It was a clear, moonlit night. A cool breeze rustled the
leaves of the surrounding trees.
Yasmin had to be buried in an unmarked grave. A funeral pyre would attract too much attention. The four remaining Amazons were devastated. Stella was hit the hardest by Yasmin's death. She was having an extremely difficult time coping with it.
Gabrielle sat alone, some distance from the cave the Amazons were in. She was keeping watch. Gabrielle frowned deeply. She had grown tired of innocents dying senselessly…
Then the blonde remembered Salmoneous.
After surviving the worst adventures with Xena, Gabrielle, Hercules and Iolaus, against armies and gods, it was a petty robber that had finally finished him off.
Xena and Gabrielle had met up with Hercules. Iolaus was ill, and was staying with friends. Xena, Gabrielle and Hercules were first going to stop by and visit Salmoneous, afterwards heading off to see Iolaus. When they had arrived at Salmoneous's town, they had learned the awful news.
Apparently, a thief who had a long criminal history was looking for an easy mark-and the mark was a single mother with a sickly baby boy. She was apparently going to market to buy some herbs for the child. The thief came along and struggled with the mother. Salmoneous was in his house, and heard the screams coming from outside it. He looked out his window and saw the thief struggling with the woman. Salmoneous was good friends with this woman, and sometimes looked after her baby. He got his hands on a frying pan and rushed out of the house, towards the thief. He then slammed him in the head with it. Stunned, the thief released the woman. She ran off, and Salmoneous shouted at her to get help. The thief then drew a knife and stabbed Salmoneous in the abdomen. He ran away.
Xena, Hercules, and Gabrielle arrived about an hour after the stabbing. When they learned of the news, Xena and Hercules set off after the thief. Gabrielle stayed with the healers and tried to help Salmoneous as best they could. But the wound was serious, and Salmoneous, being advanced in age, was having difficulty fighting a growing infection in the wound. After a few hours, a woman entered his household and told everyone that the thief had been captured by Xena and Hercules-and that they were coming down the road with him. She also said the thief had been beaten to within an inch of his life. Gabrielle rushed outside. She saw Xena and Hercules, with a horse at Hercules's right. Xena was at his left. The thief had been slung across the back of the horse. When Gabrielle saw his face, she gasped. It had been totally disfigured, and his jaw had been broken. Huge globs of blood dripped down from his mouth onto the soil. Gabrielle looked at Hercules, who was eyeing Xena nervously. It appeared he was trying to keep Xena away from the thief. Xena's features were dark, filled with fury. Her lips were curled into a snarl. Her eyes were mere slits.
It was obvious what had happened…
Gabrielle rushed up to Xena and Hercules. She stared at the battered thief, then at Hercules. The demigod let out a heavy sigh and spoke.
"If I hadn't shown up when I did, Xena would have killed him. He was begging for mercy and she would have none of it."
Xena spun towards Hercules. Her eyes penetrated his like daggers.
"The son-of-a-bitch stabbed Salmoneous!!" she shouted in rage. "You should have stayed out of it!!"
Hercules turned towards Xena, shaking his head.
"Xena, believe me-I feel the same way about this bastard, but killing him isn't the answer."
Xena bared her teeth, moving up to the son of Zeus.
"Oh no??" she hissed icily. "Well, I say it is the answer. I say we string him up by his balls!!"
Xena made a move towards the horse, but Hercules put a firm hand on the Warrior Princess's right shoulder. Xena stared at his hand, then slowly faced Hercules. Fury welled up through her features.
"Get your hand off of me." she growled.
Hercules's eyes narrowed. He glared back at Xena.
"No." he answered firmly. "Not until you get a hold of yourself."
Her eyes narrowed again.
"Either get your hand off of me," she said in a low, dangerous tone, "or I'll bash your face in."
"First one's free, Xena."
Xena's eyes widened in fury. She drew her left fist back. Gabrielle instantly rushed forth and grabbed her arm.
"Xena, stop it!!" she snapped.
The Warrior Princess spun towards Gabrielle. Her face was filled with rage and bewilderment.
"You're siding with him, Gabrielle?!" she exclaimed in disbelief.
"Xena, let the authorities handle it!!"
Xena stared at Gabrielle as if she had grown a second head. She then gave the same look to Hercules. Then she let out a fearsome growl and yanked herself away from the pair. She stomped towards Salmoneous's house, pushing her way past several town soldiers. The men looked at her in bewilderment. Then they walked over to Hercules and Gabrielle. One of them whistled in disbelief at the thief's injuries. He turned to Hercules.
"What happened to this guy??"
Hercules pointed at Xena.
"She's what happened to him."
The three soldiers looked at each other nervously. The same soldier spoke again.
"Wow-are we glad we're on your side."
Hercules raised an eyebrow.
"Will he live?" asked another soldier.
