A green sky...
A brief, violent flash of lightning.
Thunder rumbling deep, cutting through all that bear witness to it.
Boulders. Trees galore. And a solitary human being.
Meg walked along the wet dirt road. A shawl covered her. Her blue eyes darted left and right.
Her heart pounded furiously. Hammering. Screaming.
A male voice. Taunting. Teasing. Prodding...Pushing.....Meg felt the voice cut into her. Slowly. Deliberately.
"Where are you going, WHORE?!"
Meg quickened her pace along the desolate road. And ahead...
Ahead was a ship. Sails billowing in the eerie green sky. Meg ran faster. She had to get to the ship. She just had to...
From the shelter of the trees slipped a shadow. The shadow oozed onto the road before her. And soon, its owner followed.
His steely green eyes made their intentions clear to Meg. He drew closer. Meg stopped instantly. Her blue eyes were wide with terror.
"N-No please-" stammered Meg.
Chang-Su was almost upon her.
"Where are you going, whore?!" he hissed.
The sentence was never finished. Something smashed into the side of Meg's face with punishing force. The world spun. Meg suddenly found herself face-first in the grass. She felt a warm wetness trickle out of her mouth. It tasted salty. It tasted...familiar.
A weight was on top of her. Meg felt her clothes rip below her waist. A cold chill settled on her body-
Then it ripped into her.
Meg screamed in agonizing pain. Her fingers dug into the ground before her.
A hand grabbed her hair. Her head was lifted-
And smashed face-first into the ground. The hand pressed hard on the back of her head. Meg choked on chunks of rock and grass. She let out a gurgled cry.
Hot breath on her right ear.
"Wanna know what you good for?!" hissed the male voice.
"Ya Greek bitch?!"
Liquid pain ripped up into Meg's body. Into her head. Into her brain. Her brain felt like it was going to explode.
"Wanna know what you good for?!" hissed the male voice.
"This, ya bitch!"
Meg instantly rose from the bed. Her eyes were wide with terror. Huge beads of sweat trickled down her face. Joxer jumped up from under the covers. He stared at Meg in alarm.
Meg abruptly turned towards Joxer. Her face filled with anguish. She began to cry. Joxer instantly reached for her, taking Meg into his arms. She wept heavily. Joxer held her tight. He burrowed his face in her hair and kissed her head.
"Ssssshhh...it's okay sweetheart." he said tenderly. "I'm here. Nobody's gonna hurt ya. Sssshhhh... Don't cry sweetheart...."
Meg burrowed her face into Joxer's neck. She cried hysterically. Joxer whispered words of comfort into Meg's ear. He rocked her gently, kissing and tenderly stroking her head. Inside, Joxer was in agony. He felt Meg's hot tears cascading down his neck and shoulder. Her loud sobs vibrated through his body. Joxer desperately wanted to make Meg's pain go away. But he didn't know how to do it. A dark fury rose in him as a result.
Slowly, the crying stopped. Joxer grasped the sides of Meg's head. He lifted it so she faced him. Joxer frowned deeply at Meg's grief-stricken face. He bent forward and kissed away at her tears. Then Joxer nuzzled Meg's nose.
"C'mon. Snuggle with me." he said softly.
Meg quickly wrapped herself around Joxer in a tight embrace. Joxer pulled her back onto the bed. He threw the thick blanket over them.
"Don't let go." said Meg in a small voice.
Joxer shook his head.
"Not even Zeus himself could make me let ya go. You're stuck with me, beautiful. Joxer the Mighty will protect ya."
At hearing this, a small smile crossed Meg's face. Joxer couldn't have felt better at seeing that smile. He kissed Meg on the forehead.
They cuddled for a long time in silence. The cold night wind blew against the window. The dim candles flickered, casting odd shadows across the bedroom. Joxer nuzzled Meg's forehead. He spoke.
"Wanna talk about it?"
Meg pulled back a bit. Her blue eyes searched his.
"The nightmare, honey. The nightmare."
Joxer placed his hand on Meg's face, rubbing it gently.
"Hey. Your pain is my pain Meg. I want to share it."
Meg grasped Joxer's hand and kissed it several times. Then she held it against her neck. She sighed.
"This isn't a pain you could share, Joxer. Or should share. I was reliving my rape. By Chang-Su."
