FAMILY AFFAIR

by Joseph Anderson
jander65@hotmail.com

Xena, Callisto, Gabrielle and all elements from the TV show Xena: Warrior Princess are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. All other elements 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 include all notices of copyright infringement.

This story contains graphic violence and rough language.

This follows Jilly and Kidnap in my stories about Kimberly and Jilly.


Part I Jilly

1.
Kimberly and Cal were both sitting in their living room. The tall woman, wearing a rich brocaded robe and her "cat lady" glasses, was reading Janice Covington's Journey to Amphipolis, and sipping a glass of club soda. Cal, in an undershirt and jeans, was carefully cleaning his guns. He had just finished the S&W .45 automatic and was now taking apart the Colt .38 revolver, while a sawed off shotgun and a machine gun waited off to one side. They both lifted their heads simultaneously. Cal grabbed the .45 and slammed a clip in as his wife had already reached Jilly's room; he was right behind her. He was prepared to open fire but his wife said, "Don't bother, Cal." He stopped, looking at his wife quickly and at the stranger in his daughter's room.

"Hello, Kimberly. Cal, we haven't officially met but I know you."

"Who the hell are you?" Cal said, as he put his gun in his waistband. No matter how angry he might be, he was in control of himself the way he always was in violent situations. It was what he did.

"Kimberly, why don't you make the introductions." The man spoke in an easy commanding manner Cal had never heard anyone use with his wife before. He remembered seeing him at the hospital when Jilly was born. There was more though. He felt something else, another connection with him.

"Cal, meet Ares, the god of war." Kimberly was frightened. It was such an unusual emotion for her at first she couldn't even identify it. Her children changed everything for her. Sam was asleep in the next room. Jilly wasn't in any danger from Ares, she knew that. Just the opposite, in fact. The man smiled at them, his muscular form easily apparent in his finely tailored white suit. He wore a black carnation in his lapel which matched the black of his perfectly trimmed beard. Kimberly realized he was the source of light in the room.

"Here, Cal. This will explain everything to you," the god said as he waved his hand. Kimberly looked at her husband and saw his expression change and his jaws clench. He began to fall and his wife caught him and set him in a chair that had pink bunnies painted on it. She nervously watched him. He closed his eyes, moving his head from side to side lightly as if he was dreaming. He was mumbling to himself. Kimberly looked at Ares who was ignoring them and lightly stroking her sleeping daughter's hair. Kimberly remained kneeling next to Cal, holding his hand, making sure he didn't fall out of the chair. After what seemed a long time her husband reopened his eyes, and she knew the Cal she had married was gone forever. He looked at Kimberly and then coldly at the god.

"Well, well, this is quite an interesting development." His southern accent was still there but less pronounced and the rhythms of his speech were slightly different. He slowly stood.

"Callisto," Kimberly said. Cal didn't respond.

"No," Ares said, "he has Callisto's memories now but he still has his own personality too. I didn't take anything from him, Kimberly. I enriched him. Maybe you two can get a little more life in your marriage now. Cal was a cold fish compared to Callisto. Talented, though. It's not the Callisto you knew, but Cal will keep her in line. You can't lose. Kimberly, you are the mother of my chosen. Not like you or Xena were my chosen. Jilly means more to me than ten thousand other favorites ever have."

Cal smoothly pulled the pistol and emptied it into the beautiful smiling man. Sam began crying in the next room, but stopped when Ares glanced in the direction of the sound.

"There see, Kimberly! Cal wouldn't have tried to kill me before because he believed you when you said not to bother. But now that he has Callisto in him he's willing to be spontaneous. Isn't that great!? He'll be much more fun now."

Kimberly put her hand on her husband's shoulder. Cal lowered the gun to his side and looked at Kimberly. He took her hand and looked at the bracelet of yellow hair she wore. She looked in his brown eyes and they had Callisto's mad light in them.

"What do you want, Ares?" Cal spoke. There was a commanding tone Kimberly had never heard from him.

"I came to see Jilly. She's old enough now to get to know me. I'm not here to steal your daughter, at least not right away. You two did a fantastic job creating Jilly before so why should I fix what isn't broken?" The god smiled. The hatred of mortals always nourished him, especially mortals who operated at the level of Callisto and Kimberly. Jilly had loved him but that was a special case.

Kimberly had served him wonderfully up until the last when she led his army to destruction out of hubris. He understood it; arrogance was an occupational hazard of conquest. He had punished her anyway to make an example for Jilly. Now she was Jilly's mother in this new time. Callisto; well, Callisto was Callisto. A real wild card. Exciting to manipulate. Unpredictable. Ares wished she could have been dangerous to him. You missed out on a lot when you were a god. You had to live vicariously through your favorites. He wanted Cal to have more of Callisto in him for Jilly's sake. Kimberly and Jilly had both gotten their incredible ferocity from just a few years spent with Callisto. Cal was a real 20th century specimen--a workmanlike killer. Ares preferred the glee someone like Callisto or Xena took in carnage.

"What if we don't want you to have anything to do with her, Ares?" Kimberly said. She knew it was a stupid question. Being a mother made you say stupid things.

"You don't have any choice, but more than that you don't have the right. You and Cal met because Jilly petitioned me for you. You would probably be sleeping in a gutter right now if it weren't for that."

The husband and wife just stared at the god. They could feel the truth of what he was saying.

"Jilly was killed not very long after her petition, so I arranged for her to be born to you. I'm still in debt to half of Olympus for doing so much so fast. The point I'm making is Jilly isn't just your daughter. She is mine more than yours. I can't raise a mortal myself, though."

"How was she killed?" Kimberly asked. Jilly had been so dangerous she was genuinely curious.

"She was fighting Xena and her lieutenant caught her off guard with an arrow."

"Xena! Why was Jilly fighting Xena?" Kimberly said surprised.

"To avenge us, probably," Cal said. Ares nodded.

Kimberly said bitterly, "She was toying with her, right? Wanted to make Xena realize how much better she was." Cal looked at her with surprise.

"Jilly was that good?" Cal said.

"Yeah. She played too many games, though. She had gotten so she wasn't careful. She just assumed she could handle anything."

"Just like you," Ares said.

"Yeah, just like me. She got to that faster too, like everything else."

"What are your plans for her?" Cal said, returning to the god. The menace and hatred in his voice startled Kimberly and amused Ares.

"She can live here with you but she will also spend time in Greece. You two are more than welcome to accompany her, for a while anyway. Ultimately I'd like to make her immortal--maybe even a goddess--and have her assist me. Hades wants her himself though. He says it's only because it's natural but I know he'll try to use her just like I want to once he has her. She belongs with me! Jilly loved me. You both know that."

The god's face was flushed. Kimberly had seen him emotional once before when he was convincing her to return to Greece to lead his army. He'd said it was because she was Xena's descendant; that no other mortals could affect him that way. The way he talked about Jilly was much more intense than that had been. She noticed something about the room; the walls were bleeding.

Kimberly knew this was a religious experience, an annunciation. She wished she could see it that way but she just really disliked Ares. He was right: Jilly had loved him. She looked at Cal. She couldn't read his face now. It would take a while.

"You feel like you're her father, don't you?" Cal said. Ares nodded. "You're not, I am." Ares nodded again.

"I know that. Zeus wouldn't agree to letting me father her on a mortal. Using you and Kimberly was my second choice." The god paused. "I could have just come to her in her dreams, and then simply taken her when she was old enough. I don't want to do that. You and Kimberly were part of what made her so special." Then the seriousness left his face and the old smirking Ares finally came back. "Besides, are you telling me, Kimberly, you like the way you're living now? That argument worked on you before and I wager it still does. What you are doing here is worse by your standards than what you did for me. The number of dead is nothing but organized crime is corrupting the way my army never was. As a warlord you represented bravery and skill: there are epics about you. Here you're just a parasite. And drugs are coming soon. Are you going to do that, Kimberly? a mother with two young children. And, Cal, now that you have Callisto in you, you might not be as professional as you were before. An improvement in my opinion, but then I'm an aesthete about killing, not a businessman."

"So?" both Kimberly and Cal said in unison. The god smiled.

"Well, you can get out of what you're doing now and visit Greece with Jilly or even come back permanently. You loved it Kimberly: killing warlords, protecting people."

"Do you want me to take the army back?" she said with interest.

"Hardly," Ares said disdainfully. "Those days for you are past. My old army no longer exists thanks to you, if you recall. Jilly had to rebuild it from nothing, and her killer--his name is Langland by the way--is actually doing quite well with it. Instead of being a lion like you or a falcon like Jilly, he is more like a weasel. A very, very dangerous weasel. It's quite interesting to watch, actually. He is underestimated time and again. They never learn, apparently. But back to you, I'm sure you can find plenty of opportunities to justifiably quench your blood lust. And, Cal, with Callisto in you now, I'm sure you will keep busy."

"What if I kill your weasel?" Cal asked coldly.

"For the army, you mean? I tried to have Callisto lead my army once before and she failed me. I won't repeat that."

"No. To avenge Jilly."

"Not right away, though I appreciate the sentiment. I don't have an adequate replacement if you kill him. And if he kills you, which he might, that would leave Jilly without the wonderful role model I anticipate you to be." The god paused again. "I just realized something about my weasel. He is 3000 years ahead of his time. He would fit in wonderfully here. He might have more value to me than I anticipated."

"What about Sam?" Cal said. The god looked bored.

"He's just a mortal child. If he has any warrior potential I haven't sensed it. Other talents aren't my province. Bring him or leave him here, whatever you want. You both are angry now. I'll be back tomorrow to visit Jilly." The god started to turn into fire but then caught himself because of his nearness to the child and simply disappeared.

Cal went to Jilly's bed and picked up the sleeping seven year old. She didn't wake up. Kimberly got Sam from the next room. Carrying them, he and Kimberly returned to the living room where they sat together on the couch, not speaking for a while.

Finally, Kimberly spoke. "He's right, Cal. I hate to admit it. Can we get out without having to hurt anybody. The kids really like Jimmy, just like I do. Drugs have been in the back of my mind for a while but I've been trying to deny it. Gambling is one thing but that's coming down the road. I feel bad about the unions, anyway."

Cal answered. "Yeah, we can get out. I'm not Italian and I'm not irreplaceable. I'll tell Jimmy it's because of the kids. Since he likes them so much he'll let us go. I'll just hand my numbers parlors and the restaraunt and bar back. I should probably warn Robert to disappear. Jimmy might hit Robert just to send me a message."

"What about ...?" Kimberly said, glancing at a closet.

"I'll get some cement tomorrow for Alice."

2.
"You sure you wanna do this, Cal?" the consigliere said. They were in the Italian-American Benevolent Association building. His first impulse was to have him killed but his kids were his godchildren, and Jimmy Falconi took that seriously. And anyway, Cal wasn't "made" and he wasn't going to the feds or nothin'. He was just pussywhipped. Maybe he'd kill that nigger Cal liked so much though, Robert.

Cal brought some papers out. "What's that?" Jimmy said.

"The restaraunt and the bar. I figured that was family."

Jimmy was going to demand them but now that Cal offered it, he changed his mind. Fuck, he LIKED Cal. And the food there, which was good, anyway, had gotten great since Cal had owned it.

"Nah, keep the restaraunt. Just sign the bar over."

"You got it, Jimmy. I'll reserve your regular table."

"So what are you gonna do, Cal?"

"Kimberly's got those big wheel relatives in Atlanta. The ones whose kid we got back for 'em. I'm gonna handle security. Make things run smooth. You know."

Jimmy Falconi was looking at Cal. That wasn't bad. Maybe Cal wasn't being so dumb after all. He waved him away, "Okay, Cal. That's it, then."

Cal left. He was glad he'd sent Robert to Cuba.

3.
"A dead spirit belongs here," Hades repeated vehemently.

"Save your lies for mortals who will believe them, Hades. She's mine and will always be mine," the god of war replied.

"This isn't over, Ares."

"Take your best shot," Ares said and disappeared. Hades stared angrily where his fellow god had been standing.

"That fool," the demon standing next to him said. Hades hit him with the back of his hand so hard his tusked head flew off and the squat body scrambled after it.

"Don't talk about a god like that," Hades said absently.

"Master," the bald squinting head said as hideous body carried it back.

"Yes."

"Forgive me for offending the great god of war, but what I meant to say was that it will be simple for you to gain the spirit of the girl."

Hades turned to look at the squat cringing creature next to him. "Put your head back on and continue."

"She simply has to die again. Forgive me again for assuming anything about Lord Ares, but hasn't he done all he can as far as her spirit."

"Yes, he won't be able to do anything like that again for at least a hundred years."

"Well, then, master, I would be honored to arrange her death for you, if you so desire."

"You're a good servant, Helms. It's too bad you look like something an animal vomited up."

"You are too kind, master!"

4.
Kimberly got back from the bank and talking with her broker. She'd begun consolidating her assets. She suspected she wouldn't have as much time to spend handling them, so she was getting out of the risky stuff and just building a boring stock portfolio. If she and Cal got out of the family that would mean she could stop having to figure ways to hide their money, so that would be good. A lot of what she and Cal had made was in Swiss accounts; and they lived off her investments from the money Ares had initially provided her with. Everybody knew taxes were what they got Al Capone with. That was another reason for living simply like they did.

"Cal," she said, as she stepped in the door. "Cal." There was no answer but Kimberly saw a light coming from her study. She set her purse down and took her expensive coat off, then approached the door of her study.

"Cal." He glanced at her. Kimberly saw he had taken the Samurai swords down and was looking at them. There was a soft smile on his face.

"These are beautiful, Kimberly. I've never seen blades like these." Cal had never appreciated her collection. Swords were just like hammers or saws or guns; just tools. Now that he had Callisto's memories in him he was running his fingers carressingly over the exquisite, perfectly balanced weapons. Kimberly approached him.

"Here, look at this." She took a key from her desk and opened a locked case.

Cal made a moaning sound that startled his wife as she brought the chakram out. She handed it to him, the engraved Japanese characters and design work giving it a different look than their old chakrams had. "The same family that made the swords for me made me that. I'd never have thought I would beg like that for anything but when I saw those swords I knew I had to have it."

Cal closed his eyes and brought the gleaming flat ring up next to his cheek. "Whatever you had to do it was worth it," he said softly. Kimberly looked at him. He was a different person now but he wasn't. He was richer. She hated it when Ares was right. She'd been observing him and it seemed to her that when he wanted to he could be completely the old Cal, but his regular personality now was a sort of composite. It was Cal but with some of Callisto's sensuality and humor--and her temper. If he could also be completely Callisto she hadn't seen it but then there hadn't really been any need. She hadn't seen him in action yet so she didn't know how it would be manifested there. Cal had been perfect for what he did. She was afraid he'd get killed if he started fooling around like Callisto used to. Bullets moved awful fast.

