DISCLAIMER: Cyrene, Xena, and Gabrielle don't belong to me, nor anybodyelse RenPics writes up... the other folks, or deities that obviously borrownothing from RenPics, belong to me. I don't get to make any money off ofthis or anything, either. If nothing else, it keeps my finances uncomplicated.It would probably be a bit easier if you read 'It All Began With a Trout,''And it Continued With a Skunk,' and 'Liaisons Ridiculeuses' at some point,since there may be some flyby details that you'll want to know the backgroundfor. ;) I don't write too much violence, or too much sex. They are there,though, because this is an altfic piece, and it does use the first twoseasons or so of X:WP as back story. If you have any problems with therelationships I write about here, hey, it's no skin off my nose if youdon't read it.

Oh, and if you have comments, send them to klotho@moonspeaker.ca. Anythingnasty will be cheerfully ignored.

A Centaur's Tail
Part 4
by Alexiares

"I've been waiting."

"I know, I'm sorry." Ares' tone had little grace in it, but if Xenahad seen him just then, she would have rubbed her eyes in confusion anddisbelief. He was standing quietly, staring at his boots, his expressionshamefaced.

"So, what happened? Why is it that your men are neither forming a protectivecordon around Amphipolis, nor escorting the innkeeper to a trustworthyvillage of Emetchi?"

Ares squirmed. "I..."


"I got there late, three spies are already at the inn. I was going tohave my men just grab her."

"Oh for the love of Gaea... can you never do as you're told?" a pairof black leather gloves landed angrily on the floor. The throne Ares usuallyoccupied was currently the seat of a tall woman, her face hidden by a darkcowl attached to long dark robes hiding most of her body. "You come tome and say you have changed, then ignore all that I say?"

"It wasn't my fault!" snapped Ares. "How was I to know grandmother wasthere?"


"She's there! She drove my men off. I had to make all kinds of stupidnoises to avert her gaze, and I don't think I really succeeded."

"Of course you didn't. She'll be hauling in Athena and Aphrodite then,good. We've all been working at cross purposes for a long time. It's nowonder this problem has never been solved." The woman rose to her feetrestlessly, turning Ares' favourite silver skull over and over in her hands."I've changed my mind."

"What do you mean?" Ares asked, hurrying up to her. "Why don't you tellme what's going on?"

"Why don't you go learn the history of your own clan?" the woman snapped.She sighed. "How is it that these people even know to go to Amphipolis,this is something I don't understand at all. I don't understand why I neverrecognized Xena, either. Your men are still camped near the village?"

"Yes." Ares replied sullenly. He hated sometimes that she was in chargenow, and not him. But he admired her. There was no way to deny that.

"Remove them." the cold, imperious order stung, and they both knew it."I will ride the Dark Paths, since drawing Zeus' wandering eye is the lastsort of complication anyone needs and explain matters to mother myself.This changes everything. The resemblance can't be coincidental." she strodeacross the room, to a large tapestry hanging across its back wall. "Thetapestry has become far more tangled than I had foreseen. It is Athena'sinvolvement that tangles it. And yours." Ares scowled. "Enough. For nowyou have no choice but to do as you're told, and I like it as little asyou do."


Artemis sat quietly, pondering the first message that had arrived today,carried in by the hapless Kirke. She ran her fingers over the bold letters,scribed by her daughter in Borysthemis. She had expected just this situation.When Athena had stopped her influence over Xena, all of the various threadsshe had been carefully tucking away had come loose and become great miserableknots. The worst of them had been Xena herself, in the end. Artemis hadunderstood all too well the battlelust Xena had lost herself in. It wascallous, if you had no idea what was going on, to direct it to her ownends. But it had seemed less ill then simply letting Xena run rampant acrossGreece, becoming a powerful warlord Ares considered his Chosen. Ares, whodidn't even understand why he was so drawn to the warrior princess, blindto their likenesses. Utterly blind. And so, Artemis had realized from herdaughter's words in the message, was Erith. She had touched both of them,Ares the last time she had spoken to him, and Erith ever so carefully,last night. Both had one of Athena's patented glamours on them, and nowArtemis was sure her own sister was the source of their inability to seewho Xena was to them.

Artemis stuck out her tongue in disgust. Originally, the most complicatedpart of her week was supposed to have been wedding plans. Now it lookedlike she'd have to finish the longstanding feud with an old enemy Cyrenehad been so sure she had taken care of, long ago.

And it hadn't been so foolish to think so. After all, Axeo was a meremortal, and Xenoklea had stripped her of her rank and sent her packing.Artemis frowned uncomfortably, sitting at her favourite spot in the queen'sroom, the little table they often ate dinner at together by the window.Pushing her rings up on her fingers, her frown deepened. Six council membershad resigned and left with Axeo, furious, all making angry  commentsabout how it was time Xenoklea decided just which Goddess she would serve,the one she loved, or the one who had Chosen her. They couldn't understandshe loved them both, just differently. Maybe it was hard, and unfair, toput her in such a position, and now it was too late. Putting her head inher hands, Artemis bit her lip miserably, feeling a flair of anger whenhot tears tracked down her face.

"Stop it." jumping slightly, Artemis looked up. "You heard me, stopit." Xenoklea said angrily. "The thinking of those council members is wrong,and I won't have you buying into it." she walked up, and kneeling quietlyin front of her lover, gently brushed the tears off of her face. "You havenever, at any time directed my actions as a queen. That's what they aresuggesting you do, and even they don't believe it. Politics and powerplay,that's what their talk is. Axeo wants the throne. They think she shouldhave it." standing up she slipped an arm around the Goddess' shoulders."It's true, my heart calls for me to do other than stay here. I've founda way to arrange that." Now the queen strode across the room to pick upseveral parchments she had been poring over for the past several days."It will be fourteen turns of the seasons I've been queen, in two moons.A Chosen Queen can choose to serve longer, or to move on. Nebula will makea fine queen." Artemis stared in astonishment at the pages she held inher hands.

"Athena herself put that together. She knows what grim work being aChosen Queen is. In two moons, if you'll have me, we can take the firstship to your beloved Anatolian shores and the ways to your sorely missedThemiskyra."

"If I'll have you indeed! Can you doubt it?" a delighted laugh escapedthe Goddess. "Wait, what am I saying, of course you could... I've nevergiven you this. Dammit, I'm so absentminded, forgive me." With that, Artemisdug a small something from a pouch on her belt. "Hera is an amazing smith,which isn't so surprising, being as her mother is so darned impressiveat it." she winked, and Xenoklea chuckled. Her own mother had been a priestessof Hera, so she had heard tales of the Goddess from before she understoodthem. "So, I asked her very nicely to make something for me." The smallsomething was now disentangled from the pouch, and was pressed carefullyinto Xenoklea's palm.