Fury flashed in Joxer's brown eyes. His body tensed up a bit. Meg rubbed her forehead against his.
"Joxer...please don't..." she whispered.
"They hurt you." said Joxer in a tremulous voice. "I can't help it. It makes me want to-"
Meg brushed her lips along Joxer's, silencing him. She nuzzled his nose.
"No." she said softly.
Joxer's eyes narrowed into icy slits.
"They've gotta pay, Meg. For what they did to you. To Gladys. And all those other women they hurt."
Meg's ice-blue eyes gazed deeply into Joxer's brown ones.
"They will Joxer. I'm gonna make sure they do pay."
Joxer raised an eyebrow in curiosity.
"What do you plan to do?"
"Whatever I can. Whatever I have to do to make sure that Tsao-Li and Chang-Su never hurt anyone again."
Meg bit her lip. She lowered her eyes.
"I'm still scared though. I know what they are capable of."
"But you're going through with this anyway."
Meg's blue eyes met Joxer's.
"Yes." she said without hesitation.
"Philemon was right about you being brave."
"I'm just trying to do the right thing, Joxer."
"And you have no idea how proud I am of you Meg."
Meg blushed, smiling shyly.
Joxer shook his head.
"Uh-uh. Nope. You're gonna keep hearing me praise ya, whether you like it or not. You're a very special person, Meg. I love you."
Meg moved in close. She rubbed her nose against Joxer's.
"I love you too." she said softly.
Meg's lips pressed against Joxer's. Her tongue gently requested entrance. Joxer complied. They kissed slowly, tenderly. Then, Joxer pulled back. He searched Meg's eyes.
"Go back to sleep, Meg. You need your rest."
Meg pressed against Joxer. He wrapped his arms around her, kissing the top of her head. Safe in the arms of her lover, Meg allowed herself to return to a quiet, dreamless sleep.
The faces were many.
Different nationalities, different ages. But they all had the same emotion etched into them.
The women stood there, on the deck of the slave ship. A cold wind swirled around them. They shivered. But it wasn't only due to the chill.
Torches lit the area around them, casting an eerie, yellow-orange glow on everything the light touched. Before the women stood Tsao-Li's men, heavily armed. They kept a silent vigil, their faces showing no emotion.
Time seemed to pass for an eternity. The women waited. None dared to speak or whisper even the slightest word.
And then from the shadows, came their masters. Tsao-Li and Chang-Su.
And behind them, a man dragged out a woman.
At one time, this woman could have been a beautiful, carefree young person of twenty-five summers. Instead, the horrific physical punishment she had been subjected to left this person a ragged, pathetic husk. Her left eye was swollen shut. Her once beautiful red hair now hung tattered, dirty, sticking to the sides of her face. A hideous red-black gash ran the length of her left arm. She limped along on her dislocated ankle, swollen into a great, blue-black lump. The woman's lips trembled. She was whispering something. It was fast. Incoherent.
A young blond girl wondered, was it a prayer to the gods? Then she thought better of it.
Huh. More likely a curse.
A curse to the gods, for that is what they deserved. For allowing this shackled prisoner and the rest of her comrades to be in such a dire situation.
And Tsao-Li stepped forth. His cold brown eyes scanned the crowd of shivering women before him. His gaze was full of contempt. Malice. To him, these women were less than insects. And tonight, he was going to demonstrate this. Again.
"You are property." he began. "Nothing but property. You don't have lives. You don't have souls. You don't have brains. You are nothing more than animals. You are not allowed to think."
Tsao-Li turned toward the shackled prisoner.
"This one here, seems to have forgotten all this. She's been giving me trouble. She has showed me that she is a defective product."
He walked over to a nearby table, and picked up a club. Tsao-Li walked over to the shackled woman. He turned towards the uneasy audience, and sighed.
"Sometimes, you have to try and beat some sense into those that won't cooperate."
Tsao-Li suddenly took a vicious swing, smashing the club with all his might into the woman's mid-section. There was a loud snap as several ribs cracked. The woman was hurled up into the air. She fell hard on her knees, her head smashing face-first into the ground. She gasped savagely, blood erupting from her mouth and face. Her right eye rolled into the back of her head. Gasps and sobs came from the horrified women.
Tsao-Li turned back towards his audience. He shrugged.
"Of course, some women are a little slow to respond."
