Royal Academy of Bards Halloween Invitational 2007


by L.M. Townsend-Crow

QueenLaese1@AOL .com

Disclaimers: (Sigh) Don't we already know these by now? Okay, okay - the principal characters in this tale do not legally belong to me. They are cultural icons and archetypes, but I did not create them, nor will I take credit for them. Violence and possibly the occasional expletive may make appearances from time to time. Most likely there will be subtext if you read it into this little tale.

Spoilers: "In Sickness and in Hell", "Altared States", and "The Xena Scrolls"

This takes place before Gabrielle's short hair and Xena's new chakram, after Gabrielle's loss of her blood innocence.


She moved as one with the dancing shadows through the looming trees. The earthy spice of fallen pine needles rose to her as she danced among the tiny dapples of sunlight which, here and there, illumined the earth, battling their way through the leafy roof under the sky. The huntress followed the beast's trail; a broken low branch here, tufted dead leaves and needles there.

The ravaging beast had feasted upon her people for weeks now. Soon, tonight, her people would feast upon him. She made her silent way, shouldering the spear presented to her by the village. Her own bow and quiver of silver-tipped arrows would serve her much better, she suspected. Her bare arms were covered with bramble scratches and marked by the hungry insects which had feasted on her warm, sweet blood. Her raven locks were bound in a single plait behind her, but tendrils had escaped and now clung damply to her face and neck. Emerald eyes squinted into the thick undergrowth to detect the black hide for which she sought. She called upon the Horned One to aid her search but, seemingly, to no avail. She hoped the Lady would not be so capricious in time of real need.

They had sent her because she was a huntress, daughter of a hunter whom the beast had killed days ago. She could flush out any game with ease and never missed her mark. She was a huntress, but had never tasted of the flesh of her prey. No flesh or blood or bone must pass her lips until the appointed time, her father had told her, but had not revealed when that time would come to the priestess of the hunt, priestess and servant of the Horned One.

Suddenly, she stopped all movement. Musk - she smelled him. Earthy and dark was his scent. Crouching close to the earth, the odor came more strongly to her. He had been there not long before her. Not far, then, she thought. Instinctively, she drew out her bow, set the silver-tipped arrow - a Goddess-gift - in place and crouched yet closer to the earth. Still, so still, she must remain. Then, suddenly, he was there. Ivory tusks gleamed in the midday twilight, saliva dripping from his red mouth. He snorted from his broad snout; his breath was foul. The huntress remained still, save for drawing back her arrow. He regarded her for a moment, snorted, then caught her scent. Her own salty sweat dripped painfully into her eyes and she blinked.

She could feel him, now, his heat, his rage. Lust for her own blood ravaged her senses. She must keep control or soon she would be tearing at her flesh with her teeth as the beast now longed to do. She must keep control of him, as well. But he was strong, stronger than any other creature of the forest she had yet encountered.

He glared at her, resenting her hold on him, but he could not overcome, resist though he may.

The huntress lifted her head and cried out. Power surged through her; she was the Huntress, One with the Horned One. She let loose the silver-tipped arrow, the Tooth of the Horned One, heard it singing, then thud as it bit deeply into the beast's flesh. Its pain slammed into her chest, she lost her breath for a moment only, but in that moment, she also lost her hold. The beast snorted and roared, rushing wildly at her. She was frozen, unable to move but to open her mouth in a silent scream as the beast tore through the thick forest floor of dead leaves, dust and earth and brown needles rising in his wake. The huntress found herself at last and barely evaded his assault. The beast, realising he had missed his quarry, turned sharply, falling upon the arrow, which bit deeper still. Fresh blood turned his hide even blacker. The huntress was afraid. She had felt this death as she felt no other. He lay, panting and snorting, bright blood spraying from his nostrils. The killer of her father lay thrashing in his throes, but the huntress found herself not glad, but afraid, apprehensive.