A tiny blue sapphire Sun gleamed from a silvery matrix. A wonderinglook passed over the queen's face. "It's gorgeous... it's..." a quick lookat Artemis' ring to examine it against its counterpart. She sat down witha shocked thump.

"Xe?" Artemis blurted in alarm. This was not the reaction she had expected.

"The same smith made both of these rings." A few moments of astonishedsilence.

"Wow." it was well and truly impressing. Certainly this was a good explanationfor Hera's enigmatic smile when Artemis had popped in to ask about makingthe ring.

"I had no idea who she was. Maybe that's why when I left money for her,it turned up in my money pouch again the next day... and three times moreuntil I gave up trying to leave it for her."

"She wouldn't let me give her anything either. 'I can't explain it,'Hera said. 'I just couldn't possibly take anything for it.' Strange." Theywere sitting together on the floor now, arms draped around each other,watching the Sun set. "Usually when Hera says something like that, it'ssomething she's Seen. Being a prophet will do that to you."

"Not this time?" Xenoklea asked, teasing Artemis' hair into semi neatnessbehind her ears.

"Like a vision, she said it was, but not a vision she Saw." A short,pause. "Well, then it isn't a vision at all, of course. But anyway, shesaid it was more a rightness that she felt."

"I like that." Xenoklea laughed gently as the hair she had just gottento lay down neatly promptly began to stick up again.

"It's a pointless effort."

"You think?" Cyrene replied, laughing again. She had found her partnerdozing lightly on the back porch, and coaxed Artemis into lying down withher head in her lap with little effort.

"I know."

"Know what I think?"

"I could, but I'm not peeking."

"I just really like playing with your hair." both women laughed, unawareof the angry eyes watching them from an upstairs window.


"Many years ago, you swore to me that every last member of that clanhad been wiped from the face of this Earth." the woman strode around thesmall room, angrily throwing the neatly arranged furniture into disorder."I ruled for centuries, molding the Nation into greatness, knowing thatmy great work would never be ruined by the meddling of Xenoklea's unnaturalbrood. And then who should become queen in one of the renegade provinces,but one of them. Explain how it can be that after kicking the lastone to be sure she was dead, so many could be in existence." Axeo glaredfuriously at the other two women, one of whom was cringing, but the otherwas glaring at her defiantly.

"I told you, I don't know." the defiant one rolled her eyes in irritation.After living for so long, she had come to the conclusion that in her youthshe had been all but terminally stupid. Agave watched Axeo storm angrilyaround the room again, and shook her head. Immortality had definitely beena mistake. The small, dusty bottle she had stolen from Artemis' room aftershe was immobilised and safely entombed behind solid rock and locked doors,had been meant to give Xenoklea immortality. Then Agave had believed Axeoactually had the needs of the Nation at heart... tartarus, she had evenbelieved the woman had a heart. Still, she had gulped down half the flaskwithout hesitation, and when she had informed the other Amazon what itwas, the excitement kept her from noticing. Turning half an ear back toAxeo's rantings, and determining they were the same as usual, she wanderedover to the window, and watched the blissful couple on the back porch.

In some ways, Axeo had it the best of all. Axeo cared only for power.She wanted to gather up the Nation under the grip of one iron hand, thencurl it into a fist and take over the world. Libyan Amazonia had neverbeen a realistic target. Burgeoning Southern Amazonia had simply gone on,mostly unconcerned when Northern Amazonia dissolved into chaos after theloss of Xenoklea's second eldest daughter, who had drowned in a boatingaccident. Axeo's tribe and a few allied to her had formed a little outpostopposed to the rest of Northern Amazonia, struggling to raid members andsupplies, only to see it right itself under the sobre direction of theregent Hippolyta. All of these things occupied Axeo's mind, except forthe part of it devoted to demanding the extermination of Xenoklea's clan,which was impossible.

Agave had come to a simple, inevitable conclusion. They were indestructible.

Her mind was usually taken up with quite constructive things, nowadays.And one niggling, discomforting fear. The 'immortal's complaint' she mockinglycalled it when she wanted to incense Axeo.

She was afraid of loneliness.

It was unnerving. Agave had spent much of her life telling herself shedidn't need anyone. If there was no one to smile happily just because shewas there at the end of the day, what did it matter? Now she knew, theother half of the thought. What did it matter? It was only temporary, betterluck next life.

Axeo's angry ranting interrupted her musings. "Are you listening tome?"

"No." Agave shrugged aside the mug Axeo angrily threw at her. "There'sno point. The game is up. Our allies are in retreat. Do you seriously thinkone last desperate attempt to destroy Artemis herself will change anything?You can't stop the wind from blowing."

"Are you saying you won't work for me any longer?" Axeo snarled dangerously.Hopefully it sounded dangerous. It was admittedly difficult to threatensomeone who was as immortal as yourself.

"That's right. You can't pay me what I want, so I am moving on to greenerpastures." Agave smiled unpleasantly. "Unless you have a mortality causingpotion you've been holding back."

"Are you mad?" spat Axeo. "Who would ever want to give up immortality?"the question was meant to be rhetorical, but Agave answered it anyway.

"No. Me. Do you seriously intend to try this thing?"

"Oh yes. Either I will succeed and lead the Nation to glory..." Axeoshoved aside the small table by the window. "Or I'll destroy it."

"You're nothing if not consistent. I have a little score to settle withthe warrior princess. Then I'm leaving."


Thraso smiled happily, and finished the beginnings of the frame to theaddition to the inn. She was getting quite good at that sort of thing,she figured, even if she was the only one who thought so. She paused andgazed at the size of the addition, and the close proximity of trees andbushes. "Either this addition has to get smaller, or the forest is goingto need trimming." the weaponmaster muttered. Looking around and seeingno one coming to look for her, nobody just sort of hanging around, andwhen it came down to it, nobody at all, pulled her book and writing utensilsout. She had been struggling with a story the last day or so, and she wasfinally starting to hit her stride in it. Fiction was quite different fromreciting what had already happened to you, of course... then again, therewere those who firmly believed that when Thraso told about what happenedto her, it was all fiction.

"Who." an owl declared with authority from a nearby tree. The Emetchiblinked at it in surprise, looking automatically upward, gauging the timeof day as little more than early afternoon. Weird. Something must havemade the owl change its perch, Thraso decided, and returned to the story.

"Who." the owl declared again, turning its head sideways.

"Cut that out," Thraso growled irritably. "I'm writing."

"Who." the owl turned its head the other way, then walked carefullyalong the branch. "Who." she said. Thraso looked up at the bird, wonderingin bewilderment what was up with the little thing. 

