The Daggers of Meggido
Disclaimer: Xena and Gabrielle exclusively belong to TPTB at Ren Pics, Universal, Oxygen, or whoever owns the rights nowadays. As for Damien and Neff, they belong to 20th Century Fox and whoever else has a claim to their fame. We dont, wont, havent planned to, make any money from this storyheck, thats why the call it fan fic right? And of course, everyone else belongs to us!
Violence: You bet! With a crossover like this, how can there not be violence? PG13, but its still there.
Subtext: Well, there is this cool place a few clicks back with lots of it then theres the Subtext Virtual Season 7, um, you get the idea.
***Omen Note: This story takes place approximately 10 years prior to
The Omen III
***Xenaverse Note: This story takes place between the 6th season eps "Legacy" and "The Abyss".
E-mail Xenafan911 @ firstname.lastname@example.org
E-mail Jean @ email@example.com
The Daggers of Megiddo
"Its done." Damien replaced the telephone in its cradle. "The test run was completely successful." He was in one of the boardrooms at Thorn Industries, with Paul Buher sitting next to him.
"This is crazy." Paul Buher gestured toward the telephone. "I have no doubt that itll work, but I think its completely unnecessary. We can just wait out the authorities on the Museum investigation and retrieve the Daggers then."
"The night of the fire, there were looters everywhere and who knows how many trespassers have been there since. The Daggers could be anywhere by now." Damien squeezed Buhers shoulder in a gesture that was half threat. "You do trust Neff, dont you?"
"Of course I trust Neff, Damien. I just think--."
"Who asked you to think?" Damien almost smiled. "Just follow my orders."
"Neff is meeting me at the Center in an hour. Hell have all the supplies." Damien stood, closing Buhers briefcase. "That gives us just enough time for an executive meeting. I want things to run smoothly in my absence."
Xena leaned her elbows on the wooden rail of the ships port bow, watching with mild interest as smaller trade ships jockeyed for positioning in the crowded docks. Caesarea looked pretty much like any other port theyd been in--full of small-time traders, pirates, and the occasional honest sailor trying to make a living.
Glancing over her shoulder, she caught the captain waving at her with the hook that substituted for his hand. Many years ago, she had cut that hand off when shed caught Edminius stealing gold pieces from the treasure they had liberated from a Roman flagship. She gave him a curt nod; glad to see he had learned from that harsh lesson. Now he ran an honest business carrying cargo and passengers across the Mediterranean.
She leaned her face into the soft breeze, closing her eyes and letting the wind blow her dark tendrils behind her. The slow, rhythmic motion of the ship had such a calming affect on her--it was times like this she realized how much she missed the sea. Her lips parted into a half-smile when she thought of how much Gabrielle hated it.
Xena sensed her presence before she felt the feather-like touch of her partners hand on her shoulder. "Morning," she said, her eyes still closed while she continued to enjoy the breeze. "How ya feelin?"
"Much better." Gabrielle leaned her side against the rail so she could face her friend. "I think Im actually starting to like this whole sea going thing."
Xena opened one eye and cocked her eyebrow up. "Really?"
"Yeah," Gabrielle replied. "As long as I keep doing this--," she tapped her wrist the way Xena had taught her, "and remember not to eat, Ill be just fine."
Her sarcasm made the warrior chuckle. "Oh yeah, youve got it licked all right."
Gabrielle smiled, turning her gaze to the approaching dock. "So, any idea how long well be waiting?"
"Edminius said it would be at least a week to get all the repairs finished." Xena cast another glance at the captain as he steered his ship into port. "So, what do ya wanna do in the meantime?"
"You mean in between the street brawls, young warriors trying to prove themselves by fighting you, preventing the occasional war, not to mention saving entire towns, rescue missions--you know, the usual stuff?"
"Yeah," Xena turned so she was facing Gabrielle. "In between that stuff."
"Well," she thought about her reply for a beat. "Shopping?"
Xena rolled her eyes. "Howd I know you were gonna say that?"
"Is that a yes?" When no reply came, Gabrielle put on her best smile and did the only thing a self-respecting bard would do. She begged. "Pleeaasseee!"
"If youre tryin to be cute, it wont work." But it already had as Xena tried to keep her expression stoic, laughing anyway. "Okay, okay. Besides, I need a few things."
"Yes!" Gabrielle giggled with delight, then rushed off to gather their gear while the ship was docked.
Xena turned her face into the breeze again and sighed. Life was good.
While Neff double-checked the supplies with the Centers crew, Damien wandered over to the machine itself. It looked like something straight out of a science fiction novel; a huge contraption with two monstrous crystals under glass. Along one side of the machine was an enclosed corridor that led directly into the wall.
"I know it doesnt look like much, but itll get the job done." The scientist known as Kenny, dusted around one of the crystals.
"Nonsense," Damien spared the man a glance. "I find it quite impressive. How does it work?" Not that it mattered, so long as it did work.
"Those are two different type of crystal, both rare." Harvey answered from his position behind the machine. "The Evolution Quartz puts us in touch with a certain place in the Earths evolutionary process. The Time-Link Quartz is used to connect with the other realities, past or future."
"And the machine channels the energies," Sam added. "Opening two vortexes a week apart."
"Right." Jonathan flipped a series of switches on the main console, illuminating the crystals. "What were about to do is only possible because of the sheer size of our unbroken specimens. When you break up a crystal, you weaken its energy."
"Even with the crystals, the machine will draw on your power as well." Harvey handed Damien a linen bundle. "Period costume. Its important not to draw attention to yourself; to blend in as much as possible."
"Of course." Damien went into the locker room, while his four scientists went back to work, preparing for his journey. He found Neff waiting, holding his own costume. The locker room they entered was small, reminiscent of school locker rooms. When he was sure they were alone, Damien grinned at Neff. "Im having Davidson flashbacks."
Neff looked at him wearily, seeing where his train of thought was going. "Really?"
"All I need is a wet towel to flick your bare ass with."
The marketplace was more crowded than Xena liked; too easy for thieves to steal. Almost on cue, a hand reached for Gabrielles scroll bag. Xena grabbed the wrist of that hand and bent it slightly backward. The young man attached to the hand squeaked in pain. Xena leaned so close to his face that the young man could smell her breath. "I wouldnt do that if I were you."
He pulled his hand back, rubbing the area where her fingers had left bruises. "Ow! Whatd you do that for?"
"Be glad she didnt cut the whole thing off." Edminius lifted his hook toward the young man, waving it in his face.
Pale brown eyes widened just before the young man ran back into the crowd and disappeared. Xena turned to Edminius and smiled. "Nice work."
"Well, I did learn my lesson." He turned the hook around, running the fingers of his good hand across the sharp point. "And this has come in handy--saved my life once or twice. Guess I owe you for that."
"You dont owe me anything." She clapped her hand on his shoulder. "How bout I buy you a drink?"
Edminius grinned. "That would be a first. The great Xena buying a lowly ships captain a drink." He chuckled at the thought, knowing that it never would have happened with the Xena he remembered. "I guess the years have been good to you, huh Xena?"
She caught herself glancing toward where Gabrielle was bartering with a merchant over a new frying pan. "Yeah, they have. And Im glad theyve been good to you, too."
"They have at that. Next year, my son will be sailing with me." A look of pride spread across his face. "I need to check on the progress of my ships repairs. Ill meet you at the tavern later this evening."
