‘Dragon in the Mist’

By Phineas Redux



Description:— Gabrielle meets one of the many Demons which inhabit Japa’s Upper Air; a Lamia-Dragon dwelling on the misty slopes of Mt. Fuji. Xena, on the other hand, is enveloped elsewhere in Japa’s famous social etiquette.

Disclaimer:— MCA/Universal/RenPics, or somebody, own all copyrights to everything related to ‘Xena: Warrior Princess’ and I have no rights to them.

Note 01:— I have imbued the Lamia with the ability to appear as a Dragon rather than a snake-like serpent as in Classical Antiquity.

Note 02:— For the purposes of this story I have set our heroines down in Japa, but with the caveat that the events of the notorious finale to their history there as usually understood did not in fact take place as described, indeed at all.



She was a gordian shape of dazzling hue,/Vermilion-spotted, golden, green, and blue;/Striped like a zebra, freckled like a pard,/Eyed like a peacock, and all crimson barr'd;’. .  ‘Lamia’.  John Keats.



Xena squirmed uneasily on the tatami mat where she sat cross-legged. The large reception room or Council Chamber of the villa belonging to the Daimyō Maeda Tanemune, situated on the south-west border of Kyoto, capital of Japa, had fine large proportions but the simple number of men and women now occupying its interior main Hall made it seem like a small broom-cupboard to a woman used to the wild open spaces of the countryside. Everyone was separated by wide margins, each with their separate mat, small knee-high table and tea or saki cups. It must be allowed the majority of the women were servants, though a sensible proportion were also invited guests in their own right—mostly Ladies of High Society and Court; and Onna-musha or female warriors, they all in a variety of dress consistent with their appropriate social Class ranging from intricate formal kimonos to leather jerkins and leggings, these latter semi-military representatives displaying a variety of edged weapons at their waists. Scattered amongst these were several individuals in simple black garments and leggings, katana at their waists—Kunoichi, female ninjas. At least, Xena thought to herself as a slight form of relief, this made her feel she was not standing out too visibly, she wearing her usual tight black leather corset-like low-breasted garment allied with her normal short outer skirt of individual leather thongs; her faithful sword in its sheath at her back, hilt sticking over her right shoulder in a menacing manner. The fact that in this comfortable rig she displayed her bare legs to the highly proper and tight-laced etiquette conscious members of Japa Society didn’t bother her in the least; finding that a cold stare—the renowned Xena Death Glance—was usually more than enough to quell any criticism.

Sitting by her side, though actually separated by the necessary polite two arms’ lengths, was the Kunoichi Sasaka, a strong tall lithe female ninja of great renown and dear friend of the Warrior Princess from years past. Her body had the litheness of a panther, her dark eyes shone like pools of peat stained water, and her sharp glance could in an instant subdue a charging wild boar into changing its mind.

“What’s the dam’ hold-up, Sasaka!”

The ninja turned to regard her friend with a twitch of her lips denoting her inner amusement, because it would be the height of bad manners to snigger or laugh out loud amongst the present august company.

“Just one of those pauses between one thing and another. Don’t let it get you down, it’s only mid-morning yet and this Council won’t finish till later in the evening.”

Xena wasn’t impressed by this, much as she already knew the details.

“Yeah, I know—but, Hades, what about meal-breaks, or when ya need t’you-know-what?”

Unable to restrain herself Sasaka did emit a quiet chuckle at this pained request for help.

“You just slide to the side of the room, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible—” Here she raised her eyebrows, considering her present companion attempting such a maneouvre, before continuing “—and the same when you return. Well, try your best, my friend.”

Xena snorted, causing a Daimyō to her right to twist his head to regard her with an accusing stare. When she returned the favor in her own inimitable manner he quickly turned back to speaking quietly with someone on his other side.

“Well,” She returning to the topic at hand. “Sasaka, I got’ta tell ya, this sort’a thing, this conference, is already makin’ my butt hurt and we’ve only been here what, just over four clepsydra?”

Sasaka shrugged, she being used to this whole scenario from a young age and so thinking nothing of the interminable hiatus’s which were such visible, indeed necessary, parts of such proceedings.

“These Daimyō, in these circumstances, have to show their power and authority to lesser beings,—us! They do so by making everyone wait on their comfort and desires—the more they can bore us with inactivity the greater their power over us, you see.”

Xena shook her head, a dangerous scowl forming around her lips accompanied by the appearance of thin lines over her forehead that Gabrielle, if she had been present, would have recognised as forerunners of something dramatic building to a climax in the vicinity.

“Wish Gab was here?”

Sasaka glanced sideways at the unhappy warrior, then smiled again.

“Much as she loves you, I think she’s better-off where she is. I have a fancy she would break under the strain here quicker than you! And what levels of panic would an enraged, bored out of her skull, Amazon do amongst all these refined, intellectual, rule-following amateur poets around us at the moment? Doesn’t bear thinking about!”

Xena on the other hand, taken by this concept, sat back with a growing smile; it clearly apparent she at least found a great deal of satisfaction in the thought.

“Yeah, she would stir things up, wouldn’t she!”

“Only in the gentlest politest manner, of course.” Sasaka being mildly sarcastic, as was her usual nature.

“You think?” Xena now fully restored to calm. “Ain’t seen her when she’s in a unrestrained red-hot lather over something, have ya?”

Sasaka, from her own experience with the sparky blonde Amazon, pursed her lips, nodding quietly; actually very much aware of exactly what kind of a true warrior the blonde Greek was when riled to offensive action.


It was not long after dawn and the Teahouse was open to the soft morning breezes, with its rattan screens pulled wide on the side adjoining the dusty street. Gabrielle had just returned from the beach where, as usual, she had watched the small fleet of fishing vessels sail out into Suruga Bay while she musingly pondered idle loving thoughts centred around her temporarily absent warrior lover. At present, the village was still quiet, almost empty with only a few people moving about.

The morning mist had slowly ascended into the sky, twisting and fading in the rising sun like smoke from a fire. Its disappearance revealing the straggling mostly straw-roofed houses of a small hamlet built close to the shore on the Western side of the wide Bay, among groves of bamboo. Several wide copses of pine trees served to clothe the surrounding rolling sand-hills in green blankets giving the community a certain privacy, unless the traveler knew where to look or stumbled on it accidentally.

The sky was blue and clear with a sharp tingle in the Spring air which Gabrielle drew into her lungs appreciatively. Six weeks had now elapsed since Xena had been called South on a special mission to a Daimyō’s conference in the capital Kyoto, leaving Gabrielle with some peaceful down-time to herself. As the evaporating mist made it possible to predict a fine bright day, Gabrielle turned her eyes to the North-East where in the distance, though still many parasangs away, spreading across the whole horizon the slopes and snow-capped peak of Fujisan soared infinitely high into the bright pale firmament.

Since first arriving at this poor village Gabrielle had found time to relax amid the peaceful activities of the fishing community. She was staying as a guest at the clean well-run ‘Teahouse of Yellow Irises’; enjoying a respectful friendship with the mature lady who ran the business and Sayori, her 18 year old daughter. The latter had, after some initial shyness, soon developed a growing affection for the strange foreign woman.

Although the villagers knew Gabrielle was a warrior they had not seen her in action until a day just three weeks previously when a small band of thieves had ridden through the little village’s main street, full of bravado and noise, obviously looking for easy pickings. The renegades had laughed uproariously when Gabrielle, by herself, stepped out into the deserted street to confront them. Afterwards, one of the bandits lay unconscious inside one of the village’s small houses; having been thrown through its shuttered window. The other four thugs had suffered a hammering, with one receiving a broken arm and another losing a finger. All had ridden off in terror, screaming loudly as they made their escape along the dusty street; Gabrielle having been unrelenting in dealing with the mob of ruffians, after they finally ran out of patience boastfully talking and attacked her.

The Elders of the small community had been lavish in their praise, offering all sorts of rewards which she emphatically turned down, though with kind words. Sayori was also clearly in the first throes of hero-worship; which gave Gabrielle more concern than all the profuse thanks of the villagers. And now, this morning, something was in the air. Like all the other villagers Gabrielle usually left her breakfast until after the fishing fleet had sailed out into the wide expanse of the Bay in the cold light of dawn, and as she returned to the Teahouse she noticed with some apprehension several Elders apparently gathered there awaiting her.

As there was, even in a poor fishing village, a certain level of formality to be carried through before actual communication could proceed between two parties’ Gabrielle soon found herself in the midst of a tea-ceremony presided over by Sayori; obviously proud to do so and determined to give of her best.

The kettle was placed on a small charcoal-burner to boil; the teapot was placed in readiness; the delicate porcelain cups, of jet black enamel, were placed before Gabrielle and the Elders; and, with a subtle grace, Sayori measured out the exactly correct amount of green tea-leaves for each participant. Everything was done in silence and with enormous precision in a manner which had been handed down by tradition over hundreds of years: in all seriousness the correct application of this ceremony was always looked on as being more important than any discussions which might follow it. So each step took place without hurry or excitement, leading up to the final step as the guests raised their steaming cups and tasted the brew with all due weight and dignity. This vital stage successfully completed the conference could begin.

“So, why this visit, Michiko?” Gabrielle addressing the proprietress of the Teahouse, who had been overseeing her daughter’s actions. “Are the Elders going to offer me money again for what I did about the bandits? I won’t accept anything like that, you know.”

“We have all been most grateful for what you did, Gabrielle.” Michiko gravely bowing her head. “You saved us much sorrow, but it is not for that reason the Elders are here this morning; though your actions have greatly influenced them. Our revered mayor, Gendo, wishes to consult you on a matter of immense importance to our village. Will you listen to him?”