"Father?" she whispered, and found no reply but death. The beast was not yet still, twitching, but no less dead, for she had felt it come to him. Slowly, she rose to her feet, even more slowly she approached the beast. Its twitches and throes had assumed a pattern - and it changed. Its black hide shrank to cover only the head, arms, and legs. Its broad snout narrowed and shortened into a nose, ears drew back into the head, black eyes became green and glazed over as its limbs lengthened and the tail drew in.

"My father," said the huntress in grim recognition.

All movements ceased, the throes and twitches silenced. The huntress withdrew her knife from her belt and dealt a single slashing blow, then lowered her head and drank deeply of the warm, salty, red blood which freely flowed from her father's throat. She lifted her head and howled as she felt the tingle of change surging through her limbs, overtaking her.

There would be no feast in the village this night - at least, not for the villagers.


"Xena, isn't there a village coming up on this road?" Gabrielle asked, wearily.

Xena glanced down at the bard, walking alongside her and Argo.

"If you're tired of walking, you can always come up and ride behind me," said the warrior. "Argo won't mind."           

Gabrielle glared at the golden horse.

"No, that's okay," said Gabrielle. "Let's just stop up at this village coming up. I'm hungry and they may have some apples."

Argo whinnied and tossed her head, then cast a baleful eye at the bard.

"Alright, she said she was sorry for her little ... indiscretion," said Xena, patting Argo's neck.

"Her little indiscretion? You mean her betrayal -  that led to lice and fungus and a whole week of having to nurse Joxer back to health ..." Gabrielle grumbled vehemently. "Not to mention an encounter with that crazy killer rabbit. I'll probably have this scar for the rest of my life. Of course, if it weren't for this scar, my own best friend wouldn't even believe that there was a rabbit with teeth the size of the Colossus - "

"Gabrielle, let it go - we'll stop, okay?" said Xena, interrupting.

She had been listening to this litany of complaints ever since they had left the newly-named Joxopolis.

At least the lice and the fungus are gone, but I may never eat another radish as long as I live, thought the warrior, suppressing a belch. She and Gabrielle were still suffering the occasional relapse of whatever it was Joxer had infected them with.

Probably some sort of parasite, Xena thought, trying to remember where she had last seen wormwood. Gabrielle will hate it, but at least her stomach will settle - as much as it ever does, that is. Maybe this village coming up will have an apothecary. It shouldn't be far now. I remember passing it on the way to find Argo.

Suddenly, the warrior jumped from Argo's back and drew her sword.

"Get up there, Gabrielle," she said.

"Xena what - ?" began Gabrielle, as she clambered up Argo's back; then the smell hit her.

She could feel her breakfast of bread and tea start back the way it came in and clamped her hands over her nose and mouth. Xena poked at the brush up ahead with her sword. Gabrielle could barely make out a bundle of fur and rags, just dead enough to gag her. She wanted to ask Xena what it was, but she didn't want to open her mouth or even breathe deeply enough to speak.

Suddenly, the warrior unclipped her chakram and flung it, seemingly directly at Gabrielle. The Bard yelled and ducked, but before the flying ring came within feet of her, it hovered in the air for a moment, then flew back at Xena who neatly caught it. Gabrielle saw Ares materialise, rubbing his throat.

"Good thing I'm immortal, Xena, or my head would be rolling around at my feet right now," he said.

Xena merely glared at the god of war.

"You have anything to do with this mess, Ares?" said Xena.

"Nope, not this time," said the god. "What is that, a dead Bacchae?"

"Now how could there be any Bacchae when Bacchus is dead, Ares?" asked Gabrielle.

The god glanced back at the Bard and shrugged.

"I dunno," said Ares. "I've been hearing about a new group called Maenads. They seem to be just like the Bacchae only worse. Dionysus's girls, I think."

"Wait, didn't Dionysus have some sort of disagreement with King Pentheus?" asked Gabrielle.

"You could say that - Pentheus committed blasephemy and Dionysus cursed all of this region," said Ares.

"Tremendous," said Xena, rolling her eyes. She walked past Ares and mounted Argo behind Gabrielle.

