was such ugliness as this that caused him to continue his profession - to get these crazies off the streets and create safe havens for his family and friends.

He jumped at the shrilling of the phone beside him. Sheise! Taking a steadying breath, he picked up the receiver before the ringing could wake his family. "Ja?"

"Kommissar Johannes! We have another abduction. It might be the Prediger. Do you want in?"

"Ja!" The blond scrambled for a pad and pen, writing the address down. "On my way!" He ripped the paper off the pad and scribbled a second time, a note to his wife if she should wake up and find him missing. After setting the note in a conspicuous place, he grabbed his coat and left his home.

Johannes entered the Soul Train, passing by the uniformed officer at the door who directed him to a table in the quieter restaurant setting. Two women were at the table with three officers, one apparently translating for the other. A fourth officer kept the curious patrons away from the proceedings.

As he neared the table, he heard one of the women say in English, "This is stupid! You guys could be out there looking for her right now! I've told you this four times!"

Amerikaner, he thought to himself, nodding grimly at the other officers. Great. If this is the Prediger, it's just become international news. "Excuse me," he bowed his head at the two women, gesturing for one of the officers. Emerald eyes studied him with fear and anger and he was amazed at the resemblance this Amerikaner had to the killer's last victim.

The blond man pulled the officer away. "What have you got?" He took the proffered Visas, glancing inside to see the faces of the two women at the table.

"Woman left her party to go to the bathroom. Never came back. Doesn't appear to be anywhere in the building. Vehicle is still here."

"Have you blocked off the bathroom?"

"Ja, this way." The officer led the Kommissar towards the rear part of the building. "They were dancing back here," he called as they entered the noisier atmosphere. "Three women in the party, all had several drinks." The men threaded their way towards a small door with a burly man in the green Polizei uniform standing in front of it.

"Stay here." Johannes entered the tiny room, stopping just inside as the door was shut behind him. He scanned the cramped facilities, the bass beat of the dance music loud enough to feel like his own pulse in his ears. The window was open with a radiator beneath it, a tiny sink was on one side and two stalls on the other.

So... Where you alone? Was there anyone else in the room with you? He made a slow circuit of the room, moving towards the right. The blond man stopped to check each stall. And then he was studying the window. He slipped his gloves on and stepped up onto the radiator, carefully using the window ledge to balance himself. Outside was a trash laden alleyway. Window's big enough. Probably took you through here.

He stepped back down to the floor and stepped over to the sink, noticing the low height of it. Hmmm... Gotta find out how tall you are. Were you able to look into the mirror, to see behind you? Did you see him?

Once again at the door, Johannes squatted down, elbows on his knees, and studied the floor. To one side was a smeared red-brown substance. Aha! Blood, I bet. He let his eyes travel further along, noticing another bit of the same liquid nearer to the window. Something dull and metallic caught his eye from under the radiator.

With a frown, the blond walked back across the room, careful to bypass the stains on the floor. Gloves still on, he reached under the radiator and rolled an aluminum tube out. He studied the writing on it, avoiding the extremely large needle protruding from one end. Atropine? And United States military issue, no less.

Blue eyes stared into the distance, a memory flickering about. Atropine. Where have I heard of that? Military. Army! He looked down at the tube in surprise. Nerve gas antidote?! But that would... would... "Do some damage on the spot if they hadn't been exposed to begin with..." he muttered softly.

Rickie fidgeted in her seat, getting angrier by the minute. Xena's out there somewhere. She's in trouble! I've gotta find her! The police were asking the same questions, over and over and over. No one was doing a damned thing, not even Jeanne.

"Calm down, Rickie," the Immortal had told her. "Xena can take care of herself. She's been doing it for a long time."

The blond man who had come to their table earlier returned. "Hello, Ms. Gardner, Ms. Pucelle. I'm Kommissar Karl Johannes. I'd like to ask a few questions," he said in English.

"Well, so would I, Kommissar," the redhead snapped, eyes sparking. "Just what the hell are you people doing about this? All I see are a bunch of men in mountie suits hanging out here. Nobody's doing a damned thing!" She ignored Jeanne's hand on her arm, an attempt to calm her.

Johannes held his hands up in a peaceful gesture. "Ma'am, I understand your worry. We have men outside the building trying to locate any clues as to your friend's whereabouts right now." He sat down in one of the chairs. With a nod, he dismissed the other two officers there.

Rickie crossed her arms in front of her and frowned at the blond man. "What questions now? I've pretty much told you people my life story."

The Kommissar decided to get right to the heart of the matter. "You are her lover?"

A faint blush at the unexpectedly candid question. "Yes. We've been together for three months now."

"Are you here to celebrate anything? Birthday, anniversary?"

"No," and the frown deepened. "We were just catching up with an old friend." She nodded towards the light brown haired woman beside her. "We came here on vacation."

Johannes nodded. "Did you dance while you were here?"

"Yes." There was a shake of redgold hair. "What's that got to do with it?"

"Please, just answer the questions I put to you, ja?" At her reluctant nod, he continued. "Did you... Were you intimate in anyway this evening?"

Emerald eyes stared blankly at him. "Intimate? Like... what? Kissing? Hot monkey love? What?" The last was shouted.

"Ms. Gardner, please keep your voice down. This is important to our investigation." He regarded her with calm blue eyes, willing her to see that he wasn't attempting to degrade her for her choices in partners.

Rickie finally dropped her gaze to the tabletop, brow furrowed as she thought about the evening. "We kissed several times tonight. Touched each other." She glared back up at him. "But, that's what lovers do!"

"I understand, Ms. Gardner, truly." He sighed deeply. "Was there anything in particular that might stand out this evening? To either of you?"

"There was that kiss on the dance floor," Jeanne spoke for the first time. As both pairs of eyes looked at her, she continued matter of factedly, "it definitely was an attention getter. You wouldn't have realized it, though, Rickie, being too involved."

Kommissar Johannes watched as the younger woman got into her friend's vehicle. He lit up a cigarette and glanced at his watch. Another long night. He shook his blond head. Whether or not it was the Prediger was the question. The killer hadn't been known to use drugs of any kind during the abductions. And certainly not potentially lethal ones like Atropine.

He had sent Ms. Gardner back to her hotel. Hopefully she'll get some rest tonight. He didn't want to be the one to tell her when they found the body of her lover in some churchyard ruin, but he figured it was inevitable. Unless something jumps out and grabs us.

Noticing something at the back of Ms. Pucelle's vehicle as she prepared to pull out of the lot, he trotted forward and knocked on her window. The woman rolled it down curiously.


"Just thought you should know. You have a tail light out."

The brown eyes rolled but her response was cordial. "Thank you, Kommissar. I'll have it repaired tomorrow morning."

Johannes nodded and stepped back, watching the auto pull out of the lot.

Part VI

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