by Joseph Anderson

Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer and Callisto belong to Renaissance Pictures and King Features. The Bitch of Tartarus belongs to the author. No copyright infringement is intended with this fanfic which may not be sold and must contain all notices of copyright.

Warning: Graphic violence and bad language.

Sequel to Back to School.

Gabrielle glanced up one more time at Xena on Argo. They had just dropped Joxer off in a town to let him continue recuperating for another day or so. But it was Xena not Joxer the bard was worried about.

"Xena, are you sure you don't want to talk about anything?"

The big woman looked down at her and said easily, "For the 50th time, NO, Gabrielle."

"Well, okay. Just, I'm here if you do."

"Thank you, I know that."

Gabrielle thought she might have detected a hint of exasperation, but not nearly enough for her taste. The old Xena would've been snapping at her by this time, but since she had gotten back from fighting herself in some horrible future, she had been so pleasant and unruffled it was spooky. For the bard her friend had been gone a matter of minutes but Xena said a year had passed for her. And she didn't want to talk about what had happened.

The clicking from the rings Xena had given her was really irritating--huge rich gems which Gabrielle now wore on both hands. When she'd begun taking one off she had seen almost a panicked look on her friend's face, so she had said, "I just wanted to polish it. I LOVE it, Xena. Love 'em all!"

The fear seemed to leave Xena's blue eyes and she said, "They look wonderful on you! Where's the necklace I gave you?" Gabrielle cursed inside and reached into her pouch and put the heavy gold chain and medallion on...felt like it weighed a ton.

"Just wanted to keep it safe, you know. Can't be too careful, Xena."

The Warrior Princess was looking at her with a faraway look in her blue eyes. Finally she said, "I'm sorry, Gabrielle. You can take all that off if you want. It just kinda makes me comfortable. Somebody I liked wore stuff like that.... where I just came from."

At last! she's starting to talk. "Who?"


"Dolon! He was there? Was Amazi there too?" She took the necklace off again with relief but decided to keep the rings on for the moment when she looked in Xena's eyes.

Xena said slowly, "Yeah, Dolon was there...and, no, Amazi wasn't. He...uh...stayed in Carthage."

"Understandable at his age," the bard said judiciously.

The Warrior Princess looked away and started Argo forward again. They came to a river and decided to just fish and make camp there at the bard's suggestion. Her friend loved to fish. Gabrielle could take it or leave it--preferably leave it. It was too messy for her taste, especially since she usually did the cleaning.

"Xena, I need to take my rings off to clean the fish. Can I have that bag you had 'em in?" Gabrielle asked.

The warrior, who was searching a saddle bag for fishhooks, glanced up and tossed the little tan bag to her. The bard again felt it curiously trying to decide what the material was. Decorations were sewn into it.

"Oh, I GET it! It's supposed to be a face. That's cute, Xena!" Gabrielle said, holding it up for a better look. Now she could make out the eyes and nose and mouth. "This is pigskin, right?"

Xena looked at her and seemed confused. Then she hurried over and grabbed the bag away from Gabrielle and examined it. She looked down at her leathers and its carved bone decorations.

"Xena! What is it? What's wrong?" Gabrielle asked.

Xena dropped the bag from shaking fingers and began picking the bones from her leathers. "It's not pigskin, Gabrielle. It's just what it looks like."

"I don't understand."

"It's a face, Gabrielle. It's somebody's face made into bag. And these are human bones. From him and some others."

"By the gods!" Gabrielle said. "Xena...what..?"

The Warrior Princess was staring at the bones and the skin bag. Then she looked at her friend. "I was raped. The Bitch of Tartarus set me up to be gangraped. I caught 'em and that's what I did to 'em."

The bard was shaking with horror. "Raped? Xena...!"

"Dolon poisoned her and I took her place. We had to take down her army, too. It took months...they had to believe I was her. The bag....the Bitch was like that....Xena was like that..."

"It was just an act then...thank the Gods!" Gabrielle said shuddering.