Chang-Su then slammed his foot with all his might into the woman's injured ankle. Another loud snap. And the woman let out a loud mournful screech. Her comrades gasped in terror. Even some of Tsao-Li's guards winced at this.
Tsao-Li shook his head slowly. He turned to the fallen prisoner.
A savage kick to the woman's face. Her head snapped back, blood and teeth gushing out of her mouth. She flipped over, landing on her stomach. Tsao-Li shrugged once more.
"And then...well, when all else fails...then you've got to get rid of that defective product."
He twirled his tongue around in his mouth. Tsao-Li looked up at the guard overseeing the woman.
"Take her to the pit."
The guard nodded. He grabbed the woman by the shackles at her feet. The guard then dragged the woman past Tsao-Li, over to the edge of a large metal pit. The guard then kicked her into it. She hit the bottom with a loud clang.
Chang-Su then picked up a large metal container of oil. He walked over to the pit, and poured all of the contents onto the woman. Tsao-Li then picked up a nearby torch and walked over to the pit. His audience of slaves stared on in ever-deepening terror. Tsao-Li turned to the women. He lifted an eyebrow.
"This is what I do to defective products."
He tossed the torch into the pit. A huge explosion of flame shot up into the air. A horrific, inhuman scream tore out of the pit. It cut through the air with a savage vengeance. It cut into the souls of the women. Several collapsed onto the ground, wailing hysterically. Others stared at the flame, stunned, as if this were just some ghastly nightmare they would hopefully wake up from. A couple of Tsao-Li's guards turned away, eyes squinted shut, not wanting to accept what was happening before their eyes. The sickening smell of burnt human flesh roiled throughout the crowd. Some of the women threw up. Several guards tried hard not to. Eventually, the scream faded into a sickening, gurgling cackle, then nothing.
Tsao-Li's eyes grew ice-cold. Darkness covered his face.
"Let this be a reminder to you. Let this remind you who your master is."
He walked over to the crowd of weeping, horrified prisoners. His eyes fell on two of them.
The young blond girl and a middle-aged brunette.
"You two." he began. "Once that corpse finishes burning, you two are to take it and dump it into the sea. Then, you will go into the pit and clean it thoroughly."
Tsao-Li moved closer. His eyes narrowed, filled with menace.
"And I do mean thoroughly. If I find even so much as a speck of dirt in it, you two will be its next occupants."
The two women swallowed hard, staring at Tsao-Li in wide-eyed terror. He turned, and walked back towards his cabin.
"Hey sleepyhead. Morning!"
Meg pulled down the covers, slowly opening her eyes. They widened in surprise at the sight before her.
Holding a tray with bacon, eggs, two oranges and a mug full of apple cider. Meg slowly sat up, raising an eyebrow.
Joxer let out a huge grin.
"Breakfast in bed for my favorite lil' lady!! I figured it was my turn to do it!"
Meg rubbed the back of her head. A thin smile crossed her lips.
He walked over to the bed, placing the tray of food on Meg's lap. Joxer then pulled up a chair, sitting at Meg's side.
"I know you much you like apple cider." Joxer said cheerily.
Meg picked away at her food. Joxer noticed the distant, faraway look in her eyes. Joxer's smile slowly disappeared.
"Meg, a-are you all right?"
Meg sighed. She looked up, and smiled sadly.
"I'm okay, Joxer. Really."
Joxer's eyes narrowed.
"No you're not."
He moved closer to Meg, eyeing her intently. Joxer placed a hand on her wrist.
"Talk to me."
Meg bit her lower lip. She looked down at the food. Her eyebrows lifted a little.
"Guess I'm not very hungry."
"It's Tsao-Li, isn't it?"
Meg's eyes shifted towards Joxer's. No words were spoken. Joxer could read the fear in Meg's eyes. Joxer placed his hand on the side of Meg's face.
"Meg, we'll stop him."
Meg nodded. She forced a smile.
"Yeah. Yeah, I know."
"Talk to me. Tell me what you're feeling."
Meg leaned back against the headboard. She looked up at the ceiling, and sighed.
She studied the patterns in the wood above her for a few moments. Joxer waited patiently. Her ice-blue eyes turned towards him.
"Pain." she said quietly. "An old, deep pain. A pain that, until now, I had almost seem to have forgotten."
She slowly shook her head.
