~Gumboots Walk Again~

By Lariel

General Disclaimer: No, they're not mine No copyright infringement is intended, and no profit gained by this.

Violence: Violence? Good god no! Who do you think this is - Xena?

Love: Well, we got lust and we got some definite flirting. Involving women! If you're underage, you can't legally read or just can't deal - run away now!

Hungry bard: Needs feeding.....or starts attacking harmless passers-by. Toss crumbs to Lariel_a@Hotmail.com

And for Lawls - this one's for you, sweetheart


Part 1 - Pretty boys and virgins, all in a row...

"Oh yeah...that's it sweetheart...that's it, you got it.....oh yeah, keep it right there...no, little higher....just a little higher.....that's IT!!! Oh yeah!! Yes!! Baby - we are movin' now!!"

"Xena, where's the file on....Xena! What are you doing?"

Well damme if I didn't completely lose my rhythm and the apples I'd been juggling with came crashing down and landed smack bang right on top of my big toe. Impervious to pain of any sort, I screamed like a pig stuck fast in its pen and hopped around for a while until my toe had stopped throbbing. Hey - those Gods damned apples were huge!

"Xena. What were you doing? You're supposed to be working on the Antiminius case."

Well, there she was. My green eyed goddess with the body to be worshipped and didn't I just wanna leave an offering in her alter! The classiest dame you could ever hope to meet - she dripped breeding. She spoke nice and why - she even washed regular. I wasn't used to that. Like a no good, two bit cur I swept greedy blue eyes all over her....six months we'd been working together, and damn me if I still couldn't get enough of the sight of those firm little legs waddling into my office everyday, and those abs - why, you could file your nails on those abs and didn't I wanna give my fingers a good going over! She caught me looking at her, and she blushed. I smiled, like a tiger scenting the prey, and moved in sensuously for the kill.

"Aw! But Gabrielle.....!"

"No buts Xena! This case is way overdue and Hercules wants to see your report! Now, what do I tell him?"

"Ahh, tell the no good, stinking son of a ......... uhh...tell him, I am right on it!"

"Yeah - right on those apples, more like." The little blonde thunderclouds were drawing in - I could feel the walls get suddenly a lot closer together, which was no mean feat since one of them had a gaping hole in it - well, what's a girl to do when surprising a slimy salesman called - Salmonella was it?? - fingering her best girl's tomatoes? "You had better be on it...."

"Look, the guy gets his kicks offing virgins on their wedding night. He's harmless enough round here....heh....they're rarer than rocking horse sh....!!Ahh....mostly..."

I grinned winningly at her - she'd gotten that stony look on her face again and I always knew I was in trouble when her face froze like that. She was still a bit touchy about her wedding fiasco - what with her husband running off and turning out to be an international jewel thief and all. I mean - we all make mistakes, right? I'd been married myself once - well, I say married.....Sure, we'd been young. Innocent. Bloodthirsty. Ideal match, they said. He'd been handsome in a sort of rustic, hairy, raw sex kinda way. Not that I married...well, I say married....him for that you understand. There was the fur coat he got me too. Should'a known something was wrong when he insisted on wearing it himself. And buying shoes to match. Borias....ahhh....ten winters ago it was that we tied the knot....well, I say tied...Borias....infamous around the known world for his/her legendary warlording. Changed his name two years after I left him - Betty suits him/her better actually. We still keep in touch, even now. You know how it is - solstice cards, births, funerals, massacres. Never could quite get over that facial hair thing though.

"You're thinking about an ex-lover, aren't you?"

"What?? No - no, of course not!" How did she do that? She read me like an open scroll, with all the best pages well thumbed.

"Yes you are. Okay - out with it." She pulled up a chair, picked up the apples and sat down with the cutest, most expectant look on her face. Ever the stoic warrior, I coughed like a mushy spined teenager at a Velasca interrogation. (She was one of The Big Guy's best ....ummm, associates...shall we say. Damn me for a snivelling babe if she didn't scare the britches off me!)

"No, really......oh, okay. I was just thinking of my husband, Borias. Well, I say husband....."

"You were married? As in 'Till death do you part?'married? Soulmates for life kind of thing?" Her eyes went all dreamy as she got mushier.

"Uhhhh. I guess."

"So what happened? Did he die?"

"Uhh...in a manner of speaking......"

"Oh, how awful for you!" She was up and hugging me and damn me for a lovestruck carp if that wasn't the best feeling in the world. "How did it happen?"

"Oh, Gabrielle....." I sniffled a bit, and she hugged me tighter. I sniffled a bit more, and she pressed my face into her breast, and with my warrior nerves of steel, I fought the urge to snuggle deeper. "It was terrible....one day I just woke up and there he was - gone! He'd taken all my best dresses....." I sniffed deeply and rolled her scent around my nose - which was quite tough actually as it was buried deep in her cleavage at the time. She was patting my head and murmuring soothing things to me, and seemed kinda distracted - it was now or never! So I stuck my tongue down the front of her ugly green top (and damn me if that awful rag wasn't somehow still clinging to her lovely body like seaweed sticking to a rock) and gave the soft flesh a quick lick. Except my tongue got tangled up in the laces, and I ended up with it sticking right down between her breasts and me squealing and squirming and dribbling all down her.

She wasn't amused. I knew I was in trouble when she just stood there, like an ice statue with my tongue frozen to her, with her hands on her hips and her foot tapping. "Are you finished licking my chest?"


"No, I most certainly will not. And if you weren't stuck to my chest, I'd slap you for that!"

Ooo - I'd really done it now. I gave her my best winsome smile, but I don't think it worked cos she sorta glared at me even more. Ever the resourceful investigator - with a thousand and one tricks up her sleeve, as taught by Autolycus - I just lay my cheek on her soft breast and waved wildly as I dribbled all the way down her chest. "Unnn ....ullll ...uvvv ...ooo ...unoo ...rrrr ...oppp, arrriellll....."

"Fine! But you just better not look - and if I catch you enjoying this....." she warned with a waggling finger, as she began to unthread her laces. Damn me for the known world's unluckiest warrior investigator - I mean, here she was; the most ravishing creature I'd ever laid eyes on about to strip off right in front of me, and I couldn't see a Hades damned thing, with my eyes squeezed against her breasts. Someone up there was having a real good day at my expense.

I vowed then and there to stop worshipping at Aphrodite's altar. Crazy goddess broad - what had she ever done for me?

Okay - so she led Gabrielle to me. Yeah, I'll give the dame that. Okay...so there was that time with the belly dancers, phial of oil and all the olives you could eat....but what had she done for me lately?? Yeah, okay - so there'd been that amazing contortionist down the Pig and Catapult last week...and curse me for a twitching pup but I aint never seen nobody do that with a feather duster, and I didn't even know legs could go there! But of course, that wasn't important right now....

She struggled a bit with the laces - them being wrapped round my tongue and all, and what with me trying to lick her fingers as she was working on 'em, but eventually and with a few tugs that had my eyes watering, she peeled back that offending scrap of ugliness that she called a top, and there I was - free, and at eye level with the two most beautiful, creamy and luscious mounds of flesh I'd ever seen (or ever would again).

It wasn't like I'd never seen breasts before, so I just kinda acted cool.

"Xena, are you alright? You've gone awfully white." She asked, all concerned as she tied up her laces again. "And you're dribbling again."


"Xena?" She clicked her fingers in front of my eyes ten or so times. "Xena, are you still with me?"

"...given half a chance Gabrielle....."

She shut my mouth for me, and dragged my head up so I was looking her in the eyes. Damn me for a panting dog, but her breasts were just like two soft pillows, and didn't I just wanna fluff them right up! But I think she was kinda annoyed - her foot was tapping, which was okay but it was on mine at the time...and she had this real sorta...I dunno...look in her eyes, kinda like they'd jump straight out of her head and attack mine if they could. I kinda like my eyes in my head - I need them, in my trade, so I smiled sheepishly and pulled my tongue back in. I think it impressed her, cos she put her hands on her hips and she only does that when she's real excited about something. And who wouldn't be excited at the sight of my long, pink tongue? I've been known to drive men and women wild with that tongue. Once even Hercules offered to rip it right outta my head...said he wanted it stuffed and mounted. I mean, if that aint raw sex appeal, I don't know what is!

So I tried my best alluring tongue moves on her. Never been known to fail. A coupla flicks to the side, a bit of sensuous running round the lips. Impressing her with how far out I could stick it. It was working a treat, cos her eyes were getting wider by the second and her own mouth was dropping open. I moved in closer, flicking my tongue towards her lips...closer baby...oh yeah...you know you want me....!

"Xena - you bring that thing anywhere near me and I'll have it out of there!"

"Sweetheart....that's the idea...arrrgggg!!!" My poor tongue was gripped between two strong fingers and nipped and pulled and twisted. Hey - I'd felt pain before, so I didn't react. I was once the Scourge of the Battlefield, the Destroyer of Nations. My very name brought terror and agony in its wake. I inflicted pain, I didn't feel it - I was immune to it. To feel pain is a weakness, one that could get you killed in battle. Impervious to it, my noble warrior nature merely laughed gaily and said:

"Ow!! Ow! Ow! Owwww!!! 'et 'o 'y 'ongue, 'abri-l! Ow!!!!" She gave it a final cruel flick and let my poor bruised and swollen member go. I rubbed it, and scowled at her. She tweaked my ear instead...I yelped and she smiled. I swear to the Gods that she was enjoying this, and I didn't understand that at all. I mean, who gets off on inflicting pain and suffering on a poor wretch?

Okay, maybe I used to. But I'm not like that anymore. I'm a changed woman. And anyway....you say pain, I say mild discomfort. I rubbed my painfu...err, I mean mildly discomfortable tongue, and tottered back to my desk. Damn me, but that cute little blonde had a set of fingers that could do serious damage to soft tissues, and didn't I want them to!

She was still tapping her foot and hitching her blouse - my eyes started watering at how tight she was doing her laces up - so I thought I'd exercise my amazing diplomatic skills and calm things down. For some reason, the atmosphere seemed a little tense. "Okay, sweetheart. You're disturbing me - I'm trying to work on the Antiminius case here, and I can't have you busting in every five minutes under some pretext or another....."

"Pretext?" The atmosphere suddenly got tenser, and the temperature dropped noticeably. Damn me, but I must get that hole in the wall fixed.

"Yeah - I mean....! What was it this time? A file? Huh! I mean....!"

She walked ever so slowly up to the desk - my, but those hips could sway, and I wanted them to sway right outta the room and upstairs to my bedroom where I had my old warrior handcuffs waiting, always ready to be put to service for the greater good - and planted my apples firmly on the old wooden surface. "I wouldn't want your apples to get bruised, Xena. Now I'll be back in half an hour - and I want that file done, with the paperwork properly completed and the handwriting legible this time. Hercules said the last report was only fit for....." She blushed, prettily. "Well, anyway. Do I make myself clear?"

