The Last Conqueror


Kamouraskan and Lariel

For disclaimers and credits, please see part 1

Chapter 15

The tableau of generals stood frozen as their knives dripped with the blood of the woman they had just murdered.

Gabrielle's eyes scanned each of the men and noted the myriad of expressions that passed over their faces. Having made the ultimate choice, having risked their all, they now looked upon Xena with shock, disbelief and fear. Alexander alone seemed to be calculating all the various possibilities that the former Empress' sudden appearance implied.

He stepped forward in wary greeting. "By the Gods, I've been so blind. But my eyes don't lie. Here you are." He regarded her, barely containing his frustration and disbelief. "Of course, you were still alive. But as dramatic as the resurrection of my old teacher is, it changes nothing."

There was a muted muttering from his stunned peers, and several raised their still bloodied blades. Alexander quickly recovered his composure and turned to his comrades with an expansive gesture. "Relax, gentlemen. Xena is hardly about to avenge Alti's death, nor could she possibly think that throne is hers by some natural right. She's here to talk." He turned back, a slight smile on his face. "Aren't you, Xena?"

"Always thinking, always so cool, Alex. And you're only... what? Twenty-three? No exhilaration from such an important kill? No confusion or worry about whether I've made your butchering pointless?"

"As dramatic as your entrance is, Xena, stop stalling. You didn't come here expecting to take that throne. So tell us what you want."

Xena arched an eyebrow in acknowledgement of the verbal hit. "You always were quick. Quick enough to know not to fight me."

"When I was young, yes. But that was a few years ago. You remember, still in my teens, mourning my father, consolidating his empire? And you had so much to teach me. But now..." he swept his hand about the room, "... these men know me. They know what I can do."

"We all know what you can do. The question is, what will you do?"

"No, the question is, what can you do?" he returned, equally smoothly. "As good as you are, you need an army, and a trade agreement with the Green Dragon isn't enough to even sit at this table now, much less at the head."

Xena's lips quirked. "I do have a few allies. I understand that you have already met Gabrielle...." She gave a slight pause. "... Queen of the Amazons."

There was another small silence and the small group watched as her attendants assisted Gabrielle in descending from the litter. "Nice to meet you," Alexander muttered bemusedly, staring at the slight girl who was dressed in sumptuous skins and jewelry. She nodded slightly in acknowledgement. He returned his attention to his old mentor. "Support of the Amazons and a mouthful of dinars buys you an ale at the inn, Xena." A derisive smile crept onto his lips.

Xena shrugged. "Well, you might change your mind if you talk to a friend of yours about that." She gave a nod towards the hole where the door had once been." You all know Pericles, don't you?"

Pericles was brought forward accompanied by two Amazons, somehow managing to make it appear that they were his escorts. A shove in the back was dealt with by an imperious glare before he began to speak. "Two days ago I was on an... errand." There was slight pause as he considered his words. "This forced me to leave the city. I was taking one of the less traveled roads when two Amazons apprehended me. They took me to a camp, or rather a village."

"How many Amazons would you say you saw?" Xena prompted.

"In the first village I'd say, not less than three thousand." Muttering broke out amongst the commanders at this. Pericles absorbed the attention with pleasure before continuing. "On my way here I was taken through another encampment, and I estimate that there were further four thousand of the female warriors."

At this, the muttering became barely restrained protest. Xena once again indicated Gabrielle with a flourish. "So perhaps you'd like to greet the Queen of the Amazons more correctly."

"Hi," said Gabrielle in a small voice as she tried to avoid the inert body on the floor. She took a few tentative steps away from the litter, and took up position next to Xena. With a trace of a quiver that worried Xena, she said, "I've given orders that, together with Ming Tien's forces, my ten thousand warriors are to surround this city."