"Who." the owl repeated, fluffing her feathers in irritation.

"Gee Thraso, way to hurt your mother's feelings." drawled Athena fromwhere she stood, almost hidden in the shadows by the side of the inn. Steppingup to the tree, she clicked her tongue and the owl promptly dropped ontoher shoulder, stepping carefully from side to side and settling her feetbefore relaxing a bit and fixing her wide eyed gaze on Thraso again.

"Who." the owl declared disapprovingly.

"One word vocabulary, huh?" Thraso commented, smiling a little. "I justwasn't really paying attention Mom. My arm did that itchy, squirmy thingand everything. I was just writing, that's all."

"I see." replied Athena, sitting down and pulling her cloak a bit moretightly about her shoulders. "Thraso, you're wearing trews."

"Yes I am." Thraso declared, a bit unsure of where this was going.

"They're short."

"That's true."

"Thraso, it's cold out here!" Athena declared in an outraged tone, fluffingher cloak in a manner reminiscent of her owl.

"Well Mom, I guess I'm just used to it." the weaponmaster smiled, finishedthe sentence in her book, then tucked things away again. Maybe she'd havea chance to write tonight. "What's up?"

"Old business to finish, unfortunately. I need to talk to my sister,but I figured I'd chat with you first, being as you're my kid and all."Athena smiled, her teeth startling white against her ebony skin. The contrastpopped a question into Thraso's mind.

"Hey Mom? How come my skin is so much lighter than yours?" she was muchdarker than most, even most Anatolian Amazons, who tended to be swarthierskinned than the Greeks or Thrakians.

"Because your other mama was white." Athena replied simply. "I guessyou don't actually remember her."

"No. Just... I know she had pretty eyes." Thraso's tone turned dreamy."And she liked to sing." Athena smiled gently.

"Very true... I've ah..." she coughed a little, looking fascinatinglylike Artemis for a moment. "Artemis has a thing for women with blue eyes...I have a thing for women with nice, warm, dark, caramel brown eyes." Apause. "And nice b... err, you get the point."

"Uh huh... Mom, have you met someone?" Thraso asked guilelessly. Shecouldn't think of a single time her mother had spoken with almost no reserve,and a tone bordering on... lascivious seemed like the right idea, but Thrasowasn't sure. She was sure she had never heard Athena speak her words asif tasting and savouring each one. Who was she thinking of?

"No, no. I mean, I don't think so. Yes. Maybe. Ummm." uncharacteristicallyflustered, Athena cleared her throat again. "To be honest, I'm not sure.She's gorgeous with beautiful eyes and nice b... she's very beautiful."Athena sighed faintly. "She has no idea I exist. I'm just a nice, sortof goofy person. It's terrible," another sigh. "As soon as we're any placeat the same time I trip over things, can't speak and generally look likea clown. I'm the Goddess of Wisdom, for Gaea's sake!" she exploded in outrage.

"Ahhh." Thraso replied, nodding sagely. "I may know a little somethingabout that." Mother and daughter made their way around the inn, noddingpolitely to the various Amphipolitans going by, hardly aware of the openstares they were garnering.

"So, anyway, I can't make head nor tail of what's happening, and I reallyneed to talk to Artemis. Especially because Develas is making restlessmovements in Northern Amazonia and Ares is wandering around like he's actuallytrying to do something constructive." The conversation had shifted awayfrom Athena's woman troubles rather quickly, since she found it a bit embarrassing.Her daughter had gracefully let the topic float away. "That pain in theass queen in that renegade Northern Amazon province has been stirring troublewell South. Had one of her groupies tossing money around council chambersin hope of messing up trade relations. I get the distinct impression she'strying to distract people."

"Hmm. Yeah, and distabilize as much of the Nation as possible. Thatstream I was telling you about that suddenly has fouled water... the mixedvillage near Ankitheas uses it too, excepting of course, they get the waterfrom further downstream. If they figured we Emetchi had poisoned the water,they could be incited to some nasty stuff." Thraso's eyes flicked to theleft, where she noticed Artemis coming out of the inn. She was about tocall her when the Goddess held up a finger and motioned for quiet. Puzzled,Thraso returned her attention to her mother, who had had her head downin thought and hadn't noticed.

"You know what I think? I think it's long past time my sisters explainedwhat the tartarus they're up to. I mean, we're all related, and never telleach other what's going on anyway..." Athena was really building up a frustratedhead of steam when Thraso glanced behind her, and saw Artemis coming towardsthem, a wild grin on her face.

"Uh oh." breathed Thraso. "Mom?"

"...is it that hard to communicate a little?" Athena ignored Thraso'swords, although she did frown a little in puzzlement when the young weaponmasterstepped hurriedly to one side.

Behind her, Artemis stopped about four body lengths away, a bucket brimmingwith cold water from the well nearby gripped in both hands. Quickly plungingone hand into it to chill the water some more, she got a good grip on thebucket and bounded forward beginning to laugh when she saw Thraso get outof the line of fire and struggle to catch her mother's attention. No good,Athena was in full rant mode.

"Trust me, this is very frustra... eeeeearrrrrgg!" howled the dark skinnedGoddess, as she was drenched from behind with a bucket of ice cold water.Her sister dropped the bucket and proceeded to laugh herself nearly sick,gasping for breath and clutching her sides. "You," gasped Athena, shiveringconvulsively. "You!" Her sister merely laughed harder, which was a featin itself. "I'm gonna make you pay for that!"

"Fast as you can be, you'll never catch me!" sang out Artemis, takingoff like a shot.

"You get back here so I can pound on you, you jerk!" Athena bawled afterher, before shrugging off her drenched cloak and following. Thraso tippedher head to one side.

"If this is any indication, all sibling rivalry does is make you actsilly."


The Dark Paths were misnamed, if the name was interpretted literally.They were a strange, oddly lit version of the usual world, or at least,so it seemed. There was never any wind. The grass stood straight and unbending,never bowed or swayed by breezes. Leaves piled haphazardly around trees,moved only if they were near one of the many narrow tracks winding everywhereas far as the eye could see. Travellers on the Dark Paths always travelledin single file, if there was more than one of them. Such a thing almostalmost never happened. It took an iron self discipline, to travel the DarkPaths if you were a mortal, and that discipline was almost impossible tomaintain with others nearby to distract you. Immortals always travelledalone on the Dark Paths. The Sun looked strange, bloated and red, its lightoddly muted. Athena's power was minimal here. It belonged to the NightGoddesses, like Selene and Artemis. Where the Paths were... that was harderto define, if it could be defined at all.