I sighed heavily. "Yeah, Gabrielle."

"Good." She lazily stroked the ruby red skin of an apple and my eyes started to hurt, what with not blinking and all. She smiled, picked it up and bit into it with a gorgeous crackling and crunching sound. I could feel my stomach lurch with every munch of that beautiful mouth, as it went to work on that lucky apple. Eyes closed, she laved the white flesh and the sweet juices ran down from her lips; I leaned forward to lick it all off, but she just smiled, stepped away and I watched entranced as a small pink tongue worked its way across her cheeks and chin.

My, my but that was a sight to be remembering when you were down at the "Hairy Butcher" of a Friday night, waiting for the dinar peep show to come on. I'd have paid - oh I dunno, five dinars maybe! - to see that again. I was fumbling in my pouch for a coin, when she just tossed me this sizzling look, and swayed outta the room.

Hot damned Hades, but she could sizzle and sway like no-one I'd ever seen before! She was a classy broad, with all her bits in the right places and no mistake. I sighed, closed my eyes for ten minutes and had a quick fantasy, before turning my attention back to the blank scroll on the table before me.

Okay...the Antiminius case. Where to start, where to start? I chewed the end of my quill, and then wrote up my case notes in the usual manner - short and succinct, yet strangely descriptive and some might say evocative, with emotional power and impact. Ooo yeah, I had a real way with words....

Date: It wur the ides of March Febry

This repot wur writen on th th fivth day of May by Xena the warior investorgater, acting on behalf of Hercles....hey Herc! Hiya! Wanna come over for dinner tomorrow night? Gabrielle is doing potroast!

Th Antiminiyus case

Acting of a tip off from Beronias the barkeep, at the Pig and Caterpilt, I had to stake out the Pig and Caterpilt for several nights. The Pig and Caterpilt is known to be a hornt for virgins and often has them coming in. And sometimes they even go out again. So I stalked staked out the joint for a week and it was tartarus Herc! Honest! I've enclosed my expenses too -

1. 15 mugs of beer for me. I had to blend in and look inconsic inconspic like everywon else. The beer comes to 5 dinars a nite. So that's 2 moons worth of 5 dinars a nite. That comes to..... 5x2 moons.

5x how many nites in 2 moons?

That's like 6 nites in the Pig & Caterpilt a week, and that's like say 4 weeks in a moon. That's like 6x4

20 ish. 20.

20x 2


is 40

okay so that's 5x40 dinars Herc.

I'd apperciate the dinars quick Herc, cos I have a lot of out of poket expenses.

2. Another 5 dinars a niyt for the table dansers. I had to blend in and look inconspicercus. So that's like 5x2 moons...oh that's the same. That's another 40 dinars.

3. 10 dinars to fix up the Pig and Caterpilt ona counta the fight.

Anyway, antiminys never showed. But there's this 1 table danser Herc, I tell you she's amazin! Did you know that you can bend your leg right back and put it behind your...well, that's when the fight broke out. But I am still on the case Herc and I have another tip off from the barkeep of the Hairy Bucher who sez virgins go in there a lot too, so I'm gona check it out tonight. He's bound to show soon.

Anyway, don forit forgit them expnses Herc. I kinda need them for tonite at the Hairy Bucher. Fridays is peep show nite.

Yours Xena


"Gabrielle! Report's ready!!" I tied the ribbon into a tight and complex knot, and passed it over to her. "Better send it off straight away! It has vital information about the case. Herc's sure to want to act on it tonight."

"That's okay. Iolaus is waiting for it. Iolaus!"

"Iolaus? What's that two timing, stumpy legged son of a bacchae doing in MY gods blasted office! You haven't been....you haven't! You haven't been....TALKING to him, have you Gabrielle?"

"Xena, he's been here for an hour waiting for you to finish writing that report. What was I supposed to do - just leave him there and ignore him? What is it with you two anyway?"

The scruffy little blonde man sidled into the room. I sat up straight - this was my turf, dammit! - and fixed him my best, most withering and contemptuous glare. He shrank against the door, and sidled round the wall until he squared his shoulders and crossed the room purposefully.

"Iolaus." I nodded curtly, contempt oozing from my eyes and dripping from my tongue like venom.

"Xena." He nodded abruptly back, his dirty blonde girly hair bobbling all round his face. I threw the scroll at him, sneered and growled a bit and then sniggered mockingly at him for a good long while. It had the desired effect - my best withering glares have been known to reduce entire villages to ashes, tough macho warlords to gibbering babies and entire armies to headless chickens. Never fails. Helpless against the sheer force of my personality, he did what he always did, and played dirty - the rotten, no good, low down piece of centaur's dung with a curly blonde wig!

He started chatting up my girl.

"Gabrielle..." He clasped her hand and stared soulfully into her eyes. She simpered, and blushed. "...it's been an absolute pleasure. I'll pick you up at eight. And remember what I said...if it ever gets too much for you here....." He paused, staring meaningfully at me. I didn't know what he meant, but I didn't get to be the best warrior investigator in the business without spotting moves being put on my girl! Immediately, I launched into attack, all my warrior instincts honed for battle.

"Eight? Eight? Gabrielle - why'd he want to pick you up at eight? What are you doing at eight? You're not doing things...things with h..hi...him!!! At eight?" He smirked; she just looked a bit worried.

"Xena, what's wrong? Iolaus has invited me to dinner at his place tonight. That's all. We were chatting outside and I told him I'd never had a really tasty bit of beef inside me, and he offered to fill me up tonight. And you know how I am with food....and you'll be out again on that stakeout, so I thought..."

"Gabrielle! Beef??! Little man...no way is she tasting any of that tonight! Got me?" I narrowed my eyes and pierced him piercingly with them. He paled and gulped a lot. "Nobody feeds Gabrielle but me, got it?"

"But Xena! I'm starving! And it's nearly seven now!"

"I'll fill you up Gabrielle. You can come help me on the stakeout."

"Wow! Really? Help you on the stakeout? The two of us, staking out for the greater good, protecting the innocents and vanquishing evil together sort of thing?" Her beautiful eyes shone like beacons. Or candles. Or, well - really shiny things.

"Huh? Oh yeah....don't sweat it, sweetheart. Just be here at eight, dressed in something unobtrusive." She looked so pleased - her little chubby face was all lit up, and curse me for a soft hearted kitten but I just grinned right back at her and decided right there that I should let her get more actively involved in some of our cases, until I remembered HIM. I drove him out of the room with one of my best steely looks, and shouted after him, "You just remember, pretty boy. She aint into your kinda meat!"

"Xena, that wasn't nice."

"I aint a nice person, sweetheart. You should know this by now." I stared off into the distance, a weary yet determined look on my face as I pondered my dual nature, fighting always fighting against my dark side that threatened to erupt into badness and wickedness at any time. Still, at least I'd won yet another round against that scum sucking, knee jerking, half assed sorry excuse for a warrior and had gotten a date with my best girl into the bargain. And a decent expenses claim in too. Yep, the evening was sure looking up!


Part 2 - Never trust a woman with a well greased pole...

I got ready like I would for any stake out. Sensible shoes (well, my usual warrior boots - my prides and joy! Got 'em from an old friend. He didn't know at the time. Still doesn't. He was dead, see) my usual leathers and a dark hooded cloak to protect my anonymity. Okay, so I might've polished my boots up, I might even have decided to wear my best blue leathers for a change and - yeah, alright! Sheesh! So I'd even had a bath and combed my hair. So what? It wasn't like I was going on a date or anything. That's how I normally dress when I'm down the peep show of a Friday night at the Hairy Butcher.

Okay, so the scent stuff might be a little...well, different I guess. But my motto is - try anything new at least once! And Tapar the blind and deaf merchant down the market says that everyone is wearing it these days. He sold me a big phial of the stuff, and I poured it into my bathwater and drenched myself in it afterwards too. 'Essence of fruit' he said it was called, and wasn't I just feeling fruity this evening!!

So there I was, freshly scrubbed, and brushed and smelling like peaches and strawberries and honey, in my best outfit with a bunch of flowers...what? I always took flowers down to the Hairy Butcher of a Friday night. Standard practise if you want to get the best peep holes. I sniffed my underarms, just to be on the safe side, and polished my teeth with my finger (I made sure it was a clean one) as I waited for Gabrielle. Damn me, but she was one hot lookin' babe, with a body to end up in Tartarus for, but the broad always kept me waiting. I sniffed my arms again, grimaced - damn but I hate the smell of warrior sweat in the evening, and why? WHY? I'd just had a gods damned bath, for gods damned cryin' out loud! So I splished the very last drops of 'Essence of Fruit' all over myself - it musta worked cos the crowd of cats that had been following me around started to howl and mewl. Well, if this stuff works for cats, then its bound to work for broads, cos everyone knows that broads like cats right? Right.

I was waiting outside the Hairy Butcher, musing and scratching my butt absently when I was broken out of my reverie by the most awful racking coughing and spluttering coming from round the corner; I peeped round, and there was Gabrielle, doubled over, gasping for breath and clutching herself round that beautifully sculpted middle of hers.

"Sweetheart, what is it?"

"Can't..can't...breathe... gods.... what's that....godsawful smell?"

Well, it was clear what was happening - my honed warrior instincts, trained in every aspect of life threatening danger, leapt into action and I clasped her, threw her down onto the ground and proceeded to pump air into her lungs, whilst giving her a thorough heart massage.

"What.... what are.... that's not where my heart is! What......."

"Don't leave me! Don't you leave me! Wake up!" I pumped and breathed and fondled furiously, as if my life depended on it.

"I'm not asleep!! Ow! Xena! Get off me!!!"

"C'mon Gabrielle! You can show them! Wake up and breathe!"

"Arrg! Xena! Xena - I can't breathe with your tongue in my mouth like that!"

And once again, my unfailing instincts for doing generally heroic deeds had won the day and saved my best girl! I swept her into my arms, cradled her head and rocked her gently, whilst keeping up the heart massage for good measure. You never know when a patient might relapse. She spluttered, and spat a lot - an awful lot, actually - and gasped, which was great cos it added a certain something to the heart massage, and generally recovered. Once she'd calmed down a bit, she gazed at me adoringly and offered her undying gratitude for saving her life.

"Xena! What in gods' names did you THINK you were DOING? And you can stop with the fondling right now! There's nothing wrong with them!"

"Sweetheart! I thought I'd lost you! I just had to bring you back!"

"By sticking your tongue down my throat and fondling my breasts?"

"Gabrielle! I'm shocked you think I'd cop a quick feel in such circumstances! I was giving you mouth to mouth and heart massage." I was genuinely hurt.

"Then how did your hand end up underneath my skirt?"

"Uhh. I couldn't quite remember where exactly the heart was for a minute?" I gave her one of my best endearing smiles, one that usually got me out of any trouble, no problems. Used to work a treat on Caesar - that no good, two timing, pudding bowl headed sorry excuse for a boyfriend! - and as usual, it came through for me. She slapped me, shoved me away and climbed off me. That foot started tapping again, which was okay except it was on my hand at the time. Time to put a few moves down...