"So no one is going anywhere for a while, boys." Xena kept her confident smile as she calmly stepped over the body of Alti, and headed towards the dais and its throne. Comfortably, she took each upward step towards the great chair until reaching it, she ran her finger around the gilt edging, savouring the long-forgotten features and texture of the intricately carved arms. It felt warm, almost comforting to the touch. Her nostrils were teased by the rich odours of the highly waxed wood and its familiar, well-worn leather inlays. She perched on its arm. "I think we should talk, don't you?"

Alexander dipped his head in reluctant admiration. "A well played card. But there are greater forces at play here, Xena. Though I will admit you may have complicated things somewhat. For the time being."

"Sorry," she smiled, insincerely. "I'm just that kind of girl."

More silence, this time broken by scuffling as Claudius pushed his way through the group and to Alexander's side, still brandishing his crimsoned knife blade before him. "What is this? Does she think she can just walk in here and take over? And how do we know any of this is true?"

"Claudius, you've gotten braver and fatter since I last saw you," was the smooth response from the dais. "Anyway, Alex knows I don't bluff."

The Macedonian king nodded. "Even if this were that rare exception, if Pericles says there are ten thousand Amazons surrounding this city, then there are ten thousand Amazons surrounding the city." He kept an admiring but calculating eye on Xena.

"So what? Does she think she can hold us hostage? How long will they hold out once our forces begin arriving?" blustered Claudius, grabbing Alexander's arm. There was a murmuring from the other Generals.

"Eponin?" Eponin waited until a nod from Gabrielle indicated she was to respond, an interplay that did not go unnoticed. The Amazon weapons master moved to the foot of the dais. Xena posed the question. "Your scouts spotted over two thousand soldiers, the crème of Rome, arriving tomorrow. How many casualties would you expect your forces to receive once they enter the forests?"

Eponin mused on the problem for a moment. "With the element of surprise, the forest for cover and using only our archers, I'd estimate..." she paused for effect, "... none." She allowed a small smile to play over her usually stoic face. "However, if we decided that our trainees needed some hand to hand exercise, we might lose two or three."

"Then our next legion will simply burn the forest cover down!" spluttered Claudius.

Xena yawned. "When they get here. And that's going to take some time, I think. Eponin? Given say, a month to prepare... to create fire walls, dugouts and all the usual ways to prevent being burnt out, plus time to set traps, how do you think you'd do against a force twenty times that size?"

"Given a month, we could hold it. Even longer, because we'd hold it to the last woman."

"But why would they?" demanded Ariovistus.

Terreis produced a parchment, glancing at it as she spoke. "Because unlike your armies, where only a small percentage are actual fighters and the rest mostly people for supply and support, every Amazon is a trained warrior who'd be protecting her home and her family." She allowed the tiniest of smiles to creep onto her lips. "Our reward is that the lands and forests around Corinth will be granted to the Amazons in perpetuity, as long as they can protect Corinth from any attack."

"By whose order?" Alexander's chin tilted.

"Who cares?" the red-head replied. "Considering what you boys had planned for them, I'm sure the citizens of Corinth'll think it's a pretty good deal. What do you think?"

There was a long silence while the Generals digested this last piece of news. Alexander, once again, was the one to break it. "So you think you've boxed us into our shed. Now where do you plan to herd us?"

"I'm not boxed," Claudius blustered. "We can still destroy this city or hold them hostage. We have the soldiers for that."

Alexander dismissed him. "Amazons don't believe in hostages. So that leaves us with killing the Amazon Queen, and burning the city. And then go where?" The blue eyes of the Macedonian were contemptuous as they regarded the strident Roman. "You'd cut off the branch you were sitting on, would you?" He sighed, then turned back to Xena and regarded her thoughtfully for several moments. "You've gone to great deal of difficulty to get to this point. Let's hear the plan, Xena."

So this was it. She looked to see if Gabrielle was ready, and was startled to find the girl staring wide-eyed at the bloody body that lay sprawled on the floor's mosaic. Forging on anyway, she said, "It's not my plan, it's my... partner's."

Now the German spoke contemptuously. "Partner? Who have you tricked into following your banner now? Another ill-bred peasant, I would assume?"

