By Joseph Anderson

All characters belong to the author although it takes place in the Xenaverse. No copyright infringement is intended.

Warning: Graphic cruelty, some language and implied kink. This also turned out considerably more "Alt" than I expected. Hubba hubba.

This story fits inside my extended storyline but it can be read on its own. For those who care it follows My Brother's Keeper and precedes Good Prince Samuel. This story is also a kind of prequel to Sons and Lovers and Dear Diary.


"Yes, Reverend One."

The old woman slowly rose from her seat, the young priestess helping her. The dark haired younger woman saw the scrolls on the desk had not even been opened. She slipped them into a pocket along with the seal.

The High Priestess said, "Elvira, the Queen and her brother will be sacrificing today. Is everything in order? It has to be perfect! Especially with Prince Samuel... the Queen...phew....ah but the Prince...such a fine young man! If he ruled you know Athena would be properly respected again."

Elvira had already had this conversation twice before. She said patiently, "Everything is prepared for the sacrifice, Reverend One. And I'm sure you don't mean to be disrespectful to Her Majesty."

The High Priestess muttered, "Of course not... mustn't disrespect Jilly the Butcher. Ares's sweet thing. Nothing but a warlord!"

"Reverend One, please."

"Poor King Langland, a sweet innocent he was... too good for this world...murdered by that slut!"


"All right, all right." She stopped and said, "Elvira, did I tell you of my vision?"

The young woman had been nervously looking around for anyone who might have overheard what the High Priestess said. Now she smiled, "Yes. I am honored."

The old woman shook her head and grasped Elvira's shoulder with a bony hand. "Don't be so trusting. There was a god, one of Zeus's children. It was full of shadows and blood....and a long life. The young Prince was in it as well. I don't know what it meant."

Elvira said, "Perhaps he erects a new temple to Pallas. As a priestess I would tend it and make sacrifices."

The old woman shook her head, "I didn't say it was animal blood." She began chewing her lower lip.

Elvira smiled slightly as she put a strong arm around the frail shoulders. She was practically carrying the old woman. "Trust in the deathless gods, Reverend One. Any way I can serve great Tritogenia is my honor."

The old priestess stamped her feet impatiently, "Stop talking like that! It makes me fear for you. I didn't see Athena! A god...that's all I know...and the Prince but he had a dark aura...I don't understand this vision."

Elvira smiled, "I am dedicated to Pallas. Who else but Athena could it be?"

The old woman said, "Another one might want you for that very reason. Girl, the gods are a petty bunch....they are to be feared and worshiped....don't confuse that with trusted or admired."

"Reverend One!"

The old woman shook her head. "You'll learn. Where are we going, Elvira?"

The young priestess patiently said, "We must welcome the embassy from our sister temple."

"Oh...yes. yes. What's her name?'

"Fotena, Reverend One."

The beautiful young woman led the frail old High Priestess to the main hall. Several more priestesses were waiting. A young woman wearing a traveler's hooded cloak respectfully bowed when the High Priestess entered.

The old woman paused and whispered to Elvira. "Where is Clealisthsia?"

Elvira said, "Probably oversleeping. I will speak with her."

The old woman shook her head. "Clealisthia doesn't belong here. Family wanted a priestess of Athena...that's something in a small village. I know. Poor child. Don't be too hard on her."

"I won't, Reverend One."

They continued to the center of the room. The High Priestess straightened up and Elvira stepped away from her. The old woman looked at the figure in the traveler's cloak. "We welcome Fotena, priestess of Artemis, virgin goddess of the moon and hunt, protector of all things wild, young and innocent."

Fotena threw her hood back revealing blonde hair and blue eyes. "I bring greetings to the most reverend Ismena, High Priestess of owl-eyed Athena, virgin savior of cities, awesome goddess of wisdom and war."

She stepped forward and took the old woman's hands and touched her forehead to them. As Fotena stepped back the old woman began to teeter and Elvira moved beside her again to support her. An aristocratic looking priestess walked into the temple, paused and then approached the High Priestess. She made a hand gesture and the other priestesses filed out. Fotena nodded at her, glanced at the High Priestess and Elvira and left as well.

The aristocratic priestess said commandingly to Elvira, "I'll take care of her."

The High Priestess looked up. "Oh, hello Helena. I didn't realize you were back from visiting your family in Malos. Is the Tyrant well?"

"My brother Regenic is excellent, Reverend One. He sends his respects."

"Yes, yes, that's good. Elvira has been helping out while you were away again. I didn't even miss you. No one did. Shows how smoothly functioning a temple we have."

The woman's eyes were cold. "Yes, it is gratifying. Thank you for your help, Elvira."

The young priestess said a little nervously, "Sister Helena, it was not my intention to usurp your duties."

"I see. As I said, I will take care of her now."

The old woman said, "Oh, never mind that. Elvira suits me admirably."

Elvira began to take the scrolls and seal from her pocket intending to give them to Helena but the old woman put a hand on Elvira's arm and stopped her. "Why don't you see to the sacrificial bull? Check its feed. Wouldn't want it farting during the ceremony."

The woman's eyes were blazing. She had been preparing to accept the seal and scrolls but stopped. She icily said, "Certainly, as you wish, Reverend One." She stiffly turned and left the temple.