"Gabrielle...honey bunny...I'm sorry. Forgive me. Please? Forgive your big bad warrior? Pleeeease? With cheese on top?"

"What? Honey bunny? Cheese? Xena - lets just get inside, and get this over with shall we?"

She stormed through the doorway and was stopped dead in her tracks by an arm as thick as a tree trunk, a voice as gravelly as a rusty gate, and a face as ugly as Charon having a bad face day. She squealed, and bolted back into my arms. See? Now she needs her big, bad warrior! I tried (successfully I think) to bite back a satisfied smirk, and copped another feel just to be on the safe side. Never know when I'd get the chance again.

"Sorry lady." The voice creaked its way painfully through the sentence; Gabrielle winced as the sound poked around her ear and scraped all the wax out. "No virgins allowed."

"What? What - is it written on my forehead?" She whispered to me.

"Don't worry sweetheart. I'll handle this." I set her aside, whilst still keeping an arm draped around her hip, and turned confidently to the mountainous man blocking the route in. He smiled, showing half a row of black, stumpy teeth and said, in a voice that sounded like fingernails scraping along a blackboard:

"Hey, Xena! Usual booth is it? Your favourite's on tonight - Alti. She's been asking after you. Who's the broad?" He nodded towards Gabrielle, his head wobbling dangerously and looking for all the world like a rockfall about to happen.

"Uhhh - hi Trollus. Heh. Yeah, usual booth'll be great - can you set it for two please, we'll have two plates of specials. Uhh - charge it to my account."

"Now, Xena - you know your money's no good here. The boss says if you don't pay with real dinars this time, he'll break both your legs. Again."

"Godsdamn Caesar!" I sighed, fished out a couple of dinars and tossed them arrogantly at him. They chinked as they clattered against his chest, and exploded into dust on impact. "Whoa - would you look at that? Fake dinars - who'd'a thought it? Heh. Gabrielle - didja bring any dough with ya?"

She tossed me a filthy - filthy I tell you - look, and fumbled around in her cleavage until she pulled out a fistful of coins. My eyes glazed - I'd forgotten she kept her money there, to keep it safe. I wondered what the combination was to unlock her safe, and I drooled at the thought of all the little knobs I'd have to twirl to find it. Manual dexterity was a key skill to have in my profession, and didn't I just wanna be limbering up my fingers right now!

"Hey! Where'd all these cats come from? Get out. Get out, ya damn furry lil critters! Ooo - and what's that godsawful smell?" came rumbling from behind us, as we pushed our way past Trollus, once he had Gabrielle's dinars clutched in his sweaty paw.

So eventually we were in, settled into my usual booth at the front of the room (close to the stage) and with a plate of special in front of each of us. I guzzled it down quick - I take no joy from food. It's merely fuel for my finely honed warrior body, but watching Gabrielle eat - my, my, my. THAT whetted my appetite and got the old saliva flowing. She dribbled, she nibbled, she licked and sucked, she groaned and purred and sighed and smiled. The noises, the sights, the smells...the whole godsdamned room was glued to the sight - even the cats that had strayed in - and we all missed it when the show started.

Which pissed Alti off terribly, especially when she saw I was sitting with the cutest, purest, most innocent soul in the known universe. See, she has this kinda thing for me...well, I say thing...on account of her finding me totally irresistible and all. And on account of her never being able to get enough of me. And I guess on account of her insanely jealous and extremely vicious nature too, which kinda made her take against Gabrielle right from the off. I waved gaily at her from my booth; she just kinda growled throatily, and her eyeliner suddenly got blacker.

"Who's that?" asked Gabrielle in awe, as she watched the leather clad woman slink her way round the greasy pole that was propped up in the centre of the stage.

"That's Alti." I replied proudly. "The things she can do with her hips - I swear to gods she must be double jointed. I aint never seen legs do what she does with 'em, sweetheart!"

"She keeps looking at me funny. Has she got a squint?"

"No - its just the way she puts her mascara on. You go, girl!!" I yelled and applauded heartily.

"Is that all she does, writhe around that pole like that? People pay to see that?"

"Oh yeah, baby...oh yeah!" My eyes were glued to the stage, where Alti had started to slowly peel off her headdress, starting with the horns first.

"Huh! Doesn't seem that difficult. I could do that."

"Huh?" My attention immediately snapped back to the blonde vision before me, and for a moment I was tantalised by images of the little blonde curling herself round the greasiest, biggest pole you could ever imagine, taut abs sanding down the wood into a nice smooth finish and hopefully giving it a good coat of varnish too. "You?? Do that?" My voice got progressively squeakier. "Would you? How much would you charge?" I was already plotting ways to improve my fake dinar press.

"Well I didn't say I would. Just that I could. If I wanted to. Which I don't." She said firmly.

"Oh." Disappointment fair seeping from every pore of my body (some pores more than others) I turned back to the stage where Alti had given up with the pole dance and had started to chant some ritual - damn broad had obviously been at the Stag's Blood again (house special) and it always sent her strange. "Uh oh. This could mean trouble." My unfailing warrior instincts were bristling.

"What's she doing?"

Alti had started a fire on the stage with the wooden pole, and was dancing round it, beating herself on the head with an old copy of Amphipolis Today, whilst shooting daggers at me and Gabrielle. No, I don't mean figurative daggers. Damn crazy druggie broad was hurling knives across the room at us. Luckily for us, her sight was a little off - one of the side effects of a couple of tankards of Stags Blood, and one that many's the time I'd been grateful for - and she killed four people from across the room before she realised we were sitting slightly to the left of where she'd been aiming.

"Damn you Xena!" Her voice crawled along the stage, dropped over the edge and inched its was towards us - it was like watching lava flow; thick, low and with an edge of danger to it. "We could've been beautiful together! I could've given you power, Xena! Power! Untold power! Together, we could've been.....well, powerful!" Her raging black rimmed eyes drew closer to us, and I could feel Gabrielle's gasp at my side. "Feel that dark force inside you, Xena. Feel it whispering through your veins, invading your soul....filling up your dreams! That's...that's...power, that is! Well, I'll do it without you Xena! I don't need you!"

"Good. Off you go then. Finish the show - I've paid good money to see this."

"You'll regret this Xena. You could've had power! I could've given you...."

"...power, yeah - I got it. So, how 'bout them leathers huh? Kinda...covering, aren't they? Huh?"

"You think that SHE will be woman enough for you? This...this child?" Alti's evil black eyes bored into Gabrielle, who shrank back under the crazed glare. "The light can't save you Xena. You're mine. You're for the darkness. Evil Xena, Destroyer of Nations. I made you - don't you ever forget that!"

Well, do you know, I was kinda getting a bit pissed by this stage - I mean, I'd come to see flesh! Not big red crazed panda eyes! And then she just had to go and bring up the Evil Xena stuff again, didn't she? Gods damn but how's a girl ever gonna live down her misspent youth if it keeps getting flung in her face? It wasn't as though I'd been all bad. No, I hadn't. It had been a mercy - a mercy, I tell you - to put that poor old broken down warlord Cortese out of my misery. And as for the amazon leaders - well, that had been kinda an accident. What's a girl supposed to do when her spying-on-the-amazon-queen-being-slapped-around-naked-in-a- hut-session is disturbed? Unfulfilled sexual tension can do strange things to a rampant and unrepentant warrior princess....

So there I was, getting quite annoyed and ready to slit the withered old hag from gut to gizzard when all of a sudden, Gabrielle jumps up and waves her staff around and shouts; "Don't you call her that! She hates it when people call her that! And the light can too save her! She's not all bad y'know...." She had her arms round me, and I was pouting and milking it for all she was worth. She let me go, raised herself to her full height and glared up at Alti. "She doesn't need you. She has me, now."

"And what do you think you can do for the great Evil Xena, Lion of Amphipolis and Destroyer of Nations, little girl?" Alt sneered back at the proud, small figure in front of her.

"I can love her."

Well, do you know that whole godsdamned place was quiet as the grave. I could hear the woodworm in the tankard I was drinking from, and damn me if that place wasn't the dustiest, dirtiest place cos specks of grit were flying into my eyes and everyone else's as we all wailed the place down. Except for Gabrielle, who just stood there, tall (well, you know what I mean) and proud and brave and.....and beautiful and strong, and with the purest and most generous heart. I fell in love with her all over again, and even more so, if that was possible. And then if that wasn't bad enough, she added. "And I can help her find the light within herself."

Well, that was it then. Aint never had nobody before who thought I was worth knowing, let alone saving ('cept the Big Guy). Why, even my mom still wasn't talking to me ...sheesh, you get one teensy little brother killed and what happens? But she did, and as I looked at her, standing up to evil incarnate and very badly applied makeup, I just knew that I could search the known world and never find another like her. She fitted me, like a second skin. She knew my soul, she knew my mind, she knew my hopes and fears. Hmm - how could I get her to know my body?? But that wasn't important right now.

"C'mon Xena. Let's get out of here. If they don't allow virgins in here, then Antiminius isn't going to show. Take me home."

She clutched my hand and pulled me up out of my chair (cos for some reason I couldn't move - I think it was an allergic reaction to all the specks of grit that were making my eyes water) and propelled me out of that rank tavern and away from the evil influence of Alti, who was beating everyone else with the rolled up copy of Amphipolis Today and wailing like a banshee. "You're mine, Xena! I'll never let you go! We're the same you and me! I might have better table manners, but we're the same!!!"

Musta been a real bad allergic reaction, cos I just walked straight outta there without a backward look, feeling the warmth from Gabrielle's hand spreading through my whole body. And it felt...I dunno. Kinda good.


Part 3 - Women, women everywhere and not a drop to drink...

She thrust a cup of the rankest coffee into my hand, and I peeled back my bleary eyes and stared into the muddy brown mixture as it swirled round the mug. Which was odd, cos I don't think coffee had been invented then, but that wasn't important right now. What was important was me trying to shake my sorry butt outta bed and get hustling some action. The Big Guy had sent word over through that weaselly little pretty boy blondie that he wanted to see me in his office, at ten sharp on business. And that could only mean one thing.

Herc Was Pissed.

She forced that awful slurry down my throat, dragged me outta bed and briskly scrubbed my face clean. I asked her if she'd give me an all over scrub, but she just tweaked my nose and smiled. Gods, but she was gorgeous first thing in the morning, even though she'd been up for hours. Face all pink and shining from her wash, hair all feathery as it floated round in the breeze that had unaccountably sprung up, and the sunlight glinting off it made it look like liquid honey and didn't I just wanna spread it all over my bread!