The single rider currently visible on them pondered these things asshe rode, turning over each question and description in her mind. As Artemis'highest priestess, and the one Chosen as her proxy when she Herself wasunable to take care of Her Amazons and various workings in the world, Erithakosof Borysthemis was all too aware of how great her responsibilities oftenwere. As the eldest of her mother's daughters still walking in the MiddleWorld, she patiently wrote down her clan's history, from the ignominousexploits of Zerynthia the Great, who had been a terrible parlour magicianwho loved performing in front of huge crowds anyway, to the infamous exploitsof her son Ares. Erith bit her lip, wondering if she wasn't partially toblame for his obsession with the 'Warrior Princess.' For many long seasonsshe had written down Xena's exploits too, hardly understanding why. Butshe never spoke of that to him, or showed them to him. No, there had tobe some other explanation.

Chewing on a thumbnail, Erith turned over another intransigent problem.Why hadn't she recognized Xena? Apparently the woman was a child of hermother's and the mysterious Cyrene, whom Erith had been carefully protectingfor her own reasons. Xena... she ground her teeth together. The woman frustratedher no end. The one person in existence who had literally fought her toa standstill. It was intolerable. Erith pulled herself upright in the saddle.She wasa Goddess. Such a thing shouldn't have been possible, evenfor a demi-Goddess. So how had Xena managed it? Her horse, its golden maneneatly arranged along its neck neighed irritably.

"No, no... we can't stop old friend. It's just a little further." Erithpatted the horse's neck, and winced when she made her feelings known bybeginning to plod gracelessly in a manner sure to leave Erith with a sorebehind by trip's end. "Sure. Love you too, hairball."


Cyrene watched from behind the bar as Artemis and Athena sat over aback table, conferring. They kept arguing, their voices occasionally risinguntil the curious stares of customers reminded them to lower their voices.Athena kept glancing back at Cyrene, and gesturing, until Artemis angrilygrabbed her by the collar at one point, and began furiously shouting ather in the Anatolian dialect she preferred over Greek. Deciding thingshad gotten just a wee bit out of hand, because a vein was standing outin her lover's forehead, Cyrene set down the mug she had been drying andwalked over to her partner, resting a gentle hand on her shoulder.

Her touch got the Goddess to at least stop yelling, breath coming uncharacteristicallyfast. "Hey," Cyrene gave her lover's hands a tug, forcing Artemis to lookat her. "What's going on? Maybe if I actually was part of this discussioninstead of being pointed at during it, things would settle down easier?"squeezing the startlingly cool hands in hers.

"As per usual, Athena believes I am ruthlessly using you." spat Artemis,still angry.

"No... no... this time I'm worried that you're letting what you wishwas true influence your judgment." Athena corrected, her own voice tautand frustrated.

"Let me guess," Cyrene interrupted. "This is yet another version ofyou," she pointed at Athena, "assuming I don't know my own mind. And you,"she pointed at Artemis, "ignoring the fact I am the person best equippedto deal with questions concerning what I decide!" The anger in her voicesubdued both Goddesses. "If you want to be convinced by someone other thanArtemis that I am the selfsame woman you picked to run your part of theAmazon Nation so long ago, then go through the struggle and effort shewent through to be sure of it... haul your butt down to chat with Persphone,and do odd, exhausting jobs for Gaea to earn the right to ask." PuttingAthena out of her mind, she turned back to her lover. "Couldn't you callin some help for once, before trying to scream yourself into a nosebleed?"Shifting her grip subtly, Cyrene had been keeping track of the pulse inArtemis' thumb, still stubbornly rapid with upset.

"Ah Reenie, it's not like that..." Artemis freed one hand to rub ata pounding temple. "It's just an old, miserable argument, all because Athenarefuses to ever trust me." A glare at her sister. "Understandable if Ihad done something to deserve it." Athena's eyes dropped, and she fiddledwith a spoon someone had forgotten to clear away.

"All right. Come on into the kitchen. You can stir things and lug potsand pans while trying to have a civilized conversation. That should keepyou from starting to yell at each other."


The striking roan horse with an unusual golden mane and tail prancedinto Amphipolis proper, carrying a rider swathed in dark robes. Erith tuggedher cowl further down. Ares bore a strong resemblance to Hera, but somehowpeople never failed to make the connection between Erith's dark, squarejawed good looks and his anyway. She had been pelted with rocks in severalGreek villages, by people who had decided she must be a witch or Ares'harbinger. Little did they realize he wasn't the being in charge of waranymore. No, she was, and if war was coming chasing her away was of littlehelp. All the same, being thumped with rocks or stared at with expressionsof slack jawed fear wasn't much fun, so Erith kept her cowl low, shadowingher face. Emetchi never reacted the way these rather parochial villagersdid. Funny.

Leaning back in the saddle and wincing at the state of her tailbone,she stopped her horse in front of the somewhat blocky looking inn. "Onlytwo floors," Erith murmured. "Clearly my mother had nothing to do withthe building of this place." Which wasn't true, although she didn't knowit yet.

A youngish man strode up to the strange, dark figure hesitantly. "Cantake care of yer horse, curry and feed. Part of the service at the inn."The dark figure turned towards him.

"Where is the stable?" the syllables were startling, reverberating andmusical. The man blinked at her in bemusement.

"Right over there." he pointed. Erith gazed at the building for a moment.

"I must know this, else I wouldn't know where my horse was." she pointedout reasonably.

"Oh, right, right." the man squinted at her. He could get just a glimpseof silvery eyes, and what seemed to be a scar near the right one. Maybethe reason for the cowl was scars then? he wondered.

"Curry and feed. Good. Go one better and give her a good rub down. Longtrip." Taking one of the man's hands, she carefully stacked two dinarsin his palm. "Spoil my horse."

"Yes ma'am!" blurted the man, struck by the weird, tingling warmth fromthe woman's fingers. She took the saddlebags off the horse's back and slungthem over her shoulder.

"Don't even think of trying to ride her. She'll throw you into nextweek." with those words Erith walked up to the inn door, pausing to gazecuriously at the signs carved above the doorway. Hestia and Artemis...interesting. But sort of wrong. She should leave it alone, she thoughtto herself. Her eyes unfocussed, then she reached up and ran her thumbover the invocation of Hestia, and replaced it with a different one. Erithsmiled a little. Much better. Then she opened the door and stepped inside,stooping to avoid knocking her forehead in.

The noise and chatter stopped abruptly. "Shit." Erith cursed under herbreath. She would manage to forget to use the back door in this get up.Lovely. Moving swiftly across the room, she found herself face to facewith a small, fierce eyed blonde. "Excuse me, do you need something?" shechallenged. Well wasn't this comical. Erith smiled inside her cowl. A pintsized Emetchi with no sense of danger.