"Its a date." Xena watched him leave, for a moment remembering the young boy he had been. Her gaze moved across the marketplace, stopping at the weapon smith, who was sharpening a dagger. Long strides took her there in a few steps. "How much to sharpen this," she pulled out her sword and set it on the table.
The weapon smith examined the blade carefully. "Five dinars, but itll take me a few hours before I can get to it."
"No problem." She tossed the coins onto the table and wandered back into the crowd.
The legitimate merchants of Megiddo were few, mixed in with thieves and pimps. Damien nearly laughed aloud when a pimp tried to sell him one of the scantily clad women he had spied earlier. The bodies were nice and shapely--the faces more like those of unshaven men. He certainly wasnt going to be buying any of those wares. Next to the pimp was a merchant selling idols depicting Ares, God of War. Briefly, Damien wondered what it would be like to meet him.
"False gods, idolatry, and chaos." Damien said. "This is my kind of town, Sergeant Neff."
Neff was flattered. Even years after graduation for Davidson Military Academy, Damien still called him by his rank. "Dont get cocky on me, Damien."
"Wasnt it you who taught me prides all right if theres a reason for it?"
Neff shook his head, leading his horse along the street. Damien laughed at the irony as he followed. The period clothing felt strange, reminding him of the single toga party hed attended in college.
Neff had chosen the attire more fitting of a warrior. His black leather armor looked comfortable enough and the short sword that hung at his side seemed to provide him with the look of a man one should not mess with. Had they been walking down Fifth Avenue in New York City, Damien imagined Neff would definitely be "messed with." He glanced down at his choosing of a more formal set of light colored robes and wondered if he looked as ridiculous as Neff did.
Damien slowed his stride once he caught up to Neff. Neff pointed ahead, at a large forge. "This is almost too easy."
"Even with the prophecies of the Old Testament, I find it strange that the Daggers were made before the birth of the Nazarene."
"So do I, Damien, but this is what our people have found." Neff stopped, pointing toward the clear skies. "Theres no smoke coming from the forge."
Damien crossed the dusty street to a peddlers cart. The proprietor hurried over from a nearby well, where hed been gossiping with the local maidens. He smiled up at Damien with a mouthful of rotting teeth. "Interest you in a trinket, my good man?"
Damien ignored the offer, gesturing toward the forge. "Were looking for Mulciber. Is that his forge?"
"Mulciber has gone to Caesarea to sell his wares."
"Caesarea is two days from here." Neff had followed Damien, still leading their horses. "One, if we dont stop to camp."
"I dont have to stop, Sergeant Neff." Damiens blue eyes never left the peddler. "Do you?"
Neff squared his shoulders, not sure if he was insulted. "Im a soldier. I follow orders."
The peddler suddenly backed away from them both, flinging his arms wildly in front of him, as if warding off an invisible enemy. He ran straight for the well, screaming something unintelligible. Neff thought it was something about evil. He watched with curiosity as the peddler flung himself over the edge of the well, diving headlong into the shallow water below. From the screams of the women standing nearby, Neff surmised the fall not only killed the peddler, but did some grisly damage as well. He smiled as he turned to follow Damien out of Megiddo.
Xena returned to the weapon smith sometime close to dusk. He was busy putting his wares away for the night, but smiled when he recognized the tall warrior striding towards him. "Its good as new," he proclaimed, pulling the sword from under his table.
She examined every inch of the trusted blade, running her fingers along the edges to test the sharpness. "Nice work."
"Thanks." He hesitated, as if he had something else to say.
"Was there something else?" She asked, accustomed by now to the nervousness of people shed never met.
"I, uh, I was wondering if I could look at your chakram."
She sheathed the sword, turning her steely gaze upon the weapon smith. "Why?"
"Curiosity. Ive never seen a weapon made from the metal of Hephaestus." He averted her gaze, looking at his grubby, callused hands. "I was a worshiper of his, before--." He dared to look up, expecting to find her sneering at him. Instead what he found was understanding.
"Sure." She carefully handed him the round weapon. "Careful. The edges are sharp."
"Amazing," he gently turned the weapon around, examining it thoroughly.
"Whats your name?" she asked, taking her chakram back.
"Mulciber and thank you for letting me look at that." He grinned up at her like a child. "Maybe you can let me clean it for you--free of charge."
Xena laughed, placing the chakram on her belt. "Sure, Mulciber. Ill stop by tomorrow morning."
Damien paused at the bank of a swift-moving river. It was well past sunset and Caesarea was within view. "Well camp here." Neff opened his mouth to object. "I need rest, Sergeant Neff. Dont expect me to believe you dont."
"We should go into the city tonight. We are operating under time constraints."
Damien sat on a stump and stretched his long legs. "Seeking the man out at this hour wouldnt be inconspicuous. Do we need a fire?" There was a well-used fire circle near the shore.
"That depends." Neff tossed a bedroll to him. "Do you want to eat?" He hoped Damien would say no. Hunting with Damien was like hunting with--well, a jackal. Damien was still learning to mask his predatory nature.
"In the morning." Damien was hungry, but he also knew Neff had been staggering drunkenly for the better part of an hour. "Our people supplied us with the proper currency. Well visit an inn."
Damien waited until Neff was sleeping before spreading his own bedroll. Come morning, they would have the Daggers with time to spare for a little vacation in the pre-Christian world.
The dagger was light, yet perfectly balanced. The morning sun sparkled off the new silver as she twirled it in her hand. Gabrielle weighed it before placing it back in the sheath. It was going to make a great birthday gift for Xena. Provided Gabrielle could hide it from her friend. She chuckled and placed it into her pouch. Now all she had to do was get through breakfast without giving her secret away. If she could keep the secret that long, she could last until Xenas birthday.
Gabrielle spotted her friend near the weapon smiths table, apparently looking for the proprietor. She was about to call out to her when she heard something that sounded like a scuffle.
"No!" The scream came from an alley behind the marketplace, immediately setting Gabrielle into motion. Sais drawn, she rounded the corner in a few quick steps, and nearly ran over the man lying on the ground. She recognized him as Mulciber, the weapon smith from the market.
"Are you okay?" She knelt beside him, helping him to sit up.
"Where is he?" He looked frantically around the alley, but no one was there.
"Who?" Gabrielle also looked, her keen senses warning her that someone was close by.
Mulciber shook his head. "I dont know. He just kept asking me where the daggers were--but I dont know what daggers he wants." He looked over Gabrielles shoulder, his eyes suddenly wide with fear.
Gabrielle stiffened, tightening her grip on the sais. "Dont worry." She slowly stood up and turned around.
The man wore black leather armor that fit tightly over his wiry frame. A short sword hung at his side, his hand resting on the pommel. His voice was soft, his tone deadly. "You dont want to get involved in this, lady."
"Too late." she said, taking a defensive stance and blocking Mulciber from the leather clad man.
"Your choice." He drew his sword and lunged at her with a swiftness that nearly caught Gabrielle off guard.
She blocked the blade with her right sai and ducked to her left, using his momentum to shove him away from her. A straight kick forced him into the wall. Gabrielle quickly turned to Mulciber. "Go!" She didnt have a chance to make sure he left, her attention once again on her opponent.