"My luck...Just my luck that this bastard has come back into my life..."
Meg lowered her head. She picked up the mug of cider, and took a sip from it. She licked her lips, and continued.
"My life, Joxer...My life is so messed up it's pathetic. I don't know how I've survived this long."
Meg turned to Joxer, her eyes full of pain.
"Do you have any idea how hard it is for a 10-year old girl to take care of herself?? Huh?? The things I had to do to survive. Stealing. For myself and others. Cons. Shoveling animal shit. Working in mines. A waitress, working in the worst bars, getting felt up all the time. Being a whore...I just went to one messed-up thing after the other. Just to get by."
Meg stared straight ahead.
"By the gods...I-I should be dead now. I don't know why I'm not."
Joxer put his hand on Meg's shoulder. Meg turned towards him.
"Because you're a survivor, Meg." Joxer said firmly. "You are the strongest woman I know."
Meg chuckled harshly.
"Strong....gods....I feel anything but strong."
She looked up at the ceiling again.
"I-I feel so small. I-I feel like...like some roach. I feel..."
Her eyes roamed the ceiling, as her mind searched for words. Joxer got up, and sat at the edge of the bed. He grasped Meg's chin, pulling her head down so that her eyes met his.
"Meg, I've felt that way too. But you...you've survived stuff that I don't know I could've survived. Meg, your spirit is strong. You're gonna rise above all this. I'll bet my life on that."
Meg raised her eyebrow.
"You believe in me that much?"
"Yeah. I do. But what's more important is that you believe in yourself that much."
Meg knitted her eyebrows, lowering her head. Joxer tenderly stroked it. At that moment, there was a knock at the door.
"Yeah?" called out Meg.
"Autolycus and Maria are back." answered Francisca's voice.
Meg turned to Joxer.
"The Centros Inn?" asked Joxer.
"Yep. That's where he's gonna stay."
Meg smiled at Autolycus.
"Wow! Didn't take you long to find out where he'd be."
"Hey! Contacts! And one of them owed me a favor anyways."
"So, when are you going to see Prince Philemon?" asked Joxer.
"Soon as possible. There's a lot to do."
Autolycus turned to Maria.
"So. We're in agreement about this? I'll be Dabros, and you'll be my bodyguard."
"That sounds fine to me."
"So, what did King Daites say?" asked Meg.
Maria raised her eyebrows, nodding slowly.
"Ohhh yeah. He's in. Definitely in. Daites was livid when he saw Gladys. Queen Ralias was in tears when she saw her. We've got the military backing we need, Meg."
Autolycus turned to Maria.
"Let's get going. We've got a lot to do in a short time."
The pair got to their feet.
"We'll see you guys later." said Maria.
"Good luck." said Joxer.
Autolycus raised an eyebrow.
"Thanks. We'll need it."
The pair left the room.
"The Centros Inn?" asked Philemon.
"Yes. The only thing left to do is ambush Dabros on his way there from Kalias Piers. Here's my idea on how all this should go down. Dabros arrives here in four days. I'll take Dabros's place. Maria will act as my bodyguard. We'll ambush him, and register ourselves at the Centros Inn. We'll go to the slave ship, assess the situation, and return to give you the information. I'll set up a time to make a purchase. We can use Dabros's ship to hide your troops. Once we arrange that, you and your troops can move in and catch Tsao-Li in the act. Give Maria and I a little time to get the business transaction going. Then you can ambush them before Tsao-Li tries anything against the slaves. Have King Daites's troops attack as soon as the ambush goes down."
Philemon nodded slowly.
"Hmmm... very good. Good thinking, Autolycus. I like your plan a lot. And securing Dabros's ship shouldn't be a problem."
Philemon turned to King Lias. The old king nodded his approval, and spoke.
"It sounds like a good plan to me, Autolycus. I'll have my best soldiers on this."
"I'll have men confiscate Dabros's ship after he leaves for the Centros Inn." said Philemon. "Late at night, so as not to arouse suspicion."
King Lias nodded.
At that moment, there was the sound of footsteps. Gladys and Princess Diana, the twin of Xena and Meg, walked into the room. Autolycus's eyes widened in shock. He turned to Maria, stunned. Maria smiled.
"I know. I still can't get over it myself!"
Autolycus raised an eyebrow. He turned back towards Diana and Gladys. They approached Maria and Autolycus. Diana smiled warmly at Maria. She walked over to her and embraced her.