"Wait, Xena," said Gabrielle. "Ares what was the curse?"

"The Maenads drank wine cursed by the god Dionysus so now when the moon is full, they see all men as wild beasts and they hunt them down and kill them," said Ares.

"Well, then we as women should have no problems passing through," said Xena, clicking to Argo to start walking.

"Don't be too sure about that, Xena," said Ares. "There is always danger. God magic doesn't always work the way it was intended. You've met Aphrodite - you think she purposely screws up her spells?"

"Thanks Ares," Gabrielle called after them as Xena urged Argo faster.

"Yeah, you thank me now," said the god of war, throwing back his head and laughing. "Just wait."

"Come on Gabrielle, you don't believe all that crap, do you?" asked Xena

"Why would Ares lie about that?" asked Gabrielle.

"Who knows, but as long as his lips are moving, you can bet he's scheming," said Xena. "Why would he show up here and now?"

"Because you're here?" said Gabrielle.

"Exactly," said the warrior. "As usual, he wants something from me and he's not getting it."

"But you don't even know what it is," said Gabrielle.

"Doesn't matter. If it's Ares, it can't be good for us," said Xena. "Now let's get to that village. I'm hungry."

"How can you even think of food after that smell?" asked Gabrielle. "What was that thing, anyway?"

Gabrielle did not see the grim set of Xena's mouth.

"Looked like some kind of offering," said the Warrior Princess, shortly. "Probably to Artemis - there were just some arrow tips in a bundle of fur and entrails. Probably sewn up neatly till the animals got into it."

"The Amazons worship Artemis, too, but they never leave that kind of an offering," said Gabrielle, frowning.

"Well, the Amazons do almost everything differently from most folks, Gabrielle," said Xena, clicking to Argo to speed up and indicating that the subject was done.

They rode on, each feeling the wrongness of the eerie silence so close to what should have been a vital and bustling village. Finally, Xena figured they were several miles past where they should have found the village. She stopped Argo and dismounted, then helped Gabrielle to slide off the horse's back.

"Xena, what going on?" asked Gabrielle in a hushed voice.

"I'm not sure," said the Warrior. "Listen, Gabrielle, I have a feeling there's trouble afoot here and I want you to - "

"Oh, no you don't, Warrior Princess," said Gabrielle, her jaw squaring stubbornly. "You think you're going to send me on ahead or behind or ... or somewhere out of the way while be the hero here and  - "

"Actually, Gabrielle, I was going to ask you scout ahead a few stadia while I backtrack and see if maybe we misremember the location of the village," said Xena.

"Oh. Well, okay, then if you're sure - "

"Gabrielle, just go!" Xena said, pushing Gabrielle back up onto Argo's back and whistling so Argo trotted off.

With a grim look, Xena walked back to where the foul-smelling bundle had been. It was gone, now. She drew her sword and begin to circle around, muttering, "Come out come out wherever you are ... there!"

Suddenly, from out of the brush, a young woman sprang, her teeth bared, growling like a dog.

"Nice try," said the Warrior Princess, re-sheathing her sword.

The young woman's shoulder's slumped and she walked up to Xena.

"What do you think you're doing, pretending to be a Maenad?" asked Xena.

"Yes, actually," she said. "I am Galinthias. I'm the only one left from my village. I was scared, so I thought if I could scare away anyone who seemed to mean harm I would be safer."

"You're the only one? What happened?" asked Xena.

"It was the beast," said the woman, looking over her shoulder, then up above her head and then all around before continuing. "They say it has the mind of a human, but no soul, sucked out by the Goddess and left with a shell. It's mad, they say, because it knows with its human mind that it used to have a soul and it wants it back. They say it goes about devouring humans, trying to get a soul again."

"'They say'? Who says, if there's no one left?" asked the warrior.

The young woman's head dropped.

"I suppose I should say, 'they used to say, but I - it just seems if I say that, then they're really gone," she said, quietly.