5.
The warlord, Scotto, looked contemptuously at the messenger who stood across from him. He indicated for him to sit down and the almost pretty young man smiled and took a seat. Scotto tried to imagine how he survived in his rival's camp. He supposed he served some purpose as a messenger to people who were frightened out of their wits by warriors, but that was the only use he could think of for such a petite figure. Well, there were other uses he supposed he might have too, but Scotto didn't like to imagine things like that.

"Langland wants you to join him for a sweep through the territory north of Athens. It's too much for one army but two can do it. The trade to and from Athens will be more than three years' normal raiding." The young man smiled as he spoke, putting an earnestness into his words that seemed strange considering the subject matter.

Scotto considered. He stood and crossed to the tent entrance and said, "Come in here." Two warriors entered; a tall dark skinned man with long hair, and an older warrior with a gray beard. Scotto said, "What do you think of this idea?" and then explained what Langland had proposed.

"Sounds smart to me," the young dark warrior said, but the older man shook his head.

"We should put as much distance between ourselves and Langland as we can. Almost everyone who has had anything to do with him is dead now."

The young messenger spoke up, "Those are nothing but rumors spread by rivals jealous of Langland. This is a perfectly legitimate offer." Scotto and the dark warrior looked at the weakling contemptuously. The older warrior studied him.

"I want no part of it. Send me what you decide to do," the old warrior said and left the tent. He stopped not far from it and in hiding took his dagger out and waited. After several minutes he heard the tent flap open. He waited. Suddenly he felt a blade against his throat and a hand taking his dagger.

"Turn around," a voice softly said. The old man turned and saw the young messenger.

"Langland."

"The one and only," the young man smiled.

"Are they falling for your trap?"

"Well they were but then you spoiled that. Let's go talk to them again." The blade was hidden from any passing soldiers as they made their way back to Scotto's command tent. The old warrior paused outside but the blade pressed against his back and he and the young man stepped inside. He sheathed his knife. The old man looked at Scotto and the dark warrior. Both were dead with looks of surprise on their faces. Their throats had been cut. Neither had drawn a weapon.

"Why did you bring me back here? You could've killed me where I was waiting for you?"

"I don't want to kill you. What's your name?"

"Simi."

"I'm going to merge this army with my existing one and I want you to help with the transition. If you don't want to, I'll skin you to death right now, Simi."

"Can I be in your army?"

"Absolutely! Glad to have you."

6.
"Xena, there you are! I've been looking all over for ...." the bard stopped. The tall warrior turned and was looking at her. She wasn't dressed like Xena and her hair was different.

"Hello, Gabrielle. It's been a while."

"Kimberly? Is that really you?"

"Yeah." She suddenly said, "Hey!" as the bard ran up and threw her arms around her. They'd never been close. Gabrielle felt guilty about her, she guessed. She returned the hug.

"Oh gods, Kimberly, I'm so glad you're all right!"

The taller woman felt the bard tense up and let go of her. Kimberly turned, "Gabrielle, this is my husband, Cal. That's Jilly down there and this is Sam."

The little blonde was shocked. She had no idea what was going on here. She could feel Callisto's presence in the handsome blonde man carrying a toddler. And could that little girl actually be Jilly--the same Jilly she had seen killed?

"I know it's complicated, Gabrielle. Don't worry about it though. Everything's fine," Kimberly said.

"Hi. How ya doin'?" Cal said to her, smiling slightly. He held his hand out. The bard forced herself to take it, expecting any second for her own hand to be cut off. She could see in his eyes how much the man was enjoying her discomfort.

"Where's her smelly hat and big coat?" the little girl said. Kimberly turned to her daughter.

"That's Aunt Janice. This is Gabrielle. They just look like each other the same way I look like Aunt Mel."

"Oh."

"Who?" Gabrielle said.

"You have a descendant just like I'm Xena's descendant. Mel is also Xena's descendant. You know how complicated it gets as well as anyone." The bard rolled her eyes and nodded. When she wanted a headache she would try to figure out how everybody was related to everybody else.

"This is JILLY?" she said with emphasis to Kimberly. But it was Cal who answered.

"Yeah. She's Jilly the same way I'm, now let's see, who was that, Kimberly?"

"Callisto, Cal."

"THAT'S right! Jilly is Jilly just like I'm Callisto." He giggled softly.

Kimberly was appalled. Now she knew whether Cal could be completely Callisto or not.

"Cal!" she said sharply. He whipped his head around to glare at her, then the insane light died in his eyes, and he shook his head ruefully.

Oh, these two are going to be wonderful to have around, Gabrielle thought. Her heart beat was coming back to normal now. "Xena should be around here somewhere." She looked around the busy marketplace and spotted Xena. She could tell she had been watching them. Seeing she was caught, Xena approached them now for the next round of introductions.

Xena felt Gabrielle looking at her. The family had left for the inn they were staying at since the children were sleepy.

"What?" Xena asked.

"Xena: warrior granny! How does that feel?"

"I'm not their grandmother, Gabrielle."

"Sure you are. You're just a great-great-great-great-great-great, well, you know. Cute kids, huh?"

"Yeah, I suppose, if you like kids."

"I thought Sam looked kind of like Solan."

"You're imagining things, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle looked knowingly at her, smiling.

7.
The town was prepared for the attack. They had received word that Langland and his army would be there in three days. There was nothing of special value they had other than food, but that had always been enough for warlords before. Most of the town would have been content to simply give it to them. Warlords usually left you enough to live if you did that. Some of them even paid, not wanting to make unnecessary enemies. But there were several strange warriors in the town who rallied the people, making the young men feel like cowards. The town heard that there were warriors like that, who went around helping people. Supposedly Xena was doing that now. They convinced them that since they had enough warning they could send for help from the garrison at the nearest fortified city.

The soldiers arrived, feeling exposed. Their commander had objected to leaving the city so undermanned for a small town but a steady string of reports had been coming about Langland's depredations. So his superiors overrode him and sent him out to not simply protect the town but destroy Langland's army.

The commander nervously inspected his men. They had barricaded the town and were camped nearby. The reports about the mysterious warlord continued coming in.

"Commander."

He looked at who was speaking to him. It seemed to be a poorly dressed young man with long hair who seemed shy and nervous.

"Yes."

"I'm sorry to disturb you, sir. But I just wanted to thank you for what you and your men are doing here."

"That's all right. Protecting you from bandits like these is my duty."

"Well, sir, we really appreciate it and wanted to throw you a banquet."

"That's not necessary, and the men can't leave their posts."

The poor young man looked disappointed, then brightened and said, "Could we send a special meal out to the men then. This town is famous for it's pastries, sir! And we have good wine!"

The commander smiled, "All right, talk to the company cook about it." He wanted the pathetic townsman to leave him alone. The cook would know not to give the men more than a cup of wine. He had to concentrate on the coming battle.

"Thank you, sir! Thank you!" the young man stumbled away in his excitement.

"COMMANDER! COMMANDER!" He awoke to the messenger calling outside his tent. He was instantly up and opened the tent.

"The city has been attacked! This was all a trick to leave the city undefended!"

"I knew it!" the commander cursed. He looked around but didn't see anyone but the messenger who was breathing hard. Where was everyone? He ran to a tent and looked inside. "Wake up!" He shook the occupants but they were cold.

He ran out and looked around. The banners of his company were flying but no one was moving. He ran to the large mess tent and stopped at what he saw. They were lying where they fell: some with the pastries still in their mouths, others with wine cups near their hands. He stumbled out of the mess tent and began running from position to position trying to find any of his men who might still be alive.

8.
"Hail, mighty warrior, scourge of the eastern barbarians!" Kimberly whirled at the wheedling voice and at first didn't see anything in the darkened alley she was passing. Then her eyes made out a squat form low to the ground and some moving claws or talons. She felt a shudder go through her.

"You talkin' to me?"

"You light our time as you did your own, oh great Kimberly, Sword of Ares."

Kimberly called over her shoulder, "Oh, Calvin. I think there's somebody here you might want to see. No, bring 'em, don't leave the kids for even a second, Cal."

"What is it Kim..." Cal stopped. He was carrying both children who were asleep. "Here." He handed the toddler to his wife. "Helms. Isn't there anything like term limits in Tartarus."

"Thankfully no, oh splendid Callisto--excuse me--mighty Calvin. I meant no disrespect."

"Kimberly, this is Helms. He does for Hades what I did for Jimmy. Who are you supposed to whack?"

The bald ancient creature glowered briefly before its usual ingratiating expression returned. He sharpened one of his tusks against the wall, before saying, "I merely perform whatever tasks my master entrusts to me, his humble servant. I do more than 'whack' people, oh brave one."

"Yeah, so do I. Not long ago I broke somebody's arm to give him some encouragement."

"Exactly!" Helms said, relieved to be understood. He had to get back to business, however. "You and the mighty warrior your wife are most, most honored by the Lord Hades."

Kimberly looked at Cal. He hadn't taken his eyes off the powerful ancient demon. She could feel Callisto emerging in him although there wasn't any outward sign of it. The creature suddenly seemed agitated; he could feel it too. Speaking softly Cal said, "And, just how are we to be honored by Lord Hades?" In their sleep, Sam began crying and Jilly stiffened. Kimberly knew if she had been on the receiving end of that question she would be concerned with her bladder control.

"The magnificent Lord of Tartarus and the Elysian Fields admires beyond words the spirit of your splendid daughter."

"Kimberly, hold Jilly for a moment, will you?" Cal said transferring his small daughter to his wife. As soon he released her Cal leapt into the alley. A taloned claw tore a gash in his leg before the foot it was attached to landed on Helm's arm immobilizing it. Cal had drawn his sword in mid jump and drove it down through the creature's back pinning it to the ground. Cal jumped away though he was still caught by the tail of the thrashing growling creature. He knew he'd have a bruise for weeks.

"I know that won't stop you, but I just wanted to let you know how I feel about this honor. Kimberly, could you give me a hand here. My sword is tied up." Cal took the kids and waited outside the alley as his wife chopped Helms into smaller and smaller pieces. After a several minutes she came out of the alley, handing Cal his sword.

"How long will that slow him down?" she asked, as she was tying a fast bandage around his leg. The kids had been awakened by the sound of Mommy's sword. Sam was hysterial but Jilly though upset seemed calm.

"Quite a while. Just finding all the pieces will take an hour, then he has to reassemble himself. Let's get out of here." They left the squishy flopping sounds emanating from the alley.

****************************************************

"Cal! Cal! What is it!" Kimberly was alarmed at how Cal was simply weaving where he stood. She ran to support him, then realized she was dizzy herself.

"Mommy! Mommy!" Jilly cried, then crumpled to the floor, next to her already unconscious brother.

"Jilly!" Kimberly called as she fell next to where Cal had collapsed.

Ares suddenly appeared, a furious expression on his face. He and the family disappeared as the door burst open and Helms and human soldiers filled the small room.

9.
"There's only one way to save her," Ares said.

Kimberly didn't understand but Cal did. "You can't. You can't do that!" It was Callisto talking.

"There's no other way. You can't protect her. Hades has given Helms the ability to put you to sleep and to locate her; and I can't protect her because of what I've done already for Jilly. She can't survive this without her memories."

"No! You can't do that to her. Not to my little girl!" Kimberly cried.

"There's no other way. Do you want Hades to have her? Because he wants the OLD Jilly, I'll tell you that. He'll give her her memories back AND she'll be in Tartarus for eternity. As Hades' pet, I grant. She won't even remember you as her mother. He'll let her have her father to torture as a treat. I'll leave it up to you, Kimberly. Who does Jilly belong with, me or Hades?"

"No, No, No, No!" Cal seemed to be having some sort of seizure.

Crying, Kimberly said, "Do what you have to, Ares." She walked over to Cal. His face was pale and he was staring at the floor. She took his hand and they walked over to the unconscious child. Ares waved his hand.

Kimberly was holding her daughter as the little girl began screaming. Cal collapsed to his knees and covered his ears with his hands. After ten minutes the screams increased in intensity and a kind of madness came into them. Cal was moaning. Suddenly the screams changed to a terrible croaking sound, and Kimberly closed her eyes, tears streaming down her face. Ares' face was cold. The croaking continued for a few minutes then suddenly stopped. Now the little blonde girl just seemed to be dreaming, her eyes darting around under her closed lids. They could see her form the name Callisto but no words came out. Cal was watching her. She loudly said, "Callisto! Oh Callisto!" Cal buried his face in his hands. Jilly was mumbling now, occasionally words could be made out: "Kimberly...Ares...sword...Callisto...It's a trap, Kimberly!... how's my army doin'?" Then angrily; "Xena!...Bardy!...Xena!...Xena!"

Ares was closely observing. He waved his hand again and Kimberly gasped as she felt the body she was holding begin rapidly increasing in size.

"Mom," the girl opened her eyes.

"Yes honey," Kimberly said. The girl began looking around her and her eyes stopped on the god.

Ares spoke. "You can have these back." Suddenly the seven-year-old girl who now looked eight or nine years older was in black leathers with a sword and chakram. She smoothly stood up. Kimberly couldn't stand so she helped her up. She looked at Cal who was still kneeling on the floor and covered in a cold sweat. She went over and kissed his cheek and also helped him to stand. Then she walked next to Ares and the two of them turned into a single bright flame which disappeared.

********************************************************

Xena awoke to find herself bound to a column. Hades' forces surrounded her. They seemed to be human except for the creature directing them. Xena thought she remembered seeing it before in one of her visits to Tartarus. She saw Gabrielle also bound, though much less thoroughly, to another column. Seeing she was awake the squat creature approached and smiled up ingratiatingly.

"Oh, mighty warrior princess, great Xena. We mean you no harm and merely want you to not interfere in this business of Lord Hades."

"How did you capture me?"

"My master has given me some small powers to aid me in carrying out his commands. I caused a sleep to fall over you and your companion, the wondrously talented bard, Gabrielle of Potedaia." The creature was wringing its hands and smiling at Xena throughout the course of its speech. Xena felt slimy just from listening to it talk.

"What makes you think I would interfere with whatever you are doing?" she demanded.

"Your history, oh magnificent warrior, oh splendid Xena. We seek the child for my master and I felt you might object to that."

"Seek how?" Xena said, then, "Hades wants to kill a seven-year-old girl!"

"Great Xena, you know that death is not really death as mortals imagine it. My master merely admires the child's spirit and wishes it to be with him."

"So he sent you to kill her. You look like something an animal vomited up."

"Be that as it may, oh light of Amphipolis, I serve my master as well as I can." The ancient creature waddled away stiffly.

"Xena, don't you think that last was a little uncalled for?" The warrior princess looked over at her friend. "I mean, he can't help what he looks like." Xena shook her head and tried testing her bonds.

"You liked that part about the "wondrously talented bard," didn't you?"

Xena knew there was no way to get out of her bonds. They felt like something else the creature got from Hades. She could see that Gabrielle was tied with regular rope, however. Xena was alarmed at the rage building in her. Gabrielle had been right about how she felt about Kimberly's children.