"Nothing you'd be able to provide." Stepping around the bard, movingimpressively fast for someone so tall and solidly built, Erith startedtoward the kitchen. Her mother's presence was clearly discernible, as wasthat of the newly divine innkeeper, and... aunt Athena. Well, well.

Gabrielle was neither impressed nor cowed, and moved quickly to stopthe thoroughly threatening individual from getting too far by attemptingto knock her feet out from under her with her staff. Getting for her trouble,stinging hands as the swing met solidly muscled legs as immovable as treetrunks.

"That hurt." Erith declared in a cold, angry voice, and turned justin time to fix gazes with Xena. "Xena." she breathed the name with delight.Now, now a certain matter would be settled. This puny little blonde wasquite unimportant. "I have been waiting patiently for our next meeting."she swept her cloak out of the way of her sword hilt.

"Fine." Xena replied calmly. 'Figures,' she thought to herself in disgust.'The Queen of the damned Northern Amazon Nation.' "Let's take this outside."

"Xena?" Gabrielle asked in an alarmed tone, not even remotely sure whatwas going on.

"Old score to settle, Gabrielle. I'll be fine." Xena drew her swordas she spoke, watching as her opponent drew her own sword, but did nothingto remove her cowl. The same black leathers and solid boots, set off bymidnight blue armour... or, more probably, a new set made to the same pattern.It had been over twelve winters now, after all.

The two warriors circled each other. Erith was left handed, with a hugereach and quick hands she used to overcome a lame right leg. They exchangedthree or four blows. In a way it was too bad, Xena reflected. Here wasthe perfect sparring partner. Then they began to exchange blows in earnest,and worried Amphipolitans began to gather around them, soon backing upa bit when the warriors began dancing skillfully around each other, weavingfar reaching patterns of steel. Xena saw an opening and took advantageof her opponent's game leg, kicking her feet out from under her and movingto disarm her, only to be surprised by Erith quickly spinning onto herstomach, trapping Xena's ankles between her own and hauling her down.

Both were on their feet in a moment, and indulged for a bit in broad,roaring swings. Beyond making a lot of noise and sparks, they seemed todo little good. Then their swords caught and Erith responded by hurlingherself forward, nailing Xena solidly in the chest and knocking her windout, driving her back and almost into the crowd before the warrior plantedher feet and shoved back. The other woman seemed as immovable as stone,and Xena shoved uselessly once more before jerking them sideways and solvingthe impasse with rounding kick that threw Erith back into the dirt. Toher surprise, Erith simply threw herself onto her feet, a move Xena knewfrom personal experience was incredibly hard to find your balance fromif your legs didn't work properly. But her opponent managed it, and theybegan circling each other again, Erith's cowl knocked askew enough to revealher feral smile, a mirror to Xena's own. They had begun banging furiouslyon each other when a commotion started in the back of the crowd.

"Dammit, get out of my way! What is she doing?" someone burst out ofthe crowd. "No!" and before anyone else could move, Ares had launched himselfinto Erith, barreling her back down into the dirt before an attack thatwould have done some real damage could land. They landed hard enough torattle even the demoted god, but not hard enough to prevent his mother'sangry reaction.

"Get off of me..."

"Stay still!" this came from Artemis, who was pale with a combinationof alarm and fury. "Ares, get up." Ares hurriedly did as he was told andgot out of the way. He knew better than to tangle with his grandmotherdirectly. She bent down and grabbed Erith angrily by one arm, jerking heronto her feet. "What the tartarus are you thinking? Have you lost yourmind? Have I not already told you she is your sister?" Now without hercowl in place, the silvery green eyes that mirrored her own were as clearlyvisible as the distinctive widow's peak and harsh scar running down theright side of Erith's face. "Enough of this, both of you! Neither of youcan defeat the other, it's as simple as that. Give me this." Artemis pointedat Erith's sword. Erith hesitated. "Do it!" Artemis shouted at her, startingto lose her temper again. Hastily her daughter handed the weapon over."You too, Xena." Turning to the crowd. "Show is over, folks." The crowddispersed hurriedly, townspeople already talking excitedly amongst themselves.Watching until what she was going to do next would no longer be a spectacle,Artemis turned to her daughters, eyes still pale and furious.

"The first time I understood. This time was just boneheadedness. There'ssuch a thing as a bearable level of arrogance, and while I understand howhard it can be to stay there, having to work at it myself, I want you twoto do much better in future. So, I'm doing this." With that, Artemis steppedover to a large rock sitting by the hitching post in front of the porch,and smashed both swords to pieces on it. Gazing at her daughters, who lookedsuitably shocked, she took a deep breath. Unfortunately, some of this wassort of her fault... she had forgotten to explain to Eirth who Gabriellewas, hence Xena's immediate 'Sure, I'll happily pound on you.' reaction.Probably she would have reacted much the same way herself, Artemis reflectedwryly.

"Erithakos, Gabrielle is my Chosen to rule this part of the Nation.You will treat her accordingly." Artemis rubbed at her forehead, suddenlyfeeling tired. "And Erith, next time put on some friendlier clothes oruse the back door... and pay more attention to the energy you're givingoff, you're this close to setting off brawls inside the inn." It was allvery well being Goddess of War, but it was important to remember most mortalscouldn't shrug off the energy she gave off. And if all the damned furniturein the common room got broken... again... Artemis was quite sure she wasgoing to lose it.

Cyrene had joined them now, and was watching Erithakos, her expressionunreadable. Reconciling this tall, aloof woman to the gawkish teenagerin her memories was difficult. All those years Artemis had wandered theworld, trying to find the lover she lost by mischance, Erith had takenup the slack, and on top of all else had found herself a constant targetfor Zeus' bullying tactics and the anger and contempt of those who believedHera was an evil Goddess, and by extension that she must be as well. Andlike Xena before she had met Gabrielle, she was solidly encased in an armourof cold arrogance. Lovely. Cyrene grimmaced. Erith's pale eyes had fixedon the innkeeper, and her expression had gone quite strange.

"Who... who..." Erith struggled for a moment. Her protection of theinnkeeper had never actually extended to finding out who she actually was.Each member of her clan had a distinct aura. She made sure each one ofthem who lived outside of the Nation was left uninterfered with by Axeo'sallies as a matter of course. "Mother?" she looked at Artemis in confusion.Looking over at Cyrene again, the pieces finally fell into place. "Nevermind." Erith disappeared so abruptly even Artemis was a bit stunned.

"It's never easy with any of you, is it?" Cyrene asked Artemis witha sad little smile.