"Oh Maria! It's so good to see you again!"
Maria returned the smile.
"Likewise, your majesty."
Diana turned to Autolycus.
"And you must be Autolycus, King of Thieves."
Autolycus bowed slightly.
"At your service, your majesty."
Autolycus and Maria looked at Gladys. She was wearing a beautiful white dress, her blond hair tied into a ponytail with a bright pink ribbon. And for the first time, a warm, eager smile was on her face. Gladys turned to Diana, her eyes full of affection and gratitude.
"Princess Diana has been so wonderful to me. She is such a sweet person."
Diana blushed, smiling shyly. Gladys turned to the others. A tear rolled down her cheek.
"All are you are so wonderful. You all make me believe in humanity again."
King Lias rose from his throne. He walked down the steps, and placed a hand on the young woman's shoulder. A warm smile crossed his face.
"We're only too happy to help you." King Lias said softly. "And I promise you, my dear, that all of your comrades will be saved. They'll know freedom again."
Philemon turned to Autolycus and Maria.
"Right. Let's see about finalizing your plan, Autolycus."
Autolycus nodded in agreement.
"No time like the present."
The tall, lanky man rode his palomino slowly down the dirt road. He gazed into the clear, late-afternoon sky. The man was accompanied by four heavily armed men, also riding horseback. He turned to the one on his left. The man smiled eagerly.
"I'm looking forward to seeing Tsao-Li's women, Shanir. I hear he has the best."
The guard nodded.
"That's also what I'm told, Dabros. His reputation is spreading."
Dabros leaned back in his seat, smiling.
"Aaaaahhh...more lovelies to add to my collection."
He turned to his guard, and sighed with disappointment.
"Too bad I can't have the Warrior Princess as part of that collection."
The guard abruptly looked at Dabros, stunned.
"Y-You can't be serious!"
"That's the sad part. I can't be. She's too wild..."
His eyes narrowed, and a devilish smile appeared on his lips.
"Oh, but I was in Rome when Caesar had captured Xena, and set her against those gladiators. Oh, but it was a sight to see. What a magnificent creature. That leather, those legs...that impossibly perfect form...."
He raised his eyebrows, and sighed.
"Oh, to be dominated by the likes of Xena..."
The guard raised an eyebrow up to his hairline.
"Dabros, she'd serve you your balls on a plate."
"Well, no one's perfect."
"Then how about me??"
Dabros and his men quickly looked forward. Maria stood in the middle of the road, armed with her sword. She whirled it expertly in front of her. Dabros and his guards stared at the gigantic woman in shock, mesmerized by the awesome power rippling through her arm muscles.
She smiled coldly, raising her eyebrows.
"Off yer horse, Dabros." she purred dangerously. "I wanna play."
Dabros's eyes widened in fear.
His guards dismounted, and attacked Maria. She somersaulted over their heads, landing behind them. Two men whirled around. A heavily-booted foot swung hard into their jaws, snapping them like twigs. They flew through the air, crashing into the ground, unconscious. The remaining two guards rushed at Maria. She parried with them in a brief, but violent skirmish. Maria whipped out a foot. It burrowed into the guard's chest with a sickening crack. He flew through the air and crashed into a tree. The guard dropped to the ground in a crumpled heap. The last guard gaped at Maria in terror. She smiled wickedly.
"C'mon, little man. C'mon. Show me what you're made of."
The guard stared at Maria, then at Dabros. Dabros's face filled with rage.
"Well, what do I pay you for Shanir?! Kill her!!"
Maria chuckled heartily. She tossed aside her sword, motioning the guard forward with her hand.
"C'mon baby." she teased. "C'mon! I'm not armed! Show me what a real man you are."
The guard's eyes narrowed in fury. With a deafening cry, he rushed at Maria, swinging down his sword at her. She easily caught it in her left hand. The guard's eyes widened in shock.
Maria grabbed the guard by the collar with her right hand, ramming her head with all her might into his. He flew back, crashing hard into the ground. The guard's body rolled over backwards until he was lying on his stomach, unconscious.
Maria turned towards Dabros. She raised an eyebrow.
"Your turn, sweet cheeks."
Dabros drew his horse back a few steps, staring at Maria in anger and fear.