“Of course.” Gabrielle answered without hesitation. “You’ve all been so kind since Xena and I arrived; I want to do anything I can for you and your people.”

Gendo was an old man of many years standing, well placed to be the head of the fishing village through his immense life-experience. Originally he had himself been a fisherman, though now far advanced in years. He had a long white beard which reached his chest in flowing waves, and thick eyebrows to match. There, however, his hirsuteness finished for his head was bald as a rock battered by the waves on the seashore. But from his still bright blue eyes sparkled an energy and verve which put many of the younger local fishermen to shame. There was life in him yet.

They were all seated on tatami mats in a wide spacious room on the first floor, facing towards the woods; so a view of spreading green pines could be seen over the low balcony which stretched across the width of the open side wall, now that the room’s outer screens had been slid wide. Michiko bowed again as she softly retreated to the door and disappeared, leaving her daughter to attend to the guests. Gabrielle sat cross-legged before a small linen mat on which were placed her tea-cup and a porcelain dish. The four Elders sat in a row opposite her, with the pine-wood view behind them. Gendo was the first to speak, as Gabrielle sipped her delicately flavoured tea.

“We are only a poor village here. For generations we have sold our catches to the larger towns along the Bay.” He stroked his beard in a habitual manner as he gazed at Gabrielle. “Hardly anyone troubles us; even attacks by brigands are few and far between. What do we have that would be of use to them? But, sometimes, there are other—dangers.”

“What kind of dangers?” Gabrielle was intrigued by the old mayor’s sombre tone. “If there’s any way I can help I will.”

“Only two conditions rule our existence here, Gabrielle.” Gendo looked at the teacup in his hand before returning his gaze to the blonde-haired warrior. “The Sea—and Fujisan. They are both of equal importance in our lives.”

“I understand the feelings you have for the mountain.” Gabrielle nodded. “It is sacred to you, I know. The spirits of the Gods reside there.”

“As do Demons also.” Gendo now even more serious, as the other three Elders nodded their agreement beside him.

“Yes, so I’ve heard!” Gabrielle remembered some of the far-fetched tales she had heard from various sources over the last few weeks. “But what do Demons on Fujisan have to do with a poor fishing village?”

“There are cycles in everything. And it is the same with Dragons, Demons, Lamia and Ghosts.” Gendo stroked his beard, looking musingly at Gabrielle from under his thick eyebrows. “Even such as they also do things in an ordered way.”

“Are you saying a Demon is scheduled to show up here, sometime soon?” Gabrielle’s previous experiences shining a light across the dark possibilities hinted at by the Mayor. “Here? Why would a Demon wish to attack you?”

“A Dragon, in fact, Gabrielle. Or, to be exact, a shape-shifting Lamia.” Gendo raised his head and stared intently into the woman’s face. “They are simply evil. Their only wish is to cause fear and destruction to those they attack; to destroy their livelihood and instill terror for its own sake. Often going amongst ordinary folk in the form of Ladies of Quality, they can change in an instant at will into vicious serpents or Dragons. Do you understand?”

“Yes.” Gabrielle paused a moment before leaning forward, giving the Elder her undivided attention. “I have met people like that in the past.”

Ah, in that case you will know what terrible destruction they may cause.” Gendo seeming much relieved not to have to convince his audience of the reality of what he spoke about. “The Dragon is the same one each year. It flies down from the slopes of Fuji each Spring, tries to wreck our fishing vessels and kill the sailors, and often walks amongst us in the guise of a Lady of substance. She generally arrives in the morning, amuses herself amongst us in Human form for a few hours, then metamorphoses into her Dragon form, flies out into the Bay to harass our fishing-boats before returning triumphant to her lair on the mountain. Her first appearance this year may happen at any time.”

“Her? Is that unusual!” Gabrielle studied the solemn Elders seated on the floor. “Are female Dragons more dangerous?”

“I think any female can sometimes be more deadly than the male.” Gendo making a slight gesture with one hand. “It seems that way with Dragons, also. You and your partner, Xena, being cases in point, if I may so put it without offence? The male Dragons, I think, are more dignified—more likely to keep themselves to themselves. But not the females.”

Umph! Anyway, so this particular Lady likes to come here for a little fun and recreation, eh?” Gabrielle uncrossed her legs, rising swiftly to stand gazing out over the low balcony at the distant view. “Well, I think a nice reception party may surprise her when she does re-appear.”

She turned to lean back against the low balcony as she faced the Elders, resting her hands on the smooth wood rail to each side. The men were still sitting on the tatami mats before her. She was dressed in her usual costume consisting of a low-cut top of reddish leather with wide side panels held by thin straps going round her back and shoulders. Her skirt was also of dark red leather and comfortably short, reaching nearly halfway down her thighs. She had sturdy boots, each equipped with thongs holding in place a long-bladed sharp-edged sai. Though not wearing it at the moment she also had a short sword, actually a Roman gladius, which she found easier to handle than the rather longer heavier sword Xena used. Gabrielle also preferring to carry her weapon in a waist-belt sheath rather than tied across her back, which she had found to be unwieldy when needing her weapon quickly. Neither she nor Xena felt that, after trying them out, the long slightly curved single-edged katana native to Japa suited either or was a comfortable weapon for constant use.

While the women of the village were generally dressed in baggy linen trousers, or more rarely the ordinary kimono, the people had not been critical of her own style; taking it in their stride as that only to be expected of a foreign fighting warrior of her sex. On first arriving in the village Gabrielle had experienced some interest from several of the younger men; but after a few words or a meaning glance from her this unwanted attention had melted away, giving her latterly the privacy she preferred.

The thought of doing battle with a supernatural monster held no anxieties for her either. Over the last few years, with Xena’s guidance, she had been slowly developing a more confident attitude and now had a much firmer belief in her own capabilities. Their first plan, after deciding to visit Japa, had been to voyage round the coast of the main island; visiting the ordinary towns and villages, gaining insight into the society and ordinary people’s lives. But they had stopped off almost immediately at this anonymous fishing village. It had a simple peaceful atmosphere which had cried out to Gabrielle’s soul, and Xena had been happy to spend a sort of vacation with her here for a few weeks before being called to the capital, Kyoto, for a conference of the local Daimyō, regional warlords holding political and military power in the country.

“Most Dragons like water, especially lakes and the sea.” Gendo continued, looking probingly at the young foreigner standing before him. “They also enjoy the damp forests and misty woods on mountain slopes. That is why there are always Dragons to be found on Fujisan.”

“How large is this beast?” Gabrielle feeling it high time she learnt some hard facts. “How strong do you think it really is?”

“When she, the Lamia, takes Dragon form her body, neck, and tail is about the length of six people lying down in a row.” Gendo looked to his companions for guidance as they all muttered together. “It has four short legs, usually with three vicious claws on each foot; and its tail is almost as long as the main body. The Dragon’s neck is short and thick with a long jaw filled with razor-sharp teeth; this one has wide bat-like wings so it can fly; and it breathes fire and smoke.”

What!” Gabrielle unconsciously curling her lip slightly at this implausible statement. “Now you’re just being imaginative.”

“By no means.” Gendo shook his venerable locks as he gazed fixedly at Gabrielle. “It is perfectly normal for almost every type of Dragon to breathe fire, and not rare for certain species, of which there are unfortunately several, to have wings. Even the most retiring and shy of their kind also tend to have short tempers, angering easily. It is never safe to engage a Dragon in even ordinary conversation; never mind argue with one.”

“I’ll be doin’ more than have an idle chat with it when we meet, believe me.” Gabrielle stroking her chin as she considered the information she had just learned. “Are they armoured? Do they have scales? Tough skin? How athletic are they?

“Well, the sword we saw you use against the bandits some days ago will be useless to you.” Gendo mused, looking to his comrades for confirmation of his words. “Only a well-sharpened katana, one with exceptional qualities, will be able to penetrate her skin, which is made of many-hued metallic scales.”

Huh!” Gabrielle snorting in disgust as she turned to stride the length of the room and back. “So she’s armoured with a suit of proof steel; has vicious claws, sharp teeth, and breathes fire. Added to which she has a short temper and a bad attitude generally—‘my kinda gal,’ as Xena would say!”

“She is all of that.” Gendo nodded sadly. “I entirely agree with your revered assessment. Perhaps we put too much strain on your capabilities, Gabrielle? It is, possibly, more an army that is required; rather than a single warrior, however brave.”

“No, no. I ain’t backing out from this, Gendo.” Gabrielle shook her head firmly. “I’m here, and I will help you. Have you tried asking the local warlord, Daimyō is it, for assistance?”

“Three years ago we petitioned him, he thus sending through his beneficial nature a force of fifty soldiers.” Gendo stroked his white beard sadly. “They were perhaps a trifle at fault in attacking the Dragon head-on, on a wide beach to the south of our village. You, I believe, know the place—flat and bare of all protection, with nowhere to run for cover. Ten men were killed and double that number suffered horrible injuries; the remainder fleeing in terror, never to return. The Daimyō raised our taxes in reprisal the next year!”

Ah-ha.” Gabrielle staring rather coldly at the Mayor and his compatriots as she assimilated this news. “Well, sometimes one person can get in closer and do more damage than an army. Xena and I have found that out before now. By the way—you said something about arguing with Dragons; are you saying they speak? That they can talk?”

Oh, yes.” Gendo nodding agreeably, as if speaking to a favourite young nephew. “Most Dragons are quite literate and intelligent. They can engage you in very deep philosophical arguments when in the mood, in either their Dragon mode or Human form. You will find it very difficult to come off best in any discussion with a Dragon; they dearly loving a well-ordered disputation.”