The squat creature, she heard it called "Helms" a few times, was bustling around the room giving directions to the soldiers. They were simply to kill the girl when they found her as fast and painlessly as possible--nothing fancy. Xena wondered if Kimberly and Cal were prisoners somewhere, too. Probably. Kimberly was just like her in abilities and it was actually HER daughter they wanted to murder. And Jilly's father had Callisto in him. Those two would be a nasty combination.

"Don't worry." She looked over and saw Ares. No one else could see him, apparently. "Just watch. Since you're related now you might be able to enjoy it, unlike that other time." Xena didn't respond since she didn't want to attract attention to herself. The god pointed and she looked.

There was a shimmering glowing spot in the room which gradually resolved into a slender teenage girl in black fighting leathers. The soldiers of Tartarus in the room quickly surrounded her and the squat creature approached her.

"Oh, I don't know if my master will like this! No, not at all!"

The girl smiled and said, "What's you're name? You look like something an animal vomited up."

"Helms. And I have had the honor of serving Lord Hades longer than any other of his servants," he said proudly though he still managed to cringe.

"Well, Helms, he can still get me if he wants. All you have to do is kill me. Too bad being butt ugly isn't enough, right?"

Xena said softly to Ares, "Release me so I can help her. There's too many." But Ares just smiled at her and put a finger to his lips.

Helms looked around. He had underestimated the god of war. He was ashamed of his error and his master would be displeased. Her old memories were mingled with those of her present incarnation. It would be difficult for his master to separate them as he only wanted the old Jilly. Helms nervously imagined what might be in store for him.

"Hi, Xena! I'll be with you in a minute as soon as I kill these people," Jilly called. Hades' soldiers looked nervously at each other. There were thirty of them but nobody likes to hear somebody talk that way. "Well, this is boring! Come on, let's go!' she said to Helms. The girl drew her sword and simply sauntered forward. Helms leaped at her like a frog and she sidestepped the creature easily and sliced a taloned claw off. He turned and charged her again and Helms' tusks sliced through the leather of her boot, before the sword came down splitting his head in half. The disfigured body grabbed its arm and scrambled off as the rest of the soldiers attacked her.

Xena watched. She could hear Gabrielle making amazed sounds. It was fascinating. The warrior princess had gone over her fight with Jilly in her head again and again, trying to understand how the girl could've possibly been so spectacular. At least she could see what she was doing now. Xena still knew she wouldn't stand a chance against her. Somehow the girl could use her body like a chakram, seeming to bounce off of walls. She also did have the chakram in action. Xena had no idea how she could coordinate the two. It was as if Jilly and the chakram were both on invisible threads whirled by a giant. She moved so fast she was hard to see. Xena just saw this flying figure and jets of blood wherever she had been. The screams of the soldiers was punctuated by the girlish laughter which was becoming more and more excited. Xena could detect something sexual in it, she hadn't remembered and Gabrielle hadn't mentioned. Well, she IS my descendant now, she realized with embarrassment. Xena sensed a presence and saw Hades on her other side. She heard Ares laughing. Hades was keeping his face expressionless but he wasn't fooling either Xena or the other god.

Helms had gone back into the fight each time he had reassembled himself, and each time Jilly chopped him up in a different way. His master was here now. He thought he would try a different tack, and he ran at her legs with the intention of knocking her over. He heard that laugh again and realized his head was cut off and flying through the air. He felt a strong hand catch him.

"I am very disappointed in you, Helms."

"Master, please forgive your humble servant!" the head whined up at the god who held it. Hades tossed the head back into the fight where Jilly's sword cut it into three separate pieces. The squat body managed to catch them all and ran off to the side.

Jilly was starting to slip on the blood and bodies now. This was an awful small space to kill so many people. Sure was fun, though.

"All right, that's enough," Hades called out. Relieved, his six remaining men stood still and the creature, Helms, looked like he wanted to hide behind them. "Helms, go back to Tartarus and think of a suitable punishment for yourself." The creature and the remaining living soldiers disappeared. Hades walked into the carnage, looking at the dead soldiers and the girl who was simply watching him.

"I just wanted you with me."

Jilly smiled at him. "Thanks for the compliment but I belong to Ares. This was great, though!" Her eyes darkened. "You would've given me back my memories too, is that true?" Hades nodded.

"You should spend some time as a mortal before you do these things," she said abruptly and walked past him towards Ares and the prisoners. Hades watched her, then disappeared, followed by the bodies and blood of all of his soldiers. Xena felt her hands suddenly free and she untied Gabrielle. She looked and saw Ares and Jilly standing close together murmuring. Now Jilly looked at her and approached. Xena tensed.

"No, it's okay, Xena. Things are different. I still have those memories but now we're related. Mom would be mad at me if I killed you, I'm sure. Dad probably wouldn't mind, though," she said ironically. "Hey, Bardy, sorry about kicking you in the face like that when Langland killed me. Hope you don't hold it against me. I was just mad because of everything Mom had to go through. Guess, it wasn't any more fair for me to blame you than it was for Mom."

"Jilly, was it always an act then, that you liked me?"

"Oh, no, NO! Bardy. I didn't even know about a lot of that stuff until the very end. And, then, it was like, I still LIKED you, but I LOVED Kimberly and Callisto. That's probably why I was so angry at you. Okay, Bardy?"

"That's fine, Jilly. I'm so glad to see you back! I know I'm responsible for what happened to Kimberly in a way. I think about that all the time."

"Well, Mom will be glad to hear that, I guess, though I bet she won't admit it."

"How do YOU feel, Jilly?" the bard asked her.

Jilly looked at her and Xena, then over at Ares, who had simply been listening. "I'm okay. I wish I could've grown up." She looked at the god. "Is it too late?"

Ares nodded. "I can't do any more things like that for a long time. I didn't bring you all the way to your age when you died. You can do a little growing again. I just brought you to where your abilities would be sufficient for this."

Jilly's face was red now but she just said to him, "Can we go get Mom and Dad now?" He nodded and they both disappeared in a blaze.

Gabrielle came over to Xena and put her hand on her shoulder. She saw that Xena's eyes were red and teary. "Xena," she said.

"It's all me. Everything always comes back to me finally, Gabrielle. Only I'm not the one who ever has to pay for it. Just people like Kimberly and Callisto. And now Jilly!"

Part II Puppets

10.
The warrior rode openly into the camp. He was at least six and a half feet tall, and had a constant sneer showing through his thick red beard. When the guards demanded who he was he said he wanted to join Langland's army. A messenger was sent and returned and they waved him on in. While he was waiting he looked around arrogantly, as if counting his possessions. He finally arrived at a tent where a gray haired warrior waited outside and looked him over.

The warror dismounted. "Are you Langland?" he demanded arrogantly.

"Maybe. Who wants to know?"

"I've come to take your army from you, dog!" He drew his sword quickly and the old man was also instantly ready to fight, when a young man rushed up to the huge warrior.

"Stop it, please! Don't hurt him! Don't hurt my father!" The warrior knocked him aside with a curse and advanced on the old man. His first blow was blocked but knocked the old warrior to the ground. He managed to avoid a death blow but received a wound in his side as he rolled away. The larger man raised his sword again but he was suddenly flat on his back, his feet having been knocked out from under him. In an instant he was back on his feet, but now the old warrior was off to the side and the young man was facing him holding a sword.

"Get out of my way, boy!" the warrior cursed.

"I'm Langland," the young man said simply, "and you have an attitude problem."

The large man slashed down with his blade and Langland parried it but fell back from the power of it. He flicked the light sword he carried and the large warrior cursed as he felt blood begin running into his eyes. Langland's sword flicked again, but this time the warrior blocked it, and he swept down and managed to shave some of the young man's beautiful brown hair off, then kicked him and Langland fell. The big warrior thought he had him but somehow the young man scrambled away just in time. The blood running in his eyes was beginning to blind him now. Unable to see he made a powerful wipe sweep and he could hear his opponent's sword shatter when it connected. He suddenly felt a sharp pain in his left arm, followed by a stinging blow to his sword hand which forced him to drop his sword. He angrily waited to die, but instead felt chains quickly clamped on his ankles and wrists.

"Here, wipe your face with this." The warrior felt a cloth forced into his hand. He wiped the blood from his eyes and could make out the young man looking at him, breathing hard and holding his broken sword, and the old warrior standing near him, his hand pressed to his side.

"You'll never make me beg, you scum!" he cursed, then spat on the ground.

The young man rolled his eyes and looked over at the older warrior. "What do you think, Simi?"

"He's a fine swordsman. Sometimes that kind of arrogance is just what you need. It's scary.

"Pretty dumb."

"There again, sometimes that's perfect for the job if a certain effect is what you're after. He'd make a better Langland than me. I'm too old."

"How do you suggest we control him?"

"Well, there you got me. You're the enigmatic genius. I'm just a simple warrior."

Langland poured a cup of wine and approached the glowering man in chains towering over him. He held it out. After a moment the warrior took it, seeming to expect it to be taken away when he reached for it. He drank it down in a gulp.

"Tell me what your name is." No answer. He paused, then said, "Your death will be quick if you just tell me that." No answer. Langland sighed. "Well, I'm naming you Bobo until you tell me otherwise. Simi, lock up Bobo and have his and your wounds looked at."

"Come on, Bobo," the old man said, taking the end of the chain that connected the big man's shackled hands and feet. Cursing, he hopped after him.

11.
"Remember me, Langland?"

The handsome young man turned with a charming smile. His eyes flickered but no other indication of surprise was apparent. "Is that you, Jilly? This is what I call a surprise. How've you been?"

Jilly was just looking at him. He had outsmarted her, killed her, taken her army and prevented her from doing what she felt was the most important mission she could accomplish in her life. And all he could say was 'How've you been?' She felt a rushing in her head.

"You overlooked something important when you betrayed and murdered me." She tried to make her voice cold and dangerous, but it didn't come out that way. Langland's smile became even more beautiful as he earnestly looked deep in her eyes.

"What was that, Commander?"

"I'm Ares' favorite. You don't just kill me and walk away."

"If you're Ares' favorite why did he let me keep your army?"

This conversation wasn't going like Jilly had imagined it. Langland was supposed to be frightened of her. Then she would toy with him a while before wounding him and taking him off for torture. He wasn't playing along though. She tried to come up with an answer to his question but he supplied it.

"Ares let me keep your army because I'm leading it better than you could have. I've never met the god and I don't sacrifice to him. You saw him all the time and observed his rituals. I'm sure he likes you more than me, but when it comes to his army Ares looks at results."

Jilly felt like killing him just to make him shut up. She kept looking at his beautiful hands though and his hair. He wore it much longer now. He had only been 17 when he murdered her. Her age now. Jilly's face got red looking at him.

"Are you going to kill me, Jilly. I know you can. You could take me and ten like me at the same time. That was why I shot you when you were busy with Xena." As he was speaking Langland came up close to her. Jilly knew he was using his voice the way she used her sword, to hypnotize her, toy with her. She hoped he would try to stab her, then she would kill him in the blink of an eye.

Langland was enjoying himself even though he knew he might die. If Jilly decided to kill him there was nothing he could do about it. There had been nothing between them before; he was just her lieutenant. He had a crush on her actually. Then she had been a few years older; now he was the older one, apparently. She looked younger than when he'd last seen her, in fact. He'd joined her army when he was 16, and as soon as he met her knew her overconfidence would let him defeat her, no matter how great a fighter she was. She could squash him like a bug, but he had killed her and taken the army she had built without a scratch. He could see the lust in her eyes. Some chicks were kinky that way.

Something occurred to Jilly. Although she had the memories of her other life they weren't real for her now. She was a virgin, never even kissed. She got even more flustered by Langland. Jilly had to do something so she turned away then whirled back around and slashed down with her sword across his chest, only cutting the thickness of the light leather strap which held his scabbard. Langland looked impressed as his sword fell to the ground.

"That's what I call fast, Jilly! Would you like to get something to eat? You're a great cook, I remember. I don't know if anything around here would compare with what you can do."

"Langland, will you shut up! You betrayed me and murdered me. I'm here to kill you!"

The handsome young man looked hurt. "Well, I'm sorry you feel that way about it, Jilly, though I understand. Are you going to kill me right now?"

"Gods!" Jilly cursed. She slammed her sword back into its scabbard and turned and walked quickly away, but turned at the sound of Langland's voice.

"Jilly, is it okay if I come by?" She didn't answer but hurried off, her face red.

*****************************************************

There was a knock on the door of their room in the inn. Cal opened it and looked down at the beautiful young man with long hair.

"Who is it, Cal?" Kimberly's voice asked. Cal waited for the young man to speak.

"Hello sir. I'd like to see Jilly if she's here."

"What's your name?"

"Langland."

Langland suddenly found himself hurling through the air into the room and heard the door slam. Xena--it looked like--caught him and redirected his trajectory so he slammed into a wall. Then he was yanked back and laid flat on the floor. The man was standing on his right hand and the woman on his left hand. A sword held by the woman was two inches from his face, and a sword held by the man two inches from his crotch.

"Mom! Dad! What are you DOING?" Jilly came rushing up.

"Hi Jilly," Langland said.

Jilly looked at her parents. Mom's face was impenetrable; she might as well have been wearing her chainmail veil, but Dad's face was lit up, the eyes wide, the too wide smile. Dad was Callisto now. Cal chuckled, "So this is Ares' weasel. And I thought I would have to hunt you down and risk Ares' wrath. This is mighty obligin' of you, pardner." He looked at Kimberly.

"He's up to something, Cal. We need to find out what before we kill him."

"Well, duh! I hadn't planned on anything fast, Kimberly. Get a fire going, Jilly."

Jilly grabbed Cal's sword hand and raised it and then Kimberly's and raised that. She knelt down next to Langland. "I'm SO embarrassed. This is AWFUL!" She turned on her parents. "Do you two mind?! He came to see me. Can I have a life of my own? Huh? Huh?" She stood and began pushing them both back till they were several feet away, then she returned to Langland and helped him up.

"Jilly, this is the same Langland who murdered you before, right?" Kimberly said carefully. She thought she might be hallucinating. Glancing over she saw that Cal had reverted back to his normal personality, and was coldly studying the situation.

"Yeah, Mom. This is him."

"Hello," Langland said.

"Mom, Dad, I went to see him to kill him, but instead we started talking. I mean, he didn't kill ME me, but the other me who isn't me, anymore. This is between us, okay? I can kill him with my eyes closed, anyway."

"I can attest to that, sir, mam," Langland said helpfully.

"You shut up," Cal said to him, then to Jilly, "you could've killed him with your eyes closed before, too, if I understand it. And he chose his opportunity and tore your throat out with an arrow."

"That was then, this is now. Mom, you understand, don't you?" Jilly said plaintively to her mother.