Knowing the effect this would have on Gabrielle, Xena could have kissed the fool but instead she leaped from her perch, startling them all. She lifted the German by the throat and slammed him against the wall. "Live and learn," she hissed into his face. "That's what I've done. Now wouldn't you like a few more minutes to do both?"

To her relief she heard Gabrielle cough and say deliberately, "I think you can let him down now, Xena."

Still snarling, Xena let the German slide down the wall to land a boneless heap on the elaborately tiled floor, his eyes both fear filled and resentful. She stepped back, and approached the silent men. Casually, she brushed past them, tapping each on the chest as she spoke. "Gabrielle became Queen by beating Alti in a Queen's Challenge. And that was an Alti with all her powers. After the victory, Gabrielle decided that the broken husk was not worth killing, but I see you gentlemen disagreed. Or weren't you surprised when you managed to get so close without her sweeping you all away? You already owe this particular peasant your lives." Having said her piece, she withdrew to the side of the throne again and allowed Gabrielle to take center stage, noting that the girl's eyes were now alight with anger.

"Peasant, eh?" Gabrielle began. She put her hands on her hips and glared. "It's not like you well-born gentlemen really have much of a plan yourselves, is it? I mean, basically all you've agreed to do is clear the board and start over again. And let's think of it that way, of course, clearing away a board, let's forget that we're talking about human beings whose lives you'll be destroying.... friends, families, lovers and children that are just as important as your DAMNABLE greed..." Gabrielle's voice was beginning to rise.

"Gabrielle..." Xena said, quietly.

The newly minted Amazon Queen recovered smoothly. "Yes, well... I said we'd forget that, didn't I? So you clear the board, and what have you got? None of your countries is self-sufficient, so you'll all soon be at war just to get back what you had before the slaughter started." She began pointing at the leaders one at a time, while Xena relaxed, admiring her anger and poise.

"You, your country is renowned for its artisans and manufacturing, but you're landlocked, so how long till you'll be at war with him, to get his seaport? And you? You're at his back in the mountains so you're hoping he's distracted enough so you can attack and have a place to process your minerals. And after all this warring, will any of your miners, or your artists or your factories or your boats be standing? Or will you have already surrendered to Alexander as he picks up the pieces? Will the farms that fed you be burned, and the villages that provided your soldiers be rubble? That's a PLAN?" She glared at the group with burning eyes.

They stared back at her in complete and stunned silence.

She took a deep breath, then cast them a charming smile. "So maybe you might want to listen to how you can have all you have now. Freedom, and peace, and the gratitude of your people?"

Suebin pulled himself to his feet. "This is ridiculous. Don't tell me any of you are actually listening to this... this..." He gestured towards Gabrielle, who simply smiled again and waved at one of her Amazons. Immediately, a scroll was placed into her hands.

"If you wish to preach in favour of what's good for the people, I'm afraid you've picked the wrong audience," interrupted Ariovistus.

"I'm not so naïve. Though you might be if you believe you can maintain your position without the backing of the landowners, the nobles, the peasants, the artists, the soldiers and the workers of your country. And why will they support me and not you?" Gabrielle held up the scroll and slowly unfurled it. "Because this treaty will bring peace. It will take away the taxes of the empire and put more food on all of their tables, and most importantly, it will stop their children from being killed. I am offering the only sane choice. Will you take it?"

The generals looked to Alexander who stood frozen in the center of the room. Words escaped his mouth, a barely heard whisper. "A choice... offered by the third woman." He appeared to gather himself again and addressed Gabrielle, though his eyes seemed to be seeing her for the first time. "I'm sorry, but not too long ago I was given a reading, which said that an event of this kind would occur."

Gabrielle shook the scroll, letting her frustration show. "But that's what we should be avoiding! Seers and Fates, Gods and Destiny. They are all rewards, pieces of cheese for the rats to chase. No wonder the Gods have no respect for us. They play with us, and then, we in turn play with those unfortunate enough to be under our control. And so on, and so on right down the line and we never learn. This is a chance to break the cycle."

