by Joseph Anderson

Xena, Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended with this fanfiction which may not be sold, may be copied for personal use only, and must contain all notices of copyright.

There is a romantic relationship between two women implied in this story. Aside from that, it's probably the most G rated story I've ever done. There is some profanity.

Ishtar is clothed in pleasure and love,
She is laden with vitality, charm, and voluptuousness...

In lips she is sweet; life is in her mouth.
At her appearance rejoicing becomes full.
She is glorious...

The fate of everything she holds in her hand.
At her glance there is created joy,
Power, magnificience, the protecting deity and guardian spirit.

---from Hymn to Ishtar

Xena smiled as she looked at the prisoner who was keeping his face expressionless. Darfus stood on the left of the grey-haired bound old man.

"You'll be begging to die before we're through here," Xena said as she winked at him.

"What did you say?"

The chancellor, Geoffrey Wyndham, said with disbelief.

"What? What? I don't understand," Melinda Pappas said. She was in the chancellor's office. She looked around disoriented.

The gray haired adminstrator looked closely at the tall woman sitting across from his desk. Perhaps he had heard wrong. He looked at her proposal in front of him.

She was blushing he saw and had seemed like a different person a moment before. Watching her he continued, "Dr. Pappas, I'm sorry to say this but your proposal cannot be funded. The work you have been doing with Dr. Covington is fascinating but it is just too controversial at this time. You must know that most other authorities consider the scrolls a forgery. We cannot back another expedition in the current political climate."

Xena found herself sitting in a strange room. A moment before she had been intending to start on Cadwallader of Brittany. She looked down and saw she was dressed in absurd clothes. She looked up at the man speaking and realized he looked a lot like Cadwallader, just without the long hair and beard.

"What did you say?" Her mind was racing trying to imagine what was happening. It couldn't be a dream. She'd been campaigning for weeks; dreams weren't like that.

"Dr. Pappas, are you well?" the chancellor said with concern. He was worried about the woman. Mental problems had been unkindly suggested as playing a part in the discovery of the so-called Xena scrolls. There were other rumors about Melinda Pappas and Janice Covington as well.

"I'm fine. What was that you were saying?"

He looked closely at her. "We will not finance another expedition at this time. The consensus is that the scrolls are a forgery from the 18th century. Interesting, certainly, but not what you and Dr. Covington think they are. Even if Xena really existed she was likely just a minor bandit, or perhaps the concubine of a warlord like Cortese who allowed her to pretend she was a warrior."

Enraged, Xena stood up and leaned over his desk grabbing his tie and bringing her face close to his. "Are you suicidal? 'Minor bandit,' 'concubine of Cortese.' Cortese! I don't think so."

The chancellor's heart was racing. Dr. Pappas rapped on top of his head to emphasize each syllable as she said, "UN..DER..STAND?" She pushed him back in his chair, turned and left his office slamming the door behind her.


Darfus was looking at Xena. She had simply stopped her interrogation of the old lord and was looking around frantically. The old man was watching her. Her lieutenant looked around too fearing an attack even though they were in the middle of their own army.

"Something the matter, Destroyer of Nations?" Cadwallader said contemptuously in his heavy accent. Darfus smiled at what the commander might do now to the prisoner.

An old man with long gray hair and a long beard was tied to a chair in front of her and a cruel looking man in leather and actually wearing a helmet and sword stood on one side of him. Melinda Pappas looked down and saw she was holding some sort of pliers. She was also in black leather.

"Where am I?" she finally said. She looked up and saw the puzzlement in the armed man's face and interest in the eyes of the bound old man. "Why is this man tied up?" she said nervously. It looked rather like Chancellor Wyndham, she realized.

Darfus said, "You were going to question him for the location of the traitors."

"Traitors!" the old man spat out. "We're fighting for our freedom from the dog you serve! But the Great Goddess is with us and we will prevail!"

Darfus struck the old man across the face. "Don't speak of Ares that way!"

"Stop it!" Melinda said in horror. The soldier looked at her coldly but stepped away from the prisoner.

Mel swallowed and said, "Leave me alone with him."


The warrior princess had finally calmed down. She shouldn't have exploded like that--she didn't even know where she was--but that anyone would even consider that she was a concubine of Cortese.....Xena was surprised she hadn't killed him. She had just been wandering trying to get a sense of where she was when a young man approached her. "Dr. Pappas! I didn't know you were back."

