by Joseph Anderson

Xena and Gabrielle belong to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. Kush, Angela, Langland and Jilly belong to the author. No copyright infringement is intended with this fan fiction which may not be sold, may be copied for personal use only, and must contain all notices of copyright.

This story is a sequel to Casting Couch. For those familiar with my other stories you'll notice Langland is considerably younger than in Three's Company where he was close to Gabrielle's age. His being younger is more consistent with the extended storyline.

There is sex, drugs, violence and profanity in this story.

The tall red-haired woman materialized near the granary. "What are you lookin' at?" she said to a little girl with black hair and wide brown eyes holding onto a baby goat. The girl ran screaming away, her goat following.

The long brown cloak allowed her to be relatively nondescript, hiding her weapons and covering her fair freckled complexion which looked out of place. Under the cloak her long body was encased in flat black fighting leathers. The only decoration she had of any kind was a small tattoo under her leathers on her right butt cheek: a simple pictograph of an impaled man.

The tall woman began exploring the small village she had appeared in. She could smell the poverty. It was just like ten thousand other peasant villages. But there was someone here who wasn't like anyone else in any other village. Near the tavern a handsome muscular young man in fighting leathers and with thick curly black hair saw her and swaggered over.

"Lonely," he said meaningfully, with a smile.

The redhead grinned. "Yeah, I'm looking for somebody. A little boy, so smart he's scary probably. Name's Langland."

The muscular young man leered. "You don't want a little boy. I have what you need." He paused and said dramatically, "I'm Hypsenor."

"One more time, Hypsenor. Where can I find Langland?"

He frowned and angrily reached out to open her cloak. "Let's see what you have. You must be a slut like his mother. Maybe if I like what I ..." Hypsenor gasped and fell to the ground. The woman took a deep breath and there was a gleam in her green eyes as she looked at the knife in her hand. She ran her index finger over it and put the finger in her mouth to suck the blood off. Squatting down next to Hypsenor, she put the blade to his temple, licked her lips and drew the blade down, leaving a line of crimson on the side of his handsome shuddering face; then she made two short vertical cuts. A simpler version of her tattoo.

With a smile she said, "You won't die, Hypsenor. I know what I'm doing. Unless the wound gets infected; too bad you hairy greaseballs don't have antibiotics, yet. Now, unless you want me to cut the big Greek dong off I'm sure you are so proud of, tell me where Langland is."

Weeping the man said, "His lives with his mother! She's with the other whores east of town."

Angela frowned. "His mother's a prostitute? Why aren't they in town?"

"We can't have trash like that in town."

The woman looked at his sweating frightened face. "Trash, huh? I'll bet you visit 'em though, don't you? What's his mother's name?"

"Eleni," he said fearfully.

The woman stood up and looked down at him. "Ever been with Eleni, Hypsenor? Don't bother lying. I know you have. And how about Langland? How is he treated around here, since his mother is 'trash' ?" When he didn't respond she kicked him in the wound. He wept and said, "His mother's just a whore! Don't hurt me!"

She looked down at him and after a moment just said, "Right." Angela removed her cloak and tossed it at him saying, "Wipe your face." Then she turned and walked away heading east out of town. He looked at the wound in his side, praying it wouldn't fester though it was not a bad wound in itself. Looking at the tavern he saw three men just looking at him with amused expressions. They disappeared back inside.


Eleni smiled at her little boy, small for his age and fragile looking. She thought he was so small because there had been so little to eat when he was a baby. He came over to her and looked in her eyes. He was six years old but when he looked at her she felt like she was the child. She had him when she was 13. Eleni had been raped by some soldiers of a warlord passing through. After that she could only be a whore. They had been Xena's men.

"Oh, Langland! What happened?" She began crying as she stroked the bruise on his face. It looked like it was from a stone. "My baby!"

She hugged him tightly, her beautiful boy. He was all she had. Langland didn't respond, merely looking at the door. Someone was hunting for him. He considered his options. He didn't have many since he was just a small child. Perhaps he could use that as he had before. A man had badly beaten his mother three months previously. He had thought he was just a small child. His body was buried outside town now.

His mother Eleni cried out as the door to their hovel burst open and a huge figure was standing there. Olive skinned, with black eyes and straight blonde hair. Langland looked at the warrior's hands, which wore so many rings they looked almost like claws.

Eleni screamed as the leather-clad figure drew a sword. Before he could advance into the room though a voice rang out behind him.

"Stop right there, Kush! Langland is a Lord Technical. A great military like you should protect him, not threaten him."

The big foreign looking warrior turned. "Angela, my fine brother. I have no choice." His voice was deep and oddly accented.

"Yeah, well. Guess, we both just have to follow orders. I won't enjoy killing you, Kush. I never thought I'd say that about anyone."

Kush didn't respond but raised his sword quickly to deflect something, which then embedded itself in a post. He pulled the chakram out with his free hand and threw it. Angela cursed and dropped to the ground as her own chakram nearly took her head off. As it rebounded and came at her again she reached up and caught it deftly. She saw the slight smile.

"Very funny, Kush!" Then she commanded the mother and child, "Get out of here while I make some snakeskin boots."

"You are overconfident, brother," Kush said.

"Save it, gecko!" the women sneered and launched herself at him, sword gleaming in her hand. "Get out, Langland!" she screamed as she and Kush's swords clashed together.

The boy saw his mother was paralyzed with fear so he took her hand to lead her out. She suddenly seemed to see him, then followed him scrambling out the small window cut in the mud wall. Sparks were flying as the two warrior's blades met again and again. A kick from the big warrior got past her and she smashed against a wall. He didn't even look at her but ran outside of the small dwelling to resume his pursuit of the boy.

Angela was holding her stomach as she got to her feet. She doubled over and vomited. Her eyes were gleaming and she was baring her teeth as she followed them.


Eleni held tightly to Langland's hand as they ran. She wanted to get on the road and flee, but her son pulled her another direction and she let him lead her. "Here, Mama!" he hissed at her and she felt herself falling into darkness. A small hand clapped over her mouth to prevent her screaming. "Shhhhh, Mama, quiet!"

Eleni obeyed and her son's hand left her mouth and found her hand again. Her eyes adjusted to the darkness and she realized she was underground. Above her a little light filtered through. The young woman looked around and saw she was in an actual room, with a small chair and table. There was a pile of scrolls and an old lamp on the table.

"Langland, whose hiding place is this?" she whispered.

The child was staring up at the trapdoor listening. "Mine, Mama," he said.

Kush stopped. The young technical seemed to have simply vanished. He looked around, carefully studying his surroundings. There were a few other mud dwellings such as Langland had been in, a number of trees and the village not far away. The Lord Military suddenly ducked but not fast enough as Angela's hurtling form caught him in the back and sent him sprawling. She followed it up with a kick to his head and he was unmoving.

Breathing heavily she drew her sword and just looked at the unconscious form. Then she turned and began studying her surroundings just as Kush had been doing. She looked again at Kush and knelt down and opened one of his eyes and felt his pulse. Satisfied both that he was alive and really was unconscious she stood and loudly called, "Langland...Eleni...I'm here to protect you."


Angela looked around for the voice and identified it as coming from the ground only about ten yards away. She walked over and a trap door partially opened with the child looking up at her. When he saw Kush he opened the door the rest of the way and emerged, though Angela could hear Eleni making frightened sounds. The redhead looked down into the underground room which had a ladder leading down.

Angela saw Langland approaching Kush's unconscious figure. She ran and grabbed him back roughly. "Don't get near him! He's dangerous."

The child looked at Kush and at Angela. "That's not it."

"Whatever," Angela harshly said and pulled him back over to where his mother was peering out the underground room. "Come on, let's go before he wakes up."

Langland said, "We should remain here. It would not be expected."

Angela frowned and looked at him and then down in the underground room.

"That's smart, kid."

The three of them remained int the small underground chamber without speaking for hours until they heard Kush finally begin stirring. Angela held her chakram. Although she had spared Kush she was still willing to kill him if she had to. He could have followed up on his own advantage earlier but hadn't. She was rueful; some kind of killers they were. Angela finally heard his steps as he left. Eventually she carefully peeked out at what was now night. He really was gone she was relieved to see.

"Get some sleep," she ordered her two charges. Eleni looked frightened but her son whispered in her ear and she calmed down and looked at him. Then they laid down on the dirt floor. Angela sat down and closed her own eyes, though she kept the chakram in her hand.

When she awoke, Angela looked over at the thin child sleeping with his raggedly dressed mother. Eleni was a pretty young girl--that's all she was really. Not even 19, her face was childlike in ways her son's wasn't. Angela had only met Langland a few times and he was in his 40s. He had seemed like a mild mannered businessman or something. You only knew what he was from the way other people treated him: the photographers getting as close as they dared; the surveillance vans from the FBI, foreign powers, who knows; and the fear you saw on faces.

Langland was waking up. He hugged his mother unconsciously. Angela thought he looked sorta malnourished, and she could see bruises on him that sure didn't look accidental. He looked over at Angela and got up, careful to not wake his young mother. The small child approached her in his ragged clothes.

"Who are you?" he asked.

The freckled woman said, "My name is Angela and I'm here to save your bacon."


She studied him. The way he asked questions was spooky. Not like a kid at all.

"I'm from the future. So is Kush."

The fragile, almost pretty child said, "Are you my servant?"

Angela snorted, "Not likely! Sam accomplished more than you and Jilly ever did. You know why? Because he had heart. Without you, there's no Sam. That's why I'm here." What was she doing? Why was she talking like that to a six year old?

The boy smiled softly, "You are afraid of me."

Angela frowned.

Angela had left them briefly to reconnoiter then returned and said, "Come on. Let's go." It was still night. She led them for hours then just stopped and looked around. They were in a forest now and it was nearing dawn. "Wait here. If I don't return by noon try to find Xena the warrior princess and ask for her help."

Eleni stared at her with wide eyes but Langland said, "I understand."

Angela nodded and walked off following the feeling. Finally she stopped in a clearing.

"Lord Ares," Angela said. "I can feel you."

The God of War materialized in front of her. "Traitor!"

Angela looked away a moment, hurt, then back at him. "What do you expect? You're trying to kill Sam!"

The dark beautiful figure glared at her. "I'm not trying to kill Sam. His not being born is a side effect is all. He doesn't mean anything to me one way or another. I'm stopping Langland from killing my Jilly."

"But Jilly loved Langland! They loved each other!"

Ares said contemptuously. "You don't even know half the story. Langland murdered MY Jilly! Her reborn self loved him. But she wasn't the REAL Jilly."

