Hashiyama sat by Kurgawa, as another samurai tended to his wounds. He shook
his head in amazement, marveling at Kurgawa's
"This woman...she did all this to you??"
Kurgawa nodded once. Hashiyama nodded slowly.
"Incredible..." he said with admiration in his voice.
"She...was a worthy opponent, Lord Hashiyama. She was the best fighter I've ever encountered."
Hashiyama chuckled, gazing into the sky.
"What a waste...I could've used a woman like that in my army."
He turned, looking at three of his samurai.
"Did you find the body?"
One of the samurai lowered his head.
"No. It must have been swept downstream."
Hashiyama turned to Kurgawa.
"Do you think she survived?"
Kurgawa grimaced in pain as the samurai stitched his stab wound shut.
"Anyone...else....no. But...this warrior has a fierce fighting spirit. She may have survived, Lord."
Hashiyama nodded slowly.
"At least, this buys us some time."
He got to his feet, and turned to another samurai.
"Call the other men over. We have much to do."
Gabrielle plowed on, driving her horse as fast as she could. Asima followed close behind on her own horse. They continued on like this for several miles. Finally, Gabrielle slowed her horse to a stop. Asima stopped alongside her. She looked at the bard, seeing the anger and fear in her face. She leaned towards her.
"Gabrielle, we'll find Xena. Don't worry."
The bard's green eyes darted over the landscape.
"Na-uh. I won't stop worrying until I find her. Something's wrong, and I can feel it in my bones."
She gazed up into the sky.
"Xena, where are you?"
Asima looked to her left. Suddenly, her sharp eyes spotted something.
"Gabrielle! Look to your left!"
She instantly obeyed. And she saw it. A slumped figure, on horseback. Gabrielle's eyes widened in deepening fear.
She rode off, tearing towards the figure at a blinding speed. Asima followed closely. As Gabrielle got closer, her worst fears were realized.
The Warrior Princess was slumped over her horse's neck. A dark red streak ran down the side of the horse's belly. The warrior was wet, and shivering violently. Her skin was deathly pale. Gabrielle pulled up alongside Xena and quickly dismounted. Asima followed suit.
Gabrielle ran to Xena's side. She gasped in terror as she saw the knife sticking out of her side.
The warrior feebly turned her head to the right. Her glazed blue eye focused unsteadily on the bard.
Asima ran up to Gabrielle's side. The pair carefully took Xena off the horse and laid her on the ground. Tears burst from Gabrielle's eyes at the sight of the injuries.
She ran over to her horse, taking out a large leather bag from her saddlebag. Asima lifted Xena's head, laying it on her lap.
"Take it easy Xena. We're here."
The bard was at Xena's side in an instant. She placed a hand on her face.
"I'm here. Don't talk. Just rest."
Gabrielle quickly brought her attention to the knife.
"Got to get this out..." she said to herself.
She looked up at Xena, full of fear. The warrior looked back at the bard, her blue eye narrowing.
"Do it." she uttered hoarsely, yet with surprising strength.
Gabrielle grasped the blade and pulled it out. Xena let out a strangled cry of agony. Her eye rolled up into her head, which itself rolled off to one side. Gabrielle quickly looked up in horror.
Asima quickly felt for Xena's pulse. It was still there, but it was weak.
"She's still with us Gabrielle. But we've got to take her back to the village. She's lost a lot of blood. I can tend to her better there."
Gabrielle hastily began work on the stab wound.
"As soon as I clean this up, we're doing just that."
The warrior slowly opened her right eye. And as she had hoped, Gabrielle was sitting by Xena, leaning over her. A warm smile crossed the warrior's lips. Xena could see that Gabrielle's eyes were bloodshot from excessive crying. And still more tears rolled down her cheeks.
Xena raised a hand, delicately wiping the tears from the blonde's face.
"Don't cry." she said quietly, still hoarse.
Gabrielle clutched the hand, and kissed it. She held it tightly against her face.
"Don't...you... ever do that again." the blonde scolded.
"How long...have I been here?"
"A day and a half."
Xena's eye widened in shock.
She slowly began to rise. Gabrielle instantly pinned Xena back onto the bed. Her face darkened with anger.