“Well, that’s a lot of help, I’m sure.” Gabrielle contemplating these facts as she leaned once more against the low balcony rail. “If nothing else I might be able to divert her attention with a few choice remarks on Socrate’s Theory of the Ideal, eh!”

“When is your revered and powerful friend, the Warrior Princess, returning; if I may ask?” Gendo bowing deeply in acknowledgement of the person he spoke of. “Perhaps, if you were to await her return, together you could —”

“A few days yet, I think.” Gabrielle broke in abruptly, scratching her chin musingly. “Of course, it may be earlier. I had a scroll from her three days ago telling me her work was nearly at an end in Kyoto. If nothing happens with the Dragon till then, that’s fine by me.”

“But—?” Gendo voiced the question which the other elders also clearly pondered.

“But if the dragon makes an appearance before that!” Gabrielle looking at the group of Elders and grinning coldly again. “Well, I’ll just have to start without Xena. Do you have any spare katana’s in the village? Or is there somewhere close by I can purchase one?”

The Mayor looked at his companions for a moment before replying, while Gabrielle noted some sort of unspoken assent pass between the group of elders before Gendo replied to her question.

“We have three katana in the village, Gabrielle.” He passing a finger nervously through his white beard as he spoke. “One is only a couple of years old, left by a poor samurai who had the sadness to pass into the Upper Air while staying here. Not by any immediate war-like wound; he having lived a hard dangerous life for many years and, at the end, come to stay with a relative. He complained of headaches, brought on by an old wound, he surmised, and a few days later was found dead in bed.”

“And his relative kept his belongings, including the katana?” Gabrielle grasping the essential details of the tale without further trouble.

“Yes, there was no other relative to be informed of the man’s passing.” Gendo nodding agreement. “There were few belongings worth keeping, anyway. So the katana is still here.”

“And the other two?” Gabrielle felt no impatience at the slow nature of the conversation, having long become acclimatized to the sometimes lethargic manner of story-telling and general converse in Japa society.

“The second katana has been a feature of the village for some time past.” Gendo continued, becoming brighter as he recollected the details. “A ship was wrecked forty years ago in the Bay. Lots of assorted wreckage and several bodies were washed up on the beach. Among them was a katana in its wooden case.”

Gabrielle made no move to interrupt, letting the old man catch his breath and give his information in the way that was most comfortable to his traditions.

“The third,” Gendo went on, looking squarely at the blonde Amazon. “was given to an ancient samurai who lived nearby many centuries ago. It was said to have been made by a famous sword-maker of Classic times, who used strange metal from a fallen star that had crashed to earth causing great devastation! It has been passed down through the years and now I have it in my home, carefully preserved and cleaned every six months. Those are the katanas which we have in the village at  the present time, Gabrielle.”

Gabrielle nodded, she hoped with a wise expression, attempting to gain time to sort the details in her mind. Her general impression being that none of the three weapons sounded as if they would be of much real use.

“What sort’a condition are each of them in?” She looking round from the group of Elders to the Mayor, shrugging her shoulders meanwhile. “If you could let me see them I could tell better. Maybe I’ll need to go to the city to buy a new one.”


The Mayor’s house was clean and tidy, situated along one of the side-streets of the small village. Large weeping willows overhung the garden behind the one-story residence; Gabrielle presently standing in the living-room with the thin bamboo sliding wall-panels pulled wide giving a view of the flowers and low bushes which flourished in the garden. Gendo had asked her to his home an hour after their first meeting, when the three weapons had been brought to him from their several places of hiding; so allowing Gabrielle to make an experienced and knowledgeable up-close examination of the individual weapons for the first time.

“This is the weapon left by the old samurai two years ago.” So saying Gendo took the long object, wrapped in a thick linen cloth, and handed it with a deep bow to the blonde woman. “It is, perhaps, not of the best quality.”

Umph!” Gabrielle entirely agreeing with the man’s assessment after her first glance at the old weapon, instantly noting its hopelessly poor quality. “I got’ta be truthful, this’s awful. It’s heavily rusted on both sides of the blade. It’s not as long as it should be, and is blunt to boot. I think it’s length’s been cut back at some time in the past. It doesn’t just need sharpening, either, it’s completely rounded all along the edge; more use as a child’s plaything than a real weapon.”

She held it up horizontally, close to her face, judging it along its length with a keen eye. Then she gave a few preliminary waves in the air, testing its handling, balance, and weight.

“The balance is wrong; there’s something not right about the hilt an’ its relation to the blade.” She spoke quietly, but with a certainty and exactness born of years of experience. “The blade itself is, I think, slightly bent near the end. Notice the wavy line running along the edge? It’s not very wide and almost invisible near the middle of the blade’s length. I don’t think this was ever tempered properly. And there are numerous nicks in the edge all along its length, some quite deep. No, this’s crap! It’s useless as a weapon. Probably also been more of a hindrance than a help to it’s original owner in the past.”

Gabrielle put the weapon down on a nearby low table, then accepted the second weapon from Gendo. Any initial impression she may have felt rapidly dissolving when she opened the beechwood case to view the weapon lying inside.

“This is a disaster, too!” Shaking her head slowly, making no attempt to hide her dis-satisfaction. “It must’a been a museum piece even when it belonged to its owner on that wrecked ship. Giving him the benefit of the doubt he must’a only kept it as some kind’a trophy or historical weapon. Look at the design of the blade. Why, it must date from the very beginning of when katanas were first designed. The blade ain’t really rusty, but it’s certainly stained by Time—a long Time! And there’s no guard at the hilt. I’m doubtful about the blade, as well. Nothing wrong with its make, it’d just take far too long to get a really good sharp edge back on it. No, it won’t do either.”

Accepting this wholesale rejection in good part and all duly required politeness Gendo turned to another low table by his side, bending somewhat stiffly to pick up the last of the weapons. This offering being presently hidden by a covering of dark green silk, shimmering richly in the daylight as Gendo handed it to Gabrielle.

Unwrapping the object with no great expectations she was however stunned by the weapon then revealed. It was originally, so Gendo had told her, the property of a wealthy local samurai who lived near the village centuries ago; this being the weapon supposedly made by a master with ore from a fallen star.

The metal in question, while obviously some form of steel, had a strange green tinge; blade fine, smooth, and incised with etched characters of an unknown language and meaning, also the sharpest Gabrielle had ever experienced, a drop of blood appearing on her thumb when she merely casually felt the edge. The hilt was wrapped in tight bands of light-brown, almost yellow, leather, the balance still supremely comfortable.

Ouch!, dam’mit! This’s the best sword I’ve ever handled.” The blonde Amazon unstinting in her praise, sucking her thumb meanwhile. “It’s absolutely beautiful. Yeah, yeah, I could kill a Dragon with this!”


Although Fujisan towered into the sky on the horizon in what could only truly be described as an wholly overbearing manner Gabrielle well knew it would take days to reach its slopes from her starting-point in the fishing village on the shore of Suruga Bay far to its south. Having decided, after receiving the excellent katana, to go in search of the Lamia instead of simply awaiting its unwanted appearance in the innocent village, she had set out three days after receiving the sword made from unknown metal; the Mayor and Elders of the village assuring her that, without immediate action, the Dragon would certainly arrive overhead the village to wreak havoc sometime within the next month.

Already two days into her journey the revered Mountain, volcano in fact, seemed to tower even higher in the air, taking up far more of the visible horizon than ever as Gabrielle rode along on her sturdy brown pony. The intervening countryside made up of the usual terrain in the local area; undulating low hillocks covered in more or less thick undergrowth and stands of firs and oaks interspersed by various trails of wider or lesser standing depending which villages or small towns they served.

There was, of course, a certain amount of daily traffic on these trails or, in some cases, actual roads; mostly merchants with bulky heavy wagons taking their wares from one Market or Festival to another, but also sprinkled with private citizens journeying on all kinds of personal or family business—these mostly on horseback, though several classier men and ladies used sometimes expensive looking litters—small wooden enclosures set on two poles resting on the shoulders of and carried forward by two or four male servants.

These took many forms; Kago, which were basic examples used by the commoners; Palanquins, which were built and decorated in a more luxurious manner for the Middle-class; or Norimono, litters built to the highest levels of luxury and comfort for Nobles and warriors of renown and wealth. Of course, taking the local terrain into account, even the most comfortable of these various modes of transport could strain the traveler’s patience by way of the carriers having to struggle over all kinds of obstructions, never mind uneven ground or through mud, there being in the region an wholly unnecessary number of rivers, streams, pools, and often large Lakes to circumvent as best the weary traveler found possible.

On this third morning of her journey, around mid-morning, Gabrielle had met up with a four-carrier palanquin along the not very clearly defined trail she also was presently taking. It was stationery across the trail woods on either hand stopping other travelers from simply passing-by, though Gabrielle was the only person in sight at the moment of meeting the obstruction. A few words of enquiry soon defined the problem as a loose leather strap holding the offside carrying-pole in position under the palanquin. With Gabrielle’s expert assistance this difficulty had been sorted in record time and now she ambled slowly along by the palanquin’s side, as they were going in the same direction, chatting to the polite but friendly lady passenger making this trip.

“I am Lady Otsuya, from Takasaki; also the Onna Daimyō of my local region. I journey to the small town of Tokyo to visit relatives and thought, as I have the time, to go to the lower slopes of the Revered Mountain to offer prayers to the Gods and those of my ancestors passed to the Upper Air whom I believe deserve such. May I ask whom my revered colleague may be?”

Gabrielle sighed gently she, like Xena, having experienced the somewhat reserved nature of social inter-communication in Japa Society and feeling its weight on her generally outgoing personality.