Xena studied him carefully; curly blonde hair, big and strong, probably an athlete, but harmless--a student or scholar. "I only just arrived."

The young man nodded eagerly and said, "Will you be teaching a class this semester?"

"I'm not sure," Xena said. "What was my last class? I don't want to repeat myself."

He looked confused but said, "You gave a seminar exploring the findings you and Dr. Covington made. It was so exciting! All of us helping you translate the scrolls. I don't care what anyone says. I believe they're authentic."

Xena nodded. "I've been sick...there's a lot I can't remember." The young man looked concerned. What a weakling, Xena thought.

"Malaria?" he said.

"Yes," Xena answered. "Can you answer some questions for me. What's your name for starters?"

"George. God, Dr. Pappas, I'm sorry! I admire you so much."

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Xena thought but she said, "Thank you, George. That means a lot."

Xena sat at a table in what she had learned was the library. George had told her more than she even wanted to know really. She understood she was in the distant future and was a scholar named Melinda Pappas who was studying her apparently. Much of what George said mystified her. Xena didn't know anything about any scrolls or any bard called Gabrielle of Poteidaia The stories he'd told her sounded like fairy tales anyway; about Xena just traveling around with a lone companion instead of an army and helping people. The very idea made Xena want to laugh and she saw why the old man didn't want any part of it. Finally she'd asked George about ancient Brittany. He'd found a number of books for her and then she'd shooed him off, forcing herself to keep on being nice. This Melinda Pappas apparently was "nice" to everyone. That would be a good cover.

Xena thought of the stories. Perhaps they had gotten her confused with this warlord, Callisto. She sounded a lot like her.

She found she could read as well as speak this language. Someone had complimented her on her accent in fact. She seemed to speak a regional dialect. She had been looking for information relating to the war she had been engaged in, thinking that might tell her something. She stopped at an image of a simple cracked ancient statue, just a stone, really, with crude features chipped out. "That's it," Xena whispered to herself. She noticed someone take a seat beside her and set a backpack on the floor. Xena was going to scowl and scare whoever it was away but froze when she saw the beautiful face smiling at her.

"Hey sweetcheeks." The speaker was wearing a short multicolored leather jacket like Xena had seen others wearing. But this one had two letter "G"s in loud colors supermiposed over each other and sewn on it. Xena heard a mewing and a kitten poked its orange head out of the back pack.

"You're the Great Goddess."

The beautiful blonde had taken a compact out and was studying her makeup. "Uh huh. Nice gig. Y'know, I'm not just Zeus's daughter like Artemis and Athena. I've got this whole other deal where I'm older than Zeus--one of those paradox kinda thingies like the Holy Trinity. I mean, how could I just be Zeus's kid, anyway? Everybody knows I came in from the ocean on a seashell. For a while it was just me and Uranus and Gaia. Well...actually I kinda was Gaia but I wasn't. Everything was real wild and kinda psychedelic--we all had different names and even sorta flowed into each other; we weren't uptight like later. You could be your own parents in those days." She sighed. "It was too good to last. Ki or Gaia, whatever you wanna call her, started spitting out babies, Anu's aspect Enlil had an attitude problem, and the Serpent King showed up. Next thing you know I couldn't get high cuz I had a PTA meeting to go to." She got nostalgic and said conspiratorially, "Ningizzida really knew what to do with that forked tongue, lemme tell ya!"

She closed the compact with a snap and looked at Xena, her chin resting on her hand, her friendly face framed by her beautiful blonde hair. "I ain't so nice and sweet when I'm the Great Goddess, Xena. As Aphrodite all I have power over is Love and Passion. I can waste people when I'm the Great Goddess, like now for instance. Why, if I wanted I could turn you into a pile of bloody goo where you sit. I taught that little snot Dahok everything he knows. Cool, huh? I saw the writing on the wall though and hooked up with Zeus. Too bad. I loved those Minoan dresses with the little waists and where my milky whites didn't have to be covered up."

The kitten managed to scramble out of the backpack. The blonde picked it up, kissed it, and set it on the table and began playing with it, not even looking at Xena.

"So you've taken me from my army to protect your worshippers." Xena was so angry she could have torn out Aphrodite's throat with her teeth. She knew enough not to try it, not to even hint that she wanted to. Xena knew when somebody was bluffing and when they weren't.