"Don't even think about it." she warned in a menacing tone.
"Gabrielle, they have to be stopped-"
"Not in your condition, dammit!! You almost died!!"
Xena sighed. She reached for the wet rag covering her left eye. Gabrielle grabbed her hand.
"Uh-uh. That eye's still swollen."
Xena rolled her good eye in disgust. Gabrielle crossed her arms, raising an eyebrow.
"You're not getting out of that bed. I'll tie you to it if I have to."
Xena smirked in disgust.
"Yeah...you probably would." she mumbled.
"Xena, what happened to you?!"
Xena rolled her eye again, and sighed.
"I met my equal." she said, matter-of-factly.
"Just one man??"
Xena nodded slightly.
"He's got to be one of the best-if not the best-warrior I've ever gone up against. Agile, quick, and tough-with a discipline I haven't seen in a long, long time."
Gabrielle raised both eyebrows. Xena rarely ever threw that type of praise around-if ever. This told Gabrielle volumes about Xena's opponent. Xena's eye narrowed.
"I have a feeling we'll meet again."
"It won't be anytime soon, if I can help it." said Gabrielle firmly.
"Gabrielle, you know what's at stake here."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes.
"Xena, stop patronizing me. I'm not stupid. I know that this Chalice is dangerous. But how in the world are you going to fight off both the Romans and these other men in your condition?! Huh?! Tell me!!"
"All right Gabrielle. All right. You made your point. I'm sorry."
Gabrielle shook her head in disgust and frustration. She began to pace back and forth.
"I'm just going to have to will myself to get better quick." said Xena quietly.
Gabrielle looked at Xena, raising an eyebrow.
"Whatever. As long as you don't make any plans about getting out of that bed. I swear Xena, I'll tie you down, so help me."
Xena couldn't help but smile at Gabrielle.
"You ol' mother hen."
Gabrielle crossed her arms, glaring at Xena.
"Damn right. And don't you forget it."
Xena chuckled slightly.
"You'll never let me forget-uuhh!!"
Xena grimaced in pain. Gabrielle rushed over to her side.
"What's wrong Xena?!"
Xena squinted her eye shut and pursed her lips.
"L-Laughter's certainly not the best medicine...ugh..."
"Easy now, easy. How bad does it hurt?"
"Bad enough. But I'll deal with it; don't worry."
"I'll worry, thank you very much."
Xena shook her head.
"We've got to do something. There's too much at stake-"
"We aren't going to do anything. You're gonna lie here and rest. Meanwhile, I'm going into town and the surrounding areas to gather some info. You just rest here, and get better."
At that moment, Asima walked into the room. She walked over to Gabrielle and Xena. Asima smiled warmly.
"Ah!! I see my patient's awake."
"Huh. And feisty. Xena thinks she's gonna get up out of that bed."
Asima rolled her eyes.
She raised an eyebrow.
"Just like old times, eh, Xena??'
Xena rolled her eye.
"Gods, don't bring that up again."
"This is how we met. I found Xena wounded. She was being chased by some warlords. I tended to her wounds, and my brother and I got her to safety. And she was just as feisty. Constantly with the, 'I gotta get up, let me outta here!!' Huh, you had some mouth on you Xena. I wish I had some soap at the time to wash it out with."
Xena glared at Asima.
"You're walking some very dangerous ground here, Asima."
Asima raised both her eyebrows.
"Oh! Like Gabrielle here doesn't have stories of her own!!"
Gabrielle chuckled. She looked at Xena, smiling wickedly.
"Oh, you bet I do."
Xena's eye narrowed.
"Gab-ri-elle..." she growled in her most fearsome warlord voice.
"Sounds like someone's on her monthly cycle." teased Asima.
"Oh!! Asima, you are evil."
"All right!! That's enough!!" snapped Xena.
Gabrielle and Asima immediately raised their hands.
"All right, all right!!" exclaimed Asima. "Truce! Truce!"
Gabrielle turned towards Asima.
"Yep! Extra grumpy. But I can't say I blame her. I'd be grumpy too, if I was in her shoes."
She walked over to Xena, placing a hand on her face.
"Okay Xena, I'm going out to get some supplies and information. You rest, okay?"