Her friend said with a bitter smile, "Oh no it wasn't, not this time. I wasn't putting any act on when I did this! Don't think this was all I did to 'em either, Gabrielle. You might as well know the truth. I gave 'em to my Horde guard...and I'm glad!"

"Horde guard?"

Xena said, something almost proud in her voice, "My personal guard, Gabrielle. Seventy-five warriors from the Horde who thought I was a goddess and would do anything, and I mean anything, I told 'em to."

"Oh Xena! Gods, Gods...what happened to you there?" Gabrielle said. She came over, careful to keep her eyes averted from the grisly artifacts, and put her hand on her friend's shoulder. She looked up at her friend's face and felt odd, like there was something missing.

Xena seemed to be talking to herself now more than to her friend. "Maybe if Dolon hadn't killed himself...but he left me....just like you left me...when that weakling didn't protect you!"

"You mean Joxer?" the bard said shocked.

"No, that weakling Xena! I'd have protected you! But I'm not weak like before. I know what it takes now to keep what's mine. You belong to me! No one takes what's mine!" The fury left Xena and she looked at Gabrielle with anguish filled eyes. The bard grabbed her in a hug. Xena said, "I'm sorry, Gabrielle...I'm all right now. I just had to get it out. Now I'm all right."

Gabrielle looked at her friend with relief. "Oh Gods...Gods...I'm so relieved Xena. You really are all right now?"

Xena nodded and said in a choked voice, "You better clean those fish."

The bard picked the fish up and said, "I'll let you do whatever you plan on doing with those," indicating the grisly relics. She could see Xena needed to be alone a little now.

Xena didn't respond, just looking down at the bones and tanned human face. The small woman still wore the rings so took them off and put them in a pocket.

Returning from the river with the fish Gabrielle began to say cheerfully, "These are gonna be great, Xena..." She stopped and looked at her friend, who was sharpening her sword. The Warrior Princess had replaced the bone decorations on her leathers and the bag hung at her side.

Xena glanced over at the bard and said with irritation, "You've cleaned the fish. So where are your rings? You could show a little appreciation."

The little blonde was looking at Xena's apparently calm blue eyes and the razor sharp sword.

"All right, Xena. They're right here."


The bard woke at a sound. She quietly looked over and saw Xena sitting up and mumbling to herself, then rise and begin pacing. Gabrielle watched as her friend removed the bone decorations again from her leathers and look at the purse and throw it into the night. Before Gabrielle could say anything, Xena disappeared. In a few minutes she returned with the bag made of human skin. Gabrielle closed her eyes and sensed her friend come and stand over her a moment, then walk away. The bard tried not to cry as she heard her moving about, pacing restlessly and mumbling. She heard another sound she suspected was Xena again throwing the bag away, but then heard her run again to retrieve it. Eventually against her will, Gabrielle fell asleep, Xena still mumbling to herself in the dark night.

The next morning when Gabrielle awoke she was alone. Xena's bedroll and Argo were both gone. The bard looked and the bone decorations were no longer where her friend had dropped them. Gabrielle wasn't surprised and just began examining the tracks, preparing to follow her troubled friend.


"Gods!" the little blonde said to herself. Hours before she had run into some frightened people. Bandits had set on them they said, but then a woman warrior had appeared out of nowhere and rescued them. They didn't act rescued though. They seemed scared to death. Gabrielle couldn't get them to say what it was that had frightened them. Now she knew.

Gabrielle kept herself steady as she looked at the bodies: the bandits, obviously. The little blonde went from tree to tree, checking to see if the figures were still alive, praying to Zeus they weren't.

"Isn't this something!"

Gabrielle whirled at the voice and saw the familiar blonde figure dismounting from a huge black stallion. The bard began to speak but the figure beat her to it. "Don't get your hopes up, Gabrielle. I didn't do this. Xena did." Then the blonde giggled. "Oh...it's so good seeing work well done, isn't it?"

"Callisto...what are you doing here?" Gabrielle said. She was trying to keep from crying at what Xena had done. She didn't want to give Callisto the satisfaction.