"I told you not to drink all that beer last night." After our awful encounter with Alti, we'd stopped off at the Pig and Catapult to calm ourselves down and regroup - the plan to catch Antiminius red handed and in delecto flagrente obviously not a goer since there wasn't a virgin within fifty leagues of Amphipolis (well, apart from her of course) so we had to think on our feet. I drunk on my feet, and soon I was flat on my back on the floor of the Pig and Catapult with the tavern cats lying on top of me licking me all over, and getting a huge round of applause, and you wouldn't believe the tips I made!

"There - you look reasonably presentable. How's the head?"

Well, alcohol wasn't no big deal to me. I was Xena, Destroyer of Nations and Evil Warlord Bitch From Tartarus. Just two of many titles I'd been proud to call my own, but proudest of all to hold the title of Xena, Drinker of Two Barrels of Amazon Thunder - the most potent drink in the entire known world and a heavily guarded secret recipe. A record that still stands to this day, I might add, which was more than I did on the night I won it. So you see, a few swift tankards of the Pig and Catapult's home brewed moonshine don't cut no ice with me - my body is made of iron and steel. Unfortunately, I'd gotten a little rusty over the years, and my head was in agony now.

"Gabrielle! I don't feel well!" I mewed. "Don't make me go!"

"Xena you have to go. Iolaus said Herc sounded pretty angry, and he said something about Velasca being there." She stopped when she saw I had paled visibly. "Xena, what is it? You're not going to be sick are you?"

"No, Gabrielle. I'm made of sterner stuff than that." I picked up my bag, strapped my chakram on and headed gracefully out of the door, legged it round the back and tossed my cookies all over my boots. "Oh sweet Artemis and all the other lovely Gods on Olympus who owe me more than a few favours - please don't let Velasca be there...please don't let Velasca be there..." I whimpered against the wall, head pounding and legs wobbling.

"C'mon Xena. Don't worry. I'll be with you." She took my arm and wrapped it round her shoulders then led me over to the main offices of the Hercules Investigation Agency. Funny though - as we rounded the alleyway where our little house was (she'd moved in with me a few months back cos we both figured it'd save on rent) I could've sworn I heard a gravelly voiced cackling and the figure dancing at the far end of the alley looked awfully familiar. Something about that horned headdress and all that make up.

"You can't escape me Xena...you're mine!!" The voice floated down the alley and died as the gentle breeze whipped it away. The figure disappeared as it tripped over a broken down old chariot and I could hear swearing and creaking as the old chariot upended itself slowly and gracefully on top of the unlucky, writhing figure. "Ow! I'll get you Xena... I can move this extremely heavy chariot using only the power - POWER, Xena!! - of my mind! Not to worry!!"

Strange that. I shrugged, and didn't give it a second thought.

Two hours later, and we were heading back down the alley after a right roasting from the Son of Zeus, who had threatened to withdraw my privileges and had cut my expenses off! Said he was introducing "performance related pay" or some such scam, and if I didn't deliver on the Antiminius case soon, I would be out on my ear and back "in the gutter where I found you Xena, living on mouldy apples and three day old nutbread." And - if THAT wasn't bad enough, I had a new partner.



Part 4 - Start the day the Velasca way...

Velasca stomped into my office, kicked me outta my chair and made herself comfortable. I frowned and glowered and snarled, but it didn't make no difference. She crooked her little finger and I sneered; she snarled and I cackled maniacally; she stood up and got right into my personal space and I bleated and cowered like a naughty schoolboy caught stealing apples in the big butch teacher's garden. Well, damn broad was one solid hunka muscle and normally - well, lets just say that would've hit the spot, but she also loved inflicting pain and between you and me she seemed to have no morals, and was frankly a bit wobbly when it came to slates on the roof, if ya catch my drift.

One of the ways a supremely successful warrior princess survives is by learning three things:

Even if the said supremely successful warrior princess is a battle hardened warrior, who usually laughs in the face of physical danger of every kind. I remember the time when Autolycus asked Velasca out on a date - well do you know, the poor guy came back with a broken arm, two black eyes and a significant shrinking of his...erm, sense of self esteem shall we say? In fact, the guy couldn't walk straight for a month. And they'd only been out for fifteen minutes (which was how long it took Velasca to wolf down her roast hog and reduce Auto to a mass of broken bones, bruised flesh and ruined organs.) Which pissed Auto off cos he'd paid for an hour.

So can ya blame me for letting the dumb psycho broad hang out in my chair for a while?

Gabrielle, on the other hand, was smarting under this perceived slight to my position as the dominant female of the pack. Yeah - that cute little blonde was pissed too. So that was one dumb psycho crazed killer to the left, and one cute but pissed little assistant to the right. Me oh my. Fighting over me.

Do you think I'm not used to women fighting over me? Same old same old. Ever since I was old enough to master the art of the crooked smile and developed lumps and bumps in all the right places, I had used my body and intense sexuality as a tool to further my ends as a world dominating warlord. Kinda liked it, actually. I was a magnet - babes (and dudes) were irresistibly drawn to my smouldering eroticism and the dual promise of power and passion I exuded...and of course, the knowledge of my reputation as THE best lover this side of the Steppes. The other side of the Steppes- well, Betty held that side, practising all them killer techniques I taught him/her back when we was going out together. It has been said (by me actually) that all Xena the Lover of Amphipolis, Athens, Carthage, Persia, Mikonos, Egypt, Beotia, Crete, the entire Steppes region, Sparta, bits of Chin and the back of the stables at Amphipolis High had to do was to give one imperious flick of her eyebrow, twitch her index finger and men and women would dissolve into liquefied piles of wobbling need, crying - no, screaming! - for satisfaction.

'Course, my intensely magnetic smouldering sexuality hadn't worked yet on Gabrielle - damn me, but that dame was one tough nut to crack, but I just knew that the sweet, virgin flesh that lay under that hard shell of innocence would be ambrosia to my lips! And I wouldn't mind, but I was hungrier'n a bacchae in a cake shop!

So there we were, them two scrapping and sniping, and me sitting like a stone in the middle.

"Xena. I'd like to see the notes for the Antiminius case. Can you get your little assistant to bring them please." Velasca settled herself more comfortably into my chair, and tossed her orders to Gabrielle through me. "Oh, and I'll have a coffee, white without." Which was strange, since coffee hadn't been invented.

"Without what?" I was confused. Gabrielle on the other hand was livid - her face had gone all red and her cheeks were puffing up like she was a chipmunk hoarding berries in there for a really cold winter.

"I am not here to bring you coffee! I have a valid role to play in this partnership! I am not just a tag along, useless sidekick!" She was using words like "valid" and "partnership" - yeah, I could tell she was pissed. I cowered, even though I was relieved that for once all that beautiful ire wasn't being directed at me.

Velasca, on the other hand remained calm. She was used to bringing out the worst in people - usually their intestines, and if you've ever seen a couple of yards of that stuff curled round the place, you'll know what I mean. She just shooed Gabrielle out of the room (well, I say shooed - more like pushed really), banged the door behind her and sat back down in my favourite armchair. The big leather one with the high back and the really cool studs and the secret trap activator. But that wasn't important right now.

"Xena, Hercules has told me all about you. Frankly, you bring shame to the nation."

"What nation?" Damn me, but I knew the broad was crazier'n a sack of monkeys but I had no idea she was this barking.

"The amazon nation. Call yourself a leader? Ha! You are a joke, Xena!"

"I'm not an amazon."

"That is plain for all to see. You fake!"


"You have brought shame to the nation. You have made us a joke told by old men in taverns!" Oh yeah - she had definitely lost it now. She was so mad that I swear to the gods all the colour had just drained right out of her eyes, and she started stomping round the room, just as Gabrielle came back with the case notes. "The amazon nation was once great - I shall make it so again!"

Gabrielle dumped the scrolls on my big wooden desk and turned to Velasca, hands on hips and foot tapping. I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach - gods damn but I knew I shouldn't have had fish for dinner. She was ready for a fight - I could tell. You don't get to be the best investigator in the business without spotting when a little blonde volcano is about to blow. "I thought you were thrown out of the nation?"

Velasca stopped in mid whirl. "What? Did you speak to me, little assistant? Where's my coffee by the way? White without."

"You were thrown out of the nation when you lost your claim to Melosa's throne. You cheated in the challenge, I seem to remember."

"And what would you know about the GREATNESS of the amazon nation, little personal assistant girl?" Velasca mocked, a superior look on her twisted and crazed visage. Oh yeah, that broad was madder than a Furies' curse.

Gabrielle preened; I cringed again. "Well, I'm an amazon actually."

"You? An amazon? Don't make me laugh, little girl! Now go away...shouldn't you be filing or playing outside? I have business to discuss with Xena."

"Why does everyone treat me like I'm some kind of kid? I'm an amazon princess, for Artemis' sake!"

There was a cold and deadly silence through the room - well, curse me for a sorry excuse for an investigator, but I never knew that about her. Sure, I knew she was one tough amazon broad who could swing a staff with the best of them and I knew that classy babes like her didn't grow on trees, and it was obvious she had good taste and breeding - I mean, she used knives and forks to eat with - but I never figured her for no royalty. It all made sense. The graceful, regal bearing; the markings on her staff; the ornate wax seal she carried everywhere; the documents that were couriered over to her to sign each week. Yep - all made sense now.

I think she realised that she'd said a bit too much, cos she kinda went all bendy before she hightailed it outta there with Velasca in hot pursuit. Sighing, I slowly dug myself outta the guest chair, peeked through the door at them - Velasca was chasing her round the table outside. I figured she had about another ten minutes of running in her before she got real hot and sweaty and her breasts heaved to the max, so I sat down in my chair and went back over the Antiminius notes, in case I'd missed anything, and waited. And waited.

And was finally rewarded about ten minutes later when a panting, sweaty little bundle of amazon princess came bursting through the door, hurled herself across the room and bolted straight onto my lap, where she tried to burrow practically through my ribcage. Velasca followed a heartbeat later, screaming in a piercingly booming voice;

"I want Gabrielle!!!"

"Get in line, Velly." I had my assistant wrapped securely in my arms as she heaved and wriggled around my lap - oh yeah! The day sure was lookin' up! "You can't have Gabrielle. She's my assistant, and I need her on this case. You, however, are here in a research capacity only, as Hercules makes quite clear in his instructions..." I waved Herc's note around. "...namely, research on how we can track down and stop a screwball, virgin fixated wedding fetishist who now has apparently stolen Hades' helmet of invisibility."

"What???!!" Well that sure stunned both of them - Velasca had stopped whirling round the room (damn me but she could move faster'n a virgin at an orgy) and just stood there with her white eyes wide, and Gabrielle....well, bless her - she just sat there on my lap with her full, soft lips opened slightly as she gazed at me with her sea green eyes locked onto mine and do you know? For a minute there I kinda forgot where we were and what we were doing, as I stared into the gentle eyes of the woman I adore, but as I leaned in slightly towards those pleading lips she backed up against the side of the table and said;

"Invisible? He's invisible? No wonder we haven't been able to find any trace of him! How are we supposed to find an invisible man?" And curse the fates, but she climbed right off my lap just as my lips were about to claim hers and I had my tongue ready and everything! And it is the worst manners in an amazon princess to stare at a warrior when she topples over face down onto the desk, don't you think? I sure do.