"Maybe. But I don't think he'll be eating solid food ever again."
The three soldiers looked at each other for a moment. The last soldier who spoke raised his eyebrows.
He took the reins from Hercules. The soldier looked up at the son of Zeus.
"Um-we'll take it from here, Hercules."
Hercules smiled uneasily.
The three soldiers and their prisoner continued down the road. Gabrielle turned to Hercules.
"What did she do to him?!" the blonde gasped.
"Well, when I found her, Xena was on the ground, on top of him. She was pounding the living daylights out of him. I had to yank her off him, and Xena even took a few swings at me."
Hercules shook his head.
"I'm surprised he isn't dead."
He looked towards the house where Salmoneous and Xena were.
"Although…I've got to be honest. I understand Xena's rage. I feel it myself. And frankly, if the circumstances had been different and if he had come at me with a weapon…"
Hercules's icy gaze finished his thought. Gabrielle swallowed hard.
"How is he?" asked Hercules flatly.
Hercules gritted his teeth.
"Bastard…" he growled.
He began walking towards the house. Gabrielle rushed up to his side. The pair reached the house and entered it. Xena was sitting at Salmoneous's left. Her features were much softer now. She smiled tenderly at Salmoneous.
"I gotta tell you Sal." she said. "That female get-up was awful."
Salmoneous chuckled weakly.
"H-Hey. It saved my neck. Y-You found me amusing."
He paused for a moment.
"I-I'm still d-disappointed that you didn't take…take me up on having me as a love slave."
Xena rolled her eyes.
"Oh boy. Here we go."
Xena raised an eyebrow at Salmoneous.
"And like I said then-you're deluded."
"Ya should have-g-given me a chance!"
Xena shook her head, wagging a finger at her friend.
"Flirting will get you nowhere."
Suddenly, Salmoneous grunted in pain. He squinted his eyes shut and gritted his teeth, his body stiffening up. His face was horribly contorted in agony. Xena's face filled with fright. She quickly moved to his side.
Hercules and Gabrielle rushed over as well. A violent convulsion shook Salmoneous's body. After a few moments, he collapsed back onto the bed and gasped heavily. The healer, a middle-aged woman, pushed her way past Hercules and Gabrielle. She placed a hand on his head. Then, she pulled back his blanket and looked at the wound area, which was covered by a poultice. The area around the wound was red, yellow and black. She frowned deeply and covered it up again. Gabrielle noticed her expression. She got up and grabbed the woman's right arm. She turned towards Gabrielle. The blonde then motioned her away from the bed with a jerk of her head. The two women walked a small distance from the bed.
"How is he??" asked Gabrielle.
The healer shook her head, frowning deeply.
"He doesn't have long to live." she said quietly, almost a whisper. "The infection is spreading too rapidly. I've done everything I could. Nothing is working, and it doesn't help that he's advanced in age."
Grief swept through Gabrielle. She shook her head in disbelief.
"How is he?!"
Gabrielle turned around. A tall brunette, carrying an infant, rushed up to them. Her eyes were filled with fright.
"Salmoneous!! How is he?!"
The healer looked away, not able to meet her gaze. Gabrielle simply shook her head. The woman immediately placed a hand on her mouth and let out a stifled sob.
"H-He risked his life to save me and my baby." she whimpered.
Gabrielle placed a hand on her shoulder. She led the woman over to Salmoneous's bed. The old man opened his eyes. At seeing the woman and baby, his face brightened.
"Sophia!!" he exclaimed feebly. "A-Are you and Midas okay??"
The woman nodded quickly. Tears trickled down her cheeks.
"Yes. Thanks to you. You're a hero. You saved our lives, Salmoneous."
Salmoneous let out a small smile. He looked at Hercules, then at Xena.
"Huh…a moron like me…a-a hero. I don't believe it."
Xena leaned towards Salmoneous, her face full of warmth.
"You are a hero." she said firmly.
"I second that." said Hercules.
"Make that all of us." said Gabrielle. "You're a hero to all of us."
Salmoneous smiled at the blonde. Then he turned towards Xena and frowned.
"I-I'm not going to make it, am I, Xena?"
A brief flash of agony shot across her face. Xena quickly stifled it. She swallowed hard, gazing at her friend, trying her best to keep emotion from her face. But a set of tears welled up in her eyes. Salmoneous sighed, and let out a frail smile.
"Y-Ya know Xe…you're usually good at hiding stuff. I can read you like a scroll now."
Xena took a deep breath and bit her lower lip. He looked at Hercules. The demigod couldn't look back at Salmoneous. Pain was surging under the surface of his face. Gabrielle went up to the foot of his bed and gently rubbed Salmoneous's feet. He looked at Gabrielle. She smiled sadly. Salmoneous raised an eyebrow.
"H-Hey Gabby. T-Take care of the proud warrioress, huh? Keep her out of trouble."