Xena clutched Gabrielle's wrist, holding it firmly.
"You be careful." she said with deadly seriousness. "And you'd better come back soon, or I'll come after you."
Gabrielle gazed into the sapphire eye, seeing the fear and determination in it. She knew all too well that Xena would go after her, despite her injuries.
"I promise I will, Xena."
Xena released Gabrielle's wrist. Her eye narrowed slightly.
"You'd better, bard. Three hours, and no more than that. Any longer, and I'm coming after you."
Her tone of voice left no room for argument. Gabrielle sighed, and nodded once.
She turned to Asima.
"Keep an eye on her."
"No problem, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle turned and left the room. Asima walked over to Xena, sitting down beside her.
"You care a lot for her, don't you Xena."
"I'd die for her." she replied quietly.
Asima smiled warmly.
"Your friendship with Gabrielle is of a rare quality. I've seen marriages that aren't even half this strong."
"We've been through hell and back together. " said Xena softly.
A moment of silence passed. Asima sighed.
"Well!!" she began. "It's high time that you eat something."
Xena nodded a bit.
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Right. Lentil soup and bread on the way. Be right back."
Asima left the room. Xena lay back, gazing at the ceiling. She felt fear coursing through her body. Fear for Gabrielle.
"Come back soon, Gabrielle." she said, almost as if it were a prayer. "Come back soon..."
Gabrielle walked through the market, gazing at the different products that were laid out before her. She carried a basket in her hand. In it was some food and medicine for Xena. She felt discouraged and angry. Gabrielle had gone to speak to different priests throughout the area about the Chalice and its whereabouts. But none of them were able to help her.
She was totally at a loss. What to do? There had to be some way of locating the Chalice.
"Excuse me. Miss?"
Gabrielle turned around. Before her stood a young man, dressed in a gray robe.
"Are you Gabrielle? Gabrielle, of Potedia?"
She gazed at the young man warily.
"Who wants to know?"
"I know why you are here, along with your friend Xena. I may be able to help you in your search."
Gabrielle gazed at the young man intently.
"Who are you?"
The young man smiled.
"That's not important right now. I will meet you and your friend again in a couple of days. And as for the Romans and the samurai, don't worry about them. They won't be finding the Chalice for a while yet."
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow.
"That is what these warriors call themselves. They are from an island nation far away from here, called Nippon."
Gabrielle had enough. She walked up to the young man, eyeing him with an intense gaze.
"All right. Who are you and how do you know all this?!"
The young man chuckled.
"All will be revealed in two days."
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed.
"Really. Why the mystery?"
The young man only smiled. He backed away from Gabrielle, and walked off into the crowd.
"Hey!!" exclaimed the blonde.
She ran after him. Gabrielle saw him disappear around a corner. She hastily followed him-
Only to find the young man gone. Gabrielle's jaw dropped.
She looked around frantically, Yet, there was no conceivable place the young man could have gone to.
Gabrielle shook her head and walked back into the crowd of people.
"And that's it, Xena. He just disappeared. Not a trace."
Xena's eyes narrowed.
"Must be a servant of Sekhmet. Nippon, eh?"
"That's what he said."
"I've heard tales of that nation, and only a few at that. I was told that the warriors from that country were among the fiercest in the world."
"Seems they've lived up to their reputation."
"A servant of Sekhmet??" asked Asima incredulously.
"Yes. It's the only explanation that makes sense."
She looked back at Xena.
"Do you think the goddess led them here on purpose?"
"Probably. Gods have annoying ways of amusing themselves."
"Huh. Ain't that the truth."
"Sounds like you speak from experience."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes.
"Tartarus, yes. The gods are so full of themselves it's not funny."
Xena turned towards Gabrielle.
"How's my eye?"
Gabrielle moved in, inspecting it closely.
"Still swollen, but the swelling's gone down a little bit. How's your vision in that eye?"
"And how's the rib?"
"Eh, still hurts. I've survived worse."
"So. What do we do now, Xena?"
"At this moment, not much. You've got the supplies we need, and you've asked around..."
A pause. Xena glared at the ceiling, growling in frustration.
"Dammit!! I hate this! Lying around, not being able to do anything."
Gabrielle shook her head.
Asima got to her feet.