"Well, let's go check it out and see if you're the only one left or if there are others hiding out," said Xena, striding towards where the village used to be.

As they drew near the broken gates - ripped from their posts, Xena noted with concern -  Argo came galloping towards them, Gabrielle hanging on as her butt slid perilously near the mare's hooves.

"Xena!" screamed the Bard.

The Warrior Princess frowned, then placed two fingers and her thumb between her lips and let out a shrill whistle. Argo halted, rearing back and Gabrielle hit the dusty road with a thump.

"Thanks, Xena," said the Bard standing and brushing herself off.

"What'd you do to my horse?" asked Xena, stroking the mare's velvety nose.

"What? I cannot believe you are even asking me that, Xena!?" said an indignant Gabrielle. "Something spooked her. I don't know what it was, but it must have been - "

"Atomostoktenos!" cried Galinthias, starting away from Gabrielle.

"What's wrong?" asked the Bard as Xena grabbed Galinthias back.

"Galinthias here thinks you're some kind of shape-shifting monster," said the warrior with an ill-hidden half-grin.

"That's - I'm not," said Gabrielle.

"I am so sorry - I meant no offense. You scared me, coming through the trees like that," said Galinthias.

"It's okay," said Gabrielle. "So what's going on here?"

"I don't know yet," said Xena, eyeing the savagery employed against the village gates. "But I'm about to find out."

"Galinthias, do you know what did this?" asked Gabrielle.

"No - I was away, visiting my sister," said Galinthias. "I came back and everyone was gone."

"You mean dead?" asked Gabrielle.

"No - gone. Just ... not here anymore," said Galinthias.

Xena drew her sword and pushed aside a tangle of vines which had been used to fasten wooden boards into the village gates. They now hung in a mass from each tipped post. Gabrielle and Galinthias followed Xena cautiously into the deserted village. A few cats wandered through the debris, meowing piteously, then running away from the women as they drew near.

"Xena we passed through this village on our way to find Argo just ... what, a week or so ago?" said Gabrielle, her voice quiet.

"Yeah, somethin' like that," said Warrior, her eyes narrowed and darting at any furtive movement. The feral cats made many such movements, always just beyond her peripheral sight, causing the Warrior Princess to be on edge.

"Argh!" Gabrielle exclaimed, wiping at her face. "Spiderweb - wait ... where's the spider!?"

She danced around, begging Xena to find it and brush it off, though Xena saw the plump arachnid scuttling up the wall of an abandoned wares stall, an herb-seller if Xena's nose served her as it usually did.

"Galinthias, I'm sorry, but I don't think anyone is coming back here," said Xena, pushing a fallen shutter aside with her sword and climbing into the stall to investigate. She bent and picked up a vial to examine it.

"Where would they all have gone?" asked Gabrielle, watching for more webs in her path.

"I don't know," whispered the village woman. "Maybe the atomostoktenos ate them all."

"What is this atomostoktenos?" asked the bard, her nose wrinkled as she tried the word.

"Shape-shifter," Galinthias whispered and looked around. "The cursed ones, they change and eat human flesh, trying to regain their human souls, but - "

"Enough," said Xena, impatiently. "I'm certain that this is just a bad case of bandits, maybe a warlord with a small army, but not some shape-shifting killers."

"Xena what about what Ares said?" Gabrielle said.

"Never mind that," said Xena, vaulting the stall half-door with the vial tucked into her breast dagger sheath. "The sooner we get back on the road to Thrace, the better off we'll be. We have enough trail rations to last until the next village."

"What if the atomostoktenos has been there, too?" asked Galinthias, her eyes wide and staring all around. "What if we are the only people left and - !"

Xena halted the impending panic with a slap to the woman's face.

"Calm down," said the warrior. "Are you coming with us or not?"

"N-no," said Galinthias, swallowing hard. "My people may come back."

"Somehow I doubt that," said Xena.

"Unless she's right, Xena," said Gabrielle, looking around at the cats who were now gathering as dusk fell. "They may come back - as something else."