"I don't understand," Angela said.

"Langland murdered her while she was fighting Xena, her great future cut off. I am restoring that future. She will become the conqueror she was meant to be!"

Angela said fiercely, "And since she isn't reborn, her little brother Sam is never born either. That's not gonna happen."

Ares was furious. "You are MY favorite. You cannot serve Bacchus!"

She answered, "Oh, yes I can! Sam is his boy. Does Kush know what's going on? Because he's pretty fond of Sam himself."

"Unlike you he obeys his gods," Ares said furiously.

"I get it. The Slithloc Military God. You and him cooked this little scheme up between you. He gets his military caste back as a bunch of rampaging lizards and you get a rampaging Jilly. Will the other gods let you two get away with it?"

Ares smirked and said, "When it's done there won't be anything they can do."

Angela heard a calm new voice and turned to see another figure. She'd never seen her before but knew who it had to be. "Leave us now. I want a few words with my brother." Angela nodded and quickly left.

The God of War looked at his sister. "Well?"

Athena's perfect features glimmered inside her helmet. Her gray eyes looked coldly at Ares. "You think I will allow my beautiful man to be destroyed? You don't even understand what this is really about. How can you be so stupid?"

Ares said, "If that's all you came to say, save it. I've heard it before."

"Of course you have, brother. From our father, Zeus; from your own mother, Hera; from all of us except beautiful, STUPID, Aphrodite. Even she would never leave skilled Hephaestus for you though. She is not THAT stupid."

Ares drew his sword. Athena laughed. "I envy you, brother. I really do. You have so little imagination you always know just what to do. Shall we fight now? And what will that accomplish? But, ah, you are the God of War and Blind Rage. Nothing has to be accomplished does there? You strike out like a dog licks its genitals--the mindless actions of a beast!"

She brought her great shield up, decorated with Medusa's head, as Ares' sword crashed upon it. In cities throughout the mainland people looked fearfully at each other as the ground shook and buildings swayed.


They had been walking a week buying food from farmers and just living off the land when they reached another village. Angela planted Eleni and Langland in a tavern and told them to stay there. She had to get horses for them and hoped to find out some news of Kush too. He had to be following them, but she'd like to have some idea how close he was. There was actually a bounty on Langland now, she discovered. Angela was angry but smiled appreciatively. Kush knew no one but him could possibly take her, but this way he would have bird dogs. Angela wanted to talk to him to make sure he knew what was going on. Sam had sired a new Lord Caste for Kush's race. Angela hoped he would be willing to disobey the Slithloc Military God if he knew what was at stake. Fighting Kush wasn't anything she wanted to do even if she could take him. She had a baby by him though he didn't know it.

Hypsenor was seething. He had come here because he heard Draco was recruiting. It couldn't be though because the man who supposedly was Draco's agent had just looked at him and said they didn't need catamites. Lucky for that dog Hypsenor was merciful, he thought. Lucky for him. Couldn't he see how dangerous he was from the symbol he carved on his own face. The man had laughed at that, Hypsenor remembered. Now the muscular young man walked in the tavern and stopped. Eleni and her brat. Hypsenor smiled. He remembered what that red-haired bitch had done to him when she caught him off his guard. He'd show Eleni who was a catamite.

The boy was looking coldly at him and the whore was whimpering as he swaggered over to them.

"What's this trash doing in town?" he said loudly and arrogantly and looked at the nervous tavern keeper. He wished he had more of an audience.

Eleni started to say, "Please, Hypsenor..." when he slapped her down. Her son kicked him in the shin and Hypsenor cursed and punched the child sending him flying. Eleni was screaming. He prepared to strike her again when his fist was caught by another hand, the fingers covered with rings.

Hypsenor looked angrily at whoever was interfering and froze. A warrior with almond skin, black eyes and blonde hair was looking down at him. Hypsenor tried to pull his hand free but couldn't. Then he felt pain as the warrior squeezed.

"Let 'im go, Kush." The warrior looked at the speaker. "Me and Hypsenor have some unfinished business."

"As you wish, brother," Kush said to the tall redhead.

Angela picked up Langland and saw the fat lip and helped up Eleni who had a bloody nose. The redhead walked back over to the cringing young man who was armed and outweighed her by at least 40 pounds. He pulled a dagger and held it up but found his shaking hands couldn't hold it and it clattered to the floor.

He looked for the tavern keeper, for anyone to save him, but he was alone. "I told you what would happen, Hypsenor," she said.


Hypsenor was lying doubled over on the ground as Angela examined what she held. "I expected more of you, Hypsenor. Guess that's why you like to beat up girls and kids, huh?" she said mockingly as she tossed bloody flesh into the fire where it popped and sizzled. She wiped her knife and hands off on Hypsenor's hair. Eleni and Langland stepped over him without even looking at him.

Ignoring the pathetic moaning figure Angela looked at the handsome almond skinned warrior. "Change of heart, Kush?" Angela asked, ready to fight if need be.

"The young technical is in no danger from me for now," he said in his accented voice.

Angela said, "Well, that's something. I'd rather you were with me but at least you're not against me."

Kush looked at her, remembering when they bred. "That could change, brother. The gods I serve are in disagreement. I will follow their instructions when they have reached a decision."

"But you just helped us, Kush." Angela said.

"Yes. It was improper for a Lord Technical to be treated in that way by a an inferior server masquerading as a military."

Angela smiled wryly. "I can't always follow your reasoning but thanks anyway."

Kush calmly answered, "You are welcome, brother."

"Is Laconius with you, Kush?" Angela asked. The young soldier had worshipped the Lord Military and accompanied him when he had gone away with Sam.

"No. The young brother has remained with the prince. He is too innocent for such a terrible business as this," Kush said. Angela looked at the ground and nodded.

They were back on the road again, this time with two horses and Langland riding with his mother. Angela knew Kush meant exactly what he said and if he decided he should kill Langland he would be just as dangerous as before. So she was trying to put distance between them and stay out of sight. Even if Kush wouldn't come after Langland, they might send a Lord Military who would. They were being followed by some opportunists after the reward but Angela didn't consider them worth killing.

It was dawn and Angela opened her eyes and looked around. "Where's Langland!" she said. Eleni who was sleeping woke with a jolt to see the tall red-haired warrior carefully scanning the forest around them. "Dammit! Stay here, Eleni," she ordered and was suddenly gone. Eleni looked fearfully around, scared for herself but even more for her son.

The child was making his way back to their camp when Angela seemed to just pop up in front of him. "Where the fuck were you?" she demanded before she got control of herself. She kept forgetting he was just a six year old.

Langland was frightened of her even though she was here to protect him. She feared him he could tell and that made her a potential danger. He wondered if he would have to kill her eventually. Perhaps he should start watching for an opportunity.

Suddenly he found himself lifted up by his shirtfront. "Listen kid, A: I'm here to protect you, and, B: I know what you are, so don't get any ideas about killing me! Got it?" She sat him down.

Langland straightened his ragged clothes then smiled at her, glad she was smarter than she seemed.

"Okay, so where were you?" Angela said.

"Some men were following us," the child said.

"No kidding. So what?"

He shrugged.

Angela looked at him. "Show me."

He turned to begin heading the direction he'd been coming from. The tall woman had her sword out but didn't need it. After a time she and the boy were just walking around the camp of men who seemed to be sleeping but weren't.

"What'd you do, Langland?"

The boy walked over to a wine bag and pointed to it.

Angela looked around at the eight dead low lives. "Jeez..." she said to herself then looked back at the fragile nondescript child. "Langland, you shouldn't have done this. I could've killed 'em but I didn't because I didn't want to leave you alone. Kush is the only one we need to worry about as long as you stick with me. You kind of defeated the whole purpose by going off alone. You're still a kid and if somebody just decides to off you before you can get cute, they can do it."

The boy studied her and gave her another of his soft innocent smiles and nodded.

The walls of the palace faced in white and pink marble, already high on a mountain, rose to dizzying heights Its mistress gracefully made her way to her throne and sat down, awaiting the visitor she expected. Her long tail wound around her legs to rest in her lap. There was a sound like a thunderclap and a figure stood looking coldly at her.

The Slithloc Goddess of Wisdom and War smiled, her black eyes glittering and her long teeth shining. Athena looked expressionlessly at her. Her great spear and shield disappeared and she removed her Corinthian helmet. Wide-browed Pallas Athene met those reptilian eyes with her own equally cold gray ones.

"You are duping my brother, Ares. Without even meeting him. Does your own brother know your plan? Have you risked telling him what is really at stake?"

"Why, whatever do you mean, sister? May I call you sister? We do have much in common." The Slithloc deity's voice was smooth and sibilant.

Now Athena smiled. "There's something you aren't considering. You and yours are hundreds of thousands of years advanced over we poor beings. We are mere barbarians, hardly capable of matching wits with such advanced adversaries."

The Slithloc goddess didn't respond but suddenly seemed careful. The Earth goddess continued. "All we poor fools have is our simple savagery." Without warning the reptile found a small winged creature had dived at her, slashing her long snout. Athena held an arm out and the owl settled on it. The Silthloc stood, hissing, her tail twitching betrayed her anger. The wound on her face instantly healed.

"It's too late."

Smiling Athena was back in her full armor. She put her helmet back on. "Don't be so sure, sister," she said softly. "Where is Samuel? That's what your brother doesn't suspect. That is all he wants isn't it? But you would never allow him to destroy the Lord Caste again. He's too stupid to see that, just as my brother is too stupid to think what Langland's death will mean beyond saving his favorite."

The Slithloc approached Athena lightly, no longer angry. "So clever! Such a young and clever little goddess!"

The Earth goddess frowned. "Bacchus... you would have to have his cooperation." She smiled. "I apologize, sister, for my little outburst. My owl mistook you for a lower life form. You rather resemble one from my world."

She saw with satisfaction the tail flick. Athena disappeared in another thunderclap.


In the grotto the rites were in progress. The God of Mystic Ecstasy, Wine and Blood watched as the bacchae tore the animal sacrifices to pieces before falling into trances and having sex with the priests and each other. Sensual rhythmic music was everywhere in the dark torch lit sanctified place. He turned his big horned head at a disturbance he felt and saw his sister appear. Bacchus smiled.

"Sister..." he said in his deep echoing voice. He was naked. Athena tried not to look at him. It made her uncomfortable. He made her uncomfortable; always had. Sometimes she felt like he was even laughing at her. A blonde young bacchae in a diaphanous gown held a short glass pipe to his lips and a flaming finger to it as the god inhaled.