"I'm going to see how Bashshar's doing. I'll be back."
"Okay Asima. Send him our regards."
Xena slowly rose from the bed. Her sides still hurt; the ribs were still causing some problems. The stab wound in her lower right side also let out its disagreement in sharp jabs of pain. But Xena's will was stronger. She had survived worse.
And besides, Xena had enough of being bed-ridden. Two days was long enough-no, too much by her standards. Much had to be done. And if there was any chance that they would meet that servant of Sekhmet, they had to get on the road now.
Xena guessed that the goddess was planning some sort of challenge to see who was worthy of claiming the Chalice. Somehow, she had lured Lepidus and the samurai over to Axum. And soon, it would be time for the old process-of-elimination-game.
And if Xena had her way, she would win-and destroy the Chalice.
At that moment, Gabrielle entered the room. Her eyes widened in shock.
She rushed over to her friend's side.
"What are you doing up?!"
Xena waved an arm dismissively.
"Gabrielle, I'm okay."
The bard narrowed her eyes.
"Xena...." she warned.
Xena turned to face Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle.... I'm okay."
The look in Xena's eyes and the tone of her voice left no room for argument. Gabrielle met her determined stare. Xena had survived worse, but Gabrielle couldn't help but feel worry and fear. It was all too natural. Gabrielle had, after all, almost lost her best friend.
She sighed, and regarded Xena for a moment.
"Okay enough to do whatever it is you're planning?"
Gabrielle nodded. She shrugged her shoulders.
"Okay, okay. So. What's next, then?"
"We start packing and head off into the valley. I'm sure we'll run into that friend of yours. I also have a feeling that we're going to run into Lepidus's forces and these samurai."
Gabrielle crossed her arms, eyeing Xena intently.
"Can you actually fight?" she asked bluntly.
Gabrielle sighed, rolling her eyes.
"Oh, of course you can. I mean, you survived an ass-whipping and a fall off a cliff in one day."
Xena walked up to Gabrielle, pinning her with intense blue eyes.
"I said I'm okay. How many times do I have to repeat that?!"
Gabrielle pinned Xena with intense glare of her own.
"Dammit Xena!! Why are you so thick sometimes?!"
This got a very raised eyebrow from Xena.
Gabrielle raised a finger, poking Xena hard in the chest. The dark warrior's jaw dropped in shock. Gabrielle's emerald eyes boiled with fury.
Gabrielle spun from Xena, walking a short distance from her. The Warrior Princess stood, stunned. Gabrielle glared at the ground in seething anger and frustration. Tears trickled down her cheeks.
"Why is it that we act like we're so invincible sometimes?!" she spat out harshly.
Xena's eyes narrowed in sadness, guilt and pity. She began to approach the bard.
The young blonde spun to face her.
"Xena, I almost lost you two days ago. You expect me to...what?! Just shrug it off?! Oh Hades, the tough-as-nails Warrior Princess just pulled off another one on death!!"
Gabrielle quickly lifted a finger, pointing it in Xena's face.
"You're not some invincible machine, Xena."
Gabrielle chuckled harshly. She spun around, and began to pace back and forth.
"Ya know Xena, one day, our number will come up. And when it does, we won't have Eli, or Hercules, or some god or angel to save us. We've gotten off way too easily."
Xena walked up to Gabrielle, placing her hands on the blonde's shoulders.
"Gabrielle, I'm sorry." she said softly.
The bard looked into concerned blue eyes.
"Xena, what happened to you spooked the shit out of me." she said quietly, full of emotion. "I-I never get used to that. And I never will."
Xena instantly embraced Gabrielle, kissing her on top of the head. She tenderly stroked it.
They held each other quietly for a few moments. Then Xena pulled back, looking deep into Gabrielle's emerald eyes.
"Gabrielle...I...I-I don't know what to say. I-I mean, that's just me. I can't help it. I've had to develop this attitude of "push-through-the-pain." I've been doing this for so long that it's become a reflex. Like breathing. And it's saved our lives more than once."
Gabrielle nodded, lowering her head.
"I know." she responded quietly.
Xena lifted Gabrielle's chin.