Anyway, I picked myself up and dusted myself off, keeping my pride and graceful bearing intact and tried to ignore them both as they practically wet themselves laughing. Eventually when they'd stopped, I said regally, "With careful planning, sweetheart. That's how we do it. Now - anyone any good at planning?"

Total silence around the room. Velasca spoke up, kinda quietly. "I'm good at killing people."

"Well that might come in very handy when we finally catch the no good, stinkin' son of a centaur's mare!"

Velasca brightened at that - I swear I almost saw her smile as she said, "Super! I shall avenge the amazon nation another time, and will look upon this opportunity to inflict hideous torture onto a man - he is a man isn't he? Good. Then I shall look on this as an opportunity to reinforce the superiority of my amazon sisters against a puny mortal..err, I mean puny man." And on that gleeful note, she swept out of the room, tossing a casual "Later..." over her shoulder as she left.

Gabrielle released the breath she'd been holding, and looked kinda relieved. "Whew! She's a little odd isn't she? Do you know, she tried to strangle me out there? I told her that her hands should be round my neck if she was trying to do that, but she didn't really listen. She's a little scary, isn't she?"

My keen hearing picked up immediately. "What? Was she touching you? Where?"

But before she could answer, the door opened again and Velasca stuck her head in. Her eyes were still a little white, but some of their original colour had started to seep back in. "Xena - there's a very strange looking woman out here dressed in some rather fetching doeskin. She's left you a note. Said you'd understand. Oh, and Gabrielle. I will have that coffee tomorrow - I'm quite the beast in the morning without it. White without." With a flash of teeth and a toss of the scroll, she disappeared again.

I snatched the scroll from mid air and unfurled it. The writing was a bit scratchy and kinda...well, kinda red and gloopy but I managed to get through it. I thought it might'a been more information about the Antiminius case.

"You're mine, Xena! You can't escape me....bwahahaha...I know where you live!!! I know you - I know your heart! I CREATED YOU!!!! Bwahahaha!!!"

I was getting a little worried about the number of exclamation points being used, what with them writing down their maniacal cackling and all too. But, disturbingly, there was more.

"I will have you Xena - I will welcome you back into the darkness!!!! Bwahahaha!! Feel the power Xena...the power of elemental life!!! The force behind all craving, Xena!!! You know about craving...

Okay - so you're a bit bigger than me - but I will fight you on the spiritual plane Xena!!!! Bwahahaha!!! Your power will be mine!! MINE I tell you!!!!!BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!"

"What is it Xena? Who's it from?" Gabrielle was craning round my back, trying to read it.

"I have no idea. Must've come to the wrong address. C'mon, lets go home. We need to hatch out a plan."


Part 5 - Fruit, fingers and fear; 3 tasty & nutritious food groups..

I was up bright and early the next day. Well, I always was at my best first thing in the morning. Sharp, clear headed and my daily workout of stretches and meditative yoga kept my warrior body honed to perfection, and remarkably wrinkle free. I flexed my arm and watched my bicep surge into life - damn me, but I was a finely tuned killing machine. I was at my peak.

Which was more than could be said for Gabrielle. She aint a morning person; she avoids it whenever she can. Today, she was determined to pretend it never existed, as I merrily beseeched her for the third time to get up. She just pulled the blanket up and made a strange but real cute moaning sound.

"Wakey wakey Gabrielle! Rise and shine."

My morning cheeriness really got her pissed. The blanket was humped again, and two little pink feet poked out the other end. What's a girl to do? I peeked at those cute little wrinkled soles and those chubby little toesys and...well, damn me but she near broke my eardrums with all that shrieking! Who knew sucking five toes all at once would get that reaction? I had no idea - really. None. But I filed it away for future reference. In my trade, you never know when miscellaneous information could come in handy. Important to know what's afoot, after all!

So in the interests of research, I gave her a thorough tickle all over, made a comprehensive list and then went and had a very long, very cold shower. What a great way to start the day! Better than corny flakes any day, and I resolved to eat that delicious dish as soon as I thought she'd let me get away with it. Of course, she was still playing hard to get, but I was confident. No-one could resist me. I just needed a plan.

Uhh...better make that two. There was still the minor matter of Antiminius to deal with. Herc had been real pissed yesterday; I could tell by the way he kept ramming his fist down on top of my skull. Damn no good, harpy-sired unnatural freak of an Antiminius! I mean, what kind of dung eating, sick son of a Cerberus has a virgin fixation like that?

Okay! But mine's only about one particular virgin! It's not the same. Got me? Good.

Besides, mine isn't just about sex. Yeah, getting Gabrielle on the bedroll was a central part of the plan, but it weren't all. Gods damn me, but the broad had inched her way into my brain and I just couldn't be without her now; I needed her in every way. Still, needing her in that way was always a damn fine place to start!

So I brought all my legendary warrior focus and killer strategic planning skills into play. It was just a matter of time.

Two hours later, Gabrielle plonked my breakfast in front of me and enquired sweetly (she was always so much nicer if allowed to surface under her own steam), "So, how are you doing with the plan?"

"Gabrielle." I explained, patiently. "This is a plan to catch a daring, reckless and some might say psychologically up the pole wacko. It needs to have finesse. It needs to be methodical. Foolproof. You can't just knock any old rubbish together..."

"Mmm." She tucked into her tomatoes. "No plan then?"

"Not a clue. I think Herc thumping my head yesterday destroyed my planning skills. All I can think of is laying a trail of breadcrumbs, and waiting for the children to find the gingerbread house..."


"I told you Herc hit me real hard!"

Within moments, she was over to my side of the table, and had my head bent to one side while she gave it a thorough going over, tapping my skull, parting my hair and peering closely at my scalp. I swear she was gonna give in to some age old urge to pick grubs out and eat them with much guttural grunting (and curse me for one of the Horde if I wouldn't eat grubs off her abs, and think myself damn lucky!) But she didn't. Classy dames like her don't go grooming beat up old warrior princesses like me, and anyway - I am NOT bug infested! In spite of what that weaselly, cross eyed, wild haired little sorry excuse for a pretty boy warrior Iolaus says. He's just jealous 'cos I keep beating him at arm wrestling. Besides, he's never forgiven me for dumping him in favour of the Big Guy.

"You're reminiscing again, aren't you?" Damn, but she was good! How could she tell?

"Just remembering when me and Iolaus used to go out. Well, I say out..."

"I don't want to know! Shouldn't you be concentrating on the case, anyway? We have to meet Velasca in an hour."

"Aaah! The plan! Of course...gimme a minute." She gave me a minute. "Uhh...Gabrielle? You've said you want to get more involved in the business. Well, this is a perfect opportunity! Sit down!" Her face lit up, and she plopped back into her seat quicker'n a shore bound sailor headed for an Alti pole dance. "Now, let's work on your...heh...planning skills..." Her eyes narrowed a little, and I held up a finger to stall the protests I knew were on their way. "Now, what do we know about Antiminius?"

"Uhhh...we know he's about six foot, in his mid to late forties. Grey hair - rather sparse, with a straggly beard and madly staring eyes. And leather. He wears lots of leather."

"Good, good. Do go on."

"His modus operandi..." She blushed when I nodded enthusiastically, "...is to enter a village posing as a fruit seller..."

"Which fruit, Gabrielle? This could be vitally important in building up the psychological profile of this nutcase."

"...oh, sorry Xena. It's pineapples. He poses as a geriatric pineapple seller, which is frankly odd because pineapples don't grow round here..."

"But key to his dastardly plan probably. What is guaranteed to attract the attention of young, innocent maidens than..."

"...exotic fruit!" Gabrielle interrupted, excitedly.

"Really?" Well, I had been going to say something else entirely, but her idea sounded so much better. I could see endless possibilities involving strawberries, greek yoghurt and bananas. I filed that away for future reference too. Gotta do more with fruit around her.

"Yeah! There's nothing nicer than getting a lovely basket of exotic fruit delivered from your loved one...particularly on your wedding day." She started to blush, prettily. "Good for the...uhhh...wedding breakfast..."

"Exotic fruit, you say? Interesting. Any particular...?" I started writing a hasty shopping list.

"Xena! He sells pineapples, remember?"

"Who does? Oh, Antiminius! Right! Do go on..."

"Okay. So he stakes out the village until he's checked out the virgins, then sets himself up with an exclusive contract to supply the village matchmaker with pineapples for wedding banquets, thereby discovering which of the virgins is due to be married. Then, he stalks the virgin on the evening of her ceremonial bathing, terrorises her by stealing all her clothes and towels, and makes her run naked through the village, destroying her reputation for all time. The wedding's called off, her reputation is in tatters and there's a no refund policy on the pineapples. So off he goes with a nice fat profit, and his perversion satisfied for the time being."

"The dirty old dog!"


"I mean - good work, Gabrielle! Nicely done."

She shone. "Thanks. That means a lot to me, Xena."

"So, if you were in charge of the case Gabrielle, what would your plan be?" I tried not to stare too hopefully. Think I pulled it off, too. I am a stoic warrior, after all.

"Oh, well...I'm not you, remember, so this might be completely wrong, but I guess the first thing I'd do is get your considerable network of spies and snitches to advise of any unusual pineapple activity around here. Then, I'd stick pins in a map to see if I could spot any patterns emerging...Xena, what are you doing?"

"Pins...pattern...huh? Oh, just writing it down so I can review your progress later. Keep going..." I waved her on with my quill. She looked hesitant, so I gave her my biggest and most winning smile. She clammed up completely. I had to promise her a raise before she would start again. I mean, really. Thought she was supposed to be an innocent?

"Make it five dinars a week and you've got a deal. Okay - so particularly concentrating my spy network at ports, to find out where the pineapples are coming from. Then of course, I'd have to do some pretty thorough virgin research..."

"Oooh! I'd best do that personally!"

She looked extremely dubious. I grinned brightly, and it seemed to do the trick; she sighed, and rolled her eyes before saying, with a verbal flourish, "Then - the breadcrumbs!"

She kinda lost me. I'd been planning the intricacies of my virgin research. "Breadcrumbs?"

"Give Antiminius what he wants - a sweet virgin, about to be married and at the ceremonial bathing. But it's a trap - see?"

"Gods! What a brilliant plan! Uhh...I mean, good work Gabrielle. A little rough around the edges maybe but ... yeah, some promise there. So, you think this'll keep that maniac Velasca from slicing us into escalopes today?"

"Absolutely! She can do the pineapple research. Tell her it's for the good of the Amazon nation."

"Perfect! Sounds like a plan - let's go!"