The blonde warrior began examining the dead. She had her legendary wide demented smile as she said, "That Xena...guess she's just a firebug!" She approached the little blonde who flinched away. Callisto said, "I'm here to help bring your friend back to herself--or what you think is herself. Personally, I think this is the real Xena but that's just me. She did stuff like this for a lot longer than she was going around rescuing puppies with you. Hades sent me."

"What do you get out of it?" Gabrielle asked suspiciously.

The blonde warrior answered with a laugh. "Chance to breathe some fresh air. Play with you. Fight Xena. Beats Tartarus out of Tartarus even if it's only for a little while. Maybe I can find a way to stay too. This whole thing is really complicated. I gather there was another Xena and another me among other things. I don't really know or care."

Gabrielle shook her head looking at the ground. "At least you're acting like yourself. What can you do?"

Callisto was scratching her head as she said, "Not real sure. I guess, Xena fighting me is supposed to snap her out of it. Or maybe killing me does that; though I'm not too hot on that one. Artemis wants me to protect you, I'm sorry to say, little Miss Amazon Queen. So let's go, Gabrielle. You can ride with me or walk like you do with Xena."

"First we have to bury these men, Callisto," the bard said.

The blonde warrior burst out in laughter. "Not me! You can if you want though that means Xena will get further away---and who knows what she'll do before we catch up to her."

Gabrielle looked at the burned and mutilated bandits, hating to leave them like that no matter who they were. Obviously if Callisto helped they could bury them much faster, but the warrior wouldn't and that was that. And she was right about Xena. "All right, Callisto, let's go. I'll ride with you. It'll be faster that way."

Callisto giggled. "You want to save her so much, not only will you ride a horse, which I know scares you to death, you'll be behind me. Wish I had a buddy like that. I did when I was a kid but Xena barbecued him." The blonde warrior mounted the gigantic stallion and held a hand down for the bard. When she was behind her, Callisto could feel her shaking. "Put your arms around my waist. Don't be shy. In fact squeeze anything you want!" With a laugh she started the horse off at a fast trot, and Gabrielle in a panic held tight to the woman chuckling in front of her.


The Warrior Princess was studying the camp below her. It looked like a wealthy family had been taken. A richly dressed father and mother, two teenage daughters and a young son. Several bodies were lying around, probably bodyguards. The girls were naked and crying. Xena studied them. Maybe they hadn't been raped yet, she hoped. Their captors might be arguing over who would get first crack at 'em since they were virgins more than likely. She looked at the men and recognized one from her old army she had thrown out for cowardice. This was more his style. One of the girls looked a little like Gabrielle.

Hearing a footstep Xena melted into the woods and watched an armed man approach where she'd been seconds before. He looked around carefully and yelled to the campsite below him, "Nothing here, Glaukos. You're imagining things."

The man from Xena's old army yelled back, "All right, but keep your eyes open. I still feel something." He was a tall yellow skinned man, missing the little finger on his right hand. Xena cut it off as punishment just for being who he was. Now she came up behind the man and paralyzed him with a quick blow to a pressure point. "Xena!" he choked out.

The Warrior Princess smiled at him and said, "You have a poor choice of companions." His eyes widened as she drew her sword and slashed down. He screamed as loudly as he could though it was still a whisper. "Don't worry. You'll bleed to death before any animals find you....maybe."

Xena left him making whimpering sounds. She sheathed her sword and just began walking straight towards the camp. When they saw her some of the men laughed at a lone woman but others looked careful. Glaukos looked frightened.

"Xena, what do you want?" Glaukos said loudly. All of the men drew their swords when they heard her name.

"Let'em go. Then maybe, just maybe, I won't kill you all."

Several of the men did laugh at that but Glaukos looked at her and glanced up where his guard had been. Then he said, "All right, Xena. I don't want trouble with you."

A big scarred man exploded, "What? Glaukos, you're nothing but a spineless piece of dung!" Before he could say any more he was choking on a knife in his throat and Glaukos was standing in front of him.

Xena laughed. "Good move, Glaukos. It's too bad you are a spineless piece of dung. Give the girls their clothes...NOW."