Kimberly however was having an intense feeling of unreality similar to when Gabrielle's spirit first came to her so many years before and talked her into coming back to ancient Greece with her. She'd agreed because she thought it was a dream. Her daughter couldn't possibly be standing up for the traitorous subordinate who had murdered her. Kimberly had let Jilly supervise the executions of any number of traitors in Kimberly's army. Her daughter couldn't have such terrible values now. Kimberly felt like Jilly was driving a knife through her heart.

"Jilly, he must've drugged you or something. Let your father and me handle this. You go for a walk now," Kimberly said.

"No! He didn't do anything except talk to me. He really listens to me! That's why you don't want me to see him! Come on, Langland."

"Make a move and I'll kill you over a month instead of a week," Cal said.

"Jilly..." Langland said nervously.

"Come on, Langland. He's just bluffing. He's not really Callisto; her spirit is just in him. COME ON, Langland, I thought you came to see me. Well, LET'S GO!"

The young man didn't move. Jilly looked at him disbelievingly then stomped out of the room, slamming the door. Kimberly looked at Langland then at her husband. Kimberly knew he wasn't bluffing. She had been about to say the same thing--she wasn't bluffing either.

"We have to let him go, Cal. You saw Jilly."

"I know."

The woman now walked up to the too handsome young man. "Do you know who I am, besides Jilly's mother."

"No mam. You look like Xena."

"I'm the Sword of Ares. That," she said pointing to her husband, "is the reincarnation of Callisto. When he gets angry, like when someone screws with his daughter, Callisto comes out. Either one of us could rip your head off and shove it up your ass--I'm not speaking figuratively either. Keep that in mind when you're around Jilly."

"Yes mam, I will. Can I go now? I think I should talk to Jilly. She seems upset."

"Yeah, get out of here."

After he left, giving them both his charming smile, Cal looked at Kimberly. "Is she just doing this to hurt us?"

"I don't know, Cal."

12.
Jimmy Falconi was just finishing his lunch when he saw a couple of familiar figures. He smiled at them and waved them over. "Kimberly, Cal!" His former enforcer and his wife came over to him. There was a blonde girl with them carrying Sam.

He kissed Kimberly and shook Cal's hand warmly. He was still a little angry that he had quit, and he must've warned his nigger away too. That just showed how smart he was, though. Jimmy was glad to see them.

"Oh, Sam. There's my boy." He took the three-year-old from the girl, who handed him over at a nod from Kimberly. "Where's Jilly?"

Cal spoke, "She's in Europe visiting some more of Kimberly's relatives. This is their daughter. We traded. Her name is Jilly, too. They're both named after the same old lady."

"Glad to meet you, Jilly," the consigliere smiled at her, and received a radiant smile in return.

"They treatin' you all right here, Jimmy?" Cal said, indicating the restaraunt.

"Yeah, fine. Though I gotta say the food aint what it was without you to crack the whip over 'em."

"Well, Jilly is gonna take care of that, aren't you, honey?" Kimberly said. The girl looked embarrassed. "She's a fantastic cook, Jimmy. She took lessons from this famous chef. You're gonna see something really special here!" Jilly looked like she wanted to crawl into a hole.

Jimmy laughed, seeing the girl blush. He handed Sam back to her and said to Kimberly, "Can I talk to Cal for a minute alone, baby."

"Sure, Jimmy," Kimberly said, leading Jilly away.

Kimberly was sitting at a table watching Sam turn some garlic bread into mush, while Jilly looked bored. Cal joined them after about fifteen minutes. He made sure no one could overhear them and said to his wife, "Jimmy wants me to go back to work for him for special assignments. I told him I couldn't be his regular boy anymore and he said that's okay."

"Are you gonna do it, Cal? We wanted out."

"I don't have any choice if we want to keep coming back from Greece. I told him I'd do it but I wanted Robert to help me. He won't hit Robert now since he wants me, so at least I got that cleared up."

Kimberly sighed, "Oh well. I knew it was too easy. Can you keep you-know-who bottled up?"

"Yeah, Callisto only comes out when I'm mad. I never get mad when I'm working."

Do you want me and Jilly to help."

"Not on this first one--it's pretty straightforward. Maybe some time though. That okay with you, honey?" He said to his daughter who was attentively listening now.

"I'll say. Will you teach me to shoot?"

"Of course. We can go looking at guns as soon as we leave here."

"That's great!"

***********************************************

Cal came up to Jimmy just as he was sitting down at his table. He'd never seen him look like that. "What is it, Cal?"

"Jimmy, a punk just came to town who's really bad news. I'm gonna hit him before he moves on you and the don. I just wanted to let you know. It's on the house, too."

Jimmy was amazed. He'd never seen the fingerman look remotely like this. And what was that "on the house" bullshit about. "Tell me about it, Cal."

Cal was trying to keep his voice cold but wasn't succeeding. "It's this smooth talking little fuck. He weasels his way in, nobody thinks he could hurt a fly, then he takes over. Well, he's not doin' it here!"

"What's this guy's name?"

"Langland."

"Where can we find him?"

"Right there," Cal said through gritted teeth. Jimmy followed his look and saw a good looking guy who was maybe 25 talking to Jilly by the kitchen. He was keeping his hands to himself but Jilly was patting him and smoothing his coat. Finally she just grabbed his face and planted one right on him. The consigliere looked over at Cal. He could see his hand moving toward his jacket where Jimmy knew he carried that Smith & Wesson cannon of his.

"Cal!" he said sharply but quietly. The enforcer looked at him. Jimmy'd never seen that look in his eyes--kinda reminded him of that maniac, Albert Anastasia. "Cal, I understand you feel responsible for Jilly and take that seriously. I feel the same about my family. But you can't whack a guy just because Jilly likes him."

"I'm telling you, Jimmy. He's dangerous."

"Okay, Cal. Where's he from, I'll check up on him."

"He's covered his tracks, Jimmy! You won't find anything on him anywhere. See how smart he is? The little shit!"

"Jesus, Cal."

"You don't understand, Jimmy. He's like Lucky Luciano or somebody. Only he don't look it. That's what makes him so dangerous. He's got Jilly fooled like everybody else. I knew I shoulda killed him when he first came sniffing around her. That little fucker made the biggest mistake of his life when he thought he could screw with my family!"

Jimmy Falconi stood up and took Cal's arm. "Come on, Cal. I'm getting you out of here before you get both of us into trouble." He managed to lead the man out of his restaraunt, though the killer kept looking back in and seemed like he might explode.

"Cal, you're the best I've seen since Bugsy Siegel. You can't let yourself get like this. Listen, I was gonna give you a job but I can see now you can't do anything till this family thing of yours is straightened out. Do you have somebody else who could handle something for me? Cal. Cal!"

"You mean since I'll be hot after I whack this punk? That's smart, Jimmy."

"Dammit Cal! You're not whackin' anybody. You can't kill some guy just because your wife's niece or whatever she is likes him. Understand?"

Cal finally seemed to calm down. "Yeah, okay, Jimmy. Don't say I didn't warn you when this little fucker comes after you though."

"I'll remember that, Cal. Now can you recommend anybody."

"Yeah, Robert."

"The nigger? Cal!"

"That's who I recommend. You've got other boys. Go with them."

"Okay, Cal. I'll take your word for it. Will you arrange it? I don't wanna talk to him."

"Sure."

"Okay, here's the name and address. He's in LA. He's got good protection."

Cal showed some interest in spite of how distracted he felt, "Bennylegs? Is a war coming, Jimmy?"

"Well, that's what I hope this will take care of. What's this gonna cost me?"

"Same as me."

"Cal! For a nigger?"

"Jimmy..."

"Okay, okay. Now listen, Cal! I don't wanna hear about that Langland kid getting hit."

"You're making a mistake, Jimmy."

"I'll take my chances."

13.
Langland savored his beer. This world was fantastic. You never had to be too hot or too cold; the variety of food and drink was greater than Agammenon himself ever had. The clothes were comfortable. The latrines were inside and clean. In other ways it was just the same though. Everywhere Langland looked were sheep he could see right through. He'd had his doubts when Ares appeared and announced he was sending him someplace as an experiment. It hadn't been a request. Langland had never met the god before but he knew who it had to be.

"Oh, by the way," Ares had said. "If you kill Jilly again, directly or indirectly, I will personally see to it that you burn in agony for all eternity. Hades will probably want a shot at you too even though he'll like having her. You understand that?"

"Why in the world would I want to hurt Jilly?" Langland said earnestly.

Ares replied, "Don't try to snow me. You're doing a good job but you're not a favorite. My favorites are great warriors, not back stabbing rodents. Kill her and you're gonna be toilet paper in Tartarus, got it?"

"Got it. What about her parents? Her father wants to kill me."

"Her mother wants to kill you, too; she just hides it better. Do what you want. They're each worth a thousand of you, but like I said, this is an experiment. That's why I'm sending you there. Jilly loves them for whatever that's worth to you."

"What about my army?"

"You mean MY army. That's another experiment. I want to see what Simi can do with Roderick. The two of them together would make one great warrior."

"Who?"

"Bobo." The god blazed brightly then disappeared.

14.
In her room Jilly picked up the big overstuffed white bear Dad had got her. She danced it around a little then tossed it on her bed, next to the gleaming little Beretta. That was Mom's bribe. She probably hoped she'd use it on Langland. She felt guilty about teasing Dad. She'd seen how he was watching her in the restaraunt, so something got into her and she kissed Langland. Uncle Jimmy had bustled her dad out. She had been ready to push Langland out of the way if he opened fire. Jilly knew she shouldn't have done that; she couldn't help it. Dad was just so worked up over Langland she couldn't resist pushing his buttons. The joke would be on her if he killed Langland. She sighed.

Jilly hated how her parents kept looking at her--like she'd lost her mind or something. That's a riot, she thought; Callisto worried about ME being crazy. She still remembered the shock she felt when she realized everyone thought Callisto was a maniac. Since Jilly traveled with her it just seemed normal to her. She knew sometimes Callisto seemed to lose control and then she would send Jilly away or ride off herself as fast as she could. Jilly never thought it meant she was crazy though. At the time actually she thought it was her fault for being a bad girl. She smiled at the recollection: being a bad girl with Callisto meant only wounding someone instead of killing them, or wincing when an arrow was cut out of you. Being a good girl meant making an enemy die an agonizing death with a certain flair and being able to gauge an opponent's strengths and weaknesses in a glance. It wasn't until she was on her own after Mom (though she wasn't Mom then) had killed Callisto, that Jilly heard people talk and realized what Callisto's reputation was. For a couple of years she had simply roamed the country stealing food, robbing bandits, and practicing with her weapons until she thought she could face Kimberly. And when she came to towns she would hear the stories about Callisto and how everyone thanked the gods she had disappeared--they prayed to Zeus she was dead. She should've killed them but she never did. Instead she would leave and feel like crying. Sometimes she even would since she didn't have Callisto anymore to tell her it was weak. She knew she wasn't ready to face Kimberly but she couldn't seem to help herself. She had to avenge Callisto. So a 12-year-old girl went to kill the warrior who had beaten Callisto: Kimberly, the invincible Sword of Ares.

It was awfully strange having two sets of memories now. She could clearly remember feeling safe and loved with Mommy and Daddy, and she could also remember being starved and beaten and passed around by her father Detrius to his friends. They were both equally real. She thought she was different now that she had those happy memories too. She felt, and Mom agreed, that she was more stable this time that she was 17 than the other time she was 17. She didn't hear the voices this time. What a weird life!

Langland was her first boyfriend in either life. In her first life, after Callisto had rescued her when she was eight years old, she was intent on never being touched by a man that way again. Callisto agreed with her feelings though she said sex was a weapon she should learn to use eventually. Only as a last resort though, if you didn't have anything else. Don't be like Xena and use it just like a sword or chakram. That was why she and Jilly were BETTER than Xena; they had standards. Xena would do anything to win. Callisto would do anything to survive. There was a difference.

She knew why they didn't like Langland. They felt just like she did when she went to kill him. But then when he looked at her and talked to her she just went all squishy inside. When she thought about it she couldn't believe what she was doing; he had betrayed and murdered her. Jilly could clearly remember lying on the ground with that arrow through her throat and looking up at Xena and Gabrielle. It was them she cursed with her last breath, not Langland. That was how you got ahead in a warlord's army, by killing your superior. Of course, the accepted practice was to challenge them and fight them; but if Langland had challenged her he would've been dead before he closed his mouth. It wasn't cowardly, it was just realistic. When she had fought her way up in Kimberly's army she had always known she was the better fighter, so how much bravery was she demonstrating? Langland was just different. She was surrounded by great warriors and was a great warrior herself. Langland was a fine fighter she knew, but he didn't value that particularly. He would poison someone he could beat in a fight. He just saw no reason to expend the energy fighting if he could accomplish the same thing more easily. That attitude was such a breath of fresh air from the rigid warrior codes of her parents and, yes, herself. Jilly would never act like Langland but she liked the idea that he did. Besides, like she had told her parents, she could kill him in her sleep.

The strange thing was that Langland was more merciful than either her Mom or Callisto had been. If they thought someone deserved punishment they would personally mete it out. Langland never set himself up to judge people like that. He didn't go out of his way to frighten people either, unlike Mom and Callisto. He just did whatever it took to come out on top in the most efficient way possible. In that he was like Dad when he had Callisto bottled up. The warlord was coming out more and more though since she had started dating Langland.

Everybody seemed to think she was stupid or something, that she didn't realize he was dangerous. Even Langland might think that. That was ridiculous. She was the one he had killed, and she could remember how much it hurt too. It was just that she felt superior to everybody else. As far as Jilly knew she was the greatest warrior who had ever lived. She could take both of her parents AND Xena at the same time. Maybe a demigod who couldn't be killed would be able to beat her. But Langland had killed her. He could only have done that if he understood her in a way no one else did. Besides he was SO cute!

Hanging up the phone, the consigliere stared at the pictures of boxers and opera singers that were up on the wall of the social club. Something was going on but he didn't know what. The take from almost every operation was down but everybody couldn't be skimming. He was glad he hadn't flown off the handle and hurt the first guy he noticed, because it probably wasn't him. Somebody was cutting in on the family in a way Jimmy couldn't figure yet. What Cal had said a few months before about that kid Langland suddenly came to him. The problem was Cal didn't give him any background at all. Maybe Cal can't tell me about him because there's something he don't want me to know about HIM. Jimmy began drumming his fingers. Cal was smart. He was pissed off because of his niece but maybe he knew what he was talkin' about anyway about that punk. Maybe THAT was why he was so pissed off about his niece. The consigliere glanced around the club house. The boys were at their usual table but they were being awful quiet. Jimmy looked up as the waiter came over. He didn't know him. He glanced up and recognized Langland just as the icepick went in his ear.

15.
"Hey, Langland."