Athena said, "What are you doing with the Slithlocs, brother?"

The god exhaled after a moment, his eyes bright. "The Slithlocs...yes...blood jets of light. Old school bangers scary very, but with bad eyes." He winked at her.

Athena listened to him. She hated talking to Bacchus. All of her brilliance and logic was useless with him. She didn't think he understood her any better but it didn't seem to bother him. When they had to communicate usually they went through Ares. But she couldn't this time...not yet anyway until she understood what was going on. She tried again, "Bacchus, if Langland dies our world will be destroyed. All of our worshipers here--maybe even us....have you joined the Slithlocs? What can they offer you that we can't?"

The huge horned god smiled and held his muscular arms out. Three bacchae on each side came up and sank their teeth in, drinking his blood. "The dark swallows the light. Chill, Athena. It is all as rich tasting as blood." He nodded knowingly.

Athena shook her head and looked away. He wasn't trying to be hard to understand, necessarily. That was just how his mind worked. He could even be doing his best to communicate with her. Once he'd told her she was " squaresville, man!" and seemed like he was really trying to impart something important to her. He had actually taken her shoulders and looked deep in her eyes. "Go for the gusto, Poindexter. Turn on and drop out. Excuse me while I kiss the sky!" Athena had wracked her godlike brains over that one; she had her priests and scholars trying to decipher it for centuries but they never had.

Now the bacchae drinking his blood looked up and scurried off, though not before he'd grabbed one and just sank his teeth into her throat. He tossed her body aside where it seemed to Athena to be wriggling and moaning in ways that weren't exactly painful.

"Bacchus," she said abruptly. "What are you doing with the Slithlocs? I want the truth!"

Suddenly the god appeared to be a middle-aged mortal. He pointed at her and yelled, "You can't handle the truth!" Then he transformed back. The goddess was grateful: he'd given her a vision like she would to a favorite--she knew it had to be something very important. Athena looked around and all the bachhae were laughing. What could that imply? A few approached their god and held their hands out. Bacchus slapped them and held his own hand then for them to slap. Athena watched closely. She would have her metaphysicians explore this.

Finally Bacchus looked at her frustrated face and said pityingly "You're a phat fox and a fly sister but have a stick up your booty. Don't freak on those bangers trying to jack us. This is my corner." He held his clawed hands up and they were dripping blood. He cocked his big horned head and smiled. "Helter Skelter."

Athena looked at him and disappeared. At least she had gotten a reassurance from him--she thought.


The rites had reached their crescendo. Bloody naked bacchae were flying around the grotto, their faces masks devoid of reason. Bacchus was at one with his followers, not only the bacchae present in the grotto but throughout Greece and wherever he was worshipped at this moment. Male priests continued to arrive with more animal sacrifices which the bacchae swooped down and grabbed.

He felt another disturbance. "Sister..."

The beautiful blonde looked around the orgy scene and said dangerously, "Don't screw with ME!"

He held his claw up placating, "Just good dark fun, Dite..No love here..crazy fuckin' and sweet warm blood!"

Aphrodite closely watched the humping bacchae. "Okay, Bach...sorry.. ya know how it is.. can't let somebody move on me....even you."

Bacchus nodded. A bacchae approached the beautiful goddess with a cylinder with some water in it. She held a flaming finger up as the Goddess of Love and Passion put her mouth on the opening, covered a small hole with a finger, and inhaled. "Good shit..!" she said when she exhaled. "Oh, you liked how that looked did you?" she said smiling seeing her brother's huge erection. "I'll take care of 'ya but first we got business. They're making their move, bro."

The horned god nodded. "Athena was here with her panties in a bunch."

Aphrodite laughed musically, "Bet her sphincter locked when she saw that horse cock of yours!"

Bacchus said, "Night vision right vision."

Aphrodite chuckled. "It messes with her head when you talk like that. Apollo's even worse. You're right, studmuffin; this is our play. We gotta get Ares though."

The wide, hugely muscled, horned god nodded and just approached his sister and reached between her legs. She squirmed pleasurably.

Bacchus said, "Those uptown bangers are bad mother fuckers but midnight Ares sings in the dark. Athena rampant when there's light for killing."

"When Ares clues in he'll be pissed all right," the blonde said. "What I don't get is why Zeus isn't doin' anything." Aphrodite continued petulantly, "He's not so light. Heppy, sure; Hera, maybe; but Zeus?"

Bacchus answered, "Big Daddy's playin' his own game."

The Love Goddess exploded, "That cocksucker! You're right. Who knows what's really goin' on!"

The Goddess of Passion continued a little calmer, "How come they're trying this in front of you? Pretty fuckin' stupid, you ask me. I thought they were smarter 'n us."

"Scalies think light is all that shines and I'm Mayor McCheese of chump town," The big horned head cocked, showing his long sharp teeth. "Funny how runny blood is fresh.."

Aphrodite nodded with understanding. She waved a hand and was naked, then climbed onto Bacchus and took his entire huge member between her legs. "Oooo, glad I'm one size fits all!"

"Eleni," Angela said when they arrived back at camp. The little boy ran forward and began looking around frantically. The tall warrior studied the camp and the signs of struggle. "Somebody grabbed her." She looked at Langland who FINALLY seemed like a six year old, scared to death and ready to cry. Because of that she didn't tell him it was his fault for going off. "Don't worry, kid. Whoever has her has no idea what kind of trouble he just bought himself."


Eleni kept trying to look back for her little boy. A young warrior in battered looking leathers had ridden into camp. He hadn't said a word when he saw her but quickly dismounted and without preamble gagged her as she started to beg, tied her hands and started his horse off at a gallop, with her in front of him.

Petrotracus wasn't a slaver but if an opportunity just fell in his lap like that he wasn't going to pass it up. He was a mercenary and ex-bandit who was down to his last dinar. He could see she was a whore from her clothes. This was like a gift from Zeus. He went into a river to make tracking difficult. He finally removed the gag from her mouth. They were far from where he had taken her.

"Don't make trouble. It's just business," he said to her. When she nodded he said, "Good." They didn't speak again until he finally let her down from the horse hours later. He quickly made camp. Eleni just watched him, wondering when it would happen and praying it wouldn't be too bad. Here it is, she thought resignedly when he approached her. But all he did was untie her hands. "Can you cook?" the mercenary asked. She nodded. "Can you talk?" Again, she nodded.

He got a wry expression and she answered, "Yes."

"Good. There's food in my saddlebag. Make something. I'll be watching you so don't try to poison me or anything, though I don't know what you'd use."

"All right," she said. He showed her his food and just watched her prepare it.

Petrotracus was watching her closely, not feeling good about this. He was no slaver and this didn't feel right to him. He especially didn't like the scared way she kept looking at him. He had been in any number of fights because other men accused him of being a weakling because he wouldn't force women.

"How many others were in your camp?" he asked when she brought the simple food she had prepared over. "Go ahead and eat yourself," he added.

Eleni was afraid of what would happen if she lied so she just answered, "Two. A warrior and my son." With shaking hands, she spooned a plate of food for herself and began eating.

The mercenary winced inside seeing how young and scared she was. "How old is your son?" He shouldn't ask but couldn't stop himself.

Eleni looked at him, thinking he must be incredibly cruel. "Six."

The man said carefully, "What about this warrior? Is he the boy's father?"

"No. It is a woman warrior."

"What's her name, what does she look like?" he said. On the slight chance it could be Xena or Callisto he suddenly felt nervous.

"Angela," Eleni answered, not understanding this man at all. "She is very tall with fair skin and red hair."

He was relieved. He'd never heard of her. "So what were you doing traveling together?" Zeus! What was wrong with him talking to her like this? She was just merchandise.

"A bad man wants to hurt my little boy. Angela stopped him and said we should come with her. I don't understand any of it." Her calm finally broke and she began crying as she thought of Langland.

"What's special about your son?" he asked puzzled and feeling terrible.

Eleni just shook her head. "I don't know. Someone came to kill him and Angela is here to protect him because she says he is important." She looked up at him. "He's very smart."

"Finish eating, then we are breaking camp," Petrotracus said, cursing himself inside.


His long muscled tail was lying despondently in front of him, the very end occasionally giving a desultory flick. The Slithloc Military God had just spoken with Kush. The plan wasn't working out like it was meant to and he suspected it had never been what he supposed it was. His sister and probably at least the Technical God were using him as a pawn. He stood up to his full height. He'd simply wanted his Military Caste back on top and not subservient to the Lord Caste. The others would be angry but he wanted it so much he was willing to risk it. It was ironic they had no God of the Lord Caste itself. They all would have welcomed such a leader as opposed to the bickering and scheming that they had. The mortal Slithlocs certainly loved the Lord Caste.

No one had said anything about their plan though and that should have warned him. He and Ares would both get what they wanted. Now he had met Ares' sister who was just like his own sister. Athena had pointed out her world would be ultimately destroyed if Langland died while young. Ares hadn't thought of that any more than he had. The Earth God of War would think he was trying to trick him. They'd have to fight and one of them could really die since they were in different pantheons. Was his sister trying to get him killed--or both of their sisters trying to get both of them killed? That was a depressing idea.

The Military God was sure he could defeat Ares but he didn't want to fight him. He liked the War God much more than any of his fellow Slithloc deities. He supposed that he wouldn't have even gotten his militaries back. He was just a stooge for his sister. He wondered what was so important about destroying a primitive place like Earth. Even when they got space flight they were eons behind the Slithlocs and would never catch up.

The Slithloc Goddess of Procreation had commanded Kush not to kill Langland. Many of the lesser deities agreed with her. As a military Kush served the Miltary God but he served his world first and was no mindless follower. He'd never have become a Lord Military if he was. So the plan was on hold. Both the Technical and Clerical Gods had then told Kush to proceed with it. But it was completely out of their province. What was going on? He couldn't even call it off now though he had tried. Kush would likely follow what the majority of his gods told him to do.

The Goddess of Procreation had come to the Military God and said this would lead to a war with the Earth gods. He knew that and was already preparing for it. He intended to win whether this was something he had sought or not. The Procreation Goddess said they were more formidable than everyone thought. She claimed although the Slithloc gods were older and more experienced, there was another side to the Earth deities. The Goddess of Procreation was the only one of them who even had an inkling of it. She never laughed at Bacchus like most of the others. She tried to understand him and the little she did made her not want him as an enemy. The Military God had never laughed at Bacchus either though he certainly didn't fear him. He was just some sort of agricultural product god after all: wine, whatever that was. Bacchus owned Sam because of blood. That was something else the Military God didn't get, since their Medicine Goddess had blood in her province.