"Gods, Gabrielle, not you, too?" said Xena, exasperated. "Fine, I'll prove to you that there's no supernatural human-eating creature lurking about. We'll stay the night and then in the morning you can decide if you want to come with us, okay Galinthias?"

"Uh, well, okay," said the village woman, looking down so that neither of the other two women could see her widening grin. "I'll show you where I've been staying. Come."


The hut was fairly clean, a little dusty and webby, but a broom and a rag made it habitable, if only for the night. It seemed much cozier once there was a fire in the hearth, though. Xena left briefly, but could find no game anywhere. The two friends settled in with Galinthias for some hard journey bread and dried fruit. Gabrielle declared that she was far too nervous to fall asleep, but was soon snoring away. Xena smiled at the bard and sat in a dark corner, well hidden in the shadows. Galinthias sat staring into the flames for a long time and Xena watched her carefully. She had sensed that something was not quite right with the young woman.

Suddenly, they heard the loud yowling of cats outside. Both Galinthias and Xena leapt to their feet. Gabrielle snored on.

"It's nothing, go back to sleep," said Galinthias, too quickly.

"Nah, I'm wide awake now," said Xena, sitting up by the fire.

"I have to go to the privy," said Galinthias, walking towards the door.

"Alone?" said Xena, one eyebrow raised. "Not so scared anymore, eh?"

"I - I have to go - what are you going to do?" said Galinthias as Xena arose. "You have to either stay here with Gabrielle ... d-don't you?"

"Nah," said Xena. "She's safe in here, isn't she? I mean, how many nights have you passed in here and here you are safe and sound. It's the things outside that pose the danger, right?"

"Well, yes, but ... "

"What's wrong?" asked Xena.

"I - I just prefer my privacy," said Galinthias, nervously.

"Go ahead - I'll just watch from the doorway to make sure you're safe," said Xena.

"Uh, alright," said Galinthias, leaving the hut.

Suddenly, Gabrielle sat up and walked towards the two women in the doorway.

"Is she sleepwalking?" asked Galinthias.

"Yeah," said Xena, frowning, pushing past her to follow the bard.

The other two followed the bard through the dark streets of the deserted village. Xena heard the sound of wolves howling and bats chittering, silhouetted against the huge bloody moon. Galinthias feel into step beside Gabrielle. Both young women seemed to follow a voice only they could hear. Then Xena heard it, too. It almost as compelling as a siren song to sailors;  Xena's will resisted, but only with immense effort and focus. The words seemed to be inside of her head as she followed Gabrielle and Galinthias through the torn gates out into the forest.

"In the place where roads do cross
Flanked by loyal hounds
And trees from which hangs silvery moss
Stands She who knows no bounds

The 'Silver-Footed' Queen of Night
A figure lone, but strong
Lady of most gentle might
She whose reign is long

Too many hearts do fear Your Face
Too few know Your Voice
They call your realm an 'evil place'
They think only 'death', not choice

They do not see You holding high
A brilliant torch to light the way
To those so blind, You sadly sigh
And wait, hoping yet they may

Through the starry night You fly
Your chariot dragon led
Your loyal hounds to you do cry
Mourning the blessed dead

On this sacred Samhain night
We hear Your Voice, Your Call
We know Your Love and have no frigh
tIn Your Arms You hold us all

We keep the ancient rites from old:
The sacred incense smoke does rise
The candle flames shining bold
Dancing, seeking favour in your Eyes

On this night, the year begins
In Your Name we take a broom
And sweep the old off to the winds,
Banishing fear and gloom

Wise-Woman Hekate, bless us this night
We call upon Your Name
Keeper of the Witches' Light
We seek your Torches' flame
Blessed Be!"

Finally they stopped in clearing in the forest. Xena saw a circle of women around a lone, cloaked figure, indeed flanked by hounds. Power crackled in the air around her like lightning. Xena stayed back to watch the proceedings. Galinthias stepped forward next to the cloaked figure.