The old woman cackled. Elvira said, "Oh, Reverend One."

"What would I do without you? Elvira, I've arranged for you to succeed me."

The young priestess was stunned. "What? No."

"It'll make Helena eat her liver. Too bad I'll be dead and not here to see it."

"Reverend One....Helena is your worthy successor. All expect it."

The old woman shook her head. "Not worthy....just obvious...the one the Queen wants...pathetic....Jilly's from the gutter and Helena impresses her."

"Reverend One! Please!"

The frail High Priestess continued. "Helena despises you, Elvira. Has since you came to us as a little girl. She's the granddaughter of kings on both sides not to mention her brother. Doesn't think someone like you should be a priestess in a rich temple. Of course, I can do no wrong since my uncle was Theseus. Old goat...I could tell you stories...."

Elvira sighed. The old woman looked at her. "It's not to spite Helena. She's no priestess. Doesn't fear the gods. Probably doesn't believe they exist. I never wanted her. One look at that snide little face and I knew what she was....but she's got the family. Nasty little..." The High Priestess grabbed Elvira's hand tightly. "I'd be betraying Tritogenia if I allowed Helena to succeed me."

"Very well, Reverend One."

The old woman smirked, "Helena's misery is just an added spice to the wine."

Elvira frowned. She caught the old woman watching her closely.

"Be careful of her. After I die I mean."

Elvira didn't like this conversation. But she said, "I understand."

"I hope you do. Her family has produced kings, tyrants, and high priestesses for generations. It's not by chance. The Queen serves Ares. She won't protect you. Don't be so scared of your temper. Use it."

The young priestess hesitantly said, "Perhaps, Reverend One, Helena could be made to see the error of her ways."

"Elvira, she's unfit!"

"As you say, Reverend One."

The old woman continued, "The young prince is loved more than that slut Jilly ever was. If only he would...."

"Reverend One!"

"Maybe he just needs a push." The High Priestess looked with rheumy eyes at the horrified young woman, "Perhaps this is the import of my dream. I hope I'm not throwing you to the Bacchae."

The clear light was shining off the bow and the archer's blonde hair. Fotena was listening intently and studying the brush. At a sound she turned with an arrow notched ready to fly. She lowered the bow as her erstwhile prey threw her hands up and yelped.

"It's not wise to approach a hunter that way."

The auburn haired girl laughed nervously. She acted like she didn't know what to do with her hands and was twisting her chiton.

The archer smiled. "What's your name?"

"Clealisthia," the girl answered. "I'm from the temple. I'm a priestess of Athena."

"You're a priestess of Athena?"

"What's so hard to believe about that?"

Fotena didn't want to be unkind. "Where were you when I was greeted by Ismena?"

The girl's face reddened. "I was asleep." She looked down then back up. "You're from the temple of Artemis. I followed you. We never get to do anything fun like hunting."

Fotena didn't answer but suddenly raised the bow and let fly an arrow. Clealisthsia cried out and covered her face. A moment later she looked out from between her fingers and saw Fotena walking toward a feathered shape on the ground. The girl followed her.

Fotena pulled the shaft out of the dead bird. As she placed the game in a bag slung over her shoulder she said, "The priestesses of your temple are renowned for their learning. Athena is also goddess of war and the womanly art of weaving. None of that is fun?"

The girl shrugged and looked away. Fotena asked, "How long have you been in the temple?"

"As long as I can remember. I like to write stories. And hymns to the gods...all the gods not just Tritogenia. I get in trouble a lot."

"Trouble. No kings in your family, I suppose." The huntress studied her and said quietly, "Are you beaten?"

The girl looked down and tried to cover a bruise by crossing her arms. "Sometimes....when I deserve it...Helena says I do anyway...more since Reverend One got so forgetful. But never when Elvira is around. Helena is scared of Elvira. I bet she doesn't even know that."

Fotena said softly, "Artemis protects the young and innocent. If I ever see Helena .... Do they know how insightful you are? No one should ever beat you." Clea looked up and Fotena blushed. She said in a stronger voice, "Do you honor Apollo, master of the Nine Muses."

The girl nodded but then looked sheepish. "Don't tell anybody. It wouldn't look good."

"I won't tell anybody." Fotena asked, "Would you like to try shooting my bow." Clea nodded. Fotena handed it to her, took an arrow and got behind the girl to position her hands.

The girl sighted along the shaft as Fotena's arms encircled her and Fotena's hands were on top of hers. Clealisthsia felt the woman's breath on her cheek. The girl smiled slightly and said, "Fotena, have you heard of Sappho?" Fotena's hand slipped and the arrow shot wildly.

The procession to the temple slowed and the Queen, irritated, looked for the cause. First she just saw a crowd of people, with Angela on horseback carrying a lance keeping an eye on things. Jilly looked closer and spied her brother allowing people to kiss his hands. A distinguished man kissed Sam's feet. "Jesus..." she muttered. She looked down at the boy beside her. "What are you thinking, Garen?"

"Uncle Sam is great!" the boy said.

Jilly sighed and ran a hand through the boy's hair. She noticed something. "Where did you get that medallion?"