Pale silvery slivers watched the Moon rise, occasionally looking awayto count stars. One, two, three, four... five, six... and the air was reallygood tonight, because there was the seventh Pleiade, shimmering back andforth almost like a mirage. Her planet was glowing low in the sky, andAntares glowed a little further up, a stubborn red star amongst so manywhite and yellow ones. Another few moments to look at the Moon, then aconstellation caught her eye. It had several names, but she still knewit's oldest one, 'Hera's Throne.' A scowl. Looking at it made her feelhomesick. Wrapping her arms around her legs a bit more tightly, Erith returnedher attention to the rising Moon.

"You and your trees... if I'm not chasing around finding Artie in one,or wishing she'd found a nice, low one for a change, I'm chasing aroundafter you." Undaunted despite her complaints, Cyrene decided to put hernew youth to the test and climbed, hesitating at only one or two spots.Finally she perched carefully on a branch just lower and to the left ofErith's and watched her. The younger... older... gods it was weird tryingto get her head around that, Cyrene reflected... woman was staring stubbornlyupward, her jaw working. "You're not glad to see me?"

"No." Erith's tone was grumpy.

"All right... let's see, what else can I guess... you're upset aboutwhat happened with Xena?" Cyrene had a sneaking suspicion Erith felt shehad seriously lost face during the whole thing.

"No." Ah hah, Cyrene reflected. An untruth.

"You didn't recognize me? I can certainly understand being upset aboutthat." 

"She never told me anything." Erith threw a few bark bits away fromherself, watching them flutter to the ground without straining in the halflight.

"Ah, good point." Oh, Artie.

"Everyone knew but me. Even aunt Athena knew. You'd think after goingon with most of everything on my damned back for centuries I'd least getto hear when everyone else does. No need to tell me first or anything."

"All I can say is, I think she's been awfully distracted the past while...the others were people she had to bump into, setting up the things shewas. You have to remember, your Mom thinks you're the most together ofyour siblings. Must be why you're the great Omicron, right?" Cyrene wasfrantically poking at every memory she could find. She hadn't been ableto put it all together yet, but she knew that after coming to Anatolia,and having children... she had agreed with Artemis about choosing Erithas the next queen there. Then Erith hadn't been a Goddess... had nevereven considered such a thing. How she came to change her mind was probablyquite a story.

"Great good it does me." Erith replied in a disgusted tone.

"Well, it is better than the alternatives." Those pale eyes finallyleft off looking at the sky and fixed on her. "I hear being the head scrollwriterreally sucks." And got a startled laugh for the comment. "So why don'tyou tell me what you've been up to, hmmm?" Sure it would be nice to finda place to chat closer to the ground, but... Cyrene grinned to herself.Artie would never believe it. It would be fun convincing her.


Gabrielle frowned, wondering who the three strange, rude Amazons were.They weren't from Arboria, or she would have recognized their sigils, atleast. Uncomfortably reminiscent of Thraso's comments about mysteriousAmazons showing up near Ankitheas, but never actually entering the village.Putting the thought to one side for the moment, she returned her attentionto the weaver, who was holding up a gorgeous bolt of forest green cloth."Perfect!" Gabrielle declared with a bright smile. "How many dinars?"

"Actually," the weaver replied with a gentle smile. "could we tradeinstead? My kids love your stories... maybe two or three on a scroll Icould read to them before bed?"

"Great idea... I'll need a week or so, though."

"Not a problem." the weaver beamed, and carefully wrapped the clothin a bit of clean sacking. Taking her package, Gabrielle settled her staffin one hand and the package under one arm, moving towards the inn. Raisedvoices caused her to change course and stand quietly by another stall,this one rather close to the town's main temple. Well, it's official maintemple, put up by the Athenians and later redone by the Spartans. Accordingto the inscriptions, it was dedicated to Artemis. Gabrielle peered at thecarvings of a smallish woman in girlish clothes with unmistakably blondehair and frowned. No, those carvings just didn't look like her, or howshe looked at the moment. The voices rose again, and Gabrielle slippedforward to see who the problem was.

Ah, one of the rude Amazons. Gabrielle had watched their interactionswith a practised bard's eye, and noted immediately that one was some sortof leader, one a very subordinate follower of the leader, and the othera definite rebel. The rude Amazon in question was the definite rebel. Shewas arguing loudly with the quiet young man who often cared for traveller'shorses at the inn. He was a nice fellow, and it took some talent to getsomeone so even tempered yelling.

"No I'll do no such thing!" he blurted in outrage. "What do you takeme for? My parents raised me right!"

"Look, it's just a little thing... how hard is it? And everybody coulduse a little extra." the Amazon shook a pouch of dinars.

"Then why aren't you going round giving it away, you're so generous."he snorted, and Gabrielle grinned a little. 'Good one.' she praised himbefore taking a firm grip on her staff again and marching into the fray.

"Come, come now... you can tell me the truth. Xena obviously has somesort of hold over you people. I'm offering to set you free." Agave smiledwinningly. Inwardly she was cursing. Why was it always more complicatedthan she expected?

"Nope. Folks just plain like her. And I just plain don't like you."Gabrielle said bluntly, placing herself between the two people. "Now, youcan come quietly, or..." Agave preempted the rest of the bard's speechby taking a swing at her with one fist that turned out to have a ratherhideous dagger clenched in it. A solid smash with the bard's staff removedthe obvious weapon, and the Amazon turned to more hands on methods. Thiswas of little help against a six foot, solid piece of wood, and even lesshelp against the resounding blow to her skull from an infuriated Xena'sfist.

"Trouble magnet, Gabrielle, trouble magnet." she muttered, stoopingto take a better look at the Amazon. "Well, I don't know you. Oh goody.I always feel fewer qualms about it when I don't know who I'm pulverizingpersonally."

"No, don't." Startled, warrior and bard spun to stare at Erith, whohad appeared, apparently from nowhere again. She was gazing at the Amazonwith such an unnervingly predatory expression Gabrielle wondered if maybeit wouldn't be better from a humanitarian perspective to let Xena dealwith the unconscious Amazon. "I know who this is." Snatching the Amazonoff the ground like a ragdoll, she gave her a vicious shake. "Wakey, wakey,traitor." Agave peeled open one eye.

"Oh." she said weakly. "It's you. Somehow I knew it would be."

"What brings you here, Agave?" the Amazon knew there was no point intrying to lie. Erithakos was one of the more uniquely tormented immortalsout there, always able to see the truth, even when she would rather haveseen anything else.

"Xena... messed up one of my schemes awhile back... broke one of mylegs while breaking up a group of my hirelings. Those take time to heal,even for me. Very inconveniencing." Agave wondered if the strange beingholding her with no effort a foot and a half off the ground was even listening.