“Gabrielle, of Potidaea in Greece; I’m an Amazon—what you would call an Onna-musha, travelling to the Mountain also.”

“To give prayers for the perpetual comfort of your ancestors now residing, happily one is of course assured, in warm scented regions of the Upper Air?”

“Yeah, sure.” Gabrielle not having anything better as reply in the short term. “So, how long have you been travelling? Is it a long journey, from Takasaki?”

“One performs those journeys one finds necessary,” Lady Otsuya seeming a trifle evasive. “to complete those rituals expected of one in my High Position.”

Gabrielle from her saddle viewpoint glanced down at the lady reclining in her long open-sided palanquin; the carriers, now she took notice, in their movements seeming curiously separate from everything around them, only responding to the quiet commands issued now and then by their passenger.

“We should reach the near vicinity of the Mountain by mid-afternoon.” She changing the subject, swatting a fly away from in front of her nose meanwhile. “Is there a way-station, temple, or tea-house at the end of this trail offering succor to the weary traveler?”

Gabrielle paused after asking this, wondering if local etiquette customs were perhaps rubbing-off far too much on her.

“The Teahouse of Red Hyacinths.” Lady Otsuya apparently well-up on local topography. “Another three full clepsydras and we shall have reached it; the Mountain itself remaining still some way beyond. Saki capable of making the Gods weep; various teas from regions where only the best qualities are allowed to prosper; delicacies and sweets never seen anywhere else. It has a reputation known to all with Taste in these things; I am certain you will look favorably on its accomplishments and find them agreeable to yourself. Come, tell me of your own life as an Onna-musha, in this Greece place—no doubt a land which fully deserves the many and high virtues you will gracefully honor it with?”

Once again, as she rode on alongside the ornate palanquin, Gabrielle found herself at a loss for a respectful, or indeed any, reply.


The Council Chamber, an annex of the Daimyō Maeda Tanemune’s villa in its private estate on the extreme outer boundary of the southern aspect of Kyoto, was two storeys in height, the lower portion lit simply when the wide outer screens that served as walls were slid open sideways to allow air in and the inmates a sight of what lay outside, in this case a wide flat lawn backed by a line of high birches; horizontal rafters high overhead supporting the usual steeply-sloping roof above. The interior, in its own right, was lavishly decorated though in the customarily restrained manner of the best taste in these things, as was only to be expected. A bare teak floor, highly polished to an actual life-endangering smoothness with a mirror-like reflective finish. The furnishings kept to a bare minimum, a few low tables, persons of Quality never sitting on chairs or at common high tables but cross-legged on mats on the floor. Their refreshments served in front of each individual on other small mats, from exquisite tiny cups and bowls of the finest and lightest porcelain, mostly lacquered in deep black, though a few were of a luscious mid-red.

Xena, on her part, had long since fallen prey to the Blue Devils which, if she had felt like explaining such to her hosts, she knew would have happily acknowledged as bona fide inmates of the Upper Air, and so approved to come down to Common Earth every now and then with the sole purpose and intention of causing mere humans the greatest amount of discomfort possible during the length of their inconsiderate visits.

The mighty Warrior Princess, having also had as much saki, doled out customarily in tiny bowls, as she felt necessary, had turned to chatting with her neighbours on either hand. Sasaka she could relate to without trouble but the man to her right, another Daimyō from a District she hadn’t caught the title of when presented to him on arrival that morning, was a fish of a different colour—fat beyond compare, not something for criticism in itself but, in the Warrior’s opinion, shedding a dubious light on his tastes, personal desires, and ability to control same; his head bald but for the necessary pigtail denoting rank and social station; clothes those of the traditional representative of his exalted position, a loose jerkin of red-dyed silk with wide sleeves over a pair of what Xena had come to understand were called hakama or silk trousers, these of a remarkably wide cut making it appear the person wore a loose wide-hemmed skirt. All his clothes, like other Daimyō, made from the most expensive silks either soft and thin or padded and thick; loose light sandals completing the attire of his class.

It was customary for the Daimyō to shed their katana swords and their shorter subsidiary swords, wakizashi, before entering the Council Chamber, but this left ample room, under their customarily voluminous robes, to hide short but deadly sharp daggers, tantō, for ongoing personal protection; this being allowed by long convention. Xena, thereby, not letting her guard down for an instant while within the Chamber amongst the crowd of men and women, seeing possible danger in every direction, as was her custom.

The Daimyō to her right having proved an empty vessel as far as light chat was concerned; he being interested, it had transpired, only in his own personal doings and activities, casting Xena’s attempts to broaden the conversation aside with ill-concealed contempt, she resorted to sitting uncomfortably in gloomy silence favouring her immediate surroundings only with a dark scowl that cast a dark shadow some ten yards all round her immediate position, Sasaka having gone off at the calling of a servant to attend to some esoteric business a short time previously.

Left on her own in uncongenial company the Princess fell back on what she always did in similar circumstances—gazing intently at everyone, man or woman, within easy sight gauging their inner characters to judge what evil naughtinesses each had got up to in recent days or months. This game always providing her with much enjoyment; though Gabrielle, once aware of what her revered partner was up to at evening dinner parties, had taken to doing her best to cut her off at source from this bad habit via sarky quips wholly unsuitable in coming from an otherwise fittingly seriously disposed Amazon Queen.

The Conference, of itself, had nothing to afford Xena any continued interest in following the course of events, it being merely a formal meeting to discuss the more outré and complicated matters affecting each Daimyō’s business affairs. When Xena caught sight of Sasaka re-entering the Chamber she turned with sprightly abandon, foregoing any attempt at formal recognition of the many and intricate precise rules of etiquette she was so unconcernedly ignoring, throwing such to the four winds with cold abandon.

“Sasaka! Back at last; can ya find some other excuse quick t’leave this hole, with me alongside ya? Be a good gal, please!”

The dark-haired Onna-musha laughed, though silently; several guests of both sexes nearby gazing at the women with criticism writ large across their disapproving visages.

“As it happens you are needed outside, more or less as fast as possible—an, er, incident apparently unfolding as we speak outside, the outer security guard detail informs me. Coming?”

Without so much as a word in reply the Princess was on her feet and halfway to the open sliding door before Sasaka could give the nearby Daimyō and Onna-musha her interpretation of an apologetic grimace before heading after the Princess herself, feeling the back of her neck burning hot at the gross contempt she was publicly showing for all levels of formal etiquette and manners in general.

Outside Xena was stamping nervously, awaiting directions, one hand over her shoulder caressing the hilt of her sword in a threatening manner.

“So? What? Where? And who, or how many, are involved?”

Sasaka pointed to their left, a graveled path leading down the side of the Chamber to the line of encircling trees in this part of the estate.

“The guard’s along here, an Onna-musha in charge. In fact it’s a platoon of Kunoichi, female ninja’s; well trained and ready to kill anyone who shows disrespect for the Daimyō in general—so watch your step, Xena!”

Xena, faced with this information, grinned widely—the same grin which, just three years earlier had made the Gorgon herself change her mind and turn away to harass she and Gabrielle no further. Sasaka, although somewhat used to her companion, nevertheless paled a little in response, she being only human.

“—aah, this way.”


The Teahouse of Red Hyacinths, when the travelers reached there late in the afternoon, proved all Lady Otsuya had earlier extolled it as being. A single-level low roofed wooden house, with wings on either side, a wide flattened earth space in front allowing carriages and horses to rest there without difficulty. Surrounded by the encroaching forest of the foothills it showed as a beautiful destination in the midst of a wilderness to the hungry and thirsty traveler. The carriers lowered their weighty palanquin gently to earth, Lady Otsuya exited it with graceful motions, and the two women walked with eager steps over to the teahouse.

Inside Gabrielle found a large open room set with many tables, benches, and chairs wholly unlike the more stylish upper-class residences of Society.

“Yes, it is a trifle common, but one must take what is given when travelling along the Roads, mustn’t one?” Lady Otsuya, seasoned wanderer as she was, taking her surroundings as she found them, much to Gabrielle’s inner amusement.

A female servant, in the rough undecorated plain linen working clothes of her class, coming to greet them Lady Otsuya gave orders as if to one of her personal staff.

“Saki, water, boiled of course, salad with green onions and red peppers, tea to follow! Come, Gabrielle, let us take this table in the corner, it seeming less messy and, to tell the truth, dirty than its compatriots; it also sitting well away from these other gossiping customers, as well.”

A long clepsydra later, shadows lengthening outside and candles lit inside, Gabrielle and Lady Otsuya were deep in a conversation that had started with the usual queries over the weather and ended now in a discussion of the relevant Japa Gods controlling the Upper Air and its immense galaxy of immaterial residents.

“So, you’re sayin’ there are two levels of society up there?” Gabrielle having just finished quite a nice salad, now sipping her third small bowl of warm saki. “Persons of Quality who have moved there after their previous mortal existences on Earth and are now enjoying the fruits of immortality, cultured and entertaining surroundings, and the joys exigent on the prayers of their descendants still in mortal form, such giving them power and strength to carry on in the Upper Air?”

“Yes, then there are—”

“All the Demons in general, plus Akubōzu who live in the ashes of hearths, Amanojaku who instigate people to wicked actions, Baku who devour your dreams, Enenra made of smoke and darkness, and if you really aren’t careful, sight of the Hyakki Yakō, the many Demons’ nightly parade? Sh-t! I pass on all of ‘em, thanks!”

Lady Otsuya laughed, in a perfectly refined manner, of course.