The blonde giggled and said, "Smart, smart, smart," tapping Xena's nose to emphasize each word. "I want you to end your campaign in Brittany. And not only that you're gonna help Cadwallader AND defend him whenever he needs it. Not when he asks, Xena--cuz he won't--when he needs it. "

Xena bared her teeth involuntarily. The Great Goddess said, "start over: Bad Attitude!" and took Xena's hands in hers. The warrior princess stared in horror as her strong brown hands just came off and her wrists began pumping out blood. The beautiful goddess gave one hand a pencil and the other a cheap pen, and they began flopping about on the table gouging at each other. The kitten was hissing at them. The goddess blew a kiss at Xena and suddenly her hands scrambled over her to reattach themselves. She saw her skirt was still covered in blood though.

"That's so you remember it wasn't some illusion. You disobey me, Xena, and you're gonna swallow your own eyeballs and watch yourself shit, and that's just for starters. Understand?"

Xena said, "I understand, Aphrodite."

"Don't call me Aphrodite. You think of me like that and you'll do something bogus and I'll hafta punish you. Ishtar is good; I always sorta liked that one. Or Isis...or Mary."

The blonde smiled kindly and looked in Xena's hate-filled blue eyes. "You'll be glad I did this, honey. In the future you'll look at helping Cadwallader like a lighthouse in a storm. Cadwallader's a great dude, a real stand up guy. You wouldn't want to remember torturing him."

Xena didn't respond, not trusting herself to speak. The blonde put the kitten back in her backpack and stood up. "I'm gonna let you chew on it for a while before I send you back. Melinda Pappas has your army now, by the way. I couldn't resist--TOO FUNNY! Don't get cute, Xena, okay? If I get pissed I might manifest as Kali--and you DON'T wanna meet her. Gotta run. Later."

The warrior princess watched the blonde leave in a determined way but then slow down when she saw a tall handsome young man browsing in the stacks. Xena saw the goddess smile and follow him, take his arm and just pull him out of sight.

"Mel! What'd you say to Wyndham? He sent for me and said he thought you'd gone crazy. Jesus, everybody and their mother must know about us."

Xena looked up and another blonde was talking to her, but this one was a little strawberry blonde. Xena didn't recognize her. She was dressed something like Xena herself, though Xena could tell it was even more unnatural for the small woman. Xena stood up preparing to speak when the little blonde said, "What happened? Are you all right?!"

Xena glanced down at her bloody clothes and looked at her hands. "Yeah, I'm okay. I had a nosebleed." She accepted it as the smaller woman looked her over.

"Nosebleed, huh. No wonder Wyndham sent for me. I sure like him, even if he does think I'm a crock."

Xena said, "Know anything about his family? They from Brittany?"

"Huh, how should I know? Come on, I'm taking you home."

The warrior princess ventured a guess, "Dr. Covington?"

Janice looked at her friend as she began leading her out of the library, everyone staring at the bloody figure. "Yeah, Mel, I'm Dr. Covington. Christ, what's goin' on with you?"

Instead of answering Xena said, "I want those books I was looking at. And I want to find a book about the goddess Kali."


After Darfus left, Mel untied Cadwallader. He was staring at her. He said, "You're not Xena. Who are you?"

"Melinda Pappas, sir. I don't know what's going on."

The old man smiled. "The Great Goddess protects her children. She has taken that vile bitch and replaced her with you. Praise the Great Goddess, the glorious mother!"

Melinda was looking at him. "'Vile.' Xena? The warrior princess was a hero."

The old man had stood and was rubbing his wrists which Mel saw were cut from the ropes. He chuckled bitterly. "That's right, she's a hero. And I'm a young maid who has never attended a harvest festival."

Melinda was thinking about Xena and about the scrolls. She asked, "Does Xena have a companion named Gabrielle, a bard who records her adventures?"

Cadwallader just said, "'Adventures' is that what you call it? Pillage and murder is what I'd call it. I know nothing about a bard."

Mel said, "Xena reforms and tries to make amends for her past. This must be before that." She added frantically, "But what am I doing here? Oh my!"

Cadwallader studied her a moment. Then he approached her and said intensely, "Xena's army is oppressing my people. You can end that. That is why the Great Goddess brought you here, Melinda Pappas. She has honored you!"