The sword came close to her midriff, but she managed to pull out of its path. He swung the weapon again, this time aiming for her neck. Effortlessly she parried his attack, stepping just beyond his reach. He brought the sword around for a backhanded attack, which she blocked with crossed sais, leaving her momentarily vulnerable. The sweep kick brought Gabrielle to the ground, where she lay on her back for a second, stunned.
Sunlight glinted off the blade of the sword as it came at her head. Gabrielle rolled to her left, coming to her feet in one swift movement. A spin-kick from the right connected with the mans shoulder, sending him to the ground. Another kick hit the sword and sent it spinning out of his reach.
Gabrielle stood close enough to him to make sure he would not get up, but far enough back to block any further attacks. "Who are you?" she asked.
Dark eyes glared up at her, holding her gaze for what felt like an eternity. Gabrielle never saw the small silver weapon until it was pointed directly at her head.
Damien hadnt followed when Neff pursued Mulciber, but had taken the opportunity to search the weapon smiths wares. The man was an excellent smith, but nothing neared the craftsmanship of the Daggers of Megiddo.
Not that Damien had noticed the craftsmanship when hed actually seen them. Hed been a terrorized child, literally dragged kicking and screaming from the safety of home. After seeing what his daddy did to Mrs. Baylock, he had known what was in store for him. The church, that horrifying place--
His reverie was interrupted by the distinct sound of a gunshot. He froze for a moment,
located Neff, and sprinted in that direction.
The sound echoed through the marketplace like the crack of a whip. Xena cocked her head to one side, determined the sound had come from the alley behind the market, and ran in that direction. Intuition told her something was wrong. Sword drawn, she came around the corner to find a man in black leather armor standing over the prone form of Gabrielle.
"SSSHHIIIIYYYYAAAA!!!!" Xena released her war cry, rage giving her motion as she leapt toward the man, her feet connecting with his chest. She landed between him and Gabrielle, drawing her sword as he clamored to his feet. The small silver weapon he held was unfamiliar to Xena and when he pointed it at her she swept her leg around, knocking it from his hand.
Neff stared, dumbfounded, at the warrior woman, trying to decide his next move. He lashed out at her with a spin kick that she easily deflected, coming around his leg and smashing his eye with her right hook. Neff tried unsuccessfully to dodge the backhand that connected with his mouth, splitting his lower lip. Her left caught him under the chin, momentarily knocking him backward. The foot that slammed into Neffs abdomen took his breath away, forcing him to his knees.
The man tried to get back on his feet, but Xena was again upon him. She delivered a double fisted blow between his shoulder blades that knocked him face down in the dirt. She raised her sword and was about to deliver the killing blow when someone grabbed her wrists.
He nearly ran over the weapon smith as he came running out of the alley like a terrified child. Damien grabbed the man by the front of his shirt, his gaze boring into the mans frightened eyes. After several heartbeats, Damien released the man and watched him scamper away.
He caught the gun as it was kicked from Neffs hand by a virago in black leather, leaping between him and the blonde woman that lay in front of Neff. She drew her sword and Damien took two quick steps forward and grabbed her wrists, surprised by the strength there.
Xena whipped her head around to find herself staring into the coldest eyes shed ever seen. When Xena tried to pull free the grip only tightened until she was forced to drop her sword. No matter how hard she tried, she simply couldnt break his hold. Instead, she found herself staring back into those cold eyes, as if mesmerized by his presence.
His voice was soft and melodic. "Uh-uh. We dont have time to play Dungeons and Dragons right now. Perhaps another day." His smile was incredible and it made her speechless. "Return to camp, Sergeant."
The man in black leather armor scrambled to his feet and ran out of the alley. Once he was gone, the man with the cold eyes released his hold on Xena. "Are you a god?" she asked.
His laugh matched his speech. "Not quite." He looked pointedly at the blonde at their feet, bleeding heavily from the shoulder. He released his grip on the warrior woman, letting her go to the blonde.
Gabrielle moaned in pain. Xena afforded her a quick glance, then turned back to find the man was gone. The hackles on the back of her neck were standing, giving Xena a sense that the man was still close by. She knelt beside Gabrielle and lifted her into her arms and headed for the inn.
Xena kicked open to door to the inn, ordering everyone out of her way. Without bothering to explain to anyone, she carried Gabrielle to their room, gently placing her on the bed. The wound in her shoulder still oozed blood, but not as much as before.
She placed a bandage against the wound in the front, then turned Gabrielle over to place one on the wound in the back. "Dont just stand there and watch," she said to the man she knew was in the doorway. "Get over here and help me."
He was not very tall and wearing brown leather pants, white shirt, and brown vest. He shifted the bag he was carrying to his other shoulder so he could reach across the bed to help Xena by holding the bandage still. "What kind of weapon did this?"
"I dont know," she replied, concentrating on the poultice she was making. "Ive never seen anything like it."
"Gun," Gabrielle said, her eyes closed against the pain. "I think he called it a gun."
"Shh. Well figure that out later." Xena spread the poultice over the wound. "Im going to have to sew this one up."
Gabrielle nodded and flinched when Xena used her skills with the "pinch" to deaden the nerves in her shoulder. "Whos your friend?"
The man looked up from his work and smiled. "Bugenhagen."
"Nice to meet you," she opened her eyes enough to see him. "Did you happen to see where the weapon smith went?"
"No. Sorry." Bugenhagen watched with fascination as Xena expertly repaired the damaged flesh.
The poultice was applied and the wounds on both sides bandaged before Xena turned her attention to Bugenhagen. "Who are you and why are you here?"
He drew back a little bit, surprised by the scathing tone of her voice. "I told you, my name is Bugenhagen. You asked me to come in here and help you."
"You followed us up here. Why?"
The man shrugged, again avoiding her questioning gaze. He folded his hands in his lap, twisting his fingers together. "You looked like you needed help. I had no idea what was going on." He looked up, his soft brown eyes meeting Xenas icy gaze.
"Xena," Gabrielle reached for her hand. "You have to go find Mulciber. I told him to run--make sure hes okay."
Her instinct was to say no. Something wasnt right, but Xena couldnt quite put her finger on it. She knew the men from the alley were nearby...she just didnt know how near. "As soon as I make sure--"
"Im fine." Soft green eyes gazed up at her. "Go make sure Mulciber is okay. Please."
"Ill go," Bugenhagen volunteered.
"Well both go." Xena straightened, then handed Gabrielle a sai. "Hang on to this."
Gabrielle tightened her fingers around the leather bound handle. "Got it."
"I have to release the pinch--ready?"
"Yeah," the bard nodded weakly, gritting her teeth and waiting for the flash of pain. Xenas fingers lashed out with lightning speed.
"Yeah," Gabrielle whispered the word. "Go."
Most of the weapons lay on the ground beside Mulcibers stand. It was obvious someone had ransacked his meager belongings. Xena watched out the corner of her eye as Bugenhagen methodically checked the weapons. "Find anything interesting?"
"Blood." He knelt down and picked up what looked like a human finger. "This cant be a good sign."
Xena took the digit from him, turning it over in her hand. The blood was fresh--not more than an hour old. "He cant be far." She squatted next to where Bugenhagen had found the hand and noticed the paw prints. At least four fingers in width.