Alexander nodded. "Fine. You have our attention. Speak your piece."

They were going to listen. Gabrielle felt her exhilaration rise until she clamped it down firmly. Don't get overconfident now. Unless she really did want to become like the rest of them. She motioned to her Amazons; moments later, a selection of scrolls was placed carefully onto the heavy oak table that lay at the far end of the room. Gabrielle strolled to the table, and picked one up. "These are copies of the agreement with the Green Dragon. We expect you all to sign them."

"What? Trade agreements and mutual defence pacts? This is how you will create the perfect peace?" smirked Claudius, moving over to the table and sweeping his hand across the top. Scrolls slid across the polished surface and cascaded onto the floor. "You show your ignorance of politics, girl."

The Amazons bristled; Gabrielle held up a hand to stall their response. "Treaties survive when they have enforceable penalties, mutual benefits, and the right people in the right places."
"Right people in the right places?" repeated the Roman, eyeing the heavily armed and now angry Amazons with some trepidation. He slid away from the table and back to the shelter of his male colleagues.

"Yes," replied Gabrielle smoothly. "For example, Xena will be helping with enforcement." She gestured towards the Warrior, who waved from her position on the arm of the throne.

"What exactly does that mean?" asked Suebin, suspiciously.

"It means, that if any of you break the agreement, you can expect to find her at your gates with an army made up of the other signatories," was Gabrielle's explanation, delivered with a charming smile and another wave towards the former Conqueror.

There was a short silence as the image sank in. "And if we fail to contribute soldiers to this army?" questioned Alexander.

Xena interrupted, with a smile of her own. "Then you can expect to find me in your bedroom at night with my knife at your throat." There was another, less contemplative silence.

Gabrielle acknowledged Xena's comment with an expressive shrug. "See, finding the right person is very important. Here's another example. Pericles." He scholar started as his name was mentioned. "You've been writing about a form of government you call 'democracy,' is that right?"

Pericles' cheeks turned a slight shade of pink. "You've read my scrolls?"

Gabrielle nodded. "I don't suppose any of the Commanders here have...? No, I didn't think so. Reform isn't something you thought was in your own interests. Pity. Because it is now." She glared at them before approaching the scholar. "Pericles, I've had a lot of time to imagine how the world could be, while I scrabbled to find food and keep my friends safe. I thought they were just dreams, but I found a blueprint for that world in your scrolls. Would you like an opportunity to practice it? Here, in Corinth, with the shelter of the Amazon Nation, you could establish an elected council. We could fund you with some of Alti's gold. You could build schools, hospitals, museums, theatres and a library for all the citizens. Draw the greatest of architects, playwrights, teachers...Would you be interested in that?"

"The Empress's gold"?" Claudius' eyes had kindled with interest at the mention of Alti's cache of treasure.

Xena swung her long legs over the side of the throne and settled onto the seat, shifting until she was comfortable. "Yes, seems the old hag was doing quite nicely, judging by the amount she's salted away."

"She was bleeding the people dry," came Gabrielle's sharp retort. "It should go to back to them, where it can do the most good."

"That should be our job," interrupted Claudius. Several of the Generals murmured their agreement. "That coin was taken from our coffers too, and we are the Representatives of our people. The gold should come to us. We will decide what's best for our own people."

"Representative of the people? You?" scoffed Gabrielle. "The only mandate you have is for war, and we're talking peace now. Seems to me you decide what's best for yourselves. Give you a chest full of money and you'd be raising armies with it. Fortune should bring corn in the fields and food on plates, not razed lands and dead farmers. But with a democracy, there might be a chance of it getting to where it's needed. You'd have to have votes to decide how to spend it, so if you want to have a say, get on this wagon before it leaves town, gentlemen. Oh, and a word of advice? If women outside the city are protecting it, I'd advise you to make sure that women in the city can vote, own property and have the same rights as men. Just to keep potential friction down." Again there was that charming and confident smile that was confusing the generals far more than her speech. She turned again to the scholar. "Pericles, will you attempt your democracy?"