Gabrielle tried to let out a light chuckle. Instead, it came out as a sob. She bit down on her tongue and wiped away tears she couldn't stop. Salmoneous turned to Xena.
"Xena? I-I'm terrified…I-I'm so scared…"
Xena clutched his hand, drawing closer. She tenderly stroked her friend's head, her lips curling in a weak smile.
"Don't be." she said softly, her voice cracking.
Hercules grasped Salmoneous's other hand and drew closer.
"There's nothing to be afraid of." the demigod said in a soft, but firm voice.
Salmoneous gazed at him, and let out a tiny smile. Tears trickled down his cheeks.
"I-I really…I-I-I really should…should have written that bio on you and Xena…b-b-best seller…could've been a best seller…"
Salmoneous's breathing grew more labored. He looked at Xena.
"Pr-proud Warrioress…" he gasped. " I will miss you…"
He looked at the others.
"I…I-I will miss you all. F-Farewell my friends…"
Salmoneous then looked up at the ceiling. His chest then stopped rising and falling. Xena's eyes widened in horror.
She quickly reached for his neck and felt for a pulse. Her features contorted horribly in pain. Xena placed a trembling right hand over Salmoneous's eyes and closed them. Hercules placed his face in his hands. Sophia began to cry softly. The healer left the house. Gabrielle trembled in grief, tears flowing down her cheeks. Xena stood up, staring down at Salmoneous's body. Black emotions churned across her face. She quickly turned towards a small vase and picked it up. Letting out a savage scream, she threw it at a mirror, shattering both the vase and the mirror. The baby in Sophia's arms began to cry. Sophia quickly left the house with the infant. Xena stood, her back facing Gabrielle. The blonde could see her friend's shoulders shaking. Gabrielle looked at Hercules. He stared at his dead friend in agony and disbelief. Gabrielle then walked towards Xena.
Xena instantly spun around, walking past her. She left the house. Gabrielle quickly followed her. The two women crossed the dirt road in front of them. Xena approached a tree. She drew her chakram. Xena let out a fierce cry of rage and swung the chakram down with all her might into it. The weapon cut deep into the tree, burying itself halfway in. Xena leaned towards the tree, her right hand still holding the chakram. Gabrielle quickly moved to her left side. She placed a hand on her friend's shoulder.
The Warrior Princess's eyes were squinted shut. Tears flowed down her cheeks.
"Salmoneous didn't deserve to die like this…" she growled.
The warrior then looked up into the sky, her face filled with fury.
"You HEAR ME, YOU PATHETIC EXCUSES FOR GODS?! HE DIDN'T DESERVE TO DIE LIKE THIS!! HE WAS MY FRIEND!!!!"
She released the chakram and stumbled away from Gabrielle. The blonde followed closely.
Xena stopped walking. She slumped forward, her eyes wandering over the ground.
"You know Gabrielle…sometimes I get so sick and goddamn tired of this stinking life…."
She turned to Gabrielle. Her eyes were full of pain. Xena chuckled harshly.
"Huh!! And ya know what? Come to think of it, I'm no better than that thief."
Xena snorted, shaking her head.
"Ohhhh-I've done far worse."
Gabrielle walked in front of Xena, clutching her shoulders.
"Xena, stop it."
Xena looked up at her friend, her face filled with annoyance.
"Oh come on, Gabrielle!! Damn, you know it's true!!"
"You regret what you did!! You changed!!"
Xena's lips curled into a sneer.
"Oh, that makes things so much better, doesn't it?!"
She yanked herself away from Gabrielle.
"You know….I-I wonder if I beat the piss out of this son of bitch, not only because he stabbed Salmoneous, but because I saw myself in him. How many loved ones did I kill??"
She snickered coldly.
"Heh…they say paybacks are a bitch. Damn straight."
Xena walked over to another tree and leaned back against it, gazing erratically at the heavens. Gabrielle followed, stepping in front of her friend.
"I-I wish there was something I could say to you-"
"There's nothing you could say to me Gabrielle. All this…good… that I've done doesn't take away the damage I did in my past."
"No…no it doesn't. But how long are you going to keep driving yourself crazy over it Xena?? What's done is done."
Xena gazed at Gabrielle with a somber expression.
"How long am I going to drive myself crazy over this?" she responded quietly. "Until the day I die. Guilt knows no rest, Gabrielle. It isn't done for my victims. They have to live with the pain every single day of their lives. And I have to live with the pain of knowing I caused their suffering."
Xena gazed at Salmoneous's house.
"Will Salmoneous's killer wake up to this??"
A few moments passed. Then agony flowed across Xena's face. She looked down at Gabrielle. Tears trickled down her cheeks.
"I'm gonna miss the hell outta that loveable old nut." she uttered, her voice trembling.
Gabrielle drew closer to Xena. She bit her lower lip.