"Call me Mel," she said automatically. She was kneading her hands and staring at them. She looked up. "How can I help?"

"You're Xena now. Simply order them to stop...though from the look of your lieutenant there...well, we'll see what happens."

Mel sat down in the chair the old man had been tied to and looked at her hands. She wished Janice were here. She would know what to do. Looking up she said resolutely, "All right, sir. I shall endeavor to rise to this occasion."


"Get out of those clothes, Mel," Janice said as she went into the bathroom and started a bath.

Xena glanced at her quizzically and looked around the dwelling she had brought her too. There were images of herself, or Melinda Pappas rather, done in some fine process Xena couldn't imagine. She looked curiously at her clothes and it took her a moment to understand some of the strange fastenings. There were white undergarments beneath them.

"Here," Janice said and came walking up behind her. Xena saw the garment containing her breasts come off. She looked at the small woman moving about briskly, picking her clothes up. Xena stepped out of the small underpants too.

"What are we to each other?" the naked warrior princess asked.

Janice stopped and looked at her. "Mel?"

"You heard me. Are we lovers?"

Janice Covington's face turned red. "Yeah, Mel. We are."

Xena just nodded and went to the small room where she heard running water. Only kings had luxury like this. She hoped to find a way to remain here. If she returned to her own time she would be forced to serve Aphrodite unless she found a way to escape that. She would take Pappas's lover as her own to assist her but if she remained would also take a male lover. When they had served their purpose she could have them kill each other in jealousy. It was a good arrangement she had used before. George was a likely candidate.

She got in the tub of water as it continued to fill. The small woman came in after a moment and turned the water off and just looked at her. Xena smiled and said, "Why not join me?"

"You don't even know my first name, do you?" Janice asked.

Janice was worried sick about Mel. The archaeologist was afraid her friend had gone completely out of her mind. And Janice was ashamed of how attracted she felt to her. The dark sensuality Mel was radiating was different than anything she had ever felt before from her.

Xena smiled. "At least come over here and wash my back."

Janice's face got red again and she left the bathroom closing the door after her. She heard Mel laughing seductively.


The correspondence was staring at her from her desk and with a sigh Janice began opening letters and writing replies. It was hard for her to do anything except worry about Mel. She'd left her at her apartment. Janice had slept on the couch. When Mel saw she intended that she'd laughed again in that dark way. There was a knock on her office door and Janice said, "It's open."

A pretty blonde peeked in and then entered and sat down. An orange kitten clambered out of a backpack and disappeared under the archaeologist's desk. Janice wasn't sure what to think. She looked about 25 but was dressed younger than that, wearing a leather varsity jacket like the girlfriends of football players often did.

"What can I do for you?" Janice asked. She didn't exactly look like a typical archaeology student.

"Honey, it's what I can do for you. Call me Ish."

Janice smiled. This looked like it might take her mind off Mel for a few minutes anyway. "Okay, Ish. What can you do for me?"

"Anything, sugar. Absolutely anything."

The little archaeologist shook her head sadly. "I wish. Really, what do you need?"

Glorious Ishtar the Queen of Heaven patted the little mortal's knee kindly. "Your friend is okay. Don't worry, it'll all work out. I like you in all kinds'a ways. You're trying to preserve my heritage by unearthing my temples, you always do what you think is right, and you love someone heart and soul. You go girl!"

Janice was confused. She should be irritated but found she wasn't. Instead she actually felt much better. The young woman stood up and stretched unselfconsciously. She said, "I just dropped by to reassure you. Mel will be back. I'm giving her a chance to do a little growing without having you to hold her hand. Oh, don't let Xena get ya in the sack. She's bad news. Gotta bail. Later." The kitten came out from its hiding place and rubbed against Janice's ankle. With a smile, Ish turned and left, holding the door open for the kitten which followed her, taking its own time, however.

Janice stared after her, baffled.


The warrior princess cracked another beer open and put her feet up on Covington's battered coffeetable. She had been here almost a week. Thoughtfully she picked up the picture on the little table next to her. It showed Pappas and Covington in what seemed like work clothes in the land of the Pharohs. Xena knew that because the Great Sphinx was behind them but it was terribly battered and eroded. If there was a magician who could help her circumvent Aphrodite's will it would likely be in Egypt.