We pulled our stuff together and dashed out of the front door straight into a parcel which had been left on our doorstep. I picked it up and carried it through to the kitchen, where I placed it on the freshly scrubbed table top. We both stared at it pensively for a while; neither of us usually got parcels delivered. It was addressed to me, and there was a letter stuck to the top.

"Dear Xena,

I saw this and thought of you. Hope you enjoy it. Bwahahahahahaha!!!

Ps - I'm watching you, Xena!!!! You and your little friend too!!!!!! You will be mine, Xena - you belong to the dark forces of the universe!! You can't escape your DESTINY!! Bwahahahaha!!!!!!!!"

I opened the box and there, lying on a bed of ripped up parchment was a bloody finger. Or what looked like a bloody finger. Gabrielle gasped in horror; I merely picked it up, bit into it, and chewed on it for a while.

"Xena! What...what???" All she could do was point and try to close her mouth.

"Just a piece of sweet potato covered in red wine, sweetheart. Quite tasty, actually."

"Gods! Who would do that?"

I examined the letter again, using all my investigator skills to analyse the writing, the parchment, the ink...the odd punctuation, and noting particularly the excessive use of exclamation points and - strangely enough - the actual writing of cackling laughter.

"I have no idea." I concluded, tossing the letter aside and polishing off the last of the finger. "Perhaps it was delivered to the wrong address." I said as I left the room. It took her a moment, but Gabrielle came trotting out after me.

"Xena? Don't you find it a little disconcerting that you've suddenly started getting odd letters and fake bloody fingers?"

"Nah, not really Sweetheart. You should'a seen what Iolaus did when I chucked him over for Herc."

"Aren't you even a little bit curious about who it is?"

"I think they're completely unrelated incidents, Gabrielle. Nothing to get worried about."

"I don't know Xena," she gasped as she tried to keep up with my long legged pace. "There are similarities...the writing, the distinctive red coloured ink..."

"Stag's blood. It's a strong ale that the Hairy Butcher brew."

"Oh. What about the strange punctuation and that odd drawing of mad black eyes that the culprit signs off with? The doodles of you with daggers sticking out? I dunno. Xena - I think you should be worried."

"They've made no threats, sweetheart. Probably some bit of a wet behind the ears kid with a crush on me. It's understandable." I flashed her my most sexy smile - well used and guaranteed to get any warm blooded mammal (and a few reptiles) all hot and more than a little moist. I think it worked, 'cos she rolled her eyes and huffed; obviously her way of releasing sexual energy, and couldn't I think of a few other ways I'd wanna help her find release!

We were crossing the town square and cutting down one of the many winding, narrow sidestreets on our way to Velasca's 'office' (as she liked to term it - I preferred to call it 'den of human suffering') when Gabrielle tugged my arm, and pointed to a dark form dressed in buckskin, who was dancing precariously on the wall at the far end of the street.

"Xena, isn't that the pole dancing woman from the other night? That wall doesn't look very safe..."

"Nah, I don't think so, sweetheart. Nowhere near enough mascara for it to be Alti. 'Sides, she never comes out during the day. Says sunlight drains her evil dark energy, or something."

"Well, if you say so, but she seems to know you."

The figure was gesticulating wildly, swaying on the crumbling wall and screaming as she made rather crude hand gestures. "There you are, Xena!" She yelled, her voice coming at them like it was crawling over broken glass. "With your little friend too! Is she good, Xena? IS SHE?? Bet she isn't as good as me...you know you need me, Xena! You're addicted to me and my power. POWER, Xena!!! She'll never satisfy you...those dark cravings of yours. Only I can do that! 'Cos we're the same, you and I. We're both darkness, and darkness cannot survive with the lights on!! And you know you like it with the lights on, Xena! Bwahahaha!!"

"Xena, are you sure it isn't Alti? It sounds awfully like her. That voice..."

"Nowhere near raspy enough. Nope - not her."

The dancing woman must've heard me, 'cos she spun and whirled on top of that wall, and started stamping her feet in fury. Her hand gestures started to get quite creative. Unfortunately, all that jumping had loosened a couple of bricks, and the whole lot came tumbling down in a shower of dust and stone. The figure disappeared, and all we could see were two feet waggling under the rubble. Her weak voice plaintively called us.

"......oh hot damn! How did that happen? Not to worry - this is just a minor setback, Xena. Damn, my best headdress is ripped......I shall just shatter these stones by tapping into the dark will of the universe, which is mine - ALL MINE - to control. Just gimme a minute now... It's working..."

What an odd morning it had been already. See, that's what I like about Amphipolis. It's got character.

I grabbed Gabrielle, who was ogling the twitching heap a little too much for my liking, and hauled her over to Velasca's place. I tapped gingerly on the door, half hoping the mad psycho cow wasn't in, but damn me for a turnip headed harpy if that door didn't practically get snatched off its hinges. The doorway was quickly filled with six foot of muscular, crazed renegade amazon torturer.

"Ah, Xena. Good morning - so nice to see you again." Her eyes glinted noticeably as they turned to Gabrielle; the girl squirmed as those staring grey orbs locked horns with hers. "Gabrielle, my dear. A pleasure. So sorry about yesterday. Any amazon princess is a friend of mine." The princess in question was treated to a dazzling smile, before we were ushered through the door (which slammed theatrically shut behind us) and into the dank, gloomy little building. I swear to the Gods that I could hear screaming and pitiful cries for help coming through the floorboards, and Gabrielle clung onto my skirt like a frightened child.

"Wh...what's that noise?" She stuttered, petrified.

"What noise?" Velasca paused, ears pricked.

"That screaming...listen. There it is again!"

"Oh that! Nothing really."

I chipped in, as casually as I could. "Haven't got a job on, have you?"

"No, Xena. Hercules has devoted me entirely to this case. That's my cook, singing. Terrible racket I know. Completely tone deaf, bless her. I use her sometimes with particularly stubborn erm...clients. Amazing how quickly a rendition of 'When I Met The Miller's Daughter In The Bazar At Midnight' can reduce the most stoic of warriors to a crumbling heap of pitiful flesh, begging for relief and spilling their guts. But of course, I'm forgetting. You already know about that, don't you Xena?" Velasca smiled sweetly - it had much the same effect as meeting the newly released Cerberus down a dark alley somewhere near Hades - and sauntered off into her 'office'

I grimaced, remembering the encounter with the wrong side of her chobos, and then grimaced some more as, filled by a terrible sense of foreboding, I remembered a certain amazon princess who soaked up information about my mysterious past like a sponge. Oops.

"Xena. You've met Velasca before." It wasn't quite a question. I acted casual, knowing I could easily throw her off with a few well placed words.

"We have a history. Of sorts."

"A history. And you were going to tell me this when, exactly?"

"Gabrielle, it bears no relation to what we're doing now. It's in the past."

"Right. The same past that means Hercules gets to thump you on the head, Callisto has a standing invitation to tea every Thursday, Iolaus still has manure dumped outside our house every Sunday - and I'm fed up of cleaning it up - and Alti...well, she's stalking you and sending you threatening letters. This past? That bears no relation to the present?"

"Absolutely, Gabrielle! C'mon, Velasca's waiting and believe me...you really don't wanna get her mad, sweetheart!" I sailed happily into the room, feeling her heavy sigh on the back of my neck like a cool breeze kissing me on a warm summer's day.

I outlined the plan to Velasca. She seemed pretty impressed and so she should be. It was a damn fine plan, being full of deviousness (my specialty) and intensive research (her 2nd speciality, next to ...well, the obvious.) Gabrielle further sweetened the pill by emphasising how notoriously difficult it was to get information on exotic fruit imports from the wharfmasters and sailors down the docks. Velasca's eyes gleamed, turned that funny white colour and a smile edged her mouth as she said with knowing finality,

"You would be surprised how little it takes to loosen the lips of corrupt wharfmasters."

We both shivered to our bones. There was only one part of the plan to be fixed.

"So who plays the breadcrumb?" asked Velasca, once her eyes had returned to normal.


"The virgin bait, Xena. Where do we find a just-about-to-be-married virgin prepared to act as bait to capture an infamous, psychotic, virgin loving madman?"

Well, she had me there. A minor point to be sure, but like a hunter's dog she'd sniffed out the one tiny flaw in the plan. Damn! I was just starting to gibber a bit, when I heard a small yet polite cough at my elbow. It was Gabrielle.

"I know a not-long-been-married virgin who's willing to do it." She smiled, and waggled her eyebrows about.

"Oh no! No way, Gabrielle! I'm not putting you in danger. Do you realise what might happen if things go wrong? You could end up running naked through town...naked! Naked! Hmmm...waitasec...naked? Say, maybe it would work..."

"See! I told you, Xena. It's perfect! I can do it, and I know I'll be safe with you there to watch my back." She turned up the sweetest, most trusting smile up at me, and I swear Velasca just melted away. I, on the other hand, had other things in mind.

"Naked, you say? Well, I guess as long as you know the risks. You do understand that you may end up naked in the street, don't you?" I asked, somewhat breathlessly.

"Xena, I know it won't come to that. I trust you."

"Sure, well thanks, sweetheart. That's very nice of you and of course I'd give my life to protect you and your virtue, but...just say you understand about the naked thing!" I pressed, urgently.

"I understand there's a risk!"

"Excellent!" I heaved a huge sigh, and tried hard not to let the giant smile crack my face too much. "That's set then. Velasca, we'll leave the research to you. How long before you have something?"

"Hmm. Quite a tricky job. No leads to go on, so I'll be working blind. Still, extracting information is my speciality. Couple of days?"

"That soon?" Chills roamed all over my body. "Send it when you get it. Meanwhile, I'll prep Gabrielle and start laying the breadcrumbs. Oh, you know what I mean!" And with that, I stormed out, dragging my confused breadcrumb with me as Velasca smirked away behind us.


Part 6 - It walks, it talks...it reeks..

The next two days passed uneventfully for us. I caught up on some filing, and Gabrielle sewed her wedding gown back together again - somehow, it had been mysteriously hacked to pieces in between being taken off and packed away. Strange, but of course, that wasn't important right now.

In between the sewing, we went through the plan and I put a few of Herc's henchmen on standby, ready to start spreading rumours of an imminent virgin wedding once Velasca had coughed up the info. I also pressured Gabrielle to practise the ceremonial bathing, but she wasn't having any of that. Said she'd done it before and it was like falling off a log.

So, a pretty quiet couple of days really. Even Iolaus' Sunday manure dumping was less spectacular than normal - his piles were getting smaller. Still, the difference this week was that the manure was slapped smack bang right in the middle of our path, and when Gabrielle discovered it this time, it seemed to be moving.

"Xena. Can you come here for a minute, please?"

"Sweetheart, it's just Iolaus dumping again. What's so special about that?" I was reading Amphipolis Today - the problem page was really juicy, and I hadn't seen the Page 3 Stunna yet.

"This time, it's moaning and it's got legs."