"No." The answer was prompt, and unexpected.

"Why?" queried Xena, a note of surprise in her voice. She sat forward on the throne, her blue eyes capturing Pericles' grey ones.

He swallowed deeply, but spoke without a tremor. "You talk very well, and you both claim you don't want to be pawns in someone's game. Yet you seem rather adept at moving your pieces. I won't be played either."

"This isn't a game, Pericles," interrupted Gabrielle. "Too many people have died already and many thousands more will if we don't get serious about this. There'll be no-one pulling strings in the background. Neither Xena nor I will be controlling the city or this agreement."

Pericles snorted a short laugh. "The Amazon Queen with her force of thousands, and Xena with her... reputation? I will not give you a façade to rule. That is not democracy. My way favours the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy. And you claim to have read my work?" He levelled a flat glare at her, and made to move towards the door.

Gabrielle stuck out a placatory hand, arresting his progress. "You once wrote about poverty; that no one should be ashamed to admit it, and that the real shame is in not taking practical measures to escape from it. I believed that too, for a while. But it's not enough to want better things. There has to be the opportunity within the system to help people." She moved her hand up to his shoulder and said earnestly, "Give that chance to thousands. Seize this moment."

Pericles' brow wrinkled, but he gave no response. His eyes flickered uncertainly from the girl in front of him to Alexander, Xena and then back to the Amazon Queen once more. Gabrielle tried again. "You also said that just because you aren't interested in politics, doesn't mean that politics isn't interested in you. You preached a doctrine that demands involvement - how can you step away from it now?"

"Very clever to use my own words, but do you really understand what it would mean? Are you prepared for laws that give equal justice to ALL? Regardless of birth, wealth and station? That none of you will be more important than the poorest person in Corinth? You're telling me that the Amazon Queen and former Empress can live with that?" His eyes flashed a challenge at Gabrielle and Xena.

"Of course! That's the whole point, isn't it?" shot back Gabrielle. "If it's us you're worried about, don't be. We probably won't even be here."

There was a stunned silence, and all eyes swivelled to Xena. Her lips quirked and one eyebrow arched at Gabrielle's words.

The former Empress dangled one leg over the side of the throne swinging it gently, the slight movement drawing all eyes in the room to watch the honey-coloured limb swing its graceful arc. "I'm sure the boys here are considering your offer, Gabrielle. Especially Pericles." She cast a quick smile towards the deliberating scholar. "But we have the little business of treaty signing to attend to. And before any of you figure that you can sign the treaties and repudiate them once you leave here and rejoin your armies, you should know that you'll be staying here for a moon or so while preparations are made. That should give us enough time to send your copy of the agreement to your home country, along with some gold to fund a celebration of the peace. You should be home, just after the empire's taxes are not collected, to a hero's welcome."

"So that's how you're going to do it?" Alexander snapped, and strode up to the dais on which the throne was placed. "Bribe or buy off any opposition with our own gold? That might work with the others, but not me. What could you possibly have that I couldn't take once I'm sitting in that chair? I will not put off a destiny that has already been written in the stars."

"Written in blood, you mean. Haven't we had enough of conquerors?" uttered Gabrielle, sharply.

"Like your partner?" The Macedonian turned to her with a derisive laugh. "You truly believe that she's given up on ruling the world? No one changes, girl. Not like that. And especially not Xena. Just because you think age or conscience finally caught up with the Conqueror, doesn't mean I'm foolish enough to. You've been conned, girl."

"You think I still want power?" Xena's stillness was unsettling. She tossed him a cold smile. "Been there, had that."

"I have a way to prove your sincerity, Xena," Alexander smirked as he unsheathed his sword. "Ambition has always been the fuel for the exceptional. It fired you once, made you hungry and deadly. But if you've mellowed so much, then I should be able to take you, correct? And if I can't, then we'll know the fire hasn't burned as low as you claim." He stood at the edge of the dais, his sword outstretched and a confident smile on his face. The Generals fell back quickly.