Xena looked at the face of Covington in the picture. It was shadowed by a large hat, and she was wearing a bullwhip and a leather jacket Xena could practically smell just from seeing it. She had her hand protectively on Pappas's shoulder even though the other woman was so much bigger than she was. Xena hadn't managed to seduce her. Covington was dangerous. She would realize who she was eventually if she didn't already know, and that could complicate things. Xena decided to kill the little archaeologist just to be safe.


Mel knew what she had to do. Cadwallader had coached her telling her, first, to forget about courtesy and kindness. Xena never asked for anything: she gave orders and took what she wanted. The old man thought if she just remembered that she could pull it off. He'd tried showing her how to stand, saying she just didn't seem to take up enough space. Mel did her best.

Darfus looked up as Xena finally emerged from the tent. It had been hours. He was sorry he'd missed her interrogation of Cadwallader. Xena was an artist when it came to torture, one of her many skills. Perhaps she would come to him this night. Sometimes she was excited after an interrogation.

She saw him and said, "Darfus, prepare the men. We are returning to Mycenae."

The warrior said disbelievingly, "What? We'll have these dogs with one more push." He walked over to her.

Mel swallowed hard. They weren't supposed to question her. Cadwallader said everyone feared Xena. But he'd also said something about her lieutenant possibly being a problem. "You heard me," she said as angrily as she could.

Darfus stopped and looked at her. Something was up, he knew. He froze.

Mel's hand had unconsciously wrapped around her chakram, since it was roughly where her purse would be.

"All right, Xena. You have your reasons. Just don't keep me in the dark."

Mel didn't know why he was backing down. Then she realized where her hand was. She said, "When this is your army you can have my reasons. Until then do what you're told."

"I'll remember you said that," the warrior said coldly. Then Darfus just turned and walked away as he began giving orders for moving out.

Mel tried to keep from shaking. Cadwallader had told her she couldn't just hide in her tent, so she began walking around trying to look as if she was keeping an eye on everything.


George stopped at what he saw. "Dr. Pappas, what are you doing here?" To his amazement, waiting in front of his little off-campus apartment was Professor Melinda Pappas. She was shaking and her hair was mussed and her clothes seemed torn. She was hiding her face.

"Oh, George, I didn't know where else to go. George...George...I love you! And Janice found out! Look what she did to me!" She raised her head and the young man saw blood all around her nose and mouth.

George said, "Oh Jesus, Dr. Pappas! Love me... how... what...?" He was in shock.

Mel exclaimed, "I've loved you since I first saw you. I'd have told you before but I couldn't. Janice will kill me. She's a monster, George; a perverted sick monster! You can't imagine! The things she's made me do....and I was too scared not to! Please, George, help me. So we can be together! You're my only hope!" She broke down in tears and sank to the floor.

Barely thinking clearly, George unlocked his door and brought her inside. He took a washcloth and wiped her face off. To his relief he didn't actually see anything. She was still shivering in fear though.

"Hold me, George. Please. I'm so frightened of Janice. I'm so ashamed. The perverted things she's made me do!"

"You mean Dr. Covington?" he said disbelievingly.

"Who else! Do you have any wine or anything. I'm shaky," Mel said.

"Uh, yeah,"

"No, George. I can't drink alone, not now. Bring two glasses."

A few hours later in his bed George was holding her naked form tightly. "I can't believe it. I can't believe it. Janice Covington! Jesus...she's a monster. Oh, God..."

Mel kissed him again and said, "You're my only hope, George. You can save me. Janice has killed people before. I know. I've seen it. The only way I can be with you is if you help me get away...and there's only one way to do that!"

"What...what can I do?"

Mel reached over him and poured some more wine in his glass and handed it to him and actually put it to his mouth. He drank a large swallow.

"George. I can only be with you if Janice is dead!"


Janice sensed something and ducked just as George clumsily swung an axe at her. "What the..!" she exclaimed, as she jumped away. The young man's face was red.

"Get her, George, please! It's the only way we can be together. She'll never let me go!" It was Mel sounding hysterical, her face teary.

Janice stared at her shocked, then said urgently, "That isn't Mel! George, listen to me! Stop it, she's using you! Don't make me hurt you!"