"A dog. Perhaps it was wild--"
"Its not just any dog." Xena stood and followed the trail, sensing the evil that hid nearby. The trail led directly into an abandoned building behind Mulcibers stand. She had only taken a few steps when her sensitive ears heard it. The distinctive, deep, low growl of a dog feasting on a fresh kill. Instantly, she knew Mulcibers fate.
Bugenhagen must have heard it to, because he started walking toward the sound. Then stopped short inside the doorway to the building. "Uh, this is not good."
Xena came up behind him, looking over his shoulder to where the huge black dog was finishing his meal. The dog looked up from the leg it was chewing and bared its teeth at them. His low-throated growl was a distinct warning.
"Nice dog--" Bugenhagen ignored the dogs warning and started inside. In a second, the dog was lunging for his throat.
The chakram left her hand before she even realized she was throwing it. Xena watched as the round weapon cleanly decapitated the dog, then returned to her hand. "Bad dog."
The door creaked open and two men stepped inside. The first one wore studded leather armor and carried a long bladed dagger. His long, dark hair was pulled back into a tail--his sharp eyes immediately taking in the room. He turned to his chain mailed companion and said, "Close the door."
"Shes not here, Michlen."
"Shes not where we can see her, you fool." Michlen had not moved from the center of the sparse room. "Lock the door, Boratos."
Boratos complied, standing at the door with his sword drawn. "How do you know--,"
Michlen cast an evil glare at him, quieting any further questions. His eyes closed as his mind reached out in search of his prey. Slow breathing--the soft scrape of a boot against stone--the smell of leather--with lightning speed he reached out the open window and dragged in a small woman with short blonde hair. He wrapped strong arms around the squirming catch, holding her firmly against his chest.
Boratos stepped toward them, amazed by his partners skills. "Nice." He pressed the tip of his sword against the hollow of her throat.
Gabrielle stopped struggling, trying to weigh her options. "Let me go," she demanded.
Boratos laughed, pressing his sword into her throat. A trickle of blood trailed down her chest. "Not a chance. Were going to have some fun with you."
"No, were not." Michlen pulled Gabrielles arms behind her back, causing her considerable pain. "Were going to get the information we need, kill her, then report back."
"Youre no fun," Boratos frowned.
"Were not here for fun," Michlen growled, pressing Gabrielles arms up toward her shoulders. He smiled at her cry of pain. "Well, maybe a little fun. Put the sword down and get me some rope."
The moment the sword was sheathed, Gabrielle lurched forward as if becoming faint. The mans grip on her relaxed just a little. When the back of her head struck his nose, she was rewarded with the satisfying crunch of bones breaking. Michlen released his hold on her, stumbling backward. Gabrielle hit him with a sidekick that knocked him to the ground.
Boratos charged her with his sword drawn again. The sais were in her hands in seconds, the one in her left hand blocking the sword blade while the one in her right slammed into his chest, knocking him into the wall. His head struck with a sickening thud. Boratos limp body slid to the floor.
The splintering of wood alerted her that someone was trying to break down the door to her room and join the melee. The door fell forward at the same instant she threw the sai in her right hand, chest level, at the figure trying to enter. Gabrielle released a sigh of relief when she saw it caught by her best friend.
"Xena!" She cradled her left arm against her chest. "We need to work on your timing."
Gabrielle moved around Michlen, unprepared for him to rise up and grasp her injured arm, pulling her toward the window. His dagger pressed against her stomach.
Bugenhagen entered behind Xena and stopped cold.
"Well, isnt this a nice surprise?" Michlens comment was directed at Bugenhagen.
"Im going to kill you, you soulless bastard!" Bugenhagen charged forward, but was stopped by Xena.
"Not today, Bugenhagen." Michlen shoved Gabrielle at Xena, then dove out the window.
By the time Xena and Gabrielle recovered, Michlen had disappeared into the crowded street below. "Are you all right?" Xena asked, observing the blood that covered her friend.
"Its not all mine." Gabrielle pointed to Boratos. "Is he dead?"
Xena quickly felt for a pulse. "Yeah."
"I didnt mean to kill him."
"I know." Xena steered her toward the bed and told Gabrielle to sit down. "Youre bleeding again." She replaced the blood soaked bandages and applied some of the poultice to the cut on her neck.
"Who were they?"
Xena finished her ministrations, then turned to Bugenhagen. She had him by the shirt and pinned to the wall before the smaller man knew what had happened. "Start talkin."
"You should have let me kill him!" He tried to shove away from her, but Xenas grip was like steel. "I had the chance to kill him!"
"Not with Gabrielle in the way--he would have killed her before you ever got to him." She gave him her most fearsome stare. "Its time you told us what in Hades is going on around here."
Bugenhagen met her gaze fully, realizing that he would have to tell Xena everything if he expected their help. "Fine. But not here. We have to head for Megiddo." He waited to see if either of the women would argue with him. Xena released her hold and he tugged his shirt back into place. "Ill explain on the way."
"I should have killed the blonde," Neff said to himself. He was seated on a fallen tree, watching the dark river water flow swiftly past. His shoulder hurt like hell and his damn lip wouldnt stop bleeding. Neff could hardly believe the blonde had gotten the drop on him. Even harder to believe was that the bitch in black leather armor had kicked his ass before he even knew she was there. She had come out of know where. Subconsciously, Neff touched his eye, which was so swollen he could not see out of it.
The cloth he had been holding against his lip was saturated with blood and Neff tossed it aside. Wouldnt matter now anyway. He suspected Damien was going to kill him for being so damned incompetent. Neff expected no less.
His horse bolted against its tethers, nearly breaking his neck. It stopped just sort of hanging itself, its ears flat against its head. Neff waited, sensing his presence.
The fire ring suddenly came to life as orange flames danced around its emptiness, leaping high into the night sky. Damien stood beside the fire, methodically disassembling Neffs gun, tossing the pieces into the flames. Damiens eyes focused on the fire.
"Somehow, Sergeant Neff, I fail to see how a gun is contemporary to this time and place." Damien spoke in a tight, controlled tone. "I also fail to see how shooting attractive women is in our best interests."
Neff didnt offer an explanation. He wouldnt have accepted one, even from a first-year cadet. Damien certainly wasnt going to accept one from him.
"You were sent to guide me through adolescence, nothing more. I have kept you near despite advice to the contrary." Damien finally looked up from his work, his gaze locking with Neffs. "Dont become a liability again."
Bugenhagen sighed, leaning back against a tree. They had decided to camp in the woods just outside Caesarea. "Michlen is an assassin. Boratos, the one Gabrielle killed, was his partner. They work for an evil entity the likes of which youve never seen."
Gabrielle scoffed. "I doubt that. Is this entity a god?"
"Yes, of sorts. And these Daggers of Megiddo are the only thing that can destroy him." Bugenhagen opened the pouch he was carrying, dumping its contents onto the soft ground. "The Beast knows they come from Megiddo; from the forge of Mulciber."
Xena picked one of the slim daggers. The blade was in an unusual triangular shape, each side razor sharp. She winced inwardly at the image, on the hilt, of a man being crucified. "But Mulciber didnt make these."
"No. The Mulciber from the marketplace had nothing to do with these daggers." Bugenhagen took the dagger from her, turning it around in his hand. "The name Mulciber is one of the many names of Hephaestus."
Gabrielle and Xena exchanged knowing glances. "Then Mulciber died for nothing."