The tall bandit looked at her with hatred and retrieved some garments from a pile and tossed them to the teenagers who covered themselves. Then he untied their parents.

"Well, is that all?" Glaukos asked. He had heard Xena had changed. She didn't seem any different to him.

Xena reached up and fingered one of the bones on her leathers. "Yeah, Glaukos, that's all." She took her chakram and threw it, slashing Glaukos's cheek open and wounding another man before it returned to her. One of the girls began screaming as Xena drew her sword and leapt at the bandits. She was smiling as she laid around her with the blade. Glaukos and a few other men tried to run but her chakram caught them. In less than two minutes it was over. The men were only wounded as she had intended, including her old friend who was moaning from a deep cut in his side. Xena grabbed Glaukos and dragged him to the campfire, dropped his head in and pressed his face into the coals with her booted foot, as he flopped and screamed.

She looked over at the wealthy family. Shaking, the father approached her. He looked nervously at the writhing man but managed to clearly say, "Thank you, Xena." The smell of burning flesh made him sick.

Xena asked, "Did they touch your daughters yet?" She ground her foot on Glaukos's face which sizzled.

"No, thank the Gods!"

Xena nodded and said, "You and your family better get out of here." Stepping away from the moaning figure, she looked around at the other wounded men and smiled. "This is gonna take a while."

He had spotted the pouch she carried and carefully backed away from her. "Thank you again, Great One." He got his family and quickly left.


"What is it, Callisto?" Gabrielle asked. The warrior had stopped the horse and was examining the woods.

"Not sure yet. Get down."

Gabrielle slid off the big horse with relief and held her staff. Callisto drew her sword and walked the horse out of sight. Then Gabrielle heard laughter.

"Come on, you have GOT to see this, Gabrielle!"

The bard gripped her staff and tried to brace herself for whatever was waiting this time. When she reached the camp she felt dizzy and Callisto was solicitously at her side. "We're on the right track anyway. Will you look at this! That Xena!"

Gabrielle felt clammy and sat down. Finally she said, "Let's go, Callisto. We have to stop her."

Callisto was examining the site with a smile, stepping over what was left of the men. "She was rescuing people again, Gabrielle...just so you know. They were tied up right there. Maybe being good isn't as boring as I thought it was. I think she's taking souveniers, too." She looked at a charred head, then noticed the hand. "This is Glaukos! I'm speechless with admiration! That Xena!"

Gabrielle, leaning on her staff walked away as Callisto continued checking bodies laughing softly to herself.


She had finally gotten used to holding onto Callisto's waist and had returned to feeling nervous and a little sick at being on a horse, any horse. Now they had entered a forest. The bard didn't hear or see anything but the warrior muttered, "Hold on!" and the black stallion began scrambling up a steep barely visible trail. Gabrielle clung tightly as arrows whizzed by her. Callisto's hand snaked out and caught one before it hit Gabrielle's leg. Then they were on the other side of the embankment and Callisto yanked her sword out as she pulled the horse up short.

"Who was it?" the bard asked.

The blonde face looked back at her, and Gabrielle realized what a stupid question it had probably been. Callisto hissed, "How should I know? Stay here while I take care of these shits!"

Gabrielle said, "No, I can handle myself."

She heard that mad giggle, "Well, well, I heard you were good with that stick. You still won't kill though, right?"

"That's right. I don't need to. Neither do you," the bard said clearly.

"This is for luck!" The warrior said and twisting around grabbed Gabrielle's hair and kissed her, forcing her tongue into the surprised mouth. "Hold on!" The horse began galloping toward a barely discernible trail. Gabrielle felt as if she was in a dream as the warrior rode the horse furiously through deep forested lanes and under overhangs to come out behind two men with bows. They spun at the sound of the horse. Gabrielle slid off the animal and swept the feet from under one of the men, then drove her staff into his stomach. She looked over in time to see Callisto slash down from atop her horse and the man fall holding a wounded shoulder.

"I surrender! I surrender! Mercy!" he cried. Callisto jumped from her horse and began advancing on the wounded man. A staff blocked her path.

"Just like I thought," the warrior laughed. "Come at me, Gabrielle! Lemme see just how good you are with your stick!"