"Y-You stay away from-"
Dabros instantly turned to his left. A pair of boots smashed into his left shoulder. Dabros flew off his horse, crashing into the ground. Autolycus somersaulted, landing beside his horse. He twirled his moustache, raising an eyebrow.
"I don't think you're going anyplace." said Autolycus.
Dabros shook his head and growled. He drew a large knife. Autolycus raised both eyebrows this time. He raised his hands, slowly backing away.
"Whoa!! Hey!! Don't you know you can hurt someone with that??"
"Let me handle this one, Auto." said Maria.
She approached Dabros. He gritted his teeth, going into a fighting stance.
"Stay away from me, ya overgrown Amazon!!"
Maria's eyes narrowed.
"Time I taught ya a little respect for women."
She approached him. Dabros took a swipe at Maria. She easily caught his wrist, snapping it like a twig. Dabros cried out in pain. A second later, Maria slammed the palm of her right hand into Dabros's chest. It exploded in white-hot agony. Dabros's eyes bulged out of his head, and his legs went limp. He gasped savagely. Maria grabbed him by the collar, lifting him up to face her. She raised her eyebrows, smiling seductively.
"Was it good for you, baby??" she purred.
Maria then rammed her head hard into Dabros's. She let him go, and he dropped bonelessly to the ground. She glared at him in contempt.
"Men..." she growled.
Autolycus walked up to her.
"Boy. I'm glad you're one of the good guys."
"Thanks for letting me have a crack at them Auto." said Maria. "They deserved it."
He turned towards the forest.
"Okay! They're all yours!"
A small group of Philemon's guards walked out of the forest. Autolycus walked over to Dabros's horse, rummaging through his bag. His eyes widened in glee.
"Ooooooh-what do we have here??"
He took out several large money bags. Maria walked over to him.
"What did you find?"
Autolycus turned to her, smiling slyly.
"Moolah. Here. Count."
He gave Maria a bag. They inspected the loot. Maria's eyes widened in shock.
"Gods...there's gotta be close to a thousand dinars in this one alone."
Autolycus chuckled heartily.
"Yeppers. Seems old Dabros doesn't believe in traveling light. Oooooh, I like that, I like that!!"
Maria smiled slyly.
"I bet ya do, Auto."
Autolycus looked at Maria, raising his eyebrows.
"Hey-I'm a thief! Whaddaya expect??"
Autolycus looked down at the loot, and frowned.
"Too bad I can't keep this. We've gotta use some of this to buy Tsao-Li's slaves. Yeah...I'd say there's about close to three thousand dinars here."
"So-what's next Auto?"
"Okay. Now we change into our disguises, and go over to the Centros Inn. Get comfy until it's time to meet the man. We've gotta scope out that slave ship of his real thoroughly. We've gotta get an idea of what's in there."
"Gotcha. Let's do the wardrobe change."
"That's great!!" exclaimed Joxer happily. "Man, I'm glad they got him."
Francisca smiled devilishly.
"Huh. Maria gave Dabros and his men a real ass-whipping."
"That's good to hear."
Meg sat, twirling her spoon around inside her teacup. She raised her eyebrows, staring at her tea.
"Weeeell...now they've just got to get this plan rolling."
A moment of silence. Meg looked at the ceiling.
"Gods...I hope they can pull this off."
Francisca placed her hand on Meg's.
"Stop worrying. They'll succeed. Ya gotta have faith Meg."
Meg's ice-blue eyes turned towards Francisca. She smiled slightly.
"Yeah. You're right."
Francisca stood up.
"Well, I've got some chores to take care of. See you two later."
Francisca returned the smile. She left the room. Joxer turned towards Meg. She continued to gaze into her cup of tea, stirring it. Her eyes had that faraway look again. Concern filled Joxer. He leaned towards her.
Meg looked up, eyebrows raised.
Meg knitted her eyebrows. Joxer sighed.
"You've got that look again, Meg."
"The 'I got some heavy crap on my mind' look."
"Open scroll, huh?"
Joxer's eyebrows rose to their full height. He nodded.
Meg rolled her eyes, sighing. She leaned back in her chair. Silence. Meg then looked at the floor. Her brows knitted, and she pursed her lips. She shook her head slowly.
"I-I gotta wonder...why is it that some men feel they have to treat women like animals? Like we don't have feelings? Thoughts?"