"Jasmina gave it to me this morning. It's Uncle Sam's stick man."

Jilly said, "She did, huh? Garen, you shouldn't be wearing that. Let me have it."

The boy looked nervous and took the chain off over his head. "Did I do something wrong, Jilly?"

The blonde Queen studied the article. It was a nice one. "No, honey. You didn't do anything wrong. Jasmina did. She's gone by now. If she's not she wants to be a martyr. I'm not that stupid though. Garen, people who wear this want Sam to be King and me to go away. For my own stepson to wear it looks bad."

"I don't want you to go away!" the boy exclaimed.

Jilly put the medallion in a pocket and knelt down. "I know that, honey."

She stood and looked at her brother again. She called, "Come on, Sam."

Her brother hadn't heard her over the crowd but others did. Angela smirked at her and dipped her lance. From others Jilly saw hatred quickly masked by fear. That included the soldiers, her soldiers. They were supposed to be hers anyway. So was Captain Angela for that matter.

She repeated sharply, "Sam, come on. Stop wasting time." Several men reached for their swords before they caught themselves. No one should talk to Good Prince Samuel that way, least of all that bitch Jilly the Butcher. She went out in disguise regularly and knew exactly what everyone thought of her. Sam's impaled man was everywhere you looked; scratched on walls, painted on vases. Angela had one tattooed on her butt as Jilly recently learned when she walked in on her brother and his girlfriend in bed.

Angela cleared some of the crowd away and her brother walked toward her, stumbled as usual and a soldier kept him from falling. Jilly watched her brother thank him and a look of rapture on the soldier's face. She remembered actually saving that same man's life in a battle. He was more scared of her than the squad of enemy soldiers she had cut to pieces.

"Sorry, Jilly," Sam said as he reached her side and smiled down at her. He put a hand on Garen's shoulder. Jilly kept looking at his long hair and mustache. She remembered how clean-cut and preppy Sam used to be. She still thought of him as her baby brother. It was hard to believe this rock star was the same Sam. The crowd began chanting his name but Sam held a hand up to instant silence. Jilly nodded and the procession continued. Angela and her horsemen were riding at key points in case of trouble.

When they reached the temple Bancher was already waiting and Garen went to stand beside his father. Garen told Bancher about the medallion. She knew because Bancher looked sympathetically at her. Jilly barely noticed when a priestess of Artemis was presented to her. There was that old crone Ismena leaning on the arm of a young priestess. Jilly spotted Helena on Ismena's other side. She wanted Helena as High Priestess. Helena would use her family connections and the temple's political influence to support her. Helena knew what side her bread was buttered on unlike Ismena. Jilly wanted the old High Priestess dead but she wasn't going to help her along. Athena was mad enough. Ares had warned Jilly that his sister Athena blamed her for Langland's death. He committed suicide when he learned about Bancher.

The battle was over. Twenty-thousand corpses strewed the landscape in agonized poses. Men were carrying off dead and wounded as scavenger birds wheeled overhead and wild dogs watched from shadows. There would be plenty to feed on since the defeated would be left to rot. A regal armored figure stood atop a hill surveying the carnage. At a blaze she looked over and pushed her helmet up to reveal her face. "Hello brother."

"This isn't over!"

Athena smiled, "It's not?"

"This was none of your affair!"

The goddess said coldly, "A besieged city asked for my help. That most certainly is my affair."

"I planned this for months, Athena! I gathered warlords from all Greece!"

"And I only learned of it a week ago and defeated you. Hardly surprising, Ares."

The god of war and blind rage snarled, "I'll make you pay for this!"

"Ares, in a week you will have forgotten all about it. That is one of the blessings of limited intelligence. Don't humiliate yourself further. It pains me to see my brother so demeaned."

"You bitch! You'll regret that!" Ares disappeared in a blaze.

Athena held an arm out and an owl flew up to settle on her wrist. The goddess frowned. Ares would embark now on some petty revenge. She was embarrassed for him.

The sacrificial bull was being butchered for the feast. Smoke from the burnt thigh tendons still hung in the air. Jilly hated sacrificing to Athena. It made her feel disloyal to Ares. As a slave boy washed blood from her hands she glanced at Sam. What did he think of all this? A year and a half ago he was a college student in Chicago. She saw a priestess approach Sam. He nodded and they disappeared into a room. Jilly looked around and saw Helena watching as well. They caught each other's eyes.

Prince Samuel looked down at the tiny old woman. The High Priestess claimed to have something important to tell him. From the look of her she better hurry before she dropped dead. Ismena was leaning on the arm of a young priestess.

"What's your name?" Sam asked.

The young woman looked surprised. "Elvira, Your Highness."

"Well?" he asked the High Priestess.

"Prince Samuel, I have had visions. You have a destiny separate from your sister the Queen's."

Sam said, "Be careful what you say here."

"That murdering slut is not worth your shadow!" The High Priestess said fiercely. "Take the kingdom, Prince! The temple will back you!"

"Reverend One!" Elvira exclaimed in horror.

The door opened. "Mind if I join the party?" Jilly walked inside followed by Helena.

Sam said, "Call your guards. She wants me to overthrow you."