He looked up from the American Journal of Physics he was reading; he found the science of this time fascinating. If he'd been born now that's probably what he would be doing. He smiled at Jilly. She had found the little diner he went to. Going to her dad's restaraunt was something he only did when Jilly dragged him there. Knowing he absolutely couldn't hurt her made her special to him. He could allow himself to look at her as something other than a tool.

"Yes."

"I'm tired of being a virgin. Think you can help me out there?"

Langland quickly looked around for her parents, prepared to flee if he saw either of them. He looked with a soft smile at Jilly. If she was trying to egg her father into killing him, she was doing a good job of it. He could appreciate that kind of style. He considered his options here. If Cal and her mother found out he had deflowered Jilly they would make him into a footstool--if they could. However, Jilly could probably protect him. He had seen her in action and knew she could disarm her parents whenever she felt like it. He didn't fool himself that she would hurt either of them for him. On the plus side, it would tie Jilly closer to him, which was valuable both because of her abilities and her status as Ares' favorite. Oh, yeah; and he also liked her more than anyone he had ever met and thought she was sexy.

"Jilly, if you're sure you want that," he said earnestly, folding down the corner of a page to mark his spot in the article about unified field theory he was reading.

"I'll bet you're as good at sex as everything else that doesn't require any feelings." Jilly was trying to sound tough and worldly and cynical. She actually thought she detected some genuine feeling in Langland's eyes for a moment. Her face was red.

"What can I say, Jilly?"

She walked over to the chair he was sitting in and sat in his lap. Jilly ran her fingers through his long brown hair. It really stood out in the 1950s; it surprised her he kept it. She stood up and took his hand. "Come on. We need a place under an assumed name so Dad doesn't kill you."

Langland was reading his journal again in bed. Jilly kissed his cheek one more time and finally got up. She walked naked to the ice bucket and got a bottle of coke out and turned the radio on, listening to Little Richard as she searched for the bottle opener. She was humming along with the music as she returned to bed, kissing Langland on the lips this time. The radio started to give a news report and Langland lowered his article and just waited for Jilly's reaction.

"Reputed organized crime leader, Jimmy Falconi and four others were murdered earlier today in Chicago's Little Italy in an apparent gangland slaying. Police sources conjecture it may have been in retaliation for the recent murder in Los Angeles of Benito (Bennylegs) Leporello. In sports today..."

The radio snapped off and Langland looked at Jilly as she stood naked by the radio. She had the bottle opener in her hand. That was a bad sign.

"You killed my uncle Jimmy."

Langland knew he might die. "I won't deny it, Jilly. Ares didn't send me here to be your boyfriend. He wants to see what I can do. I've already begun moving in on his and the other family's territories. He was about to realize it and let your dad kill me like he wanted. This should just add to the confusion and allow me to grab more. It might even trigger a full scale war which would present a lot of opportunities."

"My dad will kill you anyway even if I don't right now. He'll know it's you."

"Well, Jilly, I was hoping you could give me a little help in that department."

She looked at him in disbelief. "You KILLED my uncle Jimmy! My uncle Jimmy!" She began crying. "Why did you do that? I like you, Langland. Why did you have to kill my uncle Jimmy?!"

"I wanted what he had. It's the same reason I killed you before."

"YOU BASTARD!" Her hand flashed. Langland felt a sharp pain and looked down at the hole in his hand and the bottle opener imbedded in the wall behind him.

Crying, Jilly came next to the bed and pulled her simple dress on quickly, stepped into her panties, stuffed her nylons and bra into her purse on top of the shiny Beretta, and ran out of the motel room, slamming the door behind her. Langland found a towel to wrap his hand, dressed and left to find a doctor, reading his article again as he walked. He was considering a letter he wanted to write to the editor questioning the author's methodology.

*************************************************

The restaraunt was closed and dark, and the couple sat at a table just lit by light coming around the door to the kitchen and the candle in a squat jar between them. The woman had a glass of club soda and the man had a beer. The woman reached and touched the man's hand.

"Jimmy was like a father to me, Kimberly. Nobody wanted him to bring me in like he did. They told him I wasn't Italian, that he shouldn't trust me. But he made me his top boy, stood godfather to my kids!"

Kimberly was watching him closely. Cal was drinking a beer. She had never seen him drink any more than she had seen Callisto drink. She felt like a drink herself but not a beer--more like a fifth of whiskey. "Cal, you know it wasn't personal. It was a hit just like Jimmy sent you out on. Langland and Jimmy are a lot alike. Actually, Langland is more like the don himself."

"What are you saying, Kimberly? That's it all right because it's just business?"

"Cal, what about the friends and families of all the guys you've hit?"

Cal suddenly stood up overturning the table. He looked up and began screaming at the top of his lungs, his big .45 in one hand, and his eyes wide. His wife moved behind him easing the syringe out of her pocket. Cal began to whirl on her and she jammed the hypodermic needle into his leg. Before he fell, frothing at the mouth a backhand blow from him sent her reeling across the room.

16.
Langland held his keys in his hand outside his apartment door. He knew one or both of Jilly's parents were inside. He couldn't hear them the way Jilly could but he just knew what they would do. If he ran they would find him. He was so tired of living like this; first in Greece, now here. If Jilly decided to save him he would live, if not he would die. He couldn't fight Jilly's parents anymore than he could fight her. He might be able to poison them eventually or catch them off guard the way he had done Jilly, but that was only if they didn't kill him now. He thought his chances were about 50/50. Langland looked at the copy of the American Journal of Physics he carried and thought of this world. He would like to just stay in a room somewhere and work on stuff like this. Maybe teach.

"You're between a stone and a hard place, Langland," a beautiful voice said.

He looked at the young woman who had spoken to him. She was of middle height just like him, with long jet black hair and chiseled delicate features. She was dressed in a fashionable skirt and jacket of a subtle grey that matched her eyes. He noticed an embossed design on her purse of a face surrounded by snakes, and she had a tasteful pin on her lapel of an owl.

"Athena."

"Everybody hates you and you didn't choose any of it. My brother likes what you have done with his army as a change of pace but he thinks you're vermin and will let you die as soon as he has an adequate replacement. He will kill you if you don't serve him as well as you can, but in doing that you are making enemies of great warriors like Kimberly and Cal Snopes who would torture you to death as a diversion. Naturally, Ares won't protect you from them though he might protect them from you even though he told you he wouldn't."

"Do you want me as a piece to play against Ares?"

Athena stepped closer to him and reached out to affectionately run her hand through his long hair. "Ah, Langland, you think like me! Unlike Ares I love a brilliant dissembling killer. You would have been a hero if you had been of high enough birth to lead men at Troy. Yes, Langland, I want to play you against Ares. When he took you he was stepping into my domain without knowing it. He despises you for the reasons I cherish you. Watching you outwit warriors who could defeat you makes me rejoice."

"All of this is very flattering. Does it mean you won't let Jilly's parents kill me?"

"No. That will still happen unless Jilly comes to your aid, as you surmised when you deflowered her, thereby binding her to you. You are still engaged in Ares' service and I cannot interfere. I could sense your downheartedness so I came to you to encourage you and make you a promise. When Ares tires of this game he will return you to your own time to die at the hands of his new commander. When you return though, simply abandon the army to him and serve me."

"Ares won't like that."

"No, he won't, but he cannot force you to fight and die. I won't allow it. You are my favorite." With that the goddess smiled at him and seemed to break into a thousand shards of mirror which tumbled away in all directions.

Langland felt something and looked at his keychain which now had a small medallion. Examining it he saw a helmet and spear.

"Langland." He turned at the feminine voice.

"Jilly."

"I guess we need to talk to my mom," she indicated his door.

**********************************************

Representatives from families all over the country were at Jimmy Falconi's funeral, and all the florists in Chicago were completely bought out. The police joked with the news crews as they filmed another lavish gangster funeral. Kimberly and Jilly were dressed in black and wearing veils just like Jimmy's wife and daughters. Everyone was shocked at how Cal Snopes looked, Jimmy's feared fingerman. He looked like he was doped up or something and his wife and niece were hovering around him, practically leading him by the hand. They led him to the old don and the two men were crying as they hugged each other. Jilly, carrying Sam, couldn't meet her mother's eyes.

**********************************************

"Mom." No answer. "Mom."

"What is it, Jilly?" the voice answered coldly over the phone. Jilly shivered. She hadn't heard her sound like that since the old Sword of Ares days. She could hear Sam in the background.

"How's daddy?" she sounded like a little girl.

"I don't know, Jilly. I haven't seen Cal since the funeral, just Callisto. I'm afraid if I let him/her/whatever wake up completely there will be a killing spree. This isn't ancient Greece; I can't let him do that."

"He'll be all right, though, won't he?" Jilly was beginning to sob as she talked.

"How should I know, Jilly? Why don't you ask your boyfriend? He's the criminal mastermind."

"Mom, please don't! Please!...Can I talk to Sam?"

"I'll call you if your dad ever shows up," the receiver clicked in Jilly's ear. Langland took the phone from her and hung it up. Then he stood behind her and ran his hands down her hair, trying to sooth her.

17.
Simi was pretty nervous about this whole business. People like him didn't get to talk to gods. He was just a simple warrior: a good one he knew, but no Meleager or Draco. He wasn't even as good a swordsman as Langland. But Ares appeared to him and told him what to do. While Langland was gone Simi had the army and Ares wanted him to try something. Simi had no more choice than heroes did when they were tapped by the gods for something. He looked at the small medallion with a sword on it which the god had given him. He said it would let him control Roderick.

"Who?" Simi had asked.

"Bobo." Ares responded. He disappeared without explaining how to use it. Of course, THAT would be beneath the god. Simi hoped he could figure it out without that big ox killing him first. They had him about a month before Langland disappeared: spirited away by Ares, Simi assumed. Each time they started to release him he began to attack them before they'd even gotten all the chains off him. There was another chain around his neck and attached to a deep stake in the ground, so he couldn't have done anything anyway if they moved out of his reach. Bobo just didn't think of things like that. He was interesting though. For one thing, he was incredibly strong; he managed to pull the first stake out, so they had one especially made. For another, Langland said Bobo was a better swordsman than he had appeared--and he had appeared pretty damn good. Langland said that Bobo's temper kept him from fighting like he was capable of and made him stupid. Simi thought Bobo was stupid enough without his temper but he kept his opinion to himself. Langland was the scary mastermind; Simi was just a simple warrior. According to Langland he shouldn't have stood a chance against Bobo, let alone beat him. So let's help him get control of his temper so he can slaughter all of us, Simi thought. Again, he kept his opinion to himself unless Langland asked for it.

"Bring him out," he said to the three soldiers. A heavy chain ran from the tent to the metal ring protruding from the ground, the top of the five foot iron stake they had had made, after Bobo had yanked out the ordinary wooden one. If he had done that after they had released his other chains instead of before he might have been able to accomplish something.

Hopping out behind the soldiers Bobo suddenly jumped back as hard as he could, pulling the three soldiers off their feet. He hopped back at them, coming down on the ankle of the nearest, and Simi heard a snap.

"Stop it, Bobo!" he yelled and to his amazement the bearded towering figure simply stood still and looked at him, a curious expression in his eyes. Simi was holding the medallion in his hand but now he slipped the chain over his neck. "Take care of his leg," the old man said to the two soldiers who were back on their feet, holding tightly to Bobo's chains from as far away as possible.

"What about you?" one asked.

"I'll be all right. He's still chained to the stake. Go ahead now." The men left with the third supported between them.

"Have a seat." The giant warrior sat down on the ground. He was still looking curiously at Simi. He looked about a thousand times as intelligent as he had previously.

"Okay, let's see if I can figure how we're going to do this," Simi said, as he approached the sitting figure and began loosening his chains.

18.
Reaching down Xena helped Gabrielle scramble up beside her on top of the hill. They remained low to the ground though, not wanting to attract attention. Xena quietly pointed out the winding column of soldiers to the bard. Ares' army had a new commander--Xena supposed he had killed Langland--and it had resumed raiding. Under Langland there had been something spooky about it; they actually didn't fight many battles or raid much: when he fought he won and occasionally entire opposing forces just disappeared or dropped dead. Those were the exception, though. Enemy commanders would mysteriously die or false reports of troop movements, or even outbreaks of diarrhea just before a battle, would lead town after town and army after army to surrender to Langland in near bloodless conquests. That was all over with. Under Roderick Ares' army was cutting a bloody trail first down the western coast and now it was coming inland. Towns and villages missed Langland now that it was back to business as usual. The army came in, took nearly everything, raped and killed, and moved on. If you were lucky no one was hurt; if you were unlucky everyone was dead.

The description Xena had heard of Roderick reminded her of a young warrior of the same name in her army long before. An outstanding fighter but dumb as a rock and with a temper that made Callisto look serene. She had thrown him out because he had killed several other soldiers in duels. They were fair fights but he was just too disruptive. She'd tried to discipline him, scare him, like she usually did but it just didn't take on Roderick. She would respect that except it seemed he was just too dumb to know to be frightened of her. Because of that she didn't want to fight him and kill him. Killing the simpleminded was like killing children. Roderick had challenged her but she just had him tied up and delivered to a town. When it came to actual fighting though, Roderick was frightening, and something about the directness and savagery of the army now reminded her of him.

"Xena, what's your plan?" Gabrielle said breathlessly.

Xena glanced at her friend. "I don't have one. I'm just trying to understand this new commander for future reference."

"Aren't we going to stop him?"

"Gabrielle, I don't just hunt down warlords. A single person can't do that. When I've stopped warlords it has been because they were after something specific that I was trying to protect. To actually hunt warlords you have to be a warlord. That's what Kimberly used to do."

"Oh."

"I'm learning what I can now so I'll be ready if an opportunity ever presents itself."

"Okay, Xena."

"You sound disappointed in me, Gabrielle."

"Well, we just haven't done much saving of anybody for a while now."

"What do you mean? We helped those people being robbed just yesterday?"

"Yeah, but those were just a couple of piddly bandits. I could have beaten them. I want to take on some bacchae or griffins or something."

"You do, huh? Well, who's stopping you?"

"Well, Xena, I meant I wanted to help you."

"Yeah okay, Gabrielle. I get the picture. There he is." Xena looked and then pointed the figure out. Even from here he stood out by his size and just something about his arrogant manner. That red beard; that bearing; that was Roderick all right. Near him was a smaller gray nondescript figure. "I've seen enough." The warrior and the bard climbed down to where Argo waited.

"What is it, Xena?"

"I don't know, Gabrielle. There's something wrong here. The Roderick I knew could never have run a successful army. He used to get angry at trees that happened to be in his way and would attack them. I know people can change, but I'm not so sure about getting that much smarter."

"Xena."

"Yes."

"Can we get something to eat now?"

********************************************************

The villagers were grateful. The famous Xena had come and warned them about Roderick's army coming their way. She asked them to warn all the other villages they passed as they fled.

"There, are you happy now, Gabrielle?"

"Yes."