"And many more will die if we dont stop him." Bugenhagen looked at each of them, searching for the right words. "They will try to find the forge of Mulciber--probably by going to Megiddo."
"Will they find it there?" Gabrielle asked.
"Yes, but the metal is all gone." He patted his hand against the pouch. "I used it to make these."
"How did you know where the forge was? Hephaestus kept his forges hidden--,"
"I had a vision." He expected doubtful looks from them, but instead they seemed to understand. "He told me that I must forge seven daggers and that each one must contain the image of this man on a cross." He ran his fingers across the intricate carving.
"Who is he?" Xena asked. "And why is he wearing a crown of thorns?"
Bugenhagen shrugged. "Thats the vision I was given. My god only told me that I must forge the daggers and use them to kill the Beast."
"The Beast. Is that who attacked Mulciber in the alley?" Gabrielle sat on the ground near Bugenhagen, her fingers trailing over the pouch of daggers.
"No. The man in leather armor is his man-at-arms." Bugenhagens eyes met Xenas icy stare. "The Beast was the one who stopped you from killing him."
The full moon cast just enough light for him to see the two women at the river. The warrior was casually swimming, while the blonde sat on the rocky shore, nursing her wound. His sharp ears picked up their conversation . . .
"Do you believe what Bugenhagen said? About his vision?" Gabrielle asked.
There was a long silence as Xena cut slow, steady strokes through the water. She stopped in front of Gabrielle, peering up at her. "Yes."
Gabrielle nodded. "I wonder if Eli sent him to us. So we could help him."
"Maybe." Xena pulled herself out of the river and up onto the rocks beside Gabrielle. Water droplets glistened against her dark skin.
"Id sure like to know more about this beast, though." Gabrielle shifted her position and winced from the pain. "Before we head to Megiddo."
"So would I," Xena saw her discomfort. "Here, lemme look at that." She lifted the bandage, her fingers gently probing the broken skin. "Its healing well."
"That why it hurts so much?" Gabrielle complained more than asked the question.
"Probably." Xena massaged a few pressure points on Gabrielles shoulder. "Hows that?"
"Much better, thanks." She brought her gaze up and toward the trees on the opposite bank. She sensed a presence that likely Xena already knew about.
"Yeah. Hes been there for about ten minutes now."
"Dont know," Xena replaced the bandages and slid into the water. "Go put some of that poultice on that wound while I check out our friend."
Gabrielle nodded, familiar with the futility of arguing with the warrior princess.
Once Gabrielle was headed back to camp, Xena slipped under the water and swam toward the opposite shore.
Gabrielle smiled when she entered their camp, the pleasant smell of a fresh stew greeting her. "Wow."
Bugenhagen glanced up from his creation to match her smile with his. "Tastes as good as it smells--guaranteed."
"Mmm, Im famished." She filled her bowl with a hearty serving and sat down opposite Bugenhagen. "So, tell me more about your vision."
"Directly to the point." He sat down, idly stirring the contents of his bowl. "I like that. Are you a follower of Eli?"
Sadly, Gabrielle shook her head. "The way of love was not for me. I wasnt strong enough."
"So you did follow his path--for a time?"
"Yeah." She set the bowl down, her appetite diminished. "But you dont follow him, do you?"
"No. At least, I didnt before." He hesitated, choosing his words carefully. "Eli appeared to me the night I had the vision. He said I had a great destiny to fulfill and not to be afraid of his god--the god of light and peace. Though he knows I could never truly follow his path, Eli said I had been chosen and that my destiny would be passed down to my sons and their sons. . ."
"What is your destiny?"
"To prevent the emergence of the Beast. Bugenhagen met her compassionate gaze, realizing he had to tell her everything. "Each generation will be charged with the safe keeping of the daggers.
"The beast will rise throughout our history--each time we must destroy it or else the world will fall prey to its evil."
"And now he has risen?"
"No. He has come to us out of place." He tossed some wood on the fire, watching the flames crackle and pop. "He does not belong here--to this world, in this time."
"Hes from the future?" Xena walked into their camp, disturbed that she had found nothing of the person who had been observing them earlier.
"Yeah. And the longer he is here, the more damage is done. I must send him back--before its too late."
"And well help you." Xena filled a bowl with stew and sat down beside Gabrielle.
"I cant ask you to do that." Bugenhagen said. "The Beast--hes as powerful as any god--,"
"All the more reason for us to help you," Xena said with conviction. "Well head out at first light for the forge. Hopefully, we can get there first."
Bugenhagen watched quietly as Xena finished her food, secretly dumping his on the ground behind him. He would not jeopardize anyones life for his quest. He would be heading out alone.
The forge loomed over the silent streets of Meggido, a silhouette against the sunrise. Damien pushed open the heavy doors, the crossbar snapping easily. Barely giving his eyes time to adjust to the dark, he crossed to a narrow doorway in the back wall.
Mulcibers quarters was a single room. Although they were on opposite walls, Mulciber could have eaten at the table while sitting on his bed. It took Damien less than an hour to complete his search. He pocketed the few dinars he found; Mulciber wouldnt be needing them.
Stepping back into the forge, Damien examined Neffs finds. Arranged with military precision, all the simple weapons had been competently made. Neff acknowledged Damien with a glance, but didnt pause in his methodical search. "Im beginning to think our people made a mistake."
"Our people wouldnt have manipulated time and space unless they were certain." But Damien remembered his own doubts about Mulcibers craftsmanship, back in Caesarea. What Neff had found bore out his suspicions. "There must be another Mulciber."
Something caught Damiens eye. A small shrine, dusty from neglect. (Damien picks something up) "Hephaestus. Of course." He grabbed Neffs bicep, pulling him away from the search, and into the early morning sun.
Her first thoughts were fuzzy as she opened her eyes and tried to adjust her vision. The sun was already well into the morning sky, yet Xena barely remembered going to sleep. She glanced down at her still sleeping companion, then looked for Bugenhagen. Neither he nor his gear was anywhere to be found.
"Son of a bacchae," Xena instantly realized what had happened. She saw the remnants of the stew still sitting beside the fire. Whatever he had but into that stew had done the trick. She and Gabrielle had passed out long enough for Bugenhagen to continue his quest, alone.
The sound of a twig snapping alerted her to the presence of someone nearby. Her fingers curled around the chakram, while her eyes darted around their camp. At least five men were steadily advancing...possibly more behind them.
"Gabrielle," she said, her tone low enough that only her friend would hear her.
"Huh?" Sleepy eyes refused to open when Gabrielle turned toward the sound of her name. "Is it morning already?"
"Yeah. Bugenhagen drugged us last night--but we got bigger problems right now."
"What problems?" Gabrielle asked--just as Xena deflected a dagger with her chakram. The dagger had been aimed at Gabrielles head. "Oh. Problems." She was on her feet, sais ready without another word.
Two men moved in on Xena, each one easily cut down by a long swipe of her sword. A third started in behind her, catching a swift kick to his chin, effectively knocking him out. Xena made her way toward where Gabrielle had just knocked out two opponents. "Nice work."
"Thanks." Gabrielle stood back to back with Xena. "Whyd he drug us?"
"To complete his quest alone." Xena flung the chakram toward the treeline, watching it take out three men, ricochet off two trees, before it returned to her hand. "Hes going to get himself killed."