"I'll kill you!" George said and came at Janice again. She jumped aside and picked up an empty beer bottle. There was a sound like a thundercrack and the whole building shook. Janice saw that the young man seemed unable to move, frozen in place. Carefully she backed away from him but didn't set her makeshift weapon down. Instead she turned, ready for a fight her heart would be in. She looked at the dark woman with disgust.

"You're the old Xena."

The warrior princess kept an eye on Covington but she was more concerned with whatever had frozen George in his tracks. Xena was looking around carefully when the door burst open with a gust of hot wind and a huge male lion leapt in with a twitching tail.

Behind the lion, Janice saw the young woman who had talked to her in her office the other day stride in, still wearing the varsity jacket with the superimposed G's. Her face was pale in anger as she looked at the young man frozen with the axe. The lion hadn't taken its eyes off of the warrior princess.

"I told ya not to get cute, Xena!" she said furiously and held her arms out. As Janice watched the woman's clothes disappeared. Her beautiful white nude body followed by her blonde hair both turned jet black. Another pair of arms grew from her sides and a third eye appeared in the middle of her forehead. In one hand she held an ornate curved sword and in another a head that was moaning and rolling its eyes.

"Kali," Xena said, backing away.

Tusks grew from her face and a garland of skulls and writhing snakes materialized followed by a belt made of twitching severed hands. Kali the Destroyer looked at Xena and opened her mouth and a long tongue lolled out.

The warrior princess discovered she was back in her fighting leathers. She drew her sword and leapt at Kali Ma. Xena watched her blade shatter as it struck the bloody sword of the goddess, and she felt a horrible pain run up her arm. Two of the goddess's four hands reached out and grabbed hold of Xena and pulled her close in an embrace. The warrior had never imagined pain like this as her skin just began to blister and smoke wherever she was touching the goddess. She gritted her teeth---she wouldn't scream. That long tongue came out again and licked the side of her face. The warrior princess tried not to lose consciousness from the agony. Outside although a moment before it had been a sunny clear day, now it was pouring rain in sheets and the wind was roaring punctuated by thunder and lightning. The roaring of the lion provided counterpoint.

Horrified, Janice Covington remembered what Ish had said. She cried out, "Stop it! For me! Please, stop for me!"

While Xena's skin continued to crackle and smoke, a shiny black hand reached out and tenderly touched Janice's cheek, the hand of Mother Kali. The blood smeared face turned to look at her. The archaelogist saw the tusks were still growing.

Outside the storm ended as quickly as it had come. The additional arms began shrinking back into her sides and Kali Ma's other attributes also disappeared one by one. Lastly her leather jacket returned. The blonde goddess looked deep in Xena's pain-crazed blue eyes, then released her and the warlord fell to the floor. Almost blind with agony, Xena looked down at her horribly burned and mutilated flesh. She saw Covington staring at her like she might throw up. Xena reached up to touch her face where Kali had licked her and instead of flesh felt bone. The goddess snapped her fingers. Xena felt her face again and this time touched skin. The awful burns and scars were also gone and the pain had disappeared. A kitten came up and sniffed at her.

The blonde walked over to a mirror. "D'ya like my hair this way, honey? I mean it's beautiful, sure. What else would it be? But is it me? I mean really me? What d'ya think?"

Janice approached her fearfully trying to think of something to say. Before she could Ish laughed musically. "Look who I'm asking. Never mind, sugar."

The beautiful goddess smiled at herself in the mirror again, turned and walked over to George who was still frozen holding the axe. She frowned and looked at Xena who had shakily gotten back to her feet.

Glorious Ishtar said, "Ooooo...this is WAY UNCOOL! You're as bad as Lilith! You'd be toast if this bull dyke wasn't so bitchin." The goddess touched the young man's forehead and he disappeared. "Cute little studmuffin--lotta heart. Think I'll get him laid after I finish up here and go back on the clock as Aphrodite."

She walked over to Xena and looked up at her, shaking her head disapprovingly. Xena opened her mouth to say something but the blonde made a jerking thumb motion and said, "You're OUTTA here!" The warrior princess disappeared.

The goddess came back over to Janice and smiled. As she knelt down and put the kitten in her backpack, she said, "I'll make Mel less uptight about 69. That should make up some for this. Later."

Janice said helplessly, "Wait..."

The goddess looked at her.

The little blonde was so overwhelmed she could barely speak, "'re're...I mean..." She was crying.