"Ah, my Priestess, you have brought another to me," said the figure, who pushed back the hood of the cloak to reveal a woman whose hair was pure white, but whose face was as smooth and unlined as a maiden's.

"Nay, my Queen, it was the Warrior who brought her. She is not of this Tribe, yet she is one of us," said Galinthias.

"So I see," said the Woman.

It was then Xena noticed that the women surrounding her were Amazons. They all wore the tribal necklaces and bore the tattoos of the Amazon Nation.

"She is one of my niece's women, yet she is still welcome," said the Woman.

"Who are you?" asked Xena, stepping out of the shadows.

"You are not one of us," said the Woman.

"No," said Xena.

"Yet you belong with us," She mused as if not hearing the Warrior Princess's reply. "I am Hekate."

"The Goddess," said Xena.

"Aye, and this is the night when my Amazons and Witches gather," said Hekate. "Will you hinder us?"

"Will Gabrielle be harmed?" asked Xena.

"Certainly not," said Hekate. "She is one of us. You are in more danger than she."

Xena nodded and stepped back to watch, but ready to jump in if things turned out bad.

From somewhere Xena could not see, drums began to beat and the women began a slow, rhythmic dance in a circle. Gradually the drums beat a faster rhythm and the dancing became more frenzied. Animal sounds emerged from the women, the howl of wolves, the hoot of owls, the screeching of the hawk and others, less identifiable.

The dancing and sounds came to an abrupt halt as out of the woods and into the circle there loped a creature from the woods, snarling and lowing as if it were wounded. Xena ran forward, ready to strike, but the Goddess Herself intervened.

"Stop, Warrior, she is one of mine, as well," She said, Her hand, gentle, but firm on Xena's shoulder.

Xena watched as the creature joined clumsily in the dance. It was like a bear and a wild boar at the same time. She went from woman to woman. Xena tensed when she stopped before Gabrielle, sniffing and pawing at the Bard. Gabrielle dropped to her knees before the creature.

"She has chosen!" the women began to cry.

"Chosen what?" Xena asked.

"Each of the Amazons become guardian of this forest for the year," said Hekate. "This cycle has been broken only once, when the Guardian's father tried to interfere. He was forced to take her place, but he killed all the people in the village and his daughter was forced to kill him and take her rightful place. This was Galinthias's sister. Will you interfere and share his fate Warrior?"

"Is there any way out of this for Gabrielle?" asked Xena.

"She has the right to refuse. I do not take away anyone's free will. There will, however be consequences," said Hekate. "You may have to kill her, for while she can refuse to be guardian, the mantle of shape shifting has already been passed. She will change with each new moon and so will her descendants, unless she finds a way to pass it on to someone else as they do here."

Slowly, Gabrielle rose and looked back at Xena. She turned back to the Guardian and shook her head. Sadly, the creature ambled back into the forest and the women in the circle murmured.

"So be it!" said Hekate. "The Amazon Gabrielle has refused the honor of Guardian."

"I will take the onus from my sister!" Galinthias cried out.

"You were not chosen, dear one," said Hekate, sadly. "And your father destroyed the elixir to allow your sister to change places with you."

"Wait," said Xena, extracting the vial she'd found in the herbalist's stall from her breastplate.

She handed it to Galinthias. Galinthias took it, gratefully.

"Lilith, wait!" she called after the creature. It turned and came back to her. Galinthias sipped from the vial, then poured some of it into the creature's mouth.

"So bet it!" said Hekate, nodding her approval at Xena and replacing her hood. She walked off into the forest with her two hounds.

Both women shifted. Lilith was a small dark-haired woman and Galinthias became a sleek silver-grey wolf who howled then ran off into the woods. She was welcomed back by her sisters, who proceeded to dance again, this time though, the women seemed more themselves and less enthralled. Gabrielle, shook her head and walked back to where Xena stood.

"Amazons?" said Gabrielle.