Jilly looked at her brother and the defiant old woman. Helena leaned close and whispered in her ear. The Queen nodded. "Sam, we're going to forget all about this."

"Didn't you hear me? She wants me to depose you. She's in a conspiracy."

The Queen sighed, "Her and everybody else. Tell me something I don't know. We don't need to make enemies of every Athenian temple in Greece."

Helena spoke up, "Ismena, consider how lucky you are."

The High Priestess said, "Prince Samuel, don't listen to her or your bitch sister! Kill them both!"

"That's it. I'm impaling you," the Prince said.

"Sam! No, you aren't. I'm the Queen and we aren't doing anything except wait for nature to take its course. Look at her. Helena will be High Priestess soon."

Ismena said, "Helena! Hah! Elvira! It's all arranged!"

"Oh, Reverend One..." Elvira said in despair.

"Really?" Jilly said. "Helena, what do you suggest?"

Helena's face was pale. She was looking at the horrified young priestess. Finally she said frigidly, "Elvira has misled the ailing High Priestess. I fear she has even poisoned her. I have proof. Letters. She is an agent of Sparta."

"What?" Elvira said stunned.

The Queen said, "It works for me."

Ismena cried, "Helena, you'll burn in Tartarus if you bear false witness against Elvira!"

Jilly called out the door. "Guards!"

Prince Samuel was quiet. He studied the young priestess who was led away while Helena took the fuming old woman off.

Jilly said, "I'm glad we got that taken care of."

"Elvira is innocent. Punish the old woman. She's the traitor."

The Queen stretched. "You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs, Sam. Elvira's in the way. Guilt or innocence has nothing to do with it. I learned that from Langland."

"She's your subject," Sam said.

Jilly grinned. "Yeah, so I own her and can do what I want. See how it works? Don't worry about it. Her confession will take care of any problems. Shouldn't take long."

"Don't do this, Jilly."

The Queen snapped, "You don't understand how things work. King Wixel can cut our trade routes but he won't with Malos backing me. I need Helena for Regenic of Malos. It's the big picture, Sam. Do you want war with Wixel and Regenic? They could ally against me if Helena doesn't become High Priestess. If that happens Empidocles might throw in with them since he blows with the wind. And let's not forget Sparta. If I'm isolated that way, you think they won't grab the chance? I'm not risking that for some little nobody!"

"A subject isn't a 'nobody."

"Drop it!" She said sharply, turned and left.

Prince Samuel waited a moment to cool off and followed after her, tripping over an imaginary obstacle. His clumsiness was legendary especially when he was preoccupied. Jilly was the one who didn't understand.

Torches lighted the cave. The orgiastic rites had ended and now exhausted priests were cleaning up. Naked dazed young women lay everywhere and the priests carefully dressed them and led them to pallets where they could recover.

"Hey bro, how's it hanging?"

The muscular horned figure sitting in a throne looked over. "Ares," he said in an echoing voice.

The god of war looked around his brother's sacred grotto. It wasn't to his taste. Ecstasy, madness, wine and blood all flowing together. Ares preferred a clean slaughter. Spend too much time around Bacchus and you didn't know what was real and what wasn't. He even affected gods that way, never mind how he screwed with mortals' heads.

Ares said, "Had some trouble in Macedonia, I hear."

"A temple was destroyed. Many Bacchae were hunted down by followers of Tritogenia and Artemis."

Ares shook his head. "Terrible. You'd think they'd control their worshipers better. I mean your Bacchae have to eat, don't they?"

"Athena humiliated you again."

"She just got lucky!" Ares cursed.

Bacchus flashed his sharp teeth. "Accept yourself, brother. You are the dark blood lust as a warrior kills, the sword thrust in the heart, the rape of the vanquished wives and daughters. She is the sacrifice of men fighting for their homes, resolute courage and crafty guile. You will never defeat her but your sandal is forever on her throat."

"What the hell does that mean?' Ares asked in frustration.

The mystic deity intoned, "As hatred fills her warriors' hearts they become yours. Take solace from that, Ares. When Athena herself succumbs to rage Athena performs your holy rites. Whenever you outwit a foe you honor awesome Tritogenia. You are intimate as Apollo and Bacchus making up the whole of man. War gods, you are two strong swimmers contesting in a river of sweet blood, running through all history and every heart."

"Are you loaded?"

"What do you want, Ares?"

"I know how you can punish Athena and Artemis."

Bacchus didn't seem to be listening. Ares persisted. "Don't you want that?"

The wine god looked over at him again. " Bacchae were slain like the grapes in harvest. Artemis and Athena are the vinters of time."

Ares frowned as he listened. He said, "Yeah...okay...right. So they harvested your...uh...grapes. That means they owe you some seeds."

When there was no response, Ares smiled seductively, "I know the perfect ones."

Bacchus rose from his throne, his curving horns glimmering in the dim light. He looked at Ares with glowing eyes. "Your precious death dealer has a brother."

Ares tried to keep from losing his temper. It didn't do any good with Bacchus. You just had to follow where he went and try to figure out what he was talking about. Bacchus really drove Athena nuts.

"Yeah, Jilly has a brother. So what?"

"Day destroys the night. Night divides the day." Bacchus disappeared in swirl of smoke.