Xena took Gabrielle into her arms and held her close. They mourned together for the loss of their old friend….
Gabrielle wiped a tear away, thinking about that time, so long ago. The thief was tried, convicted of murder, and sentenced to life in prison. Xena, Gabrielle, Hercules, and later on, Iolaus, kept track of the court proceedings involving their friend's murder. Iolaus was devastated. And when he learned of what Xena had done to the thief, Iolaus approved of it. Hercules could only shake his head in dismay at his old companion's point of view.
But as the saying goes…water under the bridge. It was all over.
It had been over for hundreds of years.
Gabrielle sighed deeply. She rose to her feet and slowly began to walk back towards the mouth of the cave.
As she got closer, however, her sharp ears heard something off to her right, in the bushes. It was the sound of someone weeping…very quietly.
Gabrielle frowned, shaking her head in sympathy. She silently walked towards the source of the sound.
And as expected, sitting by a tree, was Stella. Next to her, she had a crossbow. Stella quickly grabbed the weapon and spun in Gabrielle's direction. The blonde immediately lifted her hands.
"Stella, it's me."
The Amazon lowered her weapon. She placed it on the ground and began to cry again. Gabrielle walked over to her, sitting at her right side. She put an arm around the Amazon. The woman cried into Gabrielle's shoulder. The blonde rocked her gently.
"Let it out." said Gabrielle tenderly. "Let it all out."
Stella continued to cry. Gabrielle rocked her, stroking her head. After a while, Stella stopped crying. The bright moonlight shone down upon the pair. Stella stared into the dirt.
"I-I-I f-feel so empty."
Gabrielle nodded slowly.
"Mmmm-hmmmm. I know the feeling."
Stella turned to Gabrielle, her face filled with anxiety and confusion.
"H-How do you deal with it??"
Gabrielle stroked Stella's head. A glum smile crossed her lips.
"A moment at a time, a day at a time."
"Does it get easier?"
Gabrielle shook her head slowly.
"No. It's never easy. But it gets more bearable with time. You never fully get over it. But you learn to adjust yourself to the pain."
Stella shook her head.
"I-I don't know if I can do that. Yasmin was like my sister."
Grief rippled through Gabrielle's face at the mention of the word "sister." Stella quickly noticed this, and frowned, full of guilt.
"I-I'm sorry for reminding you-"
Gabrielle quickly covered Stella's mouth with her hand. A pained grin crossed her face.
"No. Don't be. You have nothing to be sorry about. You hear me?? Nothing. Not a damn thing."
Gabrielle drew Stella into a fierce hug. The Amazon returned it, burrowing her face into Gabrielle's neck. She began to cry again. Gabrielle stared at the moon, tears filling her own eyes.
And the mourning process began once more, as it had countless times in the past.
The following day was spent resting, and preparing to invade the Hun camp that Gabrielle had been told about by her last unfortunate victim. Gabrielle planned to go into the Hun camp alone that evening, find out from its leader what Attila's plans were, and when he was to move out into Gaul. Meldinas was not crazy about this idea, especially since Gabrielle was facing off against dozens of Huns by herself. Gabrielle assured her that she had done this countless times on her own.
Gabrielle was in a thick section of forest on a small hill, overlooking the Hun camp. She peered into it. Only a few isolated soldiers were walking about. Gabrielle looked off to her right, gazing at her intended target again-a Hun sentry.
Like a cat, Gabrielle slowly crept out from behind the boulder, gradually advancing through the grass, acutely aware of where she placed each step as well as the sounds around her. Gabrielle had insisted on practicing the art of stealth with Xena, and would settle for nothing less than perfection. Xena was more than happy to teach her. With Xena's help, Gabrielle became a master in her own right.
The massive Hun soldier stood slumped against the tree, boredom evident in his face and body language. Gabrielle could see the complacency in his stance. Complacent because they had devastated all of Greece, and there was no one to challenge them.
Your last mistake…thought Gabrielle.
Her final steps were incredibly fast. She came up alongside the soldier's left and jammed three fingers hard into the side of his neck. The Hun soldier instantly dropped to his knees. Gabrielle went behind him, wrapping an arm around his neck. She pulled him back against the tree and jabbed him hard in the other side of his neck. The soldier's eyes dilated, and he began to gag.
"I just cut off the flow of blood to your brain." whispered Gabrielle icily. "You've got thirty seconds to tell me how many other men surround this camp, as well as which tent your leader is in. Otherwise, you're dead."
"F-F-Fifteen men-r-r-round camp. G-gaah-
Gabrielle shook him roughly.
"Your leader!" she hissed.
"C-Center tent-C-Center tent.."
"N-N-No guard-n-n-no guard…I sw-swear…I-I tell-t-truth."
Gabrielle gazed out into the camp impassively. She kept silent. The Hun soldier stared at her out of the corner of his eyes, his face filled with pain and terror.