"Gabrielle, just between you and me? I get spooked myself. But, this is one of those situations that I just can't allow my pain and fear to get in the way. Lepidus is....well, you know. I don't have to tell you. And these samurai, from what I've heard, are absolutely ruthless. No mortal deserves the kind of power that Chalice can bring. Especially these two groups of tyrants." "
A moment of silence. Xena leaned closer to Gabrielle's face.
"I've got to keep moving. People are depending on us."
Gabrielle sighed. Another moment of silence passed.
"Okay." she responded quietly.
Xena smiled warmly. Gabrielle raised an eyebrow.
"If anything goes wrong with you physically Xena, you'd better tell me."
Gabrielle raised the other eyebrow, and smirked.
Xena rolled her eyes.
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes, pinning Xena with an intense gaze. She crossed her arms, tapping her fingers on her left elbow. Xena grimaced with disapproval.
"Please... not the mother hen routine, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle wouldn't budge. Her eyes remained narrowed, her fingers kept tapping. Xena bit her tongue. The bard knew her all too well. Xena dropped her head in defeat, and sighed. She raised her head again.
"Okay. I swear on the name of my mother that I'll tell you! That's the best I can do!!"
Gabrielle gave a curt smile, instantly raising a hand.
"Good enough. And I will hold you to that."
Xena leaned towards Gabrielle, narrowing her own eyes.
"Bard, you'd better pray you don't get sick, 'cause I'm getting ya back in spades for this."
Gabrielle chuckled heartily.
"Suuuuuuure, Xena. 'Cept yer gonna hafta wait a long time for that because I never get sick."
A sinister smile crossed Xena's lips.
"Oh! Well, y-you know. Rarely. I rarely get sick."
"Oh Xena, I'm as healthy as a horse!"
"Hmmm. Yeah, I seem to remember a certain bard being sick three weeks ago after eating some bad steak."
"Oh! W-Well, I-I just got unlucky. That's all. I-It wasn't that bad."
"You couldn't keep food down for almost three days."
Gabrielle gave a puckered smirk, batting her eyelids and averting her eyes. She nodded slowly. A few moments passed.
"Okay. Ya got me there Xena."
The warrior leaned towards Gabrielle, narrowing her eyes.
"I'm getting ya back for this." she purred deeply. "I can wait."
Gabrielle raised both her eyebrows. averting her eyes.
"Ummmm...let's get going Xena. I'll start packing."
She turned and left the room. Xena smirked.
"Wait for me."
Xena, Gabrielle, Asima and Ayman rode down a dirt road. The sun beat down mercilessly on them. Gabrielle sighed.
"Whew! Another hot one."
Xena looked at her surroundings.
Ayman turned to Gabrielle, smiling.
"Try not to think about the heat."
"I'm being a crybaby, huh??"
Ayman immediately raised his hands, laughing.
"Oh no-no-no!! I'm not saying that at all! Don't think I don't complain about the heat too!! Believe me, I've had my bad days."
"Yeah, well...it has been hotter than this."
"Drink a little water, Gabrielle." said Asima.
"Oh no-no-no. No, I've got to maintain some discipline. I only want to depend on water when I absolutely need it."
Asima turned to Ayman, raising an eyebrow.
Xena brought her horse to a stop. She raised her hand.
"Stop for a second."
The others obeyed. Xena gazed at the small group of trees that lay before her. Her sapphire eyes narrowed.
"All right." she called out to the trees. "Come out of there."
No response. Xena instantly drew her sword. Her eyes narrowed.
Soon, a young man stepped out, wearing a gray robe. He pulled a white horse with him. Gabrielle's eyes widened in recognition.
"That's him, Xena!! That's the man I saw in the market!!"
Xena kept her eyes on the man.
She rode over to the man and dismounted. Xena walked up to him. The man smiled.
"The sword isn't necessary. I won't harm you."
"Hmmm. Forgive me if I don't exactly trust you."
"Why would I want to hurt you?"
"Why wouldn't you hurt us??"
At this, the man laughed. He shook his head.
"Goodness!! You're a skeptical one."
Xena's expression darkened. A cold sneer crossed her lips. She instantly lifted her sword, pointing it at the man's throat. Startled, he took a step back.