She was right. As sharp eyed as a hungry eagle, she'd spotted the pile as it staggered round the garden, groaning and generally mumbling to itself.

"Would you look at that?" I observed, amazed. After all, it aint every day you see a walking, talking pile of manure. "Wonder what it is?"

"Just a guess you understand, but I think our neighbourhood stalker has bitten off more than she can chew."

"What stalker?"

Gabrielle pointed as the manure poked two arms out and wiped its eyes, then blinked and wrinkled its brown nose before screaming, in a very grizzly voice, and waggling a filthy finger at us.

"Xena! You've put crap all over my aura! Damn you!! Okay - I obviously can't defeat you in the real world, so I'm going to use my considerable shamen powers and get you in the spirit world. So you just better watch it!" And with that, it was gone, weaving drunkenly up the road and leaving little clumps of itself scattered everywhere.

Gabrielle smiled, as if to say, "There! Told you!"

"What? What makes you think it was Alti?"

"Oh I give up!" And she stomped off inside to do some more sewing. By the gods, but she was one fine, feisty broad who set the fire in my blood burning, and didn't I just wanna burn her right up!

"Gabrielle! Gabrielle...wait up! How 'bout we practise that ceremonial bathing? I'll be the water! Sweetheart...!"


Part 7 - A wet bard in the hand is worth two in the bush..

I was polishing my boots and dusting off my fedora when Gabrielle came in, holding a dog eared scroll between finger and thumb. Flies buzzed around it.

"Xena, this just came for you. I think it might be from Alti. It's got blood all over it."

"Ketchup, sweetheart. Alti has a thing for it - she smears it all over her forehead. Says it makes her stag's horn headdress look more authentic."

But it wasn't from Alti, as I discovered when I unrolled it; the blood was real, and a finger fell out too. It was from Velasca. She'd gotten the info.

Battle hardened warrior that I was, even I felt a bit squiffy but poor Gabrielle threw up all over my nicely polished boots. Good job I wasn't wearing them; they were in my lap at the time. Still, it was a chance to comfort the adorable one, and she eventually calmed down. I filled her in on what Velasca had discovered.

There was a pineapple shipment due in to Themyscria in two days time which was - handily enough - a little fishing village just two hours north of Amphipolis. Good job my home town is so handily situated - why, you can get anywhere in Greece in just a few hours ride. Gabrielle started to get all excited about putting the plan into action.

There was only one problem. I was banned from ever setting foot in Themyscria. Well, I mean...I still don't see how accidentally killing the village idiot who just happened to wander in while me and Draco were exploring each other's dark sides warrants lifetime banishment. Even if it was accompanied by wholesale pillaging and looting. Some people have no sense of justice - its just revenge, revenge, revenge. I ask you - how's a girl ever going to live down her bloodthirsty warlord past if villages keep burning effigies of her at every full moon? It's all wrong.

Gabrielle reacted in typical fashion; she rolled her eyes and sighed. "This is a problem." She said.

Now, no problem is impossible for a supremely skilled warrior and expert investigator like me. "No problem, sweetheart. I won't be able to protect you, but you can borrow my sword. You'll be fine."

"But what if Antiminius shows? I can't use a sword - I'll be helpless! He'll make me run naked through town! In front of all those fishermen!"

"Naked?" That's right! Visions of my delicious Gabrielle literally flashed through my mind; wonderful, mouth watering visions that I replayed again, and then in slow motion, and then in freeze frame.

"Xena? Are you listening to me?"

"I'm sorry, sweetheart. It's too dangerous for you to be there alone. I can't take the risk of you being naked all over town without me there to enjoy...uhh...protect you. There's only one thing for it - I'll have to go in disguise."

"Why don't we just ask Hercules?"

"Are you crazy? I'm not letting you be alone and naked with HIM!" The impossibly handsome, sexy as all Hades demi god positively oozed sex appeal, and I'd already had to prise Gabrielle out of his arms once before. No way was I putting her into compromising situations without me doing the compromising.

"Sorry sweetheart. Besides, Herc's made it clear I'm on my own with this one. Or else..." I made a sweeping gesture across my throat in a meaningful way. "Disguise it is! Don't worry, sweetheart. I'm a master of disguise! Why, many's the time I've sneaked into a defenceless village disguised as a sweet maiden, only to rip off my disguise and plunder it!" She didn't look too impressed. "I once won a fancy dress competition, dressed as a chicken." I added, smiling winningly. My infallible charm worked again.

"Okay. Just so I know - what will you be disguised as?"

"I still have the chicken costume..."

"No! What would a chicken be doing at a ceremonial bathing?"

"Good point. I'll have to go disguised as the old hag who does the bathing. Yes...oh, yes! What a great plan!"

She looked a bit dubious. "Xena? Remember I won't actually be bathing, right? He strikes before then..."

"Yes, he does..." I wondered if I could get to him first, and if he was open to suggestion.

"Great!" She finished up. "You spring the disguise and I'll tell Herc's guys to spread the word. Tomorrow, we put Project Wetbard into action!"

"Okay, sweetheart, but we really must catch Antiminius first..."


Part 8 - A spoonful of stag's blood makes the spirit world go round..

"Xena, is that the best you can do?"

"How'd you know it was me, Gabrielle?"

"Xena, you're still wearing your chakram. And the leathers. And fedora. They really don't go with that wig and the walking frame."

"Oh. Too obvious, huh?"

Two hours later, and we were ensconced in our bathing hole in Themyscria, with Velasca and a couple of crack Herc troops standing by, just in case disaster struck.

Disaster struck.

In the form of one deerskin wearing madwoman wearing heavy eye makeup, who turned up at exactly the same time as Antiminius, bumped into the invisible madman, knocked the Helmet of Invisibility off his head and then bopped him for good measure. Which was handy, 'cos it cleared the way for her to terrorise Gabrielle and me, which of course was her true and wicked intent all along.

Gabrielle was in the bathing hole, up to her neck in water and I was lying on the bank next to her, guarding her person. I'd wanted to guard it a lot closer, but she wouldn't let me, so I contented myself with peeking underwater and admiring her almost naked, sublime form. She was a goddess, if a little wrinkled by this stage. She'd been wet for a while. The water lapped her skin, and so did I. She didn't notice, so I stuck my head further in, and lapped her stomach. She just twitched and waved her hand, like she was shooing a fish, but still didn't twig. So I took a deep breath, plunged halfway in and lapped away. This time, she noticed. I could hear her startled yelp underwater.

"Xena! What are you doing?"

I was dripping wet, everywhere. "Fishing?"

"There aren't any fish there! Now, just cut that out! You're supposed to be officiating at the bathing, remember!"

Yeah, yeah...like the high-bred dame she was, she slinked over to the other side of the pool, and I adjusted my wig and started sprinkling herbs into the pool and chanting. It was nonsense, but it looked good. It was an old amazon chant I'd learned when I used to bunk down with Cyanne and the gals - they were my posse, and we used to hang out together until, inexplicably one day, they were all gripped by severe stomach pains. Well, I say inexplicably - the amazon healers reckoned it was somehow linked to them being impaled on tree branches but where's the proof? They never could pin that on me.

They tried, and even now do you know, I am banned from visiting amazon camps in the Northern territory, and performing some amazon rites? Crazy, isn't it? Tragic really, how one little game of tree volleyball can go so wrong. Not that I was there, you understand.

So I chanted away in amazonesque, and even laid down a groovy drum beat on my breastplate. I had quite a rhythm going, when I was startled out of my dance by Gabrielle.

"Xena. Uhh...are you alright?"

"Oh, sorry Gabrielle. I was just chanting the amazon version of ten green bottles...must've dropped into the spirit world there for a minute. It's easily done."

"You know amazon chants and rituals? How?"

"I spent some time with Cyanne and the gals." I said, casually.

"You knew Cyanne? The legendary, statuesque Queen of the Northern Amazons? When?" Her eyes glowed, and she did the breaststroke up to me. I wanted to do the breaststroke too, but I figured after the fish incident, I probably wouldn't get away with it.

"Oh, it would've been...lemme see now. Caesar...Borias...oh yeah, mustn't forget Cortese - murdering harpy! - uhh...Draco. Where did Draco come? Oh, I've forgotten someone else now. Never mind, it'll come back to me. I reckon, about ten winters ago, Gabrielle."

"You don't say?" She remarked, drily. "How did you get to know Cyanne? Legend has it that she was a very private woman, yet fair and a very good queen."

"I just dropped in on her one day. We were like sisters - always swapping clothes. Mainly while wearing 'em..." My mind drifted to the many hours we'd spent playing in the sweat hut. Amazons seemed to like playing in the sweat hut, being flicked with green branches. I was a bit rusty, and wondered if Gabrielle would be willing to let me refresh my technique. I was just about to ask her, when I noticed the scowl on her face.

"You're thinking about another lover, aren't you? Gods, Xena! Did you have no morals when you were younger?"

"Sweetheart, I was a warlord." I stated, grandly. "Sex was just another weapon. And let me just say...I have the biggest tool of any arsenal..." I waggled my eyebrows and winked and, like the dames always do, she couldn't resist. Deep down on the inside, I knew she couldn't, even though she made a damn good show of looking like she could.

"Honestly, the way you put yourself about. It's amazing you didn't catch anything."

"I caught plenty, sweetheart!" I grinned naughtily, and she just rolled her eyes again. Honestly, she does that so much, it's amazing they stay in her head. I was just enjoying a quick fantasy of me testing her eyeball situation by using my lips to check they were fixed securely (and then moving around to check nose, ears, neck, tongue and breasts - you never know how loose body parts can get just through everyday use) when I was rudely brought back to reality by Gabrielle.

"So, are you trying to say that mumbling that drivel and twitching like that takes you into the spirit world?"

Twitching? Drivel? I could tell that for a classy broad with a body that would bring tears to the eyes of Apollo, she had no idea when it came to the finesse of dealing with the spiritual plane. How to explain the complexities of making the transition between this world, and the world of raw, primal power where the advantages we enjoy here mean nothing? How to explain this?

"I have had similar results from drinking a few flagons of Stag's Blood ale. It's pretty cool, sweetheart. Everything goes all red and swirly..."

"What's the point?"

"It's the spirit world!"

"What do you do there, that you can't do here?"

I looked sheepish, she looked insistent. I looked furtive, and she looked determined. I looked nonchalant, and mumbled,

"Harness the forces of darkness, maybe?"

She looked unimpressed. "Don't tell me you entered the spirit world when you were a rampaging warlord, to harness the dark forces of the universe in order to further your evil warlord ends?"

That smart dame had figured out the entire strategy of my warlord years. I coughed. "A girl could go far, with the dark forces of the universe behind her! A girl could, for example, rig a game of tree volleyball so the 70 dinar bet at 30/1 odds she'd put on the National Amazon All-Girls losing by one goal to nil would be a cert. A girl could have done that, if she'd been so inclined, and anywhere near the vicinity at the time. Which she wasn't. Of course." I smiled, weakly.