“And many more, hundreds—thousands even. We are not short of Supernatural entities in Japa, Gabrielle; a ghost for every eventuality, day, or season, without boasting! Don’t forget Yuki-onna, snow-women ghosts; they can be particularly unforgiving. Or Yūrei, what I expect you would consider more likened to Western ideas of a ghost—spirits of dead people who have only the slightest hold in the Upper Air but can exist on Earth without effort causing all kinds of problems for the living.”

Gabrielle shook her head in dismay.

“Sounds like a real Festival of the undead! Say, does all this, these emanations, only come out t’play at night, in the dark? Or can some at least swan around in daylight.”

Lady Otsuya shook her head, though of course refraining from being obvious whilst performing this mildly common breach of etiquette.

“There are many ghosts as you would count them moving amongst ordinary people every day of the week. When you walk through a crowded street in Kyoto, or visit a popular Festival almost anywhere, a good proportion of those you rub shoulders with will certainly be ghosts, Demons, or some other form of apparition!”

Gabrielle, sipping her saki for which she was developing a taste, considered the ramifications of this information.

“What about defending ourselves, ordinary Humans I mean, from them? Can swords, katana, spears or daggers have any effect?”

Lady Otsuya shook her head at this naïve question.

“I should say not. I am a little hesitant because I believe there are some weak apparitions of no import who flutter on the outskirts of Demonhood but are not actually strong enough in themselves, for what that may be worth, to hold the full powers of the true Demon. Some of those kind may well fall to the thrusts of edged weapons. I shouldn’t expect such though in any meeting you may be unfortunate enough to have with a resident of the Upper Air. They are highly intelligent and have known for centuries all the complex ways of hiding in plain sight and overcoming the machinations against them of mere Humans.”

Gabrielle sat back, imbibing this information to its fullest, she always wishing to be well prepared for any and every eventuality come what may.

“Are we going to spend the night here?” she glancing around the long room from which most of the earlier customers had now removed themselves, leaving Gabrielle and Lady Otsuya as virtually the only remaining clients present.

“There are rooms for those who can pay—these other people will leave in their own time, before midnight.” Lady Otsuya beckoning to a nearby servant. “Kindly tell the Patroness I wish two rooms for myself and my guest; we will leave tomorrow morning.”

The servant bowed and almost ran off to deliver the message and, no doubt, ready the required rooms to a condition the guests wouldn’t balk at.

“The weather is calm, the service here more than adequate, they knowing my requirements from old.” Lady Otsuya nodding gently to herself. “We will continue our journey in the morning. Although, as you no doubt have noticed, the flanks of the Revered Mountain rise up in the east like a solid wall it is still some few parasangs off, almost a day’s journey in fact. I cannot say my prayers for the health and prosperity of my Ancestor’s Spirits in the Upper Air until we have reached the actual slopes of the Mountain. I should be more than happy if you accompany me there, Gabrielle?”

Gabrielle, though always cautious of others in dangerous situations, could see no present difficulty arising from this dual journey to the Mountain, she still not imagining she would face the resident Lamia there until actually reaching its supposed habitat on the lower slopes.

“Yes, I would be honored. Oh, look, the servant’s returning, I think our rooms are ready.”

“Goodnight, Gabrielle, may you have sweet dreams of your ancestors, present love, and numerous future offspring!” Lady Otsuya, as etiquette required, covering the whole gamut

“—er, yes; er, well, goodnight, Lady Otsuya! See you in the morning.”


The group of black-clad Kunoichi, when Xena and Sasaka reached them, were standing in a group at the corner of the Council Chamber, a wide smooth lawn spreading away from the building with a copse of thick birch trees beyond with no-one else in sight. Xena’s first impression was of a band of warriors heavily armed against any attack; their weapons immediately catching her experienced eye.

“Ninjatō! Easily recognised, shorter than katana and straight-bladed, look useful weapons. And Naginata, long pole-weapons with short head-blades, very useful.”

“Yes,” Sasaka nodding as they reached the group. “The preferred weapons of Kunoichi; the usual position being, don’t fight a Kunoichi, they always win!”

Har! Non pugnemus nos, semper vincemus! So, what’s happening now?”

Sasaka turned to the leading Kunoichi, standing apart from the group in wearing a thin red silk band placed high round each upper arm.

“Their leader, Xena. What is the present situation?”

“Nine ninja, all male, coming through the northern outskirts of the estate, hidden by the trees and undergrowth at the moment.” The young woman speaking in a curiously low guttural tone.

“Nine? Seems a small number for an attack on so large a company as we have here.” Xena musing on the logistics of the coming fight, for such was obviously in the immediate offing. “What do they think to accomplish? Even the ordinary guards here outnumber them, as a Legion a contubernium.”

Sasaka shook her head, well-knowing the answer to this.

“Very nearly an exact representation! They, however, will have a particular target in mind—probably Daimyō Tanemune himself. They, these approaching ninja, will certainly be well trained, expert fighters, focused only on their single target and ready to die in the attempt to destroy him. They could easily, if not stopped, penetrate our inner defences quickly enough to complete their task before further adequate defensive measures could assist the Daimyō.”

“That’s helpful!” Xena scowling at the thought of the proposed tragedy in waiting. “So we’re the last defence, ourselves; right now? Been in this place before, Sasaka. This lady got a plan?”

Sasaka turned to the Kunoichi leader, speaking rapidly.

“Where are they now, Teruko?”

Teruko pointed at one of the other Kunoichi by her side.

“My messenger’s just returned, they’re around three hundred yards off, amongst those birches to our left. Probably mean to make a sudden attack on the left side of the Council Chamber, storm in before anyone knows what’s happening, kill the Daimyō, then let Fate decide their own destinations from there.”

“So we have to stop them all?” Xena asking this in a cold tone.

“Yes,” Teruko turning to the Western warrior. “Only death will stop them; they are fanatics whose only life-choice is to honor their leader. I have the same look-out for my Daimyō!”

Xena looked the young woman in her dark eyes, seeing there only the truth of what she had said. Gazing at the other women in the group, though their lower faces were hidden behind tightly drawn masks, she could tell by their eyes they were all of the same stance as Teruko.

“This’s gon’na be more complicated than I thought!”

Suddenly one of the other Kunoichi grabbed Teruko’s arm.

“Look, here they come! They’ve seen us!”


The Mountain, as Gabrielle and Lady Otsuya set out the next morning, seemed to take-up most of the north-eastern skyline, its shoulder slopes spreading out far further on either hand than the Amazon Queen had suspected. Lady Otsuya had paid-off the palanquin along with its bearers that morning and taken to horseback provided by the Teahouse of Red Hyacinths, so allowing a steadier faster pace to be kept up as the travelers headed ever closer to their destination.

There were several lakes and ponds as well as various rivers and streams of varying sizes set around the flanks of the Mountain, though none presently in a position to detain them as they headed through ever more encroaching undergrowth and indeed virgin forest; trees spreading up to the edges of the winding trail on either hand, leaving only a thin streak of blue sky above to show whether it were still day or approaching night.

“Sure you know the way, Lady Otsuya?” Gabrielle, not without reason, becoming worried they might lose their bearings at any moment, if such had not already occurred. “We’ve been riding for at least six large clepsydra, must be close to noon. Yeah, it is, look how high the Sun is? Wan’na stop, eat something, and find our bearings.”

Lady Otsuya, on the other hand, seemed reluctant to do any such thing.

“Are you tired? Perhaps another short stage and we will find ourselves at our destination.”

Gabrielle, however, had a clear idea of just how hungry and thirsty she was, and what the best way of appeasing her physical concerns would be.

“We’ll stop here, there’s a little stream just over there by those willows. We can drink from there and eat those small sausages with rye bread the Patroness of the Teahouse provided, they’re in my saddlebag.”

Which having been said she brought her steed to a halt, dismounting in a manner Xena had once referred to as regal grandeur; the finality of this action causing Lady Otsuya, however reluctantly, to follow suit.

Before Gabrielle had finished quietly humming to herself the lyrics to one of Meleager’s shorter poems she had the camp fully laid out, just as Xena liked a camp to be laid out; horses tethered under the spreading branches of a birch, campfire lined by small stones from the stream, saddlebags doing double-duty as seats, sausages sizzling in a wide pan over the fire in that soothing manner only frying sausages know the secret of.

Taking two pewter platters from her second saddlebag, and a couple of necessary utensils, she quickly transferred healthy portions of the still-hissing nutritious fare to these, handing one over to the still slightly discontented looking Lady on the opposite side of the fire.

“Come, Lady Otsuya, eat up, or dig in, as my partner’s used to saying. Eat them while they’re hot, do you good.”

While Gabrielle ate like a famished survivor of a shipwreck rescued after the nineteenth day of eating only shellfish and shrimp, her companion merely fiddled with her food, like a young girl in a temper, looking ever more fed-up as Gabrielle cleared her platter with a fine contempt for manners or any sign of Japa etiquette.

“Not feeling hungry?”

Lady Otsuya lifted her head from a brown study regarding her platter, as if having been engrossed in thinking about things far beyond the scope of mere little Humans to understand. Her eyes focusing again seemingly from a long distance off as she regarded Gabrielle.

“I like my meat served in, aah, a different manner—habit, you understand.”

Gabrielle nodded knowingly.

“Yeah, once you’ve lived in Japa with all these dam’ rules of etiquette taking up every dam’ portion of your waking existence I can believe you get used to things being provided in certain ways and no others. Never mind, I’ll wrap the sausage in a cloth, put it away in a saddlebag, and you can have them cold for supper tonight, no bother; no-one’ll be around to take heed.”

From the expression, unnoticed by Gabrielle, on Lady Otsuya’s face this hardly appeared to be much of a solution to her.