"I don't like you already." she hissed. "And I don't care much for the gods. So let's cut the crap and get down to business. What kind of game is Sekhmet playing?!"
The man's eyes narrowed. He regained his composure.
"It's no game, I assure you."
Xena snarled in disgust.
"The hell it isn't. And I'm losing patience with you. Get to the point."
She jabbed her sword at him for emphasis. The man quickly took a step back.
"All right, all right. It's process of elimination. Sekhmet has chosen worthy candidates to battle for the Chalice. The winner claims it, and all the powers it brings."
"Where's the Chalice?!"
"I'll take you to where it is, but from that point, you're on your own."
Xena slowly approached the man. Her eyes narrowed into slits.
"If this is some sort of trap, I'll rip out your throat."
The man shook his head.
"No trap. All this entails is survival of the fittest. You will have to fight for the Chalice if you want it."
Xena whistled for her horse. It walked over to her.
"Get on your horse." she said coldly. "And stay in front of me. Whatever's ahead you'll encounter first."
The man got on his horse. Xena climbed onto her hers and looked back at her three companions.
They rode up to her side. The five riders continued down the dirt road in silence for a while. Suddenly, Xena's sharp ears heard the sounds of battle. She rode up alongside the man, her eyes darting left and right. The man smiled.
"The fight has begun. Lepidus and his soldiers versus Hashiyama and his samurai. It should be a blood bath."
Xena glared at him with disgust. She looked back at her companions.
Xena turned to the man again. Her lips curled into a snarl.
"Remember-any tricks, and you're dead."
They continued on. The five rode on to a small group of trees, overlooking a cliff. Xena dismounted. The others followed suit. They walked over to the edge of the cliff, being careful to stay hidden.
And below them, were the samurai and Romans, fighting.
The samurai were outnumbered by the Romans, six to one. And yet, they fought with a skill and savageness that completely took the Romans by surprise. They whittled down soldier after soldier . Severed heads and arms flew out of the fray. Gabrielle stared at the carnage in disbelief.
Ayman shook his head in amazement.
"Those samurai are good."
"Whatever. That doesn't mean they can't be beaten."
She turned to the man.
"All right. Where's the Chalice?!"
The man pointed to a cliff several hundred feet above the fighting men.
"At the top of that cliff, there is a cave. The Chalice is in there. From this point, you're on your own. The only things that await you are the Roman soldiers and the samurai."
Xena narrowed her eyes.
The man raised his eyebrow.
He stepped away from the three, raising his hands.
"May Sekhmet smile on you."
And with that, he slowly faded from sight. Asima and Ayman gasped in shock. Xena rolled her eyes.
"Gods and their damn theatrics..." she growled in disgust.
She turned to the others.
"C'mon. Let's see if we can get around this nonsense below us. We'll leave the horses here."
The four walked off into the forest. They continued on, and soon saw that the forest began to slope downward. Gabrielle grimaced.
"I don't like this Xena."
Xena turned towards her, raising an eyebrow.
"You and me both."
A few more moments, and they walked into a clearing. Suddenly, Xena stopped. She curled her lips in a snarl, growling. Asima stared at her.
"Romans." she hissed.
Asima spun towards her front. And within the forest, she could see a dozen figures rushing towards them. Asima's eyes narrowed.
"Let's see what they're made of, Ayman."
Her brother nodded grimly.
"This should be interesting."
The Roman soldiers rushed, out of the clearing, screaming their war cries. The battle begun.
Two soldiers rushed at Xena. She somersaulted over them. They turned around. A booted foot smashed into their jaws. Blood and teeth erupted from their mouths. They flew through the air, slamming into the ground. Xena drew her chakrum. She heard two more men running at her from behind. Xena ducked, the sword barely missing her. She spun around, ripping her chakram through the soldier's stomach. Blood and innards exploded forth. The corpse fell off to the side. Along came the second soldier. Xena ducked his blow and buried her sword in his chest. She yanked it out, and another corpse fell.
A large centurion rushed at her, armed with an axe. He swung at Xena. She ducked and rolled. The centurion spun around. Xena was on her knee. He swung down at her again. With impossible speed, Xena maneuvered past the axe and chopped off the forearm holding it with her chakram. Blood, flesh and bone erupted forth. The centurion screamed in agony. It was cut short by Xena's sword ripping through his neck. The headless corpse dropped to the ground.