"Hello, tall, dark and scaly!"

The Military God turned at the unexpected voice and saw one of the Earth goddesses whom he recognized as another of Ares' sisters. She was the human Goddess of Procreation but somehow different from their's. The Silthloc Procreation Goddess had tried explaining love and passion to him, as much as she understood the concepts, but he had been mystified. Now the soft appearing creature came over to him in her transparent garments. She giggled as she looked him up and down in an appraising way and suddenly transformed into a female Slithloc. The Military God stumbled back nearly losing his balance. He'd never felt anything like this, a pounding in his head as he looked at her.


Angela held a rope leading the second horse as she studied the ground. She was almost amused at whoever this dead meat was. He really thought he was hot shit trying to lose his trail in the river. She looked down at the little boy in the saddle in front of her.

"How's it coming, Langland?"

The child who was oiling her thumbscrew said, "There are some improvements you could make to this."

"Hey, that's my own design, if you don't mind!" she said with mock anger. She looked at him, glad his mind was off his mother--or at least partly off his mother. This was Langland after all. Even at six he probably had plenty of mind to go around. He could design a better thumbscrew AND worry about his mother simultaneously. She doubted he was plotting world domination yet but that could just be part of his act.

"Is this the symbol of the person you mentioned before? Sam?" the child asked as he polished the engraved impaled man.

Angela smiled. "That's it...and without you Sam won't impale you see why you're so important."

"You'd be out of a job."

She snorted, "Cynical...Jeez, what a cynical kid!" After a few moments she said, "You ever tortured anybody, Langland?"


"Well, it's time you learned."

"Okay," he said, as he examined the thumbscrew mechanism one more time.


Eleni was puzzled. Since he had not seemed cruel so far, she asked him a question. "This is the way you just came. Where are you taking me?"

Disgusted with himself, Petrotracus didn't answer for a moment then said, "I'm taking you back to your son. I'm no slaver. Shouldn't have even considered it."

Stunned, Eleni finally said, "Thank you, sir." She hoped he wasn't just cruelly joking with her. There were many people like that. Eleni couldn't understand it but there were.

They'd been riding an hour when the girl was suddenly no longer behind him. She hadn't jumped off the horse; just was gone. Then he saw her hugging a little boy Petrotracus knew must be Langland. Standing beside them and looking Eleni over was the tall red-haired warrior. He'd never heard of her but he had seen Callisto from a distance. This was just like that. She was wearing a chakram! Zeus!

Angela grinned and called out, "Lucky for you she looks all right. I'm still gonna torture you but not as bad. Do something...if you're smart you'll kill yourself. It's up to you."

Petrotracus drew his sword and charged his horse, but careful to avoid Eleni and the child. He heard mocking laughter and was flat on his back and minus his sword while his horse was wandering around.

Angela was starting to lick her lips. She stuck his sword in the ground and took the freshly oiled thumbscrew from her belt. Petrotracus jumped to his feet and rushed her, pulling a dagger. He had no idea how but the dagger was gone and his hands were being tied behind him. She was laughing softly and Petrotracus could hear wet excitement in it.

Angela was ready to get down to business when Eleni came up to her and said, "No! Please! He was bringing me back. He didn't hurt me!"

The red-haired woman looked at her, then back at the man. He had been traveling the wrong direction. So what? Angela looked at Langland. The little boy hadn't let go of his young mother's hand. Hard to believe this was Langland--but then she remembered those eight men he'd poisoned. He was Langland all right.

"Please, Angela. Mama doesn't want you to."

The mercenary felt his hands freed and a foot in his back that propelled him forward. He got back to his feet and Angela was holding his sword and tossed it to him. He managed to catch it relatively deftly. He saw her smirk.

"Not bad. Not good but not bad. Like I said before, lucky for you, you didn't hurt her." Then she and her charges just turned and left.

After their departure he just made camp where he was, feeling he had to think. He couldn't get Eleni out of his mind. He'd never felt this way. Petrotracus kept seeing her face. He finally decided to just be straightforward and offer to help protect her son. Petrotracus asked Zeus to keep Angela from simply killing him on sight.

The forty ship flotilla slowed.

"Tell me what I'm seeing," the commodore said.

"Sir, vessels which resemble what our records say are Slithloc are approaching."

The commodore looked at his crew, knowing they and all the men on the other ships were dying together. They all knew it.

"Battle stations." He thought ironically it was too bad there was no such thing as shields like in science fiction.

"Commodore, there are 519 ships."

"Thank you. Prepare for has been honor serving with you."

"New vessels approaching to starboard, sir. It's a fleet--at least 300 large vessels and I can't tell how many fighters. They are ours! Almost every warship Earth has is here. We are being hailed."

A beautiful female voice came on, "I am coming aboard to take command. I understand if you have no sacrifices.'

The officers looked at each other in puzzlement. A beautful young woman in an admiral's uniform suddenly stepped through the door. How had she gotten here? Her gray eyes flashed.

"What the...!" an ensign said as a large bird landed on his control panel a moment and flew off.

"Never mind my manifestation. Come to a full stop. We'll let the bacchae soften them up."

"Just who are you, Admiral? I've never seen you," the commodore demanded. He seemed to disappear but the owl swooped and had a mouse. The woman took it before it could be eaten and let the rodent sit on her shoulder. She waved a hand and none of the crew thought how peculiar their captain's disappearance was.

"I don't have time for that now," the woman said. A thousand small fighters were roaring toward the Slithloc fleet. "Open all channels so we can be one with the dying heroes."

As the bridge crew stared in horror at their instrument screens the tiny Earth fighters dove into the huge Slithloc cruisers. The bridge was filled with voice after voice screaming "BACCHUS!" and firing all of their weapons to the very last instant before they exploded on impact. Fifty of the battle cruisers were completely disabled and more than that were seriously damaged before they returned fire. The little fighters began disappearing before they could reach their targets. The admiral meanwhile was giving detailed instructions integrating the flotilla into the formation of her fleet.

"Regroup," the admiral said apparently to no one, and the remaining 200 or so fighters went into spins, changing direction to rejoin the other 4000 fighters with the fleet.

A new voice, cold and dripping contempt, filled the bridge, though it didn't seem to be coming from any one source. "Such a clever little goddess! Very well, you will die with your worshipers since that is how you want it!"

Pallas Athene held her arm out and the owl landed on it. The crew were all looking at her, putting all their hope in her though they had no idea why they would feel that way. That voice filled them all with unspeakable dread; far beyond fear of death. As she fed her owl with some meat, which just appeared in her hand, the young admiral answered calmly, "That's how I want it."


In her palace the Slithloc Goddess of Wisdom and War continued watching the battle in her mind. She was angry at that little fool, Athena. She was no more a match for her than humans were a match for Slithlocs. But something was wrong. Those fighters shouldn't have been able to do nearly so much damage. It was as if the Slithlocs were reacting slowly and not thinking clearly. Where was her brother? He should be giving them tactical inspiration now to complement the inspiration she had given to the Slithloc strategists. She could do it herself if necessary though.

The Slithloc Military God was gasping for breath and staring at the red sky. There was something important he was supposed to be doing. The destruction of Earth! He had to coordinate it. But....but.... he looked down at that long beautiful snout and graceful curling tail. What was she doing now?

Aphrodite used her tail to daintily wipe her mouth. She looked at it and thought 'I kinda like having that; all kinds of boffo things you can do with a tail.' She looked at the Military God's black eyes. It was hard to read expression with 'em but she knew he was blissed to the max. Well, she was just getting started!

"Oooo, baby! Ready for more? And you not even knowing about passion before now! Well, let's just see what Dite can cum up with for you this time." She giggled. This was fun. If they weren't all destroyed, she'd have to stop being so hard on those shepherds and their sheep. She could see how something a little different had some definite appeal.


"I don't like being jerked around--especially by some butt ugly lizard!"

The Slithloc goddess turned her long elegant head to study the intruder. She had never been spoken to like that in three hundred thousand years. It was the Earth God of War, Ares. "Be careful what you say or I will destroy you along with your foolish sister."

Ares shrugged his muscular shoulders to limber them. "I don't think so." He just grabbed her off her throne and smashed her across her long snout. She fell but caught him with her tail and sent him flying.

"I will no longer excuse your immaturity!" she hissed as she got to her feet.

Ares drew his sword and leapt at her. The Goddess stepped aside and a flicking claw nearly took Ares' arm off. He gasped before the ghastly wound healed. More careful now he watched as she got down on her hands and feet and her body changed to accommodate her, becoming almost wolflike--in a huge reptilian way.

"Memories, Ares. I left this form behind before you were a glimmer in Zeus's mind. It is the only way to deal with something like you."

"Save the witty insults for my sister. They're wasted on me," Ares snarled.

The gods leapt at each other again, his sword cutting deeply the same instant as her tearing jaws found his side. Both involuntarily cried out and fell back. Since they were both gods, they actually felt what was happening as if they were mortals. They did not heal as quickly either. For a moment both were incapacitated, looking at each other with hatred.

The smooth arrogant voice said, "You cannot defeat me, Ares. Even you must know that. Your sister constantly outwits you. What chance do you think you have against me?" The God of War didn't answer, knowing it was true. Furious and blind with rage he threw himself at her again. He could hear her laughing as her tail whipped out breaking his legs.

She had taunted him to make him do exactly that. She was enjoying herself teaching this upstart a lesson. Destroying Athena would be even more satisfying.


The militaries were in their element. Almost every one of them had studied what was known of these aliens they were going to destroy and not one had the slightest apprehension. They were primitives, only having had space flight for a few hundred years. The Military Caste did sense something missing in themselves though when they engaged the aliens, as if they lacked their usual edge. As their ships were rocked by the fighters exploding into them the Slithlocs looked at one another in amazement. Slithlocs never went on certain death missions; they fought to win, not to die. It was incomprehensible to them as they realized the fighters had no intention of surviving.

In the engineering room of a cruiser as the Earth fighters attacked, a huge muscular form materialized. The Slithloc militaries saw it and instantly leaped at it but they seemed to always miss even though it wasn't trying to avoid them. The monitored voices filled the room. "BACCHUS! BACCHUS! BACCHUS!" before going silent.

The big horned figure was writhing in pain at each screaming voice and held its arms as if to ward them off. "Oh, baby sisters! Dying like eagles against the moon!" The deep voice sounded broken.