The bard paled. She had impulsively tried to stop Callisto from killing someone unnecessarily; but actually fighting the crazed warrior was about even with eating poison mushrooms on her list of things to do. "Callisto..." she started to say, but then the smiling woman made a clumsy grab at her staff. Gabrielle felt like maybe she wasn't so overmatched after all, then heard a giggle and in a moment Callisto was holding the staff to her throat. Meanwhile the man Callisto had cornered had taken the opportunity and was running. Callisto noticed him and stepped away from Gabrielle, pursed her lips and closed one eye as if sighting a target, then threw the staff at the fleeing figure, who fell as the staff hit the back of his head with a flat thunk.

Gabrielle could see his lifeless eyes from where she stood. The bard looked back and saw Callisto was now standing over the other man. The warrior was holding her sword to his throat.

"Why did you ambush me?" she said sweetly.

"We thought you were robbers!" the man answered desperately.

"That's pathetic! You'd think you could come up with something better with your life at stake!" Callisto sounded outraged.

"Please, Callisto," the bard said.

The blonde warrior glanced at her with irritation. "Get their purses, Gabrielle," she ordered then laughed as she looked at the bard's face. "Ooops, you would never do that! Never mind they were trying to rob and murder you."

The blonde warrior sheathed her sword, held her hand out and the relieved man handed his purse over. She glanced inside making a disappointed face, then sauntered over to the corpse and her face brightened. "Goody! I was down to my last half a dinar. If you're pure of heart the gods will provide." She picked the staff up and said, "Here. Not a bad weapon, really; nice balance." Laughing she tossed the staff to the bard.

The robber couldn't believe his good fortune when Callisto said, "Almost forgot," and leapt catching his throat with her foot. The man fell and writhed choking on the ground. "Should I finish him off or just let him die? It'll take a while," she said smiling at the horrified bard, who ran over to the man.

"Why? Why did you do that?" Gabrielle choked out.

Callisto laughed and said, "Why? Why d'ya think? He tried to kill us. More to the point, he tried to kill ME."

"We have to save him!" the bard said.

The blonde warrior smiled, and said, "Sorry, I dunno how to save him. Not my venue, ya might say. Xena probably could. Guess you can't though, huh? Just not good enough in spite of all this time with Xena. What's it to be?"

Gabrielle stared down at the choking man and his terrified eyes. She got on her knees and took his hand and said just above a whisper, "Don't let him suffer."

"Okeydokey," the warrior said. Before Gabrielle could move she was splattered by blood as Callisto's sword flashed.

"Ooooh, ya know what, Gabrielle. I'm sorry, I made a mistake. He would've been all right if we'd just left him." She made a sad face, then wiped her sword on the man, sheathed it and remounted her stallion. With a smile she held a hand down for the bard.

Gabrielle was shaking as she got to her feet. After a moment she took the proffered hand and climbed back up behind the warrior, putting her arms around her waist, and trying to ignore it as Callisto wriggled and moaned in mock ecstasy.


Xena glanced at the ears which she had drying in the sun. Sensing a familiar presence she said, "Show yourself, Ares."

The God of War appeared and looked ironically at her trophies. "I hate to say this, Xena, but you can't keep on this way."

"Why not?" she demanded.

Ares sighed and said, "If you just stayed like you are now it would be great. I love what you're doing. It even makes your helping people palatable to me. But you won't stay like this. Eventually you'll become the Bitch of Tartarus again."

Xena spat at him, "Never! The Bitch killed innocents. I'm saving them."

The beautiful dark god said, "Xena, look at what you're doing. Acting just like the Bitch but on petty robbers and bandits. That won't be enough soon. You'll get a new army so you can do this to warlords and all their men. And from there it'll be a short step to killing everyone you can find. No conquering. Just killing." The god looked depressed. "Can't let you do that, Xena. I'm about war not chaos. I sympathize. Anybody understands killing is addictive it's the God of War. You got in over your head."