Ares muttered, "Whatever." He disappeared in a blaze.

Elvira hugged herself. The cell was cold and dark. She didn't know how long she had been here. How could this be happening? How could Zeus allow it? Elvira felt something inside besides fear. She felt rage. Her temper was something she had hidden from everyone because it frightened her so. Others had only seen flashes of it. Years before Elvira found Helena preparing to beat Clealisthsia with a whip. The 9-year-old was naked and cowering on the floor. Elvira didn't say anything. Helena dropped the whip and backed away from her although Elvira herself was only 15. They had never spoken of the incident. Elvira was sure Helena was remembering it now.

She looked around the dank cell. Her eyes had adjusted to the dark and she could make out slight shapes. Scuttling scurrying sounds from the corners made her shudder. She wouldn't disgrace Pallas. Helena: Reverend One was right about her. And Queen Jilly was foul...evil. Prince Samuel had disapproved....he hadn't said anything but she felt it. Elvira resolved not to disgrace her temple or great Athena. They wanted her to confess to crimes she did not commit....acts unfit for a priestess of Tritogenia.

There was a loud rattle and then the cell door opened. Elvira blinked her eyes against the torch thrust inside. Finally she could make out three figures, a soldier, an old man carrying a case, and an elegant figure holding a scroll: Helena.

"Confess your crimes, Elvira."

"I am innocent. Pallas knows it and you know it."

Elvira didn't struggle as the soldier tied one hand to a ring in the wall. Helena said to him, "Put her other hand there." She pointed to a ring that would stretch her arms wide. "Tie her feet to these two." Elvira tried to kick as her legs were spread open. The soldier hesitated. "Go on," Helena said curtly. He removed the owl pin she wore on her left shoulder. As her breasts were exposed he whispered, "Forgive me." Elvira nodded. She closed her eyes as he continued stripping her. Soon she felt the cold stone against her skin.

The soldier turned from the naked prisoner to find Helena looking coldly at him. "Get out."

He ducked his head and quickly left the small cell. As the torturer began laying out his tools in the torchlight, Helena ran a hand down Elvira's side tracing her ribs and hipbone and letting her fingers rest on a quivering naked thigh. "I wonder if you are hiding anything. We'll have to check. Elvira, just admit your crimes and sign a confession. We know your guilt, how you betrayed us all for gold, how you were lovers with a Spartan officer and conspired to kill the Queen and Prince. It will be good for your soul. Pallas doesn't want you to suffer." She ran her fingers through Elvira's pubic hair, making her jump.

"You commit sacrilege by speaking Athena's sacred name!"

Helena drew a hand back and slapped Elvira, making the girl's head bounce against the rough stone. "You a High Priestess...ridiculous."

The torturer set up a small tripod, struck a flint and soon had a fire going. He took tongs from his case.

Helena's eyes were bright. "You were always stubborn even as a child. Never knowing your place. Admit your sins, Elvira. You know it's the right thing to do."

The Prince was in the prison. He kept thinking about the innocent priestess Jilly had condemned. She was here somewhere. The jailer looked nervously at him when he said he didn't want an escort. He was walking the dark corridors looking ghostly, white face framed by long black hair. Prisoners were whispering his name hoping for redemption. Moans echoed through the dark passages. Prince Samuel saw a soldier leaning against a wall with his hand over his face.

"What's wrong?"

The soldier looked up in tears. "Highness...the good young daughter is an acolyte!"

Sam looked in the man's eyes. "Show me."

The soldier grabbed his hand to kiss. "This way, Prince!"

The smell reminded Helena of a burnt offering. "Elvira, do you think I enjoy this?" Helena picked a strand of hair out of Elvira's eyes and tucked it behind her ear. "Admit your crimes and it will all be over. Do what's right, sister." Her only response was a mouthed "no." Helena ran fingers through Elvira's thick dark hair and laid lingering hands on Elvira's breasts. The torturer was carefully not watching her. Helena asked, "What else do you have?'

He grunted and extracted a rod from his case and began attaching something like a metal flower to the end. The cell door opened and Helena recognized the soldier. "What are you doing here? I'll have you..." She stopped as the tall figure stepped inside the cramped cell after the soldier. "Your Highness!"

Prince Samuel said through gritted teeth, "Untie her." The soldier quickly went to obey. Prince Samuel removed his cloak and put it around the naked limp figure. Elvira's sweaty head lolled to the side and her eyes looked blankly at the Prince. He picked her up and looked at her tormenters.

Helena said, "Her Majesty the Queen commanded this. Prince, the balance of power..." She quieted as he stooped to look in her eyes. Helena felt her knees get weak.

"Tell the Queen whatever you want."

Helena's head was reeling. "Highness, brother Regenic..."

"He offered you to me as a wife. When I laughed at him he offered you as a slave."

"No...he wouldn't."

"Of course he would. Females in powerful families are nothing but trade items. Empidocles is also my vassal and Wixel never leaves his castle for fear of being stoned by my supporters. Never mind what Sparta has offered me. There's your balance of power. Tell that to Jilly. See how invaluable you are then." He looked at the torturer.

"Majesty, I was commanded in this!"

"Don't call me Majesty. Only the Queen is addressed that way. You didn't have a choice but you also didn't care this girl was innocent."