"I-I-I don't want to die…!!" he gagged.
Gabrielle ignored him.
No response from the blonde. Her green eyes were cold. Emotionless. Their only area of interest was the camp. The soldier's eyes bulged at the horrific realization.
Blood flowed out of the Hun's nose. His eyes rolled into the back of his head. He let out a harsh, gurgling sound. Gabrielle glanced at the soldier. She felt for his pulse. There was none. Gabrielle pushed the dead soldier off to the left and the body fell into the grass. She rose to her feet, studying the camp.
"You animals destroyed my country." Gabrielle said flatly. "No mercy for any of you."
Her eyes darted to left, then to the right. With incredible skill, Gabrielle silently crept through the forest, over to the edge of the camp. Her eyes and ears scanned for anything out of the ordinary. When everything appeared to be clear, Gabrielle shot out into the open. She ran across the camp to one tent. Once again, Gabrielle looked around. Then she spotted a Hun soldier walking past the area in front of the leader's tent. She watched him continue on, until he disappeared from sight. Satisfied that everything was to her liking, Gabrielle ran through the camp, reaching the tent. She listened closely, and could hear snoring. Gabrielle quietly entered it. She saw a small wooden table, and maps laid out on it. Gabrielle's eyes darted to the right. The Hun leader lay in his cot, snoring loudly. Gabrielle crept up to the head of the cot, and knelt down behind his head. Then, like a snake, she struck out with her fingers, hitting both sides of the commander's neck. He instantly awoke, his eyes wide with pain. The commander could not move. He began to gag. Gabrielle leaned towards him.
"I just cut off the flow of blood to your brain. You've got thirty seconds to tell me about your Hun forces, going through here up to the Danube River. Otherwise, you die. How many forces from here to the Danube??"
The commander struggled against the pain. Gabrielle grew enraged. She pressed fingers on either side of the man's neck, increasing the pain ten-fold. The man's eyes widened in agony.
"How many?!" she hissed ferociously.
"T-T-There's nearly a thousand t-t-troops. S-S-Scattered. N-Not as many needed-si-since we savaged Greece-"
"Forces along the Danube?!"
"M-Most-drew i-inland from the-t-the river-s-some f-forces near border… a-a-a-few hundred, not sure-"
Gabrielle drew closer to his ear.
"You're lying. You do know!!"
"T-Troop-l-layout on-on table!! O-On table-"
Gabrielle put another pinch on his neck to silence the commander. He struggled to talk and move, but could do neither. Gabrielle rushed over to the table. There were a couple of maps. She scoured them, and found that they contained what appeared to be troop positions. Taking the maps, she rushed back over to the commander. Jabbing him in the left side of the neck, Gabrielle gave back to him the ability to talk. She held the maps up in the dim candlelight for him to see.
"These are the troop lay outs??"
The commander nodded erratically.
"Y-Yes!!" he squawked.
Gabrielle drew closer, her lips curling into a snarl.
"You're lying, you son-of-a-bitch!!"
The commander's eyes grew as wide as saucers.
"N-N-No!! No lie!! I swear!! I swear!!"
Gabrielle sensed by the terror in his face that he was telling the truth. She placed the maps down on a chair, away from the cot. Gabrielle quickly moved over to the head of the cot, kneeling down behind the commander's head again.
"Tell me about Attila!! What's he planning?!"
"D-Don't know-I-I swear I don't!! W-We were just t-t-t-told tow-w-ait for orders-"
Gabrielle had heard enough.
She rammed her fingers hard into the sides of the man's neck. His eyes instantly rolled into the back of his head, and a vicious gurgling sound erupted from his chest and throat. Blood erupted from both his nostrils, spraying all over his chest and stomach. He convulsed violently for a few moments, then lay still. Gabrielle rose to her feet, glaring down at the corpse. She walked over to the maps, grabbed them from the chair and rolled them up. Gabrielle then peered outside of the tent. Satisfied the coast was clear, she ran across the campgrounds, and eventually back into the darkness of the forest.
Gabrielle, Meldinas and the other Amazons sat before a small fire. Several rabbit carcasses were suspended over it. Night was fast approaching. They had put a good amount of distance between them and the Hun camp. Meldinas turned to Gabrielle.
"Well. It looks like we're heading for Gaul."
Gabrielle nodded slowly.
"Hmmmm…and we have a long, dangerous trip ahead of us. If nothing else, at least these maps will tell us where troops are laid out. We'll have to head into Northern Italy, and then into Gaul."
Gabrielle turned towards Meldinas and the other women.
"Now, this mission is going to get really tough. If these maps are any indication, we've got a lot of Huns to deal with, and a long distance to travel. Fortunately, I know the area, so we can see about trying to stay out of sight."
Gabrielle took a deep breath and paused a moment. Then she spoke again.