The huge naked muscular form crying tears of blood, looked around at the Silthloc militaries. He wiped his eyes with clawed hands and said in a rumbling grief stricken bass, "Uptown fuckers...shouldn't have hurt my sweet young things!" The red skinned, horned god held his claws up which were dripping blood as his long teeth flashed, "Helter Skelter."

"Lord Military, Engineering is not responding," a technical said.

The commander of the cruiser hissed angrily. "Investigate it," he ordered his aide.

The Slithloc officer entered the engineering room and stopped. There was blood everywhere and several militaries and technicals were obviously dead. Before he could alert the ship to an intruder, he heard a hiss and ducked as a claw swung at him. The officer leapt away. "What's going on." A Slithloc whose eyes were blank and whose snout was dripping blood was growling and making incoherent sounds. He was a good military; the officer had served with him for years. Suddenly he gasped as a claw ripped him open. Falling he saw another Slithloc had attacked him from behind. Like the first his eyes were blank. The two militaries actually sank their teeth into him. The officer killed one of them with a blow before his own throat was torn out.

"Military Rak, report! What is happening?" the commander's voice came over the wall communicator. The sole living military in the engine room raised his bloody snout from rooting in the body and looked around as if he had no idea where the voice could be coming from. He growled and crept out of the engine room, intending to make his way to the bridge, knowing he had to kill the Lord Military.


The Slithloc Goddess was enraged as she realized what was happening.

"You fool! You're only here to delay me and don't even know it!" She reared up on her hind legs drove a claw completely through Ares, then picked him up and threw him against the palace wall so hard he was imbedded in it. She resumed her evolved form and sent her mind ranging over what was currently happening to her plan. Ares managed to extricate himself from the wall and fell with a crash. He had kept his grip on his sword. He grimaced and unsteadily managed to stand. He was holding a glowing hand over a gaping hole in his belly; using all of his energy to heal the horrific wound she had given him

Pale and clammy looking, Ares looked at her. "Athena used me, huh? To keep you occupied while she turns your fleet into lizard bits, I bet. That means your brother is probably off somewhere too..and I've got an idea where," he smirked. "Where do you think you're going?"

She glanced over at him contemptuously just as his thrown sword buried itself in her left eye. She collapsed, twitching. "That's gotta hurt," he said ironically. He had put the last of the hind's blood on it that he'd been saving for a special occasion. This qualified. He watched her. It was a different pantheon and didn't look like it had killed her. It really messed her up though and she wouldn't be going anywhere for a while. Ares fell to his knees again weakly a moment, then got up and slowly walked over to retrieve his sword from her reptilian skull. Her remaining eye though glazed was looking at him with hatred. When she healed up she'd be coming for him no matter what the outcome of her current plan. Ares winced at the idea.

When Angela turned around she nearly jumped at the sight of Kush. Langland and Eleni were asleep.

"Jesus, where did you come from?" she exclaimed.

The big foreign looking warrior didn't answer.

"What's wrong, Kush? What's happening?" Angela asked. If he were just here to kill Langland he'd be trying to do it already; this was something else.

"Brother, there is a great battle being fought in the future by our worlds."

Angela watched him closely. "This is part of it, right?" she asked.

Kush nodded. "It is not only our races. Deities themselves are fighting. Your master, Ares, is battling my Goddess of War and Wisdom. Athena is personally commanding your fleet against my brothers. The God of the Military Caste is missing."

Angela said levelly, "So are you bringing it here, Kush? Why the talk?"

He said sadly, "No brother. This is a tragedy and I do not intend on adding to it. Langland's death would have no bearing on the outcome of the battle. I have requested to fight alongside my brothers but received no answer. I imagine they are too busy at the moment to consider my request."

He paused and after a moment he continued slowly, "My gods are in disagreement over the young Lord Technical. I will not injure him unless they are unanimous. That has never happened before and is unlikely now."

The tall redhead looked Kush in his black eyes. She couldn't even imagine how awful this was for him. His entire world was being ripped to pieces; even its gods. She made a decision.

"Kush," she reached a hand out and softly laid it on his massive muscular shoulder, "I have something important to tell you. Remember when we bred?"

He nodded but said nothing. He wasn't making this easier, she thought. "We breed individually, Kush. Not like the Slithlocs, I guess. I had a baby from that time, Kush. You have a son."

The Lord Military was studying her, remembering everything he had learned about this species and their culture. Reproduction meant something very different to his race; it was important but not personal. She was telling him something that for her was of great personal weight. And since he was in human form it should be for him too. He thought of the alien literature he had read. The relationship she was informing him about was absolutely central to large parts of it.

"Where is he?" he asked.

"Jilly's taking care of him while I'm doin' this. All this time jumping is confusing but in my real actual present Sam is still away and rebuilding the Slithloc Lord Caste."

Kush nodded and said, "I was also taken from that time for this mission." The literature he had read suddenly came into focus. "You are not only the prince's champion, you are his mate."

Angela's face got red and she nodded. Kush managed to hiss in a passable imitation of the sound he made in his Slithloc form, then said, "Your lords kill for this."

Angela shook her head. "Sam's not Henry VIII. Aphrodite set us up. He'll understand." She tried to sound surer of that than she felt.

"What is his name?" the big warrior asked.

"Karn. I tried to think of something kinda like Kush...what?"

"Karn is not a name...but this is a different world."

Angela smiled and asked, "Well if it's not a name, what's it mean? Nothing bad, I hope."

"No. A karn is a kind of archaic Slithloc aircraft.

The redhead was listening. "Huh, I kinda like that. Sounds cool. Oh, well...anyway I wanted a name like that cuz he looks like you, black eyes, brown skin. Red hair like me, though....I don't mind telling you I was waiting to see what he was gonna look like."

"I will act as his father by your customs," the big warrior said.

"God, you're a class act, Kush."

"If we survive I look forward to seeing him."

"If we survive?" Angela asked.

Kush looked in her green eyes with his black ones. "The gods of our worlds are at war, brother. We may all be destroyed this instant."

Athena sensed it when the captain of one her largest ships was killed. She took the mouse from her shoulder and said, "Back to work." The officer reappeared, looking disoriented. She said to him, "You were injured, Commodore. I'm glad to see you have recovered. Take a shuttle to the Thermopylae and assume command. Their captain has been killed."

"Yes, Admiral." He turned and left.

An ensign was reporting to the admiral when a big horned figure just materialized right beside her. "Intruder!" he yelled, but the admiral held her hand up and waved him away erasing the incident from his mind and making the huge naked form invisible to all of the mortals.

Athena looked disapprovingly at her brother but now wasn't the time to chide him for not assuming a different appearance. He had lost over half of all of his bacchae so far and felt it more deeply than she would, Athena knew. It wasn't a criticism of her or Bacchus; it was just their respective natures. The bacchae had died as heroes. That didn't mean to Bacchus what it did to her, though.

Her brother had certainly been doing his part. Almost every Slithloc vessel had demonstrated some peculiar behavior, a few actually crashing into other ships and destroying both. Athena disliked this but knew there was no other way to have a chance against a force as superior as the Slithlocs. Even crippled the Slithlocs were taking a heavy toll on her fleet. Bacchus had been going from ship to ship turning two or three militaries mad on each one. The scenes being enacted on the Slithloc vessels had very little to do with what Athena usually considered war. She would target the ships that seemed to be having problems and send the bacchae fighters swarming over them before going in for the kill. The bacchae continued to sustain heavy casualties as they fought with no concern for their survival at all.

The rest of her Earth fleet had done surprisingly well, considering how overmatched they were by the Slithlocs in skill, experience, and weaponry. Athena knew if the Military God had been with them the Slithlocs would have defeated them by now. When the Slithloc fleet broke formation, probably because of the madness Bacchus had infected them with, the battle had actually turned into many small battles. That was exactly what Athena wanted.

One of the Slithloc cruisers had been particularly effective so far. She looked up at her brother. He realized what she desired and disappeared. A moment later the Slithloc vessel began drifting. Athena sent the bacchae in and then two ships destroyed the momentarily helpless cruiser. Bacchus reappeared. She nodded at him but he did not respond. Bacchus was weeping tears of blood. He seemed to be jerking in pain and she realized he was feeling it every time one of his bacchae was killed.

"All right!" a voice exclaimed with relish. Athena turned.

"Ares. What about the goddess?" She saw how pale he looked. It surprised her he was alive.

"Don't worry about her. I gave her a Hind's blood lobotomy. What's with him?" Ares indicated Bacchus whose weeping had become louder.

"Bacchae are fighting and dying."

Ares shrugged, "So?"

Bacchus looked at Ares sharply.

Athena quickly said, "I am happy you are not angry with me, brother. We need you here now."

The God of War was soaking in the battle, smiling broadly. "Okay. I'll start going from ship to ship and helping out." He walked over to Bacchus and slapped his shoulder. "Your bacchae are dying as heroes. You should be happy for 'em." He disappeared just as Bacchus's huge claw swung where he had been a second before.


Gabrielle looked apprehensively at Xena, not liking how mad her friend was. This sounded like a nasty situation. They were in an inn and heard men talking about a bounty offered for the head of a little boy. The warrior princess investigated and was so angry that no one saw anything wrong with it that she beat up the table of men who were planning on trying to collect it.

"Now Xena. Let's just see what's going on. There's no reason to jump to conclusions," the bard said.

"Whatever you say, Gabrielle," Xena said shortly, as she tossed the innkeeper some coins to pay for the damage. "Let's go. I wanna meet whoever would pay to kill a six year old."

"Did you get a description?" Gabrielle asked, as Xena mounted Argo.

"Yeah, a big foreign warrior with a lot of rings. Who are you?"

The bard turned to who Xena had spoken to and saw a young warrior approaching leading his horse.

"I want to help the boy. My name is Petrotracus. I'd like to come with you."

Xena studied him. "You wouldn't think you could use me to find him for you, would you? So you could get the bounty. That'd be real stupid."

Petrotracus shook his head. "No. I've already met them. The child's name is Langland and he's traveling with his mother and a warrior named Angela. I...I had a run in with them earlier that had nothing to do with the reward. I only just heard of that. I want to help them."

"What kind of run in?" Xena asked suspiciously.

"I took the boy's mother and intended to sell her as a slave...I know, don't look at me that way. After talking to her I couldn't do it and freed her. I met her son and Angela when I was returning her."

Xena put two and two together. "You like the mother, don't you?"

He nodded.

"Okay, you can ride with us," Xena said.

They continued talking as Gabrielle went to get some provisions.

"I'm lucky I was bringing her back. Angela was on my trail. Zeus knows what she'd have done," Petrotracus said.