Gabrielle threw out an arm to stall the rush of Amazons, and motioned to her archers to lower their bows.

"You want to take me on in a swordfight? Now who's being foolish, Alexander?" came Xena's voice, with a growling edge to it.

"Not foolish, Xena. I'm seizing an opportunity. The world is made for those with the courage to shape it with their own hands."

"Funny you should say that. I used to hear that voice, once. Sometimes it was Ares, or Alti, but the promise was always the same."

"And was that voice wrong? Can you no longer hear it? Prove it. Take the challenge, Xena." He moved his sword and pointed it at chest level. "Lose with honour, in battle. Or lose in disgrace. Show us what the truth really is, because I'm willing to risk everything. I will not be denied my rightful destiny again by you, without giving my all," he snarled.

She sprang to her feet, causing him to stagger back a few steps. She smirked. "Would you have me fight you unarmed? And here, on the stage?"

He withdrew his sword, a triumphant gleam in his eyes. "Go, get a sword from your cronies. And I'll give you a moment to say goodbye to your... partner." He spat the words, then jumped off the dais. He was immediately surrounded by his fellow Generals.

"Xena, what in Hades do you think you're doing?" Furious green eyes bored into Xena's as she joined the band of Amazons. "You're not gonna fight him for the throne?"

"Terreis? I'll need your sword." There was a moment of hesitation, before the blade was produced. "Gabrielle. I have no choice. Alexander will pick apart your precious 'democracy' if I don't do something about him now. Either I fight him, and maybe keep the Empire from falling apart, or I don't and we all lose. Only..."


The warrior paused, and there was the slightest slump to her shoulders. "Gabrielle, what if he's right? I don't know how much I've changed, and maybe part of what..."

"Listen to me. He's wrong. Know why? Because he believes that people can't change, and you have."

"You don't know me."

Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "I KNOW that you won't take that throne. I know that you would give your life if you could change what happened in Potadaia. I know Alexander is wrong. He believes that ambition is all that drives the world. Do you?"

"I used to. I know it carried me through times when I wanted to quit." Xena swept her gaze around the crowd of Amazon warriors clustered around her, glanced briefly at the remains of her nemesis Alti, kicked aside and forgotten on the dusty floor of the meeting hall, and then settled on the open face of the Amazon Queen. "But you believe in me? Can it be that simple?" Her lips quirked into a wry grin. " Damn it, Gabrielle. I don't know what the Hades drives the world... but I think I'm about to find out where my strength comes from. Maybe a single person can't change fate alone, but two might just be able to use it and shape it."

"I'm waiting, Xena," called Alexander, "I've been waiting for too long. Let's meet our fates together. Yours, to die by my hand, here and now. And mine to put destiny back on course." The group of Generals fell back, to reveal Alexander standing with sword outstretched. He brandished it, inviting her to enter the circle formed by the honour guard of his confederates.

Without hesitation, she did so. "Alex, you don't know what sitting in that chair means to even the most extraordinary mortals. There are only two human beings in the world who could tell you, and one is lying dead on the floor over there. The other one wants you to listen."

"All I've heard from you and your friends today is talk. Talk and no battle. What happened to the old Xena? The one who would've grabbed a challenge like this, the one who would've relished it?" He whirled sharply, and the subsequent clash of swords sent a shower of sparks into the air.

Immediately, the crowd of generals made to close the circle. Gabrielle could see the glint of steel as daggers were unsheathed. "I wouldn't do that, if I were you." Gabrielle grabbed hold of Ariovistus. He turned a derisive glare on her, and his lip curled.

"Little girl with a stick going to stop me?"

"The stick and the girl are a lot bigger than you think," she retorted. There was a sudden blur of movement, and suddenly he was lying on the floor, his head aching and his stomach winded. He lay there, gasping, as his colleagues eyed the blonde warily. The circle widened. "Let's play fair, boys." She gestured to her troops, and instantly there was a cordon of Amazon warriors guarding the ring where Alexander and Xena were dancing, their swords striking.