After a substantial lunch, when travelling, it was Gabrielle’s and Xena’s habit to take a short time-out afterwards to relax and give the digestive juices a fair chance, perhaps combined with a light snooze under the flickering shadow of tall trees overhead; but this time, finally noticing that her companion was clearly itching to continue, Gabrielle heroically ignored this comforting part of her usual schedule, opting instead to valiantly carry on as her companion desired.

Working quickly with well practiced ease Gabrielle had the campsite cleared and all equipment back in their particular saddlebags in an even shorter space of time than used in laying-out the site to begin with. As they remounted even Lady Otsuya seemed to recognise this amazing feat, raising her eyebrows in what, in a Japa evening’s get-together of gossiping Ladies, would have been considered outrageous astonishment—something usually considered wholly beyond the natures of refined Ladies of Quality or especially Nobility to apprehend.—Gabrielle rode on, completely oblivious to this remarkable example of a Japa Lady actually under the influence of a visible physical reaction to anything whatever.


The group of advancing ninjas raced across the intervening smooth lawn in less time than it took for two short breaths; before Xena could open her mouth to shout orders the fight was underway, hand to hand. Only barely registering a feeling there were fewer ninjas attacking than she had been led to believe she had to whip sideways to avoid the swift slice of a straight-edged ninjatō sword, its stroke apparently meant to separate her head from her shoulders in one smooth action. Having successfully avoided this she turned slightly to her right sweeping her own sword backwards at waist level, feeling the joy of a seasoned fighter when the blade did its work stabbing deeply into its target, the ninja affected having been in no way swift enough to avoid her stroke.

Stepping forward, pulling her weapon free as she went, Xena looked around for her next target and to see how the engagement was unfolding. There seemed to be a tight onslaught going on to her right involving most of the Kunoichi. But suddenly she had a glimpse of swift movement to her left which, on turning back in that direction, showed itself as a ninja aiming his ninjatō at a lone Kunoichi who was slightly too far out of alignment to easily parry his attack. Before Xena could react the ninja’s blade had made slicing contact with the Kunoichi’s leg, as she simultaneously performed a jumping defensive movement sideways, cutting through her tight black legging and immediately drawing blood as she fell backwards.

Before the ninja could leap on his victim to finish the matter Xena had performed one of her own famous high leaps, doing a somersault in mid-air until her boots connected with the torso of the ninja to solid effect—he being thrown back like a sack of rice to sprawl on the ground amidst flailing arms and legs. Just as the Princess came to earth herself, with a thump of boots on the soft grass, the injured Kunoichi though wounded showed as still being in the fight by darting forward and slicing horizontally with her own ninjatō thus comprehensively taking off her rising attacker’s head to such great effect it flew through the air to bounce horribly on the lawn fifteen paces away.

Noting the slightly wounded Kunoichi was no longer in danger Xena turned to the rest of the fight only to see that it was mostly over, several black-clad bodies of the former assailants lying unmoving on the deep green grass now splashed over by dark crimson pools and streaks.

“They’re done!” Sasaka, previously in the heart of the fight herself, now stood straight though gasping in deep breaths. “They’re all down—no, they’re not! There’re only six bodies here, where are the other three?”

Xena glanced to left and right so quickly the movement of her head could hardly be recorded by any spectator, then turned to the Council Chamber where one of the sliding doors comprising most of the outer walls was standing wide.

“They’ve gone inside—come on!”

Striding into the crowded Chamber itself Xena sighed in relief, seeing her and Sasaka’s band of Kunoichi were hardly needed for further defence of the Daimyō and others there, most remaining tranquilly seated cross-legged on the polished floor of the long room; Daimyō Tanemune still residing, apparently unmoved by the dramatic interruption to business in the centre of a long raised dais at the further end of the Chamber, surrounded by his immediate consorts. Three Onna-musha stood in a group beside two black-clad bodies lying motionless in pools of blood on the polished teak floor, a nearby green tatami mat almost fully submerged under the blood of one of the attackers; while twenty paces off, and much closer to Daimyō Tanemune, a ornately clothed woman who was clearly an Onna Daimyō in her own rite had taken it unto herself to finish the third ninja off with her own weapons, two long-bladed daggers she had produced from who knows where under the folds of her expansive, elegant, and richly decorated kimono; her athletic ability and obvious military training having shown to remarkable advantage at short notice when most needed. Xena gazed across the field of battle, blood and bodies everywhere, and was impressed.

“These Daimyō, Onna-musha, and Kunoichi have more going for them than I realised—brave warriors!”


The afternoon was drawing on towards the time to halt again and make yet another camp before dark night set in. There had not been much conversation between Gabrielle and Lady Otsuya along this stretch of the journey; the Amazon putting this down to encroaching weariness on the Lady’s part. With the forested trail they rode along now showing a marked tendency to take an upward incline; the travelers having finally reached and now heading up the lower slope of Fujisan, Gabrielle was encouraged when her query as to whether they ought to camp for the night was echoed by strong acceptance from her companion.

“Yes, it is time to stop and rest; I can perform my religious duties in the bright morning tomorrow.” Lady Otsuya apparently having now recovered from her earlier despondent aspect. “Now we can relax; I am not one, though taking my exalted station in Society into all due account, to reject lying under the stars, especially in such an auspicious locale and uplifting circumstances. Do you not feel the power of Fujisan, Gabrielle, vibrating in the air all round?”

All the Amazon could see was broken uneven ground made up of clumps of straggling grass between open areas of bare black crushed lava like black earth, requiring strict examination in order to find a level area where they could set-up the two canvas tents at the moment folded in wrappings on her pack-horse; the incline of the slope being rather more present than she had primarily thought.

“Yeah—yeah! Here’s a spot, not quite level, but better than nothing—we’ll camp here.”

Rather quicker than it took an unwilling bather to take a cold plunge in the Baths back in Rome, Gabrielle had camp set-up to her satisfaction for the second time that day—Lady Otsuya, through her earlier experience, now coldly blasé towards this remarkable achievement, showing the proper etiquette level of absolute non–interest or reaction to this display of poetry in motion which actually interested her deeply.

Evening rapidly approaching and dark shadows creeping closer from out the nearby stands of firs as if the first tentative fearful Sprites of the Upper Air were just now awakening, Gabrielle soon had a friendly warm fire flickering its orange glow all round. Lady Otsuya, unavoidably faced with the cold fried sausage from their previous encampment, like relatives at a family festival she did not wish to meet, gave in gracefully as age-old etiquette no doubt demanded, consenting to at least slide the offending comestibles around her platter with a knife, though refusing to appear in any way entertained or delighted with the specious activity. Gabrielle ate her portion, as always, with an almost fear-inducing appetite—those unhappy enough to have been spectators of similar meals of hers on past occasions no doubt willing to agree wholeheartedly with this assessment—she taking food for what it was and knowing full-well how to dispose of it in the most satisfactory, if often messy, manner.

The evening grew further towards deepest night, shadows lengthening till it seemed there were hordes of invisible sprites dancing in the glow of the fire and now faintly mist enshrouded trees serving as dark backdrop to the camp; Gabrielle meanwhile entertaining her companion with tales of Xena’s adventurous life, she herself having latterly some small part in such. Lady Otsuya, as her strict etiquette-bound station in Life required, making absolutely no rejoinder, by word, action, or expression—a state of affairs which eventually got right up Gabrielle’s left nostril.

“Lady Otsuya?” She speaking after breaking-off in the middle of one of the Warrior Princess’s crazier adventures to make this point.


“Does anything, I mean anything, ever effect you to a degree you would smile, or laugh, or spit in someone’s eye? I certainly would, have done before and will again, you bet’cha. As for Xena, well, she’s a hothead from way back; rile her and you’ll remember doin’ so for the rest of your life, supposin’ there happens such a pleasant outcome!”

Lady Otsuya gave the impression of frowning, if only mildly, trying to reach to the kernel of this sage piece of advice.

“You will have to explain further, I do not follow your logic—what are you implying? In Japa, in those strata of Social life that matter anyway, there are three standpoints of note—Life, Death, and Etiquette—the latter by far the most important, that is all.”

So faced by a socially impenetrable barrier seemingly greater than the mighty-walled defences of Tiryns itself, Gabrielle sighed and gave-in; after all, what could she do against the potency of ingrained politeness taken to the extreme it had been here in Japa? A quick retreat to the shores of Greece suggested itself, of course, but she sighed again and continued bravely facing the present contingency.

“Sometimes being very nice and very polite can seem to others merely sarcastic and distasteful, only saying.”

Lady Otsuya, surprisingly, found this remark highly entertaining, even going as far as to twitch her lips as if smiling weakly.

“You speak, of course, of the so-called Lower Fifty Thousand, the peasants in the fields and suchlike persons of no note. To have Note one must be of the Upper Classes wherefrom such exalted Social heights you may view Life from the most comfortable and refined position, as I am so honored to be able to do!”

Gabrielle shook her head, putting another small stick on the fire, darkness now encroaching all round the confines of the campfire, at the same time addressing a worry she had been quietly harbouring for the last few hours.

“Speaking mostly in capitals like that doesn’t polish the dull shield or sword blade any brighter.” Her tone now one close to outright contempt. “Lady Otsuya, I’ve been alongside you, at your elbow, for a coupl’a days now; got to know you to some degree, so what I want to know now is important, me hoping you have the bare consideration to answer truthfully.”

Intrigued, Lady Otsuya didn’t actually raise an inquiring eyebrow but, through years of experience, was able to give the impression of so doing without actually moving a single muscle in her face—Gabrielle sighed again.

“Are you, Lady Otsuya, or are you not—the Lamia!”