"Inconveniencing. Yes. I know all about inconvenience." Erith's tonewas detached. This was a bad sign. Very bad. Agave swallowed nervously.The eery, detached tone after Erith had made an unpleasant but necessarydecision. She had listened to Erith order the execution of a murderer withthat tone.

"Ah, listen, I..."

"What do you want, Agave?" the question threw the Amazon into totalconfusion.


"Quickly or slowly?" Oh, that.

"Quickly, of course. Been trying to arrange it for centuries." a weaklaugh.

"Fine." Erith set her on her feet.

"Will your mother actually do it?" Agave asked with real curiosity.

"I don't know. She doesn't need to." Erith straightened her deep bluetunic. "I just did it myself." then she turned and walked away, not botheringto turn and look as the astonished Agave's knees buckled, and she slidbonelessly to the ground. Erith heard the scrambling of feet as the othertwo women struggledd to figure out what happened. A single, furious voiceshouted after her.

"What have you done?" the bard, Erith reflected. Somehow she didn'tthink the little blonde was ever going to like her. Pausing, she repliedcalmly,

"I was told, long before you ever came into the picture, that responsibilityfor Agave's fate was mine. All I just did, was take back what she stole.Now if you'll excuse me, regardless of my immortality and how much I reallydo like Cyrene's cooking, I'm feeling very upset and am going to be sick."Erith walked calmly away, refusing to run, because she remembered fromold experience running tended to accelerate things, and the Great Gaeaknew, acceleration was not necessary.

"Before we condemn Erith as a ruthless person, maybe we had better findout more about what she's talking about." Xena suggested quietly, motioningfor a couple of the locals to help her move the now very dead Amazon lyingat her feet. The woman's expression was weirdly peaceful, a little smileon her lips. "Somehow I think what she did may have been a mercy."


"Oooohhhhhhh... Erithakos, you are giving me a headache!" moaned Artemis,gripping her temples. Her daughter shrugged her shoulders a little, andconsidered drinking some of the water in the mug in front of her. "Couldn'tyou have at least... I don't know... gotten out of sight?"

"There was no one else there. The potential bystanders had made themselvesscarce, believing Xena was about to do something nasty." Running a coinacross and between her knuckles, Erith scowled. The answer was anothergroan.

"I don't understand it. You didn't used to be quite this much like me."this with a wry little smile, an old signal calling for truce.

"I didn't used to be nearly nine hundred winters old either. Thingshappen." Erith fiddled with the coin again, feeling a truce wasn't terriblyattractive. "You could have told me."

"Mmmm." Artemis settled her chin on top of her crossed forearms on thetable with a thump. "Would you believe, I forgot all about it?"

"Yes. You always forget. Everything."

"Errr... well, I was hoping to avoid huge, whacking generalities andgo sort of a few things at a time."

"You always forget to tell me important things, like when you finallyfound Mom's most recent incarnation. You always forget not so obviouslyimportant things. You forgot my birthday. Again. You missed my wedding."

"I would have been an alarmingly effective wet blanket to have at thewedding." Artemis said softly. She had been busy tearing apart the majorstructures on Mount Olympus in a display of hurting rage even Zeus hadbeen fearful of only the day before. Why had she gone on that particularnasty rampage? Oh, yes. Zeus' attempt at wiping out several tribes of Amazonsby sending along his son Belleropheron with an army. A bit of femininemagic from her Amazons had dealt with him handily, but the provocationafter the first three hundred winters of desperate and increasingly hopelesslooking search had been more than too much. During one stone smashing moment,Artemis had put her fist most of the way through a rather large slab, andmanaged to get her arm out but not her gauntlet. After inducing plentyof smoke and alarm, she had gone by to pull it out. It had proved irretrievablystuck at that moment, so she had broken loose the part of the slab aroundit and carried it away with her. Needless to say, she had been in a miserablemood, and full of rock dust and junk. "Nigh on time to renew your vowsthough, I bet." she smiled hopefully. Come on Erith, don't hold a grudgeon me.

"Maybe." The coin stilled and fell flat on the table, where Erith fixedher gaze on it. A gusty sigh came from across the table.

"Erith, I can't change the stuff I've done already. And I know my recordon letting you know how important you are to me or how much I appreciatethe work you've done, or how great a job you've done, is really poor. AndI know how much you've missed me, especially on the one day of the yearwhen you ask me to maybe turn up for a few minutes." Artemis smiled sadly."It's a pretty lousy change from how things used to be. Trust me, thingswill be different now, really." a pause. "One way or the other, I've gotno choice, you know. I have to get things going better with you, or Cyrene'sgonna kick my butt. I let slip you and Hera have kids yesterday.... she'scompletely outraged at being a grandmother and not knowing it." Artemisgave her daughter a poke, hoping for a smile, which she got.

"Uh huh. And you wouldn't believe who else is an offender in the makingCyrene an unwitting grandmother department." Erith replied wryly, thinkingon a certain fair haired, blue eyed boy in a centaur village. Artemis gazedat her for a moment, looking a little puzzled.

"You'll have to share on the subject."

"You first."

"In front of all of your various family members at one time." interjectedCyrene, who had been listening just outside the kitchen, waiting patientlyfor an appropriate gap in the conversation before poking her head in.

"All of them?" the other two women managed to blurt in unision, identicalexpressions of horror on their faces.

"This has long day written all over it." Cyrene muttered wryly.


Barring the Agave incident, Xena decided, it had been a rather niceday. No fighting. Erith seemed almost friendly. Xena paused as she drewher battered old practise sword, and scowled. Hard as she tried, she justcouldn't read the strange woman. As a rule, she could get a handle on motivations,things a person considered important. Not this time, except for the oneobvious thing. Erithakos of Borysthemis loved Hera beyond anything remotelyresembling commonsense. According to the calmer tales, she had once beenstruck dead by one of Zeus' lightning bolts, and Hera had hauled her backto the world of the living again, snatching her back from Persphone herself.Xena wasn't sure about that one way or the other. It did make for a neatstory, though.

A few practise twirls, and she had started one of her favourite routines.The old sword definitely wasn't the same, and to get the best results Xenaknew she'd have to weight it to match the solid weapons she prefered nowadays.A blurring silvery pattern of sword strokes, dealing with imaginary enemiesfollowed, along with some of the acrobatics that looked cool and were funeven though they were a lot of work. Planting her feet again, Xena turnedtowards the inn, and considered which set of moves to run through next.As she thought, two people walked out of the inn, towards the field shewas practising in.