"Let's finish up our meals and get some sleep. We're going to need every ounce of energy we can get."
The other women nodded. Gabrielle gazed up into the darkening skies. A giant moon hung above them. Fear and uncertainty filled the blonde.
She had been down this road before, many times with Xena. Too many times, in fact. And already, one of her group was dead.
Who would be next?
Gabrielle cursed herself internally for even considering that question. And yet, given the circumstances, she knew it couldn't be helped. Gabrielle knew that the other Amazons were thinking the same thing.
If the carnage they had seen so far was any indication, things were going to get much worse.
Gastun chuckled to himself. Oh, what fun, fun, FUN!!
He was hoping to get something this time-and from the looks of things-yeah, that was likely to happen.
The taste of young virgin flesh, breast, ass…mmmmmmmm.
His mouth watered as he saw his fellow soldiers rape a young woman before them. Oh, so they had to rough her up a little, but hey! The whore ASKED for it. She resisted. Nearby was a cage with more women. Damn, they looked scared.
Good. They should be. The stinking, filthy little WHORES SHOULD be scared.
The bitch was crying and screaming. Gastun chuckled gleefully. He nodded to himself. Yeah, I'm gonna have some of that…
They had gone through a small town and wiped out just about everything there. They torched everything, took as much gold as they could carry. Most of the men were killed; a few women and kids too. The ones that were left alive had been taken prisoner. The army Gastun was part of then split up into smaller segments, heading north towards the Danube River. Their Hun comrades up north probably were going to sell the prisoners as slaves, perhaps force the men to join their armies…who knows.
There were some male prisoners here, with them. They were in a nearby cage, staring at what his pals were doing to the whore. They weren't happy. Gastun snorted.
These Greeks are such weaklings…
There were only about a dozen of his comrades here, just camping out before they continued on north. After a hard day of looting and murder, a few of Gastun's buddies figured they'd unwind a bit with their female prisoners. They had nothing to fear. The Greeks had no chance against the almighty Huns.
Nothing could stop them. Nothing.
Gastun opened his flask, downing the cool water within. He licked his lips and looked back at his friends, having fun with the whore. He watched his friend, Bartubis enter her repeatedly, again and again-
Then suddenly, Bartubis's neck exploded. A large red explosion of blood and flesh. Gastun's face filled with shock. He dropped his flask. A large arrow stuck out of his friend's neck. He staggered back and fell to the ground. The other men stood up, drawing their swords-
-and arrows ripped into them. They cried out in agony and fell to the earth.
Gastun drew his sword and rushed behind the cover of some large bushes.
He heard loud, enraged cries. The cries of women.
Gastun saw five of them rush into the camp. They were all armed with swords. Crossbows were slung over their shoulders. His Hun comrades were soon engaging them in battle. Gastun wasn't interested in fighting. He wanted to see what his friends would do to these upstart women, who had the nerve to challenge them- the almighty Hunnish Army. Gastun figured it would be more fun to watch…
Then something began to happen. Something wrong. Something that didn't make any sense.
The warrior women began gaining an advantage.
No…No it couldn't be.
They were outnumbered four to one-and yet, these women were chopping down Gastun's friends as if they were saplings. One by one, Gastun saw his friends fall. His jaw dropped in shock. He couldn't believe it.
One woman was especially vicious.
She was short and blonde. She wore a deerskin jacket and had a leather mini-skirt and boots. Attached to her belt was a round metal object. The blonde unhooked it and began using it as well as her sword to hack away at his friends. The round weapon easily cut off arms, hands, even heads.
Gastun shook his head in disbelief.
The women were winning.
And for the first time in his life, Gastun felt terror. Terror. Not just ordinary fear. Terror.
He suddenly lost the desire to touch the whore his friends were having fun with moments ago.
Gastun got up, sheathed his sword onto his back, and ran over to his horse. He climbed on it and rode off into the forest.
Nooooooo, I don't want any part of this. These women are demons!!
There was no other explanation that made sense to him. None!! They were DEMONS!!
Gastun rode hard. The cool wind whisked past his face. There were places he could go and hide if need be.
Then a strange sound…
Gastun couldn't make out what it was. He had never heard anything like it before. It sounded like…like a shriek. It almost had a metallic sound. Gastun didn't like it. Not at all. It un-nerved him for some reason…
He pressed his horse harder along the forest floor. The animal was going as fast as it could.
The metal shriek grew louder. Closer. It turned into a SCREAM-
And a ferocious blast of fiery pain erupted from his left shoulder. A red cloud of blood sprayed over Gastun's face. He cried out in agony. Whatever hit him knocked him off his horse. For a few moments, he felt himself flying through the air-
Then came the impact with hard earth. His left arm cracked in three spots as he slammed into it. Pain screamed through each fracture point.