For the past two full clepsydras the Council Chamber on Daimyō Maeda Tanemune’s estate at Kyoto had rung to the clash of renewed military activity as the guard detail was increased from a mere two hundred to nearer five hundred; Xena meantime, caught up in this flurry of activity, rather enjoying the situation than otherwise.

“Is everything nearly sorted, Sasaka?”

“No, another forty soldiers are coming from Nijō Castle, should be here, oh, just before night falls, it getting darker as it is with every breath.”

Huh!” The Warrior Princess not impressed. “Looks more like pandemonium than structured planning, just sayin’.”

“Helpful!” Sasaka returning sarcasm with its sister. “Any other words of wisdom that’ll save our bacon and that of the collected Daimyō’s here, just asking!”

Xena growled low in her throat, a warning sign Sasaka seemed equally unimpressed with, taking no note of the sound whatever, her attention elsewhere.

“Look, the Daimyō’s are returning, time to resume our guard. Will you accompany me on a circuit of the villa and estate? I’m not satisfied there aren’t more ninja’s lurking in the dam’ undergrowth. We’re not out of the woods yet, I’m sure.”

Delighted with this offer, allowing her a much desired escape from the dry etiquette-entangled rituals of the Chamber and its occupants, Xena regained her composure in an instant.

“Sasaka, you’re a pal! Lead on.”

Outside it was immediately obvious the security had been increased ten-fold, mainly with army soldiers, though there were a fair number more of the Kunoichi too.

“More Kunoichi, but none of the Daimyō’s male ninja’s? Why?”

“He doesn’t have that many, only a handful; they could all be here and you wouldn’t notice the difference. He prefers Kunoichi, much more dangerous he believes, and who’s to say him nay!”

Xena nodded understandingly, accepting this take on the matter without further argument.

“So, what’s the plan? Encircle the Chamber with an army, and face-off all-comers, righteous or not?”

“That about covers it, at least for the rest of today.” Sasaka taking her companion’s attitude as normal. “The conference ends early tomorrow morning, anyway, so it won’t be too much extra trouble in the long run—gives the troops and Kunoichi plenty of practice as well, good for morale—can’t complain.”

Some short time later darkness had literally arrived, necessitating the breaking-out of numbers of torches and the lighting of lamps all round the building and across the estate; the Chamber inside being lit by multifarious candles, singly, in groups, or large candle-holders set all round the interior. The conference, previous dramatic events so dictating, now going on till at least the early hours of the morning, just after midnight; the assembled Daimyō being, when pushed to such extremes, wholly up for the long haul.

Outside Xena was in her element.

“Pitch black now—you got plenty of patrols on the move, everywhere?”

“Of course, what do you take me for?” Sasaka, at the end of a long day less than pleased with any level of criticism, from whomever. “Everything’s in hand, don’t worry so, though searching for a lone ninja at night in this sort of terrain is like covering a whole forest looking for one particular tree.”

“Think I’ll take a hike around, just to keep in touch with the lie of the land, if that ain’t any problem? Everyone know me round here?”

“Yeah, you’ve been here several weeks now, and you rather tend to stand out in a crowd, especially here! Yeah, everyone knows you and that you’re working for the Daimyō at present, there won’t be any trouble.”

Having left Sasaka to go about her own business Xena walked round to the rear of the massive Chamber building. Although it was only of one storey it enclosed a huge space, the steeply-pitched tile covered roof rising almost seventy feet in the air to a ridge set with pre-formed tiles stopping at each end with large sculptured tile figures of mythical beasts and birds. All the exterior wooden frame was painted in a dull rich red which seemed a colour particularly esteemed by the citizens of Japa, Xena having met with other buildings painted similarly everywhere she and Gabrielle had been in their previous expeditions across this amazing country.

Leaving the dark bulk behind her she moved across a small open space, smooth grass underfoot, to a set other more utilitarian buildings scattered in a group without obvious planning some fifty yards away; these turning out, on her arrival to be various kitchens, stock-rooms, warehouses for household items or comestibles, and other general sheds for all sorts of debris; the whole complex spreading out like a minor hamlet, much to Xena’s disgust.

“Could hide a dam’ army of ninja’s here, an’ no-one’d be the slightest aware!”

Crossing past one line of these outhouses and aiming for another group further along Xena gave a quick glance along the semi-lane to her left dividing the two sets of buildings only to come to a sliding halt in doing so.

“Gods be dam’med! Something moving along there! Meb’be a shadow, but what the Hades!”

Now in full warrior defensive mode she slid into the lane with the grace of a salmon jumping a waterfall, keeping her back tight against the wall of the nearest building, sword drawn ready for the slightest sign of danger.

“Yep! There it is again, someone’s there. Wearin’ dark clothes, too. Ninja?”

Moving so silently a nearby sleeping cricket in the grass by her left boot went undisturbed, she penetrated further along the lane, now absolutely convinced there was an enemy ahead harbouring evil designs against those in the Council Chamber.

“Don’t what he, or she, thinks their up to; meb’be lie low till the early hours then steal out an’ kill the Daimyō in his bed? Possible, these dam’ ninja are almost soul-less when it comes to their orders. Is that another movement? Is he heading for that kitchen-lookin’ place with the open door and light inside? Yeah, he is! OK, time to say hallo!”



Gabrielle sat petrified for a few breaths, shadows flickering in the firelight, misty ranks of trees all round menacingly dark.

“You would say that, though. How’d I make you change? A dragon, ain’t it? I can take a dragon, y’know!”

This time Lady Otsuya deigned to express herself visibly, a shake of the head and twist of the lips showing how far from impressed she was.

“I am not a Lamia, though I know full-well how you may think so. Your suspicions are partially based on sound principles, I allow; I am actually a ghost-hunter in real life, myself—it is my calling!”

Gabrielle sniggered disdainfully.

“You’ll need a better story than that! I came here t’stop you rampaging around the neighborhood, causing all sorts of disaster, terrorising the citizens of the surrounding villages. Now’s the time; you can promise to mend your ways here an’ now, or I have a katana to hand that has the power to put an end to you permanently. Hades, you won’t even appear in the Upper Air as a wriggling worm afterwards, believe me. You want that?”

Lady Otsuya in reply leaned sideways in a smooth surprisingly elegant manner, turning back with a straight-bladed ninjatō sword in her left hand.

Sh-t! Where’ve you been hidin’ that?” Gabrielle now on the defensive for real, leaping to her feet like an unrestrained Maenad in full flow.

Lady Otsuya remained sitting, but pointed with her free hand somewhere over Gabrielle’s shoulder.

“I suggest, my friend, you glance over your left shoulder—slowly, they are easily aroused.”

Deeply suspicious, Gabrielle thought about it for the briefest instant then took the chance; what she saw after turning quickly for a fleeting look bringing her to a stop instantly. At the edge of the far circle of tall mist-wrapped heavily-leaved trees on the edge of the small clearing some sort of animal of huge size was standing, inspecting the two figures round the campfire. It had the shape of a huge crocodile, though far huger, perhaps thirty feet in length, at least four in width, and near five feet high with long head, body, and sweeping tail; the scales apparently covering its whole body of a dazzling hue—vermilion, golden-green, and palest blue spots sprinkled along its full length; stripes of dark black and yellow-ochre patches completing the colourful range of its shimmering body, folded leathery wings like those of a huge bat lying closed along its flanks, eyes circular and bright as a peacock’s, its head especially barred  with crimson streaks; altogether the epitome of a supernatural monster—then it breathed fire!

Sh-t an’ b-gg-ry!”

“There is your Lamia, Gabrielle, and she is not in a good mood.” Lady Otsuya finally rising to her feet, sword raised defensively.

“Sort’a noticed!” Gabrielle taking a pace back, “What the Hades do we do?”



“Talk to it; they often being susceptible to logical and rational conversation.”

“What the Hades!”

Lady Otsuya came round the fire to stand by Gabrielle’s side, showing head and shoulders taller than the petite Amazon.

“They’re vicious by nature, certainly; but their weak spot is conversation. They like to speak with Humans and, if they feel they have been treated with respect, are entirely likely to let them go in peace.”

Gabrielle took a few seconds to absorb this, then shook her head.

“I didn’t come all the way here to engage in a discussion about the latest fashions in kimonos in Kyoto with the dam’ thing; I came here, I think, to kill it!”

Mmmph, it won’t like that attitude, I’m afraid.”

Gabrielle raised her green eyes to where she knew Olympus lay high above then lowered her gaze back to the scene around her.

“Go on, then.”

Lady Otsuya, with a curious vibration of her lips which might have been the beginnings of a smile, took two paces forward facing the still distant creature.

“Lamia, what is your name? I am the Lady Otsuya.”

For a moment Gabrielle thought the whole situation was a busted melon, then the monster, trickles of fire still dripping from the corners of its immense mouth like saliva from a ravening dog, opened its jaws wide revealing a double-set of shockingly long sharp white teeth that made the Amazon’s blood run cold.

Gods! Fried, or torn t’bits!” She considering the likely outcomes of getting on the wrong side of this monster.

“Or both!” Lady Otsuya, unhelpful in a delicate situation. “Lamia, who are you?”

To Gabrielle’s ongoing bewilderment it actually spoke clear Japa in reply, though in a low guttural rasping accent wholly in tune with its outlandish appearance.

Ho, Lady Otsuya, I am Onamihime of Fujisan, a Lamia of merit and renown. You come within my boundaries without explanation or invitation—prepare to be eaten!”

Lady Otsuya, instead of fear, smiled politely as if exchanging the mildest of greetings with an etiquette conscious female companion.

“Onamihime, greetings; it is a great honour for my friend and I to meet such a famous and respected member of her Clan. May I offer my most sincere wishes for your continued good health and prospects?”