"What's so scary about her?" the warrior princess asked.

"She carries a chakram for one thing and she has a thumbscrew on her belt. She disarmed me like it was all a big joke to her. Eleni stopped her from using her toy on me. She really wanted to, know what I mean?"

Xena whistled and shook her head.

"Do you know her?" the man asked.

The warrior princess answered, "Never heard of her. But I've known one or two people who carried thumbscrews like that. I hear Cortese did."

He nodded and mounted his horse. After Gabrielle rejoined them, a little later as they rode along they continued the conversation.

"Do you know what it's about?" Xena asked. "Is Langland a disguised prince or something?"

Petrotracus answered, "I doubt it. He looks underfed and Eleni is...she's a....she's a young whore, Xena. Langland's smart is all she knows. Angela showed up to protect him the same time Kush did to kill him."

"Kush is the foreign warrior?" Xena said.

"I don't know," the man answered.

Xena frowned. The gods had sent Langland a protector. No prince would be living with a prostitute. That was the kind of ironic touch that gods liked.

Gabrielle was enjoying herself, glad to be on another adventure. She couldn't wait to see Xena in real action.

Later Gabrielle glanced up from the scroll she was writing on as Petrotracus dismounted. He had conferred with Xena and ridden off on his own earlier as they continued traveling. The young leather clad warrior nodded to her and said to her friend. "Xena, there's a band of nine bounty hunters west of us. They aren't buffoons like in the inn. They're bandits who split off from Draco."

The warrior princess said, "That's what you are too, aren't you?"

Petrotracus nodded.

Xena asked, "Is one of 'em tall with half his face tattooed?"

"Ricalcis, yeah."

"Dammit!" Xena cursed.

Gabrielle asked, "What is it, Xena?"

"He's a good tracker; better 'n me. He'll be hard to stay ahead of."

Petrotracus, "Don't worry about him. I killed him."

Gabrielle asked loudly, "Why?"

The young warrior answered, "We're protecting Langland aren't we? That won't stop the rest of 'em but it'll slow them down."

Xena avoided Gabrielle's eyes as she said, "Good job, Petrotracus."

The mercenary walked his horse off to care for it.

"Xena..." the bard said.

"Gabrielle, I'm willing to cater to you but you can't expect anyone else to. We're protecting the boy."

"But he knew him! You didn't even ask him if it was a fair fight! What if he murdered him without warning?"

"That's probably just what he did. It's what I'd do with somebody like Ricalcis if I wasn't playing games," Xena said shortly.


Kush came riding into camp after reconnoitering and said to Angela. "We are being followed, brother."

"Probably some of your bounty hunters," she answered.

He looked back at Eleni and Langland to make sure they were safe and said, "I think not. This is someone better than that."

"Another Lord Military?" Angela said tensing.

"Possibly. I glimpsed a dark haired female military and a blonde clerical."

"Xena and Gabrielle!" Angela said with relief. "They don't wanna hurt 'em. Xena probably heard of your reward and came to hand you your ass on a platter."

Kush looked mystified. Angela laughed and said, "Never mind. Keep an eye on Eleni and Langland. I'll go talk to her."

Xena quickly stood and seemed to be listening.

"What is it, Xena?" Gabrielle whispered urgently but the warrior princess indicated for her to be quiet with a hand gesture. She drew her sword and caught the eye of Petrotracus. He silently drew his sword likewise. Gabrielle gulped and held her staff tightly.


Gabrielle jumped but Xena and Petrotracus didn't move. A tall figure arrogantly sauntered into camp. Angela looked at Petrotracus with mock amazement. "Lessee, what'd you be doing here, and with the GREAT warrior princess? Eleni's really a sweet little piece of ass, I guess. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. You seemed to have your heart in the right place before."

Xena watched her carefully but sheathed her sword as Petrotracus did, and Gabrielle breathed a sigh of relief that it was just some warrior. Xena could handle her. The bard didn't like her tone of voice.

The dark haired woman asked, "Angela, why does Langland need protection? Who sent you?'

The redhead smiled mockingly. She loved this. Here she was: Xena; The Destroyer of Nations; The Warrior Princess; The Bitch of Tartarus. The one that everything had revolved around. It was too bad Xena wouldn't stand a chance against her. Good as she was, she was last year's model. "It's pretty complicated, and I'm not sure I should even tell you. Langland's important to the future. I'm afraid to tell you too much. It could change things."

Xena nodded in understanding but Gabrielle eagerly said, "What? Put the pinch on her, Xena! Lemme at her!"

The warrior princess tensed. Angela was nobody she was going to disarm and question. She looked at Angela and saw an excited gleam come into her green eyes as she looked at Gabrielle. Then the tall freckled woman licked her lips.

Gabrielle's stomach lurched as she saw how Angela was looking at her and how careful Xena was acting with the tall redhead. The bard noticed the chakram for the first time. She'd only seen Xena and Callisto with chakrams before.

"Ain't life a bitch, Xena," Angela said softly and seductively. The redhead looked into her blue eyes and glanced at the bard. "You know what I'd like to do to your little carpet muncher over there. And I'd love to make you watch. But I've got a job to do so I'll just have to put up with her." As she'd spoken her face had gotten closer and closer to Xena's until they were nearly kissing. Then she stepped away and grabbed Gabrielle's face and kissed her on the lips before releasing her. Xena had her chakram in her hand and Angela was grinning as her sword snaked into her own hand.

Angela crooned, "Go ahead, Xena. I'm just here to protect Langland. Nobody said anything about making Greece safe for has beens."

Gabrielle rushed between them. "Gods stop! Angela, I'm sorry. Xena, oh Gods, I didn't mean to put you in a position like this! Please, Angela, Xena, let it go!"

The redhead just shrugged and said, "Sure." She sheathed her sword.

The bard looked at Xena. This didn't have to have happened. It was just because Gabrielle liked the feeling of being Xena's friend. "Xena, I'm sorry," she said quietly, eaten alive by shame. She looked over and saw how Petrotracus was looking at her.

"Sure," Xena said curtly and replaced her chakram at her waist.

"Oh, Xena, I just came to tell you that you don't have to worry about the boy anyway," Angela said in a friendly voice as if nothing had happened. "Kush is helping me now."

"How did that happen?" Xena asked trying to put the confrontation Gabrielle had forced behind her.

"It's more of that stuff I don't think I should tell you about. Me and Kush are buds." She looked at Petrotracus. "You can come with me. I could see Eleni liked you but I'd advise you to treat her right. Langland won't be as easygoing as me when he gets a little older."

"I want to see for myself what's going on," Xena said.

The redhead got another gleam in her eye but just said, "The more the merrier."


Eleni was looking fearfully at the blonde, almond skinned warrior, not understanding how he could suddenly have become their friend. But Angela had told her it would be all right, and she had to trust her. She had no one else. Kush was eating the simple meal she had prepared. Her son was near him. She hated that but she never told Langland what to do.

"Why do you keep calling me a technical?" the child asked.

Kush set the bowl down and fastidiously wiped his mouth. "Where I come from everyone knows their roles or castes. There are militaries, which is what I am; servers who prepare food and clothing and such; clericals who deal with administration, literature and arts; and technicals who are skilled in the sciences and tasks such as architecture and engineering. You would be a technical although you have traces of other castes as many do here. I believe there would be far less suffering here if you too had distinct castes."

"Who is in charge? The militaries?" the young boy said.

Kush looked down at his ring-covered hands. "The Military Caste has often ruled but we should not. It is not our proper role. That is for the Lord Caste."

Langland said, "If I am a technical and not a lord, why am I important?"

"No, you are not a lord...but without you the lords will not return to my world."

"Your world?" the boy said.

Kush looked in the child's eyes, "Yes."

The big warrior quickly stood up. Langland ran to his mother. Kush watched the horses approach the camp and their riders dismount.

Petrotracus saw the foreign warrior watching him as he approached Eleni and the boy. Angela indicated it was all right and he saw the big man turn his full attention on Xena. Petrotracus approached the pretty young whore.

"I had to see you again, Eleni," he said simply.

Eleni found herself smiling. She glanced down at her son who was looking suspiciously at the man but then just nodded at him and walked over to the others.

The warrior princess was studying Kush. There was something inhuman about him.

"You resemble the prince," he said to her.

Xena was surprised. "Who?"

Angela said warningly, "Kush. We don't wanna talk too much."

Gabrielle was beside herself with curiosity but kept her mouth shut this time.

"You are right, brother. Forgive my lapse. It will all be over soon."

"How's the battle going? Can you tell?" Angela asked.

At the word battle Xena said, "What battle?" Kush and Angela both looked at her. Angela shrugged. Kush said, "What we are doing here is part of a larger conflict. The outcome is still unclear. Gods are involved."

Xena made a disgusted sound, "This is just Ares and Athena playing games again?"

Angela said, "No Xena. They're on the same side. They're fighting some of Kush's gods."

"What if Ares and Athena lose?" Xena asked.

"Then you all die," Kush answered simply.

As the flagship of the Slithloc fleet exploded, the Military God suddenly hissed and leaped to his feet. Aphrodite reached for him again with a sensuous smile but received a blow from his tail that sent her flying.

She got to her feet unsteadily from where she had landed and resumed her human form.

"Hey dude! That is totally UNCOOL..." before she could continue the Slithloc God leapt to land right in front of her. She tried to disappear but found he was preventing her with his own power somehow. "Now, now, don't go Postal on me! I mean, we had a good time, right?"

Aphrodite choked as a huge claw was around her throat and holding her aloft. The goddess actually couldn't breathe. She'd never known how that felt before. Bummer! She saw that long powerful tail coiling and uncoiling angrily as those obsidian eyes stared unwinking at her and his tongue flicked.

When she was ready to lose consciousness, another new experience, the Slithloc growled, "I will deal with you later," and tossed her aside like a doll. Then the huge reptilian deity disappeared.

"Rough trade," Aphrodite said sourly, as she rubbed her neck, then disappeared herself.


Ares stood beside Athena and watched the battle suddenly turn. The battered, decimated Slithloc fleet had regrouped and begun fighting like Slithlocs again. The Earth vessels began a quick retreat but not before 23 had been destroyed by the suddenly vitalized militaries.

"He's back," Ares said. Athena nodded. Their sister, Aphrodite, had kept the Slithloc god occupied for nine hours. Athena hoped the Love Goddess had survived when the Military God realized what she had done.

Bacchus appeared with a mangled arm, one of his horns broken off and half of his face smashed in.