"Please, Highness!"

Prince Samuel said, "You disappoint me. Don't let me see you again."

The torturer looked down at the filthy stone floor and began to shake. Sam turned to the soldier. "Get a healer and bring him to my apartments.'

Jilly wore her old leather armor but didn't remember putting it on. She yanked the door open to Sam's rooms and slammed it behind her. Her face was pale and the side of her mouth was twitching. Sam was sitting beside his bed where Jilly saw that priestess asleep.

"I'd kill anyone else! I explained it to you. She's nobody! That torturer hanged know how hard it is to find a good torturer?" Jilly saw herself in a mirror. Mad....I look mad....don't...don't...

Sam stood up. "Helena didn't tell you everything."

The Queen was starting to weave but stopped. "What?"

Prince Samuel said reasonably, "You don't need to worry about Regenic...or Empidocles or Wixel either for that matter. I explained it to Helena."

"Why didn't she tell me?" Jilly asked. Something was going on. She angrily told the voices inside her to be quiet. She had to think.

Sam said, "Self-interest."

Jilly had no idea how to handle Sam. Helena? Of course she didn't trust Helena but they wanted the same things...Sam didn't understand...did he? If her brother was turning on made her dizzy...she felt close to losing control. She had to get out of here before she did something bad....if she hurt Sam... She said hoarsely, "We'll talk later."

"Jilly, you're my big sister. I love you. You're not a warlord, you're a queen. Act like one."

"Dammit, you don't understand!"

"'re the one who doesn't understand. You don't own your subjects. They own you."

The Queen looked at her hand. She held a sword. How had that happened? DON'T BE A WEAK FOOL! "Callisto?' she said pathetically. YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO! "I can't...not again."

She dropped the sword to the floor with a clang. Her eyes were red. "Are you deposing me?" Her voice broke. What would Callisto think?

"No, Jilly. It hasn't been easy but you're the Queen and you're staying the Queen. I've seen to that."

"Thank you." Then she screamed, "You've 'seen to it'? I built this kingdom! With my sword and blood! It's not for you to 'see to'! Me and Langland carved it out of nothing! Do you understand? Do you? It's MINE! You've 'seen to it!'" She was holding her chakram now.

"Jilly, it's all right." Sam spoke calmly.

"What? What?" She was looking suspiciously from side to side.

Sam walked over and put his arm around her shoulder. He looked in his sister's mad rolling brown eyes and kissed her on the forehead. Then he took the chakram from her shaking hand, nicking his finger as he reattached it to her belt. He sucked his cut finger before saying, "Jilly, that's how kingdoms are built. It's not how they are ruled."

She said like he wasn't there, "Langland set 'em up and I knocked 'em down...Mom hated him but I told don't understand...I love him...then I...then I....I met Bancher." She started to weave. "I didn't look for it. Didn't even know. Langland knew it before I did. I'm no whore. Not anymore. Callisto rescued me. My father pimped me but not after Callisto. I'm no whore."

Jilly's eyes went wide and she stared at her brother and grabbed him frantically. "Sammi, I'm sorry! Callisto wanted to kill everybody...I had to take her your head! I had to! I did...she never asked me but else could I prove to her....she never asked me though....maybe..." She started to fall but Sam caught her and picked her up. He carried her over to the bed where he laid her beside Elvira.

Jilly opened her eyes. She was in her own bed wearing a simple shift.


She looked over at the voice. "Hey yourself."

Bancher sat down on the edge of the bed. "Sam said you were talking about Langland."

She nodded as she took his hand. "Yeah, but it doesn't change anything." Jilly closed her eyes a moment then opened them and sat up. She fluffed a pillow and put it behind her. She looked at Bancher's handsome rugged face so different than Langland's soft prettiness. Of course the reality was the exact opposite. Bancher was gentle and noble and Langland....well...he was Langland. But he let her have Bancher...he had his moments.

"Bancher, let's go on a trip. I wanna see my old friends, the ones left. Gabrielle is in Athens. She'd know where Xena is too."

Her consort shrugged. "What about the situation here? I thought it was sticky."

Jilly closed her eyes. "Sam can handle it.

It didn't hurt anymore. That was good. The Prince held a cup of something to her mouth with his own hands and then soon it didn't hurt anymore. But she wasn't thinking too clearly now. He was so kind. Reverend One was right about him, she decided. Elvira hadn't been so sure before....there were stories. Helena's brother offered her to Prince Samuel as a slave. Elvira thought of Helena's face when he told her. Old Helena didn't like that! Elvira felt someone gently touch her hand and opened her eyes.

"Clealisthsia!" Elvira said happily.

"What did she say?"

"I don't know."

"Sister, can you hear me?"

"That don't like her one bit! Not when I was little...and not NOW!"

"Elvira, I can't understand you. I'm sorry."

"Shhh, Clea...I know something about Helena...a big secret...shhh don't tell!"

"She's delirious."

"I know, but... Look at her feet!"

"Don't, Clea."

"Tritogenia! Zeus!"

"Cover her back up, Clea...Clea..."

"When I was little Elvira always...she's who I went to. Gods....oh gods...."

Clea, come on."

"I think I'm gonna be sick, Fotena."