Two soldiers charged at Gabrielle. She leapt into the air, executing a vicious whirling kick. Her booted foot smashed into their jaws. Blood and teeth burst forth. They spun away from her. As Gabrielle landed, she buried her sais into their backs. She withdrew them. Two corpses fell to the earth. Another soldier rushed at her. She leapt high into the air, slamming both feet hard into his face. Blood exploded from his mouth and nose. He flew back through the air, crashing into the ground. The momentum of the kick sent Gabrielle into a tight somersault. She flew back through the air, slamming her feet into the faces of two more Roman soldiers. Their jaws shattered with loud cracks. They were hurled back onto the earth. Gabrielle flipped again through the air, landing on her feet. A centurion whipped his sword at her. Gabrielle ducked. She buried a sai in his eye. He screamed in agony. Gabrielle withdrew it, slamming a foot hard into his chest. Ribs snapped. He flew through the air, smashing face first into the ground.
Ayman whipped his sword through the throat of a Roman soldier. Blood and flesh spewed forth. The corpse dropped to the ground. Ayman heard someone running at him from behind. Without a thought, he thrust his sword backwards, feeling the weapon rip through armor, flesh, and bone. A gurgled scream came from his assailant. Ayman savagely yanked the sword up, ripping through armor and flesh. He yanked his weapon back out. He heard the body drop to the ground with a thud. He turned to his left-
And another rushed at him. The soldier thrust his sword at Ayman. He dodged it. Ayman viciously whipped his sword at the centurion's head, cutting the top of it off. Blood, brain and bone exploded from the wound in a ghoulish fountain. The corpse dropped to the earth.
Two Romans ran at Asima. She dove between them, rolling along the ground. They spun around. Asima threw a knife at one. It buried itself in his throat. The soldier dropped to the ground, dead. The other rushed at her, swinging down his sword with an angry cry. Asima dodged the blow, ripping her own sword through his side. Blood and innards erupted forth. He fell to the ground-
And another came at her with a spear. Asima leapt out of the way, burying her sword into his side. She withdrew it. The soldier fell to the earth.
Xena ripped out her sword from a soldier's body. He fell to the earth. She looked up, and spotted someone running off. The figure wore armor different from that of the other Romans. Xena snarled in rage.
She spun towards Gabrielle.
"I'm going after Lepidus!!"
"Go!!" shouted Gabrielle. "We'll take care of these men!!"
Xena turned and ran off after the figure. A Roman soldier rushed towards her, swinging his sword. Xena ducked and buried her sword in his throat. She ripped it out to the right. Blood exploded forth. The nearly decapitated corpse fell off to the side. She ran after her prey.
Xena tore through past the trees and brush with blinding speed. She then leapt into the air, flying into a tight somersault. She landed on her feet-
And spun to face Lepidus, who stopped in his tracks. His eyes narrowed in rage and hatred.
"Xena..." he growled.
Xena smiled wickedly at the Roman warlord.
"Going someplace??" she jeered.
"I'm gonna finish what Caesar and Pompeii couldn't." he snarled savagely. "I'll have your head, you Greek bitch!!"
At this, Xena laughed harshly. Her sapphire eyes were wild with glee and malice.
"Big talk, with no balls to back it up!! When you get to Tartarus, tell them Xena says hello."
With a loud cry, Lepidus charged at Xena. Both swords clashed violently, sparks shooting from them. The two warriors parried savagely. Lepidus found an opening, and snuck in a quick swipe. Blood burst from the wound. Xena grunted in pain, leaping back. Lepidus charged at Xena. She somersaulted over his head, ramming her feet into the back of it. The violent blow sent Lepidus tumbling forward. He lost his balance and fell to the earth. Lepidus instantly rolled onto his back. A sword hurtled down at him. He blocked the blow. The violent collision of metal shook him to the bone. Xena hovered over him, her face pure fury and bloodlust. Lepidus snapped out a foot, hitting Xena hard in the stomach. She flew back through the air, hitting the ground violently. Lepidus got to his feet. So did Xena. They rushed at each other. Swords collided again. They parried furiously.