Both tall, the taller one with a slightly halting limp, the other gesturinganimatedly with both hands. Erith was dark like Thraso, rendering her featuresunreadable because they were walking in the shadow of the inn. Only hereerie eyes were visible, and they were flicking slightly as she took inthe various daylight details around her. Aster was awkwardly waving hispractise sword now, suggesting his animated comments were about his impromptulessons in how to fake being the god of war convincingly. About two bodylengthsaway from the practising warrior princess, Erith stopped and laughed, abig, booming, guffawing laugh. "You're being taught to what?" she laughedharder. "Well, I say, if you are going to be masquerading as the rulerof war, you should do what comes naturally, and dress in some sort of drag."Erith drew a vicious, curved scimitar from a roughed leather scabbard hookedto her belt. "After all, I am the ruler of war."

"Oh yeah? How did you arrange that?" asked Xena, eying the scimitar.

"A gift from my daughter Eris... she likes it in Arabia, and sends Heraand I things she thinks we'd like every now and again." Choosing to ignorethe question asked, and pretend Xena had really wanted to know about theweapon she was eyeing. A time honoured tradition in her clan. After all,even Xena was skilled in such evasions.

"And how you became the 'Goddess of War'?" Xena asked again, suitablyexaggerating the description.

"Ares got himself demoted by Zeus after the his last attempt to interferewith your Fate and separate you from the bard." Erith shrugged her shoulders."Only to discover, most of the powers he wielded were not his own, buta little bit of what Zeus chose to give him. He is like an adolescent again,learning what he can and cannot do." Her eyes turned distant. "Wasteful.Aster, why don't you do those warm up moves Thraso showed you, and we'llpractise?"

"Okay." Aster replied, with surprising enthusiasm. Talk about his brothermade him uncomfortable. It always made him feel oddly powerless, like heshould have been able to change what happened with him. Practising wasbetter than thinking about those things.

"Xena, you must have a few interesting powers. What are they?" Erithwatched her son loosen his muscles with sturdy, if not artful competence.

"Powers?" Xena laughed in her turn. "Rii-iight. I think the list ofdeeds I've got under my belt is enough."

"So you don't know. Interesting... well, there's one you have for sure.If you and Gabrielle are thinking of having children, don't worry, youdon't need any men in the picture."

"Actually, I knew about that." Xena watched now as Erith put her sonthrough his paces, automatically correcting the things he was doing wrong,tapping him with the flat of her weapon any time she could have hurt him."I can't do anything fancy. Fine with me." Gods, this guarded, try veryhard to sound friendly type conversation was hard on her nerves.

"How do you know? Have you ever tried? For all you know, you can fly."a grin as Aster jumped forward and scored a point. "Good... might be ableto make you into at least a recreational warrior yet."

"Nah, this is good." Aster replied, shaking out his sword hand. He wasall grown up, and any type of smacking into his mother still felt likeslamming into a thick wall.

"I don't think so." Xena replied, turning her attention back to herown routine.

"Prove it. Try." Erith challenged.


Aster watched the interaction in fascination, wondering just what hismother was up to. A very distinct gleam was in her eyes, and she was grinninga little, enjoying herself.

"Go on. Try it. Try and fly. I already know you can father childrenand are stronger than ten men... I'm curious. Consider it my crass attemptto recruit you, if you like."

The comment stopped Xena short. "Don't start with me." she warned. Hersister laughed, a sound that should have had more mirth in it. But it didn't.The problem with the situation, Xena began to realize, was both she andErith tended to be the ringleaders, and they were trying to work out someway to coexist, without beating each other senseless on a regular basisand satisfying the whole ringleader urge thing. 'Great,' Xena thought toherself in disgust. 'Now I'm overanalysing things like Gabrielle does andgiving myself a headache.'

"Of course not... I already have my Chosen. She's enjoying herself inArabia. So can you fly or not?"

"You're not going to let up about this, are you?"

"Nope, I'm insatiably curious." A snicker from Aster. "You be quiet.My satiability or lack thereof has nothing to do with you."

"Oh no, I couldn't agree with that." Aster grinned. "Otherwise I wouldbe snubbing the very thing that led to my conception."

"Ah, shut up you." Erith ruffled his hair affectionately, then turnedback to Xena. "Come on."

Aster looked over to where Gabrielle was standing by the inn, watchingthem. With any luck, he could get her to see his mother as the rather niceperson she actually was. Sometimes she was nasty and mean, but only forvery good reasons. He understood how stung Gabrielle must feel, havingbeen sized up and dismissed completely by the tall War Goddess. Duringone of his rebellious times, he had foolishly tried to prove himself tohis mother by picking a fight with her. One swing had been deftly caught,and been just hard enough to sting Erith's palm. She had been irritatedmore than angry. It had been awfully hard on his teenage ego, to be giventhe sort of look a stubborn mosquito gets. Aster smiled ruefully. Luckily,things had turned out for the best, and they were good friends again.

Xena was getting more and more irritated. Of course she couldn't fly.What a dumb idea. She had caught sight of Gabrielle, and wanted to getback to her usual routine. After all, Gabrielle liked to watch, and shesort of liked showing off for her partner. The tall Goddess beside herwas blithely explaining how you determined if you had a certain power ornot, if it hadn't up and manifested itself already.

"You see, what you have to do, is envision yourself doing it, reallydoing it, in every detail. Every realistic bit... like how the wind wouldmess up your hair, and the way you'd have to learn pretty quick how tosteer so as not to collide with things... then you put your will into makingthe image real, the same way you do when you're learning some new trickwith your sword." Erith's tone had grown warmer with enthusiasm. In heryouth, she had actually enjoyed figuring out what she could do... especiallythe day she found out she could fly.

The flight question was put firmly aside when the cowering Amazon Gabriellehad pointed out to Xena earlier that day turned up behind the bard, anaimed crossbow in hand. Two salient points came to Xena's mind immediately.She was too far away to go running and manage to catch any crossbow bolts.Not finding some way to stop those crossbow bolts was simply unacceptable.Her hand dropped to her chakram even as she started moving. Maybe it wouldhave been a bit easier on her nerves if she had simply poked Erith intodoing something. As it was, the chakram smashed the crossbow to piecesand Xena smashed the Amazon flat before she thought of anything else. Thestunned Amazon was lying at her feet, and a stunned bard was staring ather openmouthed.

"Well, apparently that's one power you've got. And lucky you, it doesn'tmake you nauseous the first time." Erith grinned, warming up just a bitto Xena in spite of herself. The bard had never been in danger... Artemishad been about to zap the ridiculous Amazon from one side, and Erith hadfocussed her attention on the crossbow on the other. They had been neatlypreempted, however. "You need a hobby." she told the Amazon sprawled onthe ground. "They're good for keeping you out of trouble."

On to Part Five

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