Gabrielle by now was experiencing an itch in her Warrior spot that opposed this manner of converse completely.

“Can you get us closer, so I can cut the dam’ thing’s head off?”

Lady Otsuya turned gently to Gabrielle with a consoling smile.

“Gabrielle, you do not do yourself justice. If we can persuade the Lamia, with reasoned argument, to change her ways all may yet be well.”

But it was already too late for further argument on this topic.

“I heard that—prepare to die.” Fire now spilling from the corners of the Lamia’s mouth like a guest at a vast banquet eyeing the main course. “I deciding which particular method to use in doing so once I have toasted you both to acceptable culinary requirements. The tall one somewhat too wiry, but the smaller certain to provide excellent roasted fillets!”

With which words of explanation the Lamia resorted to its earlier mode of simply breathing orange flames, their heat appreciable by Gabrielle and Lady Otsuya even over the still great distance dividing the two opposing forces; though the monster now started moving towards them like the aforesaid crocodile, but now clearly with a firm purpose in mind.

Oh, Hades!”


When Xena reached the open door the suspected ninja had already passed inside, for whatever purpose Xena really didn’t care about.

“Be a dam’ shame if he turns out t’be a cook an’ I spear him with my sword.” The Princess thinking out loud. “Oh, well, they who don’t brave it don’t get it!”

With which suspect moral quote, if she hadn’t simply made it up on the spot herself, Xena slipped into the short corridor within, eyes sharp for any movement around her.

Another open door to her right seemed to be the source of the pale light, a quick glance bearing this out, a single candle fluttering on a table in the centre of the room. When the flame wavered significantly for no reason this was more than enough for the experienced Princess to fling herself sideways just as something hit the edge of the door by her face with a sickening thud; another swift glance showing a small metallic object sticking out from the wood hardly a hand’s-breath from her head.

Shuriken throwing star, by Ares’ balls!” Xena now assured of her yet invisible opponent. “Ninja for sure! Right, sonny, you’re mine!”

Slipping back into the safety of the corridor she next heard the breaking of wood swiftly followed by rapid footfalls moving away in the distance. Jumping back into the room she now saw the ninja had broken the shutter on a closed window and obviously jumped to freedom outside. Half a breath later Xena too stood on the grass in the cold night air, considering her next move.

This decision was made for her when the whistling of something nasty flying through the air towards her alerted her hypersensitive ears to another attack. Ducking swiftly she heard whatever weapon it was, probably another sharp-edged metal star, fly safely over her head before she leapt forward in the direction in which she calculated the attacker lay. Another instant and she realised her decision had been correct; from out of the encircling darkness a small black-clad form rushed her, the ninja bending low so his head only reached the Warrior’s waist.

Entirely ready for this form of attack Xena performed her infamous screaming leap in the air, sailing over the ninja by more than her own legs’ length, coming back to earth with a ground-slamming thump well behind him, he pursuing his now failed attack another half-wagon’s length before he could stop his progress. Xena, now wholly in command of the fight, raised her right hand high then, accompanied by another war-scream, flung her chakram forward at full speed.

An eerie whistle, as of souls in Hades crying for a mercy they would never know, shattered the silence of the surrounding night followed by a thump as something of appreciable weight hit the ground out in the darkness. Half crouching Xena held her arm out hand ready and, a breath later, caught the returning chakram in an iron grip. She glanced at its surface, but the fast flight through the air had already swept all trace of blood from its surface. Another few paces and she stood over the lifeless body of her unknown and till now unseen assailant. Crouching to examine the remains she was hardly surprised to note he was wholly deceased with no chance of returning to Life.

“Hope he meets friendly ancestors in the Upper Air!”

With which comment she rose to greet the advancing night patrol of dark-cloaked Kunoichi led by Sasaka.

Ah!” Sasaka nodding gravely after her own examination of Xena’s victim.

“Show’s over!” Xena being pragmatic as a Stoic from her native land. “Let’s all go and get some supper; think there’s not much chance of any further attacks on the Daimyō’s from here on in.”


The only good point about the attacking Lamia, to Gabrielle’s eyes anyway, was the fact that the campsite being enclosed in a small clearing amongst thickly growing mist-wrapped tall trees in the forest clothing the lower slopes of Fujisan hindered the monster from using its wings to take to the air, where it would undoubtedly have proved an altogether more dangerous assailant to overcome.

Now, as it crawled grotesquely over the intervening ground towards she and Lady Otsuya, Gabrielle raised her own katana high waiting for just that precise moment when the monster would be close enough and in a position where it would inadvertently present its most delicate spot to the waiting Amazon. Lady Otsuya, apparently aware she was in the presence of a seasoned warrior, stepping back to stand to the Amazon’s rear as back-up when and if needed.

The Lamia’s capability of emitting fire seemed, now Gabrielle gazed at the monster more carefully, to have been temporarily checked by its need to reload in its belly with whatever supernatural fuel it required; the flames emitted from its teeth-filled jaws faltering down to the slightest dribble as opposed to the jets of fire released earlier.

“Good enough for me!” Gabrielle relieved that at least one danger appeared to no longer be on the menu. “Right, baby, come to mother! Lem’me see that dam’ neck—I got a blade here’ll sweep your dam’ head right off!”

The Lamia, apparently now so engrossed in confirming its next meal, seemed not to have heard this less than encouraging remark aimed in its direction; it wholly focused on going for the Amazon’s bare legs as a starting move in its attack; nothing, if it had only known, being worse for its long-term health.

The katana supplied by the villagers on the windswept coast of Suruga Bay now proved itself efficient in everything that had been extolled in its favor. As the Lamia made its first lunge at Gabrielle she jumped aside with all the expertise Xena, and later her Amazon sisters, had spent many hours in teaching her. Seeing the bare, crimson-barred scales of its neck exposed for a fraction of time at her side Gabrielle took one strong slashing thrust at the spot, seeing the shimmering scales, apparently metal themselves, slice open like a wet rice-cake, a stream of ghastly green blood jetting out as a result covering her legs in its unrestrained flow.

The Lamia gave a single last gasp, more of a horrendous scream of agony in fact, before collapsing on the ground beside its victorious opponent, its head nearly but not quite severed by the apparently supernaturally endowed katana wielded in Gabrielle’s steely grip.

Great Athena!” She stepping back in disgust. “My legs! Is there a pool close by, I can bathe in? I’ll never get this God’s-dam’med blood out’ta my boots, either!””

“It’s dead!” Lady Otsuya more interested in the fact at hand.


“You have killed the Lamia, Gabrielle, congratulations!”

Taking another pace back the victorious Amazon Queen sucked in a deep breath, looking at the corpse of the monster now motionless at her feet.

By the Gods! So I have! Who’d have thought!”

“Perhaps we should leave now; return to the Teahouse of Blue Hyacinths?”

Gabrielle, however, was still wrapped in the dual throes of shock and relief at the happy outcome of her battle.

“What? Why? Can’t we stay here for the rest of the night, or somewhere nearby, I allow? I’m suddenly dam’ exhausted!”

Lady Otsuya, on her part, had the ongoing good health of them both at heart.

“You’ve just accomplished a mighty action—killing a Lamia! Don’t think one’s been slain these four hundred years past! But it is not the only example of its kind, there are many others in the vicinity who will not look kindly on your victory. There are also, of course, unnumbered other Supernatural Beings residing on the slopes of revered Fujisan who will also not take your interference with any visible level of joy. Best we leave this entire area as quickly as we can, before the news spreads; and believe me, Gabrielle, it will spread like wildfire through the Supernatural Upper Air where these varied Demons spend their existences. Perhaps you should surprise me one last time with your camp-breaking expertise?”

Gabrielle, now rather calmer, soaked up more of the life-giving cold night air before replying.

“Lady Otsuya, that’s what I call kind advice. Sorry, by the way, about my, uum, suspicions.”

“One does not take umbrage at words or actions which cannot affect one’s calm cultured existence, such being wholly beyond a Lady of Quality’s capacity to acknowledge—etiquette, you understand!” She returning, without a quiver of embarrassment, to her ordinary manner.

Gabrielle sighed softly once more, but this time with friendship and real appreciation towards her unusual companion.

“Lady Otsuya, I can’t wait till Xena meets you; she’ll embrace you, sure enough, just wait!”


The beach at the small fishing village on the coast of Suruga Bay was covered in dry sand at this time of low tide, rolling dunes backing it; stretching away for what, to the two warriors strolling there, seemed parasangs on either hand. Xena had returned just the day before to greet her lover and partner with all the verve and passion Gabrielle had expected. Now, after a night long to be remembered by both, they were gently exchanging news of their several journeys and adventures. Gabrielle, work as she might, had not been able to remove all traces of the Lamia’s blood from her boots, which were now mostly a sickly brownish-green, while various bruises on her legs and bare muscular torso showed where her skills had not been quite sharp enough to avoid minor consequences of her earlier actions. Xena too had taken a slight scratch on her left shoulder from the first of the late ninja’s shuriken flying stars; a scratch Gabrielle was determined to describe as a viable wound no matter the casual off-handed manner with which her lover treated it.

“I’ve got some cream back in the Teahouse, that’ll help immensely.” Gabrielle wholly into her medical persona, disregarding her own still aching joints. “And don’t rip the bandage off after the first day, like you usually do if unattended.”

“Yeah-yeah—OK.” Xena trying her hardest to appear unconcerned, but knowing she wasn’t getting under her Amazon lover’s guard in the slightest. Then she tentatively addressed the matter of Gabrielle’s own all too visible bruises “Usual sort’a day, previous, dear?”

“Yeah, usual sort’a day!”

“Thought so, darlin’.”


The End.


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