"Then wed better go after him." Gabrielle commented, delivering a straight kick to a new opponent, sending that one to the ground. Another man was behind him and got in a right hook before Gabrielle made sure he stayed unconscious by slamming the hilt of her sai into his forehead. "Who are these guys?"
Xena shrugged, twirling her sword in her right hand before bringing it down upon two more men. Once stroke cut both men nearly in half. She hesitated, listening to the woods around them, before sheathing her weapon. "I have a feeling they were sent by whoever was watching us last night."
Both women turned, weapons at the ready, toward the man who had just appeared in their camp. "Michlen."
"Yes, Xena." Michlen grinned, drawing his sword. "I should hope you wouldnt forget me so soon. Ive heard a lot about you."
"I just bet you have." She drew her sword, walking toward him. "Whats this," she pointed to the fallen men around them, "all about anyway? What do you want?"
"That should be obvious by now." Michlen swung his sword at her a few times, showing off his skill. "I want the daggers."
Xena brought her sword down, expecting the block that he gave her. "Its good to want things." She pulled back slightly, then came at him again.
Again, Michlen blocked her attack. "Clever." He shoved her back so he could regroup.
Xena continued her advance, swinging her weapon down upon his. The clashing of the swords sent echoes through the woods, sparks flying each time the metal hit. Michlen was good, but never saw her next move until it was too late. Her sword twisted around his, pulling the weapon from his hands and sending it flying across the camp. The tip of Xenas sword against his throat was quite a surprise.
"Hades, woman. The legends do you an injustice. Youre a lot better than I ever expected."
"Cant believe everything you read." Xena motioned for Gabrielle to pick up his sword. "Now, who sent you?"
"You cant possibly believe that Ill tell you that." Michlen was grinning right up to the moment when she jabbed her fingers into the sides of his neck.
"Okay, Ive just shut off the blood to what little brain you have. Youve got thirty seconds to tell me who sent you, or youll die."
Michlen release a strangled sound, fighting for breath. "Never." He glared at her, then disappeared.
"Xena!" Gabrielle rushed to the spot where Michlen had been. "Whered he go?"
Her friend shrugged, picked up her sword and re-sheathed it. "Wherever he disappeared to is going to be the place of his death--unless whoever sent him is more powerful than Bugenhagen thought."
The forge of Mulciber lay nestled in the foothills of the mountains just south of Megiddo. Damien paused at the entrance, signaling Neff to stop. "Hes here."
"Ill take care of him." Neff was halfway into the cave before Damien stopped him again.
"No. Ill deal with him. I want --,"
"Help--me," the strangled cry came from directly behind them.
Damien looked upon the stranger, sensing a link to his Father. "What do you want?"
The man held out his hand toward Damien and pleaded, "Help me, brother."
"The Beast has no brother." Damien said, watching with mild interest as the man fell forward, eyes wide open. A second later his breathing stopped.
"Whos that?" Neff asked.
Damien shrugged. "Get rid of him, then join me inside."
The forge smelled of metallic dust and was as dark as night. Damien lit the torches along the wall with a glance as he passed them. He could sense the little man was in the work area, hiding behind an old wooden table. With a smirk on his face, Damien allowed the man to jump out of his place of concealment and attack from behind.
The first dagger struck his shoulder when Damien turned to face Bugenhagen. He hadnt quite been prepared for the little man to be so fast, but easily compensated, knocking the other daggers from his grasp. Damien pulled the dagger out of his shoulder, watching the wound heal itself.
"You cant kill me, Bugenhagen."
"How did you know my name?"
Damien grabbed him by the shirt, pulling the man close to him. "Im the Beast. I know everything." He plunged the dagger into Bugenhagens stomach, then shoved the man to the ground, watching as his blood stained the dusty floor.
Neff came in just in time to see Damien retrieve the Daggers of Megiddo. "You have them all?"
"In a neat little bundle." Damien tied the cloth around the daggers. "We have four days until our departure at sunset, Sgt. Neff. Why dont we enjoy it?"
Neff started to argue, but was quieted by the look Damien gave him. He then stared in awe as Damien walked through the stone wall of the forge. A few seconds later, Damien reached out of the stone and pulled Neff along with him.
"I have a bad feeling about this," Gabrielle commented at the entrance to the forge.
"So do I." Xena had already spotted the trace of blood on the ground. "Cmon." She entered the forge, not surprised to find all the torches already lit. Her heightened senses told her the one known as the Beast had been through here already.
The forge looked much like the one she had seen in Greece, except that no weapons had been left behind. Bugenhagen had been right--all the metal of Hephaestus was gone. Footprints in the center of the room told her that at least three men had been there, but two sets of those prints seemed to disappear--into the wall? How was that possible?
"Xena!" Gabrielles call brought her to where Bugenhagen lay in a crumpled heap. "Hes lost a lot of blood."
Xena knelt beside him, already knowing that the man would die. The wound in his belly was bad enough, but hed lost too much blood for her to help him now. "Easy there," she said when he tried to sit up. "Just relax."
"You--you dont have much--time." Bugenhagen coughed, spitting out dark blood. "He has the daggers--you must--must stop him."
"We will." Gabrielle grasped his outstretched hand and holding it tightly.
"Four days--he will be sent--," more coughing, "back to his time at--at sunset. Find daggers--give them to my--my son in Acre."
Bugenhagen drew one last shaking breath and died. Xena gently closed his eyes, then stood up. She followed the tracks she had found, confirming that they ended at the wall. As she examined them closer, she realized they had gone through the wall. "This Beast--he must be part god."
Gabrielle had joined her, taking note of the tracks. "What are we gonna do? How do we follow those?"
"We dont." Xena met her concerned gaze. "Gabrielle, he may be part god, but I can track him. Well go to the other side of the mountain. If they did walk through that wall, thats where they would come out."
"Makes sense. But first, we need to take care of Bugenhagen. We owe him that much."
Damien rinsed Bugenhagens blood from the Dagger, examining the weapon carefully as he did. "Excellent workmanship. Its even better than I expected."
"I cant believe you let him get close enough to draw blood." Neff had taken on the old drill-sergeant tone. "What were you thinking?"
Damien shrugged, flicking water from the blade. "I underestimated him. Live and learn."
"Or die trying."
Damien wrapped the Daggers in their pouch. "Were going into town. A celebration is in order."
"We arent finished with our mission."
Damien paused only a moment before turning on Neff. "We have the Daggers. Our mission is complete, Sergeant Neff, until the portal re-opens. I intend to enjoy the rest of our stay."
"Those women --"
"Cant walk through stone, even if they find the forge." He tossed the leather bundle to Neff. "You stay here, then, and protect the daggers from Wonder Woman and Supergirl. I might be back by dawn."
"Their camp is on the other side of the creek." Xena drew her sword and glanced at Gabrielle. "Ready?"
Gabrielle flexed her arm to show her shoulder was healed enough. "After two days of tracking? Yeah, Im ready."
They were across the creek and on the edge of Neffs camp before he knew what was happening. He was on his feet the instant he saw them, regretting the fact that the daggers were on the ground beside the fire ring.
"I really dont wanna fight you," Xena moved in closer, her senses stretching out to confirm that the Beast was nowhere near.
"Funny. I dont see that as an option." Neff drew his sword, taking a step toward the leather-clad warrior.