"Great. Just do something for me, would you? I don't want to see you twitching and jumping like that again. It's kinda scary. Don't go messing about with the spirit world again. Please?"

I was kinda disappointed for two reasons:

1. I wanted her to get me all twitchy and jumpy like that on a very regular basis, and:

2. The spirit world held an odd fascination for me. It was like a drug that I couldn't say no to, and even though I'd been away for years, I still felt it's pull. I couldn't resist the swirly redness of it all. But of course, a request from my best girl had to be taken seriously.

"Okay, sweetheart. If the sight of me shakin' my humps gets you all hot and bothered, I won't do it again. Unless you ask me real nice!"

Moments later, I was wringing my dripping hair out when we heard a thud and a squeak in the undergrowth to our right; next thing, a huge, furry, black eyed thing came tumbling out of the bushes and almost rolled into the pool, panting huskily and growling in a gravelly voice.

"Xena! I knew I'd find you here! The bones led me to you!"

"What bones?"

"The bones of all the people you've killed! I have harnessed their power, and now I am invincible! I'll teach you to choose her over me - why, you couldda had it all, Xena! Power! Darkness! And pole dancing on demand..."

"What? You never mentioned about the pole dancing!"

"It's too late now! No-one rejects Alti the Dark Shamaness! Let's have at it!"

Alti's huge black eyes grew bigger and even blacker as she stared and blinked and winked at me. No-one gets the best of me in a staring contest, so I bugged my eyes and squinted right back. Soon, we were groaning and sweating and crying with pain as we gave our eyes a thorough workout. Then curse me for a blind cyclops, 'cos I didn't see it coming! She pulled out a hipflask, guzzled the contents and shouted gleefully,

"Stag's Blood, Xena! I'm in the spirit world now! I'm gonna get you!!"

And the godsdammed, snake hipped, evil eyed broad hit me with everything. Every fight I'd ever been in, every battle I'd ever fought, every beating I'd ever taken. I fought back with all my might, and then - like the evil haired driad that she was - she played dirty. Just as I was making her relive the wedgie she'd gotten at Shameness School, she hit me with a triple whammy; when Lyceus and Torris had stuck my head in the cess pond, when my drawers had somehow gotten loose and had come off - trailing behind me like a pink pennant - at the vital battle of Rhodes, and when I had failed to 'perform' in the love stakes with Caesar. With my self confidence shattered, I sank to my knees, a gibbering wreck, while Alti cackled and bwahaha-ed.

Gabrielle, meanwhile, had observed the whole thing with a puzzled look. She - naive thing - knew nothing about the spirit world, and just saw two women making faces at each other. So when I collapsed, she ran out of the pool and cradled my head in her soaking lap.

"Xena! What's the matter? Why don't you fight her?"

"...can't...Gabrielle...too...powerful..." I was gasping and heaving like a beached whale. The evil old shameness was magnanimous in her victory.

"Bwahaha! That's POWER that is, Xena! It couldda been yours. I couldda been yours! Get your head out of that girl's lap!"

Alti started twitching again, and took another gulp from her hip flask (she had real big hips, so you can imagine the size of the flask.) She looked like she was revving up for another go, and I didn't want Gabrielle to get caught in the middle, so I crawled upright and stood, swaying proudly on my one foot (don't know what the other one was doing) and the look of pride on Gabrielle's face would've brought tears to my eyes if I wasn't such an emotionally strong woman, and they weren't already weeping...dust or something in there. Yeah, that's right. Dust.

"Xena - just thump her like you usually do." Gabrielle encouraged me by shadow boxing on the sidelines.

"You don't understand, Gabrielle." I replied, fixing the cackling and wobbling Alti with a steely gaze. "We're fighting in the spirit world. Although it looks like we're making no movement, a mighty battle is being fought - by our souls! And the price of failure is high. Now stand aside and let me do what I do best - KICK BUTT, BABY!!!"

And I surged into life again. Unfortunately, Alti chose exactly that moment to hit me with Mother's tirade at last year's forgotten birthday (which also had fallen on overlooked Mother's Day.) Well, I swear to the gods, I was done for - the merciless nagging was like a woodpecker drilling through my eardrums, and sucking out all the will to live. I was gibbering again, and Gabrielle caught me as I fell.

"Right! I've had enough of this spiritual world nonsense! You! You evil old witch!"

"Who? Me?" Alti looked surprised.

"Yes - you! Stop this right now and leave her alone! What's she done to you?"

"She SPURNED me!!"

"And you think that's a good enough reason to hound someone day and night with horrible letters and things left on our doorstep? Yes, you should look guilty!" Alti did. "Don't think we don't know it was you under all that manure!" The old witch blushed under the makeup. "So she spurned you. Alright, that can't have been nice, but you have to move on. Go find yourself a nice girl who appreciates your talents."

The evil old shameness looked thoughtful for a minute. "You should see the things I can do with a snake and a feather duster..."

"Ahh...I'm sure that would come in very...uhh, handy. There are plenty of other..."

"Don't say fish in the sea, little girl. What do you know? Do you have any idea how tough it is, being the best shameness pole dancer in ancient Greece? The constant moisturising, the splinters...the massive mascara bills. And what do you think I have to do each day to get my voice like this? Think this is natural? Who's going to want that?"

"There are plenty of people out there who would find your...uhh...character traits and physical talents appealing. I'm sure there are. But you have to accept that Xena has moved on. She's not the bloodthirsty warlord you knew. She's changed." Gabrielle rocked my head, and smiled down at me, pride shining all over her face. Curse me for a wooly headed, love struck sap but I nearly asked her to marry me right there. Luckily, being struck down in sheer terror saved me, as Alti screamed loudly and her mascara ran.

"Noooo! I WON'T give her up! She belongs to the darkness! She belongs to me! She hocked my best pole and I want it back!!" And she threw herself towards us, her twisted fingers like talons grasping for my neck.

Her fingers didn't touch my neck, but her face connected solidly with Gabrielle's fist as my little blonde stepped forward and - marvellous sight!!! - threw a sublime right upper cut. Alti's eyes did a little dance in their sockets, before collapsing like the old bag of bones she was. Marvellous sight! To watch those bunched up biceps and contorted abs as my sweet Gabrielle threw that jaw cracking punch right in the old hag's kisser.

"Gabrielle! Sweetheart! I'm impressed!"

She positively glowed, whilst cradling her hand. "Punching's alright? In the spirit world?"

"Who gives a damn, sweetheart! You kicked that hag's ass good style, and saved my life into the bargain. I owe ya, baby."

"Great." She was all smiles. "Now all we need to do is find Antiminius and it'll be the end of a perfect day."

Just then, there was a rustling to our right, and Velasca's head popped out of the scrub, closely followed by the rest of her. She was dragging a tall, grey haired and frankly weird looking man around on a leather leash.

"No problem." She smiled. "Thanks to your friend there, it's all in hand." She tossed me the leash, then prodded Alti with her toe. The old bag of bones stirred, then shot upright, groaning and rubbing her jaw.

"What the...what hit me?"

"You've just been touched by an angel, Alti." I chortled, as Gabrielle blushed. "Go now, and do good." I hauled the wobbly old evil incarnate woman to her feet, then draped my arm around Gabrielle's shoulders.

Velasca's ears pricked up. "Alti? You're Alti, the famous pole dancing shameness? I've heard about the things you can do with a scarf and a chair leg. I didn't believe it was possible - I tried it out in a few...uhh, investigative sessions, but I couldn't get it to work."

"Oh, it's all in the wrist action. Perhaps you'll allow me to show you?" Alti's black eyes had lit up when she'd clapped them on Velasca, and the crazed amazon was giggling like a naughty schoolgirl.

"No time like the present. I have an assignment waiting in my cellar. Perhaps you'd like to accompany me?" Velasca held out an arm; Alti smiled and took it.

"Delighted I'm sure."

The two walked off, arm in arm. "Oh, bye Xena. See you around sometime." The shameless shameness threw her goodbye casually over her shoulder, then snuggled herself further under the muscular amazon's arm with a contented sigh.

"Hey!" Antiminius yelled at Velasca's departing back. "I paid for an hour!" I grabbed his leash and dragged him out of the clearing.

"So, sweetheart. Another case successfully solved."

"Yeah. Feels kinda good, doesn't it?"

"You bet. There's only one way this day could be any more perfect."

"What's that Xena?" My green eyed goddess enquired as she took my arm.

"You - if you kept forgetting you're naked, until we got home and up to my bedroom." For naked she was, apart from a tiny little pair of drawers she'd insisted on wearing, with little droplets of water clinging to that gorgeous body like pearls. In all the excitement, she'd forgotten.

Well? I'd told her eventually, hadn't I?

Damn me, but what a damn fine sight that was to be seeing, with the last dying rays of the sun burnishing her skin and hair copper, and catching the beads of water like crystals. She was like a goddess of silvery fire, and didn't she set the fire in me burning! There was only one way to put it out.

"So, sweetheart. About that bed..."

"Forget it. I don't believe you let me run around naked in front of Alti and Velasca...and him! Really Xena - what were you thinking?" She had her arms crossed over her beautiful breasts, and try as I might, I couldn't see past them.

"Well, I paid for an hour too!" I wailed. "I still have ten minutes left. Plenty of time! Sweetheart, you can trust me. Sweetheart?"

All I saw was the moon disappearing behind a clump of bushes. And what a damn fine moon it was too! A little pissed off right now, admittedly, but that'd pass. How could anyone stay angry at me for long? I knew she'd come around, one day.


Part 9 - All's well that ends well..

I was sitting in my office, with my feet up on the desk and trying to roll a cigarette using only my thumb, when I was startled by a knock on the door. I jumped, and scattered tobacco all over my carefully written case notes - Herc was sending pretty boy, muck spreading Iolaus round for them, and I wanted to have a talk with him about various Sunday activities he seemed to be indulging in.

It was Gabrielle. "Xena, there's someone here to see you."

"Aw. If it's Alti, just tell her we'll be there Saturday night. But I'm not drinking red wine - not at Velasca's place. You never know if it's wine or not."

"It's not Alti. I think it's a new case. Can you take a new case?"

"Oooh! A case? That depends, sweetheart. Can they pay?"

"I think so. She looks pretty wealthy."

"A paying case! Aha! Then I'll sure as Hades see her. No rest for the wicked, Gabrielle. Now that my fame and reputation is spreading, I'll be in demand! And Herc doesn't get the 20% cut!" I twirled my cigarette around in glee.

"Okay. Says her name's Lao Ma. Something about her son."

"Lao Ma? What kinda name is that? Never mind...send her in, and start a new scroll, sweetheart. We're back in business!


Tune in for the next thrilling adventure of Xena: Warrior Investigator, and her sidekick Gabrielle: Amazon Assistant, where our intrepid duo journey to far off lands, renew old acquaintances and have dim sum. Dim sum for all!

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