She looked up at Joxer, her blue eyes focused in an intense gaze.
"Why is that?"
Meg's stare was unsettling. Joxer swallowed hard.
"I-I don't know."
Meg tilted her head to one side. Her eyes narrowed.
"You don't? Hmm!"
Meg rose to her feet. She began to pace slowly, back and forth.
"Ya know...I-I sometimes wonder about men. What they expect out of women. Why they expect it."
"Oh boy. Huh. It's rough being a woman, let me tell ya. Always feel like a second-class citizen. It doesn't matter what ya do for a living. Ya always gotta answer to a man...unless you're Xena, that is. Or an Amazon."
Meg turned towards Joxer, raising an eyebrow.
"And ya know what truly sucks? Women like Xena and the Amazons seem to be in the minority."
She let out a harsh chuckle, and looked at the ceiling.
"Hah!! And then... boy ... and then ya've got bastards like Tsao-Li. Guys who get a hard-on off of abusing women. I-I mean, this guy thinks that women are trash!! That they have no value!!"
"Huh. Kinda ironic, since a woman brought him into the world."
Meg's eyes turned towards Joxer. A cold smile curled her lips.
"Huh. Tell Tsao-Li that, and you'll be eating your balls for breakfast."
Meg began to pace again. She ran her hand through her hair.
"Why is it that so many men treat women like crap??"
Joxer lowered his head.
"Not all men are like that Meg." he said quietly.
Meg turned towards Joxer. She frowned. Meg walked over to him, sitting down in front of Joxer. She grasped his hand.
"Joxer, there are rare exceptions. And you're one of them. You've got a wonderful heart. You're sweet and kind. And you've always treated me with respect."
Meg lowered her head.
"That's why I'm so attracted to you." she said quietly. "I've known very few men like that in my life. Most men have treated me like garbage. Some worse than others. And I know friends that have been through hellish things."
Joxer lifted Meg's chin. He spoke again.
"There are more good men than you know, Meg." he said softly. "Don't let the bad apples cloud your view of men."
Meg smirked a little. She shook her head.
"I try Joxer. I really try. I mean, I know there's people like King Lias, Philemon, Auto, Hercules and his friend, Iolaus...."
She licked her lips, looking down at the floor.
"But Joxer....Joxer, if you only knew. Gods, some of the things I've seen. I -I mean, why? We're human beings! I-I mean, we're just out there, trying to survive like everyone else! We have needs, dreams! We need to feel wanted. We need to feel important. Useful..."
Meg looked up at Joxer, her blue eyes full of pain.
"Joxer, I've seen so many women suffer needlessly. You really have no idea."
Her eyes shifted to the left. A dark scowl slowly crossed Meg's face. Joxer's eyes widened in fear. He swallowed hard.
"And then..." Meg growled. "And then, you've got shit like Tsao-Li."
Her lips curled into a snarl.
"That rotten bastard..." she uttered in a low, deadly hiss.
Joxer hesitantly placed his hand on her shoulder.
She abruptly turned towards Joxer, her eyes afire.
"He deserves to die." Meg spat with fury. "I saw that-that son-of-a-bacchai piss all over that poor girl in that camp. I saw him beat that girl, over and over again. And when I saw her body taken out on that cart, the next morning...Joxer...I swear by the gods that I felt my heart ripped out of my chest. The pain...that I felt when I saw that....And now, seeing this girl, Gladys, a-and hearing her stories....oh gods..."
Tears began to roll down Meg's cheeks. Joxer instantly grasped both sides of Meg's face. He moved in close, until his face was almost touching hers.
"Now you listen to me." he said in a quiet, intense voice. "You're not going to face Tsao-Li alone. I won't let you, Meg. When you go to testify against him, I'll be there. When you have nightmares about him, I'll be there to comfort you. I'm gonna protect ya Meg. I love you, and I will do whatever I have to protect you. I'm your rock, Meg. I'll never leave your side."
Meg placed her forehead on his. Joxer could see the gratitude and love emerge from the agony in her tear-filled eyes.
"You're amazing." she whispered.
"Nope. I'm just Joxer. Warrior wannabe."
"You're no wanna-be, Joxer." Meg said softly. "You're a warrior. Warrior and protector of my heart."
Meg wrapped her arms around Joxer, holding him close. Joxer tenderly stroked Meg's head.