"Suit yourself." She shrugged, let out her famous war cry, leaping over Neffs head to stand behind him.
"Damn it! How the hell do you do that?" Neff wheeled around to see the warrior pick up the daggers. He was about to advance when her blonde friend blocked him. "You again?"
"Yeah." Gabrielle twirled her sais so that the sharp ends were pointed toward Neff.
Neff rolled his eyes. "Dont get cocky," he muttered just before bringing his sword down upon her head.
Gabrielle easily deflected the blade, shoving it to the side. She went after him with a series of punches, most of which Neff was able to avoid or counter. A spin kick to his midriff caused him to stumble back, but Neff remained on his feet.
The daggers tucked under her arm, Xena turned to watch her companion. "Gabrielle, is this gonna take much longer?"
Gabrielle shook her head, waiting for Neff to get to his feet. "No, Xena, not much longer."
"Good, because his friend could be back any minute--I dont think we want to wait around for that."
"Why not?" Neff asked. "Im sure Damien would love to get to meet Wonder Woman and Supergirl in person." He laughed at his own joke, then used Gabrielles momentary confusion to get in a spin kick of his own. It sent the small woman to the ground. To her credit, she was on her feet just as quick.
Gabrielle shook off the affects of the kick, then ran at Neff, jumping at the last second and landing a straight kick directly on his chest. It knocked him down to the ground, stunned. Gabrielle landed on her feet, then came down on him again with the sai in her right hand, landing a blow to his temple that finally knocked him cold.
She stood up, placing her weapons in her boots. "Now, we can go."
Xena nodded her approval of Gabrielles handiwork, then led the way out of the woods.
Neff struggled to consciousness, at first only vaguely aware of the boot prodding the small of his back. With a groan, he rolled over to face Damien. "How did you know?"
Gentle laughter belied the angry set of Damiens features. "A little birdie told me."
"All things considered, youre in an awfully good mood." Neff accepted Damiens hand, pulling himself to his feet.
"Just waiting for you to say you told me so."
"Blame it on the arrogance of youth." Neff and Damien found the womens trail. Neff gingerly fingered the knot on his temple as they set out after them.
"Did they have baseball bats?" Damien didnt expect an answer. Somehow, he was enjoying this. "Sergeant Daniel Neff, getting his ass kicked by a pair of women. I wish I could tell the cadets at Davidson about this."
"These are not ordinary women."
"The cadets wont know that." Damien chuckled even as he wondered what sort of women they were. Either Neff was slipping or--no. If Neff had been slipping, Damien would have left him at Davidson Military Academy. "I believe a small army should be able to catch them."
As if on cue, a small army of about thirty men crested the hill. Neff raised an eyebrow. "Very impressive."
Damien shrugged. "I have connections."
"Cmon Gabrielle. Not too much further now." Xena continued climbing the steep rock wall, catching herself when her boots slipped on the loose rock.
"Yeah, you said that a while ago." Gabrielle glanced down, seeing at least ten more soldiers starting to climb up it. "How many more can he possibly send?"
"Just a little bit--," Xena grasped the edge of the rock face, pulling herself up and over the edge. She immediately turned around, braced herself, and stretched her hand toward Gabrielle.
Gabrielle accepted her help gladly, finally reaching the top and lying there in an exhausted heap. "How close are they?"
"About half-way up." Xena looked around, spotting a boulder. "Give me a hand."
Seeing what her friend was up to, Gabrielle got to her feet and found a thick tree branch to use as leverage. Together, they were able to loosen the boulder enough that with both of them shoving against it, the rock went over the edge. It created a rockslide that took out all the soldiers that had been following them. The soldiers that had decided against climbing the rock wall, stood at the bottom in disbelief. After a few moments of chaos, they regrouped and started back up the wall.
"Well, at least we slowed them down a little."
"Yeah," Xena moved away from the ledge, taking a moment to assess their situation. "Theyve been following since we got the daggers. Its almost as if they know where were going."
Xena shook her head. "Well have to figure that out later. Lets go." She started running for the woods, her tired companion right on her heels.
Neither woman heard the raucous cry of the raven as it left its perch and flew in the opposite direction.
Damien opened his eyes and smiled. They were headed right to him. If Neff continued his pursuit, they would have the women boxed in. The daggers would be in his possession once again--with barely a day to spare.
He concealed himself in the thick treeline, watching the field for his prey. He was not disappointed. Less than an hour later, he saw them, running directly for him. He was about to confront them, when they stopped. The warrior was looking right at him. She can sense me, Damien thought. She knows Im here. Impressed, he left his place of concealment and started toward them.
Xena grabbed Gabrielles arm, coming to a stop in the middle of the field. "Hes here."
She pointed to the trees at the same moment that Damien chose to walk toward them. "Right there."
Gabrielle looked behind them. "And his friends are gaining on us."
Xena also glanced back, seeing Neff lead a dozen soldiers onto the field. "We just have to hold them off until sunset."
"Thats a few hours from now." Gabrielle nervously flipped her sais in her hands. "Whats the plan?"
"To kill you both and go back home." Damien was now standing about ten feet away from them.
"Sorry. Were going to have to change your plans," Xena said, then released the chakram. The weapon bounced off Damiens forehead before he could react.
He touched his forehead, his face carefully stoic at the sight of his own blood on his fingers. "How did you do that?"
"I have many skills." Xena caught the chakram and prepared to throw it again.
"And minding your own business is not one of them." Damien focused on the warrior woman, using the forces of his mind to push her to the ground.
Xena lay there, pinned by invisible hands. Gabrielle, unsure what was happening, stood protectively over her friend. "Gabrielle, get out of here!" Xena yelled, struggling to get up.
"Not a chance." Gabrielle split her attention between Damien and the advancing soldiers.
Damien kept his hold on the warrior, surprised by her strength. "Give me the daggers and Ill consider allowing you both to live."
"No deal." Xenas eyes never left Damien as she slowly struggled to her feet. She grasped the chakram again, this time sending it behind them, where it knocked out seven of the soldiers there. With the chakram in her hand again, she turned her attention back to Damien.
"You certainly are persistent." Damien managed to dive out of the way of the spinning weapon, almost relieved when it became imbedded in a tree not far behind him. In seconds, he was on his feet again and charging the warrior woman.
Neff ordered his men to attack the blonde woman. He had only six soldiers left, but figured that would be enough to take care of her. Damien, he figured, would be able to get the daggers back from the bitch in black leather, but Neff decided to stay close to his former student just in case.
Gabrielle caught the swords of two soldiers simultaneously, pushing both men back, taking out the one on her left with a sidekick to his chest. The one on her right got a right hookthe hilt of her sai leaving an impression on the side of his head. She leaped over the two men, ducking the sword of another soldier and coming up under his arm, striking him in the chin hard enough to knock him out.
As he fell, two more rushed forward, the first one striking Gabrielle in the face with his sword hilt. She landed on her side, rolled out of the way of his boot as it came at her head, then jumped to her feet, both sais still clasped firmly in her hands.
The sword came so close that she could feel the air displacement as it passed. A straight kick caught him in the shoulder, his momentum taking him to the ground. Gabrielle was about to deliver another kick when she was again knocked to the ground. This time she hit so hard that she dropped her sais. Her chin bounced against a rock, making her vision blur while she fought to stay conscious.