Xena frowned and picked up an ear to study it. "You don't know what you're talking about," she growled. The Warrior Princess took her necklace off and added the ear to the other ears, lips and fingers already on it. She put it back around her neck.

Ares watched her with a slight smille. "Gotta admit I like your sense of style now though. Listen, Xena, it's not just me this time. Olympus isn't gonna let you turn back into the Bitch. Zeus told me to kill you myself first and cut out the middle man. Think about it." The god disappeared in a blaze.

Xena stared where he had been, then looked down at her necklace. She made a horrified sound and ripped the trophy necklace off. Xena stumbled back almost sick, tearing at the bones again decorating her leathers. She began running trying to escape what she had become.


The bard and the warrior were naked in the lake. "Oooo, Gabrielle, I just love this. I hate being dirty. Hate it. HATE IT!" The blonde giggled and submerged herself again.

Gabrielle didn't say anything but simply worked on getting clean. When the warrior had stopped at the shore and begun stripping the bard had looked nervously at her. Callisto laughed at the expression on her face and said, "Don't flatter yourself."

The bard scratched and looking down noticed a flea or five. She sighed and began taking her own clothes off.

Now she glanced at the shore where her clothes were drying. She heard a familiar sound and looked over at Callisto who was also listening.

Joxer the Mighty, He's very tidy, Everyone admires him. He's so handsome it's a sin.

Callisto looked mystified and Gabrielle realized she'd never heard Joxer's song. Whenever they had met he wasn't exactly in a singing mood. "It's Joxer. You know Joxer: you told him to cut my throat and he refused," she explained.

When things get grim, He'll take it on the chin

"Is he crazy or something?" the warlord asked.

He's Joxer, Joxer the Mighty!

Gabrielle couldn't help herself. "YOU'RE worried about somebody being crazy?" Then she gulped as Callisto's eyes widened and stared at her.

"Good point," the warrior finally said with a giggle. "What?" She caught something else in Gabrielle's face.

"It's just he has this way of showing up when I'm naked. It's weird."

"Want me to kill him?" the warrior asked helpfully as the bard submerged herself to neck level just as Joxer came clanking out of the woods.

"No, I don't want you to kill him!"

Callisto was washing her full breasts as she saw the awkward figure catch sight of them, trip and fall in panic then get back to his feet and call out. "Gabby, are you all right!?"

Callisto heard something in the voice and glanced at the bard with a smirk while she was touching her nipples making them stand up. The warrior came out of the water, her muscular naked wet body glistening and blonde hair plastered down. Joxer began fumbling trying to draw his sword, then stopped, blushed and looked away as he realized Callisto wasn't attacking him. The nude woman harshly said, "Look at me when I'm talking to you! The love of your pathetic life is fine, idiot. So get lost! She's sick of you spying on her."

"Joxer, I'm fine. I'll explain it to you later," Gabrielle called. She could see that Callisto's words had hit Joxer like a blow.

"Sure thing, Gabby. If you're okay I'll see you later." The clanking figure nervously backed away from Callisto, then disappeared and the naked blonde skipped back into the lake, breasts bouncing.

"Gods, Callisto! Oh, never mind," Gabrielle said disgustedly.

"Lying doesn't help anybody. He just heard from me what you should've told him already. I never lie, personally. You think letting him moon over you is being kind? Oh, well. Guess that's what makes you so much better than me...lying to your friends. I'll bet you betray 'em too...for their own good, of course." With that Callisto propelled herself on her back out into the middle of the lake.

Later after they were dressed and back on the trail Gabby kept expecting Joxer to appear. "I hope he's all right. "


Exasperated, Gabrielle said, "Joxer. He's my friend. Something you wouldn't understand."

The blonde warrior said conversationally, "Yeah, I suppose not. When I was a girl I had lotsa friends but Xena turned 'em all into toast. After that I was too busy turning tricks for a crust of bread to make new friends. Same thing later when I was learning to fight."

"I'm sorry, Callisto."

The warrior looked at her in suprise. "I didn't say that looking for pity. Save it for yourself when I don't have to protect you."

Gabrielle didn't say anything. She tried to call up her anger about the murder of Perdicus, but instead just kept imagining a hungry little girl selling herself for food.