Elvira wanted to ask Clealisthsia what was wrong but she began drifting off again.

Elvira felt herself watched but she didn't open her eyes. She was afraid to. Then she told herself that was no way for a priestess of Athena to behave. But she still kept her eyes closed until she felt a cool hand lightly touch her hair and heard a soft low laugh. Elvira finally opened her eyes to a darkened room. She heard the laugh again.

"Who is it?" Elvira asked. She saw the red mouth...just that smiling red mouth.

Elvira tried to sit up, the pain shot through her and she cried out. She wanted to roll out of bed, hoping to escape but a white hand pushed her back, gently but firmly. She heard a murmuring voice say, " are being honored by a god."

"What god?" Elvira said. That red mouth was gently kissing her forehead and cheeks now, soothing her.

"Mystic Bacchus."

"No!" Elvira gasped as that red mouth reached her neck. "No! Tritogenia!"

Her neck...those sharp white teeth...she was being penetrated. Elvira tried to think of Athena but soon Pallas faded. She began to make something out: winding horns. It felt so..... She heard "beautiful....beautiful..."

She softly said, "No," again but...did she really mean it? Her visitor pulled away and looked knowingly at her. The pain...where was the pain? She raised her hand...burned flesh healed as she looked at it and nails that had been pulled out grew in before her eyes. The Bacchae kissed her fingers.

Elvira wanted to say no but heard herself whisper, "More." The beautiful creature's body moved over hers. She felt her heart pounding like sensual music and Elvira began to writhe to it. She closed her eyes as her lips met those of her sweet visitor. Then the mouth moved to her neck again. She meant to say no, that she was a priestess of owl-eyed Athena, but what she moaned was "Bacchus!"

Elvira felt like she was floating. The creature laughed again and undressed Elvira with tender hands, fingers teasing and trailing inside her thighs, over her white belly and breasts, up to her half open mouth where she traced her lips. She put Elvira in a transparent gown like her own and murmured, "Beautiful. You are beautiful, sister." She kissed Elvira and then the Bacchae wordlessly disappeared out the window.

A low mocking voice said, "Not bad. Nice hot little floorshow. This'll teach Athena."

Elvira turned and saw gods. She licked her red lips.

The mystic horned deity raised a clawed hand and Elvira began floating toward him. The dark room had an eerie light. Then Elvira understood she could see in the dark.

Ares was smirking. Bacchus said, "Brother, leave me now."

"I don't wanna miss the fun!"

"Ares, it pains me to see you demean yourself."

The war god snarled, "Fucking ingrate!" He disappeared in a blaze.

Bacchus turned his hand over exposing the thick muscled forearm. Elvira felt a tingling throughout her body. She knelt down and sank her teeth into the god's flesh tasting his rich hot essence flood her mouth. She greedily swallowed until a taloned hand took her hair and pulled her bloody face up.

"Come, it is time to anoint your sisters."

It was sunset as the screams began, a murderer and a pair of coiners, a husband and wife. The Prince watched as three stakes were raised and they took the weight. That was when their situation really hit them. He looked around at his soldiers. One was grinning. The sergeant said loudly, "You think this is funny?" The man instantly lost his smile.

Prince Samuel walked up to one of the stakes, the counterfeiter. Sam reached a finger out to the blood running down the pole. He tasted it and glanced at the remaining prisoners. There were ten more ashen-faced condemned. "Get on with it."

The Prince sat at a small table and poured a glass of wine for himself. As anguished begging filled the air he said to the sergeant standing near him, "Too bad Captain Angela isn't here."

"Yes, Highness," the soldier said in a shaking voice.

Sam looked at the man. "They deserve it."

"Yes, Your Highness."

The Prince sipped his wine and said, "It's getting dark, Sergeant."

The soldier called out, "Set every third stake alight."

"Thank you." Sam uncovered a dish and took a chicken wing, which he began to eat as he watched the impaled men and women squirming and moaning. "Sergeant..." When there wasn't an answer he looked up and the soldier seemed frozen. Sam frowned and looked around. The other soldiers were motionless as well. He stood up.

Wolves began howling as smoke started to seep up from the earth. The impaled prisoners began jabbering madly. Sam waited as the smoke gradually assume shape, a wide muscluar man with two thick winding horns like a ram. The jabbering abruptly stopped and the dying began whispering a name over and over: Bacchus.

Sam inclined his head. He'd never met any gods but he knew from Jilly you had to show respect and lots of it. Xena didn't but she was a special case, probably a demigod herself. "How can I serve you, Lord Bacchus?"

The mystic dark god smiled showing razor sharp teeth. In a deep echoing voice he said, "The blood is the life. Your dark soul is bright as the sun."

Sam bowed slightly. It didn't seem to require a response.

Bacchus was suddenly standing directly in front of Sam and holding a cup. The god held his other hand over it. One of his talon-like nails extended out and opened a deep cut in his hand. The blood dripped into the cup with a sizzling sound. The god held the vessel out. Prince Samuel accepted it but hesitated.

Bacchus laughed, "You will be no thrall, Blood King. Join with the darkness that already burns in you like cold fire. Spread my worship and follow your heart."