"No, you're not. I can tell by looking at you. Just saving people by warning them isn't a good enough story for you."

"Oh, Xena, you don't have to prove anything to me."

"What was that look?"

"What look?"

"That look. THERE! You did it again!"

"Xena, saving all these people like you are is wonderful."

"Don't patronize me, Gabrielle."

"Xena, don't be ridiculous. You explained to me that to hunt a warlord you have to be a warlord. Zeus knows, that Roderick was one tough looking customer.'

"WHAT? You think I'm afraid of Roderick?"

"Of course not, Xena. You have to be more careful now that you're getting older."

"OLDER!"

"Xena, calm down. Eat your porridge."

"Mam."

"Yes."

"My wife and I wanted to thank you for warning us. We thought you might like this bran bread."

"Did she put you up to this?"

"Excuse her, she's just overwrought, what with saving everybody and all."

"Oh, we understand. My mother is the same way."

"Xena, XENA! Excuse us. Here, I'll take the bread. She DOES need it. That's probably why she's so cranky."

************************************************

"Get your quill ready, Gabrielle. This is going to be a good one," Xena said to her disdainfully. They were in the pass the army would be going through. The bard noticed a complex array of ropes leading from the trees on one side to some rocks on the other and leading to a single rope dangling near Xena.

"Xena, don't you think you should just do what you originally planned? I mean you made a lot of sense and now you seem--I don't know--it's like you're all worked up and doing this for the wrong reason."

"Senile. Now you're calling me senile."

"Xena, don't be ridiculous. You are not old. I didn't mean it that way."

"Really, Gabrielle?"

"Yes, Xena, really. I mean what with all the blows to the head you've taken over the years, THAT is what something would probaby be from if there was a problem. But there's not."

"BLOWS TO THE HEAD!!!"

"Xena, calm down. I'm sure whatever your plan is it will work great like your plans always do. I mean you're Xena, the warrior princess! Come on! I've heard of you my entire life....Xena, XENA! Where are you going this time? Have you had your bran bread yet?"

19.
The warlord's army was coming just like Xena thought it would. She was waiting ready to spring her trap when the head of the column had reached her position. Something was wrong though, she didn't see Roderick. He was the real target; she wasn't interested in capturing anonymous warriors.

"Looking for me, Commander?" Xena turned and saw Roderick on a tall horse. He had Gabrielle gagged and sitting in front of him. The tall redhaired warrior threw a spear which Xena leaped to avoid. Roderick quickly rode to her previous position and pulled the rope, which began trees and rocks falling in two places so they would trap whoever was between them. None of his men had reached that point as yet. Then Roderick turned his horse and rode into woods, with a struggling Gabrielle. Xena whistled for Argo but she didn't respond. She ran to where she had left her and found her horse hobbled. Cursing herself for her stupidity, the warrior princess freed her horse and rode in pursuit.

*****************************************************

The bard was tied up and gagged but otherwise seemed all right, Xena saw with relief as she carefully entered the large chamber. It looked like an old public building of some sort, like a judgement hall.

"Welcome Commander." She looked and saw Roderick and another older man as they stepped from the shadows near the chair Gabrielle was tied to.

Xena was watching Roderick carefully and the tall bearded man was confidently smiling at her. She didn't like that. She could see the older warrior off to the side, watching them both intently.

"Commander, we get to fight finally. I'm happy about that," Roderick said easily.

What was going on here? Xena thought. The Roderick she remembered would be cursing and charging her already.

"You've come up in the world, Roderick. I'd like to know how," she said. She had drawn her sword and begun approaching the huge warrior who had also drawn his weapon. They were slowly beginning to circle one another.

"Telling you wouldn't be a very smart move for me to make, Commander."

The reply stopped her for a second, it was so unlike the Roderick she knew. Xena gave her warcry and leaped, flipping over at Roderick. She expected to come down on him fighting, but instead he had simply moved out of her way and watched her.

"We can do that all day and never cross swords, Commander." Roderick said. His sword was weaving as he spoke, ready for any move she might make. This time she just leapt directly at him with her sword. The weapons met with a clash and Xena was knocked back by Roderick's great force, though she remained on her feet. Her hand was still vibrating. Now she went in more carefully and the two warriors began carefully thrusting, slashing and parrying. If it wasn't so deadly Xena would enjoy it; there was a real artistry to his swordsmanship that reminded her of Marcus. Suddenly something felt very wrong to Xena. Roderick began pressing her harder and she realized he hadn't been trying to kill her up to this point.

"It is fun, Commander. I like it as much as you. We can't just play indefinitely though; I have an army to run," Roderick said, smiling through his heavy red beard. Xena felt herself forced back, and she leapt away from Roderick and threw her chakram, intending it to ricochet off a wall and then catch his head. To her dismay Roderick reach out and caught it with his left hand.

"Beautiful weapon, Commander. When I kill you I'll take it, much as I'd like to burn it with you." He threw it and it bounced off three walls before landing at Xena's feet. He allowed her to pick it up before he charged; the warrior princess sidestepped him and managed to trip him and wound him in the back though he was up too fast for her to press her advantage. He charged again and Xena met his blow and was knocked to the ground. She rolled out of the way of his sword but received a kick she was sure broke some ribs. Ignoring her pain, she got back to her feet and came back around with her sword, hacking deeply into Roderick's left shoulder before the pommel of his sword caught her in the side of her head and she slammed against the stone wall. She tried bringing her sword up and felt a kick to her hand. Xena's sword flew from her hand. Xena caught him in the midriff with a kick which staggered him, but he caught her with another blow to the head that slammed her against the wall a second time; dazed she reached for her chakram.

"Hello Simi. You've made quite a bit of progress with Bobo." Xena looked up; the next blow from Roderick hadn't come. Instead he was just standing looking curiously at her, the blood running down his arm from his deep shoulder wound. She looked at the voices and saw two figures standing near the old warrior, a handsome young man with long hair who looked familiar and Jilly who now seemed to be around 18.

"Langland. What are you doing here? You surrendered the army."

"I know, but Bobo is about to kill my girlfriend's ancestor and that would make her sad." Langland turned to the beautiful teenage girl at his side, dressed in black fighting leathers. "Go ahead, Jilly."

Simi had to shut Langland out of his mind. He had to concentrate on Bobo, calming him down, letting him think. He no longer had to actually direct him. It was as if the experienced old warrior was simply part of the younger man now. Simi felt Langland studying him. He was in trouble here. Langland was the genius; he was just a simple warrior. He wasn't worried about himself, he realized; Simi was worried for Roderick. He had come to love him like a son.

"That medallion lets you control him," Langland said with a smile. "I've got one too, see." He held up the medal around his neck. "Mine doesn't do anything that I know of, though." The old man didn't answer. His boy and that girl were circling each other. Simi wished he could just give his life somehow and save Roderick, but he couldn't. If that was really Jilly, Bobo was in trouble.

Jilly was excited. She wanted to just rush right in and save her granny, but she held herself back. She was letting Langland do her thinking for her, just like Callisto and Kimberly used to. When she went off on her own she got killed by Langland. When he turned her loose Jilly leapt and placed herself between Roderick and Xena. The big man who had seemed in a daze suddenly came to himself and jumped away, watching her. This was fun already. The only time she had ever fought anybody of this quality was Xena when Langland had murdered her.

"Jilly, I..." Xena started to say and Jilly snapped at her, "Just stay out of the way."

Jilly threw her chakram. Roderick raised his sword to deflect it, and it ricocheted off that to the wall then back to Roderick where it cut his left hamstring. He didn't fall, but stood on his remaining leg, watching as Jilly caught her chakram, which she replaced in it's thong. Drawing her sword now, she advanced on the man.

"I have to admit I like your style, Roderick. You're running the army more the way I would. Langland just wants to win; he doesn't like the fighting the way we do."

Somehow on his good leg Roderick managed to leap at her, slashing down with his blade. Jilly could have moved but instead she met the attack with her own sword, and stepping aside directed the force of Roderick's attack toward the ground, and the man fell at her feet. He instantly slashed low with his sword at her legs, and laughing Jilly began dancing avoiding the blade.

"This is great. Just like Irish step dancing!" She kicked Roderick in the face and jumped away. The man staggered to his feet.

"That's enough." They both looked at the speaker. Ares stood not far from Langland and Simi. He was dressed in his usual Greek muscle shirt. Next to him was a young woman Jilly didn't know. She wore a helmet that was pushed up to reveal her beautiful face. She held a spear and a shield decorated with a face surrounded by snakes. An owl flew up to perch on her shoulder.

"What's the matter, brother?" the woman said innocently.

"You had no right to do this; Jilly is my favorite. You are turning her against me!"

Jilly started to protest but quieted at a hand gesture from Ares. The woman replied, "Ares, you trespassed into my province when you took Langland. You are merely having to pay the consequences. I would say you should think these things through before you do them, but I realize that is missing the point of who you are. And your favorite is still devoted to you. She just doesn't see killing your commander as having anything to do with that. She is about as logical as you are."

"Oh, you are just so smart, aren't you?" Ares said furiously.

"Ares, let me make a conciliatory gesture," Athena said. The pain in Roderick's shoulder and lamed leg disappeared and he was able to put weight on it. "I merely wanted to teach you a lesson about trespassing. I am actually helping you, though, once again, it will take you a while to see that. If your current commander killed one of your favorites you would be angry with him, and if Xena killed your commander you would be angry with her. I have saved you all of that annoyance."

"What about Jilly? She's mine."

"Of course, she is yours, brother. She is merely in love with MY favorite. It is a resonant match, worthy of many great poems, but of no danger to either of our interests in them--for the moment. I will say in your behalf, what you have done with Simi and Roderick is very impressive. I almost feel as if you are trespassing again, it is so clever of you."

"Well, thank you, Athena. That means a lot coming from you."

"You are my older brother, Ares. Oh, and Ares, let me give you some advice though I doubt you'll take it."

"What?"

"Be careful what you do with Aphrodite."

"I don't know what you mean, Athena."

"Just try to be a little discrete, Ares. You will like those consequences far less than these." When Athena finished speaking she walked over to Langland, laid her hand on his shoulder, and the two of them disappeared in an explosion of flying mirrors. Ares stared where she had been, then held his hand out and Jilly came to take it. They disappeared in a blaze of fire.

That left Xena and Gabrielle, Roderick and Simi. Roderick approached Xena and reached down. She was going to strike him but he just helped her up while Simi went to untie Gabrielle. Xena looked at Simi as Roderick went to retrieve her sword for her.

"You're the reason Roderick is so different." The old man nodded.

"Ares didn't give me any clear instructions here, as usual, but I'm going to assume we aren't supposed to continue fighting. If we did I'm afraid they would all come back, and me and Roderick are the only ones who aren't somebody's favorite.

"Sounds about right," Xena agreed. Roderick handed her her sword and squatted down next to her. "What exactly do you do for him? You aren't actually seeing through his eyes are you?"

"No," Simi said. "He just takes whatever he needs from me. It's wonderful for both of us, though I'm sure that is unintended on Ares' part. I was never a great fighter like Roderick but I'm steady. He is even a good strategist; he takes my experience but improves it. I'm not very imaginative."

Gabrielle said, "Oh, that's beautiful. Friendship is so wonderful" Xena looked at her with exasperation for a moment.

"I have to agree with Athena here. That's awfully clever of Ares," the warrior princess said.

Roderick spoke, "You need to have your ribs bound, Commander."

"Yeah, Gabrielle will do it. You're quite a fighter, Roderick. You were good before. You're better now."

"Thank you, Commander. Not like Jilly though."

"Well, Roderick, nobody's like Jilly."

Part III Cal

20.
"Kimberly, it must be so hard on you." Victoria, one of Jimmy's daughters, was holding Sam as she spoke. She and Kimberly were like sisters.

"Oh, it's not so bad, Vickie. I miss him sure, but the way he was was too hard on Sam. I don't want him thinking of his father that way. He's too little to understand so I sent him to be with Jilly and my relatives. I had to get him out of town, you know, before he got in trouble." Victoria nodded. "This gives me a breather too. I'll just run the restaraunt for a while and be a mommy." She was sipping her club soda.

"Just don't do any cooking, Kimberly," Victoria said with a smile. Kimberly smiled ironically.

"What about your niece, the other Jilly?" Victoria continued.

Kimberly took another sip before answering, "She went home too." She reached across and tickled Sam who giggled, "Now, there's nobody to keep me from just spending all my time with you, is there?"

**************************************************

The soldiers were yelling as that maniac rode into their midst and started slashing. Four men were down before the big black horse wheeled around and their attacker rode away laughing. They tried to regroup their column. They couldn't follow in the night.

Cal was smiling, holding his sword and feeling the blood run down on his hand. He had noticed these soldiers the previous week and had just begun following them as a game, seeing how close he could get without being seen. He had finally gotten bored with that, so he suddenly found himself attacking them. There was no conscious decision on his part, just instinct. It looked like they were transporting something valuable but he didn't know what it was and had no interest. It made them alert though so he liked that. He found himself giggling hysterically and he couldn't stop, but a sound in the black forest instantly snapped him back to alertness and he turned his horse and waited, hearing another horse approaching.

"Cal."

"Kimberly, honey! I missed you."

"It's not Kimberly, Cal. It's Xena. We met once remember, about two years ago."

"Xena! You're not my wife, Kimberly, you're Xena! You burned my mother and sister!" Cal spurred his horse at the approaching woman and Xena spurred Argo forward. Their swords met for a brief flurry before Xena disengaged and rode a little away, Cal laughing at her. She turned to face him.

"Cal. I didn't do anything to your family. Those are Callisto's memories. You're not Callisto. I don't want to fight you. We're family now: you're married to my descendant and the father of two others."

"This is for Cirrah, bitch!" Cal threw his chakram which Xena deflected with her sword so it returned to Cal. "Arrogant as ever, aren't you, Xena?" Cal said venomously. "Is Gabrielle around here, somewhere?" he began craning his head around, that insane smile on her face.

"Cal, I don't know what has happened to you. Where's Jilly and Kimberly? Did something happen to them?"

"Something happened to Jilly. Something happened to my little girl, all right. That little shit! Screwing with my family is the biggest mistake he ever made in his life!"

"Who Cal? Who did something to Jilly? What happened?"

"Jimmy, I'm gonna whack this punk before he moves on you and the don! I'm telling you, Jimmy, he's like Lucky Luciano. He just don't look it." He wheeled the horse around again listening, but the sounds and voices were all inside his head. "I couldn't tell you what was goin' on, Jimmy. How could I? So you wouldn't let me whack him. I should have anyway but I always did what you told me. I liked being your boy. I never wanted to be the boss. So that little bastard got you and my Jilly!"

"Cal, who's Jimmy? What are you talking about?"

"All right, Xena. I see what's going on. You're in with Langland now. It figures. You took away my mother and sister and now you're helping him take my little girl, my Jilly." Cal started crying. "My little girl, my Jilly! You burned her at Cirra along with everyone else. And then everyone hated me! They hated me! You burned everyone alive and they hated ME!"