"End this, Alex," ground out Xena as she parried another heavy thrust. She pushed him away; he staggered and came back at her with a left slice, curling into an overhead strike. Again, she parried, and followed up with a swift punch to his jaw. He staggered again, yet remained on his feet.

"This is my time, Xena," he gasped, dashing away the blood that trickled from his split lip. "I think you've gone soft. The Xena I knew would've had me on my knees by now. Your time is passed." With a roar, he thrust and succeeded in grazing her left arm. He smiled, a huge satisfied smirk as blood oozed from the gash.

She shrugged. "Flesh wound," she said and immediately rounded on him, delivering several gashes of her own, followed by a barrage of kicks and punches. She whirred away, leaving him on his knees, panting and sweating.

He raised his head, and directed a poisonous glare at her. "Ah, there's the fire, the ambition... You haven't changed, you lying bitch. You want it all, don't you? The power, the wealth... the throne. See what she wants?" He tossed his words to the Generals. "You see what she's doing? The treaties, the promises - all lies! You know who she is, what she was. Can you really trust her?" There was a muted muttering from their assembled ranks. Alexander staggered to his feet, and raised his sword again. "Well, you know what, Xena? You're going to have to kill me first. Scrape my blood from your throne, because that's the only way you'll keep me off it!"

He leapt onto the dais and mounted the throne.

With a bone-chilling cry, Xena vaulted onto the dais, landing behind the throne. She flipped onto her hands, seized him around the neck with her legs and jerked him clean off the throne. He sailed through the air and crashed to the ground next to Alti's lifeless corpse. Stunned, he cracked open an eye, to find himself staring into the sightless eyes of his former Empress.

"What's she telling you, Alex?"

He turned onto his back, and then stilled; a sword was pointed at his neck, deadly inches away from his jugular.

"Do you really want to end up like her?" Xena kept the sword at his neck, but her eyes softened slightly. "Or like me? Your ambition has driven you into the ground, Alex. I know - I've been there. Trust me, it isn't any place you want to be."

"My ambition has made me the man I am today," he spat at her, his eyes pouring his resentment.

"And look at where you are," Xena shot back. "Look at what ambition alone has brought you to. Tell me, what is this ambition, to be... what? To do what? You think by making yourself powerful, that's a goal in itself? What value has that? It's directionless, pointless ambition."

"What could you hope for? That you might live a long life? Pass your empire to some progeny with half your wit and brains? You know history, you must know that won't happen. So you'd be just another conqueror, another giant in history who left nothing but crumbling monuments to vanity and ambition, and the world would move on without having changed."

"But what if you were one of the people that changed the world?" Gabrielle interrupted in a softer tone, moving closer to the prone man. "Built something that would forever be a benchmark for what humans can achieve and create? A touchstone for all the civilizations that came after us. What if you were one of the heroes of history?" Alexander remained silent, his eyes shifting from Xena to Gabrielle. "One who uses his power, rather than letting it use him? Your ambition isn't helping you, Alexander. It's poisoning you, eating away at you and leaving a dark emptiness behind. It'll take you over one day, like it did Alti. And Xena." She placed her hand on Xena's arm, and gently steered the sword away from the Macedonian's throat.

The warrior nodded and withdrew to the throne again. Alexander's eyes followed her closely.

"Fine words, Amazon. But have you persuaded Xena? Look at her seated in that chair so comfortably. Why do you believe that we won't soon be bowing down to the return of our last Conqueror?" Alexander yelled as he climbed to his feet, refusing Gabrielle's outstretched hand.

Xena stood. She cast him a wicked grin, then slowly began to circle the throne, her finger tracing the carved lines and intricate patterns. "It would be so easy," she purred as she ran her palm across the soft leather of the seat, then up along the polished mahogany back. "And it would solve so many problems..." She moved behind the chair, savouring the feel of the glossy wood against her skin, and breathed in the scents of beeswax and wood.

She lifted the throne high above her head, and smashed it to pieces.

concluded in next part

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