"Ouch!" Ares said at the sight.

The Wine God held a claw to his face and arm healing them, then examined the horn which he held.

He reattached it to his head and looked over at his siblings. "Elvis is in the building. Colonel Parker's on the line."

Ares nodded and looked at his sister to make sure she understood. Athena had a hard time with how Bacchus spoke. Ares explained, "With the Military God here the Slithlocs are back in form. But he might deal to avoid further losses. They can win but only at a high cost."

Athena looked at her brothers. That was what Bacchus meant? She had reached the same conclusion; had anticipated it from before the battle was even joined in fact. They could try negotiating a peace now. There was no incentive before since they were inflicting so much damage on the demoralized and maddened Slithlocs. That was going to change now with the return of their War God. But he would want to keep their fleet from being further crippled or even destroyed. The Slithlocs fought to win and a victory at their own expense was no victory at all. They were more rational about it than humans often were. It was one of the many things Athena admired about the Slithlocs.

The Military God hadn't wanted this confrontation anyway. Athena doubted his sister had even told him why she wanted to destroy Earth. Advancing her personal agenda would be far from a priority for him. Athena hadn't discovered the entire story yet herself, though she believed the Slithloc goddess had some business with Zeus which extended back into the mists of time. Whether this was an attack on Zeus or some sort of service to him, she didn't know. Athena suspected the goddess was related in some manner to the King of the Gods, a sister, niece or daughter perhaps. Probably all three.


Eleni and Petrotracus just kept gazing at each other. It gave Angela a funny feeling. The warrior didn't think often about how she had changed. She just accepted it and reveled in the joy she got from fighting and inflicting pain. But every so often she looked at herself and knew no one but Ares would prefer her present self to her old innocent self. Her baby was bringing her soft side back out again. The god had spotted a darkness in her and freed it, but it was no more her than when she had done volunteer work for Greenpeace and demonstrated against animal testing. When she looked at Eleni and Petrotracus she thought of how she and Sam had just been a couple of puppies. She had turned dark first and helped corrupt Sam she supposed, planting the seeds that flourished when he rallied his people against invaders and began impaling them and drinking their blood. He had followed her into realms where pain and pleasure were two sides of a coin, and watching his enemies twisting on the stakes was their favorite aphrodisiac. How would the Impaler feel about his consort having a child by someone else?

"You envy them."

Angela looked at the ragged little boy speaking to her. "Not exactly, Langland. They remind me of something I lost."

"You and Sam," the child said.

" least try to act like a six year old, will ya?" Angela said.

"Will you tell me a story?" he said too innocently.

"God, you're scary," the red-haired woman said with a laugh and hugged the small, bruised child.


Langland was making marks in the dirt with a stick. He had begun thinking that symbols could be used to represent relationships, like the reason rain fell to earth or the stars seemed to move. He looked up at the sky thinking about the different world Kush said he was from. The six year old thought these symbols could help him reach it. First he would need power though. He'd probably have to kill many people to acquire it.

"Pretending to be Hercules or somebody?" Petrotracus said with a smile as he walked up.

The child looked up at the mercenary and nodded enthusiastically. "I want to be just like him!' he said eagerly. He heard a snorting sound and saw that Angela had been listening to the exchange. The redhead got up smiling to herself and went to talk to Kush.

Petrotracus squatted down beside the boy. "Eleni says you're smart, Langland. She loves you more than anything in the world. I hope you and me can be friends. I like your mama very very much."

He looked at the boy who suddenly said, "Mama likes you. I'll take care of you."

Petrotracus laughed and said, "Oh, you'll take care of me, will you? I think I'll be taking care of you more likely."

Langland smiled softly. "Just be nice to my mama."


Xena had been studying the big warrior still unsure what to make of him. He was standing speaking to Angela now and Xena went over to them. They watched her approach. All three were keeping Langland and his mother in their line of vision. Petrotracus was talking to Eleni and nearby the boy was drawing something in the dirt.

"Eight experienced men are on your trail for the bounty. They are northwest of here." Xena just flatly stated it and waited to see what Kush's reaction would be. She could guess Angela's. The redhead smiled lazily. "Really?" She stretched. "Well, maybe I'll just pay 'em a visit since you and Kush can look after Langland."

Xena noticed that Gabrielle was listening to them; she saw the bard shudder. The warrior princess looked Kush in the eyes. "This is your responsibility. You don't want to tell me what's going on--fine. But you ought to call off the bounty."

Angela had stopped smiling and was looking at the warrior princess. She said, "You're not in charge here. I don't want to hurt you, Xena. It might change something; I didn't consider that earlier. But don't try giving orders around here."

Xena sensed Gabrielle getting her staff ready. She saw the light in Angela's green eyes and the smirk tugging at her lips and knew she was also aware of her friend's movements.

"You are correct, brother. It is my responsibility." Kush was speaking to Xena. Then he walked to his horse without another word and began saddling it.

The tension with Angela dissipated and the dark warrior looked at the big foreigner's back. "Brother?"

"He respects's how he talks," Angela said in explanation absentmindedly as she also watched Kush. Xena felt something between them. She was almost glad they weren't explaining everything to her. This whole affair had all the earmarks of being as sordid and complicated as anything she'd ever seen. If they didn't need her to straighten it out, she would just as soon let them handle it.

"What will he do?" Gabrielle said nervously walking up.

Angela glanced at her and saw how closely Xena was watching her. She grinned and said, "I dunno what Kush'll do. I'd kill 'em all but he's not me." Xena relaxed slightly. Angela said, "Care for a drink?" Xena looked at her with surprise and nodded. "How bout you?" Gabrielle blinked and nodded.

The redhead went to her saddlebags and returned with a finely crafted glass bottle like nothing the friends had ever seen. "Do you have cups?"

Gabrielle scurried to her bag. "Bring water, too." Angela said pleasantly. The tall freckled woman poured some brown liquid into each of the cups. "You should probably mix water with it," she said.

"Aren't you?" Xena asked sniffing the strong smelling liquid.

"No, but I'm used to it." She sipped her drink and said, "I'd offer Petrotracus some, but I think he's happy where he is." They looked at the young mercenary and Eleni who were holding hands. "I hope this works out for them."

"Angela, I wouldn't have expected you to feel like that," Gabrielle said then felt apprehensive at speaking so openly. The redhead got a thoughtful look and didn't say anything. The bard poured some water into her cup and tasted the drink carefully. She could see it was an acquired taste.

Xena wasn't going to dilute her drink if Angela wasn't so she just drained the cup.

"Oh boy," Angela said, watching her.

"Xena! Are you all right?! You poisoned her!" Gabrielle said accusingly.

The warrior princess's face had turned red and her eyes were watering. Angela said, "She's all right. I'll bet she never takes advice from you either." Angela took the cup from Xena's limp hand with a smile.

Gabrielle and Angela helped the warrior princess sit down. When she could finally talk, Xena said, "Lemme see that." Angela handed the bottle to her. "What is this?"

"Bourbon. Wild Turkey, to be specific. I raided Jilly's stash. Something else I can't tell you about."

Xena took her cup back from Angela and the water bag from Gabrielle. She poured more of the liquid and added water and tasted the drink again, then added some more water and returned the bottle to Angela. She got back to her feet. Xena sipped the drink. "Thanks Angela. This makes this whole trip worthwhile."

"Gods!" Gabrielle said disgustedly.


Kush was studying the eight militaries. As his brother, Xena, had said, they were experienced. He hoped he would not have to kill them all. Kush waited for them to realize his presence then started his horse toward them. All drew weapons and spread out, he was pleased to see.

"I offered the reward for the dead child. The situation has altered and I no longer wish him slain." Kush said calmly as he watched them. From their attitudes he knew they would not leave easily.

Arcites, a burly deserter from the Theban army, said, "You've wasted our time. We'll leave if you pay us the reward."

Kush disliked this. Wealth was meaningless and he would give them the reward to avoid complications. However, Kush knew looking at the military speaking to him that he would follow and attempt to slay him for whatever other possessions he might have. Kush understood renegade militaries. The Slithlocs also had them and, as a Lord Military, Kush had hunted down many.

"You debase your caste," Kush said coldly and spurred his horse forward as he drew his primitive Earth weapon.

Arcites cursed and met the sword stroke with his own. His weapon went flying; he didn't know how. He barely saw the flashing blade that beheaded him. Kush jumped from his horse and ran another man through and killed a third military coming for him with a kick. The remainder were watching him carefully. Kush walked to his saddle and took a heavy purse from it and tossed it on the ground. He remounted and said, "Leave this place. Tell others the reward is no more. If you follow I will slay the rest of you." He wheeled his horse around and rode away.

The three Lord Militaries all sensed it simultaneously and drew their weapons. Xena, Kush, and Angela surrounded the glowing amorphous form in the middle of their camp. Petrotracus remained beside Eleni and Langland and also drew his sword. It gradually separated into three separate figures of light, which then took shape. It was Ares in his usual black leather, Athena in full armor, and a big reptilian figure in what seemed to Xena like a uniform. The creature looked at Kush and suddenly instead of a reptile a tall warrior in golden armor was standing there. He also had black eyes, almond skin and wore rings, but instead of straight blonde hair was bald with a tattoo of a dragon on each temple. He said something to Athena and revealed sharp-filed teeth. Then he spoke to Kush. "Lord Military, this conflict has ended and our worlds are at peace. Prepare to accompany me." His voice had an accent like Kush and an echoing quality that reminded Xena of Bacchus.

Kush looked at Angela and said, "I have responsibilities on this world. I request that I may remain to fulfill them."

The Military God looked at him and Angela, then frowned at Ares. "Aphrodite did this," he said. The mortals didn't understand what was in his voice; some odd mixture of rage and tenderness.

Ares nodded. He looked at Angela. "Let him stay. I'll owe you one."

The Military God stepped forward to study the tall redhead. He reached out and took her freckled face in his ringed hand, turning it from side to side. "Interesting. It could be useful. Very well." He released her, nodded to Kush and disappeared in flame. Ares took a moment to smirk at Angela then also vanished in a blaze.

Xena looked at Athena. Gabrielle was just staring in awe at the regal Goddess of Wisdom and War. Athena ignored them both and said, "Langland."

The child pulled away from his mother who then grabbed Petrotracus's hand. The six year old approached and stood before the goddess, who knelt down to look in his eyes. She smiled from inside her helmet and reached out to run a hand through his brown hair. "My beautiful little man!" She glanced at Eleni. Langland and his mother's clothes suddenly became princely garments. "That's all I can do for now, my sweet sweet Langland," Athena said warmly to the child.