"Those are Callisto's memories, Cal. You're not Callisto. No one burned Jilly."

The blonde man whirled his horse and galloped off, disappearing into the darkness.

The bard was waiting in their campsite when Xena returned. From the look on her friend's face she knew it wasn't good news.

"Is it Cal, Xena?" she said.

"Yes, Gabriel. Something has happened but he couldn't even tell me what. He thinks he's Callisto, but there's something else, something about Jilly and Langland."

"I thought Callisto had finally found some peace, Xena."

"So did I. He kept talking about Cirrah," Xena said quietly.

"I'm sorry, Xena."

"We're going to have to be careful, Gabrielle. He asked about you like he was Callisto. He has her abilities. He's the father of my grandchildren--don't say it, I know Jilly and Sam aren't really, but like you said, that's how I think of them--I don't want to hurt him."

"Has he killed anyone else, Xena?"

"Yes, two soldiers, and badly wounded two others. That makes nine we know of. I can't let him just wander around killing people; he's crazier than Callisto."

"So what's your plan?"

"I need to talk to Langland."

"Xena, I think there's somebody I should talk to."

21.
The shrines to Athena and Ares were on opposite sides of the spacious room. They had commissioned small statues of both from the same artist so they complimented each other well. The sculptor wasn't used to such detailed descriptions and didn't particularly care for them, but the pay was good and he certainly wasn't going to argue with EITHER of his customers. He surreptiously tried to study them; he was sure that would come in handy eventually.

Langland sat at his strategy table. There were several other tables, each with its own scrolls or whatever special tools were called for. At his strategy table he had maps, records of defenses of various cities, the records for as many warlords and armies as he could learn about, and a small library of scrolls relating to strategy and tactics. He had been talking to Jilly, trying to put into writing what she seemed to do spontaneously. He wished he could talk to Kimberly about her campaigns as the Sword of Ares, but she had told Jilly she would kill him the next time she saw him.

Jilly was off with their army. She had simply selected one and taken command of it. The only killing she had to do was of its commander. She hadn't had to fight her way up. The men had offered to kill their commander for her but she refused. He deserved a better death than that. Once she had it she began a reorganization using what she had learned from Kimberly. Langland selected their objectives and didn't even accompany them. Jilly had made it clear she had no intention of tricking or poisoning anyone and she didn't want to have to worry about Langland's safety in battle. Langland knew that eventually Ares would want to simply merge his army with their combined Ares-Athena army, with Roderick as Jilly's lieutenant. Athena had told Langland to simply wait and let Ares think of it and not mention it to Jilly. They were carving out an actual kingdom, not raiding towns or even other warlords except to secure their position. Occasionally Langland tricked warlords into killing each other, though he never told Jilly about that. The fighting itself was more important than the objectives to Jilly. Sometimes he felt he had to move immediately though and took things into his own hands.

Langland had other tables devoted to the philosophy of government, public works and architecture, government policy, trade, and foreign affairs. Langland also had several science tables but he had to ration the amount of time he allowed himself to spend at them.

Now Langland was expecting either Xena to question him or Cal to kill him. He had received word that a male warrior who acted like Callisto had appeared and was killing people randomly. It had to be Cal. Jilly was far off with her army, so if it was Cal and not Xena who reached him first, Langland was dead. In case that happened, Langland had just detailed Jilly's objectives for the next several years along with a plea that she begin sacrificing to Athena in addition to Ares.

A tall figure stepped into the room. "Hello Xena," Langland said with relief. "Where's Gabrielle?"

"She's talking to somebody else."

*********************************************************

Cal was sleeping but he suddenly came wide awake and was up on his feet, his sword ready. It was early dawn and he watched the horse approaching his camp, just waiting. The figure dismounted, a tall powerful looking man with gray hair and a gray beard, wearing old but high quality armor. Even from here Cal could recognize Euphemies' work.

"Where were you when Xena burned my family?"

Meleager answered, "I was protecting another village from Cortese. I couldn't be everywhere at once. I wish I could've saved Cirra. That was nasty even for Xena in those days."

"You're here to help me kill her now! That's wonderful! I always admired you, Meleager, always! I knew if you'd been there Xena never could've burned my mother and sister. Or my little girl, my Jilly! She burned my Jilly! Her and Langland burned my little girl!" Cal dropped his sword and began crying, falling to his knees. The old hero walked stiffly over to him. When it was cold and damp he could hardly move.

Meleager squatted down, grimacing, and put an arm around the sobbing man's shoulders. "I got my start not much different than you or Xena. My village was attacked and that started me fighting. I haven't stopped since though I've often wished I could. I'm old and slow now. As soon as I have to fight someone in their prime, that'll be the end of me."

"I'll protect you, Meleager! After I whack Xena we can travel together. I never wanted to be the boss. I liked being your boy, Jimmy! You pick the hits, Jimmy, and just stand back and watch. Nobody'll screw with you and the don with Cal Snopes around!"

Meleager looked sadly at the excitable figure. He didn't know how many warriors driven mad he'd seen over the years. Ajax had been the worst. When he came to himself he'd thrown himself on his sword. No one else could've stopped him. Meleager didn't know how he'd avoided it, unless his drinking counted.

"Yeah, that sounds good, Cal. Do you promise to let me pick the targets?" The blonde man nodded his head vigorously. Gods! the old warrior thought, look at those eyes. "We have to be crafty about getting Xena and Langland. We'll throw them off guard by just protecting villages."

"Whatever you say, Meleager. I know you took a big chance on me since I'm not Italian, and I appreciate it!"

"Okay, Cal. There's a stream not far from here. Let's catch some breakfast. Then we'll start for Corinth and get you some armor from Euphemies."

***********************************************************

Xena was seated across from Langland. She had glanced curiously at the strange characters and numbers on the parchment which he had set aside. She knew simple mathematics and she knew this wasn't that.

"Who were Jimmy and the don? What were they to Cal?" Xena asked.

Langland answered, "Jimmy was the lord Cal served as a warrior. The don was Jimmy's lord, a sort of overlord like Agamemnon. Really he was old and just a figurehead; I don't know why Jimmy hadn't deposed him."

"Maybe he felt about the don the way Cal felt about Jimmy," Xena suggested coldly. Langland shrugged.

"What happened to him?"

"I killed him."

"Why didn't Cal avenge his lord and kill you?"

"Because of Jilly. She also loved Jimmy but she loved me more."

Xena clenched her hands involuntarily as she looked at the handsome calm face across from her. "Is that the reason you got involved with Jilly?"

"One of them. She's valuable to me in a multitude of ways. I also care deeply for her. That is high on the list of why we're together."

Xena spoke frigidly, "You turned my descendant against her father so you could kill her father's lord with impunity. What about her mother?"

"She also felt loyal to Jimmy. Actually she was the one who came to kill me but Jilly wouldn't allow her to." As Langland finished speaking he was suddenly looking at Xena's sword two inches from his nose.

"You little weasel! Jilly's not here now and you're the enemy of my family. Tell me why I shouldn't kill you where you sit!" Xena spat out. She hadn't been this angry since she'd heard Hades wanted to kill Jilly. Only Langland was far worse than Hades or his killer Helms had been.

"Jilly may not be here now but she'll be back. How do you think she'll react to you killing me? I also saved your life, Xena."

"She'll probably kill me. I have to say, saving her from you is worth it to me." Xena said levelly. "And your saving me was just a byproduct of your treacherous murder of your commander. I don't owe you anything."

Langland smiled, "Agreed as to my motives. But what about after she's killed you? What about everyone else? Do you know about the Bitch of Tartarus?" Xena nodded. "Jilly is far less stable than you are. No one could stop you; what will happen if Jilly goes berserk?"

"Ares won't allow that."

"Are you sure? He's had to mortgage himself for you and Jilly already. Maybe he can't stop it even if he would want to." Xena was staring at him, fury in her eyes. Langland was enjoying himself. Ares' favorites were like children, so easy to manipulate. Suddenly he felt a terrible pressure in his head. Langland had expected Xena might hurt him.

"I've cut off the flow of blood to your brain. You'll be dead in 30 seconds. I just want you to know how it feels to be on the receiving end for a change."

At 29 seconds she struck him again and he began gasping for breath. He could taste blood in his mouth. His distorted vision started coming back to normal.

"Do you have anything to say, Langland?" Xena said.

"Yes, Xena. I've sent word to Jilly but could you protect me from Cal until she gets here?" Langland said weakly. She stared at him then stood up and quickly left the room.

22.
The warlord took a deep breath and smiled. Jilly looked at the crucified bodies lining the road far into the distance. She was glad Langland was at home. He was no fun and just didn't appreciate this kind of thing. Langland liked to listen to waves crashing on the shore but Jilly would listen to moans and screams any day.

"Quite a picture." She looked up at the speaker. Roderick's shadow engulfed her. Simi had to be nearby though she didn't see him.

"Are you gonna object to it? You saw what they did to those villagers."

"Who me? Of course, not. I was just enjoying the view," Roderick answered easily. "It slowed us down though. If we had just pushed on we could've taken the high ground. We might have a real battle on our hands now."

"Yeah, you're right. Punishing people is something Mom and Callisto always did, and it just doesn't feel right to me letting scum like this off easy."

Changing the subject, Roderick said, "There's a messenger from Langland."

"Okay," Jilly said, turning and following the huge man. She spotted Simi now and smiled at him.

The young messenger was excited. He'd seen the warlord but never actually spoken to her before. His instructions from Langland had been peculiar. "Give the message to Roderick first, then to Jilly. That's important." He'd made him repeat it before handing the parchment to him. That had been a month before, and he had finally reached Jilly's fast moving army. The tall bearded second-in-command had read the parchment and that old man suddenly came up to him and put his hand on his shoulder. Then Roderick had told the messenger to wait there. Now he was watching Jilly herself read the message. Suddenly he felt a bad pain and was on the other side of the room. He raised his head and saw Roderick had the warlord in a tight bearhug and the old man was pressing something to her face. The messenger's head dropped and he passed out.

He woke up to find Jilly softly patting his face. He saw he was on a bedroll now. He glanced down and his arm was in a splint. Her face was red and the teenage girl said to him, "I'm sorry, I really am. Here." She held a purse up for him to see and shook it so he could hear the gold inside.

"Thank you, Commander Jilly."

"Don't thank me for breaking your arm. After you've eaten, take this message back to Langland." She set another parchment on his chest, patted his shoulder and walked away to where her towering second-in-command waited.

23.
Cal seemed to glisten in the sunlight in the laquered armor Euphemies had made for him. The old armorer had seemed stunned for a moment when he saw him, and he and Meleager had gone off to talk in the back. The tiny crippled craftsman had come back out and smiled at him and taken his measurements. Euphemies eyes had lit up when he saw the chakram he carried. He looked at it, at the foreign characters and designs, and his breathing seemed to get shallow. He asked to keep it while he was making his weapons. When they came back for his armor it was different than Cal had expected. It had the same kind of design work as his chakram and the whole cut and style was different than Cal/Callisto had ever seen. Cal didn't need a new Greek sword, though Euphemies wondered where he had gotten one of Kimberly's old ones. He gave Cal a long sword and short sword that were identical to the Samurai weapons that Kimberly still had up on her wall.

"Cal, thank you. This has been the most rewarding project I've had in 20 years."

Meleager was looking curiously at the curved blades then he started to speak, "Um, Euphemies, I mean, I know I've got quite a tab with you already..."

The master armorer held his hand up.

"Meleager, please. We've been having this same conversation for 40 years. Just come back when you or Cal need anything."

*******************************************************

Jasmine screamed as the bandit kicked her door in. She'd been hiding, hoping they'd leave her hut alone. She'd been listening to the yelling and the horses outside but hadn't looked. She'd told her little sister to stay under the bed no matter what. Suddenly she was naked and trying to cover herself as he had just grabbed her clothes and his knife flashed. He slapped her with a laugh and she fell and started to advance on her but suddenly stopped. She heard a new voice, a man's voice with a strange accent speaking softly.

"Turn around, shitkicker." As he turned Jasmine saw that a man with lank blonde hair in strange armor, whom she didn't know, had been pressing a sword into her attacker's back.

"Who in Hades are you?" the bandit asked angrily.

The man began giggling and answered, "To tell you the truth, I'm not sure who I am. Maybe I should look inside for answers." His long curved sword flashed and the bandit screamed as he tried to keep his insides from spilling onto the floor.

A gray bearded face suddenly appeared in the doorway. "Cal, stop fooling around. There's plenty more to do out here!"

"Okay, Jimmy. Sorry." He tipped an imaginary hat to Jasmine and ran out of her hut.

"Meleager, this has been a lot of fun but shouldn't we go after Xena and Langland now?" Cal said as he sat polishing his armor. Euphemies had given him specific care instructions for it, and Cal cared for his armor and swords now just as carefully and methodically as he used to care for his guns. He started to think of Kimberly, but then that led to Jilly and the voices started again, so he quickly ended that train of thought.

The old warrior looked over at his younger companion. He liked Cal. It was too bad he was mad. He had hoped Cal would just spontaneously recover his wits while Meleager kept him out of trouble. That was what Gabrielle had hoped too when she asked his advice. That hadn't happened though. The two of them had been saving a lot of people, more than Meleager had been able to do for quite a number of years now. Cal was nearly as good as he used to be, which was pretty good. Of course, Cal was better now--he was faster and stronger with better eyes and hearing. While his fighting skills were intact, he didn't seem to be the strategist or tactician Meleager had always heard Callisto was. He suspected that was where his insanity had really taken a toll on him. Fighting was almost a reflex, but strategy and tactics required a sustained focus Cal was just too confused and in too much pain to muster.

"Cal, you know how crafty Langland is better than anybody. Do you think he might be ready for us?"

"Shit! That little fucker! Yeah, Jimmy, you're right. He's waiting for us. I wouldn't be surprised if that little prick had us wired and was listening right now. I'm sorry, Jimmy. I won't question you again!" Cal said emotionally.

Meleager came over to him. "It's okay, Cal. I was just asking your opinion."

"Okay, Jimmy. You've always been my friend. You're the boss."

24.
Sam made a grab at the shiny object and laughed as his mother lifted it just out of his reach. She suspected he could do that all day but it got kind of old for her after about ten times. She let him catch it and just watched him. She'd take it away if it looked like he was going to eat it. Kimberly didn't want to have to recover it THAT WAY again. The medallion was how she could go back and forth from 50s Chicago to ancient Greece. Ares had given it to her, saying he had better things to do than shuttle her and her family around.