He rolled and rolled and rolled down something…something…some hill-Gastun had no idea what it was. Sky and grass shot past his vision with lightning speed, alternating with a comical, frightening rhythm. He felt hard objects tear into different parts of his torso and head…things he rolled over…
Then came a loud splash.
Gastun sucked water into his lungs. He quickly lifted his head up, and soon he felt cold air hit his face. Gastun coughed violently for a few moments. He erratically wiped his face with his right hand. His left arm was dead. His vision was double. He forced himself to focus. Gastun found himself at the edge of a large lake. He heard the galloping of a solitary horse. Gastun turned towards its source.
He saw a horse descending a hill. And on it was the small blonde. The warrior who had killed his friends. She held the round weapon. It was dark red.
A warrior. He actually thought of this woman as…a…warrior…
With unbelievable effort, Gastun rose to his feet. He reached back for his sword, pulling it out of its scabbard with his right hand. His body was trembling violently.
The woman rushed towards him. She let out a piercing scream and threw the round thing.
There was that sound again…the metallic, shrieking sound…
It came at Gastun-soooo fast, too fast. Gastun held out his sword to block the round, killing thing. His sword was made of the strongest metal ever made. Nothing could break it-
Something ripped through his breastplate-
Something punctured his chest. He felt something rush up his throat and burst out his mouth. Blood and large chunks of flesh.
He flew back and hit the water.
Gastun couldn't breathe…
He forced himself up. He gagged. Globs of red-black jelly-like stuff kept shooting out of his mouth. Got to his feet…how…how the hell did I-I get up, he thought…
Looking to his right…double vision…triple vision…
Looking to his right…
Woman on horse, rushing at him. She had a long, metal thing in her hand.
An explosion of red…So much red…
He couldn't feel his body anymore…he felt his head flipping over and over and over and over and over too damn fast-
Hit the ground…
Sand on his chin, all around his neck…
He saw a headless body standing, blood erupting from where the neck was like a volcano, crimson fluid gleaming in the sun, round bloody metal thing sticking out of the chest.
It took less than a second to register…
My body, my bod-
Everything then faded away…
A blue-green mist…thick, thick as molasses…
The mist twists and churns…slowly, ponderously…
In the distance, the sound of a slow…thundering…heartbeat…
A tiny yellow ball begins to appear in the mist. It is floating…a small white halo is around it.
It slowly begins to grow closer.
As it does, the mist gradually begins to change color. The mist becomes more blue…
A sickly sweet smell begins to thread through the air. A heavy, musty smell…
It digs deep into the nostrils…it throbs along with the heartbeat…
The yellow ball grows closer…larger. The halo slowly turns red.
The smell gradually turns to that of rotting meat. A nauseating, permeating stink…
Distinct smell, so familiar…too damn familiar…
What is it??
What the HELL is it??
The mist turns purple, then pink…a fleshy pink.
That smell…sooooooo familiar…
By the gods…
Recognition of that damnable smell…
There is a desire to throw up, but nothing happens. There is an overwhelming desire to escape this smell, escape this place, but nothing happens.
The smell is oh so suffocating…
The yellow orb is turning red-orange. The center grows darker, more round, more solid.
By the gods…what is it turning into?!
Holes for eyes…
Holes for nostrils…
Teeth…blackened, rotted teeth…
"Gabriiiiiiieeeeeelllllleeeeee." it says. It says her name in a weak, pitiful female voice.
A voice I know…
By the gods!! Lila, is that you?!
"Yeeuuuuuu abbbbannnnndoned meee, Gabrrrrrrieeeeelllllleee…"
N-No!! No I didn't!!! N-N-No, no I didn't!! You're my sister!!
"Yeeeeeeeuuuuu leeeeft meeeee allllllloooooooonnnnneee…Yeeeeeuuuuu luuuuuuuvvved Xeeeeeeenna mooooore thannn meeeeeee…"
No!! No, that's not true Lila!! I SWEAR!!! I LOVED YOU BOTH EQUALLY!!
"Yeeeeeuuuuu luuuuuuuvvved Xeeeeeeenna mooooore thannn meeeeeee…"
"Yeeeeeuuuuu luuuuuuuvvved Xeeeeeeenna mooooore thannn meeeeeee…"
The skull changes QUICKLY-
Muscles, flesh, skin form all around it-
Dark, reddish hair-
She opens her mouth, showing two huge fangs-
And releasing a piercing SCREAM-
Pain bursts forth at the same time-fiery, explosive, cascading through and around, hammering, hammering, HAMMERING, HA-MER-ING-
She sat up with a start, quickly drawing her knife and swinging to the right. Althea quickly raised her hands.
"I-It's me!! Althea!!"
The fury and fright in Gabrielle's face melted away. In its place appeared utter exhaustion. She took a deep sigh.
Gabrielle sheathed her knife. She wiped the cold sweat from her forehead. Althea drew closer.
"A-Are you okay??"
Gabrielle frowned deeply.