This time, Xena thrust forward her own foot. It burrowed into Lepidus's side. There was a crack as a rib snapped. The punishing blow sent him flying through the air, crashing back-first into a tree. The wind was knocked out of his lungs. He fell to one knee. Lepidus sensed a presence rushing rapidly towards him. He rolled out of the way of the oncoming sword. Lepidus lifted his own sword again, and a half-second later, Xena's collided with it. He threw a vicious right at her. His fist smashed into her face. Her head snapped back, blood exploding from her nose. He thrust out his own foot, slamming it hard into Xena's chest. The powerful blow sent Xena flying back-first into the tree. The wind was knocked out of her lungs. Her sword tumbled out of her hand. Lepidus lunged at her. Xena leapt out of the way, and the sword burrowed into the tree trunk. Lepidus quickly turned to his left-
And a fist smashed into his face. Blood burst from his own nose. He staggered back. Xena leapt into the air. She rammed both feet into his face, slamming them repeatedly into it, driving him back. One final kick, and Lepidus sailed through the air, crashing face-first into the earth. Xena somersaulted back, landing on her feet. She rushed at Lepidus.
Stunned, Lepidus grabbed a heavy branch as she leapt at him. Lepidus swung it hard into the side of Xena's head. She flew off to the side, landing face-first in the dirt. Lepidus leapt at Xena, swinging the branch down at her head. Impossibly, she moved out of the way. The branch burrowed into the dirt-
And a fist smashed into Lepidus's face again. Blood and several teeth blasted out of his mouth. He flew through the air, slamming into the earth. Stunned, he slowly got to his feet. He heard a savage cry-
And felt the hard wooden branch smash into his jaw. His head whipped to the right, a crimson stream of fluid and teeth flowing out of his mouth-
And something slammed into his chest with monstrous force. Lepidus felt several more ribs give way. He felt airborne for a few minutes. Suddenly, Lepidus smashed into a tree. He felt his right arm snap. He turned his head forward-
And his face exploded in blood and horrific pain. He was airborne again for a few moments. Then the violent collision with the earth. His face burrowed into the dirt. Lepidus groaned in agony. He rolled onto his back-
And the Warrior Princess straddled him, knife in hand. Her sapphire eyes boiled with a fury that sent a chill to Lepidus's bones. Her teeth were bared in a hideous snarl. With a ferocious cry, she raised her knife. Lepidus's eyes were wide with terror.
"No!! DON'T KILL ME!!"
Xena stopped, growling like a rabid dog. She raised the knife again.
Xena let out a vicious snarl. She clutched Lepidus's jaw, gripping it with iron fingers.
"Beg for it." Xena hissed, her voice dripping with venom.
A hint of confusion seeped into Lepidus's terror-stricken features. This infuriated Xena even more. Her fingers closed on Lepidus's jaw like a bear trap. He let out a muffled cry of agony.
"I said BEG FOR YOUR MISERABLE LIFE!!!" roared the Warrior Princess.
She felt Lepidus trembling underneath her. Xena leaned over the Roman warlord. Her eyes narrowed into feral slits.
"Beg for it," she snarled, "or I carve your eyeballs out right now."
She hovered the point of her knife over his right eye. The razor-sharp tip slowly descended. Closer and closer. The tip grazed the eyelid-
"I'M BEGGING YOU!! PLEASE DON'T KILL ME!! BY THE GODS!!! PLEASE DON'T KILL ME!!!"
Tears streamed down Lepidus's face. Xena growled in disgust. She leaned closer to him, her sapphire eyes boring into his.
"You pathetic little piss-ant." she hissed. "Spineless sack of shit. You want to defeat Octavian. You don't have the heart or stomach for it. Octavian's gonna ground you into the earth. You're so weak that you have to depend on a stupid god's trinket for help."
Xena leaned back, her knife at Lepidus's throat.
"And now, you're gonna live, knowing a woman beat the piss outta you. I'll be in your nightmares until the day you die."
She drew the knife back, aiming her fist.
With a savage cry, Xena rammed her fist with all her might into Lepidus's face, knocking him out. She rose to her feet, glaring at the Roman warlord.
Xena picked up her sword and ran off into the forest.