"Xena! Am I glad to see you!" Joxer exclaimed when he saw the Warrior Princess waiting for him on the trail.

Xena looked at him and said slowly, "Hello, Joxer. You were always my friend...always my friend. How are you feeling?"

The fool stopped at her tone and looked in her eyes. They looked wrong though he didn't know exactly how. And what she said sure wasn't the way she usually talked to him. "Um, yeah, Xena, I hope I'm your friend. I'm okay now. But listen, Gabrielle and Callisto are together out there. What's going on?"

She frowned down at the ground. "Callisto, huh?" Xena looked back up at Joxer whose mouth she saw was hanging open staring at her necklace of fingers, lips and ears.

"What's the matter? These? They all deserved it!"

Joxer fumbled, "Uh, yeah, if you say so, Xena. I mean you would know, right?"

Xena nodded at him and said, "We need to rescue Gabrielle from Callisto, Joxer."

"Um, she didn't seem like she was a prisoner, Xena. Gabby said she was fine."

Xena said condescendingly, "Of course, she seemed fine. Callisto made her say that. Maybe she's even under some sort of spell."

"Uh, sure, okay. I shoulda thought of that," Joxer said.

Joxer knew something was going on. Xena acting this way must be connected with Callisto and Gabby...but how? Xena had gone to fight a terrible warlord called the Bitch of Tartarus and was already back. He didn't totally understand but that was nothing new. Maybe this was about that.

"Come on, Joxer. You're promoted to temporary sidekick," Xena said as she swung up on Argo. "Take me back where you saw Callisto holding Gabrielle prisoner."

The fool looked up and felt terribly sad as he saw the blankness in her blue eyes and again stole a glance at the grisly necklace. "Sure, Xena. Whatever you say." He began walking back the direction he had come from.


Gabrielle sat on one side of the campfire and looked at Callisto sharpening her sword on the other. The warlord glanced at her. "You wanna ask me something? Another game of truth or dare?"

The bard shook her head. "No. What would be the point?"

The warrior smiled. "You've finally written me off. My, my, my. How terrible I must be. What an awful waste."

"That's exactly what it is, Callisto," the smaller woman said with sadness. To her surprise she saw a fleeting look of what seemed disappointment pass across the woman's face.

"Well, it's about time!" the warrior said.

"Calli..." Gabrielle started to say but stopped at a gesture from the warrior who had risen and was listening. The bard silently rose and picked her staff up.


Callisto's sword met Xena's as the Warrior Princess exploded into their camp.

"Xena!" Callisto said with glee. "Nice necklace!"

Gabrielle looked at what was around her friend's neck. The bard's stomach lurched. The two warriors' swords were clashing again and again in the intimate dance they had shared so many times before.

"Gabby," she heard in her ear and turned to see Joxer. "Come on. Xena wants you to get away while she's fighting Callisto."

The bard said, "I'm not her prisoner. She's here to help me with Xena."

Joxer looked at her in confusion, not sure what to do.

"Bitch!" Xena cursed and drove her sword through her opponent and Callisto moaned and fell, and began writhing on the ground. Xena raised her sword to finish her off but Gabrielle ran and threw herself over the wounded woman. "What are you doing? Get out of my way!" Xena said fiercely.

"Xena, stop it! Stop it! You've beaten her like you always do! Oh Gods, Xena, stop it!"

Xena commanded, "Pull her off, Joxer."

"No, Xena."

The Warrior Princess whirled with a hiss and strode over to Joxer. He didn't move. "Are you disobeying me?" she said raggedly.

Joxer gulped and said, "Yes. You don't know what you're doing, Xena."

"Idiot!" Xena screamed and sent him reeling with a backhanded blow, followed by a kick. She stalked back over to where Gabrielle was still protecting the wounded woman with her own body and raised the sword again.

"Xena! Oh gods, please, look at yourself. Please Xena!" the bard pleaded.

The warrior's breathing gradually slowed and she lowered the sword, which she sheathed after a moment. Gabrielle recognized her friend finally come back into her eyes.