The goddess rose and held her arm out for an owl that flew up. She seemed to break apart into a thousand mirrored shards. Xena studied the child thoughtfully.


The grotto was quiet and dark. Athena appeared and waited in the heavy silence. "Brother.." she said finally. She waved a hand and several torches lit revealing the horned god seated in his throne surrounded by naked female figures lolling on the ground. Three were holding onto his knees and one was curled on his lap like a cat. Athena realized they were all around her, lying listlessly on the ground. All of them looked at the War Goddess with dull eyes.

"Bacchus..." she began again but stopped as he held a big clawed hand up. Athena noticed the syringe just sticking out of his arm.

"Save the spin for the affiliates. My sweet little girls are gone gone gone." The rumbling voice sounded lifeless. He began petting the long black hair of the girl in his lap. A wailing moan rose from his remaining bacchae which echoed in the almost empty cavern. The goddess remembered how it had looked not long before. Athena waved her hand again, extinguishing the torches and simply disappeared.


The tall redhead and the big warrior looked at each other as they heard the cheers. Karn began crying and Kush picked him up, the toddler instantly quieting down as he became fascinated with the many rings on his father's hands.

The sound was unmistakable, "Samuel...Samuel...Samuel," in chants getting closer, like a thunderstorm rolling in.

Angela looked out the window of the room in the castle at the sea of people and said, "There he'd think it was the second coming or something." Her voice was ragged with stress.

Kush said, "You said he would understand...that he wasn't Henry VIII."

She licked her lips nervously, "I dunno what'll happen, Kush. I thought it'd be okay, but now that he's here...I'm not so sure. Look at 'em all. I don't care how good we are...the crowd will tear us to pieces if Sam gives 'em the nod. And we've got Karn to look out for."

The Lord Military frowned and looked at his little son. "We are both Lord Militaries. Only our brother could hope to stop us...even the bacchae can only delay us. We can fight our way out if need be. I would destroy both our worlds for our son!"

Angela smiled wanly and said, "Thanks, Kush, you're right. What was I thinking? If we have to we can cut through that scum---unless Jilly tries to stop us. Then I dunno...we both could take her but both of us might not get out in one piece. Kush, if it comes to that..."

"I will keep my caste brother occupied while you escape with our son," the big warrior said.

"Kush, if Jilly and the bacchae and the mob all come at us and we're trying to protect Karn at the same time..." her voice was strained.

Kush nodded. There was nothing to say. Whatever happened happened.

"Okay," Angela said in a tense voice.

"I cannot harm the prince," Kush said simply.

"Do you think I can? I love Sam!" Angela said. Karn began crying hearing his mother's voice. The soldiers in the castle had taken up the chanting now. Angela looked out the window again and said, "God...look at 'em!"

The big foreign looking man, holding his son, came next to her and looked down at the tall white silk clad figure entering the gate surrounded by his subjects. The large courtyard was packed and many times that number were outside the castle walls. The people lucky enough to be near Sam were kissing his feet, hands, and the hem of his garments. "There is our brother...and she is in her armor," Kush said. Angela and Kush looked at each other. Jilly almost never wore fighting leathers anymore: only if she expected to need them.

The queen had appeared, the jewels on her leathers catching the light, and the crowd parted to allow Jilly the Butcher and Good Prince Samuel to see each other. The tall longhaired prince approached her and got on his knees and his sister lifted him up and kissed him. The crowd went mad cheering even louder. Jilly's consort, Bancher, approached and he and Sam hugged, then Sam picked up Bancher's son, Garen. Kush saw Jilly point toward the room they were in and the prince looked in their direction. He set the boy down and said something to Jilly.

Angela took Karn from Kush and kissed his red hair as his fingers were in her own identical colored hair. She and Kush hadn't been sleeping together or anything but they had been a family in every other way. It seemed the best thing for Karn. A year before they had returned together from the mission in the past. Jilly had given her some odd looks but hadn't said anything. When she was pregnant Angela had told Jilly that Kush not Sam was the father. The succession was nothing to fool around with. If she had claimed Sam was the father and it looked like Kush, Jilly might've killed her and the baby before they even cut the cord. She would have some explaining to do now.

The royal family disappeared from view but the cheering and chanting of "Samuel...Samuel" continued and became louder, feeding on itself and getting even more emotional. It was sunset. Kush and Angela were watching the door to the room waiting when they heard a soft sound behind them and turned to see Sam's three bacchae had entered through the window. The creatures looked much as they always had, three beautiful young women, naked and barefoot under diaphanous gowns, their skin pale and their lips red. Kush recognized their gowns were of Slithloc design now.

Elvira, Clealisthia and Fotena were studying the two of them and the baby, which resembled them both. They had a score to settle with Kush anyway. He wasn't responsible for what had happened to so many of their sisters, but they were so enraged about it that they would welcome ripping him to pieces as if it were his fault. The bacchae spread out ready for whatever came. After a long awkward silence the heavy wooden door opened and Sam stood there alone. The tall blue-eyed prince walked in and for once he didn't trip.

Good Prince Samuel said smoothly, "Angela...Kush...and this is Karn, I understand."

"Hi Sam." Angela said. She handed her son back to Kush, then nervously walked up to Sam. "Did Aphrodite tell you about this?"

"No. But I began hearing stories as soon as I landed a week ago. They're calling me Samuel the cuckold in Thrace."

Angela's face got red. She glanced at the bacchae who had begun growling but they stopped at a gesture from Sam. Angela couldn't tell what he felt.

Kush spoke. "One of your deities manipulated us, Prince."

"Sam, remember when I caught you with the bacchae that time?" she said, gaining some confidence as the exact situation came back to her. He was the one screwing around first, and Angela didn't think any god was behind it with Sam.

Sam said, "Uh huh." The bacchae made soft hissing sounds that actually sounded embarrassed.

The redhead continued, "Well, after I left you I....I went to see Kush. Aphrodite set me punish me for those temples I switched to Ares. She changed him back into a Slithloc while we know."

Sam didn't respond.

Angela said in a rush, "It was all me, Sam! Kush didn't even know what was going on. He didn't know what it would mean here. I was just using him to get back at you."

"I hear you and Kush have gotten pretty friendly since then though. You live together," the prince said coldly. The bacchae growled.

"Sam, it's so Karn will have a family life. Jesus, you know how important that is--look how you feel about your mother leaving. We have separate rooms. I love you, Sam! Oh, God! I've missed you so much! Don't hurt my baby, Sam! We'll go somewhere if that's what you want," Angela said desperately.

The handsome prince looked in her eyes and finally smiled reassuringly. "You're really scared aren't you? I didn't think you could be anymore. Gimme some credit, Angie. I don't want you anywhere but with me, and Karn belongs with his parents."

"Oh Sam!" she said and finally hugged him and started crying.

The prince looked at Kush and the child. "Lord Military, I envy you."

The big blonde warrior hadn't realized how tense he was. "My gods have allowed me to remain here because of my son. It is a most rewarding experience. I recommend it."

Sam looked Angela in the eyes. "That's not going to be an option for it's probably best this way. I wouldn't want you to miss it."

Angela said, "Sam?"

"It's the gods, Angie."

They all heard a new voice at the door. "Everything okay?" It was Jilly. Laconius was a few steps behind her, wearing Slithloc rings and looking coldly at Kush. He served the prince.

Angela and Kush knew she had been ready to back up whatever Sam wanted. Sam might not have considered it but the two warriors did. Jilly would do anything for her brother--killing Angela and Kush and possibly even Karn wouldn't be something Jilly the Butcher would think twice about.

"Fine, Jilly," Sam said.

The slender blonde nodded and came into the room and walked over to Kush holding Karn. The young soldier looked relieved and Laconius assumed a guard position outside the door. Kush handed Karn to Jilly and watched as she cooed at him and the toddler's face lit up in a smile. The big foreign warrior didn't feel any hesitation about giving his son to her. He had been ready to kill Langland and Jilly would kill Karn if it ever came to it. It didn't mean either of them had wanted to or would enjoy it. It was just part of being a Lord Military.

Ares and Aphrodite had been in the room the entire time, ready to step in if they needed to.

"I don't understand why you didn't just square it with Sam in the first place," the God of War said with irritation, as they waited with the mortals for the prince.

"Ar, how many more times are you gonna say that, huh? It's gettin' old," the Love Goddess answered, also irritated.

While Ares just seemed bored Aphrodite was carefully watching and listening to the mortals. When the prince and the red-haired woman finally hugged, Aphrodite squealed, "There see! That's why! Oooo, I am SO GOOD!" She licked a finger and touched her hip and it made a sizzling sound. "Sam and Angela will be closer than ever. Dealing with somethin' heavy like this makes love stronger. Get it? That's what I do, remember? I'll reassure Sam later so he won't have any lingering suspicion."

Ares wasn't listening to her very closely. He had wandered over to look at the redheaded almond-skinned toddler Jilly was holding. He glanced back at his sister, "I'm getting a good feeling from this kid."

The beautiful blonde came over and looked at Karn too. "He's not just yours, Ar. I set it up. I've got plans for him myself."

"Oh you do, do you?" Ares said.

"Yeah, wanna make somethin' of it?" Aphrodite answered back.

"Step outside," he snarled.

"With pleasure," she snapped.

Both gods disappeared. Jilly looked around the room feeling something as she gave Karn another squeeze.


The huge palace was dark although the variegated marble itself seemed to glow softly. All of her attendants had fled when they had seen her and now were frightened to return because they had fled. Her brother had come once and looked at her but left without saying anything. After three months she had managed to crawl close to her throne but had not yet been able to climb into it. The goddess was still sprawled on the exquisitely tiled floor as she had been for months, drifting in and out of consciousness. Finally she was momentarily aware of echoing footsteps, approaching closer and closer.

When he entered her throne room radiance filled it, emanating from him. Zeus walked to stand over the Slithloc Goddess of Wisdom and War, his sandaled feet near her elegant long head. He studied the long trail of blood she had left from where she had fallen to where she now lay.

He knelt down and laid a hand over her eye and the ghastly wound from Ares' sword healed. Zeus paused a moment, seeming to debate with himself, then waved his hand and the long reptilian body melted into a human female form wearing a simple white chiton. She had long loose auburn hair and a warm almond complexion. Zeus picked the apparently young woman up who was beginning to stir. She opened her black eyes and looked sleepily at him.


Zeus softly kissed her cheek. "Is this what you wanted?"

She nodded and closed her eyes again.