Sam didn't have a choice but that was all right. Why should he refuse? The blood is the life. He took the cup and drank. When he was finished the god was gone. Instead three pale beautiful women with glowing yellow eyes stood before him. He recognized them.

"Elvira, Clealisthsia , Fotena."

"Master...." They murmured. He held his arms out and the creatures came to him, snuggling in his long hair. He could enter their minds or were they in his mind? They were created by Bacchus to serve and guard him. Before that they had unfinished business.

The High Priestess looked with satisfaction around the torch lit temple. She walked to the statue of Athena and patted it familiarly. Prince Samuel was ruling while the Queen was away. Helena had been nervous but when Ismena died (cursing her) he attended her investiture. She feared he would want Elvira for High Priestess and Helena was relieved the Prince was a politician after all. He was just a far better one than his sister. She was his ardent supporter now and would back him if he deposed the Queen. Ismena had been right about that but handled it all wrong. Helena missed Elvira, much as she disliked her. Elvira was an able administrator and Helena had better things to do with her time. But that old fool had forced the issue. Helena thought of Clealisthsia. She had disciplined her just the other night. On second thought Helena was glad Elvira was gone.

She heard a sound. "Who's there?"

At first she didn't see anything. Then three shapes emerged from the shadows.

"Show yourself."

They came closer and she saw three figures in traveler's cloaks. "Leave and return tomorrow," Helena said. She kept her voice imperious but she was careful. Her family had enemies.

"You should ask strangers if they are in need. Zeus protects travelers."

Helena was taken back by the familiar voice. "Show yourself!"

The central figure threw her hood back.

"Elvira?" She was surprised but got her bearings. "I'm High Priestess now. You can't change that."

"That's not why I'm here, Helena."

They came closer. Helena saw glowing yellow eyes and took a step back. She remembered stories. It wasn't possible.

"What's wrong, sister?" Elvira asked.

Helena said uncertainly, "Are you Bacchae?"

Elvira murmured sensuously, "Yes...we are." Her two companions began to growl. All three wore transparent gowns under the cloaks. "Aren't you going to greet your young sister? She still bears your mark."

One of the Bacchae leapt and Helena found the auburn haired creature beside her. "Clealisthsia!" The young Bacchae lowered her gown and turned slightly so Helena could see the lash marks. The creature slowly smiled showing long canines. "Don't hurt me," Helena whispered. She tried to move. It felt like a vice held her but it was the Bacchae's delicate looking hand. Clealisthsia traced a finger down from Helena's temple to her throat. There was a blur of movement and then Elvira was standing before Helena.

"You remember, Fotena."

Helena's hair was grabbed and her head was pulled back until she was looking at someone upside down. Fotena smiled. Still upside down Helena saw Fotena and Clealisthsia kiss. Fotena ran fingers over Clea's whip marks and then looked back at Helena.

Helena choked out, "You can't defile Athena's temple! I claim protection of the goddess! Harming me would be sacrilege!"

Clealisthsia and Fotena made hissing sounds and Fotena finally let go of her hair. Elvira said, "I'm surprised you even know that."

Helena laughed in hysterical relief as they released her. She backed away from the three creatures and threw her arms around the knees of the statue. Then Helena felt soft material instead of stone. She looked up at a cold perfect face. "Athena...thank you," Helena said pathetically. She cried out as she was kicked away from the altar.

"Do as you wish with her."

Helena screamed, "No! Great Athena, save me!"

"Hades awaits, your punishment a thousand fold Elvira's ignominious torture. It will last eternity."

Helena shrieked in terror. "Pallas! Mercy! Elvira, forgive me! Speak for me! Help me!"

Elvira looked at her and then back at the regal armored figure on the altar, which made no response. Fotena picked the struggling woman up and tossed her to Clea who easily caught her. As Helena screamed Clealisthia tossed her back to Fotena. They continued the game as they skipped out of the temple. Elvira waited.

"Approach me."

Elvira walked up to the altar. The goddess removed her helmet and stepped down to the temple floor. Glowing yellow eyes met calm gray ones.

"You are my votary, Elvira. Raised in this very temple and its rightful High Priestess."

The Bacchae looked around like a cornered animal and began to back away. She made a soft growling sound.

Athena reached a hand out and cupped Elvira's cheek. The creature's heart calmed. "This is Ares' doing. Bacchus could not offend me so deeply unaided." She lowered her hand and climbed back up on the altar. She put her helmet back on, shadowing her perfect face.

Elvira bared her teeth and hissed, "Bacchus has honored me!"

Athena's ringing voice echoed in the empty temple. "He has defiled you! I will not forget you or young Clealisthsia. Artemis mourns for righteous Fotena. Go. Serve your new master. But remember, as well as you can, Tritogenia cherishes you." She changed back into marble.

Elvira backed away from the altar and slowly turned studying the spacious well-ordered temple where she had spent her life. She remembered Ismena's welcome, the High Priestess already old then. She saw herself as a child trying to comfort Clea when her family left her. Elvira remembered the years of study, the subtleties involved in a proper sacrifice to Pallas Athena...but the memories were blurring. She had to get back to Master. With a growl she transformed herself into a wolf and bounded out of the temple to find her sisters and Helena. She needed to feed.