The Great Goddess smiled warmly at the archaeologist, gently took her face and kissed her on the lips, then just disappeared.


The archaeologist turned at the voice and saw Mel standing in the doorway.


Darfus was smiling. He didn't know exactly what had happened to her but Xena had lost her nerve. It happened sometimes. It had been a week now and he could hardly believe Xena was the same person. He would take the army and make her run the gauntlet. Although he had followed her orders and they had been slowly withdrawing, he still had patrols out. They had returned with prisoners, a few young soldiers and some teenage girls, their sweethearts apparently. They'd all been having a picnic or something when the patrol caught them. Probably celebrating the invaders leaving.

The prisoners were lined up and Darfus was smirking as he walked up and down looking at them. He reached out to finger a necklace of one of the girls. He didn't even glance over as he heard one of the young men curse and jump forward but be beaten down by a guard. The girl, with long thick red hair, had a quivering lower lip but was trying to be brave, Darfus saw. This was going to be fun.

"What are you doing?" a voice said angrily.

Darfus turned to see Xena striding angrily toward him. But something was off. She just didn't seem to take up enough space.

"What does it look like?" he said sneeringly. Darfus knew this was it. She was afraid, he could see. This was his army now. The men were all just watching.

Mel felt sick. She'd had a few other brief conversations with Darfus. Every morning Cadwallader told her what to do, but he couldn't leave her tent. When she talked about Darfus the old man got quiet. He said she should avoid him as much as possible, but not to let him realize she was doing it. Each time she saw Darfus he was more insolent than the last and she could see something in his eyes, especially after he saw her give some water to a wounded man. Now she looked at these young people that awful man had as prisoners. Mel had to save them. She put her hand on her chakram again as she had before but this time Darfus just smiled.

"Go ahead, Xena." He drew his sword. "Let's finish this."

Mel looked around. "Seize him," she ordered as arrogantly as she could. No one moved. Darfus chuckled and began advancing on her. Mel grabbed the chakram and threw it overhand at him. He nimbly leaped out of its path and it embedded in a wagon.

"You have a choice, Xena. You can run the gauntlet or you can die now as a warrior."

Mel had no idea what the gauntlet was but remembered that her great grandfather had been a captain under Jeb Stuart. She did not intend to disgrace that heritage. Mel drew the sword awkwardly. That awful man smiled.

Xena found herself with her sword in her hand, surrounded by her men and with Darfus facing her. She grinned and said, "So, Darfus, decided to make your move?" The warrior princess looked around with a sneer. "Dogs. Ready to follow whoever wins. At least Darfus has courage---not like you swine!"

Darfus had stopped advancing. "It was all a game wasn't it, Xena? Pretending weakness...seeing what I would do, what the men would do. You're crafty, Xena. I'll give you that."

He leapt at her and Xena met his blow with her sword. He caught her with a kick that sent her stumbling back but she twisted out of the way when he tried to finish her off. Darfus struck her across the face but her sword crashed on his helmet and he fell to his knees, dropping his weapon. Xena kicked him in the head leaving him flat on his back. She stood over him, her sword at his throat.

"Go ahead," he spat.

Xena looked around at the watching men, then stepped back. "You're lucky, Darfus. I need a lieutenant with balls. Looks like you're the only candidate."

She sheathed her sword and retrieved her chakram. As Darfus got to his feet and picked his sword up, Xena looked at the prisoners. She remembered Kali. "Release them." She frowned as she saw Cadwallader approach, the old man watching her carefully. "Provide a horse for Lord Cadwallader."

Darfus stared at Xena and the old man then growled to some men, "You heard the commander. Get a horse for Lord Cadwallader."

Xena was keeping her temper contained. It wasn't hard when she thought of Kali. While waiting for a mount, the old man had joined the young soldiers and maids taken prisoner. Xena sneered inwardly as she saw how they all hovered around him. Now Cadwallader and the other prisoners were preparing to leave but the gray bearded old man walked his horse over and looked down at her. He smiled and said in his heavy accent, "May the Great Goddess be with you, Destroyer of Nations."

Xena gritted her teeth and said, "I'll be sending messengers for regular reports. I'll be back if you need assistance."

Cadwallader snorted, "That is not necessary."

Xena looked down and saw a kitten had come from somewhere and was rubbing against her ankle. "Yeah, well...I think I'll do it anyway."