"Yeah," said Xena. "Not Maenads. Worshipers of the goddess Hekate. Ephiny's tribe has Artemis for their matron. You okay?"

"I feel like I ate about a pound of henbane nutbread," said Gabrielle, rubbing her head.

"You want to go back to that hut and get some sleep?" asked Xena.

"No, let's get moving," said Gabrielle. "I am actually feeling a little homesick for my own tribe."

"Well, it's been a while since we've seen Ephiny and the others," said Xena. "Arborea it is."

She didn't mention the words of Hekate about the shape shifting curse; it wouldn't be the new moon for another couple of weeks and Xena was reasonably certain they'd find a cure somewhere before it actually became problematic.


Melinda put down the scroll fragment they had found in the region once known as Caria in Turkey.

"I wonder if Janice knows about that," she murmured to herself.

The translator decided to keep the contents of this scroll to herself, at least for now. It had been a whirlwind since finding the cache of scrolls in Macedonia. Those they had rescued from Jack Kleinman had hinted that there were many more secreted throughout Anatolia, Thrace, even Egypt. Melinda and Janice followed any hint and clue, no matter how remote or unlikely. In the months they had been together, Melinda had never had reason to suspect anything amiss, only Janice did seem to disappear on occasion and did seem to correspond with the new moon, now that Melinda thought about it.

"Mad Dog Covington," Melinda whispered and shuddered.

Time passed and the two women were embroiled in the chase down of more scrolls and artifacts. With Melinda's family money behind the search, Janice no longer had to follow in her father's footsteps and sell everything she found not related to her Xena Quest. She had no qualms about taking Melinda's money since Melinda had no qualms about giving it to her and seemed to have an endless supply.

It wasn't until they found themselves trapped in a hotel room in the middle of a blizzard in Southern Russia while chasing down another descendent of Xena that Melinda remembered the scroll fragment and suspected something was going to be terribly wrong. Janice became agitated when they were forced to hole up in the hotel in the first place, but when they were told they would have a share a room, she really lost it.

"Janice, I'm sure I don't mind," said Melinda later as they settled in. "And I'm not entirely sure why you do. Should I be insulted? It's never been a problem before."

Janice sighed and remained quiet for a moment, then went to the trunk she always kept with her, but never opened. She unlocked the trunk with an antique key and removed several items. First was a pistol. She laid that aside and them pulled out some black chains and shackles.

"I have to tell you something, Mel, and I don't know how you're going to take it," said Janice. "I never wanted you to find out this way, but part of the reason my father set out on his search for Xena is our family curse."

"I know all about that," said Melinda, kindly.

She retrieved the scroll fragment from their bags and showed it to Janice.

"Okay," said Janice, somewhat surprised and relieved. "So, let me show you to put these on to protect yourself. Only ..."

"Only what?" asked Melinda.

"Only, I always seem to be able to escape from the bracelets, so if you have to, this is loaded with a silver bullet," said Janice, handing her the pistol. "Save yourself, Mel. At least this curse will end with me."

"Unless Gabrielle has other descendants out there," said Melinda. "I don't think you're goin' to attack me, anyway. There's no indication that Gabrielle ever attacked Xena. What do you turn into, anyway?"

"I don't know, a wolf or a lion or something, I'm sure," said Janice. "Just keep that pistol handy in case I get loose, okay?"

Melinda nodded and shackled her friend in the bathroom; unless she turned into a bear or something very strong, Melinda was pretty sure she wouldn't be able to loosen the fixtures to which she was chained. Before midnight, Melinda couldn't stand it anymore. She hadn't heard anything except a little growling. With the pistol in hand, she cautiously crept up to the bathroom door and moved the chair with which she propped it locked. She opened the door a tiny crack, then all the way and doubled over, laughing.

A little brown rabbit with fangs snarled at her and would have jumped if Melinda hadn't closed the door in time. She heard a loud thump as the heinous hare hit the door. Melinda winced.

"Sorry, Janice," she said, then laid down in the bed and slept soundly for the rest of the night.

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