"Gabrielle...Gabrielle...what have I done?" She turned and went to help Joxer to his feet.

Xena savagely tore the necklace of trophies off, followed by the tan bag and the bones on her leathers. Moving briskly she got her healing pouch from Argo's saddlebag but as she came back to the woman on the ground, the bard got to her feet and wouldn't look at her.

"Gabrielle..." Xena said.

"She's dead, Xena."

"Gabrielle, I didn't mean to...I...I..." she stopped helplessly looking at the bloody figure.

The bard looked up. "It's all right. It could even be what she was sent here for. Callisto knew that."


Gabrielle knelt down and arranged Callisto's hands so they crossed on her chest. "The gods sent her to help restore your sanity. She knew it might mean dying."

"Oh no," Xena said looking down. "Oh no!"

Gabrielle recognized that tone. This was something terrible; something even more terrible than it already seemed. "Xena, what is it?"

The dark woman couldn't bring herself to say it for a moment. "She's a sacrifice, Gabrielle. A blood offering for me to make. They sent her here for that."

"The Olympians don't want human sacrifices! Not even Ares!" the bard exclaimed.

With a blaze of light the God of War appeared and said pleasantly, "Thanks, I'm glad you appreciate us. It's Dahak. The Bitch of Tartarus was his kinda gal. To give her up he wanted Callisto. She made quite an impression on the kid you and him had."

Gabrielle winced at the memory of her daughter, Hope. "What makes Callisto so special?"

Xena spoke, "She was an innocent victim herself before she was warped by hatred. In the future she changed again to become a hero fighting the Bitch of Tartarus. Dahak would rather have one soul like that than all the scum I was killing. The gods weren't going to let me turn back into the Bitch anyway, so Dahak got what he could." She glared at Ares. "You should've killed me!"

The god mockingly asked, "Is that gratitude?" He disappeared.

"What should we do, Xena?" the bard asked.

"Build a funeral pyre for her. There's nothing else," Xena said quietly.

"Xena," Gabrielle said tentatively. "Are you sure fire's the best thing?"

The Warrior Princess looked at her friend then back down at the corpse. "Let's dig a grave, Gabrielle," the warrior said.

"Xena, she's no worse off than before. I mean she was in Tartarus anyway."

Xena looked away. "Gabrielle...you know more about Dahak than I do. So don't, okay? Just don't."

The bard was quiet then said, "I only wanted to help."

The Warrior Princess looked back at her friend and her eyes were red. "They gave her to Dahak because Ares still wants me back as his favorite! That's the only reason he didn't kill me. I felt bad about her before....but this...." Her voice broke and she looked back down at the body, "I'm sorry! Callisto, I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" She turned and unsteadily walked away.


Xena had burned and then buried the skin bag and the bones from her leathers. Gabrielle was relieved that her friend was truly back to normal, even if that meant she was brooding and guilty.

"Xena, are you going to just keep thinking about Callisto? What's the point?" Gabrielle finally said as they were sitting around their campfire. They had buried the blonde warlord a week before.

Xena looked up from where she was looking at the flames. "The point is I'm responsible. I'm trying to think of a way to help her."

"Get her away from Dahak?" Gabrielle said as her stomach churned. Like Xena said, she knew more about him than Xena did. "We're finally free of him! I mean this is Callisto! It's not like Ephiny or somebody. Can't we...." her voice trailed off at the look Xena was giving her.

"Gabrielle, don't you remember what Callisto said to me when we first met her?"

The bard answered, "'You made me.' All right. What can we do?"

Xena looked back at the fire. "There's nothing I can do myself. I need help from somebody better with gods than me. I hate asking for help."

Gabrielle understood. "Hercules. He's not exactly fond of her himself, Xena."

Xena tossed some wood chips into the fire. "Yeah, but he'll help me. I'll just tell him it's the right thing to do. He's a sucker for that line."

To be continued. (Note: I've had this sitting around unfinished for a long time, and I might not do any more. So just assume that Hercules and Xena save Callisto, who laughs at them for being weaklings, even if I don't write it.)