She really missed Cal and Jilly, but she thought it was the right thing to do. If she was a nicer person she'd have locked Cal up somewhere instead of letting him do the damage he was probably doing. She wasn't that nice a person, though, and she wasn't going to keep her husband in the attic. She thought Cal would have a reason to kill somebody, anyway--maybe not a great reason but a reason. Kimberly estimated she'd killed something like 50,000 people as the Sword of Ares, not counting the dead from the famine and disease which accompanied warfare. She'd killed at least a few thousand people with her own hands over the years. A few more whacked by Cal weren't going to make her lose any sleep. Maybe he'd get that little bastard Langland too. That was probably in the back of her mind when she packed him off with her sword and her Japanese chakram. One of these days she'd go back and see what was going on. Leave Sam with Vickie. She wouldn't mind some action. If Cal hadn't gotten Langland maybe she'd skin him herself. Of course, Kimberly knew she could only do that if she could catch Langland without Jilly around.

*********************************************************

Langland looked up and said, "Xena! Is it Cal?"

The tall dark woman in doorway smiled at him. "I'm not Xena." She closed the door behind her and began walking liesurely over to where Langland sat. At last, she thought, that little fuck is finally surprised and sweating. Too bad photographs won't be invented for 3000 years. I'd like to remember him this way.

"Hello Kimberly. Come to kill me or see your family?"

"Both."

Langland was glad he'd already gotten everything down on parchment for Jilly. In spite of what he had said to Xena, he hoped she wouldn't go berserk. Really he hoped she found a nicer guy than him. He had half expected to die at Cal's hands, but this was close.

"What's the matter, Moriarty? Don't you have a secret trapdoor and a helicopter waiting?" Kimberly said. She was really enjoying herself now.

"Well, Kimberly, as a matter of fact I do have a secret exit. It wouldn't do me any good with you or any other member of your family except for Sam, and I don't know how long that will hold true for him."

"I would admire your bravery, except a man is brave and you're just some kind of scheming vermin. Fear is another human emotion I guess you lack."

"Oh, you're overdramatizing me now, Kimberly. I don't want to die, let alone be tortured, anymore than anybody else."

The door opened and closed again. "Kimberly!"

Kimberly glanced over her shoulder though she kept an eye on Langland. "Let me guess. He's conned you now too into protecting him. Did he say Jilly would be another Bitch of Tartarus if he was killed?"

Xena stared at her. "Yes. That's exactly what he said. You don't believe that?"

"I don't know. I suppose it's possible. Jilly's not you though. You were all alone when Gabrielle was killed and you went berserk. Jilly has two parents and a baby brother who all love her. I don't believe she would ever fight me, and if she flipped like that she would find herself in that position." Kimberly addressed Langland. "What's your answer to that, fuckface?" Langland didn't say anything. Kimberly drew her sword. "I was planning on skinning you alive but I'm feeling merciful. So I'm gonna do something Joxer stopped me from doing a long time ago."

"What was that?" Xena asked.

"I'm gonna shove my sword up his ass till it comes out his mouth."

Langland spoke: "Well, Xena? It's your decision."

Xena walked to the door and said to Kimberly, "I'll keep a lookout for Jilly." Langland closed his eyes. Then he grabbed a sword from a scabbard attached under the table. He came to the center of the room and began weaving the blade trying to watch Kimberly's hands and eyes. Xena was watching from the doorway. Kimberly smiled and calmly removed the bag she carried over her shoulder and reached inside it. Langland couldn't help but feel something as he found himself facing the veiled helmet of the Sword of Ares. He knew it was a psychological ploy. He could hear Xena chuckling and Langland knew he was sweating. Kimberly drew the long curved sword she carried; Langland recognized the Samurai sword from her weapon collection.

Xena was watching outside but also trying to watch Kimberly and Langland. The swords began flashing and meeting and Xena knew instantly Kimberly was toying with the man. Something about that made her nervous.

"Richelieu, at last!" the veiled warrior said with relish.

"Just get it over with, Kimberly. Never mind the other, just kill him now. Remember Jilly." Suddenly Xena was flying backward to land on her back. She was instantly on her feet but didn't draw her sword or attack.

"Yes, by all means, remember Jilly!" the slight blonde figure said who now stood in the room.

"Fuck!" Kimberly cursed, and stepped away, sheathing her sword. Langland lowered his. He realized his hands were shaking. What a mother-in-law!

"Hello Jilly. Nice trip?" Langland said. He wasn't fooling anybody. That was the most frightened he had ever been in his life.

"Yeah, it was okay. Mom, what happened? I thought we were through all this."

"No. I just let him live because of you. Now I just made the same mistake you made and toyed with somebody. So I'm going to let this piece of shit live again."

"Mom, come on. Let it go. Don't talk about him like that. I mean, he hasn't killed a fraction of the people you have."

Kimberly's face flushed but she answered her daughter. "All right, that's true. But I'm a warrior and I killed people in battle. I didn't poison them, or murder them in their beds, or trick someone into killing his best friend. It's the WAY he kills people, Jilly. There's no bravery, there's no heroism for either the winners or losers. It's all just a balance sheet to your boyfriend. And your just an insurance policy for him."

Jilly was staring at her mother. "Don't you think I've thought of all of that? I love him. It's that simple. Besides he can't be as bad as you say; he's Athena's favorite. I'm almost the only person in the world who prefers Ares to Athena."

"Athena's favorite?" Kimberly looked at Xena who nodded. She had no reply to that, it was so startling. Changing the subject, Kimberly asked her daughter, "Do you know where your father is?"

As Jilly shook her head, Xena answered, "I do. He's traveling with Meleager who is keeping him out of trouble."

Kimberly looked at her, "Meleager? Meleager the Mighty? THE Meleager the Mighty? How did that happen?"

"Gabrielle is close to Meleager, sort of the daughter he never had, and she asked him to see what he could do."

"That's great!" Jilly exclaimed and came close to her mother who put her arm around her.

Langland said, "Why didn't you tell me that, Xena?"

"Because it might have been something you wanted to hear," Xena answered with contempt.

"COME ON, YOU GUYS!" Jilly said. "He saved YOUR life, Xena."

Xena was exasperated, "Jilly, he saved my life by murdering you! Have you forgotten that?"

"No. But what does that have to do with anything?"

Xena and Kimberly both made almost incoherent sounds and left the room slamming the door, leaving Jilly alone with Langland.

"Hey," he said.

"Hey yourself," she answered.

25.
They'd found Meleager's camp, and Xena had taken one look at the old hero and grabbed her healing pouch out of her saddlebag.

"Hello Xena," he said with a smile in spite of the agonizing pain she knew he must be in. She looked at his hands and they were swollen and gnarled. She crumbeld some leaves and put them in some water in a cup which she held to his lips. Then she began rubbing an ointment on his hands. "Who are these beautiful ladies?" he said gallantly when he'd drunk it down.

"This is Kimberly the Sword of Ares, and that's her daughter, Jilly. I'm related to them."

"I kinda figured that," he said as he looked at Kimberly who had removed her helmet as they rode up.

Jilly had dismounted and come over. She knelt down and gave Meleager one of her dazzling smiles as she patted his arm. "You're the real deal; a genuine hero. Not even any bad stuff to feel guilty over. And you're not the boss's kid like Hercules. I'm pleased to meet you."

"Oh, I've got my share of faults," he said modestly.

Kimberly spoke from her horse, "Drinking too much isn't the same as killing people. I agree with Jilly. You're the real thing and it's an honor to meet you, Meleager. I already know you although you wouldn't remember me. You were always an inspiration."

"Oh, now you're making me blush," he said with pleasure. Xena looked at her descendants. It was easy for her to forget what Meleager was. She brought her lips close to his ears.

"I agree with them," she said. His face got much redder.

Xena had made Meleager more comfortable as he told them where Cal was and about the warlord and his army who were heading their way. He still couldn't ride though he was finally able to stand and the pain had subsided. Jilly had made some quick soup by combining ingredients from all of their saddlebags and seasoned it from her cooking pouch, and both Xena and Meleager nearly staggered from how good it smelled. Kimberly was used to her daughter's cooking. Jilly told him when it would be ready and the three women rode off.

*******************************************************

Cal was waiting where Meleager had told him to, watching for the small army that had been terrorizing the north and now was heading this way. Jimmy had said they were from another family and they were trying to move on their numbers parlors. They were screwing with the wrong family this time. Nobody fucked with Meleager and the don with Cal Snopes around! Cal was worried about Jimmy. He hadn't wanted to leave him; it had been a cold night and he couldn't even get up. He said for him to protect the village though, so that's what he was doing. Cal never wanted to be the boss. He liked being Meleager's boy.

If that other family showed, Cal would just hit the point and hope that turned them or slowed them down long enough for him to warn the village. Meleager had tried already but they had refused to leave unless they knew for sure. If it was up to Cal he'd have just let them be overrun, but Meleager said that people like that just didn't understand and they still deserved protection; it was just the elders who were being stupid.

He saw them now but it wasn't what he expected. They were riding hard and looked like somebody had already hit 'em. Cal smiled. Maybe Jimmy had finally thawed out. He loosened his chakram and drew his sword, the long curved one, and started his horse on a course to intercept them.

******************************************************

The men were panicked.

"Zeus! We can't fight them!"

"What's the matter with you! We're an army and it's just three women. Be a man or I'll cut you down myself!" That got a reaction and the men were finally starting to get back in position. Friggen tried to remain calm and looked at the three figures riding toward them. Two big figures on light colored horses and between them a much smaller figure on a huge black horse.

"That's the Sword of Ares! Gods, that's the Sword of Ares! I remember when she crucified Jessup and his men."

"That's Xena on the left, the warrior princess. She's not so bad anymore. Who's that in the middle?"

"Jilly."

"Jilly? That's Jilly!? Oh, sweet Athena! Please, sweet merciful Athena!"

"Shut up, all of you! Do you hear me? Act like warriors, damn you! We're an entire army and it's just three women. I'm going to talk to them."

Friggen stopped his gray warhorse 10 yards from the three women. "What do you want?" he called. He was a strong, experienced commander, smart and ruthless. He didn't fool himself he was in the same category as any of the three figures he faced, but that didn't mean he was going to grovel to them either. No one lived forever. Xena spoke.

"The village you are approaching is under our protection. So is this region. Turn your army around and head back north."

The warlord thought about what she said. He had an army and there were three of them. They could probably kill a lot of men and still escape, but they couldn't actually beat an army. Maybe they had an army somewhere but he hadn't seen one. He thought of how panicked his men had been; they would want him to accept but then they would abandon him or worse later--in their stories he would be the coward. He would rather die now like a man. His army could fend for itself.

Now Jilly spoke. "You don't have to die. I know what you're thinking: if we fight your men and we escape your men will blame you. And if you just turn around they'll kill you as a coward. There's a third possibility." Xena looked at her in surprise, not liking being second guessed. From what Xena could see of Kimberly's attitude she didn't seem surprised.

"What is that?" Friggen called.

"You know who I am. You can join my army as one of my lieutenants."

He wanted to accept but instead drew his sword. "That still sounds like cowardice to me, Jilly." He spurred his horse toward them and Kimberly drew her sword while Xena and Jilly rode to the sides. The fight was short and Friggen fell from his big warhorse to the ground. Kimberly dismounted to approach the dying man. He looked up at that legendary chainmail veil.

"I wish my son-in-law was more like you," she said before her sword flashed in the sunlight and his head rolled away from his body.

"God, Mom! You just never quit, do you?" Jilly said to her mother as she and Xena rejoined her. The three resumed riding toward the army which suddenly seem to just break apart in panic and begin heading the other direction.

26.
From his hidden vantage point in the woods, Cal watched the fleeing army. He had changed his mind that it might be Meleager. The old warrior killing a few men with spears wouldn't have panicked them this way. They seemed more like an opposing army had actually appeared. A big one. Cal didn't see how that could be though; he'd have heard or seen a force like that. Oh well. He smiled and took his chakram out, preparing to do some killing.

"Cal, what the fuck do you think you're doin'?"

The blonde warrior whirled. "Jimmy?"

The consigliere in his usual gray suit was standing by Cal's horse. He was smoking a cigarette but he dropped it and stepped it out, and approached his fingerman. "These guys are runnin' Cal. There's no need to whack any of 'em."

"I was gonna teach 'em a lesson, Jimmy. So they know not to come into the don's territory again."

"Good answer, Cal. Except you just felt like killing, and you know I don't go for that unless it's niggers or somethin'."

"Okay, Jimmy. I'm glad your feeling better. You looked pretty bad this morning," Cal said emotionally.

The old mafioso smiled and said, "Cal, that wasn't me. That's Meleager. You been kinda confused, thinking he was me. Which is okay, don't get me wrong. I like what you two been doin'. It's got a lot of class, but he ain't me."

Cal was staring at him intently, at first there was anger, then relief that Jimmy said he liked what he'd been doin' with Meleager. "You want me to hit him for pretending he was you?" he said nervously. He didn't want to. The consigliere shook his head.

"What'd I just say? I like Meleager. He's your friend. You've been kinda confused and he's just been lookin' out for you. Remember Big Maxie and how his wife Rosie used to take care of 'im after that last fight? Now, you ain't that bad but you been gettin' there."

The enforcer suddenly began crying, "I remember now. That little shit Langland killed you and my Jilly! He burned you at Cirra!"

"No, Cal," Jimmy put his hand around the weeping man's shoulders, "just me. And he didn't burn anybody. Jilly's fine. Langland came after me just like you warned me he would. I shoulda listened to you. It sure wasn't your fault. Got that?" The blonde man didn't answer. "Got that?!" Jimmy said, shaking him.

"Yeah, Jimmy. I got it."

"Listen Cal, it was just a hit. You can't get all worked up over stuff like that. You know that, hell. Langland was smart. Jilly could do a lot worse."

"How could she do any worse than that lying little shit, Jimmy. He killed you! He turned my little girl against me!"

"Cal, he didn't turn Jilly against you. She still loves you. Now, she's gonna be coming pretty soon and I want you to be nice to your little girl, okay."

"I can't Jimmy! She took up with that little ratfuck against her own family."

"Cal, she didn't do anything against anybody. She's just a girl who fell for a guy."

"Okay, I'll try Jimmy."

The consigliere took something from his pocket. "Cal, I got a good luck piece for you. Here, let me put it on you." He attached the small piece of jewelry to Cal's armored chest."

"Thanks Jimmy. What is it?"

"It's an owl. Now I want you to close your eyes and count to five before you open them, okay."

"Okay, Jimmy."

When Cal opened his eyes, he shook his head in disbelief. He looked around at his surroundings and down at what he was wearing. It began coming to him, what he had been doing and where he was. He looked up at a cry.

"Daddy! Daddy!" Cal looked and saw Jilly galloping her horse toward him, with Kimberly and Xena following behind. He left his horse and began running down the hill to meet her.

************************************************************

"Happy, Langland?" the armored figure said in her beautiful voice.

"Yes."

"Good. Now maybe you can concentrate on the waterworks I want you to build." The goddess disappeared in an explosion of mirrored shards.

The End