"Just a nightmare."
"Must've been some nightmare. The way you were tossing and turning, calling out 'Lila, Lila'…"
Gabrielle nodded slowly. She bit her lower lip.
"Uh-hummmm. My sister."
She paused a moment, then turned to Althea.
"Why did you let me fall asleep??"
Althea shook her head in pity.
"Because you looked so exhausted. You really looked like you needed some rest. Don't worry; I've kept an eye on things. Everything's okay."
Gabrielle regarded Althea for a moment. She smiled a bit.
"Don't mention it."
The pair gazed into the starlit sky. Althea licked her lips and began to speak.
"You know, I've wanted to travel and see the world. But not like this."
Gabrielle turned towards her and eyed her quizzically.
"What do you mean?"
"Don't misunderstand me. I'm glad I'm here with you and the others. We're on an important mission. I-It's just that…i-it's just that I had hoped that my first voyage away from home would have been…a bit more pleasant."
Gabrielle smirked, nodding.
"I know exactly what you mean, Althea."
She looked up into the sky again, and continued.
"Unfortunately, that's not how the world is. Sure, there are some beautiful aspects to it, but there is some real ugliness."
Althea turned towards Gabrielle.
"I never thought I'd get an introduction like this. How do you explain the things we've seen?? How do you wrap your brain around the things we've seen??"
Gabrielle shook her head.
"You can't, really. You can't. I've tried."
She stared off into the night.
"Some people just don't value the lives of others."
Althea lowered her head, letting out a deep sigh.
She paused for a moment and continued.
"Most of the dead are just average…average people! Just going about their daily business!"
Althea turned to Gabrielle. She grimaced.
"Ares is one sick god."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes.
"Yup. His whole family is twisted…"
Gabrielle paused a moment.
"Hmmmm. Except for Hercules."
Althea's eyes widened.
"Hercules? You've met him?!"
Gabrielle nodded, smiling.
"If the gods were anything like Hercules, the world would be a much better place. Even though Hercules is a demigod, he is one of the most decent people I've ever known. He uses his powers to help people. Xena and I consider Hercules family."
"Whatever happened to him?"
Gabrielle nodded slowly.
"That's a very good question. I have no clue. As far as I know, he's still alive."
Althea's eyes grew huge.
"Alive?? After all this time?!"
"Well, outside of his demigod strength, he can't grow old."
Gabrielle paused. She turned to Althea.
"What about you? Tell me a little about yourself."
"Oh, there isn't all that much to tell. My understanding is that I was found as a baby. Some bandits had killed my parents. A small group of Amazons saw the bandits and killed them. As I was told, my mother's last words to the Amazons were to take care of me. I've been with them ever since."
Gabrielle placed a hand on Althea's knee.
"I'm so sorry."
The Amazon sighed.
"It would have been nice to know my parents."
"I've wondered about what that could be like. Sometimes, I've written poems, stories about what that may have been like…to have parents."
"You're a bard?"
"Eh! More of a dabbler. I write diaries sometimes about different things. I was writing a couple of poems earlier today."
"If we get a chance, I'd like to see them."
Althea smiled shyly.
Her smile slowly disappeared. She looked out into the heavens again.
"Do you think we'll stop Attila?"
"We have to try."
"I know. It's just that the odds…"
The Amazon shook her head. She turned to Gabrielle, smiling in amazement.
"How do you deal with overwhelming odds like that, again and again? I never cease to be amazed at how you and Xena just took on the things you did…armies, gods…"
"A lot of times, it is an uphill battle. But you have to give it your all. If a cause is worth it, that's what you do. You just go in there and work at it. Nothing worthwhile in life is accomplished without a struggle."
"How do you deal with failure?"
"Failure…that's always tough. Sometimes, harder than others. You just have to take what you've learned and apply it to future experiences. Everything is a learning experience."
Gabrielle turned towards Althea, raising an eyebrow.
"This conversation's taking a curious direction. Why these thoughts?"
Althea frowned. She lowered her head. A few moments of silence passed.
"I'm afraid." she finally admitted. "I'm afraid of messing up."
Gabrielle placed a hand on her shoulder.
"You won't. I've watched you closely. You're a very competent woman."
"You think so?"
"Sure I do. Meldinas thinks so. Otherwise, you wouldn't be here."
"I want to make a difference."
"You are. I'm proud to have all of you with me. You're all strong, competent women. You make your tribe proud."
Althea smiled shyly.
"No. Thank you."
Althea turned to Gabrielle. The blonde drew closer.
"Remember, we're all in this together." said Gabrielle, softly, but firmly. "We look after each other. If you want to talk to me about anything, I'm here."
The Amazon smiled.
She paused a moment.
"Hmmm…I think we should get Valacia and Stella to relieve us."
"Okay. Let's do that."
The two women rose to their feet and walked back to camp.