Neff stood up, looking around at the fallen soldiers, shaking his head in disgust. His gaze caught the two that had refused to join in the melee. "What are you two standing there for? Afraid of a woman?" Neff noticed Gabrielle was trying to stand and firmly planted the heel of his boot between her shoulders, pinning her to the ground.
Breathing was becoming harder. Gabrielle could faintly hear the man standing on her and recognized him. Should have hit him harder, she thought ruefully. He pushed down harder when she tried to stand and for a moment, she thought he would break her back.
The sunlight glinted off the metal blade of one of her sai. Gabrielle could see the weapon, just to her left, and about an inch out of her reach. While Neff yelled at his soldiers, she tried to grab the weapon, but her movement only gained his attention.
Neff grabbed hold of the blonde by her hair, pulling her head back while keeping his foot on her back. "Dont bother, bitch. Youre not going anywhere."
"Thats what you think." Gabrielle bit out the words, despite the pain. She managed to lean her head back far enough to look directly into the mans cold, dark eyes. "Let me goand Ill let you live."
The laughter that came out was deep and filled with sudden appreciation. The woman had balls. "Thats a deal I cant make. Whether you live or die is up to Damien."
Gabrielle never lost eye contact with him. "Then Ill deal with him." She tossed a handful of dirt into Neffs eyes. He let go of her, grasping at his eyes, and stumbling backward into his soldiers.
She was back on her feet in seconds, scrambling to recover her lost weapons.
Neff rubbed his eyes, frantic to see, but only able to make out indistinct shapes. He could see the blonde hair, drew his sword and rushed toward her.
Damien and Xena fell in a heap, rolling several times, each one trying to get a hold on the other. Finally, Damien used his larger size to pin Xena to the ground, grasping her wrists and holding themor trying to hold themdown.
Blue eyes flashed a warning that Damien never understood. When their foreheads impacted he released his hold on the warrior woman and fell to his side as she rolled away from him. He rubbed his new injury, again surprised to see blood.
"I dont know how youre doing that, but I supposed it wont matter after I kill you."
"No, I dont suppose it will." Xena drew her sword, edging her way back toward Damien.
He was on his feet in seconds, looking around for a weapon as she rushed him. Neff was standing close by, his sword raised as if to attack someone. Damien noted that Neff was fighting the blonde again and wondered why exactly that little woman was so much trouble for the Sergeant. He shook his head, not wanting to waste thoughts on that right then, grabbed the upraised sword from Neffs hand, turned and blocked Xenas frontal attack.
The swords clashed and clang, the sound ringing through the valley as the two continued their battle. Xena felt a rush of adrenaline that increased with each hit. A feral grin crossed her lips as her sword became entangled with Damiens. Two circular movements and the sword was pulled out of his hand, landing several feet away from them.
"I just might have to let Neff live after all." Damien commented, again surprised by her resourcefulness and skills. The tip of her sword was now poised to run him through, yet she hesitated. Her eyes flickered to something behind him and Damien glanced back quickly.
The blonde was engaged in battle with Neff, who was using his larger size to try to overpower the woman. Damien shook his head, knowing it would take a lot more than brute strength to defeat either of these women. In almost the same thought, he realized Xenas weakest link. With lightning speed, Damien rushed the blonde, grabbing her around the throat with his hand and lifting her off her feet.
Gabrielle clawed desperately at the hand that had cut off her air supply, her feet dangling in the air. She kicked at him, but didnt seem to have the strength to kick hard enough to do any damage. Her eyes darted toward Xena, who had retrieved the chakramthe weapon flying from her hands as soon as she freed it from the tree.
Damien casually reached out his left hand and caught the flying weapon seconds before it would have amputated his arm. He looked at it for a moment, noticing his own blood still stained the edge. "Interesting trinket. I wonder just how sharp it is." He pressed it against the blondes cheek, watching her blood trickle down her face.
"Let her go!" Xena yelled, her sword drawn as she moved toward him.
"Not another step." Damien kept the chakram close to Gabrielles face. "Give me the daggers and Ill consider letting her live. Thats the only deal you get."
Xena did not hesitate, tossing the pouch to Damiens feet. "Take them."
"Good girl." Damien laughed at how easy it was, dropping the blonde to the ground. He retrieved the daggers, tucking them under his arm. "Sgt. Neff! Lets go!" Damien waited for Neff to catch up to him, then turned toward the woods.
Xena helped Gabrielle to stand up. "You okay?"
"Yeah," she rubbed her sore throat, watching Damien and Neff start for the woods. "We gonna follow them?"
The distinct sound to the chakram surprised them both--Xena catching it inches from Gabrielles face. They heard Damiens laughter, followed by the sound of the remaining soldiers advancing upon them.
Both women turned to face the onslaught.
"How much longer?" Neff asked, pacing nervously.
"Ten minutes." Damien glanced behind them. Still no sign of the two women, but Damien was not going to take any chances. "We need to keep moving. The vortex will find us."
"Right." Neff fell into step beside Damien as they headed further into the woods.
He heard the thing this time, ducking just before the chakram took his head off. Damien let out a rather loud curse. "How does she do that?!"
Xena caught the chakram, a feral grin on her face. "I cant let you leave with those daggers."
"And I cant let you stop me. Seems were at an impasse."
A brilliant purple light opened in the sky above Damien and Neff. Swirling bolts of lightning mixed in colors of blue and red, closing in on the two men. Neff pointed up, saying something to Damien that Xena could not hear. Damien shook his head, pointed to the vortex. Neff seemed to disagree, until he got a look from Damien that made him think otherwise.
Neff reached his arms up and allowed the vortex to pull him in.
Damien nodded to Xena, then followed Neff.
The chakram ricocheted off the wall of the Center, smashed the Evolution Quartz crystal, cut the Time Link Quartz in half, severed Kennys head from his body, then disappeared into the waning vortex.
Damien stumbled to his feet, getting out of the way just before the machine sparked and caught fire. He glanced back at the archway as it collapsed in on itself. Pieces of the precious crystals lay scattered throughout the room. He watched with mild interest as Harvey tried in vain to pick them all up.
"What the hell happened?!" Sam demanded.
"That leather bitch with the Frisbee nearly took my arm off!" was Damiens reply. He looked around for Neff, but the sergeant was nowhere to be found.
"Oh my god, they killed Kenny!" Jonathan screamed, picking up Kennys head off the floor.
Damien looked at the head, then once around the chaos of the Center and said, "Those bastards."
Xena rushed over to the vortex, fighting the strong wind around it to look up. She could see the two men going through a tunnel, several men in white clothes waiting for them at the end. The chakram left her hand, soaring through the tunnel after them.
The chakram first hit Damiens arm, nearly cutting it off, making him release his hold on the daggers. The pouch fell from the vortex and was followed a few seconds later by the chakram. Xena caught her trusted weapon, watching as the vortex closed in on itself.
Gabrielle retrieved the daggers and joined her friend. "Are they gone?"
"I think so."
"Good. Now we can hand over the daggers to Bugenhagens son for safe keeping."
"Yep." Xena took the pouch from Gabrielle, turning it over in her hands. "Safe, until the next time the Beast appears."
The Book of Revelation, Chapter 13 " and I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast."
Disclaimer: "Wonder Woman and Supergirl were not harmed during the writing of this story; however, we did